We’ve been having some heated discussions about Wagner. They date from the time, earlier in the summer, that my eldest son William and I saw The Ring. My wife cannot dissociate him unhistorically, as I point out from the Third Reich. Alas, although Wagner employed many Jewish musicians and, early in his career, fawned revoltingly on Meyerbeer to further his career, he was, inescapably, anti-Semitic. In fact, he was a horrible man. I’m drawn as by an irresistible force to the music, but I don’t think I’d much care to meet him.
Which raises the question: if one could spend an evening with any artist from the past, who would it be? Dr Johnson, in this anniversary year, comes high up my list, but perhaps a trifle dominant in conversation. Dickens would be good value (those amateur theatricals), but possibly a show off. George Eliot? Rather hard work, I suspect.
If a painter, best to go for a courtly one, such as Rubens. Turner would be surly, Cézanne should be avoided. Composers are not invariably conversationalists (think of Beethoven), but Puccini would be charming, if unsafe with women. For conviviality, I’d pick Rossini, who retired, at the top of his game, aged 37. Professionally, I’d like Shakespeare, greatest but most shadowy of writers. An interview would make my fortune.