2009: 2. The Wagner Clan

“It is often said that more books have been written about Richard Wagner, probably the most adored and detested creative artist in history, than about anyone else bar Jesus Christ and Napoleon”

The Wagner Clan, Jonathan Carr

This is a story of Richard Wagner, and of his (often crazy) family, and how they preserved and maintained his legacy - while also helping to run it into the dirt.  It is the story of the Bayreuth festival, of anti-Semitism and Nazism, and  of one illustrious and infamous family’s saga, which at times seems to be almost as involved as that of the master’s characters (though, not quite, since at least no one in the story managed to fall in love and impregnate their own sibling!).  It is a hell of a story - starting with Wagner’s genius and vile anti-semitism, through the managing of his image after his death first by his wife, Cosima (herself the illegitimate daughter of Liszt), then by his composer son Siegfreid, and his crazy Nazi wife Winnifred (who, though born in England, out German-ed the Germans by becoming Hitler’s best friend), and then by his grandsons who ended up with their own power struggle that still goes on today.  There is no question this is interesting gossipy stuff, with enough real history (with Wagner and World War II) to keep it from being trashy.  And Carr writes well - fluidly and with charm.  My only quibble is that while Carr does a decent job explaining the historical backstory, he drops the ball on explaining the musical backstory.  He takes for granted that we understand why Wagner is so important, and what the magic of the Beyreuth festival is al about.  I would actually have appreciated more context for why I should care about who runs Beyreuth, and less about how Hitler came to power.  I know why World War II is important - I need some more help with Richard Wagner.  Still, it isn’t as if I didn’t enjoy the book - its just that I was left, a bit, at the end (which is all about the interfamily power struggles as to who will run the festival) with the thought “who cares?”, and I think a little more explanation by Carr would have explained why I should.  Still, the beginning about the Master’s life and his crazy family, and the whole Nazi section is interesting enough to carry you through - even if the last bit might only really speak to Wagnerians.


Date/Place Completed:  1/3/09; Flying home from vacation (somewhere over Atlanta!) 

Categories: Non-Fiction, Book Resolution (2008)

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017