Events | The Sound of San Remo Drive: Alex Ross and Hans Rudolf Vaget in Conversation

Online | November 22, 2020 | 11:00 AM

Richard Wagner continues to polarize scholars and audiences like no other composer. Long before he was appropriated by National Socialism, Wagner became an artistic icon for a wide range of groups—socialists, occultists, feminists, gay-rights pioneers, African-American intellectuals—who found inspiration in Lohengrin, The Ring of the Nibelung, Tristan and Isolde and Parsifal. The writer and music enthusiast Thomas Mann was also one of Wagner's great admirers.

Mann's life is closely connected with Richard Wagner. His lecture "Sorrows and Grandeur of Richard Wagner," delivered in February 1933, celebrated the composer and his work, yet at the same time it drew critical attention to the "dark cult of the past" in Wagner's work. In a direct confrontation with the Nazi conception of Wagner, Mann presented the composer as one "who already has one foot on atonal ground and who would certainly be called a cultural Bolshevik today." An outcry in National Socialist Germany and an angry "protest of the Richard Wagner City of Munich" followed.

Thomas and Katia Mann emigrated and did not set foot on German soil for almost fifteen years. But even during his exile in Pacific Palisades, Wagner played an important role in the creation of works such as Joseph the Provider and Doctor Faustus. Mann's diaries tell of regular evenings with recordings of Siegfried and Walküre, radio broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera, and concerts at the Hollywood Bowl.

The author and music critic Alex Ross (The New Yorker) and the literary scholar Hans Rudolf Vaget (Smith College) enter into a conversation about Thomas Mann and the intellectual legacy of Richard Wagner.


Alex Ross has been the music critic of The New Yorker since 1996. His first book, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and won a National Book Critics Circle Award. His second book was the essay collection Listen to This. He  most recently published Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music (Farrar, Straus, Giroux 2020). Ross was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2008 and a Guggenheim Fellow in 2015. He is a member of the Advisory Board of Thomas Mann House.

Hans Rudolf Vaget is Professor of German Studies and Comparative Literature at Smith College (Northampton, Massachusetts). He received his academic training at the universities of Munich and Tübingen, the University of Wales at Cardiff and at Columbia University in New York. His research focuses on Goethe, Wagner and Thomas Mann, on which he has published extensively. Recently he published Wehvolles Erbe: Richard Wagner in Deutschland. Hitler, Knappertsbusch, Mann (S. Fischer Publishing House, 2017).

The event will take place at the Thomas Mann House with no audience. A video of the conversation will premiere on our YouTube-Channel on November 22, 11. a.m (PT).

Villa Aurora & Thomas Mann House e. V. is supported by the German Federal Foreign Office and Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media.



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