Post by firstname.lastname@example.org
A lot of what you mentioned was the result of his massive ego and had I think little to do with self destructive tendencies. He thought he was a special gift to humanity and could do what he wanted.
The first remark is true, certainly, but not, I think, the second. That seems to derive from the old-fashioned view of Wagner as glassy-eyed comic-strip psychopath, without empathy or morality. Far from feeling entitled, most of his life was a struggle to stay afloat, without compromising artistic ideals, and that in a world where composers customarily received less for an entire opera than the lead tenor received for one performance. To make a living he would have had to churn out potboilers, and direct one opera-house after another, conducting the very mediocrity he opposed. He would not have had time to write what he did, let alone get it staged. In refusing to do that, certainly, he was self-destructive. In failing to conceal his love-life behind a respectable front, as Offenbach and others did, he was undoubtedly self-destructive. In his total lack of sense with money, he was undoubtedly his own worst enemy; but he shared that with many less vilified composers, like Sibelius, and at least he was generous by nature, not a crabbed miser like Beethoven.
Likewise, in his early naive idealism, imagining he could embody his strongly humanitarian beliefs by swift revolution. In that, in lack of compromise and healthy cynicism, he was certainly self-destructive; but it's a belief shared by a great many thinkers, even today. But not all the hostility he faced was of his own creation; some of it was political, some of it was authoritarian, some rigidly obstructionist and reactionary in a way it's hard to imagine today, and some of it simply jealous and malicious; and all fed on each other. He did have a huge ego and self-belief, but he needed it simply to survive, let alone bring to bear the genius he knew he had. A milder, less certain man would have broken under the strain -- would have *been* broken, in fact. He'd seen many who were, and never fully benefited from their work, or lived to produce what their talents promised.
I was interested to read this review of Callow's book, because I also reviewed it for the BBC. It's very readable, but not, alas, very accurate, drawing in all sorts of rather dodgy material; it even gets Wagner's birthday wrong. Its strength is the effort Callow makes to "inhabit" Wagner, whom he played in a one-man show; he does more than most to pull Wagner's immense contradictions together into a recognisable and comprehensible person -- more than Craig Brown's review allows. As the crass illustration suggests, Brown is primarily a jokey tabloid columnist, and the review seems to represent his own not particularly impressive views, rather than Callow's.