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On the 200th Anniversary of Wagner's Birth, Let's Learn to Love the Music - Yet Still Hate the Man - Comment - Voices - The Independent

On the 200th Anniversary of Wagner's Birth, Let's Learn to Love the Music - Yet Still Hate the Man - Comment - Voices - The Independent

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On the 200th Anniversary of Wagner's Birth, Let's Learn to Love the Music - Yet Still Hate the Man - Comment - Voices - The Independent
On the 200th Anniversary of Wagner's Birth, Let's Learn to Love the Music - Yet Still Hate the Man - Comment - Voices - The Independent

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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.html1/13
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On the 200th anniversary of Wagner's birth, let'slearn to love the music - yet still hate the man
Hitler’s favourite composer was a monster, but he should still be celebrated
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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.html2/13
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Next week there will be a special concert in London honouring a man who wrote an infamous anti-Semitic tract “Das Judenthum in der Musik”, and whose own musical theatre was acclaimed by Adolf Hitler as the earliestinspiration for his idea of a pure German master race. That man, of course, isRichard Wagner, and next week’s 200th anniversary of his birth hasoccasioned many more celebratory concerts and festivals in the land of his birth.It has provoked controversy there, too: last week a Dusseldorf production of  Wagner’s 1845 opera Tannhauser, but with sets based on Nazi concentrationcamps, was cancelled after its premiere. The scenes were apparently sorealistic – in terms of the horror of the gas chambers – that some of theaudience needed medical assistance to recover. As the musicologistNorman Lebrecht observed, it was a rather bizarre interpretation,anyway: Tannhauser is set in the Middle Ages and involves Wagner’susual preoccupations with sacred and profane love. Yet the intention of the director, Burkhard Kosminski, was simpleenough to understand. In the month of Wagner’s bicentenary, he wantedto link the music to the events which the composer’s own ideological
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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
 Spiegel 
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 o 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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