The Third Reich & Richard Wagner
In August 1814 Johanna married Geyer, and moved with her family to his residence in Dresden. Until he was fourteen, Wagner was known as Wilhelm Richard Geyer.
Weinlig was so impressed with Wagner’s musical ability that he refused any payment for his lessons, and arranged for Wagner’s piano sonata in B flat (which was consequently dedicated to him) to be published as the composer’s op. 1.
A year later, Wagner composed his Symphony in C major, a Beethovenesque work performed in Prague in 1832 and at the Leipzig Gewandhaus in 1833.
He then began to work on an opera, ‘Die Hochzeit’ (The Wedding), which he never completed.
In 1833, Wagner’s older brother Karl Albert managed to obtain Richard a position as choir master in Würzburg.
In the same year, at the age of 20, Wagner composed his first complete opera, ‘Die Feen’ (The Fairies).
Wagner spent the next twelve years in exile.
He had completed Lohengrin, the last of his middle-period operas before the Dresden uprising, and now wrote desperately to his friend Franz Liszt to have it staged in his absence.
Liszt, who proved to be a true friend, eventually conducted the premiere in Weimar in August 1850.
Nevertheless, Wagner found himself in grim personal straits, isolated from the German musical world and without any income to speak of.
Before leaving Dresden, he had drafted a scenario that would eventually become the four opera cycle ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’.
He initially wrote the libretto for a single opera, ‘Siegfrieds Tod’ (Siegfried’s Death) in 1848. After arriving in Zurich he expanded the story to include an opera ‘Der junge Siegfried’ (Young Siegfried) exploring the hero’s background.
He completed the text of the cycle by writing the libretti for ‘Die Walküre’ and ‘Das Rheingold’ and revising the other libretti to agree with his new concept, completing them in 1852.
Meanwhile, his wife Minna, who had disliked the operas he had written after Rienzi, was falling into a deepening depression and then Wagner himself fell victim to ill-health which made it difficult for him to continue writing.
Wagner’s primary published output during his first years in Zurich was a set of notable essays: “The Art-Work of the Future” (1849), in which he described a vision of opera as Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total work of art”, in which the various arts such as music, song, dance, poetry, visual arts, and stagecraft were unified; “Judaism in Music” (1850), a tract directed against Jewish composers; and “Opera and Drama” (1851), which described the aesthetics of drama which he was using to create the Ring operas.
Wagner began composing ‘Das Rheingold’ in November 1853, following it immediately with ‘Die Walküre’ in 1854.
He then began work on the third opera, now called ‘Siegfried’, in 1856 but finished only the first two acts before deciding to put the work aside to concentrate on a new idea: ‘Tristan und Isolde”
Wagner had two independent sources of inspiration for ‘Tristan und Isolde’.
The first came to him in 1854, when his poet friend Georg Herwegh introduced him to the works of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (see left).
Wagner would later call this the most important event of his life.
His personal circumstances certainly made him an easy convert to what he understood to be Schopenhauer’s philosophy, a deeply pessimistic view of the human condition.
He would remain an adherent of Schopenhauer, who was also Hitler’s favourite philosopher, for the rest of his life, even after his fortunes improved.
One of Schopenhauer’s doctrines was that music held a supreme role amongst the arts.
He claimed that music is the direct expression of the world’s essence, which is blind, impulsive Will.
Wagner quickly embraced this claim, which must have resonated strongly despite its contradiction of his previous view, expressed in Opera and Drama, that the music in opera had to be subservient to the drama.
Wagner scholars have since argued that this Schopenhauerian influence caused Wagner to assign a more commanding role to music in his later operas, including the latter half of the Ring cycle, which he had yet to compose.
Many aspects of Schopenhauerian doctrine undoubtedly found their way into Wagner’s subsequent libretti.
For example, the self-renouncing cobbler-poet Hans Sachs in ‘Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg’, generally considered Wagner’s most sympathetic character, although based loosely on a historical person, is a quintessentially Schopenhauerian creation.
sung by the incomparable Kirsten Flagstad
Wagner’s operatic works are his primary artistic legacy.
Unlike other opera composers, who generally left the task of writing the libretto (the text and lyrics) to others, Wagner wrote his own libretti, which he referred to as “poems”.
Further, Wagner developed a compositional style in which the orchestra’s role is equal to that of the singers.
The orchestra’s dramatic role, in the later operas, includes the use of leitmotivs, musical themes that can be interpreted as announcing specific characters, locales, and plot elements; their complex interweaving and evolution illuminates the progression of the drama.
Ultimately he urged a new concept of opera often referred to as “music drama”, (although he did not use or sanction this term himself) in which all musical poetic and dramatic elements were to be fused together—the Gesamtkunstwerk.
Initially establishing his reputation as a composer of works such as ‘The Flying Dutchman’ (see left) and ‘Tannhäuser’ (see right) which were in the romantic traditions of Weber and Meyerbeer, Wagner transformed operatic thought through his concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk (“total work of art”).
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’ (see left).
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.
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.
Wagner’s operas, writings, his politics, beliefs and unorthodox lifestyle made him a controversial figure during his lifetime.
Wagner was responsible for several theatrical innovations developed at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus (for the design of which he appropriated some of the ideas of his former colleague, Gottfried Semper, which he had solicited for a proposed new opera house at Munich).
These innovations include darkening the auditorium during performances, and placing the orchestra in a pit out of view of the audience.
Adolphe Appia’s stagings of Wagner operas at Bayreuth had far reaching consequences in theatre practice generally.
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.
‘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
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 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.
“At the age of twelve, I saw … the first opera of my life, Lohengrin. In one instant I was addicted. My youthful enthusiasm for the Bayreuth Master knew no bounds.”
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:
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.
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 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).
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.
There is yet another facet of Hitler’s dwelling at Obersalzberg that shows his sense of unity with Germany’s “heroic” past: the view.
“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”.
However, it was Richard Wagner who declared in his ‘music dramas’ that the coming master race was that of the Germans.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wagner preferred to describe Parsifal not as an opera, but as “ein Bühnenweihfestspiel” – “A Festival Play for the Consecration of the Stage”.
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”.
* Winifred Wagner
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 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.
After the war, her posthumous devotion to the man she cryptically referred to as “USA” – for ‘Unser Seliger Adolf’ (our blessed Adolf) – remained undimmed.
** 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), (see right) 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.
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.
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.”
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’
‘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.
“ Certain anthropologists would fain teach us that all races are equally gifted; we point to history and answer: that is a lie!
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.
(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.)
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.
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 – (below) – 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.
*** ‘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.