On the Gesamtkunstwerk

Juliet Koss talks with NPR Berlin’s “The Berlin Journal” radio show about her forthcoming book Modernism after Wagner (February 2010). She iterates that this is not just another book on Wagner, rather it is about his term Gesamtkunstwerk, how it is a term often thrown around yet not clearly defined and contextualized. She says:

Certainly when Wagner first proposed it, he was not talking about architecture per se. He was talking about the sister arts, as he put it, and those were poetry, music, and dance. … Wagner argued that in bringing the arts together he was actually freeing them to become, as he put it, “more purely themselves,” so that what we understand now (this term is thrown around all the time), it’s usually understood to mean a vast muddle, a complete mixing, a kind of phantasmagoria in which all individual elements are lost. In fact, that’s not Wagner’s original understanding. He was arguing for a kind of central purity of each individual element that would become more refined in the process of combining with other art forms.

You can catch Koss’s interview below or listen to the full radio show by clicking here (Koss’s interview with architectural historian Wallis Miller begins at 40:37).


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