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mercredi, 05 juin 2013

Conférence de M. Cardet & K. Vasquez

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samedi, 01 juin 2013

Parsifal & the Possibility of Transcendence


Wagner Bicentennial Symposium 
Parsifal & the Possibility of Transcendence

By Christopher Pankhurst 

Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com/

In 1878 Nietzsche sent a copy of his book Human, All Too Human to Richard Wagner. At the same time Wagner sent Nietzsche a copy of the verse for his opera Parsifal. Nietzsche was later to write that when received this text, “I felt as if I heard an ominous sound – as if two swords had crossed.”[1] Nietzsche had immediately realized that the two men had drifted irreparably apart. In Human, All Too Human, Nietzsche had made a decisive move against the Western metaphysical tradition and he saw the text of Parsifal as being deeply embedded within that tradition.

By the time of Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal Wagner had become immersed in the philosophy of Schopenhauer and he was able to infuse those works with a thoroughly Schopenhauerian atmosphere. In particular, Parsifal was the culmination of Wagner’s life’s work, and with its theme of redemption through compassion it fully articulated his mature Schopenhauerian beliefs. Largely because of Wagner’s lucid expression of this theme, the opera was to become a persistent bête noir of Nietzsche. Although he had previously enjoyed a deep and rewarding friendship with Wagner, Nietzsche came to view Parsifal as the epitome of everything that was wrong with culture, and he continued to gnaw away irritably at it, like a dog with an old bone, for the rest of his sane life.

At the heart of Nietzsche’s criticism of Parsifal is his rejection of the possibility of redemption from this world, and of transcendence to a higher realm. With Schopenhauer, the idea of transcendence had reached its most highly developed articulation within the Western philosophical tradition; after Nietzsche’s attack on Parsifal it became impossible to uncritically accept the possibility of transcendence at all.

With the influence of Schopenhauer, the lucid artistry of Wagner, and the devastating critique by Nietzsche, Parsifal can be seen as a nexus for some of the most important tributaries of 19th century philosophical thought.

Schopenhauer’s philosophy begins with the observation that everything that exists can only be known to us through our senses, through perception. Therefore we have no direct access to an objective, independently existing world. For us the world exists only as representation. This applies not only to objects but also to all of the natural laws that connect objects with each other, such as magnetism and gravitation. Space and time are also not independently existing qualities but are dependent on the perceptual faculties of an observing subject, and so are expressions of the world as representation. The ways in which things interact in space and time are determinable by laws, but these laws themselves all belong to that same plane of phenomenal existence. In other words, even causality belongs to the world of representation. Schopenhauer was a great admirer of many of the mystical works of ancient India such as the Vedas and the Upanishads, and he saw an affinity between them and his own philosophical work. The ancient teaching that this world is Maya, or illusion, is often cited by Schopenhauer as being parallel with his own observation that the world is representation.

So, in the world of representation, objects and forces interact with each other in causally determined ways. The individual observer is himself a part of this interplay, so he is also part of the world of representation; he is one object of representation amongst many, many others. If there was nothing else to this explanation then the individual would find himself to be a mere observer of a world of interacting objects and his actions would simply occur according to deterministic laws. But this is not at all how reality appears to us. We feel that we are agents in the world, that we have a self-determined power of volition. So, whilst we recognize ourselves as existing in the world of representation as an object, we also feel that there is something more to it than this. It seems that the world of representation is insufficient to explain the totality of the world that we experience, that there must be some additional, hidden quality to the world anterior to the world of representation. Otherwise the world would consist merely of “empty phantoms.”[2] For Schopenhauer, this additional something is will.

An individual experiences his own sense of will as the volitional manifestation of particular actions of his body. These do not simply appear to him as occurring due to some causal situation, instead they feel deliberately willed. When he stands up and walks to the window he feels that he is acting in the world, not merely observing it. This sense of volition is precisely the action of the will. As soon as the action is performed it is perceived through the senses and becomes a part of the world of representation. But the initial volition does not arise from the world of representation but from the world of will. So, the individual exists both as will and representation.

From this, Schopenhauer extrapolates that everything that exists in the world as representation also has another, and unconditional, aspect as will. In fact, Schopenhauer’s assertion that everything that exists as representation also consists of will is not merely drawn analogically from the experience of a particular individual but is shown to be a necessary state of existence. This is so because representation alone cannot explain the existence of anything. It is possible to describe the actions of all sorts of phenomena and to explain how they interact with each other but we are left with a puzzle regarding the inner nature of these phenomena. However we choose to measure or describe objects or forces, we are measuring and describing only that part of them that manifests itself as phenomena, that is, the aspect of the object manifested as representation. This form can express extension in space or duration in time but its inner quality, its essence, is hidden from us. This hidden essence is “an insoluble residuum”[3] and cannot be discerned by investigating the form of phenomena but only by recognizing the presence of will as the hidden essence within all forms.

Once we are able to understand that it is will that manifests itself in representation, that it is the hidden essence behind all perceptible forms, then we can see that it is, “the force that shoots and vegetates in the plant, indeed the force by which the crystal is formed, the force that turns the magnet to the North Pole, the force whose shock he encounters from the contact of metals of different kinds, the force that appears in the elective affinities of matter as repulsion and attraction, separation and union, and finally even gravitation, which acts so powerfully in all matter, pulling the stone to the earth and the earth to the sun; all these he will recognize as different only in the phenomenon, but the same according to their inner nature.”[4]

Thus, behind all the apparent plurality of phenomena there is a higher unity which is the will. The world of representation is secondary to this because it is dependent for its existence on a knowing subject and so is conditional. The world of will is unconditional; it exists prior to every manifestation. Thus, the world of will, which expresses a unity between all things which appear distinct, is fundamentally real in a way that the world of representation is not. The world of representation, of all perceptible phenomena, is shrouded in the illusory veil of Maya. When we lift the veil we are left with will.

So human beings, like all other things in the universe, have a “twofold existence,”[5] consisting of both will and representation. In impersonal forces such as gravitation and magnetism the will is not especially developed; it acts blindly and in completely uniform ways. In living things such as plants it has a higher degree of organizational development and expresses itself through life-cycles, growing to seed before dying off. In animals it is more highly developed still, so that each individual creature fights for its own food, territory and mates, and so on. In humans the will has developed to its highest form and has the greatest degree of self-awareness, to the extent that, uniquely, it is able to deny itself. In humans, then, we see the greatest degree of self-awareness. But the will manifested in a world of representation finds itself refracted into untold billions of distinct, causal phenomena. In the midst of this illusory fragmentation the will seeks satiety and fulfilment. But this relentless desire, according to Schopenhauer, can never reach an end.

Because humans live in the world of representation we are only aware of the illusory existence of diverse, discrete individuals. Each of us thinks that he exists as a single and separate entity forever cut off from the inner processes of other individuals. For Schopenhauer, this is pure delusion. The reality is that we are all expressions in causal reality of a deeper and more fundamental unity. The will itself is singular and indivisible and it establishes itself in a bewildering multiplicity of varied forms. So, the perception of a world of distinct and separated objects and forces is illusory and, to this extent, is an error. The hidden truth is that of a single, unified will outside of space and time.

But this reality is hidden from us because it does not exist in the perceptual world. So the illusion of a world of many distinct individual objects and forces compels us to constantly strive to achieve union with those things that are separate from us, and which we experience as a lack. The desire for sexual intercourse, hunger for food, and the striving for wealth are all driven by our feeling that we lack those things and we believe that we will achieve happiness and satiety if we obtain them. But as soon as we do achieve one of our desires it begins to lose the appeal that drew us to it in the first place, and we begin to desire other things. This is an endless and inescapable process. It means that the world consists of endless suffering because we are always aware of a lack of something or other, and any fulfilment of desire is always short-lived and leads to the arising of new desires. Longing is eternal, satisfaction brief and illusory.

So, we find ourselves living in a world of illusion and suffering and with an unquenchable thirst for an unknown and hidden world of true unity. One of the primary intimations of this world of unity, according to Schopenhauer, comes from our facility for compassion. Egotism and selfishness derive from the desire to benefit oneself at the expense of others. But the self that benefits from this is, as we have seen, an illusory construct that veils the deeper truth. Compassion and pity begin to erase the boundaries between the illusory phenomena of individuals, and to reveal the hidden unity that actually lies behind appearance. So selfishness reinforces the illusion of discrete phenomena, whereas compassion unveils the truth that everything is the manifestation of an undifferentiated will.

Another way in which we may apprehend this noumenal reality is through art. Art is a means whereby the will is able to objectify itself and this is achieved with reference to Platonic Ideas. Schopenhauer sees these Ideas, which are eternal and unchanging forms outside the incessant becoming and passing away of nature, as “definite grades of the objectification of that will, which forms the in-itself of the world.”[6] In other words, art is able to step outside the individuated world of representation and partake of the undifferentiated world of eternal Ideas. Because art takes us to this noumenal place, we are able to feel a sense of completeness, or rather the absence of willing, whilst we contemplate the art object. With this quieting of the will, suffering recedes, and we are able to apprehend the unity of things.

Schopenhauer singles out music as a special art form quite unlike all the others. Whereas other art forms are concerned with representing the essential and universal elements of things, music is not representational in the same way. Instead, Schopenhauer sees music as being a direct manifestation of will: “Therefore music is by no means like the other arts, namely a copy of the Ideas, but a copy of the will itself, the objectivity of which are the Ideas. For this reason the effect of music is so very much more powerful and penetrating than is that of the other arts, for these others speak only of the shadow, but music of the essence.”[7]

When Wagner discovered Schopenhauer, the effect was utterly revelatory. He had spent years carefully devising a theoretical scheme for opera wherein the text was paramount and the music needed to be subordinated to it. Now he found in Schopenhauer a philosophical explanation of music’s superiority to other art forms, and of its deeper resonance, its natural tendency to articulate the essence of things. Wagner’s conversion first manifested itself in the scores for Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämerung, although the libretti for those works had already been written. Of the three operas fully composed after his conversion to Schopenhauer’s philosophy Parsifal was the one he considered to be “the crowning achievement.”[8]

Wagner’s Parsifal tells the story of the Grail Knights and their King, Amfortas. They are responsible for guarding the Holy Grail and the spear which was used to pierce the side of Christ during His crucifixion. But Amfortas is wounded; he was stabbed with the same spear by the evil magician Klingsor, who then stole it. Amfortas’ wound will now not heal. Klingsor has also disempowered the Knights by seducing them with his flower maidens. Until the Knights can win back the spear, the holy rites seem empty and the land has become wasted. A prophecy has been given by the Grail that the spear will only be won back by one, “made wise through pity, the pure fool.”

Parsifal himself is introduced to the drama when he kills a swan. He does not know why he killed the swan, and it transpires that he is ignorant of his parentage and he does not even know his own name. Evidently, he is the prophesied fool. But Parsifal cannot understand the Grail Knights’ rites, and so he is dismissed as a mere fool, not the prophesied redeemer. He soon finds his way to Klingsor’s castle where Kundry, who is simultaneously a servant of the Knights and one of Klingsor’s maidens, attempts to seduce him. This is the cause of an epiphany for Parsifal. With the arrival of sexual arousal, Parsifal is no longer the innocent fool he was, but he is immediately able to overcome this desire and exercise a will-less compassion. He then becomes the pure fool who will fulfil the prophecy. He wins the spear from Klingsor, which he will use to heal Amfortas’ wound. Klingsor and his castle disappear: they were mere phenomena, and Parsifal has revealed their illusory character.

It transpires that Kundry was present at Christ’s crucifixion and that she mocked Him. She has been trapped in an eternal life of repentance ever since. Now Parsifal, through his compassion, has redeemed her. At the close of the opera, on Good Friday, the sacred rites are once more performed but this time with appropriate numinosity. Parsifal is acknowledged as the Redeemer.

The influence of Schopenhauer throughout Parsifal is absolutely clear. The world of Parsifal is one of ubiquitous and lingering suffering. The Grail Knights are condemned to meaningless ritual because of their failure to remain chaste. By succumbing to sexual desire they are chained to the illusory pleasures of the world, and these pleasures, as Schopenhauer has it, are transient, illusory and outweighed by the greater reality of suffering.

Kundry, through her mockery of Christ, is locked in an eternity of suffering. The significant point to Kundry’s suffering is not that she is being punished for mocking God, but that she suffers due to a lack of compassion. By laughing at the suffering of Christ she failed to recognize that the suffering of one is, in essence, the suffering of all.

The eponymous hero is able to redeem the Grail Knights through compassion, by realizing the hidden reality behind the illusory phenomena conjured by Klingsor. When Parsifal causes Klingsor’s realm to disappear he is banishing the world of mere appearance, with all its beguiling desires and pleasures. The final redemption comes from the realization that compassion reveals the hidden unity behind all phenomena. This redemption is not effected through the divinity of Christ; the Good Friday scene is the fulfilment of this redemption, and the Redeemer is Parsifal. Redemption comes from the acceptance of the singular essence of the will and the unity of all things, not from a supernatural intervention.

There is also an interesting structural resonance with Schopenhauer’s thought. Amfortas’ wound is an analogue of the suffering of Christ: his wound was caused by the same spear that pierced the side of Christ. But when Parsifal enters the drama he shoots a swan with an arrow. The swan is a symbol of the sacred so this image again recapitulates the piercing of Christ. In this way, a threefold analogue of suffering becomes a depiction of the Schoperhauerian idea that the will is a unified whole which merely appears to become separate and distinct in various manifestations. The trinity of pain enfolded into the drama exemplifies the notion that the suffering of Christ is important because it is the suffering of all, even of animals. The importance of Christ for Wagner, as for Schopenhauer, comes from the fact that his story of suffering and redemption through surrendering the will is a universal truth and is a metaphysical reality inherent in all living things.

So, Parsifal is not a Christian work of art, despite what many seem to think. It is a work of art which elaborates a sophisticated piece of secular philosophy. The importance of Parsifal, and perhaps the source of misunderstanding, comes from the fact that it is a secular, atheist work which nonetheless presents the reality of transcendence as a proximate and intimate possession of all living things. The Grail hall is a place where, “Time is one with Space.” When Parsifal approaches this hall with one of the Grail Knights, Gurnemanz, the stage directions indicate that the scene begins to change: “the woods disappear and in the rocky walls a gateway opens, which closes behind them. . . . Gurnemanz turns to Parsifal, who stands as if bewitched.”[9] Clearly, the Grail Knights are guarding a numinous place, or at least a place infused with numinous emanations from the Grail itself, but deeper than this they are guarding the concept of transcendence itself. And, with his portrayal of Schopenhauer’s ideas concerning the possibility of redemption within a secular framework, Wagner himself is guarding the possibility of transcendence against the ongoing decline of Christianity.

When Nietzsche first read Parsifal, and heard the sound of swords clashing, he had come to view the notion of transcendence, whether through religion or through art, as an impossibility. Whilst he had already decisively rejected religion he had gone still further and questioned the notion that there is a metaphysical side to existence at all. Despite his friendship with Wagner and his earlier allegiance to Schopenhauer he had come to the conclusion that such a metaphysical realm, the hidden unity of the will, simply did not exist; or if it did exist, that it was completely unknowable to man and so not worth considering.

Nietzsche had come to realize that Schopenhauer, in working out his philosophical worldview, had taken a number of impermissible steps. When Schopenhauer had described the phenomenal world of appearance as illusory he was entirely correct, but he then went on to assume that there must be a world of ultimate reality, a “real” world distinct from representation, lying anterior to the apparent world. Nietzsche questions why, if we are constantly deceived about the nature of the apparent world, we should give any credence to speculations about a hidden world. In fact, he goes on to question why, if such a world anterior to appearance did in fact exist, it should be assumed to have any greater validity than the world of “mere” appearance: “It is no more than a moral prejudice that truth is worth more than mere appearance; it is even the worst proved assumption there is in the world. Let at least this much be admitted: there would be no life at all if not on the basis of perspective estimates and appearances.”[10]

In addition, when Schopenhauer perceived the will as an intimately known presence within himself he falsely assumed that it was a singular force. From this perception he inferred an undifferentiated reality behind the entire world of appearance. But Nietzsche realizes that the will cannot be described in such a way. For Nietzsche, the will is something that emerges as the result of a conflict of impulses and desires that exist simultaneously within an individual. The act of willing emerges as the effect of the most domineering of these impulses. Crucially, it is the result of a prior battle that gives rise to the act of willing and it is an error to ascribe this will to “the synthetic concept ‘I’.”[11] The individual contains many souls, and the one that wins the battle of the wills becomes identified as the individual’s will. In this respect, Nietzsche has stood Schopenhauer’s thinking on its head. Instead of a unified whole manifesting itself as plurality, Nietzsche perceives a battleground of competing interests, one of which achieves victory and is then assumed to be the volition of an integrated agent. From here it is a short step to the realization that “life simply is will to power.”[12]

This realization reveals another false step in Schopenhauer’s argumentation, or rather a severe error of evaluation. If it is assumed there is a holistic and in some sense “higher” reality behind appearances, then this reality assumes a position of superiority to the world of appearances. In Nietzsche’s terms this means that a fictional world has the whip hand over the real world: “Once the concept ‘nature’ had been devised as the concept antithetical to ‘God’, ‘natural’ had to be the word for ‘reprehensible’ – this entire fictional world has its roots in hatred of the natural (actuality!), it is the expression of a profound disgust with the actual. . . . But that explains everything. Who alone has reason to lie himself out of actuality? He who suffers from it. But to suffer from actuality means to be an abortive actuality. . . . The preponderance of feelings of displeasure over feelings of pleasure is the cause of a fictitious morality and religion: such a preponderance, however, provides the formula for decadence . . .”[13] Although this polemic is aimed at the Christian concept of God, the point is equally applicable to Schopenhauer’s world of will. And, once more, Nietzsche has turned Schopenhauer’s thought on its head. Rather than suffering and want being caused by the splintering of a prior unity into discrete phenomena, Nietzsche sees the presence of suffering in the individual as the cause of the creation of this fictional world of unity. It is simply a palliative created to alleviate dissatisfaction with the real.

Of course, this is no neutral matter of academic philosophy; it is fundamental to knowing whether it is possible or desirable to believe in the existence of a noumenal world, whatever its character might be. The existence or non-existence of such a transcendent world has ultimate implications for questions concerning God, life after death, and so on. And this is why Nietzsche’s attack on Wagner’s perceived decadence was so vociferous: “He flatters every nihilistic (Buddhistic) instinct and disguises it in music; he flatters everything Christian, every religious expression of decadence. Open your ears: everything that ever grew on the soil of impoverished life, all of the counterfeiting of transcendence and beyond, has found its most sublime advocate in Wagner’s art.”[14]

And this is the heart of the matter: the counterfeiting of transcendence. When one becomes a fellow traveler with Nietzsche one realizes the intellectual impossibility of accepting notions of transcendence. The very idea of transcendence itself becomes anathema because it implies a belittling of the here and now, of actuality. Consequently art that posits transcendence as an ultimate aim becomes risible, and the beauty of Wagner’s opera dissipates like Klingsor’s castle.

But whilst one listens to the music of Parsifal and becomes immersed in the extraordinarily high level of dramatic development, the possibility of transcendence comes back in to focus and inspires an intuitive yearning to grasp it: the ultimate grail quest. And, in fact, when Nietzsche actually heard Parsifal for the first time he was to write, “Did Wagner ever compose anything better? The finest psychological intelligence and definition of what must be said here, expressed, communicated, the briefest and most direct form for it, every nuance of feeling pared down to an epigram; a clarity in the music as descriptive art, bringing to mind a shield with a design in relief on it; and, finally, a sublime and extraordinary feeling, experience, happening of the soul, at the basis of the music, which does Wagner the highest credit.”[15] Wagner’s desire to present Schopenhauer’s metaphysics in artistic form might appear now to be an item of merely historical interest. But what we know intellectually will not always remain sovereign, and Parsifal is unlikely to be the last time we seriously consider the possibility of transcendence.


1. Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: The Modern Library, 1967), 744.

2. Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, trans. E. F. J. Payne (New York: Dover Publications, 1969), vol. 1, 119.

3. Ibid., 124.

4. Ibid., 110.

5. Ibid., 371.

6. Ibid., 170.

7. Ibid., 257.

8. Bryan Magee, Wagner and Philosophy (London: Penguin Books, 2000), 196.

9. Richard Wagner, Parsifal, in Parsifal (Wagner): Opera Guide 34 (London: John Calder, 1986), 96.

10. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: The Modern Library, 1967), 236.

11. Ibid., 216.

12. Ibid., 393.

13. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, in Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ, trans. R.J. Hollingdale (London: Penguin Books, 1968), 135–36.

14. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Case of Wagner, in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: The Modern Library, 1967), 639.

15. Magee, Wagner and Philosophy, 325.


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dimanche, 21 avril 2013

Bryan Magee’s The Tristan Chord


Bryan Magee’s The Tristan Chord

By Greg Johnson

Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com/

tristanchord Review:

Bryan Magee
The Tristan Chord: Wagner and Philosophy [2]
New York: Metropolitan Books, 2000

Bryan Magee’s The Tristan Chord: Wagner and Philosophy (just Wagner and Philosophy in the UK) combines two of my favorite subjects into an informative, stimulating, and highly readable book. Creativity and critical reflection are two very different activities, and excellence in one is seldom accompanied by excellence in the other. Thus Richard Wagner was virtually unique because he was both a great artist and a serious intellectual.

First of all, Wagner had a remarkably facility for reflection on both his own art and art in general, which he poured into a large number of books and essays on music and drama. Wagner was also widely read in mythology, religion, history, politics, and—at the very pinnacle of difficulty and abstraction—philosophy.

Wagner’s greatest philosophical influences were Ludwig Feuerbach and Arthur Schopenhauer, particularly the latter. Furthermore, Wagner did not merely read these philosophers. He understood them profoundly and incorporated their teachings into the living substance of his greatest artistic achievements.

Sometimes theories can get in the way of authentic artistic expression. But not so with Wagner, for when he read Feuerbach and especially Schopenhauer, they did not so much furnish his mind with new ideas as articulate and thus strengthen the intuitions that he held all along. Philosophy, in short, was an aid to authentic existence and creativity. It cleared away confusions and impediments and helped Wagner become who he really was.

The Tristan Chord is a fugue that simultaneously follows Wagner’s development in four different areas: (1) his operas, (2) his theory of opera, (3) his political thought, and (4) his philosophy of life. (Unkind reviewers would say that the book jumps around and repeats itself a lot.)

The Operas

For our purposes, Wagner’s 13 operas fall into four groups.

First, there are what could be called Wagner’s juvenilia: Die Feen (The Fairies), Das Liebesverbot (The Ban on Love), and Rienzi. The common denominator of these works is that they were deliberate, self-conscious attempts to write in a particular style. Die Feen is a German Romantic opera in the style of Weber. Das Liebesverbot is an Italianate opera in the style of Bellini. Rienzi is a Parisian Grand Opera in the vein of Meyerbeer.

Wagner later repudiated these operas as calculating, commercial, and thus inauthentic. But, as Magee points out, for all that, they are still good. Die Feen and Das Liebesverbot were written when Wagner was 19 and 20, and Magee correctly remarks that they are better than anything Mozart or Verdi composed at that age. Furthermore, Rienzi is better than anything by Meyerbeer. Although Wagner expressly excluded these works from performance at Bayreuth, they should be performed more regularly, and what better place to do it than the international Wagner festival?

The next three operas are Wagner’s early mature works: The Flying Dutchman, Tannhäuser, and Lohengrin. The common denominator is that they are authentic expressions of Wagner’s mature artistic style, yet they predate Wagner’s theoretical works on opera and drama and his encounters with the philosophies of Feuerbach and Schopenhauer.

Wagner’s middle period consists of the four operas of The Ring of the Nibelung: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung. These works are deeply marked by Wagner’s early theory of opera, his revolutionary political engagement, and the philosophy of Feuerbach.

Wagner’s final period consists of three operas: Tristan and Isolde, The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, and Parsifal. What unites them is that they reflect Wagner’s mature views on the nature of opera and drama, politics, metaphysics, and the spiritual life, for which Schopenhauer was the indispensable philosophical midwife.

This chronology is somewhat muddled by the fact that although Wagner conceived and wrote the Ring libretto well before he began work on Tristan and Isolde and The Mastersingers, he composed both operas before completing the music for the Ring cycle. Nevertheless, the Ring and the last three operas belong to distinct phases in Wagner’s musical and intellectual development.

The Theory of Opera

Beginning in 1849, Wagner began to elaborate a theory of opera and drama in such books and treatises as The Art Work of the Future (1849), Art and Revolution (1849), Opera and Drama (1850–51), and A Message to My Friends (1851). Twenty years later, Wagner made important changes to his theories in such works as Beethoven (1870) and The Destiny of Opera (1871).

The core of Wagner’s theory of opera are his views of the nature and aesthetic potential of opera. Modern opera was a conscious attempt to revive ancient Greek drama, which had musical accompaniment. Wagner regarded classical Athenian drama as a pinnacle of artistic achievement.

First, classical drama had enormous expressive powers because it combined a whole range of arts, including poetry, music, acting, mime, and even painting and architecture for the staging. This is the idea of the “total work of art,” the Gesamtkunstwerk.

Second, classical drama focused on mythical themes that were shared by the whole community and in which each individual could find personal meaning.

Third, classical dramas were sacred and communal rather than profane, private, and commercial. They were subsidized by the state and performed as part of religious rites in which the whole population took part. Greek drama fused art, religion, and politics. It was a collective, celebratory experience of the community’s self-awareness of its common origins, nature, and destiny. These views remained essentially the same.

What changed were Wagner’s views of the relative importance of music and other dramatic elements within opera. Wagner believed that drama and especially music had made remarkable progress since ancient Greece. Shakespeare was a better dramatist than Aeschylus or Sophocles because he penetrated more deeply into character and motive. And Beethoven had vastly expanded the emotional power of music. But even with these advances, modern opera failed to realize its artistic potential and remained inferior to ancient Greek tragedy. Wagner set out the correct that.

In his early theory of opera, Wagner sought to create a greater unity between words and music by dispensing with the dichotomy between recitative and aria; eliminating purely musical forms, such as the da capo aria, which contained dramatically needless repetitions; dropping dramatically unintegrated showpieces for virtuoso singers; eliminating ensembles for multiple singers which are musically effective but make it impossible to understand the words; clarifying orchestration so that the music did not overwhelm the words, and the like. The aim was to make music and drama entirely complimentary, to compose music that underscores rather than overwhelms our experience of drama. In effect, Wagner was inventing the “soundtrack,” and indeed, Wagner was the single greatest influence on movie scoring. Wagner put this theory into practice in Das Rheingold and the first act of Die Walküre.

But although Wagner was right to prune back some of the musical-dramatic imbalances of earlier forms of opera, he gradually abandoned strict parity between music and words, first by following his own muse and later through his encounter with the aesthetic theory of Arthur Schopenhauer

Schopenhauer argued that music has greater emotional power than all other art forms because it has greater metaphysical depth. Representational art shows us Platonic forms or ideas, whereas music (like sex) offers us direct experience the primal metaphysical reality which Schopenhauer called will.

Wagner’s use of music was analogous to the chorus in Greek drama: but the Greek chorus merely explained the inner meaning of the events represented on stage whereas the orchestra can actually make you feel them; music actually allows one to feel what the characters feel. Magee does, however, point out that Wagner never abandoned the various musical-dramatic innovations of his earlier theoretical works, using them to great effect.

But the music was primary, and indeed, music has always been primary in opera. The flimsiest plots can become absolutely compelling if set to music. And no matter what his theory, Wagner never lost sight of music’s divine and magical powers. Thus even in Das Rheingold, at the very end, he uses pure music to remind us that, for all their corruptions and follies, the gods are still gods.

Indeed, Wagner’s mature, Schopenhauerian operas, Tristan and Isolde, The Mastersingers, and Parsifal, can be seen as evolving out of distinct musical-emotional ideas, just as Schopenhauer believed the world of representation arises out of the primal will. In Tristan the musical-emotional seed is erotic longing. In The Mastersingers it is what I call “generativity,” namely the self-renunciation of the old to foster the next generation. In Parsifal it is what I call “abjection,” the feeling of guilt and the need for absolution, the feeling that mankind is incapable of solving the problems of life without the supplement of some sort of supernatural grace. Furthermore, as the music gained in primacy, the libretti shrank: Tristan and Parsifal have the fewest words among Wagner’s operas, and Parsifal is one of the longest.

Wagner’s Politics

Magee’s discussion of Wagner’s politics aims at refuting the idea that he was some sort of Right-wing proto-fascist.

Magee argues that Wagner a Left-wing revolutionary in his youth. Specifically, Wagner was heavily influenced by the Young Germany movement of Heinrich Laube (1806–1884) and the anarchism of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865) and Mikhail Bakunin (1814–1876).

Wagner’s anarchism valorized a pre-industrial Hobbit-like society of small, independent farmers and craftsmen. The principles of this form of society were nature, which puts limits on acquisition, and love, which puts limits on exploitation. This anarchistic utopia was destroyed by industrialism and usury, creating a miserable, landless proletariat toiling to heap up riches for capitalists. Capitalism is founded on the rejection of love for the pursuit of power and of nature for artifice and the pursuit of unlimited wealth.

Wagner’s critique of capitalism is reflected in the third scene of Das Rheingold, where the Nibelung dwarf Mime laments the loss of the Nibelung’s traditional life as independent craftsmen to his tyrannical brother Alberich, who has forsworn love in order to steal the Rhine gold, from which he fashioned a magic Ring, which he has used to enslave the Nibelungen and make them toil in mines and factories to heap up riches for himself. Wagner hoped that the revolution would break the rule of power and greed and inaugurate a new form of society based on love and nature.

Wagner combined this anarchist-socialist outlook with German nationalism. But, as Magee stresses, German nationalism was, in its time, a Left-wing political cause too. In particular, Wagner was deeply influenced by the Young Germany movement, which preached German national and cultural regeneration after the humiliations of the Napoleonic conquest. They wished to unify Germany under a republican regime. They were also socialists and advocates of sexual freedom.

Magee’s argument, however, hinges on a superficial fixation on the categories of Left and Right as opposed to an appreciation of the substance of Wagner’s positions. Yes, when Wagner was a young man, his German nationalism and critique of capitalism were Left-wing positions. But the substance of Wagner’s anarchism was essentially conservative and backward-looking. Furthermore, Wagner’s combination of nationalism and conservative anti-capitalism is pretty much the paradigm of 20th-century fascism, National Socialism, and their New Right successors. Finally, Wagner surely would have rejected the substance of most of what passes for Left-wing opinion today. There is little doubt that if Wagner were alive today, he would be aligned with the European New Right.

Magee also argues that, contrary to widespread belief, Wagner did not become more conservative as he grew older but merely gave up the idea that politics could solve man’s most important problems. Thus, Magee concludes, Wagner did not embrace conservative politics but merely became apolitical. This argument, however, strikes me as sophistical, for a large part of conservatism is precisely the conviction that the most important problems of life cannot be solved by politics. Furthermore, it ignores the fact that the substance of Wagner’s youthful anarchism was a critique of capitalism from a deeply conservative, anti-modernist perspective


Ludwig Feuerbach (1804–1872) was the first German philosopher to exercise an important influence on Wagner. Feuerbach was one of the Young or Left Hegelians who accepted Hegel’s basic philosophical framework but argued that Christianity and the modern state, including modern capitalism, are not the end of history and that we can evolve beyond them.

To find a lever and a place to stand in order to critique Hegel’s system, Feuerbach embraced materialism and atheism. Feuerbach argued that gods and religious myths are merely projections and reifications of human nature. Thus, although there are no gods and all religions are false, religion is still deeply important, because it provides insight into human nature.

Wagner embraced Feuerbach’s view of religion when he was writing the Ring, which is the story of the destruction of the gods and the beginning of the age of man. Magee argues that on religious matters, Wagner remained a Feuerbachian for the rest of his life. This is plausible, for even though Schopenhauer convinced Wagner that there is a metaphysical dimension beyond the material world, Schopenhauer himself was an atheist, albeit one who also recognized the importance of religion for gaining insight into human nature.

Nevertheless, I wish that Magee had showed how his thesis is consistent with Wagner’s many remarks on Christianity, particularly those recorded in the diary of his wife Cosima, for they certainly do not sound like the views of an atheist. Wagner clearly wished to sever Christianity from its Jewish and Catholic roots and remake it as a Germanic folk religion, and perhaps he regarded it merely as an exoteric cult in which he did not believe. But if so, he kept up the pretense even in front of his wife.

Moreover, Wagner’s last opera Parsifal, which deals with the knights of the Holy Grail, is definitely not orthodox Christianity in any sense. It even contains elements of Buddhism and Schopenhauer. But for all that, the Grail and the Spear of Longinus still perform magic, and I find it impossible to listen to the music and conclude that Wagner did not believe in that magic.

Feuerbach’s social and political philosophy was largely consistent with Wagner’s pre-existing Young Germanist and anarchist-socialist convictions. As a materialist and atheist, Feuerbach was convinced that nature allows human beings to be happy on earth if they act properly: if they love one another and keep their desires for material goods moderate and within natural bounds. He believed that love was man’s greatest need and satisfaction. He also believed that love makes possible a social order that is free of coercion and exploitation. Injustice arises when human beings reject loving and being loved for the pursuit of power and wealth, transgressing nature’s limits by acquiring unnecessary and excessive material possessions. Revolution is necessary to overthrow the tyrants and exploiters and to institute a more egalitarian society based on love and in harmony with nature.

Wagner first encountered Feuerbach’s writings in the 1840s. His principal works are The Essence of Christianity (1841) and The Principles of the Philosophy of the Future (1843). But Wagner’s most intense engagement with Feuerbach began in 1849, when he was an exile in Switzerland where he fled after the collapse of the 1849 Dresden revolution, of which he was a ringleader along with Bakunin. Wagner’s The Art Work of the Future (1849) is dedicated to Feuerbach and bears a distinctly Feuerbachian title. But Wagner’s greatest tribute to Feuerbach is the Ring cycle itself, which is constructed around the antithesis of the principles of love and power, puts forward a revolutionary critique of tradition, capitalism, and sexual repression, and culminates with the death of the gods and the beginning of the age of man.


Wagner was such a man of ideas that Feuerbach’s influence could only be surmounted by that of a greater philosopher: Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860), who Wagner discovered in the fall of 1854 while he was writing the music of Die Walküre. The treatment of Schopenhauer is the most interesting part of the book. Magee obviously relishes the subject, for just as Wagner is his favorite composer, Schopenhauer is his favorite philosopher. Magee is also the author of The Philosophy of Schopenhauer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), a masterful overview of Schopenhauer’s thought with an appendix on Wagner and Schopenhauer that is as long as Magee’s earlier book Aspects of Wagner [3].

Wagner was well-prepared to appreciate Schopenhauer. According to Wagner’s autobiography My Life, when he first encountered Schopenhauer, he felt that Schopenhauer was articulating his most longstanding and heartfelt intuitions. He had always already been a Schopenhauerian. Furthermore, according to Magee, Wagner was deeply disillusioned with radical politics and had retreated into solitude, where he had lost himself in composing Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, the latter of which he was writing at astonishing speed, in a frenzy of inspiration, when he first picked up Schopenhauer in the fall of 1954.

It scarcely seems possible that in such a state, Wagner would have the mental energy to read and digest the two volumes and 1,000+ pages of Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation, which, although it is one of the most lucid and brilliantly written philosophical works of all time, still deals with weighty and difficult topics. But Wagner went on to read The World as Will and Representation four times within one year, and it was his inseparable companion for the rest of his life.

Schopenhauer caused Wagner to revise his explicit views on three subjects: materialism, optimism, and the place of music in opera. (I have already touched on the third topic above.) Unlike Feuerbach, who claimed that the material world was the only reality, Schopenhauer argued that the material world (what he called “the world as representation”) does not exhaust reality. There is another dimension of reality, what Kant called the “thing as it is in itself” and what Schopenhauer calls “the world as will.” Schopenhauer taught that the will is a blind, purposeless striving, which can never find satisfaction. He believed that the will is at the root of all natural and human phenomena: the life force, the sex drive, etc. We are generally unconscious of the workings of the will within us, but it can be experienced most fully through sex and music. He believed that man’s conscious mind, including our rationality, is ultimately conditioned by the will. Thus man is largely an irrational animal.

Schopenhauer’s doctrine of the will largely destroys the optimism of those like Feuerbach and the anarchists who believe that human beings can be happy once we create a form of society in which human striving is moderated by reason to stay within the limits of nature. For Schopenhauer, human striving can never harmonize with the limits of the natural world (the world as representation) because human action arises from the world as will, which is blind, irrational, and unbounded. Thus human beings in the grip of the will are doomed to excess, conflict, and misery in our earthly existence. For Schopenhauer, life is essentially tragic, and optimism is folly.

These ideas represented a fundamental rejection of Wagner’s conscious convictions at the time: he was a Feuerbachian materialist and an optimist. But when he looked back at his operas—The Flying Dutchman, Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, and the Ring cycle—he realized that his conscious philosophy had always been out of sync with his deepest intuitive convictions as expressed in his art. Schopenhauer had liberated Wagner from a false self-understanding, harmonizing his conscious and unconscious minds and laying the groundwork for his greatest mature works, his Schopenhauerian operas: Tristan and Isolde, The Mastersingers, and Parsifal.

Schopenhauer taught that man is doomed to suffer unless he can break the power of the will within him. Schopenhauer calls this redemption. Redemption is possible through three paths: the way of suffering, as when the cancer patient “lets go” and ceases to fear death; the aesthetic path of contemplating beauty, which in Kant’s terms is “disinterested,” meaning that it stills the striving of the will within us; and the religious path, in which the experience of compassion reveals the fundamental oneness of all beings and the illusory nature of the conditioned, suffering ego.

Redemption cannot be willed, because the will is the root of our bondage. Thus redemption must come to us from without, or from above, as a kind of supernatural grace, and the only thing that we can do is prepare a space for it and make ourselves receptive. Redemption cannot, therefore, be achieved by revolutionary politics or any other kind of purposeful action. But it can be experienced collectively through artistic performances and religious rituals, which create a space and attune the soul for the reception of redemption, which may or may not come. Ritual and art, of course, are fused together in Greek Tragedy . . . and in the Wagnerian Music Drama.

Redemption through “breaking of the will to live” is precisely the sort of lugubrious teaching one would expect of history’s greatest pessimist. But if Schopenhauer had been so inclined, he could have formulated redemption in a much more appealing way. The breaking of the will to live is actually equivalent to conquering the fear of death, and if one does not fear death, one has conquered all lesser fears as well.

For Schopenhauer, redemption has to be redemption in this life. He did not advocate suicide, much less regard it as redemptive. Nor did he believe in the survival of the individual soul after death. Thus for Schopenhauer, one goes on living after one attains redemption. But one’s life is no longer in the grip of the will. But how?

The will wills only one thing: to keep on willing. It is a will to self-preservation. And it rules us, ultimately, through our fear of death, which is, for most people, the greatest of all fears. Thus breaking the will’s power is equivalent to losing one’s fear of death, and with it, one loses all lesser fears as well.

Thus the redeemed individual lives a life without fear, and fear is the root of all vice and the main impediment to self-actualization and duty. Thus, paradoxically, what Schopenhauer calls breaking the will to live is actually the primary condition for a truly realized and happy life, but as a pessimist, he would not put it that way.

Wagner’s last three operas are all about redemption, and Magee devotes three of his best chapters to Tristan and Isolde, The Mastersingers, and Parsifal. Schopenhauer thought that sex gave us profound insight into the nature of the will, but it was ultimately a form of bondage, not a path to redemption. But even after he read Schopenhauer, Wagner never abandoned his belief in the redemptive power of love. The Ring cycle ends with a musical theme called “Redemption through love,” but it is not just love, but a love-death: Brünnhilde joins Siegfried on his funeral pyre, and the sparks fly up to consume Valhalla and the gods. Tristan and Isolde deals with the same love-death theme. Schopenhauer thought that lovers’ suicide pacts made no sense. Wagner actually wrote a letter setting Schopenhauer straight, but his argument is inchoate, and the letter was never sent. In the end, he argued the point with some of the most beautiful music ever written. The Mastersingers and Parsifal are more “orthodox” in their Schopenhauerianism. The Mastersingers deals with the redemptive power of art, and Parsifal is about the redemptive power of compassion.

* * *

Magee closes his book with two long chapters, one on Nietzsche, the other on anti-Semitism.

In brief, Magee argues that Nietzsche’s critique of Wagner was entirely unfair and slightly unhinged. He attributes their final break to Wagner’s speculation, which he shared with Nietzsche’s doctor, that Nietzsche’s bad eyesight was due to chronic masturbation. When this got back to Nietzsche, evidently much embellished by the rumor-mill, suggestions of homosexuality had also been added. Nietzsche never forgave Wagner and nursed a resentment for the rest of his life, which expressed itself in increasingly violent and irrational forms as he lost his grip on reality.

As for Wagner’s anti-Semitism, Magee’s goal is damage control. He offers a thorough explanation of Wagner’s views without offering any exculpation, then he argues that, in any case, Wagner’s anti-Semitism does not manifest itself in his operas, despite the claims of a number of Jewish critics.

Both these chapters deserve more extensive commentary, but not on this occasion.

Perhaps the best recommendation I can give The Tristan Chord is that I have read it three times since I first bought it in 2002, and it has richly repaid all my efforts. This is required reading for anyone who wishes to gain a well-rounded sense of Wagner’s intellectual and artistic genius.


Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: http://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: http://www.counter-currents.com/2013/04/bryan-magees-the-tristan-chord/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/tristanchord.jpg

[2] The Tristan Chord: Wagner and Philosophy: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/080507189X/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=080507189X&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[3] Aspects of Wagner: http://www.counter-currents.com/2013/03/bryan-magees-aspects-of-wagner/

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mercredi, 20 mars 2013

Imposture du RAP

mardi, 09 août 2011

Xavier Raufer sur le rap / La vérité sur le rap


Xavier Raufer sur le rap



La vérité sur le rap


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mardi, 19 juillet 2011

Himno de Artilleria Española

Himno de Artilleria Española

mercredi, 13 juillet 2011

Heidi Brühl (1966): Hundert Mann und ein Befehl


Heidi Brühl - 1966

Hundert Mann und ein Befehl

00:05 Publié dans Militaria, Musique | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0) | Tags : allemagne, musique, militaria | |  del.icio.us | | Digg! Digg |  Facebook

jeudi, 26 mai 2011

Adzharian Dance - Horumi / Igor Moiseev's Ballet

Adzharian Dance - Horumi

Igor Moiseev's Ballet

lundi, 02 mai 2011

Laibach à Paris

Laibach à Paris, le 8 mai prochain

17:12 Publié dans Evénement, Musique, Musique | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0) | Tags : musique, laibach, slovénie, paris, événement | |  del.icio.us | | Digg! Digg |  Facebook

mercredi, 27 avril 2011

Franz Lehar - Adria Waltz

Franz Lehar - Adria Waltz


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jeudi, 07 avril 2011

Carmina Burana - Dulce Solum - Carl Orff

Carmina Burana - Dulce Solum - Carl Orff

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vendredi, 01 avril 2011

"Preussens Gloria" auf dem Roten Platz in Moskau


"Preussens Gloria" auf dem Roten Platz in Moskau

jeudi, 31 mars 2011

Marcha de los Jinetes de Fehrbelliner - Ejercito de Chile

Marcha de los Jinetes de Fehrbelliner

Ejercito de Chile

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mercredi, 30 mars 2011

Anne-Marie du 3°REI - Légion Etrangère

Anne-Marie du 3°REI

Légion Etrangère


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dimanche, 06 mars 2011

Camerata Mediolanense - Il Lupo (1994) & Fuoco

Camerata Mediolanense - Il Lupo (1004)


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vendredi, 04 février 2011

André Rieu / Mirusia Louwerse: Solveig's Song

André Rieu / Mirusia Louwerse : Solveig's Song

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mercredi, 24 novembre 2010

30 Jahre Laibaich: Total totalitäre Retro-Avantgardisten


30 Jahre Laibach: Total totalitäre Retro-Avantgardisten

Felix MENZEL - Ex:

Das Kunstmagazin MONOPOL setzt in der aktuellen November-Ausgabe einen Schwerpunkt auf Kollektive und beschäftigt sich in der Titelgeschichte mit der slowenischen Industrial-Band Laibach. Diese versteht sich selbst als „Gesamtkunstwerk“. Um dies zu dokumentieren, haben die umstrittenen Musiker dieses Jahr zum 30. Geburtstag ihrer Band eine Ausstellung, ein Symposium und mehrere Konzerte durchgeführt. 

Daniel Völzke und Martin Fengel von MONOPOL durften Ende September zu den Feierlichkeiten nach Slowenien reisen. Der Aufwand hat sich jedoch nicht gelohnt. Hauptsächlich trägt ihre Reportage die Meinungen und Erkenntnisse zu der provokanten Band zusammen, die sich in den letzten Jahrzehnten so angehäuft haben. Auf der einen Seite steht dabei der Vorwurf, Laibach würden sich faschistischer Ästhetik bedienen. Auf der anderen dann die Erklärung: Das ist nur „Über-Identifikation“ mit totalitären Systemen, mit der diese letztendlich ad absurdum geführt werden.

Der Kunstwissenschaftler Boris Groys spricht von einer Inszenierung, die „totaler als der Totalitarismus“ sei. Laibach selbst sagen dazu wenig. Entweder geben sie Statements ab, auf die die Presse nur so wartet. Zum Beispiel:

Wir sind genauso Faschisten, wie Hitler ein Maler war.

Oder sie erklären allgemeine Sachverhalte ohne jegliche Spezifik. Daniel Völzke haben sie vorgeträllert:

Wir glauben an eine Kunst, die soziale, politische und wirtschaftliche Reformen voranbringt, aber auch an Kunst, die die Grenzen ästhetischer Erfahrung austestet. In kollektiv organisierten Bewegungen entwickeln sich diese beiden Vorhaben organischer.

Damit sind wir genauso klug wie vorher.

Das Prinzip der Retro-Avantgarde, das die Slowenen anwenden, besteht darin, mit unzähligen historischen Versatzstücken (NS-Propaganda, Sozialistischer Realismus, christliche Ikonographie) die empfindlichsten Stellen unserer Identität anzusteuern. Das Ziel ist dabei kein politisches. Es geht vielmehr um die maximale energetische Mobilisierung des Betrachters. Dies kann sich in Empörung, frenetischem Jubel oder gar körperlicher Ekstase ausdrücken.

Laibach sind sich dabei bewußt darüber, was ihr derzeit größtes Problem ist. Auf dem Symposium betonte Gründungsmitglied Ivan Novak:

Es ist leicht, neu zu sein, wenn man neu ist, aber es ist schwer, wenn man alt ist wie wir.

Im Klartext: Provokation nutzt sich mit der Zeit ab. Wahrscheinlich hat die Industrial-Band daher ihren Höhepunkt schon hinter sich und weiß das sogar. Im Dezember gibt sie mehrere Konzerte in Deutschland. Bei Youtube kann man außerdem einen faschistischen Tanzkurs mit Laibach belegen. Danach wird jeder – fernab jeglicher Politik – wissen, wie faschistische Ästhetik auf ihn wirkt.


30 Jahre Laibach (2)


30 Jahre Laibach (II)

Martin LICHTMESZ - Ex: http://www.sezession.de/

Noch ein paar Anmerkungen zum 30-Jahres-Jubiläum von Laibach, als deren Fan ich mich neulich in diesem Blog bekannt habe. Seit ihrer Gründung im Jahr 1980 hat sich nicht nur die Welt, sondern auch die Gruppe stark verändert (musikalisch eher zu ihren Ungunsten), von deren Originalbesetzung zur Zeit eigentlich nur noch Frontmann Milan Fras und Ivan Novak übriggeblieben sind. 

In einem gewissen Sinne ist die slowenische Formation seit zwei Jahrzehnten nur mehr ein Recycler ihres eigenen Mythos, dessen Wirkungsmacht eben eng verknüpft war mit dem Entstehungskontext des Projekts im post-titoistischen Jugoslawien (1980 war auch das Todesjahr des kultisch verehrten Staatspräsidenten, damit auch das Jahr, in dem der durch Blut und Eisen zusammengeschusterte Vielvölkerstaat langsam auseinanderzubröckeln begann).

Schon die Wahl des deutschen Namens für Ljubljana war eine gezielte Provokation der damaligen jugoslawischen Autoritäten. Diese waren nun in den Achtziger Jahren bereits lax und vom liberalen Rückenmarkschwund befallen genug (in der DDR wurde zur gleichen Zeit jede harmlose Amateur-Punk-Combo von der Stasi plattgemacht), daß die Band sich mühelos als „totalitärer“ als das herrschende Regime inszenieren konnte, „päpstlicher als der Papst“ sozusagen. In der Art und Weise, wie es Laibach taten, wollte der Staat zu diesem Zeitpunkt eigentlich gar nicht mehr beschworen und glorifiziert werden.

In Slowenien und Kroatien hatte man es zu einem relativen Wohlstand gebracht, und wenig ahnte man von dem verheerenden Krieg, der nur ein Jahrzehnt später ausbrechen sollte. Um 1983 herum waren Laibachs martialische Beschwörungen und Über-Emphasen der alten kommunistischen Kampf-, Askese-, Aufopferungs- und Hauruck-Rhetorik, untermalt mit aufpeitschender Krachmusik, peinlich, unheimlich, irritierend, angriffig. Der ästhetische Mix aus kommunistisch-stalinistischen mit faschistischen und nationalsozialistischen Elementen, der sich in der Mitte der Dekade noch verstärken sollte, wirkte natürlich zusätzlich subversiv, und dekonstruierte durch Annäherung und Amalgamierung den „antifaschistischen“ Mythos der kommunistischen Ideologie. Laibach attackierten indirekt den sozialistischen Staat, indem sie ihn scheinbar von rechts überholten, und ihn in Beziehung setzten zum feindlichen Bruder Nationalsozialismus.

In einem berüchtigten frühen TV-Auftritt setzte sich die Gruppe mit sinistrer Beleuchtung, blanken Stiefeln, undefinierbaren Uniformen und Armbinden mit schwarzen Kreuzen in Szene, schwieg mit eisernen Mienen, während der Frontmann die tribunalartigen Fragen des Interviewers beharrlich ignorierte, und stattdessen lange, komplizierte Manifeste vorlas: „Laibach behandelt die Beziehung zwischen Kunst und Ideologie, die Spannungen, die durch Expression subliminiert werden. Darum wird jeder direkte ideologische Diskurs eliminiert. Unsere Aktivität steht über direktem Engagement… wir sind komplett unpolitisch.“ Und so weiter und so fort.  Zur selben Zeit konnte man im Jugo-TV Pop-Videos (siehe hier, hier und hier) sehen, die sich in nichts von dem unterschieden, was gerade im Westen „in“ war.

Mit dem Album Opus Dei von 1987 begannen Laibach ihre berüchtigte Serie „faschisierter“ oder auf „martialisch“ getrimmter Cover-Versionen von populären Songs, für die sie am besten bekannt sind (darunter Titel von den Beatles, den Rolling Stones, Prince, Status Quo und, als Meta-Pop-Witz, DAF). Fanfaren und Trompeten, epischer Sound, militärisch stampfendes Schlagzeug, ins Deutsche übertragene Texte und der forciert markige Gesang an der Grenze zur Selbstparodie (den später Rammstein kopierten) verfremdeten bekannte Melodien auf eine verblüffende Weise.

Der Klassiker schlechthin ist ihre Version des Superhits „Life is live“ („Nananana“) der österreichischen Gruppe Opus, der damals in den Diskotheken weltweit ad nauseam rauf und runter lief.  Zusammen mit dem Video, in dem Laibach durch die Berge stapfen und vor monumentalen Wasserfällen posieren, voller zur Schau getragenem Sendungsbewußtsein und mit kultischem Gestus, hatte das einen ganz besonderen Touch, der die Gruppe von nun an definieren sollte.

Der Reiz ergibt sich aus dem Ineinander von verschiedenen widersprüchlichen Komponenten: einerseits handelt es sich hierbei natürlich offensichtlich um einen schreiend komischen Witz und um bewußt auf die Spitze getriebenen Camp. Andererseits hat es auch eine hin- und mitreißende Wirkung: der charismatische, kraftstrotzende Sänger mit dem Schnauzbart, der seltsamen Wüstenlegionärs-Kopfbedeckung und dem schmucken Alpen-Trachten-Outfit vor der Kulisse schneebedeckter Gipfel und rückwärts (!) strömender Wasserfluten – das geht weit über den bloßen „dekonstruktiven“ Gag hinaus. Die heroisch-teutonische Ästhetik wird ebenso zelebriert wie ironisiert. Es ist komisch und parodistisch, aber eben auch – geil.

Laibach demonstrierten, wie mit wenigen Handgriffen ein banaler Popsong einen „faschistischen“ Sound und Subtext erhalten kann. In der Alternativ-Version „Leben heißt Leben“ haben sie den englischen Originaltext eingedeutscht und nur geringfügig verändert:

When we all give the power
We all give the best
Every minute of an hour
Don’t think about the rest
Then you all get the power
You all get the best
When everyone gives everything…

Wann immer wir Kraft geben,
geben wir das Beste,
All unser Können, unser Streben
und denken nicht an Feste,
Von jedem wird alles gegeben,
und jeder kann auf jeden zählen,
Leben heißt Leben!

Life is life, when we all feel the power
Life is life, come on, stand up and dance
Life is life, when the feeling of the people
Life is life, is the feeling of the band!

Leben heißt Leben -
Wenn wir alle die Kraft spüren!
Leben heißt Leben -
Wenn wir alle den Schmerz fühlen!
Leben heißt Leben!
Heißt die Mengen erleben
Leben heißt Leben -
Heißt das Land erleben…

Auf analoge Weise verwandelten Laibach  „One Vision“ von Queen zu „Geburt einer Nation“, der einen ähnlichen „Klassiker“-Status wie „Life is live“ hat. Da mußte der Text lediglich wörtlich übersetzt werden.

One man, one goal
One mission,
One heart, one soul
Just one solution,
One flash of light
One God, one vision
One flesh, one bone,
One true religion,
One voice, one hope,
One flesh one bone
One true religion
One race, one hope
One real decision
Wowowowo oh yeah oh yeah oh yeah

Ein Mensch – ein Ziel
und eine Weisung.
Ein Herz – ein Geist,
nur eine Lösung.
Ein Brennen der Glut.
Ein Gott – ein Leitbild.

Ein Fleisch – ein Blut,
ein wahrer Glaube.
Eine Rasse, ein Traum,
und ein starker Wille
Gebt mir ein Leitbild! Ja, Ja, Jawoll, Jaaa!!

Und nun sehe man sich an, wie Queen 1985 in Rio de Janeiro ein Stadion mit zigtausend Menschen zum Mitstampfen von „We will rock you“ bringen, während Frontmann Freddie Mercury mit nacktem, muskulösem Oberkörper, in einen Union Jack gehüllt, vor den Massen auf und ab gockelt und sie dabei beherrscht wie ein schriller Glamrock-Mussolini:

Laibach haben also natürlich auch die unterirdischen Beziehungen zwischen Pop als Massenphänomen und totalitären Massenbewegungen angesprochen, die schon David Bowie in den Siebzigern in das berüchtigte Bonmot „Hitler war der erste Popstar“ faßte. Man kann auch an Jean Genet denken, der einmal bemerkte, der Faschismus sei „essentielment“ Theater.

Im Pop ist es auch kein notwendiger Widerspruch, eine Pose ausgiebig zu genießen und abzufeiern, und gleichzeitig ihre Künstlichkeit und ihren augenzwinkernden Showcharakter zu betonen. Man denke etwa an die prunkvollen Phantasie-Uniformen und den Erlösergestus von Michael Jackson. Rockstars befriedigen in demokratischen Zeiten tief sitzende monarchische Bedürfnisse, sind in ihren Welten Könige, Absolutisten, Messiase, Diktatoren, Fabeltiere, die die Huldigungen der Fanmassen entgegennehmen, über die sie Kraft ihrer Kunst herrschen, und die sich ihrerseits willig dem regressiv-wonnigen Rausch der Fan-Volks-Gemeinschaft hingeben.

In Umkehrung zu Genet läßt sich fragen, inwiefern die Kanalisierung „totalitärer“ Versatzsstücke und Ansprüche in eine Bühnenshow und ein Kunstprodukt wie den NSK-“Staat“, das, was Armin Mohler die „monumentale Unternährung“ nannte, gleichsam entpolitisieren, entschärfen und auf einer rein ästhetischen Ebene befriedigen kann. Denn wären Laibach auf reine Parodie und Dekonstruktion aus gewesen, wäre ihr Appeal nicht so stark und dauerhaft gewesen.

Mir schien es jedenfalls eher immer so, daß Laibach, sobald sie von den westlichen Intellektuellen nach einer gewissen Irritationsphase als „Kunst“ akzeptiert wurden, auch ein Ventil für jene boten, die endlich einmal guten Gewissens ihren lang verdrängten „inneren Faschisten“ ausleben wollten. Wenn die Gruppe Mitte der Neunziger in Wien auftrat, dann waren die Konzerte voll mit Lesern von alternativhippen linksliberalen Blättern wie Standard und Falter, die nun die unterdrückte Fascho-Sau rauslassen konnten und mit ausgestrecktem rechten Arm der Bühne entgegensalutierten: „Und dann feiern wir Vereinigung, die ganze Nacht! Jawollll, Jaaaa!!“ Und in der damaligen Gothic-und Wave-Nacht im Wiener U4 konnte man schon mal erleben, daß sich zu „Life is Live“ spontan ganze Marschformationen auf der Tanzfläche bildeten, die im Gleichschritt zu tanzen begannen.

Ich habe mich oft gefragt, wie sehr die hysterische Kontaminationsangst mancher Zeitgenossen vor riefenstahl’scher oder speer’scher Ästhetik auf einer uneingestandenen Faszination beruht, die man in streng puritanischer Weise nicht einmal vor sich selber zuzugeben wagt. Mit Sicherheit spüren aber sehr viele Menschen immer noch die spezifische Anziehungs- und Suggestionskraft dieser Bilder, die offenbar tiefsitzende, unausrottbare Gefühle ansprechen. Oder wie ein Soziologe in den Siebziger Jahren, dessen Namen mir entfallen ist, einmal sinngemäß und in anprangernder Absicht sagte: Faschismus befriedigt menschliche Grundbedürfnisse. (Wenn das stimmt, was folgern wir daraus? Und was ist dann noch „Faschismus“?)

Mit dem Zerfall des Ostblocks verloren Laibach den Reibungskontext, in dem sie sich ursprünglich bewegten. Ihr Ansatz geriet zunehmend zur Masche, und man merkte, daß sie nun mit Alben wie „Kapital“ (1992) und „Nato“ (1994) auf der Suche nach neuen zu unterwandernden Angriffsflächen waren. (Der Liberalismus jedoch ist im Gegensatz zum National- und Internationalsozialismus leider ein allzu elastischer Gegner, der jede Opposition wie ein Schwamm aufzusaugen vermag.) Das wirkte dann ein wenig wie eine etwas verräterische, weil dem undurchsichtigen Image der Band abträgliche Ideologie-Revue, die aber mit der Methode Laibach nicht so recht zu knacken war.

Am wenigsten überzeugend geriet dabei das Album „Jesus Christ Superstars“ (1996),  das sich nun dem „ideologischen“ Rahmen der Religion widmete und Milan Fras im Gewand eines Pilgers oder Predigers präsentierte.  Das war nun doch etwas zu einfach. „Tanz mit Laibach“, eine Art Remake des DAF-Hits „Tanz den Mussolini“ ging nochmal „back to the roots“, aber wie die Nazistiefel-Dauerschleife in dem Video war das kaum mehr als ein altgewordener, auf der Stelle tretender Witz.

Gelungener (und bei weitem die interessanteste Veröffentlichung der letzten eineinhalb Jahrzehnte) war da schon das 2006er Album „Volk“, das ausschließlich Interpretationen von Nationalhymen enthielt. Das geschah mit quasi-“ethnopluralistischer“ Verve und einem Minimum an Ironie, trotz der Herdenschäfchen auf dem Cover. Hier ist die „dekonstruktive“ Absicht deutlich zurückgetreten, und hier zeigt sich auch, daß Laibach sich doch nicht so einfach in einen „linken“ Kulturbetrieb eingemeinden und abhaken lassen, wie manche voreilig beschwichtigend meinen.

Darin schließe ich mich dem Urteil von Dominik Tischleder in der JF an:

Ganz ohne interpretatorisch doppelten Boden wird hier ein „Denken in Völkern“ als popmusikalisches Panorama entfaltet. Nationale Identität scheint als politischer Faktor ersten Ranges identifiziert.Nicht zuletzt deshalb ist „Volk“ ein intellektuell stimulierendes Album geworden, bei dem die eigentliche Musik fast schon Nebensache ist. Laibach selbst drücken es so aus: „Pop ist Musik für Schafe, und wir sind die als Schäferhunde verkleideten Wölfe.“

vendredi, 17 juillet 2009

W. Furtwängler and Music in the Third Reich


Wilhelm Furtwängler and Music 

in the Third Reich

Antony Charles  - http://www.gnosticliberationfront.com/

Not only during his lifetime, but also in the decades since his death in 1954, Wilhelm Furtwängler has been globally recognized as one of the greatest musicians of this century, above all as the brilliant primary conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra, which he lead from 1922 to 1945, and again after 1950. On his death, the Encyclopaedia Britannica commented: "By temperament a Wagnerian, his restrained dynamism, superb control of his orchestra and mastery of sweeping rhythms also made him an outstanding exponent of Beethoven." Furtwängler was also a composer of merit

Underscoring his enduring greatness have been several recent in-depth biographies and a successful 1996 Broadway play, "Taking Sides," that portrays his postwar "denazification" purgatory, as well as steadily strong sales of CD recordings of his performances (some of them available only in recent years). Furtwängler societies are active in the United States, France, Britain, Germany and other countries. His overall reputation, however, especially in America, is still a controversial one.

Following the National Socialist seizure of power in 1933, some prominent musicians -- most notably such Jewish artists as Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer and Arnold Schoenberg -- left Germany. Most of the nation's musicians, however, including the great majority of its most gifted musical talents, remained -- and even flourished. With the possible exception of the composer Richard Strauss, Furtwängler was the most prominent musician to stay and "collaborate."

Consequently, discussion of his life -- even today -- still provokes heated debate about the role of art and artists under Hitler and, on a more fundamental level, about the relationship of art and politics.

A Non-Political Patriot

Wilhelm Furtwängler drew great inspiration from his homeland's rich cultural heritage, and his world revolved around music, especially German music. Although essentially non-political, he was an ardent patriot, and leaving his fatherland was simply out of the question.

Ideologically he may perhaps be best characterized as a man of the "old" Germany -- a Wilhelmine conservative and an authoritarian elitist. Along with the great majority of his countrymen, he welcomed the demise of the ineffectual democratic regime of Germany's "Weimar republic" (1918-1933). Indeed, he was the conductor chosen to direct the gala performance of Wagner's "Die Meistersinger" for the "Day of Potsdam," a solemn state ceremony on March 21, 1933, at which President von Hindenburg, the youthful new Chancellor Adolf Hitler and the newly-elected Reichstag formally ushered in the new government of "national awakening." All the same, Furtwängler never joined the National Socialist Party (unlike his chief musical rival, fellow conductor Herbert von Karajan).

It wasn't long before Furtwängler came into conflict with the new authorities. In a public dispute in late 1934 with Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels over artistic direction and independence, he resigned his positions as director of the Berlin Philharmonic and as head of the Berlin State Opera. Soon, however, a compromise agreement was reached whereby he resumed his posts, along with a measure of artistic independence. He was also able to exploit both his prestigious position and the artistic and jurisdictional rivalries between Goebbels and Göring to play a greater and more independent role in the cultural life of Third Reich Germany.

From then on, until the Reich's defeat in the spring of 1945, he continued to conduct to much acclaim both at home and abroad (including, for example, a highly successful concert tour of Britain in 1935). He was also a guest conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic, 1939-1940, and at the Bayreuth Festival. On several occasions he led concerts in support of the German war effort. He also nominally served as a member of the Prussian State Council and as vice-president of the "Reich Music Chamber," the state-sponsored professional musicians' association.

Throughout the Third Reich era, Furtwängler's eminent influence on Europe's musical life never diminished.

Cultural Vitality

For Americans conditioned to believe that nothing of real cultural or artistic merit was produced in Germany during the Hitler era, the phrase "Nazi art" is an oxymoron -- a contradiction in terms. The reality, though, is not so simple, and it is gratifying to note that some progress is being made to set straight the historical record.

This is manifest, for example, in the publication in recent years of two studies that deal extensively with Furtwängler, and which generally defend his conduct during the Third Reich: The Devil's Music Master by Sam Shirakawa [reviewed in the Jan.-Feb. 1994 Journal, pp. 41-43] and Trial of Strength by Fred K. Prieberg. These revisionist works not only contest the widely accepted perception of the place of artists and arts in the Third Reich, they express a healthy striving for a more factual and objective understanding of the reality of National Socialist Germany.

Prieberg's Trial of Strength concentrates almost entirely on Furtwängler's intricate dealings with Goebbels, Göring, Hitler and various other figures in the cultural life of the Third Reich. In so doing, he demonstrates that in spite of official measures to "coordinate" the arts, the regime also permitted a surprising degree of artistic freedom. Even the anti-Jewish racial laws and regulations were not always applied with rigor, and exceptions were frequent. (Among many instances that could be cited, Leo Blech retained his conducting post until 1937, in spite of his Jewish ancestry.) Furtwängler exploited this situation to intervene successfully in a number of cases on behalf of artists, including Jews, who were out of favor with the regime. He also championed Paul Hindemith, a "modern" composer whose music was regarded as degenerate.

The artists and musicians who left the country (especially the Jewish ones) contended that without them, Germany's cultural life would collapse. High culture, they and other critics of Hitler and his regime arrogantly believed, would wither in an ardently nationalist and authoritarian state. As Prieberg notes: "The musicians who emigrated or were thrown out of Germany from 1933 onwards indeed felt they were irreplaceable and in consequence believed firmly that Hitler's Germany would, following their departure, become a dreary and empty cultural wasteland. This would inevitably cause the rapid collapse of the regime."

Time would prove the critics wrong. While it is true that the departure of such artists as Fritz Busch and Bruno Walter did hurt initially (and dealt a blow to German prestige), the nation's most renowned musicians -- including Richard Strauss, Carl Orff, Karl Böhm, Hans Pfitzner, Wilhelm Kempff, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Herbert von Karajan, Anton Webern, as well as Furtwängler -- remained to produce musical art of the highest standards. Regardless of the emigration of a number of Jewish and a few non-Jewish artists, as well as the promulgation of sweeping anti-Jewish restrictions, Germany's cultural life not only continued at a high level, it flourished.


The National Socialists regarded art, and especially music, as an expression of a society's soul, character and ideals. A widespread appreciation of Germany's cultural achievements, they believed, encouraged a joyful national pride and fostered a healthy sense of national unity and mission. Because they regarded themselves as guardians of their nation's cultural heritage, they opposed liberal, modernistic trends in music and the other arts, as degenerate assaults against the cultural-spiritual traditions of Germany and the West.

Acting swiftly to promote a broad revival of the nation's cultural life, the new National Socialist government made prodigious efforts to further the arts and, in particular, music. As detailed in two recent studies (Kater's The Twisted Muse and Levi's Music in the Third Reich), not only did the new leadership greatly increase state funding for such important cultural institutions as the Berlin Philharmonic and the Bayreuth Wagner Festival, it used radio, recordings and other means to make Germany's musical heritage as accessible as possible to all its citizens.

As part of its efforts to bring art to the people, it strove to erase classical music's snobbish and "class" image, and to make it widely familiar and enjoyable, especially to the working class. At the same time, the new regime's leaders were mindful of popular musical tastes. Thus, by far most of the music heard during the Third Reich era on the radio or in films was neither classical nor even traditional. Light music with catchy tunes -- similar to those popular with listeners elsewhere in Europe and in the United States -- predominated on radio and in motion pictures, especially during the war years.

The person primarily responsible for implementing the new cultural policies was Joseph Goebbels. In his positions as Propaganda Minister and head of the "Reich Culture Chamber," the umbrella association for professionals in cultural life, he promoted music, literature, painting and film in keeping with German values and traditions, while at the same time consistent with popular tastes.

Hitler's Attitude

No political leader had a keener interest in art, or was a more enthusiastic booster of his nation's musical heritage than Hitler, who regarded the compositions of Beethoven, Wagner, Bruckner and the other German masters as sublime expressions of the Germanic "soul."

Hitler's reputation as a bitter, second rate "failed artist" is undeserved. As John Lukacs acknowledges in his recently published work, The Hitler of History (pp. 70-72), the German leader was a man of real artistic talent and considerable artistic discernment.

We perhaps can never fully understand Hitler and the spirit behind his political movement without knowing that he drew great inspiration from, and identified with, the heroic figures of European legend who fought to liberate their peoples from tyranny, and whose stories are immortalized in the great musical dramas of Wagner and others.

This was vividly brought out by August Kubizek, Hitler's closest friend as a teenager and young man, in his postwar memoir (published in the US under the title The Young Hitler I Knew). Kubizek describes how, after the two young men together attended for the first time a performance in Linz of Wagner's opera "Rienzi," Hitler spoke passionately and at length about how this work's inspiring story of a popular Roman tribune had so deeply moved him. Years later, after he had become Chancellor, he related to Kubizek how that performance of "Rienzi" had radically changed his life. "In that hour it began," he confided.

Hitler of course recognized Furtwängler's greatness and understood his significance for Germany and German music. Thus, when other officials (including Himmler) complained of the conductor's nonconformity, Hitler overrode their objections. Until the end, Furtwängler remained his favorite conductor. He was similarly indulgent toward his favorite heldentenor, Max Lorenz, and Wagnerian soprano Frida Leider, each of whom was married to a Jew. Their cultural importance trumped racial or political considerations.

Postwar Humiliations

A year and a half after the end of the war in Europe, Furtwängler was brought before a humiliating "denazification" tribunal. Staged by American occupation authorities and headed by a Communist, it was a farce. So much vital information was withheld from both the tribunal and the defendant that, Shirakawa suggests, the occupation authorities may well have been determined to "get" the conductor.

In his closing remarks at the hearing, Furtwängler defiantly defended his record:

The fear of being misused for propaganda purposes was wiped out by the greater concern for preserving German music as far as was possible ... I could not leave Germany in her deepest misery. To get out would have been a shameful flight. After all, I am a German, whatever may be thought of that abroad, and I do not regret having done it for the German people.

Even with a prejudiced judge and serious gaps in the record, the tribunal was still unable to establish a credible case against the conductor, and he was, in effect, cleared.

A short time later, Furtwängler was invited to assume direction of the Chicago Symphony. (He was no stranger to the United States: in 1927-29 he had served as visiting conductor of the New York Philharmonic.)

On learning of the invitation, America's Jewish cultural establishment launched an intense campaign -- spearheaded by The New York Times, musicians Artur Rubinstein and Vladimir Horowitz, and New York critic Ira Hirschmann -- to scuttle Furtwängler's appointment. As described in detail by Shirakawa and writer Daniel Gillis (in Furtwängler and America) the campaigners used falsehoods, innuendos and even death threats.

Typical of its emotionally charged rhetoric was the bitter reproach of Chicago Rabbi Morton Berman:

Furtwängler preferred to swear fealty to Hitler. He accepted at Hitler's hands his reappointment as director of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. He was unfailing in his service to Goebbels' ministry of culture and propaganda ... The token saving of a few Jewish lives does not excuse Mr. Furtwängler from official, active participation in a regime which murdered six million Jews and millions of non-Jews. Furtwängler is a symbol of all those hateful things for the defeat of which the youth of our city and nation paid an ineffable price.

Among prominent Jews in classical music, only the famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin defended the German artist. After Furtwängler was finally obliged to withdrew his name from consideration for the Chicago post, a disillusioned Moshe Menuhin, Yehudi's father, scathingly denounced his co-religionists. Furtwängler, he declared,

was a victim of envious and jealous rivals who had to resort to publicity, to smear, to calumny, in order to keep him out of America so it could remain their private bailiwick. He was the victim of the small fry and puny souls among concert artists, who, in order to get a bit of national publicity, joined the bandwagon of professional idealists, the professional Jews and hired hands who irresponsibly assaulted an innocent and humane and broad-minded man ...

A Double Standard

Third Reich Germany is so routinely demonized in our society that any acknowledgment of its cultural achievements is regarded as tantamount to defending "fascism" and that most unpardonable of sins, anti-Semitism. But as Professor John London suggests (in an essay in The Jewish Quarterly, "Why Bother about Fascist Culture?," Autumn 1995), this simplistic attitude can present awkward problems:

Far from being a totally ugly, unpopular, destructive entity, culture under fascism was sometimes accomplished, indeed beautiful ... If you admit the presence, and in some instances the richness, of a culture produced under fascist regimes, then you are not defending their ethos. On the other hand, once you start dismissing elements, where do you stop?

In this regard, is it worth comparing the way that many media and cultural leaders treat artists of National Socialist Germany with their treatment of the artists of Soviet Russia. Whereas Furtwängler and other artists who performed in Germany during the Hitler era are castigated for their cooperation with the regime, Soviet-era musicians, such as composers Aram Khachaturian and Sergei Prokofiev, and conductors Evgeny Svetlanov and Evgeny Mravinsky -- all of whom toadied to the Communist regime in varying degrees -- are rarely, if ever, chastised for their "collaboration." The double standard that is clearly at work here is, of course, a reflection of our society's obligatory concern for Jewish sensitivities.

The artist and his work occupy a unique place in society and history. Although great art can never be entirely divorced from its political or social environment, it must be considered apart from that. In short, art transcends politics.

No reasonable person would denigrate the artists and sculptors of ancient Greece because they glorified a society that, by today's standards, was hardly democratic. Similarly, no one belittles the builders of medieval Europe's great cathedrals on the grounds that the social order of the Middle Ages was dogmatic and hierarchical. No cultured person would disparage William Shakespeare because he flourished during England's fervently nationalistic and anti-Jewish Elizabethan age. Nor does anyone chastise the magnificent composers of Russia's Tsarist era because they prospered under an autocratic regime. In truth, mankind's greatest cultural achievements have most often been the products not of liberal or egalitarian societies, but rather of quite un-democratic ones.

A close look at the life and career of Wilhelm Furtwängler reveals "politically incorrect" facts about the role of art and artists in Third Reich Germany, and reminds us that great artistic creativity and achievement are by no means the exclusive products of democratic societies.


Gillis, Daniel. Furtwängler and America. Palo Alto: Rampart Press, 1970

Kater, Michael H. The Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997

Levi, Erik. Music in the Third Reich. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994

Prieberg, Fred K. Trial of Strength: Wilhelm Furtwängler in the Third Reich. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1994

Shirakawa, Sam H. The Devil's Music Master: The Controversial Life and Career of Wilhelm Furtwängler. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992

A Note on Wartime Recordings

Among the most historically fascinating and sought-after recordings of Wilhelm Furtwängler performances are his live wartime concerts with the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic orchestras. Many were recorded by the Reich Broadcasting Company on magnetophonic tape with comparatively good sound quality. Music & Arts (Berkeley, California) and Tahra (France) have specialized in releasing good quality CD recordings of these performances. Among the most noteworthy are:

Beethoven, Third "Eroica" Symphony (1944) -- Tahra 1031 or Music & Arts CD 814

Beethoven, Fifth Symphony (1943) -- Tahra set 1032/33, which also includes Furtwängler's performances of this same symphony from 1937 and 1954.

Beethoven, Ninth "Choral" Symphony (1942) -- Music & Arts CD 653 or Tahra 1004/7.

Brahms, Four Symphonies -- Music & Arts set CD 941 (includes two January 1945 performances, Furtwängler's last during the war).

Bruckner, Fifth Symphony (1942) -- Music & Arts CD 538

Bruckner, Ninth Symphony (1944) -- Music & Arts CD 730 (also available in Europe on Deutsche Gramophon CD, and in the USA as an import item).

R. Strauss, "Don Juan" (1942), and Four Songs, with Peter Anders (1942), etc. -- Music & Arts CD 829.

Wagner, "Die Meistersinger:" Act I, Prelude (1943), and "Tristan und Isolde:" Prelude and Liebestod (1942), etc. -- Music & Arts CD 794.

Wagner, "Der Ring des Nibelungen," excerpts from "Die Walküre" and "Gotterdämmerung" -- Music & Arts set CD 1035 (although not from the war years, these 1937 Covent Garden performances are legendary)

"Great Conductors of the Third Reich: Art in the Service of Evil" is a worthwhile 53-minute VHS videocassette produced by the Bel Canto Society (New York). Released in 1997, it is distributed by Allegro (Portland, Oregon). It features footage of Furtwängler conducting Beethoven's Ninth Symphony for Hitler's birthday celebration in April 1942. He is also shown conducting at Bayreuth, and leading a concert for wounded soldiers and workers at an AEG factory during the war. Although the notes are highly tendentious, the rare film footage is fascinating.

About the author:

Antony Charles is the pen name of an educator and writer who holds both a master's and a doctoral degree in history. He has taught history and is the author of several books. A resident of North Carolina, he currently works for a government agency.

Reproduced From:  The Institute of Historical Review


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