Chapter

Postmortem on Isolde

John Deathridge

in Wagner Beyond Good and Evil

Published by University of California Press

Published in print July 2008 | ISBN: 9780520254534
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520934610 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520254534.003.0012
Postmortem on Isolde

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The overt political gestures in Wagner are linked with moments where his music, appearing at its most pure and “musical,” enters into its subtlest contract with the extramusical to preserve its formidable social power. This chapter examines the Isolde death scene. The prominent musicological discourse on Isolde's death is dominated by a formidable phalanx of musical analyses. Wagner created such a stable analogy between the transcendental views of music current in the nineteenth century and the famous night and day symbolism of Tristan und Isolde that historians and critics have scarcely noticed it. This music is perhaps the most ravishing Wagner ever wrote. Frequently heard outside the opera house, it has become a very public fantasy about an endless escape into pure feeling and pleasure, inside which remain indelible signs of precisely those harsh realities of human experience it attempts magnificently to exclude.

Keywords: Isolde; Wagner; death scene; night and day symbolism; musical analyses; transcendental views

Chapter.  10332 words. 

Subjects: Musicology and Music History

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