From great man to fittest survivor: Reputation, recapitulation and survival in Victorian concepts of Wagner s genius
Zon, B. (2009). From great man to fittest survivor: Reputation, recapitulation and survival in Victorian concepts of Wagner s genius. Musicae Scientiae, Special issue 2009-2010, 415-445.
The transposition of the Great Man into the Fittest Survivor is at the very root of an endemic interchange between the sciences and the arts in late Victorian culture, giving rich metaphoric substance to more heavily concretised scientific terminology. Herbert Spencer s famous phrase, survival of the fittest is, arguably, one of the most commonly transposed and consequently influential scientific expressions of the Victorian period, and as such, one of its most malleable idioms. In Victorian musicology this influence is especially obvious in biographical works which privilege Richard Wagner as the greatest genius of musical history. Thus in Mezzotints in Modern Music (1899) James Huneker declares that Wagner carried within his breast the precious eucharist of genius. It is the attitude of Huneker and like-minded musicologists, like C. Hubert H. Parry, William Wallace, Francis Hueffer and Richard Wallaschek, which forms the basis of a three-part exploration of Wagner s genius, covering (1) the role of endurance in Victorian definitions of genius, from Carlyle and Sully to Galton; (2) the influence of German morphology on evolutionary terminology in Britain, with particular reference to ontogeny, phylogeny and recapitulation; and (3) Spencer s adaptation of German morphology and his influence on Victorian perceptions of Wagner s genius. These collectively argue through the paradigm of Wagner that the formulation of late Victorian musical genius was incomplete without recourse to evolutionary terminology of survival. Indeed, for Victorian musicology, Wagner, the Great Man, had evolved into Wagner, the Fittest Survivor. ...