Much More Than Heaving Bosoms


From The Chronicle Review:

In the most acclaimed of the operas and so-called music dramas of Richard Wagner, hefty figures from Germanic legend and myth grapple in torrid romances of mythic proportions.

Bosoms heave, all over the place—no audience member, and no Wagner critic, has ever been in doubt about that.

But Laurence Dreyfus says something more happens, too: As the bosoms rise, loins swell right along with them. Too few critics have acknowledged how masterfully the composer summoned up sensuality and sexuality, Dreyfus writes in Wagner and the Erotic Impulse.

In his view, that was among the composer’s greatest contributions to music—in fact, to modernity. “Wagner’s devotion to depictions of sexual desire was exceedingly unconventional, indeed unprecedented in the history of art,” writes Dreyfus, a professor of music at the University of Oxford. He attributes to Wagner (1813-1883) a vast musical palette, profound psychological insight, and an aesthetic sensibility of stunning refinement—Wagner’s many champions would nod, his many detractors scoff—and says those gifts allowed the composer to generate “extended representations of erotic stimulation, passionate ecstasy, and the torment of love”—”erotics far advanced on anything that preceded him in music.”

“In Wagner, So Much More Than Heaving Bosoms”, Peter Monaghan, The Chronicle Review