Richard Wagner's Bicentennial Sparks Effort to Split Music and Anti-Semitism

Hitler's Favorite Composer Gave Himself Black Eye With Bias

Hateful Genius: German composer Richard Wagner was a notorious anti-Semite but a giant of the music world. On the 200th anniversary of his birth, there are more efforts to disentangle those two facts.
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Hateful Genius: German composer Richard Wagner was a notorious anti-Semite but a giant of the music world. On the 200th anniversary of his birth, there are more efforts to disentangle those two facts.

By Reuters

Published January 27, 2013.
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Arranged in a multi-layered rectangle around a bust of Wagner by Nazi-era sculptor Arno Breker, the placards furthest away are for people who emigrated or somehow survived the war. Those closest died in concentration camps and gas chambers.

“This Breker bust, it is the fascistic Wagner image and this ‘Hitler Wagner’ is surrounded by his victims,” said Sven Friedrich, director of the Richard Wagner Museum and National Archive.

He brushed aside suggestions the bicentenary may trigger a debate about Germany’s role in Europe. Merkel is a “trustful person, she’s not dangerous at all” and her presence “gives this very bourgeois image to Bayreuth”, he said.

Hitler, and Bayreuth’s complicity in Nazi propaganda, is another story.

“Everybody is conscious about the history, it is absolutely necessary, we mustn’t leave it,” Friedrich said, speaking in a room Hitler used when he visited.

“In Bayreuth you can learn the ‘elysium’ and the ‘bestiarium’ of German history, both extremes…This is a very, very big tension.”


For his 200th, Wagner’s hometown of Leipzig will get an “anti-Breker bust” - a life-sized bronze statue of the composer with a black shadow several times his diminutive height looming behind him.

To be unveiled on the birthday, May 22, the 220,000-euro ($292,900) cost was raised privately and mostly from outside Leipzig, said Markus Kaebisch, 44, a businessman who spearheaded the effort.

He said Leipzig still has a “difficult” relationship with its native son, in part because of the anti-Semitism and Hitler, but also because Leipzig was host during their adult careers to so many other musical greats, including Bach, converted Jewish composer Felix Mendelssohn - whom Wagner reviled - and Schumann.

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