Rav Avigdor Miller on The Worthless Musicians



I’ll quote from Plato in order to preface my question: “At the sight of beauty, wings grow on the human soul.” So what is your real reason for knocking the great musicians and artists of this world, artists who were able to rise above themselves and create such beautiful works?


He’s asking for a reason for my knocking of Stokowski or my knocking of Leonard Bernstein.

Leonard Bernstein gave ten thousand dollars as a contribution for Mirrer Yeshiva – oh excuse me! It was for the Black Panthers, I meant.  He contributed ten thousand dollars to the Black Panthers.  Now the Black Panthers is a very noble organization dedicated to the uplift of society, to helping the poor and to making peace on the streets and making it safe in this world.  And Leonard Bernstein took ten thousand of his dollars – of course, it doesn’t mean much to him. But if it doesn’t mean much, then why didn’t he give ten thousand dollars to Mirrer Yeshiva?

The answer is Leonard Bernstein is a chanuf, he’s a false soul.  He doesn’t care about true values at all and he wanted to flatter the enemies. Just like that fellow Lear, what’s his name?  Norman Lear? Also a great artist and he received a citation, a prize given by the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, for outstanding service.  Do you know what his service was?

Norman Lear gave $50,000 dollars to the A.C.L.U. with the express purpose that it’s earmarked to see that the Nazis win their court case to be permitted to march with their banners and slogans.  So Norman Lear took $50,000 out of his pocket for that. Now $50,000, even to him, means something.  And he said, “It’s only for the purpose – and nothing else – of helping the Nazis win in the courts for the right to parade with their banners.”

You know what the Nazis are saying in America? They want to send the Jews to the gas ovens.

And Stokowski as I mentioned before, may his soul rest in pieces, Stokowski was asked – somebody asked him, “Is it decent that you take away the wives of the members of your orchestra?” He dallied with the wives of the members of his orchestra. “Is it honest?” he was asked.

“Whatever it is, it’s fun,” he said.

That’s Stokowski.

Mendelssohn, the great composer was a meshumed. He forsook his people and for the sake of buying glory from the gentiles, he bowed down to strange gods. And he was an adulterer too, like so many others.

The list is endless.

Now, if people have noble ideals and they’re able to convey them to us on the wings of music, certainly!  That’s what Dovid HaMelech did, lehavdil elef alfei alafim of havdalos.  And that’s what the Levi’im in the Beis Hamikdosh. But when they convey to us empty lies, falsehood; it’s just music, nothing attached to the music, just music, it’s nothing. Music in itself is nothing but a tickling of the nerves.

So if you tickle my nerves – let’s say I’m sound asleep and you give me a tickle at about 3:00 in the morning. I get up.  “What’s it all about?” I ask. And you say, “It’s tickling l’shem tickling.” So I give you a kick and go back to bed. If you tickle me so that I should get up to avodas haBorei, I might also give you a kick but at least then you’d be justified. But to awake my nerves, to arouse my nerves, for nothing at all is a 100% a waste of time.

Now if you’ll say ‘art for art’s sake.’ Well I’ll give you an example of art for art’s sake.  Here is a big institution with a great building and the building is belching fire. The fire has a queer smell however.  You get closer and you might discover it’s the odor of burning human bodies.  A very big institution.  Around it is a big courtyard and naked people are being marched to the gas chambers in preparation to be burned.  That’s the Nazi gas chambers.  Men, women and children are being marched naked.  It’s freezing cold and they have to march for four blocks, but they take off their clothes before they start the march because that’s part of the Nazi plan of making death as difficult as possible.

These people can barely walk.  They’re wearied, emaciated.  And as they’re staggering to the gas chamber, they pass by a platform and on the platform there’s an orchestra and they’re playing music.  All this is happening under music! And they’re playing German music.  They’re playing Beethoven and Wagner and whatever garbage there is in the German pantheon of musicians.

So you say, “Well, they’re misusing their music.”

They’re using the music as music was created – for no purpose at all.

Had they set these words to music, words of kindliness, words of tolerance, words of love of Mankind, of noble idealism, we would give them their credit.  No question!  We give credit to Wordsworth.  I give credit to Wordsworth. Wordsworth said beautiful words, words of nobility.  Even a goy who says good things, he deserves credit.

But the musician doesn’t say anything.  He’s just banging it out on the instruments.  And therefore, since he’s not saying anything, so he’s nothing.

And the question is, what is he personally?  If personally he’s a mufkar, if he’s a lewd salacious low character, so what is there to praise?  The fact that he can make noise?

TAPE # 289 (October 1979)