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Richard Wagner’s “Erotic Impulse”


As the Boston concert season gets underway, BMInt will be pointing its readers to some of the less-well-publicized events that are worthy of notice. A very interesting lecture/recital, “Wagner, Munich and the Erotic Impulse” will take place at Goethe-Institut Boston on September 11th at 7:30 pm. The lecturer will be Professor Laurence Dreyfus of Oxford University, and pianists Philip Liston-Kraft and Daniel Weiser will provide musical illustrations.

Individuals as different as Nietzsche, Thomas Mann, and Hitler have responded with equal rapture to Richard Wagner’s music (although Nietzsche in later years denounced Wagner’s music as sick and decadent). According to Professor Dreyfus, “Audiences since the 1860s have perceived his music as erotic and eroticizing.” His book, Wagner and the Erotic Impulse, published in 2010, explains the biographical, cultural, and musical elements that constitute Wagner’s sexual magic and the ways in which he fit into the dynamics of Munich society, notes Goethe-Institut Boston.

Dreyfus, professor of Music and a Fellow of Magdalen College at Oxford University,  is a recognized Bach scholar who has performed and recorded extensively on both cello and viola da gamba. Born here in Boston in 1952, he attended Yeshiva University, then Columbia University, where he obtained his PhD. He taught at Yale, University of Chicago, Stanford University, and the Royal Academy of Music before becoming Thurston Dart Professor of Music in 1995 at King’s College London. In 2002 he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy, and in 2005 he accepted the professorship at Oxford. In addition to his book on Wagner, Harvard University Press also published his Bach’s Continuo Group (1986) and Bach and the Patterns of Invention (1996), which won the Kinkeldey Award from the American Musicological Society.

The biographies of the evening’s pianists “are more interesting than most,” according to BMInt reviewer Susan Miron. “Daniel Weiser, most recently on the piano faculty of Dartmouth College, had finished the first year at Harvard Law School, where he was a classmate of President Obama, when he headed off to Peabody Conservatory for a doctorate in piano. ‘Polymath’ would be an understatement for describing Philip Liston-Kraft, who holds an M.D. degree from Tufts University Medical School, is a graduate of Harvard Law School, and teaches German at Dartmouth in the Accelerated Language Program. His day job is Senior Associate in the Research Ventures and Licensing Office at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is also an accomplished ballroom dancer.” Miron’s complete review of the two pianist’s 2010 concert is here.

Goethe-Institut Boston is at 170 Beacon Street, Back Bay. Tickets are $10/$5 students (“what is German” participants free)

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