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A Terrible Thing To Waste

Posted by acdtest on May 10, 2002

A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste

t’s always a cause for dismay when someone with an otherwise clearly brilliant mind utters in earnest the most patent sort of rubbish, and a cause for dismay as well as extreme distress when that rubbish reveals that mind working in the same mode as that of an ignorant redneck, or a desperate, politically correct academic in search of something startling to come up with that will gain him the attention and approbation of his colleagues.

Daniel Leeson — former IBM executive, professional classical musician, and one of the world’s acknowledged scholarly authorities on all things Mozartian — in answer to a question posed to him on one of the Mozart lists concerning the blaming of Richard Wagner for the evils of the Third Reich, had this to say on the subject of Wagner’s operas:

I am afraid that you may not be aware of the issues involved. No one is blaming Wagner for anything (except perhaps his maniacal attitude on the subject [of race]). The issue is not one of blame but one of content of at least six or more of his operas where his attitudes became part and parcel of the plot and are woven into the warp and woof of the opera.

Of the Ring, three of the four operas contain specific and repulsive antisemitic [sic] content, as does Parsifal and, to a much lesser degree, the Flying Dutchman. The most unnerving of his operas is, for me, Meistersinger[!], which contains vicious medieval slanders in almost every scene, though before I became aware of the subtleties of the stage action and plot line, it was one of my favorite works, one that I always enjoyed playing because it is a magnificent musical statement.

I am not blaming Wagner for the actions of 1939-1945. I am blaming him for placing his disgusting racist ideas into the very fabric of his operas. And it is for these reasons that I neither play Wagner, listen to him, or go to any performances that contain his music.

To a great extent I feel the same way about Ezra Pound, except that he was mentally unstable and his repulsive writings may be understood and excused for that. Wagner was not unstable, he was simply a monster, though I would not be in this position solely for that. Anyone can think what they wish. But his art contains his personal hatreds and that I cannot tolerate.

He then went on to detail in a separate post the “vicious medieval slanders [against Jews] in almost every scene of Die Meistersinger [!].”

Leeson’s position on this matter is, unhappily, not unique, nor is his grossly in-error thinking concerning Wagner’s “racist anti-Semitism.” The same sort of tendentious, delusional thinking can be found today in a majority of academia’s humanities departments, and in the works of such writers as Robert Gutman, a Wagner biographer and the fons et origo of this sort of Wagner-slander; Marc Weiner; Barry Millington; and in the lunatic ravings of the hate-besotted Paul Lawrence Rose and Joachim Köhler, which ravings in their poisonous expressions of hatred for Wagner and all things Wagnerian must surely be without modern parallel in a scholarly work. While the charge that Wagner was an anti-Semite is indisputable, the charge that he was a racist anti-Semite is insupportable. Those two evils marched side by side, arms inseparably linked, in the Third Reich, but not within Wagner’s thinking. His anti-Semitism was principally cultural, not racial. That surely makes it no less contemptible, but one ought to be more — lots more — careful with one’s taxonomy in a matter such as this.

But to return to the business of Leeson’s remarks concerning Die Meistersinger specifically, let me attempt to put the matter in proper perspective by approaching it from a different direction (the approach would be valid for all Wagner’s operas).

It seems to me the very first question that needs asking is: Even if, as Leeson alleges, such racist anti-Semitic coding exists in Die Meistersinger, does it in any way vitiate or intrude upon the artwork itself?

Answer: Clearly it does not, is virtually invisible, as Leeson himself unwittingly all but admits (“…though before I became aware of the subtleties of the stage action and plot line [of Die Meistersinger], it was one of my favorite works, one that I always enjoyed playing because it is a magnificent musical statement”).

It’s also clear that those “subtleties” of which Leeson slowly became aware would never have been perceived by him as racist anti-Semitic coding had he not worked backwards from his knowledge of Wagner’s notorious and justified reputation as a rabid anti-Semite (but not, as I’ve noted, a racist anti-Semite; a distinction clearly lost on Leeson), and his knowledge of Wagner’s virulent anti-Semitic prose writings (most repulsively prominent in Wagner’s twice-published article, Das Judenthum in der Musik (Judaism in Music)). If some other composer had written Meistersinger using the very same text the entire imbecile “coding” business would never have been so much as even imagined — not by Leeson, not by even the fevered brain of the most desperate PC academic.

Well, I don’t want to belabor this, and so I’ll not go into certain other problematic points of this coding theory (such as, but not by any means limited to, So what, if such coding really did exist). At bottom, Leeson’s and certain others’ “analysis” of the alleged racist anti-Semitic coding in Die Meistersinger adds up to nothing more than a manifest and classic case of the obscenity being in the mind of the beholder not the work beheld, which work is itself entirely blameless. The proof is that it required the assiduous “researches” of a small band of Wagner-hating zealots to “discover” the nefarious and pernicious “coding,” and this after almost a century and a half of the opera’s constant public exposure, prior to which time the supposed evil coding was not even so much as suspected. The bottom-line question then becomes: If such coding really does exist, for whom, and for what purpose, was it originally intended?

If a satisfactory and verifiably correct answer to that question is ever found, then we can all put some faith in this theory of racist anti-Semitic coding in Wagner’s operas. Until such time it can only be looked upon as nothing other than the lunatic imaginings of zealous professional Wagner-slanderers, and therefore safely dismissed as the arrant rubbish it clearly is.

worthwhile reading (discovered after the fact, and with thanks to Derrick Everett for the heads-up)


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