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Wagner in Russia, Poland and the Czech Lands: Musical, Literary, and Cultural Perspectives ed. by Stephen Muir and Anastasia Belina-Johnson (review)
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Wagner in Russia, Poland and the Czech Lands: Musical, Literary, and Cultural Perspectives. Ed. by Stephen Muir and Anastasia Belina-Johnson. pp. 254. (Ashgate, Farnham and Burlington, Vt., 2013. £95. ISBN 978-1-4094-6226-2.)

It is hard to read a book with a title like Wagner in Russia, Poland and the Czech Lands today without expecting to come across terms like ‘transnational’, ‘network’, and ‘cultural transfer’. The years since this book was published have seen a transnational turn. And this isn’t particular to musicology. A volume taking nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russia, Poland, Bohemia, and Moravia as its subject cries out for consideration of eastern Europe beyond borders, as has become common in area studies. So, as a disclaimer: these authors don’t deal with networks or transfers; neither do they explore border fluidity. The title does not refer to Wagner himself visiting these lands (though this comes up from time to time), nor, as the static ‘in’ indicates, the mechanics of the movements of Wagner’s music or writings. Through no fault of the editors or authors, therefore, the volume already feels a little dated. But, without stating it explicitly, these chapters are driven by questions that have been asked with increasing frequency of late: how are ideas and cultural objects transformed and reinterpreted when they cross borders, and how do they affect the receiving party?

Stephen Muir and Anastasia Belina-Johnson’s collection presents a valuable addition to the existing literature on Wagner’s reception abroad. Steven Huebner has written on Wagner’s reception and influence in France, Emma Sutton on British Wagnerism, Hannu Salmi on Wagner in Scandinavia and the Baltic Provinces, and Rosamund Bartlett on Russia, but no one has yet attempted a broader study on eastern Europe. As reflected in this list, the subject of Wagner’s cultural impact has not been limited to musicological study (of these, only Huebner is a musicologist). This volume continues that trend. Although half of the contributions come from musicologists, Wagner in Russia, Poland and the Czech Lands also includes work by historians and philosophers. As such, it draws together a range of approaches: there are chapters on Wagner’s musical and ideological influence on composers, philosophers, and dramatists; surveys of performances; and analyses of Wagner’s reception in journals and newspapers.

In addition to being interdisciplinary, the book combines different national specialisms. Each author, however, remains largely within his or her national area, and none considers the fact that these locales have not always been so neatly separated historically. It would be unreasonable to expect comparisons between essays in a collected edition, but there are moments where some awareness of the other areas mentioned would have been beneficial. For instance, Magdalena Dziadek makes claims for Poland’s particular tardiness in staging Wagner’s music dramas (the full Ring cycle was not given by a Polish company until 1914). But Russian companies were not much quicker (1900), and Czechs decidedly slower: parts of the cycle were first staged in Czech in 1915 and 1916, but the Ring was not staged in full until 2005.

Indeed, one thing that is missing is a sense of how these chapters really hang together—an aspect that Richard Taruskin mentions in his Foreword. The title bears traces of a draft version that might have read ‘Wagner in Eastern Europe’, but was scrapped to be more representative of the content, and to avoid suggesting that there was such a thing as a characteristically eastern European way of reacting to Wagner over such a broad time span (roughly [End Page 351] the 1880s to 1980s). While this is probably wise, some explanation as to why these three places were chosen would have been welcome.

A volume like this does nevertheless offer the chance to make comparisons between areas that might not easily be covered by a single author. One recurring thread is that economic and institutional factors restricted performances of Wagner’s music dramas—and of grandiose music dramas composed in their image. This is the case in Jan Smaczny’s and Michael Ewans’s chapters: Dvořák’s Král a uhlíř [King and Charcoal Burner] and...