Cosima Wagner The Lady of Bayreuth Oliver Hilmes, Stewart Spencer

Publication date:
15 Apr 2011
Yale University Press
400 pages: 229 x 152mm
30 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

An enthralling new biography of the woman behind Bayreuth

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.

Oliver Hilmes is the author of Cosima's Kinder, a study of the Wagner dynasty, and a best-selling biography of Alma Mahler. Stewart Spencer is an acclaimed translator and editor (with Barry Millington) of Wagner in Performance.

"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

"Hilmes probes a fascinating and under-documented period of music history." -Financial Times

“Bastard daughter of touring music celebrity, unfaithful wife of great conductor, marries genius and becomes one of the leading influences on Western culture. As the Aussies say, you couldn’t read about it. But, here in the pages of Cosima Wagner, you certainly can. And the story is enriched by the author’s access to available documentation at Bayreuth.” - Robert Giddings, Tribune

"A meticulously researched slice of cultural history." - Nick Rennison, Sunday Times