Richard and Cosima Wagner, Vienna 1872. Photo © Fritz Luckhardt, Wikimedia Commons


In his new book Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music , Alex Rosswalks fearlessly into the snake pit of opinion and, in his words, “restores the magnificent confusion of what it means to be a Wagnerian”. In this extract, introduced by Clive Paget, he looks at Wagner, women and love.

Sensual or bombastic, compassionate or violent, decadent or modern. No artist in the last 150 years has polarised opinion quite like Richard Wagner. “He is a genius such as appears upon the earth once every thousand years,” swooned the French poet Villiers...