Racism, Hitler, Socialism, Irony, a cast member bio and Act 3 of a rare radio broadcast.
"I write music with an exclamation point!" – Richard Wagner
Sadly, one of things that has always put me off to going to classical music performances of any kind is the snobbery of some of the fans of the music. It is telling how much they are willing to overlook the indiscretions of their favorite composers while simultaneously sniping at popular music of the 20th Century, notably music forms created by Black artists such as Blues, Jazz, Rock and Roll and Hip Hop. (Trust me, another whole series of essays could be written about racism within the classical music community. Here's an excellent opinion piece by Daniel Johnson earlier this year about this subject and sexism in the classical music arts scene.)
In this more so-called "progressive age", it would easy to dismiss the work of Wagner due to his hatred of Jewish composers due to anti-semitism, or as many have done, to ignore it altogether.
Why Wagner has been singled out is anyone's guess, especially since Chopin, Liszt and Mussorgsky have all gone on record with anti-semitic statements. (A page maintained by the BBC lists some of the heinous acts by some of history's most celebrated composers here.) One theory is that Wagner's music was beloved and celebrated by Adolph Hitler. The irony is that Wagner was a Socialist, and Socialists were the first people Hitler's internal police forces came for, according to author Martin Niemöller, who spent seven years in a concentration camp, and is best remembered for his speeches about allowing harm to come to others unlike yourself.)
Socialism: a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.
The additional sad irony is that for all of the progressive leanings that many lefties state they have, they often forget that Karl Marx, the founder of modern Socialism, was also anti-semitic. (For the record, I am a lifelong Socialist, member of the Pacific Green Party and anti-capitalist, but not anti-semitic, and half German, so figure that one out for yourself.) This is also a subject many do not wish to approach. Why would these two celebrated 19th Century thinkers and writers, who's works are still discussed daily 150 years later, hate the Jews so much?
Jerome Hines, 1958, New York City, courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera, photographer unknown. Hines was an American operatic bass who performed at The Met from 1946-87. In this production of Tannhäuser, he plays Landgrave Hermann. He also is known for his work in other Wagner productions, as well as in performances written by Gounod, Mozart, Verdi and Mussorgksy. Believe this or not, he stood 6'6", was a math major in college, and co-wrote several scholarly articles on operator theory, a branch of mathematics that deals with functional analysis.
The answer is simpler than many history books will ever tell you: There was a wave of thinking during the Industrial Revolution that Capitalism was cruel to the working class and the poor, which was often the case. (As I had mentioned in day one of this series, The Romantic Period was in direct opposition to the Industrial Revolution, which occurred concurrently.) The theory was that Jewish people were responsible for this upending and destruction of people's lives due to many banking systems in favor of Capitalism to make money more quickly, and often run by Jews. Even before the rise of Hitler, Jews were a target and a scapegoat for a very different reasons.
According to Steve's Hochstadt's incredibly well-researched book Sources of the Holocaust (iSBN13 978-0-333 96345-6), Wagner is mentioned only once, and in passing, in Section 3, on page 22. He found no concrete link between Wagner and Hitler, other than the latter liking the former. He stated that the first-wave racist Socialist thinking linking Jews and Capitalism had fallen out of favor by 1900. Correlation isn't causation.
To summarize, not making excuses for anyone here, but pointing out the cold, hard truth about a great many things so I can hopefully get you to focus on the reason we are all here, which hopefully is the music. Glass houses people, glass houses...
A brief synopsis of Act 3 of Tannhäuser, which ends our special series of this rare radio broadcast from the Met from 1954, again from The Met's website:
"Wolfram comes across Elisabeth praying at a shrine in the valley. A band of pilgrims, back from Rome, passes by, but Tannhäuser is not among them. Broken with grief, Elisabeth prays to the Virgin Mary to receive her soul into heaven. Wolfram gazes after her and asks the evening star to guide her way. Night falls, and a solitary pilgrim approaches. It is Tannhäuser, ragged and weary.
Left without hope due to the Pope's refusal to help Tannhäuser, all he wants now is to return to Venus. He summons her and she appears, just as Wolfram once again brings Tannhäuser to his senses by invoking Elisabeth’s name. At this moment, Elisabeth’s funeral procession comes winding down the valley."
Our tracks this program, presented in a continuous sequence.
1. Act III: Introduction.
2. Act III: Wohl Wusst Ich Hier Sie Im Gebet Zu Finden.
3. Act III: Beglückt Darf Nun Dich, O Heimat.
4. Act III: Allmächt’ge Jungfrau! Hör Mein Flehen!
5. Act III: Wie Todesahnung Dämmrung Deckt Die Lande.
6. Act III: O! Du Mein Holder Abendstern.
7. Act III: Ich Hörte Harfenschlag.
8. Act III: Inbrunst Im Herzen.
9. Act III: Dahin Zog’s Mich, Wo Ich Der Wonn Und Lust.
10. Act III: Willkommen, Ungetreuer Mann!
11. Act III: Heil! Heil! Der Gnade Wunder Heil.
Love to you all.
Ben “Bear” Brown Jr., owner
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What's Opera Doc?
Released in July of 1957, What's Opera Doc? borrowed liberally from three different Wagner Operas, including Der Ring des Nibelungen, Tannhäuser and Der fliegende Holländer, know that Wagner's music had permeated popular culture in the mid-to-late 1950's in such a way that it can easily be simultaneously spoofed and celebrated in a children's cartoon. Courtesy of Warner Brothers, and the first animated piece to be introduced into the National Film Registry in the Library of Congress. Enjoy.