Once every several years, there is debate in Israel over whether or not Richard Wagner’s music should be performed publicly. Except for an encore conducted by Daniel Barenboim in 2001, following a forty-minute discussion with the audience, any request to perform Wagner’s music in Israel has not succeeded.

Resistance to Wagner’s music is based on the contribution his writings have made to the development of modern anti-Semitism and his influence on Nazi racial ideology. Wagner’s music was also played as Jews were sent to the gas chambers during World War 2, and this was a factor in banning its public performance in Israel. Although Wagner died fifty years before Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, there is evidence that Wagner’s anti-Semitism influenced Hitler indirectly.

There is no doubt about Richard Wagner’s anti-Semitism. In 1850 Wagner published an essay “Judaism in Music” under the pseudonym K. Freigedank (“K. Freethought”) in the journal Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik in Leipzig. He published it later under his own name in 1869 as a pamphlet. In this work he states:

“The Jew—who, as everyone knows, has a God all to himself—in ordinary life strikes us primarily by his outward appearance, which, no matter to what European nationality we belong, has something disagreeably foreign to that nationality: instinctively we wish to have nothing in common with a man who looks like that”.

Publicly, Wagner described the “Jewish race” as the “born enemy of pure humanity and everything noble in it”, claiming that “it is running us Germans into the ground, and I am perhaps the last German who knows how to hold himself upright in the face of Judaism, which already rules everything”. One of the reasons suggested for his anti-Semitism is the success of his Jewish contemporaries Felix Mendelssohn and Giacomo Meyerbeer. Wagner resented having to share his musical inheritance with a race that he despised.

Franz Liszt, one of the greatest virtuoso pianists of all time and the well-known composer of the Romantic period, was a defender and close friend of Wagner. It is not certain that Liszt’s anti-Semitic views as expressed in his book the Gypsies and their Music in Hungary are his own, but in 1870 Liszt’s daughter Cosima married Wagner following her divorce from the great conductor Hans von Bulow. Cosima shared Wagner’s convictions of German cultural and racial superiority. She became the conduit for the preservation not only of her husband’s music but also his anti-Semitic ideas and writings. She died in 1930, shortly before Hitler came to power.

Wagner also had an ardent admirer in the British-born political philosopher Houston Stewart Chamberlain. He married Wagner’s daughter Eva in 1908, and later became a naturalized German. Chamberlain’s theories on racial superiority were published in 1899 in his influential work, The Foundations of the 19th Century. this book provided a rational basis for the emotional pan-Germanism and nationalism spreading throughout Germany in 1914 and after, and had a great effect upon Hitler and the development of Nazi ideology.

Although Wagner did not directly cause Hitler’s anti-Semitism, it is clear that his intimate domestic and social circle included important and influential members who were a direct influence on Hitler. Wagner’s music was adored by Hitler and others who shared his worldview as the pinnacle of everything that is good and holy in music, and in particular, everything that is not Jewish.

But the times of the affliction of the Jewish people are drawing to a close. Soon their Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ, will appear to deliver them from those who hate them. At that time Yahweh “will undo all that afflict thee: and I will save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out; and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame” (Zeph 3:19).

Sources:

Daniel Barenboim, “Wagner and the Jews”, The New York Review of Books, 20 June 2013 [Online] URL: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/ jun/20/wagner-and-jews/?pagination=false “Cosima Wagner”, Wikipedia.org [Online] URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosima_Wagner Michael Haas, Forbidden Music: the Jewish Composers Banned by the Nazis, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013.

William L. Shirer, the Rise and Fall of the third Reich, London: Pan Books, 1964. p.133-142. Elad Uzan, “Richard Wagner’s contribution to consolidating Nazi ideology was not marginal”, Aish. com, 8 January 2013 [Online] URL: http://www. aish.com/jw/s/Wagner-and-Hitler.html