Friday, October 19, 2007

The politics of music

Its been a few days since this story showed up on Arts Journal.  In case you missed it, Daniel Barenboim, in a move that is typical for him, is taking his Divan Orchestra to the Waldbuhne to perform Richard Wagner's The Valkyrie. 

Of course, this wouldn't be news or even worth some thought if a number of factors were different.  Most significantly, if Hitler had not attempted to exterminate the Jews and Wagner not been anti-semitic. 

The whole story, and Barenboim's prior willingness to perform Wagner in Israel no less, breaking a de facto ban on the performance of Wagner's music, caused me to reflect on the nature of politics and music. 

Music, politics and social statements have been bound together for a long time.  It doesn't require much effort to rattle off the names of composers who were silenced, persecuted, or forced to flee their homeland because of they music they wrote.  Similarly, music has been used to foment nationalism, inspire the populace, and recognize legitimate causes. 

I understand Israel's resistance to having Wagner's music played extensively in a country that came into being in large part because of how his music was utilized to by an evil regime.  Allowing widespread performance would legitimize the message.

Conversely, Barenboim and his orchestra of Muslims and Jews, people who we were viewed as inferior by Wagner and of course Hitler, are making a pretty bold statement of their own.  Playing Wagner, in a Nazi arena, by an orchestra of Jews and Muslims, lead by an Israeli conductor insults the intent of Wagner and Hitler, removes the music from its negative past, and, I think, allows the music to emerge with a refurbished identity.  Doesn't it?      

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