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A Beckmesser is a petty, pedantic critic, named after the Nuremberg Mastersinger and scribe Sixtus Beckmesser in Richard Wagner's 1867 opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg .

Historical role model

The figure of Beckmesser is based on the historical Sixt Beckmesser, who probably lived in Nuremberg in the 16th century . Hans Sachs mentions him in a master song from 1527 as one of the "Twelve Nuremberg Masters" or "chosen Mastersingers ":

The sibent was Six Beckmesser,
its tone was lovely.

A melody by Sixt Beckmesser, the golden tone , was still known in Nuremberg in the 17th century, and a New Year's song to Maria composed in this melody has been preserved.

Since the name Beckmesser is nowhere else to be found in archives, there is reason to assume that the master's name was "Sixt Beck" and that the addition of "-messer" is an indication of his profession as a cutler. The widow of a Sixt Beck is mentioned in the archives of the city of Nuremberg in 1539; Furthermore, the Beck cutlery existed until the 17th century.

The figure of Beckmesser in Wagner's opera

The figure of Sixtus Beckmesser is traditionally interpreted as a parody of the Viennese music writer Eduard Hanslick , an early admirer of Wagner's music, who later turned into a fierce critic and also found no pleasure in the Meistersingers . In the second draft of the opera, Wagner named his character, which was a caricature of a music critic, “Veit Hanslich”. The fact that he only wanted to caricature the person of Hanslick is refuted by the fact that Wagner had already created the figure in all its later features in his first sketch for his work in 1845, when he did not yet know Eduard Hanslick. Wagner himself contributed to the legend that Beckmesser meant Hanslick through the myth he spread that Hanslick immediately recognized himself in Beckmesser and reacted offended. However, nothing of this is documented in Hanslick's reviews. Hanslick's mother came from a prominent Prague merchant family of Jewish origin.

Wagner portrayed Beckmesser as a strictly rule-compliant, academically conservative character who sticks to the letter of the rules and is incapable of artistic achievement and creativity. So he tries to keep the melody he has found unchanged, and later also forces the text of his competitor Walther von Stolzing he stole from it, which he does not understand and takes over incorrectly.

In recent times, Walter Jens in particular has tried to rehabilitate the figure of Beckmesser, who embodies a necessary counterweight to Sachs and Stolzing: "The town clerk has to stay on the stage, he is still needed!" This demand has been taken up on various occasions has found expression in some directorial work .

Apart from that, the character of Beckmesser is clearly related to Shakespeare's Malvolio in the comedy What you want . Beckmesser resembles Malvolio in many respects down to the details of the plot, here as there an outsider and eccentric is played badly.

Beckmesser harp

During his nightly appearance in front of Pogner's house in the second act, Beckmesser accompanies his master song for Eva on a lute . The singer plays the plucked lute notes on stage on a mute instrument and is accompanied by a harp in the orchestra pit. Wagner imagined an instrument with a sound as close as possible to that of the lute and had a small harp made with steel strings for it. This "Beckmesser harp", which is only offered by one manufacturer from Germany, is still used by some opera houses today. Where such a harp is not available, a manipulated harp is used, the strings of which are muted with strips of paper.

Giacomo Puccini used a similar effect in the opera La fanciulla del West with a harp "with paper between the strings" to imitate a banjo .

Beckmesser - a caricature of Jews?

Sixtus Beckmesser was and is seen on various occasions as an anti-Semitic caricature: Wagner tried to parody Jewish synagogue singing in Beckmesser's unsuccessful songs. In addition, Beckmesser is occasionally associated with Grimm's fairy tale The Jew in the Thorn , mainly because of the lines of text

In a hedge of thorns,
consumed by envy and grief,
he had to hide there,
the winter grimly armored,

which refer to Beckmesser in its function as a marker in the "Gemerk".

This contradicts the fact that neither the first name Sixt (us) nor the surname Beckmesser nor the job of town clerk are perceived as specifically Jewish. Several distinctly sympathetic figures in the opera - in particular Hans Sachs, his apprentice David, Magdalena and Eva Pogner -, on the other hand, have Jewish-Biblical first names, which the libretto explicitly refers to in three cases.

Beckmesser's singing should also be interpreted as a parody of the French opera with its accentuation, which is contrary to the text in Wagner's view, and the Italian bel canto with its coloratura. In his closing address, Despises me not for the masters, Hans Sachs warns of French vapors with French trinkets, not of Jews or Jewish things .

The u. a. The accusation made by Theodor W. Adorno that Beckmesser, Mime and other negatively drawn characters from Wagner's operas were Jewish caricatures has repeatedly been discussed in publications and at scientific symposia on Wagner's anti-Semitism and continues to be judged differently.

Wagner's second wife Cosima Wagner noted in her diary on March 14, 1870 that during a Meistersinger performance in Vienna, Jewish viewers protested at the Beckmessers award singing on the Festwiese because they felt hurt by the caricaturing portrayal of the outsider, whereupon she noted with satisfaction: "Complete victory of the German".


The noun Beckmesserei (1920s), the verb beckmessern (mid-20th century) and the adjective beckmesserisch emerged from the name Beckmesser . The term is still used today as an educational paraphrase for diligent and narrow-minded belief in the rules, and also Korinthenkackerei .

Web links

Wiktionary: Beckmesser  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Ulrich Müller, Oswald Panagl: Ring and Grail. Texts, comments and interpretations on Richard Wagner's “The Ring of the Nibelung”, “Tristan and Isolde”, “The Mastersingers of Nuremberg” and “Parsifal”. Würzburg 2002, pp. 286–288, see also Google Book
  2. Hellmut Rosenfeld: The historical master singer Sixt Beckmesser and the master song. In: Euphorion, Zeitschrift für Literaturgeschichte 47 (1953), pp. 271-280
  3. cf. his position on the master singer Bernhard Woerdehoff: National according to notes. In: Die Zeit 28/1996.
  4. The plaster is crumbling at the German Singers Association. In: Der Standard , September 27, 2009, on the staging of the Graz Opera .
  5. ^ Richard Wagner Festival. Boo concert at directorial debut in Bayreuth. (on Katharina Wagner's directorial debut ) In: Die Welt , July 25, 2007.
  6. Focus on Wagner and the comic. Edited by Udo Bermbach , Dieter Borchmeyer , Hermann Danuser u. a., Issue 1, Königshausen & Neumann, 2007, p. 56. ISBN 978-3-8260-3714-6
  7. Birgit Heise, Thierry Gelloz: Musical instruments for Richard Wagner. Supplementary remarks on the catalog “Golden Sounds in the Mystical Ground” . S. 12 f . ( [PDF]). Musical instruments for Richard Wagner. Supplementary remarks on the catalog “Golden Sounds in the Mystical Ground” ( Memento from October 5, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  8. Special model Beckmesser. In: Horngacher concert harp construction. Retrieved December 29, 2017 .
  9. Nicole Korzonnek: The Beckmessers Harp: Wagner sounds replacement . In: . August 28, 2017 ( [accessed December 29, 2017]).
  10. Libretto 1st act 3rd scene , shortly before [422]
  11. Libretto , Hans Sachs: 3rd act 1st scene, [459] - [460], David: 1st act 1st scene, shortly after [403], Eva Pogner: 2nd act 6th scene, [442] - [443]
  12. Libretto 3rd act 5th scene , [491] - [492]
  13. Jan Schleusener: Is the Beckmesser a Jew? In: Die Welt , July 26, 1999, accessed November 20, 2017.
  14. ^ Ludger Hoffmann : Richard Wagner, Judentum in der Musik. Anti-Semitism between Kulturkampf and Annihilation (PDF; 228 kB). In: Peter Conrady (ed.): Fascism in Texts and Media: Yesterday - Today - Tomorrow? Athena Verlag, Oberhausen 2004, p.?
  15. The black widow - Wagner's Cosima and Cosima's Wagner. In Walhall live with me (3) , manuscript of a radio broadcast on SWR2 from May 23, 2013 (PDF), p. 9, accessed on November 27, 2014.
  16. Hellmut Rosenfeld:  Beckmesser (Peckmesser, Beck knife), Six (t). In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 1, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1953, ISBN 3-428-00182-6 , p. 729 f. ( Digitized version ).