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Facts/Fallacies about Composer Richard Wagner

Updated on May 20, 2020

"The Gods Must be Crazy"

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Fact

Richard Wagner is considered one of the greatest composers of the 19th century. One of the reasons why Wagner is so inordinately great and interesting, is because he's arguably the only artist in the history of Western Civilization to have influenced music, philosophy, literature, and art (Some may argue Leonardo da Vinci was even more influential than Wagner....). And, if you agree with George Bernard Shaw, he wrote the greatest allegory on political science of all times, "The Ring of the Nibelung."

Fallacy

Wagner was a Nazi.

Wagner most likely would not have agreed with Hitler, or other similar ideologies and with their views on racism. Wagner was tolerant toward non-white ethic groups/minorities, even if he was indifferent towards them for the most part. Last, Nazis came to exist approx. 50 years after Wagner died, so he couldn't have known anything about them.

Fact

Wagner wrote extensive essays and other very unsavory commentaries concerning his feeling towards Jews in Europe at the time. He even turned on composers like Meyerbeer and Mendelssohn (both of whom were Jews and both of whom had helped him at one point in his career).

When Wagner lived, Prussia (German Empire) ruled a lot of territory. Unlike today, Germany is sovereign and only rules herself. Wagner was an ardent believer as to what territories should belong to Germany, a view similarly shared by Hitler, who felt Germany should expand its territories and eventually take control of Scandinavia, The British Isles, and Iceland --; however, Wagner, would not have agreed with Germany controlling these foreign and sovereign territories, as it wouldn't have made any sense to Wagner to control them. All said, Hitler was a madman, whereas Wagner was mostly just disgruntled, for the most part.

Fallacy

The Ring of the Nibelung is racist.

It has a complete Nordic cast i.e., the protagonists/antagonists are all Northern Europeans. One thing, unlike calling them Swedish, Scottish, German, English, Dutch, etc., Wagner calls them Volsungs or Burgundians, which according to Wagner are these group's Viking Ancestors. Now, you can argue why are there only Northern Europeans in the cast, but then that's the geographical location of the saga. There's a theory by Theodore Adorno which purports the dwarfs in the tale represents other races -- perhaps Jews -- this according to Adorno's thesis (views closely opined by Benjamin Walter....). However, the dwarfs are Burgundian, therefore Northern European Whites, again, due to the geographical are in which the saga takes place. These dwarfs marry average size humans (Vikings) and bore average size children with them. As is the case with Hagen, the most evil antagonist in the narrative. Hagen's Half Brother Gunther and Half Sister Gutrune, all shared the same Mother, but whereas Gunther and Gutrune's Father is Gibich (The King and Lord of the Burgundians), Hagen's Father is the evil dwarf, Alberich. Hagen is of average size and white. Poignant point: Gibich lived approx. 400 AD, but Wagner's Saga is approx. 75% mythology (just to throw a number?!) and takes place thousands of years before some of these characters were purportedly to have lived.

Fact

T. S. Elliot, George Bernard Shaw, Friedrich Nietzsche, and of course, Hitler, were all obsessed with Wagner -- and that's an understatement.

However, whereas the 3 prior loved Wagner's talent and creativity, Hitler viewed Wagner as a visionary for the white race, which is not correct. In fact, remember that everyone dies at the end of "The Ring." The Burgundian Kingdom catches on fire after Brunhilde commits suicide. The flames engulf the Gjuki Kingdom (Burgundian Hall), fires ascends into Valhalla (location of which is near the Burgundian Kingdom), and everyone dies -- you have the choice of either drowning (Rhine River) or burning -- all of the Viking Gods perish alongside everyone else. Period. So, not much hope for the Europeans. Shaw viewed the work as the greatest ever. He said Wagner's message (Shaw may have been spot on....) was that greed would be the end of us all. Greed and hatred being represented by the arduous and relentless pursuit of the titular antagonist, "The Ring of the Nibelung."

A salient point: T. S. Elliot was said to be a racist, but he mostly admired Wagner as an artist and nothing else.

Fallacy

Wagner was Jewish.

Wagner's parents were Johanna and Carl Friedrich Wagner, both Germans, living in a Jewish area of Germany aka Jewish Quarter. Wagner's father died of typhus just 6 months after Wagner's birth. Wagner's Mother, married Ludwig Geyer shortly after. Wagner was obsessed with Ludwig. As I previously mentioned, Wagner was a polymath of sorts, and interested in all types of arts as a whole. Wagner's first love was literature, not music. Ludwig was an actor and playwright. Wagner loved Ludwig and believed him to be his father.

Fact

Ludwig was not Wagner's Father.

Wagner's Mother, Johanna, like many women of her day, was in dire straits for money after her husband, Carl, died. As a result, and being very attractive, she attracted the interest of Ludwig who proposed marriage to her. Wagner loved Ludwig, but Wagner's Mother made it clear to Wagner that Ludwig was not his father. This was painful to Wagner, but good news to him as well. Wagner thought Geyer (Ludwig's last name) was not a true German or European name, therefore potentially Jewish. It seems Wagner's Antisemitism was prevalent from early on. Regardless and all said, no one knows if Geyer was Jewish or not. However, it's purported that Wagner, towards the end of his life, started up again on the theory that he may potentially be Jewish, but research and investigation has never unequivocally concluded that Geyer was Jewish; moreover, research and investigation has never unequivocally concluded that Geyer was Wagner's Father. It seems more than probable that the policemen, Carl Wagner, was Wagner's biological father.

Facts/Fallacies

Wagner was a terrible human being. However, it's not fair to compare him with Hitler, whom most scholars consider to be the biggest mass murderer of all times.

Wagner's ideas are shared by other racist groups? Not exactly. Wagner was sullen and cantankerous, but he wasn't an advocate for killing people. In fact, he had friends from all walks of life, although it's been reported that he'd insult people from time to time; he wasn't a pleasant or polite human being.

Comments

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    • John Sarkis profile imageAUTHOR

      John Sarkis 

      13 days ago from Winter Haven, FL

      Hi James,

      I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for commenting.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      13 days ago from Chicago

      I very much enjoyed your excellent article, especially the myth-busting aspect of it. Thanks for the journey.

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