ISBN is

978-0-312-19957-9 / 0312199570

Twilight of the Wagners: The Unveiling of a Family's Legacy

by Wagner, Gottfried

Publisher:Picador USA

Edition:Hardcover

Language:English

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About the book:

Gottfried Wagner is a man clearly wrestling with the past. He grew up in a loveless atmosphere in Bayreuth--a mecca for German devotees of composer Richard Wagner, his great-grandfather. But it wasn't until he was an adult that he learned of the far darker overtones of the family home--their close links with Hitler and a pattern of anti-Semitic beliefs that he traces back to the famous composer. Gottfried, who was born in 1947, has spent years publicly castigating the anti-Semitism of the Wagners and what he calls the "Wagner cult," and this book is his summation of that campaign. Much of his story is not new, but he provides some indelible new details. The struggle between his father, Wolfgang, and uncle, Wieland, for control of the Bayreuth Festival was so hostile that Gottfried was once beaten for playing with his cousins. And as late as the 1970s, his grandmother Winifred carefully stored a cache of Hitler's letters in a steel-lined cabinet and kept a photo of him on her desk, inscribed "From Wolf to his Winnie." During one of Hitler's many visits to her home, he told the Wagner boys, "Once we have rid the world of the Bolshevik-Jewish conspirators, then you, Wieland, will run the theater of the West and you, Wolfgang, the theater of the East."

At its heart, this is neither a historical study nor a family exposť. It is the sad story of a son who spent decades rebelling against an icy father and trying to make peace with him. He also searched for his own career in the shadow of his famous family. Gottfried maintains that his outspokenness ruined his chances in the German opera world, where Bayreuth casts a heavy influence (Wolfgang Wagner still runs the festival). Bayreuth has in fact changed in recent years, welcoming Jewish conductors like James Levine and Daniel Barenboim. But Gottfried sees this as a cynical move, necessary in--as he quotes Winifred--"these Jew-ridden times." Gottfried finally severed his ties to his domineering father in 1990 when he conducted a lecture tour in Israel. He now calls himself an "anti-Wagnerian," and he has formed a group to foster German-Jewish understanding. --David Olivenbaum

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