David Dennis: Wagner and the art-cult of Nazi Germany

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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David Dennis: Wagner and the art-cult of Nazi Germany

Post by alberich00 » Fri Sep 06, 2013 2:09 pm

Here is Paul Heise's review of "Wagner and the Cult of Art in Nazi Germany," a talk presented by David Dennis (Loyola Univ., Chicago) at the Wagner Worldwide 2013 bicentennial symposium sponsored by the Univ. of South Carolina during the winter of 2013:

Michaud has written of the cult of art in Nazi Germany. Nazi cultural politics was a central component of the National Socialist worldview. This was more than just propaganda. The Geist, or Spiritual Reich, was at stake. Hitler thought that art could save the sick Germans. The Folk would fabricate its own ideal image. This would be the formation of a people comprised of new men. It wasn't just a matter of making art serve political ends. This would be a literal remedy to German decline.

The Folkischer Beobachter was the main Nazi newspaper. In it the Nazis attempted to co-opt all of Western Civilization and art as culminating in National Socialism, a historical process which went back to the Greeks. But music was the most German of the arts, and Wagner was the most German of Germans.

1. There was an attempt to make the Germans conscious of themselves [PH: Recall here Siegfried's effort to come to know who he is]
2. Hitler, as an artist, would mediate the Folk spirit

There would be a progressive disappearance of Folk enemies. Each work of art would prepare for the realization of the Nazi Reich. The soldier, the worker, as creators of culture, were considered weapons of war.

All great composers were considered Aryan, which represented the best hereditary powers of the species. This blood heritage could allegedly be found in the great geniuses. For instance, Mozart, a German, raises Italian opera to its highest point.

Though Beethoven looked as if he might have come of a mixture of the races, this newspaper spun a rationalization in which it was argued he was of pure race after all. This newspaper also attacked the "lie" that Wagner had Jewish blood. Geyer [PH: Wagner's stepdad, sometimes thought to be his actual dad, but whose surname suggested the possibility of a Jewish origin] was said to be a pure German.

Great artists were all considered to be political. Bach's music was described as an examplar of the Prussian State. The Nazis would replace Italian fashion with German art. Beethoven was considered to be always a Rhinelander at heart.

Emphasis was put on Wagner's political writings, his Folkish politics. Wagner would direct the Folk back to its mythology. This was Wagner's prophetic insight. There was also the Fuhrer-principle of genius.

There was also the politics of extermination. German Kultur was a factor in defining 'the other.' Heine, Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer, Mahler, and Schoenberg [PH: all German-Jewish artists: writer, composers] were attacked. To this end this newspaper used extracts from Wagner's essay "Judaism in Music."

Not all of Wagner's operas were co-opted for Nazism, but often just to emphasize German nationalism. The 'Ring' was said to depict the tragedies of WWII, Alberich was a representative of Jewish Mammonism. Hagen was of mixed blood. The Aryan race was threatened. Wagner was said to have pre-figured in Hagen the racial tainting of Europe by Jewish blood. The 'Ring' therefore was described as a struggle over blood as in WWII.

Mime, a Jew, only brings up Siegfried for the sake of Mime's own personal power: Mime exploits the German worker. Siegfried was said to embody National Socialism.

Modern operas were attacked.

The Rhine's flood in the finale of the 'Ring' was described as wiping out the Jewish race (Alberich) and mixed races (Hagen).

Wagner's most Nazi artwork was considered to be the 'Ring.' In contrast to this, there was an animus toward jazz and the black soldiers in the armies of the allies.

Wagner's artworks were associated with the Nazi future. There was a glorification of the 'Wacht Auf" chorus in "Mastersingers," which was said to represent the waking up of the Germans to their past glory.

On 3/6/34 Hitler dedicated a monument to Wagner in Leipzig. Wagner was identified with Hans Sachs, and the line from "Mastersingers," 'Honor your German masters.' [PH: I.e., honor German artists].

This newspaper associated the Eastern Front with Wagner's operas. This front was called the Barbarossa Line [PH: Wagner had planned an opera about Barbarosa; though he never completed it, some of its elements were incorporated into Siegfried's dramatic trajectory]. WWII was considered a Folkisch war of liberation. The fall of Valhalla was described as the gods' self-purification. There were wartime festivals at Bayreuth. This Nazi regime was Kultur Nation.

The culmination of Nazi culture was WWII, a hollow masterpiece.


The Germans [PH: &/or Hitler] felt they had lost the war to mixed-race Americans in both WWI and WWII. There was harping on the French use of black soldiers [PH: Senegalese, especially]. [PH failed to record Green's answer]

In response to another question, Green stated that the Nazi ideologue Rosenberg was a contributor to the Folkischer Beobachter.

PH: This was an interesting account of a little-studied area in Wagner scholarship, i.e., the manner in which the Nazis made use of Wagner for propaganda in behalf of their building of a Folkisch nation. It was very interesting, for instance, to learn how this key Nazi newspaper interpreted the "Ring."
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