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.
getty images
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.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 4 of 5)

“It’s never been a Wagner city,” he said in a telephone interview. “And I’m sure it won’t be better after this year is over.”

Music critic Barry Millington, whose book “The Sorcerer of Bayreuth” adds to a bibliography some say makes Wagner the third most written-about person in history, after Jesus and Napoleon, says there is no extricating him from his anti-Semitism.

“I’m attacked by the Wagnerians who think I am dragging him through the mud…They want the Wagner experience to be in this idea-free zone, they want to erect a firewall between the music and the ideology and you can’t. Wagner’s music is rooted in the ideology. That for me is what makes it fascinating,” the British author said.

Wagner’s infamous 1850 essay “Judaism in Music”, published at first under a pen name and some 20 years later under his own, took vile swipes at contemporary Jewish opera composer Giacomo Meyerbeer and the converted Mendelssohn, depicting them and other Jews as “a swarming colony of maggots” feasting on the carcass of German culture. The rants continued unabated right up to Wagner’s death in a Venice palazzo in 1883.

“Anti-Semitism is woven into the fabric of the music of Wagner,” Millington said.

Another view comes from Hamburg-based author Joachim Kohler, one of whose books, called “Wagner’s Hitler, The Prophet and His Disciple” in English, struck a raw nerve with Wagnerians. Kohler, in an interview in his flat, said he had changed his opinion and now saw Wagner’s anti-Semitism as an adjunct of his artistic mind, not as a scenario for which Hitler and the Holocaust were the inevitable last act.

“Yes, I made a mistake…so I revised and I came to the conclusion that Wagner’s anti-Semitism was not political, it was theatrical,” Kohler said.

“And the proof that he had not deep-rooted anti-Semitism against people, it was just an idea against people, is that he had so many Jewish friends.” One of them, Kohler said, was the impresario Angelo Neumann whom Wagner, sick with the expense and trouble of the place, wished would buy Bayreuth.

Kohler’s latest book, entitled “The Laughing Wagner” in German, paints an altogether different picture of Wagner from the grim anti-Semite. Wagner, who stood just over 168 cm, or 5-1/2 feet tall, enjoyed cracking jokes and stood on his head when welcoming the visiting Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil to Bayreuth for the festival’s opening in 1876.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.