Professor Richard Bell is investigating the theological, ethical, and artistic interests of the composer Richard Wagner.
He has just completed a two-volume work exploring the theology of the Ring cycle, Wagner's work and its relationship to Christianity.
Wagner was one of the few composers to read avidly in the areas of Theology and Philosophy. He was especially interested in German Idealism but he was always creative in appropriating the thought of figures such as Hegel, Feuerbach and Schopenhauer.
Teleology, Providence and the ‘Death of God’ in Wagner’s Ring Cycle: A Study of the Composer’s Debt to G.W.F. Hegel
The humanization of God in Wagner’s Ring Cycle: The composer’s appropriation of the theology and philosophy of Ludwig Feuerbach
Doing Theology with Richard Wagner
Student blog reflecting on Richard Bell's module "Doing Theology with Richard Wagner"
Wagner’s copy of the New Testament in Luther’s translation was the most heavily marked of all his books in his private library in Dresden. This was preparatory study for an opera Jesus of Nazareth which never got beyond the stage of prose sketches and one musical sketch. I argue that Wagner’s sketches, composed as he started work on the Ring cycle, are key to understanding the work.
Wagner’s Prose Sketches for Jesus of Nazareth: Theological Reflections on an Uncompleted Opera
It is universally acknowledged that all the operas in the ‘Wagnerian canon’ to a greater or lesser extent concern redemption. For Wagner redemption is multi-dimensional, sometimes highly ambiguous, and often necessitates the death of the female redeemer figure.
Redemption in Wagner's Ring Cycle
Redemption in Wagner's Ring Cycle
Love is a central theme in all of Wagner’s operas and has a fundamental redemptive power. But many are shocked by the way human love is expressed in some of his stage works (e.g. incest and adultery in The Valkyrie). Nevertheless he has important things to say about sexual ethics and sexuality (through both his stage works and essays) which we may need to listen to today.
Law and Freedom: Wagner’s Contribution to Sexual Ethics (Richard Wagner’s Jesus of Nazareth and the Ring of the Nibelung II)
Wagner’s art is inseparable from politics and his dream was to see German society transformed by performances of his ‘music dramas’ (he did not always like the term ‘opera’ because of its bourgeois connotations). Contrary to popular opinion he was not a proto-Nazi. Rather he could be described as a socialist (taking the occasional sips of champagne) and was a leader in the Dresden uprising of May 1849. By some good luck he managed to evade arrest and what would have been a long prison term.
Wagner’s Portrayal of Jesus of Nazareth: Social Revolutionary and Redeemer (Richard Wagner’s Jesus of Nazareth and the Ring of the Nibelung I)
Wagner, like Goethe, took a special interest in ‘nature’ and the Ring cycle especially is remarkable for its portrayal of the natural order and the world of animals. Wagner opposed vivisection, tried to be a vegetarian, and had a special love for dogs and parrots which he kept as pets.
Nature, law, sexual ethics, the state, and love: a central constellation in Wagner’s Ring
Wagner’s The Rheingold Scene One: Theological Reflections on “Creation” and “Fall”
In most of Wagner’s opera the key protagonists die, sometimes meeting a violent death. His views on death and immortality are complex in that we find him indebted to the views of Hegel (who had little role for immortality) and for a time to Feuerbach (who positively denied it). However, in later life he did change his mind partly because of his increasing interest in Kant and Schopenhauer (this new approach can be found in his final stage work Parsifal).
Love, Death and Immortality: A Fundamental Wagnerian Constellation (Richard Wagner’s Jesus of Nazareth and the Ring of the Nibelung III)
Wagner based many of his stage works on Norse and Germanic literature, but always changing the narrative in some fundamental way. In the Ring cycle he combines the German Lay of the Nibelungs (Nibelungenlied) with Norse mythology but, I argue, with a fundamental Christian slant.
Wagner’s use of Germanic and Norse sources in the Ring of the Nibelung. A clue to his Christian theology?
This project is made possible through a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship
Scene from Parsifal, Bayreuther Festspiele 2011 © Bayreuth Festspiele/Enrico Nawrath
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