Even if some cannot believe it, those who have never been there themselves: Opera houses and theaters around the world are, even now, regularly sold-out with works that have been sold out for 200 years and that have deeply moved people who want to see the same pieces over and over again – for 200 years, throughout all times of both wars and peace.
The desire for opera and for art in its many other forms absolutely does not change. Banality and its social acceptance, however, have found their way into the highest levels of society and are generally louder than the rather sensitive, active consumers of art. However, tens of thousands of people sit happily in opera houses and theaters every evening, laughing or in tears and deeply moved. People don’t go to the opera because it’s exhausting, but because they want it because they need it because they were lucky enough to have been consciously exposed to it at some point. Of course, you can’t know that unless you’ve experienced it yourself. I have a friend who, before our acquaintance, knew nothing at all about classical music except for the cliché of elitism and elegant dress codes – and accordingly thought nothing of it. Today he knows that nothing about art is elitist but it’s rather the opposite; he enthusiastically listens to whole Wagner operas, which would be too much even for me – because he has been exposed to the power of art and he caught that fire, which once it gets to you, will never let you go.
I am really amazed, and at the same time unspeakably disappointed, by the level of intellectual contributions of some politicians who want to set a financial value on culture today. This seems like a mirror on several levels. It is a hardly reversible consequence of a disastrously failed schooling plan in Germany: in October 2020, some political speeches at the Bundestag equated opera houses and concert halls to fitness centers, putting them at the same level and calling them leisure facilities in the same breath! I believe that this much-cited subsumption in the German government’s statement was not inadvertent, and neither was it intentional. It is, meanwhile, the result of sheer ignorance. Art and culture have been increasingly removed from the school curricula in recent decades and therefore lead a shadowy existence in today’s everyday life. That is why we have a society today in which a large part no longer even knows the value of its own culture. Music and poetry, which used to be known by everyone in all social classes, have been lost to an entire generation. How can they appreciate them if they know nothing about them? They are being deprived of this possibility.
Instead, art and high culture are once again drifting into elitist clichés, although they are fundamentally normal, a foundation for cultural and national identity. Nothing about it is elitist, it is not wine but good water, it is a foundation, just like the multiplication table, it’s not caviar but bread and pasta. And yet, there are actually still millions of people with a culture of educational achievement, who know that i.a., classical music has nothing to do with a compulsion for culture – and basically nothing to do with education either – but with pure joy and passion, with inspiration and with being moved as a human being.
When people just claim out of the blue that art is something elitist, without ever consuming it, it takes my breath away. A large part of society has been swallowed by the American Way, which doesn’t allow much sensitivity for anything which is not profitable, and even the „elite“ classes have been overrun by fast food for the eyes, ears, and mouth – while „elite“ is increasingly equated with money, which is downright ridiculously shameful, but a reality. In Europe, the elite once included the much-troubled and hardly respected „poets and thinkers“, the scientists, the artists – not just the board members of a listed company or “Trash TV“ producers. If „profitability“ rules everything, then there is no more place for the sensitive and the really deeply moving things in the world. But there is nothing good about accepting this! To negate one’s own culture, and thus, history, and to equate it with the general mainstream, is something I consider very questionable. To read such statements, often from important personalities of society and public life, is very difficult for me every time, and they irritate me immensely.
We – and only we! – are the country of Goethe, Schiller, Dürer, Kant, Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, Wagner, Strauss, Rihm, Orff (yes, even the much-used Carmina Burana from TV commercials). We have been envied worldwide for this for hundreds of years! All the more reason why these unique names and their legacy confirm how important and right it is to stand up now, with all our enthusiasm and strength, for the great culture which we have achieved and which can move us all like nothing else.