A friend of mine sent me this last night. I thought it was worth a post. It’s piece by Brian Magee from his book Aspects of Wagner. The piece is taken from the chapter Jews – Not Least In Music.
The book is about Richard Wagner, a German 19th century composer. There’s a chapter about Jews in this book because he was a vehement antisemite and published the essay “Das Judenthum in der Musik” (“Jewishness in Music”). The essay attacked Jewish contemporaries (and rivals) and accused Jews of being a harmful and alien element in German culture. The Nazis used parts of Wagners thought that were useful for propaganda.
Here’s what Magee has to say (it was written in 1968 so it is slightly outdated):
In the last hundred years three people have produced theories about man and his environment which in depth, originality and scope are equal to almost any before them – Marx, Freud and Einstein. The theories are not compatible, but each is a creative achievement of the highest order, and their influence has been immense. Marx, in fact, has had more influence in less time than anyone else in history: within a mere seventy years of his death a third of the human reach was living under governments calling themselves Marxist. The intellectual achievement of Einstein is more impressive, and may prove in the end of be as important in its practical application, if only because of the hydrogen bomb. As for Freud, he has done more to extend our vision inward, into ourselves, than anyone else; doing work required unimaginable courage, and unlike that of the other row its good consequences are more obvious than its bad. All three, I think, must be ranked among the greatest of the world’s creative geniuses.
All three were Jews. This fact is remarkable for many reasons. One is that there had been only one Jew of comparable achievement, Spinoza, in the previous eighteen hundred years. Another is that, in spite of this, these three pioneered a Jewish renaissance of fantastic proportions. Jewish philosophers since Marx include Bergson, Husserl, Wittgenstein and Popper. Not only Freud but most of the famous psychoanalysts have been Jews: in the sciences not only Einstein but Nobel Prize winners so numerous it would be tedious to list them (since the Nobel Prize began in 1901 it has been award to more than forty Jews). All this is doubly amazing when one remembers that the total number of Jews in the world is only about thirteen million – the population of Greater London.
In no field has their contribution been more outstanding than in music. Mahler was Jewish, as were Schoenberg and most of his famous pupils. The greatest instrumentalists of this century have been Jews. Even if one forgets Kreisler, Schnabel and all the other great dead, and considers only the living, the best violinists are nearly all Jews (and, oddly enough, from Russia) – Heifetz, Menuhin, Stern, Milstein, Zukerman, Perlman, Oistrakh. Jewish pianists include Gilels, Serkin, Rubinstein, Solomon, Horowitz, Ashkenazy, Boman, Perahia, Ax and Barenboim. And the conductors Solti, Bernstein, Ormandy, Dorati, Levine, Previn and Maazel. These lists themselves grossly incomplete, can not be matched by the 99.5 per cent of the human race who are not Jews. If anyone wants to tell me this is coincidence my reply is that this is simply not credible. The intellectual and artistic output of Jews in this century relative to their numbers if a phenomenon for which I can think of no parallel in history since Athens five centuries before Christ. It is something that calls for explanation.
Magee then attempts to explain this phenomena. I think his explanation is quite poor and I hope to update this post in the future with my thoughts about it.