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Journal of the Musical Arts in Africa

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The first scholarly South African interpretation of Wagner? Ramsden Balmforth’s Fabian analysis of the Ring and Parsifal

Frederick Hale

Abstract


2013 marks both the bicentenary of Richard Wagner’s birth and the centenary of performances of his Ring cycle in Cape Town, which contemporary critics hailed as a noteworthy advance in the cultural life of the Mother City. In that year the first South African to write a book about Wagner, the transplanted Yorkshireman Ramsden Balmforth, crafted his Drama, Music-drama, and Religion. It is argued in the present article that his interpretation relied to an appreciable degree on George Bernard Shaw’s 1898 The Perfect Wagnerite, but also incorporated Balmforth’s own Fabian socialist and post-orthodox Christian notions which he perceived in both the Ring cycle and Parsifal. Balmforth’s interpretation further reflected the influence of his many years in South Africa, where he served as a Unitarian minister and engaged indefatigably in social reform efforts, which generally meshed with the ideological precepts he had brought from England. To a significantly greater extent than Shaw he delved into individual traits of Wagnerian characters rather than perceiving them almost exclusively as manifestations of social classes.

JOURNAL OF THE MUSICAL ARTS IN AFRICA VOLUME 10 2013, 53–69



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