One of the common dangers of studying composers’ lives is finding out that some of the people whose music we love and admire turn out to have been very unadmirable human beings.
Exhibit A in this category is usually Richard Wagner, an egomaniac and anti-semite, among other things, but a man who wrote lots of exquisitely beautiful music. What are we to make of such jarring disjunctions? Should we throw out the music with the maniac? I don’t have the answer. If your personal association with the music of Wagner is hearing it broadcast by the Nazis, that’s one thing, and it’s understandable that you’d never want to hear it again. The problem is that the beauty is real, and it will outlast us… all of us. My own choice, for lack of a better one, is simply to use cases like Wagner’s as occasions to marvel at the complexities and apparent contradictions of human nature, and to realize that there are some questions I just can’t answer.
This has been A Minute with Miles – a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.