Peter Conrad begins his tale in a public park in Venice, home to a pair of statues of the composers that are positioned so as to appear to shun each other. This provides a fitting starting point for his argument that they represent two opposite yet equally integral and compelling dimensions of European culture: north versus south, cerebral versus sensual, proud solitude versus human connection, epic mythmaking versus humane magnanimity.The book is a richly argued tour de force that engages passionately and profoundly with music, biography, history, politics, philosophy, psychology, and culture in the broadest sense. As Conrad concludes, “At one time or another, if not simultaneously, we still need the two contradictory, complementary kinds of music that Verdi and Wagner left us.”
Peter Conrad taught English literature at Christ Church, Oxford, for four decades. He has written more than twenty books, including Orson Welles: The Stories of His Life; The Hitchcock Murders; How the World Was Won: The Americanization of Everywhere; Creation: Artists, Gods, and Origins; Modern Times, Modern Places: Life and Art in the Twentieth Century; and Mythomania: Tales of Our Times from Apple to ISIS.