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Re: Very Knowledgeable Wagnerite: Hitler?


Robert Baxter <[log in to unmask]>


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Tue, 6 Sep 2005 19:17:05 -0400





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Adolf Hitler's admiration for Wagner began at the age of 12 when he attended
his first opera, a performance of Rienzi in Linz in 1901. Hitler's passion
for Wagner is discussed in some detail in Frederic Spott's fascinating study
"Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics," published by Hutchinson in 2002.
Hitler also came to love Lehar - after first dismissing his operettas - but
Wagner was his musical mania. Spotts writes that Hitler attended more than
hundred performances of Tristan and Meistersinger. According to his press
chief, Otto Dietrich, Hitler knew Die Meistersinger by heart and could hum
or whistle all its themes. Spotts says Tristan was Wagner's favorite opera
but Lohengrin "held a special place in his heart." The writer of Archipel's
notes no doubt lifted his comments on the 1936 Bayreuth Lohengrin from
Brigitt Hamann's "Winifred Wagner oder Hitlers Bayreuth," published in
Germany in 2002 and recently issued in England by Granta Books - "Winifred
Wagner A Life at the Heart of Hitler's Bayreuth." Hamann's biography is
meticulously researched and richly documented. She states that in 1936
Hitler wanted Bayreuth to present a new production of Lohengrin, staged by
Tietjen - who, by the way, was Winifred's lover - with Furtwangler on the
podium.Hamann describes this production as "the most lavish" Lohengrin ever
produced. In the bridal procession, Maria Muller as Elsa was preceded by 70
pages bearing candles. In act 3, Lohengrin was clad "from top to toe in
shining silver." His chain-mail costume consisted of countless silver-plated
aluminum rings which weighed 25 pounds. As for the grail narration, Hamann
reports, "As a special feature of the production, Tietjen aranged for Franz
Volker to sing the second part of the 'Grail Legend.' It had never been
heard in Bayreuth, having been dropped by Wagner from the premiere in Weimar
for fear of over-taxing the tenor voice of Karl Beck... The premiere gave
Hitler the chance to show what a connoisseur he was. As Winifred, seated
next to him, never tired of relating, when Volker unexpectedly launched into
the extended narrative of the Grail legend, her guest reacted immediately.
At first he was startled, she said, and then merely surprised; he clutched
at her hand as though to question her, and then nodded approvingly.
Afterwards he said he was very placed to get to know this version."
    During the second intermission, Hitler visited the cast backstage,
accompanied by Winifred, Tietjen and Furtwangler. "Such a gesture by a head
of state was unprecedented in Bayreuth. The mood was euphoric, especially
when Hitler joined the artists in the festival restaurant after the
    I do not know if Hamann's biography has an American publisher. It is an
engrossing read. With an even hand, she paints a vivid portrait of this
complex woman. An ardent Nazi, of course - on the day Hitler became
chancellor, Winifred flew the biggest Nazi flag in Bayreuth, so big that it
toppled the flag pole - but Hamann documents that Wieland Wagner was even
more ardent in his support of Hitler. In fact - if Hamann is to be
believed - Winifred took the blame for the Wagner family's support of Hitler
so that Wieland could take charge of the festival after the war. Wieland was
Hitler's favorite Wagner. Hamann also shows how Winifred battled many in the
Nazi hierarchy and used her influence to save countless people, including
many Jews. At her de-Nazification trial, so many testified on Winifred's
behalf it was impossible to sentence her to prison. Anyone interested in
Wagner will find this book fascinating.
Happy listening! Robert Baxter

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