Commentary Magazine


Not So Subtle Anti-Semitism

To the Editor:

I think Terry Teachout is a bit off the mark in assigning so much importance to Richard Wagner in inspiring the virulent anti-Semitism of Germany and Austria in the latter 19th century [“How Hitler Destroyed German Music,” June]. At the time of Wagner’s notorious tract, “Das Jundenthum in der Musik,” Felix Mendelssohn was the most admired figure in German music, and Wagner was largely unknown. It is impossible to ignore Wagner’s numerous imitations of Mendelssohn in the music he wrote prior to this time. Wagner, who privately admired Mendelssohn all his life, wished to identify him as a Jewish composer, although his father had converted and his mother had no Jewish heritage. Felix himself was baptized at the age of seven.

Wagner was here exhibiting his lifelong predilection to destroy rivals, by whatever means were at hand. It is because of Wagner’s tract that we, even today, call Mendelssohn a Jew. Wagner himself had cordial relations with Jewish musicians so long as they were subservient to his genius.

James Currin
Stamford, Connecticut

To the Editor:

Terry Teachout is right to say there is a klezmer sound to the music of Gustav Mahler, and his identification of that sound in the second theme of the funeral-march movement of the “First Symphony” is certainly correct. I’ve often wondered what klezmer Mahler heard growing up.

Tom Putnam
Buffalo, New York

Terry Teachout writes:

I think that James Currin greatly underestimates both the specificity and the influence of Richard Wagner’s anti-Semitic writings. That, however, is not a matter to be settled here.

As to Tom Putnam’s question, Gustav Mahler left behind no first-person account of having heard klezmer bands in his youth, and it appears unlikely that he actually encountered such groups. The influence of klezmer and related styles on his own music may well have been at second hand. A detailed discussion of this question can be found in Jens Malte Fischer’s Gustav Mahler, perhaps the best single-volume treatment of Mahler’s life.




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.