Post by Mike Scott Rohan Post by C.Z. Post by C.Z.
Lately the topic of valuing the art of an artist who is not a good person
in one way or another is newly current, with all the sexual abuse
interwoven through the worlds of politics, entertainment and media. Love
the art or leave it? Though Wagner was not a sex abuser, his shortcomings
as a person are plain. But I can think of no other artist for whom this
moral conundrum is so easily solved. I don't have any trouble doing without
Woody Allen's films. To do without Wagner's music is unthinkable.
Shakespeare has also been accused of hoarding grain during a time of
widespread hunger, if I'm not mistaken.
It is interesting to me how I despise Degas and Chopin for their
antisemitism but forgive Wagner his, and Cezanne his.
I'm supposed to be fairly well up on Shakespeare, but I don't remember that
one. He did invest in tithe rights, but they were mostly financial by that
time and had little direct relevance to produce. Beyond that his dealings
were chiefly in property. From a neighbour's correspondence he seems to have
promised money to support the opposition to some land enclosure round
Stratford, but the writer comments to the effect that he'll believe that when
he sees it... Mind you, there's occasionally a speck of truth in among the
old traditions. John Shakespeare, his glover father, was supposed to have
been a wool-dealer, but this was discounted because it would have been
against trade laws. And then not so long ago they found records of a dispute
with him over a large quantity of wool.
I myself don't feel I can exactly forgive anti-semitism in Wagner or anyone
else -- I didn't know about Degas or Cezanne, but it doesn't surprise me. But
it's something that can be understood in context, at least, especially in
their backgrounds, upbringing and religion for example -- coming from a
strongly Roman Catholic country, as did Chopin, or a somewhat provincial
German one, as did Wagner, where such prejudice was more or less culturally
embedded. France was nominally more liberal, but the nobility, for example,
to which Cosima belonged, remained very bigoted.
In particular for France, don't forget the Dreyfus case in which
anti-semitism played a huge role. France in the 19th century was - like
Poland still is today - a very Roman Catholic country in which Jews
were commonly believed to be God murderers, and not only by local, not
very educated priests. Most intellectuals considered the Jews a 'lower
form of mankind', even if they had achieved something in society
(Meyerbeer, Rothschild). Over all, one can say that anti-semitism was
normal in the 19th century, all over the world, even in my own little
country, the Netherlands.
The great change how the world thought about Jews came only after World
War II, and only because of the knowledge what the Nazis had done with
the Jews. My father, who was absolutely not anti-semitic, could still
say (not so very) funny things about Jews, even after the war, not
realising that he was discriminating them, or saying something about
"Negroes in Africa who were not yet up to independence", without
meaning to harm anyone. The human mind is strange.
I don't like anti-semitism at all, and I don't like Wagner's
anti-semitism, or Chopin's or Degas' or Cezanne's, but I do try to see
it in it's context the times and societies they lived in. No one in the
19th century wished what the Nazis did, the extermination of the
'Jewish race' only because they were Jews. I have never heard anything
anti-semitic in Wagner's music, nor in Chopin's music or seen anything
like that in the paintings of Degas and Cezanne.
Met vriendelijke groet,
Herman van der Woude