Wagner Explained – Despicable Man/ Opera Genius
Dave Shafer CHJ
It has often been
claimed that the
most books ever
written are about
the controversial
figures of Jesus,
Napoleon, Hitler,...
Wagner the Man and the Jewish Connection
Wagner was
born in the
Jewish quarter
of Leipzig in
1813. He
suspected, based
on some letters
he found, that
his biologica...
Later, when he became famous, he was dogged by
rumors that he was part-Jewish. This cartoon, from
back then, shows a rabbi...
Wagner also resented the
popularity of Mendelssohn,
who had Jewish ancestry.

When Wagner was struggling to
have his own w...
Almost all of Wagner‘s
anti-Semitism was
confined to the presence
of Jews in the field of
music. He thought that
they were...
Wagner published his
anti-Semitic essay
―Jews in Music‖
anonymously. Later,
when he was famous,
he republished it under
hi...
Wagner‘s anti-Semitism was sort of like US southern racism
– a belief that a certain group is genetically, intellectually,...
Wagner was always
destitute until he was
51. But that did not
deter him from running
up enormous debts
wherever he went. H...
He skipped
town and
moved to a
place where
they had
not yet
heard of
him
Wagner was always
putting the squeeze on
his friends to ―lend‖
him money. He would
then berate them for not
being as gener...
Wagner was often
forced to rely on Jewish
money lenders, who he
would then stiff
whenever possible.
One of them later
wrot...
Later in life he met his
dream patron – ―Mad‖
king Ludwig of Bavaria,
a very ardent fan of
Wagner‘s operas.
Wagner milked ...
Ludwig built his fairy tale castle Neuschwanstein in southern
Bavaria and filled it with paintings and objects illustratin...
Wagner eventually dumped his long-suffering first wife Minna, an
actress, whose income he had mooched off of for years. Hi...
Wagner‘s 2nd wife was Cosima, daughter of Franz Liszt, who heavily
promoted Wagner and his music. Cosima was a rabid anti-...
Hans Von Bulow

Wagner and Cosima had 3
children while she was still
married to Hans Von
Bulow, Wagner‘s close
associate a...
Portrait by John Singer Sargent

Wagner later had an affair with the
half-Jewish Judith Gautier: poet,
novelist, and orien...
In his later years Wagner
indulged his preference for
women‘s underwear and spent
a lot of money on silk
garments and othe...
Cross-dressing was just one of
Wagner‘s surprising adult traits. He
often stood on his head, from sheer
exuberance. He lik...
After Wagner‘s 1883
death Cosima and their
oldest son Siegfried ran the
annual Bayreuth Festival.
Siegfried Wagner was a
very effeminate boy who
matured into a very
effeminate man. The
family thought it best to
―cure‖ hi...
Siegfried and Winifred Wagner

This was an arranged
marriage. Siegfried was
45 and she, Winifred, was
17. She was a Britis...
Winifred was crazy in
love with Hitler and
kept trying to get him to
marry her. He liked her
extreme adulation and
often c...
Hitler was almost alone among the top Nazis in liking Wagner‘s music.
Most high ranking Nazi officers were simple thugs wi...
―At the age of twelve, I saw ... the first opera of my life, Lohengrin.
In one instant I was addicted. My youthful enthusi...
The few highly educated leading Nazis,
like Joseph Goebbels (PhD in 19th
century romantic drama. His main
teacher and his ...
Heinrich Himmler was a typical Nazi
thug and became the main architect of
the Holocaust. Hitler forced him and
other high ...
Nazi rally, with Wagner‘s music played (the overture to
‖Die Meistersinger‖) by Hitler‘s command
But look! - 1st International Zionist convention, 1897, opened
with Wagner‘s overture to ―Tannhauser‖ - Theodor Herzl‘s ch...
Wagner‘s musical influence and Jewish response
Imagine a painter in the 1860‘s immersed in the kind of art shown on the left and
in the middle here who was suddenly show...
Here is the famous ―Tristan chord‖ that
changed in one brief stroke the future of
Western music. We will hear just the
fir...
George Bernard Shaw wrote that ―Tristan is an astonishingly intense and
faithful translation into music of the emotions wh...
Wagner‘s ―Tristan and Isolde‖ is widely regarded as the most erotic
music ever written. The American composer Virgil Thoms...
Verdi, whose style was
very different from
Wagner’s , said that he
“stood in wonder and
terror” before Wagner’s
“Tristan a...
Jules Massenet - composer
of ―Manon‖ - said after his
first exposure to Wagner’s
Tristan and Isolde, that he
couldn’t wait...
French Composer Emmanuel Chabrier was totally under the
sway of Wagner. After attending Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde
he imm...
French Composer Claude Debussy
was profoundly influenced by Wagner
and had to struggle to assert his own
identity. In gene...
French composer Cesar
Franck was heavily
influenced by Wagner and
Liszt.
German opera composer
Richard Straus (Salome, Der
Rosenkavalier, etc.)

At work and in private
conversation he never tired...
How did Jewish composers, conductors, and
opera singers react to Wagner, given his wellknown anti-Semitism? I‘m glad you a...
Heavily influenced by
Wagner, he said:

―There is only Beethoven
and Wagner, and after them,
nobody‖
also

Jewish composer...
Hermann Levi

Jewish conductor, son
of a rabbi, was a close
working associate and
longtime friend of
Wagner. He conducted
...
Once the brightest star of
European composers in the first
part of the 20th century.
Schreker's fame and influence
were at...
Fled Germany to US in 1934.
Revolutionized 20th century
music.
When told it would take a sixfingered violinist to play his...
A child prodigy and very successful in Europe as a
composer and performer. Came to Hollywood in the
1930s to write film mu...
Famous film director Fritz Lang – half Jewish (mother), raised a Catholic, made
―Metropolis‖, ―M‖ and other classics. He w...
The Jewish conductor Bruno
Walter heard his first Tristan
und Isolde in 1889 as a student:
"So there I sat in the topmost
...
Zionist Theodor Herzl and
prime mover of the Zionist
movement was a big fan of
Wagner‘s music. Everyone
knew about Wagner‘...
Famed Jewish conductor Erich Leinsdorf fled
Austria to avoid the Nazis and then went on to record
much of Wagner.
Famed Jewish conductor Otto Klemperer fled
Germany to avoid the Nazis and then went on to
record much of Wagner.
Famed Jewish conductor Fritz Reiner came to US
in 1922, then went on to record much of Wagner.
Once asked how he could love Wagner, Leonard Bernstein replied, ―I
hate Wagner — on my knees.‖ (i.e., kneeling in homage t...
Jewish conductor
and pianist Daniel
Barenboim broke
the Israeli
Philharmonic
boycott of
Wagner‘s music in
2001. This was a...
Barenboim said that "Wagner,
the person, is absolutely
appalling, despicable, and, in a
way, very difficult to put
togethe...
Sir Georg Solti – famous Jewish
conductor – recorded the definitive
version of Wagner‘s complete Ring
Cycle (four related ...
We will now see a few minutes of Solti‘s amazing
conducting style – ―Siegfried‘s Death and Funeral March‖
from ―Gotterdamm...
We will now hear 2 very short
―Das Rheingold‖ Wagner
selections that 1950s and 60s hifi fans would use to test out their
e...
Zubin Mehta,
while not
Jewish, has
long had a
very close
association
with Israel.
He has
frequently
performed
Wagner aroun...
Friedrich Schorr, Jewish
Hungarian singer. Son of a
cantor. Regarded as the
greatest Wagnerian bassbaritone of his generat...
Half-Jewish (mother). Was a
famous Wagner singer in the
early 1900‘s and often performed
at Bayreuth and later at the Met
...
Dezso Ernster,
Jewish Hungarian
singer. A cantor‘s son.
Survived BergenBelsen, then went on
to sing mostly
Wagnerian bass ...
The great Wagnerian bass – George London – was Jewish.
He sang Wotan and other Wagnerian roles at the Met and at
Bayreuth ...
Jonas
Kaufmann,
today‘s leading
Wagnerian
tenor. He is
Jewish. He
usually looks
like he just got
out of bed. We
will now h...
Today‘s leading conductor and interpreter of Wagner is the
Met‘s James Levine, who is Jewish. We will now see him
doing 1 ...
This long roster of famous Jewish
composers, conductors, and singers show
that they put aside Wagner the man in
order to e...
Vocal Challenges of Wagner‘s Operas
The tenor role of Siegfried
is the most physically and
vocally demanding role in
all of opera. It is the
Ironman event tha...
Jay Hunter Morris
At the end of Wagner‘s ―Siegfried‖, he has been singing
almost continuously for several hours in a very ...
Wagner‘s innovations

His innovations and influence spread beyond composition into
conducting, philosophy, literature, the...
Wagner‘s ideas and music strongly influenced the symbolist movement
painters, like Odilon Redon and Gustav Klimt (left and...
So much of Wagner‘s musical
innovations have been adopted
that now they seem like the norm.
We can‘t imagine how they
seem...
Still with me ?
Nobel Prize author
Thomas Mann

The poet Baudelaire said he would try to
make music with language, of ―emulating
Wagner wi...
Mark Twain did not like opera, let alone
Wagner. He went to Bayreuth to see
―Tristan and Isolde‖ and wrote ―I know of
some...
We will now hear the last few minutes of the ―Tristan
and Isolde‖ love duet at the end of the 2nd act.
Later in Wagner‘s life Franz
Liszt became his father-inlaw. Liszt wrote short piano
transcripts of the themes
from many of...
Celebrated British music critic
Ernest Newman detested Wagner the
man and wrote several books about
him and his music (whi...
Wagner was a compulsive
talker, always and only about
himself, and also wrote
extensively. His published works
run to 16 v...
Wagner invented a new musical
instrument, the Wagner tuba. He
invented many ideas that we take for
granted today, such as ...
Movie music is basically all a result of Wagner‘s ideas. A villain
has ―evil‖ music. A chase scene has fast music, etc. Wa...
Deep bass notes from tubas are used very effectively by Wagner to
create an ominous mood, as in the first few measures of ...
Renoir showed typical
upper class opera goers.
The man is not looking
at the opera but rather at
other operagoers. Some
op...
He designed his own opera house in Bayreuth for
producing his works. It has superb acoustics.
Wagner‘s opera house has no side
wall seats so everyone looks
forward, not at each other. My
German client, Carl Zeiss opt...
Wagner has been mocked for assaulting our ears with loud
and dissonant music. Much of Wagner is not like that.
Here is a recording of the prelude to Act 3 of Wagner‘s ―Lohengrin‖,
which features a lot of brass and a very energetic st...
We will now see a short excerpt from the beautiful ―Forest
Murmurs‖ section of ―Siegfried‖ from the ―Ring‖.
The British comedienne Anna Russell has made a long career out of
satirizing Wagner, especially the ―Ring‖. We will see 2 ...
Wagner always knew exactly the dramatic musical effect he
wanted to create and gave very explicit instructions in his oper...
Wagner always gives very explicit
stage directions and he very
carefully thought out how to give
the best dramatic effect ...
At the end of Act I of ―Die Walkure‖ Siegmund and his twin sister Sieglinde,
separated at birth, have fallen in love and s...
In ―Parsival‖ Wagner gave very
explicit instructions about what he
wanted in a key scene where Parsival
is in a beautiful ...
Shaw wrote a book of critical essays about Wagner‘s ―Ring‖ and it is
called ―The Perfect Wagnerite‖. My definition of such...
Enough already – The End
Wagner explained:  Despicable man/Opera genius
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Wagner explained: Despicable man/Opera genius

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A highly visual slideshow study of Richard Wagner's influence, with special emphasis on his Jewish connections and Jewish reaction to his music and anti-Semitism. The Hitler and Nazi connection is also explored. This is from a talk I gave where many short musical selections are interspersed with the slides. They are referred to here but are not included.

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Wagner explained: Despicable man/Opera genius

  1. 1. Wagner Explained – Despicable Man/ Opera Genius Dave Shafer CHJ
  2. 2. It has often been claimed that the most books ever written are about the controversial figures of Jesus, Napoleon, Hitler, and Wagner. That says something about the very charismatic personalities of these people.
  3. 3. Wagner the Man and the Jewish Connection
  4. 4. Wagner was born in the Jewish quarter of Leipzig in 1813. He suspected, based on some letters he found, that his biological father was a lodger his mother had taken in and he also suspected that this man was Jewish.
  5. 5. Later, when he became famous, he was dogged by rumors that he was part-Jewish. This cartoon, from back then, shows a rabbi with a shofar turning into Wagner with a conductor‘s baton. Wagner had a prominent nose and was an easy target for his enemies.
  6. 6. Wagner also resented the popularity of Mendelssohn, who had Jewish ancestry. When Wagner was struggling to have his own works produced and accepted he became enormously resentful of the absolutely phenomenal success of the Jewish opera composer Meyerbeer.
  7. 7. Almost all of Wagner‘s anti-Semitism was confined to the presence of Jews in the field of music. He thought that they were a parasitic group with no worthwhile culture of their own, who degraded his ideal of a pure nationalistic German music. He wrote about this in a famous essay.
  8. 8. Wagner published his anti-Semitic essay ―Jews in Music‖ anonymously. Later, when he was famous, he republished it under his own name. This was first put out early in his career and its contents were wellknown to his many Jewish supporters. They ignored much to be in the presence of this extraordinary genius.
  9. 9. Wagner‘s anti-Semitism was sort of like US southern racism – a belief that a certain group is genetically, intellectually, and culturally inferior. Yet there were some close relationships between whites and blacks in the south and Wagner had some very close lifelong Jewish friends.
  10. 10. Wagner was always destitute until he was 51. But that did not deter him from running up enormous debts wherever he went. He felt that nothing was too good for a man of his genius. When his creditors put the squeeze on him he did what any gentleman would do.
  11. 11. He skipped town and moved to a place where they had not yet heard of him
  12. 12. Wagner was always putting the squeeze on his friends to ―lend‖ him money. He would then berate them for not being as generous as he thought they should be.
  13. 13. Wagner was often forced to rely on Jewish money lenders, who he would then stiff whenever possible. One of them later wrote that there would always be others who would not pay him back but that only one of those would write ―Tristan and Isolde‖ and because of that he forgave Wagner.
  14. 14. Later in life he met his dream patron – ―Mad‖ king Ludwig of Bavaria, a very ardent fan of Wagner‘s operas. Wagner milked this for all he could and Ludwig bankrupted Bavaria supporting Wagner and his own obsession with Wagner‘s operas.
  15. 15. Ludwig built his fairy tale castle Neuschwanstein in southern Bavaria and filled it with paintings and objects illustrating Wagner‘s operas. Wagner was a frequent visitor. Ludwig was nuts. A lonely recluse who lived in a fantasy world created by Wagner‘s operas. He bankrolled the production of these operas.
  16. 16. Wagner eventually dumped his long-suffering first wife Minna, an actress, whose income he had mooched off of for years. His many affairs, while they were married, strained their relationship and the final straw was his infatuation with Mathilde Wesendonck, an author and poet. She was the wife of a silk merchant who greatly admired Wagner‘s music. She inspired Wagner‘s highly erotic ―Tristan and Isolde‖
  17. 17. Wagner‘s 2nd wife was Cosima, daughter of Franz Liszt, who heavily promoted Wagner and his music. Cosima was a rabid anti-Semite and already married when she and Wagner had an affair.
  18. 18. Hans Von Bulow Wagner and Cosima had 3 children while she was still married to Hans Von Bulow, Wagner‘s close associate and conductor. (It‘s complicated). Von Bulow did not object to Wagner‘s affair with his wife. Notoriously tactless (To a trombonist: "Your tone sounds like roast-beef gravy running through a sewer‖) he nonetheless was devoted to Wagner.
  19. 19. Portrait by John Singer Sargent Wagner later had an affair with the half-Jewish Judith Gautier: poet, novelist, and oriental scholar
  20. 20. In his later years Wagner indulged his preference for women‘s underwear and spent a lot of money on silk garments and other crossdressing wardrobe. He was embarrassed about this and had deliveries made secretly. He gave very explicit directions about the colors and fabric of various garments that he ordered. Judith Gautier helped him with this.
  21. 21. Cross-dressing was just one of Wagner‘s surprising adult traits. He often stood on his head, from sheer exuberance. He liked to slide down banisters and he climbed tall trees even in his 50‘s, just for fun.
  22. 22. After Wagner‘s 1883 death Cosima and their oldest son Siegfried ran the annual Bayreuth Festival.
  23. 23. Siegfried Wagner was a very effeminate boy who matured into a very effeminate man. The family thought it best to ―cure‖ him of his tendencies by marrying him off. It didn‘t work and he was a very active homosexual. His wife was British and on his death in 1930 she inherited complete control of the Bayreuth Festival and the Wagner legacy.
  24. 24. Siegfried and Winifred Wagner This was an arranged marriage. Siegfried was 45 and she, Winifred, was 17. She was a British orphan adopted by a distant German relative. Soon after their marriage they had 4 children in quick succession but it did not slow down his string of male lovers. After his death in 1930 Winifred hotly pursued a romantic interest who she was absolutely bonkers over. Someone she had met in 1923 and instantly fell madly in love with.
  25. 25. Winifred was crazy in love with Hitler and kept trying to get him to marry her. He liked her extreme adulation and often came to Bayreuth to see her. Right up to her death in 1980 she was a blunt unrepentant Nazi and often expressed her extreme political and racist views.
  26. 26. Hitler was almost alone among the top Nazis in liking Wagner‘s music. Most high ranking Nazi officers were simple thugs with no interest at all in Wagner or classical music. During the Third Reich the popularity of Wagner‘s music with the German opera-going public actually declined and Italian opera became much preferred.
  27. 27. ―At the age of twelve, I saw ... the first opera of my life, Lohengrin. In one instant I was addicted. My youthful enthusiasm for the Bayreuth Master (Wagner) knew no bounds‖ from Hitler‘s book ―Mein Kampf‖. Hitler never ascribed any of his views to Wagner, not in Mein Kampf, his speeches, articles, or recorded private conversations, not even in his 1920 speech ―Why Are We Anti-Semites?‖ Hitler may have never read any of Wagner‘s thoroughly documented ideas. It was the operas that entranced him.
  28. 28. The few highly educated leading Nazis, like Joseph Goebbels (PhD in 19th century romantic drama. His main teacher and his doctoral supervisor were both Jews) would seem like a natural for Wagner‘s romantic musical drama. Yet he was dismayed by Hitler‘s fascination with Wagner‘s music. Goebbels virulent and genocidal anti-Semitism far exceeded Wagner‘s – who never once suggested that Jews be persecuted in any way. Goebbels had a club foot, brown eyes and was only 5 feet, 5 inches tall very far from the Aryan ideal – more like one of Wagner‘s opera villains.
  29. 29. Heinrich Himmler was a typical Nazi thug and became the main architect of the Holocaust. Hitler forced him and other high level Nazi officials to attend special Wagner performances. Hitler was disappointed to then see them doze off during the music. He eventually gave up and cancelled the concerts. The conclusion has to be that pretty much except for Hitler himself, the top Nazis and Wagner were not linked by his music but, if at all, by his antiSemitism and his nationalistic ideas. People like Hitler and Himmler and some others were rabidly anti-Semitic with no help from Wagner‘s very bland version.
  30. 30. Nazi rally, with Wagner‘s music played (the overture to ‖Die Meistersinger‖) by Hitler‘s command
  31. 31. But look! - 1st International Zionist convention, 1897, opened with Wagner‘s overture to ―Tannhauser‖ - Theodor Herzl‘s choice
  32. 32. Wagner‘s musical influence and Jewish response
  33. 33. Imagine a painter in the 1860‘s immersed in the kind of art shown on the left and in the middle here who was suddenly shown the Picasso on the right – a whole new way of looking at women and of art itself. The shock he would feel is what composers felt when they heard the first few measures of Wagner‘s ―Tristan and Isolde‖. Some, like Emmanuel Chabrier, broke down sobbing or even passed out. They were blown away by the famous ―Tristan chord‖ and the start of a new kind of music. Wagner‘s influence was immense, from Puccini to Debussy and countless other composers, both of opera and music in general.
  34. 34. Here is the famous ―Tristan chord‖ that changed in one brief stroke the future of Western music. We will hear just the first few seconds of Wagner‘s opera ―Tristan and Isolde‖, where the chord first appears. At this point composer Emmanuel Chabrier, in the audience, was already sobbing uncontrollably. He could see the future. We today cannot hear this with the amazement in produced back then – 2 separate dissonances within one chord, then transformed in the next measure into another dissonant chord. We hear it now, just the first few measures.
  35. 35. George Bernard Shaw wrote that ―Tristan is an astonishingly intense and faithful translation into music of the emotions which accompany the union of a pair of lovers‖, like in this Toulouse Lautrec painting. Richard Strauss wrote that with Tristan ―the yearning of the entire 19th century is gathered in one focal point.‖ Nietzsche wrote that ―I am still in search of a work which exercises such a dangerous fascination, such a spine-tingling and blissful infinity as Tristan — I have sought in vain, in every art."
  36. 36. Wagner‘s ―Tristan and Isolde‖ is widely regarded as the most erotic music ever written. The American composer Virgil Thomson claimed that Wagner depicted seven musical orgasms in the second act alone. The lovers' passion finds expression in music that hovers in suspended animation between arousal and climax.
  37. 37. Verdi, whose style was very different from Wagner’s , said that he “stood in wonder and terror” before Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde”. He said that he could never quite grasp the fact that it had been created by a mere human being. Verdi’s “Otello” shows very clear Wagner influence.
  38. 38. Jules Massenet - composer of ―Manon‖ - said after his first exposure to Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, that he couldn’t wait to get back to Paris to burn his score of his own opera Werther which he had been working on. French composers all went bonkers over Wagner. Debussy had to fight mightily against this and its own early sway over him.
  39. 39. French Composer Emmanuel Chabrier was totally under the sway of Wagner. After attending Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde he immediately quit his government job and devoted his life to music. A friend of Monet and Manet and widely admired by other composers.
  40. 40. French Composer Claude Debussy was profoundly influenced by Wagner and had to struggle to assert his own identity. In general the French composers were crazy for Wagner‘s music. Ernest Chausson‘s opera ―King Arthur‖ essentially plagiarizes Wagner‘s Tristan and Isolde and sounds strikingly similar.
  41. 41. French composer Cesar Franck was heavily influenced by Wagner and Liszt.
  42. 42. German opera composer Richard Straus (Salome, Der Rosenkavalier, etc.) At work and in private conversation he never tired of pointing out that, as far as he was concerned, Richard Wagner was the only composer besides Mozart who could be taken seriously.
  43. 43. How did Jewish composers, conductors, and opera singers react to Wagner, given his wellknown anti-Semitism? I‘m glad you asked!
  44. 44. Heavily influenced by Wagner, he said: ―There is only Beethoven and Wagner, and after them, nobody‖ also Jewish composer Gustav Mahler "Emerging speechless from the Festspielhaus after hearing Parsifal in 1883, I realized that I had undergone the most soul-wrenching experience in my life, and that I would carry this experience with me for the rest of my days".
  45. 45. Hermann Levi Jewish conductor, son of a rabbi, was a close working associate and longtime friend of Wagner. He conducted the premier of Wagner‘s ―Parsival‖. Wagner often strongly urged his many Jewish friends to convert. Many of them were devoted to him and felt privileged to know such a towering genius. They all knew of his anti-Semitism.
  46. 46. Once the brightest star of European composers in the first part of the 20th century. Schreker's fame and influence were at their peak during the early years of the Weimar Republic when he was the most performed living opera composer after Richard Strauss. Died of a stroke in 1934. Heavily influenced by Wagner. Jewish opera composer Franz Schreker
  47. 47. Fled Germany to US in 1934. Revolutionized 20th century music. When told it would take a sixfingered violinist to play his violin concerto, Schoenberg replied: "I can wait‖ He claimed to have seen each of Wagner‘s operas 25 to 30 times by the time he was 25 years old. Jewish composer Arnold Schoenberg
  48. 48. A child prodigy and very successful in Europe as a composer and performer. Came to Hollywood in the 1930s to write film music. A pioneer in developing film music into an art form. He was very influenced by Wagner and wrote music for a Hollywood movie – ―Magic Fire‖ about the life of Wagner. William Dieterle ( Jewish) directed. Jewish Composer Erich Korngold
  49. 49. Famous film director Fritz Lang – half Jewish (mother), raised a Catholic, made ―Metropolis‖, ―M‖ and other classics. He was drawn to the exact same story line as Wagner and made a 5 hour silent film version of Wagner‘s ―Ring‖ saga.
  50. 50. The Jewish conductor Bruno Walter heard his first Tristan und Isolde in 1889 as a student: "So there I sat in the topmost gallery of the Berlin Opera House, and from the first sound of the cellos my heart contracted spasmodically... Never before has my soul been deluged with such floods of sound and passion, never had my heart been consumed by such yearning and sublime bliss... A new epoch had begun: Wagner was my god, and I wanted to become his prophet."
  51. 51. Zionist Theodor Herzl and prime mover of the Zionist movement was a big fan of Wagner‘s music. Everyone knew about Wagner‘s antiSemitism, but that was the man. The music was something else entirely. He took solace in Wagner‘s music during his Zionist struggles. Herzl said he doubted he ever would have written ―The Jewish State‖ had he not heard ―Tannhauser‖ at the Paris Opera and been inspired by it.
  52. 52. Famed Jewish conductor Erich Leinsdorf fled Austria to avoid the Nazis and then went on to record much of Wagner.
  53. 53. Famed Jewish conductor Otto Klemperer fled Germany to avoid the Nazis and then went on to record much of Wagner.
  54. 54. Famed Jewish conductor Fritz Reiner came to US in 1922, then went on to record much of Wagner.
  55. 55. Once asked how he could love Wagner, Leonard Bernstein replied, ―I hate Wagner — on my knees.‖ (i.e., kneeling in homage to his genius) Jewish conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein
  56. 56. Jewish conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim broke the Israeli Philharmonic boycott of Wagner‘s music in 2001. This was a very controversial act and was only done as an encore, with people free to leave before it.
  57. 57. Barenboim said that "Wagner, the person, is absolutely appalling, despicable, and, in a way, very difficult to put together with the music he wrote, which so often has exactly the opposite kind of feelings ... noble, generous, etc." He called Wagner's antiSemitism obviously "monstrous," and feels it must be faced, but argues that "Wagner did not cause the Holocaust."
  58. 58. Sir Georg Solti – famous Jewish conductor – recorded the definitive version of Wagner‘s complete Ring Cycle (four related operas). The actual recording experience, from 1956 to 1965 was the subject of both a book and a movie. A 2011 poll of classical music critics voted it the greatest music recording of all time. The first one released, ―Das Rheingold‖, was a surprise best seller in 1958 due to large numbers of owners of hi-fi equipment who wanted to test out their gear on the amazing ―Ring‖ sound effects.
  59. 59. We will now see a few minutes of Solti‘s amazing conducting style – ―Siegfried‘s Death and Funeral March‖ from ―Gotterdammerung‖ at the end of the ―Ring‖. His orgasmic total immersion in the music is something to behold.
  60. 60. We will now hear 2 very short ―Das Rheingold‖ Wagner selections that 1950s and 60s hifi fans would use to test out their equipment. First is the entrance of the giants from Act I. Then there is the lightning and thunder scene at the end of the last act of ―Das Rheingold‖. These are loud and also have a wide range of sound frequency content that would put a good stereo system through its paces.
  61. 61. Zubin Mehta, while not Jewish, has long had a very close association with Israel. He has frequently performed Wagner around the world.
  62. 62. Friedrich Schorr, Jewish Hungarian singer. Son of a cantor. Regarded as the greatest Wagnerian bassbaritone of his generation. Sang at the Met and also at the Wagner Bayreuth Festival (1925-1933). Came to USA in 1931.
  63. 63. Half-Jewish (mother). Was a famous Wagner singer in the early 1900‘s and often performed at Bayreuth and later at the Met in NYC. At one point in her career hailed as ―the world‘s greatest contralto,‖ Made her Met debut weeks after having her 7th child. Ernestine Schumann-Heink
  64. 64. Dezso Ernster, Jewish Hungarian singer. A cantor‘s son. Survived BergenBelsen, then went on to sing mostly Wagnerian bass roles at the Met.
  65. 65. The great Wagnerian bass – George London – was Jewish. He sang Wotan and other Wagnerian roles at the Met and at Bayreuth in the 1950‘s
  66. 66. Jonas Kaufmann, today‘s leading Wagnerian tenor. He is Jewish. He usually looks like he just got out of bed. We will now hear him in the famous love song ―Winterstrume‖ from ―Die Walkure‖
  67. 67. Today‘s leading conductor and interpreter of Wagner is the Met‘s James Levine, who is Jewish. We will now see him doing 1 minute of the beginning of Act III of ―Siegfried‖
  68. 68. This long roster of famous Jewish composers, conductors, and singers show that they put aside Wagner the man in order to embrace Wagner‘s music. That is a choice everyone must make. Of course it is a lot easier if you don‘t like his music. But some (especially Wagner himself) think Wagner was the greatest artist genius of all time. I do too.
  69. 69. Vocal Challenges of Wagner‘s Operas
  70. 70. The tenor role of Siegfried is the most physically and vocally demanding role in all of opera. It is the Ironman event that has very few entrants. Very few tenors can sing it at all, even badly, and a good one comes along maybe once in a generation. It ruins voices and ends careers early if tried too soon. We will watch a promising young new Siegfried, who we hope will not burn out too soon.
  71. 71. Jay Hunter Morris At the end of Wagner‘s ―Siegfried‖, he has been singing almost continuously for several hours in a very demanding role, requiring enormous power and stamina. Then he has to end the opera with a thrilling and ecstatic climax, instead of dropping in his tracks from fatigue. We will now watch this.
  72. 72. Wagner‘s innovations His innovations and influence spread beyond composition into conducting, philosophy, literature, the visual arts and theatre and this doesn‘t include his major innovations in the music itself. He invented stage scenery that moved sideways; founded the modern school of conducting; began a revolution in stage lighting; greatly developed the concept of ‗leitmotiv‘; inspiring many writers and poets including Joyce, Shaw, D.H. Lawrence, T.S Elliot, and Thomas Mann, invented the modern form of opera; wrote his own libretto, put singing in the service of drama, and basically revolutionized the whole field of opera. In addition he transformed the future of music itself with his ―Tristan Chord‖ and other harmonic and chromatic effects.
  73. 73. Wagner‘s ideas and music strongly influenced the symbolist movement painters, like Odilon Redon and Gustav Klimt (left and right above), as well as the French symbolist poets – Baudelaire, Verlaine, Mallarme – who worshipped Wagner. Edvard Munch and other painters, writers, and artists also were very influenced by Wagner. The poet W.H. Auden said that Wagner was probably the greatest genius who had ever lived.
  74. 74. So much of Wagner‘s musical innovations have been adopted that now they seem like the norm. We can‘t imagine how they seemed back then when first encountered. Wagner developed Freudian ideas decades before Freud and expressed them in his music. His opera music reflects and expresses inner thoughts and feelings of characters, which they are themselves are sometimes unaware of. But we the audience learn of it even if they are unaware. He was above all a creator of psychological depth in his music.
  75. 75. Still with me ?
  76. 76. Nobel Prize author Thomas Mann The poet Baudelaire said he would try to make music with language, of ―emulating Wagner with language alone‖. A famous conductor once said, after conducting a performance of ―Tristan and Isolde‖, ―This is no longer music‖. By which he meant that it was so much more than music. It expresses in a way scarcely imaginable the deepest sense of longing and passion. Especially longing. Back in Wagner‘s day someone once said ―This is dangerous music‖ Stirring up intense feelings of longing can and did lead to people (like Hitler) embarking on world changing actions. The writer Thomas Mann was obsessed with Wagner‘s music his whole life and called it a ―troubling passion‖
  77. 77. Mark Twain did not like opera, let alone Wagner. He went to Bayreuth to see ―Tristan and Isolde‖ and wrote ―I know of some and have heard of many who could not sleep after it, but cried the night away. I feel strongly out of place here. Sometimes I feel like the sane person in a community of the mad‖. The emotional and physical stress of singing the role of Tristan led to the death of its first tenor in 1865, after just four performances. Two conductors of ―Tristan and Isolde‖ died at the podium, one in 1911 and one in 1968 and both collapsed during the second act. It is a wrenching experience to conduct, sing in, or listen to this very emotionally draining opera.
  78. 78. We will now hear the last few minutes of the ―Tristan and Isolde‖ love duet at the end of the 2nd act.
  79. 79. Later in Wagner‘s life Franz Liszt became his father-inlaw. Liszt wrote short piano transcripts of the themes from many of Wagner‘s operas. Many people became familiar with Wagner‘s music by means of these piano pieces long before his operas were widely performed. Amateur pianists could play them at home. Some of these piano transcripts, like the Tristan one, are quite moving.
  80. 80. Celebrated British music critic Ernest Newman detested Wagner the man and wrote several books about him and his music (which he greatly admired). Wagner had long-term and intense research into philosophy, politics, history, literature, myth, language, poetry, drama, and music. In Newman‘s words – ―Such a combination had never existed in a single individual before; it has never happened since, and in all probability it will never happen again.‖ Conductor Sir Georg Solti called the ―Ring‖ a masterpiece unique in human history. Ernest Newman 1868-1959
  81. 81. Wagner was a compulsive talker, always and only about himself, and also wrote extensively. His published works run to 16 volumes on a wide range of subjects and do not include countless letters to friends. His autobiography ―My Life‖ is 750 pages.
  82. 82. Wagner invented a new musical instrument, the Wagner tuba. He invented many ideas that we take for granted today, such as – Turning down the auditorium lights when a performance starts, all seats face forward, orchestra out of sight, movie music (villain has ―evil music‖, etc.) , continuous melody line, leitmotifs, and other innovations. His famous ―Tristan chord‖ changed the future of music. He wanted opera to be a ―total art work‖, where the music, singing, staging, costumes, acting, and drama, all come together to make a unified whole.
  83. 83. Movie music is basically all a result of Wagner‘s ideas. A villain has ―evil‖ music. A chase scene has fast music, etc. Wagner pioneered the idea of having music reflect character or action. We are so used to this by now that we are barely even aware of it.
  84. 84. Deep bass notes from tubas are used very effectively by Wagner to create an ominous mood, as in the first few measures of ―Siegfried‖, where they are used to suggest the lurking presence of the dragon Fafnir. We hear now a short example of that.
  85. 85. Renoir showed typical upper class opera goers. The man is not looking at the opera but rather at other operagoers. Some opera houses had some seats with no view of the stage. Wagner hated this. Opera should not be to see who was wearing what and who was with who but to pay close attention to a work of musical drama.
  86. 86. He designed his own opera house in Bayreuth for producing his works. It has superb acoustics.
  87. 87. Wagner‘s opera house has no side wall seats so everyone looks forward, not at each other. My German client, Carl Zeiss optics, once gave me and my wife two tickets to a Bayreuth performance. The normal wait for tickets is 8 to 10 years. Our tickets had a printed face price of $50. The black market price, which Zeiss paid for them, was $1700 each!
  88. 88. Wagner has been mocked for assaulting our ears with loud and dissonant music. Much of Wagner is not like that.
  89. 89. Here is a recording of the prelude to Act 3 of Wagner‘s ―Lohengrin‖, which features a lot of brass and a very energetic style. This exuberance leads directly into the famous ―Wedding March‖, played at most weddings – a slow and serene soft piece. Wagner wrote many orchestral interludes, like this one, that precede the singing. Most people probably do not realize that this famous quiet wedding music is from Wagner. His reputation for loud music is only partly deserved.
  90. 90. We will now see a short excerpt from the beautiful ―Forest Murmurs‖ section of ―Siegfried‖ from the ―Ring‖.
  91. 91. The British comedienne Anna Russell has made a long career out of satirizing Wagner, especially the ―Ring‖. We will see 2 minutes of her act.
  92. 92. Wagner always knew exactly the dramatic musical effect he wanted to create and gave very explicit instructions in his operas. In ―Das Rheingold‖ Wotan and Loge descend down under the earth to Nibelheim. As the orchestra fades, it gives way to a choir of 18 tuned anvils (indicated in the score with specific size, quantity and pitch) beating out the dotted rhythm of the Nibelung theme to give a stark depiction of the toiling of the enslaved dwarves beating out gold on the anvils. We will hear that now.
  93. 93. Wagner always gives very explicit stage directions and he very carefully thought out how to give the best dramatic effect to his operas. These directions are usually ignored by current stage directors and horrible liberties are often taken resulting in thoroughly grotesque ‖Eurotrash‖ productions. I saw a ―Siegfried‖ once where at the climax of the ecstatic love duet that ends the opera a character with a Darth Vader mask wandered around on the stage near them, peering into their faces as they sang. Completely wrecked the mood. I would love to get my hands on these guys.
  94. 94. At the end of Act I of ―Die Walkure‖ Siegmund and his twin sister Sieglinde, separated at birth, have fallen in love and suddenly recognize who each other is. At the end of a passionate duet the curtain falls as they make love on stage. The last measures of music clearly mimic intercourse and climax. Most conductors shy away from this and tone down the music and few stage directors give a realistic end of Act I. We will see it staged almost the way it should be done but the music still wimps out of the explicit sex. Georg Solti in his classic ―Ring‖ recording does the music right. In a recent Met production the two lovers barely get together and then basically as kind of an afterthought as the curtain comes down at the end of Act I. No passion shown. Crazy and awful! A musical crime that cannot be excused.
  95. 95. In ―Parsival‖ Wagner gave very explicit instructions about what he wanted in a key scene where Parsival is in a beautiful meadow filled with flowers and flower maidens are trying to seduce him. These two paintings give the general idea. The Met recently put on a horrendous travesty of ―Parsival‖. In that key scene there is no meadow on the stark stage, there are no flowers, there are no flowers even on the costumes of the flower maidens, those same flower maidens all look like identical young zombies, and they are standing in a pool of fake blood. It would be hard to get further from Wagner‘s intentions.
  96. 96. Shaw wrote a book of critical essays about Wagner‘s ―Ring‖ and it is called ―The Perfect Wagnerite‖. My definition of such a person is one who is able to separate the man from the music and appreciate Wagner‘s genius. I am one of those.
  97. 97. Enough already – The End

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