Freud once asserted that his intention was to re-interpret myths and stories as products of the inner world, and thus ‘transform metaphysics into metapsychology’. But had Wagner got there before him? By taking the mythic dimension and bringing it into the human realm, Wagner anticipated Freud in his depiction of unconscious processes of the mind, while Freud’s ‘science of the unconscious’ gives unprecedented insights into Wagner’s monumental achievements. This conference is a result of the conviction that, like Freud, “Wagner was grappling … with fundamental psychosexual issues that affect us all” (Barry Millington, 2013) and that a fruitful dialogue can exist between their two bodies of work.
Why Freud and Wagner?
“The Prince Consort sits under a gothic tent, so to speak, around whose base runs a frieze of sculptures which depicts writers, artists, sculptors, musicians, as life-like as possible … But it is very curious how rapidly a collection becomes incomplete. Lacking for us nowadays, of course, is R. Wagner, who was at that time starving.” Letter to Family, Sunday 13 September 1908.
Why be surprised that Freud, visiting London in 1908, should notice the absence of Wagner at the base of the Albert Memorial? Wagner was everywhere in Freud’s Vienna. One of his closest early colleagues was the musicologist Max Graf, who organised the 50th anniversary celebrations of Wagner in Vienna and wrote psychoanalytic interpretations of The Flying Dutchman and other works. His sisters went to Wagner’s operas as often as they could, and Freud mentions Tannhauser, Mastersingers, Siegfried and Tristan and Isolde in his writings. Patients brought him dreams of interminable Wagner operas that may have been coded criticisms of the interminable analysis they were undergoing. And when did little Sigmund learn that his namesake in Wagner’s tetralogy was the hero who transgressed the incest taboo and was brutally punished by his father? This conference is a result of the conviction that, like Freud, “Wagner was grappling … with fundamental psychosexual issues that affect us all” (Barry Millington, 2013) and that a fruitful dialogue can exist between their two bodies of work. Freud asserted that “poets and philosophers before me discovered the unconscious” – perhaps Wagner was foremost among them.
Anthony Cantle (psychoanalyst)
Anthony Cantle has introduced and chaired three previous Freud Museum events – on the “Therapist’s Body” (2000), “Understanding Perversion” (2009) and “Mahler” (2010). He is a practising Psychoanalyst and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist and a Fellow of The Institute of Psychoanalysis, London and its former Curator. Formerly Founder and Director of the Open Door Adolescent Consultation Service in London he has also taught on the MA in Psychotherapy at the Tavistock Clinic. He worked for many years at the St Albans College of Art & Design where he set up and offered a consultation service to postgraduate students studying Art, Dance & Drama Therapies.
In addition to his clinical practice he is currently a Training Analyst and Supervisor for the former British Association of Psychotherapists, the Lincoln Clinic for Psychotherapy and the London Centre for Psychotherapy and the Tavistock Clinic and the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships. He is also member of the UK Mahler Society and participated in the 2009 BBC Series “Robert Winston’s Musical Analysis” where he spoke about the marriage of Gustav and Alma Mahler. In 2010 he introduced and chaired the Freud Museum event – with Gavin Plumley as the guest speaker – and entitled “The ‘Faust’ Problem: Music and Madness in Mahler’s Vienna.” Later the same year, as part of the centenary celebrations of Mahler’s death, the BBC asked Anthony Cantle and the British composer and Mahler expert David Matthews to make a programme about Gustav Mahler’s meeting and four hour conversation with Sigmund Freud in the Dutch city of Leiden. Recorded on location, “Walking with Freud” was transmitted in 2010 and was repeated as the interval documentary during the 2011 BBC Proms season.
Anthony Cantle was also a contributor to the 2011 BBC Radio Four series “Soul Music” featuring the Adagietto from Mahler’s 5th symphony and assisted in the BBC Wales production of the 2012 two part programme on the Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius.
Gavin Plumley (musicologist)-
Private Theatre and Hysterical Opera: Wagner’s influence in Freud’s Vienna
Post-Wagnerian composers in Vienna, hugely influenced by the Bayreuth Behemoth, actively explored the kind of mental dissociation described in Freud and Breuer’s Studies on Hysteria (1894). Employing vast orchestras to create swirling psychodramas, their operas offer a beguiling artistic response to Anna O’s idea of ‘private theatre’, and to Wagner’s use of the mythological as a way of approaching psychological ‘truths’. A few decades later many of those composers, exiled by the Nazis, employed the same soundworld to accompany the ultimate dissociative narratives of Hollywood’s Silver Screen. In this paper I will look at operas by Schreker, Korngold and their contemporaries through a Freudian lens.
Gavin Plumley is a writer and broadcaster, specialising in the music and culture of Central Europe. He has appeared on BBC Radio 3 and has recently spoken at the Royal Opera House, ENO, the CBSO, V&A, The Freud Museum, and the Neue Galerie New York. He has given a number of talks at the Southbank Centre’s ‘The Rest is Noise’ festival this year and was recently appointed commissioning editor for the English language programmes at the Salzburg Festival. www.entartetemusik.blogspot.com
Inge Wise- (psychoanalyst)
Die Walküre: A Tale of Oedipal Longings and Desires
Inge Wise studied English, French and Spanish literature and worked as simultaneous interpreter prior to training at the Tavistock Clinic and the British Psychoanalytic Society. She is a fellow of both the BPAS and of the Institute of Psychoanalysis. She founded the Psychoanalytic Ideas series published by the Institute of Psychoanalysis, which she co-edited with Paul Williams until 2011. She works in private practice and teaches/supervises in the UK and abroad. Music has been a constant in her life.
Tom Artin- (writer)
The Ring in a Nutshell: A Glimpse at The Wagner Complex
In this paper I will present an overview of my recently published The Wagner Complex: Genesis and Meaning of The Ring, which sets forth a psychoanalytic interpretation of Wagner’s operatic tetralogy. Though a commonplace that Wagner’s works offer fertile ground for Freudian analysis, remarkably little investigation along these lines has actually seen publication. This book’s thesis rests on an exploration of the 19th c. Zeitgeist in whose atmosphere Wagner’s operatic creations and Freud’s psychological speculations alike came to fruition, most notably the emerging conjecture–scientific as well as philosophical–of the fundamental role played by the unconscious in everyday life and the creative process. The overarching conclusion of The Wagner Complex is that The Ring comprises not merely fanciful adventures (and misadventures) of gods, giants, and dwarves, of super-human heroes and anti-heroes such as traverse its intricate surface, but shadows forth symbolically the drama of unconscious intra-psychic conflict.
Tom Artin was educated at Princeton, from which he holds a Ph. D. in Comparative Literature. He has held academic positions at a number of American colleges and universities, Swarthmore College and SUNY Rockland among them. His interest in Wagner evolved both from his training as a medievalist and his life-long involvement with music, and opera in particular. He is the author of several books, including The Allegory of Adventure, an exegetical study of the Arthurian romances of the 12th c. French poet Chrétien de Troyes, and most recently The Wagner Complex: Genesis and Meaning of The Ring.
Bryan Magee (philosopher)
in conversation with
Stephen Gee (psychotherapist)
Precursors of the Unconscious: Wagner and the Philosophers
Bryan Magee and Stephen Gee
In this conversation we will explore Bryan Magee’s long-standing work on music and philosophy with reference to the impact on Wagner’s operas of 19th century philosophers, most notably Schopenhauer, and Wagner’s concomitant influence on philosophy through his association with Nietzsche. In their writing, all three men elaborated ideas about unconscious forces and desires at work in human affairs, famously anticipating Freud and modernism. No 20th century composer could avoid the influence of Wagner and there were many artistic developments, including the breakdown of tonality itself. Likewise, with the advent of psychoanalysis there was no going back to any ideal of a unitary self or a philosophical ‘subject’.
Bryan Magee has had a lifelong engagement with philosophy and music. His work includes the award winning radio and TV series in which he interviewed contemporary thinkers such as Sir Alfred Ayer and Herbert Marcuse as well as exploring the ideas of philosophers of the past. His books include the autobiographical Confessions of a Philosopher and an acclaimed introduction to Karl Popper. He wrote The Philosophy of Schopenhauer and two books on Wagner; Aspects of Wagner and The Tristan Chord; Wagner and Philosophy. Like these two major figures in his creative life Bryan Magee has himself been a man of action as wells of ideas. In the1960s he made documentaries on prostitution, abortion and homosexuality and was Labour MP for Leyton in the 1970s and 80s. He has the gift of communicating his own love of ideas and music in a way that engages both aficionados and newcomers.
Stephen Gee (psychotherapist)
Precursors of the Unconscious: Wagner and the Philosophers
Stephen Gee is a member and former Chair of The Site for Contemporary Psychoanalysis. He has contributed to Site conferences on Winnicott, Lacan, Homosexuality, and Class. He organised a rehearsed reading of Sarah Kane’s ‘4:48 Psychosis‘ followed by a colloquium in which psychoanalysts of different schools talked about the issues raised by the play and the challenges facing people suffering with psychosis. He ran a performance group at the Studio Upstairs where he was also a supervisor. He is a member of the editorial group of the Site’s psychoanalytic journal, and has written on the problematic history of psychoanalysis and homosexuality. He interviewed the director Phyllida Lloyd at The Site and at the English National Opera on her 2005 production of Wagner’s Ring cycle. He has a private practice in South London and teaches regularly at The Site and on other psychoanalytic trainings.
Estela Welldon (forensic psychotherapist)
The Chaste and the Driven: Power struggles in Wagner’s women
Far from being the passive victims of popular imagination, Wagner’s women are often complex, paradoxical and driven characters, representing diverse aspects of femininity and female desire. Wagner’s mythic narratives unveil power struggles between men and women, and between women themselves, representing warring currents of emotion within female psychology.
Estela Welldon is a psychotherapist who worked for many years at the Portman Clinic and in private practice. She is the founder of the International Association for Forensic Psychotherapy and a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. She is most famous for her book Mother, Madonna Whore: The Idealization and Denigration of Motherhood (1988) which quashed the myth that ‘perversion’ was largely a male preserve and opened up a whole new field of therapeutic enquiry. In 1997 Oxford Brookes University awarded Dr. Welldon a D.Sc. Honorary Doctorate of Science degree for her contributions to the field of forensic psychotherapy, and this year she was invited to become an Honorary member of the American Psychoanalytic Association. She is principal editor of A Practical Guide to Forensic Psychotherapy (1997) and author of Sadomasochism (2002). Her latest publication is Playing with Dynamite: A Personal Approach to the Understanding of Perversions, Violence and Criminality (Karnac, 2011) Her interest in Wagner is long-standing.
Stephen Gross (Jungian analyst)
Freud and Wagner: The Assault on Reason
A highly significant connection linking Freud and Wagner is the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. His claim that true reality consists of the primordial and undifferentiated Will beyond both space and time as well as the reach of Reason and appearance, was hugely influential on Wagner’s music, particularly “Tristan and Isolde” as Bryan Magee has argued in his celebrated study Wagner and Philosophy. Freud’s notion of the unconscious, most specifically the id as seat of the sex drives, can now be seen as a derivation of Schopenhauer’s ideas, thereby establishing his link with Wagner. The fierce resistance and hostility towards both Freud and Wagner was founded not only on their perceived assault on prevailing sexual mores, but their assault on Reason itself, and, in Wagner’s case, on his association with Nazism.
Stephen Gross is an analytic psychotherapist in private practice. He also teaches and supervises at WPF Therapy and other training organisations. He is particularly interested in the overlap between psychotherapy and literature, especially the works of Shakespeare on which he has published widely. His first play, “Freud’s Night Visitors” has been performed twice at The Freud Museum London.