Monday, August 27, 2012

Wagner in Israel: Promoting Anti-Semitism or Fighting Censorship?

From Professor Michael Curtis, at American Thinker:
Should the music of Wagner be played in Israel?

There is, in fact, an Israeli Wagnerian Society, but attempts to play the music -- by Zubin Mehta in 1981, by Daniel Barenboim in 2001, and most recently in June 2012 at Tel Aviv University -- have been opposed by groups in Israel. The TAU president stopped the private concert on his campus, arguing that it would offend the public, especially Holocaust survivors, of whom 200,000 remain alive in Israel.

Wagner was an unremitting anti-Semite, as shown both in his prose and in his music expression. His article Das Judenthum in der Musik (Jewishness in Music), written in 1850 under a pseudonym, is a strong criticism of the role of Jews in German culture and society in general, and a more personal attack on the composers of Jewish origin, Giacomo Meyerbeer and Felix Mendelssohn, of whose success he was jealous.

More pertinent to the issue than his anti-Semitic writings is the fact that the music of Wagner and the persona of Wagner became linked with and embedded in Nazi propaganda. Hitler, at least in official pronouncements, spoke of the Wagnerian opus as the best expression of the German soul and in his Table Talk expressed admiration for Wagner. Indeed, the composer became a symbolic and even mythological figure in the Nazi regime, with its racial and genocidal anti-Semitism. Hitler had a special seat at the opera house in Bayreuth, which Wagner built. Recordings of Wagner's opera Rienzi usually opened the Nazi Party conferences.

The case of Wagner is unique. No one objects to hearing the music of Chopin, who disliked Jews and also made anti-Semitic utterances, though they were casual rather than virulent. The piece Carmina Burana by Carl Orff has been played in Israel, though Orff was close to the Nazi Party and obliged the Party by writing new incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream to replace the original music of Felix Mendelssohn, who had been banned as a Jewish composer. More difficult to assess politically was the pragmatic Richard Strauss, who was not a Nazi but who was president of the Reichsmusikkammer (German State Music Chamber), 1933-35, a period during which Jews were prevented from performing, and then president of the Nazi-controlled Permanent Council for the International Cooperation of Composers. The difference between these other composers and Wagner was not only the prominent use made of him in Nazi ideology but also the claim, which may be unfounded, that his music was played in Dachau and in the death camps to accompany the murders...
I can't imagine there'd be much of a market Wagner in Israel, in any case. But it's good to debate censorship. I say let the marketplace sort things out.

More at the link.