Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lost in la la land

Just a couple more thoughts on "Meistersinger" and then we will move on, I promise. I think what has happened is, I never saw this opera before in its entirety, and so it has been on my mind.

It is funny how sometimes you hear something that colors your life. You wake up in the morning feeling a little different because of it. One of these days I should list some of the music that has done this to me in the past.

I did finish watching the Glyndebourne production. As I shared yesterday, it took all kinds of doing including getting up that morning at 4 a.m. -- and being late for a party later that day. Yikes, I was almost an hour late because I had to finish watching the thing before Glyndebourne pulled the plug on it.

Howard ended up watching the last scene over my shoulder. We had it on full screen. Howard always kills me. As Beckmesser was making his sorry attempt at singing the Prize Song, Howard said, "I don't know, he sounds all right to me." By the way what I wrote the other day about the name Sixtus Beckmesser, I was wrong. Beckmesser was a real actual Mastersinger, I have learned.

When the opera was over I had to scramble to explain away the last scene, the one that always gets quoted, about keeping German art sacred and pure. Awkward!

I said, "Howard, I don't want you to think I am watching Nazi opera, or anything." I explained "Meistersinger" premiered in 1868 (was it? I am in a hurry right now) and furthermore there was that speech Hans Sachs makes earlier condemning man's inhumanity to man.

Also I tried to tell him how it is supposed to be set in the Middle Ages and these Mastersingers, you know, they are these provincial tradesmen striving for something greater. They are gently comic figures. This opera is bittersweet in a kind of Mozartean way -- there was one instance where I am sure Wagner is quoting Mozart -- but it is not meant to be serious as a heart attack.

Also, I did not say this to Howard but face it, no German opera is complete without crowds of people shouting "Heil" to something. It just has to be done. I mean, look at "The Magic Flute."

OK, time to put this all to bed. But it is not easy!

This morning I realized it was time to snap out of it so while I was drinking my coffee, I looked into this new memoir that came my way, by Katherine Weber, the granddaughter of Kay Swift, who had the long affair with George Gershwin.

And there "Meistersinger" was again!

I could not get away from it!

Apparently Gershwin went with Kay Swift to see "Die Meistersinger." The book said, "He was enamored of the score."

That is fascinating! It is fun to look at "Meistersinger" through Gershwin's eyes and wonder what he took away from it.

But it is time for me to stop thinking about this.


  1. I don't know how deeply you've read in the subject, but there's good evidence that Cosima, born and bred in aristocratic Catholic Paris, is the one who wanted the "German art" speech included in Meistersinger. Wagner wrote it, but felt it held up the action, and finally included it to make her happy. You will hate this, but anti-semitism was an article of faith in that class of the French and it finally burst into scandal as the Dreyfus Affair.

    Wagner detested Jews, but was always aware of their support. He and Cosima deplored Bismarck's granting German Jews full citizenship, but refused to sign a petition protesting it. It's impossible to know how he would have reacted to the Third Reich. It is certainly true that the Hitler regime had the support of Bayreuth.

    But then, what do I know? I'm as stateless, rootless and godless as anyone who was gassed in a death camp!

  2. Prof. G you are always so self deprecating. Your comments are always illuminating. Interesting, about Cosima wanting that speech in there! I would believe it.

    I know about Wagner's anti-Semitic screeds but I often wonder how much of that was politically motivated. He wanted money from certain quarters and he would say what he had to say to get it, is what I think. One day I will research this as it deserves to be researched.

    Are you on Twitter? If you are, you should follow Cosima Wagner. It's a riot.

  3. I'm not on Twitter, but I have my own take about Wagner and racism. I feel a lot of it was founded on jealousy of Mendelssohn. I think Wagner resented his silver spoon upbringing, his fabulous facility, and his making the Leipzig Gewandhaus concerts a bastion of conservative programming and reactionary thought (Wagner, you recall, was born in Leipzig, and was always a musical revolutionary). Since you were discussing Meistersinger, Wagner quotes the Midsummer Night's Dream Nocturne (it's quick, but there) in the Prelude to Act 3, and the wind chords that lead into Evening Star in Tannhauser are right out of the Midsummer Night's Dream Overture. I think Mendelssohn's genius was gall to Wagner, and part of what motivated him to try and reclaim Bach/Mozart/Beethoven as both German (not Jewish influenced), and the pinnacle of art. Later, his animus was strengthened by his bitter dealings as a subordinate, in Paris, to Meyerbeer, Halevy, etc., and finally became a mania. There were Jews Wagner cared about, such as Joseph Rubinstein, but they had to grovel before him to win his sympathy.

    The part I hate to write about is the Christian Church (Catholic and Lutheran) and their centuries of preaching of Jews as God murderers. This became dogma in a lot of European cultures. When I was a kid going to church I never heard any of this and I think the Catholic Church was so appalled by the revelation of the Holocaust in 1945/46 that they simply shut up about Jew blaming. I was born in 1951 and I think you're about 10 years younger then I am, so we wouldn't have been exposed to it. I'm always troubled to meet older Catholics, especially Polish immigrants, who breathe fire about Jews in Poland. One was the wife of someone I like and respect and I was blindsided by her outburst. If we talk in person sometime, I'll tell you this story and a few others. I don't want to write about it on a weblog.

    If you or someone really want to research this, you'll find yourself in a maze of accusation, justification, sophistry and God knows what. And you might find No Exit (like the Sartre title) in the end. I look into this stuff from time to time and wind up baffled.

    You have a good sense of humor. Don't you find some of the Wagner/Cosima/Ludwig story darkly funny? They took themselves SOOO seriously!

  4. Prof. G, I'm sorry I got behind in getting back to you! I have not had time to think. Your stories are so welcome. About the "Christ killing" business, there is the minor matter that Christ was a Jew. How can Christians hate Jews if they worship Christ? BTW about the Wagner/Cosima etc. story, yes, I do consider it funny, and not always darkly. You are certainly right about them taking themselves seriously!