Sunday, November 14, 2010

Book of Choice: The Lady of Bayreuth

There are two families I can't get enough of: the Manns and the Wagners. There are just so many stories, intrigues and drama. "The Lady of Bayreuth" by Oliver Hilmes follows Cosima Wagner's live: daughter of Franz Liszt, wife of Richard Wagner and after his death, the personification of the Wagner cult.

Hilmes lets the people in his book really come alive and what a life it is. The Hans von B├╝low-Cosima-Richard Wagner affair alone would be worth a book, but there's a lot more. We see how the Bayreuth festival is established, with many problems and financial troubles, and we're introduced to the connections of the festival to the German Nationalist movements and later to the Nazi party. Anti-Semitism was rampant in Bayreuth and Cosima was no exception, despite the fact that Jewish artists were employed - the relationship of Cosima and Herrmann Levi is explored in the book and gives a good example of the anti-Semitic climate.

Hilmes has had full access to the Bayreuth archives and he has made good use of this amazing source that had been only grudgingly opened to researchers before. The book also contains many photographs, something I very much enjoy when reading a biography. Whether you are interested in Wagner's music or not, I highly recommend this book to you if you like biographies and from what I've read, the English translation is excellent. The story of the Bayreuth festival is continued in the equally well-written "Winifred Wagner: A Life at the Heart of Hitler's Bayreuth" by Brigitte Hamann.

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