Art and Politics

When I first met my father in law, he spent hours trying to convince me of the cultural superiority of his tastes. Some of these were indeed triumphs. I’m thinking here of “Dr. Strangelove,” “The 400 Blows,” and the music of Richard Wagner. (Others were not. I’m thinking here of “Children of Paradise,” a movie about mimes.) His love of Wagner is curious; he was born in Israel and almost his entire family was murdered in the Warsaw ghetto. This is not a trivial issue. Hitler loved Wagner too, and used his music for political ends. Wagner was himself a hater of Jews. Accordingly, Israel banned public performance of Wagner’s music nearly six decades ago, and the taboo was not broken until 1995 when “The Flying Dutchman” was played on Israeli radio. Six years later Daniel Barenboim (a Jew) led the Berlin Staatskapelle in a performance of an overture from “Tristan und Isolde” at an Israel Festival, which only reignited the controversy.

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