Wagner at 200

On the 200th birthday of Richard Wagner (who died 6 years before Hitler was born), we learn (in “Is Wagner’s Nazi stigma fair?“) that Wagner is banned from Israel:

One country that will not be partaking of the birthday celebrations is Israel, where Wagner’s music is, effectively, banned. The boycott has little to do with the searing psychological realism attained in Tristan and Isolde though, and everything to do with the fact that for many Israeli Jews, Wagner’s music carries irrevocably the taint of its association with and appropriation by the Nazis…

A Jewish prohibition on playing Wagner only came into effect later due to what Barenboim describes as the “use, misuse and abuse” of his music by Hitler, who had related in Mein Kampf the experience of seeing Lohengrin as a 12-year-old: “In one instant I was addicted. My youthful enthusiasm for the Bayreuth Master knew no bounds.”

Today, as Barenboim knows all too well, any attempt by a composer to perform Wagner in Israel invites outrage. In 2001, his considered decision to offer a piece of Wagner as an encore led to widespread condemnation – particularly regrettable, he says, because the audience had been asked beforehand, during a measured 40-minute discussion, if they would like to hear it. Those who did not were invited freely to leave; they were less than five per cent of the audience. “The idea this was a scandal was started the next day by people with a political agenda, not those in the concert hall,” he tells me, stressing his respect for “anybody’s right to choose not to listen to Wagner.” But, he says, “in a democratic society there should be no place for such taboos.”

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