quinta-feira, 19 de março de 2009

Taruskin on Mendelssohn and Wagner: it has to be known (it seems to me)

Apesar de me considerar muitíssimo curioso e até leitor compulsivo, tem de se admitir que há coisas que só se podem ler se forem publicadas. Segue uma parte do artigo de Richard Taruskin, "Nationalism", do New Grove de 2000

"Yet less than three years after Mendelssohn’s death, in September 1850, an article appeared in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik – a journal published in Leipzig, Mendelssohn’s own city – that set in motion a backlash against him from which his reputation has never fully recovered, and put a whole new complexion on the idea of German nationalism, indeed of nationalism as such. Signed K. Freigedank (‘K. Free-thought’), the article, called Das Judenthum in der Musik (‘Jewry in Music’), made the claim that Jews, being not merely culturally or religiously but racially – that is, biologically – distinct from gentile Christians, could not contribute to gentile musical traditions, only dilute them. There could be no such thing as assimilation, only mutually corrupting mixture. A Jew might become a Christian by converting (as Mendelssohn had done), but never a true gentile, hence never a German.
As long as nationalism was conceived in linguistic, cultural and civic terms, it could be a force for liberal reform and tolerance. To that extent it maintained continuity, despite its Romantic origins, with Enlightenment thinking. A concept of a united Germany could encompass not only the union of Catholic and Protestant under a single flag, but could also envisage civil commonalty with Jews, even unconverted ones, so long as all citizens shared a common language, a common cultural heritage and a common political allegiance. During the 1830s and 40s, the period now known to German historians as the Vormärz, German musical culture had proved the liberality and inclusiveness of its nationalism by allowing an assimilated Jew to become, in effect, its president.
Mendelssohn, for his part, was an enthusiastic cultural nationalist, even (like Schoenberg after him) something of a chauvinist, as his letters, with their smug if affectionate remarks about the musical cultures of England, France and Italy, attest. The libretto of Paulus, which begins with the story of the stoning by the Jews of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, even betrays an anti-Judaic sentiment. But there is a profound difference between the anti-Judaism of the Paulus libretto and the sentiment displayed in Das Judenthum in der Musik, now called anti-Semitism. That difference, moreover, is directly congruent with the difference between the liberal or inclusive nationalism of the early 19th century and the racialist, exclusive nationalism that took its place in the decades following 1848. A religion may be changed or shed, as a culture may be embraced or renounced. An ethnicity, however, is essential, immutable and (to use the favoured 19th-century word) ‘organic’. A nationalism based on ethnicity is no longer synonymous with patriotism. It has become obsessed not with culture but with nature, for which reason it bizarrely cast itself as ‘scientific’.
Thus, for the author of Das Judenthum in der Musik, even Mendelssohn’s undoubted genius could not save him from the pitfalls of his race. He could not ‘call forth in us that deep, heart-searching effect which we await from Music’, because his art had no ‘genuine fount of life amid the folk’, and could therefore only be ‘reflective’, never ‘instinctive’. In sly reference to E.T.A. Hoffmann’s bedrock romantic tenets, the author denied Mendelssohn, or any Jew, the ability to rise above mere glib, social articulacy and achieve the ‘expression of an unsayable content’ – in other words, the defining criterion of absolute music for which Germans alone possessed the necessary racial (implying moral) endowment. Finally, the author warned, Germany’s acceptance of this musician as its de facto musical president was only the most obvious sign of the Verjudung (‘be-Jewing’) of the nation in the name of enlightened liberality. The Jewish influence had to be thrown off if the nation was to achieve organic greatness, its heroic destiny.”
All in all, Das Judenthum in der Musik is the most vivid symptom to be found in musical writings of a change in the nature of nationalism that all modern historians now recognize as a major crux in the history of modern Europe. But of course its most immediately significant aspect was the fact, guessed by many readers in 1850 and admitted by the author in 1869, that ‘K. Freigedank’ was a pseudonym for Richard Wagner, then a political exile from Germany, who as a composer was just then on the point of the momentous stylistic departures that would make him in his own right one of the towering figures in music history. His mature works, particularly Der Ring des Nibelungen, would give direct and compelling artistic embodiment to a radiantly positive expression of the same utopian ethnic nationalism of which his political fulminations were the cranky negative expression. And in those same works, which transcended (or in dialectical terms, synthesized) the distinction between the spirituality (Geist) of absolute music and the sensuality (Sinnlichkeit) of opera, Wagner embodied and (in Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft) advertised the achievement by Germany of ‘universal art’. By the end of the 1860s, as Carl Dahlhaus has observed, Wagner had become the ‘uncrowned king of German music’ (Dahlhaus, 1971). Comparison of that epithet with the one applied here to Mendelssohn – ‘de facto president of German musical culture’ – is suggestive of the trajectory along which the parallel histories of music and the German nation would proceed over the course of the 19th century.
Even before Wagner’s mature operas were performed, his ‘progressivist’ politics had been adopted as a platform for universalizing German music – that is, for establishing its values and achievements as normative, hence (as a modern linguist would put it) ‘unmarked’." 
in Taruskin "Nationalism §7 After 1848, in Grove Music Online (Acessed 13 May 2007)
António Pinho Vargas

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