Simon Heffer

Nietszche Fetched His Silk Panties

Wagner: The Last of the Titans


Yale University Press 688pp £29.95 order from our bookshop

Two months after Richard Wagner died of heart failure in a rented palazzo in Venice in 1883, a touring production of his Ring cycle came to the city. A fleet of gondolas, led by the Venetian State Gondola (which carried the company’s entire orchestra), made its way to the palazzo. To the rapture of a large crowd of people (the men among whom removed their hats in awed silence), the band struck up Siegfried’s funeral march from Gotterdammerung. Joachim Kohler suggests, at the end of this impressive study of the composer, that Wagner himself would have ‘cracked a joke’ at the spectacle. After reading the epic of self-regard, self-obsession, self-indulgence and self-centredness that Kohler has constructed as his view of Wagner’s life (perhaps without realising how unflattering it is to his subject), we cannot be sure that the deceased would have found the ceremony so funny. Having been encouraged by his domineering and quite possibly mad wife Cosima to see himself as a god, he would presumably have felt that such a traffic stopping performance was the least he was due.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'One of the reasons for its longevity is that it has virtually nothing to say about science and technology at all,… ,
    • 'The characters in many of these stories are trapped in the obsessive present tense of their own thoughts; in the m… ,
    • 'Libraries, for much of their existence, have embodied in microcosm many of the characteristics of the totalitarian… ,
    • 'Moss and Cynthia buy several properties through which to launder their ill-gotten gains, take lots of drugs, have… ,
    • 'Never mind the imperial cult. This is the cult of Boris. What happened to Rome?' From the LR archive:… ,
    • Thirty-two years ago this month, we published Muriel Spark's short story, 'A Playhouse Called Remarkable' Read it… ,
    • Time travel, bicycles and white horses populate @WomackPhilip's roundup of children's books by @marcussedgwick,… ,