The Third Reich & Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner (22 May 1813 – 13 February 1883) was a German composer, conductor, theatre director and essayist, primarily known for his operas (or “music dramas”, as they were later called).
Wagner’s compositions, particularly those of his later period, are notable for their complex texture, rich harmonies and orchestration, and the elaborate use of leitmotifs: musical themes associated with individual characters, places, ideas or plot elements.
Unlike most other opera composers, Wagner wrote both the music and libretto for every one of his stage works.
Initially establishing his reputation as a composer of works such as ‘The Flying Dutchman’ and ‘Tannhäuser’ which were in the romantic traditions of Weber and Meyerbeer, Wagner transformed operatic thought through his concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk (“total work of art”).
This would achieve the synthesis of all the poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts, and was announced in a series of essays between 1849 and 1852.
Wagner realised this concept most fully in the first half of the monumental four-opera cycle ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’.
However, his thoughts on the relative importance of music and drama were to change again and he reintroduced some traditional operatic forms into his last few stage works including ‘Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg’.
Wagner pioneered advances in musical language, such as extreme chromaticism and quickly shifting tonal centres, which greatly influenced the development of European classical music.
His ‘Tristan und Isolde’ is sometimes described as marking the start of modern music.
Wagner’s influence spread beyond music into philosophy, literature, the visual arts and theatre.
He had his own opera house built, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, which contained many novel design features.
It was here that the ‘Ring’ and ‘Parsifal‘ received their premieres and where his most important stage works continue to be performed today in an annual festival run by his descendants. Wagner’s views on conducting were also highly influential.
His extensive writings on music, drama and politics have all attracted extensive comment; in recent decades, especially where they have antisemitic content.
Wagner’s fortunes took a dramatic upturn in 1864, when King Ludwig II (see left) succeeded to the throne of Bavaria at the age of 18.
The young king, an ardent admirer of Wagner’s operas since childhood, had the composer brought to Munich.
He settled Wagner’s considerable debts, and proposed to stage ‘Tristan’, ‘Die Meistersinger’, the ‘Ring’, and the other operas Wagner planned.
Wagner also began to dictate his autobiography, ‘Mein Leben’, at the King’s request.
for more information about Ludwig II see
Wagner’s influence on literature and philosophy is significant.
Wagner’s protean abundance meant that he could inspire the use of literary motif in many a novel employing interior monologue.
The Symbolists saw him as a mystic hierophant; the Decadents found many a frisson in his work.
Friedrich Nietzsche was part of Wagner’s inner circle during the early 1870s, and his first published work ‘The Birth of Tragedy’ proposed Wagner’s music as the Dionysian rebirth of European culture in opposition to Apollonian rationalist decadence.
Nietzsche broke with Wagner following the first Bayreuth Festival, believing that Wagner’s final phase represented a pandering to Christian pieties and a surrender to the new German Reich. Nietzsche expressed his displeasure with the later Wagner in “The Case of Wagner” and “Nietzsche contra Wagner“.
Charles Baudelaire, Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine worshipped Wagner.
Edouard Dujardin, whose influential novel ‘Les lauriers sont coupés’ is in the form of an interior monologue inspired by Wagnerian music, founded a journal dedicated to Wagner, La Revue Wagnérienne, to which J. K. Huysmans and Téodor de Wyzewa contributed.
In the twentieth century, W. H. Auden once called Wagner “perhaps the greatest genius that ever lived”, while Thomas Mann and Marcel Proust were heavily influenced by him and discussed Wagner in their novels.
He is discussed in some of the works of James Joyce.
Wagnerian themes inhabit T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’, which contains lines from ‘Tristan und Isolde’ and ‘Götterdämmerung’, and Verlaine’s poem on ‘Parsifal‘.
Many of the Wagner’s concepts, including his speculation about dreams, predated their investigation by Sigmund Freud.
In a long list of other major cultural figures influenced by Wagner, Bryan Magee includes D. H. Lawrence, Aubrey Beardsley, Romain Rolland, Gérard de Nerval, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Rainer Maria Rilke and numerous others.
Following Wagner’s death, the debate about his ideas and their interpretation, particularly in Germany during the 20th century, continued to make him politically and socially controversial in a way that other great composers are not.
Much heat is generated by Wagner’s comments on Jews, which continue to influence the way that his works are regarded, and by the essays he wrote on the nature of race from 1850 onwards, and their influence on Adolf Hitler.
Wagner & Hitler
Wagner’s operas had an almost religious effect upon Hitler; Wagner’s skill for drama and dramatic music no doubt underscored the impact of the legends already known to Hitler from youth.
Hitler and many of his associates shared a fascination with the history and mythology of the German Volk, and the following discussion will focus on examples of “mythical influences”, and how they helped shape the personal and political activities of these men.
Richard Wagner’s (1813-1883) most famous works are undoubtably his music dramas.
‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’ (left ‘Das Rheingold’) and ‘Tristan und Isolde’ (right – model stage-set) and most importantly, ‘Parsifal’, (below – ‘Die große Gralsszeneare’), the works that are widely acknowledged as being of great musical significance
The development and use of the leitmotif, the parts written for the heldentenor, the manipulation of chromaticism in the tonal system, and the development of the music drama itself are all very important aspects of Wagner and his music.
The ancient sagas that Wagner used as a
basis for these music dramas held for him revealed truths and insights into human behavior and emotions. He has not been alone in his interest and opinions.These myths have been used as an argument for, or illustration of, various beliefs and ideologies. ‘The Ring’ has been variously interpreted as a look into the human psyche; a means of promoting socialism; a prophecy of the fate of the world and humankind; and a “parable” about the industrial society that was coming of age in Wagner’s lifetime.
It was also used by the Nazi party to justify and glorify racism, and to supply a basis of fanatic loyalty in the Schutzstaffel, or SS.
The legends of German mythology are essentially the same as the old Nordic legends; many of the proper names are the same in both cultures, and most of the remaining names are very similar to the Norse versions, differing only in spelling.
Thus the Norse Odin, the ruler of the gods, becomes Woden, (or Wotan), further south in the Germanic regions. In the same fashion, the Norse heroes known as Sigurd, Brynhild and Gudrun become Siegfried, Brünnhilde, (see right ‘Wotan & Brünnhilde), and Günther in the German stories.
The extremely close parallels between the two cultures makes it an absolute certainty that both the Germanic stories and the earlier Norse legends were derived from the same ancient tales.
These early legends are known to the modern world from two collections: the Elder Edda, which is written in verse, and the Younger Edda, (consisting of the sagas), which is written in prose. The dating for these collections seems to be in some dispute; in Bulfinch’s Mythology rather specific dates are assigned: 1056 for the Elder Edda and 1640 for the Younger Edda. However, in Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, she speaks of the oldest manuscript of the Elder as dating from circa 1300, some three hundred years after the arrival of Christianity in Iceland, and almost three hundred years after Bulfinch’s date.
Hamilton does state, however, that all of these legends are completely pagan in nature, (thus predating Christianity), and that almost all scholars agree the stories must be much older than the oldest manuscript.
The dates for the Younger Edda are likewise apparently uncertain; Bulfinch’s date of 1640 is hard to reconcile with Hamilton’s statement that the Younger was “written down by one Snorri Sturluson in the last part of the twelfth century.”
Regardless of date, it is agreed the most important collection is the Elder Edda.
These two very long epics furnish the material for almost all of the presently known myths and legends about the ancient gods of the North.
Unfortunately, as Christian missionaries from the Mediterranean area journeyed further north, they systematically destroyed all the pagan artifacts they could find in a remarkably successful attempt to completely obliterate all remnants of the belief system they were replacing.
Only a few fragments of the entire northern European prehistoric collection of myths have been preserved. The legend of Beowulf in England and the Nibelungenlied in Germany are two tales that survived the zeal of the missionaries.
The Eddas are known only from Iceland; apparently Icelandic missionaries were less influential than their counterparts on the continent of Europe — Iceland was one of the last European countries to be Christianized.
All of these surviving legends are essentially gloomy and pessimistic in nature; depressingly so to modern readers.
In Nordic and Germanic mythology the Earth, (Midgard), and Heaven, (Asgard), were destined to be utterly destroyed by the Frost Giants, (who lived in Jötunheim), in a final great battle between Good and Evil, called Ragnarok, (Ragnarok is paralleled by Götterdämmerung in Wagner’s Ring Cycle – see right).
In this final battle, Evil was predestined to win, and the entirety of creation was to be destroyed. The only bright factor in this thoroughly depressing viewpoint was the belief that, in spite of all, if one could die a courageous, heroic death, then all else faded into insignificance.
It is of interest to realize that the Western ideal of heroism and heroic deeds in the face of certain death springs almost entirely from these Nordic myths, and not from the Greek and Roman mythology that most people are more familiar with. (The Greek gods were remarkably un-heroic in their conduct), and of course, this idea of heroism and fighting to the death against any odds would fit very well with the kind of fanatic loyalty sought by Hitler and Himmler.
When Richard Wagner embarked upon the composition of ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’, (around 1849), he chose as his framework the Teutonic epic of the Nibelungenlied, (The Norse version of this legend is called the Volsungasaga).
Wagner finished the first two segments, (‘Das Rheingold’ and ‘Die Walküre’), and part of the third, (‘Siegfried’), by 1857, but seventeen years would go by before he would finish the great work with the completion of ‘Siegfried’ and the final music drama in the cycle: ‘Götterdämmerung’.
As mentioned earlier, the Teutonic versions of these myths are very similar to the Nordic versions, differing chiefly in descriptions of climate, and social condition. The Teutonic versions were generally slightly less violent than their Viking equivalents.
In turn, it seems apparent that Wagner again tempered the German tales somewhat; in ‘Tristan und Isolde’, after the hero Tristan is mortally wounded, he is kept alive by the power of love until he is united with his lover, Isolde. After Tristan’s demise in her arms, she is overcome by waves of ecstatic love, and she dies.
As discouraging as this ending may seem, Wagner saw it as the triumph of love in the face of all adversity; not even death could truly defeat it.
Of course, the story steps outside of the bounds of reality somewhere along the way, but this only adds to the transcendent quality of the story and of the music drama itself.
Adolf Hitler’s attraction to Richard Wagner’s music began at an early age.
In 1905, at the age of sixteen, Hitler left school – ostensibly because of illness – and was able to spend his time as he wished – which he later described as the happiest time of his life.
He had a passion for music; most especially the mystic operas of Wagner, which he would attend night after night.
His meager supply of pocket money was spent mainly on the opera, (a standing-room ticket cost only the equivalent of ten cents), and on purchasing books on German history and mythology, which he would read for hours at a time.
His fascination with Wagner’s operas seems to have had a profound effect upon him.
His only friend from this period of his life was one August Kubizek, (nicknamed “Gustl”), who gave an interesting description:
“The charged emotionality of this music seemed to have served him as a means for self-hypnosis, while he found in its lush air of bourgeois luxury the necessary ingredients for escapist fantasy”.
Kubizek goes on to relate the events of a particular evening spent in Hitler’s company.
They had attended a performance of Wagner’s ‘Rienzi’, and according to “Gustl”, Hitler had a quite powerful reaction to the opera.
The youthful Adolf was “overwhelmed by the resplendent, dramatic musicality” of the opera, as well as deeply affected by the story therein; that of Cola di Rienzi, a medieval rebel who was an outcast from his fellows and was “destroyed by their incomprehension”. After the opera …
“… Hitler began to orate. Words burst from him like a backed-up flood breaking through crumbling dams. In grandiose, compelling images, he sketched for me his future and that of his people”.
Thirty years later, the boyhood friends would meet again in Bayreuth, and Hitler would remark: “It all began at that hour !”.
More convincing evidence of Wagner’s influences can hardly be wished for after a statement such as this one, but there is more.
Between 1909 and 1913, a time which Hitler described as “the saddest period of my life”, he resided in Vienna.
It was here, by his own statement in Mein Kampf, that he became a confirmed anti-Semite.
Indeed, Hitler claims to have heard ‘Tristan und Isolde’ thirty to forty times during his years in Vienna. (During these years in Vienna, at the Hofoper opera house alone, at least 426 evenings featured performances of works by Wagner).
In 1923, just before the abortive “Beer-Hall Putsch”, Hitler presented himself at Wahnfried, the home of the Wagner family.
There he met Siegfried Wagner, (Richard Wagner’s only son), and Siegfried’s English born wife Winifred (*see below).
He is said to have sought out the Master’s study, and, deeply moved, stood before Wagner’s grave in the garden for a long time.
Afterwards, he was introduced to Houston Stewart Chamberlain (**see photo below & ’AN ENGLISHMAN AT THE COURT OF THE KAISER‘), (Richard Wagner’s English born son-in-law), who was of advanced age and could not speak. Chamberlain later wrote a letter to Hitler voicing his support for Hitler’s goals and ideas.
Hitler valued this letter greatly, almost as if it were “a benediction from the Bayreuth Master himself”.
Hitler continued in his contacts with the family of Wagner, and it is rumoured that he had a relationship with Winifred after Siegfried’s death.
Hitler also became a favourite ‘uncle’ (uncle Wolf), to the Wagner’s two sons, Wieland (left) and Wolfgang (right).
His idea of the supreme expression of opera was the final scene in ‘Götterdämmerung’, and, when in Bayreuth, whenever he witnessed this finale, he would turn around in his darkened box, seek out the hand of Frau Winifred Wagner, and “breathe a deeply moved Handkuss upon it”. By this time he had seen all of Wagner’s operas countless times, and boasted of having listened to ‘Tristan und Isolde’ and ‘Die Meistersinger’ over a hundred times each.
He speaks of the interior furnishings of Hitler’s country house, the Berghof at Obersalzberg.
The salon was furnished, along with normal items of furniture, with a “sideboard over ten feet high and eighteen feet long” which was used to store phonograph records. Against another wall was “a massive chest containing built-in speakers, and adorned by a large bronze bust of Richard Wagner by Arno Breker”.
The admiration Hitler had for Wagner was reciprocated by the Wagner family; when furnishing this dwelling, the Wagners donated linens and china, and sent Hitler a complete set Richard Wagner’s works, along with a page from the original score of Lohengrin.
There is yet another facet of Hitler’s dwelling at Obersalzberg that shows his sense of unity with Germany’s “heroic” past: the view.
Obersalzberg, as one might imply from the name, is a mountain; high enough to give a good view of the surrounding area.
The Berghof, which was designed by Hitler himself, featured a large picture window which offered a view of the Untersberg, Berchtesgaden, and Mozart’s hometown, Salzburg.
Hitler didn’t hesitate to apply this prophecy to himself: “You see the Untersberg over there. It is no accident that I have my residence opposite it”.
On the eve of World War II, Hitler’s forces reoccupied the Rhineland. Returning from a triumphal trip through this area, and jubilant over the Allies’ weakness, he requested that some Wagner be put on the phonograph. Listening to the vorspiel to Parsifal, he remarked:
“I have built up my religion out of Parsifal. Divine worship in solemn form … without pretenses of humility … One can serve God only in the garb of the hero”.
The record continued to play.
The next selection was the funeral march from Götterdämmerung, and brought forth the following comments from Hitler:
“I first heard it in Vienna – at the Opera – and I still remember as if it were today”.
The Germanic myths and the dramatic presentation of these myths by Richard Wagner were, very obviously, a central tool of the Nazi Party.
The psychological effects of these music dramas and stories on the principal figures of the Third Reich are equally obvious, when they are looked for.
In Joachim Fest’s biography of Hitler, there are no fewer than thirty-four references to Richard Wagner or his music.
And of course, one cannot help but wonder what Richard Wagner would have thought about Adolf Hitler, one of his all-time biggest fans !
However, it was Richard Wagner who declared in his ‘music dramas’ that the coming master race was that of the Germans.
Originally, Nietzsche had delighted in Wagner’s music, but the latter’s obsessive anti-Semitism and conversion to an Aryanised Christianity caused him to denounce the composer with every twist of biting irony at his command.
The great mass of people, however, were to respond more to Wagner’s music than to Nietzsche’s difficult writings, partly because it was great and inspired music and partly because its maker had resurrected the mythology of the German race.
It is said that myths are the truest expression of a race’s spirit and culture, and in ‘The Ring’ the Teutonic ‘Supermen’ bestrode a stage, wherein was war, treachery, courage, blood and fire, climaxed with a stupendous ‘Götterdämmerung’.
The world of Wotan and Thor, heroes and giants, great deeds, great victories, and great destruction had never been expressed with such power.
The beauty of Wagner’s music moved men to such an extent that Hitler would declare that to understand National Socialist Germany one must first know Wagner.
For Wagner believed that the virtues of the Teuton tribes had atrophied with the coming of industrial civilisation; that courage and will had been poisoned or emasculated by capitalism and race pollution; that the Jews were responsible for the enervation and enslavement of the German spirit; and that a new Siegfried must arise to lead the Germans to an awareness of their greatness and their glory.
Schopenauer (see right) destroyed the meaning of values, Nietzsche proclaimed the need for passing beyond them, and Wagner supplied a new set to replace the old.
These three men, renowned more posthumously than in their own lifetimes, challenged the world of 1889 and became, in time, the favourites of Adolf Hitler.
From them he derived what fundamental values he possessed.
It is impossible to tell whether these men expressed what they felt around them, or what they sensed would be the future; or whether they were determined to stamp their wills upon the world.
Were they prophets? Or were they magicians?
We know that Nietzsche derived much of his inspiration from mystical trances which possessed him without warning, and that his greatest work, Thus Spake Zarathustra, was inspired by one such experience in the winter of 1882-3.
We know also that Wagner claimed that the sources of his inspiration flowed from similar supra-rational experiences, and the effect of this can be seen in that extraordinary mystical opera, ‘Parsifal’.
Whatever the truth, it is at least certain that much of what they foretold, later came to pass.
Yet the world of 1889 ignored these insignificant portents of change.
People continued to live as though nothing important had happened or would happen, and no one so much as deigned to notice the birth of Adolf Hitler.
Treaties and contracts were made and broken; money was won and lost; children were educated as though all was absolutely certain.
Books were written and read which taught Christian, bourgeois, industrial capitalist, materialist, humanist European values as if no other could ever be of the slightest relevance.
And yet it was these books which lacked all relevance.
Nietzsche, (see left and NIETZSCHE – CREATOR OF THE ÜBERMENSCH ), who knew the true spirit of his age and of the age to come, wrote:
‘And what doeth the saint in the forest?’ asked Zarathustra.
The saint answered: ‘I make hymns and sing them; and in making hymns I laugh and weep and mumble: thus do I praise God.
‘With singing, weeping, laughing, and mumbling do I praise the God who is my God. But what dost thou bring us as a gift?’
When Zarathustra had heard these words, he bowed to the saint and said: ‘What should I have to give thee! Let me rather hurry hence lest I take aught away from thee!’
And thus they parted from one another, the old man and Zarathustra, laughing like schoolboys.
When Zarathustra was alone, however, he said to his heart: ‘Could it be possible! This old saint in the forest hath not yet heard of it, that God is dead!”
Der Bayreuther Kreis
Der Bayreuther Kreis (The Bayreuth Circle) was a name originally applied by some writers to devotees of Richard Wagner’s music who attended and supported the annual Bayreuth Festival in the later 19th and early twentieth centuries.
Many of these devotees espoused nationalistic German politics, and were supporters of Adolf Hitler from the 1920s onwards, and therefore this group of people were directly associated with the rise of Nazism.
There was never any organisation named Der Bayreuther Kreis, or any group of people who identified themselves by that name; but the term has been used by many historians as a convenient label for Hitler supporters associated with Wagner and Bayreuth.
Examples of such association are given in the following citations:
‘Only with timely support from the Bayreuth circle, especially Houston S. Chamberlain, Winifred Wagner, and henchmen like Dietrich Eckhart in the Thule Society, could Hitler assume the public image of a Wotan/Siegfried figure, complete with telling nickname: “Wolf.” ‘
‘Thus Hitler himself admitted: `It was Cosima Wagner’s merit to have created the link between Bayreuth and National Socialism’.
‘It was the Bayreuth circle which raised Wagner’s message to the status of gospel, manoeuvring his ideas into a Germanic-Christian doctrine of salvation.’
‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’
The cycle is a work of extraordinary scale.
Perhaps the most outstanding facet of the monumental work is its sheer length: a full performance of the cycle takes place over four nights at the opera, with a total playing time of about 15 hours, depending on the conductor’s pacing.
The first and shortest opera, ‘Das Rheingold’, typically lasts two and a half hours, while the final and longest, ‘Götterdämmerung’, takes up four and a half hours.
The cycle is modelled after ancient Greek dramas that were presented as three tragedies and one satyr play.
‘The Ring’ proper begins with ‘Die Walküre’ and ends with ‘Götterdämmerung’, with ‘Rheingold’ as a prelude.
Wagner called ‘Das Rheingold’ a Vorabend or “Preliminary Evening”, and ‘Die Walküre’, ‘Siegfried’ (see left below) and ‘Götterdämmerung’ were subtitled First Day, Second Day and Third Day, respectively, of the trilogy proper.
The scale and scope of the story is epic.
The drama and intrigue continue through three generations of protagonists, until the final cataclysm at the end of Götterdämmerung.
The music of the cycle is thick and richly textured, and grows in complexity as the cycle proceeds.
Wagner wrote for an orchestra of gargantuan proportions, including a greatly enlarged brass section with new instruments such as the ‘Wagner tuba’ (see left), bass trumpet and contrabass trombone.
Remarkably, he uses a chorus only relatively briefly, in acts 2 and 3 of ‘Götterdämmerung’, and then mostly of men with just a few women.
He eventually had a purpose-built theatre constructed, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, in which to perform this work.
The theatre has a special stage that blends the huge orchestra with the singers’ voices, allowing them to sing at a natural volume.
The result was that the singers do not have to strain themselves vocally during the long performances.
Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle begins when the dwarf Alberich rejects love in order to gain unlimited power over the world by forging a Ring of Power from the Rhinegold.
The rejection of love is the only possible way of seizing this gold from the Rhine Maidens who had teased and taunted Alberich’s love.
Once Alberich has seized the gold he forges it into a ring and a magical helmet (the Tarnhelm) that allows all who don it to shift shape at will and cross great distances in an instant.
When the god Wotan is himself allured by the wealth of the gold and power of the ring – stealing them from Alberich in order to pay for a great hall of the gods (Valhalla), the embittered dwarf curses the ring with a spell – ensuring that it will henceforth bring about the death and downfall of all who wear it.
Only the Earth goddess Erda, embodiment of primordial wisdom, and Loge – the luciferic fire spirit upon whom Wotan has relied – recognise the full pathos of what will befall both gods and mortals if the Ring is not returned to its source in the Rhine.
This is ultimately achieved not by the naïve and fearless hero Siegfried, nor by his loveless rival, the son of Alberich but by Siegfried’s lover Brünnhilde – (see right).
She is a female warrior, a ‘death angel’ or Valkyrie born of Erda’s violation by Wotan.
In the symbolism of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, rejection of love in favour of power over, and the enforced submission of female gods and mortals combine to bring about a loss of inner power and knowledge.
In the end Wotan regains the wisdom lost to Erda only by willingly submitting to the fate imposed by the power of the Ring.
He does so by encouraging Brunnhilde to follow her own loving instincts for both Siegfried and himself – knowing full well that this will eventually bring about the downfall or ‘Twilight’ of the gods, but knowing at the same time that only this will save mankind and redeem the world.
The epic ends with Brünnhilde flinging the ring back into the Rhine – whose luciferic flames then rise to engulf Valhalla and cause its collapse.
The gods – hitherto embodiments of inner power and knowledge – fall prey to the allure of outer symbols of that power and knowledge (gold, heroic victory in war, and the grand fortress of Valhalla that is home to dead heroes).
Thus bringing about their own downfall, they now await their return – no longer as gods but as human beings – loving men and women of inner power and inner knowledge.
It is loosely based on Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, the 13th century epic poem of the Arthurian knight Parzival (Percival) and his quest for the Holy Grail, and on Chrétien de Troyes’ Perceval, the Story of the Grail.
Wagner first conceived the work in April 1857 but it was not finished until twenty-five years later.
It was to be Wagner’s last completed opera and in composing it he took advantage of the particular acoustics of his Bayreuth Festspielhaus.
Parsifal was first produced at the second Bayreuth Festival in 1882.
The Bayreuth Festival maintained a monopoly on Parsifal productions until 1903, when the opera was performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Wagner preferred to describe Parsifal not as an opera, but as “ein Bühnenweihfestspiel” – “A Festival Play for the Consecration of the Stage”.
At Bayreuth a tradition has arisen that there is no applause after the first act of the opera.
Wagner’s spelling of Parsifal instead of the Parzival he had used up to 1877 is informed by an erroneous etymology of the name Percival deriving it from a supposedly Arabic origin, Fal Parsi meaning “pure fool”.
for more information see the post
* Winifred Wagner
Winifred Wagner (23 June 1897 – 5 March 1980) was an English-born Welsh woman married to Siegfried Wagner, Richard Wagner’s son
She was the effective head of the Wagner family from 1930 to 1945, and a close friend of German dictator Adolf Hitler.
Winifred Williams was born Winifred Marjorie Williams in Hastings, England, the daughter of John Williams, a writer, and his wife, the former Emily Florence Karop.
Winifred lost both her parents before the age of two and was initially raised in a series of homes. Eight years later she was adopted by a distant German relative of her mother, Henrietta Karop, and her husband Karl Klindworth, a musician and a friend of Richard Wagner.
The Bayreuth Festival was envisioned as a family business, with the leadership to be passed from Richard Wagner to his son Siegfried Wagner, but Siegfried, who was secretly homosexual, showed little interest in marriage.
It was arranged that Winifred Klindworth, as she was called at the time, aged 17, would meet Siegfried Wagner, aged 45, at the Bayreuth Festival in 1914.A year later they were married.
It was hoped that the marriage would end Siegfried’s homosexual encounters and the associated costly scandals, and provide an heir to carry on the family business.
Following their marriage on 22 September 1915, they had four children in rapid succession:
Wieland (1917–1966), Friedelind (1918–1991), Wolfgang (1919–2010) and Verena (born 1920).
After the death of Siegfried Wagner in 1930, Winifred Wagner took over the Bayreuth Festival, running it until the end of World War II.
In 1923, Winifred met Adolf Hitler who, as we have seen earlier, greatly admired Wagner’s music.
When Hitler was jailed for his part in the Munich Beer Hall Putsch, Winifred sent him food parcels and stationery on which Hitler’s autobiography Mein Kampf may have been written.
In the late 1930s, she served as Hitler’s personal translator during treaty negotiations with England.
Although Winifred remained personally faithful to Hitler, she denied that she had ever supported the Nazi party.
Her relationship with Hitler grew so close that by 1933 there were rumors of impending marriage.
‘Haus Wahnfried’, the Wagner home in Bayreuth, became Hitler’s favorite retreat, and he had his own separate accommodation in the grounds of Wahnfried, known as the Führerbau.
Hitler gave the festival government assistance and tax exempt status, and treated Winifred’s children, particularly Wieland and Wolfgang solicitously.
According to biographer Brigitte Hamann, Winifred Wagner was reported to be “disgusted” by Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. In one notable incident, in the late 1930s, a letter from her to Hitler prevented Hedwig and Alfred Pringsheim (their daughter Katia was married to Thomas Mann) from being arrested by the Gestapo.
According to Gottfried Wagner, Winifred’s grandson, she never admitted the error of her ways.
After the war, her posthumous devotion to the man she cryptically referred to as “USA” – for ‘Unser Seliger Adolf’ (our blessed Adolf) – remained undimmed.
She corresponded with Hitler for nearly two decades.
Scholars have not been allowed to see the letters which are kept locked away by one of Winifred’s grandchildren, Amélie Lafferentz.
** Houston Stewart Chamberlain
Houston Stewart Chamberlain (September 9, 1855 – January 9, 1927) was a British-born German author of books on political philosophy, natural science and Richard Wagner (for more informations see ‘AN ENGLISHMAN AT THE COURT OF THE KAISER‘) .
Chamberlain married the composer’s daughter, Eva, some years after Wagner’s death.
His two-volume book, ‘Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts’ (The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century), published in 1899, became one of the many references for the pan-Germanic movement of the early 20th century, and, later, of the völkisch antisemitism of Nazi racial policy.
Houston Stewart Chamberlain was born in Southsea, Hampshire, England, the son of Rear Admiral William Charles Chamberlain, RN. His mother, Eliza Jane, daughter of Captain Basil Hall, RN, died before he was a year old, and he was raised by his grandmother in France.
Chamberlain’s education began in a Lycée at Versailles and most of his education occurred on the continent, but his father had planned a military career for his son and at the age of eleven he was sent to Cheltenham College, an English boarding school which produced many army and navy officers.
The young Chamberlain was “a compulsive dreamer” more interested in the arts than the military, and he developed a fondness for nature and a near-mystical sense of self.
The prospect of serving as an officer in India or elsewhere in the British Empire held no attraction for him. In addition, he was a delicate child with poor health.
At the age of fourteen he had to be withdrawn from school.
He then traveled to various spas around Europe, accompanied by a Prussian tutor, Herr Otto Kuntze, who taught him German and interested him in German culture and history.
Chamberlain then went to Geneva, where he studied under Carl Vogt, (a supporter of racial typology at the University of Geneva) Graebe, Müller Argoviensis, Thury, Plantamour, and other professors.
He studied systematicbotany, geology, astronomy, and later the anatomy and physiology of the human body.
Thereafter he settled at Dresden, where “he plunged heart and soul into the mysterious depths of Wagnerian music and philosophy, themetaphysical works of the Master probably exercising as strong an influence upon him as the musical dramas.”
Chamberlain was immersed in philosophical writings, and became a Völkisch author, one of those who were concerned more with art, culture, civilization and spirit than with quantitative physical distinctions between groups.
This is evidenced by his huge treatise on Immanuel Kant with its comparisons.
His knowledge of Friedrich Nietzsche is demonstrated in that work (p. 183) and Foundations (p. 153n).
By this time Chamberlain had met his first wife, the Prussian Anna Horst, whom he was to divorce in 1905.
In 1889 he moved to Austria. During this time it is said his ideas on race began taking shape, influenced by the concept of Teutonic supremacy embodied in the works of Wagner and Arthur de Gobineau.
Chamberlain had attended Wagner’s Bayreuth Festival in 1882 and struck up a close correspondence with his wife Cosima.
In 1908 he married Eva Wagner, the composer’s daughter, and the next year he moved to Germany and became an important member of the “Bayreuth Circle” of German nationalist intellectuals.
He lived close to the Wagners, at 1 Wahnfriedstrasse in a large, imposing house (left – note the observatory dome on the roof – Chamberlain was a keen amateur astronomer)
By the time World War I broke out in 1914, Chamberlain remained an Englishman only by virtue of his name and nationality. In 1916 he also acquired German citizenship.
He had already begun propagandising on behalf of the German government and continued to do so throughout the war.
His vociferous denunciations of his land of birth, it has been posited, were the culmination of his rejection of his native England’s capitalism, in favour of a form of German Romanticism akin to that which he had cultivated in himself during his years at Cheltenham.
Chamberlain received the Iron Cross from the Kaiser, with whom he was in regular correspondence, in 1916.
After the war Chamberlain’s chronically bad health took a turn for the worse and he was left partially paralyzed; he continued living in Bayreuth until his death in 1927.
Chamberlain was an admirer of Richard Wagner, and wrote several commentaries on his works including Notes sur Lohengrin (“Notes on Lohengrin”) (1892), an analysis of Wagner’s drama (1892), and a biography (1895), emphasizing in particular the heroic Teutonic aspects in the composer’s works.
‘Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts’
In 1899 Chamberlain wrote his most important work, ‘Die Grundlagen des Neunzehnten Jahrhunderts’ – ‘The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century’, – in German.
‘Die Grundlagen’ (1899) was the best-selling work by Houston Stewart Chamberlain. In it he advances various racist and especially völkisch antisemitic theories on how he saw the Aryan race as superior to others, and the Teutonic peoples as a positive force in European civilization and the Jews as a negative one. Chamberlain was a germanophile who adopted German citizenship and wrote most of his works in German (on numerous subjects, from biographies to biology).
Published in German, the book focuses on the controversial notion that Western civilization is deeply marked by the influence of the Teutonic peoples.
Chamberlain grouped all European peoples—not just Germans, but Celts, Slavs, Greeks, and Latins—into the “Aryan race”, a race built on the ancient Proto-Indo-European culture.
At the helm of the Aryan race, and, indeed, all races, were the Nordic or Teutonic peoples.
“ Certain anthropologists would fain teach us that all races are equally gifted; we point to history and answer: that is a lie!
The races of mankind are markedly different in the nature and also in the extent of their gifts, and the Germanic races belong to the most highly gifted group, the group usually termed Aryan… Physically and mentally the Aryans are pre-eminent among all peoples; for that reason they are by right … the lords of the world.”
Chamberlain’s book focused on the claim that the Teutonic peoples were the heirs to the empires of Greece and Rome, something which Charlemagne and some of his successors also believed.
He argued that when the Germanic tribes destroyed the Roman Empire, Jews and other non-Europeans already dominated it.
Chamberlain’s thoughts were influenced by the writings of Arthur de Gobineau – (right) – who had argued the superiority of the “Aryan race”.
(Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau (14 July 1816, Ville-d’Avray, Hauts-de-Seine – 13 October 1882, Turin) was a French aristocrat, novelist and man of letters who became famous for developing the racialist theory of the Aryan master race in his book ‘An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races’ – (1853–1855).
De Gobineau is credited as being the father of modern racial demography.)
This term was increasingly being used to describe Caucasian or European peoples, as opposed to Jews, who were conceptualised as “infusing Near Eastern poison into the European body politic”.
The Aryan, or ‘noble’ race was always in the process of creation as superior peoples supplanted inferior ones in evolutionary struggles for survival.
Chamberlain (who had graduate training in biology), rejected Darwinism, – (see Charles Darwin left) – evolution and social Darwinism, and instead emphasized “gestalt” which he said derived from Goethe. Chamberlain said that Darwinism was the most abominable and misguided doctrine of the day.
The Foundations sold extensively: eight editions and 60,000 copies within ten years, 100,000 copies by the outbreak of World War I and 24 editions and more than a quarter of a million copies by 1938.
The 1911 translation received positive reviews in most of the English press.
It was praised in The Spectator as ” a monument of erudition”; the Birmingham Post said that it was “glowing with life, packed with fresh and vigorous thought”; the Glasgow Herald thought that it would be difficult to “over-estimate the stimulating qualities of the book.”
In the Times Literary Supplement it was declared to be “one of the books that really mattered”.
In the left-wing Fabian News George Bernard Shaw called it a “historical masterpiece”. Those who failed to read it, he continued, would be unable to talk intelligently about contemporary sociological and political problems.
In the U.S., Theodore Roosevelt, altogether more cautious, highlighted the extreme bias of the author, a judgement that seems to have escaped other contemporary readers, but praised Chamberlain’s denunciation of social egalitarianism
.Kaiser Wilhelm II – (left) – patronized Chamberlain, maintaining a correspondence, inviting him to stay at his court, distributing copies of ‘Die Grundlagenamong’ the German army, and seeing that ‘Die Grundlagen’ was carried in German libraries and included in the school curricula.
Chamberlain’s ideas on race were greatly influential to Adolf Hitler, who readily adapted them into his Nazi ideology; Chamberlain himself joined the Nazi party, and both Hitler and Goebbels visited Chamberlain whilst on his deathbed.
‘Die Grundlagen’ would prove to be a seminal work in German nationalism; due to its success, aided by Chamberlain’s association with the Wagner circle, its ideas of Aryan supremacy and a struggle against Jewish influence spread widely across the German state at the beginning of the century.
Chamberlain himself lived to see his ideas begin to bear fruit.
Adolf Hitler, while still growing as a political figure in Germany, visited him several times (in 1923 and in 1926, together with Joseph Goebbels – (see left) at the Wagner family’s property in Bayreuth.
Chamberlain joined the Nazi Party and contributed to its publications.
Its primary journal, the ‘Völkischer Beobachter’ dedicated five columns to praising him on his 70th birthday, describing ‘Die Grundlagen’ as the “gospel of the Nazi movement.”
Hitler later attended Chamberlain’s funeral in January 1927 along with several highly ranked members of the Nazi party.
Chamberlain’s ideas were influential in particular to Alfred Rosenberg, who became the Nazi Party’s in-house philosopher.
In 1909, some months before Rosenberg’s 17th birthday, he went with an aunt to visit his guardian, where several other relatives were gathered.
Bored, he went to a book shelf, picked up a copy of Chamberlain’s ’Die Grundlagenan’ and wrote of the moment: “I felt electrified; I wrote down the title and went straight to the bookshop.”
In 1930 Rosenberg published ‘Der Mythus des Zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts’ – (The Myth Of The Twentieth Century) – (see below***), a homage to and continuation of Chamberlain’s work.
Rosenberg had accompanied Hitler when he called upon Wagner’s widow, Cosima, in October 1923 where he met her son-in-law.
He told the ailing Chamberlain he was working on his own new book which, he intended, should do for the Third Reich what Chamberlain’s book had done for the Second.
*** ‘Der Mythus des Zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts’
‘Der Mythus des Zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts’ – (The Myth of the Twentieth Century) is a book by Alfred Rosenberg, one of the principal ideologues of the Nazi party and editor of the Nazi paper Völkischer Beobachter.
It was the most influential Nazi text after Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’.
The titular “myth” is “the myth of blood, which under the sign of the swastika unchains the racial world-revolution.
It is the awakening of the race soul, which after long sleep victoriously ends the race chaos.
Rosenberg was inspired by Eckhart, the racist theories of Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Richard Wagner’s romanticism, and also by Nordicism and Aryanism.
He believed that God created man as separate races, not as individuals or mankind as a whole, and that only the Aryan race has a soul. ‘Der Mythus’ was conceived as a sequel to Chamberlain’s ‘Grundlagen’.
Rosenberg’s racial interpretation of history concentrates on the negative influence of the Jewish race in contrast to the Aryan race.
He equates the latter with the Nordic peoples of northern Europe and also includes the Berbers from North Africa and the upper classes of Ancient Egypt.
According to Rosenberg, modern culture has been corrupted by Semitic influences, which have produced degenerate modern art, along with moral and social degeneration.
In contrast, Aryan culture is defined by innate moral sensibility and an energetic will to power. Rosenberg believed that the higher races must rule over the lower and not interbreed with them, because cross-breeding destroys the divine combination of physical heredity and spirit.
He uses an organic metaphor of the race and the State and argues that the Nazis must purify the race soul by eliminating non-Aryan elements in much the same ruthless and uncompromising way in which a surgeon would cut a cancer from a diseased body.
In Rosenberg’s view of world history, migrating Aryans founded various ancient civilizations which later declined and fell due to inter-marriage with lesser races.
This included the Indo-Aryan civilization, ancient Persia, Greece, and Rome.
He saw the ancient Germanic invasions of the Roman empire as “saving” its civilization, which had been corrupted both by race mixing and by “Judaized-cosmopolitan” Christianity. Furthermore, he noted that the persecutions of Protestants in France and other areas represented the wiping out of the last remnants of the Aryan element in those areas, a process completed by the French revolution.
In contemporary Europe, he saw the northern areas that embraced Protestantism as closest to the Aryan racial and spiritual ideal.
The “Mythus” is very anti-Catholic, seeing the Church’s cosmopolitanism and “Judaized” version of Christianity as one of the factors in Germany’s spiritual bondage.
Rosenberg saw Martin Luther and the Reformation as an important step forward toward reasserting the “Aryan spirit”, but having not gone far enough in its founding of just another dogmatic church.
Another myth, to which he gave “allegorical” credence, was the idea of Atlantis, which he felt might preserve a memory of an ancient Aryan homeland:
‘And so today the long derived hypothesis becomes a probability, namely that from a northern centre of creation which, without postulating an actual submerged Atlantic continent, we may call Atlantis, swarms of warriors once fanned out in obedience to the ever renewed and incarnate Nordic longing for distance to conquer and space to shape.’