Wagner Exhibit at Judaisches Museum

Wagner Exhibit at Judaisches Museum

My main destination yesterday was the new exhibit on Wagner and Anti-Semitism at the Judaisches Museum. The exhibit was a bit thin on artifacts, but the interpretive panels were extremely informative, and there were nice touches like audio and film excerpts of both Wagner’s operas and music by later composers influenced by him, including Schoenberg and Zemlinsky. There was a lot to absorb, but the two main points were 1) Wagner’s anti-Semitism was harsh and virulent, and was shared and even celebrated by Wagner clubs that sprang up all over Vienna as well as other Austrian and German cities. 2) Wagner’s music was regarded as exceptional, even sublime, by many composers and others involved in art and culture – even Jewish critics and composers – and there has always been a trend to downplay Wagner’s anti-Semitism in light of his creative genius. These two parallel lines of thought were both well represented in the exhibit, but the clear message was that Wagner’s anti-Semitism is a part of the history not only of music, but of culture and the violent racist politics leading to the Holocaust, and cannot be ignored.

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About pcooperwhite

Christiane Brooks Johnson Professor of Psychology and Religion, Union Theological Seminary, New York NY
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