I saw a movie last night at the Tucson International Jewish Film Festival. The movie was entitled “Wagner and Me”, and it was a documentary about British comedic actor, Stephen Fry’s shared love of classical composer Richard Wagner. The person he shared the love of this music with was Adolf Hitler.
Fry is Jewish, and the movie portrayed his inner struggle embracing this music that is often times flanked by the Nazi movement. The movie really examines the life of Wagner and takes us on a journey through Europe following the composer’s colorful life seemingly tainted by politics.
The bottom line of the film is that perhaps we tend to view Wagner’s life through a Nazi lens. Fry describes Hitler as being “larger than life,” and therefore, still to this day, we may be seeing Wagner’s life through the image of the Nazi dictator’s eyes.
I, personally, like the music of Richard Wagner, but I cannot say that I like him more than any of the other classical music composers. I would not be tempted to sit through his hours-long operas, and am just as happy to bring some of his music up from time to time on the internet.
I related to the movie, however, because as a Jewish musician, I have the same inner struggles listening to a couple of my favorite modern-day artists. I adore the music of Cat Stevens and of Pink Floyd, but both have had ties with some rather antisemitic ways of thinking. Cat Stevens is considered a threat to the United States and is on the government’s “no fly” list after having links to terrorist organizations. Roger Water’s, front man for Pink Floyd, is a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel and has repeatedly made antisemitic comments at his concerts including using a floating pig with a Jewish star on it.
Still, despite these allegations against the music icons, the music still speaks to me. I am tempted to turn the radio each time one of their songs come on, but more often than not, I end up listening despite my own inner struggle.
So yes, I could relate to Stephen Fry, and the film is a thought-provoking view on “separating art from the artist.”
My song of the day is probably one of the most recognizable Wagner pieces. You might recognize “The Ride of the Valkyries” from Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd singing “Kill the Wabbit.” Click HERE to listen, and please…try to separate the art from the artist, because the music is truly great.