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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000189.txt from 2005/05

From: "dnleeson" <>
Subj: RE: Fwd: Re: [kl] Possible racist views in music titles (Allies vs. Nazis)
Date: Wed, 11 May 2005 08:37:58 -0400

Sarah Elbaz posted on the boyott of Wagner's music in Israel,
suggesting that its origin may be traced to an attack on a Jascha
Heifetz performance of Richard Strauss music in 1952.

This matter is so serious that any deviation from the historical
events leading up to the 1938 banning of Wagner's music by the
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra needs to be contradicted at once.
One enters a minefield of emotion with this subject and I would
like to state in as unemotional a way as I can what the facts of
the matter are.

Today, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra does not play Wagner's
music, though it is incorrect to suggest that they never did.
Arturo Toscanini included the preludes to Acts I and III of
Lohengrin, Jascha Horenstein the overture to Tannhauser, and
Bronislav Szulc the overture to The Flying Dutchman all before

The ban on performance of Wagner's music by the Palestine
Orchestra (later the Palestine Philharmonic and, still later, the
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra), began on Nov. 12, 1938. The
closing work of the program was to have been the prelude to The
Master Singers of Nuremberg. Following the intermission of that
concert, the chairman of the orchestral association announced
that "because of the antisemitic excesses and disturbances in
Germany," the Wagner work had been removed from the program by
public demand, and Weber's overture to the opera Oberon had been

The most significant factor in this action was due, not to
Wagner, but to Kristallnacht which had taken place three days
earlier, Nov. 9, 1938. It would appear that the use of the name
"Nuremberg" and its connection with both Nazi party conventions
and anti-Jewish laws was the aggravating factor; i.e., the
restrictive ordinances were made by the Nazis in that city in
explicit deference to Wagner's opera. As such, this was not a
wholesale condemnation of Wagner by the management or the
personnel of the Palestine Orchestra, and for the fourth concert
of the season, the orchestra played the "Bacchanal" from Wagner's
Tannhauser, though not in Palestine but on tour in Egypt.
However, from Nov. 12, 1939 and for 67 years in Palestine, later
Israel, the orchestra, with one well- publicized exception, has
performed no music of Wagner.

That exception occurred in 1981 when the conductor, Zubin Mehta,
unsuccessfully tried to heal the wounds with an unscheduled
Wagner encore. Some orchestral musicians refused to participate,
many older members of the audience left before the work - an
excerpt from Tristan and Isolde - was played, and there was
considerable commotion during the encore from those who remained.
Unwilling to repeat the reaction, and aware of a poll in which
50% (later 30%) of those sampled were against the playing of
Wagner's music, performances of his works by the IPO were put
aside. The public performance by Barenboim of Wagner's music in
Israel was not with the Israel Philharmonic, and this was also
greeted in Israel with considerable conflict.

On June 7, 1998, the English version of the Israeli newpaper
Ha'aretz reported emotional outbursts at the Tel Aviv Performing
Arts Center where a symposium entitled "Wagner: An Artist or a
Symbol," was being held. Sponsored by the New Israel Opera and
attended by the composer's great grandson, Dr. Gottfried Wagner,
the discussion pitted Zalman Shoval, chairman of the NIO's board,
against Asher Fisch, NIO Music Director who wished to perform
Wagner's operas in Israel. When Fisch, on piano, tried to
accompany a baritone in a monologue from The Flying Dutchman,
dozens of people left the hall in protest, shouting, "This is
unthinkable!," "Rape!," and "In the name of culture, you are
patronizing everyone."

For many music lovers the emotions associated with performing or
listening to Wagner's music have a built in safety valve invoked
with variations of the following statement of justification:
"Certainly Wagner was an antisemite. However, Schubert's alleged
pedophilia does not change my perspective of his music's beauty,
nor does Mozart's scatology, Beethoven's poor hygiene, Delius'
sexual promiscuity, or Grainger's whipping fetish. Besides,
other composers also held loathsome antisemitic views. So,
despite Wagner's offensive declarations, his opinions are
irrelevant to an admiration of his operas and one must not permit
his abhorrent personal creed to be an impediment to an
appreciation of his musical genius."

In summary, the fact that Wagner was a Jew hater is seen by some
as irrelevant to performances of his music. And this attitude is
accompanied by a key sentiment asserting that there is no
evidence of Wagner's enmity towards Jews present in his operas.
Furthermore, his music dramas have no Jewish characters and there
are no references to Jews, pejorative or otherwise, anywhere in
his music.

Therefore, contemporary listeners divorce their revulsion at his
shameless antisemitism from his art.

So, as you can see Sarah, the problem is much deeper and also
much more broad than Heifetz's performance of musis of Richard
Strauss in Israel.

Dan Leeson

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