Thursday, 27 May 2010
Wagner: The musical genius's legacy...
As an opera afficianado (though not especially a fan of Wagner's operas) I was interested to watch Stephen Fry's musings on his lifelong love of Wagner's music, and whether this could (and, indeed, should) be reconciled with his Jewish origins on TV the other night.
I don't know if anyone saw this, but it seemed to be peculiarly relevant to the ongoing debate about the relationship between the artist and their life and work. Should we embrace Wagner as a musical genius and simply ignore his Anti-Semitism, or see it in cultural terms as a product of his time? Or should we let the indelible stain (as Fry put it) of Hitler's legacy stain the work, and lead us to boycott it at all costs?
As one might expect from Fry, he attempted to offer a consensus here, trying to acknowledge the Fascist connotations while at the same time allowing himself a space to continue to enjoy the work of a musical genius. Put simply, Fry argues that the music transcends the ideological prejeudices of the artist and that it is sublime, and therefore should be exempt from political or ideological analysis. However, the quiet revulsion on the face of a musician, a Holocaust survivor when being interviewed about Wagner told another story, despite her best attempts to be concilatory rather than dogmatic.
Many people still do avoid the work of Wagner, while other prominent musicians, including those of Jewish origin, embrace the music (though presumably not the artist).
Is this a liberal whitewash, trying to justify one's passions when these are perhaps transgressive? Or is it right to take Fry's side and argue that, while Wagner's work is stained by its associations, it remains sublime, and that we shouldn't let the legacy of Fascism subsume the work of a genius?