Pagan Music Project: Risky Material From the Forbidden Library

Learn how Classical Music harbors subliminal and not-so subliminal Pagan messages.

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NOT WAGNER

When I started to wander out into the brick-and-mortar Pagan community, I noticed that there were a lot of people who believed in Norse mythology and Pantheon. Some Asatru, some called themselves Heathen, some Northern Tradition, etc.    And when I'd talk about how I wanted to find out more about how Pagans relate to music, especially if any relate to Classical music, I found that some Norsefolk liked metal and Beethoven, and others liked Richard Wagner.  Richard Wagner, for those who don't know, is hailed as having "revolutionized" music during the middle of the 19th century, and he did this via writing operas about Scandinavian 'sagas' and the 'Nibelungenlied.' I wouldn't be surprised if Wagner was the origination for a connection between Norse/Scandinavian spirituality and anti-Semitism.

I am against the man and his works.  Alright, maybe not.  Maybe I am confused and heartbroken that someone who could write such beautiful and moving music, on such a thoroughly Pagan basis, was a megalomaniac, an abuser, and a bloodthirsty anti-Semite.

I don't know for sure if there's anywhere in Wagner's operas that he writes anti-Semitic words, but he sure does fire away in his public writings of the time.  Wikipedia says it best: "'Das Judenthum in der Musik' (Jewish Themes in Music) ...is regarded by some as an important landmark in the history of German anti-Semitism." Adolf Hitler made it a requirement for Nazis and Nazi sympathizers to attend performances at the Bayreuth festival run by Winifred, Wagner's daughter-in-law.  It's all in the family, too: Cosima, his wife, was a stricter anti-Semite than he was. 

I suppose this is the 'Dark Side' of Paganism in Classical Music.   Richard Wagner, German composer of the Mid-Nineteenth Century, singlehandedly built his operas from the ground up, and when I say built, I mean brick-and-mortar built.  There's a reason that the town Bayreuth (pronounced "buy-royt) has festivals of Wagner's music to this day.   Wagner chose Bayreuth as the place where his Gesamkunstwerk would come alive, and he chose the saga of Siegfried and the Scandinavian/Germanic Gods as the players in his operas.   He went to extraordinary lengths to get his work completed and performed, and having heard it myself, it's unspeakably beautiful. 

Uncharacteristically for the time, he wrote not only the score, but the libretto (the words and storyline) for his operas.  Completely out of the question for any other composer, but not for the composer of the King of Bavaria, he designed and personally supervised the construction of the opera house at Bayreuth.   He commissioned and supervised the invention of new instruments (double basses and Wagner tubas) and personally searched for the singers to play the roles in his epic operas.

Oh yes.  The operas themselves are so long and arduous that it is rumored that singers have died after the performances.  The Ring-Cycle is four operas; each one is performed on a separate day, each one is 4 hours long at least.  It took him 26 years to write the Ring Cycle.  What a monumental effort.  It's small wonder that The Metropolitan Opera took up the challenge not too long ago.

Knowing that Wagner's son Siegfried (yes, he named his child after a character in his opera) was a huge influence on Hitler's policies says to me that the hatred ran deeper than the surface.  Some say that Wagner had Jewish friends, but I can't believe that that was a saving grace. Crazy man.  In his surviving journals and letters, we learn he wrote himself as the lead character, 'Siegfried,' who is "The One, The Hero, the person for whom all things have happened in order to create so that destiny may be fulfilled!" (Neo!) Additionally, Wagner believed himself to be a kind of musical prophet and a gift to the world.

As is always the question with Wagner: Can we separate the man from his music?  Are we responsible for continuing hate speech and hate messages when we go to see this music?   Have I simultaneously given to and taken away from the culture of the Norsefolk (my word for those who worship Scandinavian/Germanic Gods)?  Do we accept or reject this work based on the man or do we do so because of the content? Do we do it because of the music?  You who are worshippers of these Gods, can you help me?

 

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Amarfa is the web handle of Candice Larrivee, who has been studying the occult, wicca, and paganism for 17 years and counting.  She has been a musician since age 5, studying first guitar, then accordion for 10 years, placing 2nd in her division in the 1995 ATARI/ATAM New England Regional Competition,  and has been studying voice for 9. She will be earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music with Concentration in Voice from Rhode Island College in the 2012-2013 academic year.  She has directed small early music ensembles, performed publicly, and starred in local theatre works, particularly the World Premiere of Nightsong, a musical theatre piece with direction and book by Jon Brennan and music by Kari Tieger and Kevin Campbell, as well as composing a musical of her own and writing music in her spare time.
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  • Robert Brown
    Robert Brown Wednesday, 31 July 2013

    This is an individual question, and an important one. Have you seensome of Hitler's art? He was an awful, terrible guy. Some of his art is pretty nice. For me, his acts due not diminish his art, his art in no way diminishes his acts. For someone who was persecuted it may be entirely different. Go with your feelings, but realize that if someone is able to separate the two, they can appreciate one by denouncing the other.

  • Joseph Bloch
    Joseph Bloch Thursday, 08 August 2013

    I happened to come across the following article today, and thought of your post:

    http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20130807-how-i-learned-to-love-the-ring

    I think it very effectively makes the case that one can separate the music from the man, and the music is both spectacular and sublime.

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