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‘I defaced Richard Wagner’s statue’

Great-grandson Gottfried Wagner got sent to boarding school at six years old for spraying red paint on his great-grandad’s Hitler-era bust. Gottfried, the iconoclast of the clan, is calling for Bayreuth to publish the vast family correspondence with Adolf Hitler, as well as 27 unseen rolls of film… Read on here.


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  1. Gottfried Wagner recently came to Istanbul to share the stage with Idil Biret, one of Turkey’s treasured pianists, for a Liszt/Wagner recital. In his lectures preceding the piano pieces, I expected to hear the ramblings of a crusty old academic. I was pleasantly surprised to witness a vehemently delivered, no-prisoners approach to exposing his famous ancestor’s misogynistic, anti-Semitic, and politically questionable legacy. The truth through the great-grandchild’s eyes, and it was an eyeopener.

    • Gottfried’s appearance in Istanbul to speak about his grandfather’s racism is interesting. There are about 3 million Turks living in Germany as “guest workers.” They face a a good deal of discrimination and all to often xenophobic violence and murder. There is currently a trial underway in Munich of the last surviving member of a neo-Nazi group that murdered 8 Turks, a Greek, and a German police woman. They also robbed 15 banks and set off two bombs. The Turkish community protested at the trial’s opening because it took the German police 13 years to discover this group and bring their activities to an end. I wonder if the situation with the Turks in Germany is why Idil Beret asked Gottfried to speak at her performance. In any case, I always enjoy your reports about Western classical music in Turkey.

      • @William Osborn: that’s a good question you pose. But as far I know, Idil and Gottfried have been friends for many years and I think they hatched their project out of mutual desire to do something rather out of the ordinary. Their personalities are complementary: Gottfried is quite animated both on-stage and off, and Idil just plays, letting the music (asa well as Gottfried) take the spotlight. The reaction of the Turks in the audience was subdued, even though there was a Turkish translator on stage with him. This is partly cultural politeness, but also Turks are aware, whether they acknowledge it or deny it, that they have their own horrific legacy of genocide within the last 100 years.

        • Blechh, sorry I forgot to type the “e” on your last name.

          • It is interesting that Gottfried could share the stage with one of Turkey’s most prominent musicians. Here in Germany he is deeply ostracized and abused, if people dare mention his name at all. I doubt any prominent member of the classical music world in Germany would support him as Idil Biret has.

            The German musicologist Fred K. Prieberg, who specialized in the music world of the Third Reich, and stepped on many toes, faced similar treatment for much of his career.

            Germany has been good about officially acknowledging and atoning for its genocide, but when that history and the cultural attributes that led to it are addressed on a more local or personal level, the reactions are often very resentful and even hateful. I admire Gottfried for his integrity and how he was able to see through that world even though he was brought up in the midst of it. It’s remarkable. Anyway, thanks again for your interesting reports, Alexandra.

          • stanley cohen says:

            I’m afraid, william, that they’re up against “Das Schreckliche Madchen” syndrome.

  2. Robin Blonstein says:

    Thank goodness someone is speaking up about Wagner. And, the man to do it is not only a scholar but none other than a blood-relative; lending the criticism undeniable credibility. His childhood instincts were right-on defacing that sculpture. I would thank him personally for pursuing the truth about his great grandfather for the sake of History, women, and the Jewish people.

    • Gurnemanz says:

      Yeah, because Wagner is not one of the most written about men in history, we needed Gottfried to tell us about what even the most superficial listeners of classical music know, alongside with Gottfried’s fantasies.

      Oh, as for lending credibility…Funny, the Inquisition used testimonies of baptised Jews against Jewish religious texts as evidence of how evil they are because those baptised Jews supposedly “lent credibility”…Being a descendant of Wagner is in itself proof of absolutely nothing.

      • stanley cohen says:

        I am delighted to have the opportunity of being able to agree with you on at least one thing, Gurnemanz – Gottfried’s being a descendant of Richard is of relatively little relevance.

  3. Gottfried Wagner is a breath of fresh air. It takes courage to be in the middle of the Wagner family and yet stick to his own principles, especially in public. I imagine some of the other Wagners are just cringing at his honesty.

    I have come to love Wagner’s music in spite of myself. For many years I refused to have anything to do with it because of Wagner’s anti-Semitism and the connection of his music to Hitler and the Third Reich. But his music to me transcends even the horrific connection, and some productions, such as the recent Francois Girard Parsifal at the Met, can help Wagner’s music to be understood in a timeless and universal manner.

  4. stanley cohen says:

    It is very reassuring to have my opinion of Gottfried confirmed as I stated it last week – particularly since one contributor accused me of attempting to beatify him. He’s simply a good guy, hard done by by his vicious and unforgiving family.

  5. Hasbeen says:

    Richard Wagner’s antisemitism has been well documented as has his family’s ties to Hitler in the early part of the 2oth Century. As we are now several generations on from the events of the 1930s and 40s as far as Wagner is concerned isn’t it time to ‘drop this subject’. The current family has nothing to do with the Nazi era and should not be continuously tarred with that brush. Wagner’s music has proven it’s staying power regardless of the efforts to tie it to the composer’s antisemitism.

    • stanley cohen says:

      I n the famous words of a ‘Prime Minister,’ “You might think that but I couldn’t possibly comment.”

    • With all due respect, to many of us, “Never Again” means far more even than Wagner’s music. If only all the Wagner descendants embraced Gottfried’s position. But they don’t.

      • Gurnemanz says:

        What position would that be? Slandering their ancestor’s works with half-truths and superficial, faulty interpretations?

        • Gurnemanz (nice fan-boy handle you got there!): It’s not Wagner’s works that are being “slandered,’ unless it is his vile writings to which you are referring.

          • Gurnemanz says:

            No, Gottfried slanders his great-grandfather’s musical works claiming they are full of antisemitism and misogyny. To believe the former requires some extensive malevolent imagination, to believe the latter requires that one completely suspends common sense and logic and adopts a mindset of a cult member.

        • Which of RW’s writings are you referencing? :-0

  6. It might be time to drop the subject, Hasbeen … AFTER the Wagner family publishes the correspondence with Hitler and the file footage to which Gottfried Wagner refers. Some German youth, even today, needs to be reminded of Wagner’s anti-semitism (and that of his descendents), something that embarrassed even his father-in-law, Liszt.

    • Exactly, Mark. The thought of innocent young people of future generations making pilgrimages to Beyreuth only to get an unbalanced Wagner spin makes me cringe.

  7. Hasbeen says:

    Do you really imagine the home movies or correspondence is going to reveal anything sinister. We know Hitler was very involved in helping save Bayreuth from financial ruin. This involved Winifred Wagner in a lot of dealings with Hitler and other members of the 1930′s government. Both Wolfgang and Wieland were i the army and Wieland served near Bayreuth in a prison [ not a death] camp. Both granchildren more than atoned for their past through their work in Bayreuth with artists of every persuasion. We also know that Hitler spent many happy ‘family’ hours in Bayreuth with the family. What more is there to learn. The obsession with the Wagners and Hitler borders on Third Reich voyeurism. Enough already…

    • I disagree. Gustav Mahler, for one, was never invited to conduct at Beyreuth, and he was the foremost Wagner conductor of his day. How can anyone possibly do ‘too much’ to correct the errors of Wagner’s mindset and the consequences connected to it?

      • Gurnemanz says:

        It was the mindset of Cosima Wagner, not of Richard. If Richard had been around he would have hired Mahler without giving it a second thought.

        • Are you implying that RW’s anti-Semitism did not apply to the arts? That is surely not impossible, but what exactly are you referencing as a source?

          Ironically, AH’s anti-Semitism seemed to have taken a back seat to his love of Wagner’s music, in that he had nothing negative to say about Mahler’s conducting of Wagner’s works.

          Plus, AH and GM happened to be in the same place at the same time on May 8, 1906, when AH attended a performance of T+O at the Vienna Opera with Mahler conducting. It is doubly ironic for me, in that May 8 is my birthday….

          • Gurnemanz says:

            Of course it did not apply, facts from his life say it. Wagner societies that we have today are a brainchild of his young Jewish friend and pianist Karl Tausig. He hired a Jew, Angello Neuman to promote the “Ring” in Germany and Europe. Then there was his chorusmaster in Bayreuth Porges, his personal pianist Rubinstein, conductor Hermann Levi whom he called his “alter ego”(in musical matters)…Also there was his high regard for Jacques Fromental Halevy and his “La Juive” and the case of Judith Gaultier. As one writer put it, there is not a single recorded case of Wagner abusing or mistreating an individual because he or she was Jewish. Therefore it is easy to conclude that Wagner would, providing he had liked Mahler’s conducting, hired him without paying any attention to the latter’s Jewish heritage.

            As for the latter part, Hitler was 17 when Mahler conducted Wagner in Vienna and at that time by all accounts hardly any more antisemitic then the average Austrian of his day and age(meaning he had some antipathy towards them but nowhere near the fanatical murderous hatred that gripped him afterwards).

          • Interesting that you seem to be making a case for AH’s anti-Semitism to have developed later in his life rather than something he believed in as a teenager.

            Of course, there was another Jewish person involved in AH’s family life, the physician Dr. Bloch:

          • “Are you implying that RW’s anti-Semitism did not apply to the arts? That is surely not impossible, but what exactly are you referencing as a source?”

            Maybe you should take into consideration the fact that Hermann Levi was invited to conduct the premiere of Parsifal in Bayteuth in 1882, which is a very well-known fact. German wiki adds that he and Wagner had been friends since 1871 and that he remained Cosima’s right hand until 1894. Wiki may be wrong and I don’t have any time to verify the last two claims, but the creation of Parsifal, once again, is no mystery.

          • stanley cohen says:

            Let’s speculate then that Wagner’s hateful anti-semitic publications and diatribes against Meyerbeer and Offenbach [both Jews] when placed alongside his employment of Jews to conduct his works, indicates that the ‘Master’ was bi-polar. That should satisfy everyone.

          • Perhaps we can agree that RW was a flawed person who, in spite of his personal issues, managed to create music worthy of its still being performed 200 years after his birth. Perhaps that concept even gives hope to the rest of us…

      • stanley cohen says:

        And this despite Mahler’s hero worship of ‘The Master,’ as he referred to him.

  8. Hasbeen says:

    Sorry, great grandchildren.

  9. Gurnemanz says:

    Hasbeen is right. What possible relevant information can come from these letters and this footage(providing the latter even exists) is beyond me. You believe we will find out that it was Winifred Wagner who actually ran the Reich and not Hitler? Puh-leease! Hitler rants against the Jews in these letters? In other news, sun rises in the East and sets in the West. We might find out whether Winnie and Wolf have consumated their relationship, but again, of what relevance is that to anything? As for Wieland and Wolfgang, those two were in toddlers when Hitler first came to Wahnfried, in their pre-teens when they lost their father and their mother brought Hitler as a substitute. They can hardly be blamed for growing up where they did, when they did and even less for their mother’s political beliefs. As for they themselves falling under the Hitler spell they were merely two among tens of millions not only Germans, a mass which included the odd Nobel prize winner here and there, some British aristocracy and even royalty, American celebrity or two…But clapping to the words that are en vouge with the political climate and which you want to hear and being infatuated with the speaker is far easier then actually analyzing them and the events which they describe.

  10. robcat2075 says:

    The family letters and movies might tell us something of the schemings of the elite in Weimar and Nazi Germany but they won’t give us any insight into Wagner’s music, written long beforehand.

    I’d rather find out about the schemings of Wagner when he was making the music.

  11. Bassolirico says:

    Watching the featherless chicken fall from the ceiling on the chorus and the soloists of the 1st act finale in the current Bayreuth production of Lohengrin I ask myself if the Wagner family’s obsession with ridiculous staging and turning the festival into a general travesty of Regietheater really is an attempt to move the attention elsewhere?

    What was the fuss about Mr. Nikitin to be dismissed from the Holländer cast while we’re expecting Mr. Meese’s Parsifal?

    • stanley cohen says:

      Clearly, Bassolirico, the degree of genius present in the great-grandfather is inversely geometrically dissipated in his descendants…

  12. Timon Wapenaar says:

    “Teatime, with Hitler, at Wahnfried…”

    How many featherless chickens will have to fall before the penny drops? “The Hitler spell” – now there’s a number that was dropped from “The Producers”, for good reason. Hitler was apparently so magnetic, so mesmerising, that he had the power to mentally overwhelm educated members of the intelligentsia, aristocracy, and the financial elite, who had no choice but to become his ideological slaves. Like the Bechsteins. He played them like a two-bit upright, no? How terrible it would be if behind the facade of Hitler the Svengali, we were to discern thousands of the most exalted members of society who supported him because deep down, they agreed with him.

    History should be studied for its own sake. What documents there are, are the property of posterity and the intellectual commonwealth, because Wagner was Wagner, and Hitler, Hitler.

  13. Oleg Sherstiucoff says:

    Mr. Osbourne – what is the situation with the Turks in Germany,really ???
    Believe me it is neither urgent nor actually important – there are more than enough problems especially on “the Eastern Front.”

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