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Richard Wagner

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« Reply #30 on: July 26, 2007, 10:10:05 pm »

This problem concerns not only Wagner's prose but also his poetry. As Gutman wrote (in this case with some justification) the text of Parsifal is obscure and elliptical. It is a work that almost entirely consists of symbols and metaphors, a fact which makes it puzzling: in Parsifal little is directly named by the mysterious text or elusive motifs, and the audience is left to divine meanings. Here Gutman was admitting that he had failed to understand the text (by which I mean, both words and music). He failed to do so because he did not examine and evaluate the relevant primary material. If he was not prepared to do the work, he should have limited his comments to an acknowledgement that he was unable to divine meanings in Parsifal. What Gutman did, however, was to fabricate a fantastic interpretation that has little connection with the words and music of the score. Many people, including an entire generation of opera producers, have mistaken Gutman's interpretative fantasy for an explanation of Wagner's text.

Gutman Calls His Witnesses
he arguments that Gutman advanced to support his interpretation were quite extraordinary. Firstly he held that the work was not only un-Christian, it is anti-Christian. In support he called upon Nietzsche, ignoring the inconvenient fact that Nietzsche had reacted against the work because he saw it as Christian, not as anti-Christian! Gutman also assumed (possibly on the basis of Hermann Rauschning's book) that Hitler had interpreted Parsifal as a work of exclusion, in which compassion was restricted to members of the community, and therefore that Parsifal was the gospel of National Socialism. The first problem with this argument is that we cannot and should not assume that Hitler's interpretation of Parsifal (or anything else) was valid. The second problem, perhaps less obvious to Gutman writing while Rauschning was still regarded with only limited suspicion by serious historians, was that we do not know for sure how Hitler interpreted Parsifal. We do know that the other major ideologue of the Nazi party, Alfred Rosenberg, regarded Parsifal with distaste. So there is no reason to suppose that Parsifal was, as Gutman asserted, the gospel of National Socialism or even that the ideas underlying the drama were remotely compatible with Nazi ideology. Certainly there is nothing in Wagner's libretto to support Gutman's idea that Wagner was advocating selective compassion. It is clear from Wagner's libretto, despite its sometimes "mysterious text", that compassion is to be offered to all and expected from all.

Was Wagner a Disciple of Gobineau?
utman's misrepresentation of the encounter between two grumpy old men, Gobineau and Wagner, can perhaps be excused by the facts that he did not have access either to Cosima's Diaries 1 or to the Wagner-Gobineau correspondence 3. This excuse cannot be extended to later writers who have chosen to adopt and repeat Gutman's view that Gobineau was an important influence on Wagner, despite the increasingly available and substantial evidence proving that Gutman was seriously in error: Wagner was not a disciple of Gobineau. Not at any time, not in any sense, and not in the least degree. Not only did Wagner reject Gobineau's racist ideas, he did so emphatically: see for example Cosima's diary entry for 18 May 1881. Gutman's allegation that Wagner's Parsifal libretto was influenced by Gobineau was not even supported by the evidence that was available to Gutman in 1968. In the light of Cosima's Diaries (published in 1976) and the Gobineau correspondence (published in 2000) Gutman's ideas -- and those who have accepted them without question -- look even more ridiculous than they did before.

n the program notes referred to at the start of this article, Dieter David Scholz states that Cosima's Diaries leave no doubt, that Gobineau's influence on the development of Parsifal was extremely small. He is too generous. The Diaries and the Gobineau correspondence leave no doubt that his influence on Wagner was negligible and that his influence on Parsifal was exactly zero.


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Exclusion and Inclusion
he idea that Parsifal is a work about (and even advocating) exclusivity -- a community that limits its membership and its compassion to a chosen group -- has become commonplace since Gutman's book appeared. Those who accept this idea might pause to recall that the only authority Gutman cited for it was Adolf Hitler (in a source which has become regarded with suspicion by modern historians). They might also consider what happens in Parsifal, rather than in the distorted account of the drama given by Gutman. At the start of Parsifal we see and hear about a community in stagnation and decay. The king, Amfortas, who is both temporal and spiritual leader of the community, has commanded that his knights should stay within his domain, rather than venture out into the world, where Klingsor might defeat them. The community has turned inward -- and clearly for Wagner (surprisingly if we accept Gutman's characterization of Wagner as a racist, misogynist and ultra-nationalist) this is a bad thing.

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