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Thread: Karajan

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    Default Karajan

    I'd never listen to him, even if he was the best; he was a Nazi, and for me, that's unforgivable. Even after the war he rarely, if at all, used any Jewish musicians; nor do I believe he had any sympathy for using the war to launch his career.

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    I'm new to classical music, and this is certainly news to me!

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    So was Wagner, I'm not complaining. I don't belive politics should mix with music.

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    I don't think you can seperate politics and art. One Influences the other, more often than not without the artist even being aware of it.

    I am aware that joining the Nazi Party (for instance) was a requirement for "getting" on in your chosen profession, and I suppose some people took the easy root.

    Do we condemn the Russian composers of the Soviet era? After all, you could say they were members of of society that produced some horrific examples of inhumanity to humanity.

    I am part jewish, and so I have thought about this for a long time. No we can't seperate politics from art, its best to acknoweldge an artist, warts and all. This way we can appreciate their artistry, yet condemn their privatelives if we wish.

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    First of all, politics is politics. Art is art. One is supremely superior to the other. How can one bind pedantry and bickering to beauty and glory in such a way that it prevents you from appreciating the musical genius of one of the greatest conductors of at least the past century if not more. Saying that politics strongly influences art so much that we cannot separate the two is a simply ridiculous claim, likely rooted in only a shallow understanding of either. Certainly Wagner somewhat perpetuated his political views in his operas. Certainly Verdi's operas inspired many facets of the Italian Unification, so much that they even chanted his name (Verdi) as an Italian acronym for what translates into English as "Long live the King of Italy"! Certainly Strauss had conversed with Hitler himself numerous times as his popularity among Nazi party members grew. And these are only a few examples, I know. And yes obviously these political aspects/effects of art are historically permanent. However, to say that they are inseparable in our minds and in our artistic interest is madness. It's the very impurity of understanding art that Wagner so often criticized.

    In his essay "On German Music", Wagner states that "The German has a right to be styled by the exlusive name "Musician," for of him one may say that he loves Music for herself - not as means of charming, of winning gold and admiration, but because he worships her as a divine and lovely art that, if he gives himself to her, becomes his one an all. The German is capable of writing music merely for himself and friend, uncaring if it will ever be executed for a public. The desire to shine by his creations but rarely seizes him, and he would be an exception if he even knew how to set about it."

    Forgoing the predictable outctry of accusations of Nazism because of his rather archetypal 19th century nationalistic claim, one must understand that Wagner, if he were around to hear these pitiful cries against Karajan, would likely be disappointed in the inability of some to appreciate art in itself.

    It is also disgusting to hear someone say that Wagner was a Nazi. Anti-semitic - aboslutely. A Nazi? Not even close.

    The Jews of Wagner’s time were met with many of the same prejudices and oppression that had plagued them for almost two millennia. In the Easter of 1848, a number of large-scale riots broke out as expressions of anti-Jewish sentiment concerning the Jews’ execution of Christ on the cross. These Easter riots were not customary, but rather resulted from the simmering revolutionary atmosphere in Germany at the time. Following the assassination of Alexander II of Russia, numerous pogroms erupted, most of which were aimed at punishing the Jews for what many viewed as a cold-blooded murder. In response to reading about these events, Wagner remarked that this manner of castigation was “the only way it could be done – by throwing these fellows out and giving them a thrashing” . Such violent expressions of anti-Semitism throughout the world undoubtedly encouraged Wagner to postulate one of his most rudimentary theories pertaining to the Jews - that Society, or the ‘Volk’, holds a certain “instinctive repugnance against the Jews” .

    One of the primary reasons for this is what Wagner repeatedly referred to as the “modern Judaistic Utilism” . Wagner, throughout his prose writings, expressed his bitterness towards the Jews because of their exploitation of Nature (an ideal derived from German Romanticism that stresses the unconscious instinct of all living beings) for their own egoistic purposes, namely money and worldly power. In his view, this denial of Nature inevitably led to a state of static decay in the Jewish race, which Wagner believed to be epitomized in the synagogue service that had become “senseless and distorted” . In fact, not only did Wagner believe that the Jews, like their synagogue, had become a travesty of decay; he was convinced that their entire religion was dictated by their own ego, which they personified in the form of God, an omnipotent being whose perfect will has power over Nature.

    Wagner also asserted that Jewish art is trivially nugatory, desultorily indifferent, and meaninglessly superficial. Jews, as they are banally trite and cursory in their artistic ventures, often sacrifice any possibility of artistic purity in order to acquire positive appraisal of their creations. Ergo, Wagner’s flagrant floccinaucinihilipilification of Jewish artistic endeavors, particularly vis-à-vis German art’s honorificabilitudinity and prodigious precocity, perfectly paralleled his suspicion that while the German princes were captivated and spellbound by the French art of the day, the Jews were allowed to work their way into the art community like maggots, unnoticeably yet grievously causing an atrociously odious obloquy of Wagner’s ideal of ‘Germanness’ or ‘Germanity’; he believed that this artistic atrocity was due to the Jewish artist’s awkwardly unnatural and unscrupulously impenitent exploitation of the unconscious Nature and, consequently, their iniquitously reprobate transgression of the fundamentally requisite rectitude of the idealistic free artist.

    Wagner also believed that as much of what makes great art great is found in the intuition of the artist who has unconsciously matured in that same society, the Jews were not at all in a position to produce great art. This was due to the fact that until approximately the time of Wagner’s birth, the Jews had been confined to ghettos for numerous generations, forced to live in close-cultured societies all over Europe which were radically different from the outside world. It was not until the Napoleonic Wars that the European ghettos were opened, and the assimilation was a slowly maturing process that was barely underway even during Wagner’s adulthood. Thus, these Jews, these outsiders, with their foreign accents and odd appearances, Wagner believed to only be capable of imitating true art.

    The rather repulsive nature of this anti-Semitism is not a license to misrepresent it, whether by soft-pedaling it with excuses or blaming it for horrid atrocities. An example of the former is the assertion that the society in which Wagner lived was violently anti-Semitic, and that he was therefore merely regurgitating the views indoctrinated into him by the biases of his culture. Certainly this claim contains hints of truth, as late nineteenth-century Germany was indeed rather saturated in ill-will towards the Jews. Nevertheless, even in a society that was virulently anti-Semitic, Wagner’s anti-Semitism repulsed even those around him, including wives and family members. In examination of the casual factors that watered the development of this repellent hatred, it is important to note to note that, in general, Wagner was an extremely, perhaps even foolishly, paranoid man. A copious amount of evidence from those surrounding him supports that he had a peculiar tendency to speculate about what happened behind his back. This paranoia was so severe that even close contacts, such as Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, explicitly stated that they consciously avoided behaving in such a way that might cause Wagner’s suspicions, legitimate or not, to be aroused.

    The primary external cause of his anti-Semitism would likely be his experiences in Paris during his late twenties. Throughout this thirty month period of his life, he was reduced to starvation and near-suicidal despair, a creative genius confronted with the extinction of all his hopes, dreams, and ambitions. At the throne of Wagner’s Parisian abyss sat Meyerbeer and his second, Halévy. As they were Jews, Wagner viewed both of these composers as inferiors to himself, inferiors who were nonetheless ruling over the international capital of opera with their scepters of financial egoism and artistic venality. Meanwhile, Wagner, starving, freezing, and in debt, was forced to sell everything he possessed, even his pawn tickets.

    Harmonious with his paranoid nature, he began to speculate that his failure was a result of a massively fraudulent conspiracy, one which involved Jewish music publishers, Jewish journalists, and Jewish critics, all diligently laboring away to keep their own kind in control of the art world while forcing talented geniuses like Wagner out. Any truth in this suspicion undoubtedly resides in the fact that Meyerbeer was publicly known for being a superficial man of great academic intelligence, a master of the reigns of his small-world politics, and quite successful at manipulating the press to his advantage. After Wagner regained his footing in the artistic community, ironically partly due to assistance by Meyerbeer himself, he attempted to destroy Meyerbeer’s public appearance via various articles, such as one published in the German journal entitled Die Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, the editor of which was none other than Robert Schumann, who changed some of the more offensive statements in order to make them sound more critical than expletive.
    "When all hopes of recognition or honor have faded into distant memory, when purity of heart meets sorrow of mind, when all the world seems to walk in blindness, and yet a man works without wearying for that which he loves...only in this moment is passion truly understood." - Franz Schubert, 1827

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    (continued)

    The second cause of Wagner’s anti-Semitism is related to his addictive borrowing. From his earliest years of adulthood, Wagner was given to incessant and repeated borrowing of money, which he planned to repay (if at all) via hopelessly unrealistic schemes. Of course, a disproportionately high percentage of the day’s loan officers and moneylenders were Jews. Wagner felt that these avaricious Jews were parasitic upon him, exploiting and cheating him in every way that occurred to their pettily-minded bureaucratic pedantry and relentlessly insatiable avarice. In his fifties, Wagner was literally in hiding, fleeing his creditors and the threat of imprisonment, until his debt was promptly erased by Wagnerian opera aficionado Kind Ludwig II, who, comically, Wagner originally believed to be a royal emissary or bailiff that had come to arrest him.

    The final main cause of Wagner’s above demonstrated anti-Semitism was his political views. Bryan Magee states that “As a young revolutionary socialist, he believed that the ultimate social evil in the world was the institution of private property” . Even after ceasing to be a socialist, Wagner maintained his hatred of property. This strong emotion towards personal ownership is almost expected, as it, or the lack thereof, determined much the fortune of his own life, especially in his Paris years. However, he believed that wealth was distributed on the basis of neither merit nor justice; after all, not one of the affluent members of Wagner’s society deserved to be possessed of anything more than he did. He considered it an outrageous monstrosity that an assiduous German genius such as himself should be subjected to the oppression and corruption of those inferiors who were possessed of every worldly power and luxury that they required to do so. This ambiguous emotion translated into a loathsome bitterness towards the big-business capitalist Jews, especially the international bankers who lent money to governments. He once jested that whereas human society was once bailed out by the King of Jews, it was now usually bailed out by the Jew of the Kings.

    Although certainly Wagner’s expression of his Jew-hatred was repulsively violent, it is at this point rather bizarre to suggest that it could have been a truly legitimate source or cause of Nazi ideology almost a century later, considering that Wagner’s anti-Semitism has been clearly determined to be rooted in such personal and time-sensitive factors as German Romanticism, his ideal of Germanness, the Jewish artistic aristocracy during his miserable Paris years, his habitual problems with debt, and his overall social politics. Perhaps the most bafflingly inane claim is the most commonly expressed one; numerous writers have alleged that Hitler, who idolized Wagner, derived his personal anti-Semitism from Wagner’s writings and operas and also took general encouragement from them. Writers from this school of Wagnerian analysis never fail to mention such trivia as the fact that the Nazi’s named their primary defense fortification the ‘Siegfried Line’ after the hero of Wagner’s The Ring of Nibelung, or perhaps Hitler’s appropriation of Bayreuth (the city and theater of Wagner’s original opera performances) as the idealistic Nazi community. Some even sink to the monotony of quoting Hitler’s claim that “Whoever wants to understand National Socialistic Germany must know Wagner” .

    Using these statements as their sole arguments, some even claim that Wagner actually played a directly contributory role in the Holocaust. As much as these ‘historians’ are undoubtedly eager to propagate their misinterpretations via their widespread falsification of Wagner’s ideology, the validity of their claims is fortunately and easily voided by the simple principle of ‘correlation without causation’, the denial of ‘guilt by association’. The fact that Hitler treasured Wagner’s works or ideals is no more a disgrace to Wagner than the Spanish Inquisition was to the Bible, during which thousands of people, clutching Christianity in the firm grasp of their adamant, albeit distorted, beliefs, committed mass-murder and tortured countless individuals. This argument is humorously mind-boggling, actually, considering that Wagner died six years before Hitler was born, not to mention that his anti-Semitism was of an entirely different nature than that of Hitler; it was almost entirely cultural, while that of the Nazis’ version was one of social Darwinism and eugenics. In fact, in examination of young Hitler’s ideological development, it is practically impossible to find a single trace of Wagnerian influence; even in Mein Kampf there is no reference to Wagner’s anti-Semitism.

    In reality, the germination of the Holocaust likely began with Hitler’s (and indeed Germany’s) interpretation of the events surrounding the conclusion of the First World War. Hitler, after fighting in the war long enough to sport two considerably large wounds and two Iron Crosses, believed, like most of the German military, that the strategic dominance and pompously indefatigable prowess of Germany would lead to inevitable victory. After all, practically all of the war had been fought on their opponents’ soil, never their own, and it would remain this way until the end of the war. 1917 saw the routing of Allied offensives in the Western Front and later in Russia; in the German offensives of the spring of 1918, they defeated the British in April, then the French in May.

    When victory seemingly impending with utter inevitability and predetermined destiny, the German home front suddenly and unexpectedly collapsed in the final months of 1918. Hitler, along with a consensus of a great number, if not most, Germans, believed that the German armies had been virtually undefeated in the field of battle, but that while they were off fighting the Fatherland’s enemies on their own soil, socialist politicians had seized the opportunity to overthrow the established social order in accordance with their proclaimed doctrines. After all, Lenin had performed this same feat with spectacular success only a year before in Russia; Germany’s politicians had likely attempted to emulate him.

    Hitler felt that this conspiracy could involve none other than the socialists, as, before the armistice was even signed, the state disintegrated under socialist assault, a revolution broke out, and a socialist assumed the role as Chancellor of Germany, forcing the Kaiser to abdicate and flee the country. In the following months, workers’ republics were established in both Berlin and Munich, which were overthrown by counter-revolutionary attacks by Hitler and other ex-service men. Truly, a remarkably large percentage of these socialist political leaders were Jews – as was the case with the members of the first Politburo in Russia a year before. Hitler was outraged, although not surprised at the actions of these Jewish socialists, which he viewed as a completely foreign element in any nation. Accordingly, he believed Jews to be compelled to find comfort in their own collective security wherever they were.

    This principle was exemplified in the Jewish Karl Marx, the followers of whom proclaimed the unimportance of a jingoistic identity or nationalistic pride, but rather the internationalism of the class struggle. Hitler, like many Germans, felt that national humiliation and disgrace such as that in the First World War meant nothing to the Jews, as they had no country and were eager to bring about the ruination of national governments. The collapse of great nations such as Germany or Russia would provide them with an ample opportunity to establish their own version of government, dominated by themselves.

    Hitler makes these suspicions, much unlike any hint of Wagnerian devotion, undeniably clear in Mein Kampf. Soon following this explanation of the Jewish infestation, Hitler provides the cure: “If at the beginning of the War and during the War twelve or fifteen thousand of these Hebrew corrupters of the people had been held under poison gas, as happened to hundreds of thousands of our very best German workers in the field, the sacrifice of millions at the front would not have been in vain. On the contrary: twelve thousand scoundrels eliminated in time might have saved the lives of millions of real Germans, valuable for the future” .

    In further distinction between Wagnerian and Nazi ideology, it is critical to note the difference between Hitler’s reception of Wagner and that of the Nazi regime as a whole. While Hitler was unquestionably a passionate devotee of some (but not all, such as Parsifal) of Wagner’s operas, it was not so with the Third Reich in general. Hitler often ordered performances of Wagner’s works for special occasions and looked favorably upon the anti-Semitism found within them. However, the Nazi regime did nothing to promote Wagner’s operas, much less idolize him as a revered cultural hero.
    "When all hopes of recognition or honor have faded into distant memory, when purity of heart meets sorrow of mind, when all the world seems to walk in blindness, and yet a man works without wearying for that which he loves...only in this moment is passion truly understood." - Franz Schubert, 1827

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    (continued)

    It is almost comical to watch on as modern writers and filmmakers present Wagner as the official soundtrack of the Third Reich, as if the entire history of the Nazi regime, including organized party occasions, was accompanied by Wagner’s music. This conception has become rather cliché in the film and television world, where it is almost predictable to hear the most pompous, brassy, and bombastic excerpts of Wagnerian opera, such as the ever-famous Ride of the Valkyries or the Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin, accompany any depiction of the Nazis on the screen. Despite the dramatically appealing sensationalism of this vision, it is utterly erroneous. In fact, performances of Wagner’s operas decreased strikingly during the Nazi regime. During the theatrical season of the Nazi's ascension to power (1932-1933), there were over eighteen hundred separate performances of Wagnerian operas in Germany; this number decreased steadily until, by the end of the 1930’s, this figure was less than two thirds of the original at 1,115 performances. Instead, composers such as Puccini and Verdi, both Italian, received increased performances, prompting the question of whether either Hitler or the Nazis held anywhere near the same prized value in Germanness that Wagner outspokenly did.

    In Frederic Spotts’ recounting of a particular performance, he writes,
    Like many another fanatical music-lover, Hitler was determined that everyone should enjoy his favourite music as much as he did. An endearing example of his naïve enthusiasm was the occasion of the Nuremberg party rallies, when he always commanded a performance of – naturally – Die Meistersinger. The Berlin State Opera was brought in for the occasion, Furtwängler sometimes conducted, and a thousand tickets were issued. On the first occasion the tickets were given to party officials. In his memoirs Albert Speer recalls that those men, ‘diamonds in the rough who had as little bent for classical music as for art and literature”, went instead on drinking sprees. Infuriated, Hitler ‘ordered patrols sent out to bring the high party functionaries from their quarters, beer halls, and cafes to the opera house’. The following year attendance was made Führer command. But when the functionaries yawned and snored their way through the performance, even Hitler gave up” .

    From that time on, members of the Nazi hierarchy endured Wagner’s operas merely to appease the Führer, but would covertly express their indifference or even opposition towards his operas. The entire concept of some assertive or enthusiastic Nazi identification with them, as well as the perpetual use of them, is simply fiction. The rationale for this is found in the fact that the political and social themes of Wagner’s works were completely contrary to everything that the Nazis claimed to stand for; during Wagner’s career up to and including The Ring of Nibelung, his political alignment was radically left-wing, while the libretto of the opera itself was originally anarchist-socialist in its intended significance; after this period, he merely ceased to believe that the problems of humanity could be solved by political action. Alfred Rosenberg, perhaps the leading ideologist of the Nazi party, dismissed The Ring as “neither heroic nor Germanic” .

    It is also perpetually stated in modern writing that, because of its flagrantly anti-Semitic and pro-Germanic undertones, Parsifal was of particular favor to the Nazi regime. However, when the Nazis came to power in 1933, “Parsifal was condemned as ideologically unacceptable” and “For reasons never stated…was banned throughout Germany after 1939, and Bayreuth [the official Wagner theater] complied” . It could also be easily argued that Hitler’s love of Wagner was an entirely personal one in relation to Bayreuth, for it was the residence of Winifred Wagner, a romantic interest of Hitler, Richard Wagner’s British-born daughter-in-law, the widow of son Siegfried, and the effective owner of the now world-famous opera house. Certainly, despite the various falsehoods, Hitler did make numerous efforts to appropriate Wagner, his ideals, and his operas to his personal ideology. Nevertheless, his reasons for doing so were so dissimilar, and often directly contrary, to the nature of Wagner’s anti-Semitism that no one can make a serious claim that the actions of the Nazis were anything other than an egregious misappropriation of Wagner’s works.

    Between the scholar and the truth, between late 19th Century German socialism and the Nazi regime, between Wagner and Hitler, lies the Holocaust. To view Wagner’s anti-Semitism in the past is to view it through the distorting lens of present knowledge. If a legitimate investigation of those who lived over a century ago is to be conducted with objective clarity and true understanding without eliminating this retrospective distortion, it is equally difficult to expect those in the past to possess the clairvoyant, futuristic understanding of the effects of their actions – that is, it is unreasonable to expect pre-Holocaust anti-Semites such as Wagner to possess the remotest idea of what their attitudes and expression thereof could ultimately lead to, or be thought to lead to.

    Certainly Wagner can not be blamed in any manner whatsoever for the actions of Hitler or the Nazi regime, as they barbarously misappropriated his 19th century-driven ideology, regardless of the indisputably violent nature of his anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, many who have ventured to conduct historical investigations on the subject have fallen into a most predictable yet problematic trap that is now common in Wagner analysis; they fear the famous French phrase, ‘tout comprendre est tout pardonner’ – ‘to understand all is to forgive all’. A vast percentage of historical speculators have, for fear of being viewed as allied with the enemy, overshot their initial intentions of objective analysis by consciously exerting an effort to appear repulsively abhorred and incensed by Wagner’s anti-Semitism. Inevitably, their revulsion draws the Holocaust into their Wagnerian critique. Consequently, any truly objective or serious attempt to place Wagner into historical context and ‘understand’ him and his views is often sacrificed. In Israel, Wagnerians have been wont to claim that his operas are bound to be performed once again after the last generation of survivors from the Nazi concentration camps have died out. When that day arrives, though certainly the Holocaust will never be forgotten, hopefully the fictitious association of it with Wagner will have become a thing of the past.

    Let our minds not be so feeble as to be distracted by such ultimately petty and irrelevant issues as politics, and let our ears and hearts open up to the beauty of art, the beauty of music! ARS GRATIA ARTIS!
    "When all hopes of recognition or honor have faded into distant memory, when purity of heart meets sorrow of mind, when all the world seems to walk in blindness, and yet a man works without wearying for that which he loves...only in this moment is passion truly understood." - Franz Schubert, 1827

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    That's quite an argument you put up there

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    It is the truth.
    "When all hopes of recognition or honor have faded into distant memory, when purity of heart meets sorrow of mind, when all the world seems to walk in blindness, and yet a man works without wearying for that which he loves...only in this moment is passion truly understood." - Franz Schubert, 1827

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    But surely, politics influences art. A persons outlook on life, society and everything else, must influence their art. It only stands to reason.

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    I suppose you could argue that in certain specific instances, but I dont understand how Karajan's history in the Nazi party could affect his epic interpretations of Beethoven symphonies...certainly not in any negative way...hmmmmm...
    "When all hopes of recognition or honor have faded into distant memory, when purity of heart meets sorrow of mind, when all the world seems to walk in blindness, and yet a man works without wearying for that which he loves...only in this moment is passion truly understood." - Franz Schubert, 1827

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    I believe that art isn't created in a vaccum, but is effected by what goes around the artist, or what is happening the artist. In the case of Karajan, I'm not particularly bothered by his past, although it is interesting, and part his being. It well have effected his work, and this may give a deeper understanding of it.

    I suppose the easier one is Wagner as he created original work. Would his work have been different without his past? Would his work have changed if his beliefs (whatever they truly were) wer also different?

    This is part of the reason that a love art and history. I believe the two are intertwined, the effecting the other.

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    I understand what youre saying. However, I belive that history is art - that is, the history of the entire world and every facet of it is not merely affected by art, but determined by and dependent upon art. Wars, politics, development of technology, cultural tensions - all petty and practically meaningless in themselves in comparison to art. I am not saying, however, that man's purpose in life is art, but thats an irrelevant point.

    Technically yes, politics affects art in very minute ways, albeit undectectable in the case of Karajan or practically any conductor. Karajan's musical intrepretation and style of conducting is affected by his history in the Nazi party in the same way that is is affected by what color hair he has, what roads he has driven on, what foods he has eaten in his life, what kind of chopstix he used to for chinese food, or perhaps what brand of socks he usually wore when relaxing at his house. All are equally minute in significance. But because one's life must have different random elements like these all the time, he would not be a person without all the elements in his life that make him a person in the first place. Otherwise his life would be a blank slate with absolutely nothing on it of any sort. So yes you are absolutely right: because politics is just another element of a typical person's life just like any other, it must affect everything else because without these life-constituting elements, life would not be life.
    "When all hopes of recognition or honor have faded into distant memory, when purity of heart meets sorrow of mind, when all the world seems to walk in blindness, and yet a man works without wearying for that which he loves...only in this moment is passion truly understood." - Franz Schubert, 1827

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    I agreed that politics can be a tiny influence on a conductor (I would argue that it can be a major influence on a composer for instance), but that tiny influence, when added to the other tiny influences, can make a major difference.

    If a conductor has, for example, left leaning political influences, this can change the way he thinks and feels about the music. It can also influence the friends he has, the newspapers he reads, and so it goes on. That can, i suppose, magnify the small influence of a person's politics.

    All this is reason why I find myself incredibly interested in the lives of the artists that I like. And Weltshmerz, your fascinating posts on the subject of Wagner, have been extremely interesting and enlightening.

    Thanks

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    Junior Member Weltschmerz's Avatar
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    Can the admin please remove my lengthy essay-like posts as I will be using some of this material for college essay, and although it is all my own, it would better to not have it all over the internet. Thanks
    "When all hopes of recognition or honor have faded into distant memory, when purity of heart meets sorrow of mind, when all the world seems to walk in blindness, and yet a man works without wearying for that which he loves...only in this moment is passion truly understood." - Franz Schubert, 1827

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