The Best Of Wagner On Kindle - Part One

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday, 27 April 2014 | 1:24:00 am

Our editor reviews the "best" of Wagner to be found on E-readers. Part Two to follow shortly

I have a fondness for E-readers - and least we not forget there are many more then just Amazon's Kindle. Portability and now much faster responsiveness together with a long battery life and the ever developing technology of back-lighting make them a welcome addition to my library. They are of course not without their annoying "idiosyncrasies": that I can buy some-books in the UK but not the USA and vice versa is a marketing blunder without compare. and let us not get started on the industries paranoia of DRM protection. This last point, meaning that one can buy a book on a kindle but not read it on another device and vice versa , is not only irritating but easy to workaround if one knows how - and thus negating its supposed intention of preventing "piracy". But one assumes this is what happens when an industry is lead by people that clearly cannot operate their computers with much efficiency.


Anyway, with that detour out of the way, below I have selected what I believe are the best books about or closely associated with Wagner that can be found at present on the Amazon Kindle store.  Although should you have not have a kindle - or not be aware how to strip Kindle books of their DRM so that they can be read on other E-Readers - they should be available on other such readers also - and of course all can be read in paperback format. 

Although a disclaimer just because I consider them the best on Kindle does not mean that I may fully, if all, agree with their thesis but only that they offer a good introduction or make an interesting point.

A note: Clicking on any of the images will take you the relevant Amazon UK page for that book


The Wagner Experience: and its meaning to us [Kindle Edition]Paul Dawson-Bowling

Pages: 900
Publisher: Old Street Publishing (1 Feb 2014)

The two edition set as available as one book. I have not had the chance  to check whether the ebook corrects the rather irritating typos that existed in volume one of the print addition although even if they have not been corrected there is enough of interest here to mean the book is still of great value

'Impressive . . . [Dawson-Bowling] throws light both on Wagner as a social being and on the works . . . It's not often one encounters references to Marie Stopes, The Hite Report and cunnilingus in commentaries on Tannhäuser, but Dawson-Bowling has much of interest to say about Elisabeth, and indeed Venus, in terms of sexual experience from a woman's point of view . . . The readability of The Wagner Experience is much enhanced by the clear typeface, with a generous number of superbly produced colour illustrations'
BARRY MILLINGTON, THE WAGNER JOURNAL

'The distillation a lifetime's work which has clearly been a labour of love, this book is organised as two beautifully illustrated volumes.'
Wagner News

'in every way remarkable... communicates essential truths and modes of understanding Wagner... [The Wagner Experience] is a wonderful culmination to a lifetime of devotion, and it deserves to be widely read and bought in large numbers. Any one reading [it] will have a well-informed, sympathetic, perceptive understanding of Wagner without any neglect of the more difficult aspects of his personality -- the egocentricity, the mood swings, the anti-Semitic prejudice.
John Derry, Professor Emeritus, University of Newcastle --



Surely one of the best translations of the Ring available in English. Aided by extensive footnotes and background

Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung: A Companion Stewart Spencer &  Barry Millington
  • Print Length: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Thames and Hudson Ltd; Revised edition (4 Mar 2013)


'(A) fine translation...a remarkably well-tailored version... To see what an achievement this is you have only to look back at nineteenth-century translations of works like Parsifal, any of which is difficult to read with a straight face.'
--TLS

This is the first literal, word-for-word translation of Wagners epic masterwork with the full German text. It is at once reliable and readable, adhering closely to the original verse form and to Wagners poetic intentions. The German text is given in parallel, and Spencer also contributes illuminating footnotes and an introductory essay. Specially commissioned essays discuss the Cycles musical structure, its philosophical implications, its medieval sources and Wagners own changing attitude to its meaning. An appendix of Wagners rejected versions, copious notes on the translation, a glossary of the names of characters in the Ring, an extensive bibliography and reviews of CD- and video-recordings conclude the volume. Illustrations include specimens of Wagners MSS and photographs of historic productions.


Still the best introduction to the influence that philosophy was to have on Wagner and his work. Whether one agrees with Magee - I do not - that Wagner left behind his left-wing "radical" politics as he grew older (in someways as Mageee did) is another matter. An indispensable addition to your Wagner library
Wagner and Philosophy [Kindle Edition] Bryan Magee
  • Print Length: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (6 Sep 2001)
Bryan Magee is perhaps best known for his TV programme The Great Philosophers but he has also been a Member of Parliament, a music and theatre critic, a broadcaster and author of The Philosophy of Schopenhauerand the now classic Aspects of Wagner.

In Wagner and Philosophy, Magee concerns his expertise with the ways in which philosophical ideas penetrated Wagner's work. The dominant philosophical figure in the book and in Wagner's life is Arthur Schopenhauer and it is the influence of Schoepenhauer's metaphysics on Wagner's world-view and ultimately his operas that constitutes the heart of the book.

There are two Wagners in our culture, unrecognisably different from one another, thinks Magee; there are "those who know his work and the Wagner imagined by those who know him by name and reputation". What Magee attempts to debunk is the common view of Wagner as a "sort of proto-Nazi", a man "jingoistically nationalistic", and "quintessentially right-wing". Wagner's disillusionment with revolutionary socialist politics is not to be explained as a movement from left to right but rather "from politics to metaphysics". To understand Wagner's "turn", his "re-evaluation of his values" one must understand the monumental influence Kantian--Schoepenhauerian philosophy had upon him. Similarly he debunks the assumption that Wagner was much influenced by Nietzsche and in a fascinating chapter detailing the eight-year intimate friendship between the two men, Magee affirms what researchers already know; that during that time Nietzsche was in thrall to Wagner--indeed, worshipped him.

What readers familiar with German philosophy but unfamiliar with Wagner and opera in general will find awesome is the sheer magnitude of Wagner's artistic genius and the role played by Schopenhauer in freeing up that artistic genius. The result is that one finds oneself running back to Schopenhauer once more before buying up Wagner CDs and looking out for the next performance. What Wagnerians unfamiliar with philosophy should find is an enhanced understanding of the ways in which Schopenhauer's ideas were absorbed into the texture of the operas themselves. However one need not be familiar with either Wagner or philosophy of any kind to enjoy this book because Magee writes about both with clarity and an infectious reverential enthusiasm. --Larry Brown

Wagner was one of the few major composers who studied philosophy seriously. Bryan Magee places the composer's artistic development in the context of the philosophy of his age, and gives us the first detailed and comprehensive study of the close links between Wagner and the philosophers - from the pre-Marxist socialists to Feuerbach and Schopenhauer. Magee explores the relationship between words and music, between the conscious and the unconscious mind, between art and philosophy. It tackles soberly and judiciously the Wagner whose paranoia, egocentricity and anti-semitism are repugnant, as well as the Wagner of artistic genius. The resulting text illuminates Wagner and the music-dramas in altogether new ways.



Richard Wagner: A Life in Music [Kindle Edition] Martin Geck (Author), Stewart Spencer (Translator)
  • Print Length: 464 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; Tra edition (18 Sep 2013)

One of the still truly interesting and original  writers about Wagner and his work. Well translated by Stewart Spencer. Although this is not a book for the Wagner "newcomer" and some familiarity with Wagner's life and work via one of the introductory biographies listed below is highly recommended. 

Best known for the challenging four-opera cycle The Ring of the Nibelung, Richard Wagner (1813–83) was a conductor, librettist, theater director, and essayist, in addition to being the composer of some of the most enduring operatic works in history, such as The Flying Dutchman,Tannhäuser, and Tristan and Isolde. Though his influence on the development of European music is indisputable, Wagner was also quite outspoken on the politics and culture of his time. His ideas traveled beyond musical circles into philosophy, literature, theater staging, and the visual arts. To befit such a dynamic figure, acclaimed biographer Martin Geck offers here a Wagner biography unlike any other, one that strikes a unique balance between the technical musical aspects of Wagner’s compositions and his overarching understanding of aesthetics.

Wagner has always inspired passionate admirers as well as numerous detractors, with the result that he has achieved a mythical stature nearly equal to that of the Valkyries and Viking heroes he popularized. There are few, if any, scholars today who know more about Wagner and his legacy than Geck, who builds upon his extensive research and considerable knowledge as one of the editors of the Complete Works to offer a distinctive appraisal of the composer and the operas. Using a wide range of sources, from contemporary scholars to the composer’s own words, Geck explores key ideas in Wagner’s life and works, while always keeping the music in the foreground. Geck discusses not only all the major operas, but also several unfinished operas and even the composer’s early attempts at quasi-Shakespearean drama.

Richard Wagner: A Life in Music is a landmark study of one of music’s most important figures, offering something new to opera enthusiasts, Wagnerians, and anti-Wagnerians alike.



Wagner [Kindle Edition] Michael Tanner"
  • Print Length: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Flamingo (28 April 2011)

One of the better single and very slim volume introductions to Wagner and his work - apart from Magee's Aspects of Wagner which is sadly still not available in electronic format. An asking price of only around £3 adds to its value.

Tanner belongs in [the] tiny but distinguished company of committed Wagnerians who write extraordinarily well . . . His observations are consistently fresh and provocative, often as witty as they are arresting . . . . His short book is a joy to read and worth dozens of longer ones."--G. W. Bowersock, Opera News

"Focused and concise. . . . [A] wonderfully open-minded book."--Rupert Christiansen, Sunday Telegraph

"[A] quietly magnificent study of one of the most controversial figures in modern music."--Virginia Quarterly Review

"The most spirited and unapologetic book about Wagner to appear in a long time. . . . Fine, intellectually sparkling, and always engaging. . . . A welcome addition to any Wagner library."--Wagner Notes

"[Tanner] provides a valuable study of the meaning and significance of Richard Wagner's music dramas. . . . Tanner leads the reader to understand Wagner's lifelong preoccupations, the common threads and themes that underlie his production."--Choice

‘A fine, intellectually sparkling and always engaging little book – a welcome addition to any Wagner library’
Hans Vaget, Opera Quarterly

Whilst no one would dispute Wagner’s ranking among the most significant composers in the history of Western music, his works have been more fiercely attacked than those of any other composer. His supposed personal defects have provoked intense hostility which has translated into a mistrust and abhorrence of his music. Tanner’s fascination for the relationship between music, text and plot generates and illuminating discussion of the operas, in which he persuades us to see many of Wagner’s best-know works afresh. His passionate and unconventional analyses are accessible to all lovers of music, be they listeners or performers.

Note that it has not been possible to include the same picture content that appeared in the original print version.



Cosima Wagner: The Lady of Bayreuth [Kindle Edition] Oliver HILMES (Author), Stewart Spencer (Translator)
  • Print Length: 354 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (1 July 2010)

The true centre of power at Bayreuth and arch business and marketing leader? I have often thought so. Hilmes ' investigates this both fascinating and equally horrific personality. An indispensable book to help understand  what Wagner, his philosophy and his music became rather than what it really meant or was intended to be. 

"'Oliver Hilmes has written by far the best biography of her... His book is a model of scholarship and also compellingly readable... A major achievement.' (Michael Tanner, BBC Music Magazine) 'This biography of Wagner's wife offers a wonderfully clear-eyed look at the couple's relationship and her fanatical tending of his flame.' (The Sunday Times) 'Oliver Hilmes has produced a surprisingly amusing book.' (Philip Hensher, Daily Telegraph) 'He has written a detailed, fair-minded and fascinating account, not just of a pivotal figure in European musical history, but of an epoch and an ethos: nineteenth-century German cultural and spiritual nationalism.' (Robert Carver, The Tablet) 'This well-written book (translated brilliantly - as ever - by Stewart Spencer) offers a clear and scrupulous insight into how she created and stoked the peculiar mania that infected the Wagner cult.' (Della Couling, Classical Music)"

In this meticulously researched book, Oliver Hilmes paints a fascinating and revealing picture of the extraordinary Cosima Wagner—illegitimate daughter of Franz Liszt, wife of the conductor Hans von Bülow, then mistress and subsequently wife of Richard Wagner. After Wagner’s death in 1883 Cosima played a crucial role in the promulgation and politicization of his works, assuming control of the Bayreuth Festival and transforming it into a shrine to German nationalism. The High Priestess of the Wagnerian cult, Cosima lived on for almost fifty years, crafting the image of Richard Wagner through her organizational ability and ideological tenacity.

The first book to make use of the available documentation at Bayreuth, this biography explores the achievements of this remarkable and obsessive woman while illuminating a still-hidden chapter of European cultural history.



The Wagner Clan [Kindle Edition] Jonathan Carr (Author)
  • Print Length: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber Classical Music & Dance (3 Feb 2011)

  • The perfect accompanying book to Oliver Hilmes book above.

    Carr's book gives us as much about the Wagner clan as most of us are likely to want to know. For avid Wagnerians, it will be unputdownable.' --Hugh Canning, Sunday Times

    'It offers both a fascinating introduction to laymen and a wealth of new information to the most dedicated Wagnerians.' -- Tim Martin, The Independent on Sunday

    'Jonathan Carr has charted in forensic detail the sections of family history that will never have made it into official festival literature... The conclusions are as grimly compelling as they are soberly delivered.' -- Neil Fisher, The Times

    'The Wagner Clan ... deserves its place on the groaning shelf, beside the various histories of Bayreuth, and biographies of the Wagners.' -- A.N Wilson, TLS

    'Those of us for whom (Wagner) is a great composer...will enjoy THE WAGNER CLAN'S deftly woven narrative and its wider perspectives of 20th century Germany.'
    -- Jonathan Keates, The Sunday Telegraph




The Cambridge Companion to Wagner (Cambridge Companions to Music) [Kindle Edition] Thomas S. Grey (Editor)
  • Print Length: 388 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (17 Oct 2012)

"This volume provides a balanced introduction to the composer's life, times, works, and reception. A useful chronology...The repolitiizing of the 'Wagner question' is unquestionably one of this book's strengths and certain to make it compelling to a wide variety of readers." --Choice
Richard Wagner is remembered as one of the most influential figures in music and theatre, but his place in history has been marked by a considerable amount of controversy. His attitudes towards the Jews and the appropriation of his operas by the Nazis, for example, have helped to construct a historical persona that sits uncomfortably with modern sensibilities. Yet Wagner's absolutely central position in the operatic canon continues. This volume serves as a timely reminder of his ongoing musical, cultural, and political impact. Contributions by specialists from such varied fields as musical history, German literature and cultural studies, opera production, and political science consider a range of topics, from trends and problems in the history of stage production to the representations of gender and sexuality. With the inclusion of invaluable and reliably up-to-date biographical data, this collection will be of great interest to scholars, students, and enthusiasts.



Richard Wagner (Critical Lives) [Kindle Edition] Ray Furness

  • Print Length: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Reaktion Books (24 May 2013)
As long as you are only interested in Wagner and his work - and not those who shared his life - you might do worse when looking for an introductory Wagner biography

Few of the great composers can claim a body of work as influential and contentious as Richard Wagner; his life and compositions remain intertwined with the great upheavals of his time, and this often obscures a dispassionate critical assessment of his output.
In Richard Wagner Raymond Furness provides a clear and balanced view of Wagner’s great achievements, without neglecting the controversies in his life and art. Using the composer’s wide-ranging engagement with mythology as his starting point, Furness explores Wagner’s music and extensive literary output. As well as giving the reader a clear insight into The Ring and Wagner’s other essential works, the book also deals with often-neglected fragments such as ‘Wieland the Smith’, ‘The Mines at Falun’ and ‘The Visitors’, providing a more rounded critical picture of a composer whose great operatic works often overshadow the rest of his canon.
Containing up-to-date dissections of recent Bayreuth productions and a refreshingly uncluttered approach to a much-misunderstood life, Furness’s Richard Wagner will engage both those new to the life of the composer, as well as his many life-long devotees.
Raymond Furness is former Chair of German at St Andrew's University, Scotland. He is author or editor of many books on German literature and culture, including A Companion to Twentieth-century German Literature (1991), Zarathustra's Children (2000) and On Heligoland (2008).