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Deep sadness: Wagner’s greatest critic is no more

Marcel Reich-Ranicki has died, after a rapid decline. He was 93.

Aside from being Germany’s foremost literary critic – with a column in the FAZ, a weekly TV show and a running war with most leading writers – he was a devoted Wagnerian who never missed a summer at Bayreuth – or a chance to criticise the Master.

Wagner’s German, he said, was appalling. Only the language of Meistersinger was close to acceptable. The composer, he said, should have got himself a librettist.

May Marcel’s dear soul rest among the righteous.


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  1. Omeyn. Wasn’t he interned in Auschwitz?

  2. Theodore McGuiver says:

    He was certainly Germany’s most celebrated man of words, active up until the end. A great loss.

  3. I’ve always thought that Stabbrheim (sic) was hideous. The Wesendonck Lieder are rather nice because the words aren’t by Wagner.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      No, not “sic”. It’s “Stabreim”, not “Stabbrheim”. I agree his texts are often silly and awkward and the Stabreim gets on my nerves – but how can *you* tell? You obviously don’t know any German.

  4. anothe ricon gone with nobody to replaxe him, the end of the “Abendland” comes faster that we could have dreamt of

  5. No, he was not in Auschwitz, he was in the Warsaw Ghetto. He saved a young girl’s life with whom he was acquainted by marrying her.Later they escaped the Ghetto and were hidden by Polish peasants until the end of the war.

  6. Ah, but the Master still lives!

  7. Alexander Hall says:

    It is difficult for people in the UK and, I imagine, in most other English-speaking countries to understand how a television programme on one of the two public service channels that was devoted exclusively to books could run for some thirteen years and draw such a huge and interested audience. Discourse for 75 minutes with just four people before an invited audience and a theme tune taken from a late Beethoven string quartet? It wouldn’t work in the UK with its constant dumbing down, pandering to the lowest levels of intellect amongst mass audiences and neurotic addiction to the importance of ratings. But it worked in Germany and the presiding genius over all of this was Marcel Reich-Ranicki, whose knowledge not only about German but indeed world literature was phenomenal. What saved him in Poland during World War II was his ability to serve up to the simple farmer who was his “saviour” from the Nazis a series of stories night after night in the manner of Scheherezade. He “bought” his survival with entertainment, and decades later in the post-war Germany from which he had once been deported and to which he returned as the greatest German literary critic since the 1920s, he once again entertained audiences with stories. We shall not see his like again.

  8. He was a wonderful person, both extremely witty and intelligent. To listen to him was always a delight, especially when he railed against the new novel by Mr. Walser, Grass etc. He once said that after seeing the bararism of 2nd world war he couldn’t believe in anything connected with god anymore. Although he was Jew and had a fate similar to those Jews who survived 2nd world war and tried to arrange their lives in post-Nazi Germany, religion didn’t mean anything to him. Last year he said ‘Religion is like wearing glasses. It blurs one’s view to reality and leaves the bitter facts of life behind a gentle veil’ He didn’t believe in life after death.

  9. harold braun says:

    Marcel Reich Ranicki Z”L.He truly was an intellectual giant!

  10. What Gabriele said. His wife, Teofila (“Tosia”), who died two years ago, made an important, long-hidden series of watercolors of life in the Ghetto that were first shown and published in 1999 at the Frankfurt Jewish Museum and again in 2009 at and by the Jewish Museum of the City of Vienna. Their son, Edinburgh mathematician Andrew Ranicki, has several English-language memorial web pages on his parents, including Tosia’s eyewitness artwork:

  11. Gordon Davies says:

an ArtsJournal blog