B0705. FRIEDELIND WAGNER. Heritage of Fire, The Story of Richard Wagner’s Granddaughter. New York, Harper, 1945. 231pp. Index; Illus.; DJ.
Friedelind Wagner, maverick granddaughter of Richard Wagner and a devotee of musical theater whose denouncement of the pro-Nazi Wagner festival launched by her family brought her scorn and ostracism, was known internationally for both the lifelong battle she waged against Hitler’s influence and her encouragement of young artists.
For years, after the 1930 death of her beloved father, Siegfried, and her grandmother Cosima (Franz Liszt’s daughter and Richard Wagner’s wife), she fought alone against the Nazi influence that permeated the famed Bayreuth Festival.
Friedelind’s British-born mother, Winifred, was a devotée of Adolf Hitler and her daughter found that she had to leave Germany at the outbreak of World War II, disgusted with both her family and the Nazis. Her departure was well publicized because of Hitler’s devotion to things Wagnerian. She was in Switzerland when the war started and was briefly interned before Arturo Toscanini secured her release. It was not until 1953 that she returned to Germany and Bayreuth where her brother, Wieland, had liberated the festival from politics and made of it a mecca for modern musical theater production.
In the interim she wrote a scathing autobiography HERITAGE OF FIRE, further alienating her family and many fellow Germans while having to support herself by tasks ranging from waitressing to lecturing. But thanks to Wieland Wagner, she was able to return to Bayreuth where she founded Festival Master Classes in 1959. She also became mentor and friend to dozens of aspiring artists and musicologists, among them the operatic director Walter Felsenstein; Edward Downs, the amiable music professor known as the host of the ‘Metropolitan Opera on the Air Quiz’; conductors Lawrence Foster and Peter Eros, and Bruce Hungerford, the late Australian concert pianist.
After Wieland’s death in 1966, her mother and other brother, Wolfgang, again assumed control of Bayreuth and Friedelind Wagner resumed her travels. She lectured throughout Europe and America, broadcast in French on Swiss radio and tried unsuccessfully to find financial support for a musical theater academy.
In 1983 she was the featured guest on a PBS documentary devoted to her grandfather’s epochal operas THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG.
Martin Bernheimer, The TIMES’ music and dance critic, had known her for more than 30 years and remembered her as spending ‘most of her life swimming bravely against social, political and artistic currents that, under other conditions, would have supported her….She had a knack for finding and nurturing fresh talent in unexpected locales. Ultimately, she accepted rejection from the Bayreuth Establishment with characteristic stoicism, with mildly bitter resignation and good humor. She also had a refreshing sense of self-mockery (and loved it when a friend insisted on calling her ‘Miss Rheingold’).”
- Burt A. Folkart, LOS ANGELES TIMES, 10 May, 1991
“Friedelind Wagner, who bore an uncanny resemblance to her grandfather, was born in Bayreuth, Germany, the site of the annual summer Wagner festival. She was educated in Germany and England and at the Sorbonne in Paris.
Her father, Siegfried, whom she adored, died in 1930, along with her grandmother Cosima, who was Franz Liszt's daughter. It was her English-born mother, Winifred, whose fanatic admiration for Adolf Hitler (and Hitler's equally fanatic admiration for Wagner's music) made Bayreuth into a Nazi shrine in the 1930's. Friedelind Wagner, always a rebel, resisted that trend and finally fled Germany in 1940 amid a burst of publicity. ‘I was always stubborn and independent’, she said in an interview in 1944. ‘I only had to listen to Hitler rave and rant to be disgusted and horrified’.
When war broke out in September 1940, she was visiting in Switzerland. Already an outspoken opponent of Nazism, she realized that the protection she had enjoyed as a member of the Wagner family would no longer guarantee her safety. Although offered asylum in Britain, she was interned by bureaucratic accident for three months. Released at the intercession of the conductor Arturo Toscanini, another outspoken anti-Fascist, she came to the United States in 1942 after detours to Uruguay and Argentina. During the war she remained an active anti-Nazi propagandist, a particular embarrassment for the Nazis, given their idolatry of Wagner.
Miss Wagner's career after 1945 was a checkered one. She wrote a lively autobiography, HERITAGE OF FIRE, but her only real ally in the Wagner family was her brother Wieland. His brilliant career as a stage director and designer and co-director of the Bayreuth Festival was cut short by his death in 1966. Until then Miss Wagner had directed the Bayreuth Festival Master Classes, a summerlong series of workshops and instruction for young singers, conductors, directors and critics. After Wieland's death, the hostility shown her by her mother and her brother Wolfgang turned her later years into a gypsylike odyssey as she fruitlessly attempted to find support for her dream of a theatrical academy.
She lived in northern England for a number of years, then attempted to relocate to Bayreuth and spent her final years in Lucerne.”
- John Rockwell, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 9 May, 1991