'A Wagner for the Jews': Moses Pergament, Richard Wagner and anti-Semitism in Swedish cultural life in the interwar period

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This article deals with the Finnish-Swedish, Jewish composer and author Moses Pergament and his relationship with Wagner's theories, anti-Semitism in particular, and their influence on the development of modern Swedish classical music during the interwar period. The author emphasizes the importance of recognizing that Pergament's reaction to Wagner's cultural theories was part and parcel of his struggle for assimilation. The basis of Pergament's interpretation of Wagner was the notion that it is possible to separate life and belief: the anti-Semitism and enthusiastic lechery were part of Wagner's life, to which it was not necessary to attach much importance. The beliefs, on the other hand, were there to be analysed. Furthermore, an explicit and public critique of Wagner's anti-Semitism was inconsistent with an attempt to gain a foothold in Swedish cultural life. As Wagner's anti-Semitism was well known but was deemed either acceptable or irrelevant, paying attention to it was by definition proof of a Jewish identification. To be accepted as a Swedish music critic, Pergament had to follow the unwritten rules of the game, amongst them the requirement not to exhibit his Jewishness' openly. The actions of certain members of Foreningen Svenska Tonsattare (FST, the Association of Swedish Composers) indicate that Pergament's work was not thought to indicate a Swedish identification. On the contrary, his reviews were seen as a threat to Swedish music', and with implicit references to Wagner this was attributed to Pergament's supposed lack of feeling for the spirit of the Swedish people'.


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Sidor (från-till)245-261
TidskriftScandinavian Journal of History
Utgåva nummer2
StatusPublished - 2013
Peer review utfördJa