Cher Public


While we’re on the subject of “The Sorcerer of Bayreuth,” here’s a canard proceeding from a clearly truthful premise. Since “anti-Semitism is an intrinsic element of the Wagnerian world view” then it follows logically that this “element” must show up in Richard Wagner’s greatest works. And, to compound the canard, it must further “follow” that such characters as Alberich, Mime, Beckmesser, Kundry and Klingsor are intended as anti-Semitic caricatures.

  • Avantialouie

    Of COURSE there is no (or at least very little) evidence in Wagner’s works themselves that they were intended to bear an anti-Semitic interpretation. Wagner was far too clever for that. Wagner was a genius at saying things--and saying them CLEARLY, too--without actually saying them at all. What he intended was exactly what Orlando Furioso has stated: that the “false identification” WOULD take on a “pernicious life of its own.” What Wagner intended for his “public” to do is exactly what we are doing here: talk about it to death and give the possibility no rest, all the while we decry the lack of proof. He’s chortling in his grave even as I write this.

    • Wagner was a genius at saying things--and saying them CLEARLY, too--without actually saying them at all.

      I’m going to have to ask for an example here, and it’s going to have to be about something besides race.

      • La Cieca, what’s your point? Granted, if we did not know that Wagner was a vicious anti-semite who added considerable fuel to the bonfire of the holocaust, could we detect this in his music. I concede that the answer is ‘no’.

        But we do know all that. Therefore some of us may find ourselves forced, or chose, or chose not, to bring that knowledge to bear on our reaction to his work. We may experience that great art transcends the moral failures of actual living; we may fear, on the other hand, that great art is an ugly lie and cover-up; we may find ourselves torn and wavering between the two extremes. Unlike scientific objectivity (there is no measurable Nazism in Wagner’s music, period) the realm of art prioritizes personal subjectivity and each listener is encouraged to entertain a range of reactions and interpretations. Some people feel compelled to immerse themselves in Wagner, some feel compelled to continually remember discuss and study the holocaust and its causes, antecedents and effects. You seem to feel that it is illegitimate to allow these needs to overlap. Why is that?

        Anti-semitism itself is a mysterious thing which we too easily pretend to understand. Studying Wagner’s life sheds light on it. It’s worth recalling that as late as 1841 Wagner adored Mendelssohn.

        • No, I would say that it is illegitimate to insist those needs to overlap for every listener, which is what a number of these academicians seem to be doing, i.e., saying, “the anti-Semitism is RIGHT THERE, plain as the nose on your face, and if you deny you see it there you’re either stupid or else a bigot.”

          A large part of the argument seems to come down to, “Wagner was an obvious and monstrous bigot so he must necessarily have created monstrous bigoted art.” I don’t think that’s true: the content of art is not definitively a function of the character of the artist.

          Or, to put it another way: Wagner expressed a number of values that were important to him in his art in rather clear and eloquent ways: his extremely strong need for emotional intimacy, for example, or his love for the natural world. Why, then, should so powerful a value as his anti-Semitism have only shown up in his world in the so allusive and ambiguous a form that commentators a century and a half later have to tie themselves into academic knots to try to make the case that the content is there at all?

          • I totally agree that these scholars turned grievance collectors are tiresome. But the fact is that all sorts of fanaticisms are bred at the altar of Wagner, whose magic empowers many disquieting unconscious paradoxes. That’s why I want me one of those purple lawn gnomes.

            I would think an artist’s character and art are related in many complex ways. Wagner’s anti-Semitism was egregious but superficial, a by-product of his general excessiveness. I don’t think it was anything more than a tick, like Mozart’s scatology, a kind of cover-up and replacement for his lost liberalism, a fantastical substitute for any political conviction, a bullying tease, and a lot of hot air. As Ezra Pound, in a similar position put it, “a stupid, suburban prejudice” which had no great place in his consciousness while composing.

  • grimoaldo

    I think there is a progression in Wagner’s works from latent to blatant anti-Semitism. As far as I know the accusation is not made against the operas prior to the Ring. In the Ring, Mime and Alberich may *possibly* have been intended on one level Jewish caricatures. Beckmesser was originally going to be called Veit Hanslich, a dig at the critic Eduard Hanslick, whom Wagner accused in Das Judenthum in der Musik of hiding his Jewish origins and of having a Jewish style of musical criticism. Some of Beckmesser’s traits in the opera, stuttering,being incapable of appreciating the finer aspects of music, are those Wagner attributed to Jews generally in Judenthum. I don’t think the character would come across to an audience who had not read the pamphlet as a Jewish caricature though. With Parsifal, it does indeed seem to me to be in your face, blatant, obvious anti-Semitism. Even without considering the characters of Klingsor or Kundry, the opera presents an Ayranised, non-Jewish Christ figure, which, sorry to labour the point, was instantly recognised as an anti-Semitic theme by some of the first night reviews.