Wagner's Melodies: Aesthetics and Materialism in German Musical Identity

David J Trippett

Research output: Book/ReportAuthored book


Since the 1840s, critics have lambasted Wagner for lacking the ability to compose melody. But for him, melody was fundamental – 'music's only form'. This incongruity testifies to the surprising difficulties during the nineteenth century of conceptualizing melody. Despite its indispensable place in opera, contemporary theorists were unable even to agree on a definition for it.

In Wagner's Melodies, David Trippett re-examines Wagner's central aesthetic claims, placing the composer's ideas about melody in the context of the scientific discourse of his age: from the emergence of the natural sciences and historical linguistics to sources about music's stimulation of the body and inventions for 'automatic' composition. Interweaving a rich variety of material from the history of science, music theory, music criticism, private correspondence and court reports, Trippett uncovers a new and controversial discourse that placed melody at the apex of artistic self-consciousness and generated problems of urgent dimensions for German music aesthetics.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages460
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-107-06943-5
ISBN (Print)978-1-107-01430-5
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Richard Wagner
  • Melody
  • History of theory
  • natural sciences
  • Lohengrin
  • Jacob Grimm
  • philology
  • opera


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  • Lewis Lockwood Award

    Trippett, David J (Recipient), 2014

    Prize: National/international honour

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