Nietzsche makes a very critical analysis of the German culture of his time in several of his works, beginning with his assessment of history and culture in The Birth of Tragedy and modified in later works as he rethought his position and changed some of his views. Nietzsche makes a comparison between historical knowledge about past cultures and culture itself. He sees true culture as a unity of the forces of life with the love of form and beauty. Nietzsche considers life as terrible and tragic, but he also views it as transmuted through art, the work of creative genius. Nietzsche discovers the proper role of art in his study of the Greeks, who also knew that life was tragic and terrible but who never gave in to the pessimism that this might entail. Instead, they transmuted life through art. They did this through two different aesthetics, one Dionysian and the other Apollonian. Modern culture did not affirm life and had given in to the pessimism that Nietzsche wished to avoid. Part of the sterility of modern culture was its dedication to historical learning as a substitute for a living culture. Nietzsche's attack on decadence included an attack on Richard Wagner, a man whom Nietzsche had supported . In his analysis on modernity, though, Nietzsche changed his mind in effect and came to view Wagner's music as decadent and overly bound to the past.
Nietzsche uses the metaphor of disease in describing Wagner and his music in The Case of Wagner, one of two major attacks Nietzsche made on Wagner. Nietzsche writes of Wagner:
Precisely because nothing is more modern than this total sickness, this lateness and overexcitement of the nervous mechanism, Wagner is the modern artist par excellence, the Cagliostro of modernity.
Nietzsche condemned Wagner's music, calling it a form of hysteria, and he saw Wagner's style in terms of hallucinations. Wagner was held up as a symbol of decadence in music, and this extended beyond the...