Blogging from Germany: Richard Wagner

Yesterday as we walked to Andrea's flat for kaffee und kuchen, Tille told us that it was Wagner's 150th and every city was doing its own Ring Cycle or Der Ring des Nibelungen. Wow...go Wagner

The 2013 Ring Cycle at the National Theatre, Mannheim
I've blogged before about the sets in Schnawwl's Alles für das Feuer, based on the Tristan und Isolde story and I might have watched an hour or so of The Ring at the National Theatre, but besides that my experience of Wagner is zippo. (Postscript: My friend Anne Richter just reminded me that I was watching Götterdämmerung with her once but  abandoned her and Wagner to drink beer and watch the football finals. Oops...super-pleb) So I consulted trusty-wiki and here's what caught my eye - 

Quoth Woody Allen "I can't listen to that much Wagner, ya know? I start to get the urge to conquer Poland."

Quoth Richard Wagner "I believe in God, Mozart, and Beethoven."

Quoth Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: "After the last notes of Götterdämmerung I felt as though I had been let out of prison."

ouch. that's got to hurt


So I decided to do a little survey. I know how Indians feel about Rabindranath Tagore, especially if he gets dissed - beepy, banky and  bollatile. So I thought, cool, let's see how Germans feel about Wagner. 

I mailed Survey # 1: Who is Wagner? What does he do to you? 

And just in case that didn't stimulate any creative juices, I sent out Survey # 2: Kindly respond truthfully to Nietzsche's intriguing question (that he immediately self-answers) - "Is Wagner a human being at all? Is he not rather a disease? He contaminates everything he touches - he has made music sick."
Richard Wagner

Friedrich Nietzsche
Ah...the responses come pouring in. First Sophia Stepf, who recently directed M.D.Pallavi in "C Sharp, B Blunt" in Bangalore.

"Wagner is one of the biggest German composers, who invented new forms of theatre and opera (and music for that matter) and was highly abused and misappropriated by Hitler. Therefore complicated!" - Sophia Stepf

She knows complicated. her play is about smartphone apps and gender stereotypes.

Then from Andrea Gronemeyer, director of Schnawwl Theatre and known in India for directing the hugely popular "Boy with a Suitcase"

Wagner as a historic person is a problem because he was an Antisemit and admired by Hitler. So his oeuvre became a symbol for the “bad German spirit”. But on the other hand, must I hate his music just because Hitler was his fan? Wagners music is overwhelming.  It is like a drug or like an ocean of sound to drown in. I hope to experience this many times…. - Andrea Gronemeyer

Then from Agnes Stache-Weiske, who studied at Sophia's in Bangalore, knows lots of the Bangalore musicians and is an old time India hand.

First of all Richard Wagner is the name of a garage and BMW-salon in my next village – and since “Wagner” means “wagon-maker” I find that very appropriate! 

The composer Richard Wagner is of course present at many places in Munich, where his patron and benefactor King Ludwig II was one of his early fans. I always think of the picture where Ludwig went to the theatre to listen to Wagner’s operas – and since he hated people, had the operas performed just for him alone. But since the accoustic was not so good in the empty opera house he engaged hundreds of soldiers to just sit there. They were not allowed to move and hardly to breathe to give him the impression of being alone ...

I saw the “Ring” – all four performances – in Munich in the eighties – and it left a lasting impression – but not the operas but the system of getting tickets. A week before the advance booking started, you could sign your name in a list. Per name you were entitled to 4 tickets – and you had to pay in advance. Every two hours you had to came in person to confirm that you were still on the list. A private car was parked on the very glamorous Maximilianstrasse where someone put a mark next to your name on the list every time. Since we were 4 people under one name we took turns  - first one at 8:00, second one at 10:00, third one at 12:00, fourth one at 14:00, first one again at 16:00 and so on .... all 24 hours. Once not confirmed – you were off the list. The organizer of the list promised to buy the tickets in the order of the names on the list once the box-office opened.
It had something very conspirative to knock on a car-window in the middle of the night – say your name and get an ok for that shift ...

The night before the ticket office opened other fans who boycotted THE LIST camped on the pavement to be the first at the box office in the morning. They refused to accept that some hundreds of people were in front of them in the virtual queue of the list. Early in the morning some were calmly sitting in their sleeping bags on their camping-chairs, drinking coffee from Thermos-flaks, while others got into a veritable fight with the keepers of the list. Lots of shouting and abuses – and in the end the police had to be called.
But as far as I know everyone got their tickets. And after all that effort – I sat through all 4 operas on four days – but the drama on the street was much better that that on stage!!! 

About Nietzsche and Wagner – I can’t comment – both are similarly overloaded with too much symbolism and drama - Agnes Stache-Weiske

Hot from the press!! Here is a response from Coordt Linke, percussionist extraordinaire and father of a new born baby that he has named after the Star Wars character CC-2224 - Cody :)

I remember I was reading a Biography about Richard Wagner, the composer, but only a few things I remember, he seems to like Brass Instruments a lot and big round female singers.
Although I like the Siegfried topic, when Siegfried took a bath in dragon blood and became invulnerable apart from that little spot which was accidentally covered by a leave, just tragic, but that anyway has nothing to do with wagner.
I remember my percussion teacher told me once a story, when he had to play in a wagner opera he had long breaks and gaps during the play so he was able to go home or even to take on another gig.
Percussion is all about timing isn't it?!

hmm... I also remember a flute player with that name... I think thats pretty much it!!!

I wonder what Nietzsche would say if he would live nowadays - Coordt Linke

And from the uber-cool Gerd Pranschke, three precise answers to the three original questions asked:

1. Who is this Wagner?
German composer. Grown up with the music of the 70s and 80s so Wagner wasn´t my music hero, I don´t know so much about him and his music by seeing or listening to his operas. I´ve heard about his life, love affairs, the Bayreuth Hügel story and all that Hitler and Nazi stuff. He must have been a strange person with all this germanic stories in his brain in the 19th century.

2. What does he do to you?
Nothing at all in my life. He´s an historic figure that I´m not interested in. Maybe I will love him and his music when I´m older, but I don´t think so. I don´t like that cultural mainstream.

3. Regarding the Wagner-Nietzsche fracas?
Not interested in it. 

In March this year, Agnes stayed with us in Bangalore and often in the evening we wondered - what is it about the German spirit that finds resonance in India? Or vice versa. Agnes' parents, both German, met in Mysore. Her father, Dr.Wilfried Stache, was the third director of the Goethe Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan in Bangalore. (The first director, Mrs Graefe-Krack, is buried at the Hosur Road cemetery in Bangalore. The second director was a Mr. Breuer.)  Her mother, Dr. Valentina Stache-Rosen, was an Indologist who published many articles on India.  She collected Indian art and Agnes still has her collection of more than 300 antique Andhra leather puppets. A Chola bronze stands in her garden outside Munich.

As we spoke about theyyam and Balan Nambiar's latest work on mirror deities we wondered if it was our mutual love of all things mythic. Characters who are gigantic, with supramental grandeur. Götterdämmerung is after all, apocalyptic, a war between Gods. Much like the Mahabharatha.

A Scene from Gotterdamerrung

I would encourage you to do as I say and not as I do. Andrea's right, Wagner is a drug. Drop some Wagner today. Here's a good link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1I7vEGYDOA



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