Biography23 May 2010 02:23 am
A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Biographies, will be available online and in stores on May 11. (Click here to pre-order your copy.) As the release date approaches, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from that book. Today’s entry on “Richard Wagner” draws from the “Authors and Artists” section of the Biographies edition.
“Wherever one goes these days one is pestered with the question: what do you think of Wagner?”- Karl Marx
Even though controversial German composer and essayist Richard Wagner lived decades before the birth of Nazism, the influence of his music and essays on Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist movement is well-documented. Adolf Hitler was a great admirer of Wagner, and the composer’s music was blasted at Nazi rallies. Best known for his grand-scale operas – “The Ring Cycle,” “Tristan and Isolde” and “Lohengrin,” to name a few- Wagner also wrote many virulently anti-Semitic political essays. In “Das Judenthum in der Musik,” first published in 1850 under a pseudonym, Wagner finds a way to blame Judaism for most of the evils of the world, including but not limited to the ills of decadent modernity and the precipitous artistic decline in Europe. Never one to stop short of overkill, Wagner also asserted that Jewish music was bereft of all expression and characterized by coldness, triviality and nonsense. Moreover, he issued dire warnings about the “subversive power” of Jewry on the noble and pure German psyche.
In November 2000, Holocaust survivor and conductor Mendi Rodan broke a long-standing taboo in Israel when he led the Rishon LeZion Symphony Orchestra through a performance of Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll” in 2000. Due to his rather unpopular views, the works of Wagner have been unofficially boycotted in the Jewish state since 1948. In fact, prior to Rodan’s performance of “Siegfried,” any attempt to stage a performance in of the much-maligned composer’s music was shelved due to the public outcry. In 1991, a planned performance of a Wagner piece by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was cancelled after subscribers protested. An aborted attempt in 1981 by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, under Zubin Mehta, attempted to present a prelude from Wagner’s opera “Tristan and Isolde,” as an encore. At the first cry of the bombastic German’s score, there were calls of “shame” from the audience; even an usher got into the act, leaping on the stage to exhibit his Nazi-inflicted scars to the angry crowd.
Rodan’s performance in 2000 was interrupted by an 80-year-old Holocaust survivor in the audience stood up before the performance, swinging a Purim grogger in protest, the performance of the “Siegfried Idyll” went on. Rodan, who is a Holocaust survivor himself, ignored the noise and continued with the performance. Finally an usher took the Purim noisemaker from the survivor, who left, telling the audience, “You should be ashamed of yourselves.” However, Rodan kept his cool and kept on playing.
Whatever one’s feelings about Wagner and his music, one thing is for certain: he is not responsible for the Holocaust, regardless of the scope of his influence. That being said, I cannot say I am surprised to discover than “Tristan and Isolde” is yet to crack the pop charts in Israel…..
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