Wagner’s antisemitism

by Chris Bertram on April 2, 2005

From a piece by Andrew Clark in today’s Financial Times:

Until the final scene, the Hamburg State Opera’s November 2002 production of Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg had proceeded without comment. Everyone was primed to applaud the hymn to “holy German art” that brings Richard Wagner’s four-hour pageant to a climax. Then came the bombshell. Midway through Hans Sachs’s monologue about honouring German masters over “foreign vanities”, the music came to an abrupt halt. Suddenly one of the mastersingers started speaking: “Have you actually thought about what you are singing?” he asked. No one had experienced anything like it in an opera house. There followed a lively stage discussion – some of it shouted down by outraged members of the audience – about Wagner’s anti-Semitism in the context of 19th and 20th century German nationalism.

There’s much to disagree with in Clark’s piece, both in terms of particular judgements about the relationship between ideology and music and over the claims he makes for the extent of Wagner’s influence. Still, worth a look.

{ 40 comments }

1

Scalp 04.02.05 at 5:48 am

Well, i don’t know what to think about Wagner, of course it seems that he was antisemitic, but was it not the case of a lot of people in Europe during the XIX century ?

Most of the time we forgot, that Richard Wagner was not here during the Nazi period. So the appropriation by the Nazi of his music doesn’t neceseraly mean that he would have been a Nazi…

2

Dianne 04.02.05 at 9:03 am

I agree with you on both counts: it was worth a look but there was a lot to argue with. The basic problem I saw was that it is, essentially, an article about how horrible THEY (Germans, Wagner fans, Wagner himself) are and so implicitly congratulates “us” for being better. And someone reflecting on the lesson of the Nazi era should know where that division leads.

3

carla 04.02.05 at 10:59 am

And someone reflecting on the lesson of the Nazi era should know where that division leads.

Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it…so sayeth Santayana.

The sentence I italicized from the previous commentor hit me like a punch in the stomach. The current divisions in our own nation are so stark. And the nationalism being fed by the Republican party is so reminiscent….

4

John Emerson 04.02.05 at 11:57 am

If I liked Wagner’s music and his librettos, his politics wouldn’t bother me. To me he’s the culmination of a poisonous convergence of sentimentality and high seriousness which is characteristically German. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that the worst seriousness is far worse than the worst shallowness or frivolity.

The Viennese were fine on that, or Heine, but Holderlin, Hegel, Wagner, and tons of others were toxic.

Holderlin’s poetry is great as poetry, but not if taken seriously, as it demands. Nietzsche tried, but failed, to be unserious. I even blame Goethe and Kant. The complete inability to be cynical is a very bad thing.

I’ve just read a few biographies of Erik Satie, whose goal was to be the anti-Wagner. He did a great job of that. His music deserves more attention than it gets, and his deliberate clownishness does not mean that the music is to be ignored.

5

Nicholas Weininger 04.02.05 at 12:44 pm

Wagner is not unique, though, as an (arguably) great composer whose music has dodgy political implications.

Large parts of the Russian Orthodox choral corpus, for example, are set to particularly obnoxious power-worshipping texts– e.g. Bortnyansky’s chorale “The Tsar Shall Rejoice in Thy Strength, O Lord”– as you might expect from the state religion of a quasi-Oriental despotism. And it seems pretty clear that they helped promote a culture of deference to absolutist authority in Russia that contributed indirectly to the 20th C. horrors there.

Nevertheless it is extremely beautiful and affecting stuff and well worth listening to.

6

bob mcmanus 04.02.05 at 1:25 pm

Wagner was a genius, and even evil and demented geniuses are interesting. I have always assumed that Wagner’s anti-semitism was expressed in every note he wrote, and that his harmonic and structural innovations were anti-semitic at least in intent. And many accept parts of Wagner’s project while rejecting others. I consider it a whole.

But I have been mildly interested in going deeper, and thinking about how Wagner’s (and general) anti-semitism might connect to a rejection of the Enlightenment. Not that Romanticism, Post-Romanticism, and Modernism are anti-semitic in origin, but I keep thinking I need to read Hannah Arendt.

Holbo mentions Satie above. Maybe there are two paths of anti-Enlightenment “barbarism” that arose from the late 19th century;one xenophobic and reactionary,one xenophilic and cosmopolitan;and Wagner marks a tipping point. In any case, I find most discussion of Wagner’s anti-semitism pretty shallow.

If this was incoherent and ignorant, it is because I have more questions than answers. And I intend no offense. Would very much welcome relevant links.

7

roger 04.02.05 at 1:26 pm

Actually, Wagner, being a consumate showman with an eye for the interest attaching to scandal, might look upon this production of the Meistersinger as, at least, an interesting experiment. Sure, it violates the canon of the Gesammtkunstwerk by throwing in an alienation effect worthy of Brecht – but it recuperates that effect by making it part of the performance.

Clark’s article is otherwise pretty silly, especially the part about how societies dedicated to Wagner — presumably things like the Ring Cycle organizers in Seattle — are, unlike societies dedicated to Mozart, composed of mentally sick people. Perverts, all of them.

8

bob mcmanus 04.02.05 at 1:27 pm

Yuck, sorry John. Emerson not Holbo.

9

John Emerson 04.02.05 at 1:36 pm

Hmph.

10

John Emerson 04.02.05 at 1:41 pm

Anti-Semitism was pretty widespread in the XIXc and before. You really don’t want to look at any of your heroes too closely. Think how much better we liked Jefferson before we looked at him closely.

One thing I’ve been told is that Wagner doubled the number of double-basses in the orchestra from four to eight, in order to get a deeper, more grumbly sound. A pretty good reason to hate him right there.

(That would be sixteen single basses, as Satie might point out.)

11

abb1 04.02.05 at 1:59 pm

XIXc and before, huh. Let me quote Orwell here (1945):

…It seems to me a safe assumption that the disease loosely called nationalism is now almost universal. Anti-Semitism is only one manifestation of nationalism, and not everyone will have the disease in that particular form. A Jew, for example, would not be anti-Semitic: but then many Zionist Jews seem to me to be merely anti-Semites turned upside-down, just as many Indians and Negroes display the normal colour prejudices in an inverted form. The point is that something, some psychological vitamin, is lacking in modern civilisation, and as a result we are all more or less subject to this lunacy of believing that whole races or nations are mysteriously good or mysteriously evil. I defy any modern intellectual to look closely and honestly into his own mind without coming upon nationalistic loyalties and hatreds of one kind or another. It is the fact that he can feel the emotional tug of such things, and yet see them dispassionately for what they are, that gives him his status as an intellectual. It will be seen, therefore, that the starting point for any investigation of anti-Semitism should not be “Why does this obviously irrational belief appeal to other people?” but “Why does anti-Semitism appeal to me? What is there about it that I feel to be true?” If one asks this question one at least discovers one’s own rationalisations, and it may be possible to find out what lies beneath them. anti-Semitism should be investigated—and I will not say by anti-Semites, but at any rate by people who know that they are not immune to that kind of emotion. When Hitler has disappeared a real enquiry into this subject will be possible, and it would probably be best to start not by debunking anti-Semitism, but by marshalling all the justifications for it that can be found, in one’s own mind or anybody else’s. In that way one might get some clues that would lead to its psychological roots. But that anti-Semitism will be definitively cured, without curing the larger disease of nationalism, I do not believe.
http://www.literaturecollection.com/a/orwell/466/

See – the larger disease of nationalism…

12

bob mcmanus 04.02.05 at 2:08 pm

Maybe I have read too much Nietzsche, and not enough. I consider most of the twentieth century “barbaric”. If barbarism has something to do with alienation and subversion of existing cultural norms then Cubism and abstract expressionism, 12-tone & jazz, Ulysses & Doctor Faustus, Wittgenstein and Quine are barbaric. (unless decadent, which may be barbarism + irony).
Jackson Pollock I am sure knew of Norman Rockwell.
Not that this is in itself a bad thing.

The point is I don’t consider Wagner that much an outlier. To focus on the overt anti-semitism of blood-ritual and say it led to Hitler is to miss the more general abandonment of tradition and classical form…that may also have led to Hitler.

13

Steve LaBonne 04.02.05 at 2:21 pm

Perhaps it’s best to do what so great (but naive) a musician as Bruckner did- enjoy the music (if it’s to your taste) but ignore the words! I don’t buy for a moment the idea (which I am well aware has been ingeniously argued by a few musicologists) that there is something “antisemitic” about the actual structure and procedures of the music- music alone just isn’t capable of signifying anything that definite. And the musicians who learned most from Wagner qua pure musician were themselves Jewish- Mahler and Schoenberg.

Wagner by the way was a real bastard in many ways, not just his nationalist / antisemitic views. A gifted sociopath.

14

Tom T. 04.02.05 at 2:23 pm

I don’t know the actual text of the monologue Chris references, but in 1867, wouldn’t the notion of “honouring German masters over ‘foreign vanities’” have been interpreted as a call for German unity and self-determination, as against the machinations of foreign powers to keep the German people divided? Of course, we hear it now in the context of Hitler’s designs to subject all of Europe to German masters, but that’s not necessarily what Wagner meant, is it?

15

shmuel 04.02.05 at 2:24 pm

FYI: The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was forced by public opinion to avoid playing Wagner for many years. When the music purist tried to sneak Wagner in, the outcry was huge.

Comment on: “Anti-Semitism was pretty widespread in the XIXc and before.” My addition: and in the XXc, XXIc, …

Europe is an Equal Opportunity Offender: Gypsies, Muslims, etc. are in some anti-X capacity to this day.

16

John Emerson 04.02.05 at 3:38 pm

The French of Satie’s time, including Satie, were as nationalistic as the Germans regarding music.

This didn’t keep Satie from being called a “Boche” by the judge of a lawsuit he was involved in.

One thing that surprised me reading these biographies was that military service really was universal before WWI. Even people like Cocteau and Max Jacob put in their time.

17

abb1 04.02.05 at 3:54 pm

A gifted sociopath.

Ah, this reminds me of Orwell’s Notes on Salvador Dali:

…One ought to be able to hold in one’s head
simultaneously the two facts that Dali is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being. The one does not invalidate or, in a sense, affect the other. The first thing that we demand of a wall is that it shall stand up. If it stands up, it is a good wall, and the question of what purpose it serves is separable from that. And yet even the best wall in the world deserves to be pulled down if it surrounds a concentration camp. In the same way it should be possible to say, ‘This is a good book or a good picture, and it ought to be burned by the public hangman.’ Unless one can say that, at least in imagination, one is shirking the implications of the fact that an artist is also a citizen and a human being.
http://www.george-orwell.org/Benefit_of_Clergy:_Some_Notes_on_Salvador_Dali/0.html

Hmm. This doesn’t necessarily work in regard to a composer, does it?

18

Steve Burton 04.02.05 at 4:15 pm

Can we look forward to the day when performances of the plays of Brecht will be interrupted by a lecture on the evils of Stalinism?

Talk about wasting everybody’s time to belabor the bloody obvious.

On the other hand, the last German-directed *Meistersinger* I suffered through would have been considerably improved by virtually *any* interruption – such as a fire drill, for example.

Too bad that the *music* just doesn’t seem to matter much any more. But that’s past praying for.

19

Harry Hutton 04.02.05 at 8:31 pm

That Mark Twain quote was really said by Rossini.

20

jacob waller 04.02.05 at 9:57 pm

History has overlooked certain pitfalls in character when is comes to genius. It has been done with Wagner and it will be done again.

21

bad Jim 04.03.05 at 12:29 am

I remember, from a liner note on an old record, a story about Wagner telling Nietzsche, “Take off your glasses! You must hear nothing but the music.” This was back when they were friends.

The operas from the first half of Wagner’s career are pretty easy for me to take, from The Flying Dutchman up to the Ring Cycle. The final acts of Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal I find unbearably tedious (and the same goes for many of Mahler’s and Brückner’s symphonies).

After Nietzsche broke with Wagner and accused him of anti-semitism, he championed Bizet. That man had impeccable taste.

22

bad Jim 04.03.05 at 12:45 am

Hutton appears to be right. (Fun article.) Wait, there’s more:

Rossini, on Lohengrin:
“One cannot judge Lohengrin from a first hearing, and I certainly do not intend to hear it a second time.”

23

Jared 04.03.05 at 2:04 am

I think reminders to “ignore the politics, just focus on the music” are at least a little disingenuous. Isn’t it much more interesting to look for ways to see the music and the politics are related? But there was none of that in Clark’s article. Everyone knows Wagner was racist, but how exactly is sustained harmonic tension anti-semitic? Explain, please.

This is not to say I would condemn Wagner, any more than I would condemn M.I.A. (even if I thought she was condoning terrorism instead of simply questioning our assumptions about its nature.) Neither artist would be as interesting without the politics; treat it as art, not politics–it doesn’t have to be a prescription for anything. But treat it as art that transforms the way we think about politics.

24

abb1 04.03.05 at 3:30 am

Come on, Rossini has “wonderful moments and horrible half-hours”? That’s just not true, he couldn’t say that.

25

abb1 04.03.05 at 3:46 am

Oh, sorry, Rossini said it about Wagner, not Twain about Rossini. Makes sense now.

26

Laon 04.03.05 at 4:01 am

The nationalism that Wagner expressed at the end of _Meistersinger_ is essentially the same as the nationalism of Bartok or Dvorak. It’s about people valuing and preserving their culture, independently of political bad times. That’s a nineteenth century idea, and these days people sometimes disapprove of it and sometimes they don’t: for example with Tibetan culture under Chinese rule. But it’s not about invading bloody Poland.

Sachs said that if the Holy Roman Empire were to dissolve and Germans were ruled by a foreign country, that would be bad, obviously, because there would be no understanding between the people and their rulers, and the rulers would try to import their own culture onto the existing one. However, Sachs continued, things would still be okay so long as people hold on to their own culture.

Subtext: politics doesn’t matter much, while culture matters a lot. Sachs’ address was a piece of historical irony, I think it’s called, on Wagner’s part. Sachs is given lines that make sense with historical hindsight: _Meistersinger_ was set about sixty years before the Thirty Years War, in which the countries in the lands now called Germany were about to be overtaken by war, and the new rulers were not be terribly interested in preserving the culture of ordinary German people. Sachs was, anachronistically, referring to that.

Sachs said that ordinary people have to preserve their culture, and they do that by honouring their artists, the German masters: ie, the Mastersingers, though “masters” applies to other artists as ell. If “Meister” makes you unhappy because it’s a German word, think “maestri”, which is the connotation in this context: the artists.

Here’s a plain English text of what Sachs actually sings. I’ve made slight grammatical changes to make it (I hope) flow in English. I don’t think I’ve changed the sense. Sachs is trying to persuade a young artist, Walter, to join a conservative group of artists, the Mastersingers, that the young man despises.

Hans says to Walther:
“How can this art be unworthy if it includes such prizes?
“Our Masters [the Mastersingers; an artist guild] have cared for this art in their own way, and cherished it truly as best they knew, and that has kept it real.
“It’s not aristocraic like it used to be, when it was blessed by Courts and Kings, but in the stress of hard times it has been kept genuinely German. And it flourished best in the hardest times. That tells you how much it has been honoured. What more can you ask of the Master[singer]s?
“But watch out! Evil times are coming. If the German people and their realm should fall under false and foreign rule, the princes will not understand the people. They will import foreign delusions and toys in our German land. No one will know any more what is truly German, unless they honoured German Master[singer]s.
“So I say to you that you should honour the German masters, and that will raise good spirits!
And if you appreciate their works, then even if the Holy Roman Empire dissolved in mist we would still have our Holy German Art!”

WEB Dubois, by the way, took Wagner’s idea quite seriously, as part of the inspiration for what became the black consciousness movement. He said that black Americans should hold onto and value their own “Mastersongs”, in order to develop, build and honour their own culture and identity. He identified the great blues tradition as the black American “mastersongs”, correctly (I think) citing that tradition as the greatest american music. Two chapters of _The Souls of Black Folk_ are explicitly Wagnerian in their ideology. I think Dubois’ reading of those lines is a natural and unstrained reading of what Wagner’s lines actually said: it is the common _current_ reading that is fanciful, strained and, well, silly.

As for interrupting the music, my feeling is that the director Konwitschy (sp?) is a prat and a wanker, and I’d have wanted my money back.

Cheers!

Laon

27

bob mcmanus 04.03.05 at 6:20 am

“but how exactly is sustained harmonic tension anti-semitic?”

Well, one question is whether Wagner thought it was. I went googling for the “Jew in Music” but only found some repulsive excerpts. I did read that Wagner was in part reacting to Mendelson(?) and Meyerbeer, tho many say it was less a matter of theory than spite. I would like to understand why Wagner made his musical choices:when an artist chooses to break with tradition, my presumption is that it is partly a political choice, even if the polity is only his musical peers. Stravinsky and Schoenberg and Steve Reich were I suspect doing something more than looking for a new idea that sounded neat.

28

Thomas Dent 04.03.05 at 7:19 am

I won’t look in the comments section here for any musical insights. If you don’t appreciate the best of Wagner’s music, don’t think that your lack of appreciation is something to be proud of and shows how intelligent you are. (Same goes for Mahler and Bruckner.) When you do understand it, the last act of Tristan is the single most effective piece of music written in western Europe in the mid-nineteeth century, whether seen from the melodic, rhythmic or harmonic angle. And I have yet to see any reason to believe Tristan had anything to do with racial discrimination. (BTW half of the Ring was written *after* Tristan.)

I have tried listening to Erik’s orchestral music and found it very unSatiesfying. Perhaps deliberately so. Where is the emotional range? Where is the contrast? Where is the melody? When there is a popular Satie revival beyond ‘Gymnopedies’, you may force-feed me felt berets with impunity.

There are lots of ways of undermining the Jingoism of ‘Holy German Art’ without destroying the musical continuity of Meistersinger. You could have the crowd reacting to Sachs in some way other than admiration. You could have a group of Jews in the crowd who walk out. You could have a fight breaking out over who was the most ‘German’.

One intriguing theory (not sure how much evidence there is for it) is that Wagner planned a much shorter ending to the work without all the tub-thumping, but was encouraged to write the current finale by Cosima. The traditional ending to a comic opera would indeed be the union of the happy couple, rather than a tendentious sermon.

Did Orwell really write in favour of book-burning? That puts him on the wrong side of almost any debate. As do the following sentences: ‘If it were possible for a book to give a physical stink off its pages, this one would’; ‘Clearly, such people are undesirable (…)’ – precisely the rhetoric employed by 19th-century anti-Semites.

Perhaps John Emerson would like to point out how Mozart’s string quintet in G minor – a wholly sincere and serious work – is poisonous or degrading. Indeed I would be surprised if he can point to anything *cynical* at all in Bach, Mozart, Haydn or Schubert. (Particularly Schubert, who was a wholehearted fan of Romanticism.) Then what is the matter with a lack of cynicism?

29

Laon 04.03.05 at 9:10 am

In reply to Thomas, I don’t think talking about holy german art is particularly jingoistic, and I can’t think of any reason why anyone should take offence, on-stage or off. The English sound off about “the language of Shakespeare and Milton”, say, and as far as I’m concerned they’re entitled to. The Germans can sound off about their music. The Italians can get all misty-eyed about their painting and their music. I’ve been ear-bashed about a Vietnamese poem that’s about 19 times longer than _Paradise Lost_, and frankly I’d like to hear more about it.

It’s armies that scare me, not people being proud of their culture’s dance, cuisine, theatre, or whatever. The late Wagner, by the way, didn’t like armies much.

In reply to Bob, I don’t think there’s any sense in which his music could be called antisemitic. He considered that his music was different from that of everybody else except Beethoven and Bach. He thought that Mendelsohn and Meyerbeer wrote meretricious music, but he didn’t compose the way he did in order to be different from them. However, because he was an antisemite, he used antisemitism as a rhetorical device when he attacked their music.

An analogy might be a film-maker, say, who tries to make original films. He thinks that American movies are formulaic. I don’t think that means his films are anti-American.

Wagner’s antisemitism was contemptible, but it is not the only fact in the whole of his life and being.

Look, uh, here’s a long rave I wrote, in a thinking-aloud way, about _Judaism in Music_, which can quite reasonably be skipped.

The essay _Jewishness in Music_ is nasty, and there are some especially skin-crawling paragraphs within it which are often rightly quoted against Wagner. Complaints about those paragraphs being “taken out of context” are irrelevant, because no one with a healthy mind could have written those paragraphs in the first place.

He wrote things like:
“When we listen to a Jew talking we are unconsciously upset by the complete lack of purely human expression in his speech. The cold indifference of its peculiar jargon [WA Ellis translated this as “blabber”] can never rise to the excitement of real passion.” etc.

But Wagner’s argument was not a simple one. The context made it clear that he was writing about “the Jews” in a specific time and place, that is, in mid-19th century Germany.

He said that cultured Jews have semi-assimilated into German culture, but not completely. By retaining a separate Jewish culture, they did not enter into the deepest hopes and fears, etc, of the mainstream. (I don’t need to make the point that this is paranoid and bigoted nonsense. I am trying to distinguish the line of argument, which is nasty in a subtle way, from the rhetoric in which some of it is couched, which is nasty in an obvious skin-crawlingly creepy way.)

Wagner then wrote:
“It is in this situation that we have seen the emergence of Jewish thinkers. The thinker is the poet who looks to the past; the true poet is the propet who foretells. Only the deepest and most heartfelt sympathy with a great, similarly-minded community, to which the poet gives unconscious voice, can produce such a prophet. Completely cut off from this community by the nature of his situation, equally completely torn from all connection with his own race, the more distinguished Jew can only consider his acquired culture as a luxury which he does not know how to put to practical use.”

Therefore, Wagner argued, when Jews of culture wrote in a German idiom, it tended to sound like pastiche and imitation, and to lack depth.

That was the essence of his attack on Mendelsohn, a composer he often respected and stole ideas from, and Meyerbeer, who he owed a debt of gratitude.

There’s a bit more to Wagner’s argument, which I suddenly think – now speculating wildly – may have been read by Theodor Herzl. That is, Wagner also said that there must have been genuinely great Jewish music “in its pure form” [meaning before the diaspora], but that synagogue music as it existed by the 19th century was only a distorted memory of that.

Wagner’s actual words, of synagogue music, were “cackling, gurgling”, etc. In trying to extract the central line of argument, I’m not wanting to gloss over the fact that the words in which it was expressed were often extremely nasty.

He then noted that there had been attempts to reform synagogue music, but argued that this was being done from above, and not drawn from a living tradition with cultural roots.

It occurs to me that this could have struck a chord with Herzl. Herzl was _very_ Wagnerian. For example the second Zionist Conference opened with the _Tannhäuser_ overture, and one of the conference symbols (in placemats, etc) was an illustration of Siegfried slaying Fafner: the point being that Siegfried represented the young, Jewish future who was going to slay the dragon of old Europe, and strike out into a new and fresh world.

Herzl was listening to Wagner a lot, especially _Tannhäuser_, while he wrote _Der Judenstaat_. The lines in “Jewishness in Music” about the impossibility of revitalising Jewish music from above, but also saying that great music can only grow organically from a community: it would be easy to think that idea was consistent with Zionism, or could be part of a case for Zionism.

(Sorry; I’m just thinking aloud about this, and I hadn’t expected to go down this tangent. It’s a half-baked idea, if that. It’s also complicated, politically. I don’t think that if Herzl noted that aspect of Wagner’s argument, that it would take a Jewish community to create great Jewish art, then that would make Wagner, you know, cool about the antisemitism thing. It would just be … complicated.)

Wagner ended with a call to cultured Jewish people, who were supposedly in this plight, to lose their Judaism entirely: and, it is clear, to lose everything else that was particularly Jewish in order to fully assimilate into the bigger community. The last sentence ends by saying Jews should achieve redemption [from the supposed curse of being cut off from the well-springs of german culture] through “Untergang”, and there have been arguments over what “Untergang” means. It can mean like the sun going down, it can mean “destruction” or “decline”. In Nietzsche’s _Zarathustra_ the word turns up occasionally and seems to mean a sort of creative self-transformation.

One way of working out Wagner’s meaning is not to look at the last sentence in isolation, but as part of the whole paragraph. Wagner said that Jacob Börne came out of his “isolation”. He did this not just by changing himself, but also by changing the people around him, ie, non-Jewish Germans, teaching them things about humanity. What Börne did, Wagner wrote, was hard but can be done. “Without a backward glance, take part in this work of redemption though self-denial, for then we will be one and indivisible.”

Is assimilation a racist idea? Of course it is. Is it a creepy essay? Hell, yes. But that, for what it’s worth, is what I think the essay is saying. The rhetoric in which it is couched is nastier than its argument, and you need to keep both registers in mind in judging it. That is, not forgetting the nastiness of some of the rhetoric.

I’m probably talking to myself by now, but I found this clarified some of my own thoughts on this, so it could be useful to someone, or it could merely be annoying. Since it’s only pixels, here goes.

Laon

30

John Emerson 04.03.05 at 10:06 am

“Tristan is the single most effective piece of music written in western Europe in the mid-nineteeth century”.

You forgot to add “alas”.

31

John Emerson 04.03.05 at 10:20 am

Someone who can’t find frivolity or cynicism in Mozart isn’t looking. (What is the translation and meaning of “Cosi Fan Tutti”?). Please explain to me his similiarity to their younger contemporary, Holderlin. As I said, they were Austrians.

Some seriousness in music is permissible. In the second half of the XIXc, seriousness became toxic, especially in Germany. Mozart and Haydn had the light touch when needed.

Perhaps Czech nationalism would have become evil too, given the chance, but since the death of Zizka the Czechs have not flourished militarily, unfortunately.

A side topic: given their accomplishments in almost every other field, why is British music so crappy?

32

John Emerson 04.03.05 at 12:13 pm

“As I said, Mozart was Austrian”. Editing mistake.

33

abb1 04.03.05 at 1:22 pm

Did Orwell really write in favour of book-burning? That puts him on the wrong side of almost any debate. As do the following sentences: ‘If it were possible for a book to give a physical stink off its pages, this one would’; ‘Clearly, such people are undesirable (…)’ – precisely the rhetoric employed by 19th-century anti-Semites.

I don’t think he actually advocates book-burning; rather he suggests ‘burning’ as a mental exercise. But – yeah, I think Marxist analysis of art certainly does lead to categorizing some of it as “Entartete Kunst”, degenerative, undesirable art; just like almost any ideological analysis. Poor Salvador…

34

bob mcmanus 04.03.05 at 3:10 pm

“I’m probably talking to myself by now”

Not at all, exctly what I was looking for. Thank you.

35

BI 04.03.05 at 4:14 pm

In response to Bob Mcmanus’s post about intellectual arguments that come out of the German anti-Enlightenment, I would recommend reading Culture by Adam Kuper. He basically writes an intellectual history of how different conceptions of culture are drawn from the German counter-Enlightenment (as well as the Enlightenment), and makes a similar point that the counter-enlightenment spawned very different strains of thought.

36

Skippy McGee 04.03.05 at 7:32 pm

Man, I don’t think these kind of sick, far left whacky world histrionics have been heard since Lenin and Trotsky had their first disagreements. This stuff is so far over the top it boggles.

Guys, the world is a museum of marxist failure. You are apparently trying to get exhibits of your own.

37

John Emerson 04.03.05 at 9:22 pm

Skippy, I think you’re on the wrong thread. Your generic comment could semi-plausibly be stuck in lots of other places, I suppose. Take your pill like a good boy now.

38

clew 04.04.05 at 2:07 am

I liked that too, Laon.

39

markus 04.04.05 at 10:28 am

I must disagree with those saying in effect this is old news. I personally couldn’t avoid having at least one avid Wagnerian among my aquantainces who refuses to even entertain the notion that the man did not like Jews.
Likewise, the annual congregation in Bayreuth draws a decent bunch of people on the right to far right, closeted anti-Semites who are part of the wider problem of the partial inability to purge former Nazis from post-war German society. While coverage of these devouted has in recent years turned more towards their nuttier aspects, there is still an equal amount of coverage which presents these people as some kind of “elite”.
And this in turn is a good example, almost like a miniature model, of both the worship of a leader figure and the inability of a society to renounce the leader and his more important followers (in that e.g. people simply loving the music still have to endure a festival shaped by the nutcases).

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nnyhav 04.04.05 at 4:14 pm

Barzun might inform further.

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