This idea was furthered by Richard Wagner is his wonderful autobiography, My Life:
I insisted upon attaching an importance to the artistic destiny of mankind which far transcended the mere aims of citizenship.
We need this perspective. For a nation to be great, it needs more than economic success. It needs more than technological advancement. And it needs more than sensual passion.
It needs an art form that elevates humanity – one that expresses a universal life essence. It could be a three-act play that brings a grown man to tears. It could be an overture that inspires a young man to rise up and chase his dream with relentless fervor. Or it could be an epic poem, filling the classrooms of a nation with ethereal bliss.
Art is culture. And without a wonderful display of human expression, no nation can every call itself an EMPIRE.
All of these were great. With Richard Wagner, we read about a man that rose into greatness: how he overcame a myriad of obstacles on his journey. With PT Barnum, we get advice on financial matters – how to increase your wealth and, subsequently, your life. And with Marcus Aurelius, we read about the worldview of a famous Roman leader: and we find how his theories are closely related to Buddhism.
What makes a piece of music legendary? To quote Richard Wagner, it’s a “universal life essence.” It contains a spirit that saturates the air waves. Great music is a democratic lightning bolt…it reaches into the heart of all men, regardless of their race.
Note: A man can only write a heroic symphony is if he is a hero himself. You cannot separate the GREAT MAN from a GREAT WORK!
By way of example…
Beethoven is beloved in Europe, Asia and Africa. His time and place is irrelevant…for the music is created inside the mind of a genius: a man that worked in a majestic spirit world. In the modern era, we see a similar quality in the music of Elvis Presley or James Brown. The energy is bursting forth in a wave, and people from all walks of life can understand the essence.
To illustrate, I leave you with the “Tristan and Isolde” from Richard Wagner. Note how at 1:35, Wagner describes the relationship between the knight and his maiden. The passionate heights of love are perfectly expressed: we hear two lovers, crashing into the arms of one another. And they are lost in the unfolding waves of bliss…
“The true artist finds delight not only in the aim of his creation, but also in the very process of creation, in the handling and moulding of his material. The very act of production is to him a gladsome, satisfying activity…”
So what is the artist…very simple! Like Wagner said, the “true artist” is a man that delights in the process of creation. His poetry is the reflection of a lofty soul; his opera is the heroism of an UberMan. His canvas is the infinite imagination.
The great artist is a GREAT MAN. He is Bach, Beethoven and Shakespeare. By his work, he affirms the summit of human potential. Generations pay tribute to his art: they visit the house that he was born, the bed in which he slept, etc. His life history will become a source of inspiration.
And what of the journeyman? The degenerate postmodern. The huckster of socialism, communism and feminism. The money-grubbing hack!
Wagner spells that out for us:
“The journeyman reckons only the goal of his labour, the profit which his toil shall bring him; the energy which he expends, gives him no pleasure…he is never present with his work in spirit, but always looking beyond it to its goal…”
The journeyman is a prostitute. He does the art for money – not for love. Don’t be confused by the momentary success…by the applause that he gains from a corrupted press. He’ll be forgotten soon enough! When his job is done, he’ll be cast in the fires of anonymity.
Richard Wagner has a fantastic essay called “Art and Revolution” (1849). The very idea is ahead of its time, for we now understand that modern art (as well as postmodern) were used to undermine the foundations of Western civilization. For the essay however, Wagner writes about the artwork of two great civilizations: Greek and Roman. He champions the Greek approach to art, while ridiculing the Roman expression.
He begins by praising the drama of ancient Greece:
“The deeds of gods and men, their sufferings, their delights…here they became actual and true. For all that in them moved and lived, as it moved and lived in the beholders, here found its perfected expression…such was the Grecian people in its highest truth and beauty.”
Well put. The complexity of Grecian drama is readily apparent. While other cultures were throwing mud at one another, the Greeks were performing elaborate plays: music, costumes, and brilliant prose! It’s little wonder that they are held in such high esteem.
He then mocks the debased entertainment of ancient Rome; in particular, the bloodthirsty events of the Colosseum:
“…they opened not to the gods and heroes of the ancient myths, nor to the free dancers and singers of the sacred choirs! No! Wild beasts, lions, panthers and elephants, must tear themselves to pieces in their amphitheatres, to glut the Roman eye; and gladiators, slaves trained up to the due pitch of strength and agility, must satiate the Roman ear with the hoarse gulp of death.”
Wagner is forcing me rethink my opinions on history. Truth be told, I’ve always had a preference for Roman culture over Greek. I love the stoic philosophies, the sordid plays, and the iconic architecture. Perhaps I’ve been influenced (in a subtle or direct way) by the historical fictions of Hollywood.
Wagner makes a valid argument; Greek drama was on a superior level and it should never be compared to a degenerate display of entertainment. Remember that art is a high expression of humanity; the display of a great mind and spirit. We should always revere its power…to hold it in high regard! For art is what separates the Prince from a plebeian and the great civilization from a forgotten one.
Once a culture begins to celebrate degenerate art, it soon becomes degenerate as well.
Richard Wagner is one the greatest classical composers of all time. In terms of music, he was a giant; his compositions have captivated audiences for two hundred years. Of all the great musicians to come out of Europe, perhaps nobody stands taller than Wagner. To listen to Tristan and Isolde is to hear to the greatest height of human emotion.
But Wagner is controversial. First, Hitler was a fan of his. And secondly, Wagner hated Judaism. So I decided to give his most famous essay a read: “Judaism in Music.” How valid were his claims? What point was he trying to make?
These are the major points of the article:
Jews are Ugly People; Therefore, their Art is Ugly
Wagner believes that Jews are unable to make great music because they’re an ugly people.
The Jew — we wish to have nothing in common with a man who looks like that…a man whose appearance we must hold unfitted for artistic treatment — not merely in this or that personality, but according to his kind in general — neither can we hold him capable of any sort of artistic utterance of his [inner] essence.
Are Jewish musicians ugly? Well, two Jewish musicians came to mind immediately:
I’m 50/50 on this one. Some Jews do have unpleasant physical characteristics (like big noses, for example). But I’m not sure it’s universal enough to give 100%. Bob Dylan looks like a coyote, but Adam Levine could be a model. So I’m not sold on this point by Wagner.
Jewish Language is Garbled; Therefore, their Music is Garbled
Wagner argues that the Jewish language is aesthetically distasteful; therefore, it can never produce a high form of music.
In particular does the purely physical aspect of the Jewish mode of speech repel us… The first thing that strikes our ear as quite outlandish and unpleasant, in the Jew’s production of the voice-sounds, is a creaking, squeaking, buzzing snuffle (4)
He goes on to say that the Jewish foundation of music is in the synagogue, and that this music is unappealing on a visceral level:
Who has not been seized with a feeling of the greatest revulsion, of horror mingled with the absurd, at hearing that sense-and-sound-confounding gurgle, yodel and cackle, which no intentional caricature can make more repugnant than as offered here in full, in naive seriousness? (p. 7).
I agree with Wagner’s statement here. I grew up around Jewish people, and Yiddish is an aesthetically distasteful language. Many times, it sounds like somebody is clearing phlegm from their throat: “eck,” “dreck,” and bleck,” etc.
Most Americans have never heard Jews speaking in their native tongue. So they are unaware of how unpleasant Yiddish, in particular, actually sounds. For a listen, click the following link and be the judge: Sounds of Yiddish
Jewish Musicians Must Rearrange the Work of Non-Jews in Order to Receive Fame
Wagner believed that the Jewish composer/musician was not capable of creating original works of high greatness. So instead, they rearrange the work of great Christian composers. He points to Mendelssohn as an example:
Mendelssohn…was obliged quite openly to snatch at every formal detail that had served as characteristic token of the individuality of this or that forerunner whom he chose out for his model…he gave the preference to our old master BACH, as special pattern for his inexpressive modern tongue to copy (p. 8)
I am no expert on classical music. However, I tend to believe in what Wagner was saying here. Jews were always the minority in a European majority. So it only makes sense that they would copy the popular culture in order to gain success.
For a modern example, I thought of Bob Dylan again (Jewish, born Robert Zimmerman). Now I like Dylan’s music, but let’s be real – Dylan is widely known to have stolen his style from Woody Guthrie. So Wagner’s point is true in this regard. The Jewish artist will often reappropriate the style of the native Christians.
“Judaism in Music” is a solid read. Overall, I found most of his points to be true; in particular, that the Jewish languages are not euphonious. And secondly, that Jews tend to copy the works of Christian artists. Wagner deals with these topics in a way that’s heated, direct, and honest. In short, I have a feeling that his words will remain relevant for many years to come.