Daniel Barenboim: “It is Wagner’s greatest misfortune that he became Hitler’s favourite composer”

"The operas are not anti-Semitic. They don't deal with the anti-Semitic questions. If they did, I don't think I would be able to perform them"

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This summer, renowned conductor Daniel Barenboim is bringing Wagner’s entire Ring cycle to the Albert Hall, the very first time it’s been performed in its entirety in one Proms season.

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But the Argentine-born musician is all too aware of the composer’s infamous association with Nazi Germany.

“First of all, one has to say Wagner’s anti-Semitism is abhorrent, beyond anything that is accceptable,” he tells the new edition of Radio Times. “He was a German nationalist in the second half of the 19th century. All nationalists at this time – in England, France, Germany, Russia – were anti-Semitic. It was not unusual. Wagner, however, was Teutonic and very systematic. Therefore his anti-Semitism is that much more disgusting, because it doesn’t come out of an impulse, it is a thought-out theory.” 

The celebrated conductor goes on to defend the music he has come to London to perform this season. “Hitler saw in him – and in his anti-Semitism – a prophet and it is Wagner’s greatest misfortune that he became Hitler’s favourite composer. That was not Wagner’s fault. And the operas are not anti-Semitic. They don’t deal with the anti-Semitic questions. If they did, I don’t think I would be able to perform them.”

The 70-year-old, who spent his formative years in Israel after moving with his family from South America aged ten, goes on to discuss the country’s ongoing conflict with Palestine. “I cannot feel at home in Israel now. I ache too much for what is going on there. I find Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land abhorrent.”

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You can read the full interview with Daniel Barenboim in the new issue of Radio Times, out on Tuesday.