The Wagner Clan

The Wagner Clan

Book - 2007
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The first thorough and balanced history of Germany's most famous family.
Publisher: London : Faber and Faber, 2007.
ISBN: 9780571207855
Characteristics: xiv, 409 p., [16] p. of plates :,ill. ;,24 cm.


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Oct 26, 2010

As a trained musician I should not say this but Wagner is my least favourite composer. During my student days, my instructors impressed upon me the need to embrace opera. Yet opera never interested me. Although I enjoy all music, I have never been an opera fan at all. I was brought up in the immediate post war period when Wagner and all his works were suppressed – the backlash against Hitler’s predilection for Wagner stretched well into the 1950s and 60s. Even at home we never listened to Wagner and my grandmother, a professional musician, could not stand Wagner.
To be sure, the cartoons I watched on television exposed me to much opera including Lohengrin, the Flying Dutchman, Tannhauser and the Ride of the Walkyries. As a result I knew a lot of Wagner but even after studying the life of the man I could never warm up to him. I understand the contributions he made to music in general but I must admit that I have never been attracted to bullies, blowhards and self-promoters.
Mr Carr’s book about the Wagner Clan is interesting, well-written and obviously well researched. What I find interesting is the wanderings of the offspring of great and famous people. Also, what is specifically interesting about this family is how many of them pursued careers in music particularly in the production side of opera. Sure there are the usual black sheep, those who eschewed the family business and there are other descendents who have some of the regrettable characteristics of Richard Wagner. Their close association with the Nazi regime in particular is not papered over and shows the deep and long shadow that Richard casts across his descendents and us. However it should be noted that Richard Wagner, an anti-Semitic to be sure – was not a proto-Nazi but rather reflected and held close to the beliefs of his time. No doubt he probably would have embraced Nazism just like his descendents did.
It is a good read if you are interested in music, famous people and their families. As I noted I am prejudiced due to my dislike of Wagner as a person but he was a force in musical thought and did change music and opera. His family carried on his festival for over a century and in a way stifled what he might have liked to do with his festival. Yet they stayed true to the initial vision perhaps at the expense of innovation and exploration. They are quite a family.

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