Nietzsche, Wagner and Music

richard wagner, lennart svensson

In 2015 Manticore Press published my biography of Richard Wagner, Richard Wagner – A Portrait. In Chapter Twelve I tell about Friedrich Nietzsche’s relationship to Wagner, both the man and his music.

As outlined in the book it might be that Nietzsche at the end of the day turned against Wagner and his aesthetics. For instance, Nietzsche himself could compose, as  seen in this post on Open Culture. It’s piano music, a restrained sort of Kleinkunst, very interesting and enjoyable as such.

However, as intimated in the bio the case of “Nietzsche against Wagner” is not a zero-sum game, not a clear-cut phenomenon of “for and against, black and white”. For instance, to the end, even after having delivered his criticism of Wagner’s opus as too cumbersome, Nietzsche still admired strains of Wagner’s music, like the Tristan music.

You could say: Wagner was a shaman, a truly mythical artist, making himself into a myth. Nietzsche did the same, this philosopher also writing poetry and one great novel, Thus Spake Zarathustra. This was a magnificient case of what the Germans call Selbststilisierung = self-stylisation. He made his whole being into a deathless myth by conceiving of Zarathustra going around preaching.

Whatever the case, the soundtrack to Zarathustra and Nietzsche’s life and all – that soundtrack, to me, must have Wagner music to it. The piano music of Nietzsche’s own hand could come along too, sure, but the best way to musically mirror the Nietzsche attitude, the Nietzsche way of thinking, the Nietzschean being, is with Wagner themes. Concepts like “the overman, the eternal recurrence, will to power” – this seem to demand Wagner tubas in minor, tragic Leitmotifs ringing out over the mountain land.

When I personally read Thus Spake Zarathustra I hear Wagner as a virtual soundtrack.

As intimated my Wagner bio has a chapter on Nietzsche’s relationship to Wagner, more or less capturing what I’ve said in this post. The book – Richard Wagner – A Portrait – moreover contains a biographical outline, a survey over all of Wagner’s major operas and also some thematical essays covering literature, myth, popular culture and history pertaining to the subject. Here’s info on the Manticore site about the book. The Amazon page for the book is to be found here.


Buy the Book on Amazon

A Presentation of the Book on my Other Blog

Sample Chapter: Wagner and Popular Culture

Publisher’s Presentation of the Book

2 Comments on Nietzsche, Wagner and Music

  1. I am sure you realize that Nietzsche maintained that he always had cordial relations with Wagner without a hint of animosity?


  2. Indeed, Nietzsche said that. Wagner himself might be of a different opinion.


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  1. The Many Faces of Wagner – Manticore Press

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