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Wagner’s Ring Cycle: the Total Art Work

at Brooklyn Institute for Social Research - Gramercy

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$315
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Location:
Gramercy, Manhattan
30 Irving Pl
Btwn E 15th & E 16th Streets
New York, New York 10003
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Description
Class Level: All levels
Age Requirements: 21 and older
Average Class Size: 14
Teacher: Nathan Shields

What you'll learn in this literature class:

At age 37, Richard Wagner—composer, exile, and failed revolutionary—set to work on the project that would consume the next 25 years of his life. By its completion, it had grown into arguably the most ambitious artwork of the 19th century: the monumental cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, a fifteen-hour operatic tetralogy of unprecedented scope and complexity, narrating the history of the world from its birth to its destruction. 

The cycle was intended not only as entertainment, but as a vehicle of social and political transformation—a means by which to realize, through art, the utopian aspirations that had been crushed in the revolutions of 1848. Its music captivated devotees from Charles Baudelaire to the young Friedrich Nietzsche, while Wagner’s artistic radicalism and prophetic self-image transformed the arts. 

Yet in the course of its composition Wagner evolved from a firebrand into a confidant of kings, disciple of Schopenhauer, and tutelary spirit of German nationalism. And even his most ardent admirers could not agree on the true nature of his work. What was Wagner? A Revolutionary, a nationalist, or a decadent? How does his ambition to create a Gesamtkunstwerk—a “Total Work of Art”—resonate with contemporary questions about art, media, and society? What can we learn about music, art, and ideology from Wagner’s magnum opus?

In this course, we will examine the many facets of the Ring: its music, its mythology, its transformative social and political project, and its long historical shadow. We will listen to and discuss all four operas, coupling them with readings from Wagner and from his admirers and detractors, including Nietzsche, Adorno, and Thomas Mann. We’ll explore the intricacies of Wagner’s artistic technique, from the complex web of musical leitmotifs that unite the four operas to the harmonic and orchestral innovations that mesmerized his contemporaries, and consider their relation to the Ring’s larger political and metaphysical vision. 

We’ll discuss the long afterlife of Wagner’s masterwork and its impact both on the history of the arts and the events of the twentieth century. And finally, we’ll ask what the Ring, in all its contradictory complexity—with its utopian ambition, startling sensuality, and fraught legacy—means for us as listeners today.

There *is* no physical Brooklyn Institute. We hold our classes all over (thus far) Brooklyn and Manhattan, in alternative spaces ranging from the back rooms of bars to bookstores to spaces in cultural centers, including the Center for Jewish History, the Goethe-Institut, and the Barnard Center for Research on Women. We can (and do) turn any space into a classroom. You will be notified of the exact location when you register for a class.

Instructors will contact students approximately one week prior to the first class with reading assignments and details about the course location.

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Refund Policy
Upon request, we will refund the entire cost of a class up until 1 week before its start date. Students who withdraw after that point but before the first class are entitled to a 75% refund. After the first class: 50%. After the second: 25%. No refunds will be given after the third class.

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Reviews of Classes at Brooklyn Institute for Social Research (19)

School: Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research was established in 2011 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. Its mission is to extend liberal arts education and research far beyond the borders of the traditional university, supporting community education needs and opening up new possibilities for scholarship in the...

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