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We won’t give a genius to Hitler

· The Israel Chamber Orchestra performs Wagner in Bayreuth ·

“When I listen to too much Wagner, I get the urge to invade Poland.” Woody Allen’s joke makes you laugh, but through clenched teeth, because certain wounds are still fresh, certain tragedies not completely metabolized. One cannot and should not forget the Shoah. But is it still necessary to deny Wagner’s music citizenship because some of his descendants subscribed to Nazi ideology?

The members of the Israel Chamber Orchestra think not and have decided to play an extract from Siegfried right in Bayreuth, where Hitler was “uncle Wolf.”

“Everything which leads to openness is good,” comments historian Anna Foa, emphasizing that the moment has come to distinguish the great musician from they way his works were subsequently used. Certainly, she adds, “Wagner was an anti-Semite, but if we were to eliminate all anti-Semites from the cultural sphere, little would be left.”

Guido Vitale, Director of “Pagine Ebraiche”, the monthly magazine of the Union of Jewish Italian Communities, is also in favor. Certainly, he says, older people in Israel, who are those who more frequently attend classical music concerts, still have difficulty listening to pieces which remind them of the Nazi regime. For young people, however, the perception is different. “Many of them,” he adds, “do not have difficulty spending a weekend in Berlin, while their grandparents would never return to Germany. It is a question of identity that is rapidly changing.”

Obviously, from a strictly artistic point of view, the question does not even come up. Wagner is simply one of the cornerstones in the development of musical language and is inescapable for any lover of beauty. Certainly, whomever has directly or indirectly experienced the Shoah, has every right to avoid anything which reminds them of moments of unimaginable suffering. For everyone else, however, the question can be reversed: is it worth it to give such a genius to Nazism? Why concede to assassins of their own people such great power? Perhaps listening to Wagner could be a demonstration not of forgetting the horror, but of having definitively defeated the executioners, denying them even a final possibility of influencing our choices.

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St. Peter’s Square

Oct. 20, 2019

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