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  Gesamtkunstwerk (German, ‘united-art work’) was an ideal put forward in late-19th-century Germany, and was concerned above all with the performing arts. The theory was that works of art should be created in which all the participating arts should have equal status: not just words and music (about whose status in opera, relative to one another, there had been centuries of argument), but design, lighting, production and any other activity essential to the show. Wagner proclaimed that his music-dramas were gesamtkunstwerk—and perhaps in his own Bayreuth theatre, performed under his direction and with his designs, they were. A generation after Wagner, Alexander Scriabin wrote large-scale concert works in which light shows and musical sounds were carefully integrated to induce (he hoped) specific psychological and mystical states (he even had perfumes sprayed on the audience at appropriate moments in the performance). In the modern era, this kind of approach has been widely used by pop and rock groups, electronics and lasers making possible effects which neither Scriabin nor Wagner could have imagined even in their most technicolor dreams. Together with film, live rock shows are perhaps the most convincing realizations, so far, of the gesamtkunstwerk ideal. KMcL  



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