• Germany's news in English
 

'I hate Wagner but I hate him on my knees'

The Local · 22 May 2013, 12:12

Published: 22 May 2013 12:12 GMT+02:00

Opera houses the world over are paying tribute to Wagner, who is often referred to as Adolf Hitler's favourite composer, in his bicentennial year. The Met in New York, Covent Garden in London, La Scala in Milan, the Bastille in Paris and Vienna State Opera have unveiled new stagings of Wagner's opus magnum, the 16-hour-long, four-opera "Ring" cycle.

But for true Wagnerians, perhaps the main highlights of the year take place in Bayreuth, the small, sleepy town in Franconia where Wagner designed and built his Festspielhaus, and which remains the centre of the ardent cult around him.

The hallowed theatre with its incomparable acoustics usually only opens its doors for four weeks in the summer. On May 22nd, however, it will host Wagner's 200th birthday concert, with German maestro Christian Thielemann conducting excerpts from his best-known operas.

As always with Wagner, the bicentenary celebrations are never far from controversy.

Wagner was born in Leipzig on May 22, 1813 and died in Venice on February 13, 1883, long before the rise of Nazism. But Hitler was an ardent admirer of his music, as well as a regular visitor to Bayreuth. And he became a close friend of the Wagner family, who affectionately called him "Uncle Wolf".

Hitler claimed that it was one of Wagner's early operas, about the Roman tribune "Rienzi", which inspired him to begin thinking about a political career. The Nazis made prodigious use of Wagner's music in their propaganda films and rallies, so much so that the composer's works are still banned for performance in Israel.

Music scholars, historians, musicians and conductors still fiercely debate the extent to which Wagner's musical and artistic legacy is impregnated with anti-Semitism, misogyny and proto-Nazi ideas of racial purity. In addition to his 13 completed operas, Wagner was a prolific writer and theorist, and among his most infamous publications is a virulently anti-Semitic pamphlet entitled "Judaism in Music."

"I hate Wagner, but I hate him on my knees," the legendary Jewish maestro Leonard Bernstein once said of Wagner, succinctly summing up the deep ambivalence many people tend to harbour towards him.

The bone of contention for his supporters and detractors alike is whether Wagner's "Gesamtkunstwerk", or total work of art, is innately apolitical, or whether he uses it to propagate his racist, anti-Semitic and nihilistic worldview.

In purely musical terms, Wagner's achievements are undeniable.

His medieval love epic, "Tristan and Isolde" and his final stage work "Parsifal" broke the boundaries of tonality, influencing the work of a wealth of later composers including Claude Debussy and Arnold Schoenberg. Wagner's use of the orchestra, with exotic new instruments specially designed to his own demands, was similarly revolutionary.

But critics, such as the composer's great-grandson, Gottfried Wagner, said the flawed man cannot and should not be separated from his art.

"There are terrific sides and dark sides" to Wagner, he said recently.

AFP/The Local/mry

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Robber threatens woman with “HIV syringe”
File photo: DPA

Robber threatens woman with “HIV syringe”

7 hours ago

A shocked woman in Munich called police on Sunday evening after a man climbed into her car, demanded her purse – and threatened her with a syringe he said contained HIV.

Day in court for first Loveparade tragedy case
Crosses adorn the stairs which festival-goers fought to reach to escape the crush. Photo: DPA

Day in court for first Loveparade tragedy case

8 hours ago

July 2015 marked five years since one of the worst tragedies in modern German history. But this week, those affected by the 2010 Duisburg Loveparade disaster will at last see the case come to court.

Refugee crisis tests EU's core ideals: Merkel
Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA

Refugee crisis tests EU's core ideals: Merkel

8 hours ago

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday said the refugee crisis facing Europe is testing the core ideals of universal rights at the heart of the European Union.

German named 'arse bombing' world champ
Going down with a bang. The splash diving championships 2015. Photo: DPA

German named 'arse bombing' world champ

11 hours ago

Summer went out with a bang - and a splash - in southwest Germany, where the finals of the "arse bombing“ world championship 2015 were held on Sunday.

Formula One
Rosberg 'overwhelmed' by birth of daughter
Formula One Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg with his wife Vivian. File photo: DPA

Rosberg 'overwhelmed' by birth of daughter

12 hours ago

Star Formula One driver Nico Rosberg confirmed on Monday that he and his wife Vivian are now the parents of a baby girl, saying the couple were “overwhelmed and totally in love”.

'No limit to refugees Germany can take in'
Refugees arrive at an intake centre. Photo: DPA

'No limit to refugees Germany can take in'

13 hours ago

Germany's top official dealing with refugees said on Monday that there was 'no upper limit' to Germany's capacity for taking in people in need of asylum.

Berlin orchestra's Tehran concert blocked by Iran
Daniel Barenboim. Photo: DPA

Berlin orchestra's Tehran concert blocked by Iran

15 hours ago

Iran has barred famed conductor Daniel Barenboim from entering the Islamic republic because of his Israeli citizenship, thwarting his plan to lead a performance in Tehran, media reported Sunday.

Bundesliga
Dortmund reclaim top spot with Hertha win
Borussia Dortmund celebrate scoring against Hertha Berlin. Photo:DPA

Dortmund reclaim top spot with Hertha win

15 hours ago

Borussia Dortmund reclaimed top spot in the Bundesliga from Bayern Munich on Sunday with a 3-1 victory over Hertha Berlin -- their eighth straight win under new coach Thomas Tuchel.

Germany's friendship vow to Afghanistan
Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Afghanistan on Sunday. Photo:DPA

Germany's friendship vow to Afghanistan

15 hours ago

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that German friendship with Afghanistan had "no end date" as he visited Kabul under tight security on Sunday.

Migrants crisis
German media and celebs rally for refugees
A welcome party for refugees in Heidenau on Friday. Photo: DPA

German media and celebs rally for refugees

1 day ago

Germany may have witnessed violent anti-refugee protests this week -- but the message from the country's media and celebrities is a loud and determined welcome for people fleeing the horrors of war.

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS

National
Weekend of anti-refugee violence shocks Germany
National
Half of Germans 'have had sex in their car'
Society
Deadly stew spooks home vegetable gardeners
Politics
The man who brought two Germanies together
Features
Where to get your culture fix in Cologne
Education
Fairytale world of Brothers Grimm brought to life
Rhineland
Thieves leave 1,000 open beers untasted
National
Way to some Germans' hearts is through their wallets
National
Germany's biggest challenge: European refugee crisis
Travel
Where to get your adrenaline pumping in Germany
Technology
Could thieves hack into luxury cars?
What to watch out for when snapping your lunch
National
German lefties through history
National
The fight over prostitution heats up
National
Merkel: migrants, not Greece, are the real challenge
Features
How I explained the Queen to the Germans
Education
Why Germany does 'back-to-school' traditions better
National
Germans are ‘not how foreigners think’
National
A mum and daughter reunite 70 years after WWII
Sport
Bra stops bullet in hunting mishap miracle
National
Cows trample German woman to death in Graubünden Alps
Business & Money
Start-up helps new Berliners short cut bureaucracy
National
The 1,000s of Germans massacred after the Second World War
Sport
Germany star scores own goal with PR gaffe
Features
'Women-only' parking: sensible or sexist?
Politics
Satire and reality blur in parody party's strife
National
13-year-old boy detained for trying to join Isis
Culture
Berlin restaurant serves up Greek Crisis Menu
Rhineland
Doctor on trial after woman wakes in morgue
Society
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Society
Police bust kinky Bavarian couple over painful love-making
Politics
Merkel brings Palestinian girl to tears
Hamburg
Amateur archaeologist finds Nazi gold hoard
National
Could Merkel learn a lesson in love from this doppelganger?
Travel
Why you should stay in Germany for the summer holidays
Sport
German press tell Schweinsteiger 'good riddance'
National
Hamburg gets a bouncing 100kg baby girl
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

6,915
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd