Happy 200th Birthday Socialist Richard Wagner

Caricature of Wagner by Karl Clic
Caricature of Wagner by Karl Clic in the Viennese satirical magazine, Humoristische Blätter (1873).

An Introductory Note

As I edit this article, in a world where the socialism that Richard Wagner fought for may have achieved gigantic global proportions, and perhaps should deserve a name more fitting to its real nature (since humanity seems now to be the enemy), I wonder what the revolutionary, some say “terrorist” genius that was Richard Wagner would have said. It is deeply ironic that the music of the socialist Richard Wagner was used by the most atrocious fascist regime we know of, the Nazis, and that the new socialism has absolutely no interest in what the socialist art heroes like Richard Wagner had to say.

There is so much spurious, emotional, and superficial socialism, which like the seed by the wayside is bound to dry up and wither, because it is not rooted in economics, that those who can give a reason for the faith that is in them spend laborious days and nights in economic protiaganda [propaganda?], knowing but too well that at the present moment it is the one thing needful. Thereby they often deny themselves pleasant excursions into the more flowery by-ways or collectivist thought, amidst the blossoms of that new Art, new Literature, and new Science which shall eventually spring from the carefully nurtured and watered new economic root.

Dora B. Montefiore 1902, Wagner as a Revolutionary

(MIDI Excerpt – Instruments only):

Rev. 6, Apocalypsis Iesu – Equus Albus (“The White Horse” – Excerpt)

The article was released in commemoration of the master’s birthday, and I sent a copy of the score to the Wagner’s museum in Bayreuth (and got an answer, which was very unexpected). Juscheld-Zarathustra was still very much lost in the mists of asynchronous time, somewhere in the continuum. But the music was there nonetheless.

When I started writing chapter 6 of the Book of Revelation I knew that it had to have some “Wagner” in it. How else to write about apocalyptic rides in the sky! I also knew that pastiche would, as it usually does, ruin my appetite and that of the future listeners. But it had to be a bold move, something unmistakable because I wanted it to be there for the audience to love/laugh or hate, that does not bother me so much, since it is how it should be. No uniform crowd of colorful parrots and Egyptian mummies.

I will leave the surprise until the time comes, although it should be easy enough to spot it, but not in Rev. 6. It finally appeared in the Apocalypsis Iesu IX, quite unexpectedly, as it closes a different series of calamities. As I say, a surprise.

The Man Himself

“The decaying rags of feudalism still cling to every existing institution, and Wagner foresaw that nothing but a revolution could sweep them finally away, and give a fair field to real freedom, and real art expression. Though at the time of the rising in Saxony he was dependant on Court favour, he obeyed the dictates of his conscience and of his aspirations, and sided with the revolutionary leaders. On May 1st, 1849, the King dissolved the Saxon Diet, and the people, though at first successful in their rising, were afterward dispersed by Prussian troops. Wagner was forced to fly from Saxony, and took refuge in Weimar. For many years after this, financial difficulties hindered his artistic work, and he shared the fate of Balzac, Beethoven, and many other luminaries, who, under a capitalist regime, have to write, not what their soul craves to express, but what will earn for them daily bread. Finally, as we know, after long and weary struggles for recognition and support from the musical public, Richard Wagner found artistic understanding and intellectual sympathy in the young King of Bavaria, who had just succeeded to that throne […]”.

( Source: The Social Democrat, Vol. VI No. 7 July 1902, pp. 202-205;
Transcription: Ted Crawford. HTML Markup: Brian Reid.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive – 2007)

There are many biographies (many) and accounts on the live of Richard Wagner. He was ferociously influential, and had quite a adventurous life to say the least. His music, bombastic at times and exquisitely woven in others, truly changed the world.

‘Wagner was a delinquent by temperament… he glamorized his participation in the revolution of 1849 – he went round joining in with the general mood of danger and excitement. He was very excited by being in the presence of [Mikhail] Bakunin, the great anarchist; the most famous terrorist in the world at the time. Wagner, like Dickens, is one of those people who attracted extraordinariness to him. Wherever he went, everything became more extreme. He self-dramatized to an astonishing degree, but that’s who he was.’

‘Richard Wagner had a sense of humour’: Simon Callow gets Inside Wagner’s Head
By Chris Shipman – see it here.

The Music

The same as I did in 2013, I do here now and offer the full score of the first section of Apocalypsis Iesu VI:

Apocalypsis Iesu 6 Tribute

Apocalypsis Iesu VI (the same as Revelations 6, I believe) is structurally divided into six sections, the first four corresponding to the so-called “four horsemen of the Apocalypse“, and two further sections representing the cry of the faithful “Until when?” (Usquequo), and the wrath of the Lamb (ab ira Agni). Over all makes perfect musical sense and a fantastic musical ending, with the cherished fast-slow-fast musical winner.

The section that concerns me here was written a few times. I always felt a little uncomfortable with the main theme and all that riding that there was there to do. I “tweaked and retweekd”, as we may say now, but it always remained a bit scandalous. Let it be.

The ending is a kind of quotation, one I could not help, although have made much better uses of those harmonie:

Rev. 6, Apocalypsis Iesu – Equus Albus ENDING (“The White Horse” – Excerpt)

Thematically the six scores are planned as a unit, a polyptych (a hexaptych, fastidiously): the powerful imaginative connection of the first four sections is followed by a heartrending cry of the faithful. Although this has no real business being here I thought it may offer a little contrast and idea of the overall trip:

Rev. 6: 9-11, Usquequo – Apocalypsis Iesu VI (Excerpt 1)

How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? (Rev 6:10 KJV)

This introductory statement, which moves onto the main thematic fragment, evokes the music of another great composer (can you guess it?), whom Wagner had in the greatest esteem too, the same as the rest of the world I would venture. I also had my doubts (but not for too long), since it seemed to me that it was, again, a bit brave to evoke another gigantic musical work. One, I dare to say, that may have made the young composer Richard Wagner kick his symphonic adventures out of the way and go for the real kill.

Here is the main theme in the voices:

Apocalypsis VI - Usquequo (Juscheld)
Apocalypsis VI – Usquequo (Juscheld)
Rev. 6: 9-11, Usquequo – Apocalypsis Iesu VI (Excerpt 1)

The sixth seal, corresponding to the sixth part of the series, ends in a truly apocalyptic fashion:

And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood (Rev 6:12 KJV)

One-World Socialism, Wagner, and the Fellaheen

Let us, once more, review Socialism (independently of the economic movement of the same name) as the Faustian example of Civilization-ethics. Its friends regard it as the form of the future, its enemies as a sign of downfall, and both are equally right. We are all Socialists, wittingly or unwittingly, willingly or unwillingly. Even resistance to it wears its form

Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, Part I, “Buddhism, Stoicism, Socialism, viii.

One of the most searching questions on the overall global issues of our day is where this whole thing is heading to. Like in the quote above, you either have to be a friend or an “enemy” of the “it” in question to give an ultimate answer. The “it” being social, economic/financial, political, military issues in their manifold combinations. This is no average socialism, the same as Wagner, who pledge alliance to it, was no average composer: it was his involvement in these issues that shaped the true scope of his work. Whether Sigfried was the socialist hero and Fafner & Co. the capitalist monster is a question for the connoisseur. I can see a little bit of everything in both, depends how you look at it, and Bayreuth I believe has made a lot of use of these open questions.


Memorial to Jewish singers in the Bayreuth Festival Park (Commons)

There is a “lie”, says Spengler about all things Western, and that has been for a long time now since the Northern races of Europe lost everything they had to say about life and culture. This does not mean that in some way or another, like the Excalibur of John Boorman, the German ghost will not rise again when it finds a worthy king of (of course) German lineage who will take over, I guess, the presidency of the United States after the financial powers are finally subdued by the law of race and blood. It sounds Wagnerian, doesn’t it?

This “lie”, Spengler believes, is what is behind all these Bayreuth paraphernalia. The context is this:

This Life’s lie is the foundation of Bayreuth which would be something whereas Pergamum was something, and a thread of it runs through the entire fabric of Socialism, political, economic and ethical, which forces itself to ignore the annihilating seriousness of its own final implications, so as to keep alive the illusion of the historical necessity of its own existence. (Same reference as previous quotation).

But what is Socialism for Spengler? What is it for us? What is it for those that say that “Socialism” is going to ruin this world? I won’t give you an answer because I don’t know, but others having read Spengler like me, and possibly you if you got this far already (at least hear of him), raise their eyebrows or twist their mouths more than once when reading this influential historian.

In short then, Socialism is the latest Western version of the “Will-to-Power” that Nietzsche (Wagner’s good acquaintance for a while) made famous: that is, we know what is good for you and we will make sure that you agree or else. It does not matter in which direction this “Will-to-Power” runs, let’s say to the right or to the left of the political spectrum, but it is there nonetheless and it is there to be imposed whatever and whoever falls. Immanuel Kant’s “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” is not, like Spengler points out, about compassion or any kind of idealism, and that has in common with what he understands as “socialism”. The masses, or fellaheen, do not either care, know, or should be aware of this. The reader can have a hell of an intellectual trip with this word, fellaheen, taken apparently from colonial France, to Spengler, to Kerouac. “Fellaheen”, whichever its cultural connotations in history, philosophy, or literature, is still out there and very alive, and (until it becomes part of the One-World-Politically-Incorrect-Utterances-and-Menaces Index – OWPIUM Index for short) addresses a conceptual depth not covered by its cousin word the masses, either in their destitute or consumer state.

It is not attitude and mien, but activity that is to be given form. As in
China and in Egypt, life only counts in so far as it is deed […] If we would set against the Roman “panem et circenses”… some corresponding symbol of the North (and of Old China and Egypt) it would be the “Right to Work” This was the basis of Fichte’s thoroughly Prussian (and now European) conception of State-Socialism, and in the last terrible stages of evolution it will culminate in the Duty to Work.

Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, Part I, “Buddhism, Stoicism, Socialism, viii.

Nothing new in 1984 I guess. Curiously enough, Spengler was not a fan of the Nazis, despite being (like Richard Wagner) one of their most praised heroes.


Caricature of Wagner by Karl Clic in the Viennese satirical magazine, Humoristische Blätter (1873) – Wikimedia Commons