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This is Bernard Gabriel. If my friends have found me incommunicado these past several days it is because I've been sitting slumped away in a chair poring over a recently published volume literally unable to tear myself away until its final page. The book A New Biography of Wagner entitled Richard Wagner the man his mind and his music. Well I have the author Robert Gutman with me at the microphone and I'm most anxious to explore with him his remarkable treatment of the life of the great composer. You know as much as the salient facts of Wagners life are well-known and his behavior and character have been chronicled time and time again for the bibliography on Wagner is immense. It is a particular compliment to you Mr. Gutman to say that I was so fascinated by a somewhat familiar story and I should say here too all of that the several reviews of your book that have come to my attention are all quite as enthusiastic as I am. It occurs to me that you might almost have entitled Your book had you chosen a
psychoanalysis of Wagner deduced from his life and works because this volume is no mere chronicling of events. It is a profound study into the motivations and the nature of the man and the reflections of his life in his works. In a way you have a central theme throughout in which you convincingly establish at least for me that Wagner was indeed the true genesis of what flowered later into Naziism in Hitler's Germany. Mr. Gutman I guess everyone at all familiar with Wagners life knows that he wrote a highly de raga Tory pamphlet entitled jewellery and music and that he was at the very least somewhat anti-Semitic but in your book you make this a lifelong preoccupation of Wagners increasing with the years until it became an obsession verging on sheer mania. Isn't that so. Yes it's exactly so it is a an obsession that started in his youth
and continued and until perhaps the last day of his life. If you surround this hatred with some ambivalence as the psychologists say since Wagner did have Jewish Dave OT's and friends and he was greatly aided throughout his life I guess by Jews and act even had personal regard for some of them he apparently didn't have very much reason for this attitude. Well he always said strangely enough it sounds terribly strange to us that anti-Semitism as far as he was concerned was nothing personal. Even when he wrote the most vicious tracks he felt somehow that his very close Jewish friends should try to understand that this was theoretical. And of course one hopes that he would never have stooped to what happened two generations later. But of course the theoretical works he wrote all they had to read unfortunately.
But what do you think started him off on this theoretical aversion to the race. Well one tries to figure out what caused an overwhelming genius like Wagner to stoop to this kind of thinking. And. My own feeling about not one can never be absolutely certain is that since he was the son of a man who had a Jewish name Gaia. We are now certain that he was not the son of Mr Wagner. You are certainly yes I don't think there can be any doubt on the not anymore. I had always heard that this was a bit problematic. I think your research tells you that if I. Yet I think perhaps it would be difficult looking at all the facts to assume anything else. There are people who would say No I admit that but I think very few scholars would deny the guy apparent age at this moment and the fact that he in fact he used guy's name until he was 14 years old
when I was the second husband rather. First the love and then the second yes. He was an actor he was an actor and a man of great talents multi-talented man just like Richard was. Yes well I think the world is always assume that big guy or it was himself of course Jewish and the question was whether he was Wagner's real father but you somewhere in your book you state that there isn't a shred of evidence that Ludwig Geier himself had any Jewish antecedent this is a myth. Yes there is as far as we can dig back into Saxon records they have their own publication of these records. It is very difficult to find any hint. The family were a good Protestant church musicians in fact going back generations. The one will never know the name. Again he said. As I'm big I have people assume that Geir was Jewish simply because of the name of the name is just like one assumes that such a name is a Jewish name. And of course
involving this time since he was a child Gaia. It's not surprising that many of classmates and people in life see believe that he was the son of a Jew it was as if someone went into very given a very characteristic like I don't like overt So yes there are where there are non-Jewish go wrong in German indeed there were the assumption of most people would be that that is a Jewish name. Well the important thing in this story is whether Wagner himself thought of Geir as Jewish. The this we can never be certain we know that Wagner thought of guy as his father. His correspondence makes this perfectly clear letter to his sister and a letter to the king a Bavarian lady hears makes it absolutely certain that he thought leave that guy was his father. But he certainly I suspect and this is something that I project I feel he throughout his youth and. I felt that perhaps the Gaian name indicated something that he wanted to cover up by
reacting violently against anything Jewish This is my own feeling that one cannot be absolutely nuts because you suggest throughout the book I think that Wagner was ashamed. Yes I love the possibility possibility of being hard Jew in that this was actually the origin of his anti-Semitic neurosis and I think also you make a very interesting parallel in speaking of cause Zima who as his wife later in life and she of course was the illegitimate the illegitimate daughter of list. And in considering her own very considerable anti-Semitic tendencies you draw a parallel of my saying that her mother who is Countess Doug and and Namrata list had I heard had a Jewish mother. Yes she was from the Bateman family they were from Ford but they were definitely do it you know question of so that Cosimo certainly had some Jewish blood. There's no question no question and you have felt somehow that she just couldn't take it as it is was it possible in the measure in
some measure anyway for her own violent anti-Semitic see the we have the parallel lines at that time. Well parallel lines converge they can't all but in this maze and they shout they converge in the marriage of Wagner and cause him. Yes I suppose if if she didn't want to feel part Jewish or even Wagner it's because of the feeling of the people generally of the time. Right and I think that they both reacted violently against this. You also state I think that later that Wagner's anti-semitism eventually included a feeling of anti-Catholicism and even very late in his life there was a feeling against colored people as well. Yes he believed that the Catholicism was Judaism perpetuated Judaism was Emira Catholicism perpetuated the era and he wished to be part of destroying it he did not have any extremely violent feelings against Protestants.
Perhaps because he was but not a very religious man. Oh and a side of Parsifal. No he was anything but interesting. Yes. Well all these thoughts as well as his great activity in politics which may just put his life in danger on occasion certainly lead you feel towards the whole philosophy of. The super race Naziism and yes and the costs that followed in his need to live much later. Well how many years later was it fits. Actually it's a half century later right in let's say it well even less because of the whole mess got going in the 20s that died in the 80s. Well this element of bigotry was of course only one aspect of Wagner's extraordinary nature his character in general apparently was about as bad as you could paint it. Just remember with no gratitude for any good turn done him by anybody and unbelievable ego centric with no sense of honor of course in paying any kind of debts.
He is a man who would very easily turn on his friends. He used people callously was a supreme opportunity just what good could you say about him as a man. Well he had a certain very lovable aspects at times. Suddenly there would appear a flash of great humanity in personal relationships. Even in that horrible relationship people pecha waited with Ludvig of the area in that long correspondence between the two. Their off flashes of great humanity that come out of the man which he then will negate in the following letter. He is a man of curial changing moods and powerful modes of parity that just took possession Exactly and as he changed since he had this supreme ego ism as he changed he expected the world to follow. That is he set the tempo and the world danced to it. And if one did not want to join his dance one was just announced.
Just so incredible. Of course it's because Wagner was one of the great musical geniuses of all time and not because he had a bad character that you and others write books about him you give him full credit for being a supremely gifted musician in the book. But Mr. Gutman somehow I I don't know how I do get the impression a little bit that you hate the man so that you give him this great credit as a supremely gifted musician but a bit grudgingly and maybe this is just my own reaction and it's not in any way due to your writing but I thought I'd ask you about it. I don't the certainly didn't intend to begrudge the man his tremendous reputation as a musical genius. You do so in general terms I think. In general terms in what way. Well I mean in some of the great themes or in the great music you speak of it well you did a superb delineation of a character here or the music here was superb but it doesn't it
didn't quite always show me maybe you can't in a word just to how what happened in him that that a piece of orchestral writing would suddenly touch the heights or be truly inspired. Perhaps this kind of thing can't be done in words you have to hear it I guess. Well I wrote the book with some general assumptions that first of all the reader does know the log Neary and repertory. Yes. And another assumption I had in mind was that it was silly to discuss about his greatness he is one of the greatest masters of all time. Naturally with a man who claimed for his art what Wagner claimed one must very very frequently point out that it simply is not so. These overwhelming works are terribly evil. He is perhaps one of the most even of the great composers. He himself and his followers would never admit this so perhaps from this point of view that I
very frequently point out for example what one thinks of this I'm God which is a great masterpiece but not terribly on either. Yes but would you say that trees down and meisters Inger and the ring. Well of course you mention right above I mean the rest of the ring. I think what are you on even if from this point of view I think that Wagner as genius did not extend to a grasp of proportion his works. Australia usually proportioned he created mammoth structures that almost defy insurance and that from this point of view the works work like Tristan is spotty The fact that in by right they don't give an uncut Tristan. In the high temple itself they hack at the work they have hacked at recent is the fact that they are now cutting the real points out that the proportion was not his strong point.
It's amazing too isn't it that with his enormous. Reputation contribution greatness that it all rests on very few words. When you think of the massive output of a man like so much has been lost. Even most artists you hear yes yes. And you realize that all that the the real greatness of Wagner is really a matter of the ring finger tree standing Parsifal because really I don't think tannhäuser and Lohengrin by themselves would have given him my love alone but I have to admit it's not really great but it rests on just those words. But the originality of expression I think is the one of the things the combination of depth and imagination and the limitless vision are really almost unique in music. Well he knew I used to be a greater Wagnerian and I am now I think one one when Wagner first hit somebody if he does you die. He misses us I just can't believe anything is like and then later on a certain bombast and a certain extroverted
quality cue. When you when you think of Bach perhaps or some of the people disturbs one a little bit. But even in reading your book got all the vibe you kept running through my mind and you know and one of the main things that struck me now in this in this reading of the book as being in its way incomparable as if the world didn't notice the Magic Fire music. It's been always so popular and all but as a piece of tone we have heating and beauty it is and it's delineation of the essence of fire and magic. It is one of the unique things in all music. Would you agree. I agree as to what you said before a lot of trees down. You're comparing loudness output with Moxon Mozart's Wagner lived at a time when music was no longer a mickey in the sense that it had been in the form a century. Mozart and Bach wrote because they had jobs and they turned out music. Groaned it out it isn't as Haydn did in the
course of saying it is of an enormously high quality because they were so uniquely gifted but in the 19th century especially Wagner I assume you do if you can hear so much of that to make music. But he also is known for us. I had less than a handful of words as they waited for the subject they waited to be inspired. They did not write as a trait any longer this is the really wanted ground there for a very important client to Century and the 18th so I hadn't thought of that but it's certainly so true and Wagner was the high priest of inspiration he did not write for over 60 is simply because he was not inspired well. Bach would have starved to death and that was it yes yes yes that's that's a thought that hadn't occurred to me to get back to his character again this abominable this. I think people expect somehow that a great genius ought to be at at least an even keel or at least bearable certainly bearable at least on even keel with average humanity if not superior
but this certainly doesn't always show it definitely in fact very rarely not really here so there would have been some Horace who a great great to create it so I found it most fascinating to see how you find similar psychological situations recurring in practically all of the Wagner music dramas or operas. I believe the general idea is of a cursed man of unknown origin who then gets redeemed by a woman who will go through any torture and self-sacrifice to rescue him and never ask any question. Now that's not stating it very well. When they were new survey I mean it's what this motif of redemption which Wagner was so fond of and which he did borrow from the sentence runs through his works from in fact from beefy in the very early very early opera that he wrote and spoke and we find that he's another motive becomes untangled it stays with Wagner to the end the sister in faith and
it is that in this I just rears it's like I'm going to tell you that in ri n see it is again the sister who is the redeeming woman who joins the hero in death and this carries on through and it goes on through through the Marine Corps and you point out something interesting in Parsifal to what is it. Oh I was going to ask you about that he was himself kind of. Reflected Well the bombing was reflected in practically all of his major. Yes it is the very ambivalence of the Wagnerian personality the man the character let us say torn between a desire to be pure and a very strong desire to sin is reflected in all of these tumultuous Wagner libretti ice I say not the man because Wagner very often appears as his female characters do you think he was in any way conscious of all is or was this relegated to Freud he was
unconscious he was very conscious he was yes his letters show him very conscious of what he was allowed to say of these literary motifs whether he was conscious of the way they reflected his own life that I cannot say Well not only his own life but how about I mean my stressing you're caricaturing by not Meyerbeer but don't close off the wall so he named the character first. Yeah for him there is the whole tree and he could have shown that he was more conscious of what he was doing. Certainly he was conniving and fearless in many ways. Yes. I don't think that he had an extraordinary night. I don't mean this in the worst sense I mean also in the best sense he always felt that somehow his sinking ship would write it. And if they end it all. Did he not best when he was in a pickle. Right right. When the pressures were greatest he somehow managed to emerge triumphant. Getting back to Wagner's character or rather to his qualities as a human being it is
almost inconceivable to realize the fantastic effect that his personality had on virtually all who came in contact with him. There were very few who reacted badly like lists of princes signed between Stein and I just couldn't see him at all I believe. But in general the most unlikely people were ready with checkbook in hand to lend him give him money even knowing they probably never get it back. Those who understood his music were transported in complete ecstasy and I imagine they would have done and they did do practically anything to aid him and they all seem to always come across where you would think that to any ordinary mortal wouldn't have had a chance. But don't you think this extraordinary i'm after all a man is not physically attractive if he wasn't very tall. There was very little that would lead you to believe that he could have this and this unbelievable effect profound effect so that people would do as I say
do anything almost commit suicide for them in fact when he did so it wasn't a judge of the Jew who was a great a great admirer and great friend late in his life strange to say who practically committed suicide and he said he could not go on that I was long on but I feel that it's very hard to to imagine what this dynamic quality was but it existed quite obviously all his life wouldn't you say are most of his life. Yes. We must also point out that. He there were limits to what people would do. He did keep after people and had the ability. Year after year to draw funds from them. But when he felt that a well had been exhausted he put a lid on it and moved on to find a new sauce and we finally rugrat to go to Wagner. Always moving on from group to group when we had exhausted one group going on to another so that by the end of his life. As I point out there were very few left over from even his middle period who were still with him he always moved on to
an as we say open a new tenant friend. Yes and many of his most devoted and friends turned on him later like Nietzsche nature but even because of the very day through though. Salacious lame to the point where he would do anything to help. He would do anything financially or with his royal powers to help him but he did not particularly want to see it because he found that the physical presence of the man was disillusioning. So with eight remained in contact through the mail the women in Wagners life were practically all just devoted slave hysterically starkly. Well of course now we have to say the first wife Mina couldn't have been more devoted to him. She's late for him as no other woman did slave for him she bore the brunt of supporting him and are literally scrubbing floors for him however. The problem in that marriage was that she saw right through him as a character. She certainly did
didn't she. I feel that she has been very much wronged in Wagnerian biography because she was very conscious of his greatness. Many people say this that nothing what did she know about the great man she was an actress and she was very common indeed and she knew what he was artistically. But she could not help the fact that she saw right through him as a person. This is what grown and getting back to this Jewish business again she was she was absolutely she was appalled by all by this and then malign him for aligning an entire race is this is one of the reasons of course that they broke up one of her most famous letters to him that is only a matter of days and only a year says I simply cannot put up with this kind of thing anymore the people that are helping you the most are the people who are pulling apart. Apparently the Wagner had the ability to cause any woman that he wished to just fall not just in love but madly in love with the well. Many I suspect there are a few that he wished that didn't react when I just write I can't think of that but yeah he only reports on those it's a count and his record
is very very very good. I get this magnetism after all Matilda Basan dunk was one of the beauties of the time. Yes and she was married to an extremely Saturn member. She left her husband and children and they not quite leave them but she turned on them for a while to devote herself to the ride. And when you get to the story of Ludvig of Bavaria coming to Wagner's rescue at a very critical time and his influence and devotion was over a very long period he just about gave Wagner everything but his kingdom itself didn't e. And it's a story that I think Hollywood would certainly have considered completely too fanciful for yes or no one would believe if at all. In fact he wanted to get your kingdom in the sense that he twice proposed that he young abdicate and come and live with Wagner and goes in one never knows how serious it was about these proposals maybe they were just suggest to show the depth of his devotion but nonetheless he put it down on paper twice about and was appalled by the idea of course
without money and without power with the looting He had no use for you. It's a little late. But once he's the one when he said this boy was captured well the contents of your book Mr. Gutman require far more than a single half hour broadcast for any adequate exploration. Aside from the excellent writing which I attest to and the penetration of your inside and the detail care throughout what features that we haven't touched on at all do you feel yourself are of very special interest for the reader. I've touched on a few of them. I try to in a sense rehabilitate what I mean and I think that if the book has anything that is truly original it's the section on Parsifal as the culmination of your feelings at us his peak his. I feel it is his peak Musically I think it's more his most refined work many people would not agree with that many people dislike. I don't use it I like it I like about it. But when I
think of trees that are. You know I I think it's his most refined work. And from the point of view of its libretto as a book I think it is the summation of his mind of his thinking along racial and sexual lines which is the basis of most of his writing. We've covered Wagner with his redemption and whatnot with a kind of sugar coating but he was a man who wrote about sex and race. These were his themes and Parsifal binds them all together in a kind of appalling but brilliant libretto and cloaks it with I think his most refined school I know there are some Wagner still around and they're all by Reuters and elsewhere have they read your book yet have you heard anything for I have heard nothing and I'd like to know. Yes I'm trying to think what Friedland Wagners reaction might be I have no idea what feelings are you know or what do you think. I I cannot say I think that that would be unfair because most of the voters I don't talk about feel and I'm talking about the voters in general yet
remain extraordinarily protective about Wagners reputation. I don't think that there are any is anyone who's deluded that certainly spoke out very strongly about his character. But when it comes right down to it the general feeling of the family is to protect the fragments of his reputation but his greatness as a composer is unassailable and the time for that kind of protection I think is long past. I think Wagner to just get off of that for a moment. I think Wagner himself felt that he was just as great a poet and a writer as he was a musician is not. I think he did well. Yes he felt that those in the hand. He certainly contributed voluminous articles theories critiques vilification. Or many were. Ah but you feel as I guess most do that he's really great genius was musical culture no question it it kind of amuses us to
read his letter in which he elated Lee says the poem of the U.S. Naval loan is the greatest poem ever written. He doesn't even say the greatest German poem the greatest ball number of takes in Shakespeare. Little Town I've heard so it's quite extraordinary that this very strange literary work which certain would you call it bad I mean you know I read him in the section is very bad. Oh yes. Oh very. That was even as suiting his musical purpose to how can we ever do. How about I separate the lines now that we know the music alone how can we take the words away from the musical line. But if one makes the attempt one certainly feels it is a literary point of view very very weak. However you close it in music and make it a supreme masterpiece but consider the poem. Oh yes I said as a poetic work is is for sure. Well I usually find a half an hour ample for such thoughts and
comments as I have on these broadcasts. But I can tell you Mr. Gottman that I wish this particular broadcast were at least triple its length and I can only thank you both for writing. Richard Wagner the man his mind and his music published by Harcourt Brace and world and also for being my guest. This program was acquired with funds provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This is the national educational radio network.
Bernard Gabriel
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Robert Gutman
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Chicago: “Bernard Gabriel; 28; Robert Gutman,” 1971-00-00, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 19, 2024,
MLA: “Bernard Gabriel; 28; Robert Gutman.” 1971-00-00. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 19, 2024. <>.
APA: Bernard Gabriel; 28; Robert Gutman. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from