That old poisoner Wagner, and why art matters

According to August Kubizek, regarding the teenaged Adolf Hitler’s reaction to Wagner’s Rienzi

I was struck by something strange, which I had never noticed before, even when he had talked to me in moments of the greatest excitement. It was as if another being spoke out of his body, and moved him as much as it did me. It wasn’t at all a case of a speaker being carried away by his own words. On the contrary; I rather felt as though he himself listened with astonishment and emotion to what burst forth from him with elementary force. I will not attempt to interpret this phenomenon, but it was a state of complete ecstasy and rapture, in which he transferred the character of Rienzi, without even mentioning him as a model or example, with visionary power to the plane of his own ambitions.

According to this

Art historian Birgit Schwarz talks to SPIEGEL about why Adolf Hitler saw himself as a genius and how his obsession with art affected his political views.

Stanley Kubrick once despaired of

the failure of culture to have any morally refining effect on society. Many top Nazis were cultured and sophisticated men, but it didn’t do them, or anyone else, much good.

Maybe. For sure some of them were diabolically clever. On the other hand, there were a lot of “upper-class twits”, too. According to Christopher Clark

As the American scholar Jonathan Petropoulos observed in his study of the princes of Hessen, if princes had constituted a profession, ‘they would have rivalled physicians as the most Nazified in the Third Reich (doctors’ membership peaked in 1937 at 43 per cent)’.

But they probably weren’t doing the thinking.

See also Norman Lebrecht on “The clapped-out legacy of Karajan that impoverished classical music”, about an “ex-Nazi” and “brilliant organizer” who “crushed independence and creativity”.


More blog entries on Art.



  1. According to S. L. Kennamer

    The quote from Wagner near the end is not a sagacious statement about the abstract nature of music, but his cop-out response to a simple question about the logic of “The Ring”: his correspondent had asked him why, if the ring has now been returned to the Rhinemaidens, the entire universe has to perish anyway. Wagner could not admit the real reason for this: that his original story about “The Death of Siegfried” did not require such an apocalyptic ending at all, but his recently developed obsession with Schopenhauer’s pessimism did. Put more succinctly: the ending makes no sense. “The Ring” is childish throughout, the precursor to Tolkien and to “Star Wars.” Perhaps the most amazing feat in the history of art is Wagner’s taking this story so seriously.

    But I am not impugning the music. If you follow the advice of Wagner-hater Igor Stravinsky, who insisted that only the aesthetic emotion is valid as a response to music, and treat Wagner’s music as pure formalism, you will certainly hear some extraordinary set pieces. What Wagner ended up creating, however, was not opera or even “music drama” but, in the words of Vincent d’Indy, “sung epic.” And so we come to the crux of the Verdi-Wagner antithesis. Verdi always respected and honored Wagner, arguing only that Wagnerian orchestral opera is an art form unsuited to Italian music-making. History has borne out Verdi’s judgment. In fact, sung epic had no future with any nationality. Wagner’s only disciples are the movie composers, who one and all religiously adhere to the leitmotif as their principal of construction. Wagner, on the other hand, characteristically regarded Verdi’s music and that of almost all other persons not himself as contemptible. This asymmetry says everything about the two men.

    According to Charles

    Certainly many of Wagner’s plots are mawkish and ridiculous, and express his overblown secondhand intellectual ideas. Yet few attend great operas for their stories or ideas.


    • According to Wikipedia, regarding Kiss Me Deadly,

      The original American release of the film shows Hammer and Velda escaping from the burning house at the end, running into the ocean as the words “The End” come over them on the screen. Sometime after its first release, the ending was crudely altered on the film’s original negative, removing over a minute’s worth of shots where Hammer and Velda escape and superimposing the words “The End” over the burning house. This implied that Hammer and Velda perished in the atomic blaze, and was often interpreted to represent the apocalypse. In 1997, the original conclusion was restored. The DVD release has the correct original ending, and offers the now-discredited truncated ending as an extra. The movie is described as “the definitive, apocalyptic, nihilistic, science-fiction film noir of all time – at the close of the classic noir period.”


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