• Germany's news in English
 

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

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
July asylum applications hit 'all-time record'
An asylum seeker reception centre in Trier. Photo: DPA

July asylum applications hit 'all-time record'

More people applied for asylum in Germany in July than in any previous month on record, the Ministry for Immigration and Refugees announced on Friday. READ  

This Week in History
The 1,000s of Germans massacred after WWII
Germans fleeing from eastern Europe after the Second World War. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The 1,000s of Germans massacred after WWII

Seventy years ago on Friday, a munitions depot exploded in the Czechoslovakian town of Ústí nad Labem. For the thousands of Sudeten Germans who lived in the town, the event was a death sentence. READ  

Minister seeks to rid laws of 'Nazi language'
In the center, Nazi lawyer Roland Freisler, who wrote laws that are partially still in existence today. Photo: German Federal Archive / Wikimedia Commons.

Minister seeks to rid laws of 'Nazi language'

Germany has made great efforts to purge legal system of remnants of Adolf Hitler's regime, but some laws still bear traces of the Nazi past. The Justice Minister wants to change this. READ  

Treason investigation of Netzpolitik halted
Netzpolitik published documents outlining the internal spy agency BfV's spy programmes and budget. Photo: DPA

Treason investigation of Netzpolitik halted

Update: Federal prosecutors announced on Friday they are suspending investigations of treason against 'digital rights' website Netzpolitik for 'the greater good' of upholding freedom of the press. READ  

Newborn baby found in Munich airport toilets
Munich Airport. Photo: DPA

Newborn baby found in Munich airport toilets

A newborn baby was found in a toilet in Munich airport on Thursday. Police so far have no clue as to who or where the mother is. READ  

Brit arrested in Munich for meth smuggling
Photo: BVZ/Zoll

Brit arrested in Munich for meth smuggling

A 50-year-old British woman is being held in custody in Munich on suspicion of attempting to smuggle two kilos of crystal meth out of Munich airport disguised as sweets. READ  

Start-up helps new Berliners slash red tape
Hate waiting in line at the Bürgeramt? There's a company that lets you pay to get the perfect appointment. Photo: DPA.

Start-up helps new Berliners slash red tape

Why waste time jumping through the hoops of German bureaucracy when you can pay someone else to take the hassle off your hands? A new Berlin company is offering to do just that - and it's got city officials fuming in the process. READ  

Michael Jackson shrine may have to beat it
A fan visits the makeshift Michael Jackson memorial in Munich. Photo: DPA.

Michael Jackson shrine may have to beat it

A memorial set up in Germany by some of Michael Jackson's most ardent fans the day after his sudden 2009 death has come under threat in a strangely emotional turf war. READ  

Ai Weiwei in Germany as UK slammed over visa
Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei arrived at Munich airport on Thursday, greeted by his son and son's mother, filmmaker Wang Fen. Photo: DPA.

Ai Weiwei in Germany as UK slammed over visa

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei arrived in Munich on Thursday on his first overseas trip since he was arrested nearly four years ago, after Britain denied him a six-month visa because he did not declare a supposed "criminal conviction" on his application. READ  

'Women-only' parking: sensible or sexist?
Regulations for women's parking spaces differ from state to state across Germany. Photo: JG-NF / Wikimedia Commons.

'Women-only' parking: sensible or sexist?

Frankfurt Airport is one of many places in Germany to offer women their own 'bigger and nicer' parking areas. Is this sensible practice or plain sexist? READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
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
Sponsored Article
Outsourcing drives Apreel's Europe growth
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
Society
In North Germany, money sometimes DOES grow on trees
National
Hero mechanics stop Bavaria shooting spree
International
Denmark says that border controls are coming
National
Did hackers take control of German missile battery?
Politics
Munich gives gay pride green light
Business & Money
Berlin rent controls hit prices hard
National
Fighting to breastfeed in public without shame
Society
Ice cream for dogs 'gobbled up in one gulp'
Education
Are hotpants a feminist issue?
Rhineland
Lion cub reunited with mother
National
How the heatwave is cracking Germany's Autobahns
International
Why the French are more sympathetic to Greece than the Germans
Sponsored Article
Crans-Montana: International expat hub
Gallery
Police seize pensioner's WW2 heavy weapons haul
National
How to survive the Europe-wide heatwave
Sport
Is Schweini already out of the door at Bayern?
Politics
How German media shaped the Greece crisis
National
Car assembly robot crushes worker at Volkswagen
Rhineland
Weathermen red-faced over heatwave snow warning
Society
An eye for an eye? Mum protects child in playground with pepperspray
National
As it happened: Queen Elizabeth's final day in Germany
National
As it happened: Queen Elizabeth's second day in Germany
National
Queen Elizabeth II's first day in Germany - as it happened
National
Bus passengers tell fake racists where to get off
Politics
What's really in the Queen's handbag?
National
Germans say USA doesn't respect freedom
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

7,212
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd