WAGNER by John Chancellor


Email this review


Not so much a biography as an act of adoration: ""Let us hope that this book will disabuse readers of the many prejudices which persist about Wagner and that they will read it invigorated, even enthralled, by the splendour of his achievement."" Or else! Chancellor, attempting no substantial examination of the operas themselves, does a jaunty enough job, in that particularly British manner, of retelling the familiar life story--""the lonely road to music-drama"" and Bayreuth, where ""destiny"" is at last fulfilled in a ""temple of Wagnerian art."" But somehow the patterns of selfishness that usually show Wagner in an unlovely light--his treatment of first wife Minna, his philosophical fickleness, his liaisons with Cosima Lizst Bulow and Ludwig of Bavaria--here come off either heroically or with Wagner as victim. Chancellor wholeheartedly adopts Wagner's self-dramatizing sense of being perpetually persecuted by ""contemptibly mean-minded. . . enemies."" And he makes grandiose claims that even the most faithful Wagnerites might shrink from. ""The nineteenth century was his century more than that of any other individual."" On the Ring: ""It is, maybe, the first and only work of art consciously influenced by political theories."" Even such astonishing examples of tunnel vision, however, pale beside Chancellor's most outrageous stance here: a spirited defense (even a partial endorsement) of Wagner's anti-Semitic tract, ""Jewishness in Music""; and a casual dismissal of Wagner's propagandizing for pure Aryanism (""All these wayward effusions were at once forgotten by the true friends of the man and his art""). For a one-volume biography that you don't have to goose-step or genuflect along with, try Osborne's Wagner and His Worm (1977) or Gal's Richard Wagner (1976).

Pub Date: Oct. 24th, 1978
Publisher: Little, Brown