Greenberg: The Music of Wagner

Robert Greenberg- The Music of Wagner ★★★★
It is hard to dislike anything that Greenberg does, and this Teaching Company series is no exception. Many of us waited for years for Greenberg to produce this set of lectures, as I’m sure it did not come easy to him. Throughout the lecture set, you sense a very strong love-hate relationship between Wagner and Greenberg. This feeling is reflected in the cynicism found throughout each and every lecture, though usually presented quite humorously, like suggesting, when the sword was named Notung, that perhaps Wagner even had a name for his pillow. In his animosity against the person of Wagner, Greenberg has forgotten his comments on the operas of other composers. Almost every opera has a silly if not ridiculous plot. Almost every opera is inconsistent with real life. No opera is believable. One could crack insults at Verdi for writing an opera where a larger-than-life character becomes fatally obsessed over a lost handkerchief, or a Puccini opera where ladies die of consumption at precise moments and heroes magically appear at the right moment to save tragedy, or Mozart operas where heads of state are made to look like bumbling idiots, Queens of the night appear out of no-where, etc., etc. Greenberg seems to love the music of Wagner but writhes in agony at the consummate anti-semitism of the composer. Greenberg certainly is correct when he spends long hours describing Wagner as inconsistent, arrogant, self-adoring, egotistical, impetuous, racist, mean-spirited, and any other possible negative epithet. All of these are correct, and would Wagner be alive today, he would be regarded as a despicable Arschloch. Greenberg is quite informative in showing how the thinking of Schöpenauer and virile anti-semitism is reflected in all of the music of Wagner, and this was most informative.
Greenberg does a marvelous job of following the chronological history of Wagner. Of interest is his almost certain Jewish father, which Wagner probably was aware of informing many opera characters with a lost identity. Greenberg probably added too much comment regarding Wagner’s desire for German unification. Most German intellectuals were desirous of unification, just as France had accomplished earlier, and Italy was in the process of accomplishing it. It is wrong to presume that what was right for France, England, the United States, and Italy was wrong for Germany, and perhaps the world wars came partially as a result of this prejudiced exceptionalism of the rest of the world to German unification. Wagner reflected a German ethos rather than a personal arrogance in desiring to see a unified country.
Greenberg is correct when he repeats often that one cannot separate the man from his music. He is incorrect in not stating that perhaps the greatest insult to Wagner the man is for his music to be performed by Jewish conductors (such as Levine) with absolute disregard for the “deeper” meaning in his writings. Such disregard is not only possible but necessary so that even in an unforgivably flawed person like Wagner, there remains genius to be appreciated. I await the day when a Jewish conductor with an all-Jewish orchestra from Israel performs Parsifal at Bayreuth in a comic fashion.