Wagner in Paris: Translation, Identity, Modernity

Jeremy Coleman (jeremy.coleman@kcl.ac.uk)
PhD in Musicology, 2016, King’s College London.

This thesis aims to re-evaluate Richard Wagner’s relationship with Paris from his earliest residence (1839-1842) to the Paris Tannhäuser (1861) through the lens of translation in multiple senses of the word.  The phenomenon of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century French Wagnerism has long attracted diverse interpretations in musicology and cultural history; less well known is Wagner’s own perennial ambition of an operatic success in the “capital city of the nineteenth century” (Walter Benjamin), the better to launch his career on an international platform, and the paradoxical consequences of that ambition upon its failure.  My point of departure is twofold: on the one hand, I engage in a number of ideas in the so-called “Wagner debate” as an ongoing philosophical project that has sought to come to terms with the problematic of the composer’s Germanness; and on the other hand, I hope to shed new light on some of these very questions via critical interrogation of hitherto neglected sources, including translations and adaptations between French and German produced or supervised by the composer himself.  My argument proceeds in a chronological series of dialectical “moments”, if not in a continuous narrative of linear development: Chapters 1 and 2 concern two different phases of Wagner’s early Paris years, 1839-42, a formative period in his life that has yet to receive sustained investigation; Chapters 3 and 4 examine his view of Paris as it were “at a distance”, respectively his period as Kapellmeister in Dresden and his post-May 1849 exile; finally, in Chapter 5, I offer a genuine reappraisal of Wagner’s much-discussed 1859-1861 Paris period, with particular focus on the 1860 concerts at the Théâtre Italien and Baudelaire’s Wagner appreciation.

The thesis is available for reference at The Maughan Library (Strand Campus), Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1LR.