• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

'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.

Story continues below…

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
'We'll freeze Turkey talks' warns EU as arrests continue
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched a radical purge against anyone suspected of complicity in the coup attempt. Photo: DPA

As Turkish authorities on Friday widened their sweeping post-coup crackdown to the business sector, the European Union's enlargement commissioner implicitly warned that the bloc would freeze Turkey's accession talks if the crackdown violated the rule of law.

I’m ashamed of Germany’s refugee failure: Green leader
Cem Özdemir. Photo: DPA

The head of the Green Party has responded angrily to Angela Merkel’s speech on refugees on Friday, saying he feels “ashamed at Germany’s failure".

German satirists mock Erdogan (and his penis)
Photo: DPA

Tempting fate?

Huge pro-Erdogan rally puts strain on Turkish community
Erdogan supporters at a rally in 2014. Photo: DPA

Tens of thousands of supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plan to rally in Cologne on Sunday, as tensions over Turkey's failed coup have put German authorities on edge.

Opinion
How the Berlin startup scene is wasting its potential
Photo: DPA

"The truth is, there really isn't a truly successful international Berlin startup."

Five years' jail for German darknet weapons dealer
Photo: DPA

He had sold weapons to known Isis-sympathizers and far-right extremists.

Prickly Bavarian calls out cops on hedgehogs' noisy sex
Photo: DPA

Caught in the act.

International or German state school - which one's best?
Photo: DPA

Deciding between sending your child to a German state school or a private international school isn't easy. Max Bringmann has experienced both.

13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make

Sure-fire ways to get off on the wrong foot in the German language.

Captain Schweinsteiger retires from international football
Bastian Schweinsteiger. Photo: DPA

He has won a World Cup with Die Mannschaft and captained them at Euro 2016. On Friday Bastian Schweinsteiger announced his retirement from the national team.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Travel
Enter if you dare: Berlin's best abandoned haunts
DPA
Gallery
IN PICTURES: How Munich responded to shooting spree
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
National
Bavaria train attack: Were police right to shoot to kill?
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
Travel
Six soothing day trips to escape the bustle of Berlin
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Sponsored Article
Health insurance for expats in Germany: a quick guide
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
National
Five things to know about guns in Germany
Culture
10 things you need to know before attending a German wedding
National
Eight weird habits you'll pick up living in Germany
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
Lifestyle
Six reasons 'super-cool' Berlin isn't all it's cracked up to be
Society
Only one country likes getting naked on the beach more than Germany
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Lifestyle
23 ridiculously fascinating things you never knew about Berlin
Culture
8 German words that perfectly sum up your 20s
Lifestyle
Can't make it past the door at Berlin's most famous club? Help is at hand
Business & Money
Why Frankfurt could steal London's crown as Europe's finance capital
Features
6 surprising things I learned about Germany while editing The Local
10,718
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd