In this new biography of Richard Wagner, Joachim Koehler draws on social and political analysis, documentary interpretation, and psychological insights to paint a rounded picture of Wagner as both a controversial historical phenomenon and a complex human being.
Koehler's reading of the letters, diaries, and other documents of the main protagonists, some of them unfamiliar even to seasoned Wagnerians, results in some breathtaking but convincing reappraisals. He examines Wagner's love affairs with Jessie Laussot, Mathilde Wesendonck, and Judith Gautier and assesses their lasting emotional effect. He re-evaluates Wagner's relationships with his mother, step-father, sister, and-most revealingly-his wife, Cosima, a relationship seen as based on fear rather than love. Koehler explores the philosophical roots of Wagner's work, which the composer himself deliberately obfuscated. And he analyzes Wagner's relationship with King Ludwig, whom Wagner is revealed to have blackmailed, and with Nietzsche, whom he tried to destroy.
The traumas of his youth haunted Wagner throughout his life, as his emotional development underlay his notorious anti-semitism. Koehler's interpretation of Wagner's dreams, as recorded in Cosima's diaries, offers astonishing insights into the paranoia and insecurity of a man who was one of the leading composers of his age.