An introduction to music research
An introduction to music research

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An introduction to music research

4.2 Wagner and the Nazis

Figure 16 Portrait of Richard Wagner (1813-83) (oil on canvas) by Franz Seraph von Lenbach (1836-1904)

One composer who might be thought of as deeply implicated in politics is Richard Wagner (1813-1883). Indeed, I imagine many of you might have named Wagner if asked to think of a composer of Western art music whose music, writings, and reputation are somehow bound up with politics. His popular image is forever tarnished by his antisemitic writings and his attractiveness to Adolf Hitler and German nationalists as a cultural icon—such that many Israeli musicians refuse to perform his music. Yet, at the same time, his music is deeply admired by many who would simultaneously disavow his beliefs and the uses to which his music has been put.

Activity 18

The literature on Wagner is enormous, but to get a sense of the controversy that still surrounds Wagner’s music, read this short article [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] by Lili Eylon on the pages of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs (the ‘official’ nature of the website is perhaps an indication that consideration of the question is one that carries contemporary political relevance).


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