The Case of Wagner
A Musicians' Problem.

Pub. 1888

From translation by Walter Kaufmann
1968 Random House
As Archived at The Nietzsche Channel



I have granted myself some small relief. It is not merely pure malice when I praise Bizet in this essay at the expense of Wagner. Interspersed with many jokes, I bring up a matter that is no joke. To turn my back on Wagner was for me a fate; to like anything at all again after that, a triumph. Perhaps nobody was more dangerously attached to—grown together with—Wagnerizing; nobody tried harder to resist it; nobody was happier to be rid of it. A long story!— You want a word for it?— If I were a moralist, who knows what I might call it? Perhaps self-overcoming.— But the philosopher has no love for moralists. Neither does he love pretty words.

What does a philosopher demand of himself first and last? To overcome his time in himself, to become "timeless." With what must he therefore engage in the hardest combat? With whatever marks him as the child of his time. Well, then! I am, no less than Wagner, a child of this time; that is, a decadent: but I comprehended this, I resisted it. The philosopher in me resisted.

Nothing has preoccupied me more profoundly than the problem of decadence—I had reasons. "Good and evil" is merely a variation of that problem. Once one has developed a keen eye for the symptoms of decline, one understands morality, too—one understands what is hiding under its most sacred names and value formulas: impoverished life, the will to the end, the great weariness. Morality negates life.

For such a task I required a special self-discipline: to take sides against everything sick in me, including Wagner, including Schopenhauer, including all modern "humaneness."— A profound estrangement, cold, sobering up—against everything that is of this time, everything timely—and most desirable of all, the eye of Zarathustra, an eye that beholds the whole fact of man at a tremendous distance—below. For such a goal—what sacrifice wouldn't be fitting? what "self-overcoming"? what "self-denial"?

My greatest experience was a recovery. Wagner is merely one of my sicknesses.

Not that I wish to be ungrateful to this sickness. When in this essay I assert the proposition that Wagner is harmful, I wish no less to assert for whom he is nevertheless indispensable—for the philosopher. Others may be able to get along without Wagner; but the philosopher is not free to do without Wagner. He has to be the bad conscience of his time: for that he needs to understand it best. But confronted with the labyrinth of the modern soul, where could he find a guide more initiated, a more eloquent prophet of the soul, than Wagner? Through Wagner modernity speaks most intimately, concealing neither its good nor its evil—having forgotten all sense of shame. And conversely: one has almost completed an account of the value of what is modern once one has gained clarity about what is good and evil in Wagner.

I understand perfectly when a musician says today: "I hate Wagner, but I can no longer endure any other music." But I'd also understand a philosopher who would declare: "Wagner sums up modernity. There is no way out, one must first become a Wagnerian."

The Case of Wagner
Turinese Letter of May 1888

ridendo dicere severum...
["Through what is laughable say what is somber."]


Yesterday I heard—would you believe it?—Bizet's masterpiece, for the twentieth time. Again I stayed there with tender devotion; again I did not run away. This triumph over my impatience surprises me. How such a work makes one perfect! One becomes a "masterpiece" oneself.

Really, every time I heard Carmen  I seemed to myself more of a philosopher, a better philosopher, than I generally consider myself: so patient do I become, so happy, so Indian, so settled.— To sit five hours: the first stage of holiness.

May I say that the tone of Bizet's orchestra is almost the only one I can still endure? That other orchestral tone which is now fashion, Wagner's, brutal, artificial, and "innocent" at the same time—thus it speaks all at once to the three senses of the modern soul!—how harmful for me is this Wagnerian orchestral tone! I call it sirocco. I break out into a disagreeable sweat. My good weather is gone.

This music seems perfect to me. It approaches lightly, supplely, politely. It is pleasant, it does not sweat. "What is good is light; whatever is divine moves on tender feet": first principle of my aesthetics. This music is evil, subtly fatalistic: at the same time it remains popular—its subtlety belongs to a race, not to an individual. It is rich. It is precise. It builds, organizes, finishes: thus it constitutes the opposite of the polyp in music, the "infinite melody." Have more painful tragic accents ever been heard on the stage? How are they achieved? Without grimaces. Without counterfeit. Without the lie of the great style.

Finally, this music treats the listener as intelligent, as if himself a musician—and is in this respect, too, the counterpart of Wagner, who was, whatever else he was, at any rate the most impolite genius in the world (Wagner treats us as if——he says something so often—till one despairs—till one believes it).

Once more: I become a better human being when this Bizet speaks to me. Also a better musician, a better listener. Is it even possible to listen better?— I actually bury my ears under this music to hear its causes. It seems to me I experience its genesis—I tremble before dangers that accompany some strange risk; I am delighted by strokes of good fortune of which Bizet is innocent.— And, oddly, deep down I don't think of it, or don't know how much I think about it. For entirely different thoughts are meanwhile running through my head.

Has it been noticed that music liberates the spirit? gives wings to thought? that one becomes more of a philosopher the more one becomes a musician?— The gray sky of abstraction rent as if by lightning; the light strong enough for the filigree of things; the great problems near enough to grasp; the world surveyed as from a mountain.— I have just defined the pathos of philosophy.— And unexpectedly answers drop into my lap, a little hail of ice and wisdom, of solved problems.— Where am I?— Bizet makes me fertile. Whatever is good makes me fertile. I have no other gratitude, nor do I have any other proof for what is good.


This work, too, redeems; Wagner is not the only "redeemer." With this work one takes leave of the damp north, of all the steam of the Wagnerian ideal. Even the plot spells redemption from that. From Mérimée it still has the logic in passion, the shortest line, the harsh necessity; above all, it has what goes with the torrid zone: the dryness of the air, the limpidezza [limpidity, clarity] in the air. In every respect, the climate is changed. Another sensuality, another sensibility speaks here, another cheerfulness. This music is cheerful, but not in a French or German way. Its cheerfulness is African; fate hangs over it; its happiness is brief, sudden, without pardon. I envy Bizet for having had the courage for this sensibility which had hitherto had no language in the cultivated music of Europe—for this more southern, brown, burnt sensibility.— How the yellow afternoons of its happiness do us good! We look into the distance as we listen: did we ever find the sea smoother?— And how soothingly the Moorish dance speaks to us? How even our insatiability for once gets to know satiety in this lascivious melancholy!

Finally, love—love translated back into nature. Not the love of a "higher virgin"! No Senta-sentimentality! [Senta: the heroine of Wagner's Flying Dutchman.] But love as fatum, as fatality, cynical, innocent, cruel—and precisely in this a piece of nature. That love which is war in its means, and at bottom the deadly hatred of the sexes!— I know no case where the tragic joke that constitutes the essence of love is expressed so strictly, translated with equal terror into a formula, as in Don Juan's last cry, which concludes the work:

"Yes. I have killed her,
I—my adored Carmen!"

Such a conception of love (the only one worthy of a philosopher) is rare: it raises a work of art above thousands. For on the average, artists do what all the world does, even worse—they misunderstand love. Wagner, too, misunderstood it . They believe one becomes selfless in love because one desires the advantage of another human being, often against one's own advantage. But in return for that they want to possess the other person.—Even God does not constitute an exception at this point. He is far from thinking, "What is it to you if I love you?"—he becomes terrible when one does not love him in return. L'amour—this saying remains true among gods and men—est de tous les sentiments le plus égoïste, et par conséquent, lorsqu'il est blessé, le moins généreux. (B. Constant.) [Love is of all sentiments the most egoistic, and, as a consequence, when it is wounded, the least generous.]


You begin to see how much this music improves me?— Il faut méditerraniser la musique ["Music should be Meditteraneanized."]: I have reasons for this formula (Beyond Good and Evil, 255). The return to nature, health, cheerfulness, youth, virtue!— And yet I was one of the most corrupted Wagnerians.— I was capable of taking Wagner seriously.— Ah, this old magician, how much he imposed upon us! The first thing his art offers us is a magnifying glass: one looks through it, one does not trust one's own eyes—everything looks big, even Wagner.— What a clever rattlesnake! It has filled our whole life with its rattling about "devotion," about "loyalty," about "purity"; and with its praise of chastity it withdrew from the corrupted world.— And we believed it in all these things.

But you do not hear me? You, too, prefer Wagner's problem to Bizet's? I, too, do not underestimate it; it has it's peculiar magic. The problem of redemption is certainly a venerable problem. There is nothing about which Wagner has thought more deeply than redemption: his opera is the opera of redemption. Somebody or other always wants to be redeemed in his work: [....]

[....] What Goethe might have thought of Wagner?— Goethe once asked himself what danger threatened all romantics: the fatality of romanticism. His answer was: "suffocating of the rumination of moral and religious absurdities." In brief: Parsifal.

The philosopher adds an epilogue to this: Holiness—perhaps the last thing the people and women still get to see of higher values, the horizon of the ideal for all who are by nature myopic. But among philosophers this is, like every horizon, a mere case of lack of understanding, a sort of shutting the gate at the point where their world only begins—their danger, their ideal, their desideratum.— To say it more politely: la philosophie ne suffit pas au grand nombre. Il lui faut la sainteté.— ["Philosophy is not suited for the masses. What they need is holiness.]


I shall relate the story of the Ring. It belongs here. It, too, is a story of redemption: only this time it is Wagner who is redeemed.—

Half his life, Wagner believed in the Revolution as much as ever a Frenchman believed in it. He searched for it in the runic writing of myth, he believed that in Siegfried he had found the typical revolutionary.

"Whence comes all misfortune in the world?" Wagner asked himself. From "old contracts," he answered, like all revolutionary ideologists. In plain: from customs, laws, moralities, institutions, from everything on which the old world, the old society rests. "How can one rid the world of misfortune? How can one abolish the old society?" Only by declaring war against "contracts" (tradition, morality). This is what Siegfried does. He starts early, very early: his very genesis is a declaration of war against morality—he comes into this world through adultery, through incest.— It is not the saga but Wagner who invented this radical trait; at this point he revised the saga.

Siegfried continues as he has begun: he merely follows his first impulse, he overthrows everything traditional, all reverence, all fear. Whatever displeases him he stabs to death. Without the least respect, he tackles old deities. But his main enterprise aims to emancipate woman—"to redeem Brunhilde." Siegfried and Brunhilde; the sacrament of free love; the rise of the golden age; the twilight of the gods for the old morality—all ill has been abolished.

For a long time, Wagner's ship followed this course gaily. No doubt, this was where Wagner sought his highest goal.— What happened? A misfortune. The ship struck a reef; Wagner was stuck. The reef was Schopenhauer's philosophy; Wagner was stranded on a contrary world view. What had he transposed into music? Optimism. Wagner was ashamed. Even an optimism for which Schopenhauer had coined an evil epithet—infamous [Ruchlos] optimism. He was ashamed a second time. He reflected for a long while, his situation seemed desperate.— Finally, a way out dawned on him: the reef on which he was shipwrecked—what if he interpreted it as the goal, as the secret intent, as the true significance of his voyage? To be shipwrecked here—that was a goal, too. Bene navigavi, cum naufragium feci. ["When I suffer shipwreck, I have navigated well."]

So he translated the Ring  into Schopenhauer's terms. Everything goes wrong, everything perishes, the new world is as bad as the old: the nothing, the Indian Circe beckons.

Brunhilde was initially supposed to take her farewell with a song in honor of free love, putting off the world with the hope for a socialist utopia in which "all turns out well"—but now gets something else to do. She has to study Schopenhauer first; she has to transpose the fourth book of The World as Will and Representation  into verse. Wagner was redeemed.

In all seriousness, this was a redemption. The benefit Schopenhauer conferred on Wagner is immeasurable. Only the philosopher of decadence gave to the artist of decadence—himself.


To the artist of decadence: there we have the crucial words. And here my seriousness begins. I am far from looking on guilelessly while this decadent corrupts our health—and music as well. Is Wagner a human being at all? Isn't he rather a sickness? He makes sick whatever he touches—he has made music sick

A typical decadent who has a sense of necessity in his corrupted taste, who claims it as a higher taste, who knows how to get his corruption accepted as law, as progress, as fulfillment.

And he is not resisted. His seductive force increases tremendously, smoke clouds of incense surround him, the misunderstandings about him parade as "gospel"—he hasn't by any means converted only the poor in spirit.

I feel the urge to open the windows a little. Air! More air!— [Luft! Mehr Luft! Goethe's last words are said to have been: Licht! Mehr Licht! "Light! More light!"]

That people in Germany should deceive themselves about Wagner does not surprise me. The opposite would surprise me. The Germans have constructed a Wagner for themselves whom they can revere: they have never been psychologists; their gratitude consists in misunderstanding. But that people in Paris, too, deceive themselves about Wagner, though there they are hardly anything anymore except psychologists! And in St. Petersburg, where they guess things that aren't guessed even in Paris! How closely related Wagner must be to the whole of European decadence to avoid being experienced by them as a decadent. He belongs to it: he is its protagonist, its greatest name.— One honors oneself when raising him to the clouds.

For that one does not resist him, this itself is a sign of decadence. The instincts are weakened. What one ought to shun is found attractive. One puts to one's lips what drives one yet faster into the abyss.

Is an example desired? One only need observe the regimen that those suffering from anemia or gout or diabetes prescribe for themselves. Definition of a vegetarian: one who requires a corroborant diet. To sense that what is harmful is harmful, to be able to forbid oneself something harmful, is a sign of youth and vitality. The exhausted are attracted  by what is harmful: the vegetarian by vegetables. [Wagner was a doctrinaire vegetarian, and Nietzsche's brother-in-law, Bernhard Förster, copied Wagner's vegetarianism along with Wagner's anti-Semitic ideology; so did Hitler. Nietzsche wrote his mother about Förster: "For my personal taste such an agitator is something impossible for closer acquaintance.... Vegetarianism, as Dr. Förster wants it, makes such natures only still more petulant" ('Letters to mother and sister,' no. 409, Leipzig, 1909)]. Sickness itself can be a stimulant to life: only one has to be healthy enough for this stimulant.

Wagner increase exhaustion: that is why he attracts the weak and exhausted. Oh, the rattlesnake-happiness of the old master when he always saw precisely "the little children" coming unto him!

I place this perspective at the outset: Wagner's art is sick. The problems he presents on the stage—all of them problems of hysterics—the convulsive nature of his affects, his overexcited sensibility, his taste that required even stronger spices, his instability which he dressed up as principles, not least of all the choices of his heroes and heroines—consider them as psychological types (a pathological gallery)!—all of this taken together represents a profile of sickness that permits no further doubt. Wagner est une névrose ["Wagner is a neurosis"]. Perhaps nothing is better known today, at least nothing has been better studied, that the Protean character of degeneration that here conceals itself in the chrysalis of art and artist. Our physicians and physiologists confront their most interesting case in Wagner, at least a very complete case. Precisely because nothing is more modern than this total sickness, this lateness and overexcitement of the nervous mechanism, Wagner is the modern artist par excellence, the Cagliostro of modernity. In his art all that the modern world requires most urgently is mixed in the most seductive manner: the three great stimulantia of the exhausted—the brutal, the artificial, and the innocent (idiotic).

Wagner represents a great corruption of music. He has guessed that it is a means to excite weary nerves—and with that he has made music sick. His inventiveness is not inconsiderable in the art of goading again those who are weariest, calling back into life those who are half dead. He is a master of hypnotic tricks, he manages to throw down the strongest like bulls. Wagner's success—his success with nerves and consequently women—has turned the whole world of ambitious musicians into disciples of his secret art. And not only the ambitious, the clever, too.— Only sick music makes money today; our big theaters subsist on Wagner.



[....] For the present I merely dwell on the question of style.— What is the sign of every literary decadence? That life no longer dwells in the whole. The word becomes sovereign and leaps out of the sentence, the sentence reaches out and obscures the meaning of the page, the page gains life at the expense of the whole—the whole is no longer a whole. But this is the simile of every style of decadence: every time, the anarchy of atoms, disintegration of the will, "freedom of the individual," to use moral terms—expanded into a political theory, "equal rights for all." Life, equal vitality, the vibration and exuberance of life pushed back into the smallest forms; the rest, poor in life. Everywhere paralysis, arduousness, torpidity or hostility and chaos: both more and more obvious the higher one ascends in forms of organization. The whole no longer lives at all: it is composite, calculated, artificial, and artifact.—

Wagner begins from a hallucination—not of sounds but of gestures. Then he seeks the sign language of sounds for them. If one would admire him, one should watch him at work at this point: how he separates, how he gains small units, how he animates these, severs them, and makes them visible. But this exhausts his strength: the rest is no good. [....] That Wagner disguised as a principle his incapacity for giving organic form, that he establishes a "dramatic style" where we merely establish his incapacity for any style whatever, this is in line with a bold habit that accompanied Wagner through his whole life: he posits a principle where he lacks a capacity (—very different in this respect, incidentally, from the old Kant who preferred another boldness: wherever he lacked a principle he posited a special human capacity).

Once more: Wagner is admirable and gracious only in the invention of what is smallest, in spinning out the details. Here one is entirely justified in proclaiming him a master of the first rank, as our greatest miniaturist  in music who crowds into the smallest space an infinity of sense and sweetness. His wealth of colors, of half shadows, of the secrecies of dying light spoils one to such an extent that afterward almost all other musicians seem too robust.

If one would believe me one should have to derive the highest conception of Wagner not from what is liked about him today. That has been invented to persuade the masses; from that we recoil as from all too impudent fresco. Of what concern to us  is the agaçant [provocative] brutality of the Tannhäuser  Overture. Or the circus of Walküre? Whatever of Wagner's music has become popular also apart from the theater shows dubious taste and corrupts taste. The Tannhäuser  March I suspect of bonhommerie; the overture of The Flying Dutchman is noise about nothing; the Lohengrin Prelude furnished the first example, only too insidious, only too successful, of hypnotism by means of music (—I do not like whatever music has no ambition beyond persuasion of the nerves). But quite apart from the magnétiseur [hypnotist] and fresco-painter Wagner, there is another Wagner who lays aside small gems: our greatest melancholiac in music, full of glances, tendernesses, and comforting words in which nobody has anticipated him, the master in tones of a heavy-hearted and drowsy happiness.

A lexicon of Wagner's most intimate words, all of them short things of five to fifteen measures, all of it music nobody knows.—Wagner has the virtue of decadents: pity.




[....] Above all, German youths understand him. The two words "infinite" and "meaning" were really sufficient: they induced a state of incomparable well-being in young men. It was not with his music that Wagner conquered them, it was with the "idea"—it is the enigmatic character of his art, its playing hide-and-seek behind a hundred symbols, its polychromy of the ideal that leads and lures these youths to Wagner; it is Wagner's genius for shaping clouds, his whirling, hurling, and twirling through the air, his everywhere and nowhere—the very same means by which Hegel formerly seduced and lured them!

In the midst of Wagner's multiplicity, abundance, and arbitrariness they feel as if justified in their own eyes—"redeemed." Trembling, they hear how the great symbols approach from foggy distances to resound in his art with muted thunder; they are not impatient when at times things are gray, gruesome, and cold. After all, they are, without exception, like Wagner himself, related to such bad weather, German weather! Wotan is their god: but Wotan is the god of bad weather.

They are quite right, these German youths, considering what they are like: how could  they miss what we others, we halcyons, miss in Wagner—la gaya scienza; light feet, wit, fire, grace; the great logic; the dance of the stars; the exuberant spirituality; the southern shivers of light; the smooth  sea—perfection.—


I have explained where Wagner belongs—not  in the history of music. What does he signify nevertheless in that history? The emergence of the actor in music: a capital event that invites thought, perhaps also fear. In a formula: "Wagner and Liszt."

Never yet has the integrity of musicians, their "authenticity," been put to the test so dangerously. One can grasp it with one's very hands: great success, success with the masses no longer sides with those who are authentic—one has to be an actor to achieve that.

[....] Wagner's stage requires one thing only—Teutons!— Definition of the Teuton: obedience and long legs.—

It is full of profound significance that the arrival of Wagner coincides in time with the arrival of the "Reich": both events prove the very same thing: obedience and long legs.— Never has obedience been better, never has commanding. Wagnerian conductors in particular are worthy of an age that posterity will call one day, with awed respect, the classical age of war. Wagner understood how to command; in this, too, he was the great teacher. He commanded as the inexorable will to himself, as lifelong self-discipline: Wagner who furnishes perhaps the greatest example of self-violation in the history of art. [...]


The insight that our actors are more deserving of admiration than ever does not imply that they are any less dangerous.— But who could still doubt what I want—what are the three demands  for which my wrath, my concern, my love of art has this time opened my mouth?

That the theater should not lord it over the arts.
That the actor should not seduce those who are authentic.
That music should not become an art of lying.



The seriousness of the last words permits me to publish at this point a few sentences from an as yet unprinted essay. At least they should leave no room for doubt about my seriousness in this matter. This essay bears the title: The Price We Are Paying for Wagner.

One pays heavily for being one of Wagner's disciples. [....] The resistance he encountered among us Germans cannot be esteemed too highly or honored too much. He was resisted like a sickness—not with reasons—one does not refute a sickness—but with inhibition, mistrust, vexation, and disgust, with a gloomy seriousness, as if he represented some great creeping danger. Our honored aestheticians have compromised themselves when, coming from three schools of German philosophy, they waged an absurd war against Wagner's principles with "if" and "for"—as if he cared about principles, even his own!

The Germans themselves had reason enough in their instincts to rule out any "if" and "for." An instinct is weakened when it rationalizes itself: for by  rationalizing itself it weakens itself. If there are any signs that, in spite of the total character of European decadence, the German character still possesses some degree of health, some instinctive sense for what is harmful and dangerous, this dim resistance to Wagner is the sign I should like least to see underestimated. It does us honor, it even permits a hope: France would not have that much health any more. The Germans, the delayers par excellence in history, are today the most retarded civilized nation in Europe: this has its advantages—by the same token they are relatively the youngest.

[....] One pays heavily for being one of Wagner's disciples. What does it do to the spirit? Does Wagner liberate the spirit?— He is distinguished by every ambiguity, every double sense, everything quite generally that persuades those who are uncertain without making them aware of what  they have been persuaded. Thus Wagner is a seducer on a large scale. There is nothing weary, nothing decrepit, nothing fatal and hostile to life in matters of the spirit that his art does not secretly safeguard: it is the blackest obscurantism that he conceals in the ideal's shrouds of light. He flatters every nihilistic (Buddhistic) instinct and disguises it in music; he flatters everything Christian, every religious expression of decadence. Open your ears: everything that ever grew on the soil of impoverished  life, all of the counterfeiting of transcendence and beyond, has found its most sublime advocate in Wagner's art—not  by means of formulas: Wagner is too shrewd for formulas—but by means of a persuasion of sensuousness which in turn makes the spirit weary and worn-out. Music as Circe.

His last work is in this respect his greatest masterpiece. In the art of seduction, Parsifal  will always retain its rank—as the stroke of genius in seduction.— I admire this work; I wish I had written it myself; failing that, I understand it.— Wagner never had better inspirations than in the end. Here the cunning in his alliance of beauty and sickness goes so far that, as it were, it casts a shadow over Wagner's earlier art—which now seems too bright, too healthy. Do you understand this? Health, brightness having the effect of a shadow? almost of an objection?— To such an extent have we become pure fools.—Never was there a greater master in dim, hieratic aromas—never was there a man equally expert in all small  infinities, all that trembles and is effusive, all the feminisms from the idioticon  of happiness!— Drink, O my friends, the philters of this art! Nowhere will you find a more agreeable way of enervating your spirit, of forgetting your manhood under a rosebush.— Ah, this old magician! This Klingsor [magician in Parsifal] of all Klingsors! How he thus wages war against us!  us, the free spirits! How he indulges every cowardice of the modern soul with the tones of magic maidens!— Never before has there been such a deadly hatred of the search for knowledge!— One has to be a cynic in order not to be seduced here; one has to be able to bite in order not to worship here. Well then, you old seducer, the cynic warns you—cave canem [Beware of the dog].— [....]

Second Postscript

My letter, it seems, is open to a misunderstanding. On certain faces the lines of gratitude appear; I even hear a modest exhultation. I should prefer to be understood in this matter—as in many others.— But since a new animal plays havoc in the vineyards of the German spirit, the Reich-worm, the famous Rhinoxera ["Rhinepest"], not a word I write is understood any more. Even the Kreuzzeitung [right-wing newspaper] testifies to that. [...] I have given the Germans the most profound books they have—reason enough for the Germans not to understand a single word.—

When in this  essay I declare war upon Wagner—and incidentally upon a German "taste"—when I use harsh words against the cretinism of Bayreuth, the last thing I want to do is start a celebration for any other musicians. Other musicians don't count compared to Wagner. Things are bad generally. Decay is universal. The sickness goes deep. If Wagner nevertheless gives his name to the ruin of music, as Bernini did to the ruin of sculpture, he is certainly not its cause. He merely accelerated its tempo—to be sure, in such a manner that one stands horrified before this almost sudden downward motion, abyss-ward. He had the naïveté of decadence: this was his superiority. He believed in it, he did not stop before any of the logical implications of decadence. The others hesitate—that is what differentiates them. Nothing else.

What Wagner has in common with "the others"—I'll enumerate it: the decline of the power to organize; the misuse of traditional means with the capacity to furnish any justification, any for-the-sake-of; the counterfeiting in the imitation of big forms for which nobody today is strong, proud, self-assured, healthy  enough; excessive liveliness in the smallest parts; excitement at any price; cunning as the expression of impoverished  life; more and more nerves in place of flesh.— [....]

Nothing, however, can cure music in  what counts, from  what counts, from the fatality of being an expression of the physiological contradiction—of being modern. The best instruction, the most conscientious training, intimacy on principle, even isolation in the company of the old masters—all this remains merely palliative—to speak more precisely, illusory—for one no longer has the presupposition in one's body, whether this be the strong race of a Handel or whether it be the overflowing animal vitality of a Rossini.— Not everybody has a right  to every teacher: that applies to whole ages.—

To be sure, the possibility cannot be excluded that somewhere in Europe there are still rests  of stronger generations, of typically untimely human beings: if so, one could still hope for a belated   beauty and perfection in music, too, from that quarter. What we can still experience at best are exceptions. From the rule  that corruption is on top, that corruption is fatalistic, no god can save music.


Let us recover our breath in the end by getting away for a moment from the narrow world to which every question about the worth of persons condemns the spirit. A philosopher feels the need to wash his hands after having dealt so long with "The Case of Wagner."—

I offer my conception of what is modern.— In its measure of strength every age also possesses a measure for what virtues are permitted and forbidden to it. Either it has the virtues of ascending  life: then it will resist from the profoundest depths the virtues of declining life. Or the age itself represents declining life: then it also requires the virtues of decline, then it hates everything that justifies itself solely out of abundance, out of the overflowing riches of strength. Aesthetics is tied indissolubly to these biological presuppositions: there is an aesthetics of decadence, and there is a classical  aesthetics—the "beautiful in itself" is a figment of the imagination, like all of idealism.—

In the narrower sphere of so-called moral values one cannot find a greater contrast than that between a master morality  and the morality of Christian  value concepts: the latter developed on soil that was morbid through and through (the Gospels present us with precisely the same physiological types that Dostoevsky's novels describe), master morality ("Roman," "pagan," "classical," "Renaissance") is, conversely, the sign language of what has turned out well, of ascending  life, of the will to power as the principle of life. Master morality affirms  as instinctively as Christian morality negates ("God," "beyond," "self-denial"—all of them negations). The former gives to things out of its own abundance—it transfigures, it beautifies the world and makes it more rational—the latter impoverishes, pales and makes uglier the value of things, it negates  the world. "World" is a Christian term of abuse.—

These opposite forms in the optics of value are both  necessary: they are ways of seeing, immune to reasons and refutations. One cannot refute Christianity; one cannot refute a disease of the eye. That pessimism was fought like a philosophy, was the height of scholarly idiocy. The concepts "true" and "untrue" have, as it seems to me, no meaning in optics.

What alone should be resisted is that falseness, that deceitfulness of instinct which refuses  to experience these opposites as opposites—as Wagner, for example, refused, being no mean master of such falsehoods. To make eyes at master morality, at noble  morality (Icelandic saga is almost its most important document) while mouthing the counterdoctrine, that of the "gospel of the lowly," of the need  for redemption!—

I admire, incidentally, the modesty of the Christians who go to Bayreuth. I myself wouldn't be able to endure certain words out of the mouth of a Wagner. There are concepts which do not  belong in Bayreuth.—


Noble morality, master morality, conversely, is rooted in a triumphant Yes said to oneself—it is self-affirmation, self-glorification of life; it also requires sublime symbols and practices, but only because "its heart is too full." All of beautiful, all of great  art belongs here: the essence of both is gratitude. One the other hand, one cannot dissociate from it an instinctive aversion against  decadents, scorn for their symbolism, even horror: such feelings almost prove it. Noble Romans experienced Christianity as foeda superstitio ["an abominable superstition"]: I recall how the last German of noble taste, how Goethe experienced the cross.

One looks in vain for more valuable, more necessary  opposites.—* [*See Nietzsche's Note.]

But such falseness as that of Bayreuth is no exception today. We are all familiar with the unaesthetic concept of the Christian Junker. Such innocence  among opposites, such a "good conscience" in a lie is actually modern par excellence, it almost defines modernity. Biologically, modern man represents a contradiction of values; he sits between two chairs, he says Yes and No in the same breath. Is it any wonder that precisely in our times falsehood itself has become flesh and even genius: that Wagner  "dwelled among us"? It was not without reason that I called Wagner the Cagliostro of modernity.—

But all of us have, unconsciously, involuntarily in our bodies values, words, formulas, moralities of opposite  descent—we are, physiologically considered, false.A diagnosis of the modern soul—where would it begin? With a resolute incision into this instinctive contradiction, with the isolation of its opposite values, with the vivisection of the most instructive  case.— The case of Wagner is for the philosopher a windfall—this essay is inspired, as you hear, by gratitude.—


*Note. The opposition between "noble  morality" and "Christian morality" was first explained in my Genealogy of Morals: perhaps there is no more decisive turning point in the history of our understanding of religion and morality. This book, my touchstone for what belongs to me, has the good fortune of being accessible only to the most high-minded and severe spirits: the rest  lack ears for it. One must have one's passion in things where nobody else today has it.—