News from the Members

03.01.2018
Interesting blog on Wagner and Thailand
This piece from the Thammasat University Libraries in Thailand enthuses about the recent Scruton book and Wagner in Thailand. Two RWVI societies are mention - Thailand and Singapore
A book newly acquired by the Thammasat University Libraries explains some of the interest in a major classical composer. The Ring of Truth: The Wisdom of Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung is about the German composer Richard Wagner, who lived in the 1800s. The Ring of Truth is by Roger Scruton, an English philosopher who is a specialist in aesthetics and political philosophy. His writing makes the book of interest even to readers who are not primarily concerned with music. He analyzes such subjects as faith, love, and politics in Wagner’s operas. Scruton writes about Wagner’s four-opera cycle, The Ring of the Nibelungen:

Until we recognize sacred moments, Wagner implies in this monumental work, we cannot live fully as free beings. These moments are the foundation of all our attempts to endow human life with significance. Despite the controversies that have surrounded this great work – its vast length, its dubious later associations with Nazi thought – it constantly grows on the collective imagination. It is not the answer to life in a post-religious world, but it asks the real questions, and shows us one fruitful way of confronting them.

The Thammasat University Libraries own a number of other books by Roger Scruton, including The Aesthetics of Music; An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture; The Meaning of Conservatism; Conservative Tests: an Anthology; A Short History of Modern Philosophy: From Descartes to Wittgenstein; An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Philosophy; Spinoza: a Very Short Introduction; Kant: a Very Short Introduction; A Political Philosophy; The Palgrave Macmillan Dictionary of Political Thought; Beauty: a Very Short Introduction; and The Soul of the World; The TU Libraries also own sound recordings of music by Wagner which may be heard or seen at the Rewat Buddhinan Media Center of the Pridi Banomyong Library and the Puey Ungphakorn Library, Rangsit Campus Audio-Visual Materials department. Wagner’s music is not for everyone. The American humorist Mark Twain wrote:

I have been told that Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.

Even some other composers did not like his music. For example, the Russian musician Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky reportedly said that after a Wagner opera finally ended, he felt as though he had been let out of prison. Other people like Wagner for the wrong reasons, like the character in the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde who stated:

I like Wagner’s music better than any other music. It is so loud that one can talk the whole time, without people hearing what one says.

Still, there are many things to admire about Wagner’s music. For those who have never heard or appreciated it, the first step might be to find some examples of music by Wagner that we like. For example, Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries has been included in some Hollywood films because of its exciting qualities. This music has also been made fun of in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. If we decide we like the music, then it is worth finding out who Valkyries are and why they are riding. If not, we may try some other music by Wagner. He wrote a lot of it. For those who are put off by the idea that Wagner’s music is mostly loud and involves heavy people standing on a stage and yelling for many hours, then it might be a good idea to listen to his gentler music, such as the Siegfried Idyll. If that puts us to sleep or we need something to wake us up, then the Overture to The Mastersingers of Nuremberg (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg) might be the right choice. Some people, especially young people, find it ridiculous to spend time listening to opera singers, but for those willing to listen, the sopranos Frida Leider and Kirstein Flagstad, the baritone Friedrich Schorr the tenor Lauritz Melchior and the bass Alexander Kipnis have been admired by generations of lovers of Wagner’s music. We should be able to hear the human emotion in their voices while admiring the way they sing difficult music with apparent ease, elegance, and beauty of tone. Some of their recordings have not been surpassed even in ninety years or longer. All those who really know about singing, and singing Wagner’s music in particular, realize what these older singers achieved. So it is worth listening despite old recording techniques to appreciate the standard they set. They help us to understand what the composer was aiming at.

Thailand and Richard Wagner

There is a lot of Wagner’s music to be heard in the Kingdom. Last May, the Thailand Philharmonic offered a program of music by Wagner and Beethoven led by the Icelandic conductor Gudni Emilsson, honorary founding chief conductor of the ensemble.

The International Association of Wagner Societies (RWVI) lists one member from Thailand, Maestro Somtow Sucharitkul. The only other member in ASEAN is the Richard Wagner Association Singapore. As many Thais know, in 2013 Maestro Somtow became the first Asian to win the Golden W award celebrating Richard Wagner’s 200th birthday. Maestro Somtow was recognized for his work over a decade in conducting Wagner’s music in Thailand. At a memorable concert in Bangkok, he conducted Wagner’s music in the presence of the Wolfgang Wagner, the composer’s grandson, and HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana. A number of Wagner operas were performed, and the YouTube channel of Opera Siam has many pleasing excerpts from Wagner’s music including the Siegfried Idyll as well as a charming acceptance speech upon receiving the Golden W award. Thailand still needs expanded music appreciation classes and more recordings made available to young people who might enjoy this music. In 2016, the Richard Wagner Association Singapore (RWA(S)) staged Wagner’s opera The Flying Dutchman. In addition to this production, other related cultural events were scheduled. The Singaporean author Phan Ming Yengave a talk about Wagner and Buddhism at the (RWA(S)). Since Phan Ming Yen is well known on the Singaporean literary scene, as author of the collection That Night by the Beach and Other Stories for A Film Score (2012), and published in The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume One (2013) his insights on Wagner’s music surely helped audiences to better relate to the opera before seeing it. This kind of friendly informal discussion might be useful in the Kingdom, just as a pleasant change for students who are usually fully occupied with K-Pop, Beyoncé, and other favorites.