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Joachim Kohler has made a career out of writing intellectually dishonest, crass books on both Richard Wagner and Friedrich Nietzsche, and while I expected more of the same here, this weighty tome actually possesses some merit.
As far as reliable biography goes, Kohler's book is more responsible than Gutman's Richard Wagner: The Man, His Mind, and His Music (but, again, that's not saying all that much), and Kohler does present some interesting analysis regarding Wagner's phobias, dreams and obsessions. The problem that arises here, though, is one that plagues all such psycho-biographies; that is Kohler's conclusions are purely subjective & cannot be conclusively proven.
Some of the reviewers here have made the remark that this is more of a philosophy book than a biography, and this is entirely correct. If one has little desire to wade through the theorizing of Feuerbach, Schopenhauer, Schelling, Hegel and Kant, then that person would be much better served in reading either Watson's or Millington's bios on Wagner. But if you are interested in seeing the philosophical backbone of Wagner's work, Kohler's book can be stimulating. I think Kohler is correct in discerning Schelling's influence in Wagner's thought, as well as his emphasis on Hegel's ideas on Wagner. Kohler is incorrect, in my opinion, in stating that Schopenhauer's thought had virtually no impact on Wagner. While it's true that Wagner's most "Schopenhauerian" work, Tristan und Isolde, is just as much in debt to Feuerbach, Schopenhauer's negation of the individual consciousness and the primacy of the Will are indeed pervasive presences in the opera. Wagner's Meistersinger & Parsifal are even more patently Schopenhauerian.
Kohler's views on Der Ring are also interesting, but again, those views are entirely subjective, and one can easily argue against them.
Having discussed the book's merits, there are also some major flaws. Nietzsche & King Ludwig are both portrayed as hapless victims of Wagner's megalomania, and Liszt is portrayed as an artist whom Wagner shamelessly [...] and blatantly copied. There is no doubt that Nietzsche & Ludwig were both psychologically wounded by Wagner (the man was quite a pill, after all), but neither men were utter victims, and both profited from their association with Wagner, and said as much. In regards to Liszt, Wagner was definitely influenced by him, but by the time of Die Walkure, Wagner had far surpassed his mentor.
Kohler addresses Wagner's notorious anti-Semitism, and it must be said, Kohler's murky analysis of Wagner's worst vice is almost as murky as Wagner's anti-Semitism. There are much more responsible (and clearer) examinations of Wagner's ugly hatred in the books The Darker Side of Genius, The Tristan Chord, and Ring of Myths. I recommend reading these first, and then coming back to this book.
Finally, we have Cosima. I never liked her, and it's easy to agree with Kohler's assessment of her as a self-righteous, manipulative woman. But I think it's also fair to say that she adored her husband (a quick glance through her diaries will prove that), and Kohler is off the beam in stating that their relationship was based primarily on fear.
Anyway, if you have the time and patience, this is a worthy read, but if you aren't inclined to wade through 700 pages of subjective psycho-biography and philosophical meanderings, then I would stick with a more manageable volume. In any event, I'm off to listen to Act II of Tristan.