Cosima Wagner

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The Lady of Bayreuth

Oliver Hilmes; Translated by Stewart Spencer

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An enthralling new biography of the woman behind Bayreuth

In this meticulously researched book, Oliver Hilmes paints a fascinating and revealing picture of the extraordinary Cosima Wagner—illegitimate daughter of Franz Liszt, wife of the conductor Hans von Bülow, then mistress and subsequently wife of Richard Wagner. After Wagner’s death in 1883 Cosima played a crucial role in the promulgation and politicization of his works, assuming control of the Bayreuth Festival and transforming it into a shrine to German nationalism. The High Priestess of the Wagnerian cult, Cosima lived on for almost fifty years, crafting the image of Richard Wagner through her organizational ability and ideological tenacity.

The first book to make use of the available documentation at Bayreuth, this biography explores the achievements of this remarkable and obsessive woman while illuminating a still-hidden chapter of European cultural history.

Oliver Hilmes is the author of Cosima's Kinder, a study of the Wagner dynasty, and a best-selling biography of Alma Mahler. Stewart Spencer is an acclaimed translator and editor (with Barry Millington) of Wagner in Performance.

"Oliver Hilmes has written by far the best biography of her…. His book is a model of scholarship and also compellingly readable…A major achievement."—Michael Tanner, BBC Music Magazine

“A compelling and critical picture of a clever and powerful woman . . . well-documented [and] absorbing.”—Library Journal

"A readable, comprehensive and critical summary. . . . There is [in the book] final proof of the intrinsic connection between Wagner and Hitler. The link is Cosima."—Joachim Köhler, The Wagner Journal

‘Oliver Hilmes has produced a surprisingly amusing book.’ — Philip Hensher, Daily Telegraph


--Norman Lebrecht, Wall Street Journal


"This biography of Wagner's wife offers a wonderfully clear-eyed look at the couple's relationship and her fanatical tending of his flame."— Sunday Times (London)

'He has written a detailed, fair-minded and fascinating account, not just of a pivotal figure in European musical history, but of an epoch and an ethos: nineteenth -century German cultural and spiritual nationalism.' — Robert Carver, The Tablet

'This well-written book (translated brilliantly - as ever- by Stewart Spencer) offers a clear and scrupulous insight into how she created and stoked the peculiar mania that infected the Wagner cult.' — Della Couling, Classical Music

"Its elegant writing, assured translation, original research, and dispassionate approach make the book a pleasure to read. Hilmes' definitive account is not by a Wagnerian or worse yet by a 'Bayreuthian', but by a scholar."--F. Peter Phillips, The Wagner Society of New York

"A critical but sympathetic portrait so remarkable that it little requires the sensationalist tone into which the author occasionally lapses. . . . Family intrigue and scandals combined with monumental political and cultural events make for compelling, thoroughly entertaining reading. . . . Essential."—S. C. Champagne, Choice

"More than everything you ever needed to know about Cosima Wagner, this well-written book (translated brilliantly – as ever – by Stewart Spencer) offers a clear and scrupulous insight into how she created and stoked the peculiar mania that infected the Wagner cult."—Della Couling, Classical Music

"Hilmes probes a fascinating and under-documented period of music history."—Financial Times

“Bastard daughter of touring music celebrity, unfaithful wife of great conductor, marries genius and becomes one of the leading influences on Western culture. As the Aussies say, you couldn’t read about it. But, here in the pages of Cosima Wagner, you certainly can. And the story is enriched by the author’s access to available documentation at Bayreuth.…This [is] illuminating work”—Robert Giddings, Tribune

“… [a] meticulously researched slice of cultural history.”—Nick Rennison, The Sunday Times

"Hilmes shows finesse as a researcher . . . [and] is equally clear in laying out the network of intrigue, pride and prejudice."—John W. Freeman, Opera News

Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2010 in the Music category
ISBN: 9780300170900
Publication Date: May 24, 2011
400 pages, 6 x 9
30 b/w illus.
Franz Liszt

Musician, Celebrity, Superstar

Oliver Hilmes; Translated by Stewart Spencer

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