August 1935 - Gramophone: "My trouble with Parsifal is that I am incapable of accepting Wagner's sincerity of belief."

Written By The Wagnerian on Saturday, 28 May 2011 | 5:48:00 am

I found this editorial from Gramophone 1935 interesting, especially given Katharina Wagner's recent remarks about  Parsifal and "religion".

EDITORIAL: August 1935, Gramophone


After many years of writing I have learnt most of the provocative statements of opinion, and one of the most provocative of all is to say anything derogatory about Parsifal. So I was not surprised when our esteemed Madrid correspondent, Señor Nueda y Santiago, wrote to rebuke my slighting allusion to it. To Señor Nueda Parsifal is not only "the most beautiful, superb and astonishing masterpiece of music ever written, but the most beautiful, superb and amazing masterpiece ever produced in any art." Now, Señor Niieda has written an extremely interesting book on the oestheties of music, Dc Musica, with most of which I should agree, and he on his side cordially approves of my choice of music for that imaginary desert island. Equally we should agree absolutely with one another in our admiration of the Ring, and yet Parsifai affects us both quite differently. Señor Nueda does not mind whether Parsifai be Christian, heathen, Buddhist, or theosophist." In the dedication to Richard Wagner with which he prefaces his book he writes " My mother taught me to pray and to believe. In materialin I learnt to doubt. You restore my faith, because when I enjoy your divine music I am aware of my soul and I believe in it."

My trouble with Parsifal is that I am incapable of accepting Wagner's sincerity of belief. He takes a great Christian legend and theatricalises it. It is not a dogmatic necessity for a Christian to believe in the Holy Grail, but if a Christian believes in the dogma which inspired the legend he finds it impossible to forgive the distortion of it in Wagner's treatment. Nietzsche's attack upon Parsifal gave Parsifal a kind of religious kudos, but an orthodox Christian ought to agree with much of what Nietzsche said about it. It is impossible to imagine Nietzsche's attacking the music of Palesirina any more effectively than a clothes'-moth could attack a granite monolith. Nevertheless, although I shall never myself derive any emotional, intellectual, or even purely musical pleasure from Parsifai, the very reasons for which I condemn it compel me to recognise the right of its admirers to claim a magic for its influence.