views updated May 21 2018



The music of the composer and festival founder Richard Wagner (1813–1883) and the national myths staged and set to music in his operas make up the fascination surrounding the most famous German festival in the twentieth century. Wagner's conception, developed in the middle of the nineteenth century, of an "artwork of the future" as Gesamtkunstwerk (total artwork) bore within it a modern and totalitarian ideology that was politically interpreted and realized in the twentieth century. The Bayreuth Festival thus became a point of crystallization for the cultural and educational policies of National Socialism; even at the turn of the twenty-first century the artistic discussions about the interpretation of Wagner's operas have been partially shaped by Bayreuth: the festival has remained a surface of projection for the German self-image.

In the 1870s, with the support of patrons and in particular of the Bavarian king Louis II, Richard Wagner erected a concert hall reserved exclusively for the presentation of a number of his operas in the small Protestant Prussian town of Bayreuth. This monopoly has been maintained to the present day, as has the tradition that the descendants of Richard Wagner direct the festival and claim for themselves a special "authenticity" in the interpretation of his works. Wagner's wife, Cosima (1837–1930), directed the festival until 1906; she was followed as heir by their son, Siegfried (1869–1930).

By 1914 the festival had become established as one of Europe's leading cultural events, artistically and socially respected the world over. The festival productions were considered the epitome of German national culture. World War I was both an institutional and a spiritual turning point for the festival. Closed during the war, the festival was able to reopen in 1924 after considerable start-up difficulties. The renewed festival was influenced by a combination of German national resentment, rejection of the Treaty of Versailles, and the ideas of the nineteenth-century French racial determinist Joseph-Arthur, comte de Gobineau, which shaped a group of intellectuals centered around the British publicist Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who disseminated their ideology in the journal Bayreuther Blätter. Despite the influence of this ideology, during the Weimar Republic the cosmopolitan conductors Fritz Busch, Karl Elmendorff, and Arturo Toscanini, as well as the stage designer Hans Pfitzner, left their mark on the festival, which, with productions such as Tristan and Isolde and Tannhäuser, scattered the dust of the imperial era and for the first time allowed non-German artists, though not any Jews, to share in the spotlight.

Faced with the loss of foreign interest in the festival after Adolf Hitler's takeover of power, the wife and heiress of the late festival director Siegfried Wagner, Winifred Wagner (née Williams; 1897–1980), decided as early as the spring of 1933 to accept the help of the National Socialist state and its protagonists. Hitler had been friends with Winifred Wagner from the time of the founding of the Nazi Party; Richard Wagner was his favorite composer. In principle preserving its status as a private enterprise while also presenting itself as a private refuge for Hitler, the festival became the symbol of the National Socialist appropriation of traditional cultural institutions. From an exclusive and international rendezvous of the elite, the festival became in the 1930s a destination for the Nazi travel organization KdF (Kraft durch Freude, "strength through joy"); in wartime, festival productions were continued for armaments workers and the wounded. Mass accommodations, quasi-religious services, and a visiting program were directed toward the ideal of a new National Socialist community. Typical of National Socialism as an amalgam of neoromanticism and progress, modernizing tendencies already began to emerge during the Nazi period. In addition to Winifred Wagner, Heinz Tietjen from Berlin and Wieland Wagner directed operas, and Hans Knappertsbusch, Wilhelm Furtwängler, and Emil Preetorius shaped stage aesthetics. As productions, The Meistersinger of Nuremberg (1933/1943), Lohengrin (1936) and The Flying Dutchman (1939), stand out.

With the end of Nazi Germany, the nationalist transformation of the festival became absurd. Reopening immediately after the war was inconceivable for organizational reasons, but also due to the moral dubiousness of the festival and its director, Winifred Wagner; despite her classification as "less guilty" in denazification proceedings, the public debate over her future participation had not ended.

Only her relinquishing of the directorship cleared the way for her two children, Wolfgang (b. 1919) and Wieland (1917–1966), who managed to reopen the festival in 1951 with the help of state institutions and industry, until the West German government also provided financial support for a new beginning. In the production history after the war, a changed relationship to the concept of a German nation can be traced: through his staging, Wieland Wagner strove to achieve an explicitly psychoanalytical and ancient-mystical interpretation of the Wagner dramas. No longer was the nation important, but the individual. This fundamental shift in emphasis provoked opposition in nationalistic circles but allowed contact with international aesthetic discussions. In contrast to the isolation during National Socialism, Wieland Wagner's productions of Parsival (1951), Meistersinger (1956), and Tristan (1962) became world famous.

After Wieland's death in 1966, the festival direction was taken over by his brother, Wolfgang, who is considered an administrative expert, but whose numerous mise-en-scènes have for the most part not achieved the suggestiveness of Wieland's. In 1973 the relationship between the private festival enterprise and the government was finally regulated officially: Wolfgang and Winifred Wagner agreed to the establishment of a publicly dominated foundation. In the late 1960s, Wolfgang had developed the festival into a "workshop" by inviting internationally renowned directors, hoping in this way to retain the eminence of Bayreuth. Operations have continued to follow this practice of inviting outside directors, which has diminished the Wagner family's artistic control and internationalized the festival. The high point of this practice was the staging of the Ring of the Nibelungen by the Frenchman Patrice Chéreau for the centennial of the festival in 1976, followed by Jean-Pierre Ponelle's Tristan in 1981.

With Götz Friedrich (Lohengrin, 1979), Harry Kupfer (Flying Dutchman, 1978), and Heiner Müller, East German artists also directed festival productions. From the 1950s Bayreuth had profited from connections with the other part of Germany, which was reunified with the Federal Republic in 1990. The first decade of the twenty-first century has been marked by the succession debate, pitting Wolfgang Wagner's daughter Katharina (b. 1978) against Nike Wagner (b. 1945), the daughter of Wieland. Would it mean an end to the Bayreuth tradition—which has previously undergone so many transformations—if no family member directed the festival? Even in the twenty-first century the festival poses the question of the approach to music and politicized music in Germany and internationally.

See alsoAnti-Semitism; Germany; Hitler, Adolf; Nazism; Opera.


Hamann, Brigitte. Winifred Wagner, oder, Hitlers Bayreuth. Munich, 2002.

Spotts, Frederic. Bayreuth: A History of the Wagner Festival. New Haven, Conn., 1994.

Vaget, Hans Rudolf. "Hitler's Wagner: Musical Discourse as Cultural Space." In Music and Nazism. Art under Tyranny, 1933–1945, edited by Michael H. Kater and Albrecht Riethmüller, 15–31. Laaber, Germany, 2003.

Weiner, Marc A. Richard Wagner and the Anti-Semitic Imagination. Lincoln, Nebr., 1995.

Holger R. Stunz


views updated Jun 27 2018


BAYREUTH , city in Bavaria, Germany, and former principality. Jews lived in the principality of Bayreuth at the beginning of the 13th century and are mentioned in *Meir b. Baruch of Rothenburg's responsa. In 1248 several Jews were admitted into the city of Bayreuth. In the course of the riots accompanying the *Black Death (1348–49) many Jews in the principality were killed. After this, the emperor Charles iv entrusted authority over the Jews of Bayreuth to the margrave. In 1372 the latter appointed a chief rabbi for all his territory, including at that time the communities of Kulmbach and Hof. Until the end of the 15th century the Jews were permitted freedom of movement and the right to bring claims against Christians before a mixed tribunal. In 1409 a charter was granted to the Jews of Neustadt an der Aisch (where 71 Jews had perished in the massacre of 1218) and in 1421 Jewish trade in the principality was regulated. In 1422 the Jews were compelled to renounce all claims against Christians and subsequently left the principality. However, six Jewish families resettled in the "Jewish lane" of the city of Bayreuth in 1441, and the position of the Jewish residents improved. A number of refugees from *Bamberg were admitted into the towns of Pegnitz, Steinach, *Baiersdorf, Erlangen, Neustadt an der Aisch, and Kulm (later called Chlumec in Czechoslovakia), and several *Court Jews were in the margrave's service at Bayreuth. In 1488 the Jews were again made to cancel all the debts owing to them as a condition for setting aside an expulsion order. Nevertheless, they were expelled several times from various parts of the principality during the 16th and 17th centuries, though most of the expulsion orders were short-lived.

Their position began to improve as a result of the influence of the Court Jew, Samson of Baiersdorf. In 1695 the margrave granted concessions and protection to Jewish tradesmen. The seat of the provincial rabbinate was Baiersdorf since Jews had been excluded from the city of Bayreuth from 1515. Further improvements followed after 1735, in the main a reflection of the liberal attitude of Margrave Frederick, who had a Jewish chess player and a Jewish painter at his court. The Jewish population of the principality rose from 135 families in 1709 to 346 families (1,727 persons) in 1771. Ten Jewish families were admitted into the city of Bayreuth in 1759, and there were 65 families (401 persons) resident in the city in 1771. In 1805 there were 2,276 Jews living in the principality, which was incorporated into Bavaria two years later. During the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries the number of the Jews declined. In spite of their shrill antisemitism, Richard *Wagner and his circle in Bayreuth did not affect the position of the Jews there. In 1933 the Jewish population of Bayreuth numbered 261 (0.7% of the total).

On Nov. 10, 1938, the synagogue (built in 1760) was ransacked and homes and shops were pillaged by the sa. The populace committed further acts of vandalism the next day, and the cemetery was desecrated beyond recognition. After flight and emigration, just 120 Jews remained in the city at the time. On Nov. 27, 1941, 60 persons were deported to *Riga; on Jan. 12, 1942, the last 11 were transported to Bamberg en route to *Theresienstadt. After World War ii a new community was established which numbered 550 in 1949 and had decreased, through emigration, to 40 in 1967. As a result of the immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union, the number of community members rose to 473 in 2003.


A. Eckstein, Geschichte der Juden im Markgrafentum Bayreuth (1907); fjw (1928–29), 125f.; Germ Jud, 1 (1963), 24; 2 (1968), 60–61; Y.L. Bialer, Min ha-Genazim, 2 (1969), 54–58; pk. add. bibliography: E. Huebschmann (ed.), Physische und behoerdliche Gewalt (2000).

[Ze'ev Wilhem Falk]


views updated May 17 2018

Bayreuth. Town in Bavaria, Ger., where Wagner built his home, Wahnfried, and also his long-planned fest. th. to house perfs. of Der Ring des Nibelungen. First fest. 1876, cond. Hans Richter. Th. holds c.1,800 and has wonderful acoustics. Innovation was covered orch. pit. Parsifal f.p. there, 1882. Fests. of Wagner's operas held regularly (with wartime interruptions) since 1892, the successive dirs. having been members of the Wagner family—his wife Cosima (1883–1908), son Siegfried (1908–30), Siegfried's widow Winifred (1931–44), their sons Wieland and Wolfgang jointly (1951–66), and Wolfgang (from 1966). In 1945, under Amer. occupation, operas by composers other than Wagner were perf. in the Festspielhaus. Concerts were also given there.


views updated May 09 2018

Bayreuth City in Bavaria, Germany, where an annual festival is held, staging exclusively the work of composer Richard Wagner. The festivals are held in the Festspielhaus, built to Wagner's specifications for the performance of great German theatre. The first festival was held in 1876. Pop. (1997) 73,669.


views updated Jun 11 2018

Bayreuth a town in Bavaria where Wagner made his home from 1874 and where he is buried. Festivals of his operas are held regularly there in a theatre specially built (1872–6) to house performances of Der Ring des Nibelungen.