Cover image for The Wagners : the dramas of a musical dynasty
The Wagners : the dramas of a musical dynasty
Wagner, Nike.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Wagner Theater. English
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [1998]

Physical Description:
xix, 327 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML410.W13 W356 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



In this virtuoso piece of cultural history, the great-granddaughter of Richard Wagner narrates the Wagner family's turbulent history. In the process, she shares her considerable insights into the operas and gives an inside account of the internecine struggles that have surrounded the Wagner family jewel: the Bayreuth Festival.

Nike Wagner draws on history, biography, and psychoanalysis to interpret both her family's history and her great-grandfather's operas. She focuses on Bayreuth, revealing how this showcase for Wagner's sublime art so readily served the Third Reich. With clear, often ironic eyes, she examines her family's extraordinary role in German culture--and its connections to right-wing ideology.

Particularly fascinating is the tug-of-war between Nike's visionary but enigmatic father, Wieland, and her astute but aesthetically stodgy uncle, Wolfgang. It was Wieland Wagner who inaugurated a daring new style of Wagner production--characterized by absence of scenery, spare acting, and dramatic lighting--that led to a wider revolution in how operas are produced. But Wolfgang Wagner, now entering his eighties, has controlled the Festival and quarreled with family members since Wieland's premature death in 1966. The author concludes with a look at the current contenders for this family throne, herself among them, and presents her vision for the Festival's future.

Wagnerites will need this book on their shelves. As an example of cultural journalism at its finest, it will also appeal to readers interested in German cultural history or those simply drawn to the melodrama that is the Wagner family story.

Author Notes

Nike Wagner is a music critic and cultural commentator living in Berlin. She holds a Ph.D. from Northwestern University and is the author of numerous reviews and essays on European cultural history and contemporary German history. She is the great-granddaughter of Richard Wagner.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The extended family of Richard Wagner has presided over the festival in Bayreuth dedicated to the performance of his operas since it opened in 1876. Cosima, Richard's second wife, and Winifred, his daughter-in-law, carried on the Wagner legacy for almost 75 years. Now control is vested in Wolfgang, Winifred's second son. Nike Wagner is the daughter of Wieland, Wolfgang's brother. Her account of the family business relates its internecine struggles for power and squabbles over ownership of the composer's heritage to the psychological themes of the father-son relations and strong female personalities that are crucial to his operas. Nike first analyzes the heart of the Wagnerian canon--Die Meistersinger, Tannhauser, Lohengrin, Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal, and the Ring cycle--and then relays the history of the festival, including much about Winifred's friendship with Hitler, and all branches of the family. In conclusion, Nike proposes Bayreuth be reformed to include other Romantic composers' music and nonmusical theater. Despite her intimate connection to the festival, a better treatment of the family-run cultural institution seems unimaginable. --Alan Hirsch

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Originally published in Germany, this fascinating insider's view by Wagner's great-granddaughter, a music critic and cultural commentator based in Berlin, offers insight into Wagner's operas, including a detailed literary analysis of characters, plots, and symbolism. It is also a history of the Wagner family's productions in Bayreuth, Germany, at the Festspielhaus the factory-like opera house that Wagner designed and the involvement of various family members in shaping and reshaping those productions. Of course, by its very nature, it exalts the works and the heirs (e.g., Nike's father, Wieland Wagner, who initiated an era of stark style), but at the same time it is somewhat critical of certain productions and especially of recent trends. Nike closes with hopeful suggestions for revitalization of the festival. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries, especially those that specialize in German culture. Timothy J. McGee, Univ. of Toronto (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of illustrations vii
Acknowledgements ix
Foreword xi
Preface xv
Family Tree xviii
Introduction: Bayreuth and the Wagnersp. 1
Part 1 Wagner's Theatre
1 Wandering Jew or Exploiter? -- thoughts on the Dutchmanp. 17
2 'Without any comfortable intermediate stage' -- Tannhäuserp. 23
3 The universal poetry of Lohengrinp. 38
4 Incest in The Ringp. 57
5 The 'Blissful Union': Wotan and Brunnhildep. 71
6 The Twice-Solitary Death in Tristanp. 79
7 Folly and Wit in Die Meistersingerp. 86
8 'No change will come to our Western art': New Bayreuth as waste disposal plantp. 102
9 A Tragedy of Understanding: Parsifal and anti-Semitism in fin de siecle Viennap. 117
10 Disquiet about Parsifalp. 129
Part 2 The Theatre Of The Wagners
11 Wieland Wagner: a 'negative' lifep. 145
12 'To us, he wasn't the Fuhrer at all' -- the enigma of Winifred Wagnerp. 151
13 The Wagner Family and its Homep. 165
14 1874-1930: the first generation at Wahnfriedp. 179
15 1930-51: the deaths of Cosima and Siegfried to the post-war festivalp. 208
16 1951-66: the reign of the brothersp. 232
17 1966-80: Wolfgang and the next generationp. 257
18 1980-90: after the death of Winifredp. 280
19 1990-2000: the battle for the successionp. 296
Indexp. 309