cover image THE WAGNERS: The Dramas of a Musical Dynasty

THE WAGNERS: The Dramas of a Musical Dynasty

Nike Wagner, THE WAGNERS: The Dramas of a Musical Dynasty<. , $29.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-691-08811-2

This book by one of the composer's granddaughters is an odd hybrid: part psychologically intense investigation of Wagner's greatest operas in light of his somewhat tortured family history, part a prolonged look at that family history by one who knows it intimately, but takes pains to distance herself from it. Although Nike, the daughter of Wieland Wagner, who helped transform Bayreuth in the de-Nazified wake of WWII, is herself one of the heirs apparent of the dynasty, she does not disclose this until the final pages. It's also the first time she refers to herself in other than the third person—a rather remarkable strategy for one with such inside knowledge. The first part of the book—a rather laborious attempt to link The Ring, Lohengrin, Tristan and Parsifal with the psychology of their creator and his times—is not helped by Nike's dense prose, which even a fluent translation cannot render mellifluous. The second part is much fresher, particularly its portrait of the matriarch, Winifred, an English orphan who married into the family and became a deep embarrassment to it by her flaunted friendship with Hitler and her refusal to reject Nazi views. Nike's account of the recurrent patterns of strong women and vacillating men in the family, and the odd ways in which Bayreuth has been both cherished and rejected by modern Germany, is fascinating. But many readers will still feel that a book written from such a privileged perspective could have offered much more. Illus. not seen by PW. (Apr.)