"On Opera" by Bernard Williams

On Opera Bernard Williams, Michael Tanner

Publication date:
16 Feb 2016
Yale University Press
176 pages: 235 x 156mm
Sales territories:


In his last work, one of the great philosophers of the 20th century explores the pleasures of opera

Bernard Williams, who died in 2003, was one of the most influential moral philosophers of his generation. A lifelong opera lover, his articles and essays, talks for the BBC, contributions to the Grove Dictionary of Opera, and program notes for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and the English National Opera, generated a devoted following. 

This elegant volume brings together these widely scattered and largely unobtainable pieces, including two that have not been previously published. It covers an engaging range of topics from Mozart to Wagner, including sparkling essays on specific operas by those composers as well as Verdi, Puccini, Strauss, Debussy, Janacek, and Tippett. Reflecting Williams’s brilliance, passion, and clarity of mind, these essays engage with, and illustrate, the enduring appeal of opera as an art form.

Bernard Williams was Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy, Cambridge University, Monroe Deutsch Professor of Philosophy, University of California, Berkeley, and White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy, Oxford University. He was a member of the board of the English National Opera in London and author of many articles on music.

Selected as an Outstanding AcademicTitle for 2007 by Choice Magazine

"Most of the stuff one reads about opera is either hack or musicological maundering. With Bernard Williams you’re in touch with a subtle, well-furnished mind which visualizes opera as a cultural artefact with complex literary and philosophical implications. And yet at the same time the text is lucid, intelligible and diverting, without a trace of post-modernist jargon or structuralist bullshit."—Jonathan Miller

 ". . . a new standpoint and an unfamiliar kind of thinking . . . the writing is a delight."—Stanley Sadie

"The most powerful of Bernard [William's] intellectual dispositions was his humanism: a great delight in what people can be, at the beauty of what they can make in music, art and ideas, at the rich varieties of culture they can imagine and live, but also an empathetic sense of people's limitations and failures, their humanity in the sense of weakness as well as achievement."—Ronald Dworkin

"Music was deeply important to Bernard [Williams]. He did not just like it. He studies it, practised it, and wrote about it."—Sir Keith Thomas

"His sheer appetite for life was wide in scope and varied in mode. He brought clarity of mind and gaiety of spirit to crucial issues of identity, justice, society, psychology, art and (particularly) music."—Reverend John Drury