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Pride, Prejudice, Bigotry and Genius: Richard Wagner's World: A Lecture by James Conlon  

James Conlon, the music director of L.A. Opera and one of today’s preeminent conductors, will explore Wagner’s controversial personality in relation to bigotry, racism, and prejudice in Wagner’s time and in ours.
Last Updated: May 18, 2010 URL: http://libguides.usc.edu/conlononwagner Print Guide Email Alerts

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Introduction

I have been a Wagnerite since the seventh grade. It started with the overture to Tannhauser, and—by the time I was a freshman in high school—I had graduated to the orchestral music of the Ring cycle.

Two years later, I began reading biographies about Wagner and discovered his bigotry towards French and Jewish people and his many other personal failings. He used people, borrowed money he never intended to pay back, and was unfaithful to both his first and second wives. Nietzsche, who dedicated the Birth of Tragedy to Wagner, later realized the composer’s intellectual limitations and came to see him as a romantic influenced by Schopenhauer’s pessimism. Despite his bigotry and personal qualities, Wagner’s music influenced an entire era of musical expression—from the magnificent symphonies of Bruckner and Mahler to the atonal compositions of the Second Vienna School.

As I began purchasing more Wagner records, I observed the mixed feelings of many people towards his music. Many of the conductors who I felt best understood the drama and spirituality of Wagner’s music—figures like Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, and Georg Solti—had to reconcile their Jewish faith, their families’ experiences during the Holocaust, and their personal identities with Wagner’s bigotry and his music’s role in defining the German Romantic myths of Nazi ideology. Since then, many listeners have endured the same struggle in confronting Wagner’s work. 

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