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Friedelind Wagner

Friedelind Wagner: Richard Wagner's Rebellious Granddaughter

Eva Rieger
Translated by Chris Walton
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 354
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  • Book Info
    Friedelind Wagner
    Book Description:

    She was not the 'black sheep' of her family, as often claimed, but a heroic rebel. Friedelind Wagner (1918-1991), Richard Wagner's independent-minded granddaughter, daughter of Siegfried and Winifred Wagner, despised her mother'sclose liaison with Adolf Hitler and was the only member of the Wagner clan who fled Germany in protest. Although Winifred warned her that the Nazis would 'exterminate' her, should she continue her open opposition, she travelled toLondon and published articles pillorying the Nazi élite. All the same, her former proximity to Hitler & Co. made her suspicious in the eyes of the authorities, who promptly interned her. Even the British Parliament debated her fate. Only with the help of the world-famous conductor Arturo Toscanini was she able to gain an exit visa. Once she arrived in New York she broadcast, lectured and published against the Nazis, wrote an autobiography, and became friends with many other emigrants including singers who had themselves abandoned Bayreuth. After the war the Mayor of Bayreuth asked her to run the Festival, but she declined in favour of her brothers. They showed little gratitude, however, for after Friedelind returned to Germany in 1953 she found herself manoeuvred out of any role in the Festival management. She still made a remarkable effort to find a niche in post-war German society and culture, and did her best to cope with a family notorious for its intrigues past and present. Friedelind Wagner remained a staunch friend of artists such as Wilhelm Furtwängler, Frida Leider, Otto Klemperer, Erich Kleiber, Leonard Bernstein, WalterFelsenstein, Michael Tilson Thomas and many others. Drawing on archival research in many countries, Eva Rieger has here written the first-ever biography of Richard Wagner's talented, artistic granddaughter who fought againstHitler's Germany, but achieved no personal success for her troubles. Her book gives many new insights into wartime and postwar musical life in Germany, Europe and the United States. EVA RIEGER is a feminist musicologist and author of many books on music.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-225-9
    Subjects: History, Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-xi)
  6. The Wagner Family
    (pp. xii-xii)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Radiant blue eyes, lips painted a garish red, dyed blond hair, flashy clothes: not everyone took a liking to Friedelind Wagner when she returned to Germany in 1953, after over a decade as an émigré abroad. Now a US citizen, she had come back to attend the Bayreuth Festival founded by her famous grandfather in 1876.

    Friedelind Wagner, great-granddaughter of Liszt, granddaughter of Cosima and Richard Wagner and the daughter of Winifred and Siegfried, was a strong-willed personality who talked much: too much, some thought. Her arguments were loud and passionate, often undiplomatic to the point of tactlessness. Yet she...

  8. Chapter 1 A ‘giant Easter egg’: Mausi’s home and family
    (pp. 7-19)

    Much would have turned out differently, had she been born a boy. Her dominant manner, her impulsive nature and her musical and artistic gifts made her stand out from her brothers even as a child – if she had been a boy, her pre-eminence among them would surely have been undisputed. Her ‘bad luck’, so to speak, was to have come into the world as a girl. Her grandfather Richard Wagner had in his day regarded his son Siegfried as the sole guarantor of the survival of his legacy, and Siegfried’s birth had prompted an overwhelming sense of joy such as...

  9. Chapter 2 The noisy child 1924 to 1931
    (pp. 20-34)

    Wahnfried meant home. Siegfried and Winifred spent time with the children whenever they were in Bayreuth, though they were often absent, travelling. Breakfast and lunch were eaten together and at 4pm there was afternoon tea, which was an extended ceremony following the custom of the English upper classes. Siegfried was good-natured and indulgent and, since he was barely involved in the upbringing of his children, he found Friedelind’s cheekiness amusing, whereas Winifred’s concern was to tame her rebellious daughter. Friedelind possessed a penetrating voice and knew how to use it, which soon brought her the nickname ‘Krachlaute’ (literally, ‘racket’). Her...

  10. Chapter 3 ‘She should learn to cope with drudgery.’ At boarding school 1931 to 1935
    (pp. 35-53)

    ‘I want to do half an hour of maths with Maus. It’s urgent because of the schoolwork she’s facing. She simply doesn’t want to. But after a strenuous exchange I leave the field as victor (which is quite something when you’re up against Maus) and we plod through it for three quarters of an hour.¹ According to her governess Lieselotte Schmidt, Friedelind either didn’t do her homework at all, or ‘at best, five minutes before the deadline’. These problems could be overcome, as in this case. But what really bothered Friedelind so much about school was the manner in which...

  11. Chapter 4 ‘Impudent, endearing and witty.’ Friedelind and her aunts 1936 to 1937
    (pp. 54-73)

    In her teenage years Friedelind enjoyed an especially close relationship with her aunt Daniela Thode, the first daughter of Cosima’s marriage to Hans von Bϋlow. It was a friendship which continued into the years of Friedelind’s early adulthood. Daniela was generally regarded with some contempt as a fossilized old maid. But she was clever and spirited, even passionate. ‘She was continually exploding, wrecking everything about her, continually repenting and flagellating herself for her outbursts,’ recalled Friedelind.¹ Cosima had brought up Daniela firmly within the narrow bounds that were normal for girls at the time, so she had been unable to...

  12. Chapter 5 ‘Is it German, what Hitler has done for you?’ 1938 to 1939
    (pp. 74-93)

    While Verena was lunching with Hitler on a trip to Berlin in January 1938, her sister was still in England. Far away from events in Germany, Friedelind was brimming with initiative and living on a generous 200 marks a month. Life was good.

    Winifred was glad to have enough hard currency to keep her uncomfortable daughter at arm’s length. ‘Every month in England is a relief to us. Geissmar says she is always there during office hours and helps her out a lot with correspondence. That’s a strange child! She won’t help Bayreuth and her mother, but she’ll do it...

  13. Chapter 6 ‘It’s precisely because I’m German that I’m not living in Germany’. The farewell 1940
    (pp. 94-109)

    Friedelind had made up her mind. ‘I won’t let myself be ground through the mill if I can avoid it. And I will fight my whole life long for the truth only, for the good, the great and the divine – not for dirt and crime.’¹ These words, somewhat lofty but no less serious for it, were directed to Daniela while Friedelind was preparing for her departure to England. Once she had switched countries, she was emboldened in her sense of radical opposition to Nazi Germany and able to take a public stance in newspaper articles. She wanted to show the...

  14. Chapter 7 In England, behind barbed wire 1940 to 1941
    (pp. 110-128)

    Why were Germans being interned, regardless of their political affiliation or opinions? In May 1940 Germany had opened up its western front, invading first the Benelux countries and then France, and this had put the British government on red alert. There was a fear that Nazi sympathizers might be lurking in Britain as a fifth column, waiting in anticipation of a German invasion and doing all they could in readiness for it. British intelligence was unprepared for the many tasks facing it at the outbreak of war. It had too few people in its ranks, and the reigning political uncertainty...

  15. Chapter 8 ‘My heart is overflowing.’ From Buenos Aires to New York 1941 to 1943
    (pp. 129-152)

    The Equator was crossed on 1 March; on 5 March the Andalucia Star reached harbour in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Four days later it arrived in Montevideo and one day after that it reached its goal, Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. The journey had taken 23 days. The ship had come across just one submarine and had been able to outrun it. After her experiences in the Blitz in London, nothing could perturb Friedelind any more. She was met at the landing stage by Erich Engel and his wife, the soprano Editha Fleischer. Engel was an Austrian conductor...

  16. Chapter 9 ‘Only you could still save our inheritance!’ 1943 to 1945
    (pp. 153-170)

    Friedelind was not without plans. On the contrary, she held a cornucopia of them. Nor did she have a problem committing them to paper. Besides giving lectures she also wrote for various journals such as the German-language Aufbau. Founded in 1934 as the monthly newspaper of the German-Jewish Association, it helped German Jews to stay in touch in the USA, offered a venue for authors to write in their native German, and also gave advice to émigrés on finding a place to live, finding work and generally getting acclimatized. Friedelind had long cast off her early anti-Semitism and her circle...

  17. Chapter 10 After the War is over 1946 to 1950
    (pp. 171-194)

    A German-language edition of Friedelind’s autobiography was published in Switzerland in 1945, and in February 1946 the first extensive reviews began to appear in the German newspapers. It contained ‘many a spicy matter’, they wrote, and headlines were made by Winifred’s threat that ‘You will be eradicated and exterminated.’¹ Winifred denied having uttered it, and blamed Friedelind’s co-author Page Cooper for all the book’s ‘lies’. ‘[Friedelind’s] whole behaviour is still a mystery to me, because she is sending money to Lucerne for them to forward lovely food parcels every month to the head of the family!’² The news of the...

  18. Chapter 11 Friedelind returns 1950 to 1955
    (pp. 195-222)

    Friedelind spent Christmas 1949 with William Suida (1877–1959) and his family. He was an important Austrian art historian who specialized in the Italian Renaissance and was a nephew of Daniela’s divorced husband, Henry Thode. After the annexation of Austria by the Nazis he had lost his professorship in Graz and had fled via England to the USA. Since 1947 he had been working as the head of art historical research at the Samuel H. Kress Foundation in New York.

    When Friedelind saw Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera The Consul in New York in spring 1950 it moved her deeply, since...

  19. Chapter 12 The master classes begin 1956 to 1960
    (pp. 223-240)

    Now that the Festival had reopened and, despite Friedelind’s gloomy predictions, was running successfully, she wanted to be part of it. As if to prove her determination to herself, she now moved back to Europe for three years. She would stay variously in England, France, East Germany and the Netherlands and would attend more than 300 opera performances and innumerable rehearsals before returning to the US in November 1957. Even Winifred – ever the energetic, go-ahead type – was sometimes exhausted when her daughter came to stay in Bayreuth. ‘Maus is coming more often than I’d like! – but she means well!’¹ She...

  20. Chapter 13 Heyday of the master classes and their end 1960 to 1966
    (pp. 241-257)

    Financing the master classes remained a matter of urgency. Nevertheless, Friedelind doubled the number of participants in 1960, inviting 23 young Americans to Bayreuth: set designers, future conductors, singers, répétiteurs, and six architects – among them Walfredo Toscanini, the grandson of the conductor.¹ Convinced that her classes should include a study of how opera houses are built, she also increased the number of courses on offer. They would take a two-week trip to view famous theatres, see operas and discuss the results of an architectural competition. In June the group went first to Malmö in Sweden in order to visit the...

  21. Chapter 14 Sibling conflict 1967 to 1970
    (pp. 258-276)

    It was all over. In 1967 the master classes took place for the last time, after which Friedelind was once more an outsider, just as she had been in New York in 1941. She did not belong, was without a real home and yet again had to build a new life for herself. To make matters worse, the ‘Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands’ (NPD), a new far-right party founded in Germany in late 1964, had managed to achieve a respectable 13.6% of the vote in Bayreuth. It offered a home to numerous ex-Nazis, and Winifred was delighted: ‘Well – the result of the...

  22. Chapter 15 Schemes and setbacks The 1970s
    (pp. 277-296)

    For Friedelind 1970 was not a good year. She still had not paid off her debts from her master classes, and Wolfgang was the only person who could help her with them. She was back in Europe, and wrote to her lawyer Servatius in the autumn that she could not return to the USA before the debts were paid. ‘Twelve months have passed since my arrival in Europe and we have had nothing but empty talk.’¹ She was given no information about what was being concocted in Bayreuth. She learnt from the TV that there was progress in the plans...

  23. Chapter 16 ‘A foster mother, a guiding light’ The 1980s
    (pp. 297-316)

    Winifred Wagner died on 5 March 1980. No one could claim that in running the Festival she had in any way squandered the legacy of Cosima and Siegfried, for by engaging Tietjen, Preetorius and Furtwängler, and by retaining Toscanini, she had maintained and even expanded the Festival’s importance as an institution that set the benchmark for theatres all over the world. One could hardly blame her for possessing neither the artistic talent nor the erudition of her mother-in-law Cosima. Even her blind enthusiasm for Hitler in the 1920s might be regarded as having been determined by the exigencies of the...

  24. Notes
    (pp. 317-336)
  25. Bibliography
    (pp. 337-342)
  26. Index
    (pp. 343-352)
  27. Back Matter
    (pp. 353-353)