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Muted

Performances of Wagner’s music are effectively banned in Israel. Should they be?

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Wagner in bronze, Bayreuth. (Johannes Simon/Getty Images)
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Pioneers

A mix of passion and tradition makes Israel a classical-musical superpower

Richard Wagner, the most repugnant of musical nationalists, has become an unlikely poster child for culturally progressive Israelis. The recurring controversy over the public performance of work by the Nazi Party’s favorite composer erupted again in late July when the Israeli Chamber Orchestra, led by the Austrian conductor Roberto Paternostro, performed a much-publicized Wagner program at the Bayreuth Festival in Germany, Wagner’s self-erected shrine and a pillar of the Nazi movement well before Hitler took power. (Paternostro received a standing ovation from the largely German audience, which understandably liked the idea of Jews playing Wagner.) Morbid ethnocentrism with overtones of nationalist extremism is acceptable to the Israeli left, it seems, as long as it isn’t Jewish.

Every so often a prominent musician makes a point of sneaking Wagner into a public concert in Israel. Zubin Mehta, the Indian-born conductor of the Israel Philharmonic, played a Wagner excerpt as an encore to a 1981 concert; Daniel Barenboim, conducting a German ensemble, did it again at the 2001 Jerusalem Festival. And in each case public opprobrium put Wagner’s scores back on the shelf. At the Bayreuth concert, some of the Israeli musicians explained that they never would perform Wagner in Israel but felt free to do so elsewhere. Performance of Wagner’s music is unofficially—but effectively—banned in Israel. But should it be? Mark Twain quipped that Wagner’s music is better than it sounds. By the same token, banning Wagner’s music is a better idea than it sounds. Suppressing the performance of important musical works is not a small matter, though, and deserves careful thought rather than emotional reflex.

Barenboim is Wagner’s most passionate apostle with an Israeli passport (though the conductor also claims citizenship in “Palestine”). For years Barenboim has linked Israel’s informal ban on Wagner performance to the occupation of the West Bank, which he likens to the Nazi occupation of Europe. In a January 2005 speech at Columbia University titled “Wagner, Israel, and Palestine,” Barenboim excoriated the Zionist impulse that leads Israel to defend itself against cultural as well as military foes, arguing that peace will come only when Israel drops its defenses against both. The speech was a memorial to the late Edward Said, the Palestinian rejectionist who had arranged for Barenboim’s “Palestinian” identity papers. In Barenboim’s view, Israel should embrace the composer who wrote the theme music for the Third Reich, just as it should embrace Arab extremists who learned their anti-Semitism from the grand mufti of Jerusalem’s pro-Hitler wartime broadcasts from Berlin.

The fact that some Israeli Wagnerites are repugnant, though, doesn’t justify banning Wagner’s music. Their politics aside, the Wagnerites have a point: Why shouldn’t a free country allow musicians to play whatever music they like? The “Horst Wessel Song” might be banned, but why exclude the music of a composer who died half a century before Hitler came to power?

Barenboim is arguably the most talented musician of his generation, if not always the canniest interpreter. But as a Wagnerite, he is no Wilhelm Furtwängler, the great mid-century maestro who in 1944 conducted Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Berlin under an enormous swastika on the occasion of Hitler’s birthday: Furtwängler’s live recording of Wagner’s “Ring” cycle remains the definitive interpretation to this day. The excellent Israeli conductor Asher Fisch, Barenboim’s student, told me that he travels with that recording in his iPod. A Wagner specialist, Fisch has conducted “Ring” cycles from Adelaide, Australia, to Seattle, without, of course, having the opportunity to pursue his main career interest at home in Israel.

The case of Richard Wagner is trickier than it seems at first sight. Contrary to the headlines about the Israelis at Bayreuth, Wagner was not “Hitler’s favorite composer.” That dubious honor accords to Wagner’s acolyte Anton Bruckner, the unassuming Austrian church organist who was championed by anti-Semitic parties but who never had much to say about Jews one way or the other. To announce Hitler’s death, German radio played the Adagio from Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7, not “Siegfried’s Funeral March.” Zubin Mehta conducted the Israel Philharmonic in Hitler’s favorite piece in 2007 at Lincoln Center without a murmur from the Israeli media. As a Jewish musician, I couldn’t perform it; I can barely stand to listen to it. Hitler loved Wagner, to be sure, but after Stalingrad, he had understandable misgivings about a twilight of the gods—the subject of the concluding opera in Wagner’s four-part “Ring” cycle. Why not prohibit Bruckner as well? And if anti-Semitism is a criterion for performance in Israel, why not ban Tchaikovsky, who hated Jews as much as Wagner did?

Wagner did more than hate Jews, however: He proposed to cast them out of European culture in his infamous 1850 pamphlet “Jewishness in Music,” which denounced the sublime Felix Mendelssohn and the great poet Heinrich Heine as uncreative imitators. His hatred of Jews seems to have had less to do with 19th-century racial theories than with the anxiety of influence. Wagner ripped off the scenario for his opera “The Flying Dutchman” from Heine and knocked off Mendelssohn’s “Fingal’s Cave” overture in the “Dutchman’s” evocation of the sea. Wagner tried to cover his guilty tracks by denouncing Jewish composers he emulated, including Giacomo Meyerbeer.

Wagner was not just a Jew-hater, then, but a backstabbing self-promoter who defamed the Jewish artists he emulated and who (in Meyerbeer’s case) had advanced his career. He hired Jewish musicians when they served his purposes, for example Hermann Levi, who conducted the premiere of his last opera, “Parsifal.”

Privately, Wagner conceded that Mendelssohn was a genius. At home in Bayreuth, he played four-hand arrangements of Mendelssohn overtures with his wife, Cosima, the daughter of Franz Liszt. Robert Schumann had thrown Liszt out of his Dresden home at an 1848 dinner party after Liszt made disparaging remarks about Mendelssohn. Liszt hated Jews as much as Wagner did, but, unlike his son-in-law, he wasn’t smart enough to steal material from them. His music never became important to the Nazis, in part because it is less compelling than Wagner’s. Cosima lived until 1930, long enough to play den mother to the nascent Nazi movement. She sent care packages to Hitler’s prison cell in 1923 after the Munich beer hall putsch attempt, and she sat her grandchildren on Hitler’s lap. In the midst of so many musical anti-Semites, why single out Wagner?

The deeper problem may lie with Wagner’s Israeli interpreters and defenders. Wagner knew perfectly well that his public disparagement of Jewish musicians was humbug. Not so Daniel Barenboim. In his 2005 Columbia lecture, he said, “Wagner recognized that Jews were separated from society, spoke German with ugly accents and couldn’t speak German music to the German Geist. … Wagner’s acceptance of the fact that the Jews were different from the Germans and [Theodor] Herzl’s recognition of the fact was said with a sense of relief, but both recognized the Jews were a distinct and foreign group in Europe.”

That is manifestly false; during Wagner’s youth, the premier composer and poet in the land of music and poetry both were Jews, and Wagner borrowed liberally from both of them. It would be harder to explain why Barenboim repeated an anti-Semitic caricature that Wagner knew to be false if he had not also repeated an anti-Zionist caricature that Edward Said knew to be false. Barenboim himself apparently believes that these caricatures are true.

No one disputes Wagner’s repulsive beliefs and behavior, and few dispute his importance as a composer. Is it possible “to divide the man from his art,” as conductor Pasternostro told Israeli television in July? The bifurcation seems odd, for art is a mode of human interchange, not an emotionally neutral variety of tonal mathematics. Audiences still pack opera houses to hear Wagner in order to be stirred by the man communicating through his music. Wagner’s attack on the classical form had a broader agenda, in which he linked classical form to the tyranny of convention and the despised biblical God. Classical form focuses the ear on a goal and subordinates all the elements of music to the motion toward this goal. It creates a sense of the future, which makes it possible to evoke suspense, surprise, and humor through musical means. Form is simply a means to create expectations, and without expectations there can be no surprise.

But Wagner was after something more radical: He proposed to do away with the covenantal order of traditional society. Nietzsche had him pegged. At first intoxicated with Wagner, he awoke with a hangover and wrote: “Whence arises all evil in the world, Wagner asked himself? … From customs, laws, morals, institutions, from all those things on which the ancient world and ancient society rests.”

He went on: “Wagner’s heroines, once they have been divested of their heroic husks, are indistinguishable from Madame Bovary.” But Wagner offers more than Emma Bovary with a soundtrack. The provincial French adulteress is a paragon of virtue next to Wagner’s protagonists. In “Die Walküre,” the second installment of his “Ring” cycle (presented last season at the Metropolitan Opera in a brilliant new production by Robert LePage), his lovers are twin siblings. With explicit reference to the legend of Narcissus, they fall in love with the person that they most resemble, namely each other.

If the covenant of marriage is the fundamental unit of covenantal society, Wagner proposed instead a transgressive regime of pure impulse. The purest and least complicated love, in Wagner’s view, is love of self. His contemporaries found this exhilarating and built a cult around the composer.

Wagner was obsessed with overthrowing the Jewish God of Covenants. He did not so much hate Jews as individuals as hate everything the Jewish people represented. “The popes knew well what they were doing when they withdrew the Bible from the Folk,” he wrote. “For the Old Testament in particular, so bound up with the New, might distort the pure idea of Christ to such a point that any nonsense and every deed of violence could claim its sanction. … We must view it as a grave misfortune that Luther had no other weapon of authority against the degenerate Roman Church, than just this Bible.”

That is what made Wagner the defining culture figure of Europe in its decay. In a 1943 dinner-table conversation, Hitler himself observed: “At the beginning of this century there were people called Wagnerians. Other people had no special name.”

Without his music, to be sure, Wagner would have been one more obscure frog in the moral swamp whence the Nazis emerged. But he invented a new musical language to embody the narcissistic impulse. What he accomplished was masterful, turning the tools of classical composition against their original purpose. If Wagner was evil, he was not in any way mediocre. His musical sleight-of-hand involves no more magic than a Penn & Teller show; I showed how some of his musical machinery operates in a 2009 essay for First Things magazine. That is a complex subject and requires careful study, but at bottom Wagner’s musical devices are a special sort of prestidigitation.

Whether Wagner was a premature Nazi or the musical sweetheart of a gang of tone-deaf thugs is beside the point. Wagner mixed the compost heap in which the flowers of the 20th century’s greatest evil took root. The old regime of covenants in which humanity accepts a higher law died out, not only because it had become sclerotic but because it was replaced by an alternative religion that offered the full sensuous experience of personal liberation. The Nazis embraced Wagner not by accident or opportunism but because they recognized in him the cultural trailblazer of the world they set out to rule.

It should not be the business of any state to impose moral criteria on artists; in that case one might ban Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” which Beethoven thought immoral. Music students need to study Wagner. Students of cultural history need to hear Wagner, which means live performances with first-rate singers. The first two installments of the Met “Ring” last season may have set a new world standard for Wagner interpretation and should not be missed by anyone who wants to understand what happened to Western culture.

Art, nonetheless, does not reside in the clouds of Mount Parnassus. It has consequences in the real world in which ordinary humans live and suffer, and society in extreme cases must draw a line. Wagner may not have been the only anti-Semite among the composers of the 19th century, nor even the worst, but he did more than anyone else to mold the culture in which Nazism flourished. The Jewish people have had no enemy more dedicated and more dangerous, precisely because of his enormous talent. In a Jewish state, the public has a right to ask Jewish musicians to be Jews first and musicians second. With reluctance, and in cognizance of all the ambiguities, I think the Israelis are right to silence him.

David P. Goldman is Tablet Magazine’s classical music critic and the Spengler columnist for Asia Times Online.

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Bill Pearlman says:

Barenboim is the musical counterpart of Leni Refensthal. But I digress. Couldn’t this wait until after the last holocausr survivor dies. Why the urgency?

lazer says:

“Morbid ethnocentrism with overtones of nationalist extremism is acceptable to the Israeli left, it seems, as long as it isn’t Jewish.”

Does the author know what irony is?

FreeMind says:

Where is the author’s source that Tchaikovsky and Liszt were anti-Jewish?

Interesting PS on Tchaikovsky and Jews: http://www.tchaikovsky-research.net/en/forum/forum0168.html

david schoenbaum says:

I quote from an autobiographical essay, published in Theodor Herzl’s Zionistische Schriften, Juedischer Verlag Berlin-Charlottenburg, c. 1904

“I worked on it (Der Judenstaat) every day till I was exhausted. My only recreation in the evening consisted of listening to the music of Wagner, especially Tannhaeuser, an opera that I heard as often as there were performances. Only on the evenings when there was no opera did I have any doubts about the correctness of my ideas.”

The translation is mine. If anyone wishes, I’ll be glad to pass on the original.

JCarpenter says:

Thank you for providing detail and specifics about Wagner; opinion based on research rather than just name-dropping or innuendo should be our model for all discourse.

So Wagner was the spiritual father of the “cultural boycott”.

Classical music is a dieing art form. The Palestinians listen to it even less then the Israelis, and soon we will all listen to the same music and guess what? It won’t be the crap that Barenboim pushes.

Daniel Abrams says:

I thought Franz Lehar was Hitler’s real favorite composer. He doesn’t fit in here I suppose because he was no anti-semite. In fact one his early operettas included, “Ratstelbinder” included a positive portrayal of a Jewish onion merchant. When the Nazis came around asking him to change it, he said he’d think about it and then did nothing.

Doesn’t the debate regarding Wagner’s paternity remain unsettled, as well as the question of whether his stepfather, Geyer, was of Jewish ancestry? I know the family denies it, but to my knowledge, there has been no genetic proof furnished either way.

Funny, Barenboim’s Bruckner 9 is my favorite, and I have them all.

David Goldman says:

On Liszt, see my link to Alan Walker’s Liszt biography. Re: Mendelssohn, see p. 48. You might also check the Wikipedia entry on Liszt, who wrote a book repeating Wagner’s canard that “Semites” are uncreative imitators.

On Tchaikovsky, see
http://www.tchaikovsky-research.net/en/forum/forum0168.html

Or use Google.

Goldman totally misreads Wagner and neglects to mention that Herzl, who loved Wagner tremendously, wrote Der Judenstaat under the influence of Wagner. Initially the Nazi regime was in love with Wagner, but after invading the Soviet Union, the Nazi leadership came to agree with Max Nordau that Wagner was decadent. Nordau was a leading German culture critic and important Zionist ideologue at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries.

David Goldman says:

Herzl’s interest in Wagner is well known. Nobody’s perfect.

Jack Holland says:

Get over it already!

Pinky G says:

it is true that Liszt, and Richard and Cosima Wagner, were anti-Semites, but how horrified would Cosima be if she learned that she herself was actually Jewish? I read that Cosima’s mother, Liszt’s mistress Marie d’Agoult, was herself the daughter of a Jewish woman, which would make Cosima Jewish. If anyone cares, I’ll let you know my source for that tomorrow – it was in a biography of Liszt that I read.

Dr. Michael Zidonov says:

Wagner was an asshole … Hitler and all the other Krauts were assholes, and in almost seventy years, I never met a Kraut who was a NAZI or had a NAZI in their family … Makes me wonder who the hell it was that was murdering us … Who the hell were we at War with ??? KRAP!!!
Regardless, giving the vatican sanctioned NAZI Bastard his due … Wagner’s Music, is Pure Genius … Musically, Mathematically Beautiful
Ha’Shem never said that th devil and his Henchmen were Ignorant or Untalented … We can call a Rose … a Turd Blossom … but it will still be Beautiful, because it just is … Same thing with Wagner’s Music … And don’t you know … that it grinds the devil’s ass that one of his henchmen has done something so pleasing to a Jew …

David Goldman says:

There’s nothing “mathematical” about Wagner’s music. It is a marvelous bag of tricks designed to evoke the illusion of timelessness (see the First Things essay to which I linked). Wagner asks us to wallow in a moment of heightened emotion rather than (as in Beethoven or Schumann or Brahms) to subordinate the moment to a tonal goal. That is a radically different sort of emotional appeal, such that a passion for Wagner is the hallmark of a problematic personality.

Herbert says:

It may be going too far to call Wagner a genius, but perhaps a genius imitator of Jewish composers. The reason Barenboim is attracted to Wagner is not his music, but his antisemitism. If Wagner was not a Jew hater, Barenboim would not be attracted to him. An open question to Barenboim-would he be willing to perform for an audience of victims of Palestinian terror? I doubt it

Joanne Yaron says:

As a lover of opera all I can say is that The Ring Cycle is a magnificent collection of operatic music as is much of other operas that Wagner wrote. We in Israel who love great opera should not have to suffer this ongoing, ridiculous banning of one of the greatest composers of operatic music. As some have said above, if we banned all musical and other artists who were anti-semitic, including Shakespeare, we would be forcing ourselves to live in a cultural wasteland. Is this not foolish? I once attended at the Rubin Academy branch at Tel Aviv University an invitation only concert of Wagner solos. The evening was disturbed when anti-Wagnerites crashed the event and kept hollering no Wagner, no Wagner. Next they will come to private homes to do the same. This is a disgrace. We live in a democracy and we should behave that way. Yours, Joanne Yaron

Rosalia says:

Thank you Dusan for giving more informations about Tchaikovsky amd antisemitism. Sometimes its very difficult for me to understand how a beautiful soul and hatred can survive inside one human being. What a naivete!!!

This argument usually rages between those who see art as too grand in its own right to be subjected to moral constraints, and those who see art as too influential not to be subjected to moral constraints. I disagree strongly with both sides: in a free society, music and art are essentially entertainment, no more important or influential than sports or fashion. I personally have no taste for Wagner, but the fact that he was a nasty anti-Semite, or that others saw his music as a fitting soundtrack for Nazism, matters no more to me than the fact that many of the athletes I watch are violent thugs in their personal lives, and are often viewed as heroes by thuggish people. As far as I’m concerned, their astonishing skills, whether in music composition or athletics, are of interest strictly as amusements, and all other aspects of them are of no interest at all.

In the dictatorships surrounding Israel, where censorship reigns, music is inevitably freighted with political and moral significance. In Israel, as in other free societies, people can happily listen to, or avoid listening to, great classics or cheesy pop–or Wagner–as they please, without having to ponder whether there is any greater significance in doing so. If that ever changes, democracy–and Jews, and Israelis, I suspect, given their artistic productivity and perennially controversial status–will be much the worse for it.

One of the world’s great paradoxes is that such a repulsive individual as Wagner wrote some of the world’s most moving and human(e) music. Perhaps ironically, Jews have always been drawn to Wagner’s music as both listeners and performers (other than Barenboim and Levi, one could mention James Levine, Lorin Maazel, Friedrich Schorr, etc.). In the late 70s I heard a program on Israeli radio that made the claim that the ban against Wagner (who pre-dated the Nazis) would eventually be lifted, but that the ban against the playing of the works of Richard Strauss, who was a Nazi party member (if only out of opportunism and not out of conviction), would never be lifted. And yet, for close to two decades now the music of Strauss has been widely performed in Israel without incident. As the last of the generation of the Holocaust fades from the scene, it will finally be time to allow the–yes: divine–music of Wagner, both the most sensuous and the most intellectually satisfying of composers (pace David Goldman), to be heard in the land whose rebirth was in part heralded at the Second Zionist Congress by the playing of Wagner’s “Overture to Tannhäuser.”

jacob arnon says:

There is an unspoken “I dare you” to these kinds of posts.

Usually some Jew comes up with some antisemite whom they claim was also a genius and then they dare other Jews to admit that genius is uberalles.

I find this game childish.

Wagner is bound to come up in this game along with the French novelist Celine among many others.

Wagner was a genius, he was a German nationalist, he was an antisemite (I don’t think most people know what that means anymore) and he was above all a BORE.

I dare people to sit through the many hours of his soporific operas.

jacob arnon says:

That Wagner is a bore is my opinion, however, it’s a fact that Jews taken to concentration camps were often greeted with bands made up of Jews playing Wagner’s music.

The number of people left who can remember that awful scene is rapidly diminishing. However, I wouldn’t make fun of individual Jews who hate Wagner. He deserves contempt and nothing but contempt.

Finally, know I don’t think there should be an official ban of his music in Israel. I hope that many Israelis will have guts enough to stay away from such concerts and not be goaded into thinking that they are tough Jews because they can put up with and even admire the work of an antisemite.

jacob arnon says:

It goes without saying that I agree with David P. Goldman about the vileness of Wagner, but I don’t agree that he should be officially banned. I would hope that Jews in Israel and elsewhere would chose not to attend concerts were his music is prominent on the schedule.

Paul Brandon says:

Banning Wagner in Israel would be the ultimate compliment to him.

Danielle says:

As a musician I think that some Wagnerian pieces are fine. Most of his operas are stupid with its Brunhildas and irrational ideas, but from musical point his pieces are phenomenal. If I haven’t studied his pieces I would be no singer. We should keep in mind that Germans has changed a lot after they were defeated, so now it’s okay for us to play their music that was written long time ago. Unfortunately many artists that were not jewish were anti-semites. If we play Russian music and read Dostoevsky and Gogol who were infamous for their hatred of jews, then Wagner is okay. Let’s use his music for learning purposes and perform it in moderation.

vacuous says:

The author claims that Wagner “invented a new musical language to embody the narcissistic impulse” and uses as evidence snippets from Nietzsche to confirm this. The author has little else to back up this claim apart from Nietzsche quotes and a misinterpretation of the role of Siegmund and Sieglinde in the Walkure. His silence on Schoepenhauer is convenient and deafening and tells that he is either cherry picking evidence to fit with his foregone conclusion or is simply ignorant and has read selectively on Wagner.

Wagner’s opera is primarily based on the philosophy of Schoepenhauer who espoused compassion as morality and sought the renunciation of the will or “narcissistic impulse”. Wagner’s Schoepenhauerian aesthetes standpoint was in many ways the polar opposite of Nietzsche’s ‘will to power’ philosophy which the nazis subscribed to.
Nietzsche’s philosophy was largely a contrarian’s rebellion against Wagner’s Schoepenhauer and he hated and denounced the corrupting message of self-renouncement Wagner infused in Operas like Parsifal.

jacob arnon says:

Danielle, the difference between Dostoyevsky and Wagner is that the former while antisemitic gives us the tools for understanding social hatred. Hence in Crime and Punishment he explores the criminal mind. The Raskolnikov who can kill an innocent woman is the same man who could on another occasion lead a gang of pogromists to murder Jews.

Wagner was just a hateful aesthete. Even Nietzsche who once worshipped him turned his back on Wagner when he was old enough to understand what he was about.

I suggest people read Nietzsche’s “The Wagner Case.”

@vacuous It is an absurd to suggest that Nietzsche “hated and denounced the corrupting message of self-renoucement” when it is clear that Wagner, contrary to his theories, never seriously considered renouncing anything, himself least of all. It is equally absurd to suggest that the Nazis subscribed to Nietzsche’s philosophical ideas. First of all, the Will to Power concept has nothing whatever to do with the Nazis. There is no book by that name written by Nietzsche, only a collection of sketches and notes published under that title by his sister after her brother went insane and she gained control of his work. She set about getting rid of her brother’s closest friends and confidants, who could’ve explained his ideas to her, and quite consciously linked his ideas and concepts to those of her recently deceased husband, a rabid anti-Semite who established a colony of fellow travelers in Paraguay which he called Nueva Germania. Her “editions” of her brother’s writings are responsible for years of false information regarding Nietzsche’s ideas. He was, above all, no anti-Semite and his hatred of anti-Semitism was absolute. Nietzsche and Wagner were brought together by their mutual admiration for Schopenhauer. Nietzsche eventually moved on from there, and found his own way, as he did with nearly all of his major influences. Meanwhile, one of the major characters in Parsifal, i.e. Kundry is perfectly in sync with Wagner’s discussion of Ahasuerus in the essay, “Jewry in Music”, the so-called “Wandering Jew”, who taunted Christ on the cross and who is forced to wander endlessly until receiving a blessing from the Christian god, whereupon she is allowed to die. If this is Wagnerian self-renunciation, one understands completely why Nietzsche rejected it.

Berel Dov Lerner says:

I find it fascinating how much attention this story is receiving outside of Israel. Several times in the recent past I have checked to see whether the headline local stories of YNET (the Yediot Aharonot website) appear on the CNN website. While the Wagner story spent a few days on CNN’s homepage, I don’t remember ever seeing it on YNET. Meanwhile, none of YNET’s local headline stories were mentioned by CNN.

“The popes knew well what they were doing when they withdrew the Bible from the Folk,” he wrote. “For the Old Testament in particular, so bound up with the New, might distort the pure idea of Christ to such a point that any nonsense and every deed of violence could claim its sanction. … We must view it as a grave misfortune that Luther had no other weapon of authority against the degenerate Roman Church, than just this Bible.”
Despite the man and his intentions I cannot but note that this applies to much american and evangelical behaviour. Witch burning, anti minorities etc etc

The author writes:
>On Liszt [Quote: "Liszt hated Jews as much as Wagner did"] being an anti-Semite, see my link to Alan Walker’s Liszt biography.<

Do you mean this one?

"Liszt was branded an anti-Semite, a charge that was preposterous to anyone who knew his life and work."

Alan Walker,
Franz Liszt: The Final Years, 1861-1886, p. 406

Faibsz says:

I am not sure that Tchaikovsky (incidentally, an admirer of a famous 19th century Polish cantor)’hated Jews as much as Wagner did’; more likely, his prejudice was of the same nature as the contempt many German Jews had for their rural Eastern European co-religionists.

I also find the reference to Schumann’s anger with Liszt over Mendelssohn misleading; Schumann was not sympathetic towards Jews by any measure (he was nowhere near as extreme as Chopin though, who used to ask Jews to leave the audience at the start of a recital).

John Borstlap says:

WAGNER WAS NOT EVIL
Wagner was a normal human being with some emotional hang-ups and ultrasensitive to rejection. He suffered devastating neglect and rejection early in his career, and violent attacks all his life, and sought the cause not in the inferiority of his music (which he knew was really good) but in the ills of society. He saw increasing capitalism, materialism, rationalism, a bourgeois elite upholding a façade culture blocking-out authentic experience. Jews were an important part of this elite and Wagner made the stupid mistake that they did what they did BECAUSE of Jewish descent. (What about red-haired communists?) Since he exaggerated everything, so he did with his obsession, which wrongly mixed racism with social critique. But he would turn in his grave if he saw the crime to which he had contributed. If his music had been accepted at the time in a normal way, he would never have felt the need to polemicize against society, against ‘Jewishness’, against materialism etc. His personal experiences had an unhincing effect upon him, and also upon his music which is great but often unbalanced and gross as well, excitement next to boredom, the grandiose next to the infantile, in short: he was an artist not quite understanding his limitations and not having his gift always under control – ambitiously, no sea went too high for him. The urge to be also a cultural philosopher was also born from the fear he might not be understood and/or accepted, like people who repeat themselves all the time when insecure of the effectiveness of their message.

Racism is always stupid and primitive, and artists can be stupid too. Visionary composers live on two levels, that of their art and the real world. Contradictions are normal to the human kind and for the artist, real life is often seen through a lens of their talent which can be distorting. Thus Wagner rightly saw some serious social and cultural ills, but not the idiocy of racial explanation.

George Balanchine says:

Interesting article from a former follower of Lyndon Larouche. In some ways this article mirrors Larouche’s writings about music/culture, so does that mean that the author should be banned in Israel?

But to the point…

“Wagner’s attack on the classical form had a broader agenda, in which he linked classical form to the tyranny of convention and the despised biblical God.”

So why not ban Debussy, Stravinsky, Ravel? They all “attacked” classical form, mostly by not using it. Did they also contribute to the
“…the compost heap in which the flowers of the 20th century’s greatest evil took root.”?
One of Debussy’s big influences was Wagner, wasn’t it? So why doesn’t the author think he should be banned?

The author also writes, describing Wagner(I think):
“…but because it was replaced by an alternative religion that offered the full sensuous experience of personal liberation…”
Debussy to a ‘t’, in my opinion.
But again, Debussy isn’t banned in Israel, as far as I know, and the author doesn’t include him in those who would destroy the ‘society of the covenant’, whatever that really means.

So the argument of this silly article falls apart on not-very-close inspection.
For the record, for what it’s worth, my view is that if the Israelis don’t want to listen to Wagner’s music, then they shouldn’t listen to it. And that’s the end of it, there’s nothing more to say.

This article reminds me of Barnett Newman’s remark about art historians, that “art historians are to artists what ornitholigists are to birds.” The same applies to musicologists?

Milos says:

Having read numerous articles whose authors argue in favour of the charge that Wagner had provided an ideological and musical prelude to the Holocaust(not that he was antisemitic which is an open and shut case in favour of the prosecution) my only conclusion is: I am not convinced.

First, most of the so-called evidence is derived ex post facto, or rather from the conclusion came the premises. The thesis of Wagner being a proto-nazi is accepted as a sacrosant truth beforehand, mainly only because his most infamous fan said so once(I suppose when it comes to villifying Wanger any means is permissible including promoting Der Fuhrer into an expert in classical music), and analysis of his works is not about seeing if there is anything there to support but rather finding something that one si certain it’s there in the mould of cardinal Richelieu who famously bragged he could find in any 10 lines of a random text a motive for the execution of the author. Another piece of “evidence” cited in favour of “Wanger the forbearer of nazism” accusation is the connection between Wanger family and Hitler in the period to come, as if an ancestor can be responsible for the actions of his progeny(what was Wagner supposed to do, rise from the grave and protest?). Also the purveyors of this “school of thought” forget that the most devoted Hitlerite bearing the name of Wagner, frau Winnifred, is not a composer’s descendant but a person that married into the family.

Other methods the “prosecution” against Wagner uses are presenting allegations and myths as facts without giving any evidence to back them up as well as half-truths. Case in point for the latter, now that I touched unsavoury characters married into the Wagner family, is the loud and ubiquitous stating of the fact that the composer’s daughter Eva married a well known racist H.S. Chamberlain while at the same time conveniantly ommiting to inform people that this happened 20 YEARS AFTER WAGNER PASSED AWAY. (continued)

Milos says:

(continued from previous comment)
Again, Wagner’s detractor’s give the impression that the Bayreuth maestro was supposed to come back from the dead to stop this or at least voice his dissaproval in order to give him any kind of benefit of the doubt.

And thirdly, Wanger’s accusers completely ignore primary sources as well as insights into Wagner’s personality. Having read several biographies of him the most dominant characteristic I have found about him as a man is his inconsistency. He rarely, if ever, practiced what he preached. Even the author of this article gives in it several cases in point. The one that struck me the most was not amongst the obvious ones such as Wagner railing against Jews yet maintaining friendships and connesctions with Jewish individuals but the above quoted diatribe against the “degenerate Roman Church” while at the same time having a devout Roman Catholic Franz Liszt as his closest friend, colleague and, to top it all,father in-law. He was even inconsistent when it came to music. In 1850 he published an essay called “Opera and drama” in which he argued that arias, choruses, ballets and other traditional operatic elements should be done away with. Five years later he completes “Tannhauser” which is literally replete with choruses, reintroduces ballet in “Meistersinger”, as well as duets. Bearing this in mind, the only intelectually honest answer to the question of whether Wanger would have followed Hitler had he lived in the times of the Third Reich is that it is impossible to tell, regardless of what Wanger wrote or thought of Jews.

Any remotely impartial judge would acquit Wagner of charges that he was a forbearer of Nazism because of lack of evidence. His accusers, however, by and large have also taken up the roles of judge and jury as well without even pretending to show some impartiality. Their attempt is a failure and the only credibility they managed to destroy is their own.

Christopher Kelk says:

Why on earth didn’t Hermann Levi tell Wagner where he could stick his Parsifal rather than agree to conduct it?

Wagner was an anti-semite, but Richard Strauss was a Nazi collaborator. Bringing up this fact is, as they say, “controversual.” Back in 1971 Ken Russell made a TV movie exposing Strauss’ Nazism entitled “Dance of the Seven Veils.” It was broadcast once and never shown again tahnks to the screams of the Strauss estate. While extremely broad in style (like all of Ken Russell) absolutely everything depicted in it is true.

If a piece of music reminds audience members of the long slow march to the ovens, they have every right to walk out, and make a lot of noise doing so, especially if the presenters are perfectly aware that these feelings and memories exist. Presenters have no more right to insist that Israeli audiences swallow Wagner than a host would have insisting his vegetarian guests eat meat. It’s a matter of taste. Presenters are usually aware of local tastes and cater to them. Barenboim wants Israelis to appreciate the fact that the light shed through a lampshade made of human skin is just the same as any other light, or even sometimes better. Perhaps so, for those not acutely aware of the composition of the lampshade.

No Israelis are deprived of hearing as much Wagner as they want, recorded. The public concert is more than ever a specialized secular ritual and memorial. All music carries specific cultural overtones. As Bach’s Passions are unquestioningly appropriate in churches, so Wagner’s music is at Aryan Nation rallies, perhaps Holocaust Museums and of course the bejeweled temples of Mammon, the opera houses.

Strauss and his Jewish daughter-in-law were devoted to one another. It is also highly probable that Strauss’s political outlook was as influenced by Hofmannsthal as was his artistic later artistic choices. Hofmannsthal was of Jewish ancestry.

The politicized ethnic fundamentalism of the German Nazis did not require anti-Semitism, and many German Nazis were not anti-Semites. Hitler’s most important early supporter was Artur von Trebitsch, who was Jewish and, unlike Wagner, really did hate Jews.

If we do a point by point ideological comparison, the ideas of Ben-Gurion, Katznelson, and Arlosoroff with the obvious substitutions would have fit in very well with the Strasser faction while the politicized ethnic monism of Jabotinsky and his followers was and remains far more extreme than German Nazism ever was.

BTW, Joanne, Israel is hardly a democracy. It is a vicious ethnocracy. If you wish to live in a democracy, you should probably leave Israel for the USA or possibly for the ancestral homelands of your parents. Ethnic Ashkenazim, Jewish Germans, Jewish Arabs, etc. have no legitimate claim to any part of historic Palestine whatsoever. Palestinians are the actual descendants of Greco-Roman Judeans. While modern Jews may have some ancestry in ancient Judaic convert populations, the vast majority are descendants of more recent converts. Jabotinsky at one point tried to argue that modern Jews are really Aryans.

annie morgan says:

These posts don’t mention one basic thing.

If you grew up listening to Wagner blared out from a tannoi atop a motorcar or jeep, shrieking it tinnily and at god knows what decibels, and intersperced with comments on how wonderful was the Third Reich, seems to me that’s enough to stop a body ever wanting to hear Wagner again, never mind his racial proclivities.

However, those who did grow up being deafened by that tripe will all be dead in a few years and none of it will matter one little bit.

vacuous says:

@Tali Makell “it is clear that Wagner, contrary to his theories, never seriously considered renouncing anything, himself least of all. It is equally absurd to suggest that the Nazis subscribed to Nietzsche’s philosophical ideas”
If you really think that, you simply must not have seen any of Wagner’s Opera, or understood Nietzsche, period.
Almost all Wagner’s Operas have an underlying theme in Schoepenhauer’s philosophy of self-renouncement.
The common denominator of all attacks on Wagner’s work as being anti-semitic is none of them mention Wagner’s greatest influence, Schoepenhauer. Ironically this piece uses Nietzsche as some sort valid insight — Nietzsche, whose reactionary philosophy tried to turn Wagner’s Schoepenhauer upside down so that instead of including Schoepenhauer’s noumenal realm (a transcendental realm in which all life merges into one — leading to compassion in response to the deep understanding and recognition that everything is the same in the transcendent Noumenal), Nietzsche cuts away the Noumenal realm of transcendent reality so that only the phenomenal realm of perception self and impulse remains. He then affirms the self-gratifying will of the ‘ubermensch’ as the only ideal.
Also, you are trying to read Parsifal from the outside. Parsifal is quasi-Buddhist. Kundry looks for self fulfillment in the impulse of sexual love. Klingsor looks for redemption through power. The grail knights look for it in fading tradition, Amfortas looks for it in death. Only Parsifal renounces self gratification and power and observance of religious tradition and denies in submission to the transcendental. How can anyone honestly interpret this as: “musical language to embody the narcissistic impulse”? If Kundry was supposed to be a wandering Jew than why is she the character that is meant to evoke the most compassion?

There is a huge amount of documented evidence of Wagner’s anti-Semitism. This is not a theory or a myth, and anyone who has read more than a few biographies of him, including his own essay on the subject which he went to great lengths to make public, will know for a fact that Wagner was a devoted anti-Semite. This was so despite the fact that he had Jewish “friends and associates”, whom he used just as he used his other non-Jewish friends and associates to the greater glory of Richard Wagner. Was he musical genius of the first order, unquestionably, but he was also an awful human being whose views on politics and race had quite a bit of influence among those German nationalists of his own time who also saw the Jews as a threat to the body politic. The suggestion that Wagner’s bad behavior might have been mitigated had he only been treated better by his contemporaries is as absurd as the notion that Hitler might have been a nicer guy had he been accepted into the Viennese art school he wanted to attend. And by the way, Herman Levi DID tell Wagner where he could stick his opera, and Wagner was forced to apologize in order to get Levi to conduct Parsifal.

H. Felton says:

Richard Strauss extracted a promise from the Nazi Party that his daughter and son-in-law would be spared during the War and thereafter.
To paraphrase Bill Murray in Caddyshack: he’s got that going for him.
I’m puzzled that so many posters concede that Wagner was a musical genius. Leaving his politics aside entriely I find most oh his music cacophonous and unlistenable, and the singing as if written by a mad man, which come to think of it is true.

Milos says:

@H.Felton What can I say? We are in good company such as Gustav Mahler, Anton Bruckner, Edward Grieg, Franz Liszt, George Bernard Shaw, Rainer Maria Rilke, Hector Berlioz etc.

One thing I’m surprised I did not see mentioned in any of the many above posts–the fact that Wagner’s music is essentially banned not only from the Israeli concert stage but also from the synagogue. In many shuls, Wagner’s wedding march from Lohengrin (“Here Comes the Bride”) may not be performed, and many Rabbis will refuse to officiate at a ceremony where the bride wishes to enter to that music.
David, do you have any data on that?

John Borstlap says:

WAGNER’S HOLOCAUST?
Just a few more remarks upon W’s influence upon the holocaust…. Of course he was not responsible for what later generations of idiots did, but he greatly contributed to a cultural climate in which it was OK to openly sport antisemitism, while before it was considered bad taste to refer to someone’s ethnic descendance. Had WWII and the holocaust never happened, W would have been considered a great artist with a stupid idea, not more. For W, antisemitism was just an instrument to wake-up people to all kinds of real-existing social and cultural ills, the wrong instrument indeed, but it was not so much a personal thing. In fact, at the end of his life he thought he had totally failed to warn the world of ‘Jewishness’ – nobody listened seriously (that came later). And about W’s ‘bad character’: when you discover that in your professional field the overall majority of people is untalented, cheating, intriguing, thus behaving immorally and go out of their way to stop you, it is a short step to allow yourself the same tactics to survive. That he tried to undermine the careers of Meyerbeer and Mendelssohn was an attempt to make himself seem more original than he really was – he felt vulnerable in the age when originality was the Great Thing. W felt he had a great mission, and was ridden with anxiety that he might not achieve his ends, and this anxiety was well-founded. For us, he firmly belongs to 19C culture, but in his own time that was not clear at all, in contrary: he was an absolute outsider with ‘crazy ideas’ and ‘crazy music’.

A last word upon Barenboim: he belongs to the sort of musicians who identify themselves with the music for their own ego: not love but annexation. To try to push Wagner down the throats of Jews in Israel is bad manners, to say the least, and betrays the grossness of his imagination: all in the service of ‘great art’ (= ‘look ME’). It is some sort of totalitarian mentality…..

Tania Disdain says:

@vacuous Thank you for some rational thinking and for stating the facts. Wagner’s repellent antisemitism is not a valid reason for the tone deaf and those who like to view the world in black and white to misrepresent his art.

@ Tania Disdain

I would like to ask how it is possible for an individual who wrote that anti-Semitism was as vital to his character as bile is to blood to find it so so easy to separate his nasty prejudices from his art? Of course, music itself commits no crimes. But Wagner was not merely a composer. He was a polemicist and provocateur, as well as an artist. There are those of us who are practicing musicians, who believe that, taken alone, Wagner’s music most certainly deserves to be heard and even admired. At the same time, we also find it difficult to look away from the truth of who Wagner was or how he thought. After all, as the author of his own opera libretti, there are instances where it can be argued that aspects of his noxious world view found their way into the plots and characters of some of his operas (certainly not all), particularly The Ring and Parsifal, but also in Die Meistersinger. Of course, it can also be argued that such things are in the eye of the beholder: fair enough. But to dismiss it out of hand without perusing the supporting materials themselves strikes me as willful blindness.

Jeremy says:

Get over it.

axiomatic says:

For Jews to play Wagner’s music in their own state while the Nazis are “a detail of history” (to use Jean-Marie Le Pen’s phrase in another context) is not only the ultimate irony, but the ultimate act of triumph.

While for many artists, the man and the music can be easily separated – Tchaikovsky, Liszt, Chopin – this is not true of Wagner, whose ideas on race permeate his music. That said, it is still music of genius and genuine innovation – which cannot be dismissed as a mere conjuring act – and should not be banned anywhere. Rather, it should be played and appreciated with full understanding of both Wagner’s genius and the ideas which inform it, positive and negative.

Just as we have recently come to read a book previously thought fairly anodyne – Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park – with an understanding of the slave trade implicit, but never mentioned in it, and can appreciate The Merchant of Venice while reading “against” the overt anti-semitism in the play, so we can appreciate Wagner’s operas with an understanding of, but without accepting, his political and racial beliefs.

To put it another way: we won the war, and we can play any damned music we please!

jacob arnon says:

Vacuous: “Wagner’s opera is primarily based on the philosophy of Schoepenhauer who espoused compassion as morality and sought the renunciation of the will or “narcissistic impulse”.”

It would be too easy to point to your name, vacuous.

I’ll ask you instead how is the fact, if it is a fact, the Wagner elide on Schopenhauer a defense of Wagner? Schopenhauer too was a notorious antisemite.

Schopenhauer for your information cancelled suicide as a solution to human problems. Is this an example of his compassion?

jacob arnon says:

axiomatic says:

“Just as we have recently come to read a book previously thought fairly anodyne – Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park – with an understanding of the slave trade implicit, but never mentioned in it, and can appreciate The Merchant of Venice while reading “against” the overt anti-semitism in the play, so we can appreciate Wagner’s operas with an understanding of, but without accepting, his political and racial beliefs.”

The idea of antisemitism in The Merchant of Venice is on the surface of the text which makes it quite different form Austen’s Mansfield Park.

The idea of slavery isn’t present in that novel but has to be reconstructed through an act of critical will.

Shakespeare play is about the “Jew of Venice” and is a play of its time, a time when Jews were held to satanic figures in Elizabethan society. In fact, the Merchant is less antisemitic than many other plays of the period, for example The Jew of Malta.

It’s also not clear that Shakespeare intended that those character opposing Shylock to be examples of virtue, especially the prodigal Bassanio, or the lackluster Antonio.

The problem with our view of the play is that the two main characters Shylock and Portia have become mythic figures who have taken on a life of their own.

This is a problem, in my opinion with Hamlet also.

axiomatic says:

Yes, that is why I referred to the “overt” anti-semitism in The Merchant of Venice. Its portrayal of Jews is clearly more nuanced than, say, Jew Suss.

It is true that the concept of slavery must be “reconstructed through an act of critical will” when reading Mansfield Park. However, the same is also true of anti-semitism in Wagner’s music. Paul Rose’s book Wagner: Race and Revolution was an example of exactly such a reconstruction. While Wagner’s music contains many references to race (and I have often struggled to understand exactly what he meant in some cases), to “Holy German Art”, lots of swarthy, misshapened characters hungry for gold, and not a few “Sieg Heils!”, there is no actual reference to Jews, and it requires a positive critical step to make the connection.

In either case, I don’t think we should cease productions of The Merchant of Venice or stop reading Mansfield Park because they are examples of opression, but we should just view them differently. The same is true of Wagner.

Ilan RIchards says:

Perhaps Wagner was no more (or less) an anti-Semite than Bach but the issue of public performances of Wagner is Israel is related to the sensitivities of Holocaust survivors. That generation is leaving us and the issue along with ban as well. I’m sure that many non-Israelis would agree with the sentiment that we should “get over it” and that the Holocaust be allowed to become a historical footnote. The problem is that often that sentiment is just a cover for the reintroduction of anti-Jewish sentiment.

jacob arnon says:

axiomatic says: “Yes, that is why I referred to the “overt” anti-semitism in The Merchant of Venice. Its portrayal of Jews is clearly more nuanced than, say, Jew Suss.”

You are probably referring to the film. The novel was written by Lion Feuchtwanger it was a protest against antisemitism. That novel was itself based on a novella by the early 19c German Romantic writer Wilhelm Hauff who was not Jewish and in his novella the main character thinks he is a Jew but discovers when sentenced to death that he is not Jewish but decides to go to his death as a Jew.

It is interesting that antisemites were able to turn a novel of protest against antisemitism into an antisemitic film. This in itself in instructive in how we fight against antisemitic prejudice.

“It is true that the concept of slavery must be “reconstructed through an act of critical will” when reading Mansfield Park. However, the same is also true of anti-semitism in Wagner’s music.”

To me the difference is that Wagner aims at creating a state of reverie in the auditor. I find the aesthetic aim objectionable.

“While Wagner’s music contains many references to race (and I have often struggled to understand exactly what he meant in some cases), to “Holy German Art”, lots of swarthy, misshapened characters hungry for gold, and not a few “Sieg Heils!”, there is no actual reference to Jews, and it requires a positive critical step to make the connection.”

Any educated listener, and who else would sit through a Wagner work, would know what he meant by both “race” and by “German art.” In fact methinks that it takes an act of will to deny that his music isn’t tainted by racism.
“In either case, I don’t think we should cease productions of The Merchant of Venice or stop reading Mansfield Park because they are examples of opression, but we should just view them differently. The same is true of Wagner.”

jacob arnon says:

Finally, the law has no reason to occupy itself with art. This isn’t the issue since even in Israel Wagner is not banned. The problem with some people is that they feel self-conscious when attending a Wagner concert. Many concert goers would like other Israelis to approve of their taste in the arts.

To me their stance is a form of bullying the public into acquiescence. I for one don’t care if you (plural) go to a Wagner concert. However, I don’t intend to applaud you (plural) for going to one.

As for MP, it is the novel by Jane Austen that I like the best and I don’t care if people refuse to read it.

jacob arnon says:

Ilan Richards: “Perhaps Wagner was no more (or less) an anti-Semite than Bach but the issue of public performances of Wagner is Israel is related to the sensitivities of Holocaust survivors.”

That’s only one of the issues, Ilan.

Bach’s view of Jews was informed by his religiosity. When listening to some of his music you can hear his religious sentiment. In other pieces I hear a love of creativity. These are positive messages.

When I search for something positive in Wagner, something he believed in I come up with his notion that art should be substitute for life. Add to this the knowledge that he was a racial chauvinist and I get turned off to his work.

Milos says:

@Tali Makell: If anyone here is willfully blind it is you. You accuse others of dismissing out of hand the possibility of anti-Jewish overtones in Wanger’s works yet you yourself essentially do the same thing when it comes to the possibility that there aren’t any of those. You quote from a Wagner letter to Franz Liszt yet you persistently ignore evidence that goes contrary to your thesis(or rather to the sacrosant truth you accepted) that can be found in other primary sources. If anything, Wanger wrote extensively about motives and inspirations behind his works and even biographers hostile and unsympatetic to him had to concede that there is not a trace of a reference to Jews and/or Jewishness in them. Nor is there anything of the sort in Cosima Wagner’s diaries regarding the subject.

But as the old adage goes, if the facts don’t fit the narrative, so much worse for the facts. Essentially, your belief that Wanger’s art has anti-Jewish conotations is exactly that: pure belief. No hard facts support that theory, so it is based on circumstantial evidence, hearsay, personal impressions and extrapolations. And all of the books on the subject are exactly the same, full of stretch-of-imagination intepretations and grandiose claims of having cracked some ancient “Wagner code”. And if you do accept that seeing antisemitic undertones in Wanger’s opera’s are in the eye of the beholder, how do you justify your and other people’s cathegorical claim that there are, end of story? Aren’t you being just a little inconsistent?

It’s curious to compare the cornball solemnity and narcissism of Germany’s Aryan glorifiers with Heine’s aching love of his German homeland. Those elegant patriotic verses from exile, tinged with humour and nostalgia, never leave my head. As for Wagnerian mythos, it’s an effective cultural mock-up, a bit like Ossian for the Celts…but really!

jacob arnon says:

“As for Wagnerian mythos, it’s an effective cultural mock-up, a bit like Ossian for the Celts…”

Great comparison.

james wilson says:

We would like to think that Nazism was the 20th century’s greatest blot, but the 20th century offers impressive competition for that designation.

@Milos

Once again, I ask how it is possible for someone to express the centrality of anti-Semitism to his character and yet completely avoid including any trace of this prejudice in his art, a question which you and others have failed to answer. I concede that my point of view is based upon my own interpretation of the materials I have read, including his vile essay, Judaism in Music, which he wrote in 1850 and submitted twice, once under a pseudonym and once under his own name. As well, I have noted the similarities between certain characters in certain of the operas, i.e. Mime, Alberich, Beckmesser, and Kundry and Wagner’s descriptions of Jews in this essay. I am quite aware that there are many devotees of Wagner’s art who are willing to give “Der Meister” the benefit of the doubt because he never wrote a document or an essay where he definitively states his intent to include this aspect of his world view in his music dramas. But, as I see it, he didn’t have to. He wrote an essay where he clearly states his anti-Semitism in lurid detail, speaks of its centrality to his character in his letter to Liszt, and then constructs characters and situations in his libretti which can be viewed as mirroring aspects of that essay. Wagner once warned Nietzsche’s rabidly anti-Semitic brother-in-law, Bernard Förster, that he must be a bit circumspect with his prejudices. Perhaps Wagner had by that time opted to follow his own advice. Whatever the case, I don’t believe that Wagner managed to compartmentalize his viewpoints so neatly as to avoid revealing aspects of himself in his art, including his anti-Semitism.

Robbins Mitchell says:

“The music of Wagner is better than it sounds”

~Mark Twain~

Milos says:

@Tali Makell: You are asking me and others to succeed where sages of various cultures throughout millenia have failed, namely to explain how a human mind and soul work. I can’t. I do know, however, that it is possible to turn off(as with a switch) a certain private opinion or condition when it comes to one’s artistic works, numerous examples among artists in various areas prove that.

Dostoyevsky was an antisemite , yet there is no stretch of imagination that has or ever will find a trace of antisemitism in his novels. Can you honestly imagine that “Sunflowers” was painted by a madman? Yet, it was. The only time Picasso ever came close to introducing his communist worldview in his paintings was in “Guernica”(though later he became disenchanted with communism). And these are just on top of my head, picks of a very large bunch.

The reality is that nobody or hardly anybody would be discussing possible antisemitism in Wagner’s opera’s had he not had the misfortune of his music being liked by Hitler and later misused and appropriated by his cohorts. And before you say that it was natural for Hitler to like him and appropriate him I’d like to remind you that hundreds of millions of people saw Wagner’s operas that were neither racist before they saw them nor became racist as a result of seeing them and that “the devil can quote scripture for his purpose”(Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, Act I, Scene III; an ironic source of the quote in light of this discussion, isn’t it?) As for the quote you mention above, it could be an exaggeration or just a figure of speech, Wanger’s behaviour in everyday life does not reveal any obsession with Jews.

Milos says:

Wagner is held up to scrutiny and standards no other artist has been. In his art every stretch of imagination is used to artificially support portrayals of him as a cultural founder of the Third Reich. And when the pejorative “Hitler’s favourite composer” canard is used next to his name or when the assertion that his music was played in death camps comes up it is basically a suggestion that he had an obligation to somehow find a way to come back from the dead and denounce Hitler and the nazis to be forgiven. Even death is no defense for Richard Wagner, so what chance have the facts got?

jacob arnon says:

Milos says: “Dostoyevsky was an antisemite , yet there is no stretch of imagination that has or ever will find a trace of antisemitism in his novels.”

First there are antisemitic passages in his novels if you haven’t read Crime and Punishment lately do so. Look especially at the ending; the same with The Possessed. (Also an antisemitic passage in a novel has to interpreted in terms of the narrative’s total meaning and not taken by itself.)

Moreover, just as Freud’s anti-feminist comments contradicts his “science,” or world view, so to Dostoevsky’s world view in the novels contradicts his private prejudices. (Read Joseph Frank’s biography or better still read Bakhtin’s book on Dostoyevsky.)

Wagner’s antisemitic comment is part of his aesthetic. Wagner did not believe in individual creative freedom. He has a deterministic point of view which is something that many composers rebelled against. (Parsifal is a good example.)

Even Anton Bruckner who was a Wagner devotee in his fifth symphony portrays a dialogue between himself (the weaker voice) and the domineering Wagner. Now Bruckner too was no friend of the Jews as Mahler knew, but his music reflects a beleaguered creative spirit and his private prejudices should be viewed in that light.

Personally, I prefer the aesthetic of the French composers such as Ravel, Debussy, Milhaud, etc. I also like the music of Shostakovich. As for German composers I’ll take Brahms over Wagner any day.

jacob arnon says:

This just isn’t true. Did you ever read articles on Mozart?

We live in an age of criticism and that’s what people do they criticize everything and everybody. Paul Ricoeur call it the “HERMENUTICS OF SUSPICION.” He thought that Marx, Nietzsche and Freud were its inspiration.

jacob arnon says:

Milos says:

“Wagner is held up to scrutiny and standards no other artist has been.”

his just isn’t true. Did you ever read articles on Mozart?

We live in an age of criticism and that’s what people do they criticize everything and everybody. Paul Ricoeur call it the “HERMENUTICS OF SUSPICION.” He thought that Marx, Nietzsche and Freud were its inspiration.

@ Milos

Wagner is held up to scrutiny and standards no other artist has been. In his art every stretch of imagination is used to artificially support portrayals of him as a cultural founder of the Third Reich.

Wagner dabbled in far more areas than the level of his expertise in those areas justified. He thought of himself as a major thinker and philosopher, as well an artist, and rarely kept his ideas or opinions private, but trumpeted them in essays which were published in his lifetime, and remain in print. So that alone opens him up to scrutiny and criticism. His anti-Semitism, while loathsome, was quite different from that of the Nazis , and he was far less interested in German nationalism than he was in the position he thought that he and his music should occuoy within a unified Germany. But first he had to denigrate and discredit the competition. He believed that Germans had valued Mendelssohn talents above his own. Later still, he came to believe that Meyerbeer had sabotaged his opera, Tannhäuser and caused it to fail in Paris. So he resolved to get a little of his own back by railing against Jews in his writings. This made him popular among certain right-leaning nationalist types in Germany and elsewhere, who wished to banish what they considered Jewish influence from their culture, and, of course, this links in with the banking interests of the Rothschilds, which had helped to finance the existing political order. Put simply, Wagner is a special case which demands attention because of the extent of his ambition and the high level of his talents. But I do not regard him as the cultural founder of the Third Reich. Rather, he placed his talents at the service of those parties whose ideas influenced the thinking of the founders of the Third Reich.

Jacob.arnon says:

Tali Makell; Just two points:

First, Wagner wasn’t an ordinary composer like Brecht he was as interested in using his art (music in his case) ti change human social consciousness in Germany.

Second, his antisemitism isn’t the only reason to dislike his music. I dislike his aesthetic as much as I abhor his politics.

His antisemitism is just one more reason why I don’t care for his work.

@ Jacob.arnon

Well, I love Wagner’s music and think it among the greatest ever written. I believe that it is possible to love the music, while disparaging the composer’s world view. So, regardless of my problems with him, I am unable to dismiss him altogether. Nietzsche and Debussy felt similarly, and I fully understand why they thought as they did. I think the music should be performed even as I believe the man and his thinking should be condemned. His is that rare example of the heights and the depths to which an individual and his art can rise and sink simultaneously.

Henri beyle says:

“As for Wagnerian mythos, it’s an effective cultural mock-up, a bit like Ossian for the Celts…” or the Old Testament for the Jews.

jacob arnon says:

Tali, when it comes to taste there is no point in arguing.

Enjoy the music.

jacob arnon says:

Henri beyle says: “As for Wagnerian mythos, it’s an effective cultural mock-up, a bit like Ossian for the Celts…” or the Old Testament for the Jews.

In your dreams, pseudo Stendhal!

The best of pseudo Ossian is not anywhere as good as the least well written books of the Bible.

vacuous says:

@Jacob arnon: “I’ll ask you instead how is the fact, if it is a fact, the Wagner elide on Schopenhauer a defense of Wagner?”

It completely rebuts a central argument of this article, namely of Wagner glorifying the ‘narcissistic impulse’. There couldn’t be a greater misrepresentation of Wagner’s opera — which are based on Schoepenhauer’s philosophy — a philosophy that espouses the exact opposite, namely the aesthetic denial of the ‘narcissistic impulse’ out of compassion. It was Nietzsche who espoused celebrating the narcissistic impulse. While Nietzsche was no anti-semite his philosophy was Nazi – not Wagner’s.
Additionally, understanding Schoepenhauer is the key to understanding almost all Wagner’s Opera. What you say are obviously racist elements in Parsifal and the Ring is you projecting your interpretation onto it — the non-racist symbolism and meaning becomes obvious once you understand Schoepenhauer and it becomes plain that Alberich and Kundry are not meant to represent Jews at all. Wagner even wrote that Jews have no place in his art — so if he intentionally excluded them from being represented how is it people still find ” Jews” portrayed everywhere?

jacob arnon says:

Vacuous: “While Nietzsche was no anti-semite his philosophy was Nazi – not Wagner’s.”

That defenders of Wagner have to resort to lies and misrepresentation is another argument against them.
Read Nietzsche attack on Wagner and you’ll see what crock your comment is.

One of the arguments Nietzsche marshals against Wagner is his antisemitism which he said he hated. Nietzsche hated antisemitism (not to be confused with a love of Jews) because he associated it with the herd. He thought that antisemitism was what the common man; especially socialists in his day took refuge in. It’s not widely known these days but most socialists parties were antisemitic till the Dreyfus case in France. (Though today many socialists have made common cause again with some antisemitic parties.)

The “antisemitic” Nietzsche was invented by his crazy sister who doctored his journals and added anti=Jewish comments. This has been known for a while and I am surprised that the Wagnerite Vacuous should not have known it.

In any case, while I don’t endorse Nietzsche’s philosophy of the Übermensch he was not a Nazi like antisemite

vacuous says:

Umm, show me where I said that Nietzsche was an antisemite? I specifically said he was not but that his philosophy was Nazi. I have read all of Nietzsche’s marshals against Wagner. You should read them too — for instance, what Nietsche dislikes about Parsifal is that it is too ‘sick’, Christian and compassionate.
You have just agreed with me in your last post so where is my misrepresentation?

jacob arnon says:

As for Schopenhauer, I believe that Vacuous misread him too.

First he was a misogynist. Second he hated Judaism:

“Schopenhauer additionally maintained a marked metaphysical and political anti-Judaism. Schopenhauer argued that Christianity constituted a revolt against the materialistic basis of Judaism, exhibiting an Indian-influenced ethics reflecting the Aryan-Vedic theme of spiritual “self-conquest.” This he saw as opposed to what he held to be the ignorant drive toward earthly utopianism and superficiality of a worldly Jewish spirit:

While all other religions endeavor to explain to the people by symbols the metaphysical significance of life, the religion of the Jews is entirely immanent and furnishes nothing but a mere war-cry in the struggle with other nations.[33]”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Schopenhauer

Even so, he did influence many great thinkers and for that reason alone he is important to know.

That is the difference between a Dostoevsky, a Schopenhauer and a Wagner.

You can learn from the former two in spite of their prejudices, but unless you are a musician you can only admire him.

With Wagner it comes down to taste.

jacob arnon says:

“…show me where I said that Nietzsche was an antisemite?” Vacuous.

Here:

“While Nietzsche was no anti-semite his philosophy was Nazi – not Wagner’s.” Vacuous

If someone philosophy is “nazi” and antisemitism is at the center of nazi philosophy which it is, then any one espousing it must be a nazi.

vacuous says:

Nazi philosophy / fascism was based in belief of self and the need for that self to assert it’s will. It saw Germans as heroic ‘ubermenschen’ and jews and non-aryans as ‘untermenschen’ who negated the healthy German ‘will’. Fascist anti-semitism was based in Nietzchian will to power and an idea of asserting the will not in denying it out of compassion. Anti-semitism wasn’t the basis of fascism. Nietzsche’s will to power ideas were the basis.

vacuous says:

Life is complex. Things are not black and white. It is possible to be a jew-adoring fascist just like it is possible to be an anti-semite whose beliefs are the polar opposite of a Nazi. Nietzsche and Wagner are good examples of this.

It is, unfortunately, a very common falsehood that Nietzsche was the philosopher of the Nazis. First off, Nietzsche never advocated a complete philosophical idea that can be so easily boiled down into a system; he fought against systems. Secondly, Nietzsche DESPISED any sort of nationalism, particularly German nationalism and anti-Semitism. Third, Nietzsche’s first use of the term “übermensch” referred to the title character in Byron’s poem, Manfred. Following this line of reasoning, the übermensch may be viewed as an individual of high intellect who retreats from the world which he perceives as being both literally and figuratively beneath him (he retreats to the mountains.) There he is free to revalue all established values and to come up with a mode of living that is outside of the so-called “herd mentality”, the mentality of the Christian-dominated society that he has abandoned. In short, it was Nietzsche’s project to review and, where necessary, refute the values which he felt had prevented mankind from achievement on the highest possible level. His writing influenced a large and varied group of people, including Freud, Isadora Duncan, Alexander Scriabin, Thomas Mann, the Surrealists, the Existentialists, and post-modern philosophers, among many others. It is highly doubtful that Hitler ever read a word of Nietzsche’s writings, though there were faux-Nietzscheans among the Nazis who labored mightily to bring his thinking in line with their own. This required all manner of distortion and altering of the texts, and of course, trumpeting Nietzsche’s sister’s publication of notes and sketches under the title “The Will to Power”, which is not a real book at all. It was only after the Second World War that scholars finally got their hands on the original texts and saw that there was absolutely no connection between Nietzsche and the Nazis. It is long past time that this canard be retired once and for all.

vacuous says:

Interesting to hear you speak so passionately about ‘faux-Nietzscheans’ amongst the Nazis– Wagnerians feel the same way about the Nazi distorting of Wagner. While Nietzsche may have despised the herd mentality of nationalism, the ultimate expression of the power of the will in a narcissistic dictator at the top of his bent and untrammelled by inhibitions is when that will is used to subjugate and dominate those wills inferior to it and the ultimate subjugation is enslaving an entire people to one will. “Hitler is Germany, Germany is Hitler” is very much a Nietzchean expression of total will and self realization of power.

jacob arnon says:

vacuous says: “Nazi philosophy / fascism was based in belief of self and the need for that self to assert it’s will. It saw Germans as heroic ‘ubermenschen’ and jews and non-aryans as ‘untermenschen’ who negated the healthy German ‘will’. Fascist anti-semitism was based in Nietzchian will to power and an idea of asserting the will not in denying it out of compassion. Anti-semitism wasn’t the basis of fascism. Nietzsche’s will to power ideas were the basis.”

This is crap.

Nietzsche’s ‘will to power” can be translated as the will to be/exist not the will to dominate, just as the Übermensch as he saw it was the man who overcame the will to dominate other.

This is closer to N’s philosophy that the crude Nazi ideology of domination which you dignify with the name “philosophy.” In any case, I am no Nietzschean but misrepresenting his thought doesn’t get you anywhere.

Wagner is the issue, here, not Nietzsche and the man was an antisemite.

Btw: Antisemitism was the basis of nazi ideology. This is obvious to anyone who has read Mein Kampf.

Also Fascism and Nazism have many political ideals in common but are not the same ideology. Also Fascists for the most part were antisemitic. The exception was due to some Fascists not willing to attack Jews in their country, though when the chips were down they all, like Mussolini, turned on the Jews.

Vacuous you are just trying to justify your love of the antisemite Wagner.

jacob arnon says:

This is from Wikipedia which often offers an ‘on the one hand, and on the other hand” type of argument:

“Racism and antisemitism”

“Wagner’s writings on race and his antisemitism[170] reflected some trends of thought in Germany during the 19th century.

Under a pseudonym in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, Wagner published the essay “Das Judenthum in der Musik” in 1850 (originally translated as “Judaism in Music”, by which name it is still known, but better rendered as “Jewishness in Music.”) The essay attacked Jewish contemporaries (and rivals) Felix Mendelssohn and Giacomo Meyerbeer, and accused Jews of being a harmful and alien element in German culture. Wagner stated the German people were repelled by Jews’ alien appearance and behaviour: “with all our speaking and writing in favour of the Jews’ emancipation, we always felt instinctively repelled by any actual, operative contact with them.” He argued that because Jews had no connection to the German spirit, Jewish musicians were only capable of producing shallow and artificial music. They therefore composed music to achieve popularity and, thereby, financial success, as opposed to creating genuine works of art.[171]”

“Some biographers have asserted that Wagner in his final years came to believe in the racialist philosophy of Arthur de Gobineau, and according to Robert Gutman, this is reflected in the opera Parsifal.[179] Other biographers such as Lucy Beckett[180] believe that this is not true. Wagner showed no significant interest in Gobineau until 1880, when he read Gobineau’s “An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races”.[181] Wagner had completed the libretto for Parsifal by 1877, and the original drafts of the story date back to 1857. Wagner’s writings of his last years indicate some interest in Gobineau’s idea that Western society was doomed because of miscegenation between “superior” and “inferior” races.[182]”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Wagner#Racism_and_antisemitism

jacob arnon says:

Vacuous says:

“Life is complex. Things are not black and white. It is possible to be a jew-adoring fascist just like it is possible to be an anti-semite whose beliefs are the polar opposite of a Nazi. Nietzsche and Wagner are good examples of this.”

There is nothing complex about antisemitism: it is the hatred of Jews, period.

Gas Chambers and mass killings are not complex phenomenon neither.

jacob arnon says:

Tali Makell says:

“It is, unfortunately, a very common falsehood that Nietzsche was the philosopher of the Nazis…”

Good post, Tali.

jacob arnon says:

vacuous says:

“ “Hitler is Germany, Germany is Hitler” is very much a Nietzchean expression of total will and self realization of power.”

This is such crap. There is no such thing as the self realization of power in Nietzsche and the above sound more like a Dale Carnegie saying.

The will to power in Nietzsche is closer to Spinoza’s conatus:

“The conatus with which each thing endeavors to persist in its own being is nothing but the actual essence of the thing itself.” (Ethics)

While I neither endorse Nietzsche’s views (nor Spinoza’s) you will go to any length to justify Wagner, Vacuous.

Vacuous shows a secondary problem with endorsing Wagner’s musik. People who embrace him distort history in order to justify their taste.

I’m glad there’s an unofficial ban on Wagner in Israel. I get along just fine without his music. Music appreciation is a totally subjective pursuit. To me, Wagner sounds like a ridiculous relic of a bygone era of European grandeur.

Is there an actual demand to hear Wagner performed in Israel, or is this more about classical musicians wishing to perform it? Israel seems like it will somehow survive even without Wagner being celebrated by its symphonies.

This whole nontroversy reeks of highbrow intellectuals arguing over proper table settings.

Wagner is the past. Israel is the future.

BTW, anyone who already isn’t familiar with the subject should do a little reading on the annual Wagner Festival in Bayreuth and see just how prevalent the politics of German nationalism and Nazism played into it even after the Germans surrendered in 1945 (obviously Nazism was a HUGE part of the Festival before 1945).

vacuous says:

Jacob, I know that Wagner was an anti-semite. I said as much. But what Wagner was not was a fascist. Schoepenhauer saw all expressions of the will as tragic and the source of all conflict and espoused renouncing it in favour of compassion. Striving towards and engaging in conflict for an idea of ‘a greater Germany’ is expressing the will towards an ideology and contrary to Schoepenhauer’s aesthetics.
Saying “there is nothing complex about anti-semitism” misses my point entirely. My point is that anti-semitism and fascism are not always one and the same.
Nietzsche’s ideas are far closer to those of a fascist than those of Schoepenhauer and Wagner. Nietzsche took the repudiation of Schoepenhauers denial of the will as his departure point for his philosophical contribution. He asserted the will and advocated that assertion to be without restraint. Whether or not the assertion of that will is simply restrained to a “will to exist” rather than a will to dominate depends on the nature of the individual possessing the will involved. The point is that Nietzsche’s philosophy advocated the primacy of the will. Whether what the will wishes for is primitive or not is moot.
Schoepenhauer [and Wagner] believed that expressing the will was the source of all conflict. Parisfal gives up the will, so does Wotan [etc]. Schoepenhauer [and Wagner] also believed in the transcendental and so values are still based in a realm higher than man. Nietzsche espouses that the phenomenal realm is all there is and values are self-determined. When the author of this piece says Wagner’s music embod[ies] the narcissistic impulse, he is simply wrong. When he uses Nietzsche as an example he is ironically wrong.

@ Vacuous

Interesting to hear you speak so passionately about ‘faux-Nietzscheans’ amongst the Nazis– Wagnerians feel the same way about the Nazi distorting of Wagner.

Well, as I think I have made clear, this is not what I have been advocating. I link Wagner to the political thinking of his own times, though elements of that thinking led to National Socialism. It is not the same thing as making the claim that Wagner’s art is Nazi; it isn’t. By virtue of Wagner’s world view and his Jew-baiting, which was an integral part of it, his art is tainted by virtue of its association with certain antecedents of Nazism. Wagner made the effort to connect himself with the aspirations of German nationalists who were also anti-Semites. The final speech that Sachs makes at the conclusion of Meistersinger makes that much clear:

“Beware! Evil days threaten; if our great German realm decays, when foreign powers rule the land, no prince his people will understand; if foreign sham and foreign lies should ever darken German skies; what’s German and true could not abide were it not for German masters’ pride! I beg you; honor your German masters, thus will you ban disasters! And if you have their work at heart, though the Holy Roman domain fall apart, there would still remain holy German art!”

Well, according to Wagner’s writings, Jews were part of that “foreign sham and foreign lies”. They were the most immediate threat to the culture which had produced “holy German art”. Their choice was either to assimilate completely and lose their Jewishness, or be thrown out of Germany. This is in line with the nationalism of Wagner’s times, but this does not include the extermination of the Jews, as was the case with the Nazis. So, as I see it, there is a distinct difference between 19th century German nationalism and what followed in the 20th century, though who could deny the influence the earlier form had on the latter form?

Jacob.arnon says:

I believe that everyone has made his or her point at great length and I doubt any minds will be changed by prolonged discussion. We are beginning to repeat ourselves.

David Goldman says:

Wagner is great second-rate music; once you know how it’s done, like a Siegfried and Roy stunt, it loses interest. Actually, Wagner is not that hard to analyze; some old colleagues of mine have nailed “Tristan,” for example, and I rather like my own reading of Bruennhilde’s Awakening (in the linked First Things essay) — something that Wagner’s biographer Joachim Koehler calls the supreme moment in all of Wagner. Wagner’s smart, but he’s no Chopin, let alone a Schumann; I would wager a substantial sum that with access to a piano, I could ruin the enjoyment of Wagner for even the most impassionated Wagnerite with a couple of hours’ instruction.

Wagner doesn’t like his listeners to think: he wants to sweep them away with the “total” art form, and said as much to his friends. Chopin and Schumann make you think; your reflection on what they are doing, your double-take, as it were, is written into the score. You can analyze them to death and still enjoy them. Once you get a good look at the man behind the curtain, you’ll never hear the Great and Powerful Wizard of Bayreuth in quite the same way.

Maybe I’ll do a podcast with some musical examples when time permits.

David Goldman says:

Schopenhauer’s influence on Wagner is overestimated; for one thing, Schopenhauer thought romantic love a humbug, while Wagner saw cosmic redemption in the love-death. Koehler shows that you can claim as much influence for Schelling or Feuerbach as for Schopenhauer.

Bombastic,technical brilliance plus sick sentimentality is a lethal combination in the arts, in philosophy and in political/ social movements. That’s where nazism and wagnerism find their affinity. If the world were smarter, healthier mentally, they wouldn’t play Wagner or Hitler any where

Its funny, the jews have genocided countless peoples they come across, just ask a philistine or a caananite, oh thats right, you cant, they are all dead yet cry the loudest if anyone calls them on their self righteous to the point of self destructive behaviour. I have a question for jews, if say god reanimates the phillistines and caananites and they move to America does that mean we can remove all jewish influeced movie, books and media from our lives? History is a funny thing, you can try to erase it, twist it or ignore it but it has a way of popping up in a way that you cannot deny or decieve. i suggest instead of crying about Nazis, ask why they did that in the first place, theres a reason people go insane dealing with jews, how can you ever hope to negotiate or deal with a people thats whole religion is based on them being always right and everyone else being goyim or cattle, that is the derivative of the hebrew world for cattle is it not? I find jews to be the most racist and violent of all humanity, they know better yet justify the most outlandish actions by bringing up the past, the fact you got kicked out of Egypt for not participating in the countries mass building projects when your mercenary services where no longer required comes to mind, even after they let you leave you stole everything not nailed down and then concoted some bullcaca story to cover up YOUR crimes. It hasnt changed in all these millenia and you expect equality from people you dont even consider human. good luck, i dont hate ya, i feel pity for you, maybe one day you will rejoin the rest of us in this thing called life

It’s amazing that Christians as well have been accepting Parsifal at face value (even if they weren’t bothered by the anti-Semitism of the rest of Wagner’s opus) to the extent that it became a tradition to produce it at the Met on Good Fridays, the last one in 1983.

Ignorance may be excusable but anyone a trifle conversant with the beliefs and rituals of Christianity cannot but be impressed by the insidious plagiarism of Holy Communion into a snarky racist blood rite as well as other examples of perversions.

Nazism set out to replace Christianity and what better way to promote its ideology than to subvert the symbols and rituals of its hated enemy and turn them upsidedown in the name of blood purity? This is the famous bait and switch of advertising. By appearances, you think you are getting one product but in this case religion and ritual have been morphed into horrible caricatures instead.

But caricature can be turned on itself as when bad comedians actually are funny because they are ridiculous. The science of blood purity that the Third Reich prided itself on is a sick joke. So it is doubtful now that Parsifal will usher in a new cult. (Sorry, Richard!)

Perhaps someone should do a camp version of Parsifal in the manner of Prince Poppycock to dispel its faux seriousness. Cults and dictatorships usually suffer from a default of humor – likewise Wagnerian opera. Call it funny, laugh at it and its power is gone.

Tania Disdain says:

Parsifal is impressive in bringing together the themes in all Wagner’s Opera. Kundry is a lot like Tannhauser (, torn between self-abandonment to sexual gratification and dutifully contributing to an ordered society. Parsifal is like Siegfried – ignorant and fearless. Klingsor is a lot like Alberich who sacrifices love for power (losing his special member to do so). Gurnemanz is similar to Wotan at the end of the Ring – all understanding but unable to act. Amfortas is like Tristan — dying endlessly of a wound acquired by making love, his longing both killing and keeping him alive (his needing redemption from his act of love refutes the idea that Wagner saw cosmic redemption in love death). It is through compassion that Parsifal comes to a deep understanding of all things as under Schoepenhauer in the ultimate depth of the noumenal (non-empirical) being, we are all one so to hurt one is to hurt all. Parsifal is a type of Christian who masters the empirical out of his ethics of compassion founded in the metaphysical.
In Jewishness and Music, Wagner says(a loathsome opinion to be sure) that: “a race whose general appearance we cannot consider suitable for aesthetic purposes is by the same token incapable of artistic presentation of its nature”. Wagner could not have been more clear about trying to represent Jews on stage. He simply did not. Nietzsche never complained about anti-semitism in Wagner’s opera and most people who watch Wagner’s opera never read anti-semitism into it. Those who see Mime and Kundry and Alberich as representing Jews are conniving it out of internalized stereotypes of Jews as capitalist materialists and wanderers(the only thing remotely fitting a jewish stereotype with Kundry is that she ‘wanders’).

jacob arnon says:

Jeff says: “Its funny, the jews have genocided countless peoples they come across, just ask a philistine or a caananite, oh thats right, you cant, they are all dead yet cry the loudest if anyone calls them on their self righteous to the point of self destructive behaviour.”
Aside from being an anti-Jewish poster, Jeff doesn’t get it right. (His spellinig is also atrocious but never mind that, he’s got worse problems.

First the Philistines weren’t “genocided by the Jews.” They along with the Jews were exiled by the Babylonians. Only the Jews survived that exile. Second they didn’t “genocide” the Canaanites. There is no evidence from an historical point of view that the Israelite and Canaanites merged.

Moreover people like Jeff who consider the Bible myth tend to use it as if it were historical fact if the can use to attack Jews. The only people the Israelites made total war on were the Amalekites and that was because the latter attacked them intending to wipe them out after they left Egypt. (History has not verified this as an actual event.)

It is a fact though that most wars fought in the ancient world were what we could call genocidal wars. Killing off the enemy and taking their women as slaves was how people fought in those days. I know of no other ancient epic were the writers question the morality of such wars. The Bible is unique in that it does so.

The antisemitic Jeff goes on:

“I have a question for jews, if say god reanimates the phillistines and caananites and they move to America does that mean we can remove all jewish influeced movie, books and media from our lives?”

This isn’t a question. It’s a hateful rant. No one dominates your life, and you are always free not to read Jewish books or see “Jewish movies,” but you want. That’s because you are obsessed with Jews.

The critique of Wagner pushed you over the edge.

vacuous says:

Exactly Tania, it seems that some semites internalize and retro-tailor all the negative characteristics of the less heroic characters in Wagner’s plays (materialist, capitalist, etc) as representing negative Jewish stereotypes — thereby perpetuating the myth of association of ‘good aryan’ vs ‘bad jewish’ traits. What is happening when Jews equate flawed characters such as Alberich with a ‘jew’ is that they are equating jewish culture with materialism and capitalism and petty intellect’ using “aryan” and “jewish” culture interchangeably as “good” and “bad”. When jews enjoy and find profound meaning in Wagner I hear something similar to “the whites have become black (and vice versa)” lines trotted out.
It is amazing to learn that people still insist on using Hitler’s philistine interpretation as their guide and looking glass into Wagner.

jacob arnon says:

vacuous says:, “it seems that some semites internalize and retro-tailor all the negative characteristics of the less heroic characters in Wagner’s plays (materialist, capitalist, etc) as representing negative Jewish stereotypes — thereby perpetuating the myth of association of ‘good aryan’ vs ‘bad jewish’ traits.”

This is the dumbest excuse for Wagner’s antisemitism I read thus far. Does any Jew identify with say Fagin of Oliver Twist? Yet here too we get an antisemitic portrayal.

The difference between a Iago and a Fagin is that the former has universal negative qualities which can be ascribed to any one including Jews while the latter’s evil is ascribed to his being Jewish.

Moreover, Vacuous claim that one needn’t identify a character as Jewish means that either Wagner was a bad artist who didn’t create universal characters, or else has to admit that these character are Jewish.

In any case, Vacuous, lost the argument about Wagner’s antisemitism a long time ago. The moment he started arguing that W (Wagner) was not as antisemitic as someone else (for example Wagner’s brother in law Houston Stewart Chamberlain,) he lost the argument. We are discussing Wagner and no one else. And you have not shown that he was not an antisemite, or that he did not influence the Nazis.

The problem with Jewish Wagnerites is that they have to deny reality and therefore have to blame Jews when they realize that their hero was indeed an antisemite.

Wagner is cocking a snook at Christianity this time in Parsifal. Seeking out anti-Semitic prototypes here is getting sidetracked. Anyone steeped in Christian ritual can recognize the symbolism and their perversions here. Perhaps the reason why there hasn’t been an uproar is a tacit agreement that art and religion are separate entities with their own rules.

But Wagner was not so delicate about it. He even said that art is to rescue or at least revive religion. He described Parsifal as “Bühnenweihfestspiel”, a Festival Play for the Consecration of the Stage and then went to mine the Bible for symbols already in the subconscious of prospective listeners.

Space here forbids an exhaustive list and analysis of the outrages but ‘bait and switch’ is used right away with Good Friday. The weird resurrection of Titurel and the healing of the ever bleeding wound (menstruation?) by the Spear turn the meaning of this day upsidedown.

The sleaze of self-castration, the hellish alters of Kundry, the Knights of the Grail as thinly disguised keepers of the pure blood (race), the use of the ‘white dove’(Holy Spirit) over Kundry – this strange mix defies belief and that even anyone would take such a hodge-podge seriously.

What redeems this whole jumble in the ears of the listeners is that Parsifal learned “compassion”!! All I can say is if a “perfect fool” can achieve a measure of compassion, so bloody what?

The not so subtle implication is that brains are not important or the rule of law, the sum total of human knowledge transmitted through generations. All you need is a pure fool to stumble into “compassion” which itself is badly defined or depicted.

With regard to the statement that Wagner did not want to represent Jews because of their alleged appearance, well, a few remaining photos of Cosima shows what a horse he was living with and perhaps a good reason to escape into the world of his imagination and extra-marital affairs.

vacuous says:

“The moment he started arguing that W (Wagner) was not as antisemitic as someone else (for example Wagner’s brother in law Houston Stewart Chamberlain,) he lost the argument.”
Now you are misrepresenting my arguments as well. Subtlety is lost on you. Go back and find me where I said Wagner was not anti-semitic. I said W was not as fascist as Nietzsche but never once have I tried to excuse Wagner’s antisemitism.
What I am arguing is that little if any of that antisemitism and almost no fascism is found in W’s art unless you willfully choose to interpret it as such against the facts. Anyways, why would you want to insist on a racial and anti-semitic interpretation of his opera against all logic when there are more feasible alternatives?
I refuse to admit that the characteristics of Alberich, Mime and Kundry are meant to be Jewish: show me one bit of hard evidence (apart from internalized stereotypes) in support of your paranoid assertion?
Jeff is wrong – it seems that not all the Philistines are extinct in Israel.

@ Vacuous

“show me one bit of hard evidence (apart from internalized stereotypes) in support of your paranoid assertion?”

First refer to Wagner’s comment in “Jewishness in Music” concerning the repulsion Germans feel towards the physical appearance of Jews. Then have a look at the way Siegfried speaks to Mime in Act 1 Scene 1 of Siegfried:

“When I see you standing about, doodling around, shambling, bent-kneed, head a-nod, twitching and blinking your eyes, long to seize the dodderer by the neck and finish the nasty, twitching creature off!”

Siegfried’s description of Mime in this scene is a classic physical stereotype of Jews used by anti-Semites for millennia.

As for Kundry, the reason for her wandering has to do with the fact that she mocked Christ on his way to his crucifixion. This is the same “sin” committed by Ahasuerus, the original “Wandering Jew”, and both must wander the world until the “Second Coming of Christ”, when they will undoubtedly undergo the same Wagnerian-style “redemption”; they will become Christianized and then allowed to die, which is precisely what happens to Kundry in Parsifal. Once again, I quote Wagner himself:

(Wagner then goes on to refer to Börne, a Jewish writer and journalist who converted to Christianity. He tells Jews to follow his example, recommending that they follow Börne by helping to “redeem” German culture by abandoning Judaism.)

“Without once looking back, take ye your part in this regenerative work of deliverance through self-annulment; then are we one and un-dissevered! But bethink ye, that only one thing can redeem you from your curse; the redemption of Ahasuerus — Going under!”

As Vacuous is fond of referring to Schopenhauer’s influence on Wagner, here is another, more sinister,use of Schopenhauerian terminology which Wagner employs as a way of advising the Jews to give up their very identity through “self-annulment” in order to “redeem” German culture.

jacob arnon says:

“I said W was not as fascist as Nietzsche but never once have I tried to excuse Wagner’s antisemitism.” vacuous

That was my point. Once you endorse W by saying that he is not as evil as X, you make it seem that W’s bigotry could be ignored.

If you want to ignore it fine, but then you don’t need to bother with those of us who don’t ignore.

Your argument mitigates and excuses W’s antisemitism.

MJ Rosenberg (@MJayRosenberg) says:

It seems that Jews and/or Israelis who make a point of admiring Wagner are doing it in the davka spirit. They know very well why their adversaries don’t like Wagner and that is precisely why they are championing him. Israel is right to ban the man who composed the Holocaust’s soundtrack.

@ MJ Rosenberg

Israel is right to ban the man who composed the Holocaust’s soundtrack.

With all due respect, this confuses the issue and gives aid and comfort to those who wish to let Wagner completely off the hook. If Wagner’s music was used as “the soundtrack to the Holocaust”, that is the fault of the Nazis, not Wagner, who was long dead and may have been horrified by Nazi atrocities. To condemn the man for his own anti-Semitism is one thing, but to link his anti-Semitism DIRECTLY to that of the Nazis and his music to the Holocaust strikes me as a step too far. Once again, Wagner allowed himself and his art to be used by those German nationalists who came before the Nazis and may have influenced them. It is for that alone that Israel may want to approach the man and his music gingerly. But, as the old saying goes, sunlight is the best antiseptic, and coming to grips with Wagner in a special way that may be necessary in a Jewish state strikes me as a far better option than an outright ban.

David Goldman says:

There’s massive documentation in the current Wagner literature that anti-Semitism is hard-wired into Wagner’s operas (again, Joachim Koehler will give you all the required background).

And there is a reasonable argument that public examination rather than an outright ban of Wagner is preferable. At the end of the day I support the ban.

jacob arnon says:

“Israel is right to ban the man who composed the Holocaust’s soundtrack.”

I agree that Wagner not only was but also contributed to the culture of antisemitism in Germany during his life time and after.

I also as I said above don’t like W’s music for aesthetic reasons.

However, I would oppose a ban on his music in Israel if there were one in place. Since there is no such ban the question is moot.

When the last Holocaust survivor is no longer with us then revisit the Wagner issue.

Gabriel ben Avarham says:

I’m appalled at this article. If you can’t separate the music from the musician, the novel from the author, the play from the playwright, then you live at an abysmally low level of cultural appreciation, which is reminiscent of the totalitarian impulse. And it is appalling such an article find its way into this liberal publication. Point is, no amount of listening to Wagner will ever make you an anti-semite. No amount of listening to Wagner will cause you to distrust Jews. What I have enjoyed about this sorry article is the informed comments by people who appear to be truly knowledgeable about Wagner and take his art form at face value. To demean his music by calling his compositional technique a bag of tricks is to demean your own judgement. It was radical, new and refreshing for its time.Ok, maybe I overstate the case with “refreshing”. What 4 hour opera call be called “refreshing” Anyway, compositionally Wagner and Mahler are virtually identical. Do you want to call Mahler prestidigitationist too? Be careful of how you use big words! I for one am a jew who would be sad to know that Wagner’s music is a “banned art-form”. I’d be living in Orwells world, or maybe Stalin’s, and I’d be pretty worried about who or want was to be “banned’ next.

Anyway, compositionally Wagner and Mahler are virtually identical. Do you want to call Mahler prestidigitationist too?

Actually, there are vast differences between Wagner and Mahler’s compositional techniques despite the obvious influences. First of all, Mahler, for most his his career, was pretty diatonic and only got into the dicier stuff later on, especially in the later symphonies and Das Lied von der Erde. And even though Mahler was hugely influenced by techniques used in Wagner’s Tristan, it is impossible to discount the influence of Mahler’s younger colleague, Arnold Schoenberg, whose early scores Mahler had studied closely. While Wagner had dispensed with the symphonic form perfected by Beethoven, Mahler still utilizes sonata-allegro, Rondos, Scherzos and all the other classical forms, however much he expanded them, which Wagner had declared obsolete. But I tend to agree with your comments about banning music or any art, especially within a free society. Though I do think that sensitivity towards those who survived the Holocaust should be observed.

jacob arnon says:

Gabriel ben Avarham, no one is talking about banning Wagner and you assumptions are a red herring.

I would guess by your argument which is a red herring and that show a low level of understanding that you are not ready to seriously engage the issues.

Most people who bring up Orwell don’t seem to understand him but use him hoping to cow the opposition.

I doubt that Orwell would have endorsed Wagner’s point of view in the arts since that composer tried to impose a totalitarian aesthetic on every one.

The comparison with Mahler is also specious.

Finally is your name really Gabriel ben Abraham? You have chosen such a fancy medieval name that I had to ask.

Victor says:

I’m reminded of the Wagnerite who reportedly said to Debussy:”There are some divine moments in Wagner”, to which Debussy replied “Yes, and some pretty turgid half hours, as well!”

The fact is that it’s impossible to divide off the grandiloquence, self-indulgence and solipsistic self-glorification of Wagner’s aesthetic ideology from the grandiloquence, self-indulgence etc of his music.

Even without the added virus of anti-semitism,it was a shock assault on both rules-based ethical and musical traditionalism and on the optimistic liberalism of the nineteenth century and was, hence, part of the aesthetic background that made Fascism (including the initially non antisemitic Italian variety)possible. And, in addition, of course, Wagner was an obsessive and committed antisemite.

So OK, Beethoven didn’t like Jews either. But, as a Jew, I can listen to his works with continuous satisfaction and without giving a single thought to the fact that he probably wouldn’t have liked me, had I lived in Vienna when he was around. There were lots of other people, Beethoven didn’t like and the only aversion of relevance to his music was to his erstwhile hero, Napoleon.

But Wagner was different. Not only was his art a conscious expression of his aesthetic theories. These theories were themselves part of his broader ideological Weltanschauung.

To some extent, the same was true of his father-in-law , Liszt, who similarly claimed the right to break all the rules, both aesthetic and ethical.

Full marks to Schumann for throwing Liszt out of his house for insulting his friend Mendelssohn. And, of course, full marks to Wagner’s nemesis, the mighty Brahms, for showing that rules and tradition are there to be developed and modified rather than abandoned.

I’ll leave it to Israelis to decide whether or not their country should allow Wagner to be played. But, personally, I’m glad there’s somewhere on earth where no-one has to listen to him.

Just because some characters in Wagner’s operas are not overt anti-Semitic caricatures, doesn’t mean that he wasn’t being clever and sneaky about veiling his intent, onstage, that is. After all, outright racism and anti-religion would not have passed so well in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He himself would have clearly been regarded as perfidious rather than morally ambiguous, the way he is being excused now. His backup writings though leave no doubt as to the extent of his anarchic worldview and opera was his intended medium to propagandize the masses. They would bask in the perfumed ecstasy of his harmonies while being led like sheep to his libertine philosophy.

Kundry in Parsifal indeed is a case in point. Wagner consulted many medieval texts to arrive at a composite for many of his operatic characters. Her association with Herodias does not type her so much as Jewish, as rather a poison container for all of Wagner’s misogyny. His contempt and hatred existed on many levels not confined to anti-Semitism alone. Using “baptism” for her as a ticket to the next world is a jab at Christian ritual. The real Magdalena was forgiven. There is actually NONE of that in Wagnerian opera.

It’s insulting to put Mahler in the same category as Wagner. Mahler may have used some artifice in his music like any artist but they were not a front for a revolution. Wagner would not have applauded the Third Reich? The play cannot be separated from the playright here. He was dead serious about the crash and burn of civilized society based on Judeo-Christian ethics.

Here’s a thought: as long as self-promoting, anti-Israel, pro-terrorist hacks like Barenboim speak for Wagner’s music Israelis will be less open to a reappraisal. If Barenboim would actually move to the Palestinian territories (or some other Muslim hell-hole) perhaps someone who takes anti-Semitism (and the deaths of Israeli citizens) seriously would emerge to make a real case for Wagner.

That we live in a world where educated people actually take seriously the linking of Israel, the disputed territories, and Wagner’s anti-Semitism is part of the problem. Absent from Barenboim’s ridiculous paradigm is the right of Israeli self-defense. If Israel has an spine she’ll declare Wagner (who’s music I love) verboten until Barenboim dies.

David Goldman says:

Mr. Kenner,
The trouble is that Barenboim is no “hack” but an exceptionally gifted musician. That is what makes the problem painful and difficult; one can’t dismiss him so easily. I don’t think Israel should ban Wagner to spite Barenboim, but rather because of what Wagner was.

Wagner was obsessed with the legend of Ahasuerus (the “Wandering Jew”) who can be redeemed only through destruction; Kundry is indeed a composite, including Ahasuerus as well as Herodias.

Some of the recent comments do a good job of explaining my feelings.

Wagner’s operas are so bombastic and over the top, a tawdry assault on the senses. Given the course European, ie German, history took in the century after Wagner, I don’t understand how people can want to subject themselves to this kitsch and sit through it with a straight face.

@Victor
And, of course, full marks to Wagner’s nemesis, the mighty Brahms, for showing that rules and tradition are there to be developed and modified rather than abandoned.

Brahms could hardly be called Wagner’s nemesis. Brahms owned several original scores of Wagner’s which he admired and refused to return them even when asked to do so by Cosima. In the arts, every generation is looking for new modes of expression, and the early and late Romantic musicians were no exception. As far as breaking rules, as Beethoven proved, rules are meant to be broken. The question is what replaces the status quo. Wagner, Liszt, Berlioz and others believed that music should connect itself to the other arts and that the older forms, based on the old baroque dance forms, should be superseded by quasi-literary ones. But they still wanted to ensure formal cohesion and comprehensibility, which is why Liszt and Berlioz used recurring musical motifs, which are transformed or expanded to conform to extra-musical ideas or events. Yet Liszt especially retains aspects of sonata form in most of his larger tone poems, or the portmanteau approach to form in works such as his B-minor Sonata, which has a four movement set up contained within a single movement format. It was adaptations such as these which Wagner used in his own ways, and this is where leitmotifs come in. They are not mere signature tunes for characters and events. They change through expansion, contraction or through other subtle variation techniques to accommodate dramatic development in the operas. Brahms was not the old fogey some historians insist that he was. He too employed new approaches to varying motivic materials, something which Schoenberg would dub “developing variation”, where motifs undergo continuous, but not always immediately apparent, transitions throughout a work. None of this is “revolutionary” in the truest sense of the word, but very firmly rooted in tradition.

The real revolution was the use of chromaticism, the twelve equal half-steps which divide the octave instead of the usual eight note mixture of whole and half-steps which made up the diatonic scale. It had been used by earlier musicians to express pain or distress (see the “Crucifixus” from Bach’s B-minor Mass, or madrigals of Monteverdi or Gesualdo). Now, it was used to express unfulfilled yearning, as well. The use of the chromatic scale was what was new about the music of Wagner and Liszt, and it had the effect of weakening the sense of key, which had been the basis of musical composition since the baroque era. Within 20 years following Wagner’s death this tendency would end in the dissolution of diatonicism altogether, although it would return in various guises throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

David Goldman says:

Chromaticism had nothing to do with the case: there isn’t a progression in Wagner which hasn’t been found in the 15th century, let alone in Bach. This is the sort of pablum fed to undergraduates in music appreciation classes. Classical composition uses all the techniques that one finds in Wagner or Liszt or Richard Strauss, but it subordinates them to goal-oriented tonal motion. It is teleological in character (which is why classical music had such a close relationship with Christianity). The “New German Music” (which Brahms denounced in 1860 manifesto along with Joseph Joachim and others) seeks, instead, to enhance the climatic moment. Different aesthetic, different purpose. But there is no “technical” breakthrough, only the redirection of well-worn compositional devices for different ends.

@ David Goldman

Different aesthetic, different purpose. But there is no “technical” breakthrough, only the redirection of well-worn compositional devices for different ends.

Well, I assure you that I am far beyond the “pablum of music appreciation classes” (why the need to insult?). And I did make clear that all of the innovations I mentioned were firmly based in tradition (as my teacher, a student of Schoenberg, would’ve said: “There are, after all, only 12 notes!”). But there is no question that even if there are similar progressions in earlier music, there are clear differences in application. I’m sure you will agree that 15th century chromaticism sounds nothing like Wagner or Liszt, and there’d been nothing quite like them previously. Until instruments could freely modulate from key to key, it wouldn’t have been possible for them to go as far afield as either of these two composers. Finally, their innovations, both formal and harmonic, influenced any number of composers who followed, from Debussy to Schoenberg, Bartok, Scriabin, Richard Strauss, Mahler and many others. And they too perceived the differences between earlier uses of chromaticism and the way in which Liszt and Wagner used it. As to Brahms’ manifesto, who cares? The point is that he was an admirer of some of Wagner’s music. He owned scores of several operas which he admired and kept to his dying day. But Brahms was much more of a musicologist than most other Romantic composers and felt it his mission to preserve tradition intact rather than subverting it. Nevertheless, he too was an innovator.

From Leon Botstein:

“During his own lifetime, Brahms was maneuvered into a position as the antipode of Wagner, when in fact Brahms was among Wagner’s most earnest admirers. He was profoundly impressed by Wagner’s genius and craft. Indeed, Richard Heuberger, composer, critic, and disciple of Brahms, reported that Brahms held two works of dramatic music in particular regard: Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and Wagner’s Die Meistersinger. Brahms’s objection to Wagner was more directed at the cult, the personality, and the man, than at the composer.”

vacuous says:

There’s massive documentation in the current Wagner literature that anti-Semitism is hard-wired into Wagner’s operas (again, Joachim Koehler will give you all the required background).
That should be re-phrased as scant, massively contested, generally jewish-authoured documentation in current Wagner literature that anti-semitism is hard-wired into Wagner’s opera. Wagner was always a well-known anti-semite and some people use that as a stick to beat his opera with. I think Wagner’s insistence that Jews should not be represented on stage is definitive in showing his intentions. In characterizations such as Kundry it is her “tannhauser” aspect that is paramount to her interpretation. Her circumstantial situation as a component of the myth of the wandering jew is periphery to the meaning of her role.
I and many others enjoy Ws opera without seeing a connection to his anti-semitism which is now supposed to be self-evident. A typical example of the retrospective type casting I mentioned earlier occurs with characters such as Mime and Alberich. W detractors say that in the W’s time Jews were associated with moneylenders and big capitalists so it is obvious that Alberich and Mime who try to gain power over the world through gold must be meant to be Jews. If this is the truth then the communists and socialists that emerged at the time must be seen to be anti-semitic as well.
Tali Makel says that: “ doodling around, shambling, bent-kneed, head a-nod, twitching and blinking your eyes” is obviously showing that Mime is meant to be jewish! I cannot believe that this considered to be a valid form of argument — especially coming from a Jew! It is the allegation that smacks of anti-semitism!
That said, I appreciate your general stance on this topic Tali — you are less psycho-emotive in your interpretation than many others on here.
As for Alberich, he is meant to be the dark side of Wotan and is even called Licht-Alberich. What is Jewish about Wotan?

I did not say that “it is obvious”. I merely said that this physical description of Mime by Siegfried is one that was a common physical stereotype of Jews by anti-Semites which, I believe, Wagner uses as a kind of “undercurrent” which others who shared his prejudices would recognize. This sort of thing is done all the time, particularly in political circles. When a current contender for the US presidency referred in his recent prayer event to “a dark cloud” having “descended upon our country”, he wasn’t just referring to the weather. Of course, there is deniability here, as there usually is. But given the sensitivities in the US and considering its long history of racial injustice, the fact that such language was used in this context strikes me and others as an indication of the audience this candidate is trying to appeal to. This is the sort of thing in which I and others feel that Wagner indulged. Alberich is indeed a “dark” version of Wotan, who is driven by a lust for gold. He produces an evil son, Hagen, to recover the gold he has lost to Wotan. But his motivation is money and power. Again, a common stereotype of Jews at the time and one which Wagner invoked in his essay. Wotan is a god, a superior being despite his character flaws. Clearly, he is not intended to be a stand-in for Jews, even if he too sought power. He is noble regardless of his many errors which is not the case with either Alberich or Hagen, who leaps into the Rhine to catch hold of the Ring even as the world around him is being destroyed.

Wagner is Jewish. His wife, Cosima, was Jewish.

Their anti-Semitism was equally self-inflicted as it was directed outwards. I pity them.

Victor says:

Tali Makell

Of course every composer is in some senses original and in some senses breaks with tradition.

What is, I think, relevant to this discussion is Wagner’s self-conscious pose of iconoclast and genius, allied to the cult of subjectivism and the vainglorious grandiosity of his style.

Of course these elements did not lead directly to Treblinka. But they were symptomatic of a shift in European sensibilities that made possible the visceral political irrationalism of the early twentieth century. It’s the combination of these elements PLUS his undoubted Antisemitism that renders Wagner odious to myself and some others.

Yes, Beethoven too was a conscious iconoclast and was similarly influenced by the non-musical Zeitgeist. But it was a different epoch in which different and, to my mind, less hateful, ideas were bubbling to the surface.

And forgive my mischievousness over Brahms. A thread about Wagner without a Hanslickian voice is a bit lacking.

Victor says:

Sam

Could you provide some evidence for your claims?

@ Victor

It was a rumor that Wagner’s real father was the actor, Ludwig Geyer, who married Wagner’s mother after the death of her first husband. Recent scholarship has thrown doubt on that claim, although the rumor persists. Even Nietzsche exploited the rumor in his negative appraisal of Wagner saying that “a Geyer (vulture) is almost an eagle (Adler).

The claim for Cosima’s Jewishness seems to be better established, as her mother, the Countess D’Agout, had a Jewish grandparent.

@ Victor

Of course these elements did not lead directly to Treblinka. But they were symptomatic of a shift in European sensibilities that made possible the visceral political irrationalism of the early twentieth century. It’s the combination of these elements PLUS his undoubted Antisemitism that renders Wagner odious to myself and some others.

I can certainly see your point. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to agree that Wagner’s subversion of tonality, with all of its underpinnings of militating against the religiously inspired order of triadic supremacy, should be part of ones problem with Wagner. I find his racism far more difficult to stomach than his use of chromatic progressions which, however much they lacked novelty, were nonetheless revolutionary simply because no one had used them in quite the same way before. Wagner and Liszt knew nothing about Gesualdo, and their knowledge of Bach’s music was limited, as was nearly everyone’s in those days (the 19th century was when Bach’s music resurfaced in a big way, though the Well-Tempered Clavier had been used to train Beethoven by his teacher, Neefe, and Schumann made a point of studying it closely. But we know Bach’s music far better than Wagner or his contemporaries did.) It is clear that a good deal of Wagner’s musical vocabulary had been influenced by Liszt, who actually traversed rather far in the direction of suspended tonality despite the fact that he was a deeply religious man. Anyway, not everyone will find any music to his or her liking, and that is fine. I just find it a bit problematic that there is some equivalency being proposed in this article between musico-aesthetic values and racism, something which I find difficult to swallow.

Victor says:

Tali

I don’t think it’s Wagner’s exploration of new musical territory per se that is problematic. Nor do I personally have a huge problem with the nature of his musical innovations, although they are not to my taste.

It is his pretentious and self-glorifying stance as iconoclast, poet of hitherto unfathomed profundity and harbinger of elemental and essentially amoral change, as reflected in his music, that troubles me.

To put it another way, the fact that Wagner develops a new musical language is of little significance in this context. But Wagner’s own attitude to his new musical language is of significance.

Similarly significant are the attitudes, themes and overall Weltanschauung, to which Wagner (with some justification) finds his musical language appropriate.

He is symptomatic in the extreme of a dangerous but seductive mindset that became all too common amongst European intellectuals in the second half of the nineteenth century and which helped create the aesthetic backcloth of Fascism, whether or not you throw Antisemitism into the already toxic mix.

@Victor

To put it another way, the fact that Wagner develops a new musical language is of little significance in this context. But Wagner’s own attitude to his new musical language is of significance.

We agree completely!

yosh cohen says:

…mr. goldman…perhaps you can comment on tge israel social revolotion….
yehoshea cohen

Victor says:

Tali

How genuinely pleasant to end on a note of agreement1

Milos says:

“There’s massive documentation in the current Wagner literature that anti-Semitism is hard-wired into Wagner’s operas (again, Joachim Koehler will give you all the required background).”

Koehler is the Hermann Rauschning of Wagner studies. To quote Ian Kershaw, he has so little authenticity it is best to disregard him altogehter. You’re going to have to do better then that, Mr.Goldman. And hopefully you won’t reply with Gutman’s thouroughly debunked pamphlet.

Milos says:

@Tali Makell: I’m glad you cleared up your stance on Wanger’s art. No offense, but you had me fooled at first.

I’m sorry, however, that you still hang on to some of your pre-conceptions. The fact that Wagner ventured into other areas is irrelevant. It was more a result of his character traits(compulsive outspokenness, occasional delusions of grandeur) then anything else. And if Hitler and nazism had never happened those ventures would have been treated as a footnote, just like music composed by Friedrich the Great is a footnote of his historical persona. The fact that the man behind the music is discussed outside of strictly academic circles in Wagner’s case is purely a result of historical circumstance, or in plain words LUCK!

Also, the way you read into Hans Sachs’ warning is extremely reductive even if you concentrate strictly on Wagner’s writings and sayings and disregard the context of the development of national arts in Europe of the era as well as the general assertion that culture is the fundamental and final defining point of a people.

Milos says:

@jacob arnon: Honestly, I haven’t read the latest on Mozart. But this just proves my point about Wanger scrutinized more then others. Only academics(I myself am not one) are interested in the “other side” of other artists. Nobody when he or she writes of T.S. Eliott attaches to his name the attribute “antisemitic poet”(even though it is far more reasonable to argue that antisemitism crept into his works then those of Wanger) or “racist, imperialist writer and poet” to Rudyard Kipling(“White Man’s Burden” anyone?). Yet canards such as “Hitler’s favourite composer” and “antisemite” are routinely attached to Wagner’s name even in supposedly serious publications.

You also said that “it is pointless to discuss personal taste”. Truer words were never spoken and Mr. Goldman could do worse then to adhere to them instead of trying to impose in a rather boorish manner his tastes on us while at the same time snidely suggesting that those of us who appreciate Wagner’s music are somehow intellectually inferior.

Milos says:

“Full marks to Schumann for throwing Liszt out of his house for insulting his friend Mendelssohn.”

Would that be the Schumann who occasionally used to disparage Jews in Mendelssohn’s presence(as per Mendelssohn himself)?

Milos says:

@Tali Makell, reply to http://www.tabletmag.com/arts-and-culture/music/75247/muted/comment-page-3/#comment-2235670

Sorry, but I’m not convinced. According to your logic, Gollum is also an anti-Jewish stereotype. And Scrooge McDuck. And Lex Luthor. And Shakespeare’s Richard III. And scores of other characters in classic literature and pop-culture that are both physically unattractive and obsessed with power and money. I suppose we should end this conversation with an agreement that we disagree on this…

Milos says:

jacob arnon says: Gabriel ben Avarham, no one is talking about banning Wagner and you assumptions are a red herring.

Jacob, you haven’t been reading these comments carefully, have you?

@Milos

Neither Gollum, nor Scrooge McDuck nor Lex Luthor nor any of the others characters you mention were created by a man who wrote an essay entitled “Jewishness in Music” and claimed that his anti-Semitism was as essential to his nature as bile is to blood. I am referring to Wagner here, not to every other writer of fiction or comedy who ever created a physically unattractive character. Context is everything here and it strikes me that one must remain focused on the issue at hand. As to being convinced, don’t be: it’s your privilege to disagree. But you asked for some solid proof and I offered it, which you can either consider rationally or object to, as you wish.

@ Milos

I’m sorry, however, that you still hang on to some of your pre-conceptions. The fact that Wagner ventured into other areas is irrelevant. It was more a result of his character traits(compulsive outspokenness, occasional delusions of grandeur)

I think the one follows from the other. He ventured into areas where he was not as expert as he was as a composer and often came up with outrageous suggestions or ideas as well as consciously stepping on the toes or sensibilities of others. As to preconceptions, I assure you I went into Wagner’s music as a 16 year old neophyte urged on by a wonderful teacher of mine at the time. Even then, there were passages in the libretti that made me squirm, but I wasn’t sure why until I took a year long course on Wagner at conservatory which was offered by both the music school and the German department of the associated college. I’ve read about six or seven Wagner biographies and studied the libretti and the scores ever since my conservatory days. I’ve wrestled mightily with Wagner for many years and came to my conclusions about him honestly, while still admiring his genius as a composer. So I am not a casual listener of Wagner’s operas nor is this the case with most other music I love and admire.

@ Milos

Also, the way you read into Hans Sachs’ warning is extremely reductive even if you concentrate strictly on Wagner’s writings and sayings and disregard the context of the development of national arts in Europe of the era as well as the general assertion that culture is the fundamental and final defining point of a people.

Culture is the thing to which Jews were advised by Wagner to sacrifice themselves to in order to be allowed admittance to “Club Germany”, i.e. full German citizenship. Again, I am not thinking here in general terms, but in terms specific to Wagner. Wagner’s essays provide clues into his thinking and I believe that one ignores them at ones peril. Just as I was taught to study every detail of a score before presuming to perform it, so too was I taught to get a firm handle on a composer’s thinking. Preparing for a performance requires one to recreate in ones mind the thinking processes of the composer at work. One works backwards from the work itself using all the other relevant materials at ones disposal, including letters, diary entries, and essays, in order to, as it were, peer over the composer’s shoulder as he or she works. The fact that there are so many differing ideas of individual works by different performers is a clear indication that this process is not an exact science, but it beats the alternatives.

Milos says:

@Tali Makell:

“Neither Gollum, nor Scrooge McDuck nor Lex Luthor nor any of the others characters you mention were created by a man who wrote an essay entitled “Jewishness in Music” and claimed that his anti-Semitism was as essential to his nature as bile is to blood.”

Well, one of the creators was heavily rumoured to have been a Jew-hater(Disney, I don’t know where this comes from and I’ve never seen any evidence but I’ve heard it from several unconnected sources), whereas for another…Does the name of Shylock ring a bell?

“Culture is the thing to which Jews were advised by Wagner to sacrifice themselves to in order to be allowed admittance to “Club Germany”, i.e. full German citizenship.”

Well, I’m glad you don’t gratuitously translate “untergang” as “extermination”(for which the German word is “ausrottung”) and that you actually know about Wagner’s explanation of the use of the term, which even in German is ambiguous. I agree that it is disgraceful of him to basically ask of Jews to stop being Jews but great European powers of the era had more or less such policies towards minorities and what they percieved as alien cultures. Sign of the times…As an intelectuall he should have been above that, but he wasn’t, his Germandom got the better of him

@Milos

Well, one of the creators was heavily rumoured to have been a Jew-hater(Disney, I don’t know where this comes from and I’ve never seen any evidence but I’ve heard it from several unconnected sources), whereas for another…Does the name of Shylock ring a bell?

Again, our subject is Wagner. That is the individual whose thought and its possible effect upon his work I am referring to. Anti-Semitism is a rather old prejudice and any number of artists subscribed to it throughout history. But few spelled it out in as much detail as Wagner did, and that is the reason I believe as I do.

Well, I’m glad you don’t gratuitously translate “untergang” as “extermination”(for which the German word is “ausrottung”) and that you actually know about Wagner’s explanation of the use of the term, which even in German is ambiguous.

As I have made clear, I do not equate Wagner’s anti-Semitic rants with the horrors that came after his death. But it is true that he associated himself and his work with the aspirations of 19th century German nationalists, among whom there were many anti-Semites.

I agree that it is disgraceful of him to basically ask of Jews to stop being Jews but great European powers of the era had more or less such policies towards minorities and what they percieved as alien cultures. Sign of the times…As an intelectuall he should have been above that, but he wasn’t, his Germandom got the better of him

But it needn’t have had that effect. He very consciously allowed it to take him over hook, line and sinker. I think that any serious Wagnerian must keep this in mind in order to avoid being swept up in all the sound and fury his music dramas use to make their points. In short, great composer, deeply flawed individual. Rarely has this level of genius resided in such a shoddy vessel.

Milos says:

@Tali Makell

OK, let me see if I got it right: the two of us basically agree that Wagner should not have meddled in things he knew little of, that he was delusional as to his capacities as a philosopher and essayist, that he had too many character flaws for his own good, that he was antisemitic, that he should have been above it, that his music is wonderful and that the notion that he was a proto-nazi or Hitler’s prophet or something to that effect is absurd. We do not agree as to whether there are antisemitic elements in his works. I believe there are none, you think otherwise, you presented some evidence to support your claim, I found it unconvincing…If this is a correct assesment of the situation I think we can end our discussion with the conclusion that we agree to disagree on the last issue.

To end it on a lighter note and just out of curiosity, what is your favourite Wagner piece? Mine are the overture to “Meistersinger”(the thing which got me hooked on him) and “Allmächt’ger Vater”, act V, scene I from “Rienzi”.

Herb K says:

It may be going too far to call Wagner a genius, but perhaps a genius imitator of Jewish composers. The reason Barenboim is attracted to Wagner is not his music, but his antisemitism. If Wagner was not a Jew hater, Barenboim would not be attracted to him. An open question to Barenboim-would he be willing to perform for an audience of victims of Palestinian terror? I doubt it

vacuous says:

Milos, favourite Wagner piece is Tristan & Isolde’s overture, Isolde’s Liebestod and Winterstürme and Wotan’s farewell in die Walkure. Lots of sublime moments in Parsifal too.

vacuous says:

^^ Wotan’s farewell + the ‘Leb wohl, Du kuehnes herrliches Kind’ bit. That bit is terribly beautiful to me.

Alan Leslie says:

Wagner and his music should be erased from the collective memory of mankind, along with Brahms.

@Milos

We do not agree as to whether there are antisemitic elements in his works. I believe there are none, you think otherwise, you presented some evidence to support your claim, I found it unconvincing…If this is a correct assesment of the situation I think we can end our discussion with the conclusion that we agree to disagree on the last issue.

Yes, this all sounds about right.

To end it on a lighter note and just out of curiosity, what is your favourite Wagner piece? Mine are the overture to “Meistersinger”(the thing which got me hooked on him) and “Allmächt’ger Vater”, act V, scene I from “Rienzi”.

Both excellent choices. My favorites are probably too numerous to name, but since you ask:
Tristan Prelude, O sink hernieder from the second act of Tristan; the opening of the Third Act of Tristan; The Wesendonck Lieder, Siegfried Idyll. My absolute favorite Wagner opera is Die Götterdämmerung. I love the Prize Song from Meistersinger (do you know the Brahms Violin Sonata which begins with a brief reference to it? It is the Second violin Sonata in A major); the Kurfreitag music from Parsifal, along with all of act 2 of the same opera. I love the Procession of the Knights music in Act 1. The Siegfried Idyll, the opening of Siegfried. the opening of Walküre. The very end of Walküre. I think I’ll stop here.

A Herb K

It may be going too far to call Wagner a genius, but perhaps a genius imitator of Jewish composers.

Well, that is a bit extreme. Mr. Goldman neglected to include in his list of artists that Wagner imitated a non-Jewish composer, i.e. Franz Schubert. The opening of the third movement of the “Death and the Maiden” Quartet in d minor served Wagner as the music for the Nibelungs. But composers borrow either consciously or subconsciously from other composers. It is often difficult to prove which is the case. There are, for instance, examples of Verdi copying Berlioz in Aida and his Requiem, Tschaikovsky copying Berlioz in his Manfred Symphony, and Wagner copying Berlioz in Tristan. Did you know that the Tristan Prelude has things in common with the opening of the Balcony scene from the Berlioz Romeo et Juliette? As well, Ravel borrowed from Debussy in his String Quartet. Debussy borrows from Wagner’s Parsifal in the interludes in his Pelleas et Melisande. There are many, many examples, including Charles Ives borrowing from Wagner and Brahms in the slow movement of his Second Symphony, and Dvorak borrowing from Beethoven’s Ninth in his New World Symphony. It is a common practice.

@ Alan Leslie

Wagner and his music should be erased from the collective memory of mankind, along with Brahms.

Oh, I’d prefer to eliminate most pop music from the past thirty years rather than get rid of any Wagner or Brahms. I think the world would be a far better place.

gabriel ben avraham says:

You can’t have a debate about aesthetics, but you can have a discussion. Then, if no one has heard the relevant material, you can’t really discuss, can you? As I said earlier, I’ve learned a lot for some of these posts: “ta-da-rabah” to Tali Makell, a true musicologist and the learned opinions of “cabbagejuice” and others. But I’m not blogging to defend Wagner, only the right to make a defense of his music. And by that I do mean his music, not his libretto or the person. Goldman wants to ban Wagner and in a liberal society, that is the definition of a dangerous idea. The “ban” in Israel was one of self-censorship and it was to respect the conscious of holocaust survivors. But to actually ban the music would be an unconscionable discredit to the generosity and enlightenment of a great people. Does he not believe jews / israelis can’t handle it? I think we can.

Brendan says:

I think silencing a worthy intellectual contribution because the contributor held repugnant views minimally related to the work is gauche at best and repugnant in itself at worst.

Should scientists stop using Heisenberg’s formulation of quantum mechanics because he was a Nazi collaborator? Should Jewish scientists in Israel and elsewhere refuse to discuss his uncertainty principle because he supported the Nazi party? Any scientist studying relevant topics would find himself left in the dust if he tried this.

In the same way, one who ignores a valuable non-scientific contribution for reasons mostly or completely irrelevant to the work is doing themselves and the quality of their own contributions a grave disservice.

Your article is a bit disingenuous in that it makes it seem that Wagner has been the only composer silenced. You completely fail to mention how Israel also silences (or silenced?) Strauss. Heifetz could never play the violin the same again after his arm was injured on his Israeli tour by a crowbar-wielding young Jew angry about his choice to play pieces by Strauss. This omerta encompasses a number of intellectuals with suspect views unrelated to their works, not just Wagner. Do you think Israel is (was?) also right to silence Strauss sonatas?

Even if it is ethical, is this policy of intellectual repression doing more harm than good to Israel?

roberto Zachmann says:

Wagner was a detestable human being and his music is sublime. Public performances should be staged with sensitivity out of respect for those who went to the ovens to his tunes. And his texts should be detailed simply to underline the utter imbecility of the themes contained therein.

Music has nopolitics nor nacionalities.D o not discriminate as the nazis did

@Alberto barron

With all due respect, what a thing to say. Music and art has ALWAYS had to do with politics. Think the Renaissance, when art and music were both used to the greater glory of whoever commissioned it. Think Soviet art, which was completely political, as was Nazi “art”. As for discrimination, well, that came into it, as well. You’re dealing with some sort of ideal situation which rarely exists, i.e. art taken entirely on its own terms. Every culture uses art, among other things, to bolster its image of itself, always has and probably always will.

The philosopher Suzanne Langer observed that music cannot be considered a language because it is, of itself, an abstract form. Can we “hear” political statements in Wagner’s music without reading our program notes?
Any political movement can use any music for its own ends and the music itself doesn’t mean anything other than what it is by itself – an abstraction, if you will.
Divorcing our listening experience from the knowledge of the socio/political context of the music we listen to is another question entirely. As so many responders have noted, many of us find it impossible to do so.

The philosopher Suzanne Langer observed that music cannot be considered a language because it is, of itself, an abstract form. Can we “hear” political statements in Wagner’s music without reading our program notes?

Wagner was an opera composer and librettist, not a composer of “abstract music”.

Any political movement can use any music for its own ends and the music itself doesn’t mean anything other than what it is by itself – an abstraction, if you will.

See Shostakovich.

Divorcing our listening experience from the knowledge of the socio/political context of the music we listen to is another question entirely. As so many responders have noted, many of us find it impossible to do so.

Divorcing our listening experiences from knowledge of the inner workings of the music, including all available background information, is listening very much on the surface of the music. It is certainly possible to BEGIN the process of listening in this manner. But if one is intrigued by the music, one invariably wants to discover more about it. The same is true of any other art form. In short, only those with little or no interest in art would be satisfied by a superficial experience of it. Once one has been captivated by the initial exposure to an art work one tends to want to know as much about it as possible. Armed with all of the background information required, one really begins to experience a work, and the knowledge that, for example, Beethoven dedicated, and then rescinded the dedication, of his Third Symphony to Napoleon, enhances the listening experience. Of course, Shostakovich insisted that he wrote music that his audiences understood on an immediate basis. He included folk songs with hidden meanings and even the initials of his name represented in notes to create a kind of underlying musical narrative which he believed his audiences could understand on some level.

Morgenbesser says:

My congratulations to Mr Goldman whose logic–if you can call it that–is purely Wagnerian in the worst sense. Please, could TABLET refrain from publishing so many attacks on the “Left.” Isn’t Lee Smith a few times month enough?

Joseph Levie says:

Of course it is very hard to separate the arts from the artists and the artists from the politics and personal connections and complications of their times. Sometimes it’s too much for us. But time has a way of burning off the dross. Virgil’s adulation of Augustus is disgusting but we are far enough away to admire his utter mastery of sound. This is one of the reasons why some art like wine grows increasingly good with time until it ceases to be relevant or understandable

@Joseph Levine

This is one of the reasons why some art like wine grows increasingly good with time until it ceases to be relevant or understandable.

It is one of those things that is often said about classical music, i.e. that it is a dying art that has little or no relevance to contemporary life. Of course, I find that a very simplistic way of describing the situation. But perhaps this is simply my way of protecting my turf, the thing I love and consider, like all great art, eternally relevant and present, at least as long as humankind exists. But perhaps this question of relevance is similar to the old question concerning whether trees fall in forests if no one hears them.

David Scholem says:

David Goldman is the MUSIC critic of Tablet magazine? The composer who actually wrote the melody of the “Horst Wessel Song”–Horst Wessel merly provided the murderous words to provide the marching song of the murderous SA– was the Jew Felix Mendelssohn. I can just imagine your semi-skilled “critic” parroting the useful-but-not-so stuff about Wagner bein Hitler’s favourite composer. In fact, that distinction belongs to Emmerich Kalman, another Jew whose frothy light operatic canon was what the future-and-then Fuehrer always enjoyed. Wagner’s output was far too ‘serious’ fare. What is, however, true is that Hitler believed that whoever wanted to understand the German mentality should understand Wagner, whose bloodthirsty Jew hatred spewed into his music as adulation of the Pure Teuton. THAT is what makes it nauseating for any state-funded Israeli ensemble to perform even one bar of it. And why it gives some insight into the pathology of ‘progressive’ Israeli ‘artistes’ who see nothing wrong at all in performing it. Incidentally, Emmerich Kalman was offered honorary Aryan status when the Germans annexed Austrai, as a personal offer of the Fuehrer. When he asked the senior general who conveyed the offer who would guarantee it, the officer said to the effect that he personally guaranteed it with his life. To which the Hungarian-Viennese wisely replied “And who guarantees your life?” Kalman got out to Sydney, Australia where his daughter has related the story. All of which should but doesn’t make any difference in truth-telling about Third Reich music. One final correction: For many music afficianados, Mark Twain’s quip is dead wrong: Wagner’s music definitely is as bad as it sounds.

Moran Lowiq B. Eeghuzzar, aka King Vacuous I says:

It’s anti-semitic to deprive jews of Wagner’s toe-tappin’ tunes.

Moran Lowiq B. Eeghuzzar, aka King Vacuous I says:

It is also anti-semitic to play them. The solution: play them half-way through and then stop. Mebbe play all of them, but do it out-of-tune?

Moran Lowiq B. Eeghuzzar, aka King Vacuous I says:

Oh, I know! Mantovanni them and only play them in elevators with a disco remix!

@David Scholem

The composer who actually wrote the melody of the “Horst Wessel Song”–Horst Wessel merly provided the murderous words to provide the marching song of the murderous SA– was the Jew Felix Mendelssohn.

Sorry, but I can find no documentation which supports the idea that Mendelssohn had anything to do with the Horst Wessel Lied. Another 19th century composer, Peter Cornelius, was at one time credited with having written it, but apparently said it was an Austrian folk song. Perhaps you intended this connection to Mendelssohn as a kind of joke, in which case, my apologies.

@ David Scholem

“Kalman got out to Sydney, Australia where his daughter has related the story.”

Despite his Jewish origins Kalman was one of Adolf Hitler’s favorite composers. After the Anschluss, he rejected Hitler’s offer to become an ‘honorary Aryan’ and was forced to move first to Paris, then to the United States, settling in California in 1940.[1] Following his emigration, performances of his works were prohibited in Nazi Germany. He emigrated back to Vienna from New York in 1949 before moving in 1951 to Paris, where he died.

Moran Lowiq B. Eeghuzzar, aka King Vacuous I says:

If Horst Wessel lied, and everybody knows it, wot’s the problem?

The melody of the Horst-Wessel-Lied has been traced to Peter Cornelius.

michael says:

I think banning art gives it in some ways more importance. Why give Wagner’s music so much importance that it even needs to be banned? Just let it be another few pieces of music along with the million other pieces of music out there.

David Goldman says:

Wagner was a brilliant composer, but no Chopin, let alone a Schubert. I really must do a podcast sometime showing how transparent his “sublime” musical tricks can be. Once you know how he did it, it’s hard to watch the magic act a second time. Wagner needs to be studied for forensic reasons, but he simply isn’t in the first tier of composers.

One important note: Liszt emphatically did NOT hate Jews! There is nothing in modern Liszt scholarship that could suggest that. Yes, he was surrounded by many anti-semites. But interestingly for the point of this article, Liszt always put music first ahead of its source. Wagner (and his daughter Cosima) caused Liszt enormous personal pain, and Wagner behaved beastly to Liszt both in private and in public. But Liszt never wavered in his unflinching support of Wagner’s *music*. He saw completely past the person of Wagner and only considered the music.

Liszt was an exceptional model of a compassionate, forgiving, and overly generous nature. Read Alan Walker’s definitive and exhaustively researched biography of Liszt, you cannot find anything that would suggest “hate” for Jews or anyone else. Liszt was a prince among men. Would more be like him.

A lot of Wagner’s intense anti-Semitism originated in pure jealousy over extremely successful Jewish composers particularly Meyerbeer. In contrast, look at all the glorious tributes Liszt paid to Meyerbeer in his fantasies and transcriptions.

It is also unfortunate Bruckner was tarred with Hitler’s love. It is hard to imagine Bruckner would have had any reaction aside from horror at the Nazis.

Hitler loved dogs too. I wont hold that against dogs. Or let the pleasure of my own love of dogs be ruined by it.

The most intelligent, thoughtful, nuanced piece I have ever read on this subject.

la boxer says:

This article reminds me of this…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nS66IvbvcI

James-Judah Starkey says:

Well said, a fantastic article. I actually read it twice!
Like so many aspects of contemporary Israeli culture, I see the issue of ‘a place for Wagner’ in Israel as a double edged sword.
On one hand, there are those enraged or offended by the concept of Hitler’s musical ‘Poster Boy’ of the Nazi movement, the ‘Volkseele’ of Himmler’s SS, being preformed by Jews on Jewish soil.
On the other hand, Wagner is one of the most relevant composers of Western culture. Are there not enough enough films and books in Israel relating to the Holocaust to fill a small stadium? Should they be banned also?
How will Israeli students of music and world history not explore these subjects objectively if they haven’t the opportunity to experience the music that inspired so many degenerates in the 19th century?
I detest Mel Gibson as a person but I certainly will not deny myself from viewing some of his well-crafted films. Jrs

James-Judah Starkey says:

Correction to my previous commentary;
‘the music that inspired so many degenerates in the 20th century’

Morris Katz says:

My guess is that Wagner, a real socialist, had been alive during the Third Reich, he would have been appalled by how Hitler perverted his ideas.

You’re the type of person who would ban Volkswagens because the car was Hitler’s idea (along with the ideas of a few other people, including one who was Jewish).

Israel has my permission to ban all the music composed by Winifred Wagner, who, unlike Richard, who died 6 years before Hitler was born, was a real admired of the Fuhrer.

Jeffrey R. Beck says:

I totally disagree with your conclusion. I am not surprised by it, however. Progressives believe in free speech ONLY when that speech advances their cause–they are, otherwise, the first to push for silencing opposing viewpoints. Apparently that’s true for music without lyrics as well.

I could make a better case for banning Vanessa Redgrave films in Israel than the works of Wagner, since she is alive and well and collecting royalties from them. But I think that would be wrong too. As you pointed out in your article, Wagner died some fifty years before the Nazis came to power. And if we’re to ban Wagner, why not Liszt–Cosima Wagner was his daughter, and again, as the article points out, was only too happy to sit her grandchildren on Hitler’s lap.

The other point the article glosses over is that EVERYONE who wasn’t Jewish during Wagner’s time hated the Jews–they were, as Oscar Hammerstein so brilliantly said in his lyric “carefully taught” from childhood. Even in the aftermath of the Holocaust, that “careful teaching” remains unchanged.

If we are to ban the works of musicians based on their political beliefs or personal behavior, maybe Tchaikovsky should be next to be banned. His suicide took place to save the Tsar’s family embarrassment after a homosexual affair with the tsarevich. Or the music of Richard Strauss who was appointed president of the Reichsmusikkammer by the Nazis. That would be absurd.

Politics has no place in these sorts of decisions. If the music is good, it should be played. If not (as is my personal opinion of the works of Anton Bruckner–whose music IS played in Israel btw) it should not. If you choose not to hear it, you have the option to not buy a ticket or a recording.

P.S.
“The sublime Felix Mendelssohn”, although of impeccable Jewish background was baptized a Lutheran and received no religious training ever.

If the contemporary teaching that Judaism is a religion, not a race, is to be treated consistently, much as I’d like to claim Mendelssohn as a Jewish composer, that claim would be untrue. You can’t really have it both ways.

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Moran b eeghuzzar says:

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Kavanna says:

I knew Dick Wagner once myself :)

I used to loath Wagner’s music, but grew to like some of it later. I still find the Ring rather overlong and creepy. But Tristan is ingenious, the beginnings of modernism, like it or not. And Wagner’s early works are fine stuff.

Even Brahms, target of Wagnerians, had no doubt of Wagner’s genius. He probably avoided writing operas to avoid the comparison.

We need to acknowledge the genius without getting into any of our own humbug about Wagner’s twisted psychology. That uncanny psychologist Nietzsche, who knew him, had Wagner pegged in seeing his massive insecurities and bombast — and more generally the pathological insides of antisemites. The outward spewing is driven by inward rot.

Antisemitism was one aspect of how this twisted personality expressed his twistedness.

Kavanna says:

That’s completely true. The Italian fascists appropriated the innocuous “Giovinezza,” a popular song that my Italian-American mother grew up with. The Nazis appropriated the swastika, originally a pagan sun symbol.

Geoffrey Rogg says:

A most interesting topic. However my attitude is that to be a great artist is a gift that a person has regardless of background, academic ability, faith, beliefs or prejudices.

I am more than emotional about the horrific onslaught against the Jewish people by the Nazis and their bed-fellows but this does not impede my listening to and being enthralled by Wagner’s music. Nor would it stop me from reading “Mein Kampf”, listening to Hitler’s speeches or studying his artistic and architectural endeavors. I believe that we have not yet garnered a full understanding of Hitler’s beliefs and the life experiences that shaped them. The more we learn about such despots as Hitler and Stalin the better prepared we would be in recognizing similar personal traits in other would be tyrants around the world who often come to power democratically only to then destroy that democracy.

I wholly respect those who have suffered the crimes of Nazism or similar totalitarianism and are opposed, for example, to the IPO playing Wagner’s music. They have every right to try and exert such opposition. However, maybe because neither I nor my immediate family did so suffer, I can separate what we dislike in the man from the undoubted gift for composing inspiring music from the most ethereal to the most dramatic.

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