22.05.13On the 200th anniversary of Wagner's birth, let's learn to love the music - yet still hate the man - Comment - Voices - The Independentwww.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/on-the-200th-anniversary-of-wagners-birth-lets-learn-to-love-the-music--yet-still-hate-the-man-8614155.html3/13
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views seemed to presage: in “Das Judenthum in der Musik”, Wagner hadcompared the Jewish influence on music with maggots feasting on adiseased or dying body, and called for it to be extirpated by “a bloody struggle of self-annihilation”. And last month an essay in the Germanmagazine
on “Wagner’s Dark Shadow” revealed a letter Wagner wrote to his wife Cosima, after she had told him how a fire in a Viennatheatre, during a performance of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s Nathan the Wise, had killed hundreds, about half of them Jews; Wagner replied: “AllJews should burn to death in a performance of Nathan.”Nice man. Yet whatever his character, or his views – and whatever formativeinfluence those views may or may not have had on the mind of Adolf Hitler –it is right to celebrate his anniversary. His music is sublime; manipulative inthe way it plays upon our emotions, certainly – asDaniel Barenboimamongothers has pointed out – but then all great music works by somehow tappingin to our subconscious, rather than appealing to our rational selves.Barenboim himself has waged a lonely struggle to introduce the music of Wagner to the concert halls of Israel. The conductor makes the simple pointthat while Wagner himself was a vile anti-Semite, “his music isn’t anti-Semitic”and “as a musician, you simply can’t ignore him”. Others have quibbled withthis, arguing that certain of the characters in some of Wagner’s operasconform to anti-Semitic stereotypes; but Barenboim is right – the music itself is no more anti-Semitic than it could be described as right-wing or left-wing.The arrangement of musical notes is an aesthetic phenomenon, entirely divorced from the world of politics, and, indeed morality. Those who would ban Wagner’s music on such grounds are no different from the Stalinists of theSoviet Union, or the commissars of China’s cultural revolution, who sought tomake the composition of music a slave to political ideology; indeed, they areeven dangerously close to Hitler’s own views on the role of culture.In a way, this sort of delusion is understandable. Because man cares so muchabout music, because it resonates so deeply with us, those whose
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