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Verdi and/or Wagner

A vast, inspired book contrasting two of history's greatest composers

by David Graver in Culture on 07 February 2014

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Giuseppe Verdi was born in Italy on 10 October 1813. Richard Wagner was born in Germany just a few months prior that same year. Although their work and approach to creation, substance and audience veered drastically, no one can deny their impact upon operatic composition. The two—though aware of one another and the others' work—never met. Their respective music would go on to represent two different schools of thought and even massive socio-political movements. As a thorough, dramatic and at times funny exploration of their cultural rise, "Verdi and/or Wagner" engages in a way most biographies do not. The 384-page book, by author and cultural critic Peter Conrad, reveals fascinating insight into their emergence, complexity and incompatibility.

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Verdi sought to comfort the world. Wagner envisioned fantastical, yet damaged humanity and went so far as to take pleasure in knowing the intensity of his music gave listeners maddening anxiety. As their nations solidified, they both adopted the role of bard. They were equally matched yet represented opposites and, because of this apparent disconnect, Conrad asks if it is possible to love them both. His well-researched, immensely absorbing tome adds captivating context and a respected lens that addresses the drama while glorifying the work where praise is due.

Now in paperback form but still retaining the hardcover version's 51 illustrations, the book is available online for $22.

Photos by David Graver

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