Daniel Barenboim is General Music Director of the Berlin Staatsoper and its orchestra. He is Music Director of the Teatro alla Scala and cofounder of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. (June 2013)

Wagner and the Jews

‘A Repetition of Tristan und Isolde’; drawing by Aubrey Beardsley
Perhaps no other composer in history sought to combine such obviously incompatible elements in his works. The qualities that make Richard Wagner’s supporters so enthusiastic are often the same ones that repel his opponents, such as his tendency toward extremes in every aspect of composition. Although he stretched the limits of harmony and operatic form to the breaking point, the realization of his musical concepts always remained exceedingly economical. Paradoxically, this very economy defines the incomparable dimension of his structures.

Beethoven and the Quality of Courage

It is always interesting and sometimes even important to have intimate knowledge of a composer’s life, but it is not essential in order to understand the composer’s works. In Beethoven’s case, one mustn’t forget that in 1802, the year he was contemplating suicide—as he wrote in an unsent letter to his brothers that came to be known as the “Heiligenstadt Testament”—he also composed the Second Symphony, one of his works that was most positive in spirit, thus showing us that it is of vital importance to separate his music from his personal biography and not to conflate the two.

Germans, Jews, and Music

The cruelty of memory manifests itself in remembering what is dispelled in forgetfulness. —Naguib Mahfouz This statement by Naguib Mahfouz expresses something that I believe is very important for the relationship between Germans and Jews, since, with respect to each other, both are dealing with the problem of …