Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A Musical Reconciliation ... of sorts

The Bayreuth Festival, the celebration of all things Wagnerian which takes place every year in the composer’s hometown, marks its 100th anniversary this year. And yesterday, it kicked off in style, with a controversial interpretation of the composer’s opera, Tannhäuser.

This, however, will not be the festival’s main attraction, nor its most contentious. That honour falls to the Israeli Chamber Orchestra who will perform the Siegfried Idyll in the composer’s home town tonight.

The recital will mark the first time Israeli musicians have played a Wagner piece in Germany. Indeed, Israeli opposition to the German composer runs so deep that the orchestra did not even rehearse the piece in their homeland, preferring to wait until the arrived in Germany to begin preparations.

It is hardly surprising that the subject of Richard Wagner is such a highly-charged and emotional issue for the people of Israel. A favourite of Hitler and the Nazi party, the composer’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg) was played every year on the opening night of the Nuremberg Rallies. Indeed, Wagner’s music provided the soundtrack to the rise of Third Reich. Used almost exclusively to advance the personality cult of Adolf Hitler, and to mythologize the notion of a heroic German master-race, Richard Wagner, for good or ill, has become indelibly associated with Nazism.

So, while neither the composer nor the people of Israel will ever be wholly free from the spectre of Hitler and Nazism, perhaps tonight’s performance will go some way towards finally laying a painful past to rest.

The Bayreuth Festival continues until August 28th.

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