My AHRC-funded doctoral research is concerned with the pervasive and multifaceted influence of Wagner’s music, aesthetics and politics on British composers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. British Wagnerism is often considered to be synonymous with a fin-de-siècle mood of decadence and aestheticism. My research, however, examines numerous and diverse strands of British Wagnerism (or ‘Wagnerisms’), covering a period from the premiere of Hubert Parry’s Prometheus Unbound in 1880 to the completion of Rutland Boughton’s Arthurian operatic pentalogy in 1945.
I first consider how British Wagnerism manifested itself before the decadence of the 1890s, examining, for example, Charles Villiers Stanford’s Meistersinger-inspired Wagnerism – ‘healthy’, ‘wholesome’, diatonic and ‘human’ - and Hubert Parry’s incomplete Arthurian opera, Guenever. I then show how British Wagnerism was embraced more wholeheartedly in the 1890s by a younger generation of composers, including Granville Bantock, William Wallace and Hamish MacCunn. I illustrate Wagnerism’s intersection with a number of other fin-de-siècle currents, such as Celticism, Arthurianism, medievalism, pantheism, Orientalism and a distinctive strand of mystical religiosity. Links with the Pre-Raphaelites and British literary Wagnerism are also considered, and a comparison is made with late nineteenth-century French Wagnerian composers – particularly with those who, like MacCunn and Bantock, wrote operas with a Celtic setting, such as D’Indy, Chausson and Lalo.
A chapter on Elgar picks up the Meistersinger thread of British Wagnerism discussed earlier in relation to Stanford. Elgar, too, was influenced by the healthy, human, and diatonic aspects of Die Meistersinger, and in particular by a Wagnerian notion of community (‘Gemeinschaft’) and fellowship. I follow this thread through a number of Elgar’s choral and orchestral works, from his 1893 cantata The Black Knight, to his last completed oratorio, The Kingdom (1906). I suggest that this strand of Elgar’s Wagnerism is equally important as the more conspicuous decadent strand stemming from Parsifal and associated with such works as The Dream of Gerontius (1900) and The Apostles (1903).
Another chapter surveys the impact of Wagnerism on Arnold Bax and the artistic and political circles in which he moved in Ireland. I provide a formal analysis and hermeneutic reading of Bax’s tone poem Tintagel (1917–19), showing how theosophical ideas about cyclical evolution, Wagnerian narratives of ideal-corruption-redemption, and issues to do with the feminine gendering of Ireland intersect in this work. Drawing parallels with Bax’s post-Easter Rising pro-Republican poetry, I suggest that the tone poem can be considered an implicit response to the events of 1916, and link its narrative to a revolutionary impulse to revive the ideals of an ancient heroic (Celtic) age in a post-1916 Ireland.
Other composers to be considered in my thesis include Frederick Corder, Alexander Mackenzie, Joseph Holbrooke and Rutland Boughton.
Other Research Interests
I am interested in the historiography of British music, analysis (especially Classical form, and the application of Hepokoski and Darcy’s Sonata Theory to later repertoires) and hermeneutics, musical criticism and journalism, and the reception of musical modernism in Britain. My master’s thesis focussed on the reception of the works of Cyril Scott (1879-1970), and aimed at elucidating what musical modernism actually meant to critics and audiences in the years before the First World War. I am currently writing a chapter on Scott’s reception for a planned multi-authored book on the composer.
I would be happy discuss any aspect of my research with those who are interested. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter: @peterjatkinson.