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Being Wagner by Simon Callow

Being Wagner by Simon Callow
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“You might expect a book called Being Wagner to weigh in at a million pages or so,” said Craig Brown in The Mail on Sunday. But Simon Callow’s biography is “short and sweet”: the perfect introduction for those, like me, who “sense that something profound is going on, and would like to know more”. Wagner’s music, Callow suggests, was the “intense expression of emotional and erotic desire”. As for the man himself, he was not only “physically off-putting” – with a “huge head and bulging eyes” – but also “ungrateful, treacherous and pathologically offensive”. In short, “one of the most impossible human beings ever to have lived”.

Based on his “deranged” anti-Semitism, and the fact that Hitler loved his operas, Wagner has often been depicted as a “proto-Nazi”, said Michael Gove in The Times. But this simply wasn’t true; most of his beliefs were “wildly different” from Hitler’s. Moreover, his personal monstrosity was inseparable from his genius: both were products of his “titanic self-belief”. This is what “sustained him through every trial” and made him able to compose works of “staggering ambition”. “Sparkily written”, witty and learned, Being Wagner “brings the master vividly to life”.