Berlin museum exhibit grapples with Wagner’s troubled legacy

Posted on: April 12, 2022

“Few composers inspire such a mix of appreciation and disgust as Richard Wagner,” writes Ben Miller in Friday’s (4/8) New York Times. “Especially in Germany—where Wagner’s work is understood as a combination of national cultural jewel and national political embarrassment…. Along with his music dramas, Wagner’s legacy includes his antisemitic and nationalist political writings, and the Nazi dictatorship celebrated his musical works as a symbol of the pure German culture they hoped to promote…. ‘You can’t have a naïve and beautiful production of a Wagner opera in Germany,’ said Michael P. Steinberg, a cultural historian at Brown University who, along with Katherina J. Schneider, co-curated an upcoming exhibition … at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin…. ‘Richard Wagner and the Nationalization of Feeling,’ opens April 9 and runs through September. The … exhibition … explores the relationship between Wagner’s politics and his artistic output and influence. ‘If Wagner had only written his 3,000 pages of prose, he would be remembered as a kook, a second-rate maniacal thinker,’ Steinberg said. Instead, Steinberg added, he is mostly remembered [as] ‘without doubt the most transformational composer of the mid-19th century, without whom one cannot understand European art music after him.’ ”