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Simon Callow, the celebrated author of Orson Welles, delivers a dazzling, swift, and accessible biography of the musical titan Richard Wagner and his profoundly problematic legacy--a fresh take for seasoned acolytes and the perfect introduction for new fans. Richard Wagner's music dramas have never been more popular or more divisive. His ten masterpieces, created against th Simon Callow, the celebrated author of Orson Welles, delivers a dazzling, swift, and accessible biography of the musical titan Richard Wagner and his profoundly problematic legacy--a fresh take for seasoned acolytes and the perfect introduction for new fans. Richard Wagner's music dramas have never been more popular or more divisive. His ten masterpieces, created against the backdrop of a continent in severe political and cultural upheaval, constitute an unmatched body of work. A man who spent most of his life in abject poverty, inspiring both critical derision and hysterical hero-worship, Wagner was a walking contradiction: belligerent, flirtatious, disciplined, capricious, demanding, visionary, and poisonously anti-Semitic. Acclaimed biographer Simon Callow evokes the intellectual and artistic climate in which Wagner lived and takes us through his most iconic works, from his pivotal successes in The Flying Dutchman and Lohengrin, to the musical paradigm shift contained in Tristan and Isolde, to the apogee of his achievements in The Ring of the Nibelung and Parsifal, which debuted at Bayreuth shortly before his death. Being Wagner brings to life this towering figure, creator of the most sublime and most controversial body of work ever known.


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Simon Callow, the celebrated author of Orson Welles, delivers a dazzling, swift, and accessible biography of the musical titan Richard Wagner and his profoundly problematic legacy--a fresh take for seasoned acolytes and the perfect introduction for new fans. Richard Wagner's music dramas have never been more popular or more divisive. His ten masterpieces, created against th Simon Callow, the celebrated author of Orson Welles, delivers a dazzling, swift, and accessible biography of the musical titan Richard Wagner and his profoundly problematic legacy--a fresh take for seasoned acolytes and the perfect introduction for new fans. Richard Wagner's music dramas have never been more popular or more divisive. His ten masterpieces, created against the backdrop of a continent in severe political and cultural upheaval, constitute an unmatched body of work. A man who spent most of his life in abject poverty, inspiring both critical derision and hysterical hero-worship, Wagner was a walking contradiction: belligerent, flirtatious, disciplined, capricious, demanding, visionary, and poisonously anti-Semitic. Acclaimed biographer Simon Callow evokes the intellectual and artistic climate in which Wagner lived and takes us through his most iconic works, from his pivotal successes in The Flying Dutchman and Lohengrin, to the musical paradigm shift contained in Tristan and Isolde, to the apogee of his achievements in The Ring of the Nibelung and Parsifal, which debuted at Bayreuth shortly before his death. Being Wagner brings to life this towering figure, creator of the most sublime and most controversial body of work ever known.

30 review for Being Wagner: A Short Biography of a Larger-Than-Life Man

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dmitri

    This biography of Richard Wagner was written by Simon Callow, an English actor, director and writer, who produced a one man show on Wagner in 2012. Prior to this Callow acted as Mozart in 'Amadeus', the poet Verlaine in 'Total Eclipse' and 'Faust' from the Goethe drama on the London stage. He has appeared in many other quality theater and film roles. Wagner, a composer infamous for endless operas, horned helmets and antisemitic treatises, was focused on the dramatic elements of music. In spite o This biography of Richard Wagner was written by Simon Callow, an English actor, director and writer, who produced a one man show on Wagner in 2012. Prior to this Callow acted as Mozart in 'Amadeus', the poet Verlaine in 'Total Eclipse' and 'Faust' from the Goethe drama on the London stage. He has appeared in many other quality theater and film roles. Wagner, a composer infamous for endless operas, horned helmets and antisemitic treatises, was focused on the dramatic elements of music. In spite of his artistic vision he was an intolerable person. Always needing to be the center of attention, he betrayed those who helped him, preyed on his friend's wives, and dodged financial debts owed to his unfortunate admirers. Wagner was born in 1813 to a poor family of stage actors in Leipzig, Germany. He gave up theater for music, and to his family's dismay decided to compose. Musicians and actors could make modest money, but writing was a road to ruin. He dropped out of the university after two years of music study to write opera. As a conductor in Dresden in the 1840's, he briefly became a revolutionary. Stockpiling grenades for an uprising in 1849, he was relieved of his baton and escaped to Switzerland. In this period he left his first wife, stole his patron's wife, and married his friend Franz Liszt's daughter, who was already married to his conductor. A short, seborrheic miscreant with a hooked nose and hunched back, he made do in romance. Wagner's early years were spent in poverty and fleeing from creditors. He borrowed from all until their patience wore thin. When his luck had seemed to run out, he was struck by great fortune. Ludwig II, King of Bavaria, grew up infatuated with the Teutonic and Norse legends Wagner had written into his musical dramas. Elevated to the throne in 1864 at the age of 19, his first act was to bring the itinerant composer under his patronage. Wagner staged operas in Munich, but was forced out of Bavaria after making enemies in the court. He returned in 1871 to built an opera house in Bayreuth. Financed by tours and donors, it was dedicated to performing his works. 'The Ring of the Nibelung' premiered there in 1876 and 'Parsifal' in 1882. After his death in 1883 Wagner's wife Cosima Liszt faithfully carried on his stage productions at Bayreuth for twenty years His son Siegfried directed the theater until his death in 1930. He had married an orphaned immigrant from England, Winifred. Together they raised two sons who would continue the dynasty. Winifred became great friends with Adolph Hitler, a frequent guest at their home in Bayreuth. Following the occupation in 1945 she was banned from entering the theater she had directed until then. Wagner's elder grandson Wieland became a leader in modernizing stage design at Bayreuth and beyond. On his demise in 1966 his brother Wolfgang took over the theater, and was succeeded by his daughters Eva and Katharina in 2008. Mozart, Beethoven, Berlioz and the French grand opera were Wagner's early influences. His love for Greek drama and mythology inspired him, and informed the writings of his friend Friedrich Nietzsche. Wagner viewed western art as a deviation from an earlier integrated theater encompassing music, drama, visual and ritual elements. Sophocles and Aeschylus were later subverted by Socratic rationalism. Schopenhauer's philosophy of an impersonal world will and the futility of human action influenced both him and Nietzsche. Wagner reflected a rise of German romanticism and nationalism, reactions to the French enlightenment and British industrial revolution in the 19th century. Nietszche subsequently rejected these views as nihilistic. Since reading about this improbable life I've listened to more of Wagner's music and become interested in his mystical confabulations. There isn't much about Wagner's librettos or composition in this book. It is mostly a straight biography, although a very good one. For synopses of his operatic themes I am reading 'Wagner Without Fear' by William Berger. Wagner's operas are difficult to penetrate and subject to varying interpretations. Their meaning can alternately be viewed as socialistic, nationalistic, religious or romantic paeans. Besides his personal flaws he is regarded as a seminal innovator of modern music. His unflagging energy could be seen as a triumph of the will. This work is a short and readable synopsis of his world.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Dianna

    I've heard about Wagner here and there through the years. I'm a classical music aficionado and I've played violin in community orchestras my entire adult life. We've played Mozart, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mahler, Dvorak, Verdi, Beethoven by the yard . . . so why can I only remember having played one little piece by Wagner? (Ride of the Valkyries, if you're curious.) This book gave me the answer. Wagner is different. He was radically different in his time, but he is still different even today. His grand I've heard about Wagner here and there through the years. I'm a classical music aficionado and I've played violin in community orchestras my entire adult life. We've played Mozart, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mahler, Dvorak, Verdi, Beethoven by the yard . . . so why can I only remember having played one little piece by Wagner? (Ride of the Valkyries, if you're curious.) This book gave me the answer. Wagner is different. He was radically different in his time, but he is still different even today. His grand vision is unparalleled by any other composer. Wagner reinvented opera, even though he had to redefine music, retrain singers, and build a theater to fulfil his vision. I'd heard rumors about Wagner, too, even though I'd never read up on him. Antisemitism. Beloved by Hitler. Unfortunately those rumors are both true. He hated Jews (although, unexplainably, he seemed to like a few personally). Hitler (not his contemporary) did love his music. But you know what? That's only one unsavory facet of his life. He also seems to have been unforgivably narcissistic (although at least he did have some reason), amazingly entitled, chronically in debt, and a serial adulterer. He's interesting to read about, although I don't think I want to meet him. Callow has done a superlative job of weaving his chaotic life into a readable, engaging narrative.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mandy

    A wonderfully readable and accessible account of a very complex man. Callow’s knowledge, insight and enthusiasm carry the reader along in an immersive reading experience, leavened by a judicious amount of gossip and anecdote. This is Wagner the man, and what an interesting man he was. His music is not discussed in great detail – there are plenty of books which do that – but there is enough here to give a flavour of it and as an introduction I found Callow’s explanations and descriptions illumina A wonderfully readable and accessible account of a very complex man. Callow’s knowledge, insight and enthusiasm carry the reader along in an immersive reading experience, leavened by a judicious amount of gossip and anecdote. This is Wagner the man, and what an interesting man he was. His music is not discussed in great detail – there are plenty of books which do that – but there is enough here to give a flavour of it and as an introduction I found Callow’s explanations and descriptions illuminating and helpful. This is a must-read for anyone wanting to learn more about Wagner and his tempestuous life and career.

  4. 4 out of 5

    John

    No new ground is broken, but the author has written a lively and mercifully short (200 pg) but still detailed biography of the still-controversial composer. There were many entertaining episodes and bon mots. Unfortunately, I read a paperback library copy; therefore I could not use the Kindle highlight feature [uncompensated plug]. Of course, some familiarity with the music is helpful, although the author fortunately did not become bogged-down with detailed musical analysis. The only quibble I ha No new ground is broken, but the author has written a lively and mercifully short (200 pg) but still detailed biography of the still-controversial composer. There were many entertaining episodes and bon mots. Unfortunately, I read a paperback library copy; therefore I could not use the Kindle highlight feature [uncompensated plug]. Of course, some familiarity with the music is helpful, although the author fortunately did not become bogged-down with detailed musical analysis. The only quibble I have the with the book--which may be the fault of the editors and not the author--is that English is used throughout. Many of Wagner's works are better known by their German titles, and other phrases associated with Wagner are often used in their original German. But this should not detract from the book's merits.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Katya Vinogradova

    A digital copy of this book was provided to me by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group via NetGalley. Simon Callow did such a superb job analyzing and condensing the large and complicated story of Wagner's life into something readable and quite entertaining. Callow's passion for his subject shines through his fluid writing but he is also fairly unbiased and presents the ugly truth about Wagner for everyone to see. However, through that ugliness shines the genius and the incredible innovator whose mus A digital copy of this book was provided to me by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group via NetGalley. Simon Callow did such a superb job analyzing and condensing the large and complicated story of Wagner's life into something readable and quite entertaining. Callow's passion for his subject shines through his fluid writing but he is also fairly unbiased and presents the ugly truth about Wagner for everyone to see. However, through that ugliness shines the genius and the incredible innovator whose music may not be to everyone's liking but you can't deny its power and impact on the world.

  6. 4 out of 5

    David

    Going into this I knew Wagner was a German composer, nationalist and avowed anti-Semite. This book provides lots of background into the man (indefatigable, peripatetic, moody, passionate, inspirational, soul-crushing, and much more), his history, relationships, inspirations and creative process. The writing is strong, often funny, and Wagner as the centerpiece provides a very wild ride. I wouldn't recognize a single piece of Wagner's music as his although I suspect I'd be familiar with lots. (I Going into this I knew Wagner was a German composer, nationalist and avowed anti-Semite. This book provides lots of background into the man (indefatigable, peripatetic, moody, passionate, inspirational, soul-crushing, and much more), his history, relationships, inspirations and creative process. The writing is strong, often funny, and Wagner as the centerpiece provides a very wild ride. I wouldn't recognize a single piece of Wagner's music as his although I suspect I'd be familiar with lots. (I did recognize the names of his major operas.) This is the kind of book best enjoyed by someone knowledgeable about the subject; for a casual reader like me the information was good and interesting but I couldn't connect it to any of Wagner's works due to my ignorance of the subject. I wish I had first listened to some pieces before I read the book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Wagner

    Did not finish at page 84/200. The good: clever illustrations that resemble political cartoons. Witty, dry narrative. Colorful details from Richard Wagner's life. The bad: infuriatingly loose organization. Disorientingly long, feverish, drawn-out paragraphs filled with strange details and quotes, which I, as someone new to Wagner's life and only shallowly acquainted with his works, couldn't sort out between fact, conjecture, exaggeration, and satire. The ugly: hideous anti-Semitism. Again, I am n Did not finish at page 84/200. The good: clever illustrations that resemble political cartoons. Witty, dry narrative. Colorful details from Richard Wagner's life. The bad: infuriatingly loose organization. Disorientingly long, feverish, drawn-out paragraphs filled with strange details and quotes, which I, as someone new to Wagner's life and only shallowly acquainted with his works, couldn't sort out between fact, conjecture, exaggeration, and satire. The ugly: hideous anti-Semitism. Again, I am new to Wagner as a man, and from this book I take it he was a known anti-Semite. This should have been addressed in the foreword someplace -- as a 200-page autobiography, already chaotic and chock-full of names, places, and quotes, the frequent Jew-bashing quotes out of context were crass, and completely unaddressed by the biographer. I picked this up because I married a Wagner, and I have an interest in biographies and classical music, and also I'm learning Deutsch. I put it down because it was like falling queasily through a kaleidoscope. Very little connection, and an overabundance of strobing, bold images without context. I'm not sure by whom this book was intended to be read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Geraldine

    Pitched perfectly at me. Love love love the music of Wagner; feel very uncomfortable with some of his political ideas...well, quite specifically his virulent anti-Semitism ('feel very uncomfortable' is a gross understatement). I enjoyed that the life of the man was set in the context of turbulent and often exciting 19th century history. I enjoyed how the story and poem of his great opera was set against the context of Wagner the man and his take on Germany history. It is not a musicologist's book - Pitched perfectly at me. Love love love the music of Wagner; feel very uncomfortable with some of his political ideas...well, quite specifically his virulent anti-Semitism ('feel very uncomfortable' is a gross understatement). I enjoyed that the life of the man was set in the context of turbulent and often exciting 19th century history. I enjoyed how the story and poem of his great opera was set against the context of Wagner the man and his take on Germany history. It is not a musicologist's book - very little analysis of the music as such. Simon Callow is a gifted writer although the book is not 'scholarly' (not a bad thing as far as I'm concerned) and might feel a bit limited to someone who is studying music or its history as an academic pursuit. I could only recommend it to Wagnerians, or, at least, people familiar with his core operas. For those that are, but aren't immersed in books about him, I hope you'll find it a worthwhile and untaxing read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    Callow offers a streamlined life of Wagner, approaching him warts and all, and attempting to explain how he managed, while being a gigantic pain in the ass, to embody the romantic rise of a unified Germany and the source of such destructive admiration. I always enjoy telling students in the 19th century class about the time Wagner and Bakunin tried to overthrow of the Saxon monarchy by attacking the Dresden post office in 1848, but this also includes Wagner's dysfunctional home life, his love of Callow offers a streamlined life of Wagner, approaching him warts and all, and attempting to explain how he managed, while being a gigantic pain in the ass, to embody the romantic rise of a unified Germany and the source of such destructive admiration. I always enjoy telling students in the 19th century class about the time Wagner and Bakunin tried to overthrow of the Saxon monarchy by attacking the Dresden post office in 1848, but this also includes Wagner's dysfunctional home life, his love of dogs, how being both anti-Semitic and anti-militarist made it really lonely in Wilhelmhine Germany, and how he nurtured a poisonous legacy.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sanjay Prabhakar

    Useful and readable introduction, which is what it seeks to be, but no more. Felt increasingly patchy from around 1860 onwards, and left several questions begging for an answer. The disturbing phrase 'Hegel's dialectical materialism' makes one wonder if Callow has any sort of grasp of the cultural-intellectual milieu in which Wagner existed. Useful and readable introduction, which is what it seeks to be, but no more. Felt increasingly patchy from around 1860 onwards, and left several questions begging for an answer. The disturbing phrase 'Hegel's dialectical materialism' makes one wonder if Callow has any sort of grasp of the cultural-intellectual milieu in which Wagner existed.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Gerard Hogan

    A compact gallop through the life of Richard Wagner. Callow organises the utter chaos of his Wagner's life into such a cogent read and this is no small feat. Not sure if it would have been nice to meet Wagner but this book was a really good way to be introduced to him. A compact gallop through the life of Richard Wagner. Callow organises the utter chaos of his Wagner's life into such a cogent read and this is no small feat. Not sure if it would have been nice to meet Wagner but this book was a really good way to be introduced to him.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lesley Truffle

    ‘Being Wagner’ is a wonderful biography of the German musician/composer Richard Wagner. The author, Simon Callow, is a uniquely gifted actor and he played Wagner on the stage. The one man show, ‘Inside Wagner’s Head’ was written by Callow. As Callow notes, Wagner is infamous for his notorious anti-Semitism, even though several of his closest friends and colleagues were Jewish. Some were crushed by his attitude while others ignored it and continued to work with him. Unfortunately Wagner’s blatant b ‘Being Wagner’ is a wonderful biography of the German musician/composer Richard Wagner. The author, Simon Callow, is a uniquely gifted actor and he played Wagner on the stage. The one man show, ‘Inside Wagner’s Head’ was written by Callow. As Callow notes, Wagner is infamous for his notorious anti-Semitism, even though several of his closest friends and colleagues were Jewish. Some were crushed by his attitude while others ignored it and continued to work with him. Unfortunately Wagner’s blatant bigotry worsened as he aged. Wagner (1813-1883) was long gone by the time his music was much admired by Adolf Hitler and used to promote Nazism. Wagner’s operas involve rich harmonies and orchestration, and the use of leitmotifs associated with individual characters, places and plot elements. Nordic and Germanic mythology and folklore inspired his work. The author is also takes us into Wagner’s tumultuous private life and his bizarre relationships with women. Frequently Wagner had to live on his wits and poverty cramped his lifestyle. However, he also got to live in the lap of luxury. If it hadn’t been for the intervention of King Ludwig II of Bavaria and his generous ongoing financial support, Wagner may never have staged the operas that made him world famous. Wagner’s music obsessed Ludwig. He was passionate about architecture and the fine arts. In later life he was known as Mad King Ludwig or The Dream King. Neuschwanstein Castle was inspired by Wagner’s operas. It was Ludwig’s hideaway and the palace evoked Medieval myths and fantasy. Although the author extensively researched Wagner’s life and times, the result is never tedious. The biography is engaging and moves along swiftly, delivering both the tragic and comedic events of Wagner’s life. As Callow wrote of Wagner’s most avant-garde and diabolical operas: ‘Only a truly uncommon human being could have been the conduit for this work. But he rode the dragon with skill and tenacity, while lesser men would have been thrown at the first canter.’

  13. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    As a narrator, Simon Callow's voice is second to none. Famous for his roles in Amadeus, Ace Ventura and Howard's End (the "music and meaning" lecturer), it turns out that he is also a marvelous writer. From a social radical whose personal friendships included Bakunin and Nietzsche, to the raving anti-semite whose peer group and financial beneficiaries included notable Jewish composers, pianists, writers, and royalty, the breadth of Wagner's life story is simply exhausting and contradictory. Of n As a narrator, Simon Callow's voice is second to none. Famous for his roles in Amadeus, Ace Ventura and Howard's End (the "music and meaning" lecturer), it turns out that he is also a marvelous writer. From a social radical whose personal friendships included Bakunin and Nietzsche, to the raving anti-semite whose peer group and financial beneficiaries included notable Jewish composers, pianists, writers, and royalty, the breadth of Wagner's life story is simply exhausting and contradictory. Of note, Callow's compelling biography brings to the fore the incredible dimensions of Wagner's life, but indeed not a life that seems particularly enviable. The composer struggled against a latent skin infection that always seemed to appear in his most manic periods. Until he was well on in years, he led a relatively loveless existence, over brimming with admirers but little passion. He was also such a raving antisemite that his writings brough shame and embarrassment to many of his fellow travelers. Despite all that, Wagner was a dynamic figure. This is a biography of Wagner, but it isn't a critical analysis of Wagner. It avoids pedantry, narrow discussions on musical theory, and theoretical obligations. The biographer had room to follow the parts of Wagner's life that were most spectacular. I felt Callow handled Wagner's racism with the amount of consideration that it warranted, neither reducing the book to a discussion on mid 19th century anti-semitism or the roots of Naziism, nor treating these subjects as a trivial aside. As Wagner aged, so did his obsessive focus on race. Interestingly, very few of those around him shared those opinions. Many under his direction were Jewish; many who helped Wagner through life were Jewish. Many of Wagner's friends publicly denounced his anti-semitism. But even more interesting was how closely people tied themselves to Wagner despite his manias and obsessions. I strongly recommend this book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    TammyJo Eckhart

    Before this book I knew only a bit about Wagner -- some of the music and stories about how the Nazis embraced his music. I know a lot more now after reading this book out loud with my hubby over the course of almost two weeks because we both wanted to learn more about him. Did we learn a lot! Simon Callow may not be a PhD trained historian but he has done all of the correct historical things from finding primary sources, to considering biases, and putting it all into the local, regional, and inte Before this book I knew only a bit about Wagner -- some of the music and stories about how the Nazis embraced his music. I know a lot more now after reading this book out loud with my hubby over the course of almost two weeks because we both wanted to learn more about him. Did we learn a lot! Simon Callow may not be a PhD trained historian but he has done all of the correct historical things from finding primary sources, to considering biases, and putting it all into the local, regional, and international context of events. The focus is on Wagner not on critiquing his music. Wagner's life wasn't easy from soon after his birth but there were times when he could have lived a good life, a comfortable and productive life and yet he was always failing financially and struggling to live. Why? Most of the time it was Wagner who created his problems whether it was how he treated others or which side he picked socially and politically. It was an emotional roller coaster to read about, it must have been worse to live through. Oddly he didn't live it alone for any amount of time which just boggled my hubby and my minds as we read and discussed what we were reading. Callow himself seems to struggle with understanding why and how Wagner was so popular yet so unpopular at the same time. Callow doesn't pull punches laying out how the maestro behaved and what he said/wrote. Often Callow uses humor to do so that had us laughing. This fit into the 16 drawings that seem like editorial cartoons that headed each chapter of this book. The book does not end with Wagner's death either. He died well before the 19th century and therefore knew nothing about Nazis. So why was his music important to them? The final chapter of the book explains it all as well as how Wagner is received today. Excellent job, Mr. Callow!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Mitterdorfer

    For those who know the basics of Richard Wagner’s music and are perhaps interested to find out more about the figure behind it, this is the book for you. From his troubled and impoverished youth, Callow paints a vividly larger-than-life picture of a man who, for the most part, was at odds with the society he inhabited. Sadness and loss were never far away, his struggles to make ends meet by writing music, constantly interrupted by having to tout, beg and borrow from friends whom nearly all turne For those who know the basics of Richard Wagner’s music and are perhaps interested to find out more about the figure behind it, this is the book for you. From his troubled and impoverished youth, Callow paints a vividly larger-than-life picture of a man who, for the most part, was at odds with the society he inhabited. Sadness and loss were never far away, his struggles to make ends meet by writing music, constantly interrupted by having to tout, beg and borrow from friends whom nearly all turned their backs on this overtly passionate megalomaniac. As someone who, before reading it, knew virtually nothing about Wagner’s life, I found this book both fascinating and enlightening. Highly recommended!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    I'm torn about this book. In some senses, it was a really enjoyable read--written engagingly about a larger than life character, and a world about which I had little knowledge before reading. On the other hand, people who are larger than life are, practically speaking, difficult to be around IRL, and I found Wagner, as a topic, uncomfortable company. He was an anti-Semite who inspired Hitler himself, which should tell you everything. But taking my feeling about Wagner himself out of the equation I'm torn about this book. In some senses, it was a really enjoyable read--written engagingly about a larger than life character, and a world about which I had little knowledge before reading. On the other hand, people who are larger than life are, practically speaking, difficult to be around IRL, and I found Wagner, as a topic, uncomfortable company. He was an anti-Semite who inspired Hitler himself, which should tell you everything. But taking my feeling about Wagner himself out of the equation (not easy), I think this book did a good job of bringing that era to life and depicting Wagner's wild emotional life. So no, while I would not ever want to spend time with Wagner, I'm willing to give this book four stars, woot.

  17. 5 out of 5

    John D. Bennett

    (Audio book) I do not listen to many audio books, but I enjoyed this one on a long drive. The author/reader, Simon Callow, is a well-known actor and pleasant to listen to. His own professional experience gives him useful perspective on Wagner the theatrical artist, not just the musical one. He considers, often in a mildly humorous way, what it was like to spend time with Wagner (generally not easy!) or to be Wagner (also no picnic). By his own description, Callow does not have the musical expert (Audio book) I do not listen to many audio books, but I enjoyed this one on a long drive. The author/reader, Simon Callow, is a well-known actor and pleasant to listen to. His own professional experience gives him useful perspective on Wagner the theatrical artist, not just the musical one. He considers, often in a mildly humorous way, what it was like to spend time with Wagner (generally not easy!) or to be Wagner (also no picnic). By his own description, Callow does not have the musical expertise to analyze Wagner‘s works or his compositional process in any depth. But this is a lively treatment of Wagner’s life and extremely difficult personality, not omitting the anti-Semitism that Callow describes as a “monomania” and “insane.”

  18. 4 out of 5

    Don McMorland

    I would describe myself as a moderate devotee of the music of Wagner, and certainly very interested in the man and what lies behind his works. I was initially sceptical about a book on Wagner by Simon Callow, knowing him only as an actor, but have to say that I enjoyed in immensely. It is not like any of the long and detailed tomes which discuss particular works or aspects of the works. It discusses Wagner’s life and the works in that context, and does so in an entertaining and inimitable way wh I would describe myself as a moderate devotee of the music of Wagner, and certainly very interested in the man and what lies behind his works. I was initially sceptical about a book on Wagner by Simon Callow, knowing him only as an actor, but have to say that I enjoyed in immensely. It is not like any of the long and detailed tomes which discuss particular works or aspects of the works. It discusses Wagner’s life and the works in that context, and does so in an entertaining and inimitable way which is identifiably Callow speaking. Learned, perceptive, but at times witty and individualistic. Highly recommended.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Edgar

    I didn't really know anything about Wagner except that he wrote The Ride of the Valkyrie (which Kilgore's platoon blasts from their choppers in Apocalypse Now) and the de rigueur nuptial tune The Wedding March -- and that Hitler loved him. Ironically, according to this book, the other Nazis believed that Wagner was actually a Marxist, and though he was anti-Semitic, not a Fascist. Wagner, in fact, collaborated with a lot of Jewish musicians. This is a very elucidating, well-written and concise bi I didn't really know anything about Wagner except that he wrote The Ride of the Valkyrie (which Kilgore's platoon blasts from their choppers in Apocalypse Now) and the de rigueur nuptial tune The Wedding March -- and that Hitler loved him. Ironically, according to this book, the other Nazis believed that Wagner was actually a Marxist, and though he was anti-Semitic, not a Fascist. Wagner, in fact, collaborated with a lot of Jewish musicians. This is a very elucidating, well-written and concise biography of the German composer who radically changed opera, Western music, the German character, and theater. Highly recommend.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Hank Lancet

    First, I never knew that Simon Callow was a biographer. I knew him as Papageno from Amadeus and Gareth from Four Weddings and a Funeral. As it turns out, he's a wonderfully talented biographer with a knack for keeping the reader's attention. I love Wagner's music and I opted to read at a slower pace so that I could listen to and appreciate the particular music drama he was working on at that particular point in his life timeline. I learned a lot about his life and what made him who he was as a p First, I never knew that Simon Callow was a biographer. I knew him as Papageno from Amadeus and Gareth from Four Weddings and a Funeral. As it turns out, he's a wonderfully talented biographer with a knack for keeping the reader's attention. I love Wagner's music and I opted to read at a slower pace so that I could listen to and appreciate the particular music drama he was working on at that particular point in his life timeline. I learned a lot about his life and what made him who he was as a person as well as a composer from this book. It is an easy read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about Richard Wagner.

  21. 4 out of 5

    GBL

    In one short volume, Simon Callow explores the life and work of Richard Wagner, giving the reader some understanding of the dynamic personality who changed the face of musical history. Callow brings to life the troubling personality of Wagner, charting his life and the development of his music. His comments on Wagner are perceptive and the added detail, such as Wagner’s fondness for dogs allows us to get a sense of the man behind the legend. Callow also reveals the darker side of Wagner both in h In one short volume, Simon Callow explores the life and work of Richard Wagner, giving the reader some understanding of the dynamic personality who changed the face of musical history. Callow brings to life the troubling personality of Wagner, charting his life and the development of his music. His comments on Wagner are perceptive and the added detail, such as Wagner’s fondness for dogs allows us to get a sense of the man behind the legend. Callow also reveals the darker side of Wagner both in his callous disregard for others and his deep anti Semitic views. A useful book, it provides anyone interested in Wagner’s music with a sense of the man behind the music.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tom Seubert

    This did come across as a typical biography, with the exception that in the middle of the book there is a modern explanation to Wagner's behavior I have not seen before. That explanation made the book worthwhile. There is also some insight into other people that Wagner encountered along the way, including the bavarian King Ludwig II. The rest of the book felt like I was trying to walk through one of his overly lengthy operas. Not recommended for light reading. Recommended only if you want to bet This did come across as a typical biography, with the exception that in the middle of the book there is a modern explanation to Wagner's behavior I have not seen before. That explanation made the book worthwhile. There is also some insight into other people that Wagner encountered along the way, including the bavarian King Ludwig II. The rest of the book felt like I was trying to walk through one of his overly lengthy operas. Not recommended for light reading. Recommended only if you want to better understand this very complicated man.

  23. 5 out of 5

    J Landon Light

    This book is a fascinating, often laugh-out-loud funny, look at the life and personality of Wagner. There can be no doubt the man was a reprehensible sociopath, but he was also extraordinarily gifted, determined, and magnetic. It is no wonder people were and are simultaneously repulsed by and drawn to him and his work. The many bizarre events and reversals of fortune in his life, often things completely out of his control, only reinforce the perception (that he no doubt shared) that he was a man This book is a fascinating, often laugh-out-loud funny, look at the life and personality of Wagner. There can be no doubt the man was a reprehensible sociopath, but he was also extraordinarily gifted, determined, and magnetic. It is no wonder people were and are simultaneously repulsed by and drawn to him and his work. The many bizarre events and reversals of fortune in his life, often things completely out of his control, only reinforce the perception (that he no doubt shared) that he was a man of special destiny. All of these ideas are explored in this short and enjoyable read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Fernando Rodriguez-Villa

    Wagner was clearly an awful (and it seems quite disturbed) man. I was a bit reassured to learn that many of his contemporaries felt the same way. BUT - his music is really exciting. Callow tells Wagner's incredible story in a supremely engaging fashion - weaving in history and music (and cartoons). I read much of it with my headphones on. Wagner was clearly an awful (and it seems quite disturbed) man. I was a bit reassured to learn that many of his contemporaries felt the same way. BUT - his music is really exciting. Callow tells Wagner's incredible story in a supremely engaging fashion - weaving in history and music (and cartoons). I read much of it with my headphones on.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Hotspur

    A delightful and concise book on the controversial composer of some of the longest musical works in the canon. Callow writes exceptionally well, his prose akin to a conversation. And what a conversationalist: witty, humorous, warm, honest, with an intuitive understanding of his subject. I hope he writes more books in the future.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Greg McConeghy

    I only knew Simon Callow as an actor on TV and as a host for The Royal Opera Covent Garden. This book is a well-written, interesting non-technical short bio of RW. Good overview, not white-washing some of the more despicable aspects of RW's personality. For a very good readable, entertaining summary of the operas go to William Berger's 'Wagner Without Fear.' I only knew Simon Callow as an actor on TV and as a host for The Royal Opera Covent Garden. This book is a well-written, interesting non-technical short bio of RW. Good overview, not white-washing some of the more despicable aspects of RW's personality. For a very good readable, entertaining summary of the operas go to William Berger's 'Wagner Without Fear.'

  27. 4 out of 5

    Will White

    Wow, what an entertaining, vivid, and thoughtful biography of Richard Wagner, and all in a book that could easily be devoured in a single sitting. Lots of hilarious anecdotes, interesting insights, and honest appraisal of one of the most complicated figures in music history. Highly recommended.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Meg

    A great quick bio of a man who could be hateful, nasty, and whom you probably wouldn't want as a friend that had me wondering all over again how he managed to create some of the greatest and most humanistic works of art. A great quick bio of a man who could be hateful, nasty, and whom you probably wouldn't want as a friend that had me wondering all over again how he managed to create some of the greatest and most humanistic works of art.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Ardrey

    I have always been fascinated by Wagner’s music dramas and his idea of a “total work of art.” This book was a fantastic look into his life and now consumed he was by his artistic views. Would highly recommend!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Paulina

    Callow's writing is delicious; he is both enamored with Wagner and immensely critical of him. A compact read about someone who was anything but laconic. Callow's writing is delicious; he is both enamored with Wagner and immensely critical of him. A compact read about someone who was anything but laconic.

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