Arthur Schopenhauer – The Philosophy of the Will

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

Arthur Schopenhauer (22 February 1788 – 21 September 1860) was a German philosopher best known for his book, ‘Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung’ – (The World as Will and Representation) , in which he claimed that our world is driven by a continually dissatisfied will, continually seeking satisfaction.
Influenced to some degree by Eastern thought, his faith in “transcendental ideality” led him to accept the possibility of atheism.
At age 25, he published his doctoral dissertation, ‘Über die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde’ – (On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason), which examined the four distinct aspects of experience in the phenomenal world; consequently, he has been influential in the history of phenomenology.

Four classes of explanation fall under the principle’s rubric. Hence, four classes of objects occur always and already only in relation to a knowing subject, according to a correlative capacity within the subject. These classes are summarized as follows: becoming, knowing, being and willing.

Richard Wagner
Alfred Rosenberg

He has influenced a long list of individuals, including Friedrich Nietzsche, Otto Weininger, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Thomas Mann, Adolf Hitler and Alfred Rosenberg.
Schopenhauer’s theory of music, along with his emphasis upon artistic genius and the world-as-suffering, was also influential among composers such as Johannes Brahms, Hans Pfitzner, Sergei Prokofiev, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakoff, and Richard Wagner.
Richard Wagner, writing in his autobiography, remembered his first impression that Schopenhauer left on him (when he read  ‘Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung’):
Schopenhauer’s book was never completely out of my mind, and by the following summer I had studied it from cover to cover four times. It had a radical influence on my whole life.’

‘Tristan und Isolde’

Wagner also commented that “serious mood, which was trying to find ecstatic expression” created by Schopenhauer inspired the conception of ‘Tristan und Isolde’.
Schopenhauer’s influence on ‘Tristan und Isolde’ is most evident in the second and third acts. The second act, in which the lovers meet, and the third act, during which Tristan longs for release from the passions that torment him, have often proved puzzling to opera-goers unfamiliar with Schopenhauer’s work.

Parsifal

The world-view of Schopenhauer dictates that the only way for man to achieve inner peace is to renounce his desires: a theme that Wagner explored fully in his last and greatest opera, ‘Parsifal’.
In fact Wagner even considered having the character of Parsifal meet Tristan during his sufferings in Act 3, but later rejected the idea.
Friedrich Nietzsche owed the awakening of his philosophical interest to reading ‘Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung’, and admitted that he was one of the few philosophers that he respected, dedicating to him his essay ‘Schopenhauer als Erzieher’ one of his ‘Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen’ (Untimely Meditations).

Untimely Meditations (German: Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen), also translated as Unfashionable Observations[1] and Thoughts Out Of Season) consists of four works by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, started in 1873 and completed in 1876.

Jorge Luis Borges remarked that the reason he had never attempted to write a systematic account of his world view, despite his penchant for philosophy and metaphysics in particular, was because Schopenhauer had already written it for him.

Adolf Hitler and Ludwig Wittgenstein
Ludwig Wittgenstein

As a teenager, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who was a school-fellow of Adolf Hitler, was strongly influenced by Schopenhauer’s epistemological idealism.

Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein had a profound effect on Adolf Hitler when they were both pupils at the Realschule (lower secondary school) in Linz, Austria, in the early 1900s. Interestingly, a few days before the invasion of Poland in 1939, Hitler personally granted Mischling status to the Wittgenstein siblings – which included Ludwig.

Schopenhauer’s 19th century historical profile is frequently obscured by the shadows of Kant, Hegel,  Mill, Darwin and Nietzsche, but more than is usually recognized, in his rejection of rationalistic conceptions of the world as early as 1818, he perceived the shape of things to come.

Adolf Hitler


As a consequence of his monistic philosophy, Schopenhauer, like Adolf Hitler, was very concerned about the welfare of animals.

For him, all individual animals, including humans, are essentially the same, being phenomenal manifestations of the one underlying Will.
The word “will” designated, for him, force, power, impulse, energy, and desire; it is the closest word we have that can signify both the real essence of all external things, and also our own direct, inner experience.
Since everything is basically Will, then humans and animals are fundamentally the same, and can recognize themselves in each other.
For this reason, he claimed that a good person would have sympathy for animals, who are our fellow sufferers. 
Schopenhauer was also one of the first philosophers since the days of Greek philosophy to address the subject of male homosexuality.
In the third, expanded edition of ‘Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung’ (1859), Schopenhauer added an appendix to his chapter on the “Metaphysics of Sexual Love”.
He also wrote that homosexuality did have the benefit of preventing ill-begotten children.
Concerning this, he stated, “… the activity we are considering appears to work directly against the aims and ends of nature, and that in a matter that is all important and of the greatest concern to her, it must in fact serve these very aims, although only indirectly, as a means for preventing greater evils.”

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Arthur Schopenhauer – a Brief Biography


Arthur Schopenhauer was born in the city of Danzig (Gdańsk), on Heiligegeistgasse, the son of Johanna Schopenhauer (née Trosiener) and Heinrich Floris Schopenhauer, both descendants of wealthy German Patrician families.
When the Königreich Preußen annexed the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth city of Danzig in 1793, Schopenhauer’s family moved to Hamburg.


Königreich Preußen
Arthur Schopenhauer as a Boy

In 1805, Schopenhauer’s father may have committed suicide.

Shortly thereafter, Schopenhauer’s mother Johanna moved to Weimar, then the centre of German literature, to pursue her writing career.
After one year, Schopenhauer left the family business in Hamburg to join her.
He became a student at the University of Göttingen in 1809.
There he studied metaphysics and psychology.
There, he wrote his first book, ‘Über die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde’.

In Berlin, from 1811 to 1812, he had attended lectures by the prominent post-Kantian philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte and the theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher.
In 1814, Schopenhauer began his seminal work ‘Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung’.
He finished it in 1818 and published it the following year.
In 1820, Schopenhauer became a lecturer at the University of Berlin, however, only five students turned up to Schopenhauer’s lectures, and he dropped out of academia.
In 1821, he fell in love with nineteen-year old opera singer, Caroline Richter (called Medon), and had a relationship with her for several years.
He discarded marriage plans, however, writing, “Marrying means to halve one’s rights and double one’s duties,” and “Marrying means to grasp blindfolded into a sack hoping to find an eel amongst an assembly of snakes.

Arthur Schopenhauer as a Young Man

Schopenhauer had a strained relationship with his mother Johanna Schopenhauer.
After his father’s death, Arthur Schopenhauer endured two years of drudgery as a merchant, in honour of his dead father.
Then his mother retired to Weimar, and Arthur Schopenhauer dedicated himself wholly to studies in the gymnasium of Gotha.
Later he went to live with his mother, but by that time she had already opened her famous salon, and Arthur was not compatible with the ways of the salon.
Consequently, he attempted university life.

Arthur Schopenhauer in Old Age


In 1831, a cholera epidemic broke out in Berlin and Schopenhauer left the city.
Schopenhauer settled permanently in Frankfurt in 1833, where he remained for the next twenty-seven years, living alone except for a succession of pet poodles named Atman and Butz.
The numerous notes that he made during these years, amongst others on ageing,  were published posthumously under the title ‘Senilia’.
Schopenhauer had a robust constitution, but in 1860 his health began to deteriorate.
He died of heart failure on 21 September 1860 while sitting at home on his couch with his cat. He was 72.

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‘Honour means that a man is not exceptional; fame, that he is.
Fame is something which must be won; honour, only something which must not be lost.’

Arthur Schopenhauer

The Philosophy of the Will

A key focus of Schopenhauer was his investigation of individual motivation.
Before Schopenhauer, Hegel had popularized the concept of ‘Zeitgeist’.

The Zeitgeist (spirit of the age or spirit of the time) is the intellectual fashion or dominant school of thought that typifies and influences the culture of a particular period in time.
The German word Zeitgeist is often attributed to the philosopher Georg Hegel, but he never actually used the word. In his works such as ‘Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Geschichte’, he uses the phrase ‘der Geist seiner Zeit’ (the spirit of his time) – for example, “no man can surpass his own time, for the spirit of his time is also his own spiritOther philosophers who were associated with such ideas include Herder and Voltaire. Hegel believed that art reflected, by its very nature, the time of the culture in which it is created. Culture and art are inextricable because an individual artist is a product of his or her time and therefore brings that culture to any given work of art.

Emanuel Kant
Hegel

Schopenhauer, a reader of both Kant and Hegel, criticized their logical optimism, and the belief that individual morality could be determined by society and reason.
Schopenhauer believed that humans were motivated by only their own basic desires, or Wille zum Leben (“Will to Live”), which directed all of mankind.

For Schopenhauer, human desire was futile, illogical, directionless, and, by extension, so was all human action in the world.
He wrote “Man can indeed do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wants“.
In this sense, he adhered to the Fichtean principle of idealism: “the world is for a subject“.

Fichte
Descartes

This idealism so presented, immediately commits it to an ethical attitude, unlike the purely epistemological concerns of Descartes and Berkeley.

To Schopenhauer, the Will is a malignant, metaphysical existence which controls not only the actions of individual, intelligent agents, but ultimately all observable phenomena; an evil to be terminated via mankind’s duties: asceticism and chastity.
He is credited with one of the most famous opening lines of philosophy: “The world is my representation“.
Will, for Schopenhauer, is what Kant called the ‘Ding-an-sich‘ – (thing-in-itself).”
Nietzsche was greatly influenced by this idea of Will, while developing it in a different direction.




Art and Aesthetics

Arthur Schopenhauer’s aesthetics result from his doctrine of the primacy of the Will as the ‘thing in itself’, the ground of life and all being; and from his judgement that individuation of the Will is evil.
Schopenhauer held that art offers a way for people to temporarily escape the suffering that results from willing.
Basing his doctrine on the dual aspect of the world as will and the world as representation, he taught that if consciousness or attention is fully engrossed, absorbed, or occupied with the world as painless representations or images, then there is no consciousness of the world as painful willing.
Aesthetic pleasure results from being a spectator of “the world as representation” [mental image or idea] without any experience of “the world as will” [need, craving, urge].
Art, according to Schopenhauer, also provides essential knowledge of the world’s objects in a way that is more profound than science or everyday experience.
For Schopenhauer, the Will is an aimless desire to perpetuate itself, the basis of life.
Desire engendered by the Will is the source of all the sorrow in the world; each satisfied desire leaves us either with boredom, or with some new desire to take its place.
A world in thrall to Will is necessarily a world of suffering. Since the Will is the source of life, and our very bodies are stamped with its image and designed to serve its purpose, the human intellect is, in Schopenhauer’s simile, like a lame man who can see, but who rides on the shoulders of a blind giant.
Schopenhauer’s aesthetics is an attempt to break out of the pessimism that naturally comes from this world view.
Schopenhauer believed that what distinguished aesthetic experiences from other experiences is that contemplation of the object of aesthetic appreciation temporarily allowed the subject a respite from the strife of desire, and allowed the subject to enter a realm of purely mental enjoyment, the world purely as representation or mental image.
The more a person’s mind is concerned with the world as representation, the less it feels the suffering of the world as will.
Schopenhauer analysed art from its effects, both on the personality of the artist, and the personality of the viewer.
Schopenhauer believed that while all people were in thrall to the Will, the quality and intensity of their subjection differed:
Only through the pure contemplation . . . which becomes absorbed entirely in the object, are the Ideas comprehended; and the nature of genius consists precisely in the preëminent ability for such contemplation. . . . This demands a complete forgetting of our own person.
The aesthetic experience temporarily emancipates the subject from the Will’s domination and raises them to a level of pure perception.
On the occurrence of an aesthetic appreciation, the will thereby vanishes entirely from consciousness.”
Genuine art cannot be created by anyone who merely follows standard artistic rules.
A genius is required, that is, a person who creates original art without concern for rules.
The personality of the artist was also supposed to be less subject to Will than most: such a person was a Schopenhauerian genius, a person whose exceptional predominance of intellect over Will made them relatively aloof from earthly cares and concerns.
The poet living in a garret, the absent-minded professor, are (at least in the popular mind) examples of Schopenhauer’s geniuses: so fixed on their art that they neglect the “business of life” that in Schopenhauer’s mind meant only the domination of the evil and painful Will.
For Schopenhauer, the relative lack of competence of the artist and the thinker for practical pursuits was no mere stereotype: it was cause and effect.
Schopenhauer believed that what gives arts such as literature and sculpture their value was the extent to which they incorporated pure perceptions.
But, being concerned with human forms and human emotions, these art forms were inferior to music, which being a direct manifestation of will, was to Schopenhauer’s mind the highest form of art.

Richard Wagner

Schopenhauer’s philosophy of music was influential in the works of Richard Wagner.
Wagner was an enthusiastic reader of Schopenhauer, and recommended the reading of Schopenhauer to his friends.
His published works on music theory changed over time, and became more aligned with Schopenhauer’s thought, over the course of his life.
Schopenhauer had stated that music was more important than libretto in opera.
Music is, according to Schopenhauer, an immediate expression of will, the basic reality of the experienced world.
Libretto is merely a linguistic representation of transient phenomena.
Wagner emphasized music over libretto in his later works, after reading Schopenhauer’s aesthetic doctrine.
In proposing that art could offer deliverance from the Will, Schopenhauer elevated art from mere decoration, and held that art potentially offered temporary deliverance from the aimless strife of the Will in nature.
In effect, Schopenhauer turned art into a substitute religion by offering a doctrine of salvation through aesthetic experiences.
Artists were not merely skilled hands; they were the priests or prophets of this doctrine.
This teaching goes far to explain Schopenhauer’s appeal to members of the creative communities over the second half of the nineteenth century.
His doctrine of aesthetics justified artistic work as a matter of highest importance in human society.
Schopenhauer’s aesthetics remain influential today, and are one of the most lasting parts of his philosophy.
Their appeal to later generations of Romantics, and to all schools of bohemianism, is demonstrated.
Wagner sent Schopenhauer a note expressing deep gratitude for Schopenhauer’s discussion of music.

Thomas Mann

Schopenhauer’s philosophy in general left a deep impression on a number of important writers, especially Thomas Hardy, Marcel Proust, Stéphane Mallarmé, Thomas Mann, and Ivan Turgenev.
Schopenhauer’s aesthetics were directly responsible for the rise of the ‘Symbolists’ and their allied movements, and to the general development of the concept of ‘art for art’s sake’.

Friedrich Nietzsche

It deeply influenced the aesthetics of Friedrich Nietzsche, although he ultimately rejected Schopenhauer’s conception of Will as evil, whose famous opposition of the Apollonian and Dionysian is a translation of Schopenhauer’s opposition of intellect against will in terms of Greek mythology.
Santayana praised Schopenhauer’s doctrine that tragedy benefited audiences because it helped them to deny the will–to–live and to turn away from life. “Schopenhauer thought tragedy beautiful because it detached us from a troubled world and did not think a troubled world good, as those unspeakable optimists did, because it made such a fine tragedy. It is pleasant to find that among all these philosophers one at least was a gentleman.”


In Retrospect


There is a danger in interpreting the text of some long gone author, let alone of some heavyweight philosopher, such as Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860).

The interpreter tends to look at parts of the author’s prose that may best suit his own conclusions, while avoiding parts that other critics may find more relevant, and which the interpreter may consider either incomprehensible or irrelevant.
This is true for Schopenhauer in so far as he deals in his multi-layered work with diverse subject matters, ranging from the theories of knowledge, to the role of women, sex, eugenics, religion, etc., while offering aphoristic formulas on how to live a more or less liveable life. 

Moreover, in his entire work Schopenhauer deals extensively with the perception of objective reality, our self-perception, and how our self-perception reflects itself in the perception of the Other, for instance in the mind of my political foe or friend.

Sigmund Freud

It’s no wonder that when Schopenhauer is read along with some post-modern authors, his work can retrospectively yield some ground-breaking insights, of which even he was not aware.

The devil is often in the details, but harping on the details alone may often overshadow the whole.
Just because Schopenhauer was critical of Jewish monotheism, or made some critical remarks about women, should not lead us to the conclusion that he was a standard-bearer of anti-Semitism or a hater of women.
The fact that Adolf Hitler was one of his avid readers should not overshadow the fact that the father of modern psychoanalysis, the Jewish-born Austrian Sigmund Freud, learned a great deal from him on the how irrational will is expressed in sexual drive.

An Apolitical Meta-Politician
  

Der Mensch kann tun was er will; er kann aber nicht wollen was er will.’

(Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills.)
Arthur Schopenhauer

How relevant is Arthur Schopenhauer ?
Friedrich Nietzsche

At first sight Schopenhauer’s prose may be dated for our understanding of the world today.
Schopenhauer can be catalogued as a thinker of the so-called intellectual conservative revolution in so far as many thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Vilfredo Pareto, Julius Evola and others, one hundred years later, were heavily influenced by his writings.

Neither can these authors be properly understood unless the reader becomes familiar with Schopenhauer’s writings first.
Secondly, Schopenhauer’s teachings about the primacy of the will spearheading our perception of reality can also be of help in grasping the political hype-rreality of the modern liberal system.
Schopenhauer’s name is usually associated with cultural pessimism.
Nevertheless, he is far from the caricature of a suicidal author harping ceaselessly on the culture of death, as was the case with many of his 20th-century successors, including the magisterial Emile Cioran.
In his aphorisms Schopenhauer provides some handy recipes as to how to minimize a life of pain and sorrow, and how to discard the dangerous illusion of happiness.
As a fine connoisseur of human psychology, Schopenhauer justly remarks that where there is a violent outburst of joy, a disaster looms just around the corner.
It is therefore with maximum efforts that we need to curb shifts in our mood: anxiety is just the other side of ecstasy.
One must not give vent to great jubilation or to great sorrow as the changeability of all things can transfigure those at any moment.
By contrast, one must enjoy the “here and now,” possibly in a cheerful manner — this is the wisdom of life. (Die Kunst glücklich zu sein. C.H. Beck 1999, p. 56).
Schopenhauer does not deal with political treatises in his work, nor does he discuss the political sociology of the rapidly industrializing Europe, or governmental institutions of his time.
The political changes he witnessed, however dramatic they were, such as the Napoleonic wars in Europe, the rise to power of America, and the post-Napoleonic era, were of no interest to him.
Quite consistent with his misanthropic views about human nature, he stayed above the political and historical fray to the point of total disinterestedness.
Schopenhauer refuses any formula for any ontological, political, or ethical system whatsoever. Instead, he demolishes all doctrines and all systems, be they religious or political.
He resented politics, and he can be justly depicted as an “anti–intellectual” in a modern sense of the word.
For Schopenhauer, the world is fundamentally absurd, and no political philosophy can alter its absurdity.
A French theoretician of post-modernity  the philosopher Clément Rosset, is probably one of the best authors who summarized the significance of Schopenhauer for our times.

“Man has forever been successful in passing off past events for new events.
He has been thought to be able to act within free and regenerating time.
In reality, though, he has been in the arms of the cadaver.
A retrospective horror extends to his past, in which he has lived ever since, although, just like his future, that time had lapsed for good.
This time-illness, a profound source of intuition about the absence of all finality, expresses itself in the obsessive theme of repetition.” (Clément Rosset, Schopenhauer, Philosophe de l’Absurde, 1967, p. 97).

In other words, however much we may yearn to affect the flow of time, or assign it some goal or purpose, its merciless cyclical nature always bring us to further delusions and the inevitable status quo.
Nowhere is this absurd repetitive will of living visible as in man’s sexual desire – which Schopenhauer describes in his famous chapter and essay “The Metaphysics of Sex.”
Once a sexual appetite is assuaged, the will continues to manifest itself again and again in ceaseless sameness of sexual desire.
It follows from this absurd repetitiveness that the entire history of the human species is the entanglement of re-enactments.
World affairs and political decision-making are manifestations of a self-inflicted desire for something new.
Based on such perceptions of repetitive reality, Schopenhauer shows no interest in history, noting that it is always the same people who take the world stage, with the same ideas, albeit framed in a different rhetoric.
In short, his target of criticism is the philosophy of optimism, and the idea of progress which lay embedded in the eighteenth century teaching of the Enlightenment.
For Schopenhauer there is nothing new under the sun, as with every fleeting second the new becomes the old and the old becomes the new; the wheel of time turns forever.
Time for Schopenhauer is devoid of historicity, therefore, a study of some historical event, or of some political drama, is totally irrelevant.
Schopenhauer advocates the abandoning of the illusory will to create a better world..
Despite his static philosophy that rejected human and political betterment, Schopenhauer ventures often in his lengthy work into interesting and well-founded analyses, such as his brief study on the importance of heredity.
But one must be careful not to extrapolate his scattered comments on race and heredity and assume that they make up the bulk of his work.
He believed in the hereditary improvement of mankind, and some of his remarks about biological betterment are highly relevant.
Irrespective of the fact that he does not delve much into the subject of heredity, one must agree that Schopenhauer could be easily used as a weapon by modern sociobiologists or race realists.

“If we could castrate all scoundrels, and shut up all stupid geese in monasteries and give persons of noble character a whole harem and provide men, and indeed complete men, for all maidens of mind and understanding, a generation would soon arise what would produce a better age than that of Pericles” (The World as Will and Idea, p. 331, “Heredity.”)

In another context, Schopenhauer reiterated his antidemocratic-eugenic thesis:

If you want Utopian plans, I would say: the only solution to the problem is the despotism of the wise and noble members of a genuine aristocracy, a genuine nobility, achieved by mating the most magnanimous men with the cleverest and most gifted women. This proposal constitutes my Utopia and my Platonic Republic“.

Analysts have suggested that Schopenhauer’s advocacy of anti-egalitarianism and eugenics influenced the neo-aristocratic philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, who initially considered Schopenhauer his mentor.
Schopenhauer’s remarks on heredity are perfectly compatible with his teachings on the independence of the will.
Just as we can never change the predetermined nature of our genes and our genealogy, we cannot change the predetermined nature of the will:

“The only freedom that exists is of a metaphysical character. In the physical world freedom is an impossibility. .. The will itself, as something that lies beyond time, and so long as it exists at all, never changes…  Hence it is that every man achieves only that which is irrevocably established in his nature, or is born with him. (Free Will and Fatalism).

The Will vs. the Deceptive Reality

The main driving force of the entire university is the will.
Ideas, concepts and images are merely the objectification of our will at different levels of perception. 
The will is a blind force; it is subject neither to time nor to space, neither does it obey the principles of causality, nor is it subject to accidents.
In this sense Schopenhauer represents a big break with the teachings of rationalists and idealists of his time, who were enamoured with the principles of causality, and henceforth viewed necessity as a cornerstone of life on Earth.
Schopenhauer stood out as an oddity in his times which were imbued with the heritage of the Enlightenment.
The will is more important than the thought, however, at the conceptual level, as some scholars pointed out, one must carefully distinguish between the will and the instinct, as his later critical admirer and commentator, the National-Socialist Minister, Alfred Rosenberg, noted in his chapter “Will and Instinct” in his now famous book, ‘The Myth of the 20th Century’. 

“Will is always the opposite of instinct (“Trieb”), and not identical with it, as Schopenhauer seemed to teach.”

In other words contrary to Schopenhauer, Rosenberg objects that Schopenhauer uses the term “will” in an overly general manner.
Similar to Nietzsche and his followers, Rosenberg argues for the “implementation” of the free will for Promethean and political goals, while contrasting it to the primeval biological impulses which he calls the “instinct.” (Trieb).
Man is originally not a being of knowledge but a creature of instinct and will – a will that comes alive in cyclical time and in a non-linear way.
Will is the fundamental reality of the world, the ‘thing-in-itself’, and its objectification is what is visible in external phenomena, such as objects or political events that we witness daily.
In practical life the antagonism between the will and reason arises from the fact that the will is a metaphysical substance, whereas the reason is something accidental and secondary: an “appendage” to the will.
The will is an autonomous desire, that is to say, an irrational need to act or to do something.
The will is free in every single thought process and action, but it need not and generally does not follow the precepts of reason.
Unlike the majority of philosophers of his time, including Hegel, Schopenhauer does not hold reason in high regard.
Our illusions, based on self-serving perceptions, remain so entrenched despite the most sophisticated appeals to reason.
Therefore, Schopenhauer can be justly labelled as the greatest anti-rationalist philosopher of all time. Only the genius has some capacity for objectivity in so far as he can harness his will and become the pure knowing subject.
The absurdity of Schopenhauer’s “free” will is that man is enslaved by it without ever knowing its origin and reason.
Humans act but do not know why they act the way they do: apart from a few geniuses, their self perceptions are nothing more than illusions.
This leads us to a dreadful life, full of anguish on the one hand and ecstatic expectations on the other. 
The absurdity of our will is not how to reach the river and quench our thirst: the absurdity consists in the will for being thirsty !
The will has no cause and, given that it excludes causality, it does not have any necessity or purpose.
That the being is without any necessity is already a dreadful problem.
But that this very being is in addition unhappy and miserable only emphasizes the absence of a raison d’être. (Rosset, p. 16)
Schopenhauer’s theories of representation and perception can easily rank him today in the category of the founding fathers of post-modern theory of the Double and the Hyperreal.
Everything that we see is fleeting “representations” and not the actual physical phenomena.
We dream even when we are awake. 
Well, how then tell the difference between the real political truth and the fabricated political truth?
Schopenhauer is a crucial source in understanding the psychopathological impact of religions, myths and the systems of beliefs.
At times he labels them “allegories” whereas in other places he describes them as the “metaphysics of the masses” or “people’s metaphysics” (Volksmetaphysik).
Just as people have popular poetry and the popular wisdoms or proverbs, they also need popular metaphysics.
They need an interpretation of life; and this interpretation must be suited for their comprehension.
The great majority of humans have at best a weak faculty for weighing reasons and discriminating between the fact and the fiction.  Does this sound familiar?
No belief system, no ideology, no religion is immune from self-serving delusional tenets linked to false perceptions of reality, although, in due time, each of them will undergo the process of demythologization and eventually become a laughing stock for those who see the illusions underlying these delusional myths.
We can illustrate this changing masquerade of history repeating itself when observing the mindset of modern opinion makers.
People have always wished, by means of different allegories, to transcend their cursed reality and make frequent excursions into the spheres of the hyper-real  the unreal, or the surreal – in order to offset the absurdity of their existence.
It is natural that they resort to religious and ideological devices, however aberrant or criminal these allegorical devices may subsequently turn out to be.
Accordingly, the motor of religious mass mimicry, which Schopenhauer describes, is again our objectified will.
Consequently, the whole course of human life is patterned along the principle of imitation, where even the smallest thing in our perception is borrowed from that role model who is viewed now as a path-breaking innovator or a new messiah.
Mimicry is the powerful motor of the will, the theme which was later expanded by Schopenhauer’s disciples, such as Gustave Le Bon.
Intelligent individuals amidst our modern rootless masses realize that some beliefs are fraudulent and harmful, but for the sake of social conformity they accept them.
They will rather listen to others than trust their own head.
As Schopenhauer writes, the bad thing about all religions is that instead of being able to admit their allegorical nature, they conceal it.
Absurdities form an essential part of popular beliefs.
Schopenhauer’s teaching on religions, including his denunciation of the will to political power, was borrowed from the religions of Hinduism and Buddhism.
He has good words for Catholicism though, which for him is a religion of pessimism (The World as Will and Idea, p. 372).
But it would be a serious error, based on a fragmentary reading of his work, to conclude that he was rejecting one religion at the expense of the other.
Although Schopenhauer may be described as an atheist or agnostic, his sense of spirituality was very strong.
Of all religions Judaism is the worst religion, notes Schopenhauer in his famous book ‘Parerga und Paralipomena’.

“The genuine religion of the Jews … is the crudest of all religions (die roheste aller Religionen.) The ongoing contempt for Jews, amidst their contemporary peoples, may have been to a large degree due to the squalid (armsälig) qualities of their religion. … In any case the essence of any religion consists, as such, in its persuasion that it provides for us, namely that our actual existence is not only limited to our life, but that it remains timeless. The appalling (erbärmlich) Jewish region does not fulfil this; indeed, it does not even try to. … Therefore, this is the crudest and the worst of all religions consisting only in an absurd and outrageous (empörend) theism. … While all other religions endeavour to explain to the people by symbols and parables the metaphysical significance of life, the religion of the Jews is entirely immanent and furnishes nothing but a mere war-cry (Kriegsgeschrei) in the struggle with other nations” (pp. 136–137).

Some of Schopenhauer’s words about the power of the blind will can easily be applied to our post-modern times – for example, how the will to believe in something has been hijacked by liberal political elites.

The Hyperreal: The Denial and its Double

We can now jump over to the 20th and 21st century and observe how Schopenhauer’s ideas provide a good fit to the mass illusions accompanying the rising tide of the democratic mystique.
How does the will objectify itself in the political arena today ?
Politicians are inclined to project their perception of the real world into its embellished Double. Example: None of us is entirely happy with his looks; no political theorist is happy with the world as it is.
We all strive to be someone else; we all wish to project either our physique or the present political order into its loftier, distant, and more romantic substitute.
As a result, the masses, but also our politicians, assess values and objective reality not as they are, but rather as they’d like to see them.
Our passionate need for a change, as a rule, results in inevitable disappointments and feelings of betrayal.
Following Schopenhauer’s logic, it is a serious error to assume that some contemporary politician is a liar or a crook just because we feel or think that we are being cheated or oppressed by him.
More likely, such wicked political leaders are themselves the victims of self-delusions.
Their manic desire for world improvement is based on honest and self-proclaimed “scientific”, “reasonable,” and “truthful” wishful thinking, which they benevolently wish to share with us or with their subjects or constituents.
To illustrate the will for self-delusion, one may observe contemporary leftists and antifascist militants within Schopenhauer’s framework of analysis.
What they say is already based on their prior self-persuasions, which are the reflections of the prevailing beliefs of their time.
Pareto, as a valiant disciple of Schopenhauer’s methods, notes that ”many people are not socialists because they have been persuaded by reasoning. Quite the contrary; these people acquiesce to such reasoning because they are (already) socialists.”
Their will, however aberrantly it may objectify itself in the ravings for some communistic mystique, defies any empirical argument.
Schopenhauer is of paramount importance in understanding our perception of postmodern reality, or our hyperreality, as some authors call it.
The surreal world of the liberal dogma – that is, the world in which we live – fits perfectly Schopenhauer’s teaching on the flawed perception of the real.
Moreover, Schopenhauer’s work is a useful tool for deciphering liberal mendacity, which has become today the cornerstone of the new world order.
The postmodern West is enveloped in the virtual reality of the electronic age (the “video sphere”) and media make-believe, which incessantly turn every real political event into a virtual image.
How does the liberal mystique or, to use Schopenhauer’s word, ‘allegory’, operate today ?
The process that started with the abstraction of the objective, as a result of the mass media, has ended now in integral reality, as the post-modern author Jean Baudrillard writes. “The virtual itself is “negationist,” or denial-prone. The virtual takes away the substance of the real. “We are living in a society of historical denial by virtue of its virtuality.”
Disbelief reigns everywhere, even if there are solid and empirical proofs of the opposite.
No longer is some historical or political event perceived as “real” or truthful.
For instance the memory of the ‘so-called’ Holocaust functions today as the largest civic religion of the West.
This idea of a Holocaust is a system of belief serving not only a commemorative goal; it is also a cognitive paradigm for interpreting all aspects of our contemporary society.
The issue, however, is no longer the body count of people who it is suggested had died; rather, the issue is the fact that the post-modern virtual world by definition minimizes or maximizes the hyperreal at the expense of the real.
This rule of the hyper-real or the double applies now to all grand narratives, especially those teeming with victimological themes.
Even honest historians or social theorists can no longer be taken as real.  Why ?
The big post-modern question will immediately start hovering over their heads: What if that person is telling the lies ? What if he does not tell the truth ?
Victimologies, and victim-hoods no longer sound persuasive as they have found their media hyper-substitutes, which either re-enact, or deactivate the real past crime.
Therefore, the modern media and politicians must make post-prophylactic political decisions in a desperate attempt to dismantle the previous real, i.e., the previous bad decision, the previous inaction by making it up to the real victim with an overkill of repenting rhetoric and post-prophylactic decision making (massive security checks at airports, always new mass commemorations, etc.).
If the lives of the masses of people who perished cannot be restored, let us restore their memory by the hyper-real media !
Why resuscitate the living, when the resuscitation of the dead is a far better business ?
One can analyse the post-modern wars, the so-called Gulf War in 1991 and the war in Bosnia in 1995 using the concepts of the hyper-real and the double.
When these wars were televised and commented on by talking heads on TV screens, their real and horrible reality was cancelled out.
Spectators were therefore much more likely to support these wars.
Neither can our history writing be a matter of academic discussion any more.
Historical narratives about real or surreal ‘fascist crimes’ or ‘White man crimes’ or the current mantra on ‘White man guilt’ have attained a grotesque level of psychological saturation, to the point that for politically conscious Whites they soon sink into oblivion – and laughter – as they are de-constructed. 
Even if some past mass crimes are empirically verifiable, the masses will start reconstructing its negative Double — after first deconstructing its Real antecedent.
The ‘Age of Post-modernity  is basically the age of deconstruction, where no single verity can hold sway for a long time.
Here is the vicious circle of the hyper-real.
If one is encouraged to de-construct the real world and denounce political beliefs as a passing allegory, as Schopenhauer did, why not de-construct new contemporary civic religions, such the monotheism of the capitalist market or the civic religion of victim-hood ?
Spectral Verities, Viral Lies

We all live the hyper-real  as the French philosopher Rosset writes; we all crave for the Double – be it in its negative or the positive form. 
We all wish to be something we are not; the duplicate of ourselves.  “In place of the world as it is, we invent a ‘duplicate’ or a ‘double,’ a parallel universe which functions as a phantom rival to the existing world.”
The disadvantage of living in the real world is that life in it is drab, frightening, or boring; the advantage of the “doubled” life lies not only in the fact that such life does not exist, but that such life doesn’t even have to exist in order for us to believe it to be true and real! In other words, this desire for a spectral world is not so much a desire for something different, as it is a desire to get rid of the real world.
Who are the new paradigms or role models of our hyper-real post-modernity ?
Once upon a time the role model for Western man was a rugged individual, a Prometheus unbound, a war hero, a conqueror.
Today the will for the hyper-real requires his double or his denial, or better yet the “doubled denial.” 
As a result, the new role models for the West are the degenerates, the retards, the ‘non-Whites’, the pederasts, the pathetic and the perverts.
Baudrillard: “The Courtier was the most remarkable figure of the aristocratic order. The Militant was the most remarkable figure of the social and revolutionary order. The Penitent is the most remarkable figure of our advanced post-modern democratic politicians.”
But these degenerate role models are in turn subject to deconstruction, especially by proud, psychologically healthy White people who are being victimized by the legitimization of these role models.
Granted, we are witnessing the end of the big narratives, such as ‘antifascist victimology’, however, the unresolved work of mourning the real (or hyper-real  victims of fascism or racism is in full swing.
In other words, the antifascist, anti-racist war (with all its political, media and legal prohibition) continues unabated.
Even if real racism and fascism are dead and gone, they need to be resurrected in a negative doubled manner in order to give the mourners an opportunity to repent for the failed duty to prevent it from happening. Never again, never again ! — this is a  new war cry of our hyperreal discourse.
This strategy of the hyper-real “never again”, is directed not only at preventing similar events from happening again in the future – as expressed in the forms of a myriad of  memorial centers commemorating the Holocaust.
It is also meant to be a tool of unravelling  in a vicarious and imaginary way, of the real past historical disaster that befell the Jews or the non-Whites.
Likewise, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are waged today as the post-prophylactic double; indeed, they are not just the wars for stopping the terror; they are the wars for removing the past sins of the political class, which led to the real terror of the dreadful 9/11 !
The goal is now to retroactively cancel out the inflicted national disgrace and humiliation of the ruling elites.
This is why the actual wars and our public discourse all over the West are “non-events”. Never again, never again!
And this is why the hyperreal or the double are pure illusions.
They cannot last.
The violent and the objective real is waiting in the wings and it will soon take the upper hand.
Is it for real ?

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Hitler und Wagner

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013


Without Wagner would there have been a Third Reich – and what would Richard have thought about his greatest ‘fan’ – Adolf Hitler. ?
Undoubtedly much of Hitler’s weltanschauung (world view or world philosophy) was dictated by the music, librettos and writings of his favourite composer.

Adolf Hitler
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
Wilhelm Richard Wagner

Wilhelm Richard Wagner (22 May 1813 – 13 February 1883) was a German composer, theatre director, polemicist, and conductor who is primarily known for his operas (or, as some of his later works were later known, “music dramas”). Unlike most opera composers, Wagner wrote both the libretto and the music for each of his stage works. Initially establishing his reputation as a composer of works in the romantic vein of Weber and Meyerbeer, Wagner revolutionised opera through his concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk (“total work of art”), by which he sought to synthesise the poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts, with music subsidiary to drama, and which was announced in a series of essays between 1849 and 1852.

‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’

Wagner realised these ideas most fully in the first half of the four-opera cycle ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’ (The Ring of the Nibelung). His compositions, particularly those of his later period, are notable for their complex textures, rich harmonies and orchestration, and the elaborate use of leitmotifs—musical phrases associated with individual characters, places, ideas or plot elements. His advances in musical language, such as extreme chromaticism and quickly shifting tonal centres, greatly influenced the development of classical music.

In addition there was a personal element to Hitler’s connection with Wagner.



Cosima, Siegfried and Richard Wagner
Siegfried and Winifred Wagner

Of course Wagner died in 1883, and Hitler was born in 1889 – so there could be no direct, personal connection – however Wagner had  a son, Siegfried, and Siegfried, despite his homosexuality, had sons – Wolfgang and Wieland.
After the death of Siegfried Wagner in 1930, Winifred Wagner, Siegfried’s wife, took over the Bayreuth Festival, running it until the end of World War II.

Wolfgang and Wieland Wagner and Hitler
Adolf Hitler and Winifred Wagner

In 1923, Winifred met Adolf Hitler who, as we know, greatly admired Wagner’s music. 
When Hitler was jailed for his part in the Munich Beer Hall Putsch, Winifred sent him food parcels and stationery on which Hitler’s autobiography ‘Mein Kampf’ was written.
In the late 1930s, she served as Hitler’s personal translator during treaty negotiations with England.
Winifred’s relationship with Hitler grew so close that by 1933 there were rumors of impending marriage.
‘Haus Wahnfried’, the Wagner home in Bayreuth, became Hitler’s favorite retreat, and he had his own separate accommodation in the grounds of Wahnfried, known as the Führerbau.


Entrance Hall – Villa Wahnfried
The name of the villa Wahnfried, is interesting.
Wahnen means endless striving of an artist for the fulfilment of his aspirations and the triumph of his art.
So Wahnfried (Wahnen free) was the name chosen and even today we can see Wagner’s motto on the front: “Here where my delusions have found peace, let this place be named Wahnfried.”
Above the door to the villa  is a giant mural, depicting Wotan, King of the Gods and the philandering wanderer, being welcomed by classical women.
We should also note that Wotan was the name of Wagner’s beloved St Bernard dog.
The whole house was a place where Wagner could compose, raise his family and entertain guests.
The Grand Hall is the largest room in the villa, and is a two-storey space with a gallery around the second floor and a skylight in the ceiling. Furnishings include two of Wagner’s pianos and numerous busts. The specially designed Bechstein piano was the piano Wagner used when he was composing Meistersinger, part of Siegfried and Parsifal. It was a present from the endlessly patient, endlessly generous King Ludwig II for Wagner’s birthday in 1864.
In a shady grove beyond the garden, surrounded with ivy, is the tomb of Richard and Cosima Wagner. The stone is unmarked, because as Wagner insisted, as long as it remained, everyone would know who was buried there. 
But to begin at – almost – the beginning – 


The most momentous non-event of the century occurred in February of 1908.

And it occurred in Vienna to Alfred Roller. 
Today  Roller  is  not  so  much  underestimated as unknown, at  least outside a small  circle  of  opera  devotees.
Yet in 1908 he was one of the most important figures on the Viennese artistic scene. 
He  was  a  painter who, along with Gustav Klimt, organized the Vienna Se-cession.
He was also professor of fine arts and soon to be appointed director of the School of Applied Arts.
But above all he was a stage designer of great distinction.

Alfred Roller

Alfred Roller (2 October 1864, Brünn, Mähren — 21 June 1935, Vienna) was an Austrian painter, graphic designer, and set designer.

Roller’s Original Drawings for ‘Tristan’ – 1903
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

Roller at first studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna under Christian Griepenkerl and Eduard Peithner von Lichtenfels, but eventually became disenchanted with the Academy’s traditionalism. In 1897 he co-founded the Viennese Secession with Koloman Moser, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Josef Hoffmann, Gustav Klimt, and other artists who rejected the prevalent academic style of art. He became a professor of drawing at the University of Applied Arts Vienna (Kunstgewerbeschule) in 1899, and president of the Secession in 1902.
In his early career Roller was very active as a graphic designer and draughtsman.
He designed numerous covers and vignettes for the pages the Secessionist periodical Ver Sacrum, as well as the posters for the fourth, fourteenth, and sixteenth Secession exhibitions. He also designed the layout of the exhibitions themselves.
In 1902 Roller was introduced to the composer Gustav Mahler by Carl Moll. Roller expressed an interest in stage design and showed Mahler several sketches he had made for Wagner’s ‘Tristan und Isolde’. Mahler was impressed and decided to employ Roller to design the sets for a new production of the piece. The production, which premiered in February 1903, was a great critical success. Roller continued to design sets for Mahler’s productions. Eventually Roller left the Secession and his teaching post at the Kunstgewerbeschule to be appointed chief stage designer to the Vienna State Opera, a position he held until 1909.

Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt (July 14, 1862 – February 6, 1918) was an Austrian symbolist painter and one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Secession movement. Klimt is noted for his paintings, murals, sketches, and other objets d’art. Klimt’s primary subject was the female body; his works are marked by a frank eroticism. Gustav Klimt was born in Baumgarten, near Vienna in Austria-Hungary. His mother, Anna Klimt (née Finster), had an unrealized ambition to be a musical performer. His father, Ernst Klimt the Elder, formerly from Bohemia, was a gold engraver. All three of their sons displayed artistic talent early on. Klimt’s younger brothers were Ernst Klimt and Georg Klimt. Klimt became one of the founding members and president of the Wiener Sezession (Vienna Secession) in 1897 and of the group’s periodical, Ver Sacrum (“Sacred Spring”). He remained with the Secession until 1908.

Richard Wagner

In 1903, on the twentieth  anniversary of Wagner’s death, he  and Gustav Mahler initiated a cycle of the composer’s works in fresh  musical  and  visual  interpretations. 

Gustav Mahler


Gustav Mahler (7 July 1860 – 18 May 1911) was a late-Romantic Austrian composer and one of the leading conductors of his generation. His family later moved to nearby Iglau (now Jihlava), where Mahler grew up. On 8 October 1897 Mahler was formally appointed to succeed Jahn as the Hofoper’s director. Early in 1902 Mahler met Alfred Roller, an artist and designer associated with the Vienna Secession movement. A year later, Mahler appointed him chief stage designer to the Hofoper, where Roller’s debut was a new production of ‘Tristan und Isolde’. The collaboration between Mahler and Roller created more than 20 celebrated productions of, among other operas.



‘Tristan und Isolde’

The  ‘Tristan  and  Isolde’  of  that  year  marked  the first  break  with  the  Bayreuth  tradition. 

‘Tristan und Isolde’

Tristan und Isolde (Tristan and Isolde, or Tristan and Isolda, or Tristran and Ysolt) is an opera, or music drama, in three acts by Richard Wagner to a German libretto by the composer, based largely on the romance by Gottfried von Straßburg. It was composed between 1857 and 1859 and premiered in Munich on 10 June 1865 with Hans von Bülow conducting. Wagner referred to the work not as an opera, but called it “eine Handlung” (literally a drama or a plot), which was the equivalent of the term used by the Spanish playwright Calderón for his dramas.
Wagner’s composition of Tristan und Isolde was inspired by his affair with Mathilde Wesendonck and the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. Widely acknowledged as one of the peaks of the operatic repertory, Tristan was notable for Wagner’s advanced use of chromaticism, tonality, orchestral colour and harmonic suspension.

‘Der Rosenkavalier’ – Richard Strauss

That  production and  those  that  followed  –  in  particular  the premiere of ‘Der Rosenkavalier’ in 1911 made him the world’s most talked-about operatic producer.

In that first week of February, Roller received a letter  from  a  friend  declaring  that  a  young  man  of her acquaintance  was  a  great  admirer  of  his. 
The  lad  was an aspiring painter and loved opera; he would give anything, she  wrote,  to  meet  Roller  to  discuss  his  professional  prospects,  either  in  painting  or  in  stage  design.
Despite his heavy commitments, Roller generously agreed to meet him, take a look at some of his work and advise him on a career.

Young Hitler

The young man was overjoyed, and a short time later, with Roller’s reply and a portfolio of  his  works  in  hand,  went  to  the  opera  house. 

On reaching the entrance, so he later said, he got cold feet and  left. 
A  short  time  later  he  summoned  up  his  courage, returned and this time made it as far as the grand staircase, when he again took fright.
On a third occasion he was well on his way to Roller’s office when an opera house  attendant  asked  his  business. 
At  that,  he  turned on  his  heels  and  fled  for  good.
Now young Adolf was not a naturally timid young man – so what was it that prevented him from meeting Roller.
Was there some force, that prevented him from taking the critical that would have decisively changed world history ? 
But  he  never  forgot  the gesture, and  when  he  finally met Roller in 1934, he told him  the  story. 
The  young man was  now  chancellor of Germany.
If  only,  history  sighs, Roller and  Hitler  had  met in 1908 and Hitler had been taken on as an assistant at the opera, or enrolled at  the School  of  Applied  Arts. 
As Hitler himself remarked to his personal staff in 1942: ‘Without  a  recommendation  it  was  impossible  to  get anywhere  in  Austria.  When  I  came  to  Vienna  I  had  a recommendation to Roller. But I never made use of it. If I had gone to him with it, he would have taken me right off.  But  I  do  not  know  whether  that  would  have  been better  for  me.  Certainly  everything  would  have  been much easier. And  much  different.‘ 
In  any  event  Hitler  never  lost his admiration of Roller.
When Winifred Wagner decided in 1933 to stage a new production of Richard Wagner’s ‘Parsifal’ at Bayreuth – the  first  since  the  original  of  1882  –  Hitler, not unnaturally   proposed Roller to do it, although he had other, more obscure reasons for making that request (see below) and she agreed.

Winifred Wagner

Winifred Wagner (23 June 1897 – 5 March 1980) was an English woman and wife of Siegfried Wagner, Richard Wagner’s son. She was the effective head of the Wagner family from 1930 to 1945.
In 1923, Winifred met Adolf Hitler, who greatly admired Wagner’s music. When Hitler was jailed for his part in the Munich Beer Hall Putsch, Winifred sent him food parcels and stationery on which Hitler’s autobiography Mein Kampf may have been written. In the late 1930s, she served as Hitler’s personal translator during treaty negotiations with Britain.
Her relationship with Hitler grew so close that by 1933 there were rumors of impending marriage. Haus Wahnfried, the Wagner home in Bayreuth, became Hitler’s favorite retreat. Hitler gave the festival government assistance and tax exempt status, and treated Winifred’s children solicitously.
She corresponded with Hitler for nearly two decades. Scholars have not been allowed to see the letters which are kept locked away by one of Winifred’s grandchildren, Amélie Lafferentz.

Haus Wahnfried – Führerbau

Wahnfried was the name given by Richard Wagner to his villa in Bayreuth. The name is a German compound of Wahn (delusion, madness) and Fried(e), (peace, freedom).
The house was constructed from 1872 to 1874 under Carl Wölfel’s supervision after plans from Berlin architect Wilhelm Neumann, the plans being altered according to some ideas of Wagner. The front of the house shows Wagner’s motto “Hier wo mein Wähnen Frieden fand – Wahnfried – sei dieses Haus von mir benannt.” (“Here where my delusions have found peace, let this place be named Wahnfried.”)
The grave of Richard Wagner and his wife Cosima lies on the grounds of Wahnfried. An extension to the house was built for Wagner’s son, Siegfried Wagner, and was later used by Hitler and was known as the Führerbau

So how did it all start ?
Hitler’s love affair with Wagnerian opera had begun in Linz in 1901 when at the age of twelve he attended his first opera.


Stadtwappen Linz
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
Linz – 1900

Linz is the third-largest city of Austria and capital of the state of Upper Austria (German: Oberösterreich).
IAdolf Hitler was born in the border town of Braunau am Inn but moved to Linz in his childhood. Hitler spent most of his youth in the Linz area, from 1898 until 1907, when he left for Vienna. The family lived first in the village of Leonding on the outskirts of town, and then on the Humboldtstrasse in Linz. After elementary education in Leonding, Hitler was enrolled in the Realschule (school) in Linz with the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.  To the end of his life, Hitler considered Linz to be his “home town”, and envisioned extensive architectural schemes for it, wanting it to become the main cultural centre of the Third Reich.

The  performance  was  of  ‘Lohengrin’ and, as he later wrote in Mein Kampf,
I was captivated at once. My youthful enthusiasm for the Master of Bayreuth  knew  no  bounds. 
Again  and  again  I  was drawn  to  his  works  .  .  .  .’ 
From  that  moment  the  lad found himself addicted, literally so, to Wagner’s operas.
The  composer’s  musical  and  intellectual  influence  in Central  Europe  was  then  at  its  zenith,  and  Hitler  em-braced the cult as devoutly as anyone.

‘Gustl’ Kubizek
Linz Opera House

During the years following  the  ecstasy  of  that  first  ‘Lohengrin’  performance, Hitler returned to the Linz Opera house night after night.

It was there that he eventually met another opera enthusiast,  August  Kubizek. 

August (“Gustl”) Kubizek (3 August 1888, Linz – 23 October 1956, Eferding) was a close friend of Adolf Hitler when both were in their late teens. He later wrote about their friendship.





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© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

The  slightly older August, although  training  to  follow  in  the  footsteps  of  his  father as  an  upholsterer, was a serious  amateur  musician, able to play several stringed and brass instruments.
In a short time he became the sole friend of Hitler’s youth.
It was  not  simply  the  mutual  interest  in  opera  that  drew them  together  but  the  compliant  Kubizek’s willingness – an absolute requisite for everyone else later as well – to listen in tacit agreement or at least silence as the domineering ‘Adi’ expatiated on whatever caught his fancy.

Albert Speer

According  to  Hitler’s  comments  to  Speer,  the two  young  men  spent  hours  wandering  through  the streets of Linz as he rambled on about music, architecture  and  the  importance  of  the  arts. 


Berthold Konrad Hermann Albert Spee – March 19, 1905 – September 1, 1981 – was a German architect who was, for a part of World War II, Minister of Armaments and War Production for the Third Reich. Speer was Adolf Hitler’s chief architect before assuming ministerial office.







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On  visiting  Vienna for the first time in 1906, it was to Kubizek that he wrote.

Vienna Opera House

Tomorrow I am going to the opera, ‘Tristan’, and the day after  ‘Flying  Dutchman’,  etc.,’  he  reported  soon  after  arriving. 
Later the same day he dispatched  a  second postcard  of  the  opera  house  on  which  he  had  written grandiloquently:
The interior of the edifice is not exciting. If the exterior is mighty  majesty,  lending  the  building  the  seriousness  of an artistic monument, one feels in the interior admiration rather  than dignity.
Only when the mighty sound waves flow through  the  auditorium  and  when  the  whisperings of the wind give way to the terrible roaring of the sound waves does one feel the grandeur and forget the surfeit of gold and velvet covering the interior

Academy  of  Fine  Arts – Vienna


On  settling  in  Vienna  the  following  year,  he  persuaded Kubizek,  who  had  been  admitted  to  the  Music  Conservatory,  to  join  him  there. 

The  two lived together until 1908 when Hitler, following the humiliation of his second rejection  by  the  Academy  of  Fine  Arts,  suddenly  vanished from his companion’s life.
Beyond his Wagnermania,  little  is  known  for  certain  about  Hitler’s youthful  activities. 
He  sang  in  a  church  choir at Lambach Abbey (Stift Lambach) – a Benedictine monastery in Lambach in Austria.




Stift Lambach

A monastery was founded in about 1040 by Count Arnold II of Lambach-Wels. His son, Bishop Adalbero of Würzburg (later canonised), changed the monastery into a Benedictine abbey ten year later. Since 1056 it has been a Benedictine abbey. During the 17th and 18th centuries a great deal of work in the Baroque style was carried out, much of it by the Carlone family. Lambach escaped the dissolution of the monasteries of Emperor Joseph II in the 1780s. In 1897/98 Adolf Hitler had lived in the town of Lambach (with his parents). He went to the secular Volksschule at which Benedictine teachers were employed. 
Hitler had seen several swastikas each day as a boy in Lambach, when he attended the Benedictine monastery school, which was decorated with carved stones and woodwork that included the symbol.

Paula Hitler
Klara Hitler



On  leaving school,  the young Adolf  joined  a  music  club,  and  took  piano  lessons from October 1906 until the end of the following January from  a  man  named  Josef  Prawratsky. 

He  soon  quit because of  lack  of  money  as  a  result  of  the  expense  of  his mother’s  cancer  treatments, however,  his  sister  Paula recalled him ‘sitting for hours at the beautiful Heitzmann grand piano my mother had given him’.






Hitler’s Heitzmann 

Klara Hitler née Pölzl (12 August 1860 – 21 December 1907) was an Austrian woman, and the mother of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.

Paula Hitler (Paula Wolf)[1] (21 January 1896 in Hafeld, Austria – 1 June 1960 in Berchtesgaden) was the younger sister of Adolf Hitler and the last child of Alois Hitler and his third wife, Klara Pölzl. Paula was the only full sibling of Adolf Hitler to survive into adulthood.

In later years he occasionally  played  –  according  to  Winifred  Wagner fairly well – but what he played remains a mystery.

Kubizek’s  1954  book, ‘Young  Hitler’ indicates  that Hitler had a fairly solid musical background.

Anton Bruckner

Hitler  was  devoted  to  the  works  of  Haydn,  Mozart  and Beethoven as well as Bruckner, Weber, Schubert, Mendelssohn,  Schumann  and  Grieg, and he  was  especially fond of Mozart and of Beethoven’s violin and piano concertos, and above  all  Schumann’s  piano  concerto.

The assertion that Hitler read Wagner’s prose  writings  and  everything  else  he  could  get  his hands  on by or about Wagner is contradicted by Franz Jetzinger, librarian at the Linz archive, that Hitler  did  no  serious  reading  at  all  at  the  time – however this has been strongly disputed (see below).

Brigitte Hamann

Franz Jetzinger (3 December 1882 in Ranshofen in Upper Austria – 19 March 1965 in Ottensheim in Upper Austria) was an Austrian clergyman, academic, politician, civil servant, editor and author. He remains especially famous as author of the book ‘Hitler’s Youth’
Jetzinger gained fame in 1958 through the English version of his book ‘Hitler’s Youth’, in which he could refute many of Hitler’s statements about his early years. Moreover, Jetzinger attracted attention by attacking an earlier published book ‘The Young Hitler I Knew’ by August Kubizek, whom Jetzinger accused of spreading falsehoods. While earlier Hitler biographers like Joachim Fest or Werner Maser adopted Jetzinger’s criticism as their own, Jetzinger’s crushing judgment of Kubizek’s credibility is now challenged by Brigitte Hamann, author of ‘Hitlers Wien’. Hamann asserts personal motives for Jetzinger’s tendency to illustrate nearly every statement in Kubizek’s book as an ex post modification of facts, claiming Jetzinger was economically motivated, because the previous release of Kubizek’s book supposedly undermined the sale of his own work. Many of Jetzinger’s statements have now been disscredited.

The  young  Hitler  was  undoubtedly  enthralled  by  Wagner’s  music and he was ‘transported into that extraordinary state which Wagner’s  music  produced  in  him,  that  trance,  that  escape into a mystical dream-world . . . . . . a changed man; his violence  left  him,  he  became  quiet,  yielding  and  tracta-ble . . . . intoxicated and bewitched . . . . . . willing to let himself be carried away into a mystical universe . . . . . . from  the  stale,  musty  prison  of  his  back  room,  trans-ported into the blissful regions of Germanic antiquity . . .‘ according to Kubizek.

Wieland  der Schmied

According to some sources Hitler wrote an opera, based on a prose sketch which Wagner had  developed,  but  abandoned,  entitled  ‘Wieland  der Schmied’ (Wieland the Blacksmith).
An entire chapter is devoted  to  the  story  and  tells  how  the  young  Hitler worked  out  leitmotifs,  a  cast  of  characters,  a  plot,  a dramatic  structure  and  a  rough  score. 

Even  after  the passage  of  forty-five  years,  Kubizek  was able to  recall  the  specific  names,  all  old-Teutonic,  of the characters. 
Within three days of conceiving  the  idea  of  the  opera,  Hitler  had  already  composed an  overture  –  in  Wagnerian  style  –  which  he  played for his  friend  on  the  piano  in  their  completely  darkened room. 
Eventually  there was produced a very serious sketch  for  a music drama  with Adolf  Hitler  as  its  composer.

In Germanic and Norse mythology, Wayland the Smith (Old English: Wēland; Old Norse: Völundr, Velentr; Old High German: Wiolant; Proto-Germanic: *Wēlandaz, from *Wēla-nandaz, lit. “battle-brave”) is a legendary master blacksmith. In Old Norse sources, Völundr appears in Völundarkviða, a poem in the Poetic Edda, and in Þiðrekssaga, and his legend is also depicted on the Ardre image stone VIII. In Old English sources, he appears in Deor, Waldere and in Beowulf and the legend is depicted on the Franks Casket. He is mentioned in the German poems about Dietrich von Bern as the Father of Witige.

National Socialist Symphony Orchestra

Kubizek also explains how Hitler dreamed up the  idea  of  a  ‘Mobile  Reichs Orchestra’ – or ‘Reich Symphony  Orchestra’  –  which was to tour German  provinces  and  perform  without charge. 

In 1928 an orchestra dedicated to  promoting National Socialist ideals was  organized and in 1931 it became, with Hitler’s approval, a travelling National Socialist Symphony Orchestra.

By  far  the  best  known  of  Kubizek’s  stories  relates to ‘Rienzi’.

Rienzi

Following  a  performance  at  the  Linz Opera of Wagner’s ‘Rienzi’, Hitler ascended to a  high  place  –  the  Freinberg  Hill  overlooking  the  city  – where he experienced an ideological epiphany.

‘Rienzi, der Letzte der Tribunen’ (Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes) is an early opera by Richard Wagner in five acts, with the libretto written by the composer after Bulwer-Lytton’s novel of the same name (1835). Written between July 1838 and November 1840, it was first performed at the Hofoper, Dresden, on 20 October 1842, and was the composer’s first success.
The opera is set in Rome and is based on the life of Cola di Rienzi (1313–1354), a late medieval Italian populist figure who succeeds in outwitting and then defeating the nobles and their followers and in raising the power of the people.


Inspired by  the  hero  of  the  opera,  a  simple  man  driven  by  a sense  of  mission  to  restore greatness  to  Rome,  Hitler fell  into  a  state  of  ‘complete  ecstasy  and  rapture’  and declared that he too was destined to lead his people to greatness. 
Kubizek  went on to  say  that  he  mentioned the episode to Hitler when they met in Bayreuth in 1939 and found that he recalled it.
In that hour it began,’ the Führer commented.
And it is a story that is anchored  in  fact
One  fact  is  that  the  opera  was  actually performed  at  the  local  opera  house  beginning  in  January  1905. 
Another  is  that  this  is  a   case  where  the book  and  the  ‘Reminiscences’  are  consistent.
When  a  skeptical  Jetzinger  read  that  passage  and  challenged  it,  Kubizek responded  in  evident  dudgeon,  ‘The  experience  after  ‘Rienzi’  really  happened.’ 
But  most  telling  is  Hitler’s  own testimony  to  Speer  in  1938,  a  full  year  before  Kubizek raised  the  topic  at  Bayreuth. 
Explaining  why  the  party rallies  opened  with  the  overture  to  the  opera,  he said it was  not  simply  because of the impressiveness of the music  but  also  because  it  had  great  personal  significance.
Listening to this blessed music as a young man in  the  opera  at  Linz,  I  had  the  vision  that  I  too  must some  day  succeed  in  uniting  the  German  empire  and making  it  great  once  more.’ 

Anschluß – 1938

Upon  the  annexation  of Austria,  Hitler  publicly  expressed  identical  sentiments, without the personal reference to ‘Rienzi’, telling an audience  in  Vienna,
‘I  believe  it  was  God’s  will  to  send  a youth  from  here  into  the  Reich,  to  let  him  grow  up,  to raise him to be the leader of the nation so as to enable him to lead his homeland back into the Reich’.

The Anschluß (German for “connection” or union), also known as the Anschluss Österreichs, was the reunion of Austria with the Third Reich in 1938.
With the Anschluß, the German-speaking Republic of Austria ceased to exist as a fully independent state.

In some sense,  then,  the  ‘Rienzi’  experience  marked  the  primal scene of his political career. 

Wilhelm Furtwängler

Hitler’s love of music was intense, – fanatical even.

But as in painting, his taste  was limited  to a specific  type.
Wilhelm Furtwängler learned this to his shock at a long meeting with the Führer in  August  1933. 

Wilhelm Furtwängler (January 25, 1886 – November 30, 1954) was a German conductor and composer. He is widely considered to have been one of the greatest symphonic and operatic conductors of the 20th century.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Furtwängler became one of the leading conductors in Europe, as principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic from 1922, as principal conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra from 1922–26, and as a major guest conductor of other leading orchestras such as the Vienna Philharmonic. He was the leading conductor who remained in Germany during the Second World War.


Music, Hitler left him in no  doubt, meant opera, and  opera  meant Wagner and Puccini.


Giacomo Puccini

Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini (22 December 1858 – 29 November 1924), generally known as Giacomo Puccini, was an Italian composer whose operas are among the most frequently performed in the standard repertoire.
Puccini has been called “the greatest composer of Italian opera after Verdi”. While his early work was rooted in traditional late-19th-century romantic Italian opera, he successfully developed his work in the ‘realistic’ verismo style, of which he became one of the leading exponents.


Symphonies – initially – held little interest, and chamber  music  none  at  all. 

There  is  no  record  of  his ever  having  attended  a  chamber  concert  or a lieder recital.
His attendance at symphony concerts was increasingly rare as time passed and, when chancellor, he seldom  appeared  except  on  ceremonial  occasions. 

Hitler Listening to Records

He wanted music to be readily available, however, and after 1933 built  up a large collection of  phonograph  recordings at the Chancellery in Berlin, at the Berghof, on his  train and, later on, at his military  headquarters  on the Eastern front.

According to all accounts, these were outstanding  in  quality  and  quantity,  and  the  playing equipment  was  excellent. 
In  the  evenings  he  enjoyed hearing   short   excerpts and dramatic highlights of favourite  pieces.
Christa Schroeder

He  would  then  sit  back,’  according  to Christa Schroeder, and listen with his eyes closed.

Christa Schroeder (born Emilie Christine Schroeder; March 19, 1908 – June 18, 1984) was one of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler’s personal secretaries before and during World War II.

It was always the same recordings that  were  played,  and  usually  the  guests knew  the  number  of  the  record  by  heart. 
When  Hitler said,  for  example,  ‘Aida,  last  act: ‘The  fatal  stone  upon me now is closing’, then one of the guests would shout the  catalogue  number  to  a  member  of  the  household staff.

Record number one-hundred-whatever.
Aida – Giuseppe Verdi

’‘Before  long,’ according to Speer, ‘the  order of the re-cords became virtually fixed.

First he wanted a few bra-vura  selections  from  Wagnerian  operas,  to  be  followed promptly  with  operettas.’ 
All the while he would try to guess the  names of  the  singers  and, as Speer remarked, ‘was  pleased  when  he  guessed  right,  as  he frequently did’.

Aida – sometimes spelled Aïda – is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni, based on a scenario often attributed to French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette. Aida was first performed at the Khedivial Opera House in Cairo on 24 December 1871, conducted by Giovanni Bottesini.

Hitler was not genuinely fond of Beethoven and, as  time  passed,  his  attendance  at  performances  of  his symphonies was usually confined to official events.
This was  awkward. 

Ludwig van Beethoven

Traditionally  Germans  looked upon Beethoven   along   with   Goethe,   Rembrandt   and   Shakespeare as the supreme figures of modern Western culture. 

Unlike  the  others,  however,  Beethoven  was  never just  a  cultural  figure,  but  also  an  ideological  symbol,  invoked   by   every   political   movement.  
National Socialists, Rosenberg  in  particular,  claimed  the  composer  as  an Aryan  hero –  and  his  music  as  an elixir that would contribute to the nation’s renewal.

Ludwig van Beethoven (baptized 17 December 1770 – 26 March 1827) was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential of all composers. His best known compositions include 9 symphonies, 5 concertos for piano, 32 piano sonatas, and 16 string quartets. He also composed other chamber music, choral works (including the celebrated Missa Solemnis), and songs.

In his speeches Hitler consequently felt obliged to give the composer his due, but his praise rarely rose above the perfunctory. 

Richard Wagner

So if Hitler had his Wagner, the Party had its Beethoven. 

When  Hitler  ‘entertained’  on  state  occasions,  Wagner  was  performed;  when  the  party  ‘entertained’  on  party  occasions  Beethoven  was  played. 
And played  he  was,  more  often  than  any  other  symphonic composer. 
His  works,  above  all  the  Ninth  Symphony, were  the  pre-eminent  musical  set  pieces  for  important occasions.
When Hitler wanted to impress state visitors, he  hauled  them  off  to  a  gala  performance  of  a  Wagnerian  opera. 
Miklós Horthy

In  1938,  anxious  to  gain  Hungarian  support for his impending dismemberment of Czechoslova-kia;  he  invited  the  Prince  Regent,  Admiral  Horthy, to make a state visit.

Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya (German: Nikolaus von Horthy und Nagybánya; 18 June 1868 – 9 February 1957) was regent of the Kingdom of Hungary during the years between World Wars I and II and throughout most of World War II, serving from 1 March 1920 to 15 October 1944. He was styled “His Serene Highness the Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary” (Ő Főméltósága a Magyar Királyság Kormányzója).

The social high point of the occasion was  a  stunning  performance  of  ‘Lohengrin’  –  a  rather tactless  choice  considering  the  opera  opens  with  a call to arms to defend Germany from the Hungarian invader.
The following year Prince Paul, Prince Regent of Yugoslavia,  was  invited  to  Berlin  for  similar  reasons, in  this case  the  imminent  invasion  of  Poland. 
He  was  treated to  the  happier  ‘Meistersinger  von  Nürnberg’. 

Adolf Hitler and Prince Paul of Yugoslavia

Prince Paul of Yugoslavia, also known as Paul Karađorđević (Павле Карађорђевић, – 27 April 1893 – 14 September 1976), was regent of Yugoslavia during the minority of King Peter II. Peter was the eldest son of his first cousin Alexander I. His title in Yugoslavia was “Његово Краљевско Височанство, Кнез Намесник”, (His Royal Highness The Prince Regent). In 1939, Prince Paul, as acting head of state, accepted an official invitation from Adolf Hitler and spent 9 days in Berlin.

Hitler apparently believed that   outstanding   musical performances – like his  magnificent  works  of  architecture – would  leave  foreign  leaders  in  awe  of  the  greatness  of the Third Reich and incline them to support his policies.
Brahms  he  did  not  like. 

Hans  Severus  Ziegler

Hitler’s  admirers,  such as  Hans  Severus  Ziegler  and  Furtwängler,  traced  his antipathy  to  the  old  rivalry  between  the  Brahms  and Bruckner  camps  in  Vienna. 

Hans Severus Ziegler (13 October 1893 – 1 May 1978) was a German publicist, intendant, teacher and National Socialist Party official. A leading cultural director under the Nazis, he was closely associated with the censorship and cultural co-ordination of the Third Reich.
Ziegler played a leading role in promoting the Nazi vision of culture, particularly with regards to “degenerate” music. He was a strong critic of atonality, dismissing it as decadent “cultural Bolshevism”


In  an  attempt  to  have  him overlook  history,  and  concentrate  on  the  music,  they persuaded  him  to  attend  a  concert  of  the  Berlin  Philharmonic,  which  included  the  Brahm’s  Fourth  Symphony. 
But  when  he  blithely  commented  afterwards, ‘Well,  Furtwängler  is  such  a  good  conductor  that under such a baton even Brahms is impressive,’ they admitted defeat.

Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms (7 May 1833 – 3 April 1897) was a German composer and pianist.
Born in Hamburg into a Lutheran family, Brahms spent much of his professional life in Vienna, Austria, where he was a leader of the musical scene. In his lifetime, Brahms’s popularity and influence were considerable; following a comment by the nineteenth-century conductor Hans von Bülow, he is sometimes grouped with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven.


Richard Strauss

Unfortunately  the  record  is  silent  on  what  Hitler thought  of  Richard Strauss’s  operas,  or  even  which  ones  he knew.

Richard Georg Strauss (11 June 1864 – 8 September 1949) was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known for his operas, which include ‘Der Rosenkavalier’ and ‘Salome’; his lieder, especially his ‘Four Last Songs’; and his tone poems and other orchestral works, such as ‘Death and Transfiguration’, ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’, ‘An Alpine Symphony’, and ‘Metamorphosen’. Strauss was also a prominent conductor throughout Germany and Austria.
Strauss represents the late flowering of German Romanticism after Richard Wagner, in which pioneering subtleties of orchestration are combined with an advanced harmonic style.


Salome – Franz von Stuck
The story that Hitler begged money from relatives to  attend  the  Austrian  premiere  of  ‘Salome’  in  Graz  in May 1906, an event that also drew most of the eminent composers  of  the  day,  is possibly apocryphal.

Salome, Op. 54, is an opera in one act by Richard Strauss to a German libretto by the composer, based on Hedwig Lachmann’s German translation of the French play Salomé by Oscar Wilde. Strauss dedicated the opera to his friend Sir Edgar Speyer.
The opera is famous (at the time of its premiere, infamous) for its “Dance of the Seven Veils”. It is now better known for the more shocking final scene (often a concert-piece for dramatic sopranos), where Salome declares her love to – and kisses – the severed head of John the Baptist.


Not until after the Anschluss  in  1938  did  he  even  visit  the  Vienna.
Hitler  liked the  best known  operas  of  Verdi  and  Puccini. 
In  fact,  a performance  of  ‘Madama  Butterfly’  at  the  Berlin  Volksoper in 1937 left him so delighted that he decided then and there to donate 100,000 marks a year to the opera company.

Heinrich  Hoffmann

Even so, when once attending a performance of  ‘La  Boheme’,  what  he  talked  about  during  the  intermissions  was  Wagner  and  Bayreuth.

Otherwise  there were  few  if  any  non-German  composers  whose  works he  could  abide. 
According  to  Heinrich  Hoffmann,  he especially  disliked  Stravinsky  and  Prokofiev,  and  when Hoffmann’s   daughter,   Henriette   von   Schirach,   presented  him  with  a  recording  of  Tchaikovsky’s  Sixth Symphony, he brusquely refused to listen to it.

Heinrich Hoffmann (September 12, 1885 – December 11, 1957) was a German photographer best known for his many published photographs of Adolf Hitler.  Hoffmann married Therese “Lelly” Baumann, who was very fond of Hitler, in 1911, their daughter Henriette (“Henny”) was born on February 3, 1913 and followed by a son, Heinrich (“Heini”) on October 24, 1916. Henriette married Reichsjugendführer (National Hitler Youth commander) Baldur von Schirach, who provided introductions to many of Hoffmann’s picture books, in 1932. Therese Hoffmann died a sudden and unexpected death in 1928. Hoffmann and his second wife Erna introduced his Munich studio assistant Eva Braun to Hitler. Braun later became Hitler’s female companion.

Anton Brukner

Hitler liked his music to be melodic, euphonious and accessible.

Hitler’s    taste    underwent    several    significant changes,  however. 
During  most  of  his  life,  Bruckner held little appeal.

Anton Bruckner (4 September 1824 – 11 October 1896) was an Austrian composer known for his symphonies, masses, and motets. The first are considered emblematic of the final stage of Austro-German Romanticism because of their rich harmonic language, strongly polyphonic character, and considerable length. Bruckner’s compositions helped to define contemporary musical radicalism, owing to their dissonances, unprepared modulations, and roving harmonies.
Unlike other musical radicals, such as Richard Wagner or Hugo Wolf who fit the ‘enfant terrible‘ mould, Bruckner showed extreme humility before other musicians, Wagner in particular. This apparent dichotomy between Bruckner the man and Bruckner the composer hampers efforts to describe his life in a way that gives a straightforward context for his music.


Hoffmann did not so much as mention the  composer’s  name  when  once  identifying  Hitler’s favourites.
Even  after  becoming  chancellor,  Speer  noted, his interest ‘never seemed very marked’.
The composer had,  however,  symbolic  importance  to  him,  both  as  a ‘home town boy’ and as a rival to Brahms, so beloved in Vienna.
It  was  a  fixed  part  of  the  Nuremberg  rallies  for the cultural session to open with a movement of one of his  symphonies. 

Hitler at the Regensburg Valhalla

In  June  1937  he  was  famously  photographed  paying  his  respects  to  the  composer,  standing in  mute  homage  before  a  monument  at  ‘Valhalla  hall of   fame’   near   Regensburg   as   Siegmund   von Hausegger  and  the  Munich  Philharmonic  played the magnificent Adagio   of   the   Seventh   Symphony.   
Why  Hitler  staged  that  event  is  not  known. 

Speculation  has ranged from the theory that it was intended as a cultural precursor of the annexation of Austria the following year, to the notion that it was out of nostalgia for his ‘beautiful time  as  a  choirboy’  and Lembach Abbey – with  its  Bruckner associations.
Undoubtedly  the  Hitler  felt  a  personal   kinship.
Both   had   come   from   small   Austrian towns,  grew  up  in  modest  circumstances,  had  fathers who  died  at  an  early  age,  were  autodidacts,  and  made their way in life despite great obstacles.
On a number of occasions   he   contrasted   the   Austrian   Catholic Bruckner,  whom  the  Viennese  shunned,  to  the north   German   Protestant   Brahms,   whom   they idolized. 
Then,  suddenly  in  1940  he  developed  a passion   for   Bruckner’s   symphonies.

Dr Paul Joseph Goebbels

He   even began  mentioning  him  in  the  same  breath  with  Wagner.

He told me,’ Goebbels noted in his diary, ‘… that it was only now during the war, that he had learned to like him  at  all.’ 
The  enthusiasm  steadily  grew.

Paul Joseph Goebbels (29 October 1897 – 1 May 1945) was a German politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. He one of Adolf Hitler’s closest associates and most devout followers.

By 1942  he  placed  Bruckner  on  a  level  with  Beethoven, and categorized the former’s Seventh Symphony as ‘one   of   the   most   splendid   manifestations   of German   musical   creativity,   the   equivalent   of Beethoven’s   Ninth’.
His   feelings   about   Bruckner,  man  and  composer,  are  best  conveyed  by  remarks  he  made  after  listening  to  a  recording  of  the first   movement   of   the  Seventh  at  his  military headquarters in January 1942:
‘Those  are  pure  popular  melodies  from  Upper Austria,  nothing  taken  over  literally  but   ländler  and  so  on  that  I  know  from  my youth. What the man made out of this primitive material ! In this case it was a priest who deserves well for having supported a great master.

Bruckner Organ – St Florian 

The bishop  of  Linz  sat  for hours  alone  in  the  cathedral  when  Bruckner,  the greatest organist of his time, played the organ.

One can imagine how difficult it was for a small peasant lad when he  went  to  Vienna,  that  urbanized,  debauched  society.
A  remark  by  him  about  Brahms,  which  a  newspaper recently  carried,  brought  him  closer  to  me:  Brahms’s music  is  quite  lovely,  but  he  preferred  his  own. 
That  is the healthy selfconfidence of a peasant who is modest but  when  it  came  down  to  it  knew  how  to  promote  a cause  when  it  was  his  own. 
That  critic  Hanslick  made his  life  in  Vienna  hell.
But  when  he  could  no  longer  be ignored,  he  was  given  honours  and  awards.
But  what could  he  do  with  those? 
It  was  his  creative activity that should have been made easier.
Brahms  was  praised  to  the  heavens.’
From  then  on  Hitler  did  everything  possible  to  promote Bruckner  and  to  enlist  him  in  his  vendetta  against Vienna.
St  Florian,  where  the  composer’s  career  had  begun, was to be turned into a pilgrimage site in the manner  of  Bayreuth.
He  wants  to  establish  a  new  cultural centre  here,’  Goebbels  noted.  ‘Simply  as  a  counter-weight to Vienna, which must gradually be shoved aside .  .  .  .  He  intends  to  renovate  St  Florian  at  his  own  expense.
Accordingly, Hitler financed a centre of Bruckner studies  there,  had  the  famous  organ  repaired  and  augmented  the  composer’s  library.
He  even  designed  a monument in his honour to stand in Linz, and endowed a Bruckner  Orchestra  which  he  was  determined  to  make one of the world’s best.
The publication of the Haas edition  of  the  composer’s  original  scores  was  subsidized from  his  own  funds.
And  he  dreamed  of  constructing a bell tower in Linz with a carillon that would play a theme from the Fourth Symphony.

Franz Lehar

An even more startling transformation in Hitler’s musical  taste  was  a  growing  passion  for  operetta,  in particular Franz Lehar’s  ‘Die lustige Witwe’

Franz Lehár (30 April 1870 – 24 October 1948) was an Austro-Hungarian composer. He is mainly known for his operettas of which the most successful and best known is The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe).
Hitler enjoyed Lehár’s music, and hostility diminished across Germany after Goebbels’s intervention on Lehár’s part. The National Socialist regime was aware of the uses of Lehár’s music for propaganda purposes: concerts of his music were given in occupied Paris in 1941. Even so, Lehár’s influence was limited.

‘Die lustige Witwe’ is an operetta by the Austro–Hungarian composer Franz Lehár. The librettists, Viktor Léon and Leo Stein, based the story – concerning a rich widow, and her countrymen’s attempt to keep her money in the principality by finding her the right husband – on an 1861 comedy play, L’attaché d’ambassade (The Embassy Attaché) by Henri Meilhac.

The operetta has enjoyed extraordinary international success since its 1905 premiere in Vienna and continues to be frequently revived and recorded. Film and other adaptations have also been made. Well-known music from the score includes the “Vilja Song”, “Da geh’ ich zu Maxim” (“You’ll Find Me at Maxim’s”), and the “Merry Widow Waltz”.



.

There was a remarkable  irony  in  this.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss’s  ‘Fledermaus’

Although  Hitler  almost  always avoided  mentioning  the  names  of  contemporary  composers  and  their  works,  in  speeches  in  1920  and  1922 he  singled  out  ‘Die lustige Witwe’   as  a  pre-eminent  example  of  artistic  kitsch.

There  is  no  way  of  knowing when he changed his mind.
But some time in the 1930s that very opera became one of his favourites.
He never missed   a   new   production   of   either   that   or   Johann Strauss’s  ‘Fledermaus’,  and  drew  large  sums  from  his private  account  for  lavish  new  stagings.

Johann Strauss II (October 25, 1825 – June 3, 1899), also known as Johann Baptist Strauss or Johann Strauss, Jr., the Younger, or the Son (German: Sohn), was an Austrian composer of light music, particularly dance music and operettas. He composed over 400 waltzes, polkas, quadrilles, and other types of dance music, as well as several operettas and a ballet. In his lifetime, he was known as “The Waltz King”, and was largely then responsible for the popularity of the waltz in Vienna during the 19th century.
Among his operettas, ‘Die Fledermaus’ and ‘Der Zigeunerbaron’ are the best known.

Eventually  Hitler  came  to  revere  Lehar  as  one of  the  greatest  of  composers.

Reichskulturkammer
Reich  Culture  Chamber – RKK
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So thrilled was he upon meeting the composer in 1936 at a session  of  the Reichskulturkammer that  he  talked about  the  experience  for  days  afterwards.

The Reichskulturkammer (RKK) (“Reich Chamber of Culture”) was an institution in the Third Reich. It was established by law on 22 September 1933 in the course of the ‘Gleichschaltung’ (meaning “coordination”, “making the same”, “bringing into line”) process at the instigation of Reich Minister Joseph Goebbels as a professional organization of all German creative artists. Defying the claims raised by the German Labour Front (DAF) under rival Robert Ley, it was designed to control the cultural life in Germany, promoting art created by “Aryans”, and seen as consistent with National Socialist ideals.
Every artist had to apply for membership on presentation of an ‘Aryan certificate’.

The RKK was affiliated with the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda with its seat in Berlin and was headed by Dr Paul Joseph Goebbels.

The  importance  of  Lehar’s  music  in  the  last  years  of  his  life  was evident  when  he  celebrated  his  birthday  in  1943  by treating  himself,  and  his  guests,  to  a  recording  of  ‘Die lustige Witwe’.

Clearly Hitler had a keen ear, but how much did he actually know about music ?
He possessed a powerful memory, and in fields that interested him he  often  befuddled  specialists  with  his  detailed,  even expert,  knowledge.
In  fact,  confounding  professionals, and  showing  off  to  his  entourage,  gave  him  wicked pleasure, and those around him occasionally suspected that he boned up on a topic only to bring the conversation round to it so that he could exhibit his ‘extraordinary knowledge’.

Richard Strauss

After  the  Viennese  premiere  of  Richard Strauss’s  ‘Friedenstag’,  Hitler  gave  a  reception  for the artists  at  which,  according  to  one  account,  ‘He  showed an  astonishing  array  of  musical  knowledge,  and  was able, for example, to remind Hans Hotter of what he had been  singing  ten  years  previously: 

“Isn’t  Scarpia  too high for you? That G-flat in Act II?”’
While confirming the story,  Hotter  commented  that  it  was  difficult  to  draw much  of  a  conclusion  from  it. 
Hitler  had  an  exception-ally good memory.
According to the nature of an event – in this case music – he would prepare himself by reading relevant  literature  and  surprise  everybody  by  his  insider’s knowledge.’

Richard Georg Strauss (11 June 1864 – 8 September 1949) was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known for his operas, which include ‘Der Rosenkavalier’ and ‘Salome’; his lieder, especially his ‘Four Last Songs’; and his tone poems and other orchestral works, such as ‘Tod und Verklärung’, ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’, ‘Eine Alpensinfonie’  and Metamorphosen. Strauss was also a prominent conductor throughout Germany and Austria.
Strauss represents the late flowering of German Romanticism after Richard Wagner, in which pioneering subtleties of orchestration are combined with an advanced harmonic style.

Friedenstag (Peace Day) is an opera in one act by Richard Strauss, his Opus 81, to a German libretto by Joseph Gregor. 
The opera was premiered at Munich on 24 July 1938 and dedicated to Viorica Ursuleac and her husband Clemens Krauss, the lead and conductor respectively. Strauss had intended ‘Friedenstag’ as part of a double-bill, to be conducted by Karl Böhm in Dresden, that would include as the second part his next opera ‘Daphne’.

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Winifred Wagner and Adolf Hitler
Bayreuth

Most accounts of his musical expertise relate to his   knowledge   of   Wagnerian   opera. 

Typical   was   a comment of Winifred Wagner (see above) who, as her secretary recorded,  ‘could  not  stop  raving  about  what  an  attentive listener  he  is  and  how  well  he  knows  the  works,  above all musically’.

Heinz Tietjen 
In the same vein, Heinz Tietjen remarked that  he  was  ‘amazed’  at  how  well  the  Führer  knew Wagner’s scores, citing as an example Hitler’s comment after  a  performance  that  the  oboe  had  not  played quite in  tune.
And  I  had  to  acknowledge  he  was  right,’  the impresario  said.

Heinz Tietjen (June 24, 1881 – November 30, 1967) was a German conductor and music producer.
Tietjen was the director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin between 1925 and 1927, then director of the Prussian State Theatre. From 1931 to 1944, he served as artistic director at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus for Winifred Wagner with whom he had a romantic liaison

Baldur von Schirach

More  convincing  are  the  comments  of Baldur von Schirach.

Writing after he had served twenty years in Spandau, he cannot be suspected of gilding the lily.
He  recalled  a  performance  of  ‘Die  Walküre’,  which Hitler had attended in Weimar in 1925.
Schirach’s father was managing director of the opera house and, after the performance,  Hitler  was  introduced  to him and went on at  great  length  about  what he had seen and heard in a way  that  demonstrated  he  really  knew  his  Wagner.
He compared the production with those he had attended in Vienna  as  a  young  man,  naming  singers  and  conductors,  and  so  impressed  the  elder  Schirach  that  he  was invited  home  to  tea.
After  he  left,  Schirach  père  was said  to  have  commented:
In  all  my  life  I  never  met  a layman  who  understood  so  much  about  music,  Wagner’s in particular.’

Baldur Benedikt von Schirach (9 May 1907 – 8 August 1974) was a Nazi youth leader later convicted of crimes against humanity. He was the head of the Hitler-Jugend (HJ, the “Hitler Youth”) and Gauleiter and Reichsstatthalter (“Reich Governor”) of Vienna. Schirach was born in Berlin, the youngest of four children of theatre director Rittmeister Carl Baily Norris von Schirach (1873–1948) and his American wife Emma Middleton Lynah Tillou (1872–1944). Through his mother, Schirach descended from two signatories of the United States Declaration of Independence. He had two sisters, Viktoria and Rosalind von Schirach, and a brother, Karl Benedict von Schirach, who committed suicide in 1919 at the age of 19.
Schirach joined a Wehrjugendgruppe (military cadet group) at the age of 10 and became a member of the NSDAP in 1925. He was soon transferred to Munich and in 1929 became leader of the Nationalsozialistischen Deutschen Studentenbund (NSDStB, National Socialist German Students’ League). In 1931 he was a Reichsjugendführer (youth leader) in the NSDAP and in 1933 he was made head of the Hitler Youth (Hitler-Jugend) and given an SA rank of Gruppenführer. He was made a state secretary in 1936.

Albert Speer

To this account, Speer added that at his  fiftieth  birthday  celebration  in  1939  Hitler  had  been particularly  excited  by  a  gift  of  some  of  Wagner’s original  scores  and,  as  he  leafed  through  that  of  Götterdämmerung, ‘showed  sheet  after  sheet  to  the  assembled guests, making knowledgeable comments

Berthold Konrad Hermann Albert Speer –  March 19, 1905 – September 1, 1981 – was a German architect who was, for a part of World War II, Minister of Armaments and War Production for the Third Reich. Speer was Adolf Hitler’s chief architect before assuming ministerial office.
Speer joined the Nazi Party in 1931, launching him on a political and governmental career which lasted fourteen years. His architectural skills made him increasingly prominent within the Party and he became a member of Hitler’s inner circle. Hitler instructed him to design and construct a number of structures, including the Reich Chancellery and the Zeppelinfeld stadium in Nuremberg where Party rallies were held. Speer also made plans to reconstruct Berlin on a grand scale, with huge buildings, wide boulevards, and a reorganized transportation system.

Which  were  Hitler’s  favourite  operas ?
Despite  the poverty of his Vienna years, he managed to attend ‘Tristan  und  Isolde’  alone  thirty  or  forty  times,  and  in the course  of  his  life  heard  it,  and  ‘Die  Meistersinger’,  probably  a  hundred  times.

‘Tristan  und  Isolde’

‘Tristan und Isolde’ is an opera, or music drama, in three acts by Richard Wagner to a German libretto by the composer, based largely on the romance by Gottfried von Straßburg. It was composed between 1857 and 1859 and premiered in Munich on 10 June 1865 with Hans von Bülow conducting. Wagner referred to the work not as an opera, but called it “eine Handlung” (literally a drama. a plot or an action).
Wagner’s composition of ‘Tristan und Isolde’ was inspired by his affair with Mathilde Wesendonck and the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. Widely acknowledged as one of the peaks of the operatic repertory, ‘Tristan’ was notable for Wagner’s advanced use of chromaticism, tonality, orchestral colour and harmonic suspension.



Joachim C. Fest
Otto Dietrich

According  to  his  press  chief, Otto Dietrich,  he  knew  ‘Die  Meistersinger’  by  heart  and  could hum or whistle all its themes.

‘Lohengrin’ no doubt held a special place in his heart.
According to Fest, Hitler considered  the  final  scene  of  ‘Götterdämmerung’  to  be  ‘the summit  of  all  opera’.

Joachim Clemens Fest (8 December 1926 – 11 September 2006) was a German historian, journalist, critic and editor, best known for his writings and public commentary on Nazi Germany, including an important biography of Adolf Hitler and books about Albert Speer.

He  further  cites  Speer  as  having told him,
In Bayreuth, whenever the citadel of the gods collapsed  in  flames  amid  the  musical  uproar,  in  the darkness  of  the  loge  he  would  take  the  hand  of  Frau Wagner, sitting next to him, and in deep emotion bestow a kiss upon it.
Be that as it may, it was ‘Tristan and Isolde’ that meant  most  to  him.
After  listening one evening in 1942 to  a  recording  of  the  ‘Prelude  and  Liebestod’,  he  com-mented, ‘Well, ‘Tristan’ was his greatest work.

Festung Landsberg 
Christa  Schroeder and Adolf Hitler

According to Christa  Schroeder, the  ‘Liebestod’  moved  him  so deeply  that  he  said  he  wished  to  hear  it  at  the  time  of his death.

And in a letter from Landsberg prison in 1924 he  wrote  that  he  often  ‘dreamed  of  Tristan’.
At  a  1938 Bayreuth  performance  Winifred  observed, 
He  is  over-joyed   at   each   beautiful   passage   that   he   especially loves;  then  his  face  just  shines.’ 
There  is  no  way of knowing whether it was the eroticism, the sense of longing, the triumph of sensuality over reason that – in contrast  to  his  own  repressed  sexual  instincts – appealed to him.
Possibly it was the cult of the night or the tragic end.
Maybe just the music.

Tannhäuser and Venus – Otto Knille

‘Tannhäuser’ engaged him less, and he was long familiar  only  with  the  composer’s  earliest  score,  the so-called  ‘Dresden  Version’. 

At  some  point  in  the  1930s he heard the later ‘Paris Version’, and was so taken with it that he ordered Goebbels and Goring to permit only that score  to  be  performed. 
Despite the fact that Hitler seemed to favour ‘Tristan’ the most significant of Wagner’s works for Hitler, despite his comments about ‘Tristan’ and  ‘Götterdämmerung’, was ‘Parsifal’ – and that  was  the  reason  he wanted  Roller  to  re-stage  it  at  Bayreuth.
Alfred Roller – ‘Parsifal’ – 1934

And  this  elucidates  Hans  Frank’s  story  that,  while  riding  on  his train through  the  Rhineland  in  1936,  Hitler  asked  to  have played  for  him  a  recording  of  Karl  Muck’s  performance of the Parsifal Vorspiel.

Afterwards, in a deeply contemplative mood, he  remarked, ‘Out of Parsifal  I  shall  make  for  myself  a  religion,  religious  service in solemn form without theological disputation.’ 
He recalled that the Vienna opera archive  held  sketches  of  Roller’s  1914  production  and he  commended  these  as  models  for  producers. 
Not waiting  for  the  final  victory,  Goebbels  passed  on  the word  to  his  ministerial  officials  with  instructions  to  have photographs  of  the  Roller  sketches  circulated  to  every opera  house.  Managers  were  informed  that  any  future staging  of  the  work  was  to  follow  the  Roller  model and ‘was no longer to be done in the Byzantine-sacred style that was common up to then’.

For Hitler the Gnostic themes of the Grail Quest, and the cosmic struggle between Light and Darkness were perfectly portrayed in ‘Parsifal’.
Being an occult initiate, Hitler was aware of the Gnostic message behind “the externals of the story, with its Christian embroidery… the real message was pure, noble blood, in whose protection and glorification the brotherhood of the initiated have come together.”




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Adolf Hitler’s Interpretation of Parsifal


  “I have built up my religion out of Parsifal.  Divine worship in solemn form … without pretenses of humility … One can serve God only in the garb of the hero”  


                     ‘What is celebrated in Wagner’s ‘Parsifal’ is not the Christian religion of compassion, but pure and noble blood, – blood whose purity the brotherhood of initiates has come together to guard.
The king (Amfortas) then suffers an incurable sickness, caused by his tainted blood.
Then the unknowing but pure human being (Parsifal) is led into temptation, either to submit to the frenzy and to the delights of a corrupt civilisation in Klingsor’s magic garden, or to join the select band of knights who guard the secret of life, which is pure blood itself.
All of us suffer the sickness of miscegenated, corrupted blood.
Note how the compassion that leads to knowledge applies only to the man who is inwardly corrupt, to the man of contradictions.
And Eternal life, as vouchsafed by the Grail, is only granted to those who are truly pure and noble !

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
Only a new nobility can bring about the new culture.
If we discount everything to do with poetry, it is clear that elitism and renewal exist only in the continuing strain of a lasting struggle.
A divisive process is taking place in terms of world history.
The man who sees the meaning of life in conflict will gradually mount the stairs of a new aristocracy.
He who desires the dependent joys of peace and order will sink back down to the unhistorical mass, no matter what his provenance.
But the mass is prey to decay and self-disintegration.
At this turning- point in the world’s revolution the mass is the sum of declining culture and its moribund representatives.
They should be left to die, together with all kings like Amfortas.’

“The old beliefs will be brought back to honor again.
The whole secret knowledge of nature, of the divine, the demonic.
We will wash off the Christian veneer and bring out a religion peculiar to our race.”

Adolf Hitler


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It has sometimes been assumed that Hitler was attracted  to  Wagner’s  works  because  of  the  plots,  with their  classic  conflict  between  the  outsider  and  a  rigid social  order,  their  lonely  heroes  and  dark  villains,  their Nordic myths and Germanic legends.
However, (apart from ‘Parsifal’ – see above) there is no  record  of  any  comment  on  how  he  interpreted  the works,  or  whether  he  saw  in  them  any  ideological  message  – much  less  whether  he  envisaged  himself  as  Lohengrin, Siegmund, Siegfried, Wotan or any other Wagnerian  character.

‘Nordic Dreams’
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Rheintöchter
Woglinde, Wellgunde undFloßhilde
 ‘Das Rheingold’

It  was  the  music  that  moved  him.
When I hear Wagner it seems to me like the rhythms of the  primeval  world,’  he  said.  ‘And  I  could  imagine that science  will  one  day  find  measures  of  creation  in  the proportions of the physically perceptible vibrations of the Rheingold  music.’ 

Perhaps  he  was  trying  to  say  what Thomas  Mann  wrote  in  ‘Dr  Faustus’  –  that  the  elements of music are the first and simplest materials of the world, and make music one with the world, that ‘the beginning of  all  things  had  its  music’. 
Christa Schroeder recalled his saying that ‘Wagner’s musical language sounded  in  his  ear  like  a  revelation  of  the  divine’.
The vocabulary  suggests  that  the  feelings  conjured  by  the operas  may  have  filled  the  void left by the conventional Catholic religious belief  he  lost,  or  never  really  had – and it is quite clear that Hitler saw ‘Parsifal’ in religious terms. 
In  one  of  his  earliest speeches  he  made  the  revealing  comment  that  in  their way  Wagner’s  works  were  holy,  that  they  offered  ‘exaltation and liberation from all the wretchedness and misery  as  well  as  all  the  decadence  that  prevails’,  and  that they lift one ‘up into the pure air’.
If escape and purification were part of the appeal, the operas also responded to  that  proclivity  for  the  overwhelming,  the  oceanic,  the romantic,  the  orgasmic  that  was  evident  in  his  public rallies, parades and spectacles.
Like Wagner himself, Hitler believed that music fully  realized  itself  only  when  it  fused  with  other  arts  in visible form on stage.

National  Theatre Weimar
National  Theatre Weimar

And, like Wagner, his interest extended  to  virtually  every  aspect  of  operatic  production, 

down  to  the  fabric  and  design  of  the  theatre  itself. 
He was  fascinated  by  backstage  operations,  including  the functioning  of  stage  machinery.  During  his  visit  to  Weimar in 1925, he asked to go behind the stage at the National  Theatre.  Schirach  was  with  him  at  the  time  and later remarked, ‘He was familiar with all sorts of lighting systems  and  could  discourse  in  detail  on  the  proper  illumination  for  certain  scenes.’

Berghof 

Hans  Severus  Ziegler recalled  taking  a walk with Hitler one night at the Berghof,  when  the  moon  suddenly  appeared  from  behind  a cloud and lit the surrounding meadow.

Hitler stopped in his  tracks  and  launched  into  a  discussion  of  the  colour of light necessary to achieve verisimilitude for moonlight on a stage, as in the concluding scene of the second act of  ‘Die  Meistersinger’.
He  was  insistent  that  it  should  be white;  but  ‘it  is  often  greenish  or  blueish  and  that  is wrong’, he complained. ‘That is just Romantic kitsch.
Already  in  his  youth  Hitler  had  made  sketches of  Wagnerian  stage  sets  that  he  imagined  or  actually saw. 
Although  a  drawing  of  Siegfried  holding  a  raised sword  is  a  Kujau  forgery,  several  authentic  sketches survive.
Alfred Roller – ‘Tristan und Isolde’
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Among  them  is  one  of  the  second  act  of  ‘Lohengrin’; others include his rendering of the second and third  acts  of  the  famous  1903  Mahler-Roller  production of ‘Tristan and Isolde’, which he had attended in Vienna.

This interest in stage design increased after he became chancellor,  and  reached  such  a  level  that  it was  common  knowledge  that  the  best  way  to  get  an appointment   with   him,   which   otherwise   might   take months,  was  to  let  him  know  that  you  had  photos  of a new  staging  of  an  operetta  or  opera,  particularly  Wagnerian.
An  invitation  was  almost  certain  to  follow,  and then  Hitler  would  spend  countless  hours  studying  the pictures.
Most of all he relished working with Benno von Arent,  and  together  they  designed  several  productions that he commissioned and paid for with his private funds – among them, ‘Lohengrin’ in 1935 at the German Opera in Berlin, ‘Rienzi’ in 1939 at the Dietrich Eckart Open Air Theatre  in  Berlin  and  ‘Die  Meistersinger’  in  1934,  and later  years  at  the  Nuremberg  opera  in  connection  with the party rally.

Benno von Arent

Benno von Arent (19 July 1898 – 14 October 1956) was a member of the National Socialist Party and SS, responsible for art, theatres, movies etc.
Arent was born in Görlitz, Prussia, on 19 July 1898. Self-taught, after various apprentice positions he obtained his first theater job in Berlin in 1923 and became a stage designer. He joined the SS in 1931 and the NSDAP in 1932. The same year, he was one of the founders of the “Bund nationalsozialistischer Bühnen- und Filmkünstler” (“Union of national-socialist stage and movie artists”), which was renamed “Kameradschaft deutscher Künstler” (“fellowship of German artists”) after Hitler’s rise to power in 1933.
Arent was appointed “Reichsbühnenbildner” (“Reich stage designer”) in 1936 and “Reichsbeauftragter für die Mode” (“Reich agent for fashion”) in 1939. He designed the diplomatic uniform of the Nazi diplomatic service. In 1944, he was given the rank of SS-Oberführer.
He is listed under ‘Kunstlerische Mitarbeiter’ in the 1938-39 catalog issued by Porzellan-Manufaktur Allach, Munich.

Speer recalled:
At the chancellery Hitler once sent up to his bedroom for neatly  executed  stage  designs,  coloured  with  crayons, for  all  the  acts  of  ‘Tristan  and  Isolde’;  these  were to  be given  to  Arent  to  serve  as  an  inspiration. 
Another time he gave Arent a series of sketches for all the scenes of ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’.
At lunch he told us with great satisfaction  that  for  three  weeks  he  had  sat  up  over these, night after night.
This surprised me the more because  at  this  particular  time  Hitler’s  daily  schedule  was unusually  heavy  with  visitors,  speeches,  sight-seeing and other public activities.
Undoubtedly,  Arent’s  work  reflected  Hitler’s  taste.

His setting for the second act of ‘Tristan’, for example, was similar to  Roller’s  Vienna  staging  that  Hitler adored.’ 

The  main  trait  of  the  Hitler-Arent  style  was,  as Speer  phrased  it,  ‘smashing  effects’,  and  Arent’s  productions  were  smashing.
Gigantic  choruses  and  parades, huge casts of extras and glitzy costumes characterized   ‘Lohengrin’   and   ‘Rienzi’. 
But   the   Hitler-Arent chef-d’oeuvre  was  their  1934  joint  production  of  ‘Die Meistersinger’.
This  culminated  in  a  third-act  meadow scene staged in the manner of a Nuremberg party rally, with  massed  banners  and  martial  chorus.
No  detail  of the production escaped Hitler’s eye.
He fretted over the moonlight scene in the second act and went into ecstasies  over  the  brilliant  colours  he  wanted  for  the  final scene  on  the  Mastersingers’  meadow,  and  over  the  romantic  look  of  the  little  gabled  houses  opposite  Hans Sachs’s  cobbler’s  shop.

Meistersingers – 1934

So proud of it was he that he sent it on tour – from Nuremberg  to  the  German  Opera  in  Berlin  in  1935,  then  to Munich  in  1936,  Danzig  in  1938,  Weimar  in  1939  and Linz in 1941.

It even enjoyed a measure of resurrection after  the  war  when  the  costumes  were  used  in 1951 at the Bayreuth Festival, then too impoverished to afford to make its own.
Hitler’s adulation of Wagner-the-composer probably developed   into   veneration   of   Wagner-the-man   rather quickly.
Except  for  Frederick  the  Great  and  Bismarck, on no other person did he lavish such repeated and fulsome praise.
‘I must be frank to say that Richard Wagner’s  personality  meant  more  to  me  than  Goethe’s,’ he remarked  on  one  occasion. 
The  Führer  talks  to  me  of Richard  Wagner,  he  reveres  him  and  knows  of  no  one like  him,’  Goebbels  once  recorded.
He  even  managed to  introduce Wagner’s  name  into  his  1923  putsch  attempt, telling  the  court  at  his  trial  that  he  had  been  partly  inspired  by  the  composer’s  example  of  preferring  deeds to words.

Wagner’s  Grave 

‘When  I  stood  at  Wagner’s  grave  for  the  first  time  my heart  just  overflowed  with  pride  that  here  rested  a man who  would  not  permit  the  inscription  on  his  tombstone: ‘Here  lies  Privy  Counsellor,  Music  Director,  His  Excellency Baron Richard von Wagner’.

I was proud that this man,  like  many  men  in  German  history,  was content to leave his name to posterity not a title.’

Emil Ludwig

In  the  early  1930s  it  was  being  argued that Wagner did not simply enchant Hitler with his music and  inspire  his  anti-Semitism,  stagecraft  and  political ideas,  but  also  that  he  helped  to  create  the  very  ideological  atmosphere  that  put  him  in  power.

Of  all  German  creative  figures,  Wagner is the real father of the current German state of mind,’ wrote Emil Ludwig.
It was not by chance, he went on, that Hitler was a Wagnerian. 
The  two  men  were  personally  alike. Moreover,  they  worked  the  same  material.
The  composer  took  the  German  sagas  just  as  they  were.  ‘Such  were  the  ideals  that  Wagner proffered  the  German  people.
But  it  was  not  just  the stories and the ‘musical sound’ that created a mood of ‘mystical rapture’ but also his use of  the  German  language. 
‘Only  Hitler’s  prose  could compete with his,

‘Lohengrin’
Thomas Mann

These  were  themes  developed  in  later years by Thomas Mann.

The novelist was scarcely less smitten by Wagner than was Hitler himself.
He too as a youth had haunted his local opera house, and ‘Lohengrin’ had  also  been  the  first  of  the  Master’s  operas  he  had attended.
Mann  spoke  of  the  composer  as  his  ‘starkstes,  bestimmendes  Erlebnis’,  his  strongest  and  most formative experience.
From the beginning to the end of his life he was enthralled by the music, and bewitched by the man. Wagner was the subject, or important theme, of nearly a dozen essays, any number of letters and countless  diary  entries.
But  while  Hitler admired everything  he  knew  about  the  composer’s  life,  character,  ideology  and  musical  creation,  Mann  was  in someways ambivalent  about  them.
Mann’s most important commentary on Wagner was an address to the Goethe Society of Munich in February 1933 on the fiftieth anniversary of the composer’s death.
Entitled ‘The Sufferings and Greatness of Richard Wagner’, it was a deeply searching and astute treatment of  Wagner’s  place  in  European  culture.
The  fruit  of years  of  thought,  it  placed  the  composer  among  the greatest of artistic figures.
In 1937  Mann  noted  in  his  diary  that on the  one  hand  that  he  found  ‘elements  of  a  frightening  quality’  in  a  poem  Wagner  had  written  for Cosima,  and  on  the  other  that  he  had  listened  to  a  re-cording of ‘Die Walkure’ ‘with admiration’.

Joachim C. Fest 

According  to  Joachim C. Fest  ‘the youthful Hitler succumbed  to  the  music  of  Richard  Wagner  .  …  The charged  emotionality  of  this  music  seemed  to  have served him as a means for self hypnosis, while he found in its lush air of luxury the necessary ingredients for escapist fantasy . . . . ‘    Hitler himself in fact later declared that with the exception  of  Richard  Wagner  he  had  ‘no  forerunners’, and  by  Wagner  he  meant  not  only  the  composer  but Wagner  the  personality,  ‘the  greatest  prophetic  figure the German people has had’ . . . . The points of contact between  the  two  temperaments  –  all  the  more  marked because  the  young  painter  consciously  modelled himself after his hero – produce a curious sense of family resemblance.  

Joachim Clemens Fest (8 December 1926 – 11 September 2006) was a German historian, journalist, critic and editor, best known for his writings and public commentary on Nazi Germany, including an important biography of Adolf Hitler and books about Albert Speer and the German Resistance. He was a leading figure in the debate among German historians about the Nazi period.

The  style  of  public  ceremonies  in  the  Third Reich is inconceivable without Wagner’s operatic tradition,  without  the  essentially  demagogical  art  of  Richard Wagner – for the ‘Master of Bayreuth’ was not only Hitler’s great  exemplar,  he  was  also  the  young  man’s  ideological  mentor.

Wagner’s  political  writings  were  some of Hitler’s  favourite reading, and his style unmistakably  influenced Hitler’s own grammar and syntax.
Those  political  writings,  together  with  the  operas, form much of the framework for Hitler’s ideology . . . . Here he  found  the  ‘granite  foundations’  for  his  view  of the world.
Nothing  could  have  symbolized  the  association  more provocatively  than  the  opening  scene  of  Hans  Jürgen Syberberg’s 1977 film, ‘Hitler’, in which the dictator rises ectoplasmically  out  of  Wagner’s  Bayreuth  grave.

‘Hitler: A Film from Germany’
Hans-Jürgen Syberberg

Hans-Jürgen Syberberg (born 8 December 1935) is a German film director, whose best known film is his lengthy feature, ‘Hitler: A Film from Germany’. Born in Nossendorf, Pomerania, the son of an estate owner, Syberberg lived until 1945 in Rostock and Berlin. In 1952 and 1953 he created his first 8 mm takes of rehearsals by the Berliner Ensemble. In 1953 he moved to West Germany, where he in 1956 began studies in literature and art history, completing them the following year.
He earned his doctorate in Munich. For Syberberg, cinema is a form of Gesamtkunstwerk. Many commentators, including Syberberg himself, have characterized his work as a cinematic combination of Bertolt Brecht’s doctrine of epic theatre and Richard Wagner’s operatic aesthetics. Well known philosophers and intellectuals have written about his work, including Susan Sontag, Gilles Deleuze and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe.

Syberberg – Parsifal
Syberberg – Parsifal

In 1975 Syberberg released ‘Winifried Wagner und die Geschichte des Hauses Wahnfried von 1914-1975’ – a documentary about Winifred Wagner, wife of Richard Wagner’s son Siegfried. The documentary attracted attention because it exposed Winifred’s  admiration for Adolf Hitler. The film thus proved an embarrassment to the Wagner family and the Bayreuth Festival (which she had run from 1930 until the end of the Second World War).
Syberberg is also noted for an acclaimed visual interpretation of the Wagner opera ‘Parsifal’ in 1982.

What  Hitler  admired  in  the  composer  was what  he  admired  in  his  other  heroes,  courage. 
In  a speech  in  1923  he  defined  the  vital  quality  of  human greatness  as  ‘the heroic’ and attributed it to three men: Luther,  Frederick  the  Great  and  Wagner  –  the  reformer because  he  possessed  the  courage  to  stand  alone against the world, the king because he never lost courage  when his lot appeared hopeless and the composer, because  he  had  the  courage  to  struggle  in  solitude.
Each had fought, had fought alone and had fought ‘like a  titan’.
As  a  desperately  lonely  and  friendless  figure  in his  early  days,  Hitler  must  have  seen  his  own  situation mirrored  in  such  struggles.
Wagner  was  thus  a  symbol or, better, a model of someone who believed in his destiny and let nothing deter him from it.
It was no doubt in this  sense  that  he  considered  the  composer,  in  the oft cited phrase, his only forebear.

Wolfgang Wagner – Adolf Hitler – Wieland Wagner
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Apart from his remarks about ‘Parsifal’, Hitler  never  ascribed  any  of  his views to Wagner, not in ‘Mein Kampf’, his speeches, articles  or  recorded  private  conversations. 
However,  there  are  many obvious parallels in outlook –  anti-Semitism, Hellenism, the belief that culture was the ‘summum bonum‘ of a civilization, the notion that the arts should never be hostage  to  commerce,  and  the  like.

Certainly  Wagner’s  pamphlet ‘Judentum  in  der  Musik’  resonates  in  Hitler’s  claim  that  Jews lack artistic creativity.

“Das Judenthum in der Musik” (“Jewishness in Music”), is an essay by Richard Wagner which attacks Jews in general, and the composers Giacomo Meyerbeer and Felix Mendelssohn in particular. It was published under a pseudonym in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (NZM) of Leipzig in September 1850 and was reissued, in a greatly expanded version, under Wagner’s name in 1869. It is regarded by some as an important landmark in the history of German anti-Semitism.

Some critics point out that Wagner’s opposition to Jews was not limited to his articles, and that the operas contained such messages. In particular the characters of Mime in the ‘Ring’, Klingsor in ‘Parsifal’ and Sixtus Beckmesser in Die Meistersinger’ appear to be Jewish stereotypes, although none of them are identified as Jews in the libretto. 

Dietrich Eckart



However, at no time did he ever trace his anti-Semitism to the composer, not even in his 1920 speech ‘Warum sind wir Antisemiten ?’ (Why  are  We  Anti-Semites?),  in  which  he  expounded his views for the first time in public.
This is not surprising, as his ‘doctrinal’ anti-Semitism, was based on Gnostic and occult teachings, originating with Dietrich Eckart.

Kubizek does say, however,that  the  youthful  Hitler was said  to  have  read  every  biography,  letter,  essay,  diary and other scrap by and about his hero that he could lay his  hands  on.
So we are left with the apprehension that Wagner, and in particular his Bühnenweihfestspiel ‘Parsifal’, was a seminal influence on Adolf Hitler.


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PARSIFAL and the THIRD REICH


Wagner Geburthaus – Leipzig

On January 13, 1933 the newly-elected National Socialist Party celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of Richard Wagner’s death by staging a grandiose memorial ceremony in Leipzig, the composer’s birthplace.
Adolf Hitler invited Siegfried Wagner’s widow, the English-born Winifred, and her son Wieland to be guests of honor at this event.
This tribute by Hitler was the continuation of a deep friendship that had begun in 1923 between the Führer and the Wagner family, forging a link between the new Germany and the country’s most revered composer.
Within weeks of becoming Chancellor of Germany, Hitler had appropriated Wagner and made him the Reich’s great beacon.
Each summer, from 1933 to 1939, Hitler attended the Bayreuth Festival, and he made the Wagner estate, Wahnfried, his second home.
Because she had been one of his earliest supporters, Hitler had great affection for Winifred. Hitler repaid the Wagner family gratitude by pledging his undying friendship, and his deepest devotion to Richard Wagner and Bayreuth.

‘Parsifal’ – Gralsburg – Paul von Joukowsky
Paul von Joukowsky

With the assistance of Dr. Josef Goebbels, Hitler’s untiring propaganda minister, Richard Wagner became the legendary and ideological voice of the new party, and the musical standard by which all classical composers would, from now on, be judged.
Around the time that Hitler came to power, the Bayreuth ‘holy of holies‘ still existed: the original Paul von Joukowsky (1845-1912) sets used at the premiere of Parsifal.
They were still in use at the Festspielhaus even though they were falling apart and were dangerous to the singers.

Emil Preetorius

Realistically, the time had come to replace the production, and the logical person to design the sets would be Emil Preetorius.

The stage designer Emil Preetorius (1883-1973) was born in Mainz and was one of the most important stage designers of the first half of the 20th century.
He studied law and art history in Giessen and in 1909 he co-founded a school of illustration and the book trade in Munich together with Paul Renner. In 1928 Preetorius became a professor at the Munich “Hochschule für Bildende Künste”.
He became the head of scenery for the Bayreuth “Festspiele” in 1932. During the 1930s Emil Preetorius’s scenes, such as the rock of the Valkyrie for the “Ring des Niebelungen”, were among the most important and influential designs for Richard Wagner’s works.

A petition began circulating against this decision, after all, this was the scenery “on which the eyes of the Master had reposed,” and the conservative faction at Bayreuth believed that the scenery needed to be kept and revered like a holy icon.
Over a thousand signatures were collected, including those of Arturo Toscanini and Richard Strauss.
Winifred Wagner sent the petition to Hitler along with a pamphlet accusing Preetorius of being “un-German” and “under Jewish influence.”


Gralsburg – Alfred Roller – 1934
Gralsburg – Alfred Roller – 1934

Hitler, on the other hand, favored a new Bayreuth production of Parsifal, and selected Alfred Roller to design it.
The Führer was a great admirer of Roller’s work in Vienna.
Following all the controversy,. Alfred Roller’s production premiered in 1934.
There were, however,only a few changes to the overall designs that had originated with Paul von Joukowsky.
The temple cupola in the second scene of Act One disappeared, and this made many conservatives very disappointed.
Winifred once again appealed to Hitler that there should be yet another new production of ‘Parsifal’.

‘Parsifal’ – Gralsburg – Wieland Wagner 1937
Wieland Wagner

Hitler agreed, and suggested that Wieland Wagner design the new sets.
Hitler had always revered Siegfried’s son because he was a direct descendant of the Master. Once the war began, Hitler gave orders that Wieland should be permanently exempt from military service.
Young Wieland therefore designed the sets for the 1937 ‘Parsifal’.

Wieland was the elder of two sons of Siegfried and Winifred Wagner, grandson of composer Richard Wagner, and great-grandson of composer Franz Liszt through Wieland’s paternal grandmother.
In 1941, he married the dancer and choreographer Gertrude Reissinger. They had four children Iris (b. 1942), Wolf-Siegfried (b. 1943), Nike (b. 1945) and Daphne (b. 1946).
Winifred Wagner’s close friendship with Hitler meant that, as a teenager and young man, Wieland knew the dictator as “Uncle Wolf”. His family connections allowed him to avoid the draft in the war.

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Richard Wagner – Der Meister von Bayreuth

RICHARD WAGNER
Der Meister von Bayreuth

Wilhelm Richard Wagner (22 May 1813 – 13 February 1883) was a German composer, conductor, theatre director and essayist, primarily known for his operas (or “music dramas”, as they were later called).
Wagner Geburtshaus

Wilhelm Richard Geyer – later Wagner – was born at No. 3 (‘The House of the Red and White Lions’ – see left), the Brühl, in the Jewish quarter of Leipzig, the ninth child of Carl Friedrich Wagner ?, who was a clerk in the Leipzig police service, and his wife Johanna Rosine (née Paetz), the daughter of a baker.

Wagner’s father died of typhus six months after Richard’s birth, following which Wagner’s mother began living with the actor and playwright Ludwig Geyer, who had been a friend of Richard’s father.
In August 1814 Johanna married Geyer, and moved with her family to his residence in Dresden. Until he was fourteen, Wagner was known as Wilhelm Richard Geyer.
He almost certainly suspected that Geyer was his natural father.
Geyer’s love of the theatre was shared by his stepson, and Wagner took part in his performances.

Ludwig Geyer

The boy Wagner was hugely impressed by the Gothic elements of Weber’s Der Freischütz.

In late 1820, Wagner was enrolled at Pastor Wetzel’s school at Possendorf, near Dresden, where he received some piano instruction from his Latin teacher.
He could not manage a proper scale but preferred playing theatre overtures by ear.
Ludwig Geyer (see left) died in 1821, when Richard was eight.
Subsequently, Wagner was sent to the Kreuz Grammar School in Dresden, paid for by Geyer’s brother.
The young Wagner entertained ambitions as a playwright, his first creative effort (listed as ‘WWV 1’) being a tragedy, Leubald, begun at school in 1826, which was strongly influenced by Shakespeare and Goethe.
Wagner was determined to set it to music; he persuaded his family to allow him music lessons
By 1827, the family had moved back to Leipzig.
Wagner’s first lessons in harmony were taken in 1828–1831 with Christian Gottlieb Müller.
In January 1828 he first heard Beethoven’s 7th Symphony and then, in March, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony performed in the Gewandhaus.
Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven (see right) became his inspiration, and Wagner wrote a piano transcription of the 9th Symphony.

He was also greatly impressed by a performance of the Requiem of Mozart.
From this period date Wagner’s early piano sonatas and his first attempts at orchestral overtures.

Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient 
In 1829 he saw the dramatic soprano Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient (see left) on stage, and she became his ideal of the fusion of drama and music in opera.
In his autobiography, Wagner wrote, “If I look back on my life as a whole, I can find no event that produced so profound an impression upon me.”
Wagner claimed to have seen Schröder-Devrient in the title role of Fidelio; however, it seems more likely that he saw her performance as Romeo in Bellini’s ‘Capuleti e i Montecchi’.
He enrolled at the University of Leipzig in 1831 where he became a member of the Studentenverbindung Corps Saxonia Leipzig.
He also took composition lessons with the cantor of Saint Thomas Church, Christian Theodor Weinlig.

Weinlig was so impressed with Wagner’s musical ability that he refused any payment for his lessons, and arranged for Wagner’s piano sonata in B flat (which was consequently dedicated to him) to be published as the composer’s op. 1.
A year later, Wagner composed his Symphony in C major, a Beethovenesque work performed in Prague in 1832 and at the Leipzig Gewandhaus in 1833.
He then began to work on an opera, ‘Die Hochzeit’ (The Wedding), which he never completed.
In 1833, Wagner’s older brother Karl Albert managed to obtain Richard a position as choir master in Würzburg.
In the same year, at the age of 20, Wagner composed his first complete opera, ‘Die Feen’ (The Fairies).

Carl Maria von Weber,

This opera, which clearly imitated the style of Carl Maria von Weber, would go unproduced until half a century later, when it was premiered in Munich shortly after the composer’s death in 1883.

Meanwhile, Wagner held a brief appointment as musical director at the opera house in Magdeburg during which he wrote ‘Das Liebesverbot’ (The Ban on Love), based on Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.
This was staged at Magdeburg in 1836, but closed before the second performance, leaving the composer (not for the last time) in serious financial difficulties.
Minna Planer

In 1834 Wagner had fallen for the actress Christine Wilhelmine “Minna” Planer (see right).

After the disaster of ‘Das Liebesverbot’ he followed her to Königsberg where she helped him to get an engagement at the theatre.
The two married in Königsberg on 24 November 1836.
In June 1837 Wagner moved to the city of Riga, then in the Russian Empire, where he became music director of the local opera.
Minna had recently left Wagner for another man but Richard took her back; this was but the first debacle of a troubled marriage that would end in misery three decades later.
 ‘Rienzi’

By 1839, the couple had amassed such large debts that they fled Riga to escape from creditors (debt would plague Wagner for most of his life).

‘Das Fliegende Hollander’
During their flight, they and their Newfoundland dog, Robber, took a stormy sea passage to London, from which Wagner drew the inspiration for ‘Das Fliegende Hollander’ (see right) (The Flying Dutchman) with a story based on a sketch by Heinrich Heine.
The Wagners spent 1839 to 1842 in Paris, where Richard made a scant living writing articles and arranging operas by other composers, largely on behalf of the Schlesinger publishing house, however, he also completed his third and fourth operas ‘Rienzi’ (see left) and ‘Das Fliegende Hollander’ during this stay.
Wagner had completed writing ‘Rienzi’ in 1840.
Giacomo Meyerbeer

Largely through the strong support of Giacomo Meyerbeer, it was accepted for performance by the Dresden Court Theatre (Hofoper) in the German state of Saxony.

In 1842, Wagner moved to Dresden, where Rienzi was staged to considerable acclaim on 20 October.
Wagner lived in Dresden for the next six years, eventually being appointed the Royal Saxon Court Conductor.
During this period, he staged there ‘Das Fliegende Hollander’ (2 January 1843) and Tannhäuser (19 October 1845), the first two of his three middle-period operas.
Gottfried Semper

Wagner also mixed with artistic circles in Dresden, including the composer Ferdinand Hiller and the great classical architect Gottfried Semper (see right).

The Wagners’ stay at Dresden was brought to an end by Richard’s involvement in leftist politics.
A nationalist movement was gaining force in the states of the German Confederation, calling for constitutional freedoms and the unification of Germany as one nation state.
Proudhon
Richard Wagner played an enthusiastic role in the socialist wing of this movement, regularly receiving guests who included the radical editor August Röckel, and the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin. He was also influenced by the ideas of Proudhon (see left).
Widespread discontent in Dresden came to a head in April 1849, when King Frederick Augustus II of Saxony rejected a new constitution.
The May Uprising broke out, in which Wagner played a minor supporting role.
The incipient revolution was quickly crushed by an allied force of Saxon and Prussian troops, and warrants were issued for the arrest of the revolutionaries.
Wagner had to flee, first visiting Paris and then settling in Zurich.

Wagner spent the next twelve years in exile.
He had completed Lohengrin, the last of his middle-period operas before the Dresden uprising, and now wrote desperately to his friend Franz Liszt to have it staged in his absence.
Liszt, who proved to be a true friend, eventually conducted the premiere in Weimar in August 1850.
Nevertheless, Wagner found himself in grim personal straits, isolated from the German musical world and without any income to speak of.
Before leaving Dresden, he had drafted a scenario that would eventually become the four opera cycle ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’.
He initially wrote the libretto for a single opera, ‘Siegfrieds Tod’ (Siegfried’s Death) in 1848. After arriving in Zurich he expanded the story to include an opera ‘Der junge Siegfried’ (Young Siegfried) exploring the hero’s background.
He completed the text of the cycle by writing the libretti for ‘Die Walküre’ and ‘Das Rheingold’ and revising the other libretti to agree with his new concept, completing them in 1852.
Meanwhile, his wife Minna, who had disliked the operas he had written after Rienzi, was falling into a deepening depression and then Wagner himself fell victim to ill-health which made it difficult for him to continue writing.
Wagner’s primary published output during his first years in Zurich was a set of notable essays: “The Art-Work of the Future” (1849), in which he described a vision of opera as Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total work of art”, in which the various arts such as music, song, dance, poetry, visual arts, and stagecraft were unified; “Judaism in Music” (1850), a tract directed against Jewish composers; and “Opera and Drama” (1851), which described the aesthetics of drama which he was using to create the Ring operas.

Wagner began composing ‘Das Rheingold’ in November 1853, following it immediately with ‘Die Walküre’ in 1854.
He then began work on the third opera, now called ‘Siegfried’, in 1856 but finished only the first two acts before deciding to put the work aside to concentrate on a new idea: ‘Tristan und Isolde”
Wagner had two independent sources of inspiration for ‘Tristan und Isolde’.

Arthur Schopenhauer 

The first came to him in 1854, when his poet friend Georg Herwegh introduced him to the works of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (see left).
Wagner would later call this the most important event of his life.
His personal circumstances certainly made him an easy convert to what he understood to be Schopenhauer’s philosophy, a deeply pessimistic view of the human condition.
He would remain an adherent of Schopenhauer, who was also Hitler’s favourite philosopher, for the rest of his life, even after his fortunes improved.
One of Schopenhauer’s doctrines was that music held a supreme role amongst the arts.
He claimed that music is the direct expression of the world’s essence, which is blind, impulsive Will.
Wagner quickly embraced this claim, which must have resonated strongly despite its contradiction of his previous view, expressed in Opera and Drama, that the music in opera had to be subservient to the drama.
Wagner scholars have since argued that this Schopenhauerian influence caused Wagner to assign a more commanding role to music in his later operas, including the latter half of the Ring cycle, which he had yet to compose.
Many aspects of Schopenhauerian doctrine undoubtedly found their way into Wagner’s subsequent libretti.
For example, the self-renouncing cobbler-poet Hans Sachs in ‘Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg’, generally considered Wagner’s most sympathetic character, although based loosely on a historical person, is a quintessentially Schopenhauerian creation.

Mathilde Wesendonck

Wagner’s second source of inspiration was the poet-writer Mathilde Wesendonck (see right), the wife of the silk merchant Otto Wesendonck.

Wagner met the Wesendoncks in Zurich in 1852.
Otto, a fan of Wagner’s music, placed a cottage on his estate at Wagner’s disposal.
During the course of the next five years, the composer was eventually to become infatuated with his patron’s wife.
Though Mathilde seems to have returned some of his affections, she had no intention of jeopardizing her marriage.
Nevertheless, the affair inspired Wagner to put aside his work on the Ring cycle (which would not be resumed for the next twelve years) and began work on Tristan, based on the Arthurian love story Tristan and Iseult.
While planning the opera, Wagner composed the ‘Wesendonck Lieder’, five songs for voice and piano setting poems by Mathilde.
Two of these settings are explicitly subtitled by Wagner as ‘studies for Tristan und Isolde ‘.

The uneasy affair collapsed in 1858, when Minna intercepted a letter from Wagner to Mathilde.
After the resulting confrontation, Wagner left Zurich alone, bound for Venice, where he sojourned in the Palazzo Giustinian.
The following year, he once again moved to Paris to oversee production of a new revision of Tannhäuser, staged thanks to the efforts of Princess Pauline von Metternich.
The premiere of the Paris Tannhäuser in 1861 was an utter fiasco.
Further performances were cancelled, and Wagner hurriedly left the city.
The political ban which had been placed on Wagner in Germany after he had fled Dresden was lifted in 1861.
The composer settled in Biebrich in Prussia, where he began work on ‘Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg’, the idea for which had come during a visit he had made to Venice with the Wesendoncks.
Despite the failure of ‘Tannhäuser’ in Paris, the possibility that ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’ would never be finished, and Wagner’s unhappy personal life at the time of writing it, this opera is his only mature comedy.
Between 1861 and 1864 Wagner tried to have ‘Tristan und Isolde’ produced in Vienna.
Despite numerous rehearsals the opera remained unperformed, and gained a reputation as being “impossible”, which further added to Wagner’s financial woes.
In 1862, Wagner finally parted with Minna, though he (or at least his creditors) continued to support her financially until her death in 1866.

LUDWIG II  

König Ludwig   von Bayern
Ludwig and Wagner

Wagner’s fortunes took a dramatic upturn in 1864, when King Ludwig II (see left) succeeded to the throne of Bavaria at the age of 18.

The young king, an ardent admirer of Wagner’s operas since childhood, had the composer brought to Munich.
He settled Wagner’s considerable debts, and proposed to stage ‘Tristan’, ‘Die Meistersinger’, the ‘Ring’, and the other operas Wagner planned. Wagner also began to dictate his autobiography, ‘Mein Leben’, at the King’s request.

for more information about Ludwig II see

Wittlesbach Arms
König Ludwig
von Bayern

To Wagner, it seemed significant that his rescue by Ludwig coincided with his learning the news of the death of his supposed enemy Meyerbeer, noting ungratefully that “this operatic master, who had done me so much harm, should not have lived to see this day”.

After grave difficulties in rehearsal, ‘Tristan und Isolde’ premiered at the National Theatre in Munich on 10 June 1865, the first Wagner premiere in almost 15 years.

Cosima von Bülow
Hans von Bülow

The conductor of this premiere was Hans von Bülow (see left), whose wife Cosima (see right) had given birth in April that year to a daughter, named Isolde, the child not of von Bülow but of Wagner.

Cosima was 24 years younger than Wagner and was herself illegitimate, the daughter of the Countess Marie d’Agoult, who had left her husband for Franz Liszt.
Liszt disapproved of his daughter seeing Wagner, though the two men were friends.
The indiscreet affair scandalized Munich, and to make matters worse, Wagner fell into disfavour among members of the court, who were suspicious of his influence on the king.
In December 1865, Ludwig was finally forced to ask the composer to leave Munich.
He apparently also toyed with the idea of abdicating in order to follow his hero into exile, but Wagner quickly dissuaded him.

Villa Tribschen

Ludwig installed Wagner at the Villa Tribschen, beside Switzerland’s Lake Lucerne.

‘Die Meistersinger’ was completed at Tribschen in 1867, and premièred in Munich on 21 June the following year.
In October, Cosima finally convinced Hans von Bülow to grant her a divorce, but this did not materialize until after she had two more children with Wagner; another daughter, named Eva, after the heroine of ‘Meistersinger’, and a son Siegfried, named for the hero of the Ring.
Minna Wagner had died the previous year and so Richard and Cosima were now able to marry.
The wedding took place on 25 August 1870.
On Christmas Day of that year, Wagner arranged a surprise performance of the ‘Siegfried Idyll’ for Cosima’s birthday.
The marriage to Cosima lasted to the end of Wagner’s life.

Wagner, settled into his newfound domesticity, turned his energies toward completing the Ring cycle.
At Ludwig’s insistence, “special previews” of the first two works of the cycle, Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, were performed at Munich in 1869 and 1870, but Wagner wanted the complete cycle to be performed in a new, specially designed opera house.
In 1871, he decided on the small town of Bayreuth as the location of his new opera house.

Bayreuth Festspielhaus
Bayreuth Festspielhaus

The Wagners moved there the following year, and the foundation stone for the Bayreuth Festspielhaus (see right) (“Festival Theatre”) was laid.

In order to raise funds for the construction, “Wagner Societies” were formed in several cities, and Wagner himself began touring Germany conducting concerts.
However, sufficient funds were raised only after King Ludwig stepped in with another large grant in 1874.

Villa Wahnfried
Villa Wahnfried

Later that year, the Wagners moved into their permanent home at Bayreuth, a villa that Richard dubbed Wahnfried (see left) (“freedom from delusion/madness”).

The expenses of Bayreuth and of Wahnfried however meant that Wagner still sought other sources of income by conducting or taking on commissions like the Centennial March for America.
The Festspielhaus finally opened on 13 August 1876 with ‘Das Rheingold’, now taking its place as the first evening of the premiere of the complete Ring cycle, and has continued to be the site of the Bayreuth Festival ever since.

Bayreuth Festspielhaus – Plan

The Festival has been overseen since 1973 by the Richard-Wagner-Stiftung (Richard Wagner Foundation), the members of which include a number of Wagner’s descendants.

 ‘Parsifal’ – Closing Scene

Following the first Bayreuth festival Wagner began work on ‘Parsifal’ (see left), his final opera.
The composition took four years, much of which Wagner spent in Italy for health reasons.
During this period he also wrote a series of essays, including some reactionary writings on religion and art which recanted his earlier views.
Many of these—including “Religion and Art” (1880) and “Hero-dom and Christendom” (1881) —appeared in the journal ‘Bayreuther Blätter’, founded in 1880 by Wagner and Hans von Wolzogen for Wagnerite visitors to Bayreuth.
Wagner completed Parsifal in January 1882, and a second Bayreuth Festival was held for the new opera which was premiered on 26 May.
Wagner was by this time extremely ill, having suffered through a series of increasingly severe angina attacks.

Gondola
Ca’ Vendramin Calergi

During the sixteenth and final performance of Parsifal on 29 August, he secretly entered the pit during Act III, took the baton from conductor Hermann Levi, and led the performance to its conclusion.

After the Festival, the Wagner family journeyed to Venice for the winter.
Wagner died of a heart attack at the age of sixty-nine on 13 February 1883 at Ca’ Vendramin Calergi, a 16th century palazzo on the Grand Canal.
Franz Liszt’s two pieces for pianoforte solo entitled ‘La lugubre gondola’ evoke the passing of a black-shrouded funerary gondola (see right) bearing Richard Wagner’s remains over the Grand Canal. Wagner was buried in the garden of the Villa Wahnfried in Bayreuth.

Wagner’s operatic works are his primary artistic legacy. Unlike other opera composers, who generally left the task of writing the libretto (the text and lyrics) to others, Wagner wrote his own libretti, which he referred to as “poems”. Further, Wagner developed a compositional style in which the orchestra’s role is equal to that of the singers. The orchestra’s dramatic role, in the later operas, includes the use of leitmotivs, musical themes that can be interpreted as announcing specific characters, locales, and plot elements; their complex interweaving and evolution illuminates the progression of the drama. Ultimately he urged a new concept of opera often referred to as “music drama”, (although he did not use or sanction this term himself) in which all musical poetic and dramatic elements were to be fused together—the Gesamtkunstwerk.

Wagner’s compositions, particularly those of his later period, are notable for their complex texture, rich harmonies and orchestration, and the elaborate use of leitmotifs: musical themes associated with individual characters, places, ideas or plot elements.

‘Tannhäuser’ 
‘Das Fliegende Hollander’

Initially establishing his reputation as a composer of works such as ‘The Flying Dutchman’ (see left) and ‘Tannhäuser’ (see right) which were in the romantic traditions of Weber and Meyerbeer, Wagner transformed operatic thought through his concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk (“total work of art”).

This would achieve the synthesis of all the poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts, and was announced in a series of essays between 1849 and 1852.
Wagner realised this concept most fully in the first half of the monumental four-opera cycle ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’.

‘Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg’

However, his thoughts on the relative importance of music and drama were to change again and he reintroduced some traditional operatic forms into his last few stage works including ‘Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg’ (see left).

Wagner pioneered advances in musical language, such as extreme chromaticism and quickly shifting tonal centres, which greatly influenced the development of European classical music.

‘Tristan und Isolde’
Opening Bars
Bayreuth Festspielhaus

His ‘Tristan und Isolde’ is sometimes described as marking the start of modern music.

He had his own opera house built, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, which contained many novel design features.

It was here that the ‘Ring’ and ‘Parsifal‘ received their premieres and where his most important stage works continue to be performed today in an annual festival run by his descendants. Wagner’s views on conducting were also highly influential.

Bayreuth Festspielhaus

His extensive writings on music, drama and politics have all attracted extensive comment; in recent decades, especially where they have antisemitic content.

Wagner’s late dramas are considered his masterpieces.
Der Ring des Nibelungen, commonly referred to as the Ring cycle, is a set of four operas based loosely on figures and elements of Germanic mythology—particularly from the later Norse mythology—notably the Old Norse Poetic Edda and Volsunga Saga, and the Middle High German Nibelungenlied.
They were also influenced by Wagner’s concepts of ancient Greek drama, in which tetralogies were a component of Athenian festivals, and which he had amply discussed in his essay “Oper und Drama”.

Richard Wagner
The Ring

The first two components of the Ring cycle were ‘Das Rheingold’ (The Rhinegold) (completed 1854) and ‘Die Walküre’ (The Valkyrie) (completed 1856).

In ‘Das Rheingold’, with its “relentlessly talky “realism” [and] the absence of lyrical “numbers” “, Wagner came very close to the pure musical ideals of his 1849 – 51 essays.
‘Die Walküre’ (see left), with Siegmund’s almost full-blown aria (‘Winterstürme’) in the first act, and the quasi-choral appearance of the Valkyries themselves, shows more ‘operatic’ traits, but has been assessed as “the music drama that most satisfactorily embodies the theoretical principles of “Oper und Drama”.
A thoroughgoing synthesis of poetry and music is achieved without any notable sacrifice in musical expression”.

Siegfried – Richard Wagner

While still composing the Ring, (leaving the third Ring opera ‘Siegfried’ (see right) uncompleted for the while), Wagner paused between 1857 and 1864 to compose the tragic love story ‘Tristan und Isolde’ and his only mature comedy ‘Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg’ (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg), two works which are also part of the regular operatic canon.

‘Tristan und Isolde’ uses a story line deriving from the poem ‘Tristan und Isolt’ by the 13th century poet Gottfried von Strassburg.
Wagner noted that “its all – pervading tragedy […] impressed me so deeply that I felt convinced it should stand out in bold relief, regardless of minor details.
This impact, together with his discovery of the philosophy of Schopenhauer in October 1854, led Wagner to find himself in a “serious mood created by Schopenhauer, which was trying to find ecstatic expression. It was some such mood that inspired the conception of a Tristan und Isolde.
The work was first performed in Munich on 10 June 1865, conducted by Hans von Bülow.
Tristan is often granted a special place in musical history.
It has been described as “fifty years ahead of its time” because of its chromaticism, long-held discords, unusual orchestral colouring and harmony, and use of polyphony.
Wagner himself felt that his musico-dramatical theories were most perfectly realised in this work with its use of “the art of transition” between dramatic elements and the balance achieved between vocal and orchestral lines.
‘Die Meistersinger’ was originally conceived by Wagner in 1845 as a sort of comic pendant to Tannhäuser.
It was first performed in Munich, again under the baton of Bülow, on 21 June 1868, its accessibility making it an immediate success. It is “a rich, perceptive music drama widely admired for its warm humanity“; but because of its strong German nationalist overtones, it is also held up by some as an example of Wagner’s reactionary politics and antisemitism.

Götterdämmerung 

When Wagner returned, with the added experience of composing ‘Tristan’ and ‘Die Meistersinger’, to write the music for the last act of ‘Siegfried’ and for ‘Götterdämmerung’ (Twilight of the Gods), as the final part of the Ring was eventually called, his style had changed once again to one more recognisable as ‘operatic’ (though thoroughly stamped with his own originality as a composer, and suffused with leitmotivs) than the aural world of ‘Rheingold’ and ‘Walküre’.

This was in part because the libretti of the four ‘Ring’ operas had been written in reverse order, so that the book for ‘Götterdämmerung’ was conceived more ‘traditionally’ than that of Rheingold; still, the self-imposed strictures of the Gesamtkunstwerk had become relaxed.
However, the differences are also because of Wagner’s development as a composer during the period in which he composed ‘Tristan’, ‘Meistersinger’ and also the Paris version of ‘Tannhäuser’.
From Act III of ‘Siegfried’ onwards, the Ring becomes chromatic, and both harmonically more complex and more developmental in its treatment of leitmotifs.
Having taken 26 years from the first draft of a libretto in 1848 until the completion of ‘Götterdämmerung’ in 1874, the Ring represents in all about 15 hours of performance, the only undertaking of such size to be regularly represented on the world’s stages.

Parsifal

Erlösung dem Erlöser ! 
 ‘Parsifal’ 

Wagner’s final opera, ‘Parsifal‘ (1882), which was his only work written especially for his Festspielhaus in Bayreuth and which is described in the score as a “Bühnenweihfestspiel” (festival play for the consecration of the stage), has a storyline suggested by elements of the legend of the Holy Grail.

It also however carries elements of Buddhist renunciation suggested by Wagner’s readings of Schopenhauer.

Holy Spear – Parsifal
Wagner described it to Cosima as his “last card“.
The composer’s treatment of Christianity in the opera, its eroticism, and its relationship to ideas of German nationalism and  anti-Semitism have continued to render it controversial for non-musical reasons.
However, musically it has been held to represent a continuing development of the composer’s style , with “a diaphanous score of unearthly beauty and refinement“.
It is undoubtedly Wagner’s greatest opera – his masterpiece.

click here for more information about ‘Parsifal

Writings

Wagner was an extremely prolific writer, authoring hundreds of books, poems, and articles, as well as voluminous correspondence, throughout his life.
His writings covered a wide range of topics, including politics, philosophy, and detailed analyses of his own operas.
Essays of note include “Art and Revolution” (1849), “Opera and Drama” (1851), an essay on the theory of opera. One of his most significant writings is “Das Judenthum in der Musik” (“Jewishness in Music”, 1850), a polemic directed against Jewish composers in general, and Giacomo Meyerbeer in particular.

He also wrote various autobiographical works, including “My Life” (1880).
In his later years Wagner became a vociferous opponent of experimentation on animals and in 1879 he published an open letter, “Against Vivisection”, in support of the animal rights activist Ernst von Weber.
There have been several editions of Wagner’s writings, including a centennial edition in German edited by Dieter Borchmeyer (which however omitted the essay “Das Judenthum in der Musik”).
The English translations of Wagner’s prose in 8 volumes by W. Ashton Ellis, (1892 – 99), are still in print and commonly used, despite their deficiencies.
A complete edition of Wagner’s correspondence, (estimated to amount to between 10,000 and 12,000 surviving items), of which the first volume appeared in 1967, is still under way.
Wagner’s influence on literature and philosophy is significant.
Wagner’s protean abundance meant that he could inspire the use of literary motif in many a novel employing interior monologue.
The Symbolists saw him as a mystic hierophant; the Decadents found many a frisson in his work.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche was part of Wagner’s inner circle during the early 1870s, and his first published work ‘The Birth of Tragedy’ proposed Wagner’s music as the Dionysian rebirth of European culture in opposition to Apollonian rationalist decadence.

Nietzsche broke with Wagner following the first Bayreuth Festival, believing that Wagner’s final phase represented a pandering to Christian pieties and a surrender to the new German Reich. Nietzsche expressed his displeasure with the later Wagner in “The Case of Wagner” and “Nietzsche contra Wagner“.
Charles Baudelaire, Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine worshipped Wagner.
Edouard Dujardin, whose influential novel ‘Les lauriers sont coupés’ is in the form of an interior monologue inspired by Wagnerian music, founded a journal dedicated to Wagner, La Revue Wagnérienne, to which J. K. Huysmans and Téodor de Wyzewa contributed.
In the twentieth century, W. H. Auden once called Wagner “perhaps the greatest genius that ever lived”, while Thomas Mann and Marcel Proust were heavily influenced by him and discussed Wagner in their novels.
He is discussed in some of the works of James Joyce.
Wagnerian themes inhabit T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’, which contains lines from ‘Tristan und Isolde’ and ‘Götterdämmerung’, and Verlaine’s poem on ‘Parsifal‘.
Many of the Wagner’s concepts, including his speculation about dreams, predated their investigation by Sigmund Freud.
Adolf Hitler and Winnifred Wagner

In a long list of other major cultural figures influenced by Wagner, Bryan Magee includes D. H. Lawrence, Aubrey Beardsley, Romain Rolland, Gérard de Nerval, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Rainer Maria Rilke and numerous others. Wagner’s operas, writings, his politics, beliefs and unorthodox lifestyle made him a controversial figure during his lifetime. Wagner was responsible for several theatrical innovations developed at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus (for the design of which he appropriated some of the ideas of his former colleague, Gottfried Semper, which he had solicited for a proposed new opera house at Munich). These innovations include darkening the auditorium during performances, and placing the orchestra in a pit out of view of the audience. Adolphe Appia’s stagings of Wagner operas at Bayreuth had far reaching consequences in theatre practice generally.

Following Wagner’s death, the debate about his ideas and their interpretation, particularly in Germany during the 20th century, continued to make him politically and socially controversial in a way that other great composers are not. Much heat is generated by Wagner’s comments on Jews, which continue to influence the way that his works are regarded, and by the essays he wrote on the nature of race from 1850 onwards, and their influence on Adolf Hitler.

Wagner and Hitler

Wagner’s operas had an almost religious effect upon Hitler; Wagner’s skill for drama and dramatic music no doubt underscored the impact of the legends already known to Hitler from youth. 

Hitler and many of his associates shared a fascination with the history and mythology of the German Volk, and the following discussion will focus on examples of “mythical influences”, and how they helped shape the personal and political activities of these men. 
Richard Wagner’s (1813-1883) most famous works are undoubtably his music dramas.

‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’ (left ‘Das Rheingold’) and ‘Tristan und Isolde’ (right – model stage-set) and most importantly, ‘Parsifal’, (below – ‘Die große Gralsszeneare’), the works that are widely acknowledged as being of great musical significance
The development and use of the leitmotif, the parts written for the heldentenor, the manipulation of chromaticism in the tonal system, and the development of the music drama itself are all very important aspects of Wagner and his music.
The ancient sagas that Wagner used as a 
basis for these music dramas held for him revealed truths and insights into human behavior and emotions. He has not been alone in his interest and opinions.These myths have been used as an argument for, or illustration of, various beliefs and ideologies. ‘The Ring’ has been variously interpreted as a look into the human psyche; a means of promoting socialism; a prophecy of the fate of the world and humankind; and a “parable” about the industrial society that was coming of age in Wagner’s lifetime.
It was also used by the Nazi party to justify and glorify racism, and to supply a basis of fanatic loyalty in the Schutzstaffel, or SS.
The legends of German mythology are essentially the same as the old Nordic legends; many of the proper names are the same in both cultures, and most of the remaining names are very similar to the Norse versions, differing only in spelling. 

Thus the Norse Odin, the ruler of the gods, becomes Woden, (or Wotan), further south in the Germanic regions. In the same fashion, the Norse heroes known as Sigurd, Brynhild and Gudrun become Siegfried, Brünnhilde, (see right ‘Wotan &  Brünnhilde), and Günther in the German stories. 
The extremely close parallels between the two cultures makes it an absolute certainty that both the Germanic stories and the earlier Norse legends were derived from the same ancient tales.
These early legends are known to the modern world from two collections: the Elder Edda, which is written in verse, and the Younger Edda, (consisting of the sagas), which is written in prose. The dating for these collections seems to be in some dispute; in Bulfinch’s Mythology rather specific dates are assigned: 1056 for the Elder Edda and 1640 for the Younger Edda. However, in Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, she speaks of the oldest manuscript of the Elder as dating from circa 1300, some three hundred years after the arrival of Christianity in Iceland, and almost three hundred years after Bulfinch’s date.
Hamilton does state, however, that all of these legends are completely pagan in nature, (thus predating Christianity), and that almost all scholars agree the stories must be much older than the oldest manuscript.
The dates for the Younger Edda are likewise apparently uncertain; Bulfinch’s date of 1640 is hard to reconcile with Hamilton’s statement that the Younger was “written down by one Snorri Sturluson in the last part of the twelfth century.”
Regardless of date, it is agreed the most important collection is the Elder Edda.
These two very long epics furnish the material for almost all of the presently known myths and legends about the ancient gods of the North. 
Unfortunately, as Christian missionaries from the Mediterranean area journeyed further north, they systematically destroyed all the pagan artifacts they could find in a remarkably successful attempt to completely obliterate all remnants of the belief system they were replacing.
Only a few fragments of the entire northern European prehistoric collection of myths have been preserved. The legend of Beowulf in England and the Nibelungenlied in Germany are two tales that survived the zeal of the missionaries. 
The Eddas are known only from Iceland; apparently Icelandic missionaries were less influential than their counterparts on the continent of Europe — Iceland was one of the last European countries to be Christianized.
All of these surviving legends are essentially gloomy and pessimistic in nature; depressingly so to modern readers.

In Nordic and Germanic mythology the Earth, (Midgard), and Heaven, (Asgard), were destined to be utterly destroyed by the Frost Giants, (who lived in Jötunheim), in a final great battle between Good and Evil, called Ragnarok, (Ragnarok is paralleled by Götterdämmerung in Wagner’s Ring Cycle – see right).

In this final battle, Evil was predestined to win, and the entirety of creation was to be destroyed. The only bright factor in this thoroughly depressing viewpoint was the belief that, in spite of all, if one could die a courageous, heroic death, then all else faded into insignificance. 
It is of interest to realize that the Western ideal of heroism and heroic deeds in the face of certain death springs almost entirely from these Nordic myths, and not from the Greek and Roman mythology that most people are more familiar with. (The Greek gods were remarkably un-heroic in their conduct), and of course, this idea of heroism and fighting to the death against any odds would fit very well with the kind of fanatic loyalty sought by Hitler and Himmler.
When Richard Wagner embarked upon the composition of ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’, (around 1849), he chose as his framework the Teutonic epic of the Nibelungenlied, (The Norse version of this legend is called the Volsungasaga).
Wagner finished the first two segments, (‘Das Rheingold’ and ‘Die Walküre’), and part of the third, (‘Siegfried’), by 1857, but seventeen years would go by before he would finish the great work with the completion of ‘Siegfried’ and the final music drama in the cycle: ‘Götterdämmerung’.
As mentioned earlier, the Teutonic versions of these myths are very similar to the Nordic versions, differing chiefly in descriptions of climate, and social condition. The Teutonic versions were generally slightly less violent than their Viking equivalents.

In turn, it seems apparent that Wagner again tempered the German tales somewhat; in ‘Tristan und Isolde’, after the hero Tristan is mortally wounded, he is kept alive by the power of love until he is united with his lover, Isolde. After Tristan’s demise in her arms, she is overcome by waves of ecstatic love, and she dies. 

As discouraging as this ending may seem, Wagner saw it as the triumph of love in the face of all adversity; not even death could truly defeat it. 
Of course, the story steps outside of the bounds of reality somewhere along the way, but this only adds to the transcendent quality of the story and of the music drama itself.
Adolf Hitler’s attraction to Richard Wagner’s music began at an early age. At the age of twelve, I saw … the first opera of my life, Lohengrin. In one instant I was addicted. My youthful enthusiasm for the Bayreuth Master knew no bounds.”

Adolf Hitler

In 1905, at the age of sixteen, Hitler left school – ostensibly because of illness – and was able to spend his time as he wished – which he later described as the happiest time of his life.

Two of his favorite pastimes were aimlessly roaming the streets of Linz (see right), and attending the opera at night.
He had a passion for music; most especially the mystic operas of Wagner, which he would attend night after night.
His meager supply of pocket money was spent mainly on the opera, (a standing-room ticket cost only the equivalent of ten cents), and on purchasing books on German history and mythology, which he would read for hours at a time.

His fascination with Wagner’s operas seems to have had a profound effect upon him.

His only friend from this period of his life was one August Kubizek, (nicknamed “Gustl”), who gave an interesting description:

“The charged emotionality of this music seemed to have served him as a means for self-hypnosis, while he found in its lush air of bourgeois luxury the necessary ingredients for escapist fantasy”.
Kubizek goes on to relate the events of a particular evening spent in Hitler’s company.
They had attended a performance of Wagner’s ‘Rienzi’, and according to “Gustl”, Hitler had a quite powerful reaction to the opera.
The youthful Adolf was “overwhelmed by the resplendent, dramatic musicality” of the opera, as well as deeply affected by the story therein; that of Cola di Rienzi, a medieval rebel who was an outcast from his fellows and was “destroyed by their incomprehension”. After the opera …
“… Hitler began to orate. Words burst from him like a backed-up flood breaking through crumbling dams. In grandiose, compelling images, he sketched for me his future and that of his people”.
Thirty years later, the boyhood friends would meet again in Bayreuth, and Hitler would remark: “It all began at that hour !”.
More convincing evidence of Wagner’s influences can hardly be wished for after a statement such as this one, but there is more.
Between 1909 and 1913, a time which Hitler described as “the saddest period of my life”, he resided in Vienna.
It was here, by his own statement in Mein Kampf, that he became a confirmed anti-Semite.

The anti-Semitic opinions Richard Wagner had held were no secret, and the concurrence of opinion between these two men could only have served to pull Hitler closer to a greater regard for Wagner.
Indeed, Hitler claims to have heard ‘Tristan und Isolde’ thirty to forty times during his years in Vienna.
(During these years in Vienna, at the Hofoper opera house alone, at least 426 evenings featured performances of works by Wagner).

In 1923, just before the abortive “Beer-Hall Putsch”, Hitler presented himself at Wahnfried, the home of the Wagner family.

There he met Siegfried Wagner, (Richard Wagner’s only son), and Siegfried’s English born wife Winifred (*see below).
He is said to have sought out the Master’s study, and, deeply moved, stood before Wagner’s grave in the garden for a long time. 
Afterwards, he was introduced to Houston Stewart Chamberlain (**see photo below & ‘AN ENGLISHMAN AT THE COURT OF THE KAISER), (Richard Wagner’s English born son-in-law), who was of advanced age and could not speak. Chamberlain later wrote a letter to Hitler voicing his support for Hitler’s goals and ideas. 

Hitler valued this letter greatly, almost as if it were “a benediction from the Bayreuth Master himself”.

Hitler continued in his contacts with the family of Wagner, and it is rumoured that he had a relationship with Winifred after Siegfried’s death.




Hitler also became a favourite ‘uncle’ (uncle Wolf), to the Wagner’s two sons, Wieland (left) and Wolfgang (right).

His idea of the supreme expression of opera was the final scene in ‘Götterdämmerung’, and, when in Bayreuth, whenever he witnessed this finale, he would turn around in his darkened box, seek out the hand of Frau Winifred Wagner, and “breathe a deeply moved Handkuss upon it”.
By this time he had seen all of Wagner’s operas countless times, and boasted of having listened to ‘Tristan und Isolde’ and ‘Die Meistersinger’ over a hundred times each.

Other indications of Wagner’s influences are furnished by Albert Speer, who began as Hitler’s chief architect and ended as Reich Armaments Minister.
He speaks of the interior furnishings of Hitler’s country house, the Berghof at Obersalzberg.
The salon was furnished, along with normal items of furniture, with a “sideboard over ten feet high and eighteen feet long” which was used to store phonograph records. Against another wall was “a massive chest containing built-in speakers, and adorned by a large bronze bust of Richard Wagner by Arno Breker“.
The admiration Hitler had for Wagner was reciprocated by the Wagner family; when furnishing this dwelling, the Wagners donated linens and china, and sent Hitler a complete set Richard Wagner’s works, along with a page from the original score of Lohengrin.

There is yet another facet of Hitler’s dwelling at Obersalzberg that shows his sense of unity with Germany’s “heroic” past: the view.

Obersalzberg, as one might imply from the name, is a mountain; high enough to give a good view of the surrounding area.
The Berghof, which was designed by Hitler himself, featured a large picture window which offered a view of the Untersberg, Berchtesgaden, and Mozart’s hometown, Salzburg.

Legend has it that the Emperor Charlemagne still sleeps in the Untersberg, but will someday awaken and restore the German Empire to its past glories.
Hitler didn’t hesitate to apply this prophecy to himself: “You see the Untersberg over there. It is no accident that I have my residence opposite it”.
On the eve of World War II, Hitler’s forces reoccupied the Rhineland. Returning from a triumphal trip through this area, and jubilant over the Allies’ weakness, he requested that some Wagner be put on the phonograph. Listening to the vorspiel to Parsifal, he remarked:

I have built up my religion out of Parsifal. Divine worship in solemn form … without pretenses of humility … One can serve God only in the garb of the hero“.

The record continued to play. 
The next selection was the funeral march from Götterdämmerung, and brought forth the following comments from Hitler:
I first heard it in Vienna – at the Opera – and I still remember as if it were today“.
The Germanic myths and the dramatic presentation of these myths by Richard Wagner were, very obviously, a central tool of the Nazi Party.
The psychological effects of these music dramas and stories on the principal figures of the Third Reich are equally obvious, when they are looked for. 
In Joachim Fest’s biography of Hitler, there are no fewer than thirty-four references to Richard Wagner or his music.
And of course, one cannot help but wonder what Richard Wagner would have thought about Adolf Hitler, one of his all-time biggest fans ! However, it was Richard Wagner who declared in his ‘music dramas’ that the coming master race was that of the Germans.

Originally, Nietzsche had delighted in Wagner’s music, but the latter’s obsessive anti-Semitism and conversion to an Aryanised Christianity caused him to denounce the composer with every twist of biting irony at his command.
The great mass of people, however, were to respond more to Wagner’s music than to Nietzsche’s difficult writings, partly because it was great and inspired music and partly because its maker had resurrected the mythology of the German race.
It is said that myths are the truest expression of a race’s spirit and culture, and in ‘The Ring’ the Teutonic ‘Supermen’ bestrode a stage, wherein was war, treachery, courage, blood and fire, climaxed with a stupendous ‘Götterdämmerung’.
The world of Wotan and Thor, heroes and giants, great deeds, great victories, and great destruction had never been expressed with such power.

The beauty of Wagner’s music moved men to such an extent that Hitler would declare that to understand National Socialist Germany one must first know Wagner.
For Wagner believed that the virtues of the Teuton tribes had atrophied with the coming of industrial civilisation; that courage and will had been poisoned or emasculated by capitalism and race pollution; that the Jews were responsible for the enervation and enslavement of the German spirit; and that a new Siegfried must arise to lead the Germans to an awareness of their greatness and their glory.
Schopenauer (see right) destroyed the meaning of values, Nietzsche proclaimed the need for passing beyond them, and Wagner supplied a new set to replace the old.
These three men, renowned more posthumously than in their own lifetimes, challenged the world of 1889 and became, in time, the favourites of Adolf Hitler.
From them he derived what fundamental values he possessed.
It is impossible to tell whether these men expressed what they felt around them, or what they sensed would be the future; or whether they were determined to stamp their wills upon the world.
Were they prophets? Or were they magicians?
We know that Nietzsche derived much of his inspiration from mystical trances which possessed him without warning, and that his greatest work, Thus Spake Zarathustra, was inspired by one such experience in the winter of 1882-3.
We know also that Wagner claimed that the sources of his inspiration flowed from similar supra-rational experiences, and the effect of this can be seen in that extraordinary mystical opera, ‘Parsifal’.
Whatever the truth, it is at least certain that much of what they foretold, later came to pass.
Yet the world of 1889 ignored these insignificant portents of change.
People continued to live as though nothing important had happened or would happen, and no one so much as deigned to notice the birth of Adolf Hitler.
Treaties and contracts were made and broken; money was won and lost; children were educated as though all was absolutely certain.
Books were written and read which taught Christian, bourgeois, industrial capitalist, materialist, humanist European values as if no other could ever be of the slightest relevance.

And yet it was these books which lacked all relevance.
Nietzsche, (see left and NIETZSCHE – CREATOR OF THE ÜBERMENSCH ), who knew the true spirit of his age and of the age to come, wrote:
‘And what doeth the saint in the forest?’ asked Zarathustra.
The saint answered: ‘I make hymns and sing them; and in making hymns I laugh and weep and mumble: thus do I praise God.
‘With singing, weeping, laughing, and mumbling do I praise the God who is my God. But what dost thou bring us as a gift?’
When Zarathustra had heard these words, he bowed to the saint and said: ‘What should I have to give thee! Let me rather hurry hence lest I take aught away from thee!’
And thus they parted from one another, the old man and Zarathustra, laughing like schoolboys.
When Zarathustra was alone, however, he said to his heart: ‘Could it be possible! This old saint in the forest hath not yet heard of it, that God is dead!”

click below for a fascinating insight into the early life and personality of Adolf Hitler

Der Bayreuther Kreis

Der Bayreuther Kreis (The Bayreuth Circle) was a name originally applied by some writers to devotees of Richard Wagner’s music who attended and supported the annual Bayreuth Festival in the later 19th and early twentieth centuries.
Many of these devotees espoused nationalistic German politics, and  were supporters of Adolf Hitler from the 1920s onwards, and therefore this group of people were directly associated with the rise of Nazism.
There was never any organisation named Der Bayreuther Kreis, or any group of people who identified themselves by that name; but the term has been used by many historians as a convenient label for Hitler supporters associated with Wagner and Bayreuth.
Examples of such association are given in the following citations:
‘Only with timely support from the Bayreuth circle, especially Houston S. Chamberlain, Winifred Wagner, and henchmen like Dietrich Eckhart in the Thule Society, could Hitler assume the public image of a Wotan/Siegfried figure, complete with telling nickname: “Wolf.” ‘
‘Thus Hitler himself admitted: `It was Cosima Wagner’s merit to have created the link between Bayreuth and National Socialism’.
‘It was the Bayreuth circle which raised Wagner’s message to the status of gospel, manoeuvring his ideas into a Germanic doctrine of salvation.’

Significant Operas

‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’

   

The cycle is a work of extraordinary scale.
Perhaps the most outstanding facet of the monumental work is its sheer length: a full performance of the cycle takes place over four nights at the opera, with a total playing time of about 15 hours, depending on the conductor’s pacing.
The first and shortest opera, ‘Das Rheingold’, typically lasts two and a half hours, while the final and longest, ‘Götterdämmerung’, takes up four and a half hours.
The cycle is modelled after ancient Greek dramas that were presented as three tragedies and one satyr play.
‘The Ring’ proper begins with ‘Die Walküre’ and ends with ‘Götterdämmerung’, with ‘Rheingold’ as a prelude.

Wagner called ‘Das Rheingold’ a Vorabend or “Preliminary Evening”, and ‘Die Walküre’, ‘Siegfried’ (see left below) and ‘Götterdämmerung’ were subtitled First Day, Second Day and Third Day, respectively, of the trilogy proper.

The scale and scope of the story is epic.

It follows the struggles of gods, heroes, and several mythical creatures over the eponymous magic Ring that grants domination over the entire world.
The drama and intrigue continue through three generations of protagonists, until the final cataclysm at the end of Götterdämmerung.
The music of the cycle is thick and richly textured, and grows in complexity as the cycle proceeds.

Wagner wrote for an orchestra of gargantuan proportions, including a greatly enlarged brass section with new instruments such as the ‘Wagner tuba’ (see left), bass trumpet and contrabass trombone.

Remarkably, he uses a chorus only relatively briefly, in acts 2 and 3 of ‘Götterdämmerung’, and then mostly of men with just a few women.
He eventually had a purpose-built theatre constructed, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, in which to perform this work.
The theatre has a special stage that blends the huge orchestra with the singers’ voices, allowing them to sing at a natural volume.
The result was that the singers do not have to strain themselves vocally during the long performances.
Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle begins when the dwarf Alberich rejects love in order to gain unlimited power over the world by forging a Ring of Power from the Rhinegold.
The rejection of love is the only possible way of seizing this gold from the Rhine Maidens who had teased and taunted Alberich’s love.

Once Alberich has seized the gold he forges it into a ring and a magical helmet (the Tarnhelm) that allows all who don it to shift shape at will and cross great distances in an instant.
When the god Wotan is himself allured by the wealth of the gold and power of the ring – stealing them from Alberich in order to pay for a great hall of the gods (Valhalla), the embittered dwarf curses the ring with a spell – ensuring that it will henceforth bring about the death and downfall of all who wear it.
Only the Earth goddess Erda, embodiment of primordial wisdom, and Loge – the luciferic fire spirit upon whom Wotan has relied – recognise the full pathos of what will befall both gods and mortals if the Ring is not returned to its source in the Rhine.
This is ultimately achieved not by the naïve and fearless hero Siegfried, nor by his loveless rival, the son of Alberich but by Siegfried’s lover Brünnhilde – (see right).
She is a female warrior, a ‘death angel’ or Valkyrie born of Erda’s violation by Wotan. 
In the symbolism of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, rejection of love in favour of power over, and the enforced submission of female gods and mortals combine to bring about a loss of inner power and knowledge.
In the end Wotan regains the wisdom lost to Erda only by willingly submitting to the fate imposed by the power of the Ring.
He does so by encouraging Brunnhilde to follow her own loving instincts for both Siegfried and himself – knowing full well that this will eventually bring about the downfall or ‘Twilight’ of the gods, but knowing at the same time that only this will save mankind and redeem the world.
The epic ends with Brünnhilde flinging the ring back into the Rhine – whose luciferic flames then rise to engulf Valhalla and cause its collapse.
The gods – hitherto embodiments of inner power and knowledge – fall prey to the allure of outer symbols of that power and knowledge (gold, heroic victory in war, and the grand fortress of Valhalla that is home to dead heroes).
Thus bringing about their own downfall, they now await their return – no longer as gods but as human beings – loving men and women of inner power and inner knowledge.

Parsifal

Parsifal is an opera in three acts by Richard Wagner.

It is loosely based on Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, the 13th century epic poem of the Arthurian knight Parzival (Percival) and his quest for the Holy Grail, and on Chrétien de Troyes’ Perceval, the Story of the Grail. Wagner first conceived the work in April 1857 but it was not finished until twenty-five years later.

It was to be Wagner’s last completed opera and in composing it he took advantage of the particular acoustics of his Bayreuth Festspielhaus.

Parsifal was first produced at the second Bayreuth Festival in 1882.
The Bayreuth Festival maintained a monopoly on Parsifal productions until 1903, when the opera was performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Wagner preferred to describe Parsifal not as an opera, but as “ein Bühnenweihfestspiel” – “A Festival Play for the Consecration of the Stage”.
At Bayreuth a tradition has arisen that there is no applause after the first act of the opera. Wagner’s spelling of Parsifal instead of the Parzival he had used up to 1877 is informed by an erroneous etymology of the name Percival deriving it from a supposedly Arabic origin, Fal Parsi meaning “pure fool”.
for more information see the post
   
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Winifred Wagner

Winifred Wagner (23 June 1897 – 5 March 1980) was an English-born Welsh woman married to Siegfried Wagner, Richard Wagner’s son
She was the effective head of the Wagner family from 1930 to 1945, and a close friend of German dictator Adolf Hitler.
Winifred Williams was born Winifred Marjorie Williams in Hastings, England, the daughter of John Williams, a writer, and his wife, the former Emily Florence Karop.
Winifred lost both her parents before the age of two and was initially raised in a series of homes. Eight years later she was adopted by a distant German relative of her mother, Henrietta Karop, and her husband Karl Klindworth, a musician and a friend of Richard Wagner.
The Bayreuth Festival was envisioned as a family business, with the leadership to be passed from Richard Wagner to his son Siegfried Wagner, but Siegfried, who was secretly homosexual, showed little interest in marriage.

It was arranged that Winifred Klindworth, as she was called at the time, aged 17, would meet Siegfried Wagner, aged 45, at the Bayreuth Festival in 1914.A year later they were married. It was hoped that the marriage would end Siegfried’s homosexual encounters and the associated costly scandals, and provide an heir to carry on the family business. Following their marriage on 22 September 1915, they had four children in rapid succession: Wieland (1917–1966), Friedelind (1918–1991), Wolfgang (1919–2010) and Verena (born 1920). After the death of Siegfried Wagner in 1930, Winifred Wagner took over the Bayreuth Festival, running it until the end of World War II.

In 1923, Winifred met Adolf Hitler who, as we have seen earlier, greatly admired Wagner’s music. 
When Hitler was jailed for his part in the Munich Beer Hall Putsch, Winifred sent him food parcels and stationery on which Hitler’s autobiography Mein Kampf may have been written. In the late 1930s, she served as Hitler’s personal translator during treaty negotiations with England. Although Winifred remained personally faithful to Hitler, she denied that she had ever supported the Nazi party. Her relationship with Hitler grew so close that by 1933 there were rumors of impending marriage.

‘Haus Wahnfried’, the Wagner home in Bayreuth, became Hitler’s favorite retreat, and he had his own separate accommodation in the grounds of Wahnfried, known as the Führerbau.
Hitler gave the festival government assistance and tax exempt status, and treated Winifred’s children, particularly Wieland and Wolfgang solicitously.
According to biographer Brigitte Hamann, Winifred Wagner was reported to be “disgusted” by Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. In one notable incident, in the late 1930s, a letter from her to Hitler prevented Hedwig and Alfred Pringsheim (their daughter Katia was married to Thomas Mann) from being arrested by the Gestapo.
According to Gottfried Wagner, Winifred’s grandson, she never admitted the error of her ways. After the war, her posthumous devotion to the man she cryptically referred to as “USA” – for ‘Unser Seliger Adolf’ (our blessed Adolf) – remained undimmed.
She corresponded with Hitler for nearly two decades.
Scholars have not been allowed to see the letters which are kept locked away by one of Winifred’s grandchildren, Amélie Lafferentz.


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© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013


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Parsifal und die Deutsche Seele – Richard Wagner

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013


(Parsifal and the German Soul)

Parsifal is an opera in three acts by Richard Wagner.
It is loosely based on Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, the 13th century epic poem of the Arthurian knight Parzival (Percival) and his quest for the Holy Grail, and on Chrétien de Troyes’ Perceval, the Story of the Grail.

Bayreuth Festspielhaus
Bayreuth Festspielhaus

Wagner first conceived the work in April 1857 but it was not finished until twenty-five years later.
It was to be Wagner’s last completed opera and in composing it he took advantage of the particular acoustics of his Bayreuth Festspielhaus.

Parsifal was first produced at the second Bayreuth Festival in 1882.
The Bayreuth Festival maintained a monopoly on Parsifal productions until 1903, when the opera was performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Metropolitan Opera House – New York

Wagner preferred to describe Parsifal not as an opera, but as “ein Bühnenweihfestspiel” – “A Festival Play for the Consecration of the Stage”.

At Bayreuth a tradition has arisen that there is no applause after the first act of the opera.

Wolfram von Eschenbach

Wagner’s spelling of Parsifal instead of the Parzival he had used up to 1877 is informed by the etymology of the name Percival, deriving it from an Arabic origin, ‘Fal Parsi‘ meaning “pure fool”.

Wagner first read Wolfram von Eschenbach’s poem Parzival while taking the waters at Marienbad in 1845.

Arthur Schopenhauer

After encountering Arthur Schopenhauer’s work in 1854, Wagner became interested in oriental philosophies, especially Buddhism.

He was particularly inspired by reading Eugène Burnouf’s “Introduction à l’histoire du buddhisme indien” in 1855/56.
Out of this interest came “Die Sieger” (“The Victors”, 1856) a sketch Wagner wrote for an opera based on a story from the life of Buddha.
The themes which were later explored in Parsifal of self-renouncing, reincarnation, and exclusive social groups (‘castes‘ in ‘Die Sieger’, the ‘Knights of the Grail‘ in ‘Parsifal’) were first introduced in “Die Sieger”.






Mathilde Wessendonk
Asyl

According to his own account, recorded in his autobiography ‘Mein Leben’, Wagner conceived Parsifal on Good Friday morning, April 1857, in the ‘Asyl‘ (German: “Asylum”), the small cottage on Otto von Wesendonck’s estate in the Zürich suburb of Enge, which Wesendonck – a wealthy silk merchant and generous patron of the arts – had placed at Wagner’s disposal. 

The composer and his wife Minna had moved into the cottage on 28 April:




Minna Planer

“… on Good Friday I awoke to find the sun shining brightly for the first time in this house: the little garden was radiant with green, the birds sang, and at last I could sit on the roof and enjoy the long-yearned-for peace with its message of promise.

Full of this sentiment, I suddenly remembered that the day was Good Friday, and I called to mind the significance this omen had already once assumed for me when I was reading Wolfram’s Parzival.
Since the sojourn in Marienbad [in the summer of 1845], where I had conceived ‘Die Meistersinger’ and ‘Lohengrin’, I had never occupied myself again with that poem; now its noble possibilities struck me with overwhelming force, and out of my thoughts about Good Friday I rapidly conceived a whole drama, of which I made a rough sketch with a few dashes of the pen, dividing the whole into three acts.”

Wagner did not resume work on Parsifal for eight years, during which time he completed ‘Tristan und Isolde’ and began ‘Die Meistersinger’.
Then, between 27 and 30 August 1865, he took up Parsifal again and made a prose draft of the work; this contains a fairly brief outline of the plot and a considerable amount of detailed commentary on the characters and themes of the drama, but once again the work was dropped and set aside for another eleven and a half years.
During this time most of Wagner’s creative energy was devoted to the ‘Ring’ cycle, which was finally completed in 1874 and given its first full performance at Bayreuth in August 1876.
Only when this gargantuan task had been accomplished did Wagner find the time to concentrate on ‘Parsifal’.
By 23 February 1877 he had completed a second and more extensive prose draft of the work, and by 19 April of the same year he had transformed this into a verse libretto (or “poem”, as Wagner liked to call his libretti).

In September 1877 he began the music by making two complete drafts of the score from beginning to end.
The first of these (known in German as the ‘Gesamtentwurf‘ and in English as either the ‘Preliminary Draft’ or the ‘First Complete Draft’) was made in pencil on three staves, one for the voices and two for the instruments.
The second complete draft (‘Orchesterskizze‘, ‘Orchestral Draft’, ‘Short Score’) was made in ink and on at least three, but sometimes as many as five, staves.
This draft was much more detailed than the first and contained a considerable degree of instrumental elaboration.
The second draft was begun on 25 September 1877, just a few days after the first: at this point in his career Wagner liked to work on both drafts simultaneously, switching back and forth between the two so as not to allow too much time to elapse between his initial setting of the text and the final elaboration of the music.
The ‘Gesamtentwurf‘ of Act III was completed on 16 April 1879 and the ‘Orchesterskizze’ on the 26th of the same month.
The full score (‘Partiturerstschrift‘) was the final stage in the compositional process.
It was made in ink and consisted of a fair copy of the entire opera, with all the voices and instruments properly notated according to standard practice.
Wagner composed ‘Parsifal’ one act at a time, completing the ‘Gesamtentwur‘ and ‘Orchesterskizze‘ of each act before beginning the ‘Gesamtentwurf‘ of the next act; but because the ‘Orchesterskizze‘ already embodied all the compositional details of the full score, the actual drafting of the ‘Partiturerstschrift‘ was regarded by Wagner as little more than a routine task which could be done whenever he found the time.
The ‘Vorspiel of Act I’ was scored in August 1878.
The rest of the opera was scored between August 1879 and 13 January 1882.

The Premiere

Paul von Joukowsky

On 12 November 1880 Wagner conducted a private performance of the ‘Parsifal Vorspiel’ for his patron Ludwig II of Bavaria at the Court Theatre in Munich (see left).
The premiere of the entire work was given in the Festspielhaus at Bayreuth on 26 July 1882 under the baton of the conductor Hermann Levi.
Stage designs were by Max Brückner and Paul von Joukowsky  who took their lead from Wagner himself.


The Grail hall was based on the interior of Siena Cathedral (see left) which Wagner had visited in 1880, while Klingsor’s magic garden was modelled on those at the Palazzo Rufolo in Ravello (see right).
In July and August 1882 sixteen performances of the work were given in Bayreuth conducted by Levi and Franz Fischer.
The production boasted an orchestra of 107, a chorus of 135 and 23 soloists (with the main parts being double cast).
At the last of these performances, Wagner took the baton from Levi (see right) and conducted the final scene of Act 3 from the orchestral interlude to the end.

At the first performances of ‘Parsifal’ problems with the moving scenery during the transition from Scene one to Scene two in Act 1 meant that Wagner’s existing orchestral interlude finished before Parsifal and Gurnemanz arrived at the Hall of the Grail.
Engelbert Humperdinck (see left), who was assisting the production, provided a few extra bars of music to cover this gap.
In subsequent years this problem was solved and Humperdinck’s additions were not used.

Thirty-seven years had gone by between the first idea for the work and its completion.

Concerning Wagner’s knowledge of occultism, which is crucial, we know he was acquainted with Freemasons, with whom he entered into fierce debate, and with the Rosicrucians.

In his library, now situated in Bayreuth, and open to the public, there are translations of the ‘Upanishads’ and the ‘Mahabharata’, which were just being published in his time.

The Upanishads are a collection of Sanskrit philosophical texts which form the theoretical basis for the Hindu religion.
They are also known as Vedanta, (the end of the veda).

The Upanishads

The Upanishads are considered by orthodox Hindus to contain revealed truths (Sruti) concerning the nature of ultimate reality (brahman), and describing the character and form of human salvation (moksha).
More than 200 Upanishads are known, of which the first dozen or so are the oldest and most important and are referred to as the principal or main (mukhya) Upanishads.
Historians believe the chief Upanishads were composed over a wide period ranging from the Pre-Buddhist period to the early centuries BCE, however, there has been considerable debate among authorities about the exact dating of individual Upanishads.

Chariot of Krishna and Arjuna
Bhagavad Gita

Their significance has been recognized by writers and scholars such as Schopenhauer, Emerson and Thoreau, and of course Wagner, among others. Scholars also note similarity between the doctrine of Upanishads and those of Plato and Kant.
The Mahabharata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the other being the Ramayana.
Besides its epic narrative of the Kurukshetra War and the fates of the Kaurava and the Pandava princes, the Mahabharata contains much philosophical and devotional material, such as a discussion of the four “goals of life” or purusharthas (12.161). Among the principal works and stories that are a part of the Mahabharata is the superlative ‘Bhagavad Gita’ – ‘The Song of the Lord’, often considered as work in its own right.

Richard Wagner undoubtedly had exceptional intuitive abilities, and could see many extremely subtle realms and interrelations directly; also that he suffered deeply because all too often he simply could not find the words to express what took place so clearly before his spiritual eye.

Amfortas 

It is therefore understandable that he identified with the figure of Amfortas – (see right): Wagner believed in living life to the full; he also saw things but could not grasp them.
The basic spiritual tendency running through the opera is compassion.
Reincarnation and karma are clearly described in several places – without them the whole drama would be inexplicable.
A number of symbols and mythical elements are important for a general understanding of the work.
First, the symbol of the Grail combines elements of legends from Persia and Asia Minor with those from Celtic mythology.

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Parsifal Vorspiel – Leitmotiven

A leitmotif  is a musical term referring to a ‘short, constantly recurring musical phrase’, associated with a particular person, place, or idea.
It is closely related to the musical concepts of idée fixe or ‘motto-theme’.

Richard Wagner

The term itself is an anglicization of the German ‘Leitmotiv’, literally meaning “leading motif”, or perhaps more accurately, “guiding motif.”
A musical motif has been defined as a ‘short musical idea…melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic, or all three’, a salient recurring figure, musical fragment or succession of notes that has some special importance in or is characteristic of a composition: “the smallest structural unit possessing thematic identity.”
In particular such a motif should be ‘clearly identified so as to retain its identity if modified on subsequent appearances’ whether such modification be in terms of rhythm, harmony, orchestration or accompaniment. It may also be ‘combined with other leitmotifs to suggest a new dramatic condition’ or development.
The technique is notably associated with the ‘music dramas’ of Richard Wagner.

The Vorspiel to “Parsifal” is based on three of the most profound leitmotifs in the entire work.

It opens with the Motive of the Sacrament, over which, when it is repeated, arpeggios hover, as in the religious paintings of old masters angel forms float above the figure of virgin or saint.
Through this motive we gain insight into the office of the Knights of the Grail, who from time to time strengthen themselves for their spiritual duties by partaking of the communion, on which occasions the Grail itself is uncovered.
This motive leads to the Grail Motive, effectively swelling to forte and then dying away in ethereal harmonies, like the soft light with which the Grail illumines the hall in which the knights gather to worship.
The trumpets then announce the Motive of Faith, severe but sturdy — portraying superbly the immutability of faith.
The Grail Motive is heard again and then the Motive of Faith is repeated, its severity exquisitely softened, so that it conveys a sense of peace which passeth all understanding.
The rest of the Vorspiel is agitated. That portion of the Motive of the Sacrament which appears later as the Spear Motive here assumes through a slight change a deeply sad character, and becomes typical throughout the work of the sorrow wrought by Amfortas’s crime.
I call it the Elegiac Motive.
Thus the Vorspiel depicts both the religious duties which play to prominent a part in the drama, and unhappiness which Amfortas’s sinful forgetfulness of these duties has brought upon himself and his knights.

____________________________________________

The Grail Legend

Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival

Every German schoolboy knew the great folk tale of the Grail by heart.

Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival was one of the greatest works of literature in the German (or any other) language.
On the surface it is a familiar tale of a pure knight’s search for perfect love and redemption.
Few pieces of heroic literature had more impact on the nation-conscious Germans than Parzival.

The Grail legend is interpreted in two ways.
Generally, it is viewed as a story of Christian love and the redemption of mankind.
The second is the mythical interpretation.
The Grail is said to contain a coded message known only to a few, and understood by a tiny number.
It is this interpretation which is accepted by Ravenscroft in ‘The Cup of Destiny’ (1981) and Angebert in ‘The Occult and the Third Reich’ (1974).

Lucifer – Prince of Heaven

Lucifer was a Prince of Heaven before his sin prompted God to cast him to Hell.

On the descent to the Underworld his crown fell to earth, and from it a huge emerald.
This was used by men of antiquity to fashion a drinking cup to be used in occult rituals.
Here we find the most ancient relic accepted by both Christians and gnostics.
The cup was ringed with the usual special signs, symbols, runes and the like, all depicting the ascent of man through various stages to a final state of blessedness.
The Grail had become the sacred vessel of Initiate Knowledge.
It contained on its exterior the great trove of primordial knowledge and tradition which linked the past to the future. 
hat primordial knowledge can bring man back into the natural and only true condition for him, the primordial state of consciousness.
Within Germany many regarded the Grail as the lost, secret book of the Aryan race.
It had been entrusted to them since eons past, and was lost and recovered on occasion.
What precisely it contained was unknown, and since it was written in symbols, the interpretation given these runes may have differed from age to age.
It was the one great treasure of all Aryans, at all times.
From age to age it had been the uniting factor, the one artifact that provided a rationale for the existence of the race.
The Grail predated Christianity.
This is an absolute whose acceptance is necessary for understanding the importance of it as an artifact to the NSDAP and its leaders, notably the SS.
In Alfred Rosenberg’s ‘Myth of the 20th Century’ the Grail may be viewed as the cause of German objection to some aspects of Christianity, notably to Roman Catholicism.
It may be viewed as having provided direction to the German people, or at least a significant portion of it, when the people were confronted by orthodox Western church teachings which were alien to them.

The Grail

The Grail, the cup which Jesus used at the Last Supper, was made from the stone which fell from Lucifer’s crown as he plunged to earth (see left).
Lucifer (the Light-bringer) brought the mental principle to evolving humanity.
The stone from Lucifer’s crown can therefore be regarded as ego-consciousness or “I am I”: without the awakening mind principle humanity would not be able to acquire knowledge, and the first step along this path is “I am I.”
That this stone was fashioned into a cup or bowl which was used to catch the blood of Christ elevates its meaning because it then stands for the divine self.
As Wagner remarked, it becomes “Grail consciousness” — purified, redeemed “I am.”
The Grail is entrusted to Titurel.
He gathers a brotherhood of knights around him, called the knights of the Grail, who devote themselves to the service of this Grail consciousness through noble deeds.


A second important symbol is the spear, derived from the spear of Longinus (see left) who, it is said, thrust it into Christ’s side during the crucifixion, shedding the Savior’s blood.
It stands for higher mind, that part of us which must decide whether the mind will aspire to spirit or succumb to material desire.
A third central symbol is the swan (see right), denoting the north.
Wagner uses the swan as a symbol of those beings who, though still devoid of individual consciousness, are located in the divine realms, but have their whole development before them; this symbol is identical with that of the angel.
In the last scene a dove appears, symbol according to Wagner of “divine spirit, which floats down idealistically onto the human soul.” It is the Holy Ghost or Spirit.

The first act of the opera, which takes place in the realm of the Grail, close to Montsalvat (see left), begins with trombones sounding the reveille.

Gurnemanz, teacher and guardian of the secret wisdom of the Grail, wakens two squires lying asleep under a tree, saying: “Do you hear the call? Give thanks to God that you are called to hear it !
That the reveille sounds from the realm of the Grail indicates that it is a spiritual call.
At this time Amfortas, King of the Grail, lies sick and wounded, the wound being an external symbol for inner events.
In his striving towards higher things, Amfortas battled in the realm of the lower mind ruled by the black magician Klingsor and lost the spear.
Klingsor wounded him in his side with the spear, a wound which will not heal.
This wound is the pivot of all further action.
It is the fissure between the higher self and the personal self, caused by the fact that the mental principle was directed into the earthly realm where it is now ruled by Klingsor, or mind linked with sexual desire.
Gurnemanz and the squires try to alleviate the pain suffered by the King of the Grail.
They wish to bathe the wound, though Gurnemanz in his wisdom knows this will be of no avail. The King’s wound, an inner wound, cannot be closed by baths or ointments.
Wrapped in thought, he sings: “There is but one thing can help him, only one man.”
When a knight asks the man’s name, he avoids answering.
Then Kundry enters the scene, appearing wild one moment, lifeless the next.
She presses on Gurnemanz a small crystal vessel containing balsam with which Amfortas might be healed.

Kundry personifies the desire nature, messenger and temptress at the same time.

On the one hand, desire binds us to earthly things, while on the other it provides the first impulses to understand what is hidden. Thus Kundry serves both the Grail and also, as temptress, Klingsor who seeks to divert people from the quest for the divine through the power of the senses.
Wagner remarks that the black magician “beclouds the divine judgment of man through the sense impressions of the material world, and thereby leads him into a world of deception.”
A dispute arises between the knights of the Grail and Gurnemanz about Kundry (desire).
The squires mistrust her, but Gurnemanz says:
Yes, she may be under a curse. She lives here now — perhaps reincarnated, to expiate some sin from an earlier life not yet forgiven there.
Now she makes atonement by such deeds as benefit our knightly order; she has done good, beyond all doubt, serving us and thereby helping herself.’
Naturally, Kundry was also involved when Klingsor seized the spear from Amfortas.
In his pain, Amfortas addresses the Grail and asks for a sign of help.
In a vision he describes how someone will come to help him: “Enlightened through understanding, the innocent fool; wait for him, the appointed one.

This announcement of the foolish innocent (“Fal parsi,” hence Parsifal) refers to the reincarnating ego, which hastens from life to life.

If the reincarnating ego gives full expression to its divine individuality in its personal life, the inner fissure – the wound — will be closed again, for the mind which has been directed to things carnal and of matter will be turned back to the divine.
Before divinity can be attained, however, human evolution has to be experienced.
At the outset, mankind is completely un-selfconscious and lives in a state of divine innocence, untouched by things of matter and without an independent mind, a state symbolized by the swan.
It has to leave this state, descend to the physical realm, and experience all the conflicts that evolution entails.
Through the associated suffering and the development of the thinking principle, humans learn from their own experience to feel compassion for other beings.
These developments find their corollary in the departure of young people from their parental home, the maternal plane.
Such a departure is often very difficult and may be accompanied by a great deal of pain and many reproaches; but this break is absolutely necessary if young people are to go through their own experiences and develop the ability to think for themselves, though this simultaneously causes the maternal principle much grief.

Parsifal und der Schwan
Parsifal und der Schwan

This “descent” or gaining of independence is represented by Wagner in the slaying of the swan by Parsifal.

Gurnemanz sternly reproaches Parsifal for killing the swan with an arrow.
Parsifal is at first filled with childlike pride at his accuracy but becomes increasingly disturbed when he looks at the dead bird, and for the first time he feels pity.
Gurnemanz inquires of Parsifal his name and origin, but Parsifal cannot remember and replies: “I had many, but I know none of them any more.”
The only name he remembers is that of his mother: Herzeleide (Heart’s Sorrow).
Kundry is able to provide more information about his origin: his father was killed in battle, and his mother “reared him up in the desert to folly, a stranger to arms.”
Parsifal nevertheless recalls that one day he saw the knights of the Grail riding along the forest’s edge: “I ran after them, but could not overtake them; through deserts I wandered, up hill and down dale.”
Parsifal yearns for more than a solitary, peaceful life.
Kundry confirms this, and informs him of his mother’s death.
Parsifal springs furiously at her, but Gurnemanz restrains him.
Thus although the Parsifal is endowed with a feeling of right and wrong, his mind is not yet fully developed.
It therefore turns, in conjunction with desire, to anger and rage.
Gurnemanz, the wise initiate, restrains him.
The rest of the opera describes what takes place during this descent of the human soul. Gurnemanz has already recognized that Parsifal is someone who can restore the divine harmony.
He offers to lead him to the feast of the Grail.

Both move into their inner, spiritual realms, represented by the temple of the Grail.
This realm lies beyond the differentiation of space and time. Hence Parsifal remarks: “I scarcely tread, yet seem already to have come far.
Gurnemanz answers, significantly: “You see, my son, time here becomes space.”
Gurnemanz warns Parsifal to pay close attention to everything he encounters and later to take it back into the realm of his personal consciousness.
Before them both a scene opens with a pillared hall where the knights of the Grail carry in Amfortas.
The covered shrine of the Grail is carried before them.
In the background can be heard the voice of Titurel, the former guardian of the Grail, who received the Cup from the aeon’s hands and learned the occult mysteries in an inner vision.

He says, “Amfortas, my son, are you in your place? Shall I again today look on the Grail and live ?

This indicates that the life forces of spiritual traditions steadily weaken if they are not renewed by intuitive, creative individuals.
Time and again attempts are made to establish a spiritual, compassionate brotherhood.
If, however, the innovators fail, the effort comes to a standstill; the teachings ossify, and what used to be the content becomes a veil, until nothing is left of the original impulse.
Titurel must therefore die.
So Titurel calls upon Amfortas to view the Grail, but Amfortas is incapable of doing so – he has lost the mental principle to Klingsor, the lower mind.
Titurel now calls for the uncovering of the Grail, the revelation of occult wisdom.
When, at his insistence, this takes place, Amfortas is racked with pain: for those imprisoned in the lower mind, the sight of divine wisdom is unbearable.
The tragedy of such a situation is clear.
On the one hand, such people are impelled by divine impulses; on the other, they are completely entangled in the world of deception and sensuality.
When the full, idealistic nature of the Grail appears to Amfortas, so great becomes his despair that he begs to die.

But the Chorus sings again: “Enlightened through knowledge, the innocent fool: – wait for him, the appointed one.

Gurnemanz, who led Parsifal to this inner vision, stands beside Parsifal throughout the scene.
At the end he asks Parsifal: “Do you know what you have seen ?
But Parsifal cannot answer, as he is overcome by the suffering he has seen.
Gurnemanz angrily dismisses him.
Parsifal is not yet able to help, as this requires more than just a vision of things occult.
He must first acquire occult knowledge on the physical plane.
This alone will enable him to internalize what he has seen and make it part of his consciousness.
Only in this way can the divine be carried over into all realms.

The second act of Parsifal takes place in the magic castle (in the realm of illusion) of the black magician Klingsor.
Here the evil principle, personified as the magician Klingsor, tests Parsifal’s will power.
Wagner regards Klingsor “as the counterweight to the god-seeking impulse, which beclouds the power of discernment, with two sources of illusion: the power of sense impressions and passionate desire.
Klingsor evokes those forces of passion which compel us into a seemingly endless cycle of re-embodiment,  ever seeking redemption.
Through self-castration Klingsor has forcibly rendered himself un-receptive to desire.
He has obtained magic power over Kundry, and the possession of the holy spear.
Now he intends, with her aid, to gain possession of the Grail: Kundry is to seduce Parsifal, as she did Amfortas before him.
Kundry suffers because of herself: she longs for satisfaction and the stilling of her eternal urges.
But a knight must be able to withstand, control, and refine the dark forces of desire – ultimately it is desire which impels us to aspire to higher things.
Kundry resists the entreaties of the magician, but when Parsifal enters the realm of Klingsor, she succumbs to the magician’s power.
The violent love which she feels, however, is the result of desire. 
Thus tragedy is preordained.

Parsifal und die Blumenmädchen

When Parsifal enters the magic castle, Klingsor conceals himself and turns the area into a beautiful tropical garden where young maidens clad in soft-colored veils dance.

When Parsifal approaches, they embrace him, and the game with the flower maidens begins.
The higher self can only play with beauty; as soon as one is entrapped by it, his powers become bound to the physical realm.
The maidens want more than just to play, and they crowd around him.
Firmly driving them off, Parsifal cries: “Have done! You shall not catch me !
The first attempt at seduction through the power of deceptive beauty has been repulsed, but when Kundry enters and calls his name – ‘Parsifal’ – he is shocked, because his mother had once addressed him in just the same way in a dream.
The flower maidens fade away and Parsifal recognizes the deceptive nature of the material world.
Now the power of ‘desire‘ is revealed to him: Kundry becomes visible.
She tells Parsifal of his origin: Parsifal left the world of illusion and went his way, following the laws of spirit.
In the world of appearances it is impossible to understand such decisions.
So great is the sorrow of his mother (his biological origin) at his decision that she finally dies.


Parsifal and his Mother
Hans-Jürgen Syberberg

When Kundry tells of his mother’s grief when he ran away to seek higher things, she awakens the pity of the higher self with regard to the personal self.
Parsifal sinks down at Kundry’s feet and torments himself with severe self-reproaches.
Parsifal experiences here the possibly strongest temptation the aspiring human being can encounter.
Overpowering pity in the face of suffering has proved the undoing of many who betrayed their divine ideals for the sake of alleviating suffering.
In his state of weakness, Kundry tells Parsifal of the great love between his parents; nevertheless, he does not give in to Kundry’s fantasies, but instead sees a vision of Amfortas before him.

The Temptation of Parsifal -1894
Arthur Hacker-1858-1919

This time he does not merely see the sorrow in the realm of the Grail, as in the first act, but suffers it directly.
Parsifal suddenly starts up with a gesture of the utmost terror, his demeanor expresses some fearful change; he presses his hands hard against his heart as if to master an agonizing pain.
He cries: “Amfortas ! The wound! The wound!  It burns within my heart !
Parsifal remembers what he saw in the temple of the Grail and “falls into a complete trance.
The vision of his link with divinity awakens once again within him.
He is filled with deep understanding, which no longer relates to the personal self, nor to the suffering of the spiritual self (Amfortas), but to the innermost  heart of creation, calling us to the ultimate vision of the cosmos.
It is compassion for his own essential being – his ‘true will’ which is enchained by the fetters of desire.
This understanding activates the ‘true will’ and sets in motion the will to complete the process of attaining the divine vision.
Kundry tries to hinder Parsifal’s understanding, but he recognizes the demonic nature of her attempt.
Kundry tries to kiss Parsifal, but he forcefully repulses her.
This is the turning point of the whole drama.
The deceptive maneuver of the black magician which brought about the downfall of Amfortas and the knights of the Grail, is penetrated by Parsifal, enabling him to achieve clearness of vision.

Wagner’s Parsifal
Hans-Jürgen Syberberg

He sees through the bewildering attacks of his adversary and hears the call of the divine will to redemption “in proving himself through the understanding he feels for the sorrow of humanity” (quotation from Wieland Wagner).
Only now does Klingsor begin his most powerful attack on the initiant.
Through Kundry he attempts to conjoin universal love with the personal.
Kundry reveals to Parsifal the tragedy of her existence and her own suffering, saying:
‘One for whom I yearned in deathly longing, whom I recognized though despised and rejected, let me weep upon his breast, for one hour only be united to you and, though God and the world disown me, in you be cleansed of sin and redeemed !’
Parsifal here recognizes Klingsor’s seductive attack on his will to Truth.
He discerns the way in which the human desire nature repeatedly feigns reformation, and binds us to the material world.
He again repulses Kundry, saying: “For evermore would you be damned with me if for one hour, unmindful of my mission, I yielded to your embrace.”
The seducing skills become increasingly spiritual (geistig).
Kundry begs for pity and promises Parsifal the attainment of divinity.
But the initiant understands that in no event must he allow himself to be ruled by the desire nature; only if desire is used to liberate the aspiring human ego will it be redeemed.
He says to Kundry: “Love and redemption shall be yours if you will show me the way to Amfortas.”
Kundry tries once again to win Parsifal’s act of redemption for herself: she tries to embrace him and implores him to take pity, but it is too late: Parsifal is already in a higher state of consciousness.
He vigorously pushes her aside.
The initiant has withstood the test.
Kundry flies into a fury and curses “the fool” in her selfish longing for redemption.
She tries to prevent him from reaching the Grail.

Parsifal – Klingsor
Klingsor then appears in person and hurls the Spear at Parsifal, but Parsifal catches the Spear and holds it above his head: sensuous lower mind is transformed into aspiring higher mind.
Parsifal says: “With this sign I rout your enchantment.As the spear closes the wound which you dealt him with it, may it crush your lying splendour into mourning and ruin !
In the light of the higher mind the demonic illusion fades away;
Klingsor’s magic realm is violently destroyed, as if by an earthquake.


The third act, concerning redemption, takes place in the realm of the Grail on the morning of Good Friday: flowers are in bloom all around and desire moves through the whole of nature, awakening it to new life.
Gurnemanz enters from a humble hermit’s hut, when he hears Kundry moaning.
He notices a change in her: the wildness has vanished.
She allows Gurnemanz to reawaken her from her paralysis.
Her only concern seems to be to serve the knights of the Grail, but Gurnemanz informs her of a change in the knightly order: the spring of divine wisdom has failed.
Everyone now looks after himself.
Meanwhile Parsifal enters clad in black armor, which Wagner regarded as a symbol of the True Will, – the fighting strength of the personal self.
He saw the conquest of the powers of illusion as an act requiring personal effort and struggle – the assertion of the higher will in the midst of personal, earthly life: a strong awareness of suffering can raise the intellect of the higher nature to knowledge of the meaning of the world.
Those in whom this sublime process takes place, it being announced to us by a suitable deed, are called heroes. – (Collected Writings of R. Wagner, vol. 10)

Der Speer

Gurnemanz calls upon the “stranger” to lay down his weapons at this holy spot.
Parsifal then “thrusts the spear into the ground before him, lays shield and sword beneath it, opens his helmet, takes it from his head and lays it with the other arms, then kneels before the spear in silent prayer. . . . Parsifal raises his eyes devoutly to the spearhead.”
In the realm of the Grail the weapons of the personal consciousness are sacrificed to the power of intuition: the helmet of intelligence, the shield of courage, and the sword of the active will, while the point of the spear represents the moment of maximum concentration which leads the ultimate creativity.
Gurnemanz now recognizes the spear, and also the man who had once slain the swan.
The spear is back in the realm of the Grail: the power of intuition shines again.
When asked where he comes from, Parsifal answers: “Through error and the path of suffering I came; . . . An evil curse drove me about in trackless wandering, never to find the way to healing; numberless dangers, battles, and conflicts forced me from my path even when I thought I knew it.
Gurnemanz reports that since Titurel’s death the state of the Order has worsened: intuition has been completely lost, and the Grail itself remains enclosed within the shrine.
The knights now feed only on dogmas.
Parsifal springs up in intense grief – he feels responsible for the knights’ suffering since he, the chosen “Redeemer,” had succumbed to illusion.
Amfortas is due to open the shrine in which the Grail is concealed on that very day, when his father is carried to his grave.
Gurnemanz wants to take Parsifal to him, but first, one of the most significant scenes of the opera takes place: as Kundry bathes Parsifal’s feet, the full consciousness of his task awakens in him.
Once the purification and cleansing of the personal self have been carried out, Gurnemanz proceeds to anoint his head – his spiritual judgment must likewise light up pure and spotless within the personal self – enabling the personal self to be united with the divine self of its own free will.
Parsifal is thereby made King of the Grail.
His first office is to baptize Kundry: the desire nature is incorporated into the community as an element necessary to progress, and becomes the driving force of pure divine love.
That desire no longer serves the lower, but the higher self, brings about a transformation in the whole of nature.
In Gurnemanz’s words: “Thus all creation gives thanks, all that here blooms and soon fades, now the nature, absolved from sin, today gains its day of innocence.”
Parsifal then kisses Kundry gently on the forehead.
In the distance the sound of bells is heard.
As they approach the temple of the Grail, time once more becomes space and the interior of the temple becomes visible.
It is the same scene as at the end of the first act, but more gloomy.
Two processions of knights enter the stage, one carrying Titurel’s coffin, the other with Amfortas on his deathbed.
The knights are aware that without the creative power of intuition of the Grail, they are doomed to die.
They are not strong enough to open the shrine themselves and therefore insistently press Amfortas to do so, but in his immeasurable pain he is no longer able to open the shrine.
He calls upon the knights to kill him, since no one is able to close the wound.
At this moment the higher self breaks through: Parsifal enters the hall, accompanied by Gurnemanz and Kundry and, touching the wound with the end of the spear, says: “But one weapon serves: only the spear that smote you can heal your wound.
The personal mind, gravitating to things of earth, opened up the gulf in human nature; the intuitive mind closes the fissure between the spiritual and earth-bound poles.
Parsifal continues: “Be whole, absolved and atoned! For I now will perform your task. O blessed be your suffering, that gave pity’s mighty power and purest wisdom’s might to the timorous fool !
Parsifal steps towards center stage, holding the spear aloft before him, saying: “I bring back to you the holy spear !

Parsifal Choir
Hans-Jürgen Syberberg

All gaze in reverence at the uplifted spear, to whose point Parsifal raises his eyes and intones:
‘O highest  wonder ! This that could heal your wound I see pouring with holy blood yearning for that kindred fount which flows and wells within the Grail.
No more shall it be hidden: uncover the Grail, open the shrine!
Parsifal then mounts the altar steps, takes the Grail from the shrine now opened by the squires, and kneels before it in silent prayer and contemplation.

The Holy Grail
Der Speer des Schicksals

The Grail begins to glow with a soft light, increasing darkness below and growing illumination far above.
A beam of light: the Grail glows at its brightest.
From the dome a white dove descends and hovers over Parsifal’s head.
Kundry slowly sinks lifeless to the ground in front of Parsifal, her eyes uplifted to him.
Amfortas and Gurnemanz kneel in homage to Parsifal, who waves the Grail in blessing over the worshipping brotherhood of knights.
Wagner by these stage directions for the final scene epitomizes the ultimate triumph of the heroic soul.

Through Parsifal’s act the earthbound human will is directed upwards again towards the creator; the power of creative intuition flows again through all the realms.

As a result, the fossilized spiritual tradition of Titurel is reinvigorated, and he rises from his coffin.
The divine spirit, symbolized by the dove, hovers over Parsifal’s head, – the consciousness of the ‘True Will’ experiences its innate divinity.
This represents a transformation into something completely new: the attainment of transcendence.
Erlösung dem Erlöser !


Nietzsche & Parsifal

By pity guided,
The guileless fool;
Wait for him,
My chosen tool.


Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche heard the ‘Parsifal Vorspiel’ (Prelude) for the first time in Monte-Carlo in January 1887 :

‘Putting aside all irrelevant questions (to what end such music can or should serve?), and speaking from a purely aesthetic point of view, has Wagner ever written anything better?
The supreme psychological perception and precision as regards what can be said, expressed, communicated here, the extreme of concision and directness of form, every nuance of feeling conveyed epigrammatically; a clarity of musical description that reminds us of a shield of consummate workmanship; and finally an extraordinary sublimity of feeling, something experienced in the very depths of music, that does Wagner the highest honour; a synthesis of conditions which to many people – even “higher minds” – will seem incompatible, of strict coherence, of “loftiness” in the most startling sense of the word, of a cognisance and a penetration of vision that cuts through the soul as with a knife, of sympathy with what is seen and shown forth. Has anyone ever depicted so sorrowful a look of love as Wagner does in the final accents of his Prelude ?’

Letter to Peter Gast – 1887

Johann Heinrich Köselitz (10 January 1854–15 August 1918) was a German author and composer.
He is known for his long-time friendship with Friedrich Nietzsche, who gave him the pseudonym ‘Peter Gast’.


‘I cannot think of it without feeling violently shaken, so elevated was I by it, so deeply moved.
It was as if someone were speaking to me again, after many years, about the problems that disturb me.
When listening to this music one lays Protestantism aside as a misunderstanding – and also, I will not deny it, other really good music, which I have at other times heard and loved, seems, as against this, a misunderstanding !’ 

Letter to Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche (Nietszche’s sister) – 1887

Therese Elisabeth Alexandra Förster-Nietzsche (July 10, 1846, Röcken, Prussia – November 8, 1935, Weimar, Germany), who went by her second name, was the sister of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and the creator of the Nietzsche Archive in 1894.
Förster-Nietzsche was two years younger than her brother. Both were children of a Lutheran pastor in the German village of Röcken bei Lützen. The two children were close during their childhood and early adult years. However, the siblings grew apart in 1885 when Elisabeth married Bernhard Förster, a former high school teacher.

_______________________________________

NATIONAL SOCIALISM AND THE HOLY GRAIL
‘I have built up my religion out of Parsifal’
Adolf Hitler
The one esoteric legend in particular which captivated the National Socialists was the Quest for the Holy Grail.

Lucifer
Philosopher’s Stone

While popular mythology presents the Grail as the cup Jesus Christ used at his last supper, occult groups dismiss this materialistic interpretation as a “blind” to preserve for initiates the Grail’s true meaning: the quest for racial purity defined in gnostic symbolic style as the “philosopher’s stone” (see right), the “third eye” or the spiritual “crown” of Lucifer (see left) which fell from his forehead when he lost his place in heaven.

In real terms, that “seeing eye” is the Knowledge of self-as-god which Lucifer exhibited, and which he offered mankind in the Garden of Eden.
Hitler saw in Wagner’s ‘Parsifal’ a detailed parable of the National Socialist philosophy as “a religious brotherhood of templars to guard the Holy Grail, the august vessel containing the pure blood“. (Hitler to Rauschning).
The Grail, defined here as the “vessel”, refers to the racially pure body which holds the blood that can comprehend the ‘True Will’. 
In search of this ‘holy blood‘ which contains the coveted knowledge of the ‘True Will’, every member of the SS was screened for purity of Aryan lineage, and was taught his duty to father as many racially pure children as possible.

Heinrich Himmler
Еле́на Блава́тская
Helena Blavatsky

Heinrich Himmler (see left) believed that if conception took place in an Aryan cemetery, the resulting child would receive the spirit of “all the dead heroes” buried there; accordingly, lists of Nordic cemeteries were published in the SS periodical ‘Das Schwarze Korps’.

Gnosticism had another, lesser-known influence on Völkisch religion, which also appears in ‘New Age’ thought: the Jewish God is not the ‘Most High’ and only God, but a “Demiurge” pretending to be such.
Helena Blavatsky (see right) agreed that the Gnostics “were right in regarding the Jewish God as belonging to a class of lower, material and not very holy denizens of the invisible world.”
In Blavatsky’s understanding, “only angels of a low hierarchy” could have created “those wretched races, in a spiritual and moral sense, which grace our globe.
The “moral wretchedness” referred to is Jewish obsession with the enjoyment of the material aspects everyday life, and their continual thanksgiving for every material blessing.
This attitude was condemned by the Gnostics, who considered the body and the physical world a prison which the mind must reject and transcend through meditation and magical rites, and escape to the “real” or spiritual world.

Jehovah
The Jewish God of the Old Testament

The “spiritual wretchedness” is the Jewish “Old Testament”, rejected by Gnostics as evil, which teaches that the Creator of heaven and earth is the ‘Most High God’.

Since materialism is evil, and “Jehovah” created the physical world, he must be evil as well: and merely a usurper of the title “God”.
The Jews, who persist in spreading their teachings, are the tools of Satan, and their influence in the world is deadly to human souls.
Hitler reiterated this Gnostic doctrine: 
The Jew is the anti-man, – the creature of a lesser god.
Hitler was also known for his severely simple lifestyle, voluntarily shunning material pleasures, physical appetites and a meat diet – all classic Gnostic elements of “purification from the world“.
This cosmology, by placing the Jews in alliance with cosmic Evil neatly reinforced the Völkisch pursuit of racial purity: not only was the Aryan race threatened with defilement on a genetic level, but on a spiritual level as well.

Führer und Reichskanzler
Adolf Hitler – Speaking
Wagner’s Parsifal
from the film by
Hans-Jürgen Syberberg

For Hitler (see right) the Gnostic themes of the Grail quest and the cosmic struggle between Light and Darkness were perfectly portrayed in Richard Wagner’s ‘Parsifal’.

Being an occult initiate, Hitler was aware of the Gnostic message behind “the externals of the story, with its Christian embroidery… the real message was pure, noble blood, in whose protection and glorification the brotherhood of the initiated have come together.”
Gnosticism also clarifies some otherwise unintelligible proclamations, like those by Völkisch apologist, writer and philosopher, Alfred Rosenberg: “The earth-centered Jew lacks a soul“; and “The continuing existence of the Jew would lead to a void, to the destruction not only of the illusory earthly world but also of the truly existent, the spiritual.
These statements, and also his insistence that “The denial of the world needs… to grow so that it will acquire a lasting predominance over affirmation of the world,” only makes sense to a grail seeking Gnostic. 


© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

Adolf Hitler

Arno Breker
Heroic Head


Adolf Hitler’s interpretation of Parsifal –
  “I have built up my religion out of Parsifal.  Divine worship in solemn form … without pretenses of humility … One can serve God only in the garb of the hero”  


   ‘What is celebrated in Wagner’s ‘Parsifal’ is not the Christian religion of compassion, but pure and noble blood, – blood whose purity the brotherhood of initiates has come together to guard.

 ‘I have built up my religion out of Parsifal.’
The king (Amfortas) then suffers an incurable sickness, caused by his tainted blood.

Then the unknowing but pure human being (Parsifal) is led into temptation, either to submit to the frenzy and to the delights of a corrupt civilisation in Klingsor’s magic garden, or to join the select band of knights who guard the secret of life, which is pure blood itself.

Der Speer des Schicksals
© Peter Crawford 2012

‘All of us suffer the sickness of miscegenated, corrupted blood.

Note how the compassion that leads to knowledge applies only to the man who is inwardly corrupt, to the man of contradictions.
And Eternal life, as vouchsafed by the Grail, is only granted to those who are truly pure and noble !
Only a new nobility can bring about the new culture.
If we discount everything to do with poetry, it is clear that elitism and renewal exist only in the continuing strain of a lasting struggle.
A divisive process is taking place in terms of world history.
The man who sees the meaning of life in conflict will gradually mount the stairs of a new aristocracy.
He who desires the dependent joys of peace and order will sink back down to the unhistorical mass, no matter what his provenance.
But the mass is prey to decay and self-disintegration.
At this turning- point in the world’s revolution the mass is the sum of declining culture and its moribund representatives.
They should be left to die, together with all kings like Amfortas.’

“The old beliefs will be brought back to honor again.
The whole secret knowledge of nature, of the divine, the demonic.
We will wash off the Christian veneer and bring out a religion peculiar to our race.”

Adolf Hitler

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