Before the Beatles, there was Wagner. Swooning crowds of mostly female fans thronged Beyreuth, coming from as far away as the American Heartland. For those in the New World who could not make the pilgrimage to the German composer’s hometown festivals, there were all-Wagner programs in many American cities and even Wagner road shows that took the radical new music to the frontier.
Joseph Horowitz subtitled his examination of the Wagner phenomenon AN AMERICAN HISTORY to underscore the subject of WAGNER NIGHTS—the reaction of America to Richard Wagner’s ecstatic, renegade music and the light it sheds on the Gilded Age. In an era associated with prudery and elitism, the heightened sensuality and pagan themes of his operas were justified, rationalized, Christianized—anything but exorcised.
Horowitz’s history includes brief profiles of the conductors, critics, and singers of the day, including Albert Niemann and the reigning Isoldes Lilli Lehman, Olive Fremstad, and Kirsten Flagstad. The focus, however, falls most often on Anton Seidl, the magnetic conductor for whom Laura Langford formed the Seidl Society—a club of dedicated fans who supported Seidl and the music of Wagner, traveling en masse to Coney Island for Wagner Nights at the Brighton Beach Pavilion.
As the executive director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra and the author of several music histories, Horowitz’s presentation is scholarly and concise. In fact,...
(The entire section is 289 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Wagner Nights Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!