Ever since I watched Melancholia, with Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde playing in the background, I seem to be surrounded by German Romanticism. Just this morning I finished reading Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther with my AP European History class, yesterday morning I wrote about Ernst Haeckel and his links to German Romanticism, and last night I fell asleep reading a little Schiller.
Now German Romanticism can be a relatively dark and foreboding place, with themes of longing prevailing, and happy endings incredibly rare. Isaiah Berlin, in his Roots of Romanticism describes the German Romantics’ embracing this atmosphere of “sturm und drang” because of the belief that there exists an “insoluble conflict” in the world, where “conflict, collision, tragedy, death – all kinds of horrors – are inevitably involved in the nature of the universe.” He later writes,
This sudden passion for action as such, this hatred of any established order, hatred of any kind view of the universe as having a structure which calm (or even unclam) perception is able to understand, contemplate, classify, describe, and finally use – this is unique to the Germans.
Then just the other night at our faculty post-holiday party, I got into a conversation about Wagner’s the Ring Cycle (best known for its “Ride of the Valkyries”) with the school’s choral director. Der Ring des Nibelungen is a four-part trilogy that is truly epic in its scope. A typical performance normally unfolds over the course of four nights at the theatre, and takes approximately 15 hours to complete. It’s a story of heroes, gods, and other mythical beings in a narrative that can rival anything written by Tolkien. It epitomizes yet another part of German Romanticism, namely pull of mythical heroes and nationalism.
During the course of that conversation with the music teacher, Anna Russel’s brilliant comedy routine about the opera came up. I remember first hearing it on NPR years ago and staying in my car to listen to it in its entirety, despite the fact that I’d already arrived at my destination. She took one of the most lengthy and complex operas and laid it bare with incomparable wit and style.
So here she is, removing some of the “sturm” from the German Romantics.
The second and third parts of her performance can be found here.
And just to tie everything together in a wonderfully neat package, here’s a post linking Wagner and Darwin.
- Wagner and Darwin (bibliolore.org)