Should we ignore an artist's sins?

I WAS listening to music the other night while cooking dinner, as I do most evenings, when I was struck by an uncomfortable thought.

Aidan Semmens

I WAS listening to music the other night while cooking dinner, as I do most evenings, when I was struck by an uncomfortable thought.

If I hadn't known I was listening to Mahler, whom I love, might I have mistaken the piece for Wagner, whom I detest?

I tend to agree with Rossini, who said: “Wagner has beautiful moments - and awful quarter-hours.”

In Mahler, the ratio is the other way around. Nevertheless, there is something distinctly Wagnerian about his seventh symphony that I hadn't noticed before.

And that made me wonder whether I should stop liking it. Or whether I would continue to enjoy it if it turned out actually to have been by Wagner.

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This raises a couple of points about the appreciation of art.

They say it should be the work alone that matters, not the artist. But is that realistic?

If Kylie Minogue or Robbie Williams were to make a good record (unlikely, I know, but let's at least admit the possibility), would I be able to enjoy it? Or admit that I did?

Bob Dylan has certainly made some stinkers, but I'll generally allow him more leeway than I would others.

Heck, I can even listen to the nonsensical dronings of his 1980s “Christian” period. Some of them. Occasionally.

Dylan is, I think, generally under-rated as a musician, but his words are the most important thing.

Wagner, on the other hand, is almost universally over-rated as a musician. It's a habit he started himself. And as for his words…

Well, he didn't actually write the words of his operas himself, but he chose the nationalistic German themes.

And his words elsewhere, in person and in a series of pamphlets, were a constant stream of anti-Semitic poison.

He is credited - if that's the right term - with coining the deadly phrase “the Jewish problem”.

And neither the name nor the meaning of “the final solution” was original when Hitler used them. The Nazi leader took the idea, like a lot of his vile claptrap, from Wagner.

But should knowing all that prevent me from hearing and enjoying Wagner's orchestral music?

My get-out from that dilemma has always been the thought that his lush, over-egged, pompous orchestration was unlistenable anyway.

And then came my awkward Mahler moment.

I should perhaps point out here that I make no connection above between Kylie or Robbie and one of the instigators of history's most breaktaking evils.

It's just that I don't like either their music or their public images, which isn't quite the same thing. They may be really nice people in private - I wouldn't know, and frankly I don't much care.

So should it bother me either way whether Carl Orff, one of the 20th century's most inspiring composers, was, as has been alleged, an enthusiastic Nazi?

Would it any way detract from the pleasure of his brilliant Carmina Burana to know it had indeed been written for Hitler and company?

DOES it matter whether Banksy, the most brilliant visual artist of our times, is a 34-year-old Bristol man called Robin Gunningham?

By a slightly curious twist, anonymity was always an element in Banksy's fame. But his works are no less skilful, amusing or thought-provoking for having a real name attached to them.

In “unmasking” him - if, indeed, they've got it right - the Mail on Sunday journalists are merely being spoilsports. But it's hardly a major scoop.

We already knew where Banksy was from and roughly how old he must be. The fact (if it is one) that he went to a minor public school has no relevance to anything.

I certainly can't see why the revelation should end his artistic career, as has been suggested. I do hope it doesn't.

I AM not, on the whole, in favour of longer sentences for anything. Or of sending people to prison at all if there's any sensible alternative.

The proportion of the British population in jail, though a fraction of America's, is still a national disgrace. But…

The new, tougher guidelines on sentences for causing death by dangerous driving seem about right.

If you kill someone by overtaking stupidly, or because your attention is on your mobile phone, it's tantamount to manslaughter.

Do the new rules apply to cyclists too? Last week's horrific case in Buckinghamshire suggests they should.

Jason Howard yelled “Move because I'm not stopping” moments before ploughing into a group of pedestrians at about 20mph. He chose not to brake or swerve, and so killed 17-year-old Rhiannon Bennett.

I don't know which is more shocking. The fact that the judge gave him less than the maximum sentence for dangerous cycling. Or that that maximum is merely a fine of £2,500.

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