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Flaky, bumptious, maverick, a gadfly, a loose cannon – not Richard, but his granddaughter Friedelind, who also possessed most of the above attributes, but none of the genius. Daughter of Wagner’s only son, Siegfried, into a dynasty in which unquestioning adoration of the Master and his works was obligatory, her natural exuberance was doomed from the start. In a normal household her energies might have been guided into fruitful fields, but in Bayreuth, where she was born in 1918, quashing was the only option.

Like her grandfather, she was a mass of contradictions which led to or skirted disaster, including a blithe disregard for settling debts. One of her better instincts was to suss out, if confusedly, the horror of Nazism, which led to her leaving Germany and her family in the late 1930s, not to return until 1953, as a US citizen.

Friedelind wrote her own version of her life story, published first in her rather slapdash English in 1945 in the US under the title Heritage of Fire. Rieger quotes extensively from Friedelind’s book, but with a reserve and lack of comment that has more than a whiff of the over-discreet maiden aunt about it. The events dealt with in Friedelind’s own version end in the 1940s, of course, whereas Rieger’s take us up to Friedelind’s death in 1991.

What becomes clear is Friedelind’s very Wagnerian desire to have her cake and eat it. In spite of a willingness to take on any job occasionally to earn money, she milked her Wagnerian bloodline to the full, and even remained blindly faithful to the myth of Wagner’s noble nature.

It’s all here, including the grotesquely comic denouement after the war, when her brothers Wolfgang and Wieland, who had remained and supped with the devil in Bayreuth, realised with horror that their much derided sister, who had backed the right horse after all, could possibly end up in the driving seat. (No such luck, of course.)

But much else is only hinted at, including Friedelind’s strange ‘affair’ with Toscanini, and her sexuality generally. Rieger very seldom comes down off the fence.

DELLA COULING Read the full review on Agora Classica

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