A film by Hilan Warshaw
55 minutes, documentary, color, English, 2013
German composer Richard Wagner was notoriously anti-Semitic, and his writings on Jews were later embraced by Hitler and the Nazis. But there is another, lesser-known side to this story. For years, many of Wagner's closest associates were Jews - young musicians who became personally devoted to him, and provided crucial help to his work and career.
They included the teenaged piano prodigy Carl Tausig; Hermann Levi, a rabbi's son who conducted the premiere of Wagner's Parsifal; Angelo Neumann, who produced Wagner's works throughout Europe; and Joseph Rubinstein, a pianist who lived with the Wagner family for years and committed suicide when Wagner died. Even as Wagner called for the elimination of the Jews from German life, many of his most active supporters were Jewish.
Why were they drawn to him? And how could Wagner even accept their embrace? These questions are at the heart of Wagner's Jews, the first film to focus on Wagner's complex personal relationships with Jews. Filmed on location in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, Wagner's Jews reveals this remarkable story through archival sources, re-enactments, interviews, and performances of original musical works by Wagner's Jewish colleagues the first such performances on film.
Featuring Zubin Mehta and Leon Botstein among others, the film also explores the ongoing controversy over performing Wagner's music in Israel. The same questions asked in Wagner's time still resonate today: is it possible to separate the art from its creator? Can sublime music transcend prejudice, bigotry and the weight of history?
Watch the Opening Scene
"Well-composed and deeply affecting." - Stuart Klawans, film critic, The Nation
"There’s much to ponder in Hilan Warshaw’s documentary-essay on Richard Wagner’s virulent anti-Semitism and the paradoxical support he received from Jewish patrons and musicians throughout his life." - J. Hoberman, The New York Times
"" - The San Diego Theater Examiner
"A splendid film: it illuminates the issues admirably and tackles a problematic question with exemplary even-handedness." - Barry Millington, editor, The Wagner Journal
"Documents with singular clarity and accessibility the depth, seriousness and progression of Wagner's anti-Semitism." - The Huffington Post
"This film brings to light new insights into this topic, and manages to be - for all its laconic brevity - incredibly complex. Hilan Warshaw is a musician, a violinist. Perhaps that is why he possesses this ability to work virtually polyphonically, pursuing many different voices and balancing contradictions, without once taking the floor himself at all."- Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Frankfurt General Newspaper)
"Well-made, intriguing and thought-provoking." - Kol Yisrael (Voice of Israel) radio
"This first rate documentary offers a fascinating aspect of this whole sordid drama... The documentary is both thought provoking and insightful, courtesy of a host of interviews with such celebrities as Zubin Mehta…Highly recommended!" - Blu-Ray.com
"It focuses not on the ambivalence that Jews today often feel about Wagner and his music, but on the complex, turbulent, and sometimes abusive relationships between Wagner and the Jewish musicians and patrons who supported his musical career. Warshaw uses interviews with scholars, performance footage, and montages of archival photographs, to put the story in both historical and aesthetic context." - The Jewish Advocate
"A brilliant documentary." - Alan D. Miller, BBC Radio
● Extended Interviews