Tchaikovsky abused his wife, Antonina Milyukova. He led Milyukova into a loveless marriage based on false pretenses. He verbally abused her, calling her a "reptile." He probably beat her.
And so, according to Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, we should replace children's showings of "The Nutcracker" each Christmas with music by other composers, such as Liszt. Well, Antonovich doesn't go that far. He just wants to remove all of Richard Wagner's music from the Los Angeles County Ring festival, and replace it with Mozart.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich is demanding that Los Angeles Opera discontinue the Ring Festival L.A. planned for next year, calling Richard Wagner a, “Nazi composer.”
“To specifically honor and glorify the man whose music and racist anti-Semitic writings inspired Hitler and became the de facto soundtrack for the Holocaust in a countywide festival is an affront to those who have suffered or have been impacted by the horrors of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialistic Worker Party,” Antonovich said in a statement released today.
Leaving aside that a Ring festival with out Wagner wouldn't be a Ring festival, Wagner is an unfortunate illustration of the truth that great artists are not always great men. He is doubly unfortunate in that he shows us that genuinely bad men sometimes have good taste in art. Although Wagner was by most accounts a gentle man who never lifted a hand in anger, he was a vocal anti-semite, which might have played some role in the attraction Hitler felt to Wagner's operas.
Or it might not have. As an Austrian German, Hitler also appreciated the work of Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, the Strausses, and other composers whose work isn't proposed for a ban in Los Angeles. Hitler was born six years after Wagner died. There is no evidence that Wagner's music or librettos played any role in forming Hitler's anti-semitism.
In fact, what are the allegedly anti-semitic elements of the Ring? Dwarves. Wagner's Ring cycle, drawn from German pagan / Norse mythology, concerns in part the fate of a magic ring, forged by a dwarf. According to those who'd ban Wagner, the dwarf is a stand-in, an allegory for Jewish people, because as we all know, Jews are short people who live underground and love gold.
No doubt that's what the Danes were thinking, all the way over in Scandinavia, when they spun the myth cycles on which The Ring is based. No doubt that's what Tolkien was thinking, when he, like Wagner, drew on these myths to create his own art based around magic rings and gold-loving dwarves. As did the Japanese, the pagan Welsh, and the Iroquois, all of whom also had myths of powerful but little people living underground.
Or perhaps The Ring isn't an anti-semitic allegory at all. As a famous dwarf once said, "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar," and sometimes a 14 hour opera about the end of the world is just a silly mythological story with great music. In either case, I suspect Mike Antonovich is no more qualified to judge Wagner's music by its aesthetic merit than he is the music of Tchaikovsky because the man mistreated his wife.
We'll have to throw out a lot of great art if we judge work by the character of its producer. We'll start with Wagner, no doubt, but it won't end there. We'll have to throw out Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Debussy, and more. We'll move on to literature, pulling Twain, Poe, T S Eliot, Dostoevsky, and Hemingway from the shelves. Then we'll burn El Greco, Picasso, and Van Gogh. And so on and so forth.
And finally, when art is purified of bad men, Mike Antonovich and all the good people of Los Angeles can enjoy a county-sponsored exhibition of the works of Thomas Kinkade, followed by a concert featuring the music of Barry Manilow, and a nice glass of lemonade.