Carr (Mahler, 1997, etc.) captures a vast sweep of European history as he traces the lives of the legendary German composer and his heirs.
The term Wagnerian elicits a unique musical image of Teutonic vainglory, lust for power and passion that attended both the birth pangs of the modern German nation and its descent into Nazism. The author finds Richard Wagner (1813–83) a testament to genius unaccompanied by character. Wagner, Carr avers, managed to betray or double-cross nearly everyone he had dealings with of any kind, from “Mad” King Ludwig of Bavaria, a long-suffering patron, to his doting second wife Cosima, illegitimate daughter of the composer Franz Lizt. He published a personal diatribe on the Jewish threat to Europe, yet, notes Carr, this strident anti-Semite maintained personal relationships with Jews and treated them no worse than others. Hitler not only worshipped the composer’s music, he befriended Wagner’s family, especially his daughter-in-law Winifred. In March 1933, the Nazis organized a preposterously theatrical “Day of Potsdam” demonstration culminating with a performance of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger that helped cement their electoral victory. Wagner’s martial airs underscored newsreels of German military attacks, and the funeral march from Gotterdammerung droned over Radio Berlin on the day Hitler died. The Bayreuth Festival, a cultural phenomenon since its opening in 1876, kept running all through World War II, thanks to Hitler’s patronage. But in 1945, the Wagner family, not to mention Germany itself, needed rehabilitation. Grandsons Wieland and Wolfgang eventually managed it, however. While Hitler had to pack the house with troops pulled from the frontlines, the typical applicant for Bayreuth tickets today, Carr notes, will spend a decade on the waiting list.
An epic pieced together with rare authenticity.