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Thread: Was Wagner religious?

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    Senior Member adriesba's Avatar
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    Default Was Wagner religious?

    Wagner's operas certainly contain religious elements, some more than others. But was Wagner himself a religious person? Is there anything he said that gives clues about his beliefs?

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    Senior Member annaw's Avatar
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    I don't think he really was religious although he cherished some Buddhistic and Christian sympathies. This is quite well perceived in the fact that he started writing an opera Die Sieger with a thoroughly Buddhistic plot but then an opera called Jesus of Nazareth as well.

    If I recall correctly, then when he was writing Parsifal, he was inspired by Christian communion. You can even see that from the utterly beautiful and poetic libretto sections he wrote for Parsifal's communion scenes. Nevertheless, I don't think he ever was a fully converted Christian or Buddhist. If I recall correctly, then Nietzsche thought that Wagner's sudden Christian sympathies were there just to appeal to German nation and he accused Wagner in hypocrisy as Wagner claimed these views to be sincere (that in Nietzsche's opinion seemed to be quite unbelievable or even impossible). Nietzsche writes in The Case of Wagner: "If Wagner were a Christian, then Liszt was perhaps a Father of the Church!"

    In A Communication to My Friends Wagner writes that seeing Lohengrin as merely Christian-Romantic, doesn't consider nor comprehend the work's underlying essence but only its accidental surface. He also writes that those trying to read "Christian or impotently pietistic drift" into his Tannhäuser just weren't able to comprehend Tannhäuser's character. Despite being Christian myself and immensely enjoying the beautiful libretto of Parsifal, I think Wagner's works were essentially analysing the essence of being a human and portraying the struggles of it.

    In his letters to Liszt (see Correspondence of Wagner and Liszt Vol. 2 from Gutenberg) he at least once gets super excited about Buddhism and later seems to criticise Liszt for his Christian views. I don't dare to analyse that criticism myself as I don't think I have the competency or understanding of Germany's religious atmosphere during that era. His Buddhistic sympathies seem to me to be connected with his fascination with Schopenhauer, who also had Buddhistic views. However, I think Wagner's religious (and philosophical) ideology might not have been as legitimate as it sometimes seems but rather an overlap between his personal philosophy and some religious or philosophical doctrine, resulting in a mix of different ideas Wagner used in his operas. Wagner strikes me as a classic Romantic-German artist - generally very knowledgable about all sorts of things and erudite, but the fact that he uses these ideas in his works doesn't essentially mean he was a converted and practicing Christian, Buddhist or Schopenhauerian.
    Last edited by annaw; Aug-10-2020 at 23:00.

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    Senior Member hammeredklavier's Avatar
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    "I believe in God, Mozart and Beethoven, likewise in their disciples and apostles; I believe in the Holy Ghost and in the truth of the one and indivisible Art; I believe this Art to be a divine emanation that dwells in the hearts of all enlightened men; I believe that whoever has steeped himself in its sublime delights must dedicate himself to it forever and can never deny it; I believe that all men are blessed through Art and that it is therefore permissible to die of hunger for its sake; I believe that in death I shall attain the highest bliss — that in my life on earth I was a dissonant chord, which death will resolve in glorious purity . . ."

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    Senior Member adriesba's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hammeredklavier View Post
    "I believe in God, Mozart and Beethoven, likewise in their disciples and apostles; I believe in the Holy Ghost and in the truth of the one and indivisible Art; I believe this Art to be a divine emanation that dwells in the hearts of all enlightened men; I believe that whoever has steeped himself in its sublime delights must dedicate himself to it forever and can never deny it; I believe that all men are blessed through Art and that it is therefore permissible to die of hunger for its sake; I believe that in death I shall attain the highest bliss — that in my life on earth I was a dissonant chord, which death will resolve in glorious purity . . ."
    What is the source/context of this quote? I'm having a hard time finding information about it.
    Last edited by adriesba; Aug-11-2020 at 03:20.

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    Senior Member hammeredklavier's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by adriesba View Post
    What is the source/context of this quote? I'm having a hard time finding information about it.
    https://books.google.ca/books?id=Rjq8AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA3
    Wagner and Literature, By Raymond Furness, Page 3

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    I would add to annaw's fine summation above that Wagner was not a believer in a supreme being. He viewed the sacrifice of Christ not as a payment for human sin but as an example of ultimate compassion for mankind and as a Schopenhauerian/Buddhistic demonstration of the overcoming of the will. I would agree with annaw in calling this a philosophy more than a religion. When religious symbols and ideas occur in his operas they can be taken as representing broader conceptions of human nature and life.

    You might be interested in a thread I started some time ago discussing the religious aspects of Parsifal.

    Religion in Wagner's Parsifal: Christian opera, Buddhist opera, both, or neither?
    Last edited by Woodduck; Aug-11-2020 at 06:28.

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    Senior Member annaw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    I would add to annaw's fine summation above that Wagner was not a believer in a supreme being. He viewed the sacrifice of Christ not as a payment for human sin but as an example of ultimate compassion for mankind and as a Schopenhauerian/Buddhistic demonstration of the overcoming of the will. I would agree with annaw in calling this a philosophy more than a religion. When religious symbols and ideas occur in his operas they can be taken as representing broader conceptions of human nature and life.

    You might be interested in a thread I started some time ago discussing the religious aspects of Parsifal.

    Religion in Wagner's Parsifal: Christian opera, Buddhist opera, both, or neither?
    This is somewhat off-topic but the original books’ thread you quoted in the OP (which itself is a great summary of Wagner’s religious views) is pure gold . Ah, reading the tries to analyse that “open mouth” regie production of Parsifal certainly brightened up my morning.
    Last edited by annaw; Aug-11-2020 at 07:35.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    I would add to annaw's fine summation above that Wagner was not a believer in a supreme being.
    How do we reconcile this with the quote that he believed in God (Beethoven etc...)?

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    Senior Member annaw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MacLeod View Post
    How do we reconcile this with the quote that he believed in God (Beethoven etc...)?
    His views of course changed throughout his life but in her diaries Cosima wrote: R. says, "I do not believe in God but in godliness, which is revealed in a Jesus without sin." Cosima's Diaries, entry for 20 September 1879. This is written four years before Wagner's death, so quite late in his life.

    As Woodduck said, Wagner's main problem was the fact that he seemed to sympathise with Jesus in New Testament but not with Old Testament God. Wagner seemed to find the idea that Jesus and Old Testament God are one problematic because he thought they were too different to be connected the way they usually are. He writes about it in his essay Art and Religion.
    Last edited by annaw; Aug-11-2020 at 09:20.

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    Senior Member adriesba's Avatar
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    I'm confused about the "I believe in God, Mozart, and Beethoven" quote. The book that has that quote says that it is by a character named "R." from a "story" that Wagner wrote called Death in Paris. I can't find anything about this story other than that book (and maybe another book on Google). The author seems to think that the quote could be Wagner expressing himself through a character. I can't find much information though.

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    Senior Member annaw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by adriesba View Post
    I'm confused about the "I believe in God, Mozart, and Beethoven" quote. The book that has that quote says that it is by a character named "R." from a "story" that Wagner wrote called Death in Paris. I can't find anything about this story other than that book (and maybe another book on Google). The author seems to think that the quote could be Wagner expressing himself through a character. I can't find much information though.
    The quote is from Wagner’s work An End in Paris written in 1841. It’s a prayer of a dying man but not the character who tells the story. You can find an English translation from Google.
    Last edited by annaw; Aug-11-2020 at 09:34.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by annaw View Post
    Wagner's main problem was the fact that he seemed to sympathise with Jesus in New Testament but not with Old Testament God. Wagner seemed to find the idea that Jesus and Old Testament God are one problematic because he thought they were too different to be connected the way they usually are. He writes about it in his essay Art and Religion.
    To be specific, he found Jehovah to be legalistic, warlike, jealous, petty and vicious, in every way opposed to Jesus whose essence was compassion, symbolized by his willingness to die for erring humanity. The desire to dissociate the two - and thereby separate Christianity from Judaism - goes back at least to Gnosticism.

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    Senior Member adriesba's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by annaw View Post
    The quote is from Wagner’s work An End in Paris written in 1841. It’s a prayer of a dying man but not the character who tells the story. You can find an English translation from Google.
    Ah, I see. It's not "death" like that book said, but "end".

    I just looked it up. I don't know that the quote can necessarily be interpreted as if it was Wagner's own opinion though.

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    Senior Member annaw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    To be specific, he found Jehovah to be legalistic, warlike, jealous, petty and vicious, in every way opposed to Jesus whose essence was compassion, symbolized by his willingness to die for erring humanity. The desire to dissociate the two - and thereby separate Christianity from Judaism - goes back at least to Gnosticism.
    Whew, I was looking through one of his essays and his views were quite... extreme and very multifaceted sometimes. I feel he basically mixed together Christianity and Buddhism and seasoned the whole thing with a generous pinch of Schopenhauer. He also really looked at things from artist’s perspective. An interesting man for sure.

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    Senior Member adriesba's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by annaw View Post
    Whew, I was looking through one of his essays and his views were quite... extreme and very multifaceted sometimes. I feel he basically mixed together Christianity and Buddhism and seasoned the whole thing with a generous pinch of Schopenhauer. He also really looked at things from artist’s perspective. An interesting man for sure.
    I'm thinking that he didn't believe that there is one true religion and adhere to it alone. But instead, he seems to have let himself decide what is true about what religion. That would make it difficult to determine any of his specific beliefs unless he explicitly stated them.

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