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AnEconomistBest Book of 2007, Jonathan Carr’sThe Wagner Clanproves, with the sweeping scope of a Wagnerian opera, that the history of Europe and that of the infamous composer’s family are inextricably intertwined. Carr presents not only Richard Wagner himself— musician, philosopher, philanderer, failed revolutionary, and virulent anti-Semite—but also a colorful cast of historical figures who feature in Wagner’s story: Franz Liszt (whose illegitimate daughter Cosima married Wagner); Friedrich Nietzsche; Arthur ...
AnEconomistBest Book of 2007, Jonathan Carr’sThe Wagner Clanproves, with the sweeping scope of a Wagnerian opera, that the history of Europe and that of the infamous composer’s family are inextricably intertwined. Carr presents not only Richard Wagner himself— musician, philosopher, philanderer, failed revolutionary, and virulent anti-Semite—but also a colorful cast of historical figures who feature in Wagner’s story: Franz Liszt (whose illegitimate daughter Cosima married Wagner); Friedrich Nietzsche; Arthur Schopenhauer; Richard Strauss; Gustav Mahler; Arturo Toscanini; Joseph Goebbels; Hermann Göring; and the Wolf ” himself, Adolf Hitler, a passionate fan of the Master’s music and an adopted uncle to Wagner’s grandchildren. Wagner’s British-born daughter-in-law, Winifred, was a close friend of Hitler’s and seemed momentarily positioned to marry him after the death of her husband. All through the war the Bayreuth Festival, begun by the Master himself, was supported by Hitler, who had to fill the audience with fighting men and SS officers. After the war’s devastation, the festival was dark for a decade until Wagner’s offspring—with characteristic ambition and cunning— revived it.The Wagner Clanis a riveting chronicle of the ascent, decline, and rehabilitation of the German nation and its most infamous family.
List of Plates ix
Family Tree xv
1 A Sublime but Glaucous Sea 1
2 Revolution and Reverse 9
3 Ugly Duckling and Swan King 28
4 The Fortress on the Hill 47
5 The Plastic Demon 65
6 The Spin Doctor 90
7 Odd Man Out 111
8 Wolf at the Door 131
9 Three Funerals and a New Broom 153
10 All the Reich's a Stage 172
11 Dissonant Quartet 192
12 Mausi at Bay 206
13 War - at Home and Abroad 222
14 New Bayreuth? 244
15 The Road Not Taken 267
16 Sins of the Fathers 285
17 End of Empire? 306
18 Time Present and Time Past 321
19 Time Future? 340
In this his last book, Jonathan Carr (1942-2008), the biographer of Helmut Schmidt and Gustav Mahler, has written a brilliant collective biography of the Wagner family. He tells the story of Richard Wagner's extraordinary music and of his family's fights over the ownership and control of the Bayreuth music festival.
Wagner backed the 1848 revolutions, but had failed to learn from the 1789 French Revolution which, as Carr points out, "gave a mighty boost to the cause of Jewish emancipation." Wagner's repellent anti-Semitism stains his fame.
Also, the Wagner family was closer to Hitler than any other German family was. They knew Hitler as 'Uncle Wolf', so often did he visit their Bayreuth home. The family welcomed his patronage and never distanced themselves from his politics. Later, they showed no remorse and accepted no responsibility for Nazi crimes.
Carr concludes that Wagner was not 'particularly to blame for the Holocaust', largely because there were so many other guilty parties. Nor was his music especially palatable to the Nazis, although they used his 'Ride of the Valkyries' as sound track to newsreels of their air raids, as did Francis Ford Coppola to scenes of US helicopter attacks on Vietnam in 'Apocalypse Now'.
Wagner's great opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen "shows how disaster strikes those spurred by greed and lust for power." Wagner's rebellious grand-daughter Friedelind later called Hitler 'Alberich-Hitler', identifying him with the Ring's lethal Nibelung, whose hunger for power sparks the saga that ends in the apocalypse of Götterdämmerung.