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Twilight of the Wagners: The Unveiling of a Family's Legacy Hardcover – May 1, 1999

2.4 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 310 pages
  • Publisher: Picador USA; First Edition edition (May 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312199570
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312199579
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,272,150 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This was a crashing disappointment on several fronts. Gottfried Wagner is in a unique position to dish major dirt on the Bayreuth Wagner clan, yet he inexplicably chooses to focus the center of attention on himself. The problem is that Gottfried is not especially likeable or interesting and suffers from a case of self-absorption unequalled in recent history. He repeatedly drones on about how he was persecuted and ignored by his father, misunderstood by the other Wagners and shunted aside for no good reason. Ho hum.
The second disappointment is that this book was marketed as containing many "new" revelations about Hitler and his relationship with Wagner grandmother Winifred. Notice that Hitler is featured prominently on the cover of the book, flanked by Wieland and Wolfgang. Gottfried again could have provided fascinating, new glimpses into Winifred, who was a fanatic, but at least a fascinating woman. This was an opportunity for Gottfried to unearth new tid-bits relating to Hitler's annual Bayreuth pilgrimages, his relationships with Verena, Friedilind and the Wagner boys, but... again, he drops the ball. There is very little new material offered here.
The writing style is unedifying, perhaps the fault of the translator, but to sum up: not worth your time.
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Format: Hardcover
A major disappointment. There are some very well-written books on the Wagner family and their well-known links to Hitler. We know they loved the guy. We know they crossed their fingers and did what they could to get through de-nazification after the war. So when you open Gottfried's little tell-all, you hope for some insights from the other side of the walls at Wahnfried. But what you find adds absolutely nothing to what is known about the Wagner crowd and their love affair with der fuehrer.
That our reading public seems fascinated with celebrity biographies about childhood abuse is sad enough. When a non-celebrity non-entity from the Wagner family who happens nonetheless to be a direct descendent from the composer actually finds a publisher to print one of these trashy tomes (shame on you Picador Books), we have truly entered a new level in book-publishing.
I deeply regret adding to global warming by buying this thing. This copy of Gottfried's whiny little book won't even be donated to the local library.
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Format: Paperback
Unlike the other reviews read here I found this book to be most compelling. The story of a man of a famous family trying to come to terms with himself, his family and society. How difficult it must be for persons born of a family despised by the world, hated for documented emotional outbursts of the most virulent kind. Gottfried Wagner is a man who is trying so hard to find a way to redeem himself in the eyes of society. I for one admire him immensely and found his book to be absolutely fascinating. Reading about the inner story of the Wagner family in the most open way is so revealing of the character of this family. He hides nothing. While I am sure he would never think of himself that way he is a man of the highest level of integrity. I am sure he will find the anwers to his dilemna. If you are a Wagner fan, read it you'll love it.
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Format: Paperback
I was originally put off by this book because of the bad reviews it received here; but when I saw it in a bookstore, I picked it up and started reading. I didn't want to stop. To me, it was fascinating and I knew without a doubt that I would purchase it.
I'm glad I read it, and feel good about recommending it to others.
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Format: Paperback
Apart from some gossipy behind-the-scenes tidbits about the Wagners, this tedious book has little to offer. The author provides no insights at all into either Richard Wagner or even the author's family. There is little here that we did not already know from other sources: Wolfgang Wagner is a power-obsessed despot, for example. Winifred was an unrepentant Nazi and a virulent anti-semite. Who doesn't know that?
Most of this book appears to be the author's attempt to (a) settle old scores, particularly against family members, and (b) publicly atone for his sense of personal guilt at being a member of the Wagner family. Very little of what is in here merited publication. Gottfried comes across as whiny, self-indulgent, and not a little self-righteous. His recurrent theme is, "Everybody Hates Me, Nobody Loves Me, I Think I'll Go Out And Eat Worms."
Don't waste your time on this one.
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By A Customer on September 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I saw Gottfried Wagner on a panel discussion broadcast on c-span's booktv, and was anxious to read this book. How fascinating it sounded: an exploration of how music [specifically Wagner's] affects our emotions and thus our thoughts, and how manipulaters can use music's abilities to do so for political ends; how Wagner's anti-semitism affected Hitler, and how Hitler used it to affect others; an inside view of the famous Bayreuth Festival; most importantly, how an individual, or a family, or a nation, can come to grips with the concept of guilt. And all of these elements are indeed addressed to some extent.
Unfortunately, the book is less than compelling. I wonder if the writing style is as awkward in German as in English [that is, was the translator awkward? or is Gottfried an awkward writer?]. Ignoring the style, the "expose" is less a contemplation of evil and redemption than a finger-pointing exercise. Gottfried is bitter about his family -- partially because of their record of anti-semitic behavior, but also because of the seemingly lack of a loving environment when he was a child. He relates many anecdotes from his childhood [being sent off during the festival, harsh school experiences] that have obviously [and naturally] colored his thinking and view of the family. But I would hate to thing that his entire life's effort is merely an adolescent "pay-back" for an unhappy childhood.
The book remains interesting when he talks about the Wagners, Bayreuth, Hitler; less so when it talks about Gottfried's career. Hopefully future researchers will use it as a source, and will provide us with reading matter which attempts to answer some of the questions Gottfried raises.
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