For the next few weeks, Clef Notes is taking a look at music and ethnicity including nationalism. This nationalism may show up in the form of folk song influences in music or even aural depictions of the visual setting of one’s homeland. Last time, we discussed one negative form of nationalism, Wagner’s anti-Semitism. Today, let’s look at how this shows up in his music.
Richard Wagner took great pride in his German heritage, much of his music displaying a sense of nationalism. One example of this is his cycle of four music dramas, The Ring of the Nibelung, which takes its plot from stories found in medieval German epic poems.
But how does Wagner’s anti-Semitism show up in his music? This topic is debatable but some scholars find that he alludes to what he considered Jewish characteristics in several characters found in his dramas. In his book The 'Jewish Question' in German Literature, 1749-1939: Emancipation and its Discontents, Ritchie Robertson states, “Beckmesser in Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg represents the philistine, uncreative Jew, the castrated Klingsor in Parsifal represents the unmanly Jew, Kundry the sensual and Oriental Jewish woman, Alberich in the Ring the Jewish capitalist. The clearest case is Alberich’s brother Mime. Mime’s very name implies the imitativeness of the Jew…”
What do you think? Can you think of any other examples in music history when a composer shows anti-Semitic views?