Berlin gets to grips with ‘Richard Wagner’s Jewish Nightmare’

Berlin gets to grips with ‘Richard Wagner’s Jewish Nightmare’


norman lebrecht

January 15, 2022

The Deutsches Historisches Museum on Unter den Linden is rolling out an exhibition on the central importance of Richard Wagner to the meaning of being German.

The exhibition, titled ‘Richard Wagner and the Nationalization of Feeling’ (8 April to 11 September) covers four key aspects of Wagner’s contribution: Alienation and Belonging, Eros and Loathing.

Original objects such as the poem dedicated to Reich Chancellor Otto von Bismarck “To the German Army” (1871) illustrate how the specifically “German” aspect became a trademark of his works and how staged, communally experienced feelings of “folk” and “nation” became the benchmark. The different versions of his inflammatory essay “Judaism in Music” from the years 1850 and 1869 show that Wagner’s pronounced anti-Semitism and his nationalism grew inseparably hand in hand.

In his installation “Richard’s Jewish Nightmare”, created specially for the exhibition, theatre director Barry Kosky leads museum guests into a Black Box. There in total darkness they experience a sound collage that mixes Wagner quotes about the Jewish way of speaking, translated into Yiddish, with passages from the overblown portraits of the anti-Semitic figures Alberich and Mime from “The Ring of the Nibelung” as well as with synagogal chants.


  • Barry Guerrero says:

    This again. Preaching to the wrong generation of German speaking people.

    • Brettermeier says:

      “Preaching to the wrong generation of German speaking people.”

      Nah, we do have young morons here, too. But they get their spiritual guidance elsewhere (Telegram, etc.). 😉

    • To think such work is just preaching is naïve, if not plainly ignorant. When something like the Third Reich happens, it is not simply a matter of the mistakes of a single generation. It is a manifestation of culture and its historical evolution. We also see how these cultural attributes are not limited to a single country. We study this history not to point a finger, but to examine how the impulses of those times affect us all and to better learn how we can avoid creating similar catastrophes.

      • Barry Guerrero says:

        . . . and for banning Wagner’s music, or forcing people to feel guilty for liking his music? . . . How would that help to, “avoid creating similar catastrophes?” . . . Again, put the blame for the nazis on to the nazis, and those who enabled them to take control. Period.

  • Elsie says:

    That Wagner was anti-Semitic is not in any doubt but his Family after his death took this to new heights. And then suddenly, once the Nazis were deposed, all is (nearly) sweetness and light again. Wagner wrote some great music but his stance against the Jews will never be washed away. Not by Adenauer, not by Merkel and certainly not by the number of supposedly “former” Nazis who paid homage at Bayreuth in the 1950s and 60s.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I think this Wagner guy was merely antisemitic to get more attention, like my uncle Anthony who felt lonely in the old people’s home but from the moment onwards when he began to fulminate against jewish people, everybody began to talk with him.


  • John Borstlap says:

    Full-blown neurosis – the German disease. The nazi period is, by Kosky, embraced as national identity, and including cultural identity. In fact, this is – in an indirect way – a confirmation of what the nazis wanted: defining German identity. It is through-and-through sick – unintentionally it is accepting nazism, like a patient who has been healed but clings to his scars and shows them to everybody who doesn’t want to see them.

    It is well-documented that with the founding of the German ‘Reich’ in 1871, the very first time in history that the Germand lands got more or less unified (with force, and not of free will), Wagner sought financial support from the new government and especially from Bismarck, for his Bayreuth undertaking, when funding got stuck all the time. Hence his nationalistic writings. He even visited Bismarck, and came back thoroughly disappointed, and raged since then against the militarism and primitive nationalism of the new government – because he had something quite different in mind for what he thought was Germany: a rebirth like a phoenix after long periods of backwardness and domination by modern France. (And where he would be a central cultural figure, of course.)

    Such exhibitions are a masochistic gesture of denying the wealth of German culture which is rooted in very different soil. Focussing on twisted developments which only appeared by the end of the 19th century, and only in certain circles, is crazy. It is giving nazism a platform where it’s definitely not deserved.

    • me thinks the lady doth protest too much

    • newsboy says:

      Bravo. You are probably correct. But opera is important only to small portion of the population. “High” art is the province of the so-called “upper crust” and conservative slice of the demographic spectrum. That group is often repressive and regressive. Today is the anniversary of the premiere of Vanessa by Samuel Barber (1958). He was not particularly “modern” or “atonal”. And his lover, Menotti, was hardly on the cutting edge.

      Generalizations always fall apart because a large group includes diversity beyond generalization. Dualistic false dichotimies do not make for progress. And it’s always easier to shoot the messenger, than to reason and try to present a coherent argument.

      Realistically, German nationalism is not less false or true than any other form of nationalism. If you sell a lot of anything, you are probably selling an empty image. An iPhone is a luxury product that is mass-manufactured. In other words, appealing to vanity by pretending a label really adds prestige to a product???? Now can you see the idiocy of the label High Art, Grand Opera, or “most reasonable people”?

    • Truth be told, what is insane, sick and sadistic is to deny or even try to whitewash that Auschwitz or what you call “twisted developments” wiped out the remnants of the so called great German culture, which was comprised mostly of Jews anyway.

    • JB says:

      John, you haven’t seen the show for the simple reason that it only opens in April. From the description on the DHM website it is not clear that the focus is on his antisemitism:

      In the course of the 19th century Richard Wagner wore many different hats – as a musician in the employ of the royal court, as an author, a revolutionary, an exile, an insolvent debtor, the protégé of wealthy patrons and of a king, as a theatre reformer, founder of a festival, composer. He was not only witness to political upheavals and movements, but also registered, took up and (re-)shaped the social and emotional sensitivities of his time – as an artist, but also as an entrepreneur. In these capacities, Wagner reveals himself as a technician of emotions who identified and redefined the social significance of art – and the artist – in an increasingly commercialised world. To this end, he developed strategies in which emotions play a leading role. His concept of music drama as a “Gesamtkunstwerk”, a synthesis of the arts, always also implied a critique of Modernity. In this way it was marked by the ambition to change not only the individual, but also society as a whole – a desire which we also find in Karl Marx, yet in a different form and manifestation. Wagner was an anti-Semite. To what degree his staging of emotions, his ideas of music and art, his fantasy of oppression and redemption, as well as his critique of Modernity were influenced by this anti-Semitism, or if it constituted anti-Semitism itself, remains controversial to this day. The exhibition deals with Wagner’s staging of concrete emotions and examines the history of his concepts in the context of the 19th century.


    Barrie Kosky: „Mir soll kein Nicht-Jude mehr sagen, was antisemitisch ist“

    • Michael says:

      In your link is a link to an extraordinary piece of work of last October:-

      Dossier von Dr. Felix Sassmannshausen: Straßen- und Platznamen
      mit antisemitischen Bezügen in Berlin

      Starts with Adenauer, Bismarck and Byron!

      Unfortunately the Kosky piece is behind a paywall

      • As you probably know, Adenauer was one of the first to acknowledge German culpability in the Jewish Holocaust, when he knelt down in front of some monument. surely if you are interested in what Kosky has to say to cost of a cappuccino is not too much to ask.

        • JB says:

          Unless I missed something, it was Willy Brandt who knelt down at the monument for the Warsaw Ghetto.

        • V. Lind says:

          A paywall is usually a subscription. There are a lot of articles posted behind paywalls here. Let’s see: would I consider adding a subscription the The Times? The Wall Street Journal? The New York Times? or the Berliner Zeitung? I don’t read German, so I am hardly going to subscribe to Google Translate.

          And I don’t drink cappucino. I like my coffee black.

        • Michael says:

          I provide this in response to your flippant suggestion that I might not be able to afford the cost of a cappuccino.

          If you provide a link in a predominantly English-speaker website to an article that can only be read by subscribers to that article’s providers, surely out of respect and courtesy to other readers of this website you should at least provide a summary? Especially as the article in question is in German which although I can read I suspect it is probable that many other readers cannot.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Words are not the property of certain people.

      • Brettermeier says:

        “Words are not the property of certain people.”

        That’s funny, because the interview is behind a paywall*.

        *) Only there, yes I know how to google stuff, thank you very much.

    • Tamino says:

      …and that line by Kosky is of course self-righteous nonsense.

      • Wrong, wrong wrong. Kosky speaks for me and the millions of Jews silenced in the Holocaust against the Jews. if you can, illuminate your train of thought in these spaces.

        • Tamino says:

          No particular group of people owns language and its semantics.

          By the way, have you heard about the many zionists, who claim that there is no such thing as a Palestinian?
          Well, how about „no Non-Palestinian shall ever tell a Palestinian what defines a Palestinian!“
          How do you like that?

          • not a fan of terrorists

          • V. Lind says:

            The suggestion that all Palestinians are terrorists is as outrageously offensive as the suggestion that all Jews are…or that all of any self-identifying groups are anything at all.

            I have heard this particular racism since I was at University. It is the only racism I encountered there, and it always and only came from Jewish students. My best friends, as I went to a non-secular college rather than one of the several religiously-founded (though not religiously-run) at my alma mater.

            I still remember trying to argue the point, and getting nowhere, and taking some heat because I was friendly with a Lebanese student. one of few Arab students on campus at the time.

            I have known and worked with a number of Palestinians, the one I know best being a male ballet dancer. Another hired me to edit a book of student essays — on a variety of themes. (None about Israel). Another, a doctor in Quebec City, invited me to visit him and his family at home when I was visiting there.

            I detest racism — no matter its objects, and no matter its source. You do not get a free pass on this.

          • ok then, what are your thoughts on pay for slay

          • V. Lind says:

            The same as anyone else’s. Horror, revulsion, fear.

          • Perhaps this will be more relevant to you as it is quite timely

            Why It’s Scary to Be Jewish


          • V. Lind says:

            Reached my limit of free articles in the NYT. Feel free to cut and paste: I admire Deborah Lipstadt.

            But if it is about this weekend’s appalling situation, that man was acting on behalf of a Pakistani terrorist, so I am assuming he is also Pakistani.

            Your remark that I took exception to you was one implying that all Palestinians are terrorists. As the man in Texas was not, are you suggesting that not only all Palestinians but all Muslims are terrorists?

            There’s a word for that.

          • read the article when you can

          • V. Lind says:

            Yes — my life is so unbusy and so little else is going on in the world that in a few months I will remember that there was a NYT article on this theme…

          • there’s a name for that

          • V. Lind says:

            What might it be? I went to the NYT with every intention of reading it, so you can’t accuse me of lack of interest.

            I happened to write about a book by Debora Lipstadt some years ago, one of several I examined (on various themes) while researching the question of why libel suits were so often launched in England rather than the US or Canada. (So it was with some interest that I saw the film Denial, which I thought excellent, on that very book).

          • Baruch atah Adonai, eloheinu melech ha-olam, matir asurim. Blessed are you, God, sovereign of the universe, who frees the captives.

            Look in virtually any prayer book of any stream of Judaism and you will find this prayer in the section known as Blessings of the Dawn. The invocation comes right at the beginning. So integral is this idea to the Jewish psyche, we praise God again for freeing captives during the Amidah, one of the liturgy’s most central prayers.

            Late Saturday night, as news came of the safe conclusion of the hostage-taking at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, I — together with many other Jews around the world — recited that blessing. Tears, for many of us, flowed freely. We shared it. We posted it. We felt it.

            Another tragedy had been averted. But the scars remain. They will take a long time to heal. I thought of the Beth Israel rabbi’s two daughters who waited all day to hear of their father’s fate. One rabbi recently told me that some of her colleagues’ children don’t want them to be congregational rabbis anymore. “It’s too dangerous.” They don’t want to have to worry every time their parent goes to the office. The parent’s office is the synagogue.


            Continue reading the main story

            My rabbi, Adam Starr, posted to Facebook that on Sunday morning, when he went into synagogue for daily prayer, it felt like “an act of courage, defiance and faith.” Another friend told me that whenever she walks into a synagogue she makes a mental check of the nearest exit and figures out where the safest place to hide is. Under a pew? In a storage closet? Behind the ark, which holds the sacred Torah scrolls? She was shocked when I said I don’t do that. Yet.

            Jews have learned to be afraid beyond the synagogue. In May during the Gaza conflagration, people eating at a kosher restaurant in Los Angeles were beaten up by a mob. In London, a phalanx of cars moved through Jewish neighborhoods chanting “Kill Jews, rape their daughters.” In Times Square in New York, a Jew wearing a kipa, or skullcap, was punched and pepper-sprayed.

            When the attack is on a synagogue, during prayer, the pain is particularly intense. Each incident of vandalism — antisemitic graffiti at a Tucson synagogue, desecration of synagogues in the Bronx in the spring — or worse, arson at an Austin, Texas, synagogue this fall, is felt by Jews far beyond the confines of that specific community.

            Jews have long thought of their synagogues as both a place to pray and a place to find community. As Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker noted after his heroic escape from the gunman in Colleyville, a synagogue is called a beit knesset, a house of gathering. That is why, when traveling abroad, even Jews who are not regular synagogue attendees often seek out the local synagogue.

            For decades, when I got directions to synagogues in countries outside my own — be it in Germany, Turkey, Poland, Italy or Colombia — I would be advised that, to make my search easier, I didn’t have to know the precise address. When I got to the street on which the building was situated, I was told, I should just look for the police officers with the submachine guns. That’s where the synagogue would be. Also: Bring my passport. And be prepared for questions.

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            Continue reading the main story


            Continue reading the main story

            In some cities, synagogues ask that you call ahead to let them know you are coming. In Stockholm two years ago, the guard outside had been alerted to my coming. But he took no chances. So I found myself on a snowy street, reciting select prayers for him. Only after proving my bona fides did he let me in.

            That was once an experience limited to when I traveled abroad. Now American Jews like myself experience it at home — in our own synagogues, and in those we attend in American cities across this country. We look across the street at the big church and can’t help but notice that there are no guards there.

            A couple of summers ago, I was in the Berkshires on a Sunday morning driving through one of those innumerable picturesque small towns. Along the way, I passed a large church, right on the main street. It dated back to Revolutionary times. Something seemed off to me. The four large entry doors were wide open. Congregants stood happily greeting people as they entered. Then I realized what was discordant. No armed guard. No security check. No one told to “please use the side entrance, because it’s more secure.” Just an open invitation: Come in. Welcome.

            I have not walked through the main entrance to my synagogue since October 2018, after the shootings at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue. For over three years now, that door has remained locked. When I asked why, I was told, “It’s too wide open; it can’t be made secure.” I understood. You won’t find wide-open doors at any synagogue in Europe or North America. It is only after you get past the guards that you find welcome, though welcome is still there for those who seek it.

            It is not just the large synagogues that fear for security. I hear from students that they think twice about going to Hillel services, the campus Jewish chaplaincy. Some out of fear for physical safety. Some out of worry about the slings and barbs that might come from other students in the dorm. I met parents whose child had been accepted to a very selective college. He wears a kipa and was struggling with whether to replace it for the next four years with a baseball cap. Increasingly I hear: Jews are contemplating going underground.

            We are shaken. We are not OK. But we will bounce back. We are resilient because we cannot afford not to be. That resiliency is part of the Jewish DNA. Without it, we would have disappeared centuries ago. We refuse to go away. But we are exhausted.

            Rabbi Cytron-Walker credited his survival to the active-shooter training and security courses that he and his congregants took in order to prepare for just such a moment. He knew to stay calm and knew the right moment to fling a chair at his captor and dash for the exit with the other captives. The Jewish community offers such training on a regular basis to an array of Jewish institutions, especially to our synagogues and our schools.


            Continue reading the main story

            It is not radical to say that going to services, whether to converse with God or with the neighbors you see only once a week, should not be an act of courage. And yet this weekend we were once again reminded that it can be precisely that.

            Among those morning blessings that are part of Blessings of the Dawn is one that thanks God for opening up the eyes of the blind. Jewish eyes did not need to be opened. But this week we wonder if the eyes of our non-Jewish friends and neighbors, particularly the ones who didn’t call to see if we were OK, have been opened just a bit.

            There is an additional blessing during these early prayers that thanks God for allowing us to stand tall and straight. We are standing tall and we are standing straight.

            But we are checking for the exits.

          • V. Lind says:

            Thank you.

            I remember going to see a synagogue in Willemstad, Curaçao, the oldest surviving synagogue in the Americas. It was locked — but at that time, so were Catholic churches in rural Scotland, though I believe that was due to fears of theft. However there was a man about, who seemed to be the equivalent of what we would call a verger. He allowed us to go in and look around, and of course offered my companion a yarmulka to don, as some old churches still offer women a lace chapel veil.

            It was simple, but quite awesome, in the literal sense of that much-abused word It had dark wooden seats and other furnishings, and royal blue plain stained glass. It had sand on the concrete floor — all over, spread deliberately, not trekked in.

            It was quite simply one of the holiest places I have ever been privileged to visit. I daresay their local one has the same feeling for most members of Jewish communities everywhere, so any attack on any synagogue will feel like the ultimate desecration not only of a place but of their beliefs, their community, their security, all they hold dear.

            It does happen to others — think of Archbishop Romero, assassinated while celebrating Mass — and the mosque killings in New Zealand and Quebec. Among many other atrocities against people of faith — the burnings of Baptist churches in the south, and of many other religious buildings. But I know they happen more often to synagogues, and Jewish cemeteries.

            Christian and Muslim students and others are also abused for their beliefs, the former chiefly by “pro-life” advocates who falsely call themselves “pro-choice” — as long as it is their choice; the latter for reasons we know all too well.

            But that is a bit like my saying I was on the receiving end of racial abuse in Hong Kong, which I was. I found it a salutary experience as it made me realise, just a little, how those who lived with such abuse as a condition of living at all must feel.

            Similarly, seeing how my own faith group takes its occasional knocks does, I hope, make me a little more understanding of how my Jewish friends feel every day. I’m not afraid to go to church.

            I am glad to have read this, as it reminds us — sadly thanks to a traumatic day for Jewish families in Texas — that these re not just news stories, they are parts of the day to day life of real people. So than you again.

            But by the same token, I that you should also think a little of the Palestinian families who just want to maintain their homes, get their kids educated and live without fear. Many WERE driven from their homes, whether you want to call them Palestinians or not. They were still people and families and they lived in fear and then in exile. Many still do.

            We all need to pay attention to others and how we treat them. Too many consequences around the world demonstrate what happens when we do not.

          • From Brett Stephens in todays NYTimes

            What an Antisemite’s Fantasy Says About Jewish Reality  

            The answer begins with the shapeshifting nature of antisemitism, which some perpetrate, others participate in (sometimes unwittingly), and a still greater number fail to recognize for what it is — in part because each successive mutation doesn’t exactly resemble its predecessor.What we generally call antisemitism is a 19th-century coinage that helped turn an ancient religious hatred into a racial hatred. As racial hatred came to be considered uncouth after World War II, anti-Zionism (that is, blanket opposition to a Jewish state, not criticism of particular Israeli policies) became a more acceptable way of opposing Jewish political interests and denigrating Jews. Should Israel cease to exist, new forms of bigotry will surely develop for the next stage of anti-Judaism, adapted to the prevailing beliefs of the times.

          • It should lead to a reckoning among Americans that no matter how many Black Lives Matter marches one joins, there will always be far more hate crimes committed against Jews than any other ethnic or racial group—by a wide margin. But expect no such reckoning.

            It goes without saying that other planned attacks—in an astounding number of different nations—have not gone so well. The law of averages when it comes to Jews confronted with those who wish them harm, generally, results in more harrowing crime scenes. Hostages rarely escape.

            It was true of the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics; and a wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer, killed and tossed overboard on the Achille Lauro cruise ship in 1985; two elderly women in Paris, Mireille Knoll stabbed and then torched in her apartment in 2018, and Sarah Halimi, thrown from her balcony in 2017; also in Paris, the slaughter of four Jews in a kosher market in 2015; and in 2006, the torture and murder of Ilan Halimi by an Islamist group properly named the Gang of Barbarians; the murder of a rabbi and three children at a Jewish day school in Toulouse in 2012; the bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in 1994 leaving 300 wounded and 85 dead; and, of course, closer to home, the murder of 11 at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, and, a year later, the killing of one woman and serious injuries to three others in a synagogue in Poway, California.

            That’s how it usually ends up, and that’s only a partial list of Jewish targets and death tolls. In each case, except for the attacks in the synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, the assailants were Islamists and Palestinian terrorists.

            That raises some interesting questions about the way in which this most recent incident of terrorism—against Jews worshipping in Colleyville, Texas, in their Beth Israel Synagogue—has been regarded and reported.

  • Loge says:

    “… anti-Semitic figures Alberich and Mime”? Rubbish.

  • Titurel says:

    Don’t fret, the old wizard will soon be canceled everywhere except Bayreuth.

  • Michael James says:

    Is it now finally held to be incontrovertibly true that the dwarves in Wagner’s Ring cycle are anti-Semitic caricatures, and racist to doubt that claim?

    • Michael Hurshell says:

      That is certainly not what Klemperer thought. Or Walter. Or Bodanzky. Or Reiner. Or Steinberg. Or Szell. Or Ormandy. Or Dorati. Or Leinsdorf. Or Solti. Or Blech. Or Rosenstock. As for which folks hold what to be incontrovertibly true now: not nearly as interesting, IMHO.

  • Couperin says:

    But when we try to teach about American slavery in the USA….

  • Harry Collier says:

    Please can this forum focus on MUSIC, not on political beliefs, race, sexual orientation, skin colour, eating disorders, or whatever.

  • A Dolfadam says:

    Wagner should be, if anyone, canceled.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    I speak a bit of German and have a number of German friends. I have Jewish American friends as well. But focusing on the German friends, none of them are nazis. None of them are interested in expanding German interests – not eastward, not southward; not in any direction. They are not aggressive or hostile people. I think it’s a bit insulting to keep pushin guilt on to the current generation of Germans and Austrians. But getting back to Wagner, I like his music. I’m not ashamed of liking his music. Yes, I’m overlooking his faults as a human being. They were many, and they are well documented. But the fault for the nazi atrocities should fall squarely upon the nazis themselves, and the Germans (and Austrians) of THAT generation that enabled it to happen. That, in my opinion, is the lesson to be learned here. Under the right (wrong) circumstances, that sort of abuse of power could happen pretty much anywhere. Sound familiar?

    • Michael James says:

      The blame should surely be extended to the millions of non-Nazis who failed to defend the Jews or took the jobs that Jews were forced out of, the churches that refused to offer them sanctuary, the many countries that refused to take in Jewish refugees. The Holocaust was the culmination of a millennium of persecution of Jews by Christendom. Who knows that in 1290 the Jews were expelled from England and allowed back only in the 17th century?

      • Which is precisely the reason to support the Jewish State of Israel.

      • Allen says:

        “The Holocaust was the culmination of a millennium of persecution of Jews by Christendom”

        Jews are still being persecuted in 2022, but few people are prepared to talk about it. Why is that do you suppose? Much easier, and safer in many parts of the World, for cowards to harp on about Wagner.

        Christians in parts of the Middle East are not having a great time, either. That’s also off the agenda.

        • John Borstlap says:

          In India, there sometimes are muslem communities under threat by fanatic hindi who read Mein Kampf. In Pakistan, the opposite may happen now and then. In Andorra, sheep shepherds from both France and Spain are treated with hostility because there are not enough sheep in the country. In Monaco, beggars are almost always in trouble. It’s a collective instinct, alas.

    • John Borstlap says:

      To compensate for the documented character flaws of RW, here are some well-documented positive character traits, which for some reason are always ignored:

      – passionate enthusiasm for high art
      – when in love, total commitment as long as it lasted
      – placed women as a species much higher than men
      – never failed to support his 1st wife after they separated in spite of his own grave money troubles
      – showered his friends with generous gifts, also when in debt
      – infinite patient & grateful dedication to his performers, which he treated as friends, also post-performance when he did no longer need them
      – enthusiastic love of children whom he would entertain on end
      – love of animals
      – profound love of nature
      – profound love of poetry and literature, was widely read
      – never saw money as a value in itself (contributing to his own troubles)
      – was never pompous towards people (except in his writing)
      – never put up a façade, showed himself as he was, warts and all
      – got up early and worked extremely hard
      – liked to dress-up also when nobody was looking
      – understood the meaning of spirituality
      – treated his servants always very well and saw to their needs, never looking down on them
      – beautiful handwriting
      – not ashamed about his cross-dressing

  • ThrownOutOfTheKremlinForSinging says:

    A few years ago I had the privilege of chorusing in a rarely-performed opera by the Jewish composer Meyerbeer (the opera was Dinorah, aka Le pardon de Ploërmel). The music sounds a lot like early Wagner, up to and including Der Fliegender Holländer. The director of the company (RIP, dear Nathan Hull) talked a bit about the relationship between the two composers.

    Meyerbeer was wealthy and influential, and he was a very enthusiastic fan and friend of Wagner early in his (Wagner’s) career. At a certain point, Wagner turned against him, in apparently arbitrary fashion (I almost wrote, Trumpish fashion). That was when Wagner transformed from what you might call an “ordinary background-level go-with-the-cultural-flow 19th-Century German anti-Semite” into the “movement/leadership-level anti-Semite” we all know from his notorious essay “Das Judenthum in der Musik”. (The essay mentions only two Jewish composers by name: Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer.)

    Apparently, Wagner just couldn’t stand to acknowledge that without Meyerbeer’s early support, he (Wagner) likely would never have gotten off the ground.

    • John Borstlap says:

      But he did NOT get off the ground, in spite of M’s early (moderate) support. In contrary, his early periods in Paris were the most humiliating of his life. He got suspicious when M promised him much but it never realized, so he felt being played with. His antisemitisn arose because of his many negative experiences, not the other way around. His Jewish neurosis only took form over the years, trying to understand the world.


    Der Absender war nicht irgendjemand, sondern Paul Spies, der niederländische Kunsthistoriker und Direktor der Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin. In der „Berliner Morgenpost“ hat er sich für die Umbenennung der Richard-Wagner-Straße in Berlin ausgesprochen: „Man kann nicht in Abrede stellen, dass Wagner ein großer Musiker war. Ihn aber mit einem Straßennamen zu ehren, ist problematisch, weil er Antisemit war.“Sofort regte sich Protest, der Leiter des Hauses Wahnfried, Sven Friedrich, antwortet prompt mit einer eigenen Stellungnahme: „Es ist selbstverständlich legitim und richtig, den Antisemitismus in Deutschland nicht nur als historisches oder irgendwie abstraktes Phänomen zu begreifen, sondern auch ganz konkret an Persönlichkeiten der deutschen Geschichte und Kultur festzumachen. Dazu gehört natürlich auch Richard Wagner. Die Umbenennung von Straßen und Plätzen ist aber in meinen Augen nur dann legitim, wenn sie nicht einer teilweise ideologischen, teilweise absurden political correctness dient, sondern sich auf konkrete Täter und unmittelbare Vordenker beschränkt. Andernfalls wird Geschichte entsorgt und bereinigt, damit aber verfälscht – und der geäußerten Absicht einer ja weiß Gott notwendigen gesellschaftlichen Diskussion gerade der Boden entzogen und so ein Bärendienst erwiesen. (…) Die Umkehrung des verblüffend einfachen und groben Statements von Paul Spies, dem man als Amtskollegen eigentlich historisches Denken und Grundverständnis unterstellen können sollte, wäre demnach gleichfalls berechtigt: ‚Man kann nicht in Abrede stellen, dass Wagner ein großer Antisemit war. Eine Straßenumbenennung aber ist problematisch, weil er auch ein großer Musiker und eine bei aller Ambivalenz wichtige und folgenreiche Kulturerscheinung war.‘“ Ich finde, mehr ist dazu nicht zu sagen. Differenzierte Perspektiven zu diesem Thema gibt es vielleicht auch vom 8. Februar an in der Ausstellung „Richard Wagner und das deutsche Gefühl“ im Deutschen Historischen Museum. Derweil warnt Regisseur Barrie Kosky vor „Listen“ von Namensgebern für Straßen und sagt der Berliner Zeitung: „Wir haben im 20. Jahrhundert genug von deutschen Listen gesehen.

  • Fragen zum „Ring des Nibelungen“

    Sir Donald Runnicles und Stefan Herheim im Gespräch mit Julia Spinola und Albrecht Thiemann