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Hitler, golf and cats are allegedly the top three subjects for surefire success on the book stalls, but Wagner must be a close fourth, and could streak ahead next year, with the bicentenary of his birth celebrated worldwide. Barry Millington, author of this relatively slim tome, has himself already written a good half dozen on the composer, in addition to being editor of the Wagner Journal.

But what readership is Millington aiming at here? Not those seeking an introduction to Wagner, surely, as in the Preface he mentions without introduction names (sometimes just the first name) only a Wagner aficionado would be familiar with. He claims that ‘the results of this reappraisal may seem surprising, even sensationally so’ – but only to experts (and not really). The chapters have been arranged according to different themes, which helps in spotlighting various aspects of the Master’s life, works and influence, but a drawback of this arrangement for those looking for a more straightforward account is that chronology is often ignored, and characters and events are not introduced and explained at first mention, although conversely there is a lot of repetition of information (all of which suggests bad editing, and also that many of these chapters are rehashed from texts fi rst published elsewhere).

There are a few howlers, mistranslations and misquotations (such as ‘Verachtet mir die Meisterlied’ instead of ‘Verachtet mir die Meister nicht’, for Hans Sachs), surprising in a Wagner expert.

The last 50 pages deal with life after Wagner’s death, inevitably centring on the vexed subject of the links between Wagner and subsequent political events, but also with productions of the operas (including a lot of photos of very recent stagings), and with Bayreuth shenanigans. Millington quotes freely from other writers, and the book is very lavishly illustrated (285 illustrations, 165 in colour).

Millington’s unquestioning adoration of his subject is moving; he reminds me of Donna Elvira, in love with Don Giovanni to the end, desperately forgiving in the face of unforgivable evidence, but never losing sight of the man’s unique genius.

DELLA COULING Read the full review on Agora Classica

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