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Quirk of history

Music and politics have always been entwined

Placido Domingo as Siegmund and Deborah Voight as Sieglinde in Wagner’s Die Walkure at the Metropolitan Opera. Johan Elbers/Getty

Classical music is often dismissed as “an elite and moribund art form disconnected from contemporary life”, says John Mauceri in The New York Times. The recent Kremlin-ordered assassination of Yurii Kerpatenko, a Ukrainian conductor who refused to partake in a concert celebrating the Russian invasion, proves how wrong that view is. Classical music has always been embroiled in politics.

Hitler marketed Wagner’s operas as the “artistic epitome of Nazi Germany”, despite the composer dying six years before Hitler himself was born. When the country’s famous Bayreuth Festival returned in 1951 “after seven years of wartime silence”, it opened not with Wagner, but with Beethoven’s “politically neutral” Ninth Symphony – to symbolise peace and reconciliation in Europe. And when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Leonard Bernstein conducted the same symphony, but replaced the word “joy” in the work’s finale, so it became Ode to Freedom.