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mercredi, 11 octobre 2017

Wagner, Nietzsche and the Birth of Music – from the Spirit of Tragedy


Wagner, Nietzsche and the Birth of Music – from the Spirit of Tragedy

Alexander Jacob

Ex: https://manticorepress.net

One of the great misfortunes of modern aesthetic theory is the fact that, ever since Nietzsche introduced the concepts of ‘Dionysian’ music and ‘Apollonian’ art in his popular essay Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik (The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music) (1872), it has become customary among scholars and critics to consider these as quasi-normative elements of tragic drama. We may recall that Nietzsche, following Schopenhauer’s dictum that ideas are the universalia post rem;[1] music, however, gives the universalia ante rem,[2] and reality the universalia in re,[3] contended that the primordial music that is universal in expression is to be identified as ‘Dionysian’ while all artistic and dramatic representations of this universal music were merely ‘Apollonian’ forms of individuation, or of merely illusory phenomena:

through Dionysian music the individual phenomenon becomes richer and widens into a world-picture. It was a powerful victory of the non-Dionysian spirit when, in the development of the newer dithyramb, it alienated music from itself and forced it down to be the slave of appearances.[4]

But Nietzsche’s conclusion is in fact a false one, for it is only through Apollonian art that the universal can be appreciated. And the value of the latter for man is not through an insensate immersion into the realm of the Unconscious but rather through a Supra-Conscious apprehension of man’s first Fall from God and a desire to be reintegrated into the divine – as Schopenhauer himself had revealed in his discussion of tragedy in his masterwork Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (The World as Will and Imagination) (1818/59). Indeed, Schopenhauer’s theory of tragedy is, of all the philosophical theories of tragedy that have been propounded since antiquity, the one perhaps closest to the truth – which is hardly surprising considering the ‘pessimistic’ cast of his entire philosophical system. Schopenhauer’s view of the phenomenal world as the expression of a conflict-ridden Will to Life led him to consider tragedy as

the summit of poetical art, both on account of the greatness of its effect and the difficulty of its achievement. It is very significant for our whole system, and well worthy of observation, that the end of this highest poetical achievement is the representation of the terrible side of life. The unspeakable pain, the wail of humanity, the triumph of evil, the scornful mastery of chance, and the irretrievable fall of the just and innocent, is here presented to us; and in this lies a significant hint of the nature of the world and of existence.[5]

Therefore he concluded that

The true sense of tragedy is the deeper insight that it is not his own individual sins that the hero atones for, but original sin, the crime of existence itself.

The fall that is evoked in every tragic representation is, thus, also not a fall into morality, as the Hebrew reference to the ‘knowledge of good and evil’ in Genesis 3, and Nietzsche’s entire moral philosophy following it, would have us believe, but rather the original Fall (or ‘castration’) of the primordial macroanthrophomorphic form of Ouranos called Purusha (among the Indians) or Adam Kadmon (among the Hebrews) that generated the physical cosmos.[6]

Nietzsche indeed does not  seem to be aware of the original significance of the Greek gods Dionysus and Apollo, nor of their relation to the representations of tragic drama. The essential cosmic role of Dionysus is that of the solar force of Ouranos/Helios that descends into the underworld to be revived in our universe as the sun, Apollo. This descent is among the ancient Indo-Europeans understood as a ‘castration’ of the phallus of Ouranos by Time/Chronos that is remedied by the force of Chronos’ representative in the nascent universe, Zeus, or Dionysus.[7] The solar force that Dionysus represents in the underworld is naturally rather uncontrolled in its enormous energy and is therefore represented in the Dionysian cult by the wild abandon typical of Bacchanalian rites. The aim of these rites however, as in all Indo-European religions, would have been a serious soteriological one rather than a frivolous, as in Nietzsche’s account. The followers of Dionysus were ‘enthusiasts’, ‘filled with the god’, and imitated in their ritual worship the cosmic progress of the god.

It is true that the Dionysian mysteries, much like the Indian Tantric ones, are not imbued with a sense of ‘sin’, but they are nevertheless focussed on the need to transfigure human passions into divine ones – even if it be through indulgence. The Dionysian satyr-plays are therefore a hedonistic, quasi-Tantric counterpart of the higher sacerdotal sacrifices among the Indo-Europeans, and especially of such sacrifices as the Agnicayana of the Indian brāhmans which seeks to restore the divine phallus of the castrated, or ‘fallen’ Purusha to its original cosmic force.[8]

However, it must be noted that these orgiastic celebrations of the energy that the solar force contains in the underworld did not in themselves constitute ‘tragedies’ in any form. Their ritual repesentations merely served, historically, as the source of dramatisations of tragic stories in Greece. For we know from Aristotle’s Poetics 1449ª that tragedy gradually evolved from the spoken prelude to the Dionysian dithyrambs. The  dithyramb is a choral hymn sung and danced to Dionysus in a particularly ecstatic manner. It was  comprised of male choruses (perhaps dressed as satyrs) that included men and boys.

Later, in the 6th c. B.C., when the dithyrambic prelude had developed in its scope, Thespis took the part of a character and Phrynicus introduced dialogues. Bacchylides’ surviving fragment of a dithyramb (from the 5th c. B.C.) is in the form of a dialogue between a solo singer and a chorus. Thus there arose responsorial dialogues between  solo singers and a choir. Aeschylus in the 5th c. B.C. introduced a second actor too into the play. The chorus in a dithyramb sang narrations of actions, unlike the direct speeches of actors in a drama.[9]

Tragedy emerged in this way as a distinct artistic form mainly in ancient Greece. We know that Sanskrit dramas in India did not include tragedies. According to the 10th century treatise on drama called Dasharūpa by Dhanika, Bk.III,  for instance, actions not suited for representation on the stage include murder, fights, revolts, eating, bathing, intercourse, etc. The death of a hero too can never be represented. If tragedy is not favoured by the ancient Indian drama, it is not attested in the ancient Near East either, though liturgical laments were composed at the end of the Third Dynasty of Ur (ca.2000 B.C.) marking the losses of the temples of the major Sumerian cities. In Egypt, from the 12th dynasty of the Middle Kingdom (ca.1990 B.C.), there is evidence of dramatic representations of religious subjects in temples. Of these, the murder of Osiris by Seth, his dismemberment, and resuscitation may be considered the Egyptian counterpart of the Dionysian mysteries.

It is important to note that Greek tragic drama, which relied on solo speeches and choral commentaries on the action, did not include much action and certainly no violent action, which was considered too horrific to be enacted onstage and needed a Messenger to describe it to the actors. The dramatic action of a tragedy does not therefore rely on action itself, and often even shuns it. The drama unfolds only through the medium of the speeches of the various characters and choruses. That is why the power of Euripides’ monodic declamations detailing the actions as well as the reactions of the protagonists must be acknowledged as the acme of Greek tragedy rather than its nadir, as Nietzsche considered it. In Euripides (5th c. B.C.) the action was focussed on the feelings generated by the dramatic action, and even the choral commentaries receded in importance before the actor’s monody, a style of dramatic declamation that was perfected by the Roman Stoic philosopher and dramatist Seneca the Younger (1st c. A.D.), who relied mainly on Euripides’ example in the creation of his tragedies.

FNRW-li.jpgThe cause of this misunderstanding of Euripidean tragedy may be traced back to Richard Wagner’s analyses of Greek drama in his Oper und Drama (Opera and Drama)  (1851), Bk.III, Ch.3:[10]

In didactic uprightness, which was at the same time artistic dishonesty, lies the cause of the rapid decline of Greek tragedy, in which the people soon perceived that there was no intention of influencing their instinctive feeling, but merely their absolute understanding. Euripides had to suffer under the scourge of the taunts of Aristophanes for his outright disclosure of this falsehood. The fact that poetic art, by dint of adopting a more and more didactic aim, should first pass into political rhetoric, and at last become literary prose was, although an extreme consequence, the one to be naturally expected from the evolution of the intellectual out of the emotional; or, as applied to art, from the evolution of speech from melody.

Nietzsche too rails against Euripides in The Birth of Tragedy, which was in fact a paean to the music-drama of Richard Wagner. He considers Euripides a ‘democratic’ artist who propagated ‘middle-class mediocrity’ by representing tragic protagonists as ordinary rather than superheroic figures. But, as Schopenhauer had already clarified in his discussion of tragedy, it is the imperfection of human nature itself that informs the highest tragedies:

the [tragic] misfortune may be brought about by the mere position of the dramatis personæ with regard to each other, through their relations; so that there is no need either for a tremendous error or an unheard-of accident, nor yet for a character whose wickedness reaches the limits of human possibility; but characters of ordinary morality, under circumstances such as often occur, are so situated with regard to each other that their position compels them, knowingly and with their eyes open, to do each other the greatest injury, without any one of them being entirely in the wrong. This last kind of tragedy seems to me far to surpass the other two, for it shows us the greatest misfortune, not as an exception, not as something occasioned by rare circumstances or monstrous characters, but as arising easily and of itself out of the actions and characters of men, indeed almost as essential to them, and thus brings it terribly near to us. In the other two kinds we may look on the prodigious fate and the horrible wickedness as terrible powers which certainly threaten us, but only from afar, which we may very well escape without taking refuge in renunciation. But in the last kind of tragedy we see that those powers which destroy happiness and life are such that their path to us also is open at every moment; we see the greatest sufferings brought about by entanglements that our fate might also partake of, and through actions that perhaps we also are capable of performing, and so could not complain of injustice; then shuddering we feel ourselves already in the midst of hell.[11]

Although the tragic condition of man is common to every individual human being, Schopenhauer’s discussion suggests that it is only noble men whose lives are truly tragic:

Thus we see in tragedies the noblest men, after long conflict and suffering, at last renounce the ends they have so keenly followed, and all the pleasures of life for ever, or else freely and joyfully surrender life itself … they all die purified by suffering, i.e., after the will to live which was formerly in them is dead.

Nietzsche’s sustained attack on Euripidean tragedy also does not seem to have rightly understood Aristophanes’ criticism of Euripides in his play The Frogs, since Aristophanes’ denunciation of the ‘effeminate’ and ‘democratic’ style of Euripides was indeed directed at a Dionysian form of drama that contrasted with the stark ‘manly’ art of Aeschylus. The erotic aspects of Euripides’ drama were regarded by Aristophanes as a manifestation of the unbridled licentiousness of Dionysiac rituals, which exploited the androgynous character of Dionysus himself. In other words, Nietzsche’s criticism of Euripidean tragedy is in direct opposition to his admiration of what he believed to be the ‘Dionysian’ aspects of the earliest dramatic representations.

In his attack on Euripides for his ‘demotion’ of the Greek chorus below the individual speeches of the characters of the drama Nietzsche further identifies Dionysian music with the Unconscious, or the ‘dream-world’:

This demotion in the position of the chorus …. is the first step towards the destruction of the chorus, whose phases in Euripides, Agathon and the New Comedy followed with breakneck speed one after the other. Optimistic dialectic, with its syllogistic whip, drove music out of tragedy, that is, it destroyed the essence of tragedy, which can be interpreted only as a manifestation and imaginary presentation of Dionysian states, as a perceptible symbolising of music, as the dream-world of a Dionysian intoxication…

In fact there is no indication that drunken intoxication – representing Dionysian inspiration –  was the basis of tragic drama even though it may have formed part of the original ritual celebrations of the God from which dithyrambic drama arose.

Nietzsche considers Dionysian music as universal, and Apollonian art, pantomime, drama or opera, as individual, and expressive of the individual lives of the tragic personae:

In fact the relationship between music and drama is fundamentally the reverse [of the Apollonian] – the music is the essential idea of the word, and the drama is only a reflection of this idea, its isolated silhouette.

After this Apollonian presentation of the delusory ‘action’ of the drama, the Dionysian realm reasserts itself:

In the total action of the tragedy the Dionysian regains its superiority once more. Tragedy ends with a tone which never could resound from the realm of Apollonian art.

Nietzsche illustrates this section of his argument with the example of the music of Wagner’s Tristan, his fascination with which was clearly the ímpetus to the writing of The Birth of Tragedy.[12]

Primordial music is falsely interpreted by Nietzsche as being essentially rapturous, or ‘Dionysian’, and best expressed by instrumental, or ‘absolute’, music and then by choral song. Nietzsche is fundamentally averse to dramatic music – which is rather contradictory in one who claimed to be discussing the ‘birth of tragedy’. Indeed, tragedy did not arise from any Dionysian spirit of music, but rather tragic drama arose from the soteriological impulses of the Dionysiac mysteries. And tragic dramatic, or operatic, music itself arose from the sentiments incorporated within the texts of dramatic poems.


Nietzsche’s denunciation of critics too as being excessively intellectual and moralistic (‘Socratic’) and opposed to the authentically ‘aesthetic’ listener dodges the central issue of tragedy – that it is always a reminder of the imperfection of the tragic hero as well as of the viewer. This understanding is obtained through an ethical evaluation of the condition of human life in general, and not from an aesthetic judgement of the pleasure afforded to the ears or eyes by the spectacle on stage.


We should note here that Wagner’s conception of the genesis of the earliest forms of drama and music is rather more subtle than Nietzsche’s. We observe in Wagner’s writings that he identifies melody and music as the primal expression of what he calls ‘Feeling’, and words are said to have been later superimposed on these tunes in dramatic lyrics that gradually became increasingly intellectual and didactic in tone to the detriment of the expression of Feeling itself. In his Oper und Drama, Part III, Wagner detailed the manner in which the lyric developed from dance forms that impelled melodic creation:

We know, now, that the endless variety of Greek metre was produced by the inseparable and living co-operation of dance-gesture with articulate speech. (Ch.1)

And again,

The most remarkable feature of ancient lyric consists in its words and verse proceeding from tone and melody: like gestures of the body which became gradually shortened into the more measured and certain gestures of mimicry after having been, as movements of the dance, of merely general indication and only intelligible after many repetitions. (Ch.3)

Wagner understands the earliest representations of dramatic action too as those contained in folk-dances, as he declared in his essay, ‘La musique de l’avenir’ (1860):[13]

That ideal form of dance is in truth the dramatic action. It really bears precisely the same relation to the primitive dance as the symphony to the simple dance-tune. Even the primal folk-dance already expresses an action, for the most part the mutual wooing of a pair of lovers: this simple story – purely physical in its bearings – when ripened to an exposition of the inmost motives of the soul, becomes nothing other than the dramatic action.

However, the gradual intellectualisation of dramatic representation led to the decay of the emotional integrity of melodic invention:

The more the faculty of instinctive emotion became compressed into that of the arbitrary understanding and the more lyrical contents became accordingly changed from emotional to intellectual … the more evident became the removal from the literary poem of its original consistency with primitive articulate melody, which it now only continued to use, so to speak, as a mode of delivery and merely for the purpose of rendering its more callous, didactical contents as acceptable to the ancients habits of feeling as possible. (Ibid.)

While dance music was of principal importance in Greek drama, Wagner thinks that Christianity in particular sharply divorced soul from body and consequently killed the body of music (Oper und Drama, I, Ch.7). The Christian Church deprived music of its choreographic core so that music was forced to develop instead as harmony and counterpoint. In Italy, however, the Renaissance’s discovery of the operatic form of drama gave rise to an uncontrolled proliferation of melodic invention:

The downfall of this art in Italy and the contemporaneous rise of opera-melody among the Italians I can call nothing but a relapse into paganism.

Development of rhythmic melody upon the base of the other mediaeval Christian iinvention, harmony, occurred only in Germany, as notably in the works of Bach. The orchestra continued processes of polyphony that operatic song denied to the latter, for the orchestra in the opera was only a rhythmic harmonic accompaniment to song.

Wagner however does criticise even the chorales of the Reformation as lacking in rhythm, since they are dance music deprived of rhythm by ecclesiastical convention. Nietzsche, on the other hand, in his exaggerated Teutonism, confusedly identifies the choral music of the Reformation with the musical atmosphere of the Dionysiac rituals. He declares that the choral music of the Reformation recovered the

glorious, innerly healthy and age-old power which naturally only begins to stir into powerful motion at tremendous moments … Out of this abyss the German Reformation arose. In its choral music there rang out for the first time the future style of German music. Luther’s choral works sounded as profound, courageous, spiritual, as exuberantly good and tender as the first Dionysian call rising up out of the thickly growing bushes at the approach of spring.

But anyone familiar with German music of the Reformation will be aware of the musical naivety that marks the chorale hymns favoured by Luther. The rich choral writing of Bach was not derived from the melodies of the Lutheran chorales but from the general elaboration of harmony and counterpoint in the ‘Baroque’ musical forms encouraged by the Counter-Reformation.


The general preference of both Wagner and Nietzsche for polyphony as opposed to operatic monody and homophony reflects the particularly folkloric bent of German musical taste, since polyphony is originally a folk-musical tradition that grew out of communal round-songs. It was first introduced into serious church music in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance to the steadfast opposition of conservative popes like John XXII, who banished it from the liturgy in 1322 and lay bare its defects in his 1324 papal bull Docta sanctorum patrum (Teachings of the Holy Fathers):

Some [composers] break up their melodies with hockets or rob them of their virility with discant, three-voice music, and motets, with a dangerous element produced by certain parts sung on text in the vernacular; all these abuses have brought into disrepute the basic melodies of the Antiphonal and Gradual [the principal sections of Gregorian chant in the Mass]. These composers, knowing nothing of the true foundation upon which they must build, are ignorant of the church modes, incapable of distinguishing between them, and cause great confusion. The great number of notes in their compositions conceals from us the plainchant melody, with its simple well-regulated rises and falls that indicate the character of the church mode. These musicians run without pausing. They intoxicate the ear without satisfying it; they dramatize the text with gestures; and, instead of promoting devotion, they prevent it by creating a sensuous and indecent atmosphere. . . . Therefore, after consultation with these same brethren (the cardinals), we prohibit absolutely, for the future that anyone should do such things, or others of like nature, during the Divine Office or during the holy sacrifice of the Mass.[14]

The development of opera in Italy was due mainly to the rejection of polyphony and contrapuntal music in favor of a dramatic style of musical expression that declaimed  the  words of dramatic speeches and dialogues in recitatives that were almost sung but not fully melodic. What neither Wagner nor Nietzsche appreciated is the fact that this quasi-melodic recitative of the stile rapprensatitvo is in fact the dramatic foundation of the Italian opera of the Renaissance since it expresses all of the dramatic feelings directly, faithfully and forcefully. The ‘da capo’ arias that followed the recitatives for musical effect are not the bearers of the drama but merely the musical reflections and echoes of the dramatic recitatives.

In other words, the entire tragic action of drama rests on the narrations and emotional reactions of the characters to these narrations that are conveyed by the recitatives. The orchestra can always only be a vehicle of general feeling. While it can underscore what the verse depicts it cannot become a substitute for the latter. The first development of drama as mimetic dance and pantomime – such as the dithyramb in ancient Greece or folk-dance in most countries – is an improvement on solely orchestral music only insofar as it incorporates humans in its representations. Only theatrical plays with spoken dialogues and, more especially, operatic dramas with sung dialogues achieve the fullest expression of tragedy since they alone employ the incomparably expressive instrument of the human voice for the exposition of their tragic content. By contrast, a dramatic symphony can never approach the status of a tragic drama, even if it be interspersed, or concluded, with choral passages as, for example, in Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette Symphony or Liszt’s Faust Symphony. For, the most sombre symphonic tone-poems cannot produce the full sympathy with the fate of a tragic human hero that alone leads to a recognition of the universal nature of the tragic condition of man and a subsequent desire for liberation from the phenomenal world. This recognition and this desire are indeed the essential constituents of tragedy, as they are of all true religion.


Since Italian church music was the basis of secular musical styles as well, we may briefly pause here to consider the nature of early Christian rituals. Among the Christians the sacraments themselves were considered to be ‘mysteries’, though the principal theological mysteries were those of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation (or Virgin Conception of Jesus), and the Resurrection of Christ. Of these the incarnation itself is viewed as a divine fall for the purpose of the redemption of mankind, while the resurrection is the Christian counterpart of the ascent of Apollo from the Dionysiac solar force in the underworld. We must bear in mind that even the normal ‘mass’ of the Catholic Church is a dramatic sacrifical ritual since its climax is reached in the Eucharist, when the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of the Christ, the sacrificial Lamb of God.


This death and resurrection of Christ were naturally, from the earliest times, the subject of various forms of sacred music. The Gregorian chants that flourished in central and western Europe from the ninth century were monophonic songs that were used in the masses of the Roman Rite of the western Catholic Church. Gregorian chant was used also in the Passion music of the Holy Week services. Responsorial Passion settings in which the narration is chanted by a small group of the choir and refrains are sung by the whole choir were another form of passion music, as also was the Tenebrae music of the Holy Week. Alongside these Passions, oratorios involving narration and dialogues between characters in sacred dramas originated in the early 17th century in Italy. These oratorios were doubtless influenced by the ‘new music’ propagated by Giulio Caccini in his monodic and operatic works and led to the well-known Baroque oratorio-Passions of the seventeeth and eighteenth centuries.

One of the first musicians to discover the importance of adhering to the text of songs or dramatic poems rather than developing melodic permutations and combinations independent of the text as in polyphony was Giulio Caccini (1551-1618), who developed the first operas in Italy within the learned circle of the Florentine Academy founded by the Byzantine philosopher Gemistus Pletho (ca.1355-1454) and the Florentine banker and patron of the arts, Cosimo de’ Medici (1389-1464), under the supervision of the Neoplatonist philosopher, Marsilio Ficino (1433-99). Caccini made it clear in the Preface to his Le nuouve musiche (1602) that polyphony was totally unsuited to musical expression of poetry and that the Greek song was essentially a solo song such as was praised by Plato. He declared that he had learnt from the members of the Florentine Academy

not to value the kind of music that prevents the words from being well understood and thus spoils the sense and the form of the poetry. I refer to the kind of music that elongates a syllable here and shortens one there to accommodate the counterpoint, turning the poetry to shreds. Instead, they urged me to adhere to the manner [of composition] praised by Plato and the other philosophers who affirm that music is nothing but speech, rhythm, and harmony. According to them, the purpose of music is to penetrate the minds of others and create the marvelous effects that writers admire. In modern music, these effects could not be achieved through counterpoint. Particularly in solo singing accompanied by string instruments, not a word could be understood in the pervasive vocalises, whether on short or long syllables. Furthermore, in every type of music, the common people would applaud and shout for serious singers only [if they produced] such vocalises.[15]

Given the vulgar neglect of the words of the musical performances, Caccini declares that

In both madrigals and arias [all in monodic style] I have always tried to imitate the ideas of the words, seeking more or less expressive notes to follow the sentiments of the words. I concealed the art of counterpoint as much as I could, to make the words as graceful as possible.

Indeed, Wagner too understands the importance of poetic diction in lyrical composition:

It was only the musician’s yearning to gaze into the poet’s eye which even rendered posible this appearance of melody upon the surface of the harmonic waters. And it was only the poet’s verse which could sustain the melody upon the surface of those waters, for otherwise though giving forth a fugitive utterance, it would in default of sustenance have only fallen back again into ocean depths. (Oper und Drama, Part III, Ch.3).

Particularly significant is Wagner’s oblique commendation of what is best developed in Italian opera as the ‘stile rappresentativo’, or quasi-melodic recitatives:

There proceeds from the pure faculty of speech such a fulness of the most manifold rhythmic assertive power … that all these riches, together with that fructification of the purely musical power of man which springs from them and which is exemplified in every art-creation brought forth by the inner poetical impulse, can only be properly described as absolutely immeasurable. (Part III, Ch.2)

The orchestral accompaniments themselves are merely highlights of the verse-melody:

The vivifying central point of dramatic expression is the actor’s articulate verse-melody, towards which absolute orchestral melody is drawn as a warning preparation and away from which the ‘thought’ of the orchestral motive leads as a remembrance Part III, Ch.6)

The orchestra can also substitute for the ‘gestures’ which formed essential parts of the mimetic dance-forms of folk-dance as well as of drama:

That which is offered to sight in the constant presence and motion of that exponent of articulate verse-melody – the actor – is dramatic gesture, that which makes this clear to the sense of hearing being the orchestra, the original and necessary effectiveness of which is confined to its being the harmonic bearer of the verse-melody … from the orchestra therefore, as from music’s richly emotional and maternal bosom, the unifying bond of expression proceeds. (Ibid.)

Wagner believed that the ultimate aim of musical development was the invention of a true melodic form that would, now that it has been filtered through the understanding, revive the original Feeling at the basis of all music in a much more faithful and concentrated form:

In the course of proceeding from articulate to tonal speech we arrived at the horizontal upper surface of harmony, playing upon the mirror of which the word-phrase of the poet was reflected back again as musical melody. Now … to the means of sinking into the fullest depths of that maternal element – of sinking therein that poetic intention which is as the productive agency, besides doing this so that every atom contained in the awful chaos of those depths shall be determined into a conscious and individual announcement though in no narrowing but in an ever-widening compass. Now, in short, for the artistic progress consisting of broadening out a definite and conscious intention into an emotional faculty which, notwithstanding that it is immeasurable, shall be of certain and precise manifestation.

This advanced form of melody will be a return of feeling developed through the intellect back to the primordial font of Feeling:

Real melody … stands in relation to the original maternal articulate melody as an absolute contrast, and one which … we may refer to as a progress from understanding to feeling, or as one out of speech to melody. This is in contradistinction to the former change from feeling to understanding and melody to speech. (Part III, Ch.3)

The final aim of Wagner’s innovation is indeed melody – not by itself, as in Italian operatic arias, but as ‘symphonic melody’. While this symphonic dimension of his melodies may be considered to be merely an orchestral addition to the melodic content of Italian arias, we cannot deny the extaordinary affective power of Wagner’s melodies as a successful fulfilment of his own musical aims.

Tristan and Isolde Frederick Leighton.jpg

It is also worth noting that, unlike Nietzsche, Wagner attributes the decay of tragedy not only to the intellectualisation of dramatic prosody but also to the social circumstances in which the high taste of the nobility was replaced by the commercial impresario who only seeks profits by propagating the puerile taste of a vulgar public. He reminds his readers that earlier works of art were brought to life by the nobility who formed the public for refined forms of art:

the excellent and specially refined productions of our art already existing … the incentive to the creation of such work proceeded from the taste of those before whom it had to be performed. What we find is that this public of higher feeling and taste in its condition of most active and definite sympathy with art-production first greets our view in the period of the Renaissance … passing its life gaily in palaces or bravely in war it had exercised both eye and ear in perception of the graceful, the beautiful and even of the characteristic and energetic, and it was at its command that the works of art arose which distinguish that period as the most fortunate for art since the decay of that of Greece. (Ch.VII)

Nowadays, however,

it is the man who pays the artist for that in respect of which nobility formerly rewarded him who is the ruler of public art-taste – the man who orders the art-work for his money – the man who wants his own favorite tune varied anew for novelty – but no new theme. This ruler and orderer is the Philistine, and this Philistine is … the most dastardly outcome of our whole civilisation … It is his will to be dastardly and vulgar, and art must accommodate itself thereto. Let us hasten to get him out of our sight.

In his essay, ‘Das Judenthum in der Musik’ (Jewry in Music) (1850) Wagner points particularly to the role that the Jews have played in the commercialisation of music:

What the heroes of the arts, with untold strain consuming lief and life, have wrested from the art-fiend of two millennia of misery, to-day the Jew converts into an artbazaar.

Wagner, on the other hand, sought to restore  ‘a system in which the relation of art to public life such as once obtained in Athens should be re-established on an if possible still nobler and at any rate more durable footing’. This was the purpose underlying the treatise he published in 1849 called Kunst und Revolution (Art and Revolution).


If we turn back to Nietzsche now, we note that the Wagnerian focus on the maternal font of ‘Feeling’ is turned by Nietzsche into the realm of the ‘Dionysian’ spirit. Nietzsche follows Wagner in considering melody as the original element of musical expression:

The melody is thus the primary and universal fact, for which reason it can in itself undergo many objectifications, in several texts. It is also far more important and more essential in the naive evaluations of the people. Melody gives birth to poetry from itself, over and over again. (Die Geburt der Tragödie)

However, while Wagner sought to achieve a rearticulated melody that surpassed melodic verse, Nietzsche in Der Fall Wagner (The Case of Wagner) (1888) finally shrank back in horror from beautiful melody:

let us slander melody! Nothing is more dangerous than a beautiful melody!

Nothing is more certain to ruin taste![16]

The reason for his fear of Wagner’s melodic achievement is that it might lead to the collapse of music under the burden of expressiveness – as indeed happened with the appearance of the atonal post-Romantic music of Schoenberg:

Richard Wagner wanted another kind of movement, — he overthrew the physiological first principle of all music before his time. It was no longer a matter of walking or dancing, — we must swim, we must hover. . . . This perhaps decides the whole matter. “Unending melody” really wants to break all the symmetry of time and strength; it actually scorns these things — Its wealth of invention resides precisely in what to an older ear sounds like rhythmic paradox and abuse. From the imitation or the prevalence of such a taste there would arise a danger for music — so great that we can imagine none greater — the complete degeneration of the feeling for rhythm, chaos in the place of rhythm. . . . The danger reaches its climax when such music cleaves ever more closely to naturalistic play-acting and pantomime, which governed by no laws of form, aim at effect and nothing more…. Expressiveness at all costs and music a servant, a slave to attitudes — this is the end. . . .

Nietzsche’s insistence on rhythm is related to his preference for dance music, which he understands in the spirit of Dionysian or Bacchanalian choreography. However, since he does not intuit the religious character of Dionysian ritual as well as of the original Greek tragedies, we  notice that Nietzsche’s understanding of the dance-forms of the Dionysiac mysteries is also rather deficient. While Wagner focussed on ‘gesture’ in early drama, and viewed the dance as the expression of simple dramatic actions, Nietzsche’s wild appeals to dance are more suggestive of modern ‘abstract’ dance. Thus it has been rightly maintained by Georges Liébert that Nietzsche spoke in his writings on tragedy and operatic music not about opera at all but about the ballet of composers like Ravel and Stravinsky.[17] In ‘Versuch einer Selbstkritik’ (An Attempt at Self-Criticism) (1886) – quoting from his own Also sprach Zarathustra (1883-85) and comically identifying Dionysus with Zarathustra – Nietzsche even exhorts the reader to

Lift up your hearts, my brothers, high, higher! And for my sake don’t forget your legs as well! Raise up your legs, you fine dancers, and better yet, stand on your heads!

Any writer who imagines the Iranian religious reformer Zoroaster as a ‘Dionysian’ priest proclaiming the above message to his listeners can hardly be considered an authority on either ancient religion or drama.


The real aim of Nietzsche’s parody of Zoroastrianism, as well as of Dionysiac religion, is of course his urge to remove moralism and all discussion of ‘good and evil’ from public discourse. To this end Wagner’s rejection of intellectualism in Euripides is transformed by Nietzsche into a single-minded attack on ‘moralism’.and ‘morality’.itself. But tragedy, as we have noted above, is in the nature of things moral. And Sophocles, whom Nietzsche admires above Euripides, was not more mindless of the gods than the latter. Even a brief glance at the final Chorus in Sophocles’ ‘Antigone’ will make this clear:

Of happiness the chiefest part Is a wise heart: And to defraud the gods in aught with peril’s fraught. Swelling words of high-flown might mightily the gods do smite. Chastisement for errors past Wisdom brings to age at last.[18]

The ulterior motive behind Nietzsche’s rejection of moralism is obviously his larger goal of eliminating Christianity from Europe,

Christianity as the most excessively thorough elaboration of a moralistic theme which humanity up to this point has had available to listen to. To tell the truth, there is nothing which stands in greater opposition to the purely aesthetic interpretation and justification of the world, as it is taught in this book, than Christian doctrine, which is and wishes to be merely moralistic and which, with its absolute standards, beginning, for example, with its truthfulness of God, relegates art, every art, to the realm of lies — in other words, which denies art, condemns it, and passes sentence on it.


Nietzsche indeed ignores the fact that it was the Church that created the first examples of modern tragic music, based on the ‘mysteries’ of the Christ story, in the West during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The Florentine opera that flourished during the Renaissance was also closer to the original Greek drama that both Wagner and Nietzsche wished to emulate than the German music of the time insofar as the focus on the musical quality of poetic declamation was perfected only in Renaissance Italy and in the Italian operatic tradition that followed from it. The monodic music that was championed by the first Italian operatic composers meant the rejection of polyphonic distractions for a concentrated attention on the texts of the dramas. For the intellectual understanding of the essentially tragic condition of man the text of the play is indeed indispensable, since it is the text of a tragic drama that – through its redevelopment of archetypal myths and histories – serves to remind us of the essential distress of the human condition. And a dramatic focus on the tragic condition of the hero as expressed in the text can be achieved only through poetic declamation, or its heightened musical counterparts – quasi-melodic recitatives and monodies.

Thus, while the maintenance of a more general mood of mourning, and of longing for wholeness, can be accomplished by both instrumental and vocal means, the painful conflicts of the drama can be expressed fully only by vocal recitatives and, occasionally, also by choral refrains. Indeed, it may even be said that only the vocal declamations of actors in a tragedy have the capacity of recalling to the listener the universal dimension of tragedy whereas purely instrumental, or ‘absolute’, music can arouse in him a heightened consciousness of  only his own personal losses.


Tragedy, also, has not declined because of its moral content but through the democratic pandering to the vulgar tastes of the audiences. Opera seria, or tragic opera, which developed from the model of the Greek tragedies, did not decline through the Italian delight in melodious arias but through the lack of interest – among an increasingly vulgar public – in the intensely moving recititatives that constituted the declamatory core of these tragic music dramas. We see also from Nietzsche’s later criticisms of Wagner’s music that, despite the wondrous success of Wagner’s symphonic melodic elaboration of the Italian arias, the musical development that he represented was too easily capable of degeneration in the hands of lesser musicians than himself.

The tragic effects of opera seria are produced by reminders, necessarily ethical, and necessarily vocal, of the tragic condition of humanity in general. The latter is not located vaguely in a subconscious Dionysian spirit, as uncontrolled energy, but in the subjective perception of this condition by the individual viewer who sympathises with the tragic protagonists through what Aristotle called ‘pity and fear’.

The essential feeling of all tragic drama is indeed one of loss. This is not a sense of personal loss, but an awakening of the awareness of the first Fall of man, from God – as Schopenhauer had perceptively pointed out. And this fatal Fall can only be overcome through an intellectual as well as emotional apperception of it and a concomitant longing to regain the divine. These feelings are most effectively produced in the realm of art by tragic drama and opera. Whatever the course of Dionysiac or Bacchanalian rituals may have been, the tragic dramas and operas that evolved from them are thus necessarily infused with moral resonances. All tragedy – ancient Greek as well as modern – is in this sense fundamentally moral because it is fundamentally religious.

[1] universals after the fact

[2] universals before the fact

[3] universals in the fact

[4] The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music, tr. Ian Johnston.

[5] Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (1818-59), III, 51, tr. K.B. Haldane and  J. Kemp..

[6] For a full discussion of the Purusha mythology, see A. Jacob, Ātman: A Reconstruction of the Solar Cosmology of the Indo-Europeans, Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 2005 and Brahman: A Study of the Solar Rituals of the Indo-Europeans, Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 2012.

[7] Dionysus, according to Nonnos, is the ‘second Zeus’ (see Nonnos, Dionysiaca, 10, 298). The ‘first Zeus’ is Zeus Aitherios, who is identical to Chronos (see Cicero, De Natura Deorum, III,21).

[8] See A. Jacob, ‘Reviving Adam: The Sacrificial Rituals of the Indo-Āryans and the Early Christians’, Manticore Press.

[9] See Plato, Laws, III, 700b-e, Republic, III, 394b-c.

[10] All citations from Richard Wagner’s works are from Richard Wagner’s Prose Works, tr. W.A. Ellis.

[11] A. Schopenhauer, ibid.

[12] In fact, Nietzsche himself was later so embarrassed of this essay that he wrote an appendix to it called ‘Versuch einer Selbstkritik’ (An Attempt at Self-Criticism) (1886).

[13] The German translation of this essay was published in 1861as Zukunftsmusik.

[14] See Corpus iuris canonici, 1879, Vol. I, pp. 1256–1257.

[15] ‘Extracts from Introduction to Le nuove musice (1602)’, tr. Zachariah Victor.

[16] ‘The Case of Wagner’, tr. A.M. Ludovici.

[17] See G. Liébert, Nietzsche and Music, (tr. D. Pellauer and G. Parkes), Chicago: The University of Chicago Press,  p.82.

[18] Antigone, tr. F. Storr.

dimanche, 07 juillet 2013

El Drama wagneriano

El Drama Wagneriano

Prólogo de Javier Nicolás Cintas
Vídeo promocional:
Diseño: Fernando Lutz
Maquetación: Manuel Q.
Colaboración y 
correcciones: Pedro Lencina
Colección: Minnesänger
Papel blanco 90gr.
Páginas: 219
Tamaño: 21 x 15 cm
Edición en rústica (cosido) con solapas de 8 cm
P.V.P.: 16 €
(Gastos de envío no incluidos)
ISBN: 978-84-940846-5-2 

Canal de Youtube de Ediciones Camzo:
0081 3176 22 0006048819
Chamberlain analiza, profundiza, teoriza y debate sobre los pros y contras entre Drama y Ópera, entre Teatro y Drama. No deja ningún resquicio en el que apoyarse o relajarse, va al grano y sin dilación, de ahí el éxito que tuvo este trabajo dentro del mundo musical en general y operístico en particular. Yo me atrevería a definir esta obra como el trabajo definitivo sobre este tema, no superado en los miles de estudios que se han hecho sobre el wagnerismo en cuanto a Weltanschauung.
Javier Nicolás Cintas

“…quizás el mejor libro sobre Wagner escrito nunca”
(The Manchester Guardian, 1923).


Prólogo de Javier Nicolás:
La mejor manera de entender a Wagner                                  


I - Antecedentes históricos                                                       
-         Primeros ensayos                                                           
-         Director de orquesta y autor de óperas. La lucha
entre el poeta y el músico                                                         
-         El problema capital. Su solución. Los dos periodos
De Wagner                                                                               
-         Obras teóricas                                                                

II - Teoría del drama wagneriano                                             

III - Los dramas anteriores a 1848                                             
-         Las hadas y la prohibición de amar                               
-         Rienzi y el Holandés Errante                                        
-         Tannhäuser y Lohengrin                                                          
-         Otros dramas                                                                 

IV - Los dramas posteriores a 1848                                           

V - Tristán e Isolda                                                                    
-         Observaciones preliminares                                          
-         La acción dramática                                                      
-         Relaciones entre la palabra y la música                         

VI - Los Maestros Cantores                                           
-         La acción dramática                                                      
-         Lo convencional y el elemento cómico                        
-         La música                                                                       
-         Resumen sumario                                                                      

VII - El Anillo del Nibelungo                                                    
-         Las dos versiones                                                           
-         La acción dramática                                                      
-         Los teatros y la crítica                                                   
-         Relaciones entre la palabra y la música                         

VIII – Parsifal                                                                
-         Orígenes del poema                                                       
-         La acción dramática                                                      
-         Misticismo, simbolismo, alegoría y religión                   

IX - Arte y Filosofía                                                                  

X - Resumen y conclusión                                            

Houston Stewart Chamberlain
(Portsmouth, 1855 - Bayreuth, 1927) Escritor inglés. Hijo de una aristocrática familia inglesa, estudió Ciencias en Ginebra e Historia del arte, Filosofía y Música en Dresde. Atraído tan irresistiblemente por Alemania, que llegó a ser su patria adoptiva, se establece en Viena, donde permanecería durante unos veinte años.
La música de Wagner y, singularmente, su bagaje ideológico hallaron en Chamberlain un entusiasta admirador, por lo que dedicó al músico dos monografías,Das Drama Richard Wagners(1892) y Richard Wagner(1895). Se casaría con Eva, la hija menor del músico. Después de este matrimonio se trasladó a Bayreuth, logrando en el año 1916 la nacionalidad alemana.
Anteriormente había publicadoLos fundamentos del siglo XIX(1899), donde, siguiendo los pasos de Gobineau, exalta a los alemanes como promotores de la historia moderna. A la gloria del genio germánico dedicó otras obras:Kant(1905),Goethe(1912), y luego, durante el primer conflicto bélico mundial, los dos tomos de propagandaEnsayos de guerra(Kriegsaufsätze, 1915) yNuevos ensayos de guerra(Neue Kriegsaufsätze, 1916).
Tras el primer ocaso renació con mayor empuje la germanofilia de Chamberlain, que mantuvo correspondencia con Hitler. La obra de Chamberlain, Los fundamentos del siglo XIXfue una de las fuentes de las teorías raciales del filósofo alemán Alfred Rosenberg.


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.


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vendredi, 19 octobre 2012

The Aryan Christian Religion & Politics of Richard Wagner


The Aryan Christian Religion & Politics of Richard Wagner

By Alexander Jacob 

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

“I am the most German being. I am the German spirit.” [1] — Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner (1813–1883) is today universally celebrated as the consummate exponent of nineteenth century German opera, whose developed Romantic idiom helped to usher in the musical innovations of Modernism in the early twentieth century. Most people, besides, have a general notion that he was a controversial figure on account of his pronounced anti-Semitic views. Few, however, take care to peruse his several prose works to understand the consistent ethical system, based on Schopenhauer and Proudhon, which accompanied the great musical dramas of Wagner.

Since it is impossible to divorce the musician’s mind from his music, especially when it is the exceptionally developed one of a genius such as Wagner, it would benefit us to have a clear idea of Wagner’s racial-Christian doctrines of social and political regeneration alongside our easier appreciation of his overwhelmingly powerful music. Although there have been a few serious studies of Wagner’s political thought in recent years, these are, understandably, of varying quality.[2]

It would, in general, be advisable to avoid classifying Wagner — as well as the more rhapsodic and unsystematic Nietzsche — under any of the modern “isms,” and so I shall endeavor here to elucidate Wagner’s philosophy by merely pointing to pivotal passages in his major prose works that illuminate the religious and political dimensions of his thought.

It may at the outset be stated that Wagner considers in his work only the history and culture of the Indo-European race since he considers it to be the most highly developed spiritually. Wagner tends to relate the strength of this spiritual faculty to the dietary habits of the original stock, that is, to what he believed to have been its original vegetarianism.

In his late essay, “Religion and Art,” written in 1880 under the influence of his reading of Arthur, Comte de Gobineau’s Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines (1853), Wagner traces the history of the Aryans from what he considers to have been their original home in India and posits a gradual migration westwards through Iran, Greece, and Rome. In the course of these migrations, Wagner observes that the race has undergone a weakening of its spiritual force through a gradual conversion from vegetarianism to meat-eating, which latter custom has made the western peoples increasingly more violent in their social and historical conduct.

Christianity is considered by Wagner to be a reversal of this trend in that Christ enjoined the peaceful cohabitation of peoples devoted to the cultivation of inner spirituality. Unfortunately, its intimate connection to Judaism has transformed original Christianity into a creed of belligerent rapacity and conquest which does not reflect the teachings of Christ so much as the exhortations of the old Israelite prophets to annihilate the enemies of Jehovah.

Wagner’s account of the progress of the Aryans is perhaps not entirely accurate since there is no certainty that the Aryans were first settled in India rather than in the regions around the Black Sea, along with the other branches of the Indo-Europeans.[3]

Also, he tends to interpret the peculiarities of Zoroastrian religion and Greek as being due to the sociological conditions in which the Iranians and Greeks found themselves in antiquity. For example, he explains the dualism of the Zoroastrian religion as being due to the fact that the Aryans who had moved into Iran as conquerors after having become meat-eaters on the way from the gentler climate of India, “could still express their consternation at the depths to which they had sunk” and thus developed a religion based on a vivid conscience of “sin,” which forced an opposition between “Good and Evil, Light and Darkness, Ormuzd and Ahriman.”[4] This is of course false, since all the ancient religions, including Zoroastrianism, were based on cosmological insight and were not developed to explain the historical conditions of any particular nation.

Only Judaism may be explained in such sociological terms since it represents a revolt of one particular ancient Near Eastern ethnic group – the Arameans and Hebrews — against the cosmological religion of their neighbors in Mesopotamia. This is indeed made clear in the passages in Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities I, 157, and Philo the Jew’s De mutatione nominum, 72-6, which expose the mundane materialistic and nationalistic ambitions of the Hebrew, Abraham, who instituted the tribal cult of Jehovah.

According to Wagner, the first manifestation of a recognition of the deterioration of racial strength among the western Indo-Europeans was among the Pythagoreans who founded “silent fellowships . . . remote from the turmoil of the world . . . as a sanctification from sin and misery.” The fullest exemplification of the need for world-renunciation, however, was that offered by Christ, who gave his own flesh and blood “as last and highest expiation for all the sin of outpoured blood and slaughtered flesh.”

Again, Wagner seems unaware of the fact that the Christian story itself borrows heavily from Babylonian and Dionysiac prototypes (Marduk, Dionysus) whose death and resurrection were mere mythological representations of the primal drama of the cosmic solar force that was forced into the underworld before it could be revived in our universe as the sun.[5]

Wagner understands the Christian story literally and maintains that the problems of Christianity stem from the appropriation of the administration of the rites of Communion by the priests, so that the people in general failed to understand the injunction to abstinence from all flesh contained in Christ’s offering of his own flesh and blood to his disciples. Besides, the Church as an institution could maintain itself and propagate itself politically only by supporting the violence and rapine of the emperors which contributed to the eventual ruin of the race’s inner strength. In these international adventures the Church was gradually forced to revert to its Judaic roots since

wherever Christian hosts fared forth to robbery and bloodshed, even beneath the banner of the Cross, it was not the All-Sufferer whose name was invoked, but Moses, Joshua, Gideon, and all the other captains of Jehova who fought for the people of Israel, were the names in request to fire the heart of slaughter; whereof the history of England at the time of the Puritan wars supplies a plain example, throwing a light on the Old Testament evolution of the Church.

With the adoption of this quasi-Judaic aggression, the Christian Church began to act as the herald of Judaism itself, which, though characterised by a fanatic desire to rule the world, had hitherto been forced to live an oppressed life among the other nations in which it found itself during the Diaspora:

Despised and hated equally by every race . . . without inherent productivity and only battening on the general downfall, in course of violent revolutions this folk would very probably have been extinguished as completely as the greatest and noblest stems before them; Islam in particular seemed called to carry out the act of extirpation, for it took to itself the Jewish god, as creator of heaven and earth, to raise him by fire and sword as one and only god of all that breathes. But the Jews, so it seems, could fling away all share in this world-rulership of their Jehovah, for they had won a share in a development of the Christian religion well fitted to deliver it itself into their hands in time, with all its increments of culture, sovereignty and civilization.

In Europe, the Jews as money-lenders viewed all European civilization as a mere instrument of their own gradual rise to power: “To the Jew who works the sum out, the outcome of this culture is simply the necessity of waging wars, together with greater one–of having money for them” (“Know Thyself,” supplement to Religion and Art). The undue power that the Jews have achieved as a result of this clever procedure, as well as due to their emancipation in the middle of the nineteenth century, is thus based on what Wagner considers the basis of all wars, namely “property.” Internationally, the protection of property entails the maintenance of “the weaponed host” and “the astounding success of our resident Jews in the gaining and amassing of huge store of money has always filled our Military State authorities with nothing but respect and joyful admiration.”

The socialist and democratic revolutions mounted in Germany were also inadequate solutions of the problems resulting from property since they were totally un-German imitations of Franco-Judaic upheavals. Indeed, “democracy” itself is in Germany “purely a translated thing” which exists merely in “the press” (“What is German?,” 1865). Party politics is altogether a vicious circle that obscures the real conflict between Germans and Jews under a confusion of names that are themselves wholly un-German, such as “Liberal,” “Conservative,” “Social Democrat,” and “Liberal Conservative.” Only when the “fiend who keeps those ravers in the mania of their party-strife no more can find a where or when to lurk among us, will there also be no longer — any Jews.”

What is worse is that the Jewish agitators used German nationalist catch-words such as “Deutschtum” and “German freedom” to deceive the German folk and lull it into a false sense of superiority:

Whilst Goethe and Schiller had shed the German spirit on the world without so much as talking of the ‘German’ spirit, these democratic speculators fill every book- and print-shop, every so-called joint-stock theater, with vulgar, utterly vapid dummies, forever plastered with the puff of ‘deutsch’ and ‘deutsch’ again, to decoy the easygoing crowd.

In developing the German spirit therefore one should take care to avoid the temptation of self-complacency, of believing that every German is “quite of oneself . . . something great and needs to take no sort of pains to first become it.” Indeed the fact that

Goethe and Schiller, Mozart and Beethoven have issued from the German people’s womb far too easily tempts the bulk of middling talents to consider the great minds their own by right of birth, to persuade the mass with demagogic flatulence that they themselves are Goethes and Schillers.

Wagner’s remedy to the problem of international conflicts based on Jewish finance, or rather credit — which has indeed replaced religion as “a spiritual, nay, a moral power” (“Know Thyself”) — is the reawakening of the genuinely German character. The proof of the racial strength of the Germans is the “pride of race” which, in the Middle Ages, supplied princes, kings and emperors throughout Europe and which can still be encountered in the old nobility of Germanic origin. One obvious sign of the truly German is the language itself:[6]

Do we feel our breath fast quitting us beneath the pressure of an alien civilization; do we fall into uncertainty about ourselves: we have only to dig to the roots in the true father-soil of our language to reap at once a reassuring answer on ourselves, nay on the truly human. And this possibility of always drawing from the pristine fount of our own nature that makes us feel ourselves no more a race, no mere variety of man, but one of manhood’s primal branches — tis this that ever has bestowed on us great men and spiritual heroes.

This strength of character is indeed the only defense that the Germans have against the wiles of the Jewish race, which manages to preserve its own racial character easily on account of the unique nature of its “religion,” which is indeed not a religion at all but “merely the belief in certain promises of [the Jewish god] which in nowise extend beyond this temporal life . . . , as in every true religion, but simply to this present life on earth, whereon [the Jewish] race is certainly ensured dominion over all that lives and lives not.” This inhuman ambition of the Jew is embodied in Wagner’s Parsifal by the character of Klingsor, who cuts himself off from all human love by castrating himself in order to acquire power over others. As Wagner put it, trapped in “an instinct shut against all ideality,” the Jew remains always “the plastic demon of man’s downfall.”

The liberation from the constrictions of Judaism can begin only with an effort to understand the nature of the instinctive repugnance that one feels towards the Jew’s “prime essence” in spite of his emancipation (“Jewry in Music,” 1850): “with all our speaking and writing in favour of the Jews’ emancipation, we always felt instinctively repelled by any, actual operative conduct with them.” Unlike the true poet, who gains his inspiration “from nothing but a faithful, loving contemplation of instinctive life, of that life which greets his sight amid the Folk,” the educated Jew stands “alien and apathetic . . . in the midst of a society he does not understand, with whose tastes and aspirations he does not sympathize, whose history and evolution have always been indifferent to him.”

The Jew “stands in correlation with none but those who need his money: and never yet has money thriven to the point of knitting a goodly bond ’twixt man and man.” Thus the Jew only considers art-works as so many objects to be bought and sold: “What the heroes of the arts, with untold strain consuming lief and life, have wrested from the art-fiend of two millennia of misery, today the Jew converts into an art-bazaar.” The tolerance of Jews in German society would thus mean the substitution of genuine German culture with a simulacrum.

In the “‘Appendix’ to ‘Jewry in Music’” published in 1869, Wagner adds, “Whether the downfall of our culture can be arrested by a violent ejection of the destructive foreign element, I am unable to decide, since that would require forces with whose existence I am unacquainted.” And all attempts to assimilate the Jews into German society should take care to fully appreciate the real difficulties of such an assimilation before any measures are passed that recommend it.

To those who may think that Wagner is just a Hitler in sheep’s clothing, it may indeed be surprising that he was in fact a deeply philosophical Christian, whose Christianity was infused with the spirit of Schopenhauer’s philosophy, which he first read in 1852.[7] The first requisite for a true Christian, according to Wagner, is to divorce his conception of Christ from the Jehovah of the Jews. Indeed, if Jesus is proclaimed the son of Jehovah, “then every Jewish rabbi can triumphantly confute all Christian theology, as has happened indeed in every age” (“Public and Popularity,” 1878). Thus it is not surprising that most of the population have become atheistic:

That the God of our Savior should have been identified with the tribal god of Israel is one of the most terrible confusions in all world-history . . . We have seen the Christian God condemned to empty churches while ever more imposing temples are reared among us to Jehovah.

The reason the Jews remain Jewish, the people of Jehovah, in spite of every change, is that, as we have noted above, Judaism is not a religion but a financial political ambition.

Wagner’s Schopenhauerian Christianity, on the other hand, demands the recognition of the “moral meaning of the world,” the recognition of the root of all human suffering, namely the will and its concomitant passions. “Only the love that springs from pity, and carries its compassion to the utmost breaking of the self-will, is the redeeming Christian Love, in which Faith and Hope are both included of themselves” (“What boots this Knowledge?,” supplement to Religion and Art, 1880). Here again Wagner harks back to the natural constitution of the Indo-Europeans, who alone possess “the faculty of conscious suffering” in a highly developed form.

In another supplement to Religion and Art, ‘Hero-dom and Christendom’ (1881), Wagner maintained that the superiority of the white race is proven by the very fact while “the yellow races have viewed themselves as sprung from monkeys, the white traced back their origin to gods, and deemed themselves marked out for rulership.” Although Wagner believed that the substitution of animal food for vegetable was one of the prime causes of man’s degeneration (“a change in the fundamental substance of our body”), his reading of Gobineau’s Essai led him to consider racial mixture, especially with Jews, as another cause of the corruption of the blood:

It certainly may be right to charge this purblind dullness of our public spirit to a vitiation of our blood – not only by departure from the natural food of man, but above all by the tainting of the hero-blood of noblest races with that of former cannibals now trained to be the business-agents of society.

Although the highly developed psychic constitution of the Indo-Europeans is their distinguishing feature, the excellence of Christ as an individual is due to the fact that he alone represents “the quintessence of free-willed suffering itself, that godlike Pity which streams through all the human species, its font and origin.” Wagner even pauses to consider whether Christ could have been of the white race at all since the blood of the latter was in the process of “paling and congealing.” Uncertain as to the answer, Wagner goes on to suggest that the blood of the Redeemer may have been “the divine sublimate of the species itself” springing from “the redemptive Will’s supreme endeavor to save mankind at death-throes in its noblest races.” We recognize in this statement the message of Wagner’s last and most intensely religious music drama, Parsifal.

However, Wagner also takes care to stress that, although the blood of the Savior was shed to redeem all of humanity, the latter is not destined to achieve a universal equality as a result, since racial differences will persist. And if the system of world rulership by the white race was marked by immoral exploitation, the uniting of mankind can be achieved only through “a universal moral concord, such as we can but deem true Christianity elect to bring about.”

In addition to these insights into the redemptive grace of Christ to be found in this 1881 essay, Wagner had already outlined the ethics of his own version of Christianity earlier, in his 1849 sketch to the projected opera “Jesus of Nazareth.” According to this work, the first solution of the problem of evil in the world had been the institution of the Law. However, this static Law, when incorporated as the State, stood in opposition to the ever-changing rhythm of Nature, and man came invariably into conflict with the artificial Law. The faults of the Law were indeed principally due to man’s original selfishness, which sought to protect his personal property, including his wife and family, through man-made laws. Wagner, in a Proudhonian manner,[8] rejects these laws and insists on Love as the basis of all familial as well as social relationships.

Man can achieve a oneness with God only through a oneness with Nature and this oneness is possible only through the substitution of the Law with Love. In expounding his version of the Christian doctrine of Love, Wagner has recourse to a quasi-Schopenhauerian theory of the Will and its egoistic striving:

the process of putting off my Me in favor of the universal is Love, is active Life itself; the non-active life, in which I abide by myself is egoism. This becoming conscious of ourselves through self-abnegation results in a creative life, because by abandoning our self we enrich the generality, as well as ourselves.

The opposite, or “non-becoming conscious of ourselves in the universal brings forth sin.” An egoist who does not give anything to the universal will be robbed in the end of all by the latter against his will and he will die without finding himself again in the universal.

In this context, Wagner pauses to identify the nature of women and children as being essentially egoistic. A woman can get rid of her natural egoism only through the travail of birth and the love imparted to her children. Thus the woman can find salvation only through her love for a man, though a man too is enriched by his love for a woman since it is the most basic selfless act that he is capable of. Indeed, for a man, the sexual act itself entails a shedding of his life-substance.

Beyond this love for a woman, however, a man can divest his ego also through love of a greater fellowship than the merely personal and sexual. This is the love for one’s fatherland, which impels men to sacrifice their life for the “weal of the community.”

However, Christ pointed a higher path than even patriotic self-sacrifice, and that is the giving up of oneself for the sake of humanity at large. Every sacrifice is at the same time a creative act, that of sexual love as well as patriotic, since the former results in the multiplication of oneself in children and the latter in the preservation of the many lives that constitute one’s nation. The sacrifice of oneself for all mankind, however, is the most complete “parting with the emptied casket of that generative force, and thus a last creation in itself, to wit the upheaval of all unproductive egoism, a making place for life.” Such a death is the “most perfect deed of love.” Wagner thus identifies the transfiguration achieved through death as the “enthralling power of the Christian myth” (Opera and Drama, 1850). But we may note that this is equally the import of all classical tragedy, and that Wagner was merely interpreting the Christian story in traditional Indo-European terms.

Although the redemption that one achieves through self-sacrifice is a personal one, Wagner had also considered the government of nations from the point of view of Schopenhauerian ethics. In his essay, “On State and Religion” (1864-5), dedicated to his patron Ludwig II of Bavaria, Wagner expounded his religio-political ideal of the philosopher-king using the categories of Schopenhauer’s philosophical system. He begins by admitting the folly of his earlier participation in the Socialist revolutions of 1848 and recognises the state as the guarantor of the stability of the nation. However, the state is most authentically and fully represented not by constitutional democratic or socialist governments but rather by the monarch. For the monarch

has naught in common with the interests of parties, but his sole concern is that the conflict of these interests should be adjusted precisely for the safety of the whole . . . Thus, as against the party interests, he is the representative of purely human interests, and in the eyes of the party-seeking citizen he therefore occupies in truth a position well-nigh superhuman.

In the monarch thus the ideal of the state is finally achieved, an ideal which is neither perceived nor cultivated by the egoistic intellect but only by the supra-egoistic “Wahn,” or irrational “vision.” Wagner associates this Wahn with the “spirit of the race” and of the species that Schopenhauer had pointed to in his analysis of the group behavior of insects, such as bees and ants, which build societies with an apparently unconscious concern for the welfare of the whole regardless of the individuals within it. In human societies this altruistic instinct is indeed manifest as patriotism. However, the self-sacrifice that patriotism demands is often so strenuous that it cannot hold out indefinitely and is, further, likely to be contaminated by the natural egoism of the individual, who may see in the state too only a safeguard of his own interests along with those of his fellow men. In order to sustain the patriotic Wahn therefore is required a lasting symbol and this symbol is indeed the monarch.

A monarch has “no personal choice, may allow no sanction to his purely human leanings, and needs must fill a great position for which nothing but great natural parts can qualify.” If his vision of his own patriotic duty is marked by ambition and passion, he will be a warrior and conqueror. On the other hand, if he is high-minded and compassionate by nature, he will realize that patriotism itself is inadequate for the purpose of satisfying the highest aspirations of mankind which indeed require the vehicle not of the state but of religion. Patriotism cannot be the final human political goal since it turns too easily into violence and injustice against other states.

The particular instrument whereby the patriotic Wahn is distorted into international strife is the so-called “public opinion” which is created and maintained by the press. Unlike the king, who is the genuinely disinterested representative of the welfare of the state, the public opinion created by the press is a travesty of the king in that it fosters patriotism through the flattery of the “vulgar egoism of the mass.” Thus the press is “the most implacable tyrant” from whose despotism the king, who is preoccupied with “purely human considerations lying far above mere patriotism,” suffers most. Thus it is that “in the fortunes and the fate of kings the tragic import of the world can first be brought completely to our knowledge.”

Since perfect justice can never be attainable in this world, the religious person naturally finds the patriotic Wahn inadequate and follows instead a religious or divine one which demands of him “voluntary suffering and renunciation” of this entire world to which egoistic man clings. The inward happiness, or revelation, which fills a man (or “saint”) who undertakes such renunciation cannot be transmitted to the ordinary people except through religious dogma and the cultivation of “sincere, undoubting and unconditional” faith. True religion is preserved only in the individual who perceives beyond the diversity of sense-perception “the basic oneness of all being.” This inner beatific vision can be transmitted to ordinary men not by the exhortations of a vain clergy but only through the edifying example of saintly figures:

Hence there lies a deep and pregnant meaning behind the folk’s addressing itself to God through the medium of its heart-loved saints; and it says little for the vaunted enlightenment of our era that every English shopkeeper for instance, so soon as he has donned his Sunday coat and taken the right book with him, opines that he is entering into immediate personal intercourse with God.

Once religion turned to the state for its maintenance and propagation, it too was forced to become an institution of the state and serve the imperfect justice of the state. Hence the abhorrent religious strifes which have marked the political conduct of modern nations.

Since true religiosity can never be conveyed through religious disputation or even by philosophical sophistry, only the king can, if he be endowed with a particularly elevated spiritual nature, or Wahn, unite the two essentially different realms of state and religion into a harmonious whole. The mark of a truly noble mind is that “to it every, often the seemingly most trivial, incident of life and world intercourse is capable of swiftly displaying its widest correlation with the essential root of all existence, thus of showing life and the world themselves in their true, their terribly earnest meaning.” And only the king’s “exalted, well-nigh superhuman situation” allows him also the superior vantage point from which to view the tragedy of “mundane passions” and grants him the “grace” which marks the exercise of perfect equity.

We see therefore that Wagner’s philosophical ideals revive Platonic, Schopenhauerian and Proudhonian Socialistic ones in a message of Christian Love that is as exalted as his music. To those who object today to Christianity as a Judaic monotheistic religion that must be abjured in favour of nebulous neo-pagan revivals, Wagner’s writings reveal the true Indo-European virtue of a religion that was certainly Indo-European in its origins and has, when divorced from its later immersion into the history of the Jewish people, continued to possess a deep spiritual value for the elevation of mankind. As for Wagner’s criticisms of the Jews for their domination of states through credit and their degradation of the populace through the press, these have indeed become more compelling today than they must have been in his own day, since the Jewish forms of “Socialism” and “Communism” and “Democracy” that have dominated the post-war era have indeed succeeded in robbing the world not only of monarchy but also of all true philosophy and religion.


1. Diary of Richard Wagner 1865–1888: The Brown Book, ed. J. Bergfeld, tr. G. Bird (London: Gollancz, 1980), p. 73.

2. After M. Boucher’s Les idées politiques de Richard Wagner (Paris: Aubier, 1947), the recent studies of Wagner’s political thought include E. Eugène, Les idées politiques de Richard Wagner et leur influence sur l’idéologie allemande (1870–1845) (Paris: Les Publications Universitaires, 1978), F. B. Josserand, Richard Wagner: Patriot and Politician (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1981), A. D. Aberbach, The Ideas of Richard Wagner: An Examination and Analysis of his Major Aesthetic, Political, Economic, Social and Religious Thought (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1984). P. L. Rose, Wagner: Race and Revolution (London: Faber, 1992), and H. Salmi, Imagined Germany: Richard Wagner’s National Utopia (New York: Peter Lang, 1999).

3. See A. Jacob, Ātman: A Reconstruction of the Solar Cosmology of the Indo-Europeans (Hildesheim: G. Olms, 2005), “Introduction – Historical.” I distinguish the Aryans as one branch of Indo-Europeans, the Japhetic, whereas the generic Indo-European stock includes the Semites and Hamites as well.

4. All translations from Wagner are from W. A. Ellis, Richard Wagner’s Prose Works (London, 1897).

5. See A. Jacob, op. cit.

6.  Wagner’s focus on language as the essential expression of the racial-national spirit is borrowed from Fichte’s Reden an die deutsche Nation (1807).

7. See M. Boucher, op. cit., p. 18. Schopenhauer’s Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung was first published in 1818.

8. For the various similarities between the philosophy of Proudhon and that of Wagner, especially their veneration of Christ, their denunciation of the Jews, and their anti-Communist socialism based on the genius of “le peuple” (or “-”), see M. Boucher, op. cit., p. 160ff). Proudhon’s abhorrence of Communism is evident in his description of this system as “l’exaltation de l’Etat, la glorification de la police” (ibid., p. 161).


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jeudi, 03 février 2011

Une passion pour Wagner


Une passion pour Wagner...

wagner-adler.jpgPar Jean-Gilles Malliarakis

Ex: http://www.insolent.fr

Ce 14 janvier à 6 heures du matin, une queue deux fois plus longue que d'habitude, en dépit du froid, rassemblait les passionnés de musique. L'opéra Bastille ouvrait les dernières réservations de la saison pour Siegfried et pour le Crépuscule des Dieux. Le chef-d’œuvre final de la Tétralogie n’avait pas été représenté à Paris depuis plus d'un demi-siècle.

Il semble juste aux connaisseurs de sortir le maître de Bayreuth de son injuste ostracisme, au moment où, en revanche, notre franco-tunisien ministre de la Culture décide d'y maintenir le cuirassier Destouches dit Louis-Ferdinand Céline.

Comparons donc le grand génie musical à son contemporain, dont la mémoire demeure impunie, Karl Marx, autre révolutionnaire. On se doit ainsi d'évoquer la question, scabreuse par excellence, du lourd traité antisémite de Marx intitulé "la Question juive". Insupportable aujourd'hui, à la vérité. À l'époque, la plupart des socialistes succombent à la mythologie anti-Rothschild. Wagner, hélas, malgré l'humanisme profond qui se dégage de ses livrets d'opéra, n'échappe pas entièrement aux préjugés anticapitalistes de son temps. Auteur de quelques pages regrettables dans ce registre, alors très banal, on lui doit reconnaître le mérite de s'en être tenu à la musique, croyant régler son compte à Mendelsohn. La plupart des musiciens juifs semblent lui avoir pardonné depuis, qui ont fourni d'admirables interprétations.

Tout cela pour dire que ni à la vérité Marx, ni donc encore moins Wagner, décédés l'un comme l'autre en 1883, ne sauraient, ni l'un ni l'autre, être tenus pour responsables de la noirceur du XXe siècle. Un peu moins vrai pour Karl Marx, cependant, et pour son ami Engels, qui eussent pris quelque plaisir, semble-t-il, à l'idée de trucider les bourgeois, et les démocrates. "Avoir compté Staline au nombre de ses admirateurs ne rend pas Marx responsable du Goulag", voilà sans doute ce que professera en ronchonnant un Pierre Bergé, nouvel actionnaire du "Monde" et président, par ailleurs, des "Amis", très parisiens, politiquement si corrects, "du Ring" wagnérien.

Pendant une trop longue période, l'œuvre de Wagner avait été proscrite du répertoire sur les rives de la Seine. Puis on a consenti à nouveau à la présenter au public. On a pris bien soin, pendant de trop longues années, d'en discréditer la dimension scénique. Nous avons subi de la sorte pendant des décennies des Lohengrin de carton-pâte, des Parsifal en fausses chemises brunes façon "cabaret cuir" de Hambourg. Le sommet fut atteint à l'époque du règne fâcheux de M. Mortier, où nous vîmes représenter un Tristan et Iseut de gay pride et/ou de télé réalité. Les deux héros passaient à l'acte sur scène, cependant que l'on nous révélait une "affaire" entre le jeune homme et le roi. Bill Clinton était enfoncé : sa Monika devenait un garçon.

Heureusement la bave de tous les crapauds n'a jamais réussi à enfermer le fleuve immense du génie musical et poétique wagnérien dans la misère de tels pastiches réducteurs et profanateurs.

En comparaison de tant de souvenirs, plutôt pénibles, les fautes de goût, bien réelles, de la dernière production de "l'Or du Rhin" en 2009 nous auront ont paru presque vénielles. Mieux vaut par conséquent ne pas même en énumérer la liste. Évoquons plutôt un vrai bonheur lyrique, une très belle direction d'orchestre, quelques voix de haute école, une Erda inoubliable, un Alberich très convaincant et des Filles du Rhin de grand talent, malgré des costumes fâcheux. Quelques semaines plus tard, la "Walkyrie", interprétée triomphalement et pratiquement sans faute, revenait sur les lieux du crime.

Que retenir dès lors, de cette introduction à la fresque dramatique et sacrée de l'Anneau du Nibelung ?

Osons le dire, d'abord : même en temps que révolutionnaire, Wagner se révèle supérieur à Marx, son contemporain presque exact. Concordance des dates. 1813-1883 pour le compositeur et dramaturge de génie ; 1818-1883 pour le chancre du British Museum. Le "Manifeste" est écrit en 1848 ; "l'Art dans la Révolution" date de 1849.

À la différence de son cadet, le beau Richard prend part aux événements de l'insurrection qui se voulait libératrice et que l'État prussien écrasera pour empêcher une unification démocratique de l'Allemagne.

On me saura gré, j'imagine, de ne pas chercher à tirer argument de ce que Marx a inspiré, mais non breveté, les systèmes totalitaires de Staline et de Mao Tsé-toung.

Richard Wagner fait le coup de feu sur les barricades. Karl Marx s'enferme dans sa bibliothèque.

En 1867 Das Kapital. En 1869 Rheingold à Munich.

Ce qui les sépare ne s'appelle pas seulement poésie, action, amour. Sur ce dernier terrain, les passions successives du musicien le brûlent comme un feu, le ténia du socialisme les amalgames chez lui, sa maîtresse vivant à domicile, dans son impudique pot-au-feu.

Il s'agit donc aussi, et d'abord, de deux vues du monde. À balles réelles pour l'un ; par procuration pour l'autre.

L'un comme l'autre expriment, dira-t-on, le même dégoût de ce qu'on appelle l'argent-roi. Mais de l'argent d'un roi, le poète saura construire à Bayreuth le temple du sublime.

Il reste encore à le découvrir, dans sa vérité. (1)


(1)  cf. Richard Wagner, sa vie, ses idées, son oeuvre par Guido Adler, aux  Editions du Trident (cliquez ici)


00:10 Publié dans Musique | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0) | Tags : musique, allemagne, richard wagner, 19ème siècle, opéra | |  del.icio.us | | Digg! Digg |  Facebook

mercredi, 13 octobre 2010

Nietzsche contra Wagner - Etica contra estética




Sebastian J. Lorenz
Con sus concepciones sobre la “voluntad de poder”, su visceral anti-cristianismo –que consideraba una creación del judaísmo-, sus anuncios sobre el advenimiento del “super-hombre” (Übermensch) y la formación de una casta aristocrática superior, Nietzsche es, sin lugar a dudas, el filósofo más determinante en la construcción ideológica del nazismo y, desde luego, un pilar fundamental en la formación intelectual de Hitler, el cual, según la opinión mayoritaria, se apropió de la doctrina nietzscheana para legitimar su nueva concepción del mundo, si bien podemos adelantar que, colocado en la disyuntiva entre Nietzsche y Wagner, el Führer nunca ocultó su admiración por la Weltanschaung de este último, mucho más acorde con sus ideales estéticos.
La importancia de la filosofía de Nietzsche en la formación de la ideología nazi no es un tema pacífico. César Vidal, que no alberga dudas sobre la conexión nietzscheana con el nazismo, examina la exposición que efectúa Nietzsche sobre la antítesis entre una “moral de señores”, aristocrática, y una “moral de esclavos”, de resentimiento, correspondiendo la primera a los valores superiores de las razas germánicas, y la segunda a la moral judeo-cristiana (Judea contra Roma). Otros, como Ferrán Gallego, consideran que la manipulación del filósofo sólo pudo realizarse ejerciendo una profunda violencia sobre el sentido de la obra de Nietzsche. «A sabiendas de que nunca conseguirían ponerse a la altura de Nietzsche, se resignaron a falsificar la de Zaratustra».
El “mensajero del nihilismo” fue, desde luego, un predicador militante contra el orden caduco y la moral convencional, pero lo hacía desde un profundo individualismo que se oponía a las distintas formas de dominio ejercidas sobre las masas con el oscuro objetivo de anular toda personalidad. «Los buenos conocedores de la cultura alemana rechazaron la caricatura de un Nietzsche pangermanista, oponiendo su feroz individualismo a las tesis nacionalistas raciales que desembocarían en el nazismo». De hecho, Nietzsche sentía un auténtico desprecio por la cultura alemana de su tiempo, admirando en cambio la rusa, la francesa, la italiana, la española y, especialmente, la cultura clásica grecolatina, pero las alabanzas dedicadas a las bestias rubias germánicas de los vándalos y los godos fueron finalmente manipuladas por los teóricos nacional-racistas.
Desde luego, no cabe duda alguna de que Nietzsche identificaba al hombre ario y a la bestia rubia con la nobleza y la aristocracia, con la moral de señores propia de los conquistadores, si bien resultaría desproporcionado identificar a los arios rubios con su prototipo de hombre superior. Sin embargo, el filósofo utiliza comparativamente a las razas oscuras y a las razas rubias para distinguir lo malo y lo vulgar de los hombres de rasgos oscuros –los pre-arios en Europa- de lo noble y lo aristocrático que define, según él, al hombre ario. «Resulta imposible no reconocer, en la base de todas estas razas nobles, al animal de rapiña, la magnífica bestia rubia que vagabundea codiciosa de botín y victoria», escribirá Niezstche, reconociendo además «el derecho a no librarse del temor a la bestia rubia que habita en el fondo de todas las razas nobles …». Pues es “la bestia rubia”, una horda de hombres depredadores y conquistadores, el sinónimo de grandeza y nobleza.
Nietzsche utiliza su “bestia rubia” para enfatizar y ejemplarizar la antítesis entre la «humanidad aria, totalmente pura, totalmente originaria» y el «cristianismo, brotado de la raíz judía, que representa el movimiento opuesto a toda moral de la cría, de la raza, del privilegio: es la religión antiaria per excellence …», para finalizar con una inquietante duda sobre el futuro de la supuesta raza aria: «¿Quién nos garantiza … que la raza de los conquistadores y señores, la de los arios, no está sucumbiendo incluso fisiológicamente?». El filósofo alemán se remonta, obviamente, a la civilización indo-aria para ejemplarizar su sistema jerárquico racial, en cuya cúspide sitúa a la “bestia rubia” germánica, antítesis de los representantes degenerados del judeo-cristianismo, dividiendo su sociedad ideal en “brahmanes”, guerreros y sirvientes, además de los “chandalas”.
En definitiva, una sociedad elitista y aristocrática basada en la desigualdad que debe asumir la raza germánica frente a la mediocridad impuesta por el cristianismo, “hijo espiritual del judaísmo”. Nietzsche anuncia el “nuevo hombre” aristocrático, anticristiano, antijudío, que sólo responde a su “voluntad de poder”, el hombre sobrehumano que es, en realidad, el hombre superado en una evolución ascendente. Por eso, Hitler dirá tiempo después que el nacionalsocialismo no es un movimiento político, ni siquiera una religión, sino “la voluntad de crear un nuevo hombre”.
Nietzsche no fue propiamente un antisemita, si bien su inicial relación-admiración por Wagner le hizo alabar su visión espiritual de la vida, de la que los alemanes corrientes habían sido arrebatados por la mísera y agresiva política del judaísmo. Desde luego, el filósofo consideraba la ética judía como una “moral de esclavos” (Sklaven-Moral), el pueblo del que Tácito pensaba que había nacido para la esclavitud, siendo manifestaciones de la misma el cristianismo y el socialismo que propugnan la igualdad. Por eso, el judío se rebela contra las razas aristocráticas: «Roma vio en el Judío la encarnación de lo antinatural, como una monstruosidad diametralmente opuesta a ella, y en Roma fue hallado convicto de odio a toda la raza humana y con toda la razón para ello, por cuanto es correcto enlazar el bienestar y el futuro de la raza humana a la incondicional supremacía de los valores aristocráticos, de los valores romanos». Los judíos, según Nietzsche, habían falseado de tal forma la historia universal y los valores de la humanidad, que incluso resultaba inconcebible que el cristiano albergase sentimientos antijudíos: “Dios mismo se ha hecho judío!”.
El pensamiento aristocrático se confunde, en numerosas ocasiones, con el determinismo biológico que clasifica jerárquicamente a las razas según unos supuestos cánones creativos. La nueva raza de los super-hombres, la raza superior procedería –mediante el dominio de la voluntad- a la transmutación de los valores, creando otros nuevos que regirían para sí mismos y para las razas destinadas a la esclavitud. Nietzsche estaba de acuerdo con Gobineau, Wagner y Chamberlain, cuando calificaba la raza aria como “raza genuina, fisiológicamente superior a las otras razas y hecha para gobernarlas”. «Toda elevación del tipo “hombre” ha sido siempre obra de una sociedad aristocrática y así será siempre … una sociedad creyente en una larga escala de graduaciones de rango y diferencias en una forma u otra».
Como se ha apuntado, Nietzsche y Wagner, una vez superado su idilio artístico inicial, mantuvieron un crudo enfrentamiento ideológico, controversia que luego se reproduciría, en el seno del nacionalsocialismo, entre los seguidores del filósofo y del compositor, aunque sería la doctrina nietzscheana la que obtendría la mayoría de adhesiones, puesto que la concepción del mundo wagneriana se refugió en restringidos círculos intelectuales y artísticos que le restaron popularidad en la Alemania nazi, pese a contar con el apoyo incondicional del propio Hitler. Mientras Rosenberg, Darré o Himmler rechazaban la visión ética y mística del compositor y utilizaban el “superhombre” de Nietzsche para justificar el sometimiento de los más débiles –cruel filosofía que tuvo nefastas consecuencias en las generaciones de la época- los minoritarios círculos wagnerianos hacían de la compasión de los fuertes hacia los menos dotados una virtud ennoblecedora.