Nietzsche and Wagner

A Lesson in Subjugation
Kohler, Joachim
Date published: 
October 1998

Translated by Ronald Taylor. This book, first published in German in 1996, presents an absorbing account of the bizarre and fluctuating relationship between the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the composer Richard Wagner, and his wife Cosima. Nietzsche was 25 when he first met Wagner and his 32-year-old mistress Cosima (daughter of Franz Liszt and at that time wife of the conductor Hans von BŸlow) in May 1869. The relationship survived on a combination of mutual intellectual admiration - dominated by the bullying Wagner - and erotic jealousy until the composer's death in 1883 and the philosopher's own descent into madness six years later. Joachim Kšhler brings this turbulent relationship vividly to life. He shows - for the first time - how their traumatised childhoods bound Nietzsche and Cosima in submission to the demonic, ageing Wagner, how Nietzsche was enticed into the Bayreuth labyrinth, entrapped in its culture wars and used as a tool in its sectarianism and anti-semitism. The book sheds new light on Nietzsche's early writings, revealing them subverted by Wagner to parade his own ideas of German superiority, of the domination of the masses by a few chosen geniuses, and of the supremacy of art and aesthetics over morals and humanity. The source of Nietzsche's Superman and Will to Power are traced to the pre-fascist ideology of Richard and Cosima Wagner, an ideology later uncomprehendingly idolised by Hitler's Reich. Joachim Kšhler, a graduate of the universities of Tubingen, Wurzburg, New York and Stanford, is a writer and publisher. Ronald Taylor is the author of Berlin & its Culture , published by Yale University Press.