Visconti and the German Dream: Romanticism, Wagner and the Nazi Catastrophe in Film 0786492759, 9780786492756

Luchino Visconti's trilogy of films Ludwig, Death in Venice and The Damned explore the complex relationship between

281 46 8MB

English Pages 232 [233] Year 2014

Report DMCA / Copyright


Recommend Papers

Visconti and the German Dream: Romanticism, Wagner and the Nazi Catastrophe in Film
 0786492759, 9780786492756

  • 0 0 0
  • Like this paper and download? You can publish your own PDF file online for free in a few minutes! Sign Up
File loading please wait...
Citation preview


is a writer, critic and researcher. He has worked extensively for BBC Radio and currently teaches a course on film music at Birmingham University in England.

McFarland Front cover image: Luchino Visconti on the set of Death in Venice (1971) (Warner Bros./ Photofest)

Visconti and the German Dream



uchino Visconti’s trilogy of films Ludwig, Death in Venice and The Damned explore the complex relationship between the themes and ideals of German Romanticism and their impact on the catastrophe of the Third Reich. The personality and works of Richard Wagner to a large extent epitomize German Romanticism as a whole, while the writings of Thomas Mann and Friedrich Nietzsche provide the greatest critique of this dark and troubled but sublime and emotionally overwhelming culture. Along with contrasting approaches to this subject by other filmmakers such as Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, Ken Russell and Tony Palmer, this book explores how the preoccupations of the German Romantic movement led to Nazism, and contrasts the ways in which filmmakers have presented this continuum. The book also discusses the impact of Wagner’s music dramas on the art form of the cinema itself.




Ancient Eg ypt in the Popular Imagination: Building a Fantasy in Film, Literature, Music and Art (2012) Touchstones of Gothic Horror: A Film Genealog y of Eleven Motifs and Images (2010) Hammer Film Scores and the Musical Avant-Garde (2008) James Bernard, Composer to Count Dracula: A Critical Biography (2006; paperback 2012)

VISCONTI AND THE GERMAN DREAM Romanticism, Wagner and the Nazi Catastrophe in Film

David Huckvale

McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers Jefferson, North Carolina, and London




Huckvale, David. Visconti and the German dream : Romanticism, Wagner and the Nazi catastrophe in film / David Huckvale. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Includes filmography. ISBN 978-0-7864-7030-3 softcover : acid free paper 1. Visconti, Luchino, 1906–1976 — Criticism and interpretation. 2. Motion pictures — Germany — History — 20th century. 3. Romanticism — Germany — History —19th century. 4. Romanticism — Germany — History — 20th century. 5. Fascism and culture — Germany. 6. Motion pictures and literature. 7. Motion pictures and music. 8. Motion picture music — History and criticism. I. Title. PN1998.3.V57H83 2012 791.4302' 33092 — dc23 2012024593 BRITISH LIBRARY


© 2012 David Huckvale. All rights reserved No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Front cover image: Luchino Visconti on the set of Death in Venice (1971) (Warner Bros./Photofest). Manufactured in the United States of America

McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers Box 611, Jefferson, North Carolina 28640

To Susanne Carr

Contents Preface Introduction — Visconti

1 3

ONE— Wagner in Italy 11 TWO— Ludwig, Wagner and Hitler 27 First Intermission —The Birth of Hitler from the Spirit of Virtuosity 53 THREE— Mann’s “Death in Venice” 66 Second Intermission — Pan, Paganism and Arcadia 82 FOUR— Visconti’s Death in Venice 99 FIVE—Götterdämmerung 110 Third Intermission —The Cinema of the Future 125 SIX—The Damned 144 SEVEN— Alternative Visions 157 Epilogue —The Film Music of the Future Select Filmography Chapter Notes Bibliography Index


183 199 200 213 217

Wer die Schönheit angeschaut mit Augen, Ist dem Tode schon anheimgegeben From “Tristan” by August Graf von Platen-Hallermünde (1796–1835) (Whoever has looked face to face at beauty with his own eyes Is already committed to Death)

Preface Like the giant Blob of that celebrated 1958 science fiction film starring Steve McQueen, the subject of German Romanticism can engulf anything and everything in its path. It is such a large subject, with so many ramifications, that anyone who takes on the impact of Wagner on 20th-century culture is perhaps asking for trouble. I have therefore structured this book in a particular way. The main thrust of my argument is centered around Visconti’s interpretation of the development of German Romanticism in three of his late, great films; but Visconti was not alone in treating this fascinating subject in cinematic terms, so I also want to explore alternative visions by different directors, which forms the subject of the last chapter. As my approach to this aspect of cultural history is through the (literal) lens of the cinema (not to mention the importance of that art form to Hitler), I feel it is also important to discuss Wagner’s considerable impact on the development of the cinema itself. When I first saw Visconti’s Ludwig in the cinema, there were two intermissions to give us all a chance to stretch our legs, attend to biological necessities and indulge in ice cream refreshment. In the case of Tony Palmer’s seven-hour Wagner biopic (1983), and Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s equally long Hitler: A Film from Germany (1977), a lunch and supper break are needed as well. Wagner also recognized the importance of giving his audiences a breather between acts, and therefore started the performance of his mammoth music-dramas at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus early in the afternoon. This gives time for quite lengthy intermissions, not only to allow for the consumption of champagne and canapés (or, as in my own case when an impoverished Wagnerian student, lemonade and sandwiches) but also to give everyone an opportunity to reflect upon and discuss the “ersichtlich gewordene Thaten der Musik” (“acts of music made visible”), as Wagner once described the “Bühnenfestspiel” process.1 I have therefore also included three intermissions of my own in this book, along with an epilogue. The epilogue and two of the intermissions concern the relationship between German Romanticism, 1



The interval at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus. The audience is summoned back by suitable leitmotives performed by members of the brass section from the balcony of the main entrance.

Wagner and the cinema. The other intermission is a literary aside, which contextualizes Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice” as an example of fin-de-siècle Arcadian fantasy, with its cult of Pan. I claim two literary precedents for this structural approach: E. T. A. Hoffmann’s fantasy novel from 1800 to 1822, The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr, and Anthony Burgess’s The End of the World News from 1982. The former is a double-layered narrative, half of it being the fictional memoirs of Hoffmann’s eccentric musician, Johannes Kreisler, which has been mixed up with the equally fictional memoirs of an intelligent cat who writes his own thoughts and opinions. Burgess’s novel contains three separate narratives, inspired by the 20th-century phenomenon of TV channel hopping. As Burgess explains in his autobiography, “The television zapper has trained us to take in quasi-simultaneously a number of diverse programmes: why not apply this zapping technique to prose fiction?”2 Why not, indeed? Burgess’s three tales are very diverse: a fictionalized biography of Freud, a musical about Trotsky and a sci-fi disaster story about alien invasion. My own intermissions are, I hope, rather more integral to the overall story I have to tell.


Visconti Italian film director Luchino Visconti (1906–1976) was fascinated by German Romantic culture and the critique of that culture in the novels and short stories of Thomas Mann (1875–1955). Mann once confessed that the three major influences on his life were Richard Wagner (1813–1883), Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860) and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900). They represented for him “phenomena, not of a parochially German, but of European import.”1 Schopenhauer’s philosophy informed Wagner’s music-dramas, and Nietzsche’s philosophy developed into a devastating critique of Wagner’s ideas and aesthetic. All three were liquidized by the Nazis, poured into swastika molds and baked in the ovens of Auschwitz. Consequently, many people lost their appetite for them, but what were their original flavors before the Third Reich poisoned them? Could they have been poisonous to start with, even if only in part? This was the question Visconti aimed to answer, and he was among the first film directors to do so; but long before Visconti, Nietzsche had also identified the dangers of the Romantic cult of death and the irrational impulses it glorified. Mann himself elaborated Nietzsche’s intuitions and premonitions, dissecting in his stories and novels the implications of Romanticism’s fascination with decay and sickness, its championing of illusion over reality, and, borrowing the principal metaphor of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, its advocacy of night over day. Love, Beauty and Death form the holy trinity of Romanticism: a German dream that became the ultimate nightmare of National Socialism. Mann, in turn, inspired Visconti’s trilogy of films about the tragic evolution of German Romanticism. These were made in historically reverse order: The Damned, Visconti’s exposé of the Third Reich appeared in 1969; Death in Venice, his response to turn-of-the-century German culture was released in 1971, while Ludwig, from 1972, brought the story back to its origins with a biographical film about King Ludwig II of Bavaria, the great patron of Rich3



ard Wagner. I shall, incidentally, be referring to these films by their English titles, though Visconti’s original title for The Damned was the much more appropriate La catuda degli dei —or, to give it its German translation, Götterdämmerung. That, of course, is also the title of the last part of Wagner’s music drama Der Ring des Nibelung (The Ring of the Nibelung). Its spectacular climax features nothing less than the end of the world, just as Visconti’s film examined the decline and fall of bourgeois German society. That world was swept away by the new gods (or, more appropriately, demons) of Nazism, who themselves were overthrown at the end of the Second World War. Susan Sontag described the Third Reich as “the grotesque fulfillment — and betrayal — of German Romanticism,”2 and this was the historical process that Hans-Jürgen Syberberg aimed to explore in Hitler: A Film from Germany. The phrase is indeed drawn from Sontag’s preface to the published screenplay of that film, which, along with Syberberg’s films on King Ludwig II and Wagner’s Parsifal, I will be addressing towards the end of the book. In England, Ken Russell was also interested in this subject, and we will be exploring his films about Mahler, Liszt and Richard Strauss, along with Tony Palmer’s Wagner (1983), starring Richard Burton in the title role. Palmer’s film competes in length with Syberberg’s Hitler, and is the longest movie ever made about the composer (it, in fact, started life as a TV series), but Wagner and Ludwig have been impersonated by other actors in less searching films, and they too will be making an appearance. I will not, however, be exploring war films about Hitler, the most impressive of which is undoubtedly Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Downfall (2004), as these do not aim to address the German Romantic context of National Socialism’s rise and fall. Of course, one could justifiably argue that Syberberg, being a German himself, is rather more qualified than most to discuss this complex cultural development, so what of the personal connections Visconti had with German culture? On the surface it would seem that he could not have been more Italian. He was born in Milan on November 2, 1906, the fourth child of Duke Giuseppe Visconti di Modrone and Carla Erba, the heiress of one of the city’s richest industrial families. There was no more special family in Milan than the Viscontis. In the 14th century, Bernabò Visconti’s wife, Beatrice della Scala, had built a votive chapel in the city. When the city’s opera house burned down in the eighteenth century, a new opera house was built on the site of this chapel, hence its now famous name. Generations of subsequent Viscontis went on to be among the most influential of La Scala’s patrons, and the opera house became the hub of Milan’s whirling social wheel. Indeed, it was as much a place to be seen as to see what was happening on stage. As Stendhal recorded in the 19th century:



Silence is observed only at premières; or during subsequent performances, only while one or other of the more memorable passages is being performed. Anyone who wishes to concentrate on watching the opera right through from beginning to end goes and sits in the pit, which is vast, and luxuriously equipped with benches furnished with back-rests, where the spectator can make himself exceedingly comfortable — so comfortable, indeed, that serious-minded English travelers have been known to count up to twenty or thirty persons sprawling across two benches each, and soundly asleep!3

“No one did anything, no one was even born,” Luchino remembered, “without first glancing at the Scala show bills.”4 He grew up surrounded by the operas of Wagner and Richard Strauss, Verdi and Puccini, the sights, smells and sheer theatricality of the place being even more powerful for him than the music. That Visconti himself was later to direct productions there was almost inevitable. “I mainly deal with Italian operas — Verdi, Donizetti, Bellini,” he explained. “But I love Strauss and Wagner. I dream of staging Tristan.”5 Tristan never materialized, but he did mount a celebrated production of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, the settings influenced by his love of art nouveau and Jugendstil design. It was left to his German film trilogy to grapple with the Wagnerian themes that were denied him on the operatic stage. Visconti was also on friendly terms with one of the world’s most celebrated Wagnerian conductors, Arturo Toscanini, and in his youth he often drove Toscanini’s daughter Wanda through the streets of Milan on the handlebars of his bicycle.6 (She later married the pianist Vladimir Horowitz.) Visconti also directed Wanda in the amateur theatricals he was fond of putting on. Hamlet was a particular favorite, but he also wrote his own plays and libretti.7 These family entertainments and musical performances are recalled in The Damned, when, early in the film, Baron Joachim’s birthday is celebrated by various family “turns.” Gunther Essenbeck (played by Renaud Verley), for example, plays Bach on the cello, an instrument Visconti himself also played. Unfortunately, relations with Toscanini, whose reforms of La Scala production values made a great impact on Visconti’s own approach to directing, suffered a strain when Wanda’s sister, Wally, eloped with and later married Visconti’s uncle, Emanuele Castelbarco. Toscanini was furious. “Who ever heard of such an idiotic thing, marrying a blond-haired man?”8 he shrieked. Sadly, the marriage ended in divorce. Above all, Visconti adored his beloved mother and in many ways his films commemorate her memory. As his biographer, Laurence Schiffano, points out, mothers significantly appear in all of Visconti’s films. Silvana Mangano as Tadzio’s mother in Death in Venice is an example of a “good mother,” whom Visconti contrasted with the “bad mother” of Ingrid Thulin’s Sophie von Essenbeck in The Damned. The latter is eventually driven insane after



being raped by her son, Martin (Helmut Berger). In Ludwig, the English star, Trevor Howard, famous for his role in David Lean’s Brief Encounter (1945), created the cinema’s most lifelike portrayal of Richard Wagner, and Wagner’s wife, Cosima (again played by Mangano), is presented as the manipulative schemer she largely was (though it has to be said that Mangano is rather more beautiful than Cosima was herself ). The recreation of Christmas festivities in Wagner’s Lucerne villa, Tribschen, also recalls Visconti’s own gilded childhood, when Christmas trees were richly decorated and gifts were similarly showered upon the children. On December 25, 1870, Wagner famously serenaded his wife with a specially composed birthday greeting, now known as the Siegfried Idyll. It was first performed on the stairs of Tribschen. Visconti easily related to such domestic theatricality, so one might say that he had personal as well as artistic reasons for attempting to recreate this famous occasion. Great realist though Visconti prided himself on being, he did not, however, visit the actual villa of Tribschen when shooting this famous scene in Ludwig. Instead, he staged the proceedings on a much grander staircase than the one Wagner knew, thus helping to romanticize still further an already redolently romantic moment. Visconti’s fascination with costumes, which plays such an important part in his later films (thanks to the sumptuous designs of Piero Tosi), was also inherited from his beloved mother. Carla was, indeed, the most elegant woman in Milan, and the Visconti family were always fêted where ever they went. Schiffano mentions the memory of society artist Fabrizio Clerici, who witnessed the arrival of the five Visconti children at a Mardi Gras in the early years of the twentieth century, before the First World War swept such extravagance away: At one point there was a sort of stir among the children and, as if the Lords of Milan were about to enter, everyone started whispering “The Visconti’s are here! the Viscontis are here!” Then all five of them appeared in similar black-and-white Pierrot costumes, scattering rose petals as they came into the room.... There was always an added mark of refinement about them, of fantasy, elegance, of something extra.9

Visconti’s extremely strict upbringing did, however, allow opportunities for watching movies. His French governess recalled that “every Thursday the children were freed for the afternoon and we went to the cinema to see endless serialized films such as The Man with the White Teeth and The Red Circle. The children came home very excited from these films and, with their cousins, they acted out all the episodes they’d seen.”10 Indeed, the Visconti family had experimented with the cinema long before Luchino took it up professionally. The board of Milano Films included Count Giovanni Visconti, Luchino’s uncle, who, like his other uncles, was also very musical. His uncle Guido had



even met Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern, and often played Debussy’s music on the piano while projecting multi-colored abstract shapes onto the walls in a synthetic, proto-cinematic manner.11 Carla had had music lessons from the great Verdian soprano, Teresa Stolz, and she gave Luchino music lessons herself.12 When one adds to all these influences the fact that Carla was also a talented actress, it seems almost inevitable that Visconti’s future career should have developed in the way it did. Italy had been occupied by Austria in the wake of the Napoleonic wars and this influence was particularly felt in Milan. Musically, however, this state of affairs had advantages, for, as Stendhal pointed out, the House of Austria, although “an absolute monarchy in theory, is an oligarchic monarchy in practice — that is to say, it is reasonable, economical and calculating. The Austrian aristocracy both loves and understands music; and the Princes of the House of Austria have inherited kindly dispositions and certain instinct for statesmanship.”13 The Milanese aristocracy also spoke a rough dialect that was colored by many “Germanisms,” yet another way in which Germanic culture cross-fertilized with the Italian variety. Luchino’s own upbringing was also organized on strictly disciplinarian, distinctly Teutonic lines. When directing Albrecht Schönhals in the role of Baron Joachim von Essenbeck during the filming of the dinner table scenes in The Damned, Visconti doubtless recalled the iron will of his own father, Don Giuseppe. Baron Joachim insists upon extreme formality of dress and family deference, heralding his paternal pronouncements by striking the table with the flat of his hand. These characteristics are recalled by Dirk Bogarde’s corrupt Frederick Bruckmann later in the film when, thanks to his collaboration with the Nazis, he eventually usurps the baron’s position. The infamous Reichstag fire, which helped Hitler take control of Germany, and which was most probably organized by the Nazis themselves, is also mentioned in the film. Again, Visconti could draw on his own personal experience, for he had been in Munich at the time of that historical event in Berlin, having previously run away from home three times, joined the army, bred horses and then been responsible for the death of a servant in a car crash. Visconti’s celebrated extravagance also had much in common with the largesse and conspicuous consumption of both Wagner and King Ludwig. Not only did Visconti lavish gifts on his performers, he also insisted on elaborate set dressings for his films in the name of realism. Anthony Forward, Dirk Bogarde’s long-term partner and business manager, recalled Visconti’s obsessional interest in detail,14 and this can be seen in such elements as the distinctive Viennese “Philharmonia” edition of the miniature score held by Bogarde’s Aschenbach on the steamer at the beginning of Death in Venice. Bogarde recalled that in all the years he had worked in movies, the complex



sets for The Damned were unlike anything he had ever experienced before. He described how all the rooms were exquisitely furnished and “crammed with flowers” with real logs in real fireplaces, genuine antiques, even “halffinished [...] needlework lying, as if hurriedly put aside,” fresh flowers replaced twice daily — only ivory lilies and crimson roses, though, as gladioli were regarded as “bourgeois flowers” by this apparently communist maestro. The carpets for The Damned were in fact replaced by wooden parquet, Visconti being insistent that the audience should hear the sound of clattering feet: “The floor must play the music of fear.” This extravagance took five days to install and caused a scandal, but such was Visconti’s reputation that he was never questioned. Regardless of the fact that film is essentially a medium of illusion, he insisted on realism to the extent that, as Bogarde put it, “Wood was wood, never plaster [...]. Silk was also silk.”15 Visconti’s memories of Milan itself were colored by German Romanticism. Milan Cathedral — the famous Duomo — always reminded him of King Ludwig’s fairytale castle, Neuschwanstein, and he maintained the opinion that the Duomo always looked at its most beautiful not in Italian sunshine but in misty, even rainy conditions, when its details were blurred and it became “a magical apparition, like a castle of fog in the mountains.”16 When filming his study of King Ludwig, Visconti insisted on similarly rainy, foggy conditions: Ludwig is deposed during a rainstorm at Neuschwanstein, and his last moments are similarly soggy. These Romantic landscapes had been in Visconti’s mind since the 1950s when he had worked with Tosi at La Scala on a production of Bellini’s opera, La Sonnambula. Schiffano, described the stage pictures for this as consisting of lake-side views (à la Lake Starnberg, where Ludwig was eventually found drowned), castle towers, forest treetops and blue mountains.17 Ludwig’s obsessive castle building was even shared by Visconti’s own ancestor, Gian Galeazzo, and, also like Ludwig, Visconti himself was a similarly guilt-ridden homosexual. This crucial element of his personality went on to form a central aspect of his three German films, all of which feature doomed homosexuals: Ludwig the lonely monarch in love with Wagner, Aschenbach, the lonely composer infatuated with Tadzio in Death in Venice, and Martin Essenbeck, the gay heir to a family fortune in The Damned, who indulges in pedophile crimes before raping his own mother and ultimately embracing the moral collapse of Nazism. Ludwig is found drowned, Aschenbach experiences a kind of “Liebestod,” brought about by cholera but more significantly by his infatuation with beauty, while Martin in The Damned presides over the suicide of Bruckmann and his own mother in a scene closely based on the suicide of Hitler and Eva Braun in the Berlin bunker at the end of the Second World War. Germany and Italy were fused in Visconti’s imagination, and he saw his



own preoccupations reflected back at him in Thomas Mann’s similar conflation of the two cultures in Death in Venice (1912). Mann’s novella is itself a profound rumination on the nature of German Romanticism, suffused as it is with the legacy of Nietzsche, Wagner and Mahler. Mann was one of Visconti’s favorite authors (Marcel Proust and Gabrielle D’Annunzio formed the other elements of his literary trinity), and as early as the 1950s he had considered filming Mann’s first novel, Buddenbrooks (1901), to reflect the decline of his own family and the divorce of his parents in 1924. In the end, this element of familial disintegration was incorporated into The Damned, but in 1956, La Scala put on Visconti’s previously postponed production of a ballet, with music by Franco Mannino, which was based on Mann’s short story, “Mario and the Magician” (1929). This was Visconti’s first attempt to explore what Susan Sontag would later call “fascinating fascism,”18 and it concerns a repulsive Italian stage hypnotist who can manipulate an audience to do his bidding. The hero of the tale, Mario, is persuaded to kiss the “magician,” Cippola, in full view of the audience. Overwhelmed by disgust and shame, Mario then shoots Cippola. The story’s allegory of the dangerous allure of fascism and homosexual guilt was therefore combined in Visconti’s first experiment with the subject that would eventually lead to his German trilogy. Visconti’s film adaptation of “Death in Venice” also incorporated elements of Doctor Faustus, Mann’s novel-length analysis of the origins of the Nazis, and the connection continued in The Damned, in which one of the characters shares the name of Aschenbach. The films of the German trilogy also feature several of the same actors. Helmut Berger, who would go on to play King Ludwig; Dirk Bogarde and Helmut Griem appear in both The Damned and Death in Venice; Silvana Mangano and Nora Ricci appear in Death in Venice and Ludwig. Such continuity emphasizes the thematic and historical unity of these films, as Visconti successively removes the layers of this pungent historical onion revealing, in the end ... precisely what? Perhaps something as insubstantial as an onion itself: no more than a fantasy? Hitler was certainly the most unfortunate but perhaps also most inevitable Wagnerian, a fatal attraction that has been exhaustively explored by Joachim Köhler, to whose book Wagner’s Hitler all students of the subject should be directed. Hitler and the Third Reich simply could not have happened in the way they did without the context of German Romanticism, and this was what fascinated and simultaneously horrified Visconti. That he chose to discuss this troubling relationship by means of film is also relevant, as Hitler was not only a great movie fan but also the first cinematic politician, who used film in hitherto-unprecedented ways to legitimize the spurious, solidify the insubstantial, convince the multitude and (cinema’s ace card) summon the impossible. This specifically cinematic legacy was also indebted



to Wagner, thanks to the technical innovations of his music dramas, which he hoped would find their most ideal realization in the theater he built for the “ideal” staging at Bayreuth. Bayreuth has been many things to many people. To its 19th-century Romantic audience it was powerhouse of German Idealism. To fin-de-siècle symbolists and decadents who attended it at the turn of the 19th century it became a temple of Art. To the Nazis it was the shrine of the Third Reich. The Festspielhaus at Bayreuth has been all these things, but it now appears that the synthesis of music, poetry and scenic illusion that Wagner describes in his essay, “The Artwork of the Future” (1849), has proved to be a stepping stone to the cinema. That is a subject to which I shall be returning later, but before we explore Visconti’s Ludwig in more detail, a few words about the impact of Wagner’s music dramas in Italy will help contextualize Visconti’s particular response to them and to Germanic culture in general.


Wagner in Italy In his lifetime, Wagner never enjoyed the impact on Italian culture that was enjoyed by Verdi (1813–1901), his diametrically opposed contemporary. Having said that, Wagner and Verdi did have certain things in common, apart from the obvious fact that they were both opera composers. Both were Romantics, born in the same year, and both held tragedy in high regard. The comic output of both men was small: Wagner wrote only one comedy (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in 1868); and Verdi only two (Un giorno di regno, in 1840, and Falstaff in 1893), which virtually topped and tailed his career. Both men were also politically active: Wagner, a former revolutionary anarchist who had even stored hand-grenades in his back garden during the Dresden revolution of 1847, consequently spent a considerable time as a political exile in Switzerland. He eventually became associated with the newly formed German empire in 1871 (and, 50 years after his death, with the infamous Third Reich). Verdi’s very name became an acronym of “Viva Vittorio Emanuele, Re d’Italia,” a slogan promoting the cause of the king of Piedmont to become the leader of a united Italy, which was used by the Risorgimento in the years leading up to unification in 1861, ten years before the unification of Germany. Though it was illegal to say such a thing in public, it was perfectly acceptable to put up posters or daub graffiti exclaiming, “Viva V-E-R-D-I.” The Austrian authorities, who ruled over what Prince Metternich had once called “the geographical expression” of Italy, were unable to ban the public’s enthusiasm for Italy’s most famous composer, though they did their best to meddle with the libretti of his operas, censoring any possible criticism of the ruling powers. Wagner also meddled in German politics via his association with King Ludwig, but Verdi went one step further by actually becoming a member of the new Italian parliament in 1861. Though Verdi was not an instinctive politician, and resigned from government in 1865, Wagner never lost his interest in politics. Indeed, despite Wagner’s admiration for the pessimistic philosophy of Schopenhauer, Wagner was 11


Visconti and the German Dream

Caricature of Wagner by André Gill, 1869.

ONE. Wagner in Italy


actually an optimist, far more inspired by the idealist philosophy of G. W. F. Hegel than Schopenhauer. He fully absorbed Hegel’s philosophy of history, which argues that societies develop by being destroyed by their opposite, either through conflict with other cultures or brought about by antithetical elements within the society itself. Eventually, over centuries, this process brings about freedom and self-enlightenment, the whole point of the historical process being what Hegel calls “Geist”— or Mind, which develops through thesis, antithesis and synthesis towards an understanding of itself. For Hegel, the ultimate reality is pure Mind, or God — or Idea, and we see just this classic Hegelian pattern of thesis, antithesis and synthesis at work in Wagner’s Ring cycle, where world history is personified by the drama’s two principal characters, Siegfried and Brünnhilde. At the end of Götterdämmerung, Brünnhilde explains that Siegfried, the lover who betrayed her, had to “betray me so that I should become a woman of wisdom!” (“mich mußte der Reinste verraten,/ daß wissend würde ein Weib!”) As a consequence, she now understands the meaning of world history: “Alles, alles, alles weiß ich,/ alles ward mir nun frei!” (“Everything, everything I know, all is now clear to me!”) Unfortunately, Wagner did not stop with Hegel. Not only did he flirt with elements of Hegel’s philosophical opposite (the pessimistic, atheistic philosophy of Schopenhauer, which he never really absorbed into his much more optimistic world view), but he also tainted everything with a quite irrational and virulent anti–Semitism. Like Hitler, who was much inspired by his example, Wagner strongly believed that the regeneration of corrupted European culture could be achieved by racial cleansing. (Wagner’s anti–Semitic program is an undeniable, though subtly applied aspect of the Ring, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and, in particular, Parsifal.) If ever there was an example of the dangers of optimism it is surely this. By contrast, Verdi, the more downto-earth, compassionate humanist, was a died-in-the-wool pessimist. After the death of his first wife from encephalitis early in his career, he was so griefstricken that he very nearly never composed again. With regard to his Portrait of Verdi from The Illustrated later opera, Il trovatore (1854), Verdi London News, February 19, 1887.


Visconti and the German Dream

observed: “People say the opera is too sad, and that there are too many deaths in it. But, after all, death is all there is in life. What else is there?” 1 However, Verdi’s acceptance of the inevitability of death never became an infatuation with death. His pessimistic realism was one of the things that made him so different from the ultimately optimistic, idealistic Wagner, who regarded Italian music in general as consequently superficial and trivial. One comment from the diaries of Wagner’s wife, Cosima, sums up the official Wagnerian line with regard to the state of Italian (and French) music at the time: “In the evening [Hans] Richter [the conductor] brings the conversation around to Gounod, and that sets us off on a dreadful musical tour [...]. Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini, Verdi, one after another, I feel physically sick, I pick up and seek refuge in a volume of Goethe [...]. But nothing helps, I suffer and suffer. It is too much for R. [Wagner] as well, and he begs Richter to stop after the latter sought to prove to him that Verdi was no worse than Donizetti.”2 The conductor and fierce champion of Wagner, Hans von Bülow, who had been married to Cosima before Wagner stole her from him, ostentatiously refused to attend the first performance of Verdi’s Requiem in 1874. He happened to be in Milan at the time, and arrogantly advertised his disapproval of the work in the local newspaper: “Hans von Bülow was not present at the spectacle presented yesterday at the Church of San Marco. Hans von Bülow must not be counted among the foreigners gathered in Milan to hear Verdi’s sacred music.”3 Cosima agreed with him, writing in her diary on November 2nd, 1875, “In the evening, Verdi’s Requiem, about which it would certainly be best to say nothing.”4 Verdi, by contrast was not so partisan, and even acknowledged the validity of certain of Wagner’s reforms. While he had thought the overture to Tannhäuser “mad,”5 he did think that Wagner’s idea of putting the orchestra under the stage a good one, but he remained basically uninfluenced by the Master of Bayreuth. The fact that orchestra plays a far more significant role in later Verdi operas was a development he arrived at independently. When accused of being “Wagnerian” in Aida, Verdi bitterly complained: “A fine thing, after thirty-five years to end up as an imitator.”6 No one ever accused Wagner of imitating Verdi, and so it is fairly safe to say that each composer went his separate way. However, Venice, the city in which Verdi had enjoyed so many triumphs, brought both composers together in the end. Wagner not only composed Act II of Tristan und Isolde in that city, but also died there. Eventually, inevitably indeed, the cult of Wagner made itself felt in Italy as elsewhere. Fritz Schaper’s bust of Wagner appeared in the giardini pubblici in Venice in 1908, and, as we shall see, the spirit of Wagnerian idealism was brought to Italian literature in the novels of Gabrielle D’Annunzio (1863– 1938), alongside the Wagner-influenced verismo operas of Puccini.

ONE. Wagner in Italy


Opinions regarding these two opposing magnetic poles of the nineteenthcentury opera world were divided during the lifetimes of both composers and, of course, continue so to be. The twentieth-century biographer and aficionado of Verdi, Charles Osborne, agrees that the last works of both men (Wagner’s Parsifal and Verdi’s Falstaff ) are works of genius, but “the world could more easily afford to lose the five hours of Parsifal than the less than two hours of Falstaff.”7 Debussy, however, regarded Parsifal as “one of the loveliest monuments of sound ever raised to the serene glory of music,”8 and he was not, of course, alone in that. Whatever the critical reactions to their work, there is no doubt that Wagner and Verdi had very different aims and styles. Verdi, innovative though he was, remained faithful to the traditional concept of opera as a work divided into arias, ensembles and choruses in which the vocal element remains the most important aspect; whereas Wagner’s approach was much more symphonic and musically inter-related thanks to his Leitmotif system, in which short musical themes are interwoven to create an endless web of melody — a very different state of affairs from the traditional “number” opera. Wagner’s operas (or music-dramas as he preferred to call them) were also far more philosophically complex than anything to be found in Italian opera. There is nothing of Hegel or even Schopenhauer, still less Wagner’s pestilential anti–Semitism in the rather more straightforward operas of Verdi; and not only was Wagner more “intellectual” than Verdi, but also more emotionally “overwhelming.” Verdi aimed for (and achieved) an objective approach to the human condition. Wagner was inherently subjective. One might also say that Verdi’s operas express our conscious emotions during the day, whereas Wagner’s music dramas express our unconscious drives during the night — and it is this appeal to the unconscious, to instinct and to myth that were to have so profound an effect on German culture and its later antithesis during the Third Reich. It also profoundly influenced the cinema of the twentieth century. Hollywood, after all, is still known as a dream factory, and the Golden Age of German cinema in the 1920s was even more concerned with dreams than Hollywood. In this respect, film is the ideal medium with which to discuss German Romanticism, whether it be through Visconti’s trilogy, Syberberg’s complex cinematic ruminations or Ken Russell’s surreal composer extravaganzas. Gradually, Italian composers began to be influenced by Wagner’s music, principal among them being Puccini, though only in part. As Julian Budden points out, Puccini “followed Wagner’s example in bringing the motif into the forefront of his narrative, sometimes voicing the singer’s unexpressed thoughts, sometimes sending out a signal to the audience of which the character is unaware. Yet even when it forms the kernel of a block of kindred material, as in the later operas, it is never varied and developed in Wagner’s


Visconti and the German Dream

manner — a procedure that would threaten the supremacy of the voice, so essential in Italian opera.”9 Later, Italy also had fascism in common with Germany, though it was Italy, of course, that first invented the brand; but the music of Puccini, still less of Verdi failed to inspire Mussolini in the way that Wagner inspired Hitler. Far more significant to the rise of Italian fascism were the writings and person of D’Annunzio, who in some ways anticipated Visconti’s own Wagnerism, though in other respects they were very different men. D’Annunzio was very much a heterosexual proto-fascist, whereas the homosexual Visconti always professed to be a communist. (Dirk Bogarde, however, found Visconti’s political persuasion hard to accept “among the palaces, Picassos, footmen and cooks and the splendour and abundance of his liv ing style. So I placed him vaguely on the Left, which irritated him constantly.”)10 The visual extravagance of Visconti’s films, their obsession with objets, flowers, furniture and the creation of an ambience by means of details piled up on top of each other was also shared by D’Annunzio, whose home overlooking Lake Garda was a shrine not only to the memory of D’Annunzio himself but also to the entire era of fin-de-siècle decadence. Originally known as the Villa Cargnacco, D’Annunzio’s Vittoriale, had appropriately once belonged to the German art historian Henry Thode, who was one of Wagner’s relations by marriage. (Thode’s first wife had been Daniela von Bülow, the eldest daughter of Cosima Liszt and Hans von Bülow before Cosima’s divorce and subsequent marriage to Wagner). D’Annunzio’s biographer, Anthony Rhodes, describes the Vittoriale’s furnishings of “cushions, velvets, damasks, brocades and the scents of des Esseintes in the incense burners,” which D’Annunzio characteristically juxtaposed with “flags, daggers, medals, rifles, proclamations, machine guns and other implements of war; and yet,” he added, “a crucifix by Giotto will stand next to an aeroplane propeller.”11 Visconti’s own tastes in interior decoration were less grotesque but no less opulent, fresh flowers in every room being de rigueur. Dirk Bogarde recalled seeing him “slumped in his great velvet chair among the Picassos, Klimts, Schieles and glittering bric-a-brac.”12 Far more than any Italian musician, D’Annunzio was Italian culture’s greatest champion of Wagner. In his novel, Il fuoco (The Flame), published in 1901, the author fictionalized his own artistic ambitions through the character of the writer Stelio Effrena, who desires to do for Italian drama what Wagner did for German music-drama; but this does not mean slavish imitation. Stelio is keen to point out that Wagner’s genius was of a specifically northern mold. Merely to transplant his work to the Mediterranean and place it amid olive tees and laurel bushes under a Latin sky would make it “dissolve.” Instead he is inspired by the Wagnerian ideal of a ritualistic dramatic festival of Total Art, where Beauty is worshipped as a religion. He calls Wagner a

ONE. Wagner in Italy


“great barbarian,” whose influence D’Annunzio obviously intended to civilize along Italianate lines. He devotes several pages to a description of the scene between Parsifal and Kundry in Parsifal, dwelling with typically D’Annunzian relish on the sadomasochistic aspects of their complicated encounter in Klingsor’s magic flower garden. (Parsifal’s line, “Hell will hold us forever, if I let thee hold me in thy arms even for just an hour” is contrasted with Kundry’s “the full embrace of my love will make thee a god.”13) Immediately after this Wagnerian eulogy, we hear the bells of St. Mark’s basilica striking midnight, admirably linking Wagnerian music drama, the decadence of fin-de-siècle Venice and the torturous relationship of Stelio and his lover Foscarina (which D’Annunzio describes as a Parsfialian combination of voluptuousness and death). Unsurprisingly for such a male chauvinist as D’Annunzio, Stelio is very impressed that Kundry, the wild seductress (the Rose of Hell indeed), is eventually subdued to such a servile role that she has only three words to sing in Act III: “Dienen ... dienen.” (“Serving ... serving.”) “Who could ever forget that moment?”14 he asks, eulogizing the effect of Wagner’s overwhelming music as it emerges from the Mystic Abyss of the sunken orchestra pit. “Let us honor Richard Wagner,”15 Stelio exclaims, but honor him in the Italian manner. Wagner dedicated his Festival Theatre in Bayreuth to the spirit of Germany. Stelio intends to build his Theatre of Apollo on the Janiculum in Rome in honor of his own Latin heritage. The leading roles of his planned dramas will be brought to life by his mistress, Foscarina (a character based on the actress, Eleonora Duse, who was D’Annunzio’s mistress at the time). Anticipating the Fascist state of Mussolini, on which D’Annunzio indeed had no little influence, Stelio hopes that his art, like Wagner’s, will lead to a revival of the greatness of Italy, just as Wagner’s music dramas “predicted and supported the aspirations of the German state.”16 Ominously, D’Annunzio even predicted a “Third Rome,” just as, in 1928, the German symbolist poet Stefan George later entitled his volume of verse, Das neue Reich (The New Reich), evoking in it, along similar lines to D’Annunzio, the dream of a realm ruled by beauty and culture. Hitler’s comparably named Third Reich failed to fulfill that promise, but though George was ambivalent about and mostly disapproving of Hitler’s regime, D’Annunzio, by contrast, was wholly in favor of Mussolini’s resuscitation of the glory that was Rome. Both poets undoubtedly helped pave the way for the aestheticization of politics, which the critic Walter Benjamin so perceptively identified as the particular appeal and power of fascism in his famous essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in 1936. Wagner died in the Venetian Palazzo Vendramin-Calergi, the bricks of which D’Annunzio could not resist describing as being of “the rich colour of clotted blood.”17 This fact was not forgotten by Thomas Mann when writing


Visconti and the German Dream

“Death in Venice,” for even though he had the death of Gustav Mahler in mind when creating the hero of the story, the ghost of Wagner haunts the novella’s subtext. Visconti was to make this connection explicit in his film version by choreographing the film to excerpts from Mahler’s Third and Fifth Symphonies, works which themselves were much indebted to the musical example of Wagner, whom Mahler specialized in conducting. Indeed, it was Mahler’s Vienna 1903 performances of Tristan und Isolde, in collaboration with Alfred Roller’s innovative scene designs, which made so deep an impression on the young Adolf Hitler. For a while, Hitler seriously entertained the ambition of becoming a Wagnerian stage designer himself (a fantasy he in fact never lost). He even managed to secure an introduction to meet Roller at the Vienna Opera House but lacked the courage to knock on the door of his office.18 One cannot help wondering how different the modern world might be if Roller had taken him on. Instead, Hitler made the world his stage. In The Flame, Stelio imagines Wagner as a Germanic god, whose breathing resembles “the wind in a forest.” The blood in the composer’s “great sick heart” flows “like mountain torrents.”19 Indeed, Stelio’s own heart beats a little faster when he catches a glimpse of Wagner, in the company of Liszt and Cosima, on the prow of a boat, an image which immediately suggests The Flying Dutchman to his Wagner-drenched imagination. Venice, too, seems convulsed by the presence of the German genius: clouds destroy one another, domes and towers seem to change shape, and the shadows of the city blend with the shadows of Nature. Stelio later helps carry Wagner’s corpse after the composer’s fatal heart attack. This event is described in terms of Siegfried’s Funeral March, as they carry the weight of “the Hero [...] who had spread the power of his oceanic soul across the world, the dying flesh of the Revealing One who had transformed into infinite song the essences of the Universe for the religion of men.”20 Indeed, Wagner’s funeral procession along the Grand Canal forms one of the most impressive set pieces in Tony Palmer’s Wagner film. D’Annunzio’s fascination with Wagner in The Flame was nothing new, however. In an earlier novel from 1894, Il trionfo della morte (The Triumph of Death), D’Annunzio elaborately describes a performance of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in the Bayreuth theater, which he transforms not only into a veritable temple “sacred to the supreme manifestation of art,” but also into a temple of Death. Giorgio had not forgotten the most trifling incident of his first pious pilgrimage to the Ideal Theatre; he could revive each point of his extraordinary emotion when, on the gently rising ground at the far end of the leafy avenue, he first caught sight of the edifice sacred to the supreme manifestation of art; he was able to reconstruct for himself the vast and solemn amphitheatre encircled by columns and arches,

ONE. Wagner in Italy


Cover design by Franz Stassen for Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde (Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel, 1916).


Visconti and the German Dream and the mystery of the Mystic Gulf. In the shadow and the silence of the secluded spot, through the shadow and the ecstatic silence of every breathless soul there, a sigh floated up from the invisible orchestra, a moan rose and fell, and from a subdued voice came the first mournful appeal of solitary desire, the first indistinct forebodings of future anguish. Sigh and moan and voice all rose and swelled up from a vague plaint to the sharpness of an imperious cry, with all the pride of dreams, the anguish of superhuman aspirations, the terrible and relentless power of possession.21

D’Annunzio sustains this Wagnerian panegyric for over nine pages, displaying all the well-known symptoms of a chronic case of Tristanitus —a malady similarly suffered by King Ludwig, who had the privilege of attending the première in Munich. Due to a series of unfortunate disasters, this was delayed from May 15, 1865, to the 10th of June that year. Bailiffs descended on Wagner’s home in the morning of the 15th, followed by the news that Wagner’s indispensable interpreter of Isolde, Malvina Schnorr von Carolsfeld, had lost her voice after taking a vapor bath. Unaware of these developments and quite unable to contain his excitement on the morning of what became known as “Tristan Day,” Ludwig wrote to Wagner in characteristically feverish tone: Day of rapture! Tristan! Oh, how I long for this evening! If only it were here! When will the torch be extinguished; when will it be night in the house? [Ludwig’s references to the significant moments in the Act II “Liebesnacht” of the opera.] Today, today! Why praise and honour me? The deed is YOURS! YOU are the wonder of the world; what am I without you? Why, I implore you, why cannot you find peace, why are you ever in torment?... My love for you, I need not repeat it, will endure for ever! 22

However, Ludwig had to endure his impatience for several more weeks until Malvina’s voice recovered, and when it did it was her husband, also named Ludwig, who was to pay an even greater price for his part in the proceedings. A corpulent man, he was required to lie “dead” as Tristan during the whole of Isolde’s “Liebestod” at the end of the work. Perspiring heavily, a draft on stage gave him a chill from which he never recovered. Wagner’s enemies were, of course, quick to exploit this tragedy as graphic evidence of Tristan’s toxicity; but nothing could kill Tristan and it went on to influence anyone who was anyone in the musical world, either negatively or positively. No one could ignore this pre-eminent expression of German Romanticism. Emmanuel Chabrier and Debussy, both intense admirers of Wagner’s art, had to send up Tristan (the former in his series of quadrilles called Souvenirs de Munich of 1885–86, the latter in “Gollywog’s Cakewalk” of 1908) to distance themselves from an influence that was positively overwhelming. “Not until the turn of the century did the outlines of the new world discovered in Tristan begin to take shape,” Paul Hindemith wrote in 1937. “Music reacted to it as

ONE. Wagner in Italy


a human body to an injected serum, which it as first strives to exclude as a poison and only afterwards learns to accept as necessary and even wholesome.”23 Whatever wholesomeness Hindemith found in Tristan, it was that work’s decadence which interested Visconti, who had Germany’s collective Tristanitus in mind when he came to film the Night of the Long Knives in The Damned. At the culmination of a homosexual orgy on the shores of Lake Attersee, enjoyed by the good-looking young men of SA (to whom the homosexual King Ludwig would no doubt have taken a fancy as well), Visconti had Isolde’s “Liebestod” sung by SA man Konstantin Essenbeck (played by René Koldehoff ), accompanied on an out-of-tune upright piano. Minutes later, the SA boys are slaughtered in a hail of machine gun bullets on Hitler’s orders. For Visconti the guilty homosexual, gay love was always cursed, but more than mere homosexuality is at stake here. What is more to the point, as we shall explore in more detail when we return to this scene later, is the deathdrenched imagery of German Romanticism as a whole. In D’Annunzio’s The Triumph of Death, the Tristan “Liebestod” also inspires the hero, Giorgio, to kill both himself and his lover, Ippolita. As the title of the novel makes quite clear, the contemplation of suicide is the novel’s central theme. Before that inevitable climax, however, we are introduced to the memory of Giorgio’s uncle Demitrio. Like Visconti’s own uncles, Demitrio is also musical. Whereas Visconti’s uncle Guido played the piano, Demitrio is a violinist: He passed his fingers through his hair, just above the ear, with a gesture peculiar to him, tuned the instrument, rubbed the bow with rosin, and attacked the sonata. The fingers that pressed the strings were thin, but firm and beautifully formed, and the play of muscle under the skin so visible as to be almost painful. The right hand drew the bow with a large and faultless gesture. Now and then he would press the instrument closer with his chin, his head bent forward, his eyes half closed, withdrawn into the inner sanctuary of his delight — anon he would draw himself up to his full height, gazing before him with illumined eyes, a fugitive smile upon his lips, his forehead extraordinarily pale.24

As he listens to his uncle playing the violin, Giorgio experiences the same kinship between music and oblivion that was so powerful an association in German Romanticism, and which Visconti was so keen to explore in his films on the subject: Those long hours of fond intimacy in the warm, hushed seclusion of this room — the world forgetting, by the world forgot — when he and Demetrio revelled in the music of their favourite masters. They utterly forgot themselves in the exquisite raptures evoked by the music they made with their own hands.25

But Demetrio proved to be unstable and he shot himself. Giorgio visits the room of his dead uncle, reacquainting himself with his uncle’s violin. He


Visconti and the German Dream

also lies on Demetrio’s bed to examine his pistols, one of which was used to do the dreadful deed. Intriguingly, the way in which D’Annunzio describes the case as “lined with some pale green material, a little ribbed at the edges of the compartment which contained all that was necessary for loading,”26 resembles the way in which Mann describes the thermometer cases (a similar leitmotif of death) in The Magic Mountain: “The glass instrument lay like a jewel within, fitted neatly into its red velvet groove.”27 Though Visconti never filmed this particular D’Annunzio novel (nor Mann’s Magic Mountain for that matter), he did adapt D’Annunzio’s L’Innocente (1892), which is significant, as D’Annunzio’s own brand of Wagnerism was also to make an impact on the cross-fertilization of Germanic and Italian culture that finds its most eloquent expression in Visconti’s German trilogy. As I have already suggested, the German Romantic Todessehnsucht, or “yearning for death,” so often the subject of Schubert lieder and Wagnerian music drama alike, can be interpreted both literally and symbolically. The longing for death was inevitable for a movement that placed so much stress on the sublime, the ideal and the eternal. Only in death, it seems, can such imaginary ideals be attained (just as only the ultimate orgasm of death can satisfy Tristan and Isolde’s cosmic longing for union and oblivion). Wagner’s fanatical French admirer, Villiers de L’Isle Adam (1838–1889), succinctly expressed this conflict towards the end of his otherwise somewhat prolix symbolist play, Axel (1890): “As for living? Our servants can do that for us.”28 For those who have glimpsed the overwhelming power of Romantic art, ordinary life with its disappointments and prosaic bathos invariably seems irrelevant and intrusive. Thomas Mann epitomized this dilemma in the character of Hanno in Buddenbrooks, which was published in the same year as D’Annunzio’s The Flame. This young, sensitive, artistically inclined boy attends a Sunday evening performance of Wagner’s Lohengrin, where he learns that beauty “can pierce one like a pain, and that it can sing profoundly into shame and a longing despair that utterly consume the courage and energy necessary to the life of every day.”29 Like Ludwig before him, who also first experienced Wagner’s art with this opera, Hanno can scarcely contain his excitement. “He had looked forward for a whole week to this evening with a joy which absorbed his entire existence.” Monday morning would return, of course, but “who believes in Monday, when he is to hear Lohengrin on Sunday evening?”30 Lohengrin “came over him with all its enchantment and consecration, all its secret revelations and tremors, its sudden inner emotion, its extravagant, unquenchable intoxication.”31 Christopher McIntosh compares Ludwig to the Outsiders studied in Colin Wilson’s well-known book of that name. Ludwig, he argues, had “known that vivid stab of intense experience after which the everyday world

ONE. Wagner in Italy


seems flat and banal.”32 In this respect, Ludwig was indeed a precursor of the existentialists of the twentieth century, for, as T. E. Apter explains: The power of music is allied to the death wish. The urgent desire heard in [Wagner’s] music is strangely inward-looking, and its object is often longing itself. This longing consumes energy, even the energy of passion; its infinity is crushing, and issues in the desire for infinite stasis, which is also death — and this deathly image is presented by music so entrancing that it seems to be the highest good. The power of music makes life look impoverished; its effect is hypnotic, and it paralyses the ordinary will to live. Fulfilment seems not to lie in active life, but in release from life’s limitations and in glorification of measureless, ever-intensifying longing.33

This death wish is also felt by Hanno’s less artistic father, Thomas: What was Death? The answer came, not in poor, large-sounding words: he felt it within him, he possessed it. Death was a joy, so great, so deep that it could be dreamed of only in moments of revelation like the present. It was the return from an unspeakably painful wandering, the correction of a grave mistake, the loosening of chains, the opening of doors — it put right again a lamentable mischance.34

Nietzsche had been among the first (and was undoubtedly the most important) writer to identify Wagner’s music with sickness: I am far from looking on guilelessly while this decadent corrupts our health — and music as well. Is Wagner a human being at all? Isn’t he rather a sickness? He makes sick whatever he touches —he has make music sick —[...] I feel the urge to open the windows a little — Air! More air! [...] How closely related Wagner must be to the whole of European decadence to avoid being experienced by them as a decadent. He belongs to it: he is its protagonist, its greatest name. [...] For that one does not resist him, this itself is a sign of decadence. The instincts are weakened. What one ought to shun is found attractive. One puts to one’s lips what drives one yet further into the abyss.35

In Buddenbrooks, Wagner’s music is similarly castigated by the music teacher of Hanno’s mother. Confronted with the score of Tristan und Isolde, he exclaims: I cannot play that, my dear lady! I am your most devoted servant — but I cannot. That is not music — believe me! I have always flattered myself I knew something about music — but this is chaos! This is demagogy, blasphemy, insanity, madness! It is a perfumed fog, shot through with lightning! It is the end of all honesty in art. I will not play it.36

Hanno also much admires the character of Roderick Usher, the überneurasthenic of Poe’s 1839 tale of madness, art and isolation, “The Fall of the House of Usher.” After playing the piano, Hanno is stricken with a strange immobility of mind and body, reminiscent of Usher’s exhausted and morbid sensitivity: “He [Hanno] was very pale. There was no strength in his knees, and his eyes were burning. He went into the next room, stretched himself on


Visconti and the German Dream

the chaise-lounge, and remained for a long time motionless.”37 Roderick Usher, similarly, suffers from a “morbid acuteness of the senses; the most insipid food was alone endurable; he could wear only garments of certain texture; the odours of all flowers were oppressive; his eyes were tortured by even a feint light; and there were but peculiar sounds, and those from string instruments, which did not inspire him with horror.”38 Usher’s sensitivity to beauty forces him to refine himself out of existence. As Hanno instinctively feels, after his experience of Wagner’s music, beauty somehow reveals the innermost secrets of his soul, in the sense of Keats’s “Ode to a Grecian Urn,” that: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” This is the concept of which the ancient Greeks were also fully aware, for when Odysseus encountered the sirens he, too, experienced the deadly power of beauty. The sirens’ music, which none can resist, somehow explains the inner mysteries of the world, and that is why it is so dangerous. One cannot know everything and still live, for to know everything is to die (as Eve symbolically discovered when she bit the apple of wisdom). This wisdom, revealed through beauty, kills us. Homer’s sirens, those daughters of music, sit in a meadow “piled high with the mouldering skeletons of men, whose withered skin still hangs upon their bones.”39 These are the victims of beauty and truth, and this is why poets long to die. They have seen too much, and continuing to live seems superfluous when there is nothing more worth knowing. The Germans have their own version of the legend of the sirens in the legend of the Loreley, which became one of the most important images of German Romanticism. In Heinrich Heine’s poem about the legend, set so powerfully to music by Liszt (among others), Heine begins by wondering why the story makes him feel so sad. The reason is because of the legend’s underlying wisdom: the recognition that beauty and its pursuit is ultimately a melancholy affair. The Loreley sits combing her golden hair on her rock in the middle of the river Rhine. Sie kämmt es mit goldnem Kamme Und singt ein Lied dabei, Das hat eine wundersame, Gewaltge Melodei. Den Schiffer im kleinen Schiffe Ergreift es mit wildem Weh; Er schaut nicht die Felsenriffe, Er schaut nur hinauf in die Höh! Ich glaube, die Wellen verschlingen Am Ende Schiffer und Kahn, Und das hat mit ihrem Singen Die Loreley getan.

ONE. Wagner in Italy


(With a golden comb she combs it And sings a song the while; The song has a wondrous And powerful melody. The boatman in his little craft Is seized with passionate grief; He does not look at the rocks ahead: He only looks up at the heights. I believe that in the end the waves Engulfed the boatman and his boat; And that was done By the Loreley and her singing.)

With this poem in mind, Visconti’s shots of the Dream King on his steam launch in Ludwig take on an extra resonance, especially when we observe that the steam launch in question is named “Tristan.” (Now might also be a timely reminder that “Tristan” is also the title of August von Platen’s famous, already quoted, poem on this subject. Although von Platen long predated Wagner’s Tristan, von Platen himself thought the title “significant, almost clairvoyant.”40 As Mann himself puts it: “It must have been in some peculiarly abstracted and sleep-walking state, involved in far associations that his hand traced this title.”41 Indeed, Mann also had the homosexual von Platen in mind when creating Aschenbach in “Death in Venice,” “Gustave” being a virtual anagram of “August.”) In another of the poems set to music by Liszt, Ludwig Uhland’s “Gestorben war ich,” the other interpretation of Todessehnsucht is explored. This is the idea that death is a metaphor for the imaginative and emotional freedom that cannot be achieved in life: Gestorben war ich Vor Liebeswonne; Begraben lag ich In ihren Armen; Erwecket ward ich Von ihren Küssen; Den Himmel sah ich In ihren Augen. (I died Of love’s bliss I lay buried In her arms; I was awakened By her kisses; I saw heaven In her eyes.)


Visconti and the German Dream

It was precisely this German Romantic aesthetic that D’Annunzio brought to Italy around the same time that Thomas Mann began to deconstruct it in the country of its origin. The final page of D’Annunzio’s The Triumph of Death is indeed a decadent amplification of Uland’s poem, particularly at the climax of the novel when the two sadomasochistic lovers, Giorgio and Ippolita, plunge to their catastrophic consummation: She stammered wild, incoherent, despairing words — feeling her strength fail her, losing the ground beneath her feet — death staring her in the face. “Murderer!” she shrieked, defending herself desperately — with her teeth, her nails, like a wild beast. “Murderer!” she shrieked again, seized by the hair, thrown on her knees at the very edge of the abyss — lost. The dog barked furiously at the tragic group. There was a brief but savage struggle, as between two mortal foes who had nourished a secret and implacable hatred in their souls up till that hour.... Then they crashed down headlong into death locked in that fierce embrace.42

Mann’s analysis of what was rank and gross in his own culture took several decades to reach its fulfillment in the novel Doctor Faustus (1947), but in essence it was summed up by T. E. Apter in her masterly study of the writer: Those aspects of Germany’s Romanticism which Mann feared — the glorification of instinct, a barbaric respect for heroism and disdain of death, belief in folk-blood morality that cancelled the possibility of a humanist morality — were realised in the National Socialists’ use of myth.43 [...] With the rise of Nazism he came to see the problem of German Romanticism as the German problem. Nazism was an extension and distortion of the GermanRomantic soul which had become cruel and barbaric under the influence of [a] magician-leader [...] in which barbarism passes for realism and honesty, and the peculiarly German-Romantic sympathy with impulse and death becomes a celebration of violence.44

Mann always claimed that he had learned what he needed to know about the dangers of Romanticism from Nietzsche, while his longings to renounce life and to sink into the highest bliss of unconsciousness (to quote the final words of Isolde’s “Liebestod”) he had learnt from Wagner. Similarly, through the writings of Nietzsche, D’Annunzio and Mann, Visconti went on to demonstrate, via the personalities and achievements of Ludwig II, Wagner and Hitler, how the Romantic cult of death reached its grotesque fulfillment in the tragedy of the Third Reich.


Ludwig, Wagner and Hitler Though Ludwig was the last film in Visconti’s trilogy, I will be exploring it first because it forms the historical basis of all that followed. For Visconti, however, it represented the end product of his fascination with German Romanticism and the subsequent decline of humanist culture that reached its climax in the Second World War. The ultimate expression — indeed synthesis — of German Romanticism was the work of Richard Wagner, an oeuvre which, as a whole, would never have been completed without Ludwig’s support. The lives of the two men are inextricably connected. Without Ludwig there would have been no Bayreuth, and without Bayreuth there might, arguably, have been no Hitler. Wagner, who epitomized the characteristics of Romanticism, represented a problem for both Mann and, after him, Visconti. Both admired Wagner’s overwhelming art but both were equally worried about its implications — most of all its subsequent connection with National Socialism. It was an historical continuum fully appreciated by Mann in his many writings on Wagner. In a letter to the stage designer Emil Pretorious, for example, he spelled out that connection in no uncertain terms: There is, in Wagner’s bragging, his endless holding-forth, his passion for monologue, his insistence on having a say in everything, an unspeakable arrogance that prefigures Hitler — oh yes, there’s a good deal of “Hitler” in Wagner. [...] But when I recently listened to the first act [of Tristan] again, in all its realistic dramatic force, I was completely overwhelmed.1

In a later letter to the journal Common Sense, in 1940, he reiterated his concerns about the dangers inherent in Wagner’s work: The enthusiasm it engenders, the sense of grandeur that so often seizes us in its presence, can be compared only to the feelings excited in us by Nature at her noblest, by evening sunshine on mountain peaks, by the turmoil of the sea. Yet this must not make us forget that this work, created and directed “against civilization,” against the entire culture and society dominant since the Renaissance, emerges from the



Visconti and the German Dream bourgeois-humanist epoch in the same manner as does Hitlerism. With its Wagalaweia and its alliteration, its mixture of roots-in-the-soil and eyes-towards-thefuture, its appeal for a classless society, its mythical-reactionary revolutionism — with all these, it is the exact spiritual forerunner of the ‘metaphysical’ movement today terrorizing the world.2

As Joachim Köhler, one of Hitler’s most insightful of biographers, put it, “Hitler’s private utopia, without a knowledge of which neither his achievements nor his atrocities can be properly understood, was entitled ‘Richard Wagner.’ It was a utopia that embraced both the magic of Wagner’s music dramas and the philosophy behind his revolutionary writings.”3 Hitler was by no means a dilettante when it came to the works of the Bayreuth Master. He himself pointed out that no one could understand National Socialism without first understanding Wagner. “Wagner’s works are the embodiment of everything to which National Socialism aspires,”4 he insisted. Admittedly, this is only one (and, to some, a perverted) reading of what the Wagnerian experience is about, but, as scholars such as Marc Weiner and Paul Lawrence Rose have so conclusively demonstrated,5 there is no doubt these days about the anti–Semitism of the composer and incorporation of such anti–Semitic views into the structure of his music dramas. There is, of course, much more to Wagner than this, but having said that, it was more than merely unfortunate that Wagner blamed the Jews for all that he thought was wrong with Western civilization. However, if one removes the Jews themselves from the equation and simply looks at some of the issues Wagner attached to the Jewish question, there is much that makes sense. Wagner was worried about the corrosive impact of industrialism and the deadening constraints of commercialism. He attacked the corrupting power of capital and its oppression of individual freedom. He argued that capitalism tended towards artistic superficiality and a consequent lack of emotional authenticity. Wagner believed he was championing the power of love against the kind of society that honored cash more than community, and power more than compassion. The fact that he blamed the Jews was a tragic mistake, motivated by his own jealousy, lack of self-confidence and irrational fears; but even this might not have mattered so much if Wagner’s emotionally persuasive art had not so influenced Hitler, and provided a fatally fertile breeding ground for the seductively poisonous fantasies that lead to the Holocaust. In attempting to define what one is, one invariably rejects what one chooses to think one is not, but as we are all human, racism is easily revealed primarily to be a superficial question of “effect”— a question, ultimately, of aesthetics. As Wagner put it: “In ordinary life the Jew, who as we know possesses a God of his own, strikes us first by his outward appearance which, whatever European nationality we belong to, has something unpleasantly for-

TWO. Ludwig, Wagner and Hitler


eign to that nationality.”6 This is largely what Wagner’s only comic opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, is about: the identity of a community and the removal of those elements (both cultural and human) that don’t fit into it aesthetically. Authenticity, for Wagner, was tied up with nationality and race. Artists could not be authentic if they were not in touch with the culture that gave them their identity. Walther von Stolzing, who sings the Prize Song and wins the hand of Eva (who coincidentally shares the same name as Hitler’s future bride) is part of the national community, which is why he succeeds. The clumsy, incompetent town clerk, Beckmesser, is not, and therefore fails; and Wagner intended those who shared his lightly disguised racial agenda to identify Beckmesser as a Jewish caricature. As Marc Weiner explains, this is even evident in the music, which attempts to imitate the melismatic vocal inflections Wagner identified with the synagogue.7 Even more chillingly, the dangerous words of Hans Sachs at the end of Die Meistersinger always inspired the audience to stand up and give the Hitler salute during performances of the work at Nazified Bayreuth: Habt acht! Uns dräuen üble Streich’: zerfällt erst deutsches Volk und Reich, in falscher welscher Majestät kein Fürst bald mehr sin Volk versteht; und welschen Dunst mit welschem Tand sie pflanzen uns in deutsches Land; was deutsch und echt, wüßt’ keiner mehr, lebt’s nicht in deutscher Meister Ehr.’ (Beware! Evil tricks threaten us: If the German people and kingdom should one day decay under a false, foreign rule, soon no prince will understand his people any more, and they will plant foreign mists with foreign vanities in our German land; what is German and true no one would know any more if it did not live in the honor of the German masters.)

It is not really surprising that such a speech should have inspired such fervor. Of course one can de–Nazify it (it was, after all, written decades before the Third Reich). One can place it in its original medieval context, or, as David McVicar’s Glydebourne Opera production did in 2011, update it to post–Napoleonic Nuremberg, before Germany was united. Wagner’s anti– Semitic subtext should not be allowed to invalidate the opera as a compelling work of art, any more than Bach’s Christianity should invalidate the St. Matthew Passion for an atheist, but there is no denying that the Holocaust makes the case of Wagner more difficult, despite the many atrocities sanctioned by the Roman Christian church over the centuries (anti–Semitism being, of course, an integral part of that particular institution). The Jewish question


Visconti and the German Dream

was, anyway, a more “legitimate,” though admittedly still contentious, topic in Wagner’s day, and it is important not to view the work through the distorting lens of twentieth-century history, but there is simply no denying that it played a major role in Hitler’s program and helped to legitimate his racial nationalism. It is impossible, therefore, to over-emphasize the importance of Wagner’s legacy on all our lives, even for those people who have never experienced a Wagnerian music drama. Without Wagner’s consummation of the Romantic tradition, National Socialism might never have happened, and would certainly have been very different. England, for example, never managed to sustain its own brand of fascism under Sir Oswald Mosley principally because the British were (and still are) inherently suspicious of art and ideas. England also already had political power along with a strong sense of national identity. It had no real need for philosophy and art to create an identity for itself; but before Germany became, under Hitler, a nation of “Richter und Henker” (judges and executioners), it had prided itself on being one of “Dichter und Denker” (poets and thinkers). England certainly has its poets, but slipped badly behind in musical terms during the nineteenth century. Idealist music — music as Idea (the currency of Wagner)— and certainly the application of aesthetics to the political arena has always been alien to Britain in particular. Hegel explained that the Germans “prefer to live in the inwardness of emotion and of thinking.”8 The English, by contrast, recognize “the rational less in the form of universality than in that of individuality. Thus their poets rank far higher than their philosophers. [...] Associated with its tenacity of individuality [...] is the conspicuous aptitude of the English for trade.”9 The inwardness of German Romanticism contrasts strongly with the extrovert nature of English “common sense.” Germany, which for centuries had no national identity and therefore no political power on the European stage, indeed looked inward, putting all its energies and efforts into art and philosophy. As the German expressionist painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner explained, “The German creates his forms from fantasy, from an inner vision peculiar to himself. The forms of visible nature serve him as symbols only and he seeks beauty not in appearance but in something beyond.10 Such introversion naturally inspired the irrational, the psychological, and the overtly emotional impulses — all those qualities, in fact, of the night, the dominant Romantic environment. As Thomas Mann observed: I have not forgotten the impression made upon me by my first visit to Linderhof, the castle built by the sick King Ludwig with his craving for beauty, where I found this primacy of the night expressed in the very proportions of the rooms. The living rooms and day apartments of the little summer residence, situated in its glorious

TWO. Ludwig, Wagner and Hitler


mountain fastness, are small and comparatively unimposing, nothing more than closets. There is only one room furnished in gold and silks with heavy, elaborate splendour: the bedroom, with its bed of state beneath a spreading canopy, flanked by golden candelabra — the real stateroom of the royal residence, consecrated to the night.11

In Visconti’s film of Ludwig’s life story, the Dream King confesses, on the night he commits suicide: There’s nothing more beautiful and fascinating than the night. They say that the cult of the night, of the moon, is a maternal cult; the cult of the sun, of daytime, is a masculine myth, therefore paternal. However, the mystery, the greatness of the night, to me has always been the boundless, sublime kingdom of the heroes.

Ludwig turned his back on reality. “Real life,” for him, began at 6:00 P.M. when he bathed before breakfasting. He lunched at 2:00 A.M. and supped at 6:00 A.M. Visconti accordingly not only shot much of the film at night but emphasized Ludwig’s unsocial hours in the final part of the film, especially after he has been deposed and placed under the medical care of his physician, Dr. Gudden (played by Heinz Moog). In the confines of the modest, bourgeois room in which he now finds himself— such a contrast to the splendors of Neuschwanstein — Ludwig sits on his bed and asks Dr. Gudden to “wake me up at midnight. I’ll take a walk first, then I will eat.” But Dr. Gudden points out in his gentle but resolute manner, “Your Majesty will have to follow a more regular schedule from now on.” “Of course,” the weary Ludwig sighs, fully aware of the situation in which he now finds himself. Dr. Gudden insists that he must “sleep at night, eat meals at fixed times.” Such a prison sentence — such impositions made by the day —are too much for Ludwig to bear. All he has to remind him of the world of Wagnerian dreams is a music box, carefully provided for him by his medical warders, which tinkles the famous aria, “O du mein holder Abendstern,” from Tannhäuser with mournful irony. A courtier once recalled how Tannhäuser had an “almost demoniacal” effect on Ludwig when he first heard it in December 1862. His reaction to it was apparently “little less than morbid. When it came to the passage where Tannhäuser re-enters the Venusburg, Ludwig’s body was so convulsed that I was afraid he was going to have an epileptic fit.”12 In Tristan und Isolde, which created an even greater reaction from Ludwig, Tristan similarly despises the day: Dem Tage! Dem Tage! Dem tückischen Tage, dem härtesten Feinde Haß und Klage!


Visconti and the German Dream (The day! the day! To malicious day, my bitterest enemy, hated and loathing!)

But Tristan eulogizes the night — that realm of imaginative freedom and of emotional license. O, nun waren wir Nachtgeweihte! Der tückische Tag, der Neidbereite, trennen konnt’ uns sein Trug, doch nicht mehr täuschen sein Lug! (O, now were are consecrated by the night! Malicious day, ready for hatred, though it parts us through fraud can no longer trick us with falsehood!)

In his seminal essay on the subject, “The Sorrows and Grandeur of Richard Wagner” (1933), Mann pointed out that Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, By its cult of the night, its execration of the day [...] reveals itself as a Romantic work, deeply rooted in Romantic thought and sensibility. [...] The night is the true domain and dwelling place of all Romanticism, its real discovery, which it invariably presents as the truth in contrast to the vain illusions of the day — the realm of sensibility contrasted with reason.13

“Laß mich sterben” (“Let me die”), sings Tristan in Act II. “Laß den Tag dem Tode weichen!” (“Let the Day surrender to Death”). Having drunk the potion which both thought would bring them death, Tristan and Isolde discover that it was, in fact, a love potion; but the love potion might as well have brought death to them, for it reveals the “world” for what it is: an illusion that cannot hope to compete with the glorious freedom of the imagination. “O Heil dem Tranke!” sings Tristan, Durch des Todes Tor, wo er mir floß, weit und offen er mir erschloß, darin ich sonst nur traümend gewacht, das Wunderreich der Nacht.” (“Hail to the potion! [...] Through death’s door, where I drank it, it opened wide the wonderful realm wherein I’d wandered only in dreams, the Wonderland of Night.”)

Night is the domain of freedom. In sleep we are all artists. Our visions, while they last, are all masterpieces, holding us in thrall. In sleep we are more truly ourselves, for the restraining chains of reason are broken and our true motivations are revealed in all their contradictory and illogical complexity. Night anoints us with genius and we truly become gods for, when we dream,

TWO. Ludwig, Wagner and Hitler


nothing is impossible. Levitation, invisibility, untold powers and unheard-of inspirations are ours for the taking. Only on awakening to daylight are we dragged down to earth. In this respect, consciousness is an illusion and sleep is our only reality. If the world is merely our own creation (unprovable, after all, beyond our own imaginative construction of it), nothing beyond our minds can be as real — or at least as emotionally significant — as the experience of the individual mind. Whatever raw material we process to create an impression of the world can only ever be the ingredients of a dish prepared by the mind. Night is the place where dreams come true. It is also, of course, the place where dreams turn into nightmares. According to Schopenhauer, the world is only ever our representation of it. We can never know it beyond what we make of it. The “Ding an sich” of Kant (on which Schopenhauer’s philosophy is built)— the “Thing in Itself,” which lies beyond our representation — is forever a mystery to us. It is unknowable and, indeed, unprovable. Schopenahuer called it the Will — hence the title of his magnum opus, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (The World as Will and Representation). However, as Bryan Magee emphasizes, Kant did not argue that reality is the product of our own minds. “That,” Magee stresses, is “the opposite of what he is saying, which is that — except for that part of total reality that we ourselves constitute — whatever exists, exists independently of the human mind and its capacities.”14 For Hegel, however, the only valid aspect of our experience of the world is ultimately that which we create ourselves. Schopenhauer famously dismissed Hegel as a charlatan and an “intellectual Caliban,”15 but Hegel influenced Wagner just as much as Schopenhauer. As Hegel put it in his Philosophy of Mind, “Mind is the existent truth of matter — the truth that matter itself has no truth.”16 Australian philosopher Peter Singer put it more simply by explaining that, for Hegel, “Mind alone is all that is real.”17 Appropriately, therefore, Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde sing “selbst dann bin ich die Welt” (“I myself am the world”), for, according to this view, there are indeed as many worlds as there are individuals creating those worlds. For Schopenhauer, the phenomenal world, the world as representation, is sufficiently real to impose considerable, perhaps intolerable, suffering upon humanity; this is because the noumenal world, the world of the Will, is actually evil. Its constant striving and yearning is what motivates the phenomenal world, and it attains its ultimate expression in sexual desire. We begin in the madness of carnal desire and the transports of voluptuousness, we end in the dissolution of all our parts and the musty stench of corpses. And the road from one to the other too goes downhill: happily dreaming childhood, exultant youth, toil-filled years of manhood, infirm and often wretched old age, the torment of the last illness and finally the throes of death — does it not look as if existence were an error the consequences of which gradually grow more and more manifest.18


Visconti and the German Dream

Schopenhauer argued that only music can attain a true expression of the reality of the Will beyond the representation, for it alone is capable of expressing the essence of the Will. All the other arts “merely” represent the phenomenal world. Music gets to grips with the noumenal. With this particular, Wagner readily sympathized, and there was also much regarding Schopenhauer’s analysis of the suffering in the world with which he also sympathized. Schopenhauer also placed considerable stress on the importance of love, compassion and art, which make life bearable, but his ultimate solution lay in denying the will to live — in renouncing life altogether. Wagner’s was subtly more optimistic. Though pervaded by death imagery, his music dramas are also transfigurative — or, to use his favorite word: “redemptive.” The world may be destroyed at the end of the Ring cycle but the final bars of the music, with its motif of “Love’s Redemption” suggest rather more than the nullity Schopenhauer leaves us with at the end of the fourth book of The World as Will and Representation. There, Schopenhauer wrote, “To those in whom the will has turned and denied itself, this very real world of ours with all its suns and galaxies, is — nothing.”19 The leitmotif we hear elaborated at the end of Götterdämmerung has only been heard once before in the entire cycle. It originally accompanies Sieglinde’s words to Brünnhilde in Die Walküre: “O hehrstes Wunder! Herrlichste Maid! / Dir Treuen dank ich heiligen Trost!” (“Oh, mightiest of miracle, most glorious of women. I thank you for your loyalty and holy comfort.”) As these words imply, Brünnhilde is the embodiment of love, and when this motif returns at the end of Götterdämmerung, it is the power of love that is being celebrated. The ending of Parsifal is even more optimistic (even if, from our post–Holocaust perspective, the optimism is of a decidedly dubious nature). The Grail community is redeemed by purging the love-denying Jewish element (Klingsor and Kundry) and life goes on, presumably “better” than before, whatever that precisely implies. (Syberberg in his Parsifal film compellingly suggests that the Grail symbolizes the world of Wagner’s own imagination, as we shall see later.) For all his interest in and use of Schopenhauerian pessimism, Wagner retained the optimistic tendencies of his youth to the end. And there was always Art. Specifically, Wagner’s own art. For Wagner, art fosters the imagination, which in turn aids the development of compassion and love; but the imagination is also an end in itself, especially if the mind is the only reality we have. In many ways, Wagner’s music dramas are hymns to the redemptive power of the imagination, for, if we are to believe Hegel, Mind doesn’t merely interpret the world, it actually creates the world. It is the world. At any rate, the imagination allows us to regard “reality” in different ways and provides us with escape routes from the tyranny of the Will, so to speak. For all the differences and similarities between Wagner and Schopen-

TWO. Ludwig, Wagner and Hitler


hauer, it is certainly the case that Romanticism in general tends to eschew reason and reality in favor of irrationality and the imagination. It prefers the night to the day. Wagner often used Death was a metaphor for imaginative or emotional freedom, not merely a literal annulment of the Schopenhauerian Will. Ludwig tragically took the metaphor literally and most probably committed suicide when he could no longer sustain his imaginative “reality.” So, too, did Hitler, but by the time Hitler arrived on the scene, such Romantic death imagery was also ripe for exploitation on the political stage, where, under the Nazis it provided the basis for a veritable cult of Death, imaginative certainly in its own barbaric way, but completely divorced from love and compassion. (Having said that, Wagner’s advocacy of love did not extend as far as embracing the Jews.) Crudely, Hitler did his best to put Schopenhauer’s call for an end to it all into practice. And though there is always the metaphor of imaginative freedom in Wagner’s death imagery, there’s no denying that some of his major characters do want actually to die to escape the torment of the Will: The Flying Dutchman, Tristan, and Wotan in particular, the latter of whom sings “nur eines will ich noch: das Ende, das Ende!” as early as Act II of Die Walküre (“Only one thing I want now: the end, the end!”). Wagner himself not only contemplated suicide on several occasions, but regularly expressed the wish to die, as Cosima’s Diaries record. However you want to look at it, Death is absolutely central to the Romantic outlook because reality is so at odds with the Romantic imagination. Death, either literal or metaphoric, is the most attractive escape route back to that enchanted world. Also fundamental to Romanticism is that it is pre-eminently a movement concerned with the inspired or particularly receptive individual; and for the Romantic imagination, the most individual thing and inspiring thing about us is the unconscious mind. As R. J. Hollingdale explains, Schopenhauer was hardly an “anti-rationalist,” being a close reasoner, but “if the intellect is the ‘tool’ of the will, as he says it is, then human actions are determined not by ‘reason’ but by ‘will.’ Eduard von Hartmann translated Schopenhauer’s ‘will’ as ‘the unconscious’; [...] and it is unnecessary to elaborate what Freud subsequently made of ‘the unconscious.’ We are now so used to the notion that the springs of human consciousness are to be sought not in the mind but in the ‘will’; that we have forgotten that this notion had to be invented, and consequently that it was Schopenhauer who invented it.”20 The emphasis on the unconscious intuition of the great artist is central to the myth of Romanticism as a whole, and Hegel’s suggestion that the mind is the only thing that is real is an extreme form of Romantic egoism. Individual instinct and emotion were perceived to be more valuable than civilization and reason. Wagner invested heavily in all this. So, too, did Hitler, who, even more than Wagner, considered himself to be the only individual who really mattered.


Visconti and the German Dream

In Caspar David Friedrich’s seminal painting of A Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog (1818), the main figure turns his back disdainfully on the viewer. Like the Romantic artist himself, he is not interested in appealing to anyone. The viewer must appeal to him. He stands (in Hamlet black) above the misty peaks. Beneath him in the valleys live the ordinary, uninspired folk, whom Wagner would call the Nibelungen: literally, the dwellers in the mist, dwarves, the mob. Friedrich’s Wanderer, meanwhile, communes with his almost divine inspiration, an inspiration pantheistically transmitted from the natural world around him. We, the Nibelungen, must follow in the Wanderer’s footsteps, climb to his level and worship at his feet. Though the opposite of what Hitler wanted him to be and tried to manipulate his writings into being, Nietzsche himself used this kind of imagery in his autobiography, Ecce Homo, to express his own sense of lofty inspiration and freedom from conventional Christian morality: He who knows how to breathe the air of my writings knows that it is an air of the heights, a robust air. One has to be made for it, otherwise there is no small danger one will catch cold. The ice is near, the solitude is terrible — but how peacefully all things lie in the light! how freely one breathes! how much one feels beneath one!21

Hitler took his cue from this Romantic image and was invariably presented in his official portraits in a manner that echoed Friedrich’s painting, with the exception that the Führer’s face was always visible; but like Friedrich’s Wanderer, he was always alone, looking into the middle distance, communing with destiny and inspiration in a sublime setting. The Romantic artist is self-sufficient and godlike because he recognizes that he creates not only his own art but also the entire world of which that art is but a reflection and distillation; and this has much in common with the general outlook of the new middle class that emerged in the wake of the industrial revolution. In contrast to a Renaissance artist who worked for the society in which he found himself, the Romantic artist was predominantly bourgeois in that he worked primarily to satisfy his own imagination. As Wagner confessed, “I see clearly that I am fully myself only when I create. The actual performance of my works belongs to a purer age.”22 Wagner’s concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk (Total Art Work) was the ultimate artistic expression of Romantic individualism, in which the mind of the artist collaborated only with itself, a single individual becoming the composer, poet, stage manager, designer, producer, theater architect and (in Wagner’s creative imagination at least) the singing actors as well. Wagner complained that, having created the invisible orchestra (by putting it under the stage at Bayreuth), he wished he could create the invisible theater as well.23 Prosaic reality could not compete with the poetic ideal of his imagination. This is perhaps why Wagner so often

TWO. Ludwig, Wagner and Hitler


expressed the wish to die, because death, in this context, is the ultimate expression of the Romantic yearning for self-sufficiency, whereby the imagination may soar unrestricted throughout eternity. (Wagner’s “endless melody” could be said to be a metaphor for this, the delayed climax of the “Liebestod” in Tristan being perhaps the most successful manifestation of “endless melody” ever composed.) Death, either literal or metaphorical, seems to be the only escape for a Romantic artist. Suicide, indeed, became quite the fashion in 1774 after the publication of Goethe’s novel, Das Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther)— a title echoed in Thomas Mann’s essay, “Leiden und Grösse Richard Wagners” (“The Sorrows and Grandeur of Richard Wagner”). Mann chose to echo Goethe’s title principally due to Romanticism’s leitmotifs of night and death. He recognized that these elements were helping to legitimize the literal cult of death that was Nazi Germany. From the suicidal heroes of Schubert’s song cycles to the great outburst of Wotan for “Das Ende!” in Wagner’s Die Walküre, Romanticism’s death-enchantment provided the major theme of Thomas Mann’s post–Romantic stories and novels. However, the day will claim us, no matter how hard we try to shut it out. Throughout Visconti’s Ludwig, we are shown this conflict — the affairs of state continually intruding upon Ludwig’s dream world. During the war with Prussia, which Ludwig did his very best to avoid, he retreats into his own world, projecting magic lantern slides of moonlit clouds onto the ceiling of his room, while four spheres, representing the four phases of the moon, move around a rail suspended beneath them. Visconti made sure that that night-anointed aria from the Tannhäuser music box is also heard during this scene. In the ensuing dialogue between Ludwig and his brother, Prince Otto (played by John Moulder-Brown), Ludwig explains that he didn’t want the war; but when Otto speaks of the horrors he has seen on the battlefield, Ludwig shouts back at him, “War doesn’t exist!” By so thoroughly rejecting reality, Ludwig simultaneously realizes his powerlessness against reality — the reality of Bismarck, who apparently liked Ludwig personally, but whom he also had no intention of excluding from his plans for a united German Reich under Prussian domination. Visconti spends quite some time on Ludwig’s attitude toward the war with Prussia because it is central to the dilemma that fascinated him most: the inability to live with the reality of everyday life. Visconti was fascinated by people who lived outside reality. Aschenbach in Death in Venice and Martin in The Damned are similar types. In Visconti’s words, they all lived “at the outer limit of the exceptional, beyond the rules.”24 But Visconti did not see himself in this way. “I came unharmed out of all the betrayals and struggles I’ve had to endure,” he confessed,25 and it is highly significant that the person


Visconti and the German Dream

who criticizes Ludwig more than anyone else in the film — Count Dürkheim — is played by Helmut Griem, who had played the unrepentant Nazi, Aschenbach, in The Damned. By using the same actor in both films, Visconti is able to back up the connection between Ludwig and Hitler. Visconti is sympathetic to Ludwig in a way he could never have been to the Führer, but the connection nonetheless remains. Hitler himself was aware of it26 and to a certain extent he modeled his own architectural “role” on that of the Dream King. There are other disturbing parallels, the most significant of all being the fact that Ludwig saw himself very much as an embodiment of the will of the people, rather than a traditional monarch. Christopher McIntosh makes this clear in his biography of the king, explaining as he does that Ludwig had no time for conservative or liberal politicians because they interfered with his “almost priestly function as leader and hero.” He was the expression of their collective will, the heroic embodiment of all the accumulated ideals and aspirations of the folk. Whether the leader is chosen because of his blood or for some other reason is not important. What matters is the deeply felt, mystical bond between himself and the people.27

There is no escaping the uncomfortable fact that this is an early form of the future Führer’s fascism in nineteenth-century dress. Hitler took Ludwig’s rejection of reality and sense of mystical mission to its ultimate conclusion. McIntosh also draws our attention to the fact that Ludwig was one of the first people (even before the likes of Madame Blavatsky and Guido von List) to use the swastika to symbolize a link between the world of German myth and the “Aryan” wisdom of the East. Dr. Hyazinth Holland’s designs for the decorative scheme of Neuschwanstein do indeed include this now-potent symbol, though, in the event, those particular designs were never used.28 Despite such similarities, however, it is important to realize that there were many things that made Ludwig a very different character from his evil doppelgänger, his hatred of war being one of them. (Having said that, he did, on one occasion, suggest that there should be a super-weapon that could wipe out entire battalions in a matter of minutes, thus shortening the agony and suffering.29 In this respect Ludwig also resembles a James Bond villain causing mayhem in the name of peace from the safety of a well-appointed hideout, only to fall victim to his own fantasy.) “I deserted from an idiotic war that I could not manage to stop,” Visconti’s Ludwig shrieks at Dürkheim. “I am not a coward. I hate lies and I want to live with truth.” But Dürkheim replies to this outburst with a careful and devastating critique of Ludwig’s motivation: Your majesty said that he wants to live in truth. But I think what you meant is that you intend to live as a free man in accordance with your instincts and your tastes without hypocrisy or lies. [...] Truth, in my opinion, doesn’t have anything

TWO. Ludwig, Wagner and Hitler


to do with this search for the so-called “unattainable.” Freedom, when it is a privilege of the few, doesn’t have anything in common with real, authentic freedom, the same freedom that belongs to every man and that each of us, rightly, has the right to have. We live in a world with no innocents, where nobody has the right to judge anybody. [...] My king thinks he has made a brave decision. But he’s mistaken if he thinks he can find happiness outside the rules and the duties of men. Those who really love life, Your Majesty, can’t afford to search for the unattainable. [...] Even a monarch is always limited by the boundaries of the human society of which he himself is a part. Who could ever be able to follow him outside those boundaries?

Ludwig, sadly, made that journey alone, but Hitler, who similarly quested for the unattainable perfection of racial purity and the imposition of a Wagnerian splendor on the inevitable mediocrity of everyday life, dragged the whole world with him to disaster. “Certainly it takes a lot of courage to accept mediocrity for those who pursue sublime ideals that don’t belong to the world,” Dürkheim insists, “but it’s the only way to be saved from a solitude that may also be sordid.” And at this point in particular, Visconti wants us to remember Helmut Greim’s role as the Nazi, Aschenbach, alongside the resonance that name has with that other artistic fantasist, Gustave von Aschenbach, in Death in Venice. Dürkheim’s conclusion is prophetic: Ludwig, with his alleged suicide, Aschenbach, his face made up into a travesty of youth, who collapses, love-sick, by a fountain in the lonely Venetian square, and the whole gaudy spectacle of the Third Reich’s moral collapse were indeed all the increasingly sordid results of a flight from reality, an infatuation with “the unattainable.” Ludwig, in fact, begins with this conflict between duty and dreams. The very first scene shows the future king being given advice by Father Hoffmann. Hoffmann is played by Gert Fröbe, a one-time James Bond villain himself in Goldfinger (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1964). He urges Ludwig to be humble and to follow advice, to which Ludwig appears to agree, before adding that he intends to use his power to surround himself with artists. This is not quite what the good father had in mind, but it is exactly what Ludwig does. Ludwig’s biographer, Wilfrid Blunt, quoted the Austrian novelist Klara Tschudi’s description of the young king. To her, he was the best looking boy I have ever seen. His tall, slim figure was perfectly proportioned. With his abundant and rather curly hair and the faintest suggestion of down on his cheek, he resembled those splendid antique sculptures which first make us aware of what virile Greek manhood was like.30

Indeed, Helmut Berger looks astonishingly like the man he impersonates, and during the elaborate depiction of the preparations for Ludwig’s coronation, Visconti perfectly recreates Ferdinand Piloty’s famous 1865 portrait of Ludwig in his regalia. Berger also manages to convey Ludwig’s mixture of nervousness,


Visconti and the German Dream

impetuosity and pride at this key moment of his life; but as soon as the ceremony is over, the first thing Ludwig does is to order a search for Wagner. In fact, it was five weeks after becoming king that he instigated the search, and it was a protracted one at that, as Wagner was hard to find, on the run from his creditors. Ludwig’s relationship with Wagner bears many comparisons with Hitler’s admittedly posthumous worship of the composer. “After coming to power,” Hitler explained, “my first thought was to erect a grandiose monument in memory of Richard Wagner ... a monument that would symbolize the immense importance of this genius for German music.”31 Hitler saw himself as a modernized King Ludwig II, with an equally impressive building program and a similarly night-anointed muse. In a speech actually given in Neuschwanstein in 1933, Hitler went so far as to express his mission “to complete what Ludwig had begun” with regard to the Bayreuth Festival by expanding the Festival Theatre and its site in time for a “Peace Festival” to mark the victorious end of the war.32 For Ludwig, as for Hitler, art in general — and Wagner’s art in particular — was really all that mattered. Frederic Spotts reminds us that Thomas Mann, Albert Speer and Hitler biographer Joachim Fest all came to the conclusion that Hitler “was always and with his whole heart basically an artist.”33 Aesthetics were the axle around which their lives revolved. Political power became an expression of an aesthetic point of view. Even Hitler’s anti–Semitism, like Wagner’s before him, was, as I have already mentioned, primarily an aesthetic question. As Wagner had written, “We are repelled in particular by the purely aural aspect of Jewish speech. [...] The shrill, sibilant buzzing of his voice falls strangely and unpleasantly on our ears.”34 Consequently, Wagner argued that the art of music itself had suffered from Jewish “contamination”: “Song is, after all, speech heightened by passion: music is the language of passion.”35 Similarly, the mere appearance of a Jew was the starting point for the racial theory of biological degeneracy close to Hitler’s heart. The pursuit of beauty — the path of pure aesthetics — leads, indeed, to some very ugly behavior. However, contrary to the understandable prejudice against Hitler’s own artistic abilities, it is important to realize that the Führer’s own art demonstrated considerable promise. Hitler was just as accomplished an amateur artist (if not more so) as Sir Winston Churchill, while Spotts has put on record Hitler’s impressive grasp of the intricacies of Wagnerian music drama, which astonished professional musicians. The managing director of the Weimar opera house, who happened to be the father of the notorious Gauleiter, Baldur von Schirach, was amazed by Hitler’s knowledge. Long after the war, he confessed: “In all my life I never met a layman who understood so much about music,

TWO. Ludwig, Wagner and Hitler


Wagner’s in particular.”36 By comparison with Ludwig’s artistic abilities, Hitler seems like a genius, though Wagner’s influence blinkered them both. Ludwig’s piano teacher admitted that his pupil “could not tell a Strauss waltz from a Beethoven sonata,”37 but Christopher McIntosh suggests that this opinion might well have been due to the fact that Ludwig’s piano teacher disliked his pupil.38 Having said that, even Wagner observed that Ludwig was “completely unmusical.”39 That, however, is really unfair to Ludwig, who, after all, had no pretensions to being a professional musician. His response to the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk was exactly what Wagner had in mind: neither wholly musical, literary or visual but a combination of all three. It is true, though, that Wagner’s music meant more to him than any other, and this does resemble Hitler’s wholly Wagner-weighted grasp of musical history. Hitler’s tastes were forever centered on German Romantic music. To counterbalance his admiration for the operettas of Franz Lehár, he also decided to idolize Bruckner, but Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky meant nothing to him (neither, inconveniently, did Beethoven40). He also enjoyed Verdi and Puccini, but, of course, they could never compete against the works of the Meister. His favorite Wagner operas were, again like Ludwig’s preferences, Tristan and Lohengrin, which latter Spotts describes as having “a special place in his heart.”41 It was wholly appropriate, therefore (no matter how absurd it might seem to us now), that the artist Hubert Lanzinger should have presented Hitler in shining armor astride a horse, holding a Nazi banner and entitled “The flag bearer.” In this most significant of all Hitler portraits, the Führer’s kinship with Ludwig, Lohengrin and Wagner is made explicit. But without understanding Hitler’s cultural background, one, of course, remains unable to comprehend how such a painting could ever have been taken seriously. Ludwig went one step further than merely having himself painted as Lohengrin. After his death, a Lohengrin costume was discovered among his personal effects. So Ludwig actually enjoyed dressing up as the swan knight.42 Indeed, Ludwig’s proto–Wildean attempt to make life imitate art resulted in the building of Neuschwanstein, the Venusburg grotto at Linderhof, the installation of oboists in the turrets of Hohenschwangau to play heraldic motifs from Lohengrin, and the spectacular son et lumière on the Alpsee lake in 1865, in which his friend Prince Paul von Thurn und Taxis also dressed up as the swan knight, and sailed over the floodlit waters to the accompaniment of Wagner’s music.43 There is, indeed, a good case for arguing that such theatrical spectacles were the origin of Hitler’s much more sinister torchlit processions and the geometric threnodies of his Nuremberg rallies. Ludwig had read Wagner’s prose works, including Opera and Drama and “The Artwork of the Future,” as a boy, and ever since first hearing Wagner’s music in 1861, he had been infatuated with it. When, in 1863, he acquired a


Visconti and the German Dream

copy of the poem of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, and read Wagner’s plea in the preface for a German “Prince” to help realize his dreams, Ludwig had been determined to make Wagner’s dreams come true. It was pointed out to him that Wagner was fleeing from his creditors, and that he had enemies, to which Ludwig naïvely replied, “Do you really believe it possible that the composer of Lohengrin has enemies? It is unthinkable! Who could possibly remain unmoved by this magical fairy-tale, by this heavenly music?”44 In Visconti’s film, Ludwig replies to the accusation that Wagner is a mere profiteer with a cry of “Nonsense!,” adding that his friendship with Wagner is more important than anything else — even his own family. There is one member of his family, however, for whom Ludwig did have time: his cousin Elisabeth, Empress of Austria, otherwise known as “Sisy” (and played by Romy Schneider in Visconti’s film. She had already made something of a specialty of this character in the three Sissy films directed by Ernst Marischka in the 1950s). We are first introduced to her in a circus tent, riding a horse. Visconti accompanies this scene A postcard version of Hubert Lanzinger’s once very popular image of Hitler as Der Bannerträger (The Standard with the piano piece, Bearer). This postcard image differs from the original “Von fremden Län- painting now preserved in the U.S. Army Art Collection dern und Menschen” in Washington, D.C. It shows the picture before it was (“Of Foreign Lands damaged by an American soldier who bayoneted the canvas, leaving Hitler’s face gashed. The postcard also carried and People”) from a quotation from Hitler himself: Ob im Glück oder im Schumann’s Kinder- Unglück, ob in der Freiheit oder im Gefängnis, ich bin szenen (Scenes of Child- meiner Fahne, die heute des Deustchen Reiches Staatsflagge treu geblieben. (Whether in good fortune or misforhood). This archetypal ist, tune, whether in freedom or captivity, I remained faithful Romantic piece com- to my own banner, that is today the State flag of the Gerplements the mood of man Reich.)

TWO. Ludwig, Wagner and Hitler


Anonymous painting from a 19th-century postcard showing King Ludwig II dressed as Lohengrin.


Visconti and the German Dream

melancholy introversion Visconti is keen to create here. A little later, he cannot resist including the most famous piece from Kinderszenen, “Träumerei” (“Dreaming”), which perfectly enhances the film’s night-devoted theme. Elisabeth and Ludwig love each other not, of course, in a truly sexual way (despite the extended kiss she later gives him), but they are drawn together by a mutual understanding. Both share a love of the night and discuss the possibility of riding together in the moonlight, but such sympathy did not blind Elisabeth to the dangers of the path Ludwig was following, and later in the film, she points out the error of his ways. For now, she merely worries that he spends too much time on his own, dreaming, like Siegfried, but Ludwig replies, “The only time Siegfried is afraid is when he first sees a woman.” If anyone has forgotten that Ludwig was homosexual, that line is a timely reminder. Next, Wagner is introduced to us in the form of Trevor Howard, who looks more like the composer than any other actor in the role with the possible exception of Paul Bildt in Ludwig II — Glanz und Elend eines Königs (dir. Helmut Käutner, 1955), to which we will be returning in chapter seven. Howard is the exact realization of Mann’s description of Wagner as “that snuffling gnome from Saxony, with his colossal talent and his shabby personality.”45 Wagner’s first words characteristically consist of complaints about the luxurious house Ludwig has given him. It will have to be redecorated with new curtains and a new piano. “Nothing is too beautiful in the house where I have to work,” he insists. In the room with him are Silvana Mangano’s Cosima von Bülow and Cosima’s husband, Hans von Bülow, played by Mark Burns. Again, Visconti is able to create thematic continuity with Death in Venice by employing these two actors. Mangano, as we know, played Tadzio’s mother in that film. Burns had a smaller but no less significant role in that film as Alfred, Aschenbach’s friend and tormentor, through whom, as we shall see later, Visconti addressed the philosophical aspect of Mann’s novella (or at least what remained of it). In Ludwig, von Bülow plays a less significant (though nonetheless comparable) role — that of assistant to the composer. Anticipating Dürkheim’s later comments about accepting mediocrity, Wagner shouts, “I despise everything that is mediocre,” by which Visconti is able to demonstrate that Wagner’s ability to create compelling dream worlds, and that his Romantic impatience with reality was the root cause of Ludwig’s sickness. Ludwig genuinely loved Wagner but Wagner’s approach to the king was a more complex mixture of affection and opportunism. He refers to him as “an exceptional boy”— a line that echoes the famous occasion when Wagner did actually refer to the king as “mein Junge” (“my boy”) in the presence of the cabinet secretary — an over-familiarity that deeply offended Ludwig at the time.46 Later in the film, Wagner is more blunt, referring to Ludwig as “just a brainless boy. The last lunatic of a lunatic family.” Wagner’s voracious-

TWO. Ludwig, Wagner and Hitler


ness, deceit and exploitation of Ludwig are well known. So, too, is Ludwig’s ultimate forgiveness of the man he loved, and whose art he saved for the world. Even Wagner had the grace to acknowledge him as his “co-creator” in the end.47 Visconti was also keen to show us the more attractive aspects of Wagner’s character. One of the film’s most memorable moments is the scene in which the composer plays with his huge dog, Pohl, on the carpet of his study. The two wrestle and tumble affectionately like father and child, and Visconti uses this moment subtly to point out that Wagner, like Hitler, would not have gotten anywhere without considerable charm. The excessively emotional nature of the letters Wagner and Ludwig exchanged does, however, raise the interesting question of whether there was an erotic subtext to their relationship. Wagner’s biographer, Derek Watson, argues that the extravagant language employed by Wagner (“The Friend”) and Ludwig (the “Sublime Friend”— or even the “Belovèd”) in their mutual correspondence “might give a misleading impression of their exact relationship,” but quickly suggests that Ludwig, while worshipping the artist, was not physically in love with Wagner. As for Wagner, Watson quotes the composer’s own comment, which appears to be unequivocal: “There is one thing about the Greeks we will never be able to understand, a thing that separates them utterly from us: their love — pederasty.”48 However, as Dirk Bogarde, the appropriately repressed gay star of

Mark Burns (left) as Hans von Bülow and Trevor Howard (right) as Wagner in Ludwig (dir. Luchino Visconti, 1972).


Visconti and the German Dream

Death in Venice, pointed out, love need have no “carnality” about it,49 which is entirely the point of Plato’s concept of the ideal love between two men. Jean-Jacques Nattiez goes further, suggesting that the extravagant language of Wagner’s letters to Ludwig might indeed be symptomatic of certain repressed homosexual or bisexual tendencies. He quotes one of Cosima’s diary entries, which was written after Wagner had read out to her one particularly purple effusion to the king: Before lunch he writes his letter to the King and reads it to me. I am overcome by a very curious, indescribable feeling when at the end I read R.’s words that his soul belongs for all eternity to him (the King); it pierces my heart like a serpent’s tooth.... I suffer, and I disappear, in order to hide my suffering.50

Nattiez also draws our attention to Wagner’s plea to the composer Peter Cornelius to “come and live with me, once and for all!... You will belong to me, as my wife does, and we shall share everything equally together, be it good fortune or failure ... but always like two people who really belong to each other like a married couple.”51 There is also the case of Wagner’s dream, recorded by Cosima in her Diaries, in which Wagner thrashes a boy with a tallow candle, which “proved to be unsuitable — too soft — for the task, whereupon he woke up!”52 Wagner’s penchant for silk underwear and exotic perfumes, to say nothing of his invitation to homosexual painter Paul von Joukowsky (1845–1912) and Joukovsky’s boyfriend to stay as house guests at Wahnfried (Wagner’s Bayreuth villa) also suggest that there was more at work in Wagner’s psyche than the blunt rejection of pederasty he presented to the world. Commentators have also often interpreted Klingsor’s line in Parsifal with regard to the eponymous hero: “Ha!— Er ist schön, der Knabe” (“The lad is beautiful”) as more than merely a statement of fact. The room in which Visconti first introduces us to Wagner is lit in a manner that is reminiscent of the gaudy colors of Ludwig’s Venusburg grotto at Linderhof castle. There is a golden carpet, and Wagner’s crimson velvet smoking jacket forms a striking contrast to the vivid lilac light bathing the room beyond. Indeed, the ensemble has a similar effect to that of the early Hammer horror films, particularly Brides of Dracula (dir. Terence Fisher, 1960), which similarly favors lilac lighting and vivid crimsons.53 As one would expect from Visconti, there is also great attention to detail. We are shown Angelo Quaglio’s original stage design for the first production of Tristan und Isolde resting on a chair next to Cosima, and the room is filled with objets d’art and bric-abrac, flowers and color helping to create the atmosphere of bourgeois opulence Wagner always demanded. It is exactly the kind of Wagnerian environment described by Mann as “vulgar and downright parvenu” in his essay, “Reflections of a Non-political Man,” which is characterized as “that taste for the opulent, for satins, luxury, riches and bourgeois ostentation — a private, personal trait

TWO. Ludwig, Wagner and Hitler


in the first instance, but one that reaches deep down into his intellectual and artistic being.”54 As Wagner takes Cosima on a tour of the house, von Bülow is left behind to play the “Liebesnacht” music from Tristan on the piano. This music then accompanies an illicit kiss between the adulterous couple upstairs: life, this time, imitating art, rather than the other way round. We cut rapidly to a night shot of Ludwig reciting poetry to Elisabeth and explaining that “Wagner’s poetry is in his music and his music is in his poetry. One cannot exist without the other. And from this powerful fusion a new language is born [...] a language that spreads ideas.” Here we not only have Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk theory in a nutshell, but also the Hegelian basis of Wagner’s use of music to express the Idea, the Idea being the entire point of the fusion. Indeed, Mann’s description of Wagner’s method is basically the same as that of Berger’s Ludwig: Wagner’s music is not wholly and entirely music, any more than the dramatic text that it turns into poetry is wholly and entirely “literature.” It is psychology, symbolism, mythology, emphasis — all of these things; but it is not music in the purest and fullest sense as understood by those confused art critics.55

With regard to the basis of music as Idea, Nietzsche had pointed out even earlier that Wagner’s music “did not mean mere music. But more.” “Not mere music”— no musician would say that. [...] “Music is always a mere means”: that was his theory, that above all the only practice open to him. But no musician would think that way. Wagner required literature to persuade all the world to take his music seriously, to take it as profound “because its meaning was infinite”; he was his life long the commentator of the “idea.” [...] Let us remember that Wagner was young at the time Hegel and Schelling seduced men’s spirits; that he guessed, that he grasped with his very hands the only thing the Germans take seriously —“the idea,” which is to say, something that is obscure, uncertain, full of intimations.56

But what Ludwig says to his uncomprehending cousin casts rather darker shadows. “To Wagner,” he confesses, “I owe my courage and the faith, let’s say, to be able to do something in life, to be useful.” Hitler made many similar comments, such as, “I intend to found my religion on Parsifal,”57 admittedly with vastly different intent to Ludwig, but the psychological reliance of both men on Wagner was certainly comparable, particularly in the way in which they both looked to Wagner’s work as a justification for their behavior. Elisabeth later points out that Ludwig’s “pathetic friendship” with Wagner “only gives you the illusion that you have created something important”— a charge one could equally make against the Führer. When Trevor Howard’s Wagner later sighs, “Sometimes I wonder how


Visconti and the German Dream

long I’ll have the strength to do it,” one is reminded of the fact that Visconti himself suffered a cerebral hemorrhage during the filming of Ludwig —a project that exhausted and depleted his energies far more than the Ring depleted Wagner’s; and the cinematic nature of Wagner’s vision is emphasized a little later in the same scene when Wagner explains the architecture and ideals of the theater he is planning with Ludwig’s financial backing. “This way,” he explains, “the audience is an ideal community without class distinctions. [...] The lighting system is completely new. The spectator must be able to concentrate on the scene. Therefore we need total darkness in the room.” With regard to Wagner’s various deceptions, Ludwig was certainly naive but he was not a fool, and Visconti manages skillfully to present his idealistic blind spots alongside his grasp of the reality of the situation. When he claims, “If Wagner is not an artist, he would be a saint. [...] His art redeems us,” it is hard not to compare it to the German people’s hero-worship of the Führer whom they similarly held to be their redeemer. Mann succinctly explained this connection in a letter to the journal Common Sense in 1940: “National Socialism means: ‘I do not care for the social issue at all. What I want is the folk tale.’ [...] National Socialism [...] is the tragic consequence of the mythical political innocence of the German spirit.”58 Ludwig, the German Romantic who believed the legerdemain of the magician who fascinated him, seems both to embody aspects of Hitler and the nation that was seduced by him. At first, he refuses to believe the scandal about Wagner: that he has cuckolded von Bülow. Wagner, Cosima and von Bülow (the latter a seemingly willing victim) all deny their actions (and one wonders if Visconti is suggesting here those far greater crimes and even more infamous denials of Hitler). They even pay Ludwig a visit at the palace. Wagner has come prepared with the draft of a letter denying the rumors and all ready for Ludwig to sign, but, having been informed of exactly what’s been going on, Ludwig confronts the guilty trio with the truth of the situation. Cosima blanches, von Bülow looks distinctly uncomfortable and Wagner, for once, actually worried. But then comes an astonishing volte-face: Ludwig agrees to sign the letter in the name of friendship and art. The guilty party retreat thinking they are safe, but the next scene brings news that Ludwig has banished Wagner from Munich, having had no choice but to bow to public opinion and the pressure of his ministers. In fact, the real Ludwig only found out about the affair after he had signed the letter. Ludwig’s attempt to escape from his dream world is heroic but shortlived. After Dürkheim’s respectful dressing-down during the war, he decides to fulfill his royal duties, the first of which is to agree to marry his other cousin, Sophie (the sister of Elisabeth, played by Sonia Petrovna). There is an element of psychological denial at work here too, comparable to the similarly

TWO. Ludwig, Wagner and Hitler


homosexual Tchaikovsky, who also married an unsuitable woman in a desperate attempt to disguise his sexuality. Ludwig impetuously announces the news of his newfound resolution to his mother in much the same way that Tchaikosvky, with desperate bravado, announced his own engagement in letters to his patron, Madame von Meck. (Coincidentally, Izabella Telezynska, who plays Ludwig’s mother in Visconti’s film, had previously played Madame von Meck in Ken Russell’s 1970 biopic of Tchaikovsky, The Music Lovers.) Of course, one may also detect another echo of Ludwig’s plans to marry, which resonated in the Führer’s Berlin bunker at the end of the Second World War. If one accepts Lothar Machtan’s argument59 that Hitler was himself a deeply repressed homosexual, the psychological motivations behind Hitler’s marriage to Eva Braun could be interpreted in the same way. However, despite Machtan’s convincing exposition of this supposition, the evidence is only circumstantial and much disputed. Even so, Gitte Sereny suggests that there was an erotic attraction, though not an actively homosexual relationship, between Hitler and Albert Speer,60 which does indeed resemble that shared by Wagner and Ludwig. Hitler himself said of Speer: “He is an artist and a kindred soul. I have the warmest human feelings towards him because I understand him so well.”61 Speer’s account of his first meeting with Hitler, when Hitler, in an unprecedented act of intimacy, lent his own coat to the young architect, certainly suggests a level of affection above and beyond Hitler’s relationships with other people: Evidently he had taken a liking to me. Goebbels noticed something that had entirely escaped me in my excitement. “Why, you’re wearing the Führer’s badge. That isn’t your jacket, then?” Hitler spared me the reply: “No, it’s mine.”62

Many of Hitler’s characteristics, superficial when approached separately, create a more significantly “gay” constellation when combined. There is his passionate devotion to his mother, his “artistic” nature, his love of dressing up in uniforms, his penchant for posing and photographing the poses to assess their efficacy, his “theatricality,” his strong appeal to older women, his Wagnerism, his vegetarianism, etc. There is certainly no doubt that Hitler’s early comrade, Ernst Röhm, was gay, and Hitler’s murder of him, along with the decidedly homoerotic S.A. in the Night of the Long Knives, might suggest that Hitler was not merely acting out of political expediency but was also in some form of emotional denial. There is also the muscle-bound, blonde-beast imagery of the Third Reich’s two state artists, Josef Thorak and Arno Breker, to consider, the later of whom eventually sculpted the bust of Wagner that still stands outside the Bayreuth Festspielhaus. Regardless of Hitler’s personal sexuality, the homoerotic subtext of Hitlerism struck a profound chord with Visconti, who, as we shall see, went to considerable trouble to evoke it in The Damned. Visconti’s trilogy of German


Visconti and the German Dream

films suggest that sexual guilt and the inability to live the reality of everyday life were what bound Hitler, Ludwig and Mann, alongside the fictional characters of Gustave von Aschenbach, Martin Essenbeck and the real-life personalities of the actors who played them (respectively Dirk Bogarde and Helmut Berger). Ludwig eventually calls his marriage off, but not before he has been given a prostitute to instruct him in the ways of the marriage bed, and has introduced Sophie to Wagner, explaining, on the eve of the encounter, that such a meeting will be more precious to him than all the crown jewels she is to wear at their wedding ceremony. Sophie does her best to win Ludwig’s love, singing (very badly) “Elsa’s Dream” from Lohengrin, during which Ludwig sits some distance away, head in hand, in utter despair. This is a little unfair on poor Sophie, who genuinely admired Wagner’s music. In fact, it was this mutual interest that brought Ludwig and her together in the first place. However, Sophie is soon dealt with, and Ludwig forms a much more satisfactory relationship with his equerry, Richard Hornig (Marc Porel), as well as with the celebrated actor Josef Kainz (Folker Bohnet). Kainz doesn’t at first realize the true nature of the situation in which he now finds himself, but he soon discovers that Ludwig’s demands are insatiable. He must recite vast tracts of Schiller and Goethe for the king’s amusement — an amusement that has by now become a psychological obsession. Kainz is first introduced to the king at Linderhof Palace amid the full fantasy of the famous Venusburg grotto, where Ludwig, now utterly lost in his own “sordid” Romantic fantasy, floats out to meet his “guest” on a shell boat, surrounded with pink-lit swans, to the accompaniment of the orchestral version (with soulful cello) of “O du mein holder Abendstern.” Ludwig is now very definitely a Romantic precursor to the drugged, sick Hitler, who similarly lurked in his underground bunker (itself a kind of brutalized Venusburg grotto) and was so completely disassociated from reality in his admiration of Speer’s architectural models, that he issued orders to battalions that no longer existed. For both Ludwig and Hitler, the outside world ceased to exist. Their own private imaginations were all that mattered to them. Even other people became fictions in their degenerate state. Resembling the corrupt behavior of Bogarde’s Frederick Bruckmann in The Damned, Ludwig’s servant tells Kainz how he can make money from Ludwig: all he has to do is give the king what he wants, and gifts will be lavished upon him. (History eventually repeated itself when Helmut Berger cynically sold Visconti’s letters to him, just as Kainz sold the letters he had received from Ludwig.) The decadence that hovered over the court of the Third Reich is prefigured in Visconti’s Linderhof scenes, where the servants help themselves to leftovers as they lower the Tischleindeckdich (literally “table, set yourself ”) on its pulleys to the kitchens

TWO. Ludwig, Wagner and Hitler


below. Ludwig’s teeth, blackened and rotten, call to mind Gustave von Aschenbach’s grotesque make-up at the end of Death in Venice; and, later, we see Ludwig presiding over a drunken orgy of stable boys, male servants and hangers-on in the “Hundinghütte,” a now no-longer extant recreation of the stage design for the first act of Wagner’s Die Walküre, which Ludwig had constructed in the grounds of Linderhof. With its Völkisch and homoerotic mix of zither music, accordion playing, lederhosen, folk dancing, semi-nudity and inebriation, Visconti obviously intends us to compare this scene with the one in The Damned when Röhm’s similarly homosexual stormtroopers indulge in a drunken orgy of transvestism and gay sex. The precise circumstances of Ludwig’s death by drowning remain a mystery. Was it suicide or was he murdered? Whatever happened, Dr. Gudden died with him, and the manner in which Visconti shoots these final scenes suggests that he was definitely of the opinion that Ludwig committed suicide, taking Dr. Gudden with him. Suicide is certainly the most appropriate verdict for a man so in love with fantasy and the night. Visconti interprets his death as a triumph rather than a defeat. Defeat would have been to accept the terms of the day. Ludwig’s triumph lay in the way in which he kept his faith with the night. His death was Visconti’s final statement on the Romantic disaster he had begun to chart in The Damned, a film that also ends with suicide, but in that instance the mood is one of utter defeat, depicting, as it does, the grotesque end of Frederick Bruckmann’s ruthless pact with the Nazis. Midway between lies the transfigurative death of Aschenbach in Death in Venice; but each death is the result of a flight from reality, an option made much more likely in a culture that grew out of German Romanticism than any other. The most beautiful evocation of that flight from reality is surely Visconti’s staging of Ludwig’s nocturnal sleigh-ride through the snow, which recreates Richard Wenig’s famous painting depicting Ludwig’s elaborately rococo sleigh, drawn by four plumed horses. Visconti films this in slow motion, immeasurably enhancing the mood of Romantic fantasy. But surely the greatest of Ludwig’s assaults on reality were his three fantasy castles of Linderhof, Herrenchiemsee and Neuschwanstein. As a boy he enjoyed piling up his wooden blocks, and he never lost his desire to build. When Romy Schnieder’s Elisabeth first sets eyes on the immense hall of mirrors at Herrenchiemsee, she bursts into amazed, incredulous laughter, the laughter of a woman who cannot help but admire the sheer audacity of Ludwig’s challenge to “mediocrity.” All his castles throw a Romantic gauntlet before the prosaic demands of “the day.” They existed not only as retreats, as expressions of his dream world, but also as challenges to the real world. They were each an impetuous stamp of the foot, an idealist’s tantrum. They were also built exceptionally quickly, much as Hitler’s equally grand Reich Chancellery Build-


Visconti and the German Dream

ing in Berlin was thrown up in record time. Both men wanted immediate gratification, and Hitler’s buildings were similarly theatrical; like Ludwig’s castles they were designed to impress rather than to be used. Like Ludwig’s throne room at Neuschwanstein, which had no throne (Ludwig was deposed before it could be installed), Hitler never actually used his vast study in the Chancellery building. It, like the rest of that grandiloquent building, was merely a setting, something to admire and to reflect his own sense of grandeur. The Germany of the Third Reich was just as much Hitler’s own creation as Ludwig’s dream world and Wagner’s Bayreuth. Its cult of death, darkness and dreams was administered, again like Wagner’s, through erotic intoxication, hypnotic hallucination and ravishing style. If, as Goethe suggested, architecture is “petrified music,”63 there is a case for arguing that Ludwig’s castles and Hitler’s mostly unbuilt or destroyed building projects are the architectural equivalent of nineteenth-century musical virtuosity. So, the curtains will now close over the screen for awhile as we take a break from our main feature, and explore the implications of Romantic virtuosity and its relation to the Third Reich in our first intermission.

First Intermission

The Birth of Hitler from the Spirit of Virtuosity Virtuosity Franz Liszt, the emperor of nineteenth-century musical virtuosi, prided himself on being able to replace the orchestra and express all its emotional effects with the fingers of two hands. As Berlioz, an orchestral arch–Romantic, who couldn’t actually play the piano, confessed enviously in a letter to Liszt: You can confidently say, adapting Louis XIV: “I am the orchestra! I am the chorus and the conductor as well. My piano sings, broods, flashes, thunders. It rivals the keenest bows in swiftness; it has its own brazen harmonies and can conjure on the evening its veiled enchantment of insubstantial chords and fairy melodies, just as the orchestra can and without all the paraphernalia. I need no theatre, no special scenery, no vast construction of tiers and ramps. I don’t have to wear myself out taking interminable rehearsals. I don’t require a hundred musicians or even twenty — I don’t even require any music. A large room with a grand piano in it, and I have a great audience at my command. I simply appear, amid applause, and sit down. My memory awakens. At once, dazzling inventions spring to life beneath my fingers and rapturous exclamations greet them in repose. I play Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’ and Beethoven’s ‘Adelaide,’ and all hearts reach out to me as one. No one breathes; a passionate silence reigns, a deep, still hush of wonder. Then come the explosions, the glittering set-piece that crowns the firework display, the cheers of the audience, the hail of flowers and bouquets raining around the high priest of music, rapt and quivering on his tripod, the lovely girls in their holy frenzy kissing the hem of his garment and moistening it with their tears, the sincere tributes of the serious-minded, the feverish applause wrung from the envious, the great intellects bowed in admiration, the narrow hearts expanding in spite of themselves.”1

If there is any passage that encapsulates the cult of Romantic individualism — still more Romantic egoism — this is surely the one. Liszt certainly did aim to dominate — indeed, to slay the audience by means of seemingly achieving the 53


First Intermission

impossible. He once performed his overwhelmingly difficult piano transcription of one of the most orchestrally conceived masterpieces of the Romantic era, the “Marche au supplice” (March to the Scaffold) from Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique (1830), immediately after Berlioz’s own performance of the orchestral original, with “an effect even surpassing that of the full orchestra, and creating an indescribable furore.”2 The admirers of Liszt, the first modern pop star, pelted him with rose petals, grabbed his legs as he played and famously collected his discarded cigar butts. This kind of sensationalism admittedly has much in common with the vocal pyrotechnics and erotic attraction of the famous castrati singers in the eighteenth century, but thanks to the new concert conditions brought about by an increasingly parvenu audience, Romantic performers were forced to find increasingly sensational stunts to assuage its insatiable demands. As capitalism increasingly transformed everything into commodities, musicians realized that they had to become more erotic, more dramatic, more eye-catching. Pop music in the 21st century is merely a technologically more sophisticated approach to supplying the same need. Musical commerce of the 19th century was also combined with the then-fashionable cult of the artist as hero, which had been inaugurated by Beethoven in his Napoleon-inspired third symphony, the “Eroica,” and was embodied in the person and poetry of Lord Byron. Byron’s carefully contrived and strictly controlled image, typified by the character of Conrad, the hero of his poem The Corsair, became the template for all Romantic virtuosi: That man of loneliness and mystery, Scarce seen to smile, and seldom heard to sigh; Whose name appals the fiercest of his crew, And tints each swarthy cheek with sallower hue; Still sways their souls with that commanding art That dazzles, leads, yet chills the vulgar heart. What is that spell, that thus his lawless train Confess and envy, yet oppose in vain? What should it be, that thus their faith can bind? The power of Thought — the magic of the Mind! Link’d with success, assumed and kept with skill, That moulds another’s weakness to its will; Wields with their hands, but, still to these unknown, Makes even their mightiest deeds appear his own.

As Byron’s piratical hero suggests, the Romantic artist, in general, increasingly began to see his relationship with an audience in far more combative terms than had been the case in the eighteenth century. No longer the refined auditors of a courtly eighteenth-century setting, the nineteenth-century audience had become something to subdue, and the most powerful weapons with which

The Birth of Hitler from the Spirit of Virtuosity


to do this was virtuosity. Music became a weapon, and the musical imagery of the time provides ample evidence of this. The nineteenth-century Austrian cartoonist Anton Elfinger depicted Berlioz conducting an orchestra of cannons. (Indeed, in one of the monologues of Lélio, the sequel to the Symphonie fantastique, Berlioz refers to his desire for an orchestra of “poignards et carbines”— daggers and guns.) An anonymous cartoon from 1842 involved Liszt in a musical battle with “General Bass” (a double bass suitably attired with jackboots), who both hover, Valkyrie-style, over two armies of marching quavers. Wagner, who despised empty virtuosity but nonetheless relied on orchestral virtuosity for his effects, was also depicted in violent terms by André Gill in 1868, attacking the eardrum of the public with a hammer and crotchet. This is why the piano concerto was so important in the nineteenth century, for it became a metaphor of the heroic individual (the pianist) triumphing over society (the orchestra). In the eighteenth century, virtuosity was a means to the end of serving the dictates of the music, but a particular kind of virtuosity emerged in the nineteenth century, which was an end in itself (not that Liszt left it at that, and he later abandoned virtuosity altogether). Only in the nineteenth century could Liszt’s Grande galop chromatique have appeared, though Liberace’s “Chopsticks” fantasia in the twentieth (which significantly interpolates part of Liszt’s second Hungarian Rhapsody) is its direct descendant. The entire point of Liszt’s unpretentious, though breathtakingly virtuosic galop of 1838 is the display of technique. There is hardly any “music” in the piece, which is little more than a sensational elaboration of the chromatic scale, but such virtuosic vacuity always brought down the house. It might seem grotesque to compare a frivolous nineteenth-century concert piece with the rhetorical techniques of Adolf Hitler, but both indeed relied on similar means to “slay” their respective audiences: principally, a sense of crescendo, leading to breathless excitement, the pyrotechnics of virtuoso display whipping up enthusiasm in both cases to a rousing, heroic, fortissimo climax. Indeed, as Peter Conradi noted, Hitler’s performance style reminded his press officer, Ernst Hanfstaengl, of “a master violinist, who rarely needs to use the full length of his bow.”3 Both the galop and the Hitlerian speech were equally empty — mere vehicles for performance, rather than performances that revealed anything substantial beyond the virtuosity involved. Of course, there was much more to Liszt than empty virtuosity, but one wonders how much more there was to Hitler. Hitler’s fascism was almost entirely a matter of style. Content in his speeches was merely an excuse for his performance. One might even compare him to Sir Henry Irving, whose approach to Shakespeare was to treat the texts as pegs on which to hang lavish production values and showcase Irving’s histrionic Romantic performance style; but Hitler was principally

Top: “A Berlioz Concert in 1846” by Anton Elfinger. Bottom: Anonymous cartoon showing Liszt fighting “General Bass,” 1842.

The Birth of Hitler from the Spirit of Virtuosity


influenced by the example of Wagner, whose mythical aura imparted grandeur and magic on all who let it flow over them. (Wagner is still used in this way, as film critic Cosmo Landesman points out in his review of Lars von Trier’s 2011 film Melancholia: “He has come up with a few good images, but where’s the grandeur? He has turned to Wagner to give his film in sound what it lacks in vision.”4) It is inevitable that one should eventually compare the orgasmic excitement of a Hitler speech with Isolde’s “Liebestod.” The “Liebestod” similarly relies on crescendo and the continual delay of harmonic resolution to suggest the sexual act in more graphic terms than any other composer had, until then, managed to achieve. (And for Hitler, a speech was very definitely an erotic, even orgasmic event.) The “Liebestod” is also virtuosic in its technique, though with rather more intellectual and philosophical intentions than Liszt’s unpretentious galop; but it has in common with the galop (and a Hitler speech, for that matter) the fundamental virtuosic quality of being gestural. This is music that aims to dominate. It has no intention of giving the audience an opportunity to reflect. Its aim is to make the audience submit and react. As Theodor Adorno aptly expressed it, Wagner’s musical logic “is softened up and replaced by a sort of gesticulation, rather in the way that agitators substitute linguistic gestures for the discursive exposition of their thoughts.”5 He was obviously thinking of Hitler here, but it is a quality that first emerged at the birth of Romantic music with Beethoven. This is appropriate, because just as Hitler worshipped Wagner, Wagner had worshipped Beethoven. There is a direct line of descent. From Beethoven’s very first, astonishingly confident and yet completely idiosyncratic piano music (the three Opus 2 sonatas), it is the gestural element that dominates.

Gesture In the way that Beethoven presents rather than develops his triadic material we are at once aware of a break with eighteenth-century style. With Beethoven, content was always instinctively more significant than form, and the new expressive potential of the piano made possible a completely new kind of music in which timbre and color were of far more importance than structure and development. Structure and development had dominated keyboard music designed for the harpsichord, which had, of course, no coloristic potential. Even in these early Opus 2 sonatas, one can see the beginning of a line of development that stretches past Liszt and Debussy to the popular music of the twentieth century, which latter revels in timbre and content, and reduces form to the simplest, most commercial and easily digestible of structures: the song.


First Intermission

The development section of Beethoven’s Op. 2, No. 3, for example, is merely (at least to begin with) a series of arpeggiated chords. This is not really development in the traditional sense of the word. It is an effect, and its grandchild is the E-flat, arpeggiated Prelude of Wagner’s Das Rheingold. True, Beethoven indulges in thematic development later on, but it is surely significant that he begins with this astonishingly modern approach. It communicates nothing more than timbre and virtuosity, two of the main ingredients of Liszt’s heroic piano style. Also like Liszt (and Wagner), Beethoven can make platitudes sound profound by the way in which he articulates them. Major chords can be presented in such a way that they seem far more harmonically complex than they are. Virtuosity and texture fool the ear, announcing the triumph of color over line. Beethoven’s “Moonlight” sonata has become such a cliché because of its amazing originality. It, too, is more interested in timbre than structure. It hardly even bothers with melody. Can a melody really be said to consist of a single repeated note? (Antoˆnio Carlos Jobim’s One Note Samba from 1961 certainly thought so, and thus helps demonstrate what pop music owes to Romanticism.) The “melody” of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” sonata is indeed the most uninspired offering of any composer — a mere dotted rhythm, barely anything at all: the product of an imbecile. What of the accompaniment? Taken purely harmonically, it is equally infantile; but filtered through Beethoven’s web of textural and coloristic effects, the result is hypnotic. By using the pedal to blur the harmonies into a wash of sound, and by adding sonorous octaves in the left hand, Beethoven creates a musical effect, rather than a structure. Indeed, he famously abandoned sonata form here, classifying the work as a “sonata quasi una fantasia” (a sonata almost like a fantasia). Structure is not the point, and this is why the piece has become so popular. Most popular music is far more interested in timbre and harmony held together by melody. It is the gestural that most successfully catches the ear (or eye) of the public. It is the gestural that consequently makes the most money. Neither do the majority respond to the abstract, which is why Beethoven’s sonata acquired its poetic title (though that was not Beethoven’s idea). Music and image. Could the “Moonlight” sonata be the distant origin of the pop video? Certainly, Liszt, the world’s first pop star, and Wagner, the prototypical Hollywood film composer, both owed a great deal to Beethoven. With Beethoven, music became modern, and it made modern politics possible, for it demonstrated that how one says something can be much more persuasive than what one actually says. Contemporary politics is entirely run on these principles, but contemporary politicians, regardless of their political opinions, owe the way they communicate with the public to Hitler’s post–Romantic techniques. Political spin and political “image” began with him, in just the same way that

The Birth of Hitler from the Spirit of Virtuosity


pop and film music began with Beethoven. Both are wholly reliant upon the aesthetic of virtuosity and gesture. The finale of the “Moonlight” takes this approach to even more extreme heights, and, as if symbolically grasping the eighteenth century by the throat, Beethoven subjects that most eighteenth-century device, the Alberti bass (an oscillation of the individual notes of a chord), to an apotheosis so demonic that it actually destroys it. After the “Moonlight” no one could use an Alberti bass again if they had any pretensions towards originality. In the eighteenth century, such a bass was designed to support a singing melody, but Beethoven uses his Alberti bass to support nothing more than arpeggios, sometimes leaving it to oscillate frantically on its own. True, at times fragmented melodies also appear above it, but the emphasis has entirely changed. What makes this finale so unforgettable is its timbre, sonority and rhythm. In listening to it, we respond to gesture, speed and changes of harmony, not to thematic development or structural innovation or even structural recognition. Liszt’s rhetorical Hungarian Rhapsodies, while they indulge in memorable melodies, are similarly more significant for their gestural sonorities and virtuosic display than anything else. The decorative element in Liszt was again preceded by Beethoven in Op. 2, No. 3. The cadenza, that display passage usually found at the end of the first movement of a classical concerto, had a secure position in Mozart’s day, but such virtuosic passages were rarely committed to paper, being left to the individual performer to create for him or herself. Moreover, cadenzas were never really the province of the sonata. Concertos were the place for such public display. Sonatas were regarded as a more intimate, frequently educational form. The first movement of Beethoven’s Op. 2, No. 3, however, ends with a cadenza, which, not only in its extravagance but also in its particular typography, anticipates Liszt’s approach. With such a passage, Beethoven defiantly turned the sonata into a public work, and indicated the improvisatory nature of his cadenza by notating it with smaller notes than the rest of the piece, a graphic device that Liszt himself employed for virtuosic passages of his own. Beethoven’s challenge to the player, here, began the Romantic quest to create difficulties for their own sake (something that would never have occurred to Mozart). In so doing, Beethoven anticipated our modern obsession with technique (and technology) as an end in itself. After all, the emphasis in mainstream Hollywood product these days is not so much on performances as on computer-generated special effects. There is also an often-overlooked sense of humor and even downright cheekiness in Beethoven’s music. Op. 2, No. 3, for example, reveals much that Beethoven had learned from the humorous style of his teacher, Haydn, to whom all three sonatas are dedicated. Haydn’s use of contrasting dynamics


First Intermission

for comic effect (famously in the “Surprise” symphony), the teasing out of a melodic motif by repeating elements of it before bringing it to completion, and the delaying of a climax (the origin of Beethoven’s subsequently enormous codas)— all these comic effects were passed on to Beethoven by Haydn, but they were also merged with his own instinctive sense of humor. The result is music that could be said to point the way towards the scores of Hollywood cartoons. A work such as the Op. 7, F major sonata begins as Carl Stalling might have accompanied Bugs Bunny leaping out of a hole, with two sprightly staccato chords, followed by an impudent triplet. This is repeated in a different pitch, followed by considerable syncopation. The “rabbit leaps” recur, alternating dynamics between the two chords and the subsequent triplet figure. All the elements of a cartoon score are here: rapidly moving passages followed by peremptory chords, all contributing to the fragmented, kaleidoscopic sense of contrast, which Stalling was to perfect in the music he wrote for Warner Bros. cartoons. Again, Beethoven mocks the conventions of sonata form by beginning his recapitulation of the F major sonata in the wrong key, taking several bars to modulate to the correct key (though one has, in fairness, to point out that Mozart did the same thing in works such as his so-called “Facile” sonata in C major). Such a deliberately “adolescent” prank — a deliberate false start — was no doubt calculated to annoy the pedant (not that audiences these days are very aware of keys — unless, of course, they suddenly modulate). These three sonatas alone demonstrate Beethoven’s interest in timbre, gesture and effect over form. Eventually, these elements would combine to make the traditional sonata a redundant form. The funeral of that form lasted throughout the nineteenth century, with composers bravely trying to keep alive what Beethoven had so thoroughly dispatched. Liszt heroically attempted to redefine the sonata in his sole attempt at the form. In his B minor sonata (his “Dante” sonata, like Beethoven’s “Moonlight” is, as Liszt himself defined it, more of a fantasia), the three movements of the traditional approach were compressed into one immense movement, the whole structure being based on the thematic metamorphosis of a group of themes. The principal concern is again gestural and coloristic, and the content dictates the form, rather than the other way round. The gates of freedom, heralding the anarchies of modernity, were thus thrown triumphantly open, and ultimately, we have Beethoven to thank for that.

“Magic” As we have seen, Wagner aimed to control virtually every aspect of his Bayreuth Festival. He even raised money for the enterprise, publicizing it and

The Birth of Hitler from the Spirit of Virtuosity


creating societies to promote his cause (the individual shields of which decorated the living room of Wahnfried). The only thing Wagner could not do was perform all the roles himself, though he made up for that in his celebrated (and seemingly interminable) readings of the poetic texts of the Ring cycle to a long-suffering circle of friends. Again, as Adorno emphasizes, Wagner was impatient with “everything isolated, everything limited and existing simply for itself.” He wanted “single-handed to will an aesthetic totality into being, casting a magic spell and with defiant unconcern about the absence of the social conditions necessary for its survival.”6 The operative word here is “magic.” One of the main aims of Romantic art was indeed to create miracles. Artists no longer served God; they became God. Liszt (half priest, half composer-pianist) once expressed this desire for miracles in a letter of encouragement to Wagner: Go to work and apply yourself with utter singleness of mind to your task. If you need a brief, let it be the one that the cathedral chapter of Seville gave to the architect commissioned to build their new cathedral: “Build us a temple such that future generations will say the canons were mad ever to undertake such an extraordinary work.” Yet there the cathedral stands!7

As Thomas Mann added, after quoting that passage in “The Sorrows and Grandeur of Richard Wagner,” “Now that is the nineteenth century!” It applies as much to Ludwig’s castles as to Wagner’s Ring cycle, not to mention the spectacle of a Nuremberg rally. Each were the product of a virtuosic desire for the crushing effect. Debussy understood this element in Wagner, which is why he called Wagner “Old Klingsor,”8 after the wicked magician in Wagner’s last opera, Parsifal. Wagner’s astonishingly overwhelming art, its profoundly subtle attention to detail, its miracles of orchestration and its persuasive, proto-cinematic union of music, text and image made it seem that he had created — like a god — an entire universe of emotional responses. Among the many “magical” moments in his oeuvre are the ghost ship of Der fliegender Holländer, the Venusburg of Tannhäuser, the appearance of Lohengrin in his swan-drawn barque, Alberich’s transformation into a toad and a dragon, and the rainbow bridge leading to Valhalla in Das Rheingold, the spectral appearance of Wotan and Brünnhilde over the fighting figures of Siegmund and Hunding, the famous “Ride of the Valkyries” and the “Magic Fire” of Die Walküre, the dragon in Siegfried, the magic potion and the spectacular destruction of Valhalla at the end of Götterdämmerung, and, finally, Klingsor himself, with his magic garden and the eventual unveiling of the Holy Grail in Parsifal. Linking all these magical worlds is the equally magical way in which the natural world is presented. Nature, which had become both demonic and divine in the pantheistic world view of earlier German Romanticism, played a central role in Wagner’s mythical fantasies. There is so much nature in the


First Intermission

Ring alone that some latter-day producers have interpreted it as a blueprint for the ecology movement. The river Rhine, thunderstorms, sunrises and sunsets, forests, eschatological cataclysms — all are key aspects of the Ring. Flowery slopes or meadows punctuate Tristan and Parsifal. Indeed, Tristan takes place entirely outdoors. So do the outer two acts of Parsifal, and much of Lohengrin and Die Meistersinger breathe in fresh air. Wagner also took care to juxtapose the fetid decadence of the Venusburg of Tannhäuser with the healthy innocence of a mountainside complete with shepherd and sheep. Of course, Wagner wasn’t alone in his nineteenth-century nature-worship. Liszt had transcendentalized the natural world in works such as the Années de Pèlerinage (1855 and 1858) and his symphonic poem, Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne (1854), and Richard Strauss would later create perhaps the most convincing musical storm ever composed in his Alpensinfonie of 1915. Neither was the desire to overwhelm with spectacle confined to the musical stage. It was shared by the legitimate theater, too. The spectacular stage effects against which Sir Henry Irving deified himself at the Lyceum Theater in London were also inspired by the example of Bayreuth, which he consciously aimed to emulate and even improve upon. Irving’s tendency to give more importance to the stage effects than the texts he performed anticipated the triumph of style over substance for which so many contemporary Hollywood products are criticized (or applauded) today. Irving had heard of, though had not seen, Wagner’s achievements at Bayreuth, particularly the scenic splendors of Parsifal in 1882. As Laurence Irving put it, it “must have put him on his mettle as a ‘metteur en scène.’”9 To counter Wagner, Irving put on a much-manipulated production of Faust. Goethe was rewritten by playwright W. H. Wills, while Irving and his entourage made a special trip to Nuremberg to buy bric-a-brac, furniture and to soak up the architectural atmosphere, whereby “crates of furniture, china, authentic costumes and brocades”10 were duly dispatched to the Lyceum. Irving starred (of course) as Mephistopheles, for which satanic role he wore red, ego triumphant. Everyone else wore black. Indeed, Irving’s personality was similar to Wagner’s. If Wagner seemed like a magician to Debussy, Irving actually inspired his business manager, Bram Stoker’s most famous creation, Count Dracula. And when Liszt met Irving in London, Stoker remarked on the astonishing facial similarity between the two men.11

The Cult of Celebrity Working hand-in-hand with the technical advances of the piano, Liszt was able to create an entirely new kind of musical performance, the recital,

The Birth of Hitler from the Spirit of Virtuosity


which depended as much upon his personality as the music he played. He was not “only” performing music but also presenting himself. Thanks to television in our own time, the cult of celebrity has now become so pervasive that there is no need of any accompanying talent or even product. Today, television talent shows, like The X Factor, are the logical (if depressingly vacuous) development of this new kind of celebrity, and Hitler was perhaps the first twentieth-century example. He became famous merely for being himself, an artist without any works to his name, an artist who postures as a genius. Regardless of Wagner’s racial theories, it is not surprising that the Führer should have found such inspiration in the Meister, because Wagner provided the blueprint for the artist-leader Hitler wanted to be. Wagner came from nowhere and transformed himself into a genius through an almost superhuman effort of will. As both Nietzsche and Thomas Mann pointed out (both of whom Adorno quotes in In Search of Wagner), Wagner was fundamentally a dilettante. In the most famous passage of “The Sorrows and Grandeur of Richard Wagner,” Mann wrote: Wagner’s art is a case of dilettantism, that has been monumentalized by a supreme effort of will and intelligence — a dilettantism raised to the level of genius. There is something dilettante about the very idea of combining all the arts, and without success in subjugating them all, by a supreme effort, to his own immense expressive genius, the whole notion would never have got beyond the dilettante stage. There is something dubious about his relationship with the arts; absurd though it sounds, there is something of the philistine about it.12

Sensing a truth too close to the bone, Hitler exiled Mann on the strength of this comment, for what Mann said about Wagner could easily have been said about Hitler, himself a dilettante, who, with the highest exertions of willpower, attempted to put Wagner’s theatrical and ideological agenda into practice on the political stage. Nietzsche’s parting shot at the end of The Wagner Case (admittedly before two postscripts and an epilogue, for like Syberberg, he simply couldn’t let go of his subject) was: That the theater should not lord it over the arts. That the actor should not seduce those who are authentic. That music should not become an art of lying.13

There is also, of course, an element of sour grapes here. Nietzsche felt personally abused and philosophically disappointed by Wagner. He also attempted musical composition himself, and competent though some of his songs and piano pieces are, they could not hope to compete with Wagner’s mastery. All art — and particularly performance art — is, anyway, a kind of lie. It is a lie that may or may not intend to tell the truth, whatever that may be, but by definition, fiction is not “the truth,” music even less so. However, putting


First Intermission

that aside, Nietzsche, with his usual prescience, does indeed seems to have predicted Hitler here, for Hitler’s principal means of persuading the German people to take him on was indeed the creation of “Wagnerian” effects. Genuine, rather than theatrical violence was always a part of his agenda, but his political activities were motivated first and foremost by aesthetic considerations, and his collected Table Talk, those wandering eructations on every subject under the sun, emitted and adoringly written down during mealtimes, included their fair share of Wagnerian reminiscences. Each one of them was tinged with over-awed admiration, from one once so humble, of the godlike Meister of Bayreuth. Out of context, they might even appear touching: I remember my emotion the first time I entered Wahnfried. To say I was moved is an understatement! At my worst moments, they’ve never ceased to sustain me, even Siegfried Wagner. (Houston Stewart Chamberlain wrote to me so nicely when I was in prison.) I was on Christian-name terms with them. I love them all, and I also love Wahnfried. [...] The ten days of the Bayreuth season were always one of the blessed seasons of my existence.14

The Wagners provided the orphaned Hitler with a family and a sense of domestic security in much the same way that Wagner was rescued by Ludwig (though Wagner became more of a father figure for the king rather than vice versa). Hitler’s Table Talk is littered with Ludwigian plans for opera houses and art galleries, along with the revealing statement that “in time, wars are forgotten. Only the works of human genius are left.”15 Only several nights later (significantly much of Hitler’s table talk took place after dark), he expressed the significant opinion that “whatever one says, Tristan is Wagner’s masterpiece.”16 This, despite the official function of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg as a “party piece,” which was inevitably produced at party conferences. The far more “degenerate” Tristan was hardly suitable for such a nationalistic jamboree. Hitler was also presented with the original manuscript scores that had once belonged to Ludwig. Winifred Wagner, with whom Hitler enjoyed an intense friendship, arranged with the House of Wittelsbach to sell these priceless documents for 800,000 marks. Tragically, they were all lost (presumably destroyed) in the war. And yet, the destruction of Wagner’s manuscripts while in Hitler’s possession is also a curiously appropriate fate, considering how hugely influential Wagner was on Hitler’s worldview and aesthetics. If ever there was a demonstration of art’s ability to lead humanity astray, this influence (indeed, in Wagner’s case, it was a kind of premonition) is surely it. Even the war was justified by Hitler as an opportunity for rebuilding Berlin as a grandiose theatrical setting for his cult; and just like Wagner, Hitler desired to dominate every aspect of the extravaganza. He designed its regalia, its infamous flag (which stripped the swastika of its former benign and optimistic connotations), and even its

The Birth of Hitler from the Spirit of Virtuosity


cutlery. He even claimed to have designed the famous Volkswagen automobile.17 Hitler was very well aware that his modestly accomplished architectural sketches and paintings were hardly the works of a genius, but his instinct and need to be an artist was an undeniable and central aspect of his personality. None of this, however, would have been possible without Hitler’s overriding, virtuoso personality, with its technique of presentation that was fully the equal of Liszt’s prestigious fireworks and Wagner’s overwhelming musicodramatic tableaux. The well-known photographs of Hitler practicing his rhetorical gestures is evidence enough of how important “effect” was to him. Liszt had no time for pupils who did not practice sufficiently for one of his master classes. Though normally one of the most genial of geniuses, he often shouted, “We don’t wash our dirty linen here!” to such unfortunates.18 Similarly, Wagner concealed the means by which he produced his masterpieces. “The occultation of production by means of the outward appearance of the product,” was how Adorno described the process. “The product presents itself as self-producing.”19 Taking his cue from these Romantic mentors, Hitler, the political virtuoso, polished his physical image in private and instructed his photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, to destroy the plates. Fortunately for us, he didn’t.


Mann’s “Death in Venice” When the Hollywood executives first saw Visconti’s Death in Venice, one of them complimented him on the music and asked who had written it. “Mahler,” Visconti replied, to which the executive exclaimed, “Can we sign him?”1 Mahler’s famous Fifth Symphony “Adagietto” wasn’t as famous then as it has subsequently become, thanks almost entirely to Visconti’s film. It is as if it was film music waiting for a film. Visconti had had less success with the music for The Damned. He had originally wanted Wagner, but that was vetoed by the film company, and so he had to make do with what Schiffano called the “ponderous thumpings of Maurice Jarre.”2 Needless to say, The Damned would have been immeasurably improved with Wagner rather than Jarre, but it is even more the case that without Mahler’s music, and the emotional and cultural resonances it brings to the film, Death in Venice quite simply wouldn’t work, for the music has the power to transcendentalize the imagery. What, after all, is the final scene but the well-photographed and acceptably acted portrayal of an old man dying in a deckchair? Without the music, the imagery is ponderous and almost entirely unremarkable, but combined with Mahler’s yearning appoggiatura the scene is transformed into a metaphysical experience — a “Liebestod” indeed, in which Aschenbach’s death may be interpreted symbolically as the consummation of his life-long quest in pursuit of ideal beauty. Of course, the tragic loneliness of his predicament is also summoned in the music, but played against the image of Tadzio pointing out to sea (the embodiment of Aschenbach’s inspiration), the music transforms reality into allegory. It is entirely Wagnerian in its intent and effect — a point that Mahler, himself one of the greatest of all Wagner conductors, and whose music is indebted to Wagner’s example, would have fully appreciated. That Mann had Mahler in mind when he conceived the character of Aschenbach only adds to the magical constellation at work here. The film version, however, has its detractors. Visconti has been criticized for his “fashion-plate” approach to the surface narrative of Mann’s novella, 66

THREE. Mann’s “Death in Venice”


and his inability fully to convey the deeper philosophical concepts that lie at its heart, and which justify the mere events that take place. As Gary Schmidgall explains: Visconti, chained to the realistic level, was able to focus only the clinical eye of the camera upon Aschenbach’s Venetian excursion. He captured brilliantly the outer life the author leads in Venice; his observation of life in a pre–World War I Grand Hotel and the decadent-beautiful city insensibly stole our attention. But the film scarcely touched upon the keenly cerebrated terror Aschenbach experiences in his own mind. It simply could not explore the great interior monologues of the novella. The level upon which Visconti approached Der Tod in Venedig was, in short, its least important.3

So, what is Death in Venice actually “about”? On the surface, an exhausted writer takes a trip to recover his energies in Venice. There, he encounters a beautiful boy, Tadzio, with whom he becomes infatuated (in a Platonic and aesthetic manner, though there is also a strong undercurrent of repressed homoeroticism). After an outbreak of cholera, he attempts to leave the city, but a mistake with regard to his baggage presents him with an unforeseen opportunity to return to the unhealthy city, where he eventually dies. Obviously, there is more going on here than a mere holiday romance, and in order to understand what that something is, we must take a detour away from Venice to Germany, in the company of the philosophers who most inspired Thomas Mann. As mentioned at the outset, these were the two great German Romantic thinkers, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. Nietzsche at first thought he was fighting the same battle as Wagner and Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation made a staggering impression on Wagner when he first read it in October 1854. Nietzsche, too, was overwhelmed by it when he encountered it by accident in a second-hand bookshop a few years later. Mann conflates these two overwhelming experiences, along with his own first encounter with the philosopher, in a scene from Buddenbrooks in which Tom Buddenbrook, by this stage in the story the head of the family, also reads Schopenhauer. In fact, Mann doesn’t actually name the writer as Schopenhauer, but this is obviously who he means: What was this? He asked himself the question as he mounted the stairs and sat down to table with his family. What is it? Have I had a revelation? What has happened to me, Thomas Buddenbrook, Councillor of this government, head of the grain firm of Johann Buddenbrook? Was this message meant for me? [...] He remained the rest of the day in this condition, this heavy lethargy and intoxication, overpowered by the heady draught he had drunk, incapable of thought.4

Mann also left various accounts of his own first experience of Schopenhauer: How my mind fills with memories of my own youthful intellectual fervour, my own joy in conception, full of melancholy and thankfulness, when I think of the


Visconti and the German Dream rapport between Wagner’s oeuvre and this world-critical, world-ordering book, this poem of knowledge and artistic metaphysic compounded of compulsion and intellect, of will and contemplation — this miraculous edifice of ideas, at once ethical, pessimistic and musical, which exhibits such a profound historical and human affinity with the score of Tristan!5

Similarly, after Nietzsche’s first experience of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde (by means of a piano transcription of the score by Hans von Bülow), the future creator of Also Sprach Zarathustra immediately recognized the Schopenhauerian metaphysics that formed the philosophical basis of the music drama. At that time, Nietzsche’s Dionysian philosophy lay some time in the future. Wagner, as previously mentioned, was, in fact, of a more optimistic temperament than Schopenhauer, remaining rather more Hegelian, despite posing as a Schopenhauerian. Tristan, however, was the most Schopenhauerian opera he ever wrote. Even at the end of his life, Nietzsche was still enthralled by the memory of his friendship with Wagner, the greatest friendship he had ever experienced, despite the fact that, by then, it was long over. In Ecce Homo he wrote: “I offer all my other human relationships cheap; but at no price would I relinquish from my life the Triebschen days, those days of mutual confidences, of cheerfulness, of sublime incidents — of profound moments.”6 A little later he speaks of the overwhelmingly crepuscular and morbid power of Tristan, arguing, “The world is poor for him who has never been sick enough for this ‘voluptuousness of hell.’”7 Nietzsche wrote his first book, The Birth of Tragedy, in the first flush of his friendship with Wagner, and it is to some extent a vindication of what he then regarded as the Dionysian qualities of Wagner’s music drama. He subsequently repudiated it as a misunderstanding — perhaps even a wish-fulfillment. It was in this book that he introduced the two opposing but ideally unified impulses of humanity. He labeled these Dionysian and Apollonian, and believed they had found their most perfect expression in the drama of ancient Greece. Nietzsche argued against the concept of the Greeks as a people of “sweetness and light,” which Matthew Arnold, borrowing the term from Jonathan Swift, had made the prevailing nineteenth-century view of the ancient Greeks.8 Instead, Nietzsche insisted that the ancient Greeks were fully aware of the horror and terror of existence and yet still managed to affirm life. He tells the story of King Midas, who once asked the satyr Silenus what is the best and most desirable of all things for men. “Fixed and immovable,” Nietzsche explains, “the demigod said not a word, till at last, urged by the king, he gave a shrill laugh and broke out into these words: ‘Oh, wretched ephemeral race, children of chance and misery, why do you compel me to tell you what it would be most expedient for you not to hear? What is best of all is utterly beyond your reach: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. But the next best for you is — to die soon.’”9

THREE. Mann’s “Death in Venice”


Now, faced with that bleak truth, an idealist might say “no” to life and promptly commit suicide, or found a religion, like Christianity, which teaches us to despise life’s “vale of tears,” along with the physical body, promising a better “spiritual” life to come after death. The Greeks, Nietzsche said, didn’t do that. They created the Dionysian drama and celebrated life by facing up to its horror. Like the Greeks, Nietzsche’s superman would also benefit from the wisdom of Silenus, for by facing up to the truth about existence, and encouraged by the insights of art, he is able to say “yes” to life, accepting both its negative and positive aspects, without needing the comforting illusions of conventional religion. Thus was born Nietzsche’s theory of Eternal Recurrence, which argues that if you have ever said “yes” to a single joy in life, you have also to accept all the sorrows of life that accompany it. The superman is strong enough to accept both the joys and sorrows, the pleasures and pains of life, to such an extent that he would be willing to live them again and again throughout eternity. This is total affirmation of life, and, in Nietzsche’s terms, the complete antithesis of Christianity. He also offered hope to those atheists who had taken refuge in Schopenhauerian pessimism. Nietzsche’s superman (the rather unfortunate translation of “Übermensch”) is the complete opposite of an idealist. Faced with reality, an idealist becomes depressed, unable to accept his disillusionment; but the realist remains cheerful because he has fully absorbed the terrifying reality of life, faced up to it and created something beautiful out of it. By calling this process “Dionysian,” Nietzsche did not mean that we should all become drunken libertines, but rather responsible individuals, who unite Apollo and Dionysus within ourselves to form a balanced whole that recognizes the truth about humanity, and avoids either extreme. Mann’s “Death in Venice” and Visconti’s film adaptation of it demonstrate all too clearly what happens when we favor Apollo over Dionysus. Doctor Faustus and Visconti’s The Damned are devastating demonstrations of what happens when Dionysus is given full reign. For Nietzsche, Christianity allowed humanity the luxury of thinking it was the victim of good and evil forces outside itself, rather than accepting that it is itself the generator of those energies and categorizations. Nietzsche felt that Christian civilization had put reality behind bars and that European human beings at least had consequently become incapable of accepting their existential reality. Restrained by morality, humanity struggles to accept — and to be — what it truly is. And what is that reality? Nietzsche’s answer lies in his theory of the Will to Power. Nietzsche scholar Walter Kaufmann recounts how Nietzsche once told his sister, Frau Förster-Nietzsche, that during the Franco-Prussian war,


Visconti and the German Dream

when he was serving as a medical orderly, he “saw a Prussian regiment attacking in spite of their evident fatigue, and it was then that it occurred to him that life was essentially not a struggle for survival but a will to power.”10 For Nietzsche, “morality” can be reduced to three questions: What is good?— All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man. What is bad?— All that proceeds from weakness. What is happiness?— The feeling that power increases —that a resistance is overcome.11

Like Semele before the majestic form of Jupiter, such blazing truth destroys those who are not strong enough to comprehend it, even though truth always gives birth, as Semele did, to the Dionysian man. As Nietzsche put it: He who knows how to breathe the air of my writings knows that it is an air of the heights, a robust air. One has to be made for it, otherwise there is no small danger one will catch cold. The ice is near, the solitude is terrible — but how peacefully all things lie in the light! how freely one breathes! how much one feels beneath one!— Philosophy, as I have hitherto understood and lived it, is a voluntary living in ice and mountains — a seeking after everything strange and questionable in existence, all that has hither been excommunicated by morality.12

The fact that Nietzsche traced the genealogy of his theory of the Will to Power back to his experience as a medical orderly in the Franco-Prussian War might suggest, along with his deliberate use of militaristic metaphors, that the Will to Power is a prediction of and justification for later Nazi atrocities. In fact, it advocates nothing. It merely attempts to state a fact: that human beings are motivated by the desire for power, of which there are various manifestations. The crudest manifestation of the Will to Power is indeed physical violence, but the most powerful man is he who has mastered himself to such an extent that he has no interest in dominating others. To recapitulate, crudely powerful individuals such as Cesare Borgia are not Nietzsche’s role models at all, but they are preferable to weak men. Cesare Borgia is better than Parsifal,13 because, as Kaufmann, put it, “A man without impulses could not do the good or create the beautiful any more than a castrated man could beget children.”14 At first, Nietzsche saw in Wagner’s music in general, and in the character of Siegfried in particular, an expression of the Dionysian impulse, and the fully developed Dionysian man. Wagner himself might have agreed. After all, he once wrote: Have I not already written to you concerning a self-serious subject? [...] “Young Siegfried” has the enormous advantage of conveying the important myth to an audience by means of actions on stage, just as children are taught fairy-tales. [...It] deals less with an heroic subject-matter than with the high-spirited and youthfully human.15

THREE. Mann’s “Death in Venice”


The operative word here is “self-serious.” Siegfried is a child of nature, uncorrupted by the deadening values of modern civilization, in touch with his instincts, living each minute of his life vitally, true to his nature and consequently so much more alive than the other characters in the Ring cycle, whose natural impulses have been caught in the web of social contracts. No wonder Siegfried is “self-serious” or “cheerful,” as opposed to his “woeful” father, Siegmund; and “cheerful” was also one of Nietzsche’s favorite words. He even incorporated part of its meaning into the title of one of his books: Die fröhliche Wissenschaft. Often translated as The Gay Science, the English title has acquired homosexual connotations in our own period (and I will be returning to Nietzsche’s sexuality later on)— but “gay,” in its old sense, captures the mixture of carefree cheerfulness and joy that Nietzsche implied by the word “fröhlich.” As Nietzsche never failed to point out, “Man is something that should be overcome.”16 Existing religious and social systems, he believed, restricted the development of human happiness. Nietzsche taught the way of the superman to redeem humanity from what he termed “slave” morality — the rule of the weak who are unable to face the terror of existence and who therefore construct illusory ideals, which both deny and repress the truth, in order to cope; but the modern superman will be philosophically courageous enough to be able to face the abyss of life’s essential meaninglessness and, like the ancient Greeks before him, turn that horror into life-enhancing affirmation. It was therefore pagan culture rather than the monotheistic culture of modern Christianity to which Nietzsche looked for salvation. (Neo-paganism is a subject I will be dealing with in more detail in the second intermission.) Nietzsche originally believed that Wagner’s music dramas heralded a return of the spirit of ancient Greece. “Dionysian art, too,” he wrote, “wishes to convince us of the eternal joy of existence; only we are to seek this joy not in phenomena, but behind them. We are to recognize that all that comes into being must be ready for a sorrowful end; we are forced to look into the terrors of the individual existence — yet we are not to become rigid with fear.”17 Eventually, however, Nietzsche began to regard Wagner not as a Dionysian but as merely “Romantic”— even worse, “décadent” (he always preferred the French spelling of the term). Whereas, for Nietzsche, man’s salvation lay in overcoming the horror of life by harnessing it to the Apollonian virtues of art, Wagner seemed more pessimistic. In fact, as I suggested earlier, it would be fairer to say that both men propounded different kinds of optimism. Nietzsche believed in the supermen, Wagner believed in superblood. Wagner’s Hegelian optimism was mixed with his belief in the possibility of racial regeneration through applied anti–Semitism. Nietzsche, who hated anti–Semitism, preached anti– Christian anti–Schopenhauerianism. The end of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung


Visconti and the German Dream

summed up Nietzsche’s feelings with regard to where Wagner had gone astray. Wagner, he felt, had begun his Ring cycle as a revolutionary, charting the rise of a new Golden Age in which Siegfried instinctively overthrows everything traditional, “All reverence, all fear.” For a long time, Wagner’s ship followed this course gaily. [...] What happened? A misfortune. The ship struck a reef; Wagner was stuck. The reef was Schopenhauer’s philosophy; Wagner was stranded on a contrary world view. What had he transposed into music? Optimism. Wagner was ashamed. [...] So he translated the Ring into Schopenhauer’s terms. Everything goes wrong, everything perishes, the new world is as bad as the old; the nothing, the Indian Circe beckons.18

Wagner’s interpretation of Schopenhauer’s world view is even more perfectly expressed in Tristan, in which the lovers desire to lose their own individualities and, through death, attain Nirvana: in des Welt-Atems wehendem All — ertrinken, versinken — unbewusst — höchste Lust! (In the world-spirit’s infinite All, to drown, to sink, unconscious, highest bliss!)

Nietzsche eventually turned his back on Wagner’s philosophy, though, as we have seen, he remained emotionally committed to the music (while simultaneously arguing vigorously against it). No wonder Thomas Mann so readily identified with Nietzsche, who saw in Wagner and his art a dangerous life-denying, décadent and manipulative quality. Much of Nietzsche’s problem with Wagner was due to the composer’s overwhelming and despotic personality, which suffocated him; but on a purely philosophical level, Wagner represented a danger to European culture. He, of course, despised Wagner’s anti– Semitism and Wagner’s compromise with the German Reich, but far more worrying were the Schopenhauerian sentiments of Siegfried and Brünnhilde with their “radiant love, laughing death!”19 He also believed Wagner to be a theatrical posturer who had the power to sway millions by the power of his rhetoric (a prediction of Hitler indeed). The actor Wagner is a tyrant; his pathos topples every taste, every resistance. [...] Was Wagner a musician at all? At any rate, there was something else that he was more: namely, an incomparable histrio, the greatest mime, the most amazing genius of the theater ever among Germans our scenic artist par excellence. He belongs elsewhere, not in the history of music: one should not confuse him with the genuine masters of that. Wagner and Beethoven — that is a blasphemy and really wrongs

THREE. Mann’s “Death in Venice”


Wagner.— As a musician, too, he was only what he was in general: he became a musician, he became a poet because the tyrant within him, his actor’s genius, compelled him. One cannot begin to figure out Wagner until one figures out his dominant instinct. He was not a musician by instinct. He showed this by abandoning all lawfulness and, more precisely, all style in music in order to turn it into what he required, theatrical rhetoric, a means of expression, of underscoring gestures, of suggestion of the psychologically picturesque. Here we may consider Wagner an inventor and innovator of the first rank —he has increased music’s capacity for language to the point of making it immeasurable: he is the Victor Hugo of music as language.20

For Mann, as we have seen, Wagner’s concept of a Gesamtkunstwerk was dangerously dilettante in itself. Total art is only a short step away from totalitarianism. Much as he loved it, Mann described Parsifal as a “dangerously” emotive mix of art, sex and religion — a “kind of theatrical Lourdes, a grotto of miracles for a weary twilight age that lusts after some kind of faith.”21 Just as for Goethe before him,22 Romanticism, taken as a whole, was, for Mann, unhealthy, whereas Classicism was much healthier. Even in his first novel, Buddenbrooks, Mann expressed the ambivalent feelings he had for Wagner’s music, while simultaneously acknowledging its dangerous allure. Gerda Buddenbrook, an “impassioned Wagnerite,” takes piano lessons from the traditionalist Herr Pfühl. When she shows him some piano arrangements of Tristan he responds vehemently: I cannot play that, my dear lady! I am your most devoted servant — but I cannot. That is not music — believe me! I have always flattered myself I knew something about music — but this is a chaos! This is demagogy, blasphemy, insanity, madness! It is a perfumed fog shot through with lightning! It is the end of all honesty in art. I will not play it!23

But Mann, no doubt due to his respectable bourgeois origins, went one step further and began to question the respectability of art in general. The decline of the Buddenbrooks family is, in fact, due to the influence of ideas upon its solid mercantile stock. We have already encountered Hanno, the result of the Schopenhauer-influenced Thomas and the musically inclined Gerda, and Hanno brings the dynasty to a decadent, Wagnerian termination. Mann similarly regarded himself as the final corruption of his own family, and this was something with which Visconti himself could identify. As Mann put it in his short story, “Tonio Kröger,” the artist in general, and the Romantic artist in particular, has a suspect character: When these worthy people are affected by a work of art, they say humbly that that sort of thing is a “gift.” And because in their innocence they assume that beautiful and uplifting results must have beautiful and uplifting causes, they never dream


Visconti and the German Dream that the “gift” in question is a very dubious affair and rests upon extremely sinister foundations.24

Mann constantly returns to the dichotomy of sickness (art), opposed to health (bourgeois stability). This no doubt had something to do with his own repressed sexuality and bourgeois origins, but, of course, he was also writing at the same time as D’Annunzio and all the other artists of Decadence, with whom he has a great deal in common, despite the fact that he lived long enough to become regarded as a “modernist.” Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) anticipates the main theme of Mann’s “Death in Venice.” In Wilde’s novel, an artist named Basil Hallward speaks of how the beautiful Dorian has inspired him, in much the same way that Tadzio will later inspire Aschenbach: Dorian, from the moment I met you, your personality had the most extraordinary influence over me. I was dominated, soul, brain, and power by you. You became to me the visible incarnation of that unseen ideal whose memory haunts us artists like an exquisite dream. I worshipped you. I grew jealous of every one to whom you spoke. I wanted to have you all to myself. I was only happy when I was with you. When you were away from me you were still present in my art.... Of course I never let you know anything about this. It would have been impossible. You would not have understood it. I hardly understood it myself. I only knew that I had seen perfection face to face, and that the world had become wonderful to my eyes — too wonderful, perhaps, for in such mad worships there is peril, the peril of losing them, no less than the peril of keeping them.25

In a line that Visconti was careful to include in the sparse dialogue of Death in Venice, Mann is even more explicit than Wilde in describing the effect Tadzio’s smile has on Aschenbach: Aschenbach received that smile and turned away with it as though entrusted with a fatal gift. So shaken was he that he had to flee from the lighted terrace and front gardens and seek out with hurried steps the darkness of the park at the rear. Reproaches strangely mixed of tenderness and remonstrance burst from him: “How dare you smile like that! No one is allowed to smile like that!” He flung himself on a bench, his composure gone to the winds, and breathed in the nocturnal fragrance of the garden. He leaned back, with hanging arms, quivering from head to foot, and quite unmanned he whispered the hackneyed phrase of love and longing — impossible in these circumstances, absurd, abject, ridiculous enough, yet sacred too, and not unworthy of honour even here: “I love you!”26

“Death in Venice,” then, is really a novel of Decadence, in which art is represented as Dionysian and morally ambivalent, quite the opposite of the Apollonian respectability that Aschenbach wants it to be. In Visconti’s film version, this is summed up in the scene in which Bogarde’s Aschenbach engages in a discussion about aesthetics with Alfred, the character played by Mark Burns.

THREE. Mann’s “Death in Venice”


ALFRED: Beauty belongs to the senses. Only the senses. ASCHENBACH: You cannot reach the spirit through the senses. You cannot. It’s only by complete domination of the senses that you can ever achieve wisdom, truth and human dignity. ALFRED: Wisdom? Human dignity? What use are they? Genius is a divine gift. No! No! No!— a divine affliction: a sinful, morbid flash-fire of natural gifts. ASCHENBACH: I reject — I reject the demonic virtues of art! ALFRED: And you are wrong. Evil is a necessity. It is the food of genius. ASCHENBACH: You know, Alfred, art is the highest source of education. The artist has to be exemplary. He must be a model of balance and strength. He cannot be ambiguous. ALFRED: But art is ambiguous, and music is the most ambiguous of all the arts. It is ambiguity made a science.

This idea that art is a sickness also appears in Mann’s later novel, Doctor Faustus, elements of which, as we shall see, Visconti included in his film of Death in Venice. In this extract from Doctor Faustus, Adrian Leverkühn is conversing with the Devil (if only in his fevered imagination)— hence the archaic diction: The artist is the brother of the criminal and the madman. Do you ween that any important work was ever wrought except its maker learned to understand the way of the criminal and madman? Morbid and healthy! Without the morbid would life all its whole life never have survived!27

(Again, there is a parallel with Oscar Wilde here, who, in turn, was influenced by Plato’s Republic. In book three of Plato’s work, poets are denounced as liars, and “guilty of making the gravest misstatements when they tell us that wicked men are often happy and the good miserable, and that injustice is profitable when undetected.”28 Wilde responded to this in his essay, “The Decay of Lying” in which he says, “If a man is sufficiently unimaginative to produce evidence in support of a lie, he might just as well speak the truth at once.”29 In the famous preface to Dorian Gray, he is even more explicit: “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”30 T. E. Apter sums up the connection between Mann’s ambivalent attitude to Wagner and “Death in Venice” by pointing out that the story presents “Mann’s attitudes towards death, passion and the debilitating effects of beauty in a way that makes Aschenbach’s story similar to one of Wagnerian contagion.”31 “Death in Venice” is, indeed, a dramatization of the principal issues that concern The Birth of Tragedy. Aschenbach, whose family motto is “Hold fast,” is an embodiment of Apollonian man. Self-discipline, stoicism and celibacy are Aschenbach’s watchwords. He begins his day with a cold shower, soon after lighting two candles, in silver holders, at the head of his manuscript. His desk is indeed an altar consecrated to art, which he serves by repressing


Visconti and the German Dream

his own impulses and emotions, just as Mann himself repressed those aspects of his psyche that did not conform to respectable middle-class married life. Aschenbach knows nothing of those ambivalent energies from which creativity emerges. In his sober world of respectability he works at the perfection of a classical prose style, and this so completely denies the Dionysian forces within him that he makes himself particularly vulnerable to them. A Dionysian man, in Nietzsche’s sense of the term, would have acknowledged and overcome such impulses. To be merely Apollonian is to build one’s personality on very unsure foundations. Subconsciously, Aschenbach craves what he has denied his conscious self. The sensuous and the barbaric vaguely appeal to him right from the beginning of the story, when “desire projected itself visually” in a series of images of tropical marshland, a reeking sky, hairy palm trunks, stagnant water, gigantic, milky white blossoms, exotic birds, and a crouching tiger (an image that conjures up a similar mood to Henri Rousseau’s “primitive” 1910 painting, The Dream). Such visions, which have been multiplying like bacilli in the neglected petri dish of his unconscious, are summoned to the surface by Aschenbach’s encounter with a “red-haired stranger” whom he meets, significantly, in a graveyard. This sinister individual, described as “bold, domineering” and “even ruthless,” whose grimace reveals almost vampiric “long, white, glistening teeth,”32 is Aschenbach’s first encounter with the emissary of death who will follow him to Venice and there assume many disguises. It is therefore unfortunate that Visconti omits this opening scene in his film version. The stranger is also in hiking gear, with a rucksack and crook, and such attire triggers Aschenbach’s sudden and uncharacteristic desire to travel. Dionysus, ignored for too long, demands a holiday on his own ground, and Venice, to which Dionysus lures him, represents the world of the imagination, the ambivalent sensuousness of beauty and death. The red-haired stranger’s first metamorphosis is into the ancient homosexual roué whom Aschenbach encounters on the boat that brings him to the city. Again Mann emphasizes the teeth of this macabre figure. Whereas the red-haired stranger had vampire’s teeth, the roué’s are yellow and obviously false. His cheeks are rouged, as will be Aschenbach’s own before the story is over. Aschenbach is revolted by this premonition of his own fate and escapes from him, but Death’s emissary does not give up so easily. The second metamorphosis is the surly gondolier who rows Aschenbach to the Lido. Here Mann leaves us in no doubt that his hero has entered the domain of death, in a literal sense but also more in a much more important metaphorical way. Aschenbach’s journey is also to that place where the responsibilities of life and the restrictions of bourgeois respectability are annulled. The surly gondolier, who refuses to listen to Aschenbach’s orders but “rows him well” (Aschenbach

THREE. Mann’s “Death in Venice”


is no longer in control of anything), is none other than Charon, the ferryman of the underworld. Even the gondola he rows is compared to a coffin: Is there anyone but must repress a secret thrill, on arriving in Venice for the first time — or returning thither after long absence — and stepping into a Venetian gondola? That singular conveyance, come down unchanged from ballad times, black as nothing else on earth except a coffin — what pictures it calls up of lawless, silent adventures in the plashing night; or even more, what visions of death itself, the bier and solemn rites and last soundless voyage!33

As we have seen, Romanticism, particularly as manifested in the works of Wagner, regarded death as a symbol of release from the social self, as a metaphor of the imagination where the creative spirit may flourish beyond life’s limitations. A Romantic does not so much suffer from a dissatisfaction with life as a lack of interest in it, and consequently a Romantic artist runs the risk of becoming a profoundly anti-social, self-absorbed being. Mann himself was excessively self-absorbed. As his biographer, Ronald Hayman, has pointed out, Mann’s diaries contain “an extraordinary mass of detail about minor physical symptoms, about what he ate and drank, how well he slept. One of his underlying concerns was with normality. Finding, when he was in his fifties, that surges of homoerotic desire were less intense, he wrote: ‘This is indubitably the normal pattern for human affections, and thanks to this normality I can believe more strongly that my life conforms to the scheme of things than I do by virtue of marriage and children.’”34 It is perfectly natural, then, that Mann, in his craving for normality, respectability, and balance should have been so aware of the delights but also of the dangers of such death enchantment. Of all people, Mann knew best that when the aesthetic vision becomes the sole reality, when life seems contemptible compared to the splendors of the imagination, the resulting art of such a vision runs the risk of being lifeless, irrelevant and sterile. Hanno Buddenbrooks’s death from beauty is inevitable. Any physical death would have served Mann’s purpose (it happens to be typhoid) because Hanno’s death is a metaphorical one. Mann’s description of Hanno’s death explains the situation in the most eloquent terms: When the fever is at its height, life calls to the patient: calls out to him as he wanders in his distant dream, and summons him in no uncertain voice. The harsh, imperious call reaches the spirit on that remote path that leads into the shadows, the coolness and peace. He hears the call of life, the clear, fresh, mocking summons to return to that distant scene which he had already left so far behind him, and already forgotten. And there may well up in him something like a feeling of shame for a neglected duty; a sense of renewed energy, courage and hope; he may recognize a bond existing still between him and that stirring, colourful, callous existence which he thought he had left so far behind him. Then, however far he may have wandered on his distant path, he will turn back — and live. But if he shudders


Visconti and the German Dream when he hears life’s voice, if the memory of that vanished scene and the sound of that lusty summons make him shake his head, make him put out his hand to ward off as he flies forward in the way of escape that has opened to him — then it is clear that the patient will die.35

Neither is Aschenbach a Nietzschean superman. He is, on the contrary, a weak man unable to withstand the impact of physical beauty and the emotional effect that beauty has upon him. (Passion, like art itself, is a kind of crime for Mann’s hero, because if not actually advocating the collapse of bourgeois structures, it certainly welcomes what will strengthen its own aims and objectives.) But along with the Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy, Mann also includes references to Plato’s Phaedrus, in which Socrates argues that our physical response to beauty is nowhere near as significant as our intellectual response. There are also parallels with Plato’s Phaedo, which similarly asks how we should respond to beauty. In Phaedo, Socrates, one of the several characters in Plato’s philosophical debate, argues that knowledge can only be found in its highest purity by means of “the mind alone,” not allowing when in the act of thought the intrusion or introduction of sight or any other sense in the company of reason, but with the very light of the mind in her clearness penetrates into the very light of truth in each; he has got rid, as far as he can, of eyes and ears and of the whole body, which he conceives of only as a disturbing element, hindering the soul from the acquisition of knowledge when in company with her — is not this sort of man who, if ever man did, is likely to attain the knowledge of existence?36

Aschenbach believes that he, too, can achieve this Socratic ideal, and Visconti condenses all this in that crucial scene between Dirk Bogarde and Mark Burns when Aschenbach unsuccessfully argues, “You cannot reach the spirit through the senses.” For both Aschenbach and Socrates, physical beauty is only the gateway to intellectual truth. Dionysus initiates the search for truth, but it should be Apollo who guides it. Aschenbach’s attempt to put this ideal into practice occurs when he writes, his “page and a half of choice prose”37 inspired by the beauty of Tadzio. In Visconti’s version, Aschenbach “composes” the sublime music that is actually the fourth movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony. Appropriately, that movement sets words from Nietzsche’s Also Spoke Zarathustra, which are a condensed expression of Nietzsche’s theory of Eternal Recurrence: O Mensch! Gib acht! Was spricht, die tiefe Mitternacht? “Ich schlief, ich schlief —, Aus tiefem Traum bin ich erwacht: — Die Welt ist tief, Und tiefer als der Tag gedacht.

THREE. Mann’s “Death in Venice”


Tief ist ihr Weh —, Lust — tiefer noch als Herzeleid: Weh spricht: Vergeh! Doch alle Lust will Ewigkeit —, — Will tiefe, tiefe Ewigkeit!” (O Man! Attend! What does deep midnight’s voice contend? I slept my sleep, And now awake at dreaming’s end: The world is deep, Deeper than day can comprehend. Deep is its woe, Joy — deeper than heart’s agony: Woe says: Fade! Go! But all joy wants eternity, — wants deep, deep, deep eternity!)

But Aschenbach’s attempt to live the Socratic ideal fails. Growing more and more besotted by Tadzio, his exhausted mind doesn’t have the energy to withstand the onslaught of his emotions. This dilemma forms one of the most famous scenes in Visconti’s film when Tadzio provocatively leads Aschenbach on, twisting around the poles of a canopy on the beach, only to leave the composer bent double behind a beach hut, in an agony of regret, pain and frustrated ecstasy. Later, after an embarrassingly intimate encounter with Tadzio and his friends in the narrow confines of the hotel lift, Aschenbach, now fully aware of the dangerous situation he has placed himself in, mutters to himself, “What kind of road have I chosen?” Aschenbach’s long-forgotten instinctual feelings — those dark appetites, which Nietzsche said we must confront and overcome, are the cause of Aschenbach’s subsequent barbaric, purely Dionysian dreams. In Aschenbach’s dream, Dionysus himself appears as “the stranger god,” and is surrounded by his frenzied worshippers in a sexual nightmare of violent, primitive lust. Tadzio’s name is also suggested by the “long-drawn u-sound”38— exactly the same sound Aschenbach had heard on the beach just before encountering the boy. Tadzio’s nurse and mother had been calling him and only the u-sound could be at first distinguished. From the wooded heights, from among the tree-trunks and crumbling mosscovered rocks, a troop came tumbling and raging down, a whirling rout of men and animals, and overflowed the hillside with flames and human forms, with clamor and the reeling dance. The females stumbled over the long, hairy pelts that dangled from their girdles; with heads flung back they uttered loud hoarse cries and shook their tambourines high in air; brandished naked daggers or torches vomiting trails of sparks. They shrieked, holding their breasts in both hands; coiling snakes with quivering tongues they clutched about their waists. Horned and hairy males, girt


Visconti and the German Dream about the loins with hides, drooped heads and lifted arms and thighs in unison, as they beat on brazen vessels that gave out droning thunder, or thumped madly on drums. There were troops of beardless youths armed with garlanded staves; these ran after goats and thrust their staves against the creatures’ flanks, then clung to the plunging horns and let themselves be borne off with triumphant shouts.39

Aschenbach is utterly unable to rise to Nietzsche’s ideal of the passionate man who can control his passions. In the dream, Dionysus fatally vanquishes Apollo, and for Aschenbach, Dionysus proves fatal. Aschenbach’s moral collapse is demonstrated by his physical collapse. In a grotesque attempt to catch up on his lost emotional life, he visits a barber who persuades him to wear make-up. The ghastly death mask that results is his final humiliation at the hands of Dionysus. All that remains for him is to die. Lost in decaying Venice, which symbolically suffers from a cholera epidemic, Aschenbach collapses in the deserted square, resting his head against the rim of a stone fountain amidst the weeds and rubbish, now a complete derelict, and the fulfillment of the prophecy he had seen on the boat that had brought him to the city. He is now the doppelgänger, the roué who so disgusted him. He is also the down-and-out he saw collapse at the train station on his half-hearted attempt to leave Venice before it was too late. On the beach at the end of the book and the film, Tadzio and the sea beckon Aschenbach to his death. Whereas the death of Tristan and Isolde is a Romantic metaphor of spiritual union beyond the limitations of mundane reality and the confines of individuation, Aschenbach’s death, which overwhelms him as he watches Tadzio walk into the waves, is symbolic of his failure to be become a Nietzschean “passionate man.” Mann aimed to demonstrate how Aschenbach’s respectable, spiritual aims are waylaid by his own imagination, and that the discipline necessary to create art can, if practiced too severely, distort the psyche by detaching the artist from his human impulses. This was a problem that Mann’s other artistic hero, Tonio Kröger, also made clear: The very gift of style, of form and expression, is nothing else than this cool and fastidious attitude towards humanity; you might say there has to be this impoverishment and devastation as a preliminary condition.40

“God help him,” Kröger concludes, speaking of the artist who must endure such a position. But God does not come to the aid of Aschenbach as he dies in his deckchair, the dye oozing from his hair in the cloying heat. (This effective detail was Visconti’s macabre addition to Mann’s description.) As Apter has pointed out, Mann writes that a “shocked and respectful” world received the news of his death because the public wants to believe in the moral rectitude of the artist; but Apter makes the further important observation

THREE. Mann’s “Death in Venice”


that Aschenbach’s problem is not that he is an artist — rather, that he is not a great artist. He is not a Dionysian man, in Nietzsche’s fullest meaning of the term. Aschenbach proves himself unable to balance the Dionysian and Apollonian forces within himself. As Apter puts it: “The substance of creation is chaos, and this chaos can destroy the creator.”41

Second Intermission

Pan, Paganism and Arcadia One might say that Christianity favors man over nature, morality over mysticism and social conformity over individualism. Its primary aim is to place humanity center-stage and to justify humanity’s exploitation of the natural world. Christianity does not worship the uncontrollable forces of nature, for such a communion would suggest that nature, not God, is in control. To suggest that man is not central to the scheme of things, not created in God’s image but rather at the mercy of nature, is the ultimate Christian heresy, hence Christianity’s censure of the pagan beliefs, which work with rather than subdue the forces of nature. The social consequences of Christianity have been considerable. We owe the industrialized, over-populated and ecologically challenged situation of today largely to the homo-centric world-view of Christianity, in which one God sanctions humanity’s exploitation of nature. Compared to this, the selling of indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church fades into an insignificant sideshow. One might even say that we are now no longer even civilized but, rather, merely industrialized. It is not so much the mystical aspects of the occultism, the nature worship of the pagan, and the rationalism of the atheist that concern Christianity (or any other monotheistic religion, for that matter), as the individualism of such heresies — the challenge they each pose to the collective social power of the established church. The occultist will point to his ability to commune with the supernatural on his own terms, the pagan will point to nature, the atheist to his own reason. Derailed by Darwin and nailed in its coffin by Nietzsche, Christianity was at a very low ebb at the turn of the nineteenth century, when free thought and unorthodox mysticism were released from two millennia of imprisonment. God was dead but the pagan gods, on the contrary, were revived, resurrected by the failure of the church. Wagner put them on stage, and before long they would begin to haunt the consulting rooms of Jungian psychotherapists. Indeed, Jung attempted an explanation of Nazism by crediting the movement to Wotan himself: 82

Pan, Paganism and Arcadia


The Hitler movement brought the whole of Germany to its feet, from the fiveyear-olds to the veterans, and produced the spectacle of a great migration of people marking time. Wotan the wanderer was awake. He is to be seen, looking rather shamefaced, in the meeting-house of a sect of simple people in North Germany, disguised as Christ sitting on a white horse. I do not know if these people were aware of Wotan’s ancient relationship to the figures of Christ and Dionysus, but it is not very probable. Wotan is a restless wanderer who creates restlessness and stirs up strife, now here now there, or works magic. He was soon changed into the devil by Christianity. [...] The German youths who celebrated the solstice were not the first to hear a rustle in the primeval forest of the unconscious. They were anticipated by Nietzsche, [Alfred] Schuler, Stefan George, and [Ludwig] Klages.1

All four of the men Jung cites here were irrationalists. Nietzsche, we know about. Schuler was a pagan mystic and leading light in the Munich Cosmic Circle. This group of like-minded mystical writers included Klages, whose philosophy contrasted the contemporary “decadent” world with mysticism from the remote German past. The symbolist poet, George, was regarded, as Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh put it, as “a prophet and magus, a magisterial ‘guru’ and oracle presiding over an élite hand-picked cadre of intellectual and cultural initiates who ‘stood in awe of him’ as one might of a high priest.”2 In his “Wotan” essay, Jung addressed himself to the word “Ergriffenheit,” which he described as “being moved or almost possessed.” Wotan is an Ergreifer of men and he is really the only explanation, unless we wish to deify Hitler, a thing which has actually happened to him before now!3

Similarly, the Wandervogel and nudist movements of turn-of-the-century Germany, the return of sun-worship, and the movement now termed “New Age” all began around that time. While theosophy (another of the consequences of Darwin and empirical science) had no little influence on artists such as Yeats and Scriabin, the neopagan movement had an even greater influence on the arts in general. From Russian symbolist art and the Ballets Russes to popular fiction, esoteric literature, musical theatre and the concert hall, everyone was dancing to the pipes of Pan in fin-de-siècle Europe. Elgar’s now-sidelined contemporary, Sir Granville Bantock, even flirted with ancient Greek lesbianism in his well-upholstered orchestral settings of Sappho in 1905. He followed them up with a Sapphic Poem for cello and orchestra the following year. Bantock also conjured up the excitement of Dionysian revelry in his Pagan Symphony, though it wasn’t completed until 1928. The more lightweight composer Harry Farjeon published his Pictures from Greece for the piano in 1906, and Lionel Monckton scored a huge success with his Edwardian musical, The


Second Intermission

Title page of Pictures from Greece by Harry Farjeon (London: Augener, 1906).

Pan, Paganism and Arcadia


Arcadians, in 1909. On the continent, Debussy’s Syrinx, from 1913, went on to send many a symboliste shudder down the spine of audiences, especially when they heard the flautist, Louis Fluery, perform this hymn to Pan in a darkened room. Debussy’s orchestral Prelude, L’après-midi d’un faune (1894), later to be turned into an erotic ballet by Nijinsky, paved the way for that composer’s other evocations of the antique world. Debussy’s Danse sacrée et danse profane (1904) used a harp and modal harmonies to summon the spirit of the antique world, creating a musical equivalent to the static canvases of the French symbolist artist, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. It was, rather, Poussin whom Ravel had in mind when he spoke of the “Greece of my dreams” while composing his vast choreographic poem, Daphnis et Chloé (1908–1912) In this, Pan makes his appearance specifically to terrify the pirates who have abducted Chloé, reminding us of the derivation of the word “panic.” Nietzsche, disappointed to discover that Wagner’s music dramas were merely “Romantic” rather than Dionysian as he had first hoped, created his own Arcadian retreat from the homophobic, Christian world, dreaming, as he did, of fauns and satyrs. Insanity induced by syphilis convinced him that he had indeed become Dionysus himself. (“Dionysus against the Crucified,” are the last words of his philosophical autobiography, Ecce Homo.) To all intents and purposes he was Dionysus, having exposed all that Christianity had done to deny the erotic, chaotic and terrifying reality of existence, which the ancient Greeks had confronted in their cathartic festivals of drama. There was no place for such a neopagan (let alone a repressed homosexual) to go in the desiccated world of late nineteenth-century Europe but into his own head — and that, just like a tortoise into its shell — is exactly what Nietzsche did. In his insanity (if that is what it really was) Nietzsche communed daily — if not hourly — with Dionysus; and Pan spoke through him to all the neopagans who followed. The sexual freedom that the pagan world represented, its unquestioning acceptance of life as it is rather than how an idealist feels it ought to be, was an intoxicating place for Nietzsche. It was inhabited by “Ja-Sagender” (“Yessaying”) beasts, and in the years before the First World War so unfortunately alienated them from their Teutonic cousins, British writers echoed the theme. Indeed, Oscar Wilde had helped set the agenda in his 1881 poem, “Pan,” one of two short “villanelle’s”: O goat-foot God of Arcady! This modern world is grey and old, And what remains to us of thee? No more the shepherd lads in glee Throw apples at thy wattled fold, O goat-foot God of Arcady!


Second Intermission

Nine years later, in 1890, Arthur Machen published his most famous story, “The Great God Pan,” in which a young, orphan girl, Mary, is involved in an experiment to summon Pan by means of surgery. Her skull is opened under anesthetic and the experiment proves an horrific success. She indeed sees Pan but at the cost of her sanity. The girl eventually gives birth to a monstrous daughter of her own, the offspring of her union with the god. But this daughter, who goes by the name of Helen Vaughan, proves to be a femme fatale, a hybrid of pagan god and human being, who induces men, unable to resist her dangerous allure, to commit suicide. These men die of sheer terror, having seen something so awful and so terrible that it cuts short their lives; but there is a more philosophical layer to the tale, for, at the beginning, Machen discusses, via the character of Dr. Raymond who experiments on the unfortunate Mary, the distinctly Kantian idea that there is a noumenal world beyond the merely phenomenal one, and it is this noumenal reality (the Will beyond the representation, to give the idea a Schopenhauerian twist) that Pan represents. “You see me standing here beside you,” says Dr. Raymond, “and hear my voice; but I tell you that all these things — yes, from that star that has just shone out in the sky to the solid ground beneath our feet — I say that all these are but dreams and shadows: the shadows that hide the real world from our eyes. There is a real world, but it is beyond this glamour and this vision, beyond these ‘chases in Arras, dreams in a career,’ beyond them all as beyond a veil. [...] You may think all this strange nonsense; it may be strange, but it is true, and the ancients knew what lifting the veil means. They called it seeing the god Pan.”4 The story made a great impression on H. P. Lovecraft, who based his own story, “The Dunwich Horror” (1929), on the same premise: the union of a god (or demon) with a human being. Saki (H. H. Munro) wrote “The Music on the Hill” in 1912. In it, a rational, conventionally religious woman, Sylvia Seltoun, doesn’t believe in Pan, but her husband, Mortimer, does. “The worship of Pan never has died out,” Mortimer explains. “Other newer gods have drawn aside his votaries from time to time but he is the Nature-God to whom all must come back at last. He has been called the Father of all the Gods, but most of his children have been stillborn.”5 Sylvia removes a bunch of grapes that have been left at the base of a statue of Pan she discovers in a small glade. She then glimpses a boy’s face in the undergrowth. “I don’t think you were wise to do that,” says Mortimer, when she tells him what she’s done. Her eventual (and inevitable) demise, impaled by the antlers of a stag, is accompanied by the “echo of a boy’s laughter, golden and equivocal.”6 Algernon Blackwood continued in the same vein in “The Touch of Pan” (1917), which concerns a young man who is staying at a country house in order to grow acquainted with his bride-to-be. He is, however, beguiled by

Pan, Paganism and Arcadia


a faun-like girl called Elspeth. They go off together one night over the dewy lawn and transform into children of Pan, complete with faun-like horns: With the girl swaying this way and that upon his shoulders, tweaking his horns with mischief and desire, hanging her flying hair before his eyes, then bending swiftly over again to lift it, he danced to join the rest of their companions in the little moonlit grove of pines beyond.7

Blackwood’s image here bears a close resemblance to a painting by the symbolist artist-prince of Munich, Franz von Stuck, for whom sleeping fauns and fighting centaurs, portraits of Athena and laughing satyrs playing pipes were something of a specialty. His Faun and Sea Nymph started life as a sketch in 1902, but Stuck liked it so much he worked it up into both a bronze and an oil painting in 1918, the year after Blackwood wrote “A Touch of Pan.” Stuck also designed the cover of Pan, the German art and literary magazine, whose first editor, Otto Julius Bierbaum, went on to write a monograph on Stuck in 1908.8 (Bierbaum had also written a play called Pan in the Bush, of which Stuck’s 1908 painting, Pan, was an illustration.) In many ways, Stuck’s paintings are a visualization of Nietzsche’s pagan ideal, as were the pagan images of Swiss artist Arnold Böcklin (1827–1901), who painted several Pan paintings of his own. Pan also appears in Mann’s “Death in Venice.” We have already seen how, in his pursuit of middle-class, Apollonian respectability, Aschenbach attempts to silence the pipes of Pan, and how (as in those tales by Saki and Blackwood) Pan (or Dionysus) claims his revenge. Aschenbach’s Dionysian nightmare might be said to begin as he sits on the Lido watching the waves roll onto the shore: A stronger wind arose, and Poseidon’s horses ran up, arching their manes among them too the seers of him with the purpled locks, who lowered their horns and bellowed as they came on; while like prancing goats the waves on the farther strand leaped among the craggy rocks. It was a world possessed, peopled by Pan, that closed round the spell-bound man, and his doting heart conceived the most delicate fancies.9

“The degree and kind of a man’s sexuality reaches up into the topmost summit of his spirit,” Nietzsche wrote in the 75th aphorism of his book, Beyond Good and Evil. Christian morality, which denied the very basis of Nietzsche’s entire personality, was therefore a personal as well as a philosophical enemy. No one can aspire to happiness without first acknowledging who they are, but Nietzsche and Thomas Mann had the misfortune to live in a period and culture that absolutely denied the basis of their own psychosexual reality. However, it was not merely homosexuality but all sexuality with which conventional nineteenth-century morality took issue. A hatred of the body is,


Second Intermission

after all, one of the primary foundations of the Christian faith; but the superman is first and foremost a philosopher of the body. As there is no metaphysical soul for a superman, the temple in which Nietzsche worshipped was his own body (a not very inspiring temple in his case, Nietzsche being a physically sick man for most of his life, which is another reason why strength and health were so important to him). For Nietzsche, mankind is an animal ensnared by civilization, a civilization that is of dubious benefit, for it represses our animalistic and instinctual drives by means of morality and law. He also pointed out that in nature there are no laws, only necessities,10 and it is this devastating phrase that sums up the entire difference between human and animal life. It is on this precipice that the whole problem of integrating the superman into a social system lies. The popularity of the cult of Pan at the turn of the 20th century therefore helps us to contextualize Nietzsche’s ideas in the cultural framework of his own times. In that afternoon of Romantic culture, after the radiance of the dawn and before the nightmare of two world wars, Pan beguiled European civilization. Pan is the lord of the afternoon. He appears when the sun is at its hottest and the world is still. He appears in the tangible silence of noon. Could it indeed be Pan in disguise whom Aschenbach meets on the various stages of his journey to Venice: the red-haired, beardless stranger, described as “strikingly snub-nosed” with “long, white glistening teeth?”11 We have already interpreted this figure, along with those of the gondolier, the barber and the minstrel, as personifications of Death, but might not Pan be in all those vengeful figures who inexorably encroach around the man who has denied himself and Dionysus? The hero of Dion Fortune’s 1936 novel, The Goat-Foot God (a title borrowed from Wilde), plans to build a temple to Pan, but what temple could be more appropriate than the forest in which Pan dwells? All forests are temples to Pan. Pan often appears when he is least expected. Who, after all, would have expected Pan to appear in Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows of 1908?— but it is indeed the “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” whom Rat and Mole (those significantly male friends) hear as they float down the river on a summer night in search of the missing young otter, Portly. The awe they feel amid the wonderfully sylvan scene is due to Pan who indeed appears to them, not in a frightening way, as he does to the pirates of Daphnis and Chloé, but as the Friend and Helper, with his curved horns, hooked nose and kindly eyes, and his shaggy limbs at rest on the verdant sward. The Wind in the Willows is typical of the literature of Pan at the turn of the century, where nostalgia for a lost world and its certainties made many others call upon his name. How appropriate that Graham’s other rather less celebrated volume was called The Golden Age, a fictionalized account of his childhood, in which his parents

Pan, Paganism and Arcadia


were transformed into Olympian gods, and boyish adventures on the river turned him and his friends into veritable Argonauts. Pan is the custodian of childhood innocence, just as Dionysus is the champion of our adult “irresponsibilities.” It is an innocence we must all lose and which the industrial world, of which Toad’s motorcar is a powerful metaphor, seems intent on destroying. The Golden Age may be fool’s gold but it does not even glitter without a feeling of melancholy loss. A Golden Age has no value at all unless one has lost it. If one lives in it purely instinctively, one remains necessarily unaware of it. Late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century British culture, in general, is the product of nostalgia and loss. Vaughan Williams (even Benjamin Britten with his ideé fixe of the corruption of innocence) lamented the passing of a Golden Age that never really existed. Folk song collecting, Morris dancing, and the idea of the English country pub are all part of the mix. Hans Werner Henze recalled that the music of Elgar always brought tears to the eyes of Sir William Walton. “I,” Henze added, “was simply incapable of feeling the same. I can place Elgar historically. I understand the importance and distinctiveness of this music. Perhaps it is bound up with a particular kind of countryside and has something to do with the weather?”12 No doubt. Similarly, a critic referred to Vaughan Williams’s “Pastoral” Symphony (1922) as “a hymn to Pan with no sound of sorrow,”13 though the sorrow was there in what was fundamentally a lament for the fallen of the First World War, and a requiem for a lost pre-war pastoral idyll. Vaughan Williams’s Lark always ascends in melancholy mood, and his variations of a theme by Thomas Tallis, along with his arrangement of “Greensleeves,” do not so much celebrate the strength and glory of Elizabethan England as his sense of loss at its passing. Vaughan Williams is not usually coupled with Aleister Crowley (1875– 1947). In fact, I doubt such a thing has ever been done before, but only seven years after the premiere of R. V. W.’s symphonic “Hymn to Pan,” Crowley wrote his own “Hymn to Pan,” which he included at the beginning of his magnum opus, Magick in Theory and Practice (1929). Needless to say, Crowley’s is a rather different vision to that of Vaughan Williams, but both “hymns” share the same Arcadian context. There was still life in the vision by the time Disney got around to the Arcadian kitsch of the Beethoven “Pastoral” Symphony episode in Fantasia (1940), in which Pan presides over the multicolored goings-on. This was Disney’s homage to the European culture for which so many of his films yearn: the old world, the world of certainties, of pre-industrial calm — a world, in fact, which Disney’s own successful nostalgia ironically helped to destroy. In the words that grace the tomb in Poussin’s famous and much debated painting, The Shepherds of Arcadia, “Et in Arcadia Ego”— death is also in Arcadia. Adam and Eve became aware of paradise only when it was


Second Intermission

lost to them. Only maturity can help us to appreciate our innocence, and Pan guards the gateway through which we rediscover it. It is because the terrors of innocence are so great that we fear so much the Goat-Foot God. Pan, indeed, has a darker side for those who, like Aschenbach, resist reality in pursuit of the ideal. The Christian Church demonized Pan, transforming him into a wholly demonic force; and that is how he is presented in the middle of Dennis Wheatley’s classic occult thriller, The Devil Rides Out (1934) as the Goat of Mendes — the Devil himself! Above rose the monstrous bearded head of a gigantic goat, appearing to be at least three times the size of any other which they had ever seen. The two slit-eyes, slanting inwards and down, gave out a red baleful light. Long pointed ears cocked upwards from the sides of the shaggy head, and from the bald, horrible unnatural bony skull, which was caught by the light of the candles, four enormous curved horns spread out — sideways and up.14

Given what was brewing in Germany when Wheatley published his novel, this Satanic image of Pan could be read as a sensationalized metaphor of the devilry being unleashed by Nazi ideologists in the name of Nietzsche. Wheatley also designed his own rather ambivalent Ex Libris plate, copies of which he pasted into the deluxe volumes of his own extensive library. In it, he depicted Pan in more benign terms, though Pan nonetheless shares the features of Wheatley’s criminal, Oscar Wilde–loving mentor, Eric Gordon Tombe. Tombe/Pan initiates a naked youth (Wheatley himself ) into the mysteries of culture, and the caption runs: “One admires EVE for having tasted of the FORBIDDEN TREE OF KNOWLEDGE:— but what a WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE she missed when she overlooked the TREE OF LIFE. I should have eaten of not ONE, but ALL the trees in the garden — and THAT, dear boy — is what I hope for YOU.”15 Christians, needless to add, still despise Wheatley and all his works. The feeling was mutual. In E. F. Benson’s two Colin novels (published in 1923 and 1925), the eponymous hero, like that of Dion Fortune’s novel, builds himself a temple, but Colin’s temple is for decidedly sinister purposes, for Colin hates love and loves hate. In Benson’s other pagan novel, The Inheritor, we meet the satyrlike Tim, a creature of the woods who enjoys dancing and drinking with the novel’s hero, Steven. The homoerotic subtext, with its praise of Arcadian liberties, can be traced once more back to Nietzsche. Like Rat and Mole in The Wind in the Willows, Steven and his college chum, “The Child,” at the beginning of The Inheritor, go boating down river just before dawn (though the latter couple do so in a Canadian canoe rather than a conventional rowing boat): The spell of the night for one, for the other of that almost discarnate silence of their companionship, was broken, and with the spread of light in the sky above, and the touch of the water’s coolness, the dreamland of the darkness dispersed.16

Pan, Paganism and Arcadia


Steven is aware of “that mysterious spell of the night which held something potent and vital and secret,”17 and that secret something is the message of Pan — of communion not only with his domain but also of the bond of friendship as experienced by Rat and Mole. It is friendship that Benson is more than happy to eroticize, describing, as he does, how Steven’s shoulder is left bare: “The muscles of it, alternately taut and slack, rippled under the skin as he pressed on his paddle and withdrew it.”18 Could it be that the love of two men for each other — that bond which Arcadia permits and Pan celebrates — is what frightened Christianity most? Is this what lies at the heart of the word “panic”? Benson never descends to pornographic details — indeed, the whole point of a book like The Inheritor is its sublimation of the erotic: Their comradeship had parted there, for this stood outside any relation they held to each other: it reached out into a more primitive love, it was instinct with that knowledge which in Greek fable peopled the woodland with shy presences, with Pan and his fauns, with Dionysus and his mænads. You could not go there alone [...] ; you must have someone with you to keep step and aid perception. And that region lay outside sex altogether: a man who went on such an exploration with a woman by his side, thinking that through her he would attain that primitive craving of the soul, would find that the satisfaction of physical passion would only cloud his eyes and lure him away from his goal, so that he turned aside and pressed forward no more. Comrades who understood, and who were bound together by a sexless love, alone could advance there.19

This is Plato in the home counties. By comparison, Christianity is a dull thing. Benson’s anti–Christian (distinctly pro-homosexual) attitude is nowhere more clearly expressed than in this passage from The Inheritor: Wasn’t it rather this host of perfectly normal people, who had not the slightest curiosity about the shadowy edges, who by their sheer weight kept back all chance of enlightenment? There they all marched along in the middle of the road, singing “Onward, Christian Soldiers” without any notion of what Christianity or fighting meant, except that you were kind and bluff and hearty and taught the village boys to resist the temptations to which you had yourself succumbed.20

For Benson, as for so many Arcadian writers, Pan is a metaphor of the process of individuation — of becoming who one is, free from the masks and roles imposed upon the self by society. As Maurice Crofts, the somewhat repressed academic of the novel, explains: Knowing one’s self is a very unimportant matter: it is just the same sort of semiethical advice which the Delphic oracle would give, and all that I know of myself doesn’t encourage me to want to know more. But inside what I know is the thing that I really am. But it’s like a kernel inside a nut: the shell that I know must be smashed up before I get to it.21

Maurice can only imagine this by being freed from civilization itself:


Second Intermission There are primeval instincts and perceptions which we have lost in this bloody thing we call civilization, just as a dog loses his dogship by being domesticated.22

Taking a meal outdoors in the company of the Pan-like Steven and Steven’s satyr-like companion, Tim, Maurice indeed regresses to an Arcadian vision of the past: Above all, the time was not now on this day of early September and in this year 1929, but it was the noon of some remote immortal morning of the golden days when the blithe spirits of the sea and woodland still made themselves manifest to eyes that were enlightened with understanding.23

A similar, though heterosexual, approach to the meaning of Pan was taken by Dion Fortune in The Goat-Foot God. Here, even more explicitly, Pan is a symbol of the integration of the personality, an integration that can only be achieved without the confines of modernity and its pressures of conformity. Fortune describes Pan in traditional terms: She saw him, shaggy and wild and kind [...]. He was the keeper of all wild and hunted souls for which no place could be found in a man-made world.24

Mona, the bohemian artist of the novel, and Hugh, a wealthy but unloved widower, come together at the end of the book during a ceremony in which they invoke Pan, the healer of souls, who lies within but who, when released, unifies them with the natural world in the ultimate experience of integration: There is a life behind the personality that uses personalities as masks. There are times when life puts off the mask and deep answers unto deep. Unless there is elemental life behind the personality, the loveliest mask is lifeless. [...] The chaste and the mild merely get maudlin in their cups, the Dionysiac inebriation is not for them.25

Fortune, a practicing occultist, was working within an explicitly psychic frame of reference, but was also keen to point out that this was only one path, and that one did not need to be a psychic or even to believe in the occult for one to raise Pan. In less mystical terms, this means that the most rational among us may learn to follow the road towards psychological integration. Nietzsche’s dithyrambs to Dionysus were the outpourings of an atheist, but they were no less “mystical” than Fortune’s, from a psychological point of view. Nietzsche’s fulmination against the life-denying forces of Christianity was designed to clear the ground for Dionysian revelry. In his case, this meant sexual fulfillment as much as anything else, and this is surely the reason why Pan became the secret symbol of the “love that dare not speak its name.” In Also Sprach Zarathustra, Nietzsche eulogizes the “islands of the blest,” islands that he experienced in person when he visited Sicily on a trip that had been inspired by the photographs of naked youths taken by German homosexual

Pan, Paganism and Arcadia


Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856–1931), which seemingly brought the classical ideal of the Barbarini Faun to life. Sicily was truly an Arcadia for nineteenthcentury homosexuals — an island where love was not punishable by imprisonment and so, therefore, doubly blest. In his Zarathustra, Nietzsche wrote: The figs are falling from the trees, they are fine and sweet and as they fall their red skins split. I am a north wind to ripe figs. Thus, like figs, do these teachings fall to you, my friends: now drink their juice and eat their sweet flesh! It is autumn all around and clear sky and afternoon. Behold, what abundance is around us! And it is fine to gaze out upon distant seas from the midst of superfluity. Once you said “God” when you gazed upon distant seas; but now I have taught you to say “Superman.”26

By sojourning on the islands of the blest with these living gods, Nietzsche’s Dionysian dream at last seemed possible. There he would be free from the repressions of Christian society. Men could love men and indeed becomes gods by overcoming their meekness and shame. They would be able to replace God by becoming Pan themselves. Again, the Nietzschean influence on Benson is apparent in Benson’s emphasis, in The Inheritor, on the significance of dancing one’s way into Arcadia. Tim dances for Steven, intoxicated by too much Burgundy, before being interrupted by the shocked and overly civilized Maurice: We were going fast back into the morning of the world. Tim was dancing himself and me back into it. Did you ever dream that dancing could be like that? It was bursting with the joy of life.27

This is surely an echo of Zarathustra’s Dance Song, inspired, as Nietzsche makes clear, by dancing girls (who were presumably dancing boys in his own imagination, for Zarathustra’s Secret could never be openly revealed): Do not cease your dance, sweet girls! No spoil-sport has come to you with an evil eye, no enemy of girls. I am God’s advocate with the Devil; he, however, is the Spirit of Gravity. How could I be enemy to divine dancing, you nimble creatures? or to girls’ feet with fair ankles!28

This passage, set to distinctly Wagnerian music by the equally Dionysian Frederick Delius in his Mass of Life (1905), lies at the heart of Nietzsche’s philosophy of music — that it should indeed make one dance, not mire one in mist and gloom as Wagner (Nietzsche’s much-loved enemy) had apparently forced it to do. Music, for Nietzsche, belonged to Dionysus, the god whom once he had believed to have inspired Wagner, but whom he now heard singing far more authentically in Bizet’s opera, Carmen. For Nietzsche, Carmen was music of the South, music of affirmation, music of Pan. All music that makes


Second Intermission

us dance puts us in contact with Pan. Discos or dithyrambs, the spirit of the dance releases that which is repressed, and in the process we become gods. To dance is to transcend oneself by losing oneself, for only by losing oneself can one ever hope to come face to face with who one really is. In The Inheritor, Steven finds facing up to who he is difficult at times. He flees his Cornish idyll with Tim, fearing that the family curse has come upon him — not in the shape of a horned and bestial monster (as, apparently, it had manifested itself in his ancestors) but in his lack of “humanity,” his indifference, his inability to pity others. The curse, is, of course, the curse of being different. He has already declared his college friend, The Child, who existed merely as a physical attraction, too conventional to join him in Arcadia. The death of Steven’s mother leaves Steven himself unmoved. Only Tim means anything to him because Tim represents a world that is beyond the merely human. Steven tries to be human. He suffers his annoying aunt, he expresses concern over his dying uncle, he even marries a nonentity. Benson suggests through his caricature of Betty, Steven’s wife, that all women are, by their very nature, nonentities, and he seems to equate them with Christianity, conventional morality and narrow-mindedness. Tim ignores Betty when introduced to her, for she doesn’t really exist for him, anything that is not part of his instinctual world doesn’t exist. Betty, like many a woman unknowingly married to men who are marked for Pan, is both perplexed and terrified by the rejection of such a husband. (And this was also, no doubt, the basis of Nietzsche’s notorious misogyny.) Steven, despite his best efforts, can find Betty only annoying: It came into Steven’s mind what a bore Betty would be if she came down with him every morning, kicking about clumsily in shallow water and wanting him to hold her up. It would spoil all the spirit and charm of the place, with its long silent baskings, if she were here, learning to swim and proud of how quickly she was getting on. How absolutely idiotic of her not to be able to swim! It would spoil it for Tim, too: there would be no more wandering naked along the shore, looking for cockles and glasswort, with Betty there in a pretty bathing dress and sandals.29

Betty is aware that Steven’s real personality is rather different from the mask he wears: Betty knew that there were many things she did not understand about Steven, all of which somehow contributed to the endless charm of his personality: sudden little savageries, sudden little withdrawals of himself, even at the zenith of intimacy, sudden little heartlessness, flicking out like a whiplash, and instantly vanishing again.30

It is not only Steven’s sexuality she senses and fears, it is also the rejection of conventional morality that this implies. Steven does not wish to be human, just as the heroes of so many tales by Blackwood wish to be absorbed in

Pan, Paganism and Arcadia


nature, to bypass the interfering mesh of humanity in which their animal souls have been ensnared. The call of Pan is not so far removed from the baying of the werewolf. Wolves enjoy so much more freedom than men, for they exist, along with the rest of nature, beyond morality, where, as we have already heard Nietzsche explain, there are no laws, only necessities. Could this be why Hitler liked to call himself “Wolf ”? (Intriguingly, Hitler had his former friend Ernst Röhm murdered with the same indifference that Steven feels over the drowning of The Child and even the death of his own mother.) Hitler’s cult of death and the pagan revival over which he presided, in which Wotan attempted to usurp Christ, was the darkest manifestation of Pan’s fin-de-siècle influence. Hitler’s rejection of pity was derived from a distorted interpretation of Nietzsche’s far-less barbaric analysis of the psychological causes of that emotion. Hitler’s war was certainly against civilization because it was, in part, a war on behalf of Pan. It began just nine years after The Inheritor was published. In Benson’s novel, Steven feels no instinctive pity for others, and his attempts at love fail to rise to the required heights, remaining in the valley of conventional disapproval or intellectual dullness. The Child is beautiful but lacks perception. Mrs. Gervase is loving but too terrified of the truth. Maurice fails over the hurdle of decency and conventional morality. Only Tim, the wild, joyful, instinctive Tim, remains loyal, for he, too, is a child of nature, that realm where only joy, not pity, exists. This is the basis of Nietzsche’s argument against the all-too-human invention of Christianity, and his praise of natural instinct: the instinct for power, and, through power, of joy and authenticity. Such a realm lies beyond good and evil, for a child of nature, though he feels ecstasy and pain, has no pity. Benson’s use of the word “gay” in The Inheritor is significant. Though written at a time before the meaning of this word became exclusively associated with homosexuality, Benson does conflate the two meanings here. At one point he writes of some woodland place haunted by mocking presences, careless and inhuman and gay, and older than time and younger than the dawn.31

This suggests that to be gay means to be indifferent — in some ways inhuman, or at least beyond the standards of behavior that conventional Christian society regards as morally good. After all, one of the main differences between humanity and the animals is our ability to construct values. This ecstatic, pitiless and purely instinctual kind of man is also similar to one of the Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s most memorable characters in his unjustly neglected masterpiece of occult fiction, A Strange Story (1862). Set in contemporary Christian England, it concerns a sorcerer called Margrave, who has discovered the secret of eternal life. Like Steven, Margrave has a curi-


Second Intermission

ous rapport with nature along with an unnerving vitality. Steven is able to commune with a squirrel: When it came close to them it paused for a moment, sitting up with plumed tail erect, and then with a little chattering sound it ran along Steven’s bare and outstretched arm and nestled up to his chin with a gabble of squeaks and chatterings.32

Similarly, though more malevolently, Margrave, in A Strange Story, shouts, “let me catch that squirrel.” With what a panther-like bound he sprang! The squirrel eluded his grasp, and was up the oak-tree; in a moment he was up the oak-tree too. In amazement I saw him rising from bough to bough; saw his bright eyes and glittering teeth through the green leaves; presently I heard the sharp piteous cry of the squirrel — echoed by the youth’s merry laugh — and down, through that maze of green, Margrave came, dropping on the grass and bounding up, as Mercury might have bounded with his wings at his heels. ‘I have caught him — what pretty brown eyes!” Suddenly the gay expression of his face changed to that of a savage; the squirrel had wrenched itself half-loose, and bitten him. The poor brute! In an instant its neck was wrung — its body dashed on the ground; and that fair young creature, every feature quivering with rage, was stamping his foot on his victim again and again!33

Margrave’s apparent cruelty, preceded by his persuasive charm, is truly Dionysian, in the Nietzschean sense of the term, for no animal is capable of being cruel. That is an entirely human privilege. Bernard Shaw, a kind of Nietzschean himself, was also keen to interpret Margrave (though with significant reservations) along these lines in his 1898 essay, “The Perfect Wagnerite”: When the late Lord Lytton, in his Strange Story, introduced a character personifying the joyousness of intense vitality, he felt bound to deny him the immortal soul which was at that time conceded even to the humblest characters in fiction, and to accept mischievousness, cruelty, and utter incapacity for sympathy as the inevitable consequence of his magnificent bodily and mental health. In short, though men felt all the charm of abounding life and abandonment to its impulses, they dared not, in their deep self-mistrust, conceive it otherwise than as a force making for evil — one which must lead to universal ruin unless checked and literally mortified by self-renunciation in obedience to superhuman guidance, or at least to some reasoned system of morals. When it became apparent to the cleverest of them that no such superhuman guidance existed, and that their secularist systems had all the fictitiousness of “revelation” without its poetry, there was no escaping the conclusion that all the good that man had done must be put down to his arbitrary will as well as all the evil he had done; and it was also obvious that if progress were a reality, his beneficent impulses must be gaining on his destructive ones. It was under the influence of these ideas that we began to hear about the joy

Pan, Paganism and Arcadia


of life where we had formerly heard about the grace of God or the Age of Reason, and that the boldest spirits began to raise the question whether churches and laws and the like were not doing a great deal more harm than good by their action in limiting the freedom of the human will.34

Lytton was a best-seller in Shaw’s and Benson’s youth and Benson would surely have been aware of the Margrave incident when it came to his own squirrel scene in The Inheritor. Though Benson’s squirrel doesn’t meet the violent end of Lytton’s, both Steven and Margrave are indeed children of Pan. Unlike the Christian father who raises a family because he believes in the social system his religion enshrines, a child of Pan or of Dionysus is selfsufficient, living only for his own sensations. He can even be sexually selfsufficient, if he is sufficiently imaginative. Being happy doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with being good. Neither does being good necessarily have anything to do with being happy. Only the religious regard such a state of affairs as “evil.” In its quest to disassociate humanity from nature, Christianity transformed the amoral Pan into the “evil” Goat of Mendes, but all Pan, Steven and Margrave want is more joy, more life, more ecstasy. The fact that others might die in their pursuit of this is of no consequence to them, just as the true aesthete is interested only in beauty at the cost of any “social” responsibility. Such a challenge to conventional morality was famously promoted by Walter Pater with his belief that the artist should always burn with a “hard, gemlike flame,”35 in the pursuit of as many experiences as possible at any merely human cost. As Benson puts it, when in thrall to the ecstasy of Pan, “All human affections and relationships were as waves breaking inaudibly on remote shores.”36 Oscar Wilde would have called this “feasting with panthers”37 when called from the domestic life and wife he genuinely loved by the homosexual allure of renters and rough trade. And, like a flashback in a movie, that conversation between Aschenbach and Alfred in Visconti’s Death in Venice now returns with greater resonance: ALFRED: Beauty belongs to the senses. Only the senses. ASCHENBACH: You cannot reach the spirit through the senses. You cannot. It’s only by complete domination of the senses that you can ever achieve wisdom, truth and human dignity. ALFRED: Wisdom? Human dignity? What use are they? Genius is a divine gift. No! No! No!— a divine affliction: a sinful, morbid flash-fire of natural gifts.

Indifference, even to one’s own suffering, permits one to glimpse the god within, actually to stand face to face with Pan, that most elusive of all the gods. “Untroubled, scornful, outrageous — that is how wisdom wants us to be,” says Nietzsche in Zarathustra. “He who climbs upon the highest moun-


Second Intermission

tains laughs at all tragedies, real or imaginary. [...] One does not kill by anger but by laughter. Come, let us kill the Spirit of Gravity.”38 Conscience is always a coward, fear the enemy of indifference. Guilt is the self-indulgence of greed, and faith the crutch of crippled men. Health is indifferent to suffering, suffering indifferent to life. Joy laughs at sorrow, and sorrow weeps for joy. Man that is born of woman lives roughly as long as any other man, and is full of both joy and suffering; for in the midst of death we are in life, and as a soap bubble floats carelessly over the earth before it bursts, so do we float with our swirling colors and filled with as much air, with the only difference that we know that we will burst. To lose this knowledge is what we yearn for most, which is why Pan urges us to dance to his tune, and Dionysus to drink the juice of his grapes. Only this knowledge of death, which is unknown in the unconscious world of nature’s eternal present, is what makes us “human”— our dubious elevation over the world of beasts.


Visconti’s Death in Venice Though the Dionysian background of Mann’s novella does not specifically appear in the film of Death in Venice, Visconti nonetheless tried to suggest it by other means. Aschenbach’s nightmare, as Mann described, is replaced with Visconti’s own invention: a flashback scene in which Aschenbach’s latest symphony is received with derision and catcalls, after which Aschenbach collapses from exhaustion and despair and contemplates the passing of time by staring into an hour glass. Visconti hoped to maintain his entirely naturalistic approach to Mann’s highly symbolic narrative, while at the same time conveying the fact that Aschenbach’s psyche, like his physique, has grown too weak to bear the sudden emotional pressure of overwhelming beauty. To emphasize this point even further, Visconti juxtaposed that concert fiasco scene with a shot of Aschenbach collapsing by a fountain in the middle of a Venetian courtyard subsequent to one of his fevered pursuits of Tadzio along the bridges and passageways of that city of death. However, the symbolism of the concert scene is too oblique (not to mention brief ) to make the impact of Mann’s original dream sequence, and consequently Visconti fails to present the deeper, darker layers of the story in appropriate visual terms. The director’s aim to show everything in the book, exactly as Mann wrote it, is patently not the case. Bogarde explained that he based his performance of Aschenbach’s melancholy on his own childhood memories of shyness at tennis parties and tea parties,1 and that very personal, individual, even parochial inspiration indeed matches Visconti’s overall fashion-plate approach with its ravishing surface but relative lack of philosophical profundity. It is all a long way away from Pan, Plato, Dionysus and Nietzsche. Benjamin Britten’s operatic version, which appeared around the same time as Visconti’s film, is much more concerned with the underlying meaning of the story. Britten did not shy away from presenting the nightmare scene, including in it both Dionysus and Apollo (the latter written for a countertenor). Britten’s librettist, Myfanwy Piper, also incorporated a scene of her 99


Visconti and the German Dream

own, but one that is better suited to Mann’s philosophical subtext than Visconti’s concert scene. This was the Pentathlon ballet, which allowed Britten an opportunity to discuss Mann’s disquisitions on the concept of Platonic ideal beauty in theatrical terms. Apollo sings as the boys perform their athletic games. “The boy Tadzio shall inspire me,” Aschenbach exclaims after this interlude. “His pure lines shall form my style.” Visconti always carried a copy of “Death in Venice” around with him when he was a young man. He loved it above all of Mann’s other works, with the exception of Buddenbrooks, but one cannot help thinking that what most attracted him to the story was the way it reflected his own childhood along with its evocation of the fin-de-siècle culture he knew and loved so well. “Today’s world,” he said, “is so ugly, so grey, and the world to come is horrible, vile.”2 Such a statement does rather suggest the melancholy Weltschmerz of an aesthete, but he argued that his historical films were not a mere escape into the past. Their purpose was to explain the present. Visconti, the apparently committed Communist, feared a return to fascism and the superficiality that would inevitably follow in its wake. Coincidentally, Bogarde later starred in a film that in part addressed these issues. This was Liliana Cavani’s 1974 Il portiere di notte (The Night Porter), which gave Bogarde the opportunity to wear an SS officer’s uniform (something he had been denied in The Damned ). The premise is kinky, but fairly straightforward. A Nazi SS officer (Bogarde) has had a sadomasochistic relationship with a Jew in a concentration camp (a role taken by Charlotte Rampling, who had played a comparable Nazi victim in The Damned ). Now working as a night porter in a hotel, Bogarde comes face to face once more with Rampling, who appears as a guest at the hotel. Her husband is an orchestral conductor, a detail that carries rather more resonance than if he had been a mere businessman. Bogarde watches Rampling during a performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the opera house, conducted by the husband. This echoes the role of music in the Third Reich, not least the infamous concerts that were performed in concentration camps by the prisoners themselves. Flashbacks inform us of what went on in the past, and the film ends with Bogarde’s night porter and his Nazi comrades meeting on a Viennese rooftop, plotting their comeback. Robert Tanitch observed, “There were moments, especially when the couple were starving it out in a garret, when the two actors came very near to corpsing at the absurdity of the perversity they were being asked to enact.”3 Nonetheless, Bogarde seemed shocked by the way the film was marketed: And did you know that the preview of Night Porter in the States was held in a theatre lined with black leather, and the critics sat in black leather seats with chains across them, and there were match-hooks with whips on them? The only way they knew how to sell it was pornography.4

FOUR. Visconti’s Death in Venice


Charlotte Rampling and Dirk Bogarde in The Night Porter (Dir. Liliana Cavani, 1974).


Visconti and the German Dream

However, the sex scenes are frankly so kinky, especially with the SS uniform and all its subsequent fetish associations, that it is difficult not to think of the whole thing being just that. As Susan Sontag pointed out in the same year that The Night Porter was released, Of course, most people who are turned on by SS uniforms are not signifying approval of what the Nazis did, if indeed they have more than the sketchiest idea of what that might be. Nevertheless, there are powerful and growing currents of sexual feeling, those that generally go by the name of sadomasochism, which make playing at Nazism seem erotic. These sadomasochistic fantasies and practices are to be found among heterosexuals as well as homosexuals, although it is among male homosexuals that the eroticizing of Nazism is most visible. [...] Between sadomasochism and Fascism there is a natural link. “Fascism is theater,” as Genet said. As is sadomasochistic sexuality: to be involved in sadomasochism is to take part in sexual theater, a staging of sexuality.5

Sontag had no doubt that “right-wing movements, however puritanical and repressive the realities they usher in, have an erotic surface. Certainly, Nazism is ‘sexier’ than communism.”6 Visconti would have wholeheartedly agreed with that, as the ambivalence of the homosexual SA orgy in the “Night of the Long Knives” sequence of The Damned demonstrates all too clearly. However, Visconti was also a living contradiction: a Communist who lived in a palace (though he always denied that he lived in any particular luxury), and a filmmaker who felt that mass culture was destroying civilization — an apparently “fatal” development, though one which could apparently be ameliorated if the films (presumably of the Visconti variety) introduced mass audiences to a great work of literature.7 By tracing the origins of twentieth-century decadence back to Ludwig’s Bavaria, he nonetheless denied that he was merely indulging in nostalgia but was, in fact, engaging with contemporaneity. For him, it was not so much a case of how much better the world had been in the past as how much worse the future could be if we fail learn the lessons of history. However, Visconti’s Death in Venice does not really grapple with history from this perspective, being a rather more self-contained affair than that, and more concerned with its own world than how that world impacted on future generations. The sense of historical continuum is there implicitly, especially when it is viewed as part of a trilogy, but it is often easy to forget about that while watching it, and to allow oneself to be sucked into the sumptuous aestheticism of the experience. Of course, aestheticism has its own dangers, as Walter Benjamin pointed out with regard to the Nazis’ aestheticization of politics, and that aspect, in itself, summons intimations of the European dangers to come. Indeed, such dangers were fully understood by the arch-priest of aestheticism, Oscar Wilde, who discussed them by means of exquisite prose

FOUR. Visconti’s Death in Venice


in the celebrated fairy tales of A House of Pomegranates. As Wilde biographer Martin Fido explains, “The stories themselves repeatedly attacked the worship of beauty.[...] Hatred of cruelty runs through the stories like a backbone. Linked to it is an obsessive anxiety that the enjoyment of luxury and beauty may in itself engender heartless cruelty. Love and pity are elevated and enthroned.”8 Christopher McIntosh also observes that King Ludwig’s own tyrannical streak was often prompted by an antipathy to physical ugliness, which “sometimes caused him to be unjust.” When he was young “care was taken to surround him only with servants whose faces pleased him.”9 While nowhere near as catastrophic as Hitler’s anti–Semitism, both attitudes emerged from the same concern with aestheticism over reality. (There were exceptions to this “rule,” however. Wagner, like Hitler, was hardly the most handsome fellow in the universe, but just as Hitler managed to convince his fanatical followers that he was the archetype of the Aryan ideal, Ludwig’s admiration of the “snuffling gnome from Saxony” apparently blinded him to Wagner’s many undesirable imperfections.) It is also important to realize that Visconti was also an art collector and connoisseur of art nouveau objets, and Death in Venice certainly gave him every opportunity to indulge his passion. Indeed, one might say that the film is a faithful evocation not so much of the novella but of the real events that inspired Mann to write it in the first place. Mann admitted that all the narrative events in the story actually happened to him, and this is one of the reasons why Bogarde looks much more like Mann than Mahler, though as Bogarde explained, this was as much of an accident as anything else. Originally, Visconti wanted him to resemble Mahler and provided him with a false nose, which kept falling off. The “Mann” makeup was apparently an afterthought, but, if so, it was certainly an inspired serendipity: Forwood [Bogarde’s partner, Anthony Forwood] was fingering through a small box of moustaches which Mauro [the make-up supervisor] had left behind in his grief. He handed me one at random. I stuck it on; it was bushy, greyish, Kipling. In another box of buttons, safety pins, hair grips, and some scattered glass beads he disentangled a pair of rather bent pince-nez with a thin gold chain dangling. I placed the hat back on my head, wrapped a long beige woolen scarf about my neck, took up a walking stick from a bundle of others which lay in a pile, and borrowing a walk from my paternal grandfather, heavily back on the heels, no knee caps, I started to walk slowly round and round the room, emptying myself of myself, thinking pain and loneliness, bewilderment and age, fear and terror of dying in solitude.

Only when he revealed his make-up to Visconti, did the maestro exclaim, “Look, look, all of you! Look! Here is my Thomas Mann!”10 Mann was quite open about the biographical origins in the story, explaining that it was during his own holiday in Venice in 1911 that he experienced


Visconti and the German Dream

a “series of curious circumstances and impressions,” which he called “a personal and lyrical experience while travelling,” and which inspired many of the novella’s key moments: The “pilgrim” at the North Cemetery, the dreary Pola boat, the gray-haired rake, the sinister gondolier, Tadzio and his family, the journey interrupted by a mistake about the luggage, the cholera, the upright clerk in the travel bureau, the rascally ballad-singer, all that and anything else you like, they were all there. I had only to arrange them when they showed at once and in the oddest way their capacity as elements of composition.11

Like Aschenbach, Mann was feeling out-of-sorts and badly needed a holiday. First he went to Brioni, but again like his hero, he decided to leave and head for Venice. On the steamer he met the red-haired fop. He, too, was rowed by a sinister gondolier, saw the real-life inspiration for Tadzio and was instantly besotted by him. Worried by the cholera alarm, Mann left the Lido a week after his arrival and started to work on the story at once. The youth’s name was not, in fact, Tadzio but Wladyslaw. Aschenbach hears the name incorrectly —first as “something like Adgio — or, more often still, Adjiu, with a long, drawn-out u at the end.”12 And that is what Mann himself would have heard, except that “Adgio”— more correctly, “Adzio”— is, via “Wladzio,” short for Wladyslaw. Adzio wasn’t a youth, but actually a child, not quite 11 years old. His full name was Wládyslaw Moes. Tadzio’s older companion in the book, Jashciu, was actually his junior, and, according to Gilbert Adair, it should actually have been spelled “Jasio.”13 Adzio died in 1986, Jasio in 1982, but before that, Visconti’s film put them into an unsought spotlight. Both men had long-since known about their connection with Mann’s story. Adzio recalled, “I still clearly remember the athletic wrestling which you [Jasio] always won,”14 but Jasio was adamant that he had not hurt Adzio in the way Mann described that combat of long ago.15 Visconti’s camera somewhat lecherously dwells upon their (now teenage) tantrum. Adzio was indeed a frail lad and allowed to sleep late in the hotel, breakfasting when it pleased him, hence his often-late arrival. This provided Visconti with another opportunity for Aschenbach amply to observe Tadzio’s compellingly lithe figure. Adzio also vividly recalled “‘an old man’ (even if Mann, in 1911, was just 36) staring at him wherever he went,”16 and, as in the novel and film, the boy shared a lift ride with Mann/Aschenbach, their furtive glances and awkward proximity later so expertly captured by Visconti and his actors. Mann wasn’t the only person to have been attracted to the young Wládyslaw Moes. Henryk Sienkewicz, the once-celebrated Polish novelist, famous for the novel Quo Vadis (1896), insisted that Adzio had once perched on his lap, but he swiftly off-loaded him when he discovered that the boy had urinated down his leg: a dubious claim to fame, but a claim to fame nonetheless.17

FOUR. Visconti’s Death in Venice


Despite mixing with such celebrity, Adzio later found himself in muchreduced circumstances, and thought of suing Visconti when he heard his surname mentioned on the soundtrack.18 This happens when Aschenbach asks about the Polish family, and the hotel clerk distinctly mentions the name (something Mann kept out of the book). Visconti’s decision to turn Aschenbach into a composer, of course, makes sense when we consider how important Mahler was during the genesis of the character. Mann made the connection quite explicit, one of the most obvious parallels being the similarity of their given names, but the physical characteristics are also very close: Gustave von Aschenbach was somewhat below middle height, dark and smoothshaven, with a head that looked rather too large for his almost delicate figure. He wore his hair brushed back; it was thin at the parting, bushy and grey on the temples, framing a lofty, rugged, knotty brow — if one may so characterize it. The nose-piece of his rimless gold spectacles cut into the base of his thick, aristocratically hooked nose. The mouth was large, often lax, often suddenly narrow and tense; the cheeks lean and furrowed, the pronounced chin slightly cleft.19

A more accurate description of Mahler’s features it would be hard to find; but there is a drawback to Visconti’s decision to make Aschenbach a composer, as the whole point of the story is that Aschenbach is an Apollonian artist, who denies the Dionysian impulse, and, as Nietzsche argued, music — particularly of the Wagnerian kind — is the most Dionysian of the arts. “Music and tragic myth,” he enthused at the end of The Birth of Tragedy, “are equally expressions of the Dionysian capacity of a people, and they are inseparable. Both derive from a sphere of art that lies beyond the Apollonian; both transfigure a region in whose joyous chords dissonance as well as the terrible image of the world fade away charmingly; both play with the sting of displeasure, trusting in their exceedingly powerful magic arts; and by means of this play both justify the existence of even the ‘worst world.’”20 Unlike a late–Romantic composer such as Mahler, Mann’s Aschenbach is an Apollonian reasoner, an abstainer from emotion. When adapting the story into an opera (though one that is comparably “cinematic” in its fluid structure), Britten realized this anomaly all too well. Aschenbach remains an author, and Mahlerian musical style is strictly avoided. Instead, Britten employed what Clifford Hindley calls “a rhythmically free form of pitch-notated recitative”21 to characterize the chaste nature of the hero. Humphrey Carpenter also draws attention to musicologist Peter Evans’s suggestion that “the twelve-tone music which characterizes Aschenbach at the beginning of the opera is meant to suggest that he is ‘unduly intellectual’ in his attitude to life, and that the formal trumpet theme which accompanies his words ‘I, Aschenbach, famous as a master writer’ indicates that he is ‘self-


Visconti and the German Dream

consciously stiff.’”22 In contrast to all that, the music for Tadzio employs the ambivalent timbre of the vibraphone, the bucolic timbres of flute, harp and, to represent the Dionysian and more dangerously exotic elements represented by Tadzio, Britten summons the “exotic” qualities of other tuned percussion instruments such as xylophone, marimba and glockenspiel, all of which imitate the sound of the Balinese gamelan orchestras he had experienced on his tour of the Far East during 1955–’56. As Aschenbach and Tadzio do not speak to each other, Britten and Piper also decided to have Tadzio and his equally mute family dance rather than sing their emotions. Crucially, the action begins in Munich as Mann’s story does, thus maintaining the important sense of contrast between the Apollonian and Dionysian worlds that are respectively represented by the Bavarian capital and Venice. The emissaries of Death represented by the old traveler, the fop, the gondolier, the hotel manager, the hotel barber, the leader of the players and even Dionysus himself, are all performed by the same character. They all have sinister red hair, odd teeth, uncertain nationality and appear and disappear in mysterious fashion. By cementing the parallel with Mahler, Visconti was, however, able to secure the position of Death in Venice as the mid-point in his German trilogy. Having been denied Wagner for the soundtrack of his earlier Götterdämmerung (The Damned ), Visconti grasped the opportunity he was now given by the producers of Death in Venice and choreographed the entire film to the musical structures of Mahler’s music, something that Dirk Bogarde was apparently unaware of during filming: I think that the only direct instruction he [Visconti] ever gave me was one morning when he requested that I should stand upright in my little motor-boat at the exact moment that I felt the mid-day sun strike my face as we slipped under the great arc of the Rialto bridge. I did not know why I had to make this specific movement at such a precise time until I saw the final film with him some months later, and it was only then, too, that I realised he had been choreographing the entire film, shot by shot, blending all my movements to the music of the man he had wanted to embody the soul of Gustave von Aschenbach. Gustav Mahler.23

The shot to which Bogarde refers here is, however, distinctly inept. As he stands up, the camera is confronted with Bogarde’s trousered crotch — an uninspiring (and potentially comic) image, about which there is nothing sublime or interesting. As we have seen, Visconti put much of himself into his adaptation, and there are other elements of autobiography in the film. In one of the early scenes, Aschenbach places photographs of his wife and daughter about the hotel room, in an attempt to reconstruct his domestic environment (though the implication is that both wife and daughter are now dead). Visconti similarly distributed photographs of his parents — especially his beloved mother —

FOUR. Visconti’s Death in Venice


around the hotel rooms in which he also found himself. In The Damned we witness a similar fetish in action, when Baron Joachim kisses the photo of his son. Visconti also reconstructed the bourgeois comforts of fin-de-siècle hotels, remembered so vividly from his childhood experiences in Venice and Paris. In Death in Venice, he indulges in lingering shots of the hotel lobby, with its pink hydrangeas in blue planters, its potted palms, the sentimental music of the hotel musicians (who play “Vilia” from The Merry Widow with appropriate sluggishness), the newspapers, and the international clientele. Dinner time is also relished, giving Visconti ample opportunities to admire Tosi’s extravagant costumes. Similarly, almost the entire cast is seen on the beach, doing nothing more than pretending to be on holiday, which, as they say, must have been nice work if you could get it. So little actually happens in the film that the British comedy act, “The Goodies” (Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie) lampooned its narrative stasis in one of their BBC TV shows, first broadcast on February 10, 1975. They produce an alternative version of the film called “Death in Bognor,” which they claim is better than “Death in Venice.” At one point, while watching Visconti’s film, Oddie shouts out that Aschenbach should get a move on and just die. The narrative stasis is, however, inevitable because Mann’s novella is not primarily driven by events but by emotional and philosophical responses to beauty. This is not easy to achieve in dramatic terms. A similar problem is faced by film and television adaptations of Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, which often excise its aesthetic disquisitions; but these are really the underlying justification of the narrative events Wilde superimposes upon them. Visconti, at least, doesn’t fall into that dramaturgical trap. As well as being a partly selfindulgent essay in nostalgia, Visconti’s realist agenda encouraged him to dwell on details to summon mood. The story is, after all, about the contemplation of beauty, and Visconti’s camera duly obliges. All these elements help to explain Visconti’s parallel admiration of Proust, for whom mood and aesthetic contemplation were more important than the “mere” events of a plot. Like Visconti, Proust was also overwhelmed with nostalgia for the lost world of pre-war Europe, and fearful of the crudities of the modern world. In Death in Venice, these crudities are represented by the gypsy singers who invade Aschenbach’s elegantly bourgeois world. Eventually they will manifest themselves in the horrors of Nazism — and, of course, beyond. Visconti’s claim that he was filming everything exactly as Mann wrote it is further undermined by his interpolation of details from other works by his favorite author. In Mann’s Doctor Faustus, the composer Adrian Leverkühn is presented as another man of restraint, tempted by sensuality. Just as Tadzio’s angelic beauty seduces and ultimately destroys Aschenbach, Leverkühn’s fate is devastatingly entangled with the prostitute, Esmerelda. His resulting syphilis


Visconti and the German Dream

(similar to the cholera in “Death in Venice” and Hanno’s typhoid fever in Buddenbrooks) is symbolic of Leverkühn’s pact with the Devil — or, more correctly, the idea of a pact with the Devil. For Mann, sickness is symbolic of the Dionysian element in art, which can destroy the unprepared artist. To suggest that Venice serves the same function as the prostitute in Doctor Faustus, Visconti has the ship that brings Aschenbach to the city emblazoned with the name “Esmerelda.” Later he equates Tadzio with Esmerelda by cutting from a shot of the boy picking out Beethoven’s “Für Elise” on the piano to a flashback shot of the prostitute whom Aschenbach visits. She is playing the same piece. The incident derives from Leverkühn’s visit to Esmerelda in Doctor Faustus, which, in turn, was based on Nietzsche’s experience with a prostitute. It was this encounter that infected the philosopher with the syphilis from which he eventually went insane. According to T. E. Apter, The philosopher walked directly to the piano, struck a few chords (chords which echo the Hermit’s prayer in Der Freischütz), and left the brothel, but, a year later, by some frightful compulsion, he returned to the brothel and contracted syphilis. Both the fictional composer and the philosopher saw the disease as a means of heightening their creative powers; both, therefore, sacrificed their health and the possibility of a love attachment on the basis of a very cruel assessment of the demands of their work.24

To ensure that we are under no mistake with regard to the literary source quoted in the film adaptation of Death in Venice, Visconti carefully reproduces the gestures of the prostitute in Doctor Faustus: Her approach, that caressing of his cheek with her bare arm, might have been the humble and tender expression of her receptivity for all that distinguished him from the usual clientèle.25

Aschenbach’s decadence is a specifically post–Wagnerian one. It could not have happened without the impact of Wagner (particularly the teachings of that bible of musical decadence, Tristan und Isolde). Death in Venice appropriately occupies the middle position in Visconti’s trilogy between The Damned and Ludwig. Its theme is the “sickness” that began with Wagner and ended with Hitler; the sickness that seems necessary to heighten the senses at the expense of destroying the soul. Like any addiction, it is quite possible to realize the dangers while still being unable to resist the drug. After all, Aschenbach tries to leave Venice, realizing the danger he is in, but uses the flimsiest of excuses (a baggage-handling mix-up) to return in glory, sailing down the Grand Canal to meet inevitable (and even sought-after) death on the Lido. As Nietzsche put it in The Wagner Case: Wagner’s art is sick. [...] Precisely because nothing is more modern than this total sickness, this lateness and overexcitement of the nervous mechanism, Wagner is the modern artist par excellence, the Cagliostro of modernity. [...]

FOUR. Visconti’s Death in Venice


Björn Andrésen as Tadzio in Death in Venice (Dir. Luchino Visconti, 1971).

Wagner represents a great corruption of music. He has guessed that it is a means to excite weary nerves — and with that he has made music sick.26

By implication, Nietzsche means not just music, but the whole of European civilization, Mahler included. Schiffano understands this: Eros places an artist in conflict with the world, with what is average in life, he wrests him from the middle-class world and transports him to a sphere of tormented and ecstatic decay. At the same time it reveals to him the links between art and the hell of disintegration, gives him a clearer vision of the murky sources of sublimation.27

For Bogarde, however, Aschenbach’s death very nearly disfigured him for life. The hair dye had run perfectly, the face had cracked, the strawberry red lipstick had smeared, my tears had coursed through the wreckage; it had been splendid. Apparently the dying bit had been all right too.

But, glimpsing what remained of the label on the tube of ointment that had been used to remove his death white make-up, he read: “-ghly Inflammable. Keep away from the eyes and skin.” It was a preparation used for removing oil stains from fabric.28


Götterdämmerung The Damned is a modern version of the Macbeth story. A nonentity, Friedrich Bruckmann (Bogarde), schemes his way to the top of the immensely powerful Essenbeck family, who own Germany’s leading steelworks and are modeled on the real-life Krupp family. Also like Macbeth, Bruckmann is aided and abetted by the Lady Macbeth figure of Sophie von Essenbeck (Ingrid Thulin), who is the daughter of the aging head of the family, Baron Joachim (Albrecht Schoenhals). Joachim represents old, bourgeois, “decent” Germany, but is killed off in the first reel by the opportunistic Bruckmann. Visconti’s aim was to depict, in glossy naturalistic style, Germany’s descent into the insanity of power at the cost of all morality. Nothing is too awful for Sophie to contemplate (though Bruckmann does show certain elements of doubt at what she persuades him to do). Murder, injustice, the cultivation of hatred — all are acceptable means to the end in sight. Indeed, the fate of the Essenbeck family mirrors that of Germany as a whole: both are corrupted and perverted by the pursuit of total power. Sophie’s son, Martin (played with histrionic brilliance by Helmut Berger), begins as a pedophile and ends by enacting his own Oedipus complex. Having been raped by her own son, Sophie loses what remains of her reason. The final scenes are closely based on the macabre marriage and suicide of Hitler and Eva Braun, as Visconti stages the simultaneous marriage and suicide of Bruckmann and Sophie. Now dressed in full SS uniform, Martin, who has usurped Bruckmann as head of the firm, issues cyanide capsules, and before long Bruckmann and Sophie are dead. Though it was not specifically based on a story by Mann, The Damned does share many of the themes discussed in Mann’s Buddenbrooks, and Doctor Faustus. Quentin Crisp was once asked if the Nazis had style, to which he replied that yes, of course they had style; otherwise how are we to explain why so many middle-aged Germans keep saying, “I can’t think what came over me.”1 Nazism is, indeed, largely a matter of style. Its success was almost wholly 110

FIVE. Götterdämmerung


dependent upon image over reality, technique over substance. As we have seen, the movement could be said to have been the politicization of virtuosity. As Modris Eksteins points out, “Nazi fascination with technique affected all aspects of social organization and institutional life in the Third Reich.”2 Nazism, he explains, was more than just the aestheticizing of politics as Walter Benjamin had expressed it, “It was the aestheticizing of existence as a whole.” “The German everyday shall be beautiful,” insisted one Nazi motto. Nazism was an attempt to lie beautifully to the German nation and to the world. The beautiful lie is, however, also the essence of kitsch. Kitsch is a form of makebelieve, a form of deception. It is an alternative to a daily reality that would otherwise be a spiritual vacuum. It represents “fun” and “excitement,” energy and spectacle, and above all “beauty.” Kitsch replaces ethics with aesthetics. Kitsch is the mask of Death.3

But again, this kitsch aesthetic has its roots in the nineteenth-century Romanticism that so infatuated Hitler. Kitsch became particularly significant in the nineteenth century because that was when the past first began to be more important than the present. However, by resurrecting the past, nineteenth-century Romanticism misinterpreted it. Mendelssohn’s rediscovery of Bach, Wagner’s reconstruction of the medieval world of Nuremberg, Liszt’s revival of Palestrina, all were part of a general discontent with the way things were at the time, and a belief that things had been better in an earlier age when there seemed to be more religious and social stability. Such a state of affairs suggested, by comparison, a kind of pre-industrial heaven. Loving the past inevitably implies a psychological resistance to the present as well as a fear of the future; the ability to pickle the past usually depends upon the industrial technology it attempts to reject on aesthetic grounds. Nazi aesthetics had much in common with the kitsch, “best-of-both-worlds” approach of King Ludwig’s mock medieval Neuschwanstein, which sports hot- and coldrunning water from swan-necked taps in the Gothic bedroom, and was constructed with the aid one of the world’s first steam cranes. Kitsch means you can have your cake and eat it, and many people have grown fat and unhealthy on such a diet. The more industrialized a country becomes, the more kitsch it produces. The danger facing any country is the burden of its past. As Nietzsche observed in the second of his Untimely Meditations on “The Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life”: The oversaturation of an age with history seems to me to be hostile and dangerous to life [...]; it leads an age into a dangerous mood of irony in regard to itself and subsequently into the even more dangerous mood of cynicism: in this mood, however, it develops more and more a prudent radical egoism through which the forces of life are paralyzed and at last destroyed.4


Visconti and the German Dream

Kitsch-in-Tin. Neuschwanstein Castle decorates the lid of this embossed metal biscuit tin.

Having an interest in the past is not, of course, the same thing as attempting to live in it. Those who have the healthiest interest in the past are those who live in the present, but thanks to industrialization we are able to resurrect the past as never before. Industrialization repackages the past, falsifies it, glamorizes it, presents it as a better place than the present. Kitsch is the meaning of capitalism. Just as kitsch is the child of insecurity it is also the result of aspiration. To the insecure and doubtful conservative who fears the present and cannot contemplate the future without a shudder, the past represents a haven of certainty. To aspire to what is, in fact, fantasy, in the name of authenticity and certainty, inevitably results in a distortion of the model that inspired the aspiration.

FIVE. Götterdämmerung


Great names, not merely the upwardly mobile middle-class consumer, are just as vulnerable to kitsch: Tchaikovsky, for example, whose idolization of Mozart in the suite Mozartiana (1887) represents exactly such flight from contemporary reality. In it, Tchaikovsky sentimentalizes Mozart’s Ave verum corpus. In fact, Mozartiana is where the overall aesthetic of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music began, the film version of which visits Mozartian locations in Salzburg and similarly sentimentalizes them. Still more, Tchaikovsky kitschified the melody from Mozart’s K503 piano concerto in the equally kitschy rococo divertissement of his opera, The Queen of Spades (1890). Kitsch willfully — or just ignorantly (sometimes cheerfully)— misunderstands the historical model it attempts to imitate. This is inevitable, because the historical model can only be recreated after the event, so to speak. It cannot be regarded with innocent eyes. Layers of historical development have grown up between it and the period of its revival, and therefore, pastiche can only ever be ironic, even if unintentionally so. Who better to cast as the mortician, Whispering Glades, in Tony Richardson’s 1965 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novella, The Loved One, than Liberace? The grotesque resurrection of Liszt that was Liberace resembled the effect of Boris Karloff ’s Frankenstein monster. Liberace was nothing if not a reanimated assemblage of long-dead cultural body-parts: a candelabra borrowed from an already-kitschified Hollywood biopic of Chopin, an overly rococo piano and a pianist wearing a pantomimic fantasy of period dress, who anachronistically performed boogie-woogie, while flashing a set of pearly teeth like a benevolent vampire. (Al Lewis’s avuncular Grandpa, in the TV series The Munsters, is indeed a kind of Gothicized Liberace, mixed, of course, with echoes of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula.) Kitschification; Disneyfication: both are fascinating and frightful like fascism. Though not as deadly as Zyclon B, they nonetheless have the power to make us gasp for authenticity in their airless vacuum. Like pornography, the function of kitsch is to titillate. Reality has nothing to do with it; understanding reality, even less. Kitsch is the counterfeit kingdom that promises everything for a price but is fundamentally bankrupt. Hitler was the godfather of kitsch, investing platitudes with the glamour of style. A twentieth-century equivalent of the earlier Kitsch-Meister, King Ludwig, he streamlined Ludwig’s rococo and medieval fantasies with outsize neoclassical giantism and folksy pseudo-vernacularism. Professor Ludwig Troost’s Haus der Deutschen Kunst (House of German Art) in Munich, specially commissioned by the Führer for the enjoyment of das Volk, should really be called the Haus der Deutschen Kitsch. Kitsch and Kunst were interchangeable terms in Nazi Germany. The Nazis were not interested in reality. The social problems that gave rise to the movement were misunderstood by it, its solution to them was obviously (now) misconceived, and the means by which


Visconti and the German Dream

it administered that solution was like those miasmic clouds of brightly colored steam used by Wagner at Bayreuth to affect a change of scene as if “by magic.” Though on the surface embracing “the future” (autobahns, Volkswagens, streamlined neoclassicism, military efficiency), Hitler, in fact, merely “upgraded” his original and over-riding Wagnerian inspiration. All his ideas and style derive from the example of Bayreuth. They were nineteenth-century ideas, for all his talk of youth and the future. The future Hitler had in mind was an obsolete Wagnerian future — not a genuine Kunstwerk der Zukunft. It looked backward to an old idea of the future (an anti–Semitic world of purified Parsifalian hero knights), not forward to the world of true Nietzschean free spirits, released from such racist nonsense. Just as Nietzsche had warned against the “actor” in Wagner, Mann identified Mussolini and Hitler as similar “actors,” with their sinister ability to sway entire populations rather than mere audiences. As T. E. Apter has pointed out, All that he learned of good and of triumph over Romantic seductions, he felt he owed to Nietzsche; all that he knew of evil’s temptation and the longing to relinquish life and purpose, he owed to Wagner. With the rise of Nazism he came to see the problem of German Romanticism as the German problem.5

The centerpiece of Tony Palmer’s epic TV film, Wagner, in which Richard Burton played the composer, is a long scene in which Ronald Pickup’s Nietzsche berates his former mentor with precisely these concerns: All these people, Wagner. All these Germans who flock to Bayreuth: clubs, societies, decked with trumpets blowing, slashing each other with sabers, spouting their anti–Semitic rubbish. You have the nerve to write that Christ was not a Jew, do you not? Do you care? To imagine you could herd all the Jews into a theater of your choosing and then burn it to the ground — as if that would solve the world problem, whatever you think the world problem is. Not to mention a cellar full of silk in boxes! A house fit for a king — paid for by a king. Children who treat you like a god. Your tomb built already, waiting to receive your body! That picture: The Holy Family. Claptrap! Mumbo-jumbo and claptrap! Not you. Your music will still rise above the posturing; but all this! It’s all playacting! You’re a small-time theater-manager who, by some strange trick of fate, has been given the biggest, brightest, most glittering, over-decorated barn to call a theater of a scene, and it’s all to you. Opera is all. There’s nothing else of value to you. The whole of Germany must flock to you. In your estimation, they have fought their wars simply so that you might tug on a curtain and say, “See the face of art as according to Wagner!” And what we sometimes call the Almighty, those of us who should know better: the cross, the Grail, the search, suicide, “The purest form of birth”— claptrap! Silk-clad dances of glee at the raree-show you have persuaded a poor, deranged Royal Romantic to buy all the tickets for — and pay for the tambourines into the bargain. I’ve things to do and hopes and aims beyond Bayreuth. You’ve come into your

FIVE. Götterdämmerung


own. Ah, you know what it is the people want — your so-called German people. You know what this age, brought about by war and the yearnings for power is in the market for. You throw it all together: music, war, death, ecstasy, torment, bangs and crashes and floods and conflagrations — exquisite neuroses, obsessions; sensual and profane hand-in-hand with vulgar, coarse twitchings of sexual fantasy — and potent, real grandeur. Dangerous, elevating and plunging and convincing stirrings in such a soup will feed criminals as well as genius. You’re dangerous. You’re a dangerous man, Wagner. You talk of gods but you know there is no god but Wagner; yet you have the power to convince fools they might become gods. Not you. Not you. I know you — at last. That which you create ... I would not want to answer for its affect on a nation sniffing at power.

Mussolini had, indeed, provided the basis of the stage hypnotist, Cipolla, in Mann’s “Mario and the Magician.” Cipolla has “small hard eyes, with flabby pouches beneath them,”6 details that are also reminiscent of Hitler. (The story was published in 1929, and Mann surely had Hitler in mind as much as the Italian dictator.) A German family are staying at an Italian resort (a vulgarized version of the situation in “Death in Venice”). The very name of the place — Torre di Venere — suggests a sexual disease. This is a kind of Venusburg, a place of illicit delights and both physical and psychological dangers. Mann suggests both the convalescent atmosphere of the Berghof in his novel The Magic Mountain, and the languidly aristocratic Polish family of Tadzio in “Death in Venice” in this description of the Torre di Venere resort and its visitors: Among the guests were some high Roman aristocracy, a Principe X and his family. These grand folk occupied rooms close to our own, and the Principessa, a great and a passionately maternal lady, was thrown into a panic by the vestiges of a whooping-cough which our little ones had lately got over, but which now and then still faintly troubled the unshatterable slumbers of our youngest-born.7

The heat is extreme —“African,”8 indeed, and there is a general atmosphere of lethargy and ambivalence, a “stifling sirocco,” as in “Death in Venice,” and “from time to time a little ineffectual rain.” The sea is “colourless” and “lazy,” “with sluggish jellyfish floating in its shallows.”9 The mood is ripe for seduction, which is exactly what happens to the German family who are simultaneously somewhat discomforted but also fascinated by the decadent, dream-like atmosphere of the place, which Mann’s narrator describes as “queer, uncomfortable, troublesome, tense, oppressive.”10 The narrator and his family find themselves victims of anti–German prejudice, but they decide to brave this out — a fatal resolve, for it isn’t long before they encounter the villain of the piece. Cipolla is a magician in the broadest sense of the word, and very much a dictator/fraudster figure. Like Hitler when making one of his speeches, Cipolla “made us wait for him. He heightened the suspense by his delay in appearing.” Mann describes him as


Visconti and the German Dream

a man of an age hard to determine, but by no means young; with a sharp, ravaged face, piercing eyes, compressed lips, small black waxed moustache, and a so-called imperial in the curve between mouth and chin.11

Mann makes sure that we immediately recognize the parallel between Cipolla’s histrionics and that of the Great Dictators on whom he is modeled: The capacity for self-surrender, he said, for becoming a tool, for the most unconditional and utter self-abnegation, was but the reverse side of that other power to will and to command.12

With hindsight, the line, “Thus he groped his way forward, like a blind seer, led and sustained by the mysterious common will,”13 does indeed bear an uncanny resemblance to Hitler’s own comment, “I follow the path assigned to me by Providence with the instinctive sureness of a sleepwalker.”14 And like the spellbound German people during the Third Reich, Mann’s German tourists find they cannot tear themselves away from Cipolla’s tawdry showmanship, even when they have the opportunity to do so in the interval: You are sure to ask why we did not choose this moment to go away — and I must continue to owe you an answer. I do not know why. I cannot defend myself. [...] Were we ourselves so highly entertained? Yes, and no. Our feelings for Cavaliere Cipolla were of a very mixed kind, but so were the feelings of the whole audience, if I mistake not, and nobody left. Were we under the sway of a fascination which emanated from this man who took so strange a way to earn his bread; a fascination which he gave out independently of the programme and even between the tricks and which paralysed our resolve? Again, sheer curiosity may account for something.15

Cipolla makes the audience do his bidding. He uses one boy to insult the audience for him by sticking his tongue out at it. At first the boy refuses, insisting that sticking out one’s tongue only shows how badly one has been brought up. “Nothing of the sort,” retorted Cipolla. “You would only be doing it. With all due respect to your bringing-up, I suggest that before I count ten, you will perform a right turn and stick out your tongue at the company here further than you knew yourself that you could stick it out.”16

The children in the audience laugh when this happens, but, of course, Cipolla’s laughter is demonic, and the reader’s face is surely frozen. No matter how degrading, Cipolla can make everything seem appealing. Evil is always most attractive to innocence, and it was consequently no accident that Hitler spent so much time appealing to and laying such on the importance of German youth. Nazism was a movement simultaneously dedicated to youth and death; but, perhaps more significantly, Germany itself was, as Mann pointed out, politically youthful — indeed, naive. “Essentially,” Mann explained, “the Ger-

FIVE. Götterdämmerung


man spirit lacks social and political interest. Deep down, that sphere is foreign to it. But its accomplishments do not permit a purely negative evaluation of such a fact. Still, one is fully entitled to speak here of a vacuum, a failure, a deficiency. And in so decidedly social and political a time as ours, this often so productive deficiency may truly take on a fateful, indeed, a disastrous character.”17 A naive audience is all the more willing (and able) to suspend its disbelief. Again, we recall Nietzsche’s warning about the danger of the seductive actor in Wagner who is able to seduce by means of his magical artistic power, pleading: That the theater should not lord it over the arts. That the actor should not seduce those who are authentic. That music should not become an art of lying.

Hitler’s most recent biographer, Ian Kershaw, eloquently identifies that Hitler “was above all a consummate actor. This certainly applied to the stagemanaged occasions — the delayed entry to the packed hall, the careful construction of his speeches, the choice of colourful phrases, the gestures and body-language.”18 Mario, a waiter at the hotel, is Cipolla’s next victim, and in the story’s grotesque climax, the magician convinces him to think he is his girlfriend: Mario stared at him, his head thrust forward. He seemed to have forgotten the audience, forgotten where he was. [...] “Kiss me!” said the hunchback. “Trust me, I love thee. Kiss me here.” And with the tip of his index finger, hand, arm, and little finger outspread, he pointed to his cheek, near the mouth. And Mario bent and kissed him.19

Horrified by what Cipolla has made him do, Mario presently shoots the magician. It would, of course, take rather more bullets for European societies to rid themselves of Hitler and Mussolini. Mann frequently spoke of Wagner as a magician or wizard. For Mann, the artist is a magician par excellence because he explores the dangerous depths of the psyche and has the power to present anything at all in a desirable light. The artist can rouse the collective, amoral and often violent will. The political despot has the same magical power, as Albert Speer fully understood with regard to Hitler, the man he loved above all others, and whose histrionic techniques he had ample opportunities to observe: I was carried on the wave of the enthusiasm which, one could almost feel this physically, bore the speaker along from sentence to sentence. It swept away any skepticism, any reservations. Opponents were given no chance to speak. This furthered the illusion, at least momentarily, of unanimity. Finally, Hitler no longer seemed to be speaking to convince; rather, he seemed to feel that he was expressing what the audience, by now transformed into a single mass, expected of him. [...]


Visconti and the German Dream

Both Goebbles and Hitler had understood how to unleash mass instincts at their meetings, how to play on the passions that underlay the veneer of ordinary respectable life.20

Modris Eksteins has argued that Nazism was predominantly a movement obsessed by what was new, energetic and technologically innovative: Contrary to many interpretations of Nazism, which tend to view it as a reactionary movement, as, in the words of Thomas Mann, an “explosion of antiquarianism,” intent on turning Germany into a pastoral folk community of thatched cottages and happy peasants, the general thrust of the movement, despite archaisms, was futuristic.21

Eksteins adds that the Third Reich “paid its respects to these romantic visions, and picked its ideological trapping from the German past, but its goals were, by its own lights, distinctly progressive.”22 In fact, the Third Reich was Janusfaced. It looked equally to the past and the future. In that, as in so many other ways, it was a schizophrenic self-contradiction; but no matter how many autobahns, munitions factories, tanks and industrial installations it built, there is no denying the immense nostalgia of its aesthetics, streamlined though they may have been. The neoclassicism of Speer’s architectural style, the rural idealism of Volkisch style, and the fact that the party rallies took place in old Nuremberg all point to this, as does the deification of German Romantic culture in Hitler’s worship of Wagner, not to mention Himmler’s infamous interest in the occult, astrology and his choice of the genuinely medieval Schloss Wewelsburg as the home for his SS Order of Nazi Grail Knights. All these aspects drove Hitler’s political fantasy just as much as the superficial “modernity” of the new State. After all, can one really call a State “modern” when it depicts its leader on horseback in shining armor? Wagner had similarly looked to the future by means of taking refuge in the past. His “Artworks of the Future” are invariably set in the world of myth and legend or take place in distant historical periods, as is the case with Rienzi (1842) and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Like Verdi, Wagner used history to explain the present — and even unwittingly to predict the future. The riot that ends Act Two of Die Meistersinger is indeed an unnerving prophecy of what was to happen in the 1930s, when that deeply symbolic town also provided the backdrop for Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will before being bombed to destruction by the allies in World War Two. Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies were hardly riots in the normal sense of the term, but they were no less irrational and were, of course, far more destructive in the long run. “Wahn” was Wagner’s word for the irrational madness that erupts from our attempts at civilization. More accurately, the word means “delusion,” and it formed the part of the name Wagner chose to call his own home: “Wahnfried”—“Peace

FIVE. Götterdämmerung


from Delusion.” Ironically, that building, like the Festival Theater itself, was hit by a bomb towards the end of the war. Delusion had finally caught up with it. The medieval world that lies at the heart of German Romanticism and the distorted version of that aesthetic developed by the Nazis inevitably played its part in Mann’s longest critique of that continuum in Doctor Faustus. Because music is the most characteristic expression of the German character, the hero of Mann’s novel, Adrian Leverkühn, is a composer, loosely modeled on Arnold Schoenberg. Schoenberg regarded himself as Wagner’s legitimate successor, and regarded his modernist musical developments (atonality and, later, serialism) as having grown organically out of Wagner’s increasingly chromatic style. (Schoenberg’s belief here, however, rather misunderstands Wagner’s symbolic use of chromaticism, for Wagner was also one of the most diatonic of composers, as the E-flat prelude of Das Rheingold demonstrates so overwhelmingly.) Leverkühn is also rooted in the past — that folk past so beloved of Romanticism, which itself looked to medieval culture for its inspiration. He is first taught music by a stable girl, Hanna, who sings cruel folk songs to him. She is his first experience of the Dionysian. He then studies music formally, not in Berlin or Munich but rather in the fictional medieval town of Kaisersarchern. His teacher has turned his back on the modern world of America and returned to his German roots. Though a radical composer, Leverkühn’s art is nourished by these regressive environments. Indeed, he makes a pact with the Devil (hence the book’s title) who appears to him in much the same way that the Devil apparently appeared to Martin Luther. Luther despised the devil but nonetheless conjured him up and maintained a kind of sadomasochistic relationship with this projection from his subconscious. For page after page, Mann employs a tiresomely archaic literary style, modeled on Luther’s own, to convey this parallel. Leverkühn agrees to the Devil’s pact. He will infect himself with syphilis in return for creative genius and the resulting syphilitic madness it will bestow. Madness is an acceptable price to pay, or so he believes, for it will heighten his inspiration. It grants him a deeper perception and fuller understanding of the human condition. The parallel with Nietzsche, who was similarly (though unintentionally) infected with syphilis, is deliberate because Nietzsche is the most eloquent philosopher of the Apollonian/Dionysian duality, but Nietzsche is not the only reference at work here. As Charles Rosen explores at considerable length in his study of the Romantic Generation, “Madness, for the Romantic artist, was more than a breakdown of rational thought; it was an alternative which promised not only different insights but also a different logic. [...] Schumann was both drawn irresistibly to madness and repelled by it, fascinated and terrified at the same time. He is, in fact, the composer who


Visconti and the German Dream

achieved the most powerful musical representations of pathological states of feeling before Wagner.”23 Leverkühn’s story is narrated by one Serenus Zeitblom, Ph.D., who represents the political naïveté and moral ambivalence of the German people under Hitler. Like his given name, Zeitblom is “serene” in his inability to accept personal responsibility for the demonic destiny of his country. Significantly, Zeitblom’s father enjoys the forename “Wohlgemut”— literally “cheerful.” Serenus, therefore, is the Apollonian counterpart to the Dionysian Leverkühn. But disaster awaits both Germany (represented by Zeitblom) and Leverkühn due to their inability to reconcile the Apollonian and Dionysian opposites. Mann also connects the Nazis with the medieval world of the demonic. Indeed, processions held on the infamous German Days of Art, which were organized by Hitler in Munich before the Second World War, made elaborate use of medieval iconography. Such medieval kitsch was surely just as (if not more) important to the movement as the forward-looking technological aspects of the regime, which Eksteins argued were its strongest characteristic. Mann’s ultimate point is to demonstrate that the German Romantic imagination is infatuated with the demonic. It simply cannot resist it. Beneath the Apollonian restraint and neat surface of German civilization, the Dionysian irrational forces continually find ways of forcing their way up. Many, particularly Anglo-Saxon, historians of the Nazi period often ask, in Ian Kershaw’s characteristic words, how “the complex and sophisticated German state” could descend “into gross inhumanity”24 while often failing to consider the cultural context of German Romanticism out of which Nazism developed. By tracing Leverkühn’s origins back to the “Dionysian” medieval past of old Germany, Mann was able to explain that context and its wider political implications. Nietzsche identified the cruel realities of Nature as more “honest” than the idealism of Christian morality. In aphorism 109 of The Gay Science, he wrote: “Once you know that there are no purposes, you also know that there is no accident; for only against a world of purposes does the word ‘accident’ have a meaning.”25 There is little argument against Nietzsche’s other, previously mentioned observation here that there are no laws in Nature, only necessities. His point in that aphorism is to demonstrate the artificial, entirely human basis of morality — that it has nothing to do with God (who is dead anyway). Nietzsche aims to encourage us to question conventional morality and find something better that will provide greater happiness and fulfillment. The danger, of course, is that such an observation is also an invitation to barbarity. Aleister Crowley, whose reputation is still sullied by sensationalist newspaper reports of his activities as “the wickedest man in the world,” had a program he himself compared to Nietzsche. “Bernard Shaw’s attacks on reli-

FIVE. Götterdämmerung


gion and morality are taken as a matter of course,” he complained. “But when people like Ibsen and Nietzsche and myself say the same things, we are held up to popular execration.”26 He even went so far as to call Nietzsche “an avatar of Thoth, the god of wisdom”27— praise indeed, and, as Colin Wilson has observed, Crowley saw himself as Nietzsche’s true heir.28 Crowley’s supporters always claim that his famous statement, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” is not an irresponsible plea to do your own thing at the expense of anyone else, but is tempered by the balancing commandments, “Love under law” and “Every man and woman is a star.” The message is individualism with responsibility. Having said that, as Phil Baker makes clear, Crowley also believed his books had caused the Balkan War, the Great War, the Sino-Japanese War and the Munich crisis, and he was delighted about the prospect of a “catastrophe to civilisation.”29 Linked to Romanticism’s fascination with the “authentic” freedom of a world beyond conventional morality, Mann (Crowley’s exact contemporary) also saw its sympathy with instinct and death as part of the witches brew being administered to Germany by Hitler. When the struggle of an artist or a philosopher to negotiate these Dionysian impulses in the name of creativity is applied to the political sphere, the result is not art but barbarism. Mann, through the voice of Zeitblom, described the horrific result of such a cultural cross-circuit in Doctor Faustus: Here no one can follow me who has not as I have experienced in his very soul how near aestheticism and barbarism are to each other: aestheticism as the herald of barbarism. I experienced this distress certainly not for myself but in the light of my friendship for a beloved and emperilled artist soul. The revival of ritual music from a profane epoch has its dangers. It served indeed the ends of the Church, did it not? But before that it had served less civilized ones, the ends of the medicinemen, magic ends. That was in times when all celestial affairs were in the hands of the priest-medicine-man, the priest-wizard. Can it be denied that this was a precultural, a barbaric condition of cult-art; and is it comprehensible or not that the late and cultural revival of the cult in art, which aims by atomization to arrive at collectivism, seizes upon means that belong to a stage of civilization not only priestly but primitive?30

The implication of Nazi aesthetics here is plain — that the movement was a cult, presided over by a demonic priest. It was a form of magic, an atavism. For Mann, the license of thought that had been opened by Nietzsche’s questioning of Christian morality was the real cause of Nazism. Unemployment, inflation and all the other social evils were merely triggers. The license of thought worked hand in hand with the moral weakness of “good” Germans, like Zeitblom, who admits there is “something we fear more than German defeat, and that is German victory. I scarcely dare ask myself to which of these groups I belong. Perhaps [...] one yearns indeed, steadily and consciously, for


Visconti and the German Dream

defeat, yet also with perpetual torments of conscience.”31 Neither can Zeitblom bring himself to go so far as to condone Hitler outright: I have never precisely in regard to the Jewish problem and the way it has been dealt with, been able to agree fully with our Führer and his paladins; and this fact was not without influence on my resignation from the teaching staff here.32

Zeitblom admits this early on in the novel, and it is a comment that takes us back to Visconti, for it bears comparison with what Baron Joachim says at the dinner table in The Damned: “You must admit that I never yielded to this regime. And everybody knows I never had and never will have a rapport with that ... gentleman.” Even so, Joachim realizes that he needs to have a man in charge of the steelworks who is in contact with the Nazis, and so he demotes his liberal-minded son, Herbert, in favor of Konstantin, who is one of the SA. “I was forced to do it,” Joachim explains, “— against my will and without strong conviction, but the steelworks...” Herbert is outraged: “Yes,” he interrupts. “Right or wrong they must always come first. That has always been your creed. You even send your son to the slaughter so you can say, ‘The Essenbecks put children and cannons into the world with the same sentiment. And with the same sentiment they’ll be buried.’” Later, Herbert explains to his brother, Gunther, that he (Herbert) is just as much to blame as anyone else for the catastrophe of the Nazis, because of self-interest, the compromises he has made in order to maintain power, and his fear of losing the steel works to the communists: “It was our fault. Everyone’s — even mine. It does no good to raise your voice when it’s too late — not even to save your soul. All we have done is give Germany a sick democracy. The fear of a proletarian revolution which would have thrown the whole country to the Left was too great ... and now we can’t defend it any longer. Nazism, Gunther, is our creation.” These words have their parallel in Doctor Faustus when Mann’s characters discuss the intellectual climate of pre-war Germany: It was an old-new world of revolutionary reaction, in which the values bound up with the idea of the individual — shall we say truth, freedom, law, reason?— were entirely rejected and shorn of power, or else had taken on a meaning quite different from that given them for centuries. Wrenched away from the washed-out theoretic, based on the relative and pumped full of fresh blood, they were referred to the far higher court of violence, authority, the dictatorship of belief— not, let me say, in a reactionary, anachronistic way as of yesterday or the day before, but so that it was like the most novel setting back of humanity into mediævally theocratic conditions and situations.33

Visconti provides his own version of this conclusion in The Damned when we see Bruckmann and his SS mentor, Aschenbach, displaying an Essen-

FIVE. Götterdämmerung


beck machine gun to army officers. “Germany,” Aschenbach explains, “is the most orderly country in the whole world. It is a pleasure for the American and British tourists.” Arms are not needed for public order, but within that order, violence against those who do not conform to the requirements of the Third Reich is nurtured. As Apter points out, Mann drew a musical parallel with this state of affairs: The Germans accepted a highly regimented government to provide form for the contemporary glorification of instinct. [...] In parallel, Leverkühn develops a rigorous method of composition in which no note is free. [...] Leverkühn’s arbitrarily chosen series undercuts the assumption of an ultimately rational God-given basis for musical form.34

Leverkühn’s rigorous musical structures were a way of containing modern man’s irrational, amoral predicament. The chaos of the content was “justified” by the form, in much the same way that the Nazis “justified” their barbarism by efficient organization. Of course, Mann borrowed Leverkühn’s compositional method from Schoenberg, who, being an émigré Jew himself, was understandably offended at being equated with the devil. He also argued that Mann had misunderstood his system, which was not so rigorously applied as Mann thought. Principally, however, it consists of an entirely new way of composing, dispensing with tonality (major and minor keys) and instead arranging the 12 notes of the chromatic scale into a tone row, which may be combined with retrograde, inverted and retrograde-inverted versions of the original row. Mann saw this as musical chaos made “rational”— the perfect metaphor for what was happening in Germany when he wrote Doctor Faustus. For Mann, Schoenberg’s system was the Devil’s music, a way of giving form to moral chaos and emotional license. By making his pact with the Devil, Leverkühn is able to create the Devil’s music. When he plays his masterpiece, based on this system, to his admirers at the end of the novel, everyone thinks he is quite mad; but what they fail to understand is that their incomprehension and horror at what he has done is merely the rage of Caliban staring at his own reflection. Mann’s ultimate aim was to demonstrate how German Romanticism went wrong. Nietzsche hoped that by pointing out that values and morality actually have neither value nor morality, mankind would then be able to overcome itself and become the superman — not the Aryan blonde beast idolized by the SS, but a creature who is able to say “yes” to life. Catastrophically for Nietzsche’s subsequent reputation, his words were misinterpreted, his terminology taken at its face value and his “message” interpreted as an advocacy of tyranny, much as the national anthem of Germany was also misinterpreted. (Originally, August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben’s words “Deutschland über alles” meant not German global domination, but that the concept and desire for the fulfillment of a unified Germany should be the one aim of the


Visconti and the German Dream

German people above all others. It was written in 1841 at a time when Germany did not exist as a nation.) Unfortunately, Nietzsche was appropriated to the cause of German nationalist expansion, and Also Sprach Zarathustra accompanied German soldiers to the trenches of the First World War. Already, Nietzsche’s ideas about power were being used for dubious political ends — a problem that was only to be aggravated by the Nazis, who went even further and turned the superman into a genetic prototype for the Master Race. With the benefit of hindsight, it is possible to read a rather different connotation into what Nietzsche had to say about the impact of his ideas on future generations. What he was actually saying in the following quotation is that the coming of the superman will transform mankind to such an extent that those who cling to old-fashioned, Christian ideals will regard the development as a cataclysm even though it is actually a liberation. In the shadow of Auschwitz, however, which was largely “justified” by the Nazis’ monstrous perversion of Nietzsche’s philosophy, one might read the following words as a premonition of disaster: I know my fate. One day there will be associated with my name the recollection of something frightful — of a crisis like no other before on earth, of the profoundest collision of conscience, of a decision evoked against everything that until then had been believed in, demanded, sanctified. I am not a man. I am dynamite.35

The problem facing modern man is how to contain the reality he has uncovered, how to become the true superman. There is no going back to the old certainties about the God-inspired reason of humanity. Now that Pandora’s box has been opened, and that God, as Nietzsche famously put it, is dead, we are faced with the problem of how to control those forces which before were the creation of God and the Devil. For Thomas Hardy, the outlook was bleak. His poem, “Christmas: 1924,” bitterly expressed this disillusionment: “Peace on earth!” was said. We sing it, And pay a million priests to bring it. After two thousand years of mass We’ve got as far as poison-gas.

The liberation of Auschwitz, only 20 years away from Hardy’s disquieting realization, left God and the Devil with nowhere to go. Humanity was revealed to be compelled by irrational, aggressive and destructive drives as much, if not more, as by their opposites. History reveals that we are capable of both Auschwitz and the Sistine Chapel. How, therefore, are we to negotiate this daemonic reality? Perhaps only by reinstating the old illusions, but better by using Art to demonstrate the necessity not for repression and intolerance but for understanding, balance and moderation: the teaching of the superman, indeed. This was certainly Visconti’s communist-inspired view.

Third Intermission

The Cinema of the Future The way things look at Bayreuth has always been as important as the way they sound. An elderly man, more tortoise than Wagnerian, clutched my arm one hot August afternoon in 1988, as we toiled up the hill to the Festspielhaus. “What is Die Meistersinger without a view of Nürnberg in the distance?” he asked, in a thick Austrian accent. He explained that he now lived in a nursing home on the shores of Lake Como, but had been coming to Bayreuth for decades and he didn’t like what he increasingly saw there — principally, the theatricalization of what always used to be a more proto-cinematic affair of magical realism; not that this was exactly his own terminology, but it is what he meant. Modern producers, he complained, had stripped away his beloved stage illusions, in their determination to expose Wagner’s scenographic methods as a sham. What my ancient Wagnerian failed to realize, of course, was that that sort of thing had been happening since the end of the nineteenth century. Principal among such influential innovators was the brilliant Swiss stage designer Adolphe Appia (1862–1928), who streamlined the presentation of Wagnerian drama by dispensing with naturalism altogether in favor of “rhythmic spaces.” These, unlike the two-dimensional painted flats, corporeally interacted with the three-dimensionality of the singing actors on stage. Even during the autocratic and highly conservative reign of Wagner’s widow, Cosima, Bayreuth nonetheless experimented with Appia’s legacy. Cosima refused to have anything to do with Appia’s ingenious and eloquent designs, which she compared to photographs of arctic landscapes,1 but this did not stop the Appia-influenced designer, Emil Pretorious, from reforming the Bayreuth stage during Cosima’s lifetime. The anti-illusionism of Brecht also filtered through to the Festspielhaus, and in their attempt to exorcise the Nazi Temple after the Second World War, Wagner’s previously Nazi grandsons, Wolfgang and Wieland, went even further than either Brecht or Appia. Using Wagner’s original inspiration of Greek Tragedy as their model, they favored 125


Third Intermission

a completely empty stage to present the Ring cycle in Jungian terms as a profoundly psychological affair (which, of course, it is). Their productions were hugely successful but they were very different from Wagner’s highly detailed, proto-cinematic stage directions. In their attempt to move away from their grandfather’s aesthetic there is indeed an argument to make against them. The argument is not against the fact that such productions are often profoundly illuminating and theatrically thrilling, but rather that they run counter to Wagner’s reiterated illusionistic ideals. Attempting to distance Wagner from cinematic style is actually to miss Wagner’s point. The Met’s production of the Ring (1987–2000), with sets by Günther Schneider-Siemssen, was contemptuously labeled by many critics as a “Disney Ring,” but Wagner’s own personal aesthetic has much more in common with Disney than it has with Patrice Chéreau’s deconstructed, anti-illusionist Ring cycle. Schneider-Siemssen himself happily compared his designs to Disney and Hollywood in general: “I constructed a giant worm for the Nibelheim scene,” he explained, “completely genuine like a Walt Disney picture and with the horror brushstrokes of Spielberg.”2 Wagner would in all likelihood have been delighted by this. Another connection between Disney and the Wagnerian arena is, of course, the influence of Neuschwanstein Castle on Disney’s trademark Cinderella Castle. Despite all these connections, the only animated film to be directly inspired by the Wagnerian oeuvre is the Bugs Bunny short, What’s Opera, Doc? (dir. Chuck Jones, 1957); but the Ring cycle would surely be best brought to life by means of cartoon animation — a project that has been mooted in the past but never realized in full. Such a thing would no doubt be regarded by many devoted Wagnerians as an appalling thing to do,3 redolent of the worst kind of kitsch; but when to call art “kitsch” depends, of course, upon the artistic tastes of the day. Thomas Mann took no time at all to detect the kitsch element in Wagner’s taste. On October 13, 1937, he visited Triebschen, Wagner’s former Swiss residence, and recorded in his diary his tour of the rooms: Curious impression. Dreadful oil paintings, utterly Hitler. [...] Elements of a frighteningly Hitleresque quality plainly discernible, even though only latent and anticipatory, ranging from the overblown kitsch to the German fondness for boys. [...] After dinner listened to records of Die Walküre with admiration.4

To be fair, the paintings Mann most probably referred to here were not necessarily known to Wagner himself. The museum also contains works by Franz Stassen (1869–1949) who was friendly with Wagner’s son Siegfried but who began his Wagnerian illustrations and paintings after Wagner’s death. It’s certainly true, however, that Wagner’s visual tastes would be considered just as unfashionable today, as demonstrated by the “Cabinet of Kitsch and Curi-

The Cinema of the Future


osities” in the Bayreuth Richard Wagner Museum. The fifth edition of the museum guidebook describes the contents of this interesting little room as “examples of inept admiration of Wagner as well as amusing or charming incidentals.”5 The fact that these artworks were wholly in accord with Wagner’s personal taste seems to be overlooked with a late-twentieth-century shudder or an indifferent shrug. Liszt also shared Wagner’s visual frame of reference. In 1983, British music critic Michael Oliver no doubt spoke for many of his generation when classifying the painting by Ary Scheffer (1795–1858) depicting The Vision: Dante and Beatrice as “unspeakably oleaginous.” He also condemned the work of Edward Jakob von Steinle (1810–1886)— the teacher of one-time Royal Academy of Arts president, Frederic, Lord Leighton, no less — as “sanctimonious kitsch,” yet these artists respectively inspired Liszt’s Faust Symphony and his piano piece, St François de Paule marchant sur les flots. Oliver points out that “there’s no coping with the enigma of Liszt unless we can bring ourselves to acknowledge the Scheffer element in it.”6 Similarly, though Wagner himself regarded the operas of Meyerbeer as kitsch of the worst kind, he admired the, to some, dubious talent of artist Paul von Joukowsky, whom we have already encountered from a homosexual point of view, and from whom Wagner commissioned designs for the first production of Parsifal. Despite this, Manfred Eger, the curator of the Wahnfried Wagner Museum, indeed relegated Joukowsky’s painting, The Holy Family, to the museum’s “Cabinet of Kitsch.” In a letter to King Ludwig II, Wagner proudly explained the origins of this painting: Under the sensitive guidance of our uncommonly gifted friend, Paul Joukowsky, a tableau vivant was set up depicting a Holy Family. Costumes, disposition, and realization of the individual characteristics were all incomparably beautiful [...]. I have persuaded our friend Joukowsky to paint a picture of it, true to life; this will be his next undertaking, and I am sure it will be an outstanding success.7

What Joukoswky came up with for Wagner’s final masterpiece held sway for many years over the Bayreuth stage. Inspired by Sienna Cathedral (for the Grail scenes) and the gardens of the Moorish Palazzo Rufalo at Ravello for Klingsor’s magic garden, Joukowsky’s designs were perhaps more convincing as two-dimensional oil paintings than when they were realized on the stage. Indeed, Bernard Shaw satirically reminisced about “the pantomimic flowers, the damsels running away and returning decorated with monstrous tufts of red and blue paper, and the magical apparition of Kundry, in an antique balldress with ruchings, alluringly disposed on a sofa, and pulled out from the wing by a cable, presumably hauled by a pair of horses, the weight being not less than seventeen stone.”8 Wagner also admired Böcklin, and had approached him to design the


Third Intermission

first production of the Ring. Böcklin declined, but the Chéreau centenary production paid homage to the gesture by basing Brünnhilde’s rock on Böcklin’s most famous painting, The Isle of the Dead. Once the toast of the European art world, Böcklin’s reputation subsequently plummeted in the brave new world of the twentieth century, and The Oxford Companion to Art pretty much summed up the opinion of the majority of its twentieth-century readers. Its verdict announces that “while the meticulous skill of his brushwork evokes admiration, his realistic centaurs and nymphs strike one as slightly ridiculous.”9 But Wagner, along with many of his contemporaries, saw nothing ridiculous in such imagery. Indeed, Böcklin would have been particularly well-suited to design the Venusberg of Tannhäuser, for which Wagner left very detailed instructions. Not only are the stage directions themselves explicit, Wagner recapitulated what he wanted to happen on stage in a letter to Mathilde Wesendonck, written during his revision of the work for the Paris Opera House, in which he compares his own vision to the work of the now rather obscure German artist, Giovanni Buonaventura Genelli (1798–1868): Fauns and Bacchantes rush away in pairs: the Graces are abducted on the backs of the centaurs; the others all reel away towards the background: the couples sink down to the ground: the cupids, still shooting their arrows, have run after the Wild Hunt. Growing weariness. Mists descend. The sirens can be heard further and further away. All are protected. Calm. [...] I wish I had access to Genelli’s water-colours: he really brought these mythological excesses to life.10

The Oxford Companion to Art doesn’t even list Genelli, who, it is true, left behind very few oil paintings, though his water-colors, lithographs and engravings certainly have much in common with the mythological scenes Wagner had in mind. One wonders exactly what Wagner would have made of Disney’s Fantasia (1940)—especially the multi-colored Arcadia that accompanies Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. Despite the presence in that film of music by Stravinsky, Dukas, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and other greats from the Musical Hall of Fame, Disney curiously omitted Wagner — surely the most obvious choice for an animated response to classical music. Disney did get as far as storyboarding “The Ride of the Valkyries” for inclusion in the planned subsequent releases of the film, which were to have rotated new segments each year. Unfortunately, these failed to materialize (Sibelius’ “Swan of Tuonela” was also considered), and America’s involvement in the Second World War (coupled with the fact that Wagner was Hitler’s favorite composer) resulted in the ultimate non–Disneyfication of the Meister. The poor returns for the film on its initial release were, alas, even more responsible for the failure of this intriguing proposal.11 Again this is rather ironic as one of Hitler’s favorite films was reputedly Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).12 Hitler

The Cinema of the Future


A bust of Wagner contemplating the title page of “The Ride of the Valkyries.”

thought Snow White was one of the greatest films ever made and had a copy of the film for spontaneous viewing at the Berghof, his Bertchesgarten residence. According to William Hakvaag, the director of a Norwegian World War II museum, Hitler even drew some of the Disney dwarves.13 Snow White would also have appealed to Wagner, given the fairy-tale element in his music-


Third Intermission

dramas (such as Die Feen, and the Sleeping Beauty imagery of Siegfried ). Indeed, that Nazi filmmaker par excellence, Leni Riefenstahl, claimed that Disney “has the German feeling — he goes so often to the German fables and fairy tales for inspiration.”14 The argument concerning the relevance of Wagner’s stage directions to contemporary productions of his work has been a contentious one that has been almost entirely won by the reformers. The discrepancy between current obsessions about “authentic” performance practices with regard to the music and the almost total disregard of the stage directions written above the notes in the score, is often overlooked, or regarded as irrelevant. Current producers of Wagnerian music-drama defend their decisions by quoting Wagner’s comment, after the first Ring Cycle in 1876, “Next year we’ll do it all differently.”15 It is perfectly true that Wagner was deeply disappointed by the original production of the Ring (the only one he ever saw), but this might not have been because he had turned his back on the “cinematic” ideal of magical realism he had in mind. It is more likely to have been because the limitations of the theater had failed to offer the level of special effects and verisimilitude of which he had dreamt. As Patrick Carnegie points out, Advisors like Carl Brandt and Richard Fricke counselled Wagner unsuccessfully against certain scenic literalisms (the dragon, chariot with rams, and so on) which, as experienced theatre men, they recognized were doomed to fail as both creditable stage effects and as symbolic markers. They vainly argued that an unseen dragon would make a far more powerful impression on the imagination than a pantomime prop.16

One might say that, for Wagner, the theater was the enemy of music drama. As we have seen, he went so far as to lament that having invented the invisible orchestra he wished he had invented the invisible theater as well.17 This comment refers to Wagner’s highly cinematic innovation of placing the orchestra beneath the stage, so that the music emerges as if from nowhere, just as it emerges invisibly from loudspeakers in a cinema. It also refers to his frustration with the limitations of the theater, which simply could not create the cinematic effects he had envisaged. “Much that was done was careless, much was inadequate,” he complained of the 1876 production. “And where we go from here I cannot say. All I can say is that [...] the idea of ‘making good past omissions’ is inappropriate here, since I knew in advance what was wrong — than of achieving something completely new.”18 He referred to the original staging as “the wretchedest means of theatrical reproduction,”19 and his wife’s Diaries record his determination that “costumes, scenery, everything must be done anew for the repeat performances. R. is very sad, says he wishes he could die!”20 but this certainly does not imply a complete rejection of his magical-realism aesthetic. After all, in his “Retrospective of the 1876

The Cinema of the Future


Festival,” published in the Bayreuther Blätter in 1878, Wagner pointed out, “The lime tree which is seen in the second act and which, in those theatres that have recently taken the trouble to perform ‘Siegfried,’ is — to our own eternal shame — furnished with rustling lifelike leaves; this tree had — for the selfsame reasons of lack of time — to be hurriedly built where it stood.”21 What Wagner wanted was a convincing realistic effect — photographic in its verisimilitude. His problem was not with the vision but with the theater’s inability to realize it. Wagner’s dream of an invisible theater, so to speak, reverberated through the succeeding symbolist generation before finding its ultimate fulfillment in film, though it was the more self-consciously intellectual films of practitioners such as Sergei Eisenstein, Carl Theodor Dreyer and, later, Michelangelo Antonioni, who implemented the symbolists’ aesthetic. Hollywood purveyed a more mainstream popular Romanticism. Maurice Maeterlinck’s essay, “Menus propos — le théâtre” from the September 1890 issue of Jeune Belgique, takes Wagner’s desire for an invisible theater to its ultimate level. In his proposal for a theater without living human beings, Maeterlinck does indeed suggest the shadow play of the cinema, in which beings “appear to live without being alive” and the physically impossible is indeed achievable: The stage is where masterpieces die, because the presentation of a masterpiece by accidental and human means is a contradiction. All masterpieces are symbols, and the symbol never withstands the active presence of man. [...] One should perhaps eliminate the living being from the stage. [...] Will the day come when sculpture — about which a number of strange questions are being raised — will be used onstage? Will the human being be replaced by shadow? a reflection? a projection of symbolic forms, or a being who would appear to live without being alive?22

Wagner was only a man of the theater because the cinema didn’t exist in his lifetime. The Bayreuth Festspielhaus, with its darkened, amphitheatrical auditorium and hidden orchestra, is a blueprint of the cinema itself, and Wagner’s desire to move seamlessly from one scene to another without a curtain drop anticipates the way in which music is used to cover dissolves and edits in films. Wagner called this latter technique “the art of transition,”23 and he considered it to be one of his greatest achievements. Musically, it involved, among other things, unexpected modulations from one key to another. In terms of stage-craft it relied on what Bernard Shaw described as “jets and clouds of steam.” Shaw added, however, that “it cannot be denied that from the very first it carried with it a prosaic flavor of washing day, totally irreconcilable with the magical strangeness of the wishing cap or Tarnhelm. It is effective only for one purpose — that of producing an illusion of a cloud of fire when a powerful light is turned upon it; and to that use, I suggest, it cannot


Third Intermission

be too strictly limited.”24 Wagner was not alone in his anticipation of cinematic developments. Verdi and his librettist, Camille du Locke, invented the idea of the “split-screen” at the end of Aida, in which Aida and Radames are seen in their underground tomb, while the priests of the temple go about their business above them. Ibsen also anticipated the agile camera of the cinema along with the cinematic dissolve at the end of his play, John Gabriel Borkman (1896), in which we move from the courtyard outside a house to a mountain peak. Indeed, it is revealing to compare Wagner’s stage directions for the transformation from the slopes of Montsalvat to the Temple of the Holy Grail in Parsifal with Ibsen’s for John Gabriel Borkman. (Significantly, Parsifal appeared 14 years before Ibsen’s play.) John Gabriel Borkman: They enter through the trees on the left, and gradually disappear from sight. The house and courtyard fade away, and the landscape, ragged and mountainous, slowly changes, becoming wilder and wilder.25 Parsifal: Gradually, while Gurnemanz and Parsifal appear to walk, the scene changes more perceptibly: the woods disappear and in the rocky walls a gateway opens, which closes behind them. The way has led up through walls of rock, and the scene has entirely changed. Gurnemanz and Parsifal now enter the mighty hall of the castle of the Grail.26

Liszt also had the idea (never completely realized) of a “History of the World in Music and Pictures.” He planned to write a series of pieces to accompany famous paintings, of which his 11th Symphonic Poem, Hunnenschlacht, is sadly the only example. Liszt also considered accompanying his Dante Symphony (1856) with Lantern slides of Genelli’s designs for The Divine Comedy.27As Adorno reminds us, the English racial theorist, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who married into the Wagner family, revived this idea in a letter to Cosima Wagner: Perform this symphony in a darkened room with a sunken orchestra and show pictures moving past in the background and you will see how all the Levi’s [Hermann Levi, the first conductor of Parsifal] and all the cold neighbours of today [...] will fall into ecstasy.28

So Wagner was not alone in striving for a technology yet to exist, the possibilities of which were also being summoned by other artists at the time. Wagner’s cinematic imagination was, however, much more powerful than his contemporaries. His greatest rival in this respect — indeed his greatest inspiration — was Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791–1864). Anselm Gerhard has observed that Meyerbeer’s “montage-like” exploitation of fragments of the chorale, “Ein’ feste Burg,” in Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots “is more like the technique of the filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock than anything familiar from the theater of the

The Cinema of the Future


eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. And Meyerbeer knew exactly how his unprecedented musical conception might be supported by the use of precisely calculated optical effects.” By “intensifying the expectation of ‘fear and terror’ to the utmost by every scenic and musical means, Meyerbeer induced a feeling equivalent to what is meant by the word ‘suspense’ in the discussion of twentieth-century cinema.”29 Wagner went further towards the ideals of the cinema. To begin a mythical tetralogy at the bottom of the Rhine was always going to be a scenographic challenge, and Wagner certainly did not want a stylized approach, even if such an option had occurred to him. The gauzes, painted flats, steam and complicated contraptions that set the fear of God into the unfortunate singers who created the roles of the three Rhinemaidens were only ever approximations of Wagner’s vision. The Rhinemaidens were persuaded to lie in their metal cradles which were held aloft on poles and wheeled about on trolleys. Of course, no one was intended to see the stagehands wheeling them about behind the flats, but when an accident revealed exactly that, Wagner was beside himself with frustration and aesthetic despair as Cosima’s Diaries record: Sunday, August 13, first performance of Rheingold under a completely unlucky star: Betz loses the ring, runs into the wings twice during the curse, a stagehand raises the backdrop too soon during the first scene change and one sees people standing around in shirt sleeves and the back wall of the theater, all the singers embarrassed, etc., etc.— Each of us returns home separately, R. at first very upset, but gradually regains his spirits, and the sudden visit of the Emperor of Brazil restores the mood of ebulliance.30

It is as if Cosima was describing, in this record of the first Ring cycle, the deconstruction of stage illusion brought to the tetralogy in Chéreau’s centenary production, with the difference that Chéreau actively planned the appearance of stagehands to manipulate Fafner, the dragon, in full view of the audience — and presumably did not need the Emperor of Brazil to cheer him up afterwards. (Chéreau did, however, receive death-threats from Wagnerians who were loyal to Wolfgang and Wieland’s approach.) But even when things went smoothly, Wagner was still dissatisfied with these clumsy mechanical solutions to his cinematic imagination. It is revealing to examine Wagner’s stage directions in detail as they reveal a very cinematic fascination with light. Here, for example, is the opening tableau of Das Rheingold: At the bottom of the Rhine. Greenish twilight, lighter above, darker below. The upper part of the scene is filled with moving water, which restlessly streams from R. to L. Towards the bottom the waters resolve themselves into a fine mist, so that the space to a man’s height from the stage seems free from the water which floats like a train of clouds over the gloomy depths. Everywhere are steep points of rock jutting up from the depths and enclosing the whole stage, all the ground is broken


Third Intermission

up into a wild confusion of jagged pieces, so that there is no level place, while on all sides darkness indicates other deeper fissures.31

Colored light, moving water, and carefully articulated spaces, clouds: these are not theatrical images. Wagner’s first sympathetic French critic, Charles Baudelaire, similarly responded to Wagner’s music with the imagery of light. Responding to the overwhelming experience of Tannhäuser in 1862, Baudelaire wrote: I remember that from the very first bars I experienced one of those happy impressions that almost every man of imagination has known in dreams of sleep. I felt myself released from the bonds of gravity, and found again in memory the extraordinary thrill of pleasure which lives and moves in high places. Then I found myself imagining the delightful state of a man deep in reverie, in absolute solitude, but a solitude with a vast horizon and a wide, diffused light: immensity of light: immensity with no other setting than itself. Soon I had a sensation of brighter light, growing so rapidly that the subtle distinctions of the dictionary are inadequate to express that ever-renewed increase of ardour and whiteness. Then I fully understood the idea of a soul moving about in some luminous setting in an ecstasy made up of pleasure and knowledge, and soaring far above the natural world.32

The sudden scene change in Tannhäuser, which instantly takes us from the hothouse atmosphere of perfumed, post-coital lethargy inside the Venusburg to the clear, fresh mountainside with its shepherd and sheep, is pure cinema: an immediate contrast with what went before, which had previously only been attempted in the non-naturalistic stage conventions of Shakespearean theater; but Wagner combined Shakespearean juxtaposition with advanced scenic realism and one of the most abrupt changes in musical mood and texture ever composed. Tristan und Isolde is the only one of Wagner’s music dramas not to suggest proto-cinematic techniques, being deliberately designed to be theatrically straightforward in an attempt to make it a more viable commercial proposition. Having said that, film could help solve the problem of Tristan’s somewhat static action. Even Die Meistersinger, the most dramaturgically conventional of Wagner’s works, has more cinematic elements than merely the “view of Nürnberg in the distance.” We have already encountered Riefenstahl’s use of the music in Triumph of the Will, where it provided a perfect counterpoint to Nazi flags fluttering “innocently” in the Nuremberg breeze, but Beckmesser’s pantomime in Act III of Die Meistersinger also foreshadowed the twentiethcentury cartoon music of Carl Stalling (1891–1972) and Scott Bradley (1891– 1977). For the Beckmesser scene, Wagner dispensed with a vocal line altogether and relied instead on naturalistic mime (not quite the same thing as stylized ballet gestures). I will be exploring this scene in more detail in the Epilogue, but I will mention here that Meistersinger also anticipates a film soundtrack’s

The Cinema of the Future


division of diegetic and non-diegetic music. The music of diegesis, which forms part of the action and which convention dictates can also be heard by the characters in the drama, frequently merges with the non-diegetic underscore, which cannot be “heard” by the characters and are reserved for the audience only. These conventions were, of course, exploited by Mel Brooks in his satire on the traditional Western, Blazing Saddles (1974). In the scene in which cowboys gallop past on horseback to stirring music, the camera pans round to reveal a full symphony orchestra accompanying the action “on set.” Die Meistersinger anticipates the conventions of diegetic/non-diegetic in the opening scene of Act I. We hear (and see) the naturalistic interior of a church with a congregation singing a chorale a cappella. The orchestra interjects throughout, however, exactly in the way an underscore accompanies a soundtrack. If anyone in the nineteenth century could have predicted the arrival of computer-generated imagery (CGI), it would surely have been Richard Wagner. Wagner’s later illustrators, principally Arthur Rackham (1867–1939) in England and Franz Stassen in Germany, were fully aware of the magical realism envisioned by Wagner, and between them they provided blueprints for the animated feature film of the Ring that never was. Coming from a very different position, the Marxist critic Theodor Adorno was also aware of the proto– CGI, highly commercial aspect of Wagner’s approach to scenic illusion. One of the chapters in Adorno’s In Search of Wagner is called “Phantasmagoria,” a term borrowed from Karl Marx, which Marx himself had used with reference to the concept of “commodity fetishism.” As Adorno’s English translator, Rodney Livingston, points out, “Marx argues that the form of the commodity diverges from the commodity itself as a result of the concealment of the fact that the commodity is the product of human labour.”33 But the term “Phantasmagoria” was originally used in 1802 to describe magic lantern optical illusions. The connection to cinema is quite apparent here. Like a film, Wagner’s art “presents itself as self-producing.” For Adorno, Wagner’s art is governed by the “occultation of production by means of the outward appearance of the product.” Wagner’s operas tend to become commodities. Their tableaux assume the character of wares on display. As it flares up into a vast magic conflagration, the little romantic flame of Hans Heiling [the 1833 opera by Heinrich Marschner] is transformed into the prototype of future illuminated advertisements. Wotan’s slogan — Whoever fears the tip of my spear Shall never pass through the fire! (Valkyrie, Act III, sc. 3) — could easily be supplemented by copy in praise of a piece of equipment that would enable the cautious but resolute buyer to pass through the fire notwithstanding. The Wagnerian phantasmagoria are among the earliest “wonders of technology” to gain admittance to great art.34


Third Intermission

This commercial aspect was further endorsed by Rudolf Sabor (though hardly from Adorno’s perspective) who discovered that not only did the Café Sammet-Angermann at Bayreuth offer “Flosshilde Soup with Alberich Morsels, Wotan Ham à la Walhall, Stuffed breast of Swan à la Lohengrin, Siegmund Asparagus Spears and Nibelungen Dumplings” during the first festival in 1876, but also that the firm of Moosdorf and Hochhäusler advertised their “Wavemaker Bathtub” with the help of the Rhinemaidens from Das Rheingold.35 Wagner was also used to promote Liebig meat-extract paste. Wagner’s sponsorship of what was actually the forerunner of the Oxo cube has an extra dimension, however, as the founder of the Liebig firm was organic chemist Justus von Liebig (1803–1873) who, as Christopher McIntosh informs us, was one of young Ludwig II’s science teachers. Ludwig held him in high regard, and when young, had used a hose pipe which Liebig had given him to fill a make-believe well. This he imagined to be the well “which Moses struck out of the rock with the rod of Horeb.” One of Ludwig’s playmates then “cut the tablets of stone in wood and I wrote the Commandments on them.”36 This was, after all, an appropriate pastime for a boy who would later become a man who very much believed in the divine right of kings. So, Bayreuth became a veritable industry of tie-in merchandise, as Romain Rolland observed on his visits there at the turn of the century:

Postcard advertising Liebig Meat Extract, showing a scene from Act III of Wagner’s opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

The Cinema of the Future


The Wagner shops. Nibelung pins with Fricka’s rams, Grane. Table crockery with Wagner’s stubborn features. Busts — bare or black-draped. Wagner cravats — a black cravat with a photograph stuck in the middle. A picture of a Wagner soirée decorating a visiting-card case. A dozen plates with scenes from the dramas. Wagner at the hair-dressers’ ... Wagner at the cobblers’...37

From this description, it would appear that Wagner was also one of the founders of the celebrity magazine, with its similarly obsessive interest in the domestic arrangements of the rich and famous. More importantly, Adorno, referring to Nietzsche’s first book, The Birth of Tragedy, added that Nietzsche “in his youthful enthusiasm, failed to recognize the artwork of the future in which we witness the birth of film out of the spirit of music.” For Adorno, Wagnerian music-drama “is intertwined with the origins of the culture industry.” 38 Indeed, Wagner referred to himself as a “composing machine”39 in the way that a composer of music for film and TV commercials might think of himself today: churning it out. Adorno adds that “it is precisely the religious Parsifal that makes use of the film-like technique of scene-transformation that marks the climax of this dialectic: the magic work of art dreams its complete antithesis, the mechanical work of art.”40 Wagner was, indeed, using scenic effects in much the same way that they are exploited in blockbuster sci-fi and fantasy films, with the possible difference that Wagner’s effects were motivated by the action (“effects with causes”) not vice versa (“effects without causes,” as Wagner prejudicially categorized the operas of Meyerbeer,41 and which we might also apply to the popular Hollywood blockbuster of today). As Jeremy Tambling explains: A Wagnerian music-drama itself refuses to accept limits on its own fantasy [...]. In Verdi, the curtain comes down every twenty minutes or so: the listener never forgets the theatrical nature of the experience — has, indeed, to applaud the leading singers every so often. That ironises what has gone before; prevents the fantasy from becoming dominant on its own terms. [The] lack of applause for the end of Act One of Parsifal is already cinematic.42

Gurnemanz’s long narration in Act I of that work also anticipated for the first time in any musical stage work, the “flashback” sequence of film. Gurnemanz, tells the young esquires how the Temple of the Grail was founded by Amfortas, and Wagner’s leitmotifs accordingly oblige. Indeed, we hear the melodies associated with Klingsor and the Magic Flower Garden long before they are heard as part of the onstage narrative in Act II. In this respect, Wagner also anticipates the so-called “prequel”— the Star Wars final trilogy being a particularly notable example. The bar leading up to the perfect cadence that announces Gurnemanz’s narrative would, if it were part of a film score, cover a watery dissolve (that time-honored convention of the cinematic regression in time). The tonic resolution itself announces a new beginning.


Third Intermission

One of Wagner’s most graphic examples of his self-proclaimed “art of transition” describes the journeys made to and from Nibelheim by Wotan and Loge in Das Rheingold. Wagner even includes sound effects here (the celebrated anvils) as part of his “soundtrack score.” The only things missing are the tracking shots, dissolves and editing we find in equivalent cinema scenes. One particularly apt parallel to these Rheingold interludes is the opera scene in Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) in which the camera apparently travels high up into the fly tower of the opera house Kane has built. The progress of the camera is illusory, of course, and the illusion is immensely aided by Bernard Herrmann’s score. Herrmann shrouded the operatic scena he wrote for this short scene in reverberation to suggest increasing distance from the activities on stage as the camera travels higher and higher. The diminution of volume to aid the illusion of height is also prefigured in Wagner’s orchestral interludes with their varying dynamics and orchestral textures, in music that is rarely matched by the theatrical realizations it accompanies. In the Tannhäuser bacchanal, set in the Venusburg, there is another sensational example of orchestral “reverberation,” created entirely by symphonic means, of course, but it anticipates what would later be created by purely electronic means: the horns hold a discordant G, which blurs the harmony of the appoggiatura still lingering over an already chromatically exotic chord sung by the choir at the end of the bacchanal: Naht euch dem Strande! Naht euch dem Lande! (Come to the strand! Come to the land!)

As Charles Rosen has observed, “Horn calls, too, are symbols of memory — or, more exactly, of distance, absence and regret.”43 Wagner doesn’t resort to the traditional horn call as such here (third, fifth and sixth), but the timbre of the horn is sufficient to suggest the languid, regressive environment of the Venusburg. It is one of Wagner’s most magical impressions of obscurity and distance, and is indeed highly cinematic. The list of Wagnerian cinematic moments is extensive. Siegfried’s Rhine Journey in Götterdämmerung, for example, which is so often improvised by hav ing Siegfried perform punting gestures at the back of the stage, or conveyed impressionistically by means of lighting effects, is really in search of what we take for granted in movies all the time, i.e., panoramic montages of appropriate scenery accompanied by music. (It has surfaced in John Boorman’s 1981 Arthurian epic, Excalibur, for its implied mythic resonance, and in T. Hayes Hunter’s creaky 1933 British horror film, The Ghoul, starring Boris Karloff, because of its ready-made funeral connotations.) The end of Götterdämmerung, with its apocalyptic cataclysm and falling masonry, is the ancestor of the modern disaster movie:

The Cinema of the Future


The fire blazes high up, filling the whole space before the Hall which it seems about to devour. The men and women crowd in terror towards the extreme front. When the whole stage seems enveloped in flames the glow is suddenly extinguished so that only a cloud of smoke remains which collects over the background and lies upon the horizon like a thick fogbank. The Rhine at the same time swells up mightily, and spreads its waters over the pyre. [...] From the wreck of the half burnt hall the women and men behold with awe and terror the rising glow in the heavens, When this has reached the utmost brilliancy the Hall of Valhalla appears in it with the gods and heroes therein assembled, as described in VALTRAUTE’S narration in Act 1.44

Film producer Irwin Allen updated this elemental disaster scenario in The Towering Inferno (dir. John Guillermin, 1974) in which, a modern-day Valhalla (an immensely tall, hubristic skyscraper) is similarly burned and then dowsed with water. Instead of the Rhine bursting its banks, Steve McQueen’s fire chief decides to explode the tower’s water tanks, consequently drenching a host of Hollywood stars in the film’s powerful climax. As Martin van Amerongen so perceptively observed in 1983: If Wagner had lived a century later, his home would not have been Bayreuth but Beverly Hills, and he would not have written music dramas, let along a Bühnenweihfestspiel, but the sound-tracks for disaster movies.45

The phantom ship of The Flying Dutchman, the transformation of Alberich first into a dragon and then into a toad, his ability to become invisible by means of the Tarnhelm, the appearance of Loge from the flames, and the rainbow bridge in Das Rheingold, the battle between Hunding and Siegmund over which the spirits of Wotan and Brünnhilde hover, the Ride of Valkyries and the Magic Fire that surrounds the sleeping Brünnhilde in Die Walküre, the battle between Siegfried and Fafner the Dragon in Siegfried, and the appearance and destruction of the Magic Garden in Parsifal, would all have been treated cinematically if Wagner had lived long enough to experience the potential of film technology. All these effects were made more realistic by the music. Wagner, who composed in a highly visual manner, carefully found ways to suggest his stage effects in musical terms: the Tarnhelm’s open fifths, the imitation of a croaking toad, the rising and falling arch of melody for the rainbow bridge, the jagged pitch contour of the magic fire music, with its leaping intervals suggestive of “flames.” A stylized approach to the physical representation of these effects may be more convincing (to say nothing of being more fashionable) than a shoddy pantomimic stage-illusion, but Wagner wanted realism. In all his “effects,” Wagner anticipated many of the popular cinema’s key fantasy landmarks. The invisibility of the Tarnhelm paved the way for James Whale’s 1933 adaptation of H. G. Wells’s The Invisible Man. The Magic Fire was echoed in many a cinematic conflagration, particularly the spectacular


Third Intermission

burning of Atlanta scenes in Gone with the Wind (dir. Victor Fleming, 1939), not to mention the stock footage of flaming timbers which usually brought Roger Corman’s Gothic horror films to a close in the 1960s. Wagner’s Rainbow Bridge has its cinematic equivalent in the gigantic moving staircase that leads to heaven in Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death (1946), the battle between Hunding and Siegmund over which Wotan and Brünnhilde hover is the origin of the light-saber contests in Star Wars, and the ancestor of the aerial combat in films such Guy Hamilton’s The Battle of Britain from 1967 (particular in the famous aerial scenes scored by William Walton). The somewhat perfunctory music Wagner wrote for the duels between Siegfried and Fafner in Siegfried and Lohengrin and Telramund in Lohengrin also provided the basis for the kind of thing Erich Wolfgang Korngold composed to cover the many duels featuring Errol Flynn in Hollywood swashbucklers. Even in its earliest days, the cinema offered the possibility of rearranging reality, of performing miracles, of achieving the physically impossible, to say nothing of providing the means to visualize the landscape of the unconscious. Its techniques preserved realism while simultaneously permitting special effects that were quite impossible to achieve on a stage. The persistent realism of Wagner’s stage directions — his insistence that the settings should be a mirror of nature — was reinforced in his theoretical essays. In “The Artwork of the Future” he wrote: Man will never be that which he can and should be, until his Life is a true mirror of Nature [...] Art will never live, until its embodiments need be subject only to the laws of Nature, and not to the despotic whims of Mode. Fashion is therefore the maddest, most un-heard of tyranny that has ever issued from man’s perversity: it demands from Nature an absolute obedience; it dictates to real need a thorough self-disownment in favour of an artificial; it compels man’s natural sense of beauty to worship at the shrine of what is hateful. [...] Where the absurdest Fashion reigns, there must Nature be regarded as the height of absurdity.46

Wagner lambastes the “‘Manner of the day’ sets” he experienced in Parisian opera houses, entirely rejecting the stage designers of his own day with the same contempt that he may have shared with those of our own. In this passage from “The Artwork of the Future,” it is as if Wagner is also attacking such conceptual directors who manipulate the text to provide a platform for their own interpretations: Art has become the private property of an artist-caste; its taste it offers to those alone who understand it; and for its understanding it demands a special study, aloof from actual life, the study of art-learning.47

Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk theories aimed to unite the separated disciplines of dance, music, poetry, architecture, sculpture and painting in a way

The Cinema of the Future


in which no one element predominates (music in conventional opera being the tyrant over drama). Not one rich faculty of the separate arts will remain unused in the United Artwork of the Future. [...] Music has to occupy a very different position in this Art-work to what she takes in modern Opera: that only where her power is the fittest, has she to open out her full expanse; while, on the contrary, wherever another power, for instance that of dramatic Speech, is the most necessary, she has to subordinate herself to that.48

Not even Wagner achieved this balance, music triumphing in practice even with him in the end. Only in cinema have his ideals been fully achieved. And Wagner also advocated a democratic accessibility that Bayreuth failed to deliver, but which formed the very basis of cinema’s success: But if he ponder on the infinitely greater mass of those who are perforce shut out on every side by the evils of our present social system, from both the understanding and the tasting of the sweets of modern art, then must the artist of today grow conscious that his whole art-doings are, at bottom, but an egoistic, self-concerning business; that his art, in the light of public life, is nothing else than luxury and superfluity, a self-amusing pastime.49

Of course, the commercial pressures of the film industry have produced films of equal vacuity, but this has nothing to do with the potential of film technology. That passionate Wagnerian, Arnold Schoenberg, was similarly fascinated by the potential of cinema. He dreamt of film versions of Strindberg’s To Damascus and Wagner’s Parsifal indeed. He argued that these works, by renouncing the law of unity of space and time would have found a solution in sound pictures. But he was disillusioned by the rather commercial movies that Hollywood had in mind.50 Unwilling to compromise his ideals, Schoenberg’s own involvement with Hollywood was consequently an abject failure. Wagner himself was less elitist — in theory at least. Indeed, frustrated by financial realities and what he perceived as the betrayal of his democratic principles, he insisted on allowing the local fire brigade to attend the dress rehearsals of the Ring cycle free of charge.51 As “The Artwork of the Future” made clear, his ideal audience would blend the highest educated alike with the most uneducated, the learned with the most unlearned, the high-placed with the lowly, the nestling of the amplest lap of luxury with the starveling of the filthiest den of Hunger.52

King Ludwig II even anticipated that development of the cinema which now permits the viewer to watch a film on DVD in the splendid isolation of his living room, for so sociopathic was the Dream King, he insisted on experiencing the Ring cycle at Bayreuth in an empty theater.


Third Intermission

The Festspielhaus, with its immense stage, was designed to create a level of illusion that aimed for the experience of wide-screen panoramic cinema. In “The Artwork of the Future,” Wagner envisaged a theater in which “the public [...] forgets the confines of the auditorium, and lives and breathes now only in the artwork which seems to it as Life itself, and on the stage which seems the wide expanse of the whole World.”53 There was no more explicit nineteenth-century premonition of the potential of cinema than that. And Wagner also anticipated the lavish lifestyle of a movie mogul. Money being no object (even the lack of it never prevented his conspicuous consumption at other peoples’ expense), Wagner promoted himself and his products in a way that inaugurated a century of hype. This is somewhat ironic considering Wagner’s aim to be anti-capitalistic and anti-commercial, while simultaneously appealing to Das Volk, and aiming to be popular. (In England, that most capitalistic of countries, the appeal of Wagner today is very much a minority interest.) What other nineteenth-century composer so tirelessly went about fundraising for his own theater as Wagner? No other composer in history has set about his own self-promotion by founding societies in his own name; and even if there had been, would any of them have smothered the ceiling of their private living quarters with shields commemorating their ubiquity? Wahnfried, with its self-indulgent decorative scheme (Wotan and Siegfried in scraffito over the main door, poetic explanations of the villa’s name over the windows) is a prototype Beverly Hills mansion. One is also reminded of the piano motifs of Liberace’s residences and swimming pools in the half-serious, half-playful egocentricity of Wagner’s personal touches. Though the conditions under which Italian opera was produced and performed also have parallels with twentieth-century Hollywood, Wagner’s complete and personal control over the production of his music-dramas make him, far more than Rossini, the prototype of Louis B. Mayer and Samuel Goldwyn (highly ironic considering Wagner’s notorious anti–Semitism). Having said that, the hyperbole of Hollywood is really only a commercialization and exaggeration of nineteenth-century Romantic ambition. With the development of the cinema, Wagner’s visual aesthetic (not to mention his musical methods) traveled effortlessly to Hollywood. By contrast, theatrical producers continued to veer Wagner’s music dramas further away from what the composer had had in mind. Famously, Patrice Chéreau presented the Rhinemaidens in the centenary 1976 production of The Ring as prostitutes, cavorting on a hydro-electric dam over the Rhine. We have already encountered Chéreau’s way with Fafner the dragon. The designer, Rosalie, suggested that Wagner shopped at IKEA in Alfred Kirchner’s Ring in the early 1990s and a Space Age Parsifal by Götz Friedrich was only one of many. Significantly, one of the few film directors to have been employed at Bayreuth,

The Cinema of the Future


Werner Herzog, created “cinematic” effects that would have delighted Wagner in his 1989 production of Lohengrin (particularly the rising tide with real water, raised by a convincing moon), but Herzog was an exception to the rule. So, too, was the neo–Romantic (and predictably short-lived) production of Sir Peter Hall’s 1983 Ring cycle with stage designs by William Dudley. Every conceivable re-interpretation and deconstruction of Wagner’s works has taken place at what was once an ossified museum of the first Ring cycle of 1876. Bayreuth is now an experimental workshop of theatrical innovation, and a quite brilliant, always stimulating one, but what Bayreuth always wanted to be, with its (apparently) democratic seating, fan-shaped auditorium, stage illusion and invisible orchestra, was a cinema. Babelsburg Studios and Hollywood were only a matter of time...


The Damned By establishing a nominative link between the Nazi SS officer, Aschenbach in The Damned, and the composer Gustave von Aschenbach in Death in Venice, Visconti was able to suggest that the hideous degeneracy of Hitlerism in Germany had deep and distant sources in the culture that bred it, and to which it constantly referred. This, however, is really Death in Venice’s only overt reference to its connection to The Damned if the film is viewed in isolation. The cultural backstory is the province of the other two films in the trilogy. With The Damned, Visconti is more interested in the period of the Third Reich itself, as well as projecting the film’s themes into the present and possible future. As recounted by Schiffano, Visconti believed that “‘the story of violence, of blood and the bestial craving for power that began on 2 February 1933, when the Nazis came to power in Germany was still pertinent as ‘a reminder and report on a still current reality.’”1 Visconti did not think that fascism was dead, and he intended his film to be a warning about what could easily happen again. As Schiffano explained: Only the uncontrolled criminal monstrosity of the German tragedy, he thought, compared with the confusion of the late Sixties, a clear sign that a society and civilization were decomposing, that humanistic values were being overturned and the forces of irrationality unleashed.2

Visconti’s emotional relationship with the actor Helmut Berger also played its part. He was looking for a part to suit him, and the role of Martin von Essenbeck was ideal. Visconti decided to call his fictional family Essenbeck, echoing the name of Essen, the famous steel-town once owned by the Krupps. Martin von Essenbeck was based on Arndt von Bohlen und Halbach, who inherited the Krupp estate. Arndt’s father, Gustav, had been an SS officer, for the Krupp family had been deeply embedded in the power-structure of the Third Reich, supplying weaponry and munitions from factories staffed by slave and child labor. Like Martin, Arndt (an effeminate homosexual) had no business sense. He 144

SIX. The Damned


relinquished his shares in the company in exchange for an annual income of $1 million and plunged headlong into a jet-set lifestyle with his adored mother. Arndt eventually died of AIDS in 1986. The parallels between Martin and Arndt are obviously considerable, but Arndt was quite sanguine about the film, and actually celebrated its release with an extravagant party.3 Visconti’s Wagnerian subtext is present from the very beginning, when the main title images show the process of manufacturing steel, and very Wagnerian they are too. Tony Palmer was to borrow this symbolism in his own Wagner biopic, carrying, as it does, the mythical resonance of Siegfried’s forging of Nothung, the magical sword with which he kills Fafner, the dragon. The images also suggest the nature of the Will to Power at its crudest, most elemental level. Of course, all this would have been immeasurably enhanced by Wagner’s music. The action begins with the preparations for Baron Joachim’s 60th birthday party, and Visconti delights in dwelling on the elaborate way in which the servants lay the table. Such details recall similar scenes in Mann’s Buddenbrooks, which describe “the brightly lighted dining-room, where the company had already taken their places at the long table.”4 “Such plenty, such elegance!” says one of the Buddenbrooks’ guests, Herr Köppen (“who did not come from a patrician family”), “ I must say, you know how to do things!”5 As long as Joachim is still alive, the humanistic, aristocratic values of the family — the old Germany — survives, if only just. We hear Gunther, Joachim’s grandson practicing Bach on his cello. The children recite poetry (a German tradition at such occasions, which even the delightful offspring of Josef and Magda Goebbels demonstrated in poignant newsreel footage). But though Joachim is appreciative, Gunther’s solo Bach bores Konstantin, who is seen visibly yawning throughout the performance. We cut to a shot of Bruckmann and Aschenbach who are traveling to the Essenbeck villa by car. Bruckmann, a social climber and employee of the firm, is being groomed by Aschenbach, who wishes to use Bruckmann’s ambition as a way of Nazifying the Essenbeck steel works. Friedrich is also having an affair with Sophie von Essenbeck, Martin’s mother. Aschenbach explains that Bruckmann will be given an opportunity to take matters into his own hands that very night — an opportunity that leads to his (sanctioned) murder of Joachim. They arrive at the mansion, walking over the wooden floors of Visconti’s expensively appointed set, in time to witness Martin’s birthday tribute to his grandfather. Joachim’s response to Martin’s brash, decadent “turn” as a Marlene Dietrich drag act is one of profound distaste. (The scene proved very strenuous to film, due to Visconti’s perfectionism and sadistic tendencies. He apparently forced Berger to repeat the performance 20 times and even screened Josef von


Visconti and the German Dream

Sternberg’s 1930 classic, The Blue Angel, to instill in him the correct Dietrich gestures.6) Joachim is made most uncomfortable by this vulgar, brash premonition of the “new Germany,” which will soon so brutally sweep him aside; but the performance is interrupted by news that the Reichstag has been set on fire, announcing the fact that before the night is over, the old Germany, like Joachim, will be dead. One of the visual leitmotifs in the film is the use of the dinner table as a symbol of patriarchal power. We are shown the assembled family gathered about Joachim for his birthday dinner, and no expense is spared on the enormous birthday cake with its traditional German birthday greeting iced on top. During the meal, Herbert (played by Umberto Orsini) is ousted from the vice-presidency of the firm in favor of Konstantin. The “opportunity” Aschenbach has promised Bruckmann is not only to kill Joachim but also to frame Herbert. Herbert will be arrested later that night, and Bruckmann will use Herbert’s pistol for the murder. Suspicion will, therefore, naturally fall on Herbert. “Will there be a trial?” Sophie anxiously asks Aschenbach. “Is there a specific charge?” Aschenbach sits back in his chair, still in elegant evening dress and considers his response. “I don’t believe such formalities are necessary,” he replies. “We just have to be careful of their substance. And the substance is this. Before the flames of the Reichstag are put out, the men of old Germany will be reduced to ashes.” He lights a cigar. “Nevertheless,” he continues, pacing the carpet, “a semblance of legality can also be useful sometimes.” With Joachim dead, Martin becomes president; but Martin, uninterested in the position anyway (he wears an effeminate silk kimono), succumbs to his mother’s pressure to nominate Bruckmann in his place, thus keeping Konstantin, (an SA member) in check. The SS, of course, hated the SA. During this scene, Visconti is once more careful to include almost Hammer film lighting style: a brilliant blood red light is projected onto the curtain of the stage where earlier Martin had performed his Marlene Dietrich impression. The light spills over onto the floor and casts the color of naked power over the conspirators, reminding us of the opening main title sequence. We now have the first of the film’s three great set pieces: Joachim’s funeral procession through the precincts of the steel works, accompanied by the dour and ungainly transcription for brass band of Chopin’s funeral march. Visconti dwells at some length on these depressingly gray scenes, to reveal the harsh reality behind the shallow glamour enjoyed by the Essenbecks. Martin, deafened by the noise in the factories and bored by all the talk of machine guns and business, drives off to begin his seduction of a little girl; but Visconti’s decision to dwell on Martin’s degeneracy at the expense of Bruckmann’s part in the film understandably disappointed Bogarde:

SIX. The Damned


“You are sad, Bogarde. Va bene ... but I change my mind, is my privilege, no? I make this not just the story of the Macbeths, it is the story also of corrupted youth ... so ... we have to cut. Already the film is four hours; too long!”

In his memoirs, Bogarde tantalizingly refers to “the big scene in the study,” the “big set piece scenes between Ingrid Thulin and myself ” and “the big terror scene,” all of which were cut. Visconti said that Bogarde was “not good” in those scenes. “Troppo Mozart and not enough Wagner ... capisci?”7 But no matter how “wet,” as Bogarde described his performance of Bruckmann may have been, one cannot help regretting Visconti’s decision. The scenes featuring Martin and the little girl do rather labor the point to no real advantage, consequently unbalancing the narrative. Martin’s pedophilia could have been more than adequately established in half the time that Visconti devotes to it, and his decision seems to have been motivated by his desire to give his boyfriend, Berger, as much screen time as possible, regardless of the needs of the film. However, we do eventually return to the political element. At Gunther’s university, a list of the authors proscribed by the Nazis is read out, the first of which is, significantly, Thomas Mann, who is coupled with his much more left-wing brother, Heinrich (1871–1950). They are followed by Walter Rathenau (1867–1922), the German Jewish industrialist who had argued for the integration of Jews into German society, and was eventually assassinated. Then come, as though a list of casualties of war is being read out (which is, intellectually speaking, exactly what was happening): Erich Maria Remarque (1898–1970), author of All Quiet on the Western Front, whom Goebbels claimed was of French Jewish descent; Arnold (1887–1968) and Stefan Zweig (1881–1942), the latter of whom had collaborated with Richard Strauss on the opera, Die schweigsame Frau, in 1935. Strauss wished to ignore Zweig’s Jewish ancestry, but Goebbels was so outraged that the Third Reich’s most important composer should be so contaminated, he never forgave the composer. Strauss eventually had to resign as president of the Reichmusikkammer because of this “inappropriate” working relationship, which we will be exploring in more detail in chapter seven. The roll call of the dishonored continues with André Gide (1869–1951), who managed to be banned by both the Nazis and the Roman Catholic Church, which latter included his works on its Index of Forbidden Works in 1952. Visconti’s list also highlights Margaret Sanger (1879–1966), the American sex educationalist who, though an advocate of contraception and “negative” eugenics, attacked the Nazis’ murderous eugenics program. There is also the American socialist author Jack London (1876–1916), famous for the novel White Fang, and that other famous British socialist George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950). Emile Zola (1840–1902) and Marcel Proust (1871–1922) bring to an end Visconti’s representative selection of the many other intellectuals who found their books burned by the Nazis.


Visconti and the German Dream

We see the books being tossed onto the pyre by enthusiastic university students, the conflagration accompanied by the depressingly sullen sound of a Nazi song, as swastikas flutter in the breeze, and Gunther stares on impassively. The next scene echoes the ambivalent tone of Serenus Zeitblom in Doctor Faustus, when Gunther is called to an interview with his college professor (played by Howard Nelson Rubien). The professor hands a letter to Gunther from his uncle Herbert, adding, crossly, “If your uncle had good sense he wouldn’t write to you here.” “Where would you like him to write to me?” Gunther asks. “He needs help. You read that yourself, didn’t you?” “I don’t want to know anything,” the professor replies with distaste and exasperation, summing up in six words the attitude of all the Zeitbloms who (perhaps understandably) turned a blind eye to what was going on around them. “I don’t want to be involved in it. I only want you not to drag our institute in this mess. And then, I can’t believe ... I refuse to believe what your uncle writes.” Such incredulity was, of course, not uncommon, so extreme and sudden was the Nazis’ complete inversion of conventional moral behavior. After this short, telling scene, Visconti returns to Martin’s “relationship” with the little girl, which now borders on voyeurism in its obsessional attention to detail. After courting his victim with a wooden horse, Martin lays his head on the girl’s lap. She then lets drop a piece of material which resembles, though is not, an item of underwear. The scene is certainly as disturbing as Visconti intended it to be and it tells us all we need to know. (One wonders how many directors would feel able to dwell on such a subject today, so politically incorrect has the subject become.) Unfortunately, Visconti cannot resist returning to this corrupt seduction later. For Charlotte Rampling, who plays Herbert’s wife, Elizabeth, The Damned was her first starring role. As we have seen, she would eventually go on to play a concentration camp victim in Cavani’s The Night Porter, and during the shooting of that film, her co-star Bogarde recalled, “Charlotte was as naked as the rest; and she was clearly distressed. Her distress was sudden, and nothing whatsoever to do with acting. [...] Born long after the war, she had no conception of what had taken place in those camps.” Bogarde, however, had helped to liberate Belsen, and knew all about it from firsthand experience. “Reading about them is not the same; the written word does not, always, fully evoke the horror and the terror. But standing there, naked as the others, before a table lined with black uniforms, with the smell, with the shame, she understood.”8 In The Damned Rampling’s role is less harrowing, but she is still a victim.

SIX. The Damned


She pleads with Ingrid Thulin’s Sophie to let her leave Germany to join her husband. She asks why the authorities keep refusing, and asks if she is afraid that one day they might return and remember: “But do you think that day is going to come, Sophie? No, it’s not. Herbert still deludes himself. I don’t any more.” Watching her like a spider, as she inhales the smoke from her nonchalantly held cigarette, Sophie replies: “Go, if this is what you want. Don’t fool yourself, however, Elizabeth. Don’t dream of coming back one day and finding a Germany which was so dear to your heart. It is finished, that Germany. Forever. There will be no other Germany but this one. And you will not be able to escape it or avoid it. For it will spread before you know it, all over Europe, and everywhere.” Thulin is quite terrifying in her implacable, glamorous fanaticism, a kind of Magda Goebbels indeed, quite capable of murdering her own children, though of course, in her case, it is her son, Martin, who will as good as murder her. Visconti continues the lengthy exposition of Martin’s moral decline by juxtaposing scenes in which Martin alternately seduces the girl (with a necklace and a kiss) and has sex with a prostitute. The red scarf draped over the little girl’s bedroom lamp indicates the danger to come, which is revealed after a brief change of scene showing Elizabeth on a railway platform on her way to meet her exiled husband. The little girl is next revealed hanged by Martin. When the police come to investigate, Visconti seems to be drawing a parallel with the suicide of Geli Raubal, Hitler’s niece, who took her own life with Hitler’s pistol in 1931, after a long and oppressive “relationship” with the Führer. As was the case with Hitler and Raubal (though no one knows exactly what happened in that instance), Martin’s murder of the girl is hushed up. Konstantin takes care of that. He also attempts to usurp Bruckmann’s position, and orders the shipment of machine guns from the Essenbeck works to be directed to the SA (of which he is a leading member) rather than the army or the SS, thus sowing the seed of his own destruction (for vengeance is sure to follow such a partisan action). Martin takes refuge in an upper floor of the Essenbeck residence, where Sophie finds him. But now that Konstantin has a handle on Martin, Bruckmann’s path to power is compromised. Sophie therefore wastes no time in visiting Aschenbach to tell him of developments. Aschenbach, in full SS uniform, filmed alternately in front of an appropriately morbid, yet simultaneously luxurious arrangement of white arum lilies, and a group of swastika flags, refers, for the second time in the film, to G. W. F. Hegel’s opinion: A world-historical individual is not so sober as to adjust his ambition to circumstances; nor is he very considerate. He is devoted, come what may, to one purpose. Therefore such men may treat other great and even sacred interests inconsider-


Visconti and the German Dream

ately — a conduct which indeed subjects them to moral reprehension. But so mighty a figure must trample down many an innocent flower, crush to pieces many things in its path.9

Aschenbach’s résumé of this passage from the Hegel’s General Introduction to the Philosophy of History, which first appeared posthumously in 1837, is somewhat more succinct than Hegel’s original, but nonetheless clearly expresses Hegel’s meaning (and metaphor). Visconti includes this reference to German philosophy to provide one more example of how Nazi ideology grew out of a tradition of Idealistic thinking just as much as its distortion of Nietzsche’s opposing viewpoint. That the flower so soon to be crushed is Konstantin and his SA comrades is now no longer in doubt. “Another cord to cut,” is how Aschenbach graphically puts it, before giv ing Sophie a guided tour of the SS’s extensive archives. “You can even find your history and Freidrich’s,” he explains, with a cheerful smile. “Can you believe it? [...] Every German citizen is potentially one of our informers. The collective thinking of our people is now complicity. Don’t you think that is the true miracle of the Third Reich? If you wish, we can read Konstantin’s future together. If he has one.” Aschenbach now makes it clear that Bruckmann must kill Konstantin. Sophie accepts this, but demands that Bruckmann assumes the name and title of von Essenbeck, thus removing the firm forever from the family’s control. Aschenbach says that is impossible, but Sophie quite rightly points out, “Nothing is impossible in this country”— a chilling statement of fact, if only for those with the power to make the impossible, as far as previous moral limits is concerned, come to pass. Sophie’s bargaining power is, of course, the reliance of the new Nazi State on Essenbeck armaments if it is to wage war. Sophie tells the news to Bruckmann later that day, as she lies, naked, in bed with him. He puts down (no doubt somewhat wearily) a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and, drenched in vivid blue light, Sophie points out, “Aschenbach produces words. You produce cannons.” Visconti’s camera lingers on her nipples in a provocative manner as she speaks, forcing a constellation of lust, power and violence upon the viewer. “Power,” she laughs. “All the power or nothing.” Bogarde’s “wet” performance as Bruckmann may have been more Mozart than Wagner, but he now assumes the moral dilemma of Wotan in Wagner’s Ring cycle. Unlike the ruthless Sophie, he begins to have doubts. “Oh God,” he rather inappropriately exclaims, as he puts his head in his hands. “I’m not afraid, Sophie,” though he obviously is, just as Macbeth is before his wife encourages him to screw his courage to the sticking point. Bruckmann remembers how he killed Joachim as he now contemplates his forthcoming murder of Konstantin. His words “... and tomorrow?” echo Macbeth’s famous disqui-

SIX. The Damned


sition on “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” as he again appeals to God and admits that “the complicity grows, and I know I’ll be trapped with Aschenbach all my life.” He bursts into tears, but it is, after all, a little late for that. Sophie assures him that when he is at “the peak of the pyramid” not even Aschenbach will have power over him, but Bruckmann realizes that he has “accepted a ruthless logic.” This state of affairs now gives Visconti an opportunity to indulge in the film’s second great set piece, the recreation of the Night of the Long Knives, filmed on location at Bad Wiessee, where the massacre of the SA actually took place. It was suitably draped in yet more swastikas for the film, no doubt to the discomfort of the inhabitants — or perhaps not: After all, Visconti’s point is that fascism is not dead. Bad Wiessee lies on the shores of Lake Tegernsee in Bavaria, a setting that anticipated those of the later Ludwig along with the Bavarian scene in the middle of Death in Venice (the Aschenbach family idyll). All the “style” of the Third Reich is on display here: the Mercedes cars, the brown shirt uniforms, the weaponry, the swastikas. “The trouble with that damned swastika,” says the narrator of Anthony Burgess’s novel Earthly Powers (published 11 years after The Damned ), “was that it was a very satisfying symbol and very ancient. Svasti meant good luck in Sanskrit. Kipling had the swastika on the title pages of all his books. Medieval scribes filled in spaces with it and called it a fylfot. Whether or not you approved of the regime it represented, your heart could not help but lift when you saw its arrogance on the Berlin skyline.”10 To give the scene extra veracity, Visconti filmed it all in German with subtitles for non–German speakers. Most of all, Visconti dwells on the beauty of youthful “Aryan” male bodies. One minute the SA lads are phallically machine-gunning effigies of Hindenburg, the next they are skinny-dipping in the lake. The juxtaposition seems to be a parody of all those evocations of Arcadia and Pan discussed in our earlier Intermission, especially Thomas Mann’s evocation of Arcadia in The Magic Mountain in a scene imagined by that novel’s hero, Hans Castorp: Beyond them still, young men were practising archery. Lovely and pleasant it was to see the older ones show the younger, curly-locked novices, how to span the bow and take aim; draw with them, and laughing support them staggering back from the push of the arrow as it leaped from the bow. Others were fishing, lying prone on the jut of rock, waggling one leg in the air, holding the line out over the water, approaching their heads in talk. Others sat straining forward to fling the bait far out. [...] Young folk were sitting in nooks of the rocks, or hesitating at the water’s edge, with crossed arms clutching either shoulder, as they tested the chill with their toes. Pairs strolled along the beach, close and confiding [...]. “Oh, lovely, lovely,” Hans Castorp breathed. “How joyous and winning they are, how fresh and healthy, happy and clever they look! It is not alone the outward


Visconti and the German Dream

form, they seem to be wise and gentle through and through. That is what makes me in love with them, the spirit that speaks out of them, the sense, I might almost say, in which they live and play together.”10

A painterly equivalent to this sort of thing can be found in the work of German artist Ludwig von Hoffmann (1861–1945), particularly his Naked Boatmen and Youths on a Green Shore (c. 1900). Visconti’s perversion of paradise continues inside the Bierstübe, with youths clad in Lederhosen, dancing to traditional accordion music, just as they were to do in Ludwig, though here they are not dancing before the presence of the Swan King but a photograph of the Führer, who stares clairvoyantly into the middle distance. Beer flows, the sausages Visconti had specially made are consumed, all stand at attention to sing the Horst Wessel song, and as everyone becomes increasingly inebriated, a group of lads mob a waitress, stripping off her dirndl and underwear before she escapes, bare-breasted; but the lads are actually more interested in one another, and Visconti now begins to dwell on the homosex that is to form both the physiological and dramatic climax of the scene. The irony of an openly gay filmmaker equating homosexuality with degeneracy raises the troubled question of Visconti’s guilt-ridden response to his own sexuality. Schiffano explained, “Visconti could not contemplate pleasure or even beauty — as in Death in Venice —without pain and punishment, without ritual death. [...] For him, as for Wilde and Proust, love was always guilty.”11 Visconti’s camera lingers on the sweating, stone-drunk features of an SA Adonis, men stagger about outside, grabbing some fresh air, complaining about the rift between Röhm and Hitler, voicing their misgivings over being sidelined by the Führer — so unjust after all the dirty work they did for him to get him into power. Back inside, some of the lads have put on drag and dance to Offenbach’s can-can (Offenbach’s Jewish race seems temporarily to have been forgotten). They collapse in a heap, but moral collapse has still not reached its nadir. Another burst of the Horst Wessel song introduces us to the film’s most gripping moment. Everyone makes their way upstairs, then down more swastika-emblazoned corridors for a lusty romp in bed. Doors open, revealing naked youths ready for action. Bare buttocks wander past as the doors slam. Visconti then takes us back downstairs where, accompanied on an out-of-tune piano, Konstantin bellows out Isolde’s “Liebestod” to a desultory and half-wandering (half-comatose) audience of naked, sweating male pin-ups. Mild und leise wie er lächelt, wie das Auge hold er öffnet —

SIX. The Damned


seht ihr’s, Freunde? Seht ihr’s nicht? Immer lichter wie er leuchtet, stern-umstrahlet hoch sich hebt? (Softly and gently how he smiles, how the eyes sweetly open. Do you see it, friends? Don’t you see it? Always lighter, how he shines, bathed in stars.)

Words and music are enough to summon the entire cultural context of this moment. Translation isn’t necessary (though, as a matter of fact, the words Visconti includes from the “Liebestod” here are all, appropriately, about male beauty). Very soon, Wagner’s great peroration on Love and Death is to be enacted quite literally; but before that, Visconti’s camera follows one of the pin-ups out onto the terrace by the shores of the lake. There, against a Ludwigian, peacock-blue sky, in a landscape punctuated by two distinctly Venetian-looking street lamps, a man in drag sits slumped in a chair, suspenders and stockings on his splayed legs. The wandering youth behind, stretches his arms, reminding us of that famous image by proto–Nazi artist Hugh Höppener (aka “Fidus”) called Lichtgebet (Prayer to Light, 1913), in which a similarly naked youth stands on a rock with his arms outstretched to the rays of the rising sun. Like Stassen, Höppener (1868–1948) was a proponent of vegetarianism, nudism, sexual freedom, theosophy and the occult. Unlike Stassen, he was also a pacifist, and he based the posture of the figure in his Lichtgebet on the form of the rune of life. (This resembles the capital letter Y, translated into terms of the human figure with legs together and arms outstretched.) Höppener even founded his own semi-religious sect, which promoted social and artistic reform, alongside his other mystical interests. He also admired the Wandervögel movement, the German youth movement later hijacked by the Hitlerjugend, which advocated fresh air and gymnastics. In toto, he regarded himself as “an artist of all that is luminous.”12 He aimed to construct a “Nordic Temple” in which to worship this agenda and, perhaps inevitably, became an enthusiastic supporter of the Nazis when they emerged, seeing in them a mythico-artistic, neopagan cult of the body beautiful, much of which was mere window dressing for the ruthless aims of the Nazis who, of course, largely betrayed the cultural models on which they fed. Despite Höppener’s


Visconti and the German Dream

attempts to gain their support, the Nazis, in fact, banned his work, while simultaneously borrowing his imagery. Visconti’s reference to Höppener’s most famous image powerfully encapsulates another of the Third Reich’s cultural paths, which began with relatively benign idealism, but went terribly wrong. The Lichtgebet youth now suddenly hears a strange noise and strains to work out what it is. We soon find out. It is the sound of SS vehicles on their way to massacre the SA in what might be termed, in this context, as the ultimate orgasm of violence and homosexual desire. The SS stormtroopers burst into the bedrooms of the SA and in a grim satire of the homosexual appeal of so many paintings of the Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, Visconti shows roomfuls of naked (and presumably tumescent — perhaps even erect) young men being machine-gunned in their beds. Konstantin is the last to be murdered — by Bruckmann. Aschenbach next plays Martin off against Bruckmann. Then, Herbert returns during a particularly ghastly family dinner at which Bruckmann, now head of the family, shows signs of losing control of all he has gained. Herbert

Visconti applies blood to one of the sets of The Damned (1969) for the “Night of the Long Knives” massacre.

SIX. The Damned


explains that Elizabeth and the children have been taken to Dachau concentration camp. Elizabeth is dead, and Herbert has returned to give himself up to the Gestapo in exchange for the release of his children. Martin then tells Gunther that it was Bruckmann who killed his father, Konstantin, which gives Bogarde the best opportunity he has had so far for looking malevolent. He manages to invest the distinctly corny line, “I’ll make you pay for that, you little swine” with a chilling intensity as he walks forward. But Martin is not afraid because he has Aschenbach’s backing. Sophie screams and shrieks as she realizes that Martin intends to snatch everything away from her, and during the whole debacle Aschenbach sits quietly at the dinner table, sardonically eating grapes, a true Mephistopheles in Nazi uniform. Yet again, Visconti indulges in Hammer film–style lighting, drenching Sophie and Martin in the kind of sickly green light favored by Hammer’s most famous director of Gothic horror, Terence Fisher, as they struggle in a foretaste of the grotesque rape scene that awaits them. Martin forces his mother to her knees, before he picks her up and they indulge in a distinctly sadomasochistic (not to mention Oepidal) embrace. Meanwhile, Gunther, consumed with hatred of Bruckmann and Sophie, swears he will kill them both. Aschenbach is delighted. “You see, Gunther,” he explains, “you, tonight, have acquired something truly extraordinary. [...] Hate, Gunther! You possess hate! It’s a young hate. Pure. Absolute.” Having supped full of horrors, Visconti now proceeds to the vomitorium, so to speak, by presenting Martin’s rape of his own mother. In fact, Sophie seems half to be rather enjoying it. Remorse follows, however, and she is eventually given an injection by a doctor, which turns her into one of the walking dead. Visconti is thus able to condense all the euthanasia and corrupt medical practice of the Nazi period into one short scene. Martin, now a full-fledged member of the SS, presides over the film’s final set piece: the grotesque wedding of Bruckmann and Sophie, which echoes that of Hitler and Eva Braun at the end of the Second World War. The scene was closely modeled on the account of Hitler’s last moments in Hugh TrevorRoper’s The Last Days of Hitler, and as on that macabre occasion, guests (hired hands and floozies) sip champagne and dance to gramophone records. Candles are lit before a gigantic swastika flag, like the Satanic altar it is, with Martin officiating as high priest. The corruption of the Catholic Church under the Nazis is also part of Visconti’s mix here. A priest asks if Bruckmann and Sophie claim to be members of the Aryan race. Smiling at the guests in a truly appalling way, Ingrid Thulin combines Lady Macbeth not only with Eva Braun but also with Hamlet’s mother, as Martin ushers the happy couple into an adjacent room, lit by suitably threatening red-shaded lamps, and apportions two doses of cyanide as his wedding gift. He then leaves them to their fate as


Visconti and the German Dream

the wedding guests continue to dance and canoodle in the main hall. After a while, Martin returns to discover Bruckmann and his mother dead, again bathed in blood-red light. The camera zooms into Martin’s face as he gives the Nazi salute, before the end titles return us to the steel works’ fiery furnace. The most corrupt member of the Essenbeck family is now in charge. Wagner perhaps anticipated this too, because the only member of the cast who manages to escape destruction at the end of the Ring cycle (apart from the Rhinemaidens) is the evil Nibelung, Alberich, whose ring caused all the trouble in the first place.


Alternative Visions The first film version of Wagner’s life appeared in 1913, significantly one year before the First World War began to taint his international image. Directed by Carl Froelich, it starred Giuseppe Becce in the title role. This was an appropriate choice as Becce not only looked rather like Wagner but was also a composer himself, and responsible for the Kinobibliotek, the most influential of the various film music catalogs that were used to accompany films during the so-called “silent” era. The Life and Works of Richard Wagner was filmed on location at such sacred sites as Wagner’s villa, Wahnfried, and the Bayreuth Festspielhaus itself, setting the standard for the biopics that followed. These were not exactly thick on the ground because, given Wagner’s formidable reputation as an exponent of “high art,” Hollywood was reluctant to embrace such a highbrow subject. Neither was the German film industry much quicker off the mark after Froelich’s pioneering film, but, in 1954, Helmut Käutner directed O. W. Fischer in the title role of Ludwig II: Glanz und Elend eines Königs (Splendor and Misery of a King). In this extravaganza, Paul Bildt looks remarkably like Wagner, though rather frailer than Trevor Howard. We are shown all of Ludwig’s castles, Semper’s model for the Wagner theater that was never built, and Klaus Kinski even puts in an appearance as Ludwig’s brother, Otto. Well-known Ludwigian anecdotes are rehearsed, such as when Ludwig provided a sofa for an exhausted guardsman to sit in, along with the moment when Wagner was rescued and given Ludwig’s ring as a token of faith and love. Later in the film, Wagner plays — what else?— the “Liebesnacht” on a piano in Hohenschwangau, sitting on a suitably puce-upholstered bench. Fischer does a good job at going quietly mad in various castle locations, and he takes Sissy on a tour of Herrenchiemsee, asking, to her uncomfortable dismay, if she can hear music in the hall of mirrors; but there is absolutely no suggestion that he is homosexual. (Having said that, the “Liebesnacht” music does underscore the first meeting between Wagner and Ludwig; and when the king kisses the com157


Visconti and the German Dream

poser, Wagner’s expression is hilariously, though unintentionally, orgasmic.) No, according to this film, the cause of Ludwig’s emotional problems is that Sissy is married to the emperor of Austria, and so will never be his to marry. They nonetheless link fingers meaningfully in the opera house while watching Tristan, specifically the “Liebesnacht” once more, of course. In fact, apart from vividly luxurious photography of Douglas Slocombe, it is the way in which Wagner’s music has been turned into a soundtrack score by Swiss composer Heinrich Sutermeister that is the film’s most interesting aspect. Conducted by Herbert von Karajan no less, Sutermeister’s mélange and modification of various leitmotifs is rather imaginative. When Ludwig prays in the riotously rococo bedroom of Linderhof, Sutermeister imaginatively distorts the Tristan music, to convey Ludwig’s state of mind, and elsewhere selects and blends themes together, cementing them with original elements in a way that makes this one of the most imaginative uses of Wagner’s music in any film. But, sadly, apart from that, the whole thing is little more than a Ludwigian travelogue, which hardly goes below the surface. The rather flatly filmed location work at Neuschwanstein, however, really does show how very like a film set the whole place looks in reality. The following year, Hollywood took the helmet by the horns, so to speak, and had William Dieterle direct Magic Fire, in which Alan Badel played the Meister opposite Peter Cushing’s Otto Wesendonck, the silk merchant who supported Wagner at the expense of being cuckolded by him. Wagner’s music was arranged by the doyen of Hollywood film music, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who also coached Badel in such musical technicalities as the art of conducting, and even appeared himself as Hans Richter, who had conducted the première of the Ring at Bayreuth in 1876. Korngold was asked to condense the Ring to a mere four minutes, but when the editor felt that the film was already too long, a quarter of Korngold’s compression was lost. Wagner also made an appearance in the truly awful, though lavish, Dirk Bogarde Liszt biopic, Song Without End (dir. George Cukor and Charles Vidor, 1960) in which Bogarde looked more like Cliff Richard than the world’s most famous virtuoso pianist. Bogarde nonetheless famously suffered for his art in this film, even learning to play the piano so that the camera could swoop over his shoulders during his various performances. Having never played the piano before, this was a crucifying ordeal which literally left him with blood on the keyboard.1 Sadly, all that hard work was hardly worth the effort. Location work took the crew to Bayreuth, and Lyndon Brook performed the role of Wagner and looks rather more like the man he is playing than did Bogarde. Early in the film, the Goldener Saal in Vienna’s Musikverein stood in for Dresden Opera House, and it is there that Liszt meets Wagner. Wagner has been rehearsing Rienzi, and as he makes his way off the podium past a trombonist,

SEVEN. Alternative Visions


O. W. Fischer as Ludwig II, with Ruth Leuwerik as Empress Elizabeth, wander through Neuschwanstein Castle in Ludwig II — Glanz und Ende eines Königs (Ludwig II — Brilliance and End of a King. Dir. Helmut Käutner, 1955).

he absurdly whispers to the instrumentalist, “You must watch me in the molto stretto.” A snatch of dialogue from what follows is fairly representative of the rest of the screenplay: LISZT: Haven’t we met somewhere before? WAGNER: We have. I once asked you to read this score which you now find so magnificent. You had no time. You were too drunk with applause. LISZT: I apologize. I apologize from my heart. I’m always, always doing this. If there’s ever anything I can do... WAGNER: If I write some piano music, something requiring great technical skill, I may send it to you. Exit Wagner in high dudgeon.

There were other British and American films that attempted to tackle the subject of nineteenth-century Romantic music: the previously mentioned A Song to Remember (dir. Charles Vidor, 1945) and The Magic Bow (Bernard Knowles’ 1946 Paganini biopic starring Stewart Granger), but audiences had to wait for Ken Russell to take a more robust approach to the subject.


Visconti and the German Dream

Ken Russell Russell’s film biopics of the great composers appeared around the same time as Visconti’s trilogy, and there are some intriguing comparisons between the work of the two directors. Stylistically, they could not be more different: Visconti, the opulent realist contrasts violently with Russell, the low-budget surrealist; but Russell’s Mahler (1974) includes an overt reference to Visconti’s Death in Venice shortly after the powerfully dreamlike opening shots of the film. Mahler (played by Robert Powell) is sitting in a train, looking out of the window when he sees a boy in a sailor suit, swinging round the pillars of the station canopy, just as Tadzio twirled around the poles of the beach canopy in Visconti’s film. A Dirk Bogarde look alike gazes wistfully at Russell’s recreation of Tadzio, and even shrugs his shoulder with a self-satisfied little grin just as Bogarde did for Visconti. During this, the Mahler “Adagietto” inevitably swells on the soundtrack. Despite their differences in style, both Visconti and Russell shared the same historical perspective with regard to Romanticism and the Nazis. Russell’s first attempt at the correlation, the 1969 BBC Omnibus film Dance of the Seven Veils, was so graphic that it was shown only once, and to this day it remains banned, though versions of it have appeared on the internet and unsanctioned screenings have occurred in various countries. The embargo was placed upon it by the son of Richard Strauss, who was outraged by Russell’s uncompromising portrayal of his father as an amoral, egocentric, cashconscious Nazi collaborator; but stripped of Russell’s typically self-indulgent imagery (sexually aroused nuns, lots of blood and the composer being shown indulging in foot-fetish ecstasy) the film, in fact, presents nothing much more than historical fact. Strauss was amoral, egocentric and cash-conscious. Soprano Lotte Lehmann, for example, was at first very disappointed with the maestro when she went to study with him, commenting on how much he talked about money.2 And, of course, there was the famous occasion when Debussy had lunch with Strauss and had to endure the composer’s endless calculations of how much his operas were making him.3 Indeed, much of the dialogue in Russell’s film was actually written by Strauss himself, as the end credits delighted in pointing out. Unofficially dubbed “Richard II,” Strauss inherited Wagner’s Romantic crown. As such, he was always an ambassador of the German state in one way or another, and that political role increased with devastating consequences during the period of the Third Reich. Strauss thought nothing of composing music for the Nazi Olympics in 1936 and continually distanced himself from the two world wars through which he lived. “No soldier needs to fall on my account,” he insisted to Goebbels. “I did not want this war, it is nothing to

SEVEN. Alternative Visions


do with me.”4 It might have had less to do with him had he not accepted the position of president of the Reichsmusikkammer, but by the time of that statement, he had. Strauss was happy to be a representative of Germany when it suited him, but when events turned against him he pretended to be a private individual only interested in music. Perhaps he was only interested in music. His naïveté may well have been as profound as his opportunist streak. Indeed, the most shocking thing about Russell’s film is not the deliberately sensationalist imagery, but rather the actual words of the great composer whose music Russell wasn’t alone in regarding as empty, bombastic exercises in technique. It was a view shared by Thomas Mann, who referred to the oeuvre as “superficial,” “outdated” and “ridiculous,”5 and described Strauss as “the kind of person you might encounter at a skittle alley, who also happened to have talent.”6 Debussy was also of the opinion that “Strauss’ orchestra is nothing but a compound like an American drink, which mixes eighteen ingredients; all the individual tastes disappear. It’s a cocktail orchestra.”7 Russell hammers home his own opinion of the composer during the end titles of the film which he flippantly juxtaposes against George and Ira Gershwin’s song, “By Strauss.” This originally referred to Johann Strauss, Jr., but its reference to “oom-pa-pah” ironically serves Russell’s opinion of Richard to devastating effect. Russell’s film is actually far more misrepresentative of Nietzsche’s philosophy than Strauss’s character and works. Beginning with the portentous opening bars of Also Sprach Zarathustra, Strauss’s celebrated musical homage to Nietzsche, Christopher Gable’s Richard Strauss is depicted as a caveman, Aryan version of Nietzsche’s hero. But Russell puts a proto–Nazi gloss on Nietzsche’s in fact quite contrary view. It is still relevant, however, because Strauss and later Nazis were indeed guilty of the same thing: twisting what Nietzsche had to say about conventional Christian morality, the importance of individual freedom, optimism and thinking for oneself, into their own brand of egocentric opportunism. We are now shown Strauss in the guise of a Wilhelminian army officer, replete with raffish cigarette holder, prancing about in a pristine white uniform to the accompaniment of his tone poem, Don Juan. Impersonations of Don Quixote and Macbeth (the subjects of subsequent tone poems) follow, before, in the film’s funniest sequence, we are treated to an obese Salome, who rushes behind a pillar where she is substituted for a much lither ballet dancer who then performs the famous “Dance of the Seven Veils”— the world’s most highclass strip-tease. This, again, is nothing less than the fact of the matter, as exactly this kind of absurd substitution was employed when the opera was first performed in 1905, the original singer being far too heavy to perform such a feat convincingly.


Visconti and the German Dream

The Alpine Symphony, written while Strauss was waiting for his next opera libretto in 1914, provides the soundtrack for the First World War segment of the film, in which the “apolitical” Strauss suffers a nightmare. In it, he witnesses his wife’s rape and the murder of his child at the hands of the enemy. The Alpine Symphony, regarded by many as Strauss’s weakest work (“diatonic platitudes” was Gerald Abraham’s devastating dismissal8), is actually one of the composer’s most successful pieces. Despite his original thought of calling it “The Anti-Christ,” again after Nietzsche, the work is an uncharacteristically unpretentious exercise in dazzling orchestral technique. It is also highly programmatic, with one of the most realistic storm sequences ever composed, replete with a wind machine. Strauss tossed it off at breakneck speed (“it gives me less pleasure than shaking Maybugs off trees,”10 he confessed while composing it), and it stands as a monument to the mountains around his Garmisch home. Russell, however, identified as an example of the “bombastic, sham and hollow”11 nature of his approach to music in general. Certainly, the Alpine Symphony is pure film music — pure “effect” and, as such, a worthy precursor to the Nazis’ fascination with and exploitation of technique, but it lacks the philosophical pretension of Also Sprach Zarathustra or the saccharine self-indulgences of his opera Das Rosenkavalier. Appropriately, a film was made of the Alpine Symphony in 1941 featuring Strauss conducting the piece, interspersed with evocative shots of Alpine peaks. Russell himself appears as an orchestral conductor in the next segment of “Dance of the Seven Veils.” Strauss and his wife make passionate love in front of the orchestra, which imitates their ecstasy in musical terms, rather as a film score accompanies the action of screen. The music in question is the Prelude to Der Rosenkavalier, and Strauss was quite open and honest that this was what the music was about, so Russell’s visualization, which caused such dismay at the time, is entirely justified. The cinematic nature of Strauss’s music is again emphasized when he is shown conducting his Rosenkavalier music alongside a silent film version of that opera’s kitsch eighteenth-century action (actually filmed in front of Lord Burlington’s Palladian Chiswick House in London). Again, Strauss was well aware of the kitsch aspect of his style, referring, indeed, to his later opera, Arabella (1933) as an exercise in musical kitsch.12 In Russell’s film, two Jews in the audience are beaten up by SA thugs during this Rosenkavalier section, but Gable’s Strauss encourages a deafening fortissimo from his orchestra to drown the noise. It was highly appropriate that “Strauss” is also the German word for an ostrich. Russell dramatizes Strauss’s acceptance of the Reichsmusikkammer presidency in comic-strip style. Hitler (brilliantly caricatured by Kenneth Colley) sits on Strauss’s shoulders, both of them playing the violin and cavorting around the grounds of his luxury villa. As we have seen, Strauss was eventually

SEVEN. Alternative Visions


dismissed from his post when he defended his collaboration with Stefan Zweig. Strauss’s letter to Zweig before this happened incidentally revealed Strauss’s self-centered, mercenary approach to his art: For me there are only two categories of human beings: the talented and the untalented. And for me the populace only exists from the moment when it becomes an audience. It’s all the same to me whether they are Chinese, Upper Bavarians New Zealanders or Berliners, so long as they’ve paid the full price at the box-office.13

Stripped of his position, Strauss’s life and the lives of his relatives (some of whom were “tainted” with Jewish blood) were now in danger. He therefore wrote Hitler one of the most toadying letters any composer ever sent to a patron. Not even Wagner stooped so low, but there again, no composer had ever been in quite so much fear for his life as Strauss was at the time. Russell quotes from the letter as written: Mein Führer My whole life belongs to German music and to an indefatigable effort to elevate German culture. I have never been active politically or expressed political views. Therefore I believe that I will find understanding from you, the great architect of German social life, even after my dismissal as President of the Reichsmusikkammer. Confident of your high sense of justice, I beg you, my Führer, most humbly, to receive me for a personal discussion, to enable me to justify myself in person. I remain most honored, Herr Reich Chancellor, in the expression of my high esteem. Yours for ever devotedly, Richard Strauss.

Amid the ruins of devastated Germany, Strauss at last begins to see the light, and laments the situation in his finest work, Metamorphosen, a work which also commemorates, by coded means, his disillusionment with Hitler. As Russell’s script points out, Strauss originally approved of the Führer, and the coded means by which Strauss expressed his change of heart was to quote the funeral march from Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony. That work had originally been dedicated to Napoleon, whom Beethoven had similarly admired before he crowned himself emperor and became a tyrant “like all the others.”14 By referencing Beethoven, Strauss was able to express what was by then inexpressible in words. The graphic imagery of Russell’s film, which includes the sacrificial slaughter of a cow, the carving of a Star of David in the chest of a persecuted Jew, those inevitable (but highly cinematic) swastikas, phallic symbolism galore and aggressively surrealistic comedy, predictably caused outrage when the film was screened in 1969, but it was only the first of several occasions in which Russell exposed the relationship between German Romantic music and the Third Reich. Russell’s Mahler (1974) staged the great composer/conductor’s opportunistic conversion from Judaism to Christianity once again as a silent film.


Visconti and the German Dream

After Wagner’s death, his widow, Cosima, ruled Bayreuth with a rod of iron, and was perhaps even more of an anti–Semite than her deceased husband had been. No Jew could therefore ever hope to conduct at the Festspielhaus (despite the fact that Wagner had permitted the Jewish Hermann Levi to conduct the première of the anti–Semitic Parsifal ). If Mahler, the greatest Wagnerian conductor of his age, was ever to conduct at the shrine, he would have to convert to Christianity. Robert Powell’s superbly Semitic profile in Russell’s film echoed Mahler’s own, but the dignity he brings to the proceedings is undermined in the silent film section, where he is presented as a kind of Charlie Chaplin/Stan Laurel/Al Jolson figure at the mercy of the jackbooted, leather clad and swastika emblazoned Cosima (played by Antonia Ellis). Forced to leap through flaming hoops, forge Siegfried’s sword, slay the dragon, eat a pig’s snout and drink milk, he is eventually purified of his Jewishness and ready to sing the song Russell has written especially for him, set to the stirring rhythm of the “Ride of the Valkyries.” Though highly critical of fascism, Russell unfortunately ignores the complexities of Wagnerian music drama just as much as the Nazis did. However, when it comes to Wagner, finding the right balance is difficult. Right-wing critics, such as Michael Tanner, argue, quite unjustifiably, that “there is not a conceivable interpretation of the Ring which [...] tallies with the Nazi Weltanschaung.”15 This is patent nonsense, but Russell’s simplistic, highly graphic correlations are also dangerous. Because popular culture so frequently insists on the connection between Wagner and the Nazis, it is important to state the dangers of such generalizations with regard to the reception of Wagner in the late twentieth century. The nationalism and racism that critics identify in a work such as Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, for example, are hard to pin down due to what Barry Millington calls “Wagner’s artistic predilection for self-particularity.”16 Hans Sachs’s final address, with its appeal to beware of “welschen Dunft mit welschem Tand” (foreign vapors with foreign baubles) was indeed exploited by Nazi audiences in the 1920s and ’30s, as we have seen. But as Millington explains, the speech itself “is not a call to arms but an affirmation that even foreign domination cannot obliterate the German spirit so long as it resides in the art of the old masters and they are respected.”17 Similarly, Millington’s comments on the tone of Wagner’s essay “What is German?” (1865) explain that it is not “the voice of imperial aggrandizement but of social and artistic concern.”18 Nonetheless, Elliot Zuckerman points out that Wagner’s 1868 essay, “German Art and German Politics,” “announced that the mission of Germany was to destroy the materialistic civilization of the French and replace it with the nobler culture of God’s own people.”19 Neither was it an accident that

SEVEN. Alternative Visions


Riefenstahl chose the Act II Meistersinger Prelude to accompany her film Triumph of the Will. The dawn of a new day in the music drama accompanies Riefenstahl’s highly symbolic dawn shots of Nuremberg in which the new Germany arises from the old. Russell took his experiments in this area to their ultimate and most visually compelling conclusion in Lisztomania (1975). Again, he over-simplifies the situation and simultaneously sends up the style of Hammer horror films, but the point he makes is perfectly valid. Here, Wagner (played by Paul Nicholas) is portrayed as a vampire who, like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, is also building a monster. (The monster is listed in the credits as “Thor,” though he is really Siegfried, of course). Appropriately enough, the monster is played by Rick Wakeman, who “assisted by Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner,” was also responsible for the musical soundtrack. Wagner, dressed like the DC comic-book Superman, his chest emblazoned with a winged “W,” announces, via Russell’s inflammatory text, his ambitions for world domination:

Publicity poster for Lisztomania (dir. Ken Russell, 1975), showing Paul Nicholas as Wagner and Veronica Quilligan as Cosima.


Visconti and the German Dream The flowering youth of German Was raped by the Beast. A fearful power of German gold Was pillaged by the Beast. The new Messiah, His day at hand, Will drive the Beast From our land. He will restore Teutonic Godhead. The hour of the Aryan Superman Is at hand.

Several Nazi salutes later, after Wagner has exchanged his blonde wig for a leopard-skin beret (revealing hair curlers beneath), his creation is exposed as a belching, inebriated imbecile. Abbé Liszt (Roger Daltry) forces Wagner to drink holy water, which only encourages the Meister’s fangs to emerge. “I needed your music to make my creation live,” Wagner hissingly confesses — a fairly accurate paraphrase of Wagner’s various “borrowings” from his fatherin-law’s music. Liszt nonetheless pronounces Wagner’s music as “the creation of the Devil,” and destroys him by playing his own Totentanz on a flamethrow ing piano. Resurrected as a mixture of Hitler and Boris Karloff ’s Frankenstein Monster, Wagner is then accused of destroying the world before being finally dispatched by Liszt and the various women in his life, as they swoop down on him in a jet-powered organ. These final scenes resemble the kind of Space-Age heroics of Gerry Anderson’s 1960s’ TV series Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet— Barry Gray’s music for which was itself inspired by Wagner’s example. (What were the Thunderbirds themselves other than technological Valkyries, rescuing the imperiled?)

Hans-Jürgen Syberberg Syberberg’s Ludwig Requiem für einen jungfräulichen König (Ludwig — Requiem for a Virgin King, 1972) portrayed Wagner alternately as a kind of Alberic figure and an androgyne, suggesting the stunted (and obviously malevolent) narcissism of the Führer. These were qualities that Salvador Dalí had identified in his Diary of Genius in 1964. For Dalí, the personality of Hitler always appeared to him as a woman.20 In fact, Hitler was a decidedly erotic figure for Dalí, as he was keen to describe: The softness of the Hitlerian flesh squeezed into the military tunic brought me to a state of ecstasy that was simultaneously gustatory, milky, nutritive and Wagnerian, and made my heart beat violently, a very rare emotion I don’t experience even when making love. Hitler’s chubby flesh, which I imagined to be like the most opulent

SEVEN. Alternative Visions


feminine flesh with the whitest skin, fascinated me. [...The] work generated by the feminized image of the Führer was of a scandalous ambiguity.21

Joachim Köhler has also revealed the full extent of Wagner’s own transvestite silk fetish, which he indulged in a silk-lined room, replete with mirrors and soft rugs. No one was allowed to know about, still less enter this inner sanctum.22 Syberberg presents Ludwig as a kind of Pierre et Gilles kitsch idol, with a teardrop carefully suspended on his cheek. He also indulges in a Ludwigian sleigh ride through a snowy forest landscape, à la Caspar David Friedrich, which goes on for mile after mile. Nocturnal excursions like this were a particular pleasure for Ludwig, and Syberberg allows us to experience the journey from, presumably, his point of view. The camera travels along an endless snowy path, surrounded by fir trees and the pink glow of a winter sun, as the soundtrack intones Isolde’s “Liebestod” yet again, summoning solitude, sublimity, and the night-devoted landscape of German Romanticism. In another scene, the kitsch rococo decor so close to Ludwig’s heart is made surreal by having the king writhe in outraged despair over his desk in front of a huge back projection of tourists wandering through one of his castles, while two naked women stand in contraposto poses holding candelabra. The king then writhes some more before a projection of Ingres painting, The Dream of Ossian (1813), which depicts the eponymous poet, summoning heroic poetry from his imagination, just as Ludwig summoned his castle from fantasy into stone. Indeed, Syberberg so positions Ludwig that he occupies the position in which Ingres placed his Ossian. In the end, Ludwig is guillotined, and Lederhosen-clad thigh-slappers in the motley crowd are joined, for some reason, by motorcyclists. We are shown the king’s severed head, and a travesty of the Lord’s Prayer is spoken: Father in heaven, give us this day our daily nostalgia and comfort us in our homesickness and deliver us from melancholy, for thine is the madness world without end. Amen.

Wagner’s music for the thunderstorm at the end of Das Rheingold reaches its climax, and Ludwig is “reborn,” before he promptly yodels his way to the end of the film, thus managing to send up traditional Bavarian folksiness as well. Far more exhaustive, if not also exhausting, in its approach to the cultural origins of the Third Reich is Syberberg’s immense, seven-hour long epic, Hitler — A Film from Germany (1977). Here, Syberberg reflects a myriad of references to the German Romantic past in the Nazis’ distorting mirror, a process, which like Mann’s critique before him, obviously includes Wagner


Visconti and the German Dream

Harry Baer as Ludwig II in Ludwig — Requiem für eine junfräulichen König (dir. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, 1972).

among a host of other artists and artworks. Syberberg’s aim was to confront Hitler in a way that few Germans at that time were willing to do, and to a large extent still are. Rather than categorizing him as an aberration, Syberberg attempted an explanation of the Führer by placing him in the context from which he emerged, accepting that he was a human being and an expression (no matter how disastrous) of a culture, rather than merely its nemesis. As Syberberg’s Hitler says at one point in the film, “I am a man, with two eyes and ears, like you, and when you prick me, do I not bleed? I too. I am one of you.”23 Of course, the result was an uncomfortable experience for many, especially in the light of comments such as “Hitler is not conceivable without us [i.e., the German people],”24 and, “Hitler within us,”25 which provocatively suggest that Hitler was the manifestation of a collective will rather than a demonic individual will imposed upon an innocent people. This was a view held by the likes of Emil Ludwig and Thomas Mann himself,26 and more contemporary historians such as Daniel Goldhagen, the title of whose 1996 book, Hitler’s Willing Executioners, says it all. Obviously, Hitler would have gotten nowhere without the support of ordinary Germans. Their support was so wholehearted that, hard though it is for many to see now, he was once the

SEVEN. Alternative Visions


most loved of all political figures, the most trusted and the most worshipped, before, of course, becoming the most despised. Syberberg considers that the consequence of all this was that postwar Germany suffered from an identity crisis. It was so traumatized by the Nazis that it refused to consider the possibility of there being any kind of cultural continuum between the phenomenon of Hitler and the cultural context that nurtured him. Syberberg considers that Germany “was spiritually disinherited and dispossessed” as a result of this politically correct approach to its past in which “anything that could not be justified by sociology and social policies was hushed up.” Consequently, “We live in a country without a homeland.”27 He goes so far as to suggest that the “suppression of its own tradition” has resulted in a modern Germany that has become a sick nation without an identity.28 His response to this state of affairs is his decree that Hitler “is to be fought, not with the statistics of Auschwitz, or with the sociological analysis of the Nazi economy, but with Richard Wagner and Mozart,”29 by which he means that traditionally “rational” approaches to history are simply not adequate to comprehend what was really going on in a country that was in thrall to an aestheticizing, pseudo-religious political movement. No wonder the British prime minister at the time, Neville Chamberlain, was out of his depth when negotiating such a phenomenon. To engage with the Nazis in a meaningful way, one must look at them through the lens of the culture they so distorted. One must approach their irrationality with a mind that is open to such irrationality, rather than trying merely to tidy their “aberrations” away by means of traditional sociology and political theory. As two admittedly somewhat unreliable historians of Nazi conspiracy theories, Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier, put it, “The historian may be rational, but history is not.”30 Hitler — A Film from Germany begins with an image of the universe, over which we hear a voiceover: We all dream of traveling through space — into our inner self. The mysterious path goes inward inward into night.

Right from the start, Syberberg informs us that this is a journey into the irrational center of the German psyche. The second image we see is the Wintergarten made by King Ludwig II on the roof of his Munich residence, firmly cementing, right at the outset, the connection between all that the Romantic Swan King stood for and the deeds of the future Führer. Immediately after this image, the words “Der Graal” appear on the screen, symbolizing the German quest for identity, which stretches back via Hitler’s quest for the Master


Visconti and the German Dream

Race and Wagner’s racial fantasies in Parsifal to the medieval Parzival epic of Wolfram von Eschenbach (whose name curiously echoes the Aschenbachs of Death in Venice and The Damned.) Hitler — A Film from Germany is Syberberg’s Grail quest by which he hopes to discover how Hitler’s Germany could have happened. Hitler, the voice-over now explains, came from “the legendary nullity of nothingness, from the landscape and forests of that people”31— a linguistic image that suggests the sleigh-ride scene in Ludwig — Requiem for a Virgin King. Ludwig’s celebrated moonlit sleigh rides through the snowy Bavarian mountains, in fact, resembles similar fairy-tale snow sequences in The Fearless Vampire Killers (originally titled Dance of the Vampires (1967), Roman Polanski’s affectionate satire of Hammer’s vampire films of the 1960s which were another highly popular offshoot of German Romanticism as a whole. Though such a reference to Hammer horror may not have been in Syberberg’s mind, Hitler — A Film from Germany is nonetheless filled with references to the kind of German expressionist films that influenced the Gothic “horror” films of Universal Studios in the 1930s. Syberberg’s film references include The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (dir. Robert Weine, 1919), Alraune (dir. Henrik Galeen, 1928) Nosferatu (dir. F. W. Murnau, 1922) and M (dir. Fritz Lang, 1931). Indeed, Syberberg later compares Hitler with M’s psychopathic murderer Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre) by dressing a recreation of the character in an SS uniform. “I can’t help it,” he raves. “I just can’t, I just can’t help it....” Syberberg accompanies these classic film images with the prelude to Wagner’s Parsifal, which, as we have seen, is one of the most “cinematic” music dramas in Wagner’s oeuvre. Like the film critic Siegfried Kracauer (the title of whose book, From Caligari to Hitler [1947], tells us all we need to know about that author’s belief in the continuity between Weimar expressionist film of the 1920s and later Nazi imagery and preoccupations), Syberberg is convinced of the correlation between the expression of the unconscious drives that are explored in these films and the way in which they exploded in such a devastatingly literal way in Nazi Germany. Syberberg also references Chaplin’s satire of Hitler in The Great Dictator (1940), and even makes reference to the world’s first-ever film studio: Edison’s rather ramshackle hut, known as the “Black Maria.” A recreation of the latter is revealed within a glass sphere, like a kitschy snow dome, in much the same way that the model of Wagner’s Festspielhaus in Bayreuth will be presented to us in Syberberg’s Parsifal. The implication of this eventual comparison (Parsifal wasn’t released until 1982), is, of course, that Syberberg regards Wagner’s theater as a prototypical film studio/cinema. Throughout the Hitler film, a girl (actually Syberberg’s daughter, Amelie) wanders through the studio, her head draped with movie film, which she wears almost like a halo, personifying the spirit of film

SEVEN. Alternative Visions


itself; and this is a vitally important image, bearing in mind that Syberberg calls his work Hitler — A Film from Germany. This is a film that commemorates the nature of film itself, along with the implication that Hitler was a dictator-director who turned the whole of Europe into a gigantic movie set on which he filmed the world’s greatest conflagration. As Susan Sontag puts it, “One of the film’s conceits is that Hitler, who never visited the front and watched the war every night through newsreels, was a kind of moviemaker. Germany, a film by Hitler.”32 Towards the end of the film, we also hear the Third Reich described as “the greatest show of the century, our Disneyland, the final victory of hell with the Hitler within us.”33 Earlier, another of Syberberg’s actors says, “There’s only one future, the future of the cinema.”34 Sontag also points out that Syberberg regarded Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will as Hitler’s “only lasting monument, apart from the newsreels of his war.”35 It is therefore even more appropriate that Syberberg so often references the works of Richard Wagner, an obvious accompaniment to any film about Hitler, but also because, as we have already seen, Wagner in so many ways anticipated the cinema, Hitler’s primary means of communication. Of course, Hitler was not an inevitable development out of these German expressionist films, still less of German Romanticism as a whole. But having erupted out of it, there is no denying that this is where he came from and what he distorted; and it is this betrayal of German culture that lies at the heart of the film, for it explains the “cultural amnesia” Syberberg is at pains to cure. He argues that only by confronting Hitler’s contamination of German Romanticism (what Syberberg’s Goebbels refers to as “steel-clad Romanticism”36) can German culture ever hope to regain its identity. By refusing to acknowledge — let alone explore the correlation — like a psychiatric patient who refuses analysis, Germany will never work out who it is and, in Thomas Mann’s words, make “peace with the world and itself.”37 Syberberg doesn’t shy away from the contamination itself. One of the film’s most brilliant images is a reference to Gustave Doré’s illustration to canto X of Dante’s Divine Comedy. The original lines that inspired Doré are: Sudden that sound Forth issued from a vault, whereat, in fear, I somewhat closer to my leader’s side Approaching, he thus spake: “What dost thou? Turn: Lo! Farinata there, who hath himself Uplifted: from his girdle upwards, all Exposed, behold him.”

Syberberg brilliantly adapts this image to show Hitler emerging from Wagner’s tomb in the garden of Wahnfried:


Visconti and the German Dream

Like a vision at a Black Mass in back of Wahnfried. From the opened grave of Richard Wagner, Hitler (played by Heinz Schubert) emerges in a Roman toga [Roman, because Hitler was first inspired to become a politician after seeing Wagner’s “Roman” opera, Rienzi]: he is the color of a corpse as he comes out of hell, as in Doré’s Dante illustrations.38

Syberberg also acknowledges the near impossibility of now separating Wagner and Hitler (and consequently disentangling the corruption of Nazism from a

Hitler (played by Heinz Schubert) rising from the tomb of Richard Wagner in Hitler — ein Film aus Deutschland (Hitler — A Film from Germany, dir. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, 1977).

SEVEN. Alternative Visions


pre–Nazi perspective on German Romantic culture as a whole). As Hitler says later in the film, “So long as Wagner’s music is played, I will not be forgotten. I’ve made sure of that. Branded forever.”39 Right at the end of the film, there is a passionate lamentation and outrage over this massive betrayal of culture, the kind of betrayal Hugo Höppener, for example, may have felt. He, like so many, believed in the promise of the Nazis, only to witness their cynical manipulation of the ideals in which they had believed: You took away our sunsets, sunsets by Caspar David Friedrich. You are to blame that we can no longer look at a field of grain without thinking of you. You made old Germany kitschy with your simplifying works and peasant pictures. [...] All this, all this has been made impossible. The words “magic” and “myth” and “serv ing” and “ruling,” “Führer,” “authority,” are ruined, are gone, exiled to eternal time.40

Syberberg also points his accusing directorial finger at those who were responsible for the exile of Thomas Mann in the wake of Mann’s penetrating and eloquent essay, “The Sorrows and Grandeur of Richard Wagner.”41 Syberberg speaks of Wagner’s works as having been “written in blood, and blood, as we all know, is a very special poison; it attracts the devil unless it is drawn from the heart.”42 In turn, these words echo those of Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust, when Faust signs his pact in blood: “Blood,” says Mephistopheles, “is a juice with curious properties.”43 We are now shown a projected image of Wagner’s death mask, anticipating Syberberg’s realization of a three-dimensional model of the same death mask in Parsifal: “Music above all. Music overcomes everything!”44 And it is the “yearning and insane nostalgia”45 of Wagner (and the Nazis) which relates his Hitler film to Dürer’s famous engraving of Melancholia, seen here as a symbol of the German soul. Syberberg, indeed, three-dimensionalizes the polyhedron in that engraving as a symbol of a specifically German yearning and melancholy. Hitler — A Film from Germany is actually a tetralogy, like Wagner’s Ring cycle. The second part of the film is called “A German Dream,” and it charts the application of occult fantasy to Nazi state policy, principally the infamously daft World Ice theory, which claimed that the earth once had seven moons. According to this delusion, six of these moons have fallen into the earth’s orbit over the millennia. The fall of the seventh moon was considered imminent by World Ice theoreticians, and with it they believed that another ice age would return. As it came close, the moon’s gravitational pull would raise the oceans and cause flooding. Then, as the water froze due to its unnatural height, the second ice age would begin. Only the strongest of races would be able to survive this catastrophe, and as the new ice age approached, the “polar men,” the New Race of the Third Reich, spearheaded by the SS, would rule the earth. Hitler once admitted to having “seen a vision of the new man — fearless


Visconti and the German Dream

and formidable.” So powerful was the new breed that Hitler apparently “shrank from him.”46 In Hitler — A Film from Germany, Syberberg’s sinister and fanatical “Disciple” (played by Rainer von Artenfels) describes this new evolutionary development as being “beyond good and evil,” an obvious reference to Nietzsche’s book of the same name. Such a parallel demonstrates another way in which the Nazis’ hijacked Nietzsche’s idea of the superman who similarly dwells “in ice and high mountains.”47 Nietzsche’s metaphor of clear-thinking is, however, very different from the Nazis’ crackpot World Ice Theory. When Nietzsche wrote, “The ice is near, the solitude is terrible — but how peacefully all things lie in the light! how freely one breathes! how much one feels beneath one!”48 he did not mean to be taken literally. The danger with Nietzsche’s linguistic imagery is, however, that he so often was. The World Ice theory is only one example of many in which the Nazis exploited their misunderstandings of Nietzsche’s imagery for their own highly irrational, racial ends. “Beyond good and evil,” the disciple raves, “paradisiacal, as the ancients said, initiated into the rites of the Ecclesia Militans, of the Black Order, of the masses and the death’s head groups, corps who will stop at nothing to achieve the tragedies of greatness, god-men, their families snuffed out and they tied solely to the harsh, relentless laws of our cult.”49 Those words should be compared to the Night of the Long Knives sequence in Visconti’s The Damned. There we witness the SS machine-gunning their SA “brothers,” just as Syberberg’s “Disciple” predicts that the Black Order will sacrifice their own families for the harsh laws of the new cult. “We are the declared enemies of the intellect,” he superfluously adds. “There shall be men of a master race,” the “Disciple” continues, “raging prophets full of holy madness, full of providence in the spirit of the struggle between the world-blaze and the world-ice, securing solely their survival in the cosmos, courageous in their solitude, full of self-discipline, achieving their own completion. With souls, Nordic, ethical, as echoes of remote past worlds and a golden future.”50 Syberberg is also grimly fascinated by the way in which Himmler and the SS justified the Holocaust. Yes, it was horrible, they agree, but “if it were not dreadful and horrible for us, then we would no longer be Germans and we would not be Germanic. As horrible as it is, it was necessary.”51 There is unfortunately no denying that Auschwitz was the logical development, the fulfillment indeed, of Wagner’s anti–Semitic program. Wagner’s devastating fantasy of setting fire to a theater full of Jews52 was the origin of the gas chambers in a country where, as Sophie von Essenbeck in Visconti’s The Damned quite rightly claims, that “nothing is impossible.” Once conventional morality is removed, one can indeed do anything that is physically possible. (That the

SEVEN. Alternative Visions


Nazis also attempted the physically impossible is another story.) Auschwitz, fueled by music and the power of myth was “merely” the literal application of the racial element in Parsifal (a work that, one should hasten to add, contains a great deal more of value than an anti–Semitic subtext, but there is unfortunately no escaping that the subtext is there). Himmler’s masseur, later in Syberberg’s film, says of his employer that “something of the Grail Knight, of the Parsifal theme clung to him.”53 We may draw another parallel with Visconti’s The Damned. Just as Aschenbach in that film quotes Hegel’s political parable of the expendable little flower, Syberberg’s Himmler says, “It is the curse of the great that they have to walk over corpses and stop at nothing to create new life.”54 Later, Syberberg’s Hitler shrieks, “Learn to hate, to hate, like me!”55 just as the Aschenbach, in The Damned, congratulates Gunther on having learned that particular lesson. Hitler would no doubt have been delighted to have witnessed Gunther’s “conversion.” As a powerful metaphor of the Nazis’ application of logic to madness, their respect for a culture they perverted, and their inability to recognize their own futility, Syberberg also references the preservation of the Goethe Oak at Buchenwald concentration camp. This is the oak tree under which Goethe wrote some of his most eloquent and influential lyrics, and which the Nazis preserved in the name of culture amid the ultimate expression of their barbarity. Syberberg’s films on Ludwig and Hitler, therefore, provide us with a revealing parallel with Visconti’s trilogy. Syberberg explores the same issues from a perhaps more “authentic” German perspective, and explores his much more extensive material in a very different cinematic style. The soap-opera, naturalistic extravagance of Visconti is miles away from Syberberg’s approach, despite the basic similarity of their overall mission. Syberberg explained that his method was to combine “Brecht’s doctrine of epic theater with Richard Wagner’s musical aesthetics, cinematically conjuring the epic system as anti– Aristotelian cinema with the laws of a new myth”56— or, put more simply, the “positive mythologizings of history through the devices of cinema, and filtered through the intellectual controls of irony and pathos.”57 Nowhere is this approach more fully carried out than in Syberberg’s Parsifal. The opening credits of Parsifal present photographs of shattered architectural structures. These images float on water — the record of some great cataclysm — and they are accompanied by fragments of Wagner’s Parsifal score recorded during rehearsal. The soundtrack at this point does not present the orchestra and voices in equal balance, and it tends to foreground the voices, in particular Kundry’s evocative words, “Ach, ach, tiefe nacht, Wahnsinn, Wut, Tod.” (“Ah, ah, deep night, madness, rage, death.”) The way these


Visconti and the German Dream

sounds are presented suggests that Syberberg’s film is going to be as much a deconstruction of Parsifal as a performance of it, but the highly resonant words themselves also serve as an epigram for the whole production, as well as a presentiment of twentieth-century German history. They also sum up the principal themes of German Romanticism. During the prelude proper, Syberberg uses puppets of the characters in Parsifal, all of which are dressed in versions of the original 1882 production costume designs. Rather like the dumb show that precedes the play-within-a-play in Hamlet, Syberberg uses these puppets to summarize the action of the music drama before the action proper begins. Also, Amfortas’s bleeding wound is presented as a separate entity, an object in itself. As the wound is central to the drama — the motivating force that drives the action — it is highly appropriate that it should be foregrounded in this way. Syberberg stages his production on or in front of a giant three-dimensional reproduction of Wagner’s death mask. This visually striking image offers many possibilities, principally to suggest that the action of Parsifal is the product of Wagner’s imagination, that it is an interior monologue in which Wagner is communing with himself as much as with his audience. Such imagery emphasizes Wagner’s influence of the symbolist movement, with its emphasis on introversion, and Parsifal was indeed very much Wagner’s personal dream. As if to emphasize that fact, he originally restricted its performance to Bayreuth and gave it the cumbersome designation of a Bühnenweihfestspiel —“a festival play to consecrate a stage.” Syberberg points up the connection between Wagner’s personal dream world and Parsifal by referencing the composer’s famous satin dressing gown, the silk lining of which stands in for the starry sky during Gurnemanz’s long narration in Act One. Parsifal is indeed a thing of the night, of dream visions and psychological symbolism, all of which make it highly cinematic. Parsifal is cinematic not merely, as Schoenberg pointed out, because it renounces the dramatic unities and calls for scenic transformation to take place before the eyes of the audience, but also because of its inherent interest in dream-states themselves. Kundry, the schizophrenic seductress, is under some form of hypnosis at the hands of Klingsor, the wicked magician, and in the magic flower garden of Act Two, Parsifal himself at one point asks, “Dies alles — hab’ ich nun getraümt?” (“Have I just dreamt all this?”) Syberberg’s specifically cinematic use of close-ups also helps create a much more intimate atmosphere than would be possible in the theater. Admittedly, the televization of Patrice Chéreau’s Bayreuth centenary production of the Ring also experimented with close-ups, but these were, of course, considered after the event of the stage production. Anyway, Syberberg’s use of cinematic techniques is also combined with the highly theatrical nature of the death-mask setting, and continues his earlier conflation of the theatrical and cinematic.

SEVEN. Alternative Visions


Due to its many varied props and back-projections, watching Syberberg’s Parsifal can become a kind of intellectual spot-the-reference competition, and, as is the case with all symbolism, unless one is able to decode the imagery, much of its resonances are lost. The opening prayers at the beginning of Act One, for example, are performed before a projection of Caspar David Friedrich’s pantheistic altarpiece of 1807, A Cross in the Mountains. This is an appropriate image because it, like Parsifal, caused a great deal of controversy when it was first shown. The cross itself is incidental to the pantheistic landscape that surrounds it — an unheard-of state of affairs for an altarpiece at that time. Similarly, during the Good Friday scene in the third act of Parsifal, the spirit of God is made manifest in Nature: “Nun freut sich alle Kreator auf des Erlösers holder Spur, will ihr Gebet ihm weihen.” (“Now all creation rejoices at the Saviour’s sign of love and dedicates to Him its prayer.”) Friedrich’s painting stands outside conventional Christianity, as does Parsifal, of which the latter employs the outward trappings of Christian ritual as much to discuss the psychopathology of religious belief as to present a racial fantasy of “pure blood.” Kundry, a female Wandering Jew, who has been condemned to eternal life for laughing at Christ, might be said to represent the corrupted and corrupting spirit of contemporary society (which, according to Wagner, has been made sick by Judaism). She first emerges from the waters of what Syberberg intends us to interpret as a specifically Venetian canal. Venice, the city in which Wagner died after the première of Parsifal, is, as Thomas Mann and Visconti knew well, an obvious metaphor of a decaying civilization, and to emphasize the connection, Syberberg erects a crumbling Venetian window in the background. When Parsifal shoots the swan in Act One, Syberberg presents us with a three-dimensional reproduction of the famous Nymphenberg majolica swan made for King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein castle. This is another sign that the film is as much (if not more) a commentary on the reception history of Wagner’s legacy as a performance of Parsifal itself. As we have seen, Ludwig thought of himself as Lohengrin, and Wagner even referenced his own Lohengrin swan music at this moment in the action, when Gurnemanz berates Parsifal for his act of cruelty. As we already know from Lohengrin, the chaste Parsifal will later also become Lohengrin’s father, a state of affairs that caused Nietzsche to remark that “chastity can work miracles.”58 The famous transformation music (one of Parsifal’s most “cinematic” moments) was lengthened by several bars for the original production by the composer Engelbert Humperdinck when it was discovered during rehearsals that the music Wagner had written did not last long enough to cover the cyclorama’s “illusion” of Gurnemanz and Parsifal moving from the forest of the Grail kingdom to the interior of the Grail castle. The cheerful pragmatism


Visconti and the German Dream

of Wagner over this incident suggests how successful he may have been as a film composer, for whom cues have sometimes to be shortened or expanded to fit re-cut sections of film. Of course, in purely visual terms, the stage effect is the most proto-cinematic aspect here. Wagner wanted the transformation to occur before the audience’s eyes with no curtain drop. Syberberg, as usual, takes a mediant stance between cinematic illusion and theatrical deconstruction. Playing out the drama on Wagner’s death mask is obviously anti-illusionistic, but his fluid camera work and the changing back-projections do help create the required sense of space and transition that Wagner found problematic to achieve on stage. As Gurnemanz and Parisfal move forward, Syberberg forces them through a narrow passage decked with flags heraldic, dynastic and nationalistic. As expected, we also catch a glimpse of the Nazi swastika, but only one. It is, however, quite enough to remind us of Hitler’s attraction to and identification with Parsifal. In a sensational coup de cinéma, Syberberg then opens up the death mask to suggest, as bright light emerges from it, that the Temple of the Grail is actually located inside Wagner’s head. The traditional Grail quest has much in common with the alchemical search for the philosopher’s stone, and the Grail is sometimes described as a stone rather than a chalice. As the 6thcentury alchemical philosopher Morienus Romanus explained in a passage much later quoted by Jung: “This thing [the philosopher’s stone] is extracted from thee, and thou art its ore: in thee they find it.”59 In line with this tradition, Syberberg does indeed present the Grail as being within Wagner. He also interprets it as a stone, specifically a replica of the curious polyhedron in Dürer’s Melancholia, which is contemplated by a dejected angel like an alchemist seeking enlightenment. Syberberg’s Temple of the Grail is in ruins, however. Having just seen a swastika flag we are under no illusions as to why this is the case. “I intend to found my religion on Parsifal,”60 Hitler once said. He continued: For behind the pseudo–Christian trivialities of its plot, with its Good Friday mumbo-jumbo, this profound work has a different and far more vital meaning. It is not the Christian-Schopenhauerian religion of compassion that is here being worshipped but the pure, noble blood which the brotherhood of initiates has vowed to preserve in its purity and to worship in its sanctity.61

Syberberg next presents the “undead” former head of the Grail community, Titurel, as the aging King Ludwig II, complete with ceremonial robes. Amfortas is then shown enthroned, his arms clutching the sides of the chair in an uncomfortably angular way that echoes the similarly angular posture of the right arm of Lucifer in Franz von Stuck’s (c. 1890) symbolist painting of that name. Amfortas is indeed a kind of fallen angel, wounded by his own lust, but in the light of Hitler’s interpretation of Parsifal (an interpretation

SEVEN. Alternative Visions


that is not so far removed from Wagner’s intention, it has to be said), the reference to Stuck’s Lucifer carries even more resonance. Syberberg is keen to explore Parsifal’s complete reception history, not just its impact on the Third Reich, so for the subsequent Love-Feast scene, during which the knights partake of the Grail’s rejuvenative super-blood, he projects the Romantic impression of the descent of the Holy Grail by Henri Fantin-Latour (1836–1904). In fact, this image was a response to the Prelude of Wagner’s Lohengrin rather than Parsifal, but that is no reason to disqualify its appearance here. The sexual symbolism at the heart of Parsifal (the phallic spear and the womb-like Grail chalice) is made explicit during the Act Two prelude, where an erect (but shattered) phallus is turned into a crucifix by means of a transverse steel girder. Act Two is the domain of Klingsor, who has castrated himself to gain a sinister power over others. He wants the Grail for himself and, in a mirror image of Hitler’s program, he aims to dominate the world by corrupting the blood of the Grail knights. Crudely put, Klingsor aims to make the world Semitic and to deny the Grail its redemptive, regenerative purpose. Klingsor is shown standing next to this phallus, with puppet heads of Ludwig, Marx, Wagner and Nietzsche at its base. These puppet heads require some explanation. Ludwig we already know about. Karl Marx might seem a strange person to put next to Klingsor, even though it is well known that Wagner flirted with socialism in his early career. Indeed, Das Rheingold has been interpreted (principally by Bernard Shaw) as a socialist allegory, so the appearance of Marx isn’t completely without provenance here; but is Syberberg also trying to make some kind of comment about East Germany as it then was: a state that was culturally castrated by its own Marxist agenda? Nietzsche also has his part to play in the drama at this point. We have already explored much of the connection, but there is a specific resonance at this point, juxtaposed, as Nietzsche’s head is, with the shattered phallus. This concerns Wagner’s outrageous interference in Nietzsche’s private life, when he suggested to Nietzsche’s doctor that the cause of the philosopher’s frequent headaches was most likely due to overindulgence in masturbation. Syberberg wishes us to juggle these resonances, and consider their influence upon one another just as Visconti, in his very different style, did before him. Summoned by Klingsor, Kundry now sings her resonant words: “Tiefe Nacht,” “Wahnsinn,” “Schlaff,” “Sehnsucht,” “Tod.” As she does so, Syberberg makes sure we also see behind her the puppet heads of Wagner and Ludwig, to whom these words apply in so many ways. The knights who guard Klingsor’s magical domain now appear wearing headpieces modeled on the concrete gun emplacements for which Hitler was responsible all over Europe, partic-


Visconti and the German Dream

ularly on Alderney in the Channel Islands. Emphasizing the National Socialist resonance of Klingsor’s character, Aage Haugland, who performs the role, is dressed in a Gestapo-like black leather coat with a concentration camp watchtower behind him. Again, these are highly theatrical methods which would work perfectly well on stage, but the juxtaposition of Klingsor’s opening scene with another puppet show based on Joukowsky’s original 1882 costume designs for the flower maidens is really only possible in a film. These naive puppets are then contrasted with actors, who portray the flower maidens as half-dead whores, impassive and strangely less animated than their puppet equivalents. Syberberg contrasts their seductive waltz, “Komm, komm, holder Knabe” (“Come, come, beautiful boy”), with the projection of a detail from Heironymus Bosch’s (c. 1500) triptych, The Garden of Early Delights. Wagner’s death mask, meanwhile, looks troublingly down with its unearthly rictus. The hellish nature of the flower maidens’ earthly delights is obviously being referenced here, but Wagner’s own reputation during his lifetime is also echoed. The detail Syberberg selects from Bosch’s painting is the so-called “Ears with a Knife,” in which a knife and an arrow pierce through two ears in much the same way that André Gill’s famous 1869 cartoon has Wagner attacking the eardrums of the public with a hammer and a musical note. To reinforce this connection, Syberberg includes a three-dimensional animated puppet version of Gill’s image. With the exception of Robert Lloyd, who sings and acts the role of Gurnemanz, all the other roles are performed by actors who mime to the prerecorded music track. Edith Clever, for example, performs both the role of Kundry and Parsifal’s mother, Herzeleide, which adds resonance to the moment when Kundry seduces Parsifal by reminding him of his mother. Syberberg waits until this kiss for his greatest purely cinematic moment when Parsifal, acted by Michael Kutter, transforms into a woman, played by Karin Krick. Kundry’s kiss has awakened Parsifal’s understanding and insight. He now fully appreciates the significance of Amfortas’s predicament and realizes that love is a very different thing from lust. Pity is one of Parsifal’s central concerns (though the German “Mitleid” literally means “suffering with”), and Syberberg symbolizes it by the change in sex. At the end of the work, both male and female Parsifals are reunited, just as the two separated (and opposing) symbols of the spear and the Grail are brought back together, love and “Mitleid” triumphing over lust and selfishness. Act Three begins with the image of a maze, suggesting the difficult path to enlightenment traveled by Parsifal before he can find his way back to the Grail kingdom. We are shown another projection of a Friedrich painting, in this case his Abtei im Eichwald (Abbey in an Oak Wood, c. 1810), which is one of Friedrich’s many fantasy impressions of Eldena Abbey near Greifswald in northeastern Germany. The picture shows the ruins of an abbey surrounded

SEVEN. Alternative Visions


by the stark branches of an oak grove. In the foreground, there is a funeral procession. Syberberg then undercuts this Romantic mood by having the famous Good Friday scene performed amid potted plants arranged in front of the death mask’s nostrils. Even so, the dead Wagner seems to inhale their scent just as he inhaled the perfumes sent to him by Judith Gautier when composing the music.63 During the “Good Friday Spell” music, that celebrated “bleeding chunk” so often extracted from the score for concert performance, the image of Armin Jordan conducting the orchestra in casual rehearsal clothes adds the finishing touch to Syberberg’s intended Verfremdungseffekt. After the reunion of the two Parsifals, the command “Open the shrine” is given and Wagner’s head once more splits in two. In shots reminiscent of Russell’s Lisztomania angelic acolytes sing the final pages of the score from an immense sculptural book, which in its kitsch exuberance seems to be satirizing the overt religiosity of the work in a way that Wagner would also have understood. After all, the Meister sent up both himself and his music drama by calling himself an “Elder of the Church”64 when sending a copy of the Parsifal poem to Nietzsche. Such a comment suggests that Wagner was fully aware of the fake religiosity of his final work. Parsifal is not the work of a devout believer but rather of a man who fully understood the psychology of religious belief and the power of its mythical symbolism. Wagner made his approach explicit in his essay “Religion and Art”(1880): One might say that where Religion becomes artificial, it is reserved for Art to save the spirit of religion be recognising the figurative value of the mythic symbols which the former would have us believe in their literal sense, and revealing their deep and hidden truth through an ideal presentation.

It is also the work of a revolutionary artist who used the iconography of Christianity to preach a mystical, pseudo-biological program of racial regeneration.65 The final shots reprise Ludwig’s majolica swan, Joukoswky’s final pencil sketch of the Meister, and Amfortas and Kundry lying side by side like the effigies on a tomb: two redeemed sinners united in death. The choir sings “Erlösung dem Erlöser” (“Redemption for the Redeemer”), and in the final scene, Kundry is shown clutching a giant glass dome that protects a model of the Bayreuth Theatre — the real Holy Grail of Wagner’s life. Parsifal is the work that consecrated that stage, for the Bayreuth stage signified far more than the achievement of a merely practical theatrical ambition. For Wagner, and even more so for his followers, Bayreuth was a powerhouse of racial regeneration, situated in the very heart of Germany. From it would radiate the message that would lead directly to Auschwitz. While there is no doubt that Debussy was simply stating the facts of the matter when describing the music of Parsifal as “one of the loveliest monuments of sound ever raised to the serene glory of music,”66 while there is no doubt that Parsifal offers the psy-


Visconti and the German Dream

chopathologist and student of mythology endless opportunities for fascinating analysis, it remains a problematic work. As Nietzsche expressed it: His last work is in this respect his greatest masterpiece. In the art of seduction, Parsifal will always retain its rank — as the stroke of genius in seduction.— I admire this work; I wish I had written it myself; failing that, I understand it.—Wagner never had better inspirations than in the end. Here the cunning in his alliance of beauty and sickness goes so far that, as it were, it casts a shadow over Wagner’s earlier art — which now seems too bright, too healthy. Do you understand this? Health, brightness having the effect of a shadow? almost of an objection?—To such an extent have we become pure fools.—Never was there a greater master in dim, hieratic aromas — never was there a man equally expert in all small infinities, all that trembles and is effusive, all the feminisms from the idioticon of happiness!— Drink, O my friends, the philters of this art! Nowhere will you find a more agreeable way of enervating your spirit, of forgetting your manhood under a rosebush.— Ah, this old magician! This Klingsor of all Klingsors. How he thus wages war against us! us, the free spirits! How he indulges every cowardice of the modern soul with the tones of magic maidens! Never before has there been such a deadly hatred of the search for knowledge!— One has to be a cynic in order not to be seduced here; one has to be able to bite in order not to worship here. Well, then you old seducer, the cynic warns you —cave canem.67

Syberberg’s Parsifal appeared around the same time as Tony Palmer’s Wagner. The latter, being an historical biopic, is not particularly interested in discussing Wagner’s posthumous influence on the Nazis, but Palmer does suggest the intensity of a Hitler speech during his recreation of Wagner’s famous 1848 “Vaterlandsverein” speech in Dresden. In this scene, a vast assembly shout Wagner’s name, raising their arms not quite in a Hitler salute, but the allusion is obviously intended. Burton also models the delivery of this speech on Hitler’s own technique: beginning quietly, almost conversationally, and gradually rising to a climax. Palmer’s screenwriter, Charles Wood, also gives Burton’s Wagner words and phrases, such as “blood-banner” and “the myths and legends and religion of Germany,” which are not in Wagner’s original text. The German people are compared to “those noblest of children, like unto gods,” and the speech culminates with Hitler’s chilling phrase, “Germany must have its place in the sun.” This completely changes what Wagner’s speech was about: Though Nationalistic and revolutionary, the “Vaterlandsverein” speech was certainly not concerned with foreign policy, let alone totalitarian world domination; but as the camera zooms in to a close-up of Burton’s face, Palmer subtly mixes in an archive recording of Nazis chanting “Sieg Heil.” Wagner looks around the hall and then up above him, as though aware of these ominous echoes from the future, as the threatening music associated with Alberich’s Hoard from Das Rheingold swells suitably on the soundtrack. Palmer’s intention here is clear: Germany failed to heed Nietzsche’s warning.


The Film Music of the Future The full title of Nietzsche’s first work, published in 1872, was Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik (The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music). Alongside the connections he makes in it between Wagner’s art and the ideals of Greek tragedy, and the philosophical issues he raises with regard to the Dionysian and Apollonian impulses, he also explores how Greek tragedy evolved from the Dionysian festivals. These “arose from the tragic chorus,”1 and music, the ultimate Dionysian art, was their initial impulse. Whereas Nietzsche looked back to the Greeks as the inspiration for Wagner’s “revival” of their basic approach to drama, I shall be arguing here that Wagner’s art was the precursor of twentieth-century cinema. Vaughan Williams was well aware of this, and was of the opinion that “film contains possibilities of the combination of all the arts such as Wagner never dreamt of.”2 Max Steiner in Hollywood even claimed Wagner as the father of film music, but Wagner’s actual music has been surprisingly little used in film. There are notable exceptions to this, the obvious ones being films about Wagner, but it is true that for various reasons it has been his compositional technique and cinematic imagination that has affected the film industry rather more than his actual music. So, unwilling as I am to leave Wagner mired in the horror of the Third Reich, I have devoted this epilogue to the various ways in which Wagner has inspired the technique of film music. In Act III of Tristan und Isolde, Tristan, mortally wounded, is in a state of delirium when Isolde at last appears to him. His synesthetic outburst, “Wie, hör’ ich das Licht?” (“Can I hear the light?”) echoes of Baudelaire’s similarly synesthetic ideal in his famous 1857 poem “Correspondances”: La nature est un temple où de vivants piliers. Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles; L’homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles



Epilogue Oui l’observent avec des regards familiers. Comme de longs échos qui de loin se confondent Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité: Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté, Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent. (Nature is a temple whose living pillars sometimes allow indistinct words to come forth; there man passes through a forest of symbols that watch him with familiar eyes. Like long-drawn echoes that from afar blend into a deep shadowy unity, vast as darkness and light, scents, colors and sounds answer one another.)

Baudelaire’s poem might also be seen as a premonition of film, for the interaction in cinema between image and music truly is a case of hearing the light. As George Antheil put it: If you are a movie fan (and who isn’t?) you may sit in a movie theatre three times a week listening to the symphonic background scores which Hollywood composers concoct. What happens? Your musical tastes become moulded by these scores, heard without knowing it. You see love, and you hear it. Simultaneously. It makes sense. Music suddenly becomes a language for you, without your knowing it.3

In the days of silent cinema, music was the emotional expression of light, the third dimension that was missing from the mute, two-dimensional shadow play on the screen. It provided what Tom Levin calls “momentum and corporeality.”4 As we do not associate movement with silence, sound is required to justify movement. Music in silent film stood in for the “missing” sound effects and unvocalized dialogue as well as providing an emotional elaboration of the action. But why should music be needed in sound film with all its “advantages” of sound effects and speech? True, the images are still two-dimensional, but the illusion is much more convincing. If the function of music is merely to provide momentum and corporeality, there would be no need for music in Wagner’s dramas. His singers are fully three-dimensional and sing their words for all to hear, but they are surrounded by music at all times, as in a silent film. There must be more to the problem than a missing acoustic dimension. The answer lies in the fact that for all the cerebral content of his music-dramas (and theorizing essays), Wagner’s approach to drama was primarily emotional. He stressed that “we cannot accept a thing conceptually if we have not grasped it intuitively.”5 This does not mean that what makes sense emotionally is necessarily illogical; it merely demonstrates Wagner’s approach to generating meaning primarily by emotional rather than conceptual means. Wagner’s idol, Schopenhauer, offers a rather more metaphysical explanation about what music can bring to drama (which applies equally to both



the theatrical and cinematic varieties). For Schopenhauer, music was the greatest of the arts because it was not a copy of reality but, rather, an expression of Kant’s “Thing in Itself ” and what Schopenhauer refers to as the Will. All we can know of existence is the world of appearance — or phenomena — as perceived by our fallible senses. Their true essence — the actuality of phenomena — eludes us. We can only measure, weigh, feel, or copy phenomena, such as a stone, for example, but feeling “stoneness”—knowing it from the inside— is denied to us. It is exactly this level of perception that Flaubert’s Antony desires at the end of The Temptation of St. Antony (1874): I’d like to [...] vibrate like sound, gleam like light, to curl myself up into every shape, to penetrate each atom, to get down to the depth of matter — to be matter!6

Antony’s dream can never come true, however. Consequently, all our attempts at capturing the phenomenal world in art are mere surface representations. However, music, according to Schopenhauer, is an expression of the Will that generates all phenomena and which lies behind the illusion of reality: For, as we have said, music differs from all the other arts by the fact that it is not a copy of the phenomenon, or, more exactly, of the will’s adequate objectivity, but is directly a copy of the will itself, and therefore expresses the metaphysical to everything physical in the world, the thing-in-itself to every phenomena. Accordingly, we could just as well call the world embodied music as embodied will; this is the reason why music makes every picture, indeed every scene from real life and from the world, at once appear in enhanced significance, and this is, of course, all the greater, the more analogous its melody is to the inner spirit of the given phenomenon. It is due to this that we are able to set a poem to music as a song, or a perceptive presentation as a pantomime, or both as an opera.7

If he had lived long enough, Schopenhauer would also, no doubt, have added the cinema to his list here, though it has to be said that he was, in fact, against imitative music. He cites Haydn’s The Seasons as an example of what he means where “phenomena of the world of perception are directly imitated; also in all battle pieces. All this is to be entirely rejected”8— a point conveniently ignored by Wagner, whose music contains some of the most phenomenological set pieces ever composed. Sound films can, of course, work without any music at all, the sound effects and dialogue providing sufficient momentum and corporeality for much of the time, but these are the exception, and when music is used it invariably follows a Wagnerian precedent. Naturalistic scenes in sound films use music to heighten the audience’s emotional response, to emphasize how the characters are feeling at the expense of why. This was, incidentally, always Brecht’s major bone of contention with Wagnerian and expressionist theatre — a problem which his concept of Verfremdungseffekt (crudely translated as “alienation”)



was designed to combat. Brecht wanted his audiences to ask why the characters were suffering, not merely to identify with them, so stage illusion went out, along with heightened emotion. His objective approach has, of course, been a major influence on twentieth-century theater, including, ironically, the staging of musicals, not to mention the way in which Wagner’s works are now often staged, which cross-fertilization does seem something of a contradiction in terms. Can one really hope to objectify what is so powerfully emotional merely by means of Verfremdung staging? Is it actually appropriate? Film music also indicates the significance of an action or object. (It is, in such circumstances, as if the music is saying, “Remember this moment,” or “Don’t be fooled by the apparent insignificance of this shot,” or “Be afraid,” depending, of course, on what we are being shown.) Most of all, scenes involving special effects and fantasy also use music in the Wagnerian manner to aid the suspension of disbelief. The “Magic Fire” music at the end of Die Walküre is essential to bring momentum and corporeality to the stage effect — to imbue it with heightened emotion. Magic is largely a musical affair. All religions understand this, which is why music plays so large a role in its various rituals and ceremonies. The Nazis also exploited Wagner’s music for exactly the same reasons. Similarly, science fiction and horror films always use music to accompany special effects and moments of tension. Wagner’s method, which was wholly in the service of the dramatic structure, reversed the conventional approach of number opera and ballet with their self-contained musical forms. The leitmotif system and the use of an extended vocabulary of orchestral effects resulted in a much more organic relation between music, action and text. Even though he called Wagner the father of film music, Steiner would have been the first to admit that his own approach was nowhere near as complex as Wagner’s. He did, however, quote Wagner on various occasions in ways that demonstrate his debt to the Meister. In Now Voyager (dir. Irving Rapper, 1942) he instinctively interpolated part of the Tristan “Liebesnacht” for the love scene between Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) and Jerry Durrance (Paul Henreid) soon after the two characters have met. Music, for Steiner and those who followed in the tradition he largely created, is very much the sound of light. Steiner attempted to “catch” as much of the action as possible in much the same way that Wagner took a literal (as well as psychological) approach to the events on stage, pointing out what is going on with the appropriate leitmotif, or several played simultaneously. Debussy commented on this approach with his satirical observation that all the characters in the Ring present their musical calling cards each time they appear on stage.9 However, the emphasis in Wagner’s case became increasingly musical as his career progressed. If “acts of music made visible,” was how he defined his later music



dramas, for Steiner it was more a case of images on screen made audible. In both cases, the music and action are entirely bound up with each other. There are seven ways in which we can usefully parallel the technical approach of Steiner and his mentor, Wagner: (1) main title music, which has its parallel with Wagner’s orchestral preludes; (2) the use of leitmotifs, in the sense that musical events are associated with an idea, point out the significance of an action or imitate an action. Semiotic theory would address these respectively as symbolic, indexical and iconic signs; (3) the use of music to provide dramatic continuity; (4) the music of transition; (5) what is known by film composers as “Mickey Mousing,” but which Wagner would have called pantomimic music; (6) musical panoramas; and (7) the music that helps to create special effects. A comparison between Steiner’s music for Casablanca and the opening scene in Act I of Wagner’s Die Walküre is an instructive example to demonstrate Steiner’s debt to Wagner. Casablanca, with its wartime story of fugitives escaping Hitler’s Germany also complements our overall theme. The purpose of Wagner’s orchestral preludes is to sum up the dramatic and conceptual essence of the subsequent action. He believed that Beethoven’s Leonora No. 3 Overture to Fidelio made the opera redundant, itself “being the most consummate Drama.”10 Although this was music of genius, it was not what Wagner was striving for. He did, of course, write more conventional overtures (such as those for Rienzi and Die Meistersinger, each respectively based on those operas’ most significant musical motifs, but in the Ring cycle, Wagner’s approach is much more compressed: a suggestion or preparation rather than a self-contained musical event. This has much in common with a film’s main title music. Though the technical function of main title music is to cover the list of credits, its emotional and dramatic function is to introduce the audience to the genre and general mood of the film. Main title music also quite often segues into the action without a break, as was always the case with Wagner’s preludes. Even the mighty Meistersinger overture is joined to the subsequent action, sharing the tonic resolution of its perfect cadence with the first chord of the choir’s chorale in the first scene. The main title of Casablanca has rather more in common with the Act I prelude of Die Walküre than a mere structural similarity, though stylistically the two are, of course, rather different. With its Orientalist scales and “Turkish” percussion, Steiner’s theme connotes the exotic African location of the film within a very Western context. Crucially, tension is also introduced by the rhythmic ostinati and sustained chords that accompany it. These latter contrast with the agitated main theme, indicating that amid the hustle and bustle of the story’s background, the main love story between the characters played by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman is in a state of suspense. “Will they get away or not?” is just as important as, “Will they get together



again or not?” The use of music to suggest this main idea at the heart of the story is extremely Wagnerian, for we hear similar musical symbolism at work in the Act I prelude to Die Walküre, which also employs a sustained drone. The main theme of the Walküre prelude is a part-descending, scalic motif, preceded by a rapid quintuplet, and it has certain things in common with Steiner’s theme, which has a similarly rapid upbeat flourish, followed by an almost entirely descending theme, each note of which is repeated before continuing the descent. In both cases, the music signifies the act of being on the run. In Die Walküre, Siegmund is being pursued by Hunding; in Casablanca, everyone is fleeing Hitler. Steiner amplifies the sense of a mass exodus in the following prologue when we are shown a spinning globe and hear a voice-over explain: Towards the end of the Second World War, many eyes in imprisoned Europe turned hopefully — or desperately — towards the freedom of the Americas.

Steiner employs unison strings for the melody here, with its conventionally “tragic” descending phrases. The heavily emphasized chords in the brass, which punctuate the melody, signify the “tortuous, roundabout refugee trail” described by the voice-over. Similarly, Wagner’s obsessive ostinato tremolos, which surround the rising and falling scalic motif, reflect Siegmund’s plight as a fugitive. Steiner’s Orientalist music briefly returns for an establishing shot of the streets of Casablanca itself. The German national anthem is partially quoted to introduce an announcement from a Vichy official, ordering the rounding up of “all suspicious characters.” The use of such a well-known melody with ready-made associations is typical of Steiner’s overall approach (and is, incidentally, shared by composers of animated cartoon music). Later, the Marseillaise is also quoted for obvious reasons. Steiner was always keen to allow the dialogue to be heard while maintaining the dramatic momentum of the music; accordingly, he sustains a quiet, low-pitched string pedal beneath this announcement. Wagner used similar means (a sustained A-flat in the double basses, in fact) at the beginning of Wotan’s long monologue in Act II of Die Walküre, the words of which Wagner was particularly concerned should be heard clearly. As Wotan is instructed to perform them in a muted tone, the minimal accompaniment serves both a practical and psychological function. This scene has often been criticized as a longueur because the musical element is so extremely subdued, but such a criticism is aimed from the perspective of traditional opera, which expects more conventional musical activity (to say nothing of a “good tune”). Viewed from the perspective of the cinema of the future, Wotan’s speech, with its understated double bass note, is pure film music.



Publicity still of Paul Henried in Casablanca (dir. Michael Curtiz, 1942).

When the police interrogate and then shoot a member of the French resistance, Steiner provides a graphic musical equivalent to the psychological and physical action: When asked for his papers, the suspect hesitates, and Steiner accompanies this hiatus with a serrated ascent, the pitch contour rising, falling a little, rising a little more, falling a little, etcetera, until, the



suspect flees and is gunned down. As the bullets hit him, his body rises up and then falls to the ground, and Steiner’s pitch contour follows suit. Wagner’s similarly iconic storm motif at the end of the Act I Walküre prelude consists of a serrated leaping melody with a dotted rhythm (jagged lightning), followed by timpani rolls (thunder). Two rather English tourists (one wonders what they are doing in Casablanca during the Second World War) are then informed by a thief that local girls are being rounded up for the pleasure of the police chief. Steiner obliges with a plaintively descending oboe motif. (Wagner similarly uses an oboe for the love theme which we hear in Die Walküre when Siegmund gazes into Sieglinde’s eyes, just after the entrance of Hunding.) To suggest the untrustworthy nature of the café thief, Steiner employs “exotic” whole tone scales and the equally “exotic” timbre of the celesta, just before the male tourist realizes (with an alarming interjection from the horn) that his wallet has been stolen. (The celesta didn’t exist in Wagner’s lifetime, and whole-tone scales were not part of his harmonic vocabulary, but he did use an alerting horn throughout the opening Siegmund and Sieglinde scene to suggest the anxiety they feel.) After a reprise of the prologue music originally heard immediately after the main title, Steiner now gradually reduces the texture of his accompaniment to a single note. A long diminuendo then ensures that we are almost unaware of the end of this long musical cue. It dwindles to nothing as Conrad Veidt’s General Strasser emerges from his plane and delivers his first lines. Such seamlessness is an example of Wagner’s “art of transition.” Again, we may find a parallel in the Act I prelude of Die Walküre, the texture of which is gradually thinned from full orchestra for the thunder and lightning music, through a combination of timpani, cellos and double basses, to cellos and timpani alone, ppp. After a quiet, heraldic gesture from the horns, Siegmund, like Strasser, appears and the scene is ready to begin. Though these parallels are not, of course, identical they do demonstrate how Steiner’s methods were inspired by Wagner’s example. The purpose of Steiner’s score is to unite the many different cuts with an ongoing musical momentum. A classic example of how he does this occurs immediately after the Vichy official makes his announcement at the outset. We have here a sequence of five different shots: a policeman blows his whistle; a car carrying more police swerves into view; a man at a café table turns his head to see what is going on; we return to the whistle-blowing policeman, and then cut to a close-up of a concerned male bystander. Steiner leads up to the policeman about to blow his whistle with a rapid scalic string phrase, ascending in pitch. The whistle is blown at the peak of this phrase, before the brass reverse the process, descending in pitch as the car appears. The man at the café turns his head as the brass emphasize his gesture with a staccato chord. The policeman’s



whistle now forms part of the pulse structure set up by these chords. It has become integrated into the music, and a brass fanfare (four notes rising by step to the upper tonic) introduce the shot of the man about to be arrested by the police. Steiner was working from a cue-sheet rather than the actual film, a method which no doubt increased the temptation to catch every detail. By emphasizing the cutting here, he articulates the action but also manages to bind the contrasting shots together by means of musical “inevitabilities” such as harmonic structures and rhythmic patterns. Rising and falling scales balance one another and the regular pulse gives a musical logic to the proceedings. Wagner was not working to a preordained visual structure, of course. The process, in his case, was in reverse. His performers have to time their actions to the dictates of the music. Nowhere is this more the case than in Beckmesser’s pantomime in Act III of Die Meistersinger, which is the forerunner of Carl Stalling and Scott Bradley’s music for Warner Bros. and Tom and Jerry cartoons. In the scene in question, Beckmesser, the town clerk, has been ridiculed in public and roughed up by the inhabitants of Nuremberg during a riot. He now aims to steal the prize song of Walther von Stolzing, hoping to pass it off as his own in the forthcoming song contest, and so enters the workshop of Hans Sachs where the manuscript is being kept. The actor has no lines to sing here but must synchronize his movements to Wagner’s score, every one of which is carefully described above the music. Wagner’s stage directions read exactly like the breakdown of a cartoon’s action in a cue-sheet: Beckmesser appears outside the shop window, looking in, in great peturbation. Finding the shop empty he enters hastily. He peeps again carefully round the shop from the doorway. He then limps forwards, winces in pain and rubs his back. After a few more steps forward his knees give way. He rubs them. He sits on the cobbler’s stool, but starts up again. He contemplates the stool, and his thoughts appear to become increasingly agitated. He is distressed by the most grievous memories and fancies; getting ever more uneasy, he begins to wipe the perspiration from his brow. He limps round more and more restlessly, staring before him. As if pursued from all sides, he stumbles hither and thither as if in flight. As though to save himself from falling he holds on to the table, to which he has tottered, and stares before him. Weak and in despair he looks around. At length his glance falls on Pogner’s house through the window to which he limps with difficulty, and looking at the opposite window tries to assume a bold manner as he thinks of Walther. Angry thoughts arise in consequence which he tries to fight down by an assumption of self confidence. Jealousy overcomes him. He strikes his forehead. He fancies that he hears again the mocking of the women and boys in the alley; turns away in a rage and slams the window to. Much disturbed he turns mechanically again to the work-table which he contemplates as he appears to be seeking a new tune. His looks fall on the paper written by Sachs; he takes it up with curiosity; runs over it with growing excitement and at length breaks out in fury.11



Wagner emphasizes all the key moments of the action in the music here: Beckmesser’s entrance is announced with a loud chord, which begins with a discordant appoggiatura. Sforzandi emphasized by acciaccatura indicate his moments of pain, and his memory of the way in which he was laughed at in a previous scene is suggested by chromatic scales in agitated quaver movement. The effect is almost identical to the way in which Bradley scored similar moments of laughter in the Tom and Jerry cartoons. Wagner’s use of a large symphony orchestra and a fragmented leitmotif technique also closely resembles the even more fragmented (one might even say “atomized”) musical collages of Stalling, which quote snatches of popular tunes and classical music amid a plethora of established musical signs appropriate to the action. What makes Wagner’s approach to the Beckmesser pantomime so different from a ballet is not only the absence of traditional dance forms but also because he asks for naturalistic actions rather than stylized mime. Beckmesser more closely resembles a cartoon character than a ballet dancer. Both Wagner and Steiner also employed music for panoramas. In Now, Voyager, Steiner covers a shot of Rio de Janiero with a suitably Latin American cue, just as the “Orientalist” music of Casablanca also emphasized a specific location. Wagner’s use of musical panoramas was less geographically explicit because he was largely working on a mythical level, but the opening of Act III of Die Meistersinger, with its view of Nuremberg and accompanying festive music, fulfills the same panoramic function. “The Ride of the Valkyries” is another panoramic scene, though linked with the seventh and last function mentioned above, which is concerned with the generation of special effects. The rainbow bridge at the end of Das Rheingold, the Magic Fire of Die Walküre, the catastrophe that brings Götterdämmerung to its conclusion, and the destruction of Klingsor’s magic garden in Parsifal all use music to assist the visual effects, as does Steiner in the various phantasmagoric spectacles of She (dir. Merian C. Cooper, 1935), the burning of Atlanta in Gone with the Wind (dir. Victor Fleming, 1939), and the scenes of urban destruction in King Kong (dir. Merian C. Cooper, 1933). I mention Steiner’s examples here simply because Steiner is the bridge between Wagner and a film music convention which has, of course, developed throughout the twentieth century. Steiner, however, largely originated those conventions. A key proto-cinematic scene in Wagner’s Ring cycle occurs immediately after Siegfried’s Funeral March in Götterdämmerung. The astonishing decision made by Wieland Wagner to cut this three-minute scene in one of his Bayreuth productions12 unintentionally demonstrated how important Wagner’s “art of transition” is, not only in terms of the emotional and psychological landscape which Wagner’s music symbolizes here, but also because of the way it anticipates film music. The function and structure of the music is exactly the same



as film music with the exception of the voice of Gutrune (the only character on stage), who, in a film, would speak rather than sing. It is important to realize that Gutrune’s scene here would most probably have been dealt with fairly swiftly by Mozart in the style of a recitative. Atmospheric “mood music,” which is basically what this short scene is, was not a requirement of classical opera. It is only with through-composition style, in which the structure of the music becomes increasingly molded to the text and action, that a filmscore technique emerges. A film composer must confront even greater restrictions than Wagner’s self-imposed ones. Not only must he observe the requirements of dialogue and action but he must also take into account the balance between sound effects and music. Overriding all, of course, is the precise and inflexible restriction of time. As film-music supervisor Philip Martell put it: You have music breakdowns for every cut and every bit of dialogue. [...] Your music measurements are timed down to the last split second [...]. There is a danger that the strings are tearing like mad as Dracula’s going round and there are bat noises in the same register, which would be blotted out.13

The Siegfried Funeral March draws to a close through diminuendo and decreased orchestration, coming to a rest on the dominant seventh chord in B-flat minor. Wagner’s technique of transition frequently relies on modulation to create its effects: unexpected changes of key designed to disorientate the listener. Such modulations are a hallmark of Wagner’s style, indeed of Romanic music as a whole. (In 1832, Hummel complained of Schumann’s “too sudden changes of harmony.”14) Wagner’s dominant seventh chord (in its second inversion) does not resolve onto the B-flat minor tonic we expect; instead, the F-natural, which it contains, rises to G-flat and forms part of a diminished seventh, one of the most exploited chords of the Romantic era, primarily because of its tonal ambiguity. It belongs in no particular key but can be used to move into a variety of keys. Wagner moves the succeeding harmony down through tones or semitones deliberately designed to create an atmosphere of uncertainty. The bass line is scored for trombones, moving by step from C to B-flat and A-flat. The leitmotif known as “Brünnhilde” occupies the first two bars as the melodic element, also serving to remind us of Brünnhilde’s presence in Gutrune’s mind, even though she is absent from the stage. The stage directions are also concerned with transition: “From this point the mists disperse, gradually revealing the Hall of the Gibichungs, as in the first act.” The swirling, unpredictable and blurring quality of the mist is a visual image for which Wagner aims to find a correlative in the music for this passage by means of tonal ambiguity. The use of a harp arpeggio here is also



very important. The harp, being one of the oldest and most archaic of instruments, is often used in Romantic music to summon connotations of regression into the past. Its very timbre is transitional. (Rich harp arpeggios support the solo violin in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade, for example, indicating that one story is over and another is about to begin.) In Siegfried, the title character awakens Brünnhilde in the last act to a leitmotif surrounded by harp arpeggios. Again, the music conveys transition in a pivotal moment in the tetralogy: the archaic connotations of the harp’s timbre suggests a connection with Brünnhilde’s deep sleep, which is now transformed into the light of consciousness, symbolized by the upward movement of the harp arpeggios. Sleep, which returns us to the archetypes of the unconscious, is appropriately symbolized by the most ancient and archaic of instruments. Film music also uses harp arpeggios in this transitional manner, when required to cover scene changes. (The Anglo-French 1960s TV children’s show The Magic Roundabout famously used them for nearly every change of scene, as do so many Hollywood flashback and dream sequences.) The diminished seventh chord at the end of Siegfried’s Funeral March contains two tritone intervals (G-flat to C, and A to E-flat), and Wagner is keen to emphasize the traditionally unnerving connotations of the tritone here — the so-called diabolus in musica —to increase the atmosphere of tragedy, death, darkness, evil and dread. Time and again the tritone is used for similar purposes in film scores — famously James Bernard’s Dracula theme for Hammer’s series of vampire films based on Bram Stoker’s character. The next three bars continue the chromatic descent (A to A-flat, G to G-flat and then F). Such a descending bass also carries connotations of lamentation, which we may trace back at least as far as the ground bass that forms the harmonic structure of “Dido’s Lament” in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas of 1688. Brünnhilde’s motif now appears for the second time, leading to another diminished seventh on F-sharp, which in turns leads to an F seventh chord, with the Brünnhilde motif creating a dissonance (its D-flat falling to E-flat to create the dominant seventh of B-flat minor). Wagner has succeeded! What tonal landscape do we now inhabit? He has created not only a sense of dread and uncertainty, but also due to the extensive modulation, a musical metaphor for physical movement. Wagner’s musical art of transition has changed the scene just as much as the swirling mist. As the new scene starts, Wagner again avoids the tonic chord by moving onto another diminished seventh chord. But this is made more dissonant by the G-flat appoggiatura above it. The resulting harmonic effect announces the new scene in much the same way that film composers often emphasize a screen-wipe or cut with a similar change of harmony. The first motif we hear is the “Rheingold!” cry of the Rhinemaidens in Das Rheingold, but it is now



transformed by harmonic means to such an extent that it hardly seems to be the same motif at all. In Das Rheingold it was simply a dominant ninth resolving onto the tonic. Here it is a diminished seventh with the melody note (G-flat) serving as an appoggiatura. It resolves onto F, but this resolution confounded by another unexpected harmony: the dominant seventh of B-flat. The waters of the Rhine are dark indeed, and are themselves clouded by Siegfried’s death: a motif from the Funeral March continues to weave its way into the texture. “Es ist Nacht. Der Mondschein spiegelt sich auf dem Rhine.” (“It is night. Moonlight plays on the Rhine.”) Wagner’s image here again indicates how visual his imagination was, even though he lacked the skill to draw or paint his visions. The music is entirely bound up with, indeed generated by the image, just as a film score is. Wagner’s dependence upon extra-musical inspiration when composing is made clear by an examination of his nonoperatic works which are, with some notable exceptions, much less psychologically powerful. Only in synthesis do the various elements come together to create a greater whole. We have already seen that Thomas Mann had his reservations about Gesamtkunstwerk principles. Stravinsky’s doubts about film music followed suit: In all frankness I find it impossible to talk to film people about music because we have no common meeting ground; their primitive and childish concept of music is not my concept. They have the mistaken notion that music, in “helping” and “explaining” the cinematic shadow-play, could be regarded under artistic considerations. It cannot be. Do not misunderstand me. I realize that music is an indispensable adjunct to the sound film. It has got to bridge holes; it has got to fill the emptiness of the screen and supply the loudspeakers with more or less pleasant sounds. The film could not get along without it, just as I myself could not get along without having the empty spaces of my living-room walls covered with wall paper. But you would not ask me, would you, to regard my wall paper as I would regard painting, or apply aesthetic standards to it? Misconceptions arise at the very outset of such a discussion when it is asserted that music will help the drama by underlining and describing the characters and the action. Well, that is precisely the same fallacy which has so disastrously affected the true opera through the “Musikdrama.” Music explains nothing; music underlines nothing. When it attempts to explain, to narrate, or to underline something, the effect is both embarrassing and harmful.15

These arguments should be placed in the time of their original utterance, when elitist cultural circles had little time for such a popular art form as cinema. Film music can, of course, be just as rewarding as Wagner’s music — it just depends on how good it is. And what is Gutrune’s scene in Götterdäm-



merung but a film score with a singing voice? Taken out of context and played as an orchestral excerpt, it would sound very like film music because of its fragmented nature and emphasis on mood. Gutrune, now married to Siegfried, has been left alone in the Gibichung Hall during Siegfried’s murder during a hunting expedition. Gutrune is fearful of Brünnhilde, who once loved Siegfried, but has been forced to marry Gutrune’s weak brother much against her will. Gutrune wanders about in the moonlight, full of anxiety, peering into Brünnhilde’s room, and (significantly singing tritone intervals) calling her name, but Brünnhilde is absent. We do hear Brünnhilde’s leitmotif, however. It is played on a clarinet in its oily low register, and the intervals of the motif are slightly distorted to suggest that the empty space is nonetheless haunted by Brünnhilde’s spiritual presence. The clarinet provides a dark, mysterious quality to the distorted theme, and from the many parallels one could choose to show how this technique has become standard practice in film music, one need look no further than Harry Robinson’s score for Hammer Films’ Countess Dracula (dir. Peter Sasdy, 1971), in which Ingrid Pitt’s Countess Elizabeth Bathory, seeking the secret of eternal youth, sends her faithful steward to the library of the castle’s resident scholar, Master Fabio (Maurice Denham). As the steward (Nigel Green) enters the library, the camera pans around the apparently deserted interior, accompanied by a similar clarinet timbre, admittedly playing a different phrase from the Brünnhilde motif but fulfilling exactly the same dramatic and psychological function. The following chart places Wagner’s clarinet in context, as well as drawing attention to the considerable amount of musical wandering about appropriate to Gutrune’s physical actions and thoughts, the webwork of motifs reflecting the diversity of her concerns and their implications to the action that remains to be played out. Even a brief glance at this Wagnerian “cuesheet” reveals how dependent the musical events are upon the narrative structure. There is absolutely no independent musical “logic” at work here. The tonality is extremely fluid, motifs come and go interspersed with disorientating silence, and string phrases drift aimlessly about. This is the kind of music drama that Stravinsky found such a corrupting influence on what he regarded as “true opera.”

Götterdämmerung, Act III, scene 3 GUTRUNE: Was that his horn? No! He is not coming home yet. Bad dreams disturbed my sleep. Wildly his horse neighed; Brünnhilde’s laughter awoke me.



Who was the woman I saw walking to the river bank? Brünnhilde frightens me! Is she at home? Brünnhilde! Brünnhilde! Are you awake? Her room is empty. Then it was she That I saw going to the Rhine! Was that his horn?



10–11 “War das sein Horn?” 12

(Gutrune silent)

13 “Nein!” 14–15 “Noch kehrt er nicht heim” 16–17 “Schlimme Träume...”

18 19

“...störten mir den...” “...Schlaf.”


(Gutrune silent)


“Wild wieherte sein...”

22 23

“...Ross; Lachen...” “...Brünnhildes weckte...” “...mich...” “...auf.” (Gutrune silent) “Wer war das...”

24 25 26 27

“...Weib, das ich zum Ufer” schreiten... “...sah?”


(Gutrune silent)

29 30 31

(Gutrune silent) “Ich fürchte Brünnhild.” “Ist sie daheim?”

Orchestra Transformed “Rheingold!” motif with Siegfried’s horn motif. “Herrscherruf ”(“Call of Mastery”) motif associated with Alberich and Hagen. Silence. “Herrscherruf ” repeated twice, second time one tone lower. “Herrscherruf ” repeated for third time, followed by Siegfried’s horn motif and an ascending staccato figure. Silence. Siegfried’s horn motif. Ascending staccato figure. Siegfried’s horn motif followed by an ascending staccato figure. Semiquaver sextuplets associated with the Valkyries. Valkyrie motif. Diminished seventh. Drifting violin line: E, F-sharp... ...G. Drifting cello line: E, F... ...F-sharp. Transformed “Rheingold!” motif. “Gutrune” motif slightly altered. “Rheingold!” motif in original form supported by string tremolo. Harmonic progression in triplets with A-flat pedal. “Brünnhilde” motif (clarinet) ending on... ...G-flat. “Fate” motif.






32 33 34 35 36–37

(Gutrune silent) “Brünnhild! Brünnhild!” “Bist du wach?” (Gutrune silent) (Gutrune silent)

Conclusion of “Fate” motif. Silence. (sung in tritone intervals) Silence. Silence. Distortion of “Brünnhilde” motif (unaccompanied clarinet). C-flat in clarinet falling in bar 39 by a tritone to F natural. Another statement of “Rheingold!” motif. Silence. Tritone emphasized in string tremolo which supports the “Herrscherruf ” motif. As above. “Wedding call” motif played onstage by horn (“auf dem Theater, fern.”) Tritone tremolo continues. Two beats silence, followed by “Herrscherruf ” motif.

38–39 “Leer das Gemach.”

40 41

“So war es sie, die ich zum...” “...Rheine schreiten sah?”

42 43

(Gutrune silent) Two beats silence, then: “War das sein Horn?”


(Gutrune silent)

Even Wagner’s instruction to the horns “auf dem Theater, fern” in bar 43 (“on the stage, in the distance”) is a naturalistic device foreshadowing the stereophonic effects of the cinema. And once again, Wagner anticipates the mixture of diegetic and non-diegetic music which is such a feature of film scoring technique: Gutrune can hear the horns that announce the homecoming of the hunting expedition with her slain husband, but presumably remains “unaware” of the orchestral accompaniment of everything else she sings. After such an experience one might well find oneself agreeing with Thomas Mann, who wondered if it is possible to regard such a “concatenation of symbolic motif-quotations, standing out like rocky outcrops in the torrent of primordial musical processes, as ‘music’ in the sense of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.” For Mann, the Rheingold Prelude is not music at all. “It was an acoustic idea: the idea of the beginning of all things. Music has here been pressed into service its imperiously dilettante fashion to portray a mythical concept.”16 All the traditional arguments against film music — its lack of autonomy, its episodic, fragmentary, time-restricted nature, what Stravinsky called its “childish” allusiveness — were all anticipated by Wagner. Hitler’s only involvement with all that was the consequence of his anti–Semitic program. Without it, Hollywood might not have welcomed so many excellent émigré musicians, actors and directors through the gates of its dream factory. If it is possible to thank Hitler for anything, it is surely that.

Select Filmography The Damned (dir. Luchino Visconti, 1969) Death in Venice (dir. Luchino Visconti, 1971) “Dance of the Seven Veils”— BBC TV Omnibus film (dir. Ken Russell, 1970) The Innocent (dir. Luchino Visconti, 1976) Hitler: A Film from Germany (dir. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, 1977) Lisztomania (dir. Ken Russell, 1975) Ludwig (dir. Luchino Visconti, 1972) Ludwig II: Glanz und Elend eines Königs (dir. Helmut Käutner, 1955) Ludwig: Requiem for a Virgin King (dir. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, 1972) Magic Fire (dir. William Dieterle, 1955) Mahler (dir. Ken Russell, 1974) The Night Porter (dir. Liliana Cavani, 1974) Parsifal (dir. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, 1982) Richard Wagner (dir. Carl Froelich, 1913) Sissy (dir. Ernst Marischka, 1955) Song Without End (dir. George Cukor and Charles Vidor, 1960) Wagner (dir. Tony Palmer, 1983) What’s Opera, Doc? (dir. Chuck Jones, 1957)


Chapter Notes Preface 1. Richard Wagner, Actors and Singers, trans. W. Ashton Ellis (Lincoln/London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), p. 303. 2. Anthony Burgess, You’ve Had Your Time: Being the Second Part of the Confessions of Anthony Burgess (London: William Heinemann, 1990), p. 327.

Introduction 1. Thomas Mann, “Reflections of a Non-political Man,” in Pro and Contra Wagner, trans. Allan Blunden (London: Faber and Faber, 1985), p. 51. 2. Susan Sontag, preface to Hitler: A Film from Germany (Manchester: Carcanet New Press, 1982), p. xi. 3. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, The Life of Rossini, trans. Joachim Neugroschel and Richard N. Coe (London: John Calder/New York: Riverrun Press, 1985), p. 438. 4. Laurence Schifano, Luchino Visconti: The Flames of Passion, trans. William S. Byron (London: Collins, 1990), p. 47. 5. op. cit., p. 356. 6. op. cit., p. 48. 7. op. cit., p. 58. 8. Howard Taubman, Toscanini (London: Odhams Press, 1951), p. 327. 9. Laurence Schifano Luchino Visconti: The Flames of Passion, trans. William S. Byron, Note 4), p. 22. 10. op. cit., pp. 48–49. 11. op. cit., p. 50. 12. op. cit, p. 23. 13. Stendhal, The Life of Rossini, trans. Richard N. Coe (Note 3), p. 450. 14. John Coldstream, Dirk Bogarde, The Authorised Biography (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004), p. 342. 15. Dirk Bogarde, Snakes and Ladders (London: Book Club Associates/Chatto & Windus, 1978), pp. 265–266. 16. Laurence Schiffano, Luchino Visconti: The Flames of Passion (Note 4), p. 5. 17. op. cit., p. 289. 18. Susan Sontag, “Fascinating Fascism,” in The Nazification of Art: Art, Design, Music, Architecture and Film in the Third Reich, ed. Brandon Taylor and Wilfred van der Will (Winchester: Winchester Press, 1990), pp. 204–218.

Chapter One 1. Charles Osborne, The Complete Operas of Verdi: A Critical Guide (London: Victor Gollancz, 1988), p. 250.


Notes. Chapter One


2. Cosima Wagner, Diaries, Volume One, 1869 –1877, trans. Geoffrey Skelton (London: Collins, 1978), entry for February 12, 1871, pp. 335–336. 3. Charles Osborne, The Complete Operas of Verdi: A Critical Guide (Note 1), p. 398. 4. Cosima Wagner (trans. Geoffrey Skelton), Diaries Volume One, 1869 –1877, trans. Geoffrey Skelton (Note 2), entry for November 2, 1875, p. 873. 5. Charles Osborne, Verdi (London: Macmillan, 1978), p. 117. 6. Charles Osborne, The Complete Operas of Verdi: A Critical Guide (Note 1), p. 377. 7. op. cit., p. 449. 8. Robin Holloway, Debussy and Wagner (London: Eulenburg, 1979), p. 20. 9. Julian Budden, Puccini: His Life and Works (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 478. 10. Dirk Bogarde, Snakes and Ladders (London: Book Club Associates/Chatto & Windus, 1978), p. 300. 11. Anthony Rhodes, The Poet as Superman: A Life of Gabrielle D’Annunzio (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1959), p. 238. 12. Dirk Bogarde, Snakes and Ladders (Note 10), p. 307. 13. Gabrielle D’Annunzio, The Flame, trans. Susan Bassnett (London: Quartet, 1991), p. 93. 14. op. cit., p. 95. 15. op. cit., p. 96. 16. op. cit., p. 100. 17. op. cit., p. 115. 18. Frederic Spotts, Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics (London: Hutchinson, 2002), p. 223. 19. Gabreille D’Annunzio, The Flame (Note 13), p. 101. 20. op. cit., p. 152. 21. Gabrielle D’Annunzio, The Triumph of Death, trans. Georgina Harding (Sawtry: Daedalus, 1990), p. 278. 22. Wilfrid Blunt, The Dream King: Ludwig II of Bavaria (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1970), p. 52. 23. Paul Hindemith, The Craft of Musical Composition, trans. Arthur Mendel (New York: Associated Music, 1945), Book 1, p. 50. 24. Gabrielle D’Annunzio The Triumph of Death, trans. Georgina Harding (Note 21), p. 11. 25. loc. cit. 26. op. cit., p. 116. 27. Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter (Great Britain: Nationwide Book Service/Secker & Warburg, 1979), p. 167. 28. Villiers de l’Isle Adam, Axel, trans. M. Gaddis Rose (London: Soho, 1986), p. 170. 29. Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter (London: Secker & Warburg, 1956), p. 563. 30. op. cit., p. 562. 31. op. cit., p. 563. 32. Christopher McIntosh, The Swan King: Ludwig II of Bavaria (London: Allen Lane, 1982), p. 2. 33. T. E. Apter, Thomas Mann: The Devil’s Advocate (London: Macmillan, 1978), p. 38. 34. Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter (Note 29), p. 526. 35. Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Case of Wagner,” in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1967), pp. 164–165. 36. Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter (Note 29), p. 407. 37. op. cit., p. 597. 38. Edgar Allan Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher” in The Portable Poe, ed. Philip Van Doren Stern (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977), p. 251. 39. Homer, The Odyssey, trans. E. V. Rieu (London: Guild Publishing/Penguin, 1987), p. 190. 40. Thomas Mann, “Platen,” Essays of Three Decades, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter (London: Secker & Warburg, 1947), p. 261. 41. loc. cit. 42. Gabrielle D’Annunzio, The Triumph of Death, trans. Georgina Harding (Note 21), p. 315. 43. T. E. Apter, Thomas Mann: The Devil’s Advocate (Note 34), p. 92. 44. op. cit., pp. 138–139.


Notes. Chapter Two

Chapter Two 1. “To Emil Pretorius,” Thomas Mann, Pro and Contra Wagner, trans. Allan Blunden (London: Faber and Faber, 1985), p. 210. 2. op. cit., “To the Editor of Common Sense,” pp. 201–201. 3. Joachim Köhler, Wagner’s Hitler: The Prophet and His Disciple, trans. Ronald Taylor (Cambridge: Polity Press), p. 8. 4. op. cit., p. 93. 5. See Marc A. Weiner, Wagner and the Anti-Semitic Imagination (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995) and Paul Lawrence Rose, Wagner: Race and Revolution (London: Faber and Faber, 1992). 6. Richard Wagner, “Judaism in Music,” Stories and Essays, ed. Charles Osborne (London: Peter Owen, 1973), p. 26. 7. Marc A. Weiner, Wagner and the Anti-Semitic Imagination (Note 5), p. 121. 8. G. W. F. Hegel, Philosophy of Mind, trans. W. Wallace and A. V. Miller, revised Michael Inwood (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 49. 9. op. cit., p. 48. 10. Modris Eksteins, Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (London: Papermac, 2000), p. 82. 11. Thomas Mann, “The Sorrows and Grandeur of Richard Wagner,” in Pro and Contra Wagner, trans. Allan Blunden (Note 1), p. 125. 12. Wilfrid Blunt, The Dream King: Ludwig II of Bavaria (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1970), p. 125. 13. Thomas Mann, “The Sorrows and Grandeur of Richard Wagner,” Pro and Contra Wagner, trans. Allan Blunden (Note 1), p. 125. 14. Bryan Magee, Wagner and Philosophy (London: Allen Lane, 2000), p. 159. 15. Arthur Schopenhauer (trans. E. F. J. Payne), The World as Will and Representation, Volume 1 (New York: Dover, 1966), p. xxi. 16. G. W. F. Hegel, Philosophy of Mind trans. W. Wallace & A. V. Miller, revised Michael Inwood (Note 8), p. 50. 17. Ted Honderich, ed., The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 342. 18. Arthur Schopenhauer, “On the Vanity of Existence,” in Essays and Aphorisms, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970), p. 54. 19. Arthur Schopenhauer (trans. E. F. J. Payne), The World as Will and Representation, Volume 1 (Note 15), p. 412. 20. R. J. Hollingdale, translator’s introduction to Essays and Aphorisms, by Arthur Schopenhauer (Note 18), p. 35. 21. Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979), p. 34. 22. Thomas Mann, “The Sorrows and Grandeur of Richard Wagner,” Pro and Contra Wagner, trans. Allan Blunden (Note 1), p. 139. 23. Cosima Wagner, Diaries, Volume Two, 1878 –1883, trans. Geoffrey Skelton (London: Collins, 1978), entry for September 23, 1878. 24. Laurence Schifano, Luchino Visconti: The Flames of Passion, trans. William S. Byron (London: Collins, 1990), p. 391. 25. loc. cit. 26. Frederic Spotts, Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics (London: Hutchinson, 2002), p. 80. 27. Christopher McIntosh, The Swan King: Ludwig II of Bavaria (London: Allen Lane, 1982), p. 63. 28. op. cit., pp. 131–132. 29. op. cit., p. 73. 30. Wilfrid Blunt, The Dream King: Ludwig II of Bavaria (Note 12), p. 22. 31. Frederic Spotts, Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics (Note 26), p. 255. 32. Frederic Spotts, Bayreuth: A History of the Wagner Festival (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1994), pp. 169–170. 33. Frederic Spotts, Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics (Note 26), p. 3.

Notes. First Intermission


34. Richard Wagner, “Judaism in Music,” in Stories and Essays, ed. Charles Osborne (London: Peter Owen, 1973), p. 28. 35. op. cit., p. 29. 36. Frederic Spotts, Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics (Note 26), p. 235. 37. Wilfrid Blunt, The Dream King: Ludwig II of Bavaria (Note 12), p. 29. 38. Christopher McIntosh, The Swan King: Ludwig II of Bavaria (Note 27), p. 21. 39. Wilfrid Blunt, The Dream King: Ludwig II of Bavaria (Note 12), p. 30. 40. Frederic Spotts, Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics (Note 26), p. 228. 41. op. cit., p. 235. 42. Christopher McIntosh, The Swan King: Ludwig II of Bavaria (Note 27), p. 65. 43. loc. cit. 44. Wilfrid Blunt, The Dream King: Ludwig II of Bavaria (Note 12), p. 25. 45. Thomas Mann, “To Julius Bab,” in Pro and Contra Wagner, trans. Allan Blunden (Note 1), p. 50. 46. Alan Walker, Franz Liszt: Volume 2: The Final Years, 1861–1886 (London: Faber and Faber, 1997), p. 109. 47. Derek Watson, Wagner: A Biography (London/Melbourne/Toronto: Dent, 1979), p. 279. 48. op. cit., p. 199. 49. Dirk Bogarde interviewed in Dirk Bogarde by Myself (dir. Paul Joyce, 1992). 50. Jean-Jacques Nattiez, Wagner Androg yne, trans. Stewart Spencer (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), p. 191. (Cosima Wagner’s Diary entry for October 15, 1878 quoted.) 51. loc. cit. 52. op. cit., p. 192 (Cosima Wagner’s Diary entry for January 1, 1882 quoted.) 53. For more information on Wagner’s relation to vampires, see David Huckvale, “Wagner and Vampires” in Wagner, ed. Stewart Spencer (London: The Wagner Society, 1997), Volume 18, Number 3/September 1997, pp. 127–141. 54. Thomas Mann, “Reflections of a Non-political Man,” in Pro and Contra Wagner, trans. Allan Blunden (Note 1), p. 59. 55. op. cit., p. 107. 56. Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Case of Wagner,” in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage/Random House, 1967), p. 177. 57. Joachim Köhler, Wagner’s Hitler: The Prophet and his Disciple, trans. Ronald Taylor (Cambridge: Polity Press), p. 238. 58. Thomas Mann, Pro and Contra Wagner, trans. Allan Blunden (Note 1), p. 201. 59. See Lothair Machtan, The Hidden Hitler, trans. John Brownjohn (Oxford: Perseus Press, 2001). 60. Gitte Sereny, Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth (London: Macmillan, 1995), p. 614. 61. Frederic Spotts, Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics (Note 26), p. 346. 62. Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs by Albert Speer, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (London: Macmillan, 1970), pp. 36–37. 63. John Peter Eckermann, Conversations of Goethe, trans. John Oxenford (London: George Bell & Sons, 1883), entry for March 23, 1829, p. 378.

First Intermission 1. Hector Berlioz, The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz, trans. David Cairns (London: Cardinal/ Sphere, 1990), p. 228. 2. Paul Metzner, Crescendo of the Virtuoso: Spectacle, Skill and Self-Promotion in Paris During the Age of Revolution (Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: 1998), p. 142. 3. Peter Conradi, Hitler’s Piano Player: The Rise and Fall of Ernst Hanfstaengl (London: Duckworth, 2006), p. 9. 4. Cosmo Landesman, “Miserable to Her Fingertips,” in The Sunday Times “Culture” supplement, October 2, 2011, p. 15. 5. Theodor Adorno, In Search of Wagner, trans. Rodney Livingstone (London: Verso, 1984), p. 34. 6. op. cit., p. 101.


Notes. Chapter Three

7. Thomas Mann, “The Sorrows and Grandeur of Richard Wagner,” in Pro and Contra Wagner, trans. Allan Blunden (London: Faber and Faber, 1985), pp. 92–93. 8. Claude Debussy, Correspondance 1884 –1918, ed. François Lesure (Paris: Hermann), 1993, p. 88. 9. Laurence Irving, Henry Irving (London: Faber and Faber, 1951), p. 461. 10. op. cit., p. 463. 11. Bram Stoker, Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving (London: Heinemann, 1907), p. 335. 12. Thomas Mann, Pro and Contra Wagner, trans. Allan Blunden (Note 7), p. 103. 13. Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Case of Wagner,” in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, trans. Walter Kauffmann (New York: Vintage/Random House, 1967), p. 180. 14. Adolf Hitler, “Night of 24th-25th January 1942,” in Hitler’s Table Talk 1941–1944: His Private Conversations (New York: Enigma Books, 2000), p. 242. 15. op cit., “Night of 15th-16th January 1942,” p. 210. 16. op. cit., “Night of 24th-25th January 1942,” p. 240. 17. Frederic Spotts, Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics (London: Hutchinson, 2002), p. 394. 18. Anthony Wilkinson, Liszt (London: Macmillan, 1975), p. 92. 19. Theodor Adorno, In Search of Wagner, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Note 5), p. 85.

Chapter Three 1. Dirk Bogarde interviewed in Dirk Bogarde by Myself (dir. Paul Joyce, 1992). 2. Laurence Schifano, Luchino Visconti: The Flames of Passion, trans. William S. Byron (London: Collins, 1990), p. 375. 3. Gary Schmidgall, Literature as Opera (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 325. 4. Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter (London: Secker & Warburg, 1956), p. 525. 5. Thomas Mann, “The Sorrows and Grandeur of Richard Wagner,” in Pro and Contra Wagner, trans. Allan Blunden (London: Faber and Faber, 1985), p. 122. 6. Friedrich Nietzsche Ecce Homo, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979), p. 59. 7. op. cit., p. 61. 8. Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy, ed. Samuel Lipman (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1994), p. 9. 9. Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Birth of Tragedy,” in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, trans. Walter Kauffmann (New York: Vintage/Random House, 1967), p. 42. 10. Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche, Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (New Jersey: Princeton, 1974), p. 179. 11. Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Anti-Christ,” in Twilight of the Idols/The Anti-Christ, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968), p. 115. 12. Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979), p. 34. 13. op. cit., p. 71. 14. Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche, Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (Note 10), p. 224. 15. Richard Wagner, “Letter to Theodor Uhlig, 10th May 1851,” in Selected Letters of Richard Wagner, trans. Stewart Spencer (London & Melbourne: Dent, 1987), p. 223. 16. Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969), p. 41. 17. Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Birth of Tragedy,” in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, trans. Walter Kauffmann (Note 9), p. 104. 18. op. cit., pp. 163–164. 19. In the original German text at the end of Siegfried, Brünnhilde and Siegfried sing “leuchtende Liebe, lachender Tod!” 20. Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Case of Wagner,” in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, trans. Walter Kauffmann (Note 9), pp. 172–173. 21. Thomas Mann, “The Sorrows and Grandeur of Richard Wagner” in Pro and Contra Wagner, trans. Allan Blunden (London: Faber and Faber, 1985), p. 129. 22. John Peter Eckermann, Conversations of Goethe, trans. John Oxenford (London: George

Notes. Second Intermission


Bell & Sons, 1883), entry for April 2, 1829 (“A new expression occurs to me,” said Goethe, “which does not ill define the state of the case. I call the classic healthy, the romantic sickly”) p. 380. 23. Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter (Note 4), p. 407. 24. Thomas Mann, “Tonio Kröger,” in Stories of Three Decades (London: Secker & Warburg, 1946), pp. 104–105. 25. Oscar Wilde, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” in The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde (London and Glasgow: Collins, 1966), p. 93. 26. Thomas Mann, “Death in Venice,” in Stories of Three Decades (Note 24), p. 418. 27. Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter (Secker & Warburg, 1949), p. 236. 28. Plato, “The Republic,” in The Essential Plato, trans. Benjamin Jowett (The Softback Preview, 1990), p. 94. 29. Oscar Wilde, “The Decay of Lying,” in The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde (Note 25), p. 971. 30. op. cit., “Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray, p. 17. 31. T. E. Apter, Thomas Mann: The Devil’s Advocate (London: Macmillan, 1978), p. 50. 32. Thomas Mann, “Death in Venice,” in Stories of Three Decades (Note 24), p. 379. 33. op. cit., p. 392. 34. Ronald Hayman, Thomas Mann (London: Bloomsbury, 1995), p. 64. 35. Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter (Note 4), p. 600. 36. Plato, “Phaedo,” in The Essential Plato, trans. Benjamin Jowett (Note 28), p. 603. 37. Thomas Mann, “Death in Venice,” in Stories of Three Decades (Note 24), p. 414. 38. op. cit., p. 431. 39. op. cit., pp. 430–431. 40. op. cit., “Tonio Kröger,” p. 103. 41. T. E. Apter, Thomas Mann: The Devil’s Advocate (Note 31).

Second Intermission 1. Carl Gustav Jung, “Wotan,” in Essays on Contemporary Events, trans. Elizabeth Welsh, Barbara Hannah, and Mary Briner (London: Kegan Paul, 1947), pp. 2–3. 2. Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, Secret Germany: Claus von Stauffenberg and the Mystical Crusade Against Hitler (London: Jonathan Cape, 1994), pp. 110–11. 3. Carl Gustav Jung, Essays on Contemporary Events, trans. Elizabeth Welsh, Barbara Hannah, and Mary Briner (Note 1), p. 7. 4. Arthur Machen, “The Great God Pan,” in Uncanny Tales 2, Volume 16 of The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult, ed. Dennis Wheatley (London: Sphere, 1974), p. 12. 5. Saki (H. H. Munro), “The Music on the Hill,” in The Short Stories of Saki (London: John Lane/The Bodley Head, 1930), p. 180. 6. op. cit., p. 185. 7. Algernon Blackwood, “The Touch of Pan,” in Tales of Terror & Darkness (London/New York/Sydney/Toronto: Spring Books, 1977), pp. 300–301. 8. Otto Julius Bierbaum, Stuck (Leipzig: Velhagen und Klasing, 1908). 9. Thomas Mann, “Death in Venice,” in Stories of Three Decades (London: Secker & Warburg, 1946), p. 416. 10. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Josefine Nauckhoff (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 110. 11. Thomas Mann, “Death in Venice,” in Stories of Three Decades (Note 9), p. 379. 12. Hans Werner Henze, Bohemian Fifths: An Autobiography, trans. Stewart Spencer (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), p. 217. 13. Michael Kennedy, The Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), p. 155. (The quotation is by an anonymous critic, published in The Musical Times.) 14. Dennis Wheatley, The Devil Rides Out (Geneva: Edito-Service S. A./Heron Books, 1972), pp. 109–110. 15. Phil Baker, The Devil Is a Gentleman: The Life and Times of Dennis Wheatley (Sawtry: Daedalus, 2009), Frontispiece. 16. E. F. Benson, The Inheritor (Brighton: Millivres Books, 1992), p. 30.


Notes. Chapter Four 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24.

op. cit., p. 29. loc. cit. op. cit., p. 78. op. cit., p. 57. op. cit., p. 124. op. cit., p. 125. op. cit., p. 171. Dion Fortune, The Goat-Foot God (Wellingborough: Aquarian Press, 1989), pp. 265–

266. 25. op. cit., p. 276. 26. Friedrich Nietzsche (trans. R. J. Hollingdale), Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969), p. 109. 27. E. F. Benson, The Inheritor (Note 16), p. 195. 28. Friedrich Nietzsche (trans. R. J. Hollingdale), Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One (Note 26), p. 131. 29. E. F. Benson, The Inheritor (Note 16), pp. 283–284. 30. op. cit., p. 254. 31. op. cit., p. 289. 32. op. cit., p. 92. 33. Edward Bulwer-Lytton (Lord Lytton), A Strange Story (London: Routledge, 1910), pp. 131–132. 34. George Bernard Shaw, “The Perfect Wagnerite,” in Major Critical Essays: The Quintessence of Ibsenism. The Perfect Wagnerite. The Sanity of Art (London: Constable, 1932), pp. 213–214. 35. Walter Pater, The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry (London: Macmillan, 1915), p. 250. 36. E. F. Benson, The Inheritor (Note 16), p. 303. 37. Rupert Croft-Cooke, Feasting with Panthers: A New Consideration of Some Late Victorian Writers (London: W. H. Allen, 1967), p. 2. 38. Friedrich Nietzsche Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Note 26), p. 68.

Chapter Four 1. Dirk Bogarde, A Postillion Struck by Lightning (London: Chatto & Windus, 1977), p. 191. 2. Laurence Schifano, Luchino Visconti: The Flames of Passion, trans. William S. Byron (London: Collins, 1990), p. 366. 3. Robert Tanitch, Dirk Bogarde: The Complete Career Illustrated (London: Ebury Press, 1988), p. 168. 4. op. cit., p. 170. 5. Susan Sontag, “Fascinating Fascism,” in The Nazification of Art: Art, Design, Music, Architecture and Film in the Third Reich, ed. Brandon Taylor and Wilfred van ver Will (Winchester: The Winchester Press, 1990), p. 217. 6. loc. cit. 7. Laurence Schifano, Luchino Visconti: The Flames of Passion, trans. William S. Byron (Note 2), p. 377. 8. Martin Fido, Oscar Wilde (London: Cardinal/Sphere, p. 1976), p. 83. 9. Christopher McIntosh, The Swan King: Ludwig II of Bavaria (London: Allen Lane, 1982), p. 14. 10. Dirk Bogarde, Snakes and Ladders (London: Book Club Associates/Chatto & Windus, 1978), p. 311. 11. Thomas Mann, A Sketch of My Life, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1960), p. 46. 12. Thomas Mann, “Death in Venice,” in Stories of Three Decades (London: Secker & Warburg, 1946), p. 402. 13. Gilbert Adair, “The Real Story of Death in Venice,” Sunday Correspondent, April 8, 1990, p. 19. 14. loc. cit.

Notes. Chapter Five


15. loc. cit. 16. op. cit., p. 21. 17. op. cit., p. 20. 18. op. cit., p. 24. 19. Thomas Mann, Stories of Three Decades (Note 12), p. 387. 20. Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Birth of Tragedy,” in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, trans. Walter Kauffmann (New York: Vintage/Random House, 1967), p. 143. 21. Clifford Hindley, “Eros in Life and Death,” in The Cambridge Companion to Benjamin Britten, ed. Mervyn Cooke (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 156. 22. Humphrey Carpenter, Benjamin Britten: A Biography (London: Faber and Faber, 1992), p. 555. 23. Dirk Bogarde, Snakes and Ladders (Note 10), p. 313. 24. T. E. Apter, Thomas Mann: The Devil’s Advocate (London: Macmillan, 1978), pp. 142– 143. 25. Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter (London: Secker & Warburg, 1949), pp. 154–155. 26. Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Wagner Case,” in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, trans. Walter Kauffmann (Note 20), p. 166. 27. Laurence Schifano, Luchino Visconti: The Flames of Passion, trans. William S. Byron (Note 2), p. 378. 28. Dirk Bogarde, Snakes and Ladders (Note 10), p. 316.

Chapter Five 1. Quentin Crisp, Quentin Crisp Live in L.A., TV show, 1980. 2. Modris Eksteins, Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (London: Papermac, 2000), p. 321. 3. op. cit., p. 304. 4. Friedrich Nietzsche, “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life,” in Untimely Meditations, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 83. 5. T. E. Apter, Thomas Mann: The Devil’s Advocate (London: Macmillan, 1978), p. 138. 6. Thomas Mann, “Mario and the Magician,” in Stories of Three Decades (London: Secker & Warburg, 1946), p. 541. 7. op. cit., p. 531. 8. op. cit., p. 533. 9. op. cit., p. 538. 10. op. cit., p. 556. 11. op. cit., p. 540 12. op. cit., p. 553. 13. loc. cit. 14. Adolf Hitler, speech made in Munich on March 15, 1956. 15. Thomas Mann, “Mario and the Magician,” Stories of Three Decades (Note 6), pp. 555–56. 16. op. cit., p. 542–543. 17. Thomas Mann, “To the Editor of Common Sense,” in Pro and Contra Wagner, trans. Allan Blunden (London: Faber and Faber, 1985), p. 201. 18. Ian Kershaw, Hitler: 1889 –1936: Hubris (Allen Lane/Penguin, 1998), p. 280. 19. Thomas Mann, “Mario and the Magician,” in Stories of Three Decades (Note 6), pp. 565– 66. 20. Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs by Albert Speer, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (London: Macmillan, 1970), pp. 18–19. 21. Modris Eksteins, Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (London: Papermac, 2000), p. 303. 22. loc. cit. 23. Charles Rosen, The Romantic Generation (London: HarperCollins, 1996), pp. 647–48. 24. Ian Kershaw, Hitler: 1889 –1936: Hubris (Note 18), p. 46. 25. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Josefine Nauckhoff (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 110.


Notes. Third Intermission

26. Aleister Crowley, The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autohagiography, ed. John Symonds (Arkana/Penguin, 1989), p. 416. 27. op. cit., 746. 28. Colin Wilson, Aleister Crowley: The Nature of the Beast (Wellingborough: Aquarian Press, 1987, p. 87. 29. Phil Baker, The Devil Is a Gentleman: The Life and Times of Dennis Wheatley (Sawtry: Daedalus, 2009), p. 330. 30. Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter (London: Secker & Warburg, 1949), p. 373. 31. op. cit., p. 30. 32. op. cit., p. 8. 33. op. cit., p. 368. 34. T. E. Apter, Thomas Mann: The Devil’s Advocate (Note 5), p. 141. 35. Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979), p. 126.

Third Intermission 1. Richard C. Beacham, “Adolphe Appia and the Staging of Wagnerian Opera,” The Opera Quarterly 1, no. 3 (Autumn 1983): 135–38. 2. Günther Schneider-Siemssen (in conversation with Kurt Pahlen), The Stage, My Life, trans. James Mulder (Vienna, Springer Verlag, 2001). 3. Critic Robert LePage disparagingly complained that in the Met’s 2011 production of Die Walküre, “Fricka, sung by Stephanie Blythe, was transported on the planks by a large chair with animals as armrests that looked as if it belonged in a Disney movie rather than a Wagner opera.” 4. Thomas Mann, Diaries 1918 –1939, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (London: Robin Clark, 1984), pp. 280–82. 5. Manfred Eger, Richard Wagner Museum, Bayreuth, Guidebook (Bayreuth: Richard Wagner Foundation), Fifth Edition. 6. Michael Oliver, “Frozen Music? Audible Architecture?” Radio 3 Magazine 2, no. 10 (October 1983): p. 38. 7. Richard Wagner, Letter to King Ludwig II, December 30, 1880, in Selected Letters of Richard Wagner, trans. Stewart Spencer (London/Melbourne: Dent, 1987), p. 904. 8. George Bernard Shaw, Music in London 1890 –94: Criticisms Contributed Week by Week to the World in Three Volumes, Volume III (New York: Vienna House, 1973), p. 94. 9. Harold Osborne, ed., The Oxford Companion to Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), p. 142. 10. Richard Wagner, Letter to Mathilde Wesendonck, April 10, 1860, in Selected Letters of Richard Wagner, trans. Stewart Spencer (Note 7), p. 491. 11. Michael, “Future Fantasias, 1940,” (Progress City USA, http://progresscityusa). 12. J. P. Storm and Mario Dreßler, Im Reich der Michey-Maus: Walt Disney in Deutschland 1927–1945 (Berlin: Henschel, 1991), p. 110. 13. (accessed October 5, 2011). 14. Graham Cooper, Leni Riefenstahl and Olympia (Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1986), pp. 222–23. 15. Richard Fricke, “Bayreuth in 1876 (3),” Wagner 12, no. 1 ( January 1991): p. 44. 16. Patrick Carnegie, “Designing Wagner,” in Wagner in Performance, ed. Barry Millington & Stewart Spencer (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1992), p. 50. 17. Cosima Wagner, entry for September 23, 1878, in Diaries, Volume Two, 1878 –1883, trans. Geoffrey Skelton (London: Collins, 1978). 18. Richard Wagner, “Retrospective of the 1876 Festival,” Bayreuth 1988: Review and Preview (Bayreuth: Bayreuth Festspiel, 1988), pp. 9–10. 19. op. cit., Letter from Richard Wagner to King Ludwig II, March 27, 1879, p. 13. 20. Cosima Wagner, entry for September 9, 1876, in Diaries, Volume One, 1869 –1877, trans. Geoffrey Skelton (London: Collins, 1978), pp. 921–22.

Notes. Third Intermission


21. Richard Wagner, “Retrospective of the 1876 Festival,” Bayreuth 1988: Review and Preview (Note 18), p. 10. 22. Maurice Maeterlinck, “Menus propos: le théâtre,” in Symbolist Art Theories: A Critical Antholog y, ed. Henri Dorra (Berkeley, Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, 1994), p. 145. 23. Richard Wagner, letter to Mathilde Wesendonck, October 29, 1859, in Selected Letters of Richard Wagner, trans. Stewart Spencer (London & Melbourne: Dent, 1987), p. 475. 24. Robert Hartford, ed., Bayreuth: The Early Years: An Account of the Early Decades of the Wagner Festival as Seen by the Celebrated Visitors & Participants (London: Gollancz, 1980), Bernard Shaw quoted, p. 226. 25. Henrik Ibsen, “John Gabriel Borkmann,” in Plays: Four, trans. Michael Meyer (London: Eyre Methuen, 1980), p. 197. 26. Richard Wagner, Parsifal ENO Opera Guide, trans. Andrew Porter (London: John Calder, 1986), p. 96. 27. Alan Walker, Franz Liszt: Volume 2: The Final Years, 1861–1886 (London: Faber and Faber, 1997), p. 50. 28. Theodor Adorno, In Search of Wagner, trans. Rodney Livingstone (London: Verso, 1984), p. 107. 29. Anselm Gerhard, The Urbanization of Opera, trans. Mary Whittall (Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press, 1998), pp. 199–200. 30. Cosima Wagner, entry for August 13, 1876, in Diaries, Volume One, 1869 –1877, trans. Geoffrey Skelton (Note 20), pp. 918–19. 31. Richard Wagner, Das Rheingold, trans. H. & F. Corder (London: Schott, 1903), p. 1. 32. Robert L. Delevoy, Symbolists and Symbolism trans. Barbara Bray, Elizabeth Wrightson and Bernard C. Swift (London: Macmillan, 1982), Charles Baudelaire quoted, p. 18. 33. Theodor Adorno, In Search of Wagner, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Note 28), p. 85n. 34. op. cit., p. 85. 35. Rudolf Sabor, The Real Wagner (London: Andre Deutsch, 1987), p. 282. 36. Christopher McIntosh, The Swan King: Ludwig II of Bavaria (London: Allen Lane, 1982), p. 19. 37. Robert Hartford, ed., Bayreuth: The Early Years: An Account of the Early Decades of the Wagner Festival as Seen by the Celebrated Visitors & Participants (Note 24), Romain Rolland quoted, p. 218. 38. Theodor Adorno, In Search of Wagner, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Note 28), p. 107. 39. Cosima Wagner, Diaries, Volume One, 1869 –1877, trans. Geoffrey Skelton (Note 20), entry for January 5, 1872, p. 446. 40. Theodor Adorno, In Search of Wagner, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Note 28), p. 109. 41. Richard Wagner Opera and Drama, trans. W. Ashton Ellis (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), p. 95. 42. Jeremy Tambling, Opera, Ideolog y and Film (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987), p. 75. 43. Charles Rosen, The Romantic Generation (London: HarperCollins, 1996), p. 117. 44. Richard Wagner Götterdämmerung, trans. H. & F. Corder (London: Schott, 1903), pp. 336–39. 45. Martin van Amerongen, Wagner A Case History (De buikspreker van God, trans. Stewart Spencer and Dominic Cakebread), London: J, M, Dent, 1983, p. 44. I 46. Richard Wagner, “The Art-Work of the Future,” in The Art-Work of the Future and Other Works, trans. W. Ashton Ellis (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1993), pp. 71–84. 47. op. cit., p. 182. 48. op. cit., pp. 190–194n. 49. op. cit., p. 182. 50. Arnold Schöenberg, “Art and the Moving Pictures,” in Style and Idea, ed. Leo Black and Leonard Stein (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984), p. 153. 51. Cosima Wagner, entry for July 26, 1876, in Diaries, Volume One, 1869 –1877, trans. Geoffrey Skelton (Note 20), p. 817. 52. Richard Wagner, “The Art-Work of the Future,” in The Art-Work of the Future and Other Works, trans. W. Ashton Ellis (Note 45) p. 209. 53. op. cit., p. 185.


Notes. Chapters Six and Seven

Chapter Six 1. Laurence Schifano, Luchino Visconti: The Flames of Passion, trans. William S. Byron (London: Collins, 1990), p. 367. 2. op. cit., pp. 367–68. 3. op. cit., p. 372. 4. Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter (London: Secker & Warburg, 1956), p. 13. 5. op. cit., p. 14. 6. Laurence Schifano, Luchino Visconti: The Flames of Passion, trans. William S. Byron (Note 1), p. 371. 7. Dirk Bogarde, Snakes and Ladders (London: Book Club Associates/Chatto & Windus, 1978), pp. 291–92. 8. Dirk Bogarde, An Orderly Man (London: Chatto & Windus/Hogarth, 1983), pp. 161–63. 9. G. F. W. Hegel, Reason in History: A General Introduction to the Philosophy of History, trans. Robert S. Hartman (New York: Liberal Arts Press/Bobbs-Merrill, 1953), p. 43. 10. Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter (London: Nationwide Book Service/Secker & Warburg, 1979), p. 492. 11. Laurence Schifano, Luchino Visconti: The Flames of Passion, trans. William S. Byron (Note 1), p. 327. 12. Ingrid Ehrhardt and Simon Reynolds, ed., Kingdom of the Soul: Symbolist Art in Germany 1870 –1920 (Munich/London/New York: Prestel, 2000), p. 74.

Chapter Seven 1. Dirk Bogarde, Snakes and Ladders (London: Book Club Associates/Chatto & Windus, 1978), p. 181. 2. David Huckvale, Richard Strauss: A Musical Ostrich? (BBC Radio 3 documentary, broadcast August 8, 1999), archive recording of Lotte Lehmann’s reminiscences quoted. 3. Edward Lockspeiser, Debussy: His Life and Mind, Volume II, 1902 –1918 (London: Cassell, 1965), p. 104. 4. Kurt Wilhelm, Richard Strauss: An Intimate Portrait, trans. Mary Whittall (London: Thames and Hudson, 1989), p. 256. 5. Thomas Mann, Diaries 1918 –1939, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (London: Robin Clark, 1984), p. 209. 6. Kurt Wilhelm, Richard Strauss: An Intimate Portrait, trans. Mary Whittall (Note 4), p. 131. 7. Roger Nichols, ed., Debussy Remembered (London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1992), Debussy’s conversations with Victor Segalen, p. 148. 8. Gerald Abraham, The Concise Oxford History of Music (Reader’s Union/Oxford University Press: Newton Abbot, 1979), p. 809. 9. Kurt Wilhelm, Richard Strauss: An Intimate Portrait, trans. Mary Whittall (Note 4), p. 106. Strauss explained, “I will call my Alpine Symphony the Antichrist, because in it there is moral purification by means of one’s own strength, liberation through work, worship of glorious, eternal nature.” 10. William Mann, CD booklet for Richard Strauss Eine Alpensinfonie, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Herbert von Karajan, Deutsche Grammophon 439017–2, p. 11. 11. Joseph Lanza, Phallic Frenzy: Ken Russell and His Films (London: Aurum Press, 2008), p. 82. 12. Kurt Wilhelm, Richard Strauss: An Intimate Portrait, trans. Mary Whittall (Note 4), p. 213. Strauss’s actual words were: “Must one become seventy years old to recognize that one’s greatest strength lies in creating musical kitsch?” 13. Alan Jefferson, Richard Strauss (London: Macmillan, 1975), p. 94. 14. Alan Kendal, The Life of Beethoven (London/New York/Sydney/Toronto: Hamlyn, 1978), p. 62. 15. Michael Tanner, “The Total Work of Art,” in The Wagner Companion, ed. Peter Burbidge and Richard Sutton (London & Boston: Faber and Faber, 1979), p. 145.

Notes. Chapter Seven


16. Barry Millington, Wagner (London & Melbourne/Dent, 1984), p. 253. 17. op. cit., p. 254. 18. op. cit., p. 253. 19. Elliot Zuckerman, The First Hundred Years of Wagner’s Tristan (New York: Columbia University Press, 1964), p. 105. 20. Salvador Dalí, Diary of a Genius, trans. Richard Howard (London: Picador/Pan, 1976), p. 27. 21. op. cit., pp. 27–28. 22. Joachim Köhler, Richard Wagner: The Last of the Titans, trans. Stewart Spencer (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004), p. 455. 23. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, Hitler: A Film from Germany, trans. Joachim Neugroschel (Manchester: Carcanet New Press, 1982), p. 129. 24. op. cit., p. 13. 25. op. cit., p. 3. 26. Jean Michel Palmier, Weimar in Exile: The Antifascist Emigration in Europe and America, trans. David Fernbach (London: Verso, 2006), pp. 606–07. 27. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, Hitler: A Film from Germany, trans. Joachim Neugroschel (Note 23), p. 7. 28. op. cit., p. 9. 29. loc. cit. 30. Alan Baker, Invisible Eagle: The History of Nazi Occultism (London: Virgin, 2000), Louis Pauwels & Jacques Bergier quoted, p. 217. 31. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg Hitler: A Film from Germany, trans. Joachim Neugroschel (Note 23), p. 37. 32. op. cit., Susan Sontag’s preface, p. xi. 33. op. cit., p. 233. 34. op. cit., p. 109. 35. op. cit., Susan Sontag’s preface, p. xi. 36. op. cit., p. 71. 37. op. cit., p. 83. 38. op. cit., p. 127. 39. op. cit., p. 207. 40. op. cit., p. 242. 41. op. cit., p. 83. 42. op. cit., p. 102. 43. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust: Part One, trans. David Luke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 53. 44. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, Hitler: A Film from Germany, trans. Joachim Neugroschel (Note 23), p. 96. 45. op. cit., p. 101. 46. Alan Baker, Invisible Eagle: The History of Nazi Occultism (Note 30), p. 99. 47. Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979, p. 34. 48. loc. cit. 49. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg (trans. Joachim Neugroschel), Hitler: A Film from Germany (Note 23), p. 136. 50. loc. cit. 51. op. cit., p. 168. 52. Cosima Wagner, Diaries, Volume Two, 1878 –1883, trans. Geoffrey Skelton (London: Collins, 1978), entry for December 19, 1881. 53. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, Hitler: A Film from Germany, trans. Joachim Neugroschel (Note 23), p. 179. 54. loc. cit. 55. op. cit., p. 212. 56. op. cit., p. 18. 57. op. cit., p. 12. 58. Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Wagner Case,” The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, trans. Walter Kauffmann (New York: Vintage/Random House, 1967), p. 176.


Notes. Epilogue

59. Carl Gustav Jung Psycholog y and Alchemy, trans. R. F. C. Hull (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980), p. 313n. 60. Joachim Köhler (trans. Ronald Taylor), Wagner’s Hitler: The Prophet and His Disciple (Cambridge: Polity Press), p. 238. 61. op. cit., p. 239. 62. Joachim Köhler (trans. Ronald Taylor), Nietzsche and Wagner: A Lesson in Subjugation (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998), p. 144. 63. Richard Wagner (trans. Stewart Spencer), Selected Letters of Richard Wagner (London and Melbourne: Dent, 1987), letter to Judith Gautier, February 6, 1878, p. 881. Wagner wrote: “The little bottle of rose-water was completely ruined by cold water, and in my clumsiness I dropped the larger bottle as I was trying to arrange it with the alcohol: it broke and its contents went all over the carpet; what really surprised me, however, was how little effect the smell had, since I would have expected it to have given me 1,000 headaches!” 64. Thomas Mann, “The Sorrows and Grandeur of Richard Wagner” in Pro and Contra Wagner, trans. Allan Blunden (London: Faber and Faber, 1985), p. 121. 65. Richard Wagner, “Religion and Art,” in Religion and Art, trans. W. Ashton Ellis (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1994), p. 213. 66. Robin Holloway, Debussy and Wagner (London: Eulenburg, 1979), p. 20. 67. Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Case of Wagner,” in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1967), p. 184.

Epilogue 1. Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Birth of Tragedy,” The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1967), p. 56. 2. John Huntley, British Film Music (London: Skelton Robinson, 1947), p. 187. 3. Tony Thomas, Music for the Movies (New York: Tantivy Press, 1973), p. 171. George Antheil quoted. 4. Tom Levin, “The Acoustic Dimension: Notes on Cinema Sound,” in Screen 25, no. 3 (May/June 1984): 62. 5. Richard Wagner, letter to August Röckel, August 23, 1856, in Selected Letters of Richard Wagner, trans. Stewart Spencer (London/Melbourne: Dent, 1987), p. 358. 6. Gustave Flaubert, The Temptation of St Antony, trans. Kitty Mrosovsky (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983), p. 232. 7. Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Volume I, trans. E. F. J. Payne (New York: Dover, 1969), pp. 262–63. 8. op. cit., p. 264. 9. Edward Lockspeiser, Debussy: His Life and Mind, Volume II, 1902 –1918 (London: Cassell, 1965), p. 68. 10. Richard Wagner, “Beethoven” (1870), Actors and Singers, trans. W. Ashton Ellis (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), p. 106. 11. Richard Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Mainz: Schott, 1903), pp. 403–07. 12. John Culshaw, Reflections on Wagner’s Ring (London: Secker & Warburg, 1976), p. 64. 13. Edward Buscombe, Making “Legend of the Werewolf ” (London: British Film Institute, 1976), pp. 102–03. 14. Joan Chissell, Schumann (London, Toronto/Melbourne: Dent, 1977), p. 90. 15. Igor Stravinsky, “Igor Stravinsky on Film Music as told to Ingolf Dahl,” in The Musical Digest, September 1946. 16. Thomas Mann, “The Sorrows and Grandeur of Richard Wagner,” in Pro and Contra Wagner, trans. Allan Blunden (London: Faber and Faber, 1985), p. 108.

Bibliography Abraham, Gerald. The Concise Oxford History of Music. Reader’s Union/Oxford University Press: Newton Abbot, 1979. Adair, Gilbert. “The Real Story of Death in Venice.” Sunday Correspondent, April 8, 1990. Adorno, Theodor. In Search of Wagner. Translated by Rodney Livingstone. London: Verso, 1984. Apter, T. E. Thomas Mann: The Devil’s Advocate. London: Macmillan, 1978. Arnold, Matthew. Culture and Anarchy. Edited by Samuel Lipman. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1994. Baigent, Michael, and Richard Leigh. Secret Germany: Claus von Stauffenberg and the Mystical Crusade Against Hitler. London: Jonathan Cape, 1994. Baker, Alan. Invisible Eagle: The History of Nazi Occultism. London: Virgin, 2000. Baker, Phil. The Devil Is a Gentleman: The Life and Times of Dennis Wheatley. Sawtry: Daedalus, 2009. Benson, E. F. The Inheritor. Brighton: Millivres, 1992. Berlioz, Hector. The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz. Translated by David Cairns. London: Cardinal/ Sphere, 1990. Bierbaum, Otto Julius. Stuck. Leipzig: Velhagen und Klasing, 1908. Blackwood, Algernon. Tales of Terror & Darkness. London: Spring, 1977. Blunt, Wilfrid. The Dream King: Ludwig II of Bavaria. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1970. Bogarde, Dirk. An Orderly Man. London: Chatto & Windus/Hogarth, 1983. _____. A Postillion Struck by Lightning. London: Chatto & Windus, 1977. _____. Snakes and Ladders. London: Book Club Associates/Chatto & Windus, 1978. Budden, Julian. Puccini: His Life and Works. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Bulwer-Lytton, Edward (Lord Lytton). A Strange Story. London: Routledge, 1910. Burbidge, Peter, and Richard Sutton, Richard, eds. The Wagner Companion. London: Faber and Faber, 1979. Burgess, Anthony. You’ve Had Your Time: Being the Second Part of the Confessions of Anthony Burgess. London: William Heinemann, 1990. Buscombe, Edward. Making “Legend of the Werewolf.” London: British Film Institute, 1976. Carpenter, Humphrey. Benjamin Britten: A Biography. London: Faber and Faber, 1992. Chissell, Joan. Schumann. London: Dent, 1977. Coldstream, John. Dirk Bogarde, the Authorised Biography. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004. Conradi, Peter. Hitler’s Piano Player: The Rise and Fall of Ernst Hanfstaengl. London: Duckworth, 2006. Cooke, Mervyn, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Benjamin Britten. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Cooper, Graham. Leni Riefenstahl and Olympia. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1986. Croft-Cooke, Rupert. Feasting with Panthers: A New Consideration of Some Late Victorian Writers. London: W. H. Allen, 1967. Crowley, Aleister. The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autohagiography. Edited by John Symonds. London: Arkana/Penguin, 1989. Culshaw, John. Reflections on Wagner’s Ring. London: Secker & Warburg, 1976.




Dalí, Salvador. Diary of a Genius. Translated by Richard Howard. London: Picador/Pan, 1976. D’Annunzio, Gabrielle. The Flame. Translated by Susan Bassnett. London: Quartet, 1991. _____. The Triumph of Death. Translated by Georgina Harding. Sawtry: Daedalus, 1990. Debussy, Claude. Correspondance 1884 –1918. Edited by François Lesure. Paris: Hermann, 1929. Delevoy, Robert L. Symbolists and Symbolism. Translated by Barbara Bray, Elizabeth Wrightson, and Bernard C. Swift. London: Macmillan, 1982. Dorra, Henri, ed. Symbolist Art Theories: A Critical Antholog y. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. Eckermann, John Peter. Conversations of Goethe. Translated by John Oxenford. London: George Bell & Sons, 1883. Eger, Manfred. Richard Wagner Museum, Bayreuth (Guidebook). Bayreuth: Richard Wagner Foundation, Fifth Edition[1]. Ehrhardt, Ingrid, and Simon Reynolds, eds. Kingdom of the Soul: Symbolist Art in Germany 1870 – 1920. Munich/London/New York: Prestel, 2000. Eksteins, Modris. Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age. London: Papermac, 2000. Fido, Martin. Oscar Wilde. London: Cardinal/Sphere, 1973. Fortune, Dion. The Goat-Foot God. Wellingborough: Aquarian, 1989. Fricke, Richard. “Bayreuth in 1876.” Wagner 12, no. 1 ( January 1991): 3. Gerhard, Anselm. The Urbanization of Opera. Translated by Mary Whittall. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1998. Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Faust: Part One. Translated by David Luke. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987. Hartford, Robert, ed. Bayreuth: The Early Years: An Account of the Early Decades of the Wagner Festival as Seen by the Celebrated Visitors & Participants. London: Gollancz, 1980. Hayman, Ronald. Thomas Mann. London: Bloomsbury, 1995. Hindemith, Paul. The Craft of Musical Composition. Translated by Arthur Mendel. New York: Associated Music, 1945. Hegel, G. W. F. Philosophy of Mind. Translated by W. Wallace & A. V. Miller; revised by Michael Inwood. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. _____. Reason in History: A General Introduction to the Philosophy of History. Translated by Robert S. Hartman. New York: Liberal Arts Press/Bobbs-Merrill, 1953. Henze, Hans Werner. Bohemian Fifths: An Autobiography. Translated by Stewart Spencer. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998. Hitler, Adolf. Hitler’s Table Talk 1941–1944: His Private Conversations. Translated by Norman Cameron and R. H. Stevens. New York: Enigma, 2000. Holloway, Robin. Debussy and Wagner. London: Eulenburg, 1979. Homer. The Odyssey. Translated by E. V. Rieu. London: Guild/Penguin, 1987. Honderich, Ted, ed. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. Huntley, John. British Film Music. London: Skelton Robinson, 1947. Ibsen, Henrik. Plays: Four. Translated by Michel Meyer. London: Eyre Methuen, 1980. Irving, Laurence. Henry Irving. London: Faber and Faber, 1951. Jefferson, Alan. Richard Strauss. London: Macmillan, 1975. Jung, Carl Gustav. Essays on Contemporary Events. Translated by Elizabeth Welsh, Barbara Hannah, and Mary Briner. London: Kegan Paul, 1947. _____. Psycholog y and Alchemy. Translated by R. F. C. Hull. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980. Kaufmann, Walter. Nietzsche, Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. New Jersey: Princeton, 1974. Kennedy, Michael. The Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Oxford: Clarendon, 1992. Kendal, Alan. The Life of Beethoven. London/New York/Sydney/Toronto: Hamlyn, 1978. Kershaw, Ian. Hitler: 1889 –1936: Hubris. London: Allen Lane/Penguin, 1998. Köhler, Joachim. Nietzsche and Wagner: A Lesson in Subjugation. Translated by Ronald Taylor. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998. Köhler, Joachim. Richard Wagner: The Last of the Titans. Translated by Stewart Spencer. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004. Köhler, Joachim. Wagner’s Hitler: The Prophet and His Disciple. Translated by Ronald Taylor. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000. Lanza, Joseph. Phallic Frenzy: Ken Russell and His Films. London: Aurum, 2008. Levin, Tom. “The Acoustic Dimension: Notes on Cinema Sound.” Screen 25, no. 3 (May/June 1984).



Lockspeiser, Edward. Debussy: His Life and Mind, Volume II, 1902–1918. London: Cassell, 1965. Machtan, Lothair. The Hidden Hitler. Translated by John Brownjohn. Oxford: Perseus Press, 2001. Magee, Brian. Wagner and Philosophy. London: Allan Lane, 2000. Mann, Thomas. Buddenbrooks. Translated by H. T. Lowe-Porter. London: Secker & Warburg, 1956. _____. Diaries 1918 –1939. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston. London: Robin Clark, 1984. _____. Doctor Faustus. Translated by H. T. Lowe-Porter. London: Secker & Warburg, 1949. _____. The Magic Mountain. Translated by H. T. Lowe-Porter. United Kingdom: Nationwide Book Service/Secker & Warburg, 1979. _____. Pro and Contra Wagner. Translated by Allan Blunden. London: Faber and Faber, 1985. _____. A Sketch of My Life. Translated by H. T. Lowe-Porter. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1960. _____. Stories of Three Decades. London: Secker & Warburg, 1946. McIntosh, Christopher. The Swan King: Ludwig II of Bavaria. London: Allen Lane, 1982. Metzner, Paul. Crescendo of the Virtuoso: Spectacle, Skill and Self-Promotion in Paris During the Age of Revolution. Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: 1998. Michael. “Future Fantasias, 1940.” Progress City USA, http://progresscityusa. Millington, Barry. Wagner. London: J.M. Dent, 1984. _____, and Stewart Spencer, eds. Wagner in Performance. New Haven/ London: Yale University Press, 1992. Nattiez, Jean-Jacques. Wagner Androg yne. Translated by Stewart Spencer. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993. Nichols, Roger, ed. Debussy Remembered. London: Faber and Faber, 1992. Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner. Translated by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1967. _____. Ecce Homo. Translated by R. J. Hollingdale. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979. _____. The Gay Science. Translated by Josefine Nauckhoff. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. _____. Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One. Translated by R. J. Hollingdale. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969. _____. Twilight of the Idols/The Anti-Christ. Translated by R. J. Hollingdale. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968. _____. Untimely Meditations. Translated by R. J. Hollingdale. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Michael Oliver. “Frozen Music? Audible Architecture.” Radio 3 Magazine 2, no. 10 (October 1983). Osborne, Charles. The Complete Operas of Verdi: A Critical Guide. London: Victor Gollancz, 1988. _____. Verdi. London: Macmillan, 1978. Osborne, Harold, ed. The Oxford Companion to Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970. Palmier, Jean Michel. Weimar in Exile: The Antifascist Emigration in Europe and America. Translated by David Fernbach. London: Verso, 2006. Pater, Walter. The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry. London: Macmillan, 1915. Plato. The Essential Plato. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. United Kingdom: The Softback Preview, 1990. Poe, Edgar Allan. The Portable Poe. Edited by Philip Van Doren Stern. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977. Rhodes, Anthony. The Poet as Superman: A Life of Gabrielle D’Annunzio. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1959. Rose, Paul Lawrence. Wagner: Race and Revolution. London: Faber and Faber, 1992. Rosen, Charles. The Romantic Generation. London: HarperCollins, 1996. Sabor, Rudolf. The Real Wagner. London: Andre Deutsch, 1987. Saki (H. H. Munro). The Short Stories of Saki. London: John Lane/The Bodley Head, 1930. Schifano, Laurence. Luchino Visconti: The Flames of Passion. Translated by William S. Bryon. London: Collins, 1990. Schmidgall, Gary. Literature as Opera. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. Schneider-Siemssen, Günther (in conversation with Kurt Pahlen). The Stage, My Life. Translated by James Mulder. Vienna: Springer Verlag, 2001. Schöenberg, Arnold. Style and Idea. Edited by Leo Black and Leonard Stein. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984. Schopenhauer, Arthur. The World as Will and Representation, Volume 1. Translated by E. F. J. Payne. New York: Dover, 1966.



Sereny, Gitte. Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth. London: Macmillan, 1995. Shaw, George Bernard. Major Critical Essays: The Quintessence of Ibsenism. The Perfect Wagnerite. The Sanity of Art. London: Constable, 1932. _____. Music in London 1890 –94: Criticisms Contributed Week by Week to the World in Three Volumes, Volume III. New York: Vienna House, 1973. Sloane, Sherwin, and Irene Sherwin, eds. The Opera Quarterly 1, no. 3 (Autumn 1983). Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs by Albert Speer. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston. London: Macmillan, 1970. Spotts, Frederic. Bayreuth: A History of the Wagner Festival. London: Yale University Press, 1994. Spotts, Frederic. Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics. London: Hutchinson, 2002. Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle). The Life of Rossini. Translated by Richard N. Coe. London: John Calder/New York: Riverrun, 1985. Stoker, Bram. Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving. London: Heinemann, 1907. Storm, J. P., and Mario Dreßler. Im Reich der Michey-Maus: Walt Disney in Deutschland 1927– 1945. Berlin: Henschel, 1991. Stravinsky, Igor. “Igor Stravinsky on Film Music as Told to Ingolf Dahl.” The Musical Digest, September 1946. Syberberg, Hans-Jürgen. Hitler: A Film from Germany. Translated by Joachim Neugroschel. Manchester, Carcanet New Press, 1982. Tambling, Jeremy. Opera, Ideolog y and Film. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987. Tanitch, Robert. Dirk Bogarde: The Complete Career Illustrated. London: Ebury Press, 1988. Taylor, Brandon, and Wilfred van der Will, eds. The Nazification of Art: Art, Design, Music, Architecture and Film in the Third Reich. Winchester: Winchester Press, 1990. Thomas, Tony. Music for the Movies. New York: Tantivy, 1973. Villiers de l’Isle, Adam. Axel. Translated by M. Gaddis Rose. London: Soho, 1986. Vogt, Matthias Theodor, ed. Bayreuth 1988: Review and Preview. Bayreuth: Bayreuth Festspiel, 1988. Wagner, Cosima. Diaries, Volume One, 1869 –1877. Translated by Geoffrey Skelton. London: Collins, 1978. _____. Diaries, Volume Two, 1878 –1883. Translated by Geoffrey Skelton. London: Collins, 1978. Wagner, Richard. Actors and Singers. Translated by W. Ashton Ellis. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995. _____. The Art-Work of the Future and Other Works. Translated by W. Ashton Ellis. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1993. _____. Götterdämmerung. Translated by H. and F. Corder. London: Schott, 1903. _____. Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Mainz: Schott, 1903. _____. Opera and Drama. Translated by W. Ashton Ellis. Lincoln/London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995. _____. Parsifal ENO Opera Guide. Translated by Andrew Porter. London: John Calder, 1986. _____. Religion and Art. Translated by W. Ashton Ellis. Lincoln/London: University of Nebraska Press, 1994. _____. Das Rheingold. Translated by H. and F. Corder. London: Schott, 1903. _____. Selected Letters of Richard Wagner. Translated by Stewart Spencer. London/ Melbourne: Dent, 1987. _____. Stories and Essays. Edited by Charles Osborne. London: Peter Owen, 1973. Walker, Alan. Franz Liszt: Volume 2: The Final Years, 1861–1886. London: Faber and Faber, 1997. Watson, Derek. Wagner: A Biography. London/Melbourne/Toronto: Dent, 1979. Weiner, Marc A. Wagner and the Anti-Semitic Imagination. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995. Wheatley, Dennis. The Devil Rides Out. Geneva: Edito-Service S. A./Heron Books, 1972. _____, ed. Uncanny Tales 2, Volume 16 of the Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult. London: Sphere, 1974. Wilde, Oscar. The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. London/Glasgow: Collins, 1966. Wilhelm, Kurt. Richard Strauss: An Intimate Portrait. Translated by Mary Whittall. London: Thames and Hudson, 1989. Wilkinson, Anthony. Liszt. London: Macmillan, 1975. Wilson, Colin. Aleister Crowley: The Nature of the Beast. Wellingborough: Aquarian, 1987. Zuckerman, Elliot. The First Hundred Years of Wagner’s Tristan. New York: Columbia University Press, 1964.

Index Numbers in bold italics indicate pages with photographs.

Bantock, Sir Granville 83 The Battle of Britain (dir. Guy Hamilton) 140 Baudelaire, Charles 134, 183–184 Bayreuth Festspielhaus 2, 10, 17, 18, 40, 49, 52, 60, 62, 64, 114, 119, 125, 127, 131, 136, 141–43, 157, 158, 164, 170, 176, 181 Beatrice della Scala 4 Becce, Giuseppe 157 Beethoven, Ludwig van 41, 53, 54, 57–59, 72, 108, 128, 163, 187; Op. 2 Piano Sonatas 57– 59; Op. 7 Piano Sonata in F major 60 Bellini, Vincenzo 5, 8, 14 Benjamin, Walter 17, 102, 111 Benson, E.F. 90–95, 97 Berger, Helmut 6, 9, 39, 47, 50, 110, 144, 145, 147 Bergier, Jacques 169 Bergman, Ingrid 187 Berlioz, Hector 53–54, 56 Bernard, James 194 Beyond Good and Evil (Nietzsche) 87, 174 Bierbaum, Julius 87 Bildt, Paul 44, 157 The Birth of Tragedy (Nietzsche) 68, 75, 105, 137, 183 Bismarck, Otto von 37 Bizet, Georges 93 Blackwood, Algernon 86–87, 94 Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna 38 Blazing Saddles (dir. Mel Brooks) 135 The Blob (dir. Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr.) 1 The Blue Angel (dir. Josef von Sternberg) 146 Blunt, Wilfrid 39 Blythe, Stephanie 208 Böcklin, Arnold 87, 127–128 Bogarde, Dirk 7, 9, 16, 45, 50, 74, 78, 99, 100, 101, 103, 106, 109, 110, 146–48, 150, 155, 158, 160 Bogart, Humphrey 187 Bohnet, Folker 50

Abbey in an Oak Wood (Caspar David Friedrich) 180–81 Abraham, Gerald 162 Adair, Gilbert 104 Adorno, Theodor 57, 61, 63, 65, 132, 135, 136, 137 Aida 14, 132 All Quiet on the Western Front (Remarque) 147 Allen, Irwin 139 Eine Alpensinfonie (Strauss) 62, 162, 210n Alraune (dir. Henrik Galeen) 170 Also Sprach Zarathustra (Nietzsche) 68, 78– 79, 92–93, 97–98, 124, 161, 162 Amerongen, Martin van 139 Anderson, Gerry 166 Andrésen, Björn 109 Années de Pèlerinage (Liszt) 82 Antheil, George 183 Antonioni, Michelangelo 131 Appia, Adolphe 125 L’Après-midi d’un faune (Debussy) 85 Apter, T.E. 23, 26, 75, 80–81, 108, 114, 123 Arabella (Strauss) 162, 210n The Arcadians (Lionel Monckton) 83, 85 Aristotle 175 Arndt von Bohlen und Halbach 144–145 Arnold, Matthew 68 Artenfels, Rainer von 174 “The Artwork of the Future” (Wagner) 41, 140–42 Ave verum corpus (Mozart) 113 Axel (Villiers de l’Isle Adam) 22 Bach, Johann Sebastian 5, 29, 111, 128, 145, 198 Badel, Alan 158 Baer, Harry 168 Baigent, Michael 83 Baker, Phil 121 Der Bannerträger (Lanzinger) 41, 42


218 Boorman, John 138 Borgia, Cesare 70 Bosch, Hieronymus 180 Bradley, Scott 134, 191, 192 Brandt, Carl 130 Braun, Eva 8, 49, 110, 155 Brecht, Bertolt 125, 175, 185–86 Breker, Arno 49 Brides of Dracula (dir. Terence Fisher) 46 Brief Encounter (dir. David Lean) 6 Britten, Benjamin 89, 99–100, 105–06 Brook, Lyndon 158 Brooke-Taylor, Tim 107 Brooks, Mel 135 Bruckner, Anton 41 Budden, Julian 15 Buddenbrooks (Mann) 9, 22, 23–24, 67, 73, 77–78, 100, 108, 110, 145 Bülow, Daniela von 16 Bülow, Hans von 14, 16, 44, 68 Bulwer-Lytton, Sir Edward (Lord Lytton) 95–97 Burgess, Anthony 2, 151 Burns, Mark 44, 45, 74, 78 Burton, Richard 4, 114, 182 Byron, George Gordon, Lord 54 Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (dir. Robert Weine) 170 Cagliostro, Count 108 Captain Scarlet television series 166 Carmen (Bizet) 93 Carnegie, Patrick 130 Carpenter, Humphrey 105 Casablanca (dir. Michael Curtiz) 187–92, 189 Castelbarco, Emanuele 5 Cavani, Liliana 100, 148 Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne (Liszt) 62 Chabrier, Emmanuel 20 Chamberlain, Houston Stewart 64, 132 Chamberlain, Neville 169 Chaplin, Charles 164, 170 Chavannes, Pierre Puvis 85 Chéreau, Patrice 126, 128, 133, 142, 176 “Christmas: 1924” (Thomas Hardy) 124 Chopin, Frédéric 113, 146 Churchill, Sir Winston 40 Citizen Kane (dir. Orson Welles) 138 Clerici, Fabrizio 6 Clever, Edith 180 Colin (E.F. Benson) 90 Colin II (E.F. Benson) 90 Colley, Kenneth 162 Conradi, Peter 55 Cooper, Merian C. 192 Corman, Roger 140 Cornelius, Peter 46 “Correspondances” (Beaudelaire) 183–84 The Corsair (Byron) 54 Countess Dracula (dir. Peter Sasdy) 196

Index Crisp, Quentin 110 A Cross in the Mountains (Caspar David Friedrich) 177 Crowley, Aleister 89, 120–21 Cukor, George 158 Cushing, Peter 158 Dalí, Salvador 166 Daltry, Roger 166 The Damned (dir. Luchino Visconti) 3, 5, 7– 9, 21, 37, 38, 49, 50, 51, 66, 69, 100, 102, 106, 108, 122–23, 144–56, 154, 174, 175 Dance of the Seven Veils (dir. Ken Russell) 4, 160–62 Dance of the Vampires see The Fearless Vampire Killers D’Annunzio, Gabrielle 9, 14, 16–18, 20–22, 26, 74 Danse sacrée et danse profane (Debussy) 85 Dante Alighieri 171–72 “Dante” Sonata (Liszt) 60 Dante Symphony (Liszt) 132 Daphnis et Chloé (Ravel) 85 Darwin, Charles 82, 83 Davis, Bette 186 Death in Venice (Britten) 99–100, 105–06 Death in Venice (dir. Luchino Visconti) 3, 5, 7–9, 37, 39, 44, 46, 51, 66–67, 74–75, 78– 80, 97, 99, 102–07, 109, 109, 110, 144, 151, 152, 160 “Death in Venice” (Mann) 2, 8, 9, 18, 25, 69, 74, 75–77, 78–81, 87, 103–05, 107, 108, 115 Debussy, Claude 7, 15, 20, 57, 61, 62, 85, 160, 161, 181, 186 “The Decay of Lying” (Wilde) 75 Delius, Frederick 93 Denham, Maurice 196 The Devil Rides Out (Dennis Wheatley) 90 Diary of a Genius (Salvador Dalí) 166–67 Dido and Aeneas (Purcell) 194 Dieterle, William 158 Dietrich, Marlene 145–146 Disney, Walt 89, 113, 126, 128, 130, 171, 208n The Divine Comedy (Dante) 132, 171–72 Doctor Faustus (Mann) 9, 26, 69, 75, 107–08, 110, 120, 121–23, 148 Don Juan (Strauss) 161 Don Quixote (Strauss) 161 Donizetti, Gaetano 5, 14 Doré, Gustave 171 Downfall (dir. Oliver Hirschbiegel) 4 Dracula (dir. Terence Fisher, 1958) 194 The Dream of Ossian (Ingres) 167 Dreyer, Carl Theodor 131 Dudley, William 143 Dukas, Paul 128 “The Dunwich Horror” (H.P. Lovecraft) 86 Dürer, Albrecht 173, 178 Dürkheim, Count 38, 39, 44 Duse, Eleonora 17

Index Earthly Powers (Anthony Burgess) 151 Ecce Homo (Nietzsche) 36, 68, 85 Edison,Thomas 170 Eger, Manfred 127 Eisenstein, Sergei 131 Eksteins, Modris 111, 118, 120 Elfinger, Anton 55, 56 Elgar, Sir Edward 83, 89 Elisabeth, Empress of Austria 42, 44, 51 Ellis, Antonia 164 The End of the World News (Anthony Burgess) 2 Erba, Carla 4, 6, 7 “Eroica” Symphony (Beethoven) 54, 163 Evans, Peter 105 Excalibur (dir. John Boorman) 138 “The Fall of the House of Usher” (Poe) 23–24 Falstaff (Verdi) 11, 15 Fantasia (prod. Walt Disney) 89, 128 Fantin-Latour, Henri 179 Farjeon, Harry 83, 84 Faun and Sea Nymph (Franz von Stuck) 87 Faust (Goethe) 62, 173 Eine Faust Symphonie (Liszt) 127 The Fearless Vampire Killers (aka Dance of the Vampires, dir. Roman Polanski) 170 Die Feen (Wagner) 130 Fest, Joachim 40 Fidelio (Beethoven) 187 Fido, Martin 103 Fidus (Hugo Höppener) 153–54, 173 Fischer, O.W. 157, 159 Fisher, Terence 46, 155 The Flame (D’Annunzio) 16–17, 18, 20, 22 Flaubert, Gustave 185 Fleming, Victor 140, 192 Fluery, Louis 85 The Flying Dutchman (Wagner) 18, 61, 139 Flynn, Errol 140 Förster-Nietzsche, Elisabeth 69 Fortune, Dion 88, 90, 92 Forward, Anthony 7, 103 Frankenstein (dir. James Whale) 113, 166 Frankenstein (Mary Shelley) 165 Der Freischütz (Weber) 108 Freud, Sigmund 2, 35 Fricke, Richard 130 Friedrich, Caspar David 36, 167, 173, 177, 180 Friedrich, Götz 142 Fröbe, Gert 39 Froelich, Carl 157 Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (Nietzsche) 71, 120 From Caligari to Hitler (Siegfried Kracauer) 170 Für Elise (Beethoven) 108 Gable, Christopher 161, 162 Galeen, Henrik 170 Garden, Graeme 107


The Garden of Earthly Delights (Hieronymus Bosch) 180 Gautier, Judith 181, 212n The Gay Science (Nietzsche) see Die fröhliche Wissenschaft Genelli, Giovanni Buonaventura 128, 132 General Introduction to the Philosophy of History (Hegel) 150 Genet, Jean 102 George, Stefan 17, 83 Gerhard, Anselm 132 “German Art and Politics” (Wagner) 164 Gershwin, George 161 Gershwin, Ira 151 The Ghoul (dir. T. Hayes Hunter) 138 Gide, André 147 Gill, André 12, 55, 180 Un giorno di regno (Verdi) 11 Gloeden, Wilhelm von 93 “The Goat-Foot God” (Dion Fortune) 88, 92 Goebbels, Joseph 49, 145, 147, 160, 171 Goebbels, Magda 145, 149 Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 14, 37, 50, 52, 62, 72, 118, 173, 176, 205n The Golden Age (Kenneth Graham) 88–89 Goldfinger (dir. Guy Hamilton) 39 Goldhagen, Daniel 168 Goldwyn, Samuel 142 Gone with the Wind (dir. Victor Fleming) 140, 192 The Goodies 107 Götterdämmerung (Wagner) 4, 13, 34, 61, 71, 138–39, 192–194, 195–98 Gounod, Charles 14 Graham, Kenneth 88–89 Grainger, Stewart 159 Grand Galop chromatique (Liszt) 55, 57 Gray, Barry 166 The Great Dictator (dir. Charles Chaplin) 170 “The Great God Pan” (Machen) 86 Green, Nigel 196 Griem, Helmut 9, 38, 39 Gudden, Dr. Bernhard von 30, 51 Guillerman, John 139 Hakvaag, William 129 Hall, Sir Peter 143 Hamilton, Guy 39, 140 Hamlet (Shakespeare) 5, 155, 176 Hanfstaengl, Ernst 55 Hans Heiling (Marschner) 135 Hardy, Thomas 124 Haugland, Aage 180 Haydn, Franz Josef 59–60, 185 Hayman, Ronald 77 Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich 13, 15, 30, 33–36, 47, 68, 71, 149–50, 175 Heine, Heinrich 24 Henreid, Paul 186, 189 Henze, Hans Werner 89

220 Herrenchiemsee 51, 157 Herrmann, Bernard 138 Herzog, Werner 143 Himmler, Heinrich 118, 174, 175 Hindemith, Paul 20–21 Hindenburg, Paul von 151 Hindley, Clifford 105 Hirschbiegel, Oliver 4 Hitchcock, Alfred 132 Hitler, Adolf 1, 4, 7–9, 13, 16, 18, 21, 26–30, 35–42, 45–52, 55, 57, 63–65, 83, 94, 103, 108, 110, 111, 113–18, 120–122, 126, 128–29, 144, 149, 150, 152, 155, 162, 163, 166, 168–72, 172, 173–76, 179, 182, 187, 188, 198 Hitler: A Film from Germany (dir. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg) 1, 4, 167–72, 172, 173–75 Hitler’s Table Talk 64 Hitler’s Willing Executioners (Daniel Goldhagen) 168 Hoffmann, E.T.A. 2 Hoffmann, Heinrich 65 Hoffmann, Ludwig von 152 Hoffmann von Fallersleben, August Heinrich 123 Hohenschwangau 41, 157 Holland, Hyazinth 38 Hollingdale, R.J. 35 The Holy Family ( Joukowsky) 114, 127 Homer 24 Höppner, Hugo see Fidus Hornig, Richard 50 Horowitz, Vladimir 5 A House of Pomegranates (Wilde) 103 Howard, Trevor 6, 44, 45, 47, 157 Hugo, Victor 73 Les Huguenots (Meyerbeer) 132 Hummel, Johann Nepomuk 193 Humperdinck, Engelbert 177 Hungarian Rhapsodies (Liszt) 59 Hunnenschlacht (Liszt) 132 Hunter, T. Hayes 138 “Hymn to Pan” (Aleister Crowley) 89 Ibsen, Henrik 121, 132 In Search of Wagner (Adorno) 63, 135 Ingres, Jean August Dominique 167 The Inheritor (E.F. Benson) 90–95, 97 L’Innocente (D’Annunzio) 22 The Invisible Man (dir. James Whale) 139 Irving, Sir Henry 55, 62 The Isle of the Dead (Böcklin) 128 Jarre, Maurice 66 Jesus Christ 114 Jobim, Antônio Carlos 58 John Gabriel Borkman (Ibsen) 132 Jolson, Al 164 Jones, Chuck 126 Jordan, Armin 181

Index Joukowsky, Paul von 46, 127, 180, 181 Jung, Carl Gustav 82, 126, 178 Kainz, Josef 50 Kant, Immanuel 33, 86, 185 Karajan, Herbert von 158 Karloff, Boris 113, 138, 166 Kaufman, Walter 69–70 Käutner, Helmut 44, 157 Keats, John 24 Kershaw, Ian 117, 120 Kinderszenen (Schumann) 42, 44 King Kong (dir. Merian C. Cooper) 192 Kinobibliotek (Giuseppe Becce) 157 Kinski, Klaus 157 Kipling, Rudyard 151 Kirchner, Alfred 142 Kirchner, Ernst Ludwig 30 Klages, Ludwig 83 Knowles, Bernard 159 Köhler, Joachim 9, 28, 167 Koldehoff, René 21 Korngold, Erich Wolfgang 140, 158 Kracauer, Siegfried 170 Krick, Karin 180 Krupp family 110, 144 Kutter, Michael 180 Landesman, Cosmo 57 Lang, Fritz 170 Lanzinger, Hubert 41, 42 The Lark Ascending (Vaughan Williams) 89 The Last Days of Hitler (Hugh Trevor-Roper) 155 Laurel, Stan 164 Lean, David 6 Lehár, Franz 41 Lehmann, Lotte 160 Leigh, Richard 83 Leighton, Frederic, Lord 127 Lélio (Berlioz) 55 Leonora No. 3 Overture (Beethoven) 187 LePage, Robert 208n Leuwerik, Ruth 159 Levi, Hermann 132, 164 Levin, Tom 183 Lewis, Al 113 Liberace 55, 113, 142 Lichtgebet (Fidus) 153, 154 Liebig, Justus von 136 The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr (E.T.A. Hoffmann) 2 Life and Works of Richard Wagner (dir. Carl Froelich) 157 Linderhof 30, 41, 46, 50, 51, 158 List, Guido von 38 Liszt, Franz 4, 18, 24, 25, 53–55, 57–63, 65, 111, 113, 127, 132, 158–59, 165, 166 Lisztomania (dir. Ken Russell) 4, 165–66, 165, 181

Index Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B minor 60 Livingstone, Rodney 135 Lloyd, Robert 180 Locke, Camille du 132 Lohengrin (Wagner) 22, 41, 42, 50, 61, 62, 140, 143, 177, 179 London, Jack 147 “Die Loreley” (Heine) 24 Lorre, Peter 170 Louis XIV 53 Lovecraft, H.P. 86 The Loved One (dir. Tony Richardson) 113 Lucifer (Franz von Stuck) 178–79 Ludwig (dir. Luchino Visconti) 1, 3, 6, 8–10, 23, 25, 37–40, 42, 44–51, 45, 108, 151, 152 Ludwig, Emil 168 Ludwig Requiem für einen jungfräulichen König (dir. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg) 166–67, 168, 170, 175 Ludwig II — Glanz und Elend eines Königs (dir. Helmut Käutner) 44, 157, 159 Ludwig II of Bavaria 3, 4, 7–10, 20–23, 25– 27, 30–31, 35, 38–42, 43, 44–52, 61, 64, 102, 103, 111, 113, 127, 136, 141, 152, 153, 157–58, 167, 169, 175, 177–79, 181 Lugosi, Bela 113 M (dir. Fritz Lang) 170 Macbeth (Shakespeare) 110, 147, 150–51, 155 Macbeth (Strauss) 161 Machen, Arthur 86 Machtan, Lothar 49 Maeterlinck, Maurice 131 Magee, Bryan 33 The Magic Bow (dir. Bernard Knowles) 159 Magic Fire (dir. William Dieterle) 158 The Magic Flute (Mozart) 100 The Magic Mountain (Mann) 22, 115, 151–52 The Magic Roundabout (television series) 194 Magick in Theory and Practice (Aleister Crowley) 89 Mahler (dir. Ken Russell) 4, 160, 163–64 Mahler, Gustav 4, 9, 18, 66, 78, 103–06, 109, 164 Mahler’s Fifth Symphony 66, 160 Mangano, Silvana 5, 6, 9, 44 Mann, Heinrich 147 Mann, Thomas 2, 3, 9, 17, 22, 25–27, 30, 32, 37, 40, 44, 46–48, 50, 61, 63, 66, 67, 69, 72–80, 87, 99, 100, 103–108, 110, 114–23, 126, 145, 147, 151, 161, 167, 168, 171, 173, 177, 195, 198 Mannino, Franco 9 “Mario and the Magician” (Mann) 9, 115–16 Marischka, Ernst 42 Marschner, Heinrich 135 Martell, Philip 193 Marx, Karl 135, 179 A Mass of Life (Delius) 93


A Matter of Life and Death (dir. Powell & Pressburger) 140 McIntosh, Christopher 22, 38, 41, 103, 136 McQueen, Steve 1, 139 McVicar, David 29 Meck, Nadezhda von 49 Mein Kampf (Hitler) 150 Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Wagner) 11, 13, 29, 62, 64, 111, 118, 125, 134–35, 136, 164, 165, 187, 191–92 Melancholia (Dürer) 173, 178 Melancholia (dir. Lars von Trier) 57 Mendelssohn, Felix 111 “Menus propos — le théâtre” (Maeterlinck) 131 The Merry Widow (Lehár) 107 Metamorphosen (Strauss) 163 Metternich, Prince Klemens Wenzel von 11 Meyer, Louis B. 142 Meyerbeer, Giacomo 127, 132–33, 137 Millington, Barry 164 Moes, Wládyslaw 104–105 Monckton, Lionel 83 Moog, Heinz 30 “Moonlight” Sonata (Beethoven) 58–60 Mosley, Sir Oswald 30 Moulder-Brown, John 37 Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus 59, 60, 100, 113, 147, 150, 169, 193, 198 Mozartiana (Tchaikovsky) 113 The Munsters (television series) 113 Murnau, F.W. 170 The Music Lovers (dir. Ken Russell) 49 Mussolini, Benito 16, 17, 114, 115, 117 Mussorgsky, Modest 128 Naked Boatmen and Youths on a Green Shore (Ludwig von Hoffmann) 152 Napoleon 54, 163 Nattiez, Jean-Jacques 46 Neuschwanstein 30, 38, 40, 41, 51, 52, 111, 112, 158, 177 Nicholas, Paul 165, 165 Nietzsche, Friedrich 3, 9, 23, 26, 36, 47, 63– 64, 67–72, 76, 78–83, 85, 87, 88, 90, 92– 97, 99, 105, 108–09, 111, 114, 117, 119–24, 126, 137, 150, 161, 162, 174, 177, 179, 181–83 The Night Porter (dir. Liliana Cavani) 100, 101, 102, 148 Nijinsky, Vaslav 85 Nosferatu (dir. F.W. Murnau) 170 Now, Voyager (dir. Irving Rapper) 186, 192 Oddie, Bill 107 Offenbach, Jacques 152 Oliver, Michael 127 One Note Samba (Antônio Carlos Jobim) 58 Opera and Drama (Wagner) 41 The Opinions of Tomcat Murr (E.T.A. Hoffmann) 2 Orsini, Umberto 146



Osborne, Charles 15 Otto of Bavaria, Prince 39, 157 “Pagan” Symphony (Sir Granville Bantock) 83 Paganini, Niccolò 159 Palestrina, Giovanni, Pierluigi 111 Palmer, Tony 1, 4, 18, 114, 145, 182 Pan (Franz von Stuck) 87 Pan (magazine) 87 “Pan” (Oscar Wilde) 85 Pan in the Bush (Otto Julius Bierbaum) 87 Parsifal (Syberberg) 4, 34, 170, 173, 175–82 Parsifal (Wagner) 4, 13, 15, 17, 46, 47, 61, 62, 73, 114, 127, 132, 137, 139, 141, 142, 164, 175–82, 192 “Pastoral” Symphony (Beethoven) 89, 128 “Pastoral” Symphony (Vaughan Williams) 89 Pater, Walter 97 Paul von Turn und Taxis, Prince 41 Pauwels, Louis 169 “The Perfect Wagnerite” (George Bernard Shaw) 96 Petrovna, Sonia 48 Phaedo (Plato) 78 Phaedrus (Plato) 78 Philosophy of Mind (Hegel) 34 Pickup, Ronald 114 The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde) 74, 75, 107 Pictures from Greece (Farjeon) 83, 84 Pierre et Gilles 167 Piloty, Ferdinand 39 Piper, Myfanwy 99, 106 Pitt, Ingrid 196 Platen, August von 25 Plato 46, 67, 75, 78, 91 Poe, Edgar Allan 23 Porel, Marc 50 Poussin, Nicolas 85, 89 Powell, Michael 140 Powell, Robert 160, 164 Pressburger, Emeric 140 Pretorious, Emil 27, 125 Prokofiev, Sergei 41 Proust, Marcel 9, 107, 147, 152 Puccini, Giacomo 5, 14–16, 41 Purcell, Henry 194 Quaglio, Angelo 46 The Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky) 113 Quilligan, Veronica 165 Quo Vadis (Sienkewicz) 104 Rackham, Arthur 135 Rampling, Charlotte 100, 101, 148 Rapper, Irving 186 Rathenau, Walter 147 Raubal, Geli 149 Ravel, Maurice 85

“Reflections of a Non-political Man” (Mann) 46–47 Reich Chancellery 51–52 “Religion and Art” (Wagner) 181 Remarque, Erich Maria 147 The Republic (Plato) 75 Requiem (Verdi) 14 Das Rheingold (Wagner) 58, 61, 119, 133–34, 136, 138, 139, 167, 179, 182, 192, 194–95, 198 Rhodes, Anthony 16 Ricci, Nora 9 Richard, Cliff 158 Richardson, Tony 113 Richter, Hans 14, 158 “The Ride of the Valkyries” (Wagner) 128, 129, 164, 192 Riefenstahl, Leni 118, 130, 134, 165, 171 Rienzi (Wagner) 118, 158, 172, 187 Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolai 194 Der Ring des Nibelung (Wagner) 4, 13, 41, 48, 61, 62, 72, 126, 128, 130, 133, 135, 141–43, 150, 156, 158, 164 173, 176, 186, 187, 192 Robinson, Harry 196 Röhm, Ernst 49, 51, 94, 152 Rolland, Romain 136–37 Roller, Alfred 18 Romanus, Morienus 178 Rosalie 142 Rose, Paul Lawrence 28 Rosen, Charles 119–120, 138 Der Rosenkavalier (Strauss) 5, 162 Rossini, Gioacchino 14, 142 Rousseau, Henri 76 Rubien, Howard Nelson 148 Russell, Ken 4, 49, 159–65, 181 Sabor, Rudolf 136 St. François de Paule marchant sur les flots (Liszt) 127 Saki (H.H. Munro) 86, 87 Salome (Strauss) 161 Sanger, Margaret 147 Sapphic Poem (Sir Granville Bantock) 83 Sappho (Sir Granville Bantock) 83 Sasdy, Peter 196 Schaper, Franz 14 Scheffer, Ary 127 Scheherezade (Rimsky-Korsakov) 194 Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph 47 Schiffano, Laurence 5, 66, 109, 144, 152 Schiller, Friedrich von 50 Schirach, Baldur von 40 Schmidgall, Gary 67 Schneider, Romy 42, 51 Schneider-Siemssen, Günther 126 Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Ludwig 20 Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Malvina 20 Schoenberg, Arnold 7, 119, 123, 141 Schönhals, Albrecht 7, 110

Index Schopenhauer, Arthur 3, 11, 13, 15, 33–35, 67–69, 71–73, 86, 178, 184–85 Schubert, Franz 22, 37, 53 Schubert, Heinz 172, 172 Schuler, Alfred 83 Schumann, Robert 42, 119, 193 Die schweigsame Frau (Strauss) 147 Scriabin, Alexander 83 The Seasons (Haydn) 185 Semper, Gottfried 157 Sereny, Gitte 49 Shakespeare, William 55, 134 Shaw, George Bernard 96–97, 120, 127, 131– 32, 179 She (dir. Merian C. Cooper) 192 Shelley, Mary 165 The Shepherds of Arcadia (Poussin) 89 Sibelius, Jean 128 Siegfried (Wagner) 61, 70, 130, 131, 139, 140, 194 Siegfried Idyll (Wagner) 6 Sienkewicz, Henryk 104 Singer, Peter 33 Sissy films 42 Slocombe, Douglas 158 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (prod. Walt Disney) 128–29 A Song to Remember (dir. Charles Vidor) 113, 159 Song Without End (dir. George Cukor & Charles Vidor) 158 La Sonnambula (Bellini) 8 Sontag, Susan 4, 9, 102, 171 Sophie in Bayern (King Ludwig II’s fiancée) 48, 50 “The Sorrows and Grandeur of Richard Wagner” (Mann) 37, 61, 63, 173 The Sorrows of Young Werther (Goethe) 37 The Sound of Music (Rodgers and Hammerstein) 113 Speer, Albert 40, 49, 50, 117 Spielberg, Steven 126 Spotts, Frederic 40, 41 Stalling, Carl 60, 134, 191, 192 Star Wars films 137, 140 Stassen, Franz, 19, 126, 135, 153 Steiner, Max 183, 186–91 Steinle, Edward Jakob von 127 Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle) 4, 7 Sternberg, Josef von 145–46 Stoker, Bram 62 Stolz, Teresa 7 A Strange Story (Bulwer-Lytton) 95–96 Strauss, Franz 160 Strauss, Johann, Jr. 41, 161 Strauss, Richard 4, 5, 62, 147, 160–63, 210n Stravinsky, Igor 41, 128, 195, 196, 198 Strindberg, August 141 Stuck, Franz von 87, 178–79 “Surprise” Symphony (Haydn) 60


Sutermeister, Heinrich 158 “The Swan of Tuonela” (Sibelius) 128 Swift, Jonathan 68 Syberberg, Amelie 170 Syberberg, Hans-Jürgen 1, 4, 15, 34, 63, 166– 82 Symphonie fantastique (Berlioz) 54 Syrinx (Debussy) 85 Tambling, Jeremy 137 Tanitch, Robert 100 Tanner, Michael 164 Tannhäuser (Wagner) 14, 30, 37, 61, 62, 128, 134, 138 Tchaikovsky, Pyotr 41, 49, 113, 128 Telezynska, Izabella 49 Temptation of St. Antony (Flaubert) 185 Thode, Henry 16 Thorak, Josef 49 Thulin, Ingrid 5, 110, 147, 149, 155 Thunderbirds (television series) 166 To Damascus (Strindberg) 141 Tom and Jerry cartoons 191, 192 Tombe, Eric Gordon 90 “Tonio Kröger” (Mann) 73–74, 80 Toscanini, Arturo 5 Toscanini, Wally 5 Toscanini, Wanda 5 Tosi, Piero 6, 8, 107 Totentanz (Liszt) 166 “A Touch of Pan” (Algernon Blackwood) 86– 87 The Towering Inferno (dir. John Guillermin) 139 Trevor-Roper, Hugh 155 Trier, Lars von 57 “Tristan” (von Platen) 25 Tristan und Isolde (Wagner) 3, 5, 14, 18, 19, 20– 21, 23, 27, 31–32, 37, 41, 46, 47, 62, 64, 68, 72, 73, 108, 134, 152–53, 158, 167, 183, 186 The Triumph of Death (D’Annunzio) 18, 21– 22, 26 Triumph of the Will (dir. Leni Riefenstahl) 118, 134, 165, 171 Troost, Ludwig 113 Trotsky, Leon 2 Il Trovatore (Verdi) 13 Tschudi, Klara 39 Uhland, Ludwig 25, 26 Untimely Meditations (Nietzsche) 111 “The Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life” (Nietzsche) 111 Variations on a Theme of Thomas Tallis (Vaughan Williams) 89 Variations on Greensleeves (Vaughan Williams) 89 Vaughan Williams, Ralph 89, 183 Veidt, Conrad 190



Verdi, Giuseppe 5, 11, 13–16, 13, 41, 118, 132, 137 Verley, Renaud 5 Vidor, Charles 158, 159 Villiers de L’Isle Adam, Jean-Marie-MathiasPhilippe-Auguste, comte de 22 Visconti, Bernabò 4 Visconti, Gian Galeazzo 8 Visconti, Count Giuseppe 6 Visconti, Guido 6 Visconti, Luchino 1, 3–10, 16, 21, 22, 25, 27, 30, 37–39, 42, 44–46, 48–51, 66, 69, 73, 74, 76, 78–80, 97, 99, 100, 102–08, 110, 122, 124, 144–55, 154, 160, 174, 175, 179 Visconti di Modrone, Duke Giuseppe 4, 7 The Vision: Dante and Beatrice (Ary Scheffer) 127 Vittorio Emanuele 11 Wagner (dir. Tony Palmer) 4, 18, 114, 145, 182 Wagner, Cosima (née Liszt) 6, 14, 16, 18, 35, 44, 46, 125, 130, 132, 133, 164 Wagner, Richard 1–20, 12, 22, 23, 26–30, 32–37, 40–42, 48, 51, 52, 55–58, 60–68, 70, 71–73, 75, 77, 85, 93, 103, 105, 108, 111, 114, 117–20, 125–143, 129, 145, 147, 150, 153, 156–60, 163–88, 190–96, 198, 208n 212n Wagner, Siegfried 64, 126 Wagner, Wieland 125–26, 133, 192 Wagner, Winifred 64 Wagner, Wolfgang 125–26, 133 The Wagner Case (Nietzsche) 63, 108–09 Wakeman, Rick 165 Die Walküre (Wagner) 34, 35, 37, 51, 61, 126, 135, 139, 186, 187–88, 190, 208n

Walton, Sir William 89, 140 Watson, Derek 45 Waugh, Evelyn 113 Webern, Anton 7 Weine, Robert 170 Weiner, Marc 28, 29 Welles, Orson 138 Wells, H.G. 139 Wenig, Richard 51 Wesendonck, Mathilde 128 Wewelsburg 118 Whales, James 139 “What Is German?” (Wagner) 164 “What’s Opera, Doc?” (dir. Chuck Jones) 126 Wheatley, Dennis 90 White Fang ( Jack London) 147 Wilde, Oscar 41, 74, 75, 85, 88, 90, 97, 102– 03, 107, 152 Wills, W.H. 62 Wilson, Colin 22, 121 The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Graham) 88, 90 Wood, Charles 182 World as Will and Representation (Schopenhauer) 33, 34, 67 “Wotan” ( Jung) 82–83 Yeats, William Butler 83 Yeaworth, Irvin S., Jr. 1 Zola, Émile 147 Zuckerman, Elliot 164 Zweig, Arnold 147 Zweig, Stefan 147, 163