ABOLISH THE AUSTRALIA COUNCIL - QUESTION MARK
By Derek Strahan BA Cantab (Modern Languages, French & Spanish)
Part 8 - COMPOSERS EARNING MONEY
Moving on through the 19th century we come to the case of Richard Wagner, who also survived on a combination of support from the wealthy bourgeoisie and the aristocracy. Considerations of art, politics, sex and money were of equal importance in Wagner's life, and were inextricably intertwined, particularly as he wrote the libretti for his own operas, and all of his preoccupations are evident in them. Wagner's professional activity often became complicated by his sex life. While still married, and a political exile in Switzerland , he embarked on an affair with the lovely Mathilde Wesendonck, wife of his patron, the wealthy businessman Herr Otto Wesendonck. The affair inspired his opera "Tristan and Isolde". It also eventually endangered the financial and practical support Wagner was receiving.
Wagner lived extravagantly and incurred huge debts. He would have ended up in a debtor's prison, but, in the nick of time, he was saved by the adolescent gay King Ludwig II of Bavaria , who had recently ascended to the throne. Ludwig was enamoured Wagner's music, and, at the time of the composer's rescue, was especially impressed by his opera "Lohengrin". Decor remaining in one of Ludwig's fairy-tale palaces bears witness to his obsession. After having secured the support of King Ludwig, Wagner then risked losing this by embarking on an affair with Cosima van Beinum, the wife of his conductor, Hans von Beinum. She and Wagner eventually married, after Cosima had born him one of their two children. The King remained loyal to Wagner, despite court intrigues against him. The Bayreuth Festival Theatre was built. Among Wagner's many innovations are these: he invented the darkened auditorium with the orchestra hidden in a pit, thus anticipating cinema; and he was the first to write music intending it to become a tourist attraction. It did, and it still is, more than ever. But none of this would have happened without money. A lot of money. The context is, again: "Composers earning money".
There are other mysteries about Wagner's life which I address in an article at this website under the title: "Was Wagner Jewish?" The topic is an old one. It involves questions about Wagner's parentage. Was his real father really his mother's second husband, the actor, Ludwig Geyer? Here is a brief summary of the salient points.
Until the age of 14, Wagner was known at Richard Geyer. He then officially changed his name. Why? The notorious anti-semitism of two infamous tracts which Wagner wrote, in 1850 and 1869, titled "Judaism in Music", is well known. In the context of the time they amounted mainly to attacks on two Jewish composers, Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer, and they were probably motivated by Wagner's wish to develop a politically useful agenda for himself, that of German nationalism, which he hoped would bring him financial support.
Ironically, after the Bayreuth Festival was established, Berlin Jews were among his most enthusiastic supporters. Jews have a long and illustrious history of supporting new developments in the arts. In the context of financial reward, Wagner's anti-semitism was of little practical value to him.
It was more a case of "composer not earning money". After its opening the Bayreuth Festival had to close for six years, for lack of funding. It only re-opened shortly before Wagner's death, in time for the premier of his last opera "Parsifal".
And as Wagner's son Siegfried wrote, in 1921, when pressure was put on him to deny Jews the right to attend the Festival (and I quote): "If the Jews are willing to support us, they deserve our particular appreciation, for my father attacked them and offended them in his writings. They are entitled to hate Bayreuth , and yet, many of them revere my father's works with genuine enthusiasm, in spite of his attacks on them..."
What is certain is that Wagner's second wife, the aforementioned Cosima, was part Jewish. She was the daughter of the composer Franz Liszt and the Comtesse d'Agoult, whose maternal grandfather was a Jewish banker from Frankfurt , a fact conveniently ignored by the Nazis, just as they conveniently ignored the fact that Mozart's librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte, was Jewish. Da Ponte's father had converted to Christianity, and been baptised with his three sons. In a wonderful instance of pragmatism, they all took the surname of the bishop who performed the ceremony.
Those facts of Wagner's life are well known. Less well known, but also on the record, are some curious ambiguities in the content of Wagner's own opera libretti. These are consistent with a subtext of an awareness a Jewish heritage, but, of course, unrelated to orthodox Jewry or, indeed, to orthodox Christianity.
"The Flying Dutchman", for example, is known to be an analogue for The Wandering Jew, and the Dutchman's eternal voyaging is a symbol of the Jewish Diaspora.
Considering the cliche of the materialistic Jew, current throughout European history, one might say the Shylock syndrome, as dramatised in Shakespeare's play "The Merchant of Venice", it is worth noting that in Wagner's opera "The Flying Dutchman, it is not the Dutchman who is materialistic. He is spiritual. it is the Gentile father of his beloved who is grossly materialistic, and who is prepared to sell his daughter in exchange for the Dutchman's vast wealth.
The composer's great grandson, Adrian Wagner, also a composer, who lives in the UK, in Wales, is a colleague of the writer and genealogist Laurence Gardner, whose writings have explored connections between the Masonic Movement, the Templars and the surmised survival of the blood heirs of the marriage of Jesus to Mary Magdalene. According to these theories, the Knights Templar, who were guarding the secrets of the Holy Grail, were the direct descendants of Jesus. By this reckoning, Lohengrin, of Wagner's opera of that name, was just such an heir; and when he refuses to disclose either his name or his place of origin, he is, implicitly, hiding the secret of his Jewish descent. This is not quite the version of history which the Nazis would have condoned. They regarded the Grail Knights as proto-Teutonic knights.
And yet, shortly before Wagner began writing "Parsifal", his second Grail opera, he did visit the mysterious village of Rennes-le-Chateau , in the South of France, which purports to be where the treasure of the Templars was hidden by the Cathars after the 13th century Albigensian Crusade against them. The treasure was two-fold, encompassing both the material treasure rescued from the Temple of Jerusalem , in 70 AD, but was also supposed to include the Grail itself, which is no doubt what drew Wagner to visit Rennes-le-Chateau. Here is the passage in which Lohengrin finally discloses his identity. What exactly is the sub-text of this passage?
(MUSIC CUE 6 Extract from aria from Act 3 "Lohengrin")
That musical addendum concludes the historical segment. The point of that exercise was to demonstrate how varied are the forms of support which composers have enjoyed in past eras, and to hear reminders of the work which that support enabled the composers to produce. Although those works are still heard, the forms of support which made them possible no longer exist. Those kinds of person-to-person deals, with all their passion and eccentricity are no longer made.
Why not? As I suggested earlier, it is perhaps precisely because of the socially anarchic and highly individualistic nature of these kinds of deals that, by the time we get to the 20th century, support of the individual creative artist has become politicised, by invoking more severe standards of correctness.
What I am suggesting now, is that perhaps we need to tweak funding arrangements to provide the opportunity for artists to make deals like these in the present era. It might greatly broaden the range of arts works which get created.
This might not be to the liking of the gurucrats who presume to dictate what kind of art is allowed, but it might be greatly to the liking of that greater proportion of the human race for whom art is created. Namely, the people.
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