Academic journal article Shofar

Der Ring der Mythen: Die Wagner-Kontroverse in Israel

Academic journal article Shofar

Der Ring der Mythen: Die Wagner-Kontroverse in Israel

Article excerpt

Der Ring der Mythen: Die Wagner-Kontroverse in Israel, by Na'ama Sheffi. Translated from the English by Liliane Granierer. Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2002. 192 pp. $20.00.

The life and work of Richard Wagner has been the subject of bitter controversy from his own lifetime to this day. His antisemitism has been alleged to be expressed not only in his prose writings, especially Das Judentum in der Musik, but also in his music. No other composer, among many who have become involved with or affected by politics, has caused a similar effect.

This book documents a special aspect of the controversy, i.e., the boycott of Wagner's music in the State of Israel. By representing both points of view in the controversy, it achieves a fine balancing act, something I considered impossible until now. It was originally published in Hebrew in 1999 and in English in 2001. This German edition offers certain advantages that the previous editions did not:

* The publication information above makes it clear that this translation was made on the basis of the English, not the Hebrew, edition. The author has taken advantage of the opportunity to revise and update the book before allowing it to be translated, although I cannot make comparisons because I have not seen the earlier editions.

* The previous editions were published in Israel, under the aegis of a series from the University of Tel Aviv; but this version was published in Germany and presumably intended for German readers. The sensitivity of the question raised in this book-the reaction of the Israeli public to the political theories promulgated by Wagner-must be viewed through the eyes of an audience which may be expected to regard a book by an Israeli on this hot political subject at least with reservations, if not with outright suspicion.

The book is divided into chapters covering the history of the Wagner boycott in Israel decade-by-decade from the establishment of Israel to the new millennium, tracing progressive changes in opinion over time. Sheffi cites opposing views within each time frame, showing that, even when survivors of the Holocaust were arriving in the newly created Stare of Israel, there was no unanimous opinion about the music of Wagner among them. If that was the case only a few years after the end of the Third Reich, which accorded Wagner iconic status, how much more so now! Obviously, this book is not meant to be musico-historical propaganda; it places varying views in historical context.

The author chose to summarize or paraphrase contributions to the controversy more often than to quote them directly, apparently for the sake of conciseness; but readers who wish to consult the sources themselves are referred to a detailed bibliography which covers not only books and articles but orchestral archives in Israel, as well as government documents in Germany and the Wagner archive in Bayreurh. The section on Zeitgenössische Quellen is particularly interesting, since it includes relevant sources by Hitler, Goebbels, Houston Stewart Chamberlain (Wagner's son-in-law), Thomas Mann, and Wagner himself, among others. There is an immediacy in these sources not usually found among those listed in the section Sekundärliteratur, which focuses on contributions from scholars of later generations including Paul Lawrence Rose and Marc A. …

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