In expressing my enthusiasm for having finally secured excellent tickets for Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival after years of anticipation, I have once again encountered a series of misconceptions fostered by Nazism that still persist today. I believe that clarifying these misconceptions is an essential part of musical, philosophical, and democratic education. This year, it will gain special attention in Spain, as the Granada-born Heras-Casado is the first Spaniard to conduct the inauguration, following Plácido Domingo’s controversial direction in 2018, which was met with resounding boos. During these days of conversation, there will be a good opportunity to clear up any confusion for those who wish to understand.
Nietzsche was such a close friend and admirer of Wagner that he even wrote, “My youth would have been unbearable without Wagner’s music.” Such statements might lead one to think that the philosopher intensely enjoyed the musical beauty of Wagner’s works. Moreover, the fondness of prominent Nazis for some of Wagner’s works and Nietzsche’s writings against peace, democracy, equality, and feminism have led many people to associate Wagner’s music with Nazism.
In 1882, both Chaikovski and Nietzsche had the fortune to attend the premiere of Parsifal, which took place precisely in Bayreuth, in the opera palace built to Wagner’s taste, shaping the way we experience opera today. Chaikovski left delighted and wrote, “What has happened in Bayreuth is something that our grandchildren and their children will continue to remember.” Nietzsche, on the other hand, left angry; his fundamental mistake was to believe that Wagner had composed the operas that had thrilled him with the ideological purpose of exalting Nordic mythological characters before an audience the philosopher considered to be decadent Christians.
The philosopher became upset when he saw in Parsifal not only the theme he regarded as Christian, the Holy Grail, but also when Wagner asked for no applause out of respect for the mystical nature of the work. His ideological dogmatism closed any possibility of understanding and enjoying the musical beauty of his former friend and led him to believe he had the right to dictate the type of music Wagner should create. This ideological interpretation of Wagner’s earlier works by Nietzsche was later adopted by prominent Nazis, and we can see how it still persists today. To promote this misuse of his operas, an essay (which was indeed lamentable) by Wagner against Jewish musicians was aired, while his 12-year exile due to his progressive ideas in the 1848 revolution was concealed.
Wagner’s music is not in service of any ideology but of beauty. It deeply penetrates the human sentiment with themes like the Nibelungs or the Holy Grail. The artistic passion it arouses in all kinds of people (experts or not) is beautiful and has nothing to do with its ideological use in the service of Nazism or disguised philosophical diatribes against peace, democracy, feminism, and equality. Many democratic and pacifist individuals have appreciated the beauty of his operas right from the beginning. When these operas were performed in their cities, they would gather in houses to listen to them while they were acted out in a puppet theater constructed for that purpose.
When certain undesirable elements tarnish beauty, it must be cleansed. Let us ensure that everyone can, if they wish, enjoy the music of Wagner in all its beauty and splendor.