Friday, September 02, 2005

WA Symphony plays anti-Semitic music

For subscribers to the WA Symphony Masters Series, which (tomorrow evening 3/9/05) includes a piece from Richard Wagner's "last card" opera "The Parsifal", I'm posting this extract from Wikipedia...

...Wagner promulgated many anti-semitic views over the course of his life, through both conversation and numerous writings. He frequently accused Jews, and in particular Jewish musicians, of being a harmful foreign element in Germany, and called for the abandonment of Jewish culture and their assimilation into German culture. Some scholars have argued that his operas also contain hidden anti-Semitic messages, but this claim is disputed.

Wagner's first and most controversial anti-Semitic essay was "Das Judenthum in der Musik", originally published in 1850 in the Neue Zeitschrift under the pen-name "K. Freigedenk" ("free thought"). The essay purported to explain "popular dislike" of the music of Jewish composers such as Wagner's contemporaries, Felix Mendelssohn and Giacomo Meyerbeer. Wagner wrote that the German people were repelled by Jews due to their alien appearance and behavior — "freaks of Nature" blabbering in "creaking, squeaking, buzzing" voices — so that "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 Jewish musicians were only capable of producing music that was shallow and artificial, a parroting of true music, for they had no connection to "the genuine spirit of the Folk". In the conclusion to the essay, he wrote of the Jews that "only one thing can redeem you from the burden of your curse: the redemption of Ahasuerus – going under!" Although this has been taken to mean actual physical annihilation, in the context of the essay it refers to the eradication of Judaism and the conversion of Jews to Christianity; in essence he called for the complete assimilation of the Jews into mainstream German culture.

The initial publication of the article attracted little attention, but Wagner republished it as a pamphlet under his own name in 1869, leading to several public protests at performances of Die Meistersinger.

Wagner attacked the Jews in several other essays. In "What is German?" (1878), for example, he wrote that "The Jew... [took] German intellectual labour into his own hands; and thus we see an odious travesty of the German spirit upheld to-day before the German Folk, as its imputed likeness. It is to be feared, ere long the nation may really take this simulacrum for its mirrored image: then one of the finest natural dispositions in all the human race were done to death, perchance for ever." (*** see note below)

...After Wagner's death in 1883, Bayreuth became a meeting place for a group of extreme right-wing Wagner fans that came to be known as the Bayreuth circle, endorsed by Cosima (Wagner's wife - sandgroper), who was much more anti-Semitic than Richard.

....Wagner's works have been blacklisted in the modern state of Israel, and what few performances have occurred have evoked much controversy. Although they are commonly broadcast on government-owned radio and television stations, attempts at staging public performances have been halted by protests, especially by Holocaust survivors. For instance, after Daniel Barenboim conducted a passage from Tristan and Isolde as an encore at the 2001 Israel Festival, a parliamentary committee urged a boycott of the conductor, and an initially scheduled performance of Die Walk├╝re had to be withdrawn. On another occasion, Zubin Mehta played Wagner in Israel in spite of walkouts and jeers from the audience.

...Overall, Richard Wagner is hard not to find anti-Semitic, but has had varied religious views over his life and an odd mix of beliefs and friends.

Personally, I'll sit out the Parsifal performance in the lobby, and wait for the Beethoven which follows (music from a real mensch). Otherwise, if I'm in the auditorium at the time, I'm liable to disturb the Wagner performance with a loud rendition of Hatikva - Sandgroper

*** As Wagner's second wife, Cosima recorded in her diary on 28.3.1881, Richard Wagner called Parsifal 'a retort to Gobineau', who had characterized the Germans as the 'last card' of nature, probably a reference to his despair that evolution was destroying his beloved, superior "Aryan race..."

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