Spotts, Frederic 1930–

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SPOTTS, Frederic 1930–

PERSONAL: Born February 2, 1930. Education: Swarthmore College, B.A., 1952; Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, M.A., 1953; Oxford University, D.Phil., 1960. Politics: "Anarchist." Religion: Atheist.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Overlook Press, Penguin Putnam, 141 Wooster St., New York, NY 10012.

CAREER: Diplomat, historian. U.S. Foreign Service, Washington, DC, served in Paris, France, Bonn, West Germany, and Rome, Italy. Military service: U.S. Army, served from 1953–56.

MEMBER: American Civil Liberties Union, Oxford and Cambridge Club.


The Churches and Politics in Germany, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1973.

(With Theodore Wieser) Italy, a Difficult Democracy: A Survey of Italian Politics, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1986.

(Editor) Letters of Leonard Woolf, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 1989.

Bayreuth: A History of the Wagner Festival, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1994.

Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, Hutchinson (London, England), 2002, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2003.

SIDELIGHTS: Frederic Spotts is a former diplomat with the U.S. Foreign Service who has written a number of books, including Letters of Leonard Woolf. Woolf was the husband of author Virginia Stephen Woolf, and the couple enjoyed the company of liberals, like themselves, in the Bloomsbury Group that included British intellectuals, writers, and artists, such as E. M. Forster and John Maynard Keynes.

Bayreuth: A History of the Wagner Festival is a study of the summer festival founded in 1870 by Richard Wagner as a venue for his operas, and which continues to this day, still run by the Wagner family. Fred Plotkin wrote in Opera News that Spotts's "great achievement" is "that he manages to plumb much of the significance in Wagner by recounting the history of the theater and festival he created. Spotts brings to life a fascinating collection of characters who react to Wagner in accordance with their own prejudices, talents, and shortcomings." Spotts contends that Bayreuth had a significant influence on both German social and political history. Wagner's eldest son, Sigfried, assumed responsibility for Bayreuth between the World Wars. His wife, Winifred, developed a special friendship with Adolph Hitler, beginning in 1923, and Hitler's admiration for Wagner's music was matched by her admiration of the future Nazi leader.

Spotts writes that because of Winifred's friendship with Hitler, Bayreuth enjoyed more artistic independence than other opera houses, including exceptions to anti-Semitic rules with regard to engaging Jewish artists. Wagner's grandson, Wieland, revamped the event following the war, distancing it from its political past and drawing on modernist trends. Thomas J. Saunders wrote in the Canadian Journal of History that "in the challenging task of bringing discursive life to an audio-visual experience, Spotts shows a deft hand. Moreover, without getting bogged down in details of stage design, costumes, casting, or musicianship, he treats these sufficiently to illuminate the changing character of the festival as an operative event. These qualities, in combination with ample illustrations, both well-chosen and well-placed, and affordability, make the book a very handsome and accessible introduction to the Bayreuth phenomenon."

In Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, Spotts writes that while Hitler was mesmerized by the work of Wagner, during the last half of the war, his tastes ran to the lighter symphonies of Bruckner and operettas of Lehar. Spotts reminds readers that the purpose of Hitler's totalitarian revolution was to reform German culture, not to change the military, industry, or agriculture. Commentary contributor Terry Teachout called the book "a wide-ranging and exceptionally penetrating study of Hitler's relationship with artists and the arts. Spotts shows that his involvement was—as far as it went—perfectly serious. Though his own abilities as a painter and architect were limited, they were real, just as his love of music was within its own narrow limits both intense and well-informed. More significantly, Spotts contends that Hitler's 'aesthetic talents,' far from being peripheral to his achievement as a politician, were in fact at the heart of his political self-understanding."

Hitler had aspired to be an artist, and although some of his work was sold by dealers, he was twice rejected by the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, creating in him a resentment of the Bolshevist, Semitic, Modernist establishment. He used the power of image in his theatrically produced rallies and campaigns, and once he had assumed power, money was no object in the building of opera houses and museums. He excused approximately twenty thousand artists, actors, and musicians from military service, including some with Jewish blood, and he built the biggest gallery in the world in his hometown of Linz. His efforts to promote late nineteenth-century realism never achieved the desired result, and he later came to favor sculpture of a homoerotic nature.

Guardian Unlimited reviewer Geoffrey Wheatcroft noted that "much of the Reich's official art was mere kitsch, and its architecture was vulgarly and oppressively grandiose, endless monuments to the fallen and, in Hitler's morbid doodlings, still huger monuments to those who would one day die for the fatherland. The only admirable and even beautiful products of the regime shown in the fascinating and copious illustrations were purely functional, like autobahn bridges."

Rupert Christiansen wrote in the Spectator that "Spotts's cool, balanced analysis and command of the most reliable sources make him an ideal guide to this rich and complex terrain. Occasionally, he allows himself to be drily amused by Hitler's megalomania, but he never loses his moral bearings." Christiansen noted that in the final section of the book, Spotts comes down hard "against 'eager volunteers' in the Nazi cultural design like Richard Strauss and Wilhelm Furtwängler…. Such figures we were neither politically active nor anti-Semitic, and they cannot be blamed for Nazism's epidemic spread. But Spotts's book leaves one wondering how easily the sheer vanity and absurdity of his [Hitler's] pretensions could have been punctured, had a Strauss or Furtwängler been brave enough to take the lead."



Booklist, June 1, 1994, John Shreffler, review of Bayreuth: A History of the Wagner Festival, p. 1754; December 15, 2002, Brendan Driscoll, review of Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, p. 730.

Canadian Journal of History, April, 1995, Thomas J. Saunders, review of Bayreuth, p. 132.

Commentary, September, 2003, Terry Teachout, review of Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, p. 56.

Contemporary Review, January, 2003, review of Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, p. 64.

German Studies Review, October, 2004, John Dreijmanis, review of Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, p. 638.

Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2002, review of Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, p. 1601.

Library Journal, December, 2002, Michael F. Russo, review of Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, p. 152.

New Republic, February 12, 1990, Michael Levenson, review of Letters of Leonard Woolf, p. 37.

Opera News, September, 1994, Fred Plotkin, review of Bayreuth, p. 70.

Publishers Weekly, May 16, 1994, review of Bayreuth, p. 57; December 16, 2002, review of Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, p. 59.


Guardian Unlimited, (October 19, 2002), Geoffrey Wheatcroft, review of Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics.

Spectator Online, (September 28, 2002), Rupert Christiansen, review of Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics.