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Wagner's Parsifal Reviews

Wagner's Parsifal by Roger Scruton

Wagner's Parsifal: The Music of Redemption

Roger Scruton

3.25 out of 5

3 reviews

Category: Music, Non-fiction
Imprint: Allen Lane
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publication date: 7 May 2020
ISBN: 9780241419694
3 stars out of 5
11 May 2020

"every page is illuminated with erudition, intelligence and sensitivity"

Although Scruton admits the impossibility of playing Parsifal “straight”, he deplores Herheim’s relativism. Scruton wants to rescue Parsifal, not only from aspersions of anti-Semitism but also ambiguities in its spiritual message, by proving that it is intellectually cogent and theologically coherent. Is this a hopeless enterprise? As pages of dense, patient explication circle around the same conundrums, one can’t but feel that the harder Scruton grapples with the task, the more slippery it becomes.


5 stars out of 5
9 May 2020

"the journey of one of our great philosophers making sense of his own life though another’s sublime work of art."

A large part of the book is devoted to unpicking the musical ‘how’. Wagner was the father of the leitmotif, a technique later enthusiastically taken up by Hollywood, in which a musical phrase is associated with a certain character or a certain emotion. The leitmotif plays whenever that character or that emotion is present, or to be evoked. Scruton numbers 52 of these and correlates all of them to the plot. This can result in quite a lot of sentences such as: ‘The struggling fool. A variant of 41B, but with a bass-line recalling 15.’ Only for the specialist. But if you are not of a musical bent, skip the musicological last couple of chapters and you can still find enormous satisfaction...

2 stars out of 5
1 May 2020

"Scruton does tend to pin down the characters of motifs that are in fact indefinitely flexible."

Scruton, besides his many other achievements, was the composer of two operas and had a deep and extensive knowledge of the structure of music, which he exhibits in the final two chapters. In the first of these, he takes on such musicological heavyweights as Alfred Lorenz and shows how given to special pleading he was – but then doesn’t musical analysis lend itself to that? The second is a large-scale index of the leitmotifs of Parsifal, which is helpful if used with discretion, though Scruton does tend to pin down the characters of motifs that are in fact indefinitely flexible.