129. Alex Ross with Ann Powers: Wagnerism—Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music


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For better or worse, Wagner is often considered the most widely influential figure in the history of music. Around 1900, the phenomenon known as Wagnerism saturated European and American culture. Anarchists, occultists, feminists, and gay rights pioneers saw him as a kindred spirit. Then Adolf Hitler incorporated Wagner into the soundtrack of Nazi Germany, and the composer came to be defined by his ferocious antisemitism.

In this livestreamed conversation, music critics Alex Ross and Ann Powers took a nuanced look at Wagner, with reflections from Ross’s book, Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music. They discussed how the composer of such colossal creations as The Ring of the Nibelung, Tristan und Isolde, and Parsifal came to have such a many-sided legacy. In a journey of passionate discovery, they invited us to consider how artistry can be undone by an ideology of hate—and urging us toward a more honest idea of how art acts on the world.

Alex Ross has been the music critic for The New Yorker since 1996. His first book, the international bestseller The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and won a National Book Critics Circle Award. His second book, the essay collection Listen to This, received an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award. He was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2008 and a Guggeinheim Fellow in 2015.

Ann Powers is NPR Music’s critic and correspondent. Her books include Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music, Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America, and (with the artist) Tori Amos: Piece By Piece. She is the co-editor, with Evelyn McDonnell, of Rock She Wrote: Women Write About Rock, Rap, and Pop, the first published anthology of women music writers. In 2017, she founded Turning the Tables, an ongoing NPR initiative re-centering the popular music canon on marginalized, underestimated, and forgotten voices.

Buy the Book: https://www.elliottbaybook.com/book/9780374285937

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