Das Judenthum in der Musik

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"Das Judenthum in der Musik" (German: "Jewishness in Music", but normally translated Judaism in Music; spelled after its first publication as ‘Judentum’) is an essay by Richard Wagner, attacking Jews in general and the composers Giacomo Meyerbeer and Felix Mendelssohn in particular, which was published under a pseudonym in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (NZM) of Leipzig in September 1850. It was reissued in a greatly expanded version under Wagner’s name in 1869. It is regarded by many as an important landmark in the history of German antisemitism.


The original article of 1850

The first version of the article appeared in the NZM under the pseudonym of K. Freigedank ("K. Freethought"). In an April 1851 letter to Franz Liszt, Wagner gave the excuse that he used a pseudonym "to prevent the question being dragged down by the Jews to a purely personal level".

At the time Wagner was living in exile in Zurich, on the run after his role in the 1849 revolution in Dresden. His article followed a series of essays in the NZM by his disciple Theodor Uhlig, attacking the music of Meyerbeer’s opera Le prophète. Wagner was particularly enraged by the success of Le prophète in Paris, all the more so because he had earlier been a slavish admirer of Meyerbeer, who had given him financial support and used his influence to get Wagner’s early opera Rienzi, his first real success, staged in Dresden in 1841.

Wagner was also emboldened by the death of Mendelssohn in 1847, the popularity of whose conservative style he felt was cramping the potential of German music. Although Wagner had shown virtually no sign of anti-Jewish prejudice previously (despite the claims by Rose in his book Wagner, Race and Revolution (1992), and others), he was determined to build on Uhlig’s articles and prepare a broadside that would attack his artistic enemies, embedded in what he took to be a populist Judaeophobic context.

Translations from the work given below are from W. Ashton Ellis’s 1894 version, which gives some idea of the author’s verbosity.

Wagner claims that the work was written to:

explain to ourselves the involuntary repellence possessed for us by the nature and personality of the Jews, so as to vindicate that instinctive dislike which we plainly recognise as stronger and more overpowering than our conscious zeal to rid ourselves thereof.[1]

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