My Life with Wagner is a sensitive and revealing book, worth reading as a document of how Western art reflects on itself, its achievements and its anxieties. Some readers might experience many of these anxieties as they hear about the conductor Christian Thielemann’s life and politics. This is the story of a conservative who loves Wagner and German art, has spent his life devoted to their service and is surprisingly human. Since June of this year, Thielemann has been the music director of the Bayreuth Festival, a role he has been preparing for all his life.
Since his debut at Bayreuth in 2000 conducting Die Meistersinger, Thielemann has had leverage there. His friendship with Wolfgang Wagner, the third child of Siegfried and Winifred Wagner and the grandson of the composer, was strong. ‘People used to complain that he never said anything nice,’ he observes, ‘and that