- ISBN 9780500290859
- 23.50 x 17.00 cm
- 51 Illustrations, 24 in colour
- First published 2013
Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, the two greatest opera composers of their time, had everything – and nothing – in common.
These equally matched Titans offer us a choice between two kinds of art, two ways of life, two opposed philosophies of existence. During their lifetimes Verdi and Wagner helped to define the identity of their emerging nations; their music still dramatizes the light and dark sides of every human being’s character and consciousness.
‘Has done more than any actual production I’ve seen to make me excited about opera … Conrad has provided me with a means of accessing opera specifically, as well as a way of thinking about music in general’ – Prospect
‘A valuable work, not just because of Conrad’s musical insights, but because of his grasp of historical context … His accounts of the contemporary – and historical – stagings of the two composers’ works are exemplary, and useful; and the book itself is never dull’ – The Guardian
‘A characteristic, often brilliant helter-skelter ride through the life, times and works of the composers, their women and their trails of posthumous influence … fascinating enough to be scoured cover-to-cover with pencil in hand’ – Gramophone
‘A scintillating and absorbing read’ – Opera magazine
‘Many fascinating insights pepper the book … no one has commented so fully on contemporary productions of the operas of both Verdi and Wagner as Conrad’ – The Times Literary Supplement
The two composers were born in the same year but at opposite ends of Europe. Verdi the melodist gave voice to the passion and sensuality of Italy; Wagner the harmonist articulated the more metaphysical dream-life of Germany. Their achievements were comparable but Verdi thought of art as a comfort to mankind while it pleased Wagner to believe that the nervous intensity of his operas might drive listeners mad. Is it impossible — as Peter Conrad asks in this book — to love them both?
They were both cultural heroes – nationalism turned them into bards for their newly unified countries. Italians still honour Verdi as a godfather; for Germans, Wagner remains a more troubling ancestor, nowadays often accused of preparing the way for the Third Reich.
The two men stalked each other through the nineteenth century, managing never to meet. The rivalry continued after their deaths, as Wagner supplied the background music for despotism during the 1930s, while Verdi appealed to the liberal opponents of fascism. Almost two centuries after their births, they remain at odds.
Peter Conrad taught English literature at Christ Church, Oxford, from 1973 to 2011. One of the great cultural critics of our time, he has written books on a wide range of subjects, including Modern Times, Modern Places; A Song of Love and Death: The Meaning of Opera; and Creation: Artists, Gods and Origins.