At the core of Adolf Hitler’s devastating dictatorial regime lay a desire to unite the Volk (the German people), an end he set out to achieve through racial purification. Richard Wagner has often been pinned as the muse for Hitler’s extreme methods, perhaps unfounded and perhaps borne of an attempt to explain the blind hatred responsible for the atrocities of the Holocaust. Wagner is possibly the most progressive and poignant German composer of the 19th century, and though most often praised for his orchestral and operatic works, he also produced a significant canon of philosophical writings whose ideas happened to be adopted by Hitler to conform to his political agenda. One of Wagner’s prominent ideas is that of the Führer concept, which centers around the belief in a necessity for one single leader to unite the Volk and carry out popular will. Wagner applied this concept to his Ring cycle, specifically to the character of Siegfried, a hero of divine lineage who successfully restores German unity and freedom. Hitler latched onto this concept and sought to epitomize the character of Siegfried in his quest to become Führer, an act that irrevocably grants the names of Hitler and Wagner to be uttered in the same breath, a perverted compliment for the former but a travesty for the latter.
Elise Hogue, ’09 Bend, OR
Sponsor: James Martin