by Geoffrey Skelton ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 26, 1979
Skelton, translator of the recently published two-volume Cosima Wagner diaries, quotes extensively from them (and from other newly available documents) in this flat, literate, reasonably balanced account of the Wagner/Cosima relationship--and the Wagner career during their years together. Unlike George Marek, whose Cosima Wagner (1981) concentrated on the personalities to lively, shrewd effect, Skelton is most interested in finding Diaries references to the important Wagner developments--compositions, Bayreuth, artistic decisions, writings. And so, once past a relatively brief treatment of the now-familiar Cosima/Wagner/Bulow/King Ludwig intrigues-cum-farce (dramatized far more vividly, and acerbically, by Marek), the narrative settles down into a straightforward chronicle of Wagner's post-1869 activities, with only occasional emphasis on Cosima or the marriage. ""The diaries must be approached with a certain degree of scepticism,"" Skelton admits; but he does refer to ""the light they throw on Wagner's composing methods,"" and he finds Diaries evidence on such matters as Cosima's essential lifelong Catholicism (despite conversion). Meanwhile, he also scours Wagner's ""Brown Book"" diary (US-published 1980) for shadings of documentation and uses letters to demonstrate that Cosima didn't turn a blind eye to Wagner's pursuit of Judith Gautier: she ""had fought back, and won."" Still, though these scrupulous, scholarly inquiries will be welcomed by Wagner students who need all the help they can get in wading through the wealth of Diaries data, Skelton virtually ignores the fascinating, near-psychopathological material in the Diaries. And his Wagner-in-general approach makes this a book with little shape or point. A worthy addition to Wagner studies, then, but far-from-comprehensive in its use of the Diaries--and general readers (except those with a worshipful attitude to RW) will much prefer Marek's less scholarly, more readable biography.
Pub Date: May 26, 1979
Page Count: -
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1982
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