Are Richard Wagner’s operas a potential tool to teach medical students and young doctors humanities? is the title of a paper published by Gunter Wolf a member of the Department of Internal Medicine III, University Hospital Jena. He is also an expert on the operas of Wagner. The abstract of the paper is below. At the end of this piece is a link that will download the entire article. The material here is published with the permission of the author.
There is an increasing interest in using poems and novels as a powerful resource to teach medical students ethical and professional behavior, virtues, and to illustrate the complexity of the doctor–patient relationship. This approach as part of a narrative medicine provides a framework for approaching a patient’s problems more holistically and also offers a method for addressing existential inner qualities such as grief, hope, and despair that are part of illnesses. Occasionally, operas (mainly Italian) have also been used for this purpose. I however, propose that medical students may learn a lot from a deeper confrontation with the operas from the German composer Richard Wagner (1813–1883). Certainly, Wagner had a rather self-centered personality, also known for his notorious nationalistic and anti-Semitic essays, but his complete Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) encompasses almost every human feeling, conflict, and psychological problem including suffering, compassion, redemption, etc. Wagner’s opera somewhat reflected his unsteady life. Wagner was convinced that his art could fill the void left by the retreat of traditional religion, suggesting that humanity may achieve freedom through the perception of beauty uniting communities through shared aesthetic experience. Not a very modest approach and not a very likable character, but a great composer. After a short biography, I will provide some (because of the complexity of the subject, naturally limited) arguments on what medical students can learn from Wagner operas, even though I am convinced that Wagner and his music are not easy to digest, even for experienced opera lover.