This coming Monday (February 4), Thomas S. Grey of Stanford University will give a lecture on Wagner’s Ring cycle that examines the themes of “environmental catastrophe” and “ecological consciousness” as they emerge from the reception history of the work. The lecture is sponsored by the Departments of Music and German and Slavic Studies. For more information, please see below or the attached flyer.
The lecture is free and open to the public and will be held in Towell Library (in The Cicstern Yard) from 5pm to 6pm, February 4.
Modern stagings of Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung since Chéreau’s celebrated Bayreuth centennial production (1976-1980) have repeatedly suggested the relation of the natural environment to the agency of mankind (including gods and dwarves) as an interpretive key to the whole cycle. Specifically, Alberich’s theft of the symbolic “Rhine Gold” at the beginning of the cycle and his forging from it the magical talisman of world-domination, the Ring, is presented as an allegory of the human exploitation of natural resources in the modern era for industrial, military, or other economic and political ends. In such readings, the gesture of apocalypse that concludes the cycle, Brünnhilde’s valedictory “immolation scene,” resonates with various historical and potential forms of environmental catastrophe.
This paper interrogates the conceptual foundations of this reading of the Ring cycle in the work’s text and music, and in the reception history especially since George Bernard Shaw’s The Perfect Wagnerite (1898). Wagner’s Ring, while obviously grounded in pre-environmentalist attitudes toward nature, actively participates in the construction of an ecological consciousness in Romantic-era artistic discourse contemporaneous with that of the American transcendentalists and other key figures in this history.
Thomas S. Grey is Professor of Musicology at Stanford University. He is the author of Wagner’s Musical Prose: Texts and Contexts (Cambridge, 1995) and editor and co-author of Richard Wagner: The Flying Dutchman (Cambridge, 2000), The Cambridge Companion to Wagner (Cambridge, 2008), and Richard Wagner and His World (Princeton, 2009). Other current interests include music and visual culture, music and the “Gothic,” and American musical theater.
Link to PDF flyer: Thomas S. Grey, Musicology Lecture