an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:

‘Wagner’s C-major chord is a political statement’

Extracts from Gottfried Wagner’s Afp interview with Simon Morgan have been widely quoted in newspapers and, in some instances, traduced. We reprint the complete interview below, in which Gottfried takes issue not just with his ancestor and siblings but with conductor Christian Thielemann, who has declared Wagner’s music to be apolitical.



thielemann wagner


As the musical world lavishly celebrates Richard Wagner’s bicentenary, the composer’s great-grandson insists he is no spoilsport by denouncing the German master as a narcissist, woman-hater and an anti-Semite.

“I’m not out to make people feel guilty. It’s not my wish to have Richard Wagner banned. I’m just not one of the adulators, the incense-burners,” Gottfried Wagner told AFP in an interview.

There is no mistaking who Gottfried is descended from.

The resemblance is striking: the same prominent nose and high forehead that have marked out most of Wagner’s descendants.

But the 66-year-old musicologist, writer and lecturer sets himself apart from the other members of the sprawling Wagner clan by refusing, as he sees it, to sweep under the carpet the darker side of one of history’s most controversial composers.

The son of the late Wolfgang Wagner — the patriarch who ruled over the legendary annual music festival dedicated to 10 of the composer’s operas for nearly 60 years — Gottfried learnt the price of rebellion early.

“I was carted off to boarding school for spraying red paint” on the famous bust of Richard Wagner by Arno Breker, Adolf Hitler’s favourite sculptor, Gottfried explains.

The bust still stands in the park in front of the legendary Festspielhaus theatre built to Wagner’s own designs in Bayreuth, southern Germany, which remains a place of fervent pilgrimage for Wagner lovers and aficionados.

“I was classified as difficult. But I stand by what I did even today,” even if the act of vandalism was more a gut reaction than a planned intellectual protest, Gottfried explains.

“I saw him as a threat,” he says.

Gottfried has indeed been seen as the black sheep of the Wagner family ever since, cemented by the 1977 publication of his autobiography “He Who Doesn’t Howl with the Wolf”.

In it he called for the voluminous private correspondence between Hitler and the Wagner family dating from 1923 until 1945 to be made public, as well as 27 rolls of private film footage, all still kept under lock and key.

But Gottfried’s half-sister Katharina Wagner — who co-runs the Bayreuth Festival with Eva Wagner-Pasquier — has dampened hopes that the Hitler letters would be published any time soon, telling Tagesspiegel newspaper that all of the different Wagner heirs must agree to it.

In Gottfried’s latest book, “You Shall Have No Other Gods Before Me”, released this year to coincide with the bicentenary, he examines the deep-rooted anti-Semitism and misogyny that runs through the composer’s works.

“It’s not about spoiling (Wagner) for people. But there is nothing to be gained from whitewashing him and idealising him. Massive personalities such as Richard Wagner are not untouchable,” the composer’s great-grandson says.


— ‘I refuse to be in a soap opera’—


In addition to his 13 completed operas, Richard Wagner was a prolific writer and theorist.

One of his nastiest publications was an anti-Semitic pamphlet “Judaism in Music”, which he first published under a pseudonym in 1850, but then revised and released under his own name in 1869.

Wagner’s oeuvre “includes a whole range of racist and sexist writings”, Gottfried Wagner says.

“He developed his own racial theories, too. Obscene racism. And with our knowledge today, we can’t just ignore it and say ‘it’s all just beautiful music’”.

The different branches of the Wagner dynasty have waged a long internecine feud for control of the Bayreuth Festival.

But Gottfried, who wrote his doctoral thesis on Kurt Weill and other composers branded “degenerate” by the Nazis, says he never wanted any part in that battle.

“I made that clear very early. There was never any question for me that I would take over from my father. I want to retain my independence. I see my stance as an ethical one. I refuse to be an actor in a soap opera,” he says.

Gottfried says he has no truck with those he describes as Wagner’s “apologists” who refuse to acknowledge the role the composer played in paving the way for Nazism in Germany.

German conductor Christian Thielemann, the Bayreuth Festival’s unofficial musical director, contends in his own recent book entitled “My Life with Wagner” that music is per se non-political and that a “C-major chord is just a C-major chord”.

But Gottfried is dismissive of such statements.

“Wagner uses tonalities in a very concrete context. Not by chance. It always has a message,” he says.

He sees a direct link between Wagner’s music and the lust for political power.

Hitler himself was a regular visitor to the festival and a personal friend of the Wagner family.

Modern politicians still vie for attention on the red carpet at Bayreuth’s glitzy opening night.

“It’s all about self-adulation. That’s what brings people to Bayreuth and what Richard Wagner delivers par excellence. Bayreuth will always be political,” says Gottfried.

“And if Chancellor Angela Merkel is there, you can’t just say it’s all just about beautiful music.”

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Gurnemanz says:

    I’ll write it again, to believe what Gottfried Wagner says, one needs to suspend senses, perception, common sense and logic. He wants to convince people that Wagner has been adulated and deified for the past 130 years or so and that he is the first and only to challenge this, when in fact the opposite is the case. Wagner’s name has for quite long been dragged through mud and his personality and music maligned beyond recognition by character assassins posing as scholars while serious musicologists have, on the other hand, been bullied and intimidated into submission through various smears and labels(on of the former actually suggested that if you do not agree there is antisemitism in Wagner’s music you yourself are an antisemite, I kid you not). And what can I say about Gottfried’s statement that Angela Merkel’s presence proves Wagner’s music is political? Words would truly be wasted to show what a non-sequitur it is!

    Why are we entertained to the statements of this deeply, deeply delusional man?

  2. Hasbeen says:

    Nothing new here. Just recycled tiresome sophism. Why give Gottfried Wagner the attention he so desperately craves ?

  3. Alexander Hall says:

    The fact remains that anyone who claims music and the key in which it is written is by definition part of a political statement is barking up the wrong tree. What does F sharp minor represent then?
    What is incontrovertible is that music has always been used, arguably misused, over the ages by others who hijacked it for political reasons. Did Elgar write music glorifying the British Empire? Of course not, but it is easy to argue that many of his works got hitched to the imperialist Zeitgeist. And even if figures like Verdi were linked to the Risorgimento in mid 19th-century Italy, that does not mean that Verdi’s operas were written as a political manifesto.
    By the by, one of the aspects of contemporary cultural life in Germany worth commenting on is that eccentrics, freaks and weirdos have a much easier time articulating their opinions and finding newspapers, magazines or publishers crazy enough to give them a public platform. That doesn’t per se make any of their theories or claims any more credible.


    It is interesting to see someone making a cult out of his adolescent issues, like this quasi-heroic Siegfried. We look upon Wagner from our contemporary point of view, with the experience and knowledge accumulated since his death in 1883. We look upon him, say, from a future which was unkown to him, a future in which his works acquired an important meaning, positive and negative, within European culture and not merely in music: also in art theory, literature and poetry his influence was immense, and eventually also in politics through the annexation of dangerous nitwits. Criticizing the negative influence is always a good thing but attributing all of them solely to Wagner is obviously wrong, as is ‘excusing’ him because of the great music he wrote.

    All the things which are wholeheartedly despised: the grandiloquence, the insistent loudness, the unlikely heroic plots, the pumped-up emotionalism, the immense length, the confused writings, the virulent antisemitism, have assumed a scale and meaning carried by the greatness of much of his music. Were he a mediocre composer, all these things would not have attracted any attention. But the result is that we now look upon these things, as it were, under a magnifying glass, and even amplified more so because of the Second World War. But this is a totally opposite picture from the one which was the reality of Wagner’s life and personality.

    Who was Wagner the man, the artist, as a person? Reading all the biographical material and especially his letters, reveals someone, on one hand fully aware of an immense talent, and under the influence of a creative force stronger than himself, urging him to bring into the world a body of work which would contribute to its culture and to the life experience of audiences, and on the other hand a very unhappy person, continually suffering from psychosomatic symptoms and intense mood swings, feeling alienated from the world around him, and seeing that his unconsidered but courageous attempts to change something in this world, backfired and alienated him even more. He felt excluded from the very territory he knew he needed to get his ‘message’ across, while in the same time he needed to surround himself with a fantasy world of sensual luxury to be able to answer the creative need, an environment which created a fundamental distance from the things which threatened to demoralize him and thus, hinder the composition process. But these attempts merely created more of alienating problems because he did not have the means to pay for it all. In this vicious circle he viewed the hostile forces, which kept his work at bay, from a position of the outcast, the unjustly excommunicated artist whose contribution was considered irrelevant, or dangerous to the status quo. Hence, his critique upon capitalism and bourgeois mores, and his mistake to think that the many Jewish bankers and indutrialists – a powerful elite in the society of the time – did their ‘evil thing’ as a result of their racial origins – which is as wrong as contributing the inclinations of redhaired communists to their hair colour. Even when Wagner’s works got famous and turned into a cultural force to reckon with, there was an immense anti-movement, so he always felt on the defensive and never thought that his work would, eventually, form part of European culture. This eventually turned into a fanatic paranoia, since he could simply not understand why so many people hated his work, while so many other people were enraptured by it. This distorted view of himself and his work only stimulated the typical above-mentioned Wagner-traits which are criticized – it is all a way of overcompensating an immense insecurity and anxiety syndrome.

  5. Michael Schaffer says:


    “As the musical world lavishly celebrates Richard Wagner’s bicentenary, the composer’s great-grandson insists he is no spoilsport by denouncing the German master as a narcissist, woman-hater and an anti-Semite.
    “I’m not out to make people feel guilty. It’s not my wish to have Richard Wagner banned. I’m just not one of the adulators, the incense-burners,” Gottfried Wagner told AFP in an interview.”"

    But he still wants a piece of the Wagner action, especially now, during the bicentenary. And look! By sheer coincidence, he has a new book coming out this year. “Revealing” stuff about how Wagner that we have all known for a very long time, read about and discussed ad nauseam already. I think that makes him a morally much inferior person to his reviled ancestor. At least Richard created his own works. Gottfried just wants to get some attention and some cash out of his evil ancestor.

    And, spray-painting a statue or bust is an adolescent act of rebellion, not an intellectually bold and independent statement. It looks to me like he hasn’t matured much since then.


  6. Bosse Bergkvist says:

    Much appreciated. Thanks for publishing this!

  7. “German conductor Christian Thielemann, the Bayreuth Festival’s unofficial musical director, contends in his own recent book entitled “My Life with Wagner” that music is per se non-political and that a “C-major chord is just a C-major chord”.”

    That may be so, but is beside the point when the music has been used and represented as a political vehicle, not to mention, when the composer himself is so wrapped up in false thinking that one can argue whether or not anti-Semitism was deliberately injected, not into the music, per se, but into the operas.

    With all due respect to CT, I think he (still) has his head in the sand…

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Do you know the larger context in which T-man made this remark? Have you read his book?

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        I guess the answer to my question is “no”. If you had read Thielemann’s book, then you would know that he doesn’t actually say that. Rather, “Is C major just C major?” is not a blunt statement but the title of a chapter, and as you can see, there is a question mark there at the end. Then he goes on to discuss the subject in great detail and nuance, exploring what relationship there is and isn’t between musical substance and politics, the reception of Wagner’s works, his conflicted relationship with Mendelssohn and his music, and many other aspects of the subject. And, this will come as a surprise to you, he doesn’t try to excuse or somehow explain away Wagner’s anti-semitism either.

        Gottfried Wagner, as quoted here, apparently took all that out of context so that it would serve his own agenda better. Which seems to be to appeal to people who really have their heads in the sand already and who have strong opinions about books they haven’t read. And then he pushes those heads further into the sand.

  8. How can Wagner-haters explain why—if he was such a raging anti-Semite in his heart—he chose Hermann Levi, a Jew, to conduct the Bayreuth premiere of his last and most sacred opera, Parsifal? Maybe Wagner was more of a hypocrite than an anti-Semite, and a secret admirer of many great Jewish composers of his time. And oddly, several Jewish Holocaust survivors in the Met Opera orchestra loved to play Wagner and had the greatest respect for his music. (Google my letters in The NYTimes and The New Yorker. Also, one of my letters was quoted in John Harmon’s book “Wagner Moments.”

    Les Dreyer (Retired violinist of the Met Opera Orchestra—and Jewish.)

    • Alexander Hall says:

      Thank you for posting your comment. Unfortunately, there are still far too many people who would like to divide the world into the good and the bad and over-simplify as part of their point-making. It was the great Georg Solti who once said about Wagner, “I can love the musician but hate the man” A degree of differentiation seems to be beyond those who choose to wear their blinkers all the time.

    • Michael Hurshell says:

      @ Les Dryer: As yet another Jew who loves hearing and interpreting Wagner, I enjoyed your comment. One small aside: Wagner did not choose Levi for Parsifal. King Ludwig had donated the services of Munich’s court orchestra, and informed Wagner that that included the orchestra’s chief conductor, Levi. Wagner was not thrilled, but quickly came to appreciate Levi’s wonderful work. (It was Cosima who wanted to force Levy to convert…) In any case, the glorious music is the important thing, and the fashionable myth that there is anti-Semitism in Wagner’s stage works has become very tiresome. There have been admiring jewish interpreters of Wager’s music – instrumentalists, singers, conductors – since Wagner’s time. It’s a pity we are frequently made to feel as if we have to apologize for admiring these masterworks… As far as Wagner’s possible hypocrisy goes: his lifelong habit of close persona friendships with Jews (from his school days to his death) shows that he had, certainly, a very ambivalent attitude. But the final point, for me, is that there is no evidence of anti-Semitism in the operas. They express much of what is best about human beings…

      • As said elsewhere, Wagner’s antisemitism was a form of cultural and social critique. He saw much the industrial elite (bankers, industrialists) rightly as an important cause of human misery and materialism which threatened to stamp-out culture and the life of the mind – dangers we still see all around us. Wagner mistakenly related the rampant materialism and capitalism of his time to the ethnic origin of much of this elite, which included many Jews becaus they were very successful after being accorded civil rights at the beginning of the 19th century. This explains Wagner’s statement – I forgot where – that his antisemitism was ‘theoretical’. The venom of his ‘Jewishness in Music’ pamflet comes from his feeling of being excluded from his real role in culture by an establishment which pursued the conventional, materialistic, commercial, etc. etc.. He made a conceptual mistake and mixed it with his personal resentment. He was on the defensive all his life, also later-on when his works began to be a cultural force to reckon with: he was utterly negative about the chances that his works would become core repertoire and an important part of European culture. Eventually this turned into paranoia…. Read his letters, and reactions of contemporaries, pro and contra, and all this becomes much more clear.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          Oh, no! You just used the R word! You really expect people to actually READ and inform themselves about the subject when they can, to paraphrase JFK, enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought?
          Seriously now, I think you summed that up very well. Wagner wasn’t just anti-semitic, he was also anti-church (especially catholic), anti-authority, anti-establishment, anti-bourgeoisie, anti-everything really.
          It seems that he saw and experienced everything in extreme, magnified ways which is probably also what enabled him to filter and concentrate what he saw and, most importantly, what he heard into his highly dramatic and original music. Although his musical influences are very obvious – and Mendelssohn is among them which makes his conflicted relationship with the man and the music all the more complex-, it is easy to forget just how innovative and unusual a lot of the musical ideas were that he came up with. He also never really repeated himself. Each of his operas has a fairly unique sound world to it. The Ring is very different musically from Tristan and again from Meistersinger etc.

          • W’s originality resides in the personal / idiosyncratic way he used existing material. To many of his contemporaries, this music was a distorted confection of ingredients from Beethoven, Chopin, Weber, Marschner, Meyerbeer (!), Mendelssohn, Liszt, Schumann (yes!), and even Brahms (Meistersinger). W heard performances of Brahms in Vienna, at least one played by Brahms himself – mainly chamber music, some of the grand piano quartets, which are truly symphonic and ‘durchkomponiert’ in the type of ‘neo-classical’ style W handled in Meistersinger, knowing that this style was popular with audiences. But later generations heard the interpretation of these sources rather than the sources themselves. But if you listen carefully, and know the repertoire, you hear the references. And some are surprising and unexpected, like the complex string textures W wrote which stem from the virtuoso piano runs in Chopin and Liszt. In the Ring you could, for instance, hear almost literal pastiches of Chopin’s most obvious polonaise motives. And the famous spear motive – the descending scale – comes from Liszt’s grand sonata in B. But since the context is so different, we hear the material in a new way. However W is celebrated for being revolutionary and progressive and transcending the limits of this and that, his compositional procedures were, in fact, thoroughly traditional and not so different from Brahms in the sense that he rehashed material from other composers and turned them authentic by giving it a different context, and filtering it through his own peculiar taste and über-rich fantasy.

          • Gurnemanz says:

            In all fairness, reading Wagner’s writings, whether theoretical or personal is a mammoth task just when you see it’s size.

          • But you can read ‘around it’, there are books about W’s theories, in the field of ‘history of ideas’. Also collections of his letters have been made which give a clear picture of the man (a sympathetic one, it has to be said – in contrast to so much slandering which is going-around). It is unfortunate that with the present-day media culture and the butterfly attention span, merely slogans and info bites seem to catch people’s ear.

      • Gurnemanz says:

        I usually agree with you Mr.Hurshell, but I have to correct you on this. Milton Brenner in his book “Richard Wagner and the Jews” thoroughly demolishes the myth that Wagner did not want Levi for Parsifal.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          I looked at the preview on Amazon. That looks like an interesting book. I will probably get it.

        • As you can read in the biographic material, Wagner was in dubio about Levi, because Levi’s talent, dedication and expertise seemed to refute W’s assertions about Jewishness. Therefore he tried to have Levi converted to Christianity, which would, for Wagner, have been the removal of a little but important piece of the puzzle of getting his Parsifal première off the ground. Since W thought Parsifal to be a religious work, a sort of centre piece of a new, Christian religion: ‘art religion’, infused with Christian symbolism, and intended as a replacement of orthodox Christianity which for W had turned into a conventional and petrified thing, the idea that particularly a Jew would conduct it, and very well, was something he wanted to avoid at all cost. But the King made it clear that he could get the court orchestra WITH Levi or not at all and that was that. Credits to Ludwig there. This sorry episode also shows how Wagner regarded Jewishness as a mental and cultural field. He must have been quite vexed by Levi’s expertise – it must have contributed to his insecurity about these issues. But W confronted refutation of his ideas with vehement protests rather than considered analysis, alas! If he had been accepted much earlier in his career and had not suffered all those failed attempts in Paris, he may not have needed to ‘fight’ against ‘Jewishness’.

  9. harold braun says:

    Being jewish,I can tell you there is nothing anti semitic in Wagners C-major chords(or any other cords,for that matter).Thea same as in Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring there is nothing gay .Rubbish,made up by non musicians or people who don’t understand music.It’s all about what people connect with the music they hear and what it evokes in them.My mom,who lost her mother and her grandparents because of Hitler(Her mother died of typhoid fever in an internment camp in France and her grandparents committed suicide the day they were about to be deported),loved to listen to Wagners music right to the end,and asked me to play a record of Tristan for her to listen during her last hours.

    • Alexander Hall says:

      Well done for pointing out what is so glaringly obvious, but that won’t stop some morons arguing their arrant nonsense

  10. It is good to be reminded of how morally vile a person Richard Wagner was to counteract the idea that the deep aesthetic and emotional experience of classical music indicates some sort of moral superiority in the profession or the audience. Of course no regular reader of Slipped Disc could harbor such an illusion.

    • Wagner was not a vile person. He made mistakes, but also acute observations, like we all. Classical music is produced by normal human beings who themselves may not always be able to live-up to the moral level of the art form they create themselves, but that does not diminish the urge of this art to try to become a ‘better person’. Wagner was an emotionally unbalanced character, and the gap between his knowing of his worth and talents and the importance of his contribution, and the many barriers and objections he met in the world, unsettled him even more. Someone who carries something like Parsifal or Tristan or Götterdämmerung in his head and heart, deserves some license.

      Let us not forget that Beethoven, being a rather rude and unbalanced character with the manners of a peasant, seriously tried to educate himself on all levels all the time during all his life, because that seemed to him the obligation of his art. That his housekeepers not always had the benefit of these attempts, does not diminish the message of the art form.

      It could be argued that Wagner was fully aware of quite a couple of things he did he knew were morally wrong – given the moral complexities in his operas – but must have thought that to succeed in the musical world of his day, he had to sacrifice the intention to be ‘good’ – given the incompetence and corruption he encountered all around him. To try to always behave in a morally perfect way would turn him into an easy prey for the incompetenti who fought for their position in the musical world through unfair means – because of lacking the real talents. Read Berlioz’ memoirs to be informed about mores in the musical world in the 19th century….. I am sure Wagner was a difficult and over-emotional individual, but great fun to have a drink with and have him talk about culture, music, his version of Schopenhauer, etc. etc. (You would have to pay for the drinks of course, but that would be worthwhile.)

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Mark Shulgasser says:
      May 23, 2013 at 3:43 pm
      “It is good to be reminded of how morally vile a person Richard Wagner was to counteract the idea that the deep aesthetic and emotional experience of classical music indicates some sort of moral superiority in the profession or the audience. Of course no regular reader of Slipped Disc could harbor such an illusion.”

      It appears to me though from comments made in this and other threads as if quite a few of our fellow SD readers do harbor the illusion that they themselves are morally superior people. I am not a Christian, but I do kind of like the “…cast the first stone” thing. A lot of people are always ready to cast stones.

  11. Galen Johnson says:

    I met Gottfried Wagner and listened to a talk of his, years ago at USC. Afterwards, I chatted with him. I thought he was crazy.

    • Would you care to add any definition to your use of the term ‘crazy’? Surely, being born into the Wagner family alone presents issues most of us don’t have to confront, for good or ill. But then, is this the ‘crazy’ of someone thinking outside the box who is on a mission to correct misperceptions, or is this the ‘crazy’ of someone truly disconnected from the real world?

      Just wondering…:-)

      • Well taken, Pamela. I think that anyone who would alienate himself from the power and fame of the Wagner connection simply as an ethical reminder must have felt himself insane at times, and be considered mad by many people.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          That certainly applied to Friedelind Wagner who was very critical of Hitler and courageous enough to distance herself from her family while it was allied to real and dangerous powers and who left Germany in 1939 under great difficulties to go into exile and speak up against the regime. She also later returned to and confronted her family in Bayreuth where she was not exactly a welcome visitor. Of course she was called “crazy” and “liar” by many linked to the clan and the regime.

          It does not apply to Gottfried Wagner whose most heroic action apparently was to spray paint a bust and who acts as if he was boldly uncovering truths which in reality have been out in the open and openly discussed or a long time. He just appeals to the very underinformed. See my comments above about how he misquoted Thielemann’s book etc.

        • Gurnemanz says:

          If he wanted to “alianate himself from the Wagner power and fame” he would have changed his last name. Instead, he uses it as an advertisement for his writings, interviews, speeches and symposiums he participates in. Note the word that is missing in this littany of public manifestations, which is “debates”. I have Googled various varieties of the sentence “Gottfried Wagner debates” and have not come up with a single instance where he has gone one-on-one in front of an audience against a half-serious, fair-minded scholar. It’s always an intereview, a speech in front of a largely like-minded audience whom he tells what they want to hear, or a simposium which is non-confrontational in nature. The reason for this is simple: even he knows that under the least bit of scrutiny his story would collapse like a house of cards that it is.

          The rest is more or less adequately summarized by Michael Schaffer.

          • I’m sorry if Gottfried Wagner’s new book is simply a repetition of his old one. I’m sorry if he has been unable to free himself from his family obsession. And he may indeed be insane. Yet he is what he is, a product of Wagnerism, and he so far resists being hushed away into a madhouse. He exemplifies, in a highly personal way, which might not appeal to “a half-serious, fair-minded scholar” the profound disquietudes and ambiguities of the Wagner experience, which some people are prone to examine, others to ignore, and other to suppress. In fact these disquietudes and ambiguities extend into the heart of the aesthetic experience itself, in its relations with politics and ethics, a theme particularly developed by re Wagner by Nietzsche and Thomas Mann.

            I suppose it’s annoying that the Wagner offsping don’t happen to be fair-minded scholars.

          • Gurnemanz says:

            In reply to Mark Shulgasser: Gottfried is entitled to all the personal issues with his family of his choosing. What he is not entitled to is that people take these personal issues seriously, as if it is the scholarly established truth, which he constantly promotes as such with a self-righteous attitude, all the while contemptuously sneering at those who have a different opinion. Plus, he uses deeply intellectually dishonest means in doing so, a s Michael Shaffer has shown.

  12. Gurnemanz, I must have missed something. Where did Michael Schaffer show that Gottfried Wagner was “deeply intellectually dishonest”. Schaffer claimed that in the above interview GWagner “misquoted” Thielemann.

    This is the interview:

    German conductor Christian Thielemann, the Bayreuth Festival’s unofficial musical director, contends in his own recent book entitled “My Life with Wagner” that music is per se non-political and that a “C-major chord is just a C-major chord”. He added “Gottfried Wagner, as quoted here, apparently took all that [being Schaffer's lengthy resume of Thielemann's argument] out of context so that it would serve his own agenda better.”

    But Gottfried is dismissive of such statements.
    “Wagner uses tonalities in a very concrete context. Not by chance. It always has a message,” he says.

    So in reality GW did not “misquote” or “take out of context”. In fact there is no evidence here that he even has read Thielemann’s book. He stated his view as briefly as the interview format allowed. Why accuse him of evading engagement with Thielemann’s extended discussion? Schaffer even implies that it was Gottfried who dropped the “?” from Thielemann’s question.

    Look. You can be perfectly innocent, pure as the driven snow, kind to animals, etc and adore Wagner’s music. Fine. But Bayreuth is a place where mass murderers and their families congregate, celebrate and mingle among the tourists, It’s a wonderful thing that the grandchildren of the victims can enjoy great music along with the grandchildren of the murderers . . . maybe . . . if it’s recognized. GW wants it recognized. That’s the purpose of his Jewish/German Reconciliation idea. So many people can’t live with maybes.

    The question of whether the notes themselves can be in some sense “political” is somewhat beside the point.
    Wagner prettifies death; that’s plenty to think about.

    • Gurnemanz says:

      “But Bayreuth is a place where mass murderers and their families congregate, celebrate and mingle among the tourists”

      This is a patently absurd and false statement. And the rest that follows is either a non-sequitur or more incorrect observations.

      • Mark Shulgasser says:

        No, it’s just calling a spade a spade. Go ahead, take offense, easier than explaining how Mr. Schaffer demonstrated GWagner’s deep intellectual dishonesty in the above discussion.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Mark, it seems to me you are getting increasingly angry and confused about who said what. But it’s actually quite simple: in the interview reprinted by Norman above, Thielemann’s alleged statement “C major is just C major” is clearly referenced as coming from his book, it is presented as a statement, a simplistic statement that is not made in this form in the book, where it appears as a question and title of a chapter about the subject. But Gottfried Wagner acts like it is a statement which demonstrates how simplistic Thielemann’s views on the subject are so he, Gottfired the great educator, needs to set things right.

      I also wonder where you read my “lengthy resume of Thielemann’s argument”. I did not offer such a resume. I merely said that he discusses the subject in great detail and from a number of angles, but I did not sum up his argument. He doesn’t present a simple argument anyway, he treats this as the complex subject it is. I just pointed out to Pamela that while she thought that, based on how Gottfried Wagner commented on this out-of-context quote, Thielemann had “his head in the sand” that it was actually other people who have their head in the sand because they pass judgment on the basis of very little second hand information, taken out of context on top of that.

      And what do we call judgments based on very little second hand information taken out of context? We call them “prejudices”. See, the line between righteousness and self-righteousness is dangerously thin.

      Regarding this:

      “But Bayreuth is a place where mass murderers and their families congregate, celebrate and mingle among the tourists, It’s a wonderful thing that the grandchildren of the victims can enjoy great music along with the grandchildren of the murderers . . . maybe . . . if it’s recognized. GW wants it recognized. That’s the purpose of his Jewish/German Reconciliation idea. So many people can’t live with maybes.”

      - where do you see “mass murderers and their families” at Bayreuth these days?

      Also, if you can’t live with “maybes”, why don’t you inform yourself a little better about the subject? Then you will see that it is something that is very much out in the open and very openly discussed in Germany. It has been for a long time.
      “GW wants it recognized?” It already *is* recognized. What he is talking about is nothing new *at all*. Nothing “daring” or something that “finally needed to be said!!!”
      But GW acts on the prejudices of people who don’t know that. He pushes their buttons. He certainly hit yours. But he doesn’t contribute anything new or relevant to the discussion of the subject. He just wants attention for himself, not really the subject.

      That, and nothing else is what people have criticized here.

      • Musiker says:

        What are you talking about, Thielemann’s “alleged” statement?
        There’s no “alleged” about it.
        It’s what he says.

        Page 119:
        “Was tun mit Wagners Antisemitismus? In den Noten ist dafür kein Platz, denn C-Dur bleibt tatsächlich C-Dur.”
        (What about Wagner’s anti-Semitism? There’s no room for it in the notes, because C Major remains just C Major.)

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          There is a lot of context before and after that which makes it very clear that Thielemann sees these things not as simplistic as taking that statement out of context and presenting it the way G.Wagner did suggests. You know that because you have access to the book. And of course a C major chord can not be “anti-semitic”.

          • Musiker says:

            I would certainly hope that in a book of 319 pages there is “a lot of context before and after” a particular statement.
            By the same token, there is “a lot of context” in Gottfried Wagner’s 304-page book (which I doubt very much you’ve taken the trouble to read.)
            So it is disingenuous — if not intellectually dishonest — of you to reduce the content of that book, as well as the interview above, to Gottfried Wagner’s “alleged” statement that a C-Major chord is anti-Semitic.

            (I very deliberately put “alleged” in inverted commas here because Gottfried Wagner does not say those words in that form in either his book or the interview.
            By contrast, Thielemann unequivocally states — and Gottfried Wagner is therefore correct in his quotation — that “C major is just C major”.
            Hence, your assertion that this statement “is not made in this form in the book” is simply wrong.)

            It is also intellectually dishonest of you to assert that “he doesn’t contribute anything new or relevant to the discussion of the subject. He just wants attention for himself, not really the subject.”

            1) You’ve never met him or talked with him, so who are you to attribute motives?

            2) Nowhere does he claim that he is “boldly uncovering” new truths or ideas.
            In fact, like any scholar, his sourcing is full and transparent and his book contains 23 pages of notes and references and 5 pages of bibliography.

            3) And the relevance of his comments is precisely because it is a Wagner making them, one of the few Wagners to do so, a “Zeitzeuge” and someone with intimate insight into the Wagner dynasty.

            It is striking, but probably not very surprising, that people who disagree with and dislike Gottfried’s ideas frequently seek to undermine him personally by saying he is “mad” or “crazy”.
            Friedelind Wagner suffered the same treatment.

            That is what I would call “intellectual dishonesty”, and it is precisely that which many of Gottfried’s critics on this blog are guilty of.
            A very clear case of the pot calling the kettle black.

            Surely the issue here is that music and culture cannot and do not exist outside of the society which produces them.
            And like any other composer or artist before and after him, Wagner’s worldwiew is inseparable from his art and his music. (And in this case, Wagner’s worldview must include his anti-Semitism.)

            The question is whether a masterpiece is a masterpiece precisely because of its ability to transcend the context and circumstance in which it was written and speak to, touch and have relevance for the many generations that come after it.
            It is very fascinating and pertinent to ask whether or to what extent ideologies inform and permeate a piece of art and music.

          • Gurnemanz says:


            “Nowhere does he claim that he is “boldly uncovering” new truths or ideas” – The best rebuttal to this are GW interviews above.

            As for GW being crazy…Well, I haven’t read his book(s) but I did read some statements from him, and I’ll give you some characteristic ones:

            1) About 15 years ago, among other diatribes against the musical works of his great-grandfather, he claimed they were “anti-feminist because all female characters in them die”.

            2) In a symposium in LA 3 years ago he re-inserted the old Nietchean canard of Wagner being usure of his origins and the possible Jewishness of his stepfather Geyer. This prompted another participant, a Liberal Arts professor, to indignantly react and call such arguments “crypto-antisemitic”. Also, the reporter of the event from the LA Jewish Journal called Gottfried speech “confused, mumbling and sometimef off-mike”.

            3) In 2009 Daniel Barenboim conducted a concert in honour of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. Part of the program was Shoenberg’s “Survivor from Warshaw” followed by the prelude to act I of “Lohengrin”. Gottfried Wagner, even though nobody asked him to do so, proceded to “defend” Shoenberg from Wagner. He sent an indignant, self-righteous letter, in which he protested that the “war-mongering” music of Wagner is played next to the “Jewish composer Schoenberg”. Incidentally, as most of contributors here propably know already, Schoenberg would be the last person on Earth not to want Wagner played, before, after or without his compositions.

            Anyone who says that the prelude to “Lohengrin” is “war-mongering” either belongs in a lunatic asylum or is patently malevolent. But as Michael Schaffer has already shown, Gottfried does not mind being seen by those knowledgeable as one of the two(or both) because he preys on the prejudiced and the ignorant (in a sense that they never heard the prelude to “Lohengrin” or/and have no idea of Schoenberg’s stance towards Wagner and his music) to draw attention to himself.

          • Musiker says:

            How does the above interview with Gottfried Wagner offer a “clear rebuttal”?
            Nowhere in it does Gottfried Wagner make a claim to having “boldy uncovered” new truths and ideas.

            You haven’t read his books?
            Then that pretty much disqualifies you from offering an opinion on them.

            It is astonishing how people who have never met a person or taken the trouble to read their writings somehow feel in a position to make not only a professional but also a personal assessment of
            that person’s psychological state of mind, and a judgement on the intellectual standard of their work.

            But there again, you were, if I recall, one of the most vocal supporters of the banning of the Duesseldorf’s production of “Tannhaeuser”, even though you hadn’t seen it.
            So no matter how much and how loudly you rant and rave about Gottfried Wagner, your arguments are not intellectually convincing.

            I doubt very much, too, that a medical definition of “lunacy” or the criteria for assigning someone to a lunatic asylum include making a claim that the prelude to “Lohengrin” is “war-mongering”.
            Unless, of course, you can point us to a medical dictionary or a qualified medical professional that does make such as assertion.

            I would, however, humbly venture to suggest that you are not a professional in that particular area and are therefore in no position to make a judgement about Gottfried Wagner’s mental health.

          • Gurnemanz says:

            You are constructing straw-men, Musiker. I did not attack GW’s books per se but his overall activity, when it comes to Wagner which are highly misleading. I read some articles of his and reports of his speeches and they told me all I need to know. Even his website has a small detail that, in fact, speaks volumes on how dishonest he is about the subject he continuously drones on.

            As for the Dusseldorf Tannhauser, yes I supported the nixing of it, no I did not see it but as I said on the topic, just like I don’t need to taste excrement to know it is not to be eaten, I don’t need to see that Tannhauser to know it is worthless.

          • Musiker says:

            Gurnemanz, with all respect, I think it’s best if we leave the discussion at that.
            You clearly feel very strongly and passionately about Richard Wagner and his music, which I like.
            But you are unwilling to engage properly with anyone who dares disagree or who takes a more critical view of the composer and the man.

            You cannot judge Gottfried Wagner as man or musicologist and historian if you refuse outright to read his writings, or listen to what he or other scholars are trying to say.

            In the same way, you made up your mind about the Duesseldorf “Tannhaeuser” without seeing it for yourself and even appear to advocate censorship of any opinion or artistic interpretation that differs even only slightly from your own.
            In my opinion that is a very dangerous path.
            Just because I personally dislike a production, I’d never consider denying other people the possibility of seeing it for themselves to make up their own minds.

            I’m happy to talk and debate with people who hold different opinions to me.

            If you read Gottfried Wagner’s books and still disagree with him, all the better. Let’s have a discussion then.

            But now when you’re effectively ruling out a stimulating, invigorating, open-minded and respectful debate from the very beginning.

            All the best.

an ArtsJournal blog