In the astonishingly productive year of 1888 before his precipitous descent into madness during the first few days of January 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche was able finally to cast loose of the spell long before worked on him by the music of Richard Wagner, and cemented during his years-long intimate attachment to Wagner himself; a spell that had persisted inexorably despite Nietzsche's heroic efforts to free himself of it even after he'd broken openly with Wagner some twelve years previous. That productive year saw the writing of Die Götzen-Dämmerung (Twilight of the Idols), Der Antichrist, Ecce Homo, and two savage polemics attacking Wagner: Der Fall Wagner (The Case of Wagner), and Nietzsche contra Wagner, both of which works seem to me suffused with a miasmic aura of self-loathing every bit as savage as his polemic attacks. Just how difficult — and ambivalent — was the casting off of that spell may be judged by these two passages (English translations by Walter Kaufmann) written only months apart which I here quote knowing full well how parlous an enterprise it is to quote Nietzsche out of the quote's surrounding context, both immediate and oeuvre-wide.
First, this from Der Fall Wagner:
I place this perspective at the outset: Wagner's art is sick. The problems he presents on the stage — all of them problems of hysterics — the convulsive nature of his affects, his overexcited sensibility, his taste that required ever stronger spices, his instability which he dressed up as principles, not least of all the choice of his heroes and heroines — consider them as physiological types (a pathological gallery!) — all of this taken together represents a profile of sickness that permits no further doubt. Wagner est une névrose (Wagner is a neurosis).
Wagner represents a great corruption of music. He has guessed that it is a means to excite weary nerves — and with that he has made music sick. His inventiveness is not inconsiderable in the art of goading again those who are weariest, calling back into life those who are half dead. He is a master of hypnotic tricks, he manages to throw down the strongest like bulls.
And this from Ecce Homo:
From the moment when there was a piano score of Tristan ... I was a Wagnerian ... older works I deemed beneath myself — still too vulgar, too "German".
To this day I am still looking for a work of equally dangerous fascination, of an equally gruesome and sweet infinity as Tristan — and look in all the arts in vain. All the strangenesses of Leonardo da Vinci emerge from their spell at the first note of Tristan. ... The world is poor for anyone who has never been sick enough for this "voluptuousness of hell"; it is permitted, it is almost imperative, to employ a formula of the mystics at this point.
I think I know better than anyone else of what tremendous things Wagner is capable — the fifty worlds of alien ecstasies for which no one besides him had wings; and given the way I am, strong enough to turn even what is most questionable and dangerous to my advantage and thus to become stronger, I call Wagner the great benefactor of my life.