The first descriptive progam for the Prelude to Richard Wagner's Romantic opera Lohengrin was written, not by Wagner himself, but by Franz Liszt, shortly after Liszt conducted the premiere of the opera in the summer of 1850. Thus began a complex reception history that raises key questions about the nature of reception in general and about the question of Wagnerian anti-Semitism in particular. Liszt's program contains several clauses that seem meant to immunize the Prelude, and through it the opera, from anti-Semitic readings, the spectre of which had begun to surface just a few weeks after the opera's premiere when Wagner (albeit anonymously) published his infamous article "Judaism in Music." Wagner's own program for the Prelude was written in 1853 and is clearly as much——or more——a revision of Liszt's as it is the revelation of an originating intention. Wagner, indeed, was unsure about the import of Lohengrin and reinterpreted it repeatedly; the long lag between the opera's composition in the 1840s and Wagner's first hearing of it in 1861 seems to have alienated the composer from it in the sense of rendering it unfamiliar, even puzzling. Part of Wagner's attempt to reappropriate the opera involves constructing the program for the work that encapsulates it, the Prelude. And when he did that, he made the program consistent with the anti-Semitic worldview he had enunciated in 1850 in "Judaism in Music," an effect that begins (though does not end) by cutting Liszt's protective clauses. But Wagner's initiative was only a single step in a series of "receptions"——by, among others, Baudelaire, Nietzsche, W. E. B. DuBois, and Charlie Chaplin——that aligned the Prelude with Liszt's perspective on its meaning rather than with Wagner's. With Chaplin's film The Great Dictator (1940), this trend——which does not merely interpret the Prelude, but changes it——climaxes with a presentation of the Prelude as a specific repudiation of anti-Semitism.
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