For many years Laibach's music had often been described as Wagnerian and usually for different reasons. Sometimes it was felt that way because of its Germanic character or its loud and bombastic style especially when it had strong classical overtones. It's even been described Wagnerian in a bid to link their music with the Third Reich. However until the VolksWagner project there had not been any major use of Wagner's work which is actually quite surprising giving the large influence of classical elements that had already been utilised in their work and the importance of Wagner in the culture of Central Europe.
The first indications that Laibach had finally turned their attention to work of Richard Wagner was reports that they were collaborating with the Croatian National Theatre on the opera Parsifal in the summer of 2008. Unfortunately due to the immense cost and worsening world-wide financial crisis it failed to materialise but hopefully this project is on hold rather than abandoned. Parsifal was Wagner's last work, completed shortly before his death in 1883 and my favourite. Enigmatic and sublime masterpiece resulting from the immense skill and experience accumulated by Wagner and to have Laibach involved is most intriguing. However Laibach did not abandon the Wagner idea altogether and with the Symphony Orchestra of RTV Slovenia have since presented a different project titled VolksWagner. It is a result of blending Wagner with unusual elements not normally found in his music such as jazz and electronic, guided by Laibach fresh from their work with Bach, part of VolksWagner included vocal work from Milan. The premiere of VolksWagner took place at the Cankarjev Dom in Ljubljana on April 19th 2009. I've yet to hear the performance properly however reactions from others were mostly positive. A double CD is planned later this year with the first disc containing the studio recording while the second disc will feature the live performance from the premiere concert.
Wagner's music is truly spectacular and has a large fanatical following, it is widely used in films and on television. It also continues to draw sell-out crowds in its natural operatic format, and money is simply not enough to see the annual festival concerts at Wagner's Bayreuth Opera House in Germany. The music is spectacular and sublime, inspiring many and not just those involved with music, but also in art, literature and even films. Richard Wagner is a controversial figure and had been accused of anti-Semitism, also he was very much a German nationalist however the links with the Third Reich were not really feasible having died long before the rise of the Nazis. Anti-Semitism was prevalent across Europe having been created and vigorously encouraged by Christian religious leaders, so it's always a mistake to associate it too much with Germany alone. Certainly when the German troops invaded it was often the local population that had eagerly carried out much of the atrocities.
Wagner was not the only anti-Semite in the music world and there were many, some of them far more vocal such as Chopin, furthermore Wagner retracted much of his anti-Semitic remarks and had many Jewish colleagues and friends. Wagner did however did write a pamphlet called The Jewish Problem where he calls for the Jews to be less like Jews, which does spike any attempts to gloss over his anti-Semitism. What really taints Wagner's work was the association with the Third Reich who assimilated Wagner into their identity and to some extent it did fit neatly into the aura that the Nazis created. Wagner's music would be played at rallies, though others were used too such as Beethoven. The Nazis certainly appreciated Wagner and championed his work though some did not like Parsifal for its pacifist undertones. Hitler often made it known that he personally admired the music of Wagner and was delighted when presented with an original score by Wagner's grandson. Inevitably the music became a turnoff for Jews who suffered dreadfully in the hands of the Nazis and European anti-Semites during World War Two.
Though the music is not officially banned in Israel it is avoided to the extent there has only been the isolated performances and not without a great deal of fuss. However many feel that's it not really relevant what Wagner contributed however small to the anti-Semitism that culminated with the Nazis but the fact that the music conjures memories of the Nazis and their rallies. Gradually there is a softening in attitudes and a move towards focusing on the music and appreciating its sheer depth.
In Laibach's VolksWagner they deliberately incorporated a strong jazz element which was a style that the Nazis did not approve of and any use of it with Wagner's music would have been highly provocative to them. However the whole project was never really about being controversial one way or the other, Laibach and the Symphony Orchestra of RTV Slovenia where trying new and different ideas along with taking a fresh approach with the music of Wagner using modern electronic equipment. For those who couldn't attend the premiere of the concert, snippets had been available on YouTube but most of them soon afterward removed due to copyright issues. However we can look forward to studio and live version expected later in 2010, then we can fully appraise the concept.