Austrian historian Hamann (Hitler’s Vienna, 1999) tells the story of a British-born woman who married into Germany’s legendary musical family and befriended the leader of the Third Reich.
Orphaned in 1899, before she turned two, Winifred Williams in 1907 went to live in Germany with the Klindworths, an elderly couple distantly related to her mother. Karl Klindworth, who had studied with Liszt and was friendly with his daughter Cosima, Richard Wagner’s widow, introduced Winifred to the inner circles of the German music scene. At 17, the striking young woman charmed 45-year-old Siegfried Wagner, Cosima’s only son and director of the Bayreuth Festival, the annual staging of the patriarch’s operas. Their marriage made headlines, since Britain and Germany were at war, and Winifred would remain at the heart of a family and country in conflict for decades. The Wagners’ opinions were newsworthy, and in 1923, Siegfried and Winifred both vocally supported a charismatic young politician named Adolf Hitler. Winifred’s bond with the Führer would give her immense satisfaction and worldwide infamy in the years to come. Hamann diligently explores this naïve young woman’s slow seduction by wealth and power. At Bayreuth, tough, strong-willed Winifred handled the business end while her husband concentrated on the artistic side. Her power and confidence rose, and when Siegfried died in 1930, 33-year-old Winifred became head of the family enterprise. Each of the many times the festival was in financial jeopardy, she turned to her famous friend Hitler for support. When events in Germany took a turn grimmer than anything in the Ring, Winifred could do little more than carefully use her influence to rescue friends at risk of persecution, or worse. Providing a complete and thorough portrait of Winifred, Hamann shows how the Wagner legacy became enmeshed in Hitler’s propaganda machine.
A unique perspective on the Wagners, centered on the clan’s most controversial member and most tumultuous period.