Friday, December 21, 2012

Wagner and Hitler: Active or passive influence?

The year 2013 marks the bicentennial of Richard Wagner’s birth. Once every several years, the debate ensues in Israel over whether or not this composer’s music should be performed publicly. The last attempt occurred when the Wagner Society in Israel declared it was about to offer a full symphonic concert of works by the composer in Tel Aviv, under the name “A musical-academic session: Herzl – Toscanini – Wagner.” This attempt, as was the case with many previous attempts, did not succeed. Why is it, then, that after 200 years this composer still causes such intense feelings? The main reasons behind resistance to Wagner’s music are the contribution of his writings to the development of modern anti-Semitism, and his influence on Nazi racial ideology, as well as his family’s connections to Hitler. Usually, however, arguments dealing with the ban on Wagner’s work and its influence pervert historical and ideological context, and therefore lose quite a bit of validity and reliability. So, in order to properly examine the connection between Wagner and Hitler, it is imperative to create order in the time line. Wagner died 50 years before Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. However, I argue there is evidence to support the claim that Wagner’s anti-Semitism affected Hitler through indirect channels. What’s more, his anti-Semitism was his own, not due to the influence of others.

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