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Knevel calls Wagner Hitler's court composer. And no one says anything.

A classic mistake: Andries Knevel describes Richard Wagner as Hitler's court composer. And is not contradicted by anyone.


No wonder, because we are used to it; as soon as Nazis come into the picture, filmmakers like to choose the music of the composer who will be in the limelight next year because he was born 200 years ago. However, that also means that he died in 1883, so with the best will in the world he cannot be Hitler's court composer. Rather, Pfitzner and even Richard Strauss qualify for that title. And no, Wagner's operas were indeed performed at major party congresses, but that always concerned the one (Nuremberg), and it was not really popular. Takes quite a long time, too, such a Meistersinger, if you are a party bobo or wounded soldier who is obliged to attend.

That Wagner was a staunch anti-Semite is beyond doubt. After a synagogue fire that left people dead, his reaction was, "Maybe they should do that to more Jews, burn them."

Van Amerongen notes that while Wagner was fiercely anti-Semitic in his writings, he acted differently in personal relationships with Jews. Another common defence is the observation that while Wagner was anti-Semite, this was true of much of the cultural elite in the nineteenth century. But while it is nonsense to hold Richard Wagner responsible for the crimes of the Third Reich, there is indeed a clear and direct line from Wagner to Hitler.

For Wagner's son Siegfried and especially his wife Winifred were fiercely anti-Semitic. Winifred in particular was a passionate supporter of Hitler, in whom she saw Germany's saviour. And it didn't stop in 1945

In Wagner's Hitler: Der Prophet und sein Vollstrecker, Joachim Köhler tries to answer the question of where Hitler got his anti-Semitism from. The answer is already in the title, and in the final chapter he states unequivocally:

(...) daß de Mann, der Europa in die Katastrophe gestürzt hatte, Wagners Hitler gewesen war, blieb jenseits der Denkbarheit. (...) Hitlers historisch gewordener Vernichtungsfeld-zug gegen die Juden war Teil seiner Wagner-liebe: Er mußte die Juden hassen, weil er den Mann liebte, der die Juden haßte. (...) Es galt nur noch, den Auftrug zu vollstrecken.

The conclusion is clear: "Hilers private Utopia trug den Namen Richard Wagner" and "Deutschland wurde zur Wagner-Oper":

 Deutschland unterwarf sich einder Religion, die es nicht kannte; es folgte Riten, die es nicht verstand; es jubelte und starb für ein Mysterium, in das es nie eingeweiht wurde. Wahres Wissen besaß, kein Nationalsozialist zweifelte daran, allein der Führer. Und der behielt für sich, was er nicht mit anderen teilen wollte. (...) 'Deutschland' hieß sein Credo, aber was er meinte, war Wagner.

But whatever you want to see in Wagner's operas, they certainly do not align with the values and norms cherished in the Third Reich. Quite the contrary, in fact. Siegfried, himself the child of parents who were brother and sister, knowingly sleeps with his half-sister; while the supreme god Wotan cannot exactly be a model of the purity of Aryan blood either. And the fact that all characters who aspire to power meet gruesome ends must not have struck Hitler and his ilk as a pleasant message either.

Hilt's favourite opera was therefore Tristan und Isolde, to which, with the best will in the world, no political message can be attached.

Armando puts it even best in his 'Beauty is not fluff', an account of his visit to Bayreuth, which is not for nothing also the title of his collected prose:

You shouldn't let anything be taken away from you by Adolf H. Besides, he didn't like everything by Wagner. Parsifal was not played, too religious. And what he liked about the Ring is still a mystery to me. Corruption, transience of power, he was actually watching his own demise.

You might not expect it from a fast-paced programme like Andries Knevel's, but sometimes some nuance is in order. Richard Wagner was not Hitler's court composer; we only made that up much later.

Henri Drost

Henri Drost (1970) studied Dutch and American Studies in Utrecht. Sold CDs and books for years, then became a communications consultant. Writes for among others GPD magazines, Metro, LOS!, De Roskam, 8weekly, Mania, hetiskoers and Cultureel Persbureau/De Dodo about everything, but if possible about music (theatre) and sports. Other specialisms: figures, the United States and healthcare. Listens to Waits and Webern, Wagner and Dylan and pretty much everything in between.View Author posts

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