While visiting a used book store in Chapel Hill, NC, a while ago I came across a slim biography and musical introduction titled Wagner, by Robert L. Jacobs. The copyright dates are 1935 and 1965, and it was published as part of a “Master Musicians” series by J.M. Dent in London and Farrar, Straus and Giroux in New York.
(This is not to be confused with the Master Musicians series currently offered by Oxford University Press.)
It is responsible, informed, literate and a good read. Jacobs’ selections of what to tell and what to skip make it a refreshing volume for Wagnerians who think they already know the story. Further inquiry reveals that Jacobs was responsible for the translation of the essential publication of Heinrich Porges’ notes during the 1876 Ring production, under the title Rehearsing the Ring, and also wrote a 1941 article on “Wagner’s Influence on Hitler” as well as a translation of three Wagner essays.
One interesting note is Jacobs’ despair, towards the end of the book, over the violence done to Wagner by the Wolfgang/Wieland regime in Bayreuth. While welcoming the jettisoning of “fussily realistic scenery littered with mythological ‘props’,” Jacobs is alarmed that “practical, dramatically essential demands are ignored” by the spare stagings of New Bayreuth. “Travesties such as these, stamped with the prestige of Bayreuth and name of Wagner, have been imitated not only by producers in Germany — where audiences are pardonably glad to see the operas stripped of associations that meant so much to Hitler — but also, albeit as yet half-heartedly, at Covent Garden.”
The book is available at some online sites and I encourage collectors to have a go. I doubt you will regret it.