Professor Christopher Janaway explores Wagner's life-changing encounter with the pessimistic philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, whom he discovered in 1854.
Wagner and Schopenhauer
Professor Christopher Janaway on Wagner's life-changing encounter with the pessimistic philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. In 1854 he read Schopenhauer's masterwork, The World as Will and Representation; and it hit him like a thunderbolt. Wagner discovered a thinker who endorsed his own developing views on the role of music and gave him a new way to think about his perpetual struggles with desire and erotic love. It also convinced him of the futility of political agitation. It can be argued that Wagner bent these ideas to his own purposes; and that Tristan and Isolde, written in the aftermath of this great encounter, is really a Schopenhauerian experiment gone wrong: instead of losing desire and attachment, the two lovers intensify both to the extreme. It was only in his last opera, Parsifal, that Wagner finally produced a music drama that seems in many respects at peace with the ascetic ideal of his philosophical hero, Arthur Schopenhauer.