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Richard Wagner

Yet another book on Wagner. Given the title, you might expect it to be an investigation of Wagner’s complex relationship with Nietzsche or, failing that, a study which, like Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil (1886), attempts to push the examination of a given subject beyond the limits to which it hitherto has been confined. The blurb on the dust jacket appears to suggest the latter: ‘Deathridge engages the debates that have raged about him [Wagner] and moves beyond them, towards a fresh and engaging assessment of what Wagner ultimately achieved.’ Well, yes and no.

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In the myths that inspired Wagner to write Der Ring des Nibelungen, the World Ash-Tree (Die WeltEsche) is the symbol of Wotan’s power and enlightenment and eventual downfall. As a young god, he cut a branch off the tree to fashion into his spear. In The Ring, it is not until the Prologue to Götterdämmerung, as the three Norns are weaving their rope of fate, that we are told the World Ash-Tree is withering and dying, as the gods themselves will do by the end of this long evening. As with most of the objects in The Ring, symbolism is never too far away. The tree: the spear: the twilight of the gods. On Wotan’s orders, the branches of the tree (as the Norns tell us, and as Waltraute is soon to tell her sister Brünnhilde) are split and piled around Valhalla, where the gods sit, waiting for their fiery end.

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