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 exposé. 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
From Publishers Weekly
According to Greek myth, the sins of a father are visited upon his sons for three generations. Born in 1947, Gottfried Wagner is the third generation of operatic genius Richard Wagner's offspring, and it is clear in this prickly memoir that he does continue to carry the burden of his great-grandfather's infamous anti-Semitism. Though Wagner (1813-1883) died six years before Hitler was born, Gottfried demonstrates that the composer's virulent essays, which call for Jews to "redeem" themselves through "destruction," exercised a powerful influence on Hitler. More importantly, Gottfried shows that Wagner's descendantsAespecially his daughter-in-law WinifredAwere ardent supporters and close friends of Hitler. Furthermore, Gottfried contends that his father, Wolfgang, now the director of the annual Wagner festival in Bayreuth, continues to obfuscate the family's and the festival's Nazi connections. Gottfried has long been an outspoken critic of Bayreuth's tainted history, perhaps in part because his childhood there, and his familial relations, have been so unpleasant. In fact, much of this memoir is devoted to showing how Gottfried's cold, autocratic father allegedly has sabotaged his career as an opera director and stubbornly refused to let him participate in the festival's planning. Gottfried's determination to honestly face his disquieting legacy raises enduring questions about the relationship between art and politics and about the responsibilities today's Germans have for their predecessors' sins. Photos not seen by PW. Author tour.
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