Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
First-Year Seminar


FYS Section A17. Gods and Arves, Rings and Rivers, Hitler and Genocide: Examining the Art and Legacy of Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner was probably the most controversial composer in music history. His vision of an “artwork of the future” explored the subterranean currents of consciousness, invoking ancient gods and mythic worlds. His ideas inspired philosophers, writers, musicians, poets and politicians. His influence is felt today in movies like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Wagner was also cruel, petty, and vindictive, a vicious anti-Semite who wrote screeds indulging in the worst stereotypes. Hitler admired Wagner, basing many of his political and social theories on Wagner’s ideas. Can we admire a work of art, yet be repulsed by the artist? Do we judge art by how it makes us feel personally, or by how it affects society? We will listen to Wagner’s music, read his writings and those of his critics and admirers, and investigate his legacy. Students interested in music are welcome, but prior musical training is not necessary.

Guy UrbanGuy Urban
Associate Professor of Music