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The Wagner Clan : The Saga of Germany's Most Illustrious and Infamous Family
"One need not be a devotee of Wagner's music to appreciate Mr. Carr's riveting account." --John M. and Priscilla S. Taylor, The Washington Times
An Economist Best Book of 2007, Jonathan Carr's The Wagner Clan was roundly acclaimed upon its publication in hardcover. Hailed as "fiendishly enjoyable" by Salon.com and "masterly" and "enthralling" by The Daily Telegraph, it proves that the history of Europe and that of the Wagners are inextricably intertwined. Carr presents not only Richard Wagner himself-- composer, 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); the "mad King" Ludwig II, who saved Wagner from penury by becoming his sponsor; Friedrich Nietzsche; Arthur Schopenhauer; Richard Strauss; Gustav Mahler; Arturo Toscanini; Joseph Goebbels; Hermann Goring; 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. With the sweeping scope of a Wagnerian opera, The Wagner Clan is a riveting chronicle of the ascent, decline, and rehabilitation of the German nation and its most infamous family.
Starred Review. The grandiose life of Richard Wagner--the pronouncements on art and the German soul, the petty groveling for money and favors, the intermittently atrocious politics and intermittently glorious music--was a tough act to follow. Carr (Mahler: A Biography) follows Wagner's descendants through three generations as they fight each other for control of the Bayreuth Festival and, at opportune times, embrace, reject or sweep under the rug their forebear's status as Nazism's spiritual godfather. (It's a bum rap, Carr concludes, after a nuanced analysis of Wagner's writings and music that finds his anti-Semitism vile but muddled and probably not eliminationist.) Much of the story belongs to outsiders who married into the family: Wagner's wife, Cosima, a chillingly implacable anti-Semite; his son-in-law Houston Chamberlain, a racist ideologue revered by the Nazis; and his daughter-in-law Winifred, who clasped Hitler--affectionately dubbed Uncle Wolf by her children--to the family's bosom. Carr's sprightly, fluent narrative places the family in its historical and intellectual context without reducing it to the symbolic effigy it has often become. Photos. (Jan.)
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January 05, 2009
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