Paul Heise's review of "Black Wagner: The Question of Race Revisited," a keynote talk presented by Alex Ross (Music Critic of The New Yorker) at the Wagner Worldwide 2013 bicentennial symposium sponsored by the Univ. of South Carolina during the winter of 2013:
Alex Ross opened by announcing that he is currently still working on completing his book "Wagnerism" and has several more years to go.
W.E.B. Dubois attended Bayreuth, and stated that everyone, black and white, must know Wagner's artworks. Dubois read Kant, and studied in Germany, during the 1890's. He attended performances at Bayreuth in 1936. His 1890's sojourn in Berlin was a time of liberation for him. 1892 was the high-tide of lynching of blacks in the USA. Dubois stated that he didn't suffer race prejudice in 1890's Germany. But later, he was horrified by Hitler's anti-Semitism. However, surprisingly, he stated that he didn't suffer from racism in Hitler's Germany during his visit. Black GI's could date who they wanted in Germany.
Wagner's life, according to Dubois, was a persistent struggle for an ideal which Black America could emulate. His favorite Wagner artwork was "Tannhaeuser." Trust leads to joy. In one of Dubois's novels there is a character who muses on Wagner. Dubois wrote "The Souls of Black Folk."
Lorena Aldrich, a mulatto soprano, sang at Bayreuth long before Grace Bumbry.
Count Gobineau was disgusted by blacks, but Wagner was more ambiguous. Wagner's attitude was condescending. Wagner used the term mulatto to denigrate. Wagner also stated that a savior could raise the lowest races to divine status [PH: His blood could].
Wagner expressed his sympathy for the Zulu King Cetschwayo, during his war with Britain. Wagner saw divine retribution in the fact that Prince Napoleon died at the hands of the Zulus during this war. Wagner also stated that blacks are human beings like ourselves.
Ira Aldrich, a black tragedian, played major Shakespeare roles. He won fame in Europe in the 1850's. He was particularly famous for his Othello and Lear. Two of Wagner's Zurich associates admired Aldrich's performances, and Aldrich met Liszt.
During the Harlem renaissance, Aldrich's link with Wagner was cited. The Aldrich dynasty was famous in London's musical and theater circles. Lorena Aldrich impressed Gounod during the 1890's. Cosima learned of Lorena, who became friends with Eva Wagner. In fact, Lorena lived in Eva Wagner's home for awhile, and sang at Bayreuth, in the first "Ring" since 1876. Lorena then fell ill. She eventually got better.
Ira Aldrich claimed to be a descendant of a Senegalese prince, but he was born in NYC.
PH: Something tells me that I was interrupted while writing notes on this lecture and will have to watch it again. In any case, it opens up a fresh avenue for study. W.E.B. Dubois a Wagnerian: who knew??? This is fascinating. I'm reminded of my surprise when I learned that the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, was a Wagnerian. It's also fascinating to learn that Dubois found no evidence of racism (at least toward Dubois, a black) in 1890's Germany.
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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