The Faber Pocket Guide to Wagner by Michael Tanner is an authoritative and accessible guide to Richard Wagner, the most controversial composer in history.
Michael Tanner was a lecturer in the Philosophy Faculty of the University of Cambridge for 36 years, and is a Fellow of Corpus Christi College. He has been the opera critic of The Spectator since 1996, and reviews CDs and DVDs of music and opera widely. His life as a teacher was divided between philosophy and literature, though music has always been of at least equal importance to him.
British academic philosopher Tanner has written on music for the Times Literary Supplement and is author of Nietzsche, a volume in the "Past Masters" series from Oxford University Press (1994). Nietzsche wrote a lot about Wagner, joining a flow of opinions that became a river long ago. Tanner quotes him here, mainly in order to argue with him and many others who find fault with the complicated, controversial German music dramatist. Opening by harshly explicating some Wagner criticism as "inane," "outrageously unfair," and "priggish," Tanner then spiritedly discusses all the operas in chronological order, focusing upon effects he feels their characters, stories, and music are meant to have on thoughtful members of the audience. When these effects are contradictory, Tanner self-consciously argues with himself. A short bibliographic essay provides leads to still more views. A warm-hearted, occasionally hot-headed defense of Wagner; recommended for balance.‘Bonnie Jo Dopp, Long Branch Community Lib., Silver Spring, Md.