Why Study Wagner and Jesus of Nazareth

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Welcome, with me today
I have Professor Richard Bell. And Richard has spent
a great deal of time Investigating
the links between the great 19th
century composer Richard Wagner
and theology.>>And today you’re going
to explore with us. He’s sketches for
a projected work Jesus of Nazareth.
Yes Tom yes. Wagner wrote
these sketches in early 1849 and that date is actually quite crucial because just couple of
months before that he’d started
work on Ring Cycle. And then in May
1849 he was involved in the
insurrection in Dresden and he had to flee. And then eventually ended up in in exile
in Switzerland. Now these sketches we have they’re largely proof sketches and they come in
three sections. The first section is the outline of a drama in five acts and it
looks as though he intended this
to be an opera. In the second section of the sketches he gives a quite sophisticated
commentary looking at lots
of issues about politics issues of
sexual love, marriage redemption and so forth. Then in the
third section he simply writes out lots of verses from the New
Testament which he thinks are relevant
for this drama. Now this is actually
quite a remarkable work I think and had he
completed it, I think we would have one of
the finest art works on the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth. And in fact there are
various reasons why this was never
bought to fruition. One reason is that it is time it wold be quite scandalous to have an opera on the theme of
Jesus of Nazareth. And also he lent the sketches to
Listz’s lady friend and she considered
herself a pious Catholic. Whether she was a pious Catholic is
another question. But he leant these sketches to her and he
never got them back because she thought it
was scandalous that he could even contemplate
producing an opera. So these survived
because he loaned them and they survived through
that as well? And he never
saw them again. So he lent them to her. He died in 18.. 1883. And then eventually they were published in 1887. So he never saw them
for the rest of his life and his
son Siegfried saw that they were
published interesting this year 1887 was the very year in which she died. And then they were published. Now I think one could do some great
things with these. We only have one musical
sketch and that lasts for just eleven bars. Eleven bars is a couple of minutes.>>Yeah yeah. Even
less than that. You’ve got virtually nothing there. But what you could do is produce an audio play. So is… is giving the
outline of the drama. This is terrific drama. So for example
it starts with Barabbas and Judas Iscariot
together plotting an insurrection and
they want to exploit the fact that Jesus is very very popular in Galilee and in fact the
whole of Israel. And if you look at that scene and Wagner says
it is knights and you compare that
to the prelude, The Twilight of the
Gods, Act Two and it fits perfectly. Infact in Twilight to the Gods Act Two what you find at the beginning
of that act is Hagan and Alberic, two very like, shall we
say dark figures who again are actually plotting
to get world control. So in fact the perfect
correspondence. So if someone were to fill out these sketches…>>So in a way there’s a
work there’s a work waiting to be
written up called… …Wagner Revived.
>>Yeah Taking up his
sketches and then building a play
around them?>>That’s right that’s right. So some brilliantly
precious and a musician need to get together and take these and take them
forward. And tell me like you say hey this with
the idea of an opera based on the life of the
historical Jesus was scandalous at least to
this lady friend of Listz, but of course
since then we’ve had Jesus Christ Superstar.
>>Yeah And we’ve had the
Life of Brian>>That’s right.
So which is it is like how does
it relate if you think of these two these two The Life of Brian
laughing at sort of overly pious
Magic Vision of religion and Jesus
Christ Superstar. Presenting a very
strange imagery What sort of image of Jesus does do
these sketches present?
Well it’s a
fairly serious image. I can’t say
there’s much humour in these five acts. And in fact I
would just say that if someone
were to produce this audio play or even a stage play it would be far better than
anything we have. The drama is
absolutely terrific. Can i just give
you another example?>>Okay
There was a scene for example where we’ve
had the Last Supper Mary Magdalene has
anointed Jesus at the Last Supper
knowing that he has to die,
now Jesus then leaves. He’s he’s he’s conflating
various…>>Yeah that’s right.
That’s right. Jesus then leaves he
goes to Gethsemane, and then Judas Iscariot comes in and is alone
with Mary Magdalene. And you can probably guess what’s going to happen. Judas is overcome
by her beauty. And he says ‘I’ll
do a deal with you Mary, give yourself to me and I’ll refuse to have… I’ll give
up this plan to betray Jesus’ and so she so she’s torn can you see? Can you imagine the drama in this? Absolutely
wonderful, and she says ‘No I have to be true to the
teaching of Jesus.’ And so she says ‘No I cannot give
myself to you.’ And so Judas then goes off
and then betrays. So in a way Wagner he is… ..he he like this reminds me of many
of the sort of Apocryphal Gospels
from the, the early the early Christian period where they fill out bits of backround for Jesus or they take an incident and then they build a
build a whole picture. So in a sense Wagner is is is behaving like some of these early Apocryphal Gospels?
>>Yes Yeah that’s right.
Precisely precisely. Can I just say that
say one of the scandalous things
about this.. So many scandalous things about the sketches
possibly, but Jesus actually preaches
in a sense free love. Okay so Jesus says
you got to be responsible in in your relationships
with other people but he says the worst
thing to do is to get married married to
somebody without love. He said that’s one
of the worst things you can possibly do. So many people would find this highly scandalous but the drama is
absolutely superb.>>Richard. Thank you very much.
Thank you Tom

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