A Review of Jonathan Carr’s “The Wagner Clan”

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Through a massive amount of homework and auditions, I managed to read Jonathan Carr’s The Wagner Clan: The Saga of Germany‘s Most Illustrious and Infamous Family in between. For Wagner lovers, this book is filled with the gleaming treasures of the Wagner family history. It uncovers not only Richard and Cosima’s ordeals, but also Siegfried and his siblings, Wieland and Wolfgang and siblings, and generations after!

This book is not a light read (just like Wagner’s operas and personality were not “light”). The content of the book largely covers the history of the family and how Nazism was tied into it, rather than the musical aspects of Wagner. The book mainly deals with family rivals, the chosen heir for the parent of “baby Bayreuth”, Nazism, and how marriages and extended family affected the roots of “The Wagner Clan”.

Surprisingly, this book may not be for those who appreciate Wagner solely for his music, let alone general opera lovers. In other books on Wagner, the chromatics of the famous “Tristan chord” are analyzed. The Wagner Clan, however, simply identifies which operas were performed by which conductor in what year, such as Hans Knappertsbusch conducting Parsifal  and The Ring at Bayreuth in 1951. In other words, Jonathan Carr provided readers with historical facts about the performances, rather than actual musical criticism of those operas.

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Photo: Adolf Hitler with Siegfried Wagner’s daughters Verena (left) and Friedelind (right). Friedelind trashed Hitler and the Nazis in her book Heritage of Fire.

For those who enjoy not only Wagner’s music but also the crazy family history, The Wagner Clan is pure rhinegold! The book starts with the Richard and Cosima generation and their involvement with King Ludwig II, then it moves to the children of Cosima, fathered by both Richard and Hans von Bülow. The Wagner torch is passed to Siegfried who takes over Bayreuth, while also competing with Winifred, his wife, and her close friendship with Adolf Hitler. Siegfried’s children then take over, particularly Wieland and Friedelind. Wieland stayed close to his mother and the Nazis, and directed newer, more modern productions in many German opera houses, while Friedelind escaped Nazi Germany, headed to Britain and the United States, and trashed the Nazis in her book Heritage of Fire. The book ends with Wolfgang and the inheritance of the Bayreuth throne by Eva, who sits on the throne today, and the refusal by Gottfried. The content of the book is a mapped family tree while also a timeline of the multiple generations of the Wagner family.

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Photo: All the children of Cosima Wagner with Maestro Hans Richter (from left: Eva, Isolde, Siegfried, Daniela, and Blandine)

I enjoyed The Wagner Clan immensely. Ever since I set foot on the “Green Hill” at Bayreuth last summer, I have been fascinated by its history and Wagner’s history. This book was the answer. It was well written, organized, and gave juicy details that Wagner lovers lust after. The Wagner family history is so crazy and full of operatic twists, that an opera could be written about the family itself!

I would recommend this book to Wagner enthusiasts, not general opera lovers, and those interested or studying the Third Reich. There are so many fascinating (and even funny) stories about Hitler and his closeness with the Wagner family, that a student or reader could get a good idea of Hitler and his interests. As a Wagner enthusiast and a student in Advanced Placement US History, I enjoyed Jonathan Carr’s The Wagner Clan!

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