Richard Wagner My lifeRichard Wagner
My Life

Da Capo, 1992 (and others)




Perhaps everything was said about Richard Wagner’s autobiography, but both in good and bad things you can find some truth. Wagner Wagner dictated My Life to his wife Cosima from 1865 to 1880 (with interruptions) and deliberately interrupted it to 1864. There is no doubt that the book presents things in order to place in an unfavourable light anyone who was in contrast with the protagonist or who simply did not share his point of view. On the other hand, the constant effort to place the narrator’s life and work above mediocrity allows Wagner to assert that he was able to see further than everyone else and to give to his operas an almost legendary origin. It is therefore inevitable that the narration of Wagner’s life lacks some details and the digressions on the operas, avoiding references to their musical meaning, focus primarily on their premieres.

Verboseness, however, isthe main feature of My life. It is enough to take a look to the consistency of the volume – but, I must add immediately, this thick set of pages is characterized by fluency and often by irony, so that sometimes we can forget even the “indoctrination” to which we are subjected. Wagner proves to be an able and effective narrator (and cannot be otherwise, considering his purpose), capable to depict some animated and funny scenes, like the short paragraph devoted to Christmas of 1840, or to create unforgettable portraits of famous people, like that of Gaspare Spontini, who directs the orchestra waving his baton as a “marshal’s baton”.

Beyond all its limitations, My life is undoubtedly an important document and, moreover, sometimes it is sufficient to read between the lines to guess when Wagner is sincere and when he distorts the facts. The clearer example is perhaps that of the uprising in Dresden, when the composer does everything to persuade the reader that he was forced, against his will, to do what he did (it would be interesting to see how many times and in how many meanings he used the verb “to follow”, unless the original German uses synonyms), suddenly appearing mildly naive… What becomes clear, however, is that he is a dissembler, but, since he is a dissembler who often succeeds to be sympathetic, we will continue to read My life for a long time.