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A Wagner exhibit in Munich

October 18, 2003|From Associated Press

MUNICH, Germany — Richard Wagner has been dead for 120 years, but the legacy of his monumental operas glorifying Teutonic myths and his deep anti-Semitism remain as contentious as ever.

A new German exhibit on Adolf Hitler's favorite composer, which opened Friday, highlights the contradictions between Wagner the musical genius and the Wagner who saw himself as the savior of German culture against Jewish influence.

As modern scholars shed respect for the great composer, German authors have published about a dozen books in the last few years exploring Wagner in the light of his anti-Semitism. Most disputed is the degree to which Wagner's reputation was tainted by Hitler's appropriating his music. Hitler was born six years after the composer's death in 1883.

The Wagner family -- especially the composer's daughter-in-law, Winifred -- financed Hitler during his rise to power and helped him publish his infamous manifesto, "Mein Kampf." After Hitler came to power in 1933, the family remained among his closest friends and he turned the annual Wagner festivals in the Bavarian town of Bayreuth into Nazi propaganda events.

Most of the new exhibit at Munich's City Museum is devoted to Wagner's compositions, his grand project to build an opera house for himself in Bayreuth -- it opened in 1876 -- and his political development from anarchist to staunch conservative.

His anti-Semitism gets relatively little space, though there are photographs of Hitler at Bayreuth, including one with the Fuhrer and the current festival director, grandson Wolfgang Wagner, now in his 80s, as a young man.

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