Volkswagner

SONIC SUITE IN THREE ACTS

Based on Richard Wagner’s Overture To The Tannhäuser And The Singers’ Contest At The Wartburg, Sigfried-Idyll and The Ride Of The Walkyries.

 


Collaboration between Laibach and Symphonic orchestra RTV Slovenia, composed and conducted by Izidor Leitinger
April 18th 2009 – Gallus Hall, Cankarjev Dom – Ljubljana, Slovenia


 

VOLKSWAGNER is the title of a musical project which, on the proposal of KD Group, is being realized in collaboration between Laibach and the RTV Slovenia Symphony Orchestra. Laibach is also cooperating with the composer and conductor Izidor Leitinger on this project, and it was decided that together they would compose a work which will in a specific manner interpret some of Wagner’s better known musical motifs and combine them into a unified symphonic electronic suite.

From a formal point of view, the collaborating artists have decided to seek in Wagner the rudiments of modernism, which first through Mahler, Bruckner, and Debussy, and subsequently through Schöenberg, Berg, and Webern, developed into the core of the jazz music of the sonic experimentalists, such as Miles Davis and Sun Ra, and to upgrade them with the ambient electronic spectrum that has been developing over the last three decades. In addition, the suite will address the history of the 20th century – modernism crossbred with pop art. The concert will also feature film projections.

I feel an enormous desire to realize artistic terrorism. (Richard Wagner)

Whoever wishes to understand national-socialist Germany must first come to know Wagner. (Adolf Hitler)

There has probably never been a conductor who has had a greater influence on the world’s political history than Richard Wagner through Hitler. They had many things in common: Wagner wanted to become a politician, and Hitler wanted to become an artist. It was due to Wagner that in his younger years Hitler endeavored to write a Wagnerian opera, Wieland the Smith, an opera that Wagner had started but never finished.

In the 1930s, Hitler’s obsession with Wagner inspired him to initiate a formal prohibition and destruction of all degenerate art (Entartete Kunst), which was not in accordance with the Wagnerian aesthetics and canon, as Hitler understood it. In addition to Jewish authors and others who were not in favor of the regime, the prohibition affected the whole of avant-garde and modernism, and in music (Entartete Musik) all of jazz, primarily due to its “primitive” African-American roots.

In 1932, while in one of his ‘Wagnerian’ meditations on power, pleasure, work, and the economy, Hitler also sketched the first outline of the automobile that later came to be known as the ‘people’s car’. In his efforts to modernize Germany he was inspired by the American automobile producer Henry Ford. In order to reduce unemployment in the Reich and build modern infrastructure, he developed a public works program by constructing the worlds first super roads – the German Autobahn. With the objective of halting the recession and stimulating German industry, he wanted to develop a car which the average German could afford. The work order for the prototype was awarded to Ferdinand Porsche in 1934. Soon after that, the Porsche 60, which was launched publicly under the official name the KdF–Wagen (Kraft durch Freude – ‘power through pleasure’). Subsequently it gained the name Volks–Wagen, or Käfer (Beetle). In this manner a new, modern German automobile brand began to develop, and the construction of the first Volkswagen plant was entrusted to the German Labour Front (DAF). After the Second World War, the Beetle actually became the most popular people’s car in the world. In the 1960s it became a cult object, a pop icon, a symbol of freedom and modernity, and the Volkswagen brand became the basis and model for the rest of the automobile industry.

After the war, ‘degenerate’ jazz music became another symbol of freedom and modernity. Jazz creators and improvisers, such as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders, and others broadened the definition of the freedom and interpretation of expression to unprecedented dimensions. One of the more important jazz modernists and innovators was Stan Kenton, with his large orchestras (Progressive Jazz Orchestra, Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra, Artistry in Rhythm Orchestra, Mellophonium Orchestra, and Creative World Orchestra). In 1964 he recorded and issued an album entitled Kenton/Wagner, in which he gave a jazz treatment to eight great Wagnerian themes, including The Ride of the Valkyries. Thus he freed Wagner from his own shadow, and showed jazz musicians the possibilities of new formal and content-based interpretations of this musical giant.

On a number of occasions Laibach has been encouraged to address Wagner in their repertoire, but the right moment had never truly arisen. But then KD Group, on the occasion of its 15th anniversary, proposed a common project with the RTV Slovenia Symphonic Orchestra. Wagner was immediately our first choice. When two years ago we heard Kenton’s interpretation of Wagner’s music, we realized the influence Wagner has had on contemporary jazz. At approximately the same time, in Ljubljana we listened to an orchestral concert conducted by Izidor Leitinger (and he also came to our concert in Paris), and very soon the idea arose to pursue some form of collaboration at the earliest opportunity. Thus, we have now drafted the VOLKSWAGNER project, as a 70-minute sonic suite, comprising interpretations of Wagner’s Tannhauser Overture, Siegfried Idyll, and The Ride of the Valkyries. As our starting point, we chose the jazz form – which will also be a challenge for the symphonic orchestra – enhanced with an experimental electronic and industrial ambient.

With this project we will attempt to prove that understanding and interpretation are important components of the aesthetic and content- based definitions of the world and that Hitler was greatly mistaken regarding Wagner (except with regard to the conception of the beetle automobile, which, with its Beatnik soul and humorous form, actually became his largest art work and indirectly also his greatest economic achievement).