|Stage design||Rebecca Ringst|
|Hans Sachs||Michael Volle|
|Veit Pogner||Günther Groissböck|
|Kunz Vogelgesang||Tansel Akzeybek|
|Konrad Nachtigal||Armin Kolarczyk|
|Sixtus Beckmesser||Johannes Martin Kränzle|
|Fritz Kothner||Daniel Schmutzhard|
|Balthasar Zorn||Paul Kaufmann|
|Ulrich Eisslinger||Christopher Kaplan|
|Augustin Moser||Stefan Heibach|
|Hermann Ortel||Raimund Nolte|
|Hans Schwarz||Andreas Hörl|
|Hans Foltz||Timo Riihonen|
|Walther von Stolzing||Klaus Florian Vogt|
|Ein Nachtwächter||Tobias Kehrer|
An R. sleeps in all things around…
How much Richard is there in the Meistersinger?
“I have only committed the error of confusing art and life.” In this succinct observation, Wagner attempted in his 1864 essay On State and Religion to get to the heart of what he had previously laid out in lengthy arguments: that all the articles and essays he had published on political themes of the past decades were ultimately no more than the ideas of an essentially apolitical artist. “But whoever has assigned me the role of a political revolutionary […] obviously knew nothing at all about me, and made judgments based on an outward semblance of circumstances, which may well mislead a police officer, but not a statesman.” Such an argument, as is so often the case with Wagner, comes not without its ulterior motives. On State and Religion was written at the instigation of the young Bavarian King Ludwig II, who had shortly beforehand summoned the composer to Munich. In other words, newly entered into royal service, it was necessary for Wagner to recast the revolutionary past that had led to a warrant for his arrest and had forced him into exile for eleven years, but without having to take back anything he had said or written.
There was undoubtedly a grain of truth in this brilliant sleight of hand, that skilfully allowed Wagner the political agitator to take cover behind Wagner the artist. But it seems more appropriate to state that Wagner did not in fact confuse art and life. Rather, art and life intermingled for him, quite unlike any for other composer, in a way that makes it difficult to separate the one from the other. And this in no way seems to have been the result of an inadvertent “error”, as Wagner wanted us to believe, but to have sprung, in many respects, from a fundamental conviction of Wagner’s, who wanted not only to influence the (political) life of his time with his art, but also stylised his own life as a work of art itself. No other composer in the history of music had commented so extensively on all areas of social life and on the political events of his time. No other composer had allowed his works to be so directly and immediately inspired by real experiences from his private life and then left detailed evidence to the same. His travels, his amorous adventures, indeed his artistic existence itself inherently found their way into his theatre, by osmosis, as it were. By the same token, his life and his daily existence were transformed into a performance that was “fit for a stage”. Stories from his contemporaries attest to how Wagner, in a kind of endless one-man-show, was perpetually reading aloud, reciting, acting, singing – in other words, always performing. Everything, even the most banal activity, was turned into theatre – and in the end, fed back into his work. Wagner’s artistic and political views were reflected in hundreds of pages of pamphlets, essays, and theoretical texts, as well as in his works of musical theatre. All that he did and accomplished was infused with his autobiography; behind every note of his scores, every word of his texts, stands the ego of a man who authoritatively expressed himself on everything that surrounded him. If caution is generally advised when combining biographical data with the work of an artist, then Wagner, in his person and utterances, seemed to be expressly asking us not to detach the artist from the man, nor to detach the art theorist or the political thinker from the composer. Ultimately, Wagner himself assembled a colourful mixture of opera libretti, autobiographical material, art theory, and works of a political nature in his Collected Writings and Poems, which he himself would publish. In order to understand the full political and philosophical breadth of his works, it seems appropriate to always look at them afresh from Wagner’s own perspective, as the perspective of a figure living in the public eye of his time.
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is especially full of rich references to Wagner’s life, to his conception of art, and – perhaps more than in any of his other works – to his political views. Ultimately, the period during which the work was created was a time of great political and social upheaval that ended with the unification of Germany, so long awaited by many contemporaries, and the founding of the German Empire. At the same time, something enormously important was growing and thriving for Wagner personally, profoundly changing other areas of his life: his relationship with 24 year old younger Cosima von Bülow, officially sealed in marriage two years after the première of the Meistersinger. She remained his beloved wife, at his side, until his death, the mother of his children, his secretary, and lady of the house at Wahnfried all in one. With his unique flair for theatre, Wagner took these personal feelings of love, his political views, and ideas about art to create a work which was unique even among his own career, the most German, and, at the same time, most self-referential of all his operas.
“I have married Eva” – R., the lover
Although Cosima had already met Richard Wagner for the first time in 1853 at the age of 16, accompanied by her father Franz Liszt, and though they met again many times in subsequent years, mostly at the side of her husband, conductor and Wagner-admirer Hans von Bülow, the first spark of love seems to have sprung during a fleeting encounter in Bad Reichenhall, in 1861, when Wagner, in parting, met Cosima’s look of “almost timid questioning” (Wagner, My Life). In July of the following year, the von Bülows visited Wagner in his residence in Biebrich, across from the city of Mainz, where the publisher Schott was waiting impatiently for the Meistersinger, whose rapid completion Wagner had promised (against generous advance payments). (The publisher would have to wait another six years.) Only a little more than a year later, that memorable vow of fidelity between Wagner and Cosima occurred, on a carriage ride through Berlin – without Hans von Bülow, who had stayed at home to prepare for a concert he was overseeing. “This time there was no more banter, just silence between us,” says Wagner in My Life. “We gazed speechless into each other’s eyes, and an intense desire to admit the truth overpowered us, pushed us to the point of a confession that needed no words, that we should belong to one other alone. A load was lifted from us.” Cosima’s diaries reveal that even in later years they always celebrated this memorable day on the 28th November.
However, before Richard and Cosima were able to live out this commitment to one another openly, a few years had to pass – the years in which the Meistersinger was born, anchored in Munich and Tribschen. In Munich, Cosima led a double life, moving between the two households of her husband Hans and her lover Richard, whom in 1865 she blessed with a daughter, Isolde, though the child was officially regarded as von Bülow’s. When Wagner was exiled in disgrace from Munich to Tribschen on Lake Lucerne, Cosima and her three children also followed, the relationship settled into a calm ease, even if appearances still had to be maintained. Richards and Cosima’s second daughter was born in Tribschen. She was, not coincidentally, given the name of the Meistersinger’s lead female character, as Wagner was about to complete the composition.
There had been quite a few other women who had served as sources of inspiration for the character of Eva when Wagner had started work on the Meistersinger. Wagner’s experience of having to abandon the unattainable Mathilde Wesendonck had also surely inspired Wagner to create a work about cobbler-poet Hans Sachs, who had had similar experiences. But as work on the piece continued over the years, Cosima had become the central female figure in Wagner’s life in yet another relationship defined by abstinence for years. Numerous letters and telegrams from Wagner to Cosima during those years are revealingly signed “Sachs” or even “Hans Sachs”. “Just as Rub.[instein] played the prelude to Act Three [of the Meistersinger] and the first scene,” writes Cosima, under a diary entry dated 15th February 1881, “R. says to me: ‘H. Sachs has married Eva,’ and he stands up, explaining, ‘The whole relationship to German art is put into that first scene,’ something the others don’t understand, and once more he has the music played, and sings as far as the prize song. […] ‘None of it fits,’ he says, ‘I have married Eva.’ – I then respond: ‘But according to Herwegh, you are Sachs and Walther in one, and as I see it, you are all of them, Tristan and Marke, Lohengrin and Parsifal’ […].” That Wagner identified to a great degree with the male heroes of his operas is widely known. The fact that he had the relationship between Sachs and Eva mirror his own romantic relationship to Cosima is an instance of that mixture of art and life so typical of Wagner as mentioned above. It is remarkable, however, that Wagner possessed not just one “avatar” within the Meistersinger, but two or maybe even three: Wagner sees himself just as much in the wise, forbearing Sachs as he does in the young Walther von Stolzing, vying for Eva’s hand (and probably also in the all-too-cheeky, know-it-all apprentice lad David). In this reflection of the self as a composer, Walther was the Wagner of the middle creative period, marked by youthful Sturm und Drang, the Wagner of the Flying Dutchman, Tannhäuser and Lohengrin, whereas Sachs is the more mature Wagner who had grown in his mastery, the Wagner of the Ring, of Tristan and of the Meistersinger. (And in this mind game, then, David would be the early, immature Wagner still finding his way with the Feen, Liebesverbot and Rienzi.) The plot and the artistic aspect, Wagner’s biography and the compositional development are unambiguously connected. “None of it fits; I have married Eva.” Is Wagner now speaking of his conceptions of art, reflected in the work, or of himself and Cosima? The latter points to Wagner’s identification with Sachs and Walther. Therefore, most likely, both Sachs and Walther have married Eva, both have won the prize with their art. Sachs and Walther are, therefore, art and artists at the same time, lovers and rivals competing for true art as well as for the woman, who is set as the prize for the best artistic performance. Eva is both an idealised muse and a truly desirable woman at the same time, “the most noble woman of Parnassus” and “the most beautiful woman in paradise”. Martin Gregor-Dellin, in his monograph on Wagner, writes that, in the Meistersinger, “art becomes its own subject. To this end, the Meistersinger are also self-interpretation of an art which still struggles for recognition, but in two different respects, for Wagner’s ego was divided, in the erotic as in the artistic, in Stolzing and in Sachs, selfjustification and self-celebration.”
“Curtain up for me!” – R., the theatre obsessive
Even from his earliest childhood days, little Richard was a theatre impresario in body and soul: he would write pieces, take the trouble to source equipment and staging, and bring it all together in a performance. He would carve dolls for the toy theatre that his stepfather Ludwig Geyer left him, as he himself narrates in My Life, and tailor costumes for them out of fabric remnants. As an adolescent, he would also try to put on productions using actors of flesh and blood: school friends were roped in as participants, and once again Wagner as producer and director would himself see to the production of all the props, placing great store on every detail, however small. This childlike playfulness and passion, bordering on obsession, that Wagner would apply to both himself and his work, would stay with the composer until his death. He was the best presenter of his own work, for no one could perform his works with such emphasis or in so graphic a manner as Wagner himself. Wagner’s reading from one of his own libretti became a fascinating piece of theatre of the mind for his audience. Imagine sitting in a small audience of no more than 10 to 15 people, sitting silently on chairs, listening intently to a single man perform all of the roles in his own play, half reading, half reciting from memory, and all the while acting it out. And this was no quiet hour’s reading. Given the length of Wagner’s operatic texts and assuming that Wagner would have also read aloud at some of the detailed staging instructions, the reading of the libretto for the Meistersinger that took place on 5th February 1862 at his publisher Schott’s premises in Mainz would certainly have taken several hours. Wendelin Weißheimer, composer, conductor, and a friend of Wagner’s, and that year’s musical director at the Stadttheater in Mainz, gave a most impressionable report in his Experiences with Richard Wagner, Franz Liszt and Many Other Contemporaries on this “lecture, which surely none of those present will forget during his lifetime. The capacity for modulation in [Wagner’s] voice was so great that he soon no longer needed to individually indicate the names of the characters involved. Everyone knew at once: this is now Eva, Stolzing, Sachs, or Pogner who is talking, and espacially when it came to David and Beckmesser, his tone of voice left absolutely no room for confusion with the other characters. Even when it came to the lively conversation between the Meistersinger, each of them distinguished himself so clearly from the other that one believed oneself to be listening to an official ensemble that swept the audience away with it and incited them to turbulent demonstrations. Several times he had to wait until they had died down again, before he could continue his virtuoso performance (for a performance it was, in the most eminent sense of the word!).”
Wagner would never tire of repeating such “stagings”, whenever the occasion would present itself. Just ten months after that memorable reading in Mainz, he would again be reading and performing the recently completed libretto in Vienna, in the house of his friend and singer, Dr Josef Standhartner. Sitting in the audience that time was the influential critic Eduard Hanslick. Whether he actually recognised himself in the figure of Beckmesser, as some people reported, or whether someone present whispered to him that the marker was still named “Hanslich” in former drafts is something we can no longer ascertain. The fact that Hanslick’s statements about Wagner became more hostile right after this reading is one of the many legends that Wagner himself spread.
Certainly, all of these readings served first and foremost as adverts for his new work. But it seems to have been anything but a compulsory exercise for Wagner. His playfulness obviously gave him even greater pleasure than his listeners, and this proved to be the case, time and again. At their very first meeting in Leipzig in November 1868 (five months after the Munich première of the Meistersinger), Wagner would impress the young philologist Friedrich Nietzsche through a similar presentation, in this case set to music: “Before and after dinner Wagner played all the important passages in the Meistersinger, imitating all the voices and being most exuberant,” wrote Nietzsche in a letter to fellow student Erwin Rohde, adding: “For he is a fabulously lively and animated man who speaks very quickly, is very witty, and brings great joy to this most private sort of company.” Wagner’s much-attested playful mood, fuelled by his compulsion to present himself as a performance, established a connection between his personality and the protagonists of his plays that was as emotional as it was performative. It does not seem to be amiss to assume that there is “a little bit of Wagner” in every character in his work.
“What is German?” – R., the political man
Although out of self-interest and opportunism Wagner would sometimes play down his part in the political upheavals of his time, he was without doubt one of the most politically active composers in the history of music. In the 1860s, especially, the years in which the Meistersinger came into being, Wagner’s political engagement would once again be on the rise. This was because the composer who had been wanted on a warrant for his part in the 1849 May Uprising in Dresden was only allowed to return to Germany on 12th August 1860 after an 11-year exile. And because the 1860s present the decade that led to the creation of a unified German empire. Moreover, in 1864 Wagner was summoned to Munich by the newly crowned King Ludwig II of Bavaria. In a lively exchange with this royal admirer of his music, Wagner gained influence over the monarch, and not only in matters of art. He even tried to force the king to dismiss ministers and undertake various governmental reforms, earning Wagner numerous enemies in the Bavarian government who would finally bring about his expulsion from Bavaria.
The showdown for supremacy in the German Confederation between Prussia and the Habsburg Empire would be enacted in three wars – the German-Danish War of 1864, the German War of 1866 and the Franco-German War of 1870–1871 – and would end with the founding of the German Empire under the leadership of Prussia (and with the exclusion of Austria). It was not by chance that it was during such great political upheaval that Wagner began an intensive investigation into the question of German identity in many writings. His essay What is German? was only published in the Bayreuth Papers in 1878, but the text had already appeared in 1865 in the form of diary entries for Ludwig II. From September 1867 onwards, the fifteen-part treatise German Art and German Politics was published in the Süddeutsche Presse. After the 13th part, the publication was discontinued, possibly at the instigation of the king, who could no longer bear the provocative remarks of his protégé. Unlike any other stage work by Richard Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, completed in this highly tumultuous decade, would mirror reflecting Wagner’s thoughts on the question of German identity and German unity both politically and culturally.
Wagner primarily gives his answer to the question of German identity in his works by distinguishing it from that which is not German. According to Wagner, the collective name “Germany” denotes the name of “those peoples who, remaining in their ancestral seat, continued to speak their original mother tongue, whereas the tribes that prevailed in the former Romance countries gave up the mother tongue. The concept of ‘German’ is therefore knitted to language and to the original homeland, and the time came when these ‘Germans’ were able to reap the advantage of being faithful to their homeland and their language; for out of the cradle of this homeland there sprang for centuries never-ending renovation and revitalisation of the soon-todecay foreign tribes” (What is German?). The “German spirit”, often quoted by Wagner, is characterised first and foremost by the fact that, for centuries, it remained “faithful to itself”, i.e., unaffected by foreign influences, and “pure”, and so it was always able to serve as a source of renewal, even for other peoples. “Strictly speaking, ever since the regeneration of the blood of European nations, the German has been the creator and inventor, the Romanic, the educator and exploiter: the true source of continual renewal has remained the German nature” (German Art and German Politics). Seeing how such arguments twist and turn, one cannot help but detect a claim to superiority. Wagner, of course, was not alone in his day with such theories.
Nevertheless, there was also no shortage of foreign, corrupting influences in Germany. The influence of Romance culture since the 16th century, according to Wagner, had been pushing the German spirit more and more into the side-lines, especially in the princely courts, where French culture and lifestyles had become prevalent: “This means of subjugation was entirely successful in the previous century [the 18th century], where we blush to see German princes ensnared and alienated from the German people in none too noble a manner by presents of French dancers and Italian singers, just as savage Negro princes are beguiled today by glass beads and jangling bells” (German Art and German Politics). Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer, born and active in Nuremberg, embodied, in Wagner’s eyes, the true, unadulterated “German spirit.” Wagner is of course silent on the fact that Dürer developed his style through his encounter with Italian art.
Wagner also claims the Reformation as a purely German achievement, including the development of the Lutheran chorale: “This singing […] can and must be regarded as exclusively German property. It is true to say that the artistic construction of the chorale entirely bears the character of German art; […]” (About German Music). It is, therefore, anything but coincidental that the only original quotation from the extensive oeuvre of Hans Sachs used by Wagner in his Meistersinger is the beginning of his ode to Martin Luther, “Wake up, it is approaching day”. It was more than just the idea of a high-impact start to the piece that Wagner chose to begin his opera after the powerful overture with a four-voice chorale accompanied only by the organ. Admittedly, this also sets the soundscape for the scene that follows. But the fact that Wagner begins the most German of his musical dramas with a Lutheran chorale reminiscent of Bach is also to be understood as a (political) statement. Wagner’s preoccupation with the work of Johann Sebastian Bach, whom he sees as a “precursor” to his own art, finds its clearest manifestation here. While “the large and small courts of German princes [teemed] with Italian opera composers and virtuosi, bought in at tremendous sacrifices, in order to present despised Germany the scraps of an art which nowadays can no longer be afforded the mildest attention, […] Bach’s spirit, the German spirit, stepped forth from the sanctuary of the most divine music, the place of its new birth” (What is German?). According to Wagner, the German spirit preserved itself in the German people, defying all assaults from both outside and within. In his ideas about German identity, Wagner, for a start, constructed the theory of a decline of German culture, starting in the 16th century and still continuing in the 19th century. With the loss of former greatness Wagner implies the image of a lost paradise, a concept which also reflects the importance given to the city of Nuremberg in the 19th century (for more, see below). On the other hand, Wagner painted the image of a profound alienation between the German people and their aristocracy who had come under the Italian and French influence. He ends his text What is German? with an appeal to the princes of Germany to acknowledge their historical mission and once more to think and act both with and for the German people and the German spirit that they have preserved over the centuries: “The German people has arrived at its rebirth, at the unfolding of its highest capabilities through its conservative spirit, its profound adherence to itself, to its idiosyncrasy: once it shed its life-blood for the survival of its princes. It is now for them to show the German people that they belong to it; and in that place where the German spirit brought about the rebirth of the people, there is the realm where the princes too have first to found their new alliance with the people. It is high time that the princes turn towards this rebaptism: I have already pointed out the danger in which the entirety of German public life finds itself. Woe to us and to the world, if this time the people would be saved, but the German spirit would be wiped off the face of the earth!”
This admonishing appeal is not a far cry from Sachs’ much-discussed closing speech at the end of Act 3. To what extent Wagner is doing a dangerous historical misrepresentation is not to be discussed here. What is crucial here is the fact that the mind-set as outlined above definitively shaped Wagner’s conception of the Meistersinger. Wagner expands upon the cultural criticism of the 19th century by adding a political dimension. He defines what it is to be German by demarking it from the foreign, and at the same time seeking to assign blame. As early as 30 years earlier, Heinrich Heine had pointed out the xenophobic narrow-mindedness of German patriotism: “The patriotism of the French consists in the fact that one’s heart is warmed, is expanded by this warmth, broadened, that in its love, it encompasses no longer merely one’s closest kinsmen, but the whole of France, the whole country of civilization; by contrast, the patriotism of the German consists in the fact that his heart becomes narrower, that it contracts like leather in the cold, that he hates foreigners, that one no longer wants to be a citizen of the world, no longer a European, but only a closed German” (Heinrich Heine, The Romantic School, 1833). “To be a good German is to de-Germanise oneself,” warned Friedrich Nietzsche a good ten years after Wagner’s writings on the search for German identity. “For when a nation advances and grows, it bursts the belt hitherto given to it by its national character; when it remains stationary, or declines, another belt closes around its soul; the crust grows ever harder and builds, as it were, a prison around it, whose walls grow ever higher. If there is a lot that is fixed about a people, this is proof that it wishes to be fossilized and would like to once and for all become a monument: […]. So, he who is well disposed towards the Germans may for his part consider how he may more and more grow out of what is German. The turn towards what is un-German has therefore always been the distinguishing mark of the most capable of our people” (Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human). The dichotomy of “German/un-German” in Wagner’s writings brings together concepts such as the provincial, culture, introversion, authority, idealism, depth, originality, and creativity as inherently German, while the big city, civilisation, extroversion, democracy, materialism, absent-mindedness, imitation, and exploitation were “un-German”. “All these negative features, un-German features, were then united in a figure of hate:the Jew” (Ernst Hanisch).
“What is un-German?” – R., the anti-Semite
Several authors have exposed Wagner’s anti-Semitism as a mixture of divergent, sometimes even contradictory, reservations. In Wagner’s works and writings, the Jew embodies all that the composer rejected and hated, all that he found disgusting or feared. The vague use of such as categories as “welsch” (French or Italian) and “Jewish” comes together as what Wagner demarcates from “the German nature”. Both became a synonym for the un-German!
The decline of German art, the “weakness and incapacity of the post-Beethoven period of our German music production,” left, according to Wagner, an artistic fallow period, which allowed “the singular phenomenon that the German nature be invaded by an utterly alien element” (What is German?). “Alien and apathetic stands the educated Jew in the midst of a society which he does not understand, with whose tastes and aspirations he does not sympathise, whose history and evolution have always been indifferent to him.” Because he stands outside the linguistic and cultural community, the Jew, according to Wagner, can “only copy words, only imitate art, and not create poems or works of art that truly speak” (Judaism in Music). According to Wagner, art is a product of language, language itself the product of a historical community, and only those who have grown up within such a community can participate in its creation. The European Jews invariably stand outside the community and have no mother tongue of their own. While the true artist and his art are born out of the people, Jewish artists and their art grow in isolation, separated from the people and the community. The Jew is thus incapable of true artistic expression. It is the exact opposite of the “German spirit” that remained steadfast throughout the centuries. Yet, according to Wagner, no art form offers “the possibility to speak within itself without saying anything real”, like music does, “since the greatest geniuses have already said whatever there was to say in it as an absolute separate art. When once this had been expressed, there was nothing left but to babble after; and indeed, with quite distressing accuracy and deceptive likeness, just as parrots reel off human words and phrases, but with just as little real feeling and expression as these foolish birds” (Judaism in Music). Lacking any true German artists, the Jews had come in and seized German music for themselves, Wagner argued, “and so, today, we see a disgusting caricature of the German spirit held up to the German people as its would-be reflection” (What is German?). “The very idea of the German spirit, its most intimate musical sensibility, is conveyed to the people through the distorted lens of simulating Jewish jargon; Jewish playwrights and composers furnish the theatre with their latest offerings, and Jewish reviewers provide the critique of our artistic achievements” (Diary entries for King Ludwig II, 21st September 1865).
The embodiment of the “parroting” Jewish composer incapable of true artistic production according to Wagner was Giacomo Meyerbeer, despite the fact or precisely because Meyerbeer had supported Wagner in his highly precarious years in Paris from 1839 to 1842. With surprising frankness in a letter to Franz Liszt, Wagner admits that personal shame was the cause of his aversion to Meyerbeer: “I do not hate him, but I find him unendingly distasteful. This eternally amiable, pleasing man reminds me of the murkiest, I almost want to say most immoral, period of my life, back when he still gave the appearance of supporting me.” In his now much-quoted and notorious work, Judaism in Music, written in response to a pro-Meyerbeer article published in the Rheinische Musikzeitung in 1850 by Jewish musicologist Ludwig Bischoff, Wagner unleashes every bit of frustration attached to his difficult time in Paris. Wagner generalised the personal anger he feels towards Meyerbeer, which sprung from his own sense of shame, in a most concerning way. Published under the pseudonym “K. Freigedank” in 1850 in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, the article did not attract much comment. However, when Wagner republished the article in 1869 as a separate pamphlet (and added a short foreword and a longer epilogue), it provoked a storm of indignation, even among Wagner’s friends and fellow artists. At performances of the Meistersinger in Vienna, Berlin and Mannheim, there were even protests against Wagner and his work.
Eduard Hanslick’s review of the Meistersinger may have been the direct trigger for Wagner’s decision to republish the essay, although the real reasons seem to have been much deeper. In 1862, the Grand Duchy of Baden had granted constitutional equality to its Jewish citizens, an action followed by the Kingdom of Württemberg and the Free City of Frankfurt in 1864, the Habsburg empire in 1867, and the Prussian-dominated North German Confederation in 1869. The adult Wagner was no longer worried about the Jews of the eastern shtetl that had frightened him as a child like spectres from a work by E.T.A. Hoffmann, having come to the Leipzig trade fair with their long furry robes, high fur hats, strange faces, and hanging side-locks. Instead, Wagner was actively fearful of the Jews who had become invisible through assimilation. It was precisely their advanced social integration, threatening, as it were, the pure “German nature” from within that provoked Wagner’s resistance. “Whether or not the decay of our culture can be prevented through a violent expulsion of the corrosive alien element, I cannot say, because forces must be at play, whose presence is unknown to me,” Wagner wrote in a frighteningly nebulous way in What is German? “But if this element is to assimilate in us in such a way that, seeping into our society, it shapes the higher schooling of our most noble human minds, then it is clear that what is demanded of us is not to obscure the troubles of this assimilation, but to disclose it most openly.” The composers Meyerbeer and Mendelssohn Bartholdy, who were directly or indirectly attacked by Wagner, likewise fell into this category of assimilated, (and in Mendelssohn’s case, even converted) Jews. This was also the case with Eduard Hanslick, Wagner’s arch-enemy in his later years, who had sought to obscure the Jewish origin of his mother. The original intention to name the marker in the Meistersinger von Nürnberg Veit Hanslich, and to mix together in this character the hated composer from those Parisian days with the no-lesshated critic from Vienna, once more reveals the unfilterable amalgamation of the biographical, the artistic, and the political in Wagner’s work.
The Wagners treated Jewish conductor Hermann Levi, an enthusiastic interpreter of Wagner’s works and conductor of the première of Parsifal with such disrespectful insinuations and jokes that it fell barely short of cruelly sadistic. Wagner even insisted that Levi would have to be baptized in order to conduct Parsifal, something the rabbi’s son was far considering. “The sadistic desire to humiliate, sentimental conciliatoriness, and, above all, the will to bind the maltreated to him emotionally – all these elements come together in Wagner’s casuistry” (Adorno, In Search of Wagner). It is characteristic of Wagner’s fear of Jewish assimilation that after he and Cosima had their first encounter with Levi in Mannheim in 1871, Wagner notices that he respects levi just for by calling himself “Levi” and not changing his name to “Löwe” or “Lewin” like so many other Jews.
According to Wagner, the collective of the people includes all those who feel “an inner necessity, a compulsion, a need”. Consequentially this does not include those who do not feel this urge, but who, according to Wagner, “flourish magnificently in the desire for it” (i.e., who avail themselves of the desire for it) (The Artwork of the Future). For Wagner, it is Jewishness that does not belong in German culture and as the un-German Other it must be expunged. In his opera about a collective, the only one of his operas, in fact, that has a collective noun in the title (and is not simply called something like “Hans Sachs”), this Other that must be expunged finds form in the character of the unloved marker, Beckmesser.
“Who squeals with power?” – B., a Jew?
Wagner scholars have repeatedly denied that the character of Sixtus Beckmesser is an anti-Semitic caricature. This is true not just of those Wagner exegetes who do not want to see any connection between Wagner’s anti-Semitic writings and statements and his musical-dramatic works, but even among others who elsewhere point out the anti-Semitic stereotypes Wagner used in terms of both the staging and the music, e.g. for such characters as Alberich or Mime. The argument that there were no Jews in 16th-century Nuremberg because in 1499 all Jews had been expelled from the city for centuries appears to bear little plausibility. Ultimately, Wagner, in the Meistersinger, is simply transferring a present-day story to the past: despite all the preoccupation with the Meistersinger tradition, it is not about historical authenticity, but about the presentation of highly contemporary political and artistic interests. Figures like Mime or Alberich are also anything but authentic portraits of Jews. What would they have lost in Germanic mythology? Wagner rather made extremely effective use of widely known anti-Semitic clichés of his day in order to portray the Nibelungen, the “villains” of the Ring cycle as morally and physically deformed characters.
In fact, the musical device employed in the Ring for the Nibelungen is nowhere to be found for Beckmesser. In the marker’s case, the connotations of anti-Semitism reveal themselves in a more subtle, if no less unambiguous, way. It is sufficient to read Wagner’s political writings of the 1860s attentively. Beckmesser embodies precisely that which Wagner describes in What is German?, German Art and German Politics and Judaism in Music as the “utterly alien element” in the midst of the “German nature”, which is incapable of truly artistic production, “does not write true poetry or create works of art”, but instead can only “copy words, imitate art,” “without expression and real sensibility”. What is Beckmesser’s unsuccessful song of praise in Act 3 if not the miserably failed attempt to craft artistic work on the template provided by Walther? Beckmesser, unable to understand the deeper meaning of Walther’s poetry, must fail, because he “stands alien and indifferent in the midst of a society he does not understand”. He can therefore only “rebabble” the template without meaning and deeper understanding. This is exactly how Wagner characterises him, notwithstanding the fact that, from a purely factual point of view, as town clerk, he is, of course, part of the citizenry of Nuremberg and for good measure belongs to the privileged community of the Meistersinger.
When the first person to sing Beckmesser, Austrian Gustav Hölzel complained about the many high notes (for a bass-baritone) in the marker’s part, Wagner replied that “this comic character part” could “in no way be compared to a bass-baritone part in the old style”. “The high musical pitch is solely a result of the passionate, screeching tone of voice, in which the majority of the part is to performed. […] Under no circumstances could a normal baritone’s voice serve me, because then everything would be painted in a false, soft character.” In contrast to the Nibelungen, the anti-Semitic stereotypes are not scored by Wagner into the music of the figure of Beckmesser, but are shifted into the quality of the voice, the manner of rendition, and into its substructure of politics and art theory. The inhabitants of Nuremberg, awakened from their sleep, point to the marker’s screeching voice when, at the end of Act 2, they heatedly say: “Who’s screeching so loud? … Yell and screech somewhere else!”
No other character in the Meistersinger experiences such a profound transformation as does the figure of the marker between the first prose draft of 1845, which in all other respects is remarkably close to the later libretto, and the second draft of 1861. In the 1845 draft, his performance in the singing contest in Act 3 is deliberated upon in three terse sentences. It is only in the two prose drafts of 1861 and the libretto of 1862 that the unintentionally risible representation of the sweating Beckmesser, struggling to stand on uneven ground, is given all this “ornamental padding”, turning the marker into this pernicious laughing stock, an outsider who parrots everything, without understanding or artistic sensibility. It is not by chance that the publication of Judaism in Music fell between the first and second prose drafts! In Act 1 of the final libretto, using an allusion to the well-known Grimm fairy tale the “Jew in the Bramble Bush”, Wagner colours Walther’s indignation over the pedantic marker with connotations of anti-Semitism: “In a thorn hedge / consumed by envy and grief / he had to hide himself away,/ the winter,” sings Walther. And, as if to avoid any doubt as to what is being alluded to here, Wagner, as the cherry on the cake, paints him as “grimly armed”.
“We can conceive no representation of an antique or modern stagecharacter by a Jew, be it as hero or lover, without instinctively feeling the incongruity of such a notion, to the point of absurdity,” writes Wagner in Judaism in Music. The Jew, according to Wagner, is, in his artistic expression, inherently laughable. Beckmesser is no different when it comes to all his artistic expressions. His serenade in Act 2 teems with mistakes, obvious even for a musical layman, above all, the numerous false accents on unstressed syllables and the extremely bad rhymes. How, one has to ask, did he manage to become not only a Meistersinger, but the marker too? But such logic does not concern Wagner. The marker stands as representative of a population group despised by Wagner. And as such, the composer ridicules him brutally.
“Wagner’s humour is cruel,” says Theodor W. Adorno in In Search of Wagner. “The insistence that something is all a joke is a time-honoured device for rationalising the very worst. Wagner finds precedents for this in the fairy tales of the German tradition. None is more apposite for him than the story of the Jew in the bramble bush. ‘Now as he stood there, caught in the midst of the bramble bush, the worthy servant lad was overcome by a mischievous idea: he took up his fiddle and began to play it. At once, the Jew’s feet started to twitch and he began to leap in the air; and the harder the lad tried to play, the better the Jew danced.’ Wagner’s music is like the worthy lad in how it treats its villains, and the comedy of their anguish not only gives pleasure to those who inflict it, but also stifles any question about its justification, and tacitly presents itself as the ultimate authority.”
But why does Beckmesser do all this to himself, one might well ask? Why does he want to win Eva no matter what? Not because he wants to win the prize as the best Meistersinger – twice he asks Pogner for a different way to achieve the desired goal. The answer to this question is indirectly provided for us by Wagner in his political writings: because, as an “utterly alien element” he hopes to gain recognition by marrying Pogner’s daughter. Because he wants to be a member of society with equal rights – assimilated with and amongst them! But this is precisely Wagner’s greatest fear!
If Walther von Stolzing is the true artist of the future, who with his song of praise, born of spontaneous inspiration, the sort not easily learnt, succeeds in creating the seemingly impossible: The Artwork of the Future, the reunion of language, music and image that Wagner so longed for, then Beckmesser embodies the complete antithesis of this resplendent utopia simply by the fact that one can feel the effort he is putting into the artistic process at every moment, seeming to positively reek in a most unpleasant way: the stage directions let it be known that, like Alberich and Mime, Beckmesser is obviously tormented by excessive perspiration. The community who, according to Wagner, can only prevent the decline of their own culture “through the violent expulsion of the corrosive alien element” (What is German?), ultimately needs the Other, the stranger whom they are trying to expel, in order to define itself. Without Beckmesser’s grotesque appearance, ridiculed by all, Walther’s performance, forced on by Sachs, would not have been possible at all. It is through negating the non-self that the collective succeeds in affirming the self – just like Wagner in his political writings and in his personal life: he needs the obediently devoted Hermann Levi in order to use that humiliation and discrimination, bordering on sadism, to repeatedly affirm himself afresh! The Other, the non-self can be insulted and mocked, yet it cannot be extinguished, for then the community would lose the foil for its own self-definition. It must remain a sequestered part of the collective, ghettoised, recognisable as “other” for everyone. Only thus can the community tolerate its presence amongst them and at the same time ward off the danger that assimilation would bring, corroding their culture and society from within.
“The Musikalische Zeitung has a report about the performance of the Msinger in Vienna,” writes Cosima Wagner in a diary entry dated 14th March 1870. “Among other things, the J. [the Jews] have been spreading word that Beckmesser’s song is an old Jewish song, which R. wanted to satirize. Subsequently, there was hissing in the second act and shouts of, ‘We don’t want to listen to this anymore.’ Nevertheless, the victory was entirely the Germans’. “Wagner’s contemporaries had clearly instantly understood the “Jewish colouring” of the marker.
The Middle Ages, pageants, Nuremberg rallies – N., a paradise?
As fledgling musical director of Magdeburg Theatre and in search of singers for his ensemble, Wagner also made his way to Nuremberg, in 1835, where he lodged with his sister Klara and her husband Heinrich Wolfram. Heinrich’s brother-in-law took the 22-year-old Wagner with him to an inn, where Nuremberg carpenter, Lauermann, to the amusement of his friends, inn regulars, used to enjoy putting on a show as a singer. The unknown Wagner was introduced as the star Italian vocalist, Lablache, in order to persuade Lauermann to demonstrate his vocal art, which – after some initial hesitation from Lauermann – also succeeded: “His lips trembled, his teeth grated, his eye twisted convulsively, then finally, a tremendously trivial popular tune rang out from a hoarse, fat voice,” immediately suffocated by the” inordinate laughter of all those who were listening” (My Life). At the end of the evening, which was extremely pleasant for everyone except Lauermann, the inebriated carpenter was pushed home in a wheelbarrow. On returning to the inn, they bumped into a group of craftsmen, whom the innkeeper would not allow to enter. “Out of this situation a mighty confusion arose, which, what with all the shouting and clamour and an inexplicable growth in the number of the disputants, soon assumed a truly demoniacal character. It seemed to me that in a few moments, the whole town would break into turmoil” (My Life). “This night-time battle left an unforgettable impression on Wagner: the Meistersinger’s beating scene certainly benefited from it. And had not he already seen a piece of Beckmesser in Lauermann?” (Martin Gregor-Dellin).
“I began to play the role [of Lablache] that had been assigned to me with the greatest possible skill …”, reports Wagner as part of his “Lauermann Anecdote”. Here he is again: the passionate actor and reciter Wagner, who turns everything into a piece of theatre. Within the setting of the Meistersinger, too, autobiographical experiences of Wagner the man come together with the political and art theoretical mindset of Wagner the thinker and artist. Nuremberg was to play an important role in the political upheaval in Germany in the middle of the 19th century. Like no other German city, this city on the river Pegnitz had, since the end of the 18th century, become a sounding board for artistic, historical and political desires and visions.
As the place where the imperial regalia (the insignia of the emperors and kings of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation) were stored between 1423 and 1796, the imperial city of Nuremberg was afforded central significance within the German Empire. The city, already becoming Protestant in 1525 and the first German city to do so, experienced its heyday in the 16th century, brought about by exceptional craftsmanship and its opportune location for trading. Artists such as the sculptor Veit Stoß, the poet and dramatist (and shoemaker) Hans Sachs or the painter Albrecht Dürer were witnesses to the flourishing artistic life of Nuremberg, which at that time was one of the largest cities in the Holy Roman Empire. The Thirty Years’ War then sealed the city’s economic decline, which by then had already been setting in. By the end of the 18th century, barely anything was left of its former splendour. Nevertheless, the medieval structure of the city was preserved and it provided the starting point for a new, meaningful assignment.
Crucial here were the essays on art theory, published in 1796 under the title Heartfelt Outpourings of an Art-Loving Monk by Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder and Ludwig Tieck, who with a kind of romanticising nostalgia recall the former greatness of Nuremberg: “Nuremberg! You formerly worldfamous city, how I loved to stroll your winding lanes, with what childlike affection I looked upon your old-fashioned houses and churches, which are impressed with clear traces of our old native art! How dearly I love the works of those times, that speak such a strong, powerful, and honest language! How they draw me back into that grey century, when you, Nuremberg, were the living, teeming school of our national art, and a most fertile, overflowing spirit of art lived and created within your walls: when master Hans Sachs, sculptor Adam Kraft, and, above all, Albrecht Dürer, with his friend Willibald Pirckheimer, and so many other highly esteemed noble men still lived! How many times I have wished to return to that period.” For the German Romantics, Nuremberg represented a kind of national authenticity, which had been lost during the Baroque period and the Enlightenment, when one was all too orientated towards France. Nuremberg became the epitome of a German identity that no longer existed. “The period of its own strength is over,” it says in the Heartfelt Outpourings, and elsewhere: “cold, muted, characterless works are its fruit.” (Wagner, with his theories of a general decadence of German culture, was quite a child of his time.) The yearning for the Nuremberg of the late Middle Ages was a longing for the better, the true Germany, which once was, but was no longer. The Nuremberg of old became a lost paradise.
This “nostalgic trip” into the German Middle Ages, ignited at Nuremberg, brought about many eccentricities of historism, first in Bavaria, but soon all over Germany. Starting with the folk festival that took place in October 1810, in celebration of the marriage of King Ludwig I (grandfather of Ludwig II) to Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen, and which involved a pageant in historical costumes from the Middle Ages (the origin of Munich’s Oktoberfest), national and folk festivals with historical pageants of this kind were then held throughout the whole country. The connection between the propensity to look back into history and the political situation of the German Empire, which in 1806 had fragmented into hundreds of individual states, was obvious: the proud celebration of historical traditions testified to the search for one’s own national identity. These historical pageants of the 19th century, which took place everywhere (and in Nuremberg too of course!), were memorialised by Wagner in music at the start of the fairground scene of his Meistersinger. For Wagner’s contemporaries, this scene bore much greater political significance than it did for subsequent generations. The historical garb was nothing more than a tool for making a political statement, and a common one for that time. History was instrumentalised by and for the present (and for the future too).
Already in 1815, the Erlangen philosophy professor Alexander Lips had recommended Nuremburg as the new capital of the German Confederation in his essay The German Federal State. Though Lips’s suggestion remains unheeded, Nuremberg would become for many advocates of national unification a symbolic capital of the divided fatherland. In the midst of the battle-time conflicts of the German War, Wagner, in a letter dated 24th July 1866, advised King Ludwig II to move his residence from Munich to Nuremberg, with its “enlightened and free-spirited population”. “Do you know what this wonderful old Nuremberg means to me now?” he wrote to the king in November of that year. “It is the home of the ‘artwork of the future’, the Archimedes point, at which we shall raise the world – that inert mass of muddy German spirit!” In Nuremberg, therefore, the much-cited, oh so neglected, “German spirit” was to experience its rebirth – as a phoenix from out of the mud.
Following the Romantic tradition, Wagner paints Nuremberg as a (lost) paradise. Numerous are the direct verbal allusions that incline this way, be it Sachs’ comparison of Eva’s escape in Act 2 with the biblical escape from paradise, or be it the fusion of the Garden of Eden and Parnassus depicted in Walther’s song of praise. Nuremberg is the paradise of autonomous citizens! Tellingly, no noblemen feature here, indeed, not even a mayor. Not even in the folk festival in Act 3 do we catch a glimpse of the mayor. Here, too, Wagner is not concerned with historical authenticity, but rather with setting a scene that is aimed at the present. Wagner’s present continuously blends in with the 16th century of his Meistersinger. “The Meistersinger flirt with that convention that used to operate in painting, according to which, pictures of events remote in time and space could be peopled with inhabitants of the modern world. The woman from Nuremberg is sent to John the Baptist at the river Jordan. An endless tradition of Kitsch has attached itself as a second hand to this manner of Wagnerian allegorising. But the anachronism is more than a feigned naivety and archaising pastiche. In this cheerful opera, every moment of the present sounds as if it were already a memory.” (Adorno, In Search of Wagner)
It was entirely in this sense too that the Nuremberg rallies of the National Socialists also celebrated the present through a connection with the past. What, in the end, was the determining factor for Nuremberg being chosen as host for these rallies is ultimately irrelevant. In any case, the National Socialists would deliberately associate themselves with the symbolic meaning Nuremberg held for the national consciousness, and would incorporate their own interpretation of history in with this: “At the same time, we want to build on the great past and show that our movement is none else but the continuation of not only German greatness, but also of German art and German culture. But we want to also show that it is fitting that our movement creates its own tradition” (Adolf Hitler at the 1933 rally in Nuremberg). Hitler sees his Third Reich as a succession of the (first) Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (962–1806) and the (second) German Empire (1871–1918). And Nuremberg, loaded with meaning, offers the perfect backdrop for the continuation and simultaneous redesign of tradition. Wagner, with his Meistersinger, had not the slightest stake in the design of this picture of Nuremberg, which was developed over the course of the 19th century, and which had little to do with historical reality. For the Nazis always love to make references to Wagner’s “ingenious summary of German melancholy and Romanticism, of German pride and German diligence” (Joseph Goebbels), whether it was the resounding of the “Wach auf” chorus from Act 3 in 1935, when greeting Hitler in Nuremberg’s town hall, or whether it was Gauleiter Julius Streicher in August 1938, three months before Pogrom Night, giving orders to tear down the Nuremberg Synagogue at Hans-Sachs- Platz (!) with the words “Fanget an!” In 1935, the Reichstag was summoned extra-ordinarily on the occasion of the 7th rally at Nuremberg, in order to pass the “Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour”, which forbid marriage or any extra-marital sexual contact between those who were “German blooded” and Jews, and which passed into history together with the citizenship law, the Reichsbürgergesetz (also adopted at that time), under the collective term of the “Nuremberg Race Laws.”
For the allied opponents of Nazi Germany, Wackenroder and Tieck’s Heartfelt Outpourings were of just as little importance as Wagner’s Meistersinger. For them, Nuremberg was solely the symbol of the “city of the Nuremberg Rallies”. During the biggest air attack on Nuremberg on 2nd January 1945, bombers of the Royal Air Force dropped 1.825 tons of explosive bombs and 479 tons of fire bombs over the urban area. The old town of Nuremberg, with its historic building stock, was completely destroyed. “The city has disappeared! It is now just a huge pile of ruins, almost indescribable and unlikely to ever be reconstructed. The old town is 99 percent dead.’” So wrote American journalist William Shirer, who would come to the city in 1946 to observe the Nuremberg war crimes trials. Nuremberg, which since the end of the 19th century had been effectively promoted as the “treasure of the German empire”, the secret capital of the divided empire, and the city of rallies and of the Nuremberg Laws, became the city of the largest war crime tribunal in history. Wagner and his Meistersinger, however, had nothing to do with it. Or did they?
“I am accused and must stand trial” – R. Wagner, the accused
During the course of the de-nazification trial against Winifred Wagner, wife of Wagner’s only son Siegfried and director of the Bayreuth Festival from 1930 to 1944, Hitler’s love of Wagner’s music, along with the question of whether Hitler had any appreciation of music at all, was also debated, and, ultimately, Richard Wagner’s anti-Semitism came up for discussion too. The fact that Point III of the indictment directed against Winifred Wagner talked about “the provision of National Socialism’s ideological worldview with the legacy of Richard Wagner for propagandistic evaluation” raises questions that seem to break out of the framework of the strictly historical apportioning of blame: can the statements or works of Richard Wagner be connected with how they were presented during the years of National Socialism? Does a mind-set exist in them that helped bring about the ideology of National Socialism? Winifred Wagner’s statement of defence put it this way: “Are we to believe that a listener present at a performance of the Ring in the Autumn of 1948 in New York experiences something different from what a German listener felt in Bayreuth in 1937 or later? Or would the plaintiff perhaps claim that the visitor to the Ring, to Tannhäuser, to the Meistersinger, or even to Parsifal, quite absorbed by the work’s sounds, would have to confess, that the affected women was a fanatical National Socialist?” (Quoted from: Walter Schertz-Parey, Winifred Wagner. A Life for Bayreuth).
The question posed at the start as to the extent to which citing biographical facts from a composer’s life to help interpret their artistic works is productive or acceptable, the extent to which political statements expressed by the composer not only may be drawn on to help understand and interpret a work, but downright must be, receives an ever-wider-reaching dimension in this connection. The question of assessing art becomes a question about the judgement of art: who can and who may make judgements about art and music, and when, and how? When is an artist responsible for what is done with his art? And: can music be immoral per se? And if so, is it then to be condemned?
In the Meistersinger, art is incessantly summoned before the court: in Act 1, Beckmesser and the Meistersinger sit in judgement of Walther’s “courting song”. Led by the marker as presiding judge (whom Sachs quite rightly suspects of impartiality), their verdict is devastating: “badly sung and squandered!” In Act 2, Sachs himself would rise to the position of sole judge of Beckmesser’s serenade to Eva. “With the hammer on the last, I judge you.” The shoemaker’s hammer becomes the mercilessly falling hammer of an unrelenting (and gloating) judge. The trial ends unexpectedly in general turmoil, in which the alleged delinquent receives a proper thrashing until the hall is finally vacated. In Act 3, Beckmesser’s trial is finally brought to an end. This time, the assembled city community sits in judgement and relinquishes him to the punishment of general ridicule. With the words, “If anyone is present who knows me to be right / let him enter this circle as witness!” Sachs calls Walther to the witness stand. But Beckmesser has long since left the courtroom. “Wagner’s humour is cruel,” wrote Adorno. “Not only is the poor devil ridiculed; in the intoxication caused by the laughter at his expense, the memory of the injustice he has suffered is obliterated. The use of laughter to suspend justice is debased into a charter for injustice. […] The joke puts its object unquestionably in the wrong and allows no reply; it vilifies sensitivity as pushiness and transfigures coarseness, presenting it as genial originality.” And so, Wagner’s opera ends frighteningly unreflective. A scenic reconciliation between Sachs and Beckmesser has been an idea of well-intended directors, although neither the music nor the libretto hints at any such reconciliation. Instead, the work ends with an unconditional apotheosis of art, or more precisely, of German art! If at the end of Albert Lortzing’s opera Hans Sachs, premièred in Leipzig in 1840, and known to Wagner, the Emperor Maximilian is celebrated by the people in jubilatory choruses, then the people’s well-wishing cries at the end of the Meistersinger apply to Sachs himself, and thus to art in general – and to Wagner in particular.
No other composer’s posterity was so scrutinized as Richard Wagner’s. Yet the composer himself admittedly set the precedent for this. Wagner relentlessly expressed his opinion on contemporaries in various fields, and was rarely prudent or at all diplomatic in this. He himself, who voiced his opinion on so many topics and questions of his day in a somewhat provocative manner, and who always referred all his statements back to his own artistic work, formally demands that, in order to judge his works of musical drama, one must call upon his entire oeuvre, including his theoretical writings, indeed, including biographical details. He who himself carried the dangerous amalgamation of politics and art into his work has to accept that he himself will be summoned as witness on various matters. “Wagner’s anti-Semitism is something he shared with other representatives of what Marx called German socialism around 1848. But his version of anti-Semitism advertises itself as an individual idiosyncrasy that stubbornly resists all negotiations. It forms the basis of Wagnerian humour. Aversion and laughter come together antagonistically” (In Search of Wagner). “I’m reading a very good speech by Pastor Stoecker on Judaism,” notes Cosima Wagner under a diary entry dated 11th October 1879. “R. is for complete expulsion. We laugh about the fact that, so it seems, his essay on the Jews [the first publication of Judaism in Music in 1850] was the start of this conflict.” As a “harbinger of anti-Semitism”, even before the concept was introduced into the vocabulary of like-minded people such as Wilhelm Marr, Otto Glagau or Paul de Lagarde, Wagner, as an influential person of public life, certainly stoked the fire for later developments. “His restraint, his shrinking from the practical consequences of his attitude”, writes the Israeli social historian Jacob Katz, “testifies to the fact that he was aware of the problem. His historical condemnation is, therefore, by no means based on the retrospective insight of the historian, but rather, results from correct understanding of his own statements and actions. Wagner himself sits in judgement on Wagner and is unable to grant himself historical acquittal.”