Wagner – Antisemitism in Music

Making History: Archives, Artefacts and Interpreting the Past - lecture series in partnership with the Wiener Library

Event Information and Booking

22nd May, 2012
6:30 pm - 8:00 pm
Birkbeck, University of London, Bloomsbury, London WC1E 7HX. Room B36, Torrington Square main entrance
Paul Lawrence Rose, Mitrani Professor of Jewish Studies and Professor of European History, The Pennsylvania State University

Defenders of Wagner insist that while he may have been antisemitic in his writings, most notoriously in his essay, Jewishness in Music, he never allowed antisemitism to contaminate his operas. In recent years this claim has come under scrutiny.  It has been shown that, dramatically, the plots of Wagner’s operas depict an antisemitic vision of the world – one subjected to a “Jewish” system of capitalism, finance, lovelessness, domination, war and power. Moreover, several of the characters can be shown to embody these “Jewish” traits in their language, behaviour and appearance, even if they are not defined formally as “Jews”. Currently, the cutting-edge of debate is over the idea that in a purely musical form Wagner has inserted antisemitism into his operas.

In this illustrated lecture, Professor Rose will explore these arguments, giving special attention to the thorniest problem, that of Wagner’s use of technical musical devices to impregnate his operas with antisemitism. Some of these devices would have been recognizable to the audiences of his time, others are more subtle and difficult to pinpoint even now. Video clips from Rheingold, Siegfried, Tristan, Meistersinger, and Parsifal will demonstrate how Wagner used techniques of parody and transformation to discredit the “Jewish music” of Meyerbeer and others.

Professor Rose is Director of the Center for Research on Antisemitism at The Pennsylvania State University. He is author of Wagner: Race and Revolution (Faber and Faber, 1992) and is currently writing a further book on Wagner, examining antisemitism and the parodies of Jewish music in his operas, due to be published in 2013.

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