Richard Wagner and the Jews

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About the Book

It is well known that Richard Wagner, the renowned and controversial 19th century composer, exhibited intense anti–Semitism. The evidence is everywhere in his writings as well as in conversations his second wife recorded in her diaries. In his infamous essay “Judaism in Music,” Wagner forever cemented his unpleasant reputation with his assertion that Jews were incapable of either creating or appreciating great art.
Wagner’s close ties with many talented Jews, then, are surprising. Most writers have dismissed these connections as cynical manipulations and rank hypocrisy. Examination of the original sources, however, reveals something different: unmistakeable, undeniable empathy and friendship between Wagner and the Jews in his life. Indeed, the composer had warm relationships with numerous individual Jews. Two of them resided frequently over extended periods in his home. One of these, the rabbi’s son Hermann Levi, conducted Wagner’s final opera—Parsifal, based on Christian legend—at Wagner’s request; no one, Wagner declared, understood his work so well. Even in death his Jewish friends were by his side; two were among his twelve pallbearers.
The contradictions between Wagner’s antipathy toward the amorphous entity “The Jews” and his genuine friendships with individual Jews are the subject of this book. Drawing on extensive sources in both German and English, including Wagner’s autobiography and diary and the diaries of his second wife, this comprehensive treatment of Wagner’s anti–Semitism is the first to place it in perspective with his life and work. Included in the text are portions of unpublished letters exchanged between Wagner and Hermann Levi. Altogether, the book reveals astonishing complexities in a man long known as much for his prejudice as for his epic contributions to opera.

About the Author(s)

Retired attorney Milton E. Brener has written books and numerous articles on such topics as art, opera and Judaica, He lives in New York.

Bibliographic Details

Milton E. Brener
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 343
Bibliographic Info: photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2006
pISBN: 978-0-7864-2370-5
eISBN: 978-0-7864-9138-4
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      x

Preface      1

A Note on Translation      5

Part I. Zurich

1. The Asyl      9

2. The Fugitive      18

3. Minna      23

4. The Paris Jews      32

5. The Essay      38

6. Tausig      50

Part II. Paris and Vienna

7. The Break with Minna      61

8. Tristan und Isolde      67

9. Tannhäuser in Paris      71

10. Vienna      77

11. Penury      80

12. Biebrich on the Rhine      86

13. The Vienna Jews      89

14. Flight from Creditors      96

Part III. Munich

15. King Ludwig      105

16. Cosima      108

17. The First Tristan      117

18. Exile from Munich      125

Part IV. Lucerne

19. Triebschen      133

20. Die Meistersinger      142

21. Cosima’s Diaries      146

22. “Judaism in Music”: The Second Publication      150

23. Das Rheingold Brouhaha      156

24. The Turn of Die Walküre      162

25. Wagner and the French      166

26. Death of Tausig      171

Part V. Bayreuth I: The First Festival

27. Rubinstein and Preparations for The Ring      181

28. The Scapegoats      189

29. The First Festival      194

30. Neumann      202

Part VI. Bayreuth II: Levi and Neumann

31. The Young Hermann Levi      213

32. The Brahms-Levi Friendship      221

33. The Breach with Brahms      226

34. A Study in Malice      232

35. Declining Health, Worsening Temperament      236

36. The Strangest Synagogue      241

37. Distance from Porges, Closeness to Rubinstein      246

38. Neumann and the Berlin Ring      256

39. Neumann and the Traveling Wagner Opera Company      262

Part VII. Bayreuth III: The Second Festival

40. Levi and Parsifal      269

41. Lichtenberg and the Knieses      275

42. Wagnerphobia      286

43. Glimpses of the Other Side      292

44. The Final Days      297

Appendix: “Judaism in Music”      301

Chapter Notes      317

References      323

Index      327

Book Reviews & Awards

“a fine resource…recommended”—Choice; “Brener…is a writer to be reckoned with…splendid book, deeply considered, well written, and rich in detail”—Southern Humanities Review; “an account of permanent value…forthright”—Annals Australasia; “of permanent value”—Reference Reviews.