COSIMA WAGNER'S DIARIES: 1869-1877 by Cosima Wagner
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I now resolved to sacrifice any kind of little joy, even indeed of comfort, in order to pay down to the very last penny for this one single nameless happiness: to behold and to share in R.'s progress!"" R., of course, is composer Richard Wagner, and the writer is his slave of love--second wife Cosima, illegitimate daughter of Franz Liszt, who left her conductor-husband Hans to bear Wagner's children (two out of wedlock), ink in his manuscripts, and sacrifice all to keep his genius alive: ""A parting from me. . . would spell his death."" Living with Wagner in a villa near Lake Lucerne, Cosima began these diaries in 1869 to explain herself--her unending guilt over Hans, her fateful mission--to her two sets of children. But the first volume of this faithfully, fulsomely kept diary offers much more than Cosima's self-dramatizing self-justifications. She records the daily grind of housewifing and child-raising, all letters written and received (with fretting over every ambiguous line from that unpredictable patron, King Ludwig), all books read and issues discussed (Shakespeare, Tristram Shandy, religion, Beethoven, Schopenhauer), visits from ""Prof. Nietzsche,"" money or health worries, and each poignant or hurtful word from dearest ""R."" And since during this period R. completed the Ring, began Parsifal, and inaugurated the hard-won Bayreuth Festival, Wagnerites and music historians will find choice bits among the dull sketches, including writer's block and a Wagnerian sense of humor: ""R. says. . . on the arrival of Siegfried's corpse he could in fact just write in the score, 'See Tristan, Act III.'"" But these diaries may give the most fuel to non-believers. Not only do the many quotes from R. reaffirm his almost comically obsessive fear and loathing of Jews, Jesuits, independent women, and anything French (all of which half-French Cosima embraced wholeheartedly). But also, in Cosima's record of her and R.'s nightly nightmares, there's an invitation to anyone eager for a psychopathological approach to the genius and his handmaiden: ""R. dreamed of a large tooth, which he extracted himself. . . ."" "". . . he had dreamed that my father was trying to kill him with an instrument of torture. . . . "" "". . . Awful dream that R. set his head on fire by carelessly turning a gas flame."" Something for everyone, in fact--with both the highflown passions and the everyday trivia translated with care and vigor.

Pub Date: Nov. 6th, 1978
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich