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Richard Wagner and the History of Feeling (working title)

In the course of the 19th century Richard Wagner wore many different hats – as a musician in the employ of the royal court, as an author, a revolutionary, an exile, an insolvent debtor, the protégé of wealthy patrons and of a king, as a theatre reformer, founder of a festival, composer. He was not only witness to political upheavals and movements, but also registered, took up and (re-)shaped the social and emotional sensitivities of his time – as an artist, but also as an entrepreneur. In these capacities, Wagner reveals himself as a technician of emotions who identified and redefined the social significance of art – and the artist – in an increasingly commercialised world. To this end, he developed strategies in which emotions play a leading role. His concept of music drama as a “Gesamtkunstwerk”, a synthesis of the arts, always also implied a critique of Modernity. In this way it was marked by the ambition to change not only the individual, but also society as a whole – a desire which we also find in Karl Marx, yet in a different form and manifestation. Wagner was an anti-Semite. To what degree his staging of emotions, his ideas of music and art, his fantasy of oppression and redemption, as well as his critique of Modernity were influenced by this anti-Semitism, or if it constituted anti-Semitism itself, remains controversial to this day. The exhibition deals with Wagner’s staging of concrete emotions and examines the history of his concepts in the context of the 19th century.