The Case Of Wagner: A Musician’s Problem

Chose your digital format of “The Case Of Wagner: A Musician’s Problem” made available by Project Gutenberg. Of course, one should also give a close listen to this version of Parsifal from Bayreuth 2016.


And yet this other question can certainly not be circumvented: what business had he actually with that manly (alas! so unmanly) “bucolic simplicity,” that poor devil and son of nature—Pasifal, whom he ultimately makes a catholic by such insidious means—what?—was Wagner in earnest with Parsifal? For, that he was laughed at, I cannot deny, any more than Gottfried Keller can…. We should like to believe that “Parsifal” was meant as a piece of idle gaiety, as the closing act and satyric drama, with which Wagner the tragedian wished to take leave of us, of himself, and above all of tragedy, in a way which befitted him and his dignity, that is to say, with an extravagant, lofty and most malicious parody of tragedy itself, of all the past and terrible earnestness and sorrow of this world, of the most ridiculous form of the unnaturalness of the ascetic ideal, at last overcome. For Parsifal is the subject par excellence for a comic opera…. Is Wagner’s “Parsifal” his secret laugh of superiority at himself, the triumph of his last and most exalted state of artistic freedom, of artistic transcendence—is it Wagner able to laugh at himself? Once again we only wish it were so; for what could Parsifal be if he were meant seriously? Is it necessary in his case to say (as I have heard people say) that “Parsifal” is “the product of the mad hatred of knowledge, intellect, and sensuality?” a curse upon the senses and the mind in one breath and in one fit of hatred? an act of apostasy and a return to Christianly sick and obscurantist ideals? And finally even a denial of self, a deletion of self, on the part of an artist who theretofore had worked with all the power of his will in favour of the opposite cause, the spiritualisation and sensualisation of his art? And not only of his art, but also of his life? Let us remember how enthusiastically Wagner at one time walked in the footsteps of the philosopher Feuerbach. Feuer- bach’s words “healthy sensuality” struck Wagner in the thirties and forties very much as they struck many other Germans—they called themselves the young Germans—that is to say, as words of salvation. Did he ultimately change his mind on this point? It would seem that he had at least had the desire of changing his doctrine towards the end…. Had the hatred of life become dominant in him as in Flaubert? For “Parsifal” is a work of rancour, of revenge, of the most secret concoction of poisons with which to make an end of the first conditions of life, it is a bad work. The preaching of chastity remains an incitement to unnaturalness: I despise anybody who does not regard “Parsifal” as an outrage upon morality.