Sunday, August 19, 2007

Music to One's Fears

There's a new book out and it deals with an issue that has not lost any of its cultural ferocity here in Israel - the music of Wagner. Jascha Heifetz, the violinist, had his arm injured when, in the early 50s, he dared to attempt to play Strauss (although I had thought it was Wagner).

Here's the Wikipedia version:-

Heifetz was attacked after his recital in Jerusalem outside his hotel by a man who struck blows to his right arm with an iron bar. As the attacker started to flee, Heifetz alerted his companions, who were armed, "Shoot that man, he tried to kill me." The assailant escaped and was never found. The incident made headlines in the press and Heifetz defiantly announced that he would not stop playing the Strauss. Threats continued to come, however, and he omitted the Strauss from his next recital without explanation.

The book, by Jonathan Carr, is entitled "The Wagner Clan".

And I've selected from the London Times' review some comments:-

In a fascinating new study of the Wagner family – from the composer’s widow, Cosima, right up to the present day – Jonathan Carr has charted in forensic detail the sections of family history that will never have made it into official festival literature, including the true extent of their association with Hitler and the Nazis.

The conclusions are as grimly compelling as they are soberly delivered. Unlike the most blinkered detractors of both Wagner and the Wagners, he doesn’t rush to find links that don’t exist between the music and the political ideology. Indeed, one of Carr’s most intriguing findings is how the number of Wagner performances declined during the Third Reich, and that many of the party faithful were turned off by five-hour Wagner marathons, preferring light operetta or jazz.

But what he does reveal, in the most gripping section of the book, is the depth of the assocation between the Bayreuth management of the 1930s – headed by Wolfgang’s mother, British-born Winifred Williams – and Hitler. Fascinated as much by the cosy family set-up of Bayreuth as much as by his musical hero, Hitler gave them his personal protection and backing.

In 1934, he had Joseph Goebbels buy up enough tickets to make up a third of the festival’s budget; in 1939, the Führer’s personal office subsidised Bayreuth to the tune of half a million marks.

As for Wolfgang and his siblings, provided that they professed their loyalty they would be personally rewarded. As Carr recounts, Wolfgang got a shiny Mercedes from the Führer when he passed his driving test, and, when invalided out of the Second World War in 1939, received a personal visit while recuperating.

As the war went on, Bayreuth remained an unreal oasis, attended by tens of thousands of workers and soldiers bussed in by the Nazis. The final wartime performances, in 1944, featured SS members drafted into the depleted chorus. What was the opera? Naturally, Die Meistersinger.

But perhaps worse than Carr’s careful detailing of all the kickbacks the Wagners received under the Third Reich was the family’s lack of readiness to own up to it afterwards. Only one Wagner grandchild, Friedelind, fled Germany during the Third Reich and opposed Hitler. But when she returned to the festival, in 1952 (the brothers Wolfgang and Wieland had opened shop again in 1951, requesting visitors to “desist from discussion or debate of a political nature”), she was comprehensively rebuffed as an oddball rebel.

It is this inheritance, Carr implies, that has poisoned the Bayreuth legacy, and continues to warp its artistic aspirations.

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