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Wilhelm Richard Wagner
(1813 - 1883) Germany

Richard Wagner



Richard WagnerBorn in Leipzig and educated in Dresden, he becam direstor of the Magdeburg Theatre where he produced, unsuccessfully, his early opera, Das Liebesverbot (Forbidden Love, 1836). He lived in Paris (1839-42). His opera Rienzi was produced at Dresden (1842), followed Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman, 1843).

While conductor at the Dresden opera house, he composed Tannhäuser (1945), and Lohengrin. In 1849 he fled to Paris to escape arrest for taking part in the 1848 revolutionary riots. Listz befriended him, and produced Lohengrin in Weimar (1850). Wagner was later allowed to return to Germany, and in 1864 won the favour of Ludwig II of Bavaria.

In 1866-74 Wagner lived in Switzerland near Lucerne. His Tristan und Isolde was produced in Munich (1865), and Wagner founded the festival theatre in Bayreuth, also in bavaria, where in 1876 his masterpiece Der Ring des Nibelungen, a sequence of four operas, Des Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdammerung, was given its first performance. His last work, Parsifal, was produced in 1882.

Wagner revolutionized the 19th century conception of opera, the music drama, envidaging it as a wholy new art form, in which musical, poetic, and scenic elements should be unified; and by such devices as the Leitmotiv he gave to opera thematic unity and coherence.


Richard WagnerThe correspondence of Richard Wagner discloses the existence of a very warm friendship between him and Ludwig II, the young king of Bavaria. Ludwig as a young man appears to have been a very charming personality, good looking, engaging and sympathetic; every one was fond of him. Yet his tastes led him away from "society," into retirement, and the companionship of Nature and a few chosen friends-often of humble birth.

Already at the age of fifteen he had heard Lohengrin, and silently vowed to know the composer. One of his first acts when he came to the throne was to send for Wagner; and from the moment of their meeting a personal intimacy sprang up between them, which in due course led to the establishment of the theatre at Bayreuth, and to the liberation of Wagner's genius to the world.

Though the young king at a later time lost his reason - probably owing to his over-sensitive emotional nature - this does not detract from the service that he rendered to Music by his generous attachment. How Wagner viewed the matter may be gathered from Wagner's letters.

"He, the king, loves me, and with the deep feeling and glow of a first love; he perceives and knows everything about me, and understands me as my own soul. He wants me to stay with him always.... I am to be free and my own master, not his music-conductor-only my very self and his friend."

Letter to Mme. Eliza Wille, May 4, 1864

" It is true that I have my young king who genuinely adores me. You cannot form an idea of our relations. I recall one of the dreams of my youth. I once dreamed that Shakespeare was alive: that I really saw and spoke to him: I can never forget the impression that dream made on me. Then I would have wished to see Beethoven, though he was already dead. Something of the same kind must pass m the mind of this lovable man when with me. He says he can hardly believe that he really possesses me. None can read without astonishment, without enchantment, the letters he writes to me."

Ibid, September 9, 1864

"I hope now for a long period to gain strength again by quiet work. This is made possible for me by the love of an unimaginably beautiful and thoughtful being: it seems that it had to be even so greatly gifted a man and one so destined for me, as this young King of Bavaria. What he is to me no one can imagine. My guardian! In his love I completely rest and fortify myself towards the completion of my task."

Letter to his brother-in-law, September 10, 1865


Here are some of the actual letters of Ludwig to Wagner.

"Dear Friend, O I see clearly that your sufferings are deep-rootedl You tell me, beloved friend, that you have looked deep into the hearts of men, and seen there the villainy and corruption that dwells within. Yes, I believe you, and I can well understand that moments come to you of disgust with the human race; yet always will we remember (will we not, beloved?) that there are yet many noble and good people, for whom it is a real pleasure to live and work. And yet you say you are no use for this world! - I pray you, do not despair, your true friend conjures you; have Courage: 'Love helps us to bear and suffer all things, love brings at last the victor's crown!' Love recognizes, even in the most corrupt, the germ of good; she alone overcomes all - Live on, darling of my soul. I recall your own words to you. To learn to forget is a noble work! - Let us be careful to hide the faults of others; it was for all men indeed that the Saviour died and suffered. And now, what a pity that Tristan can not be presented to-day; will it perhaps to-morrow? Is there any chance?
Unto death, your faithful friend,
May 15, 1865. Ludwig."
"Purschling, 4th Aug., 1865.
"My one, my much-loved Friend, - You express to me your sorrow that, as it seems to you, each one of our last meetings has only brought pain and anxiety to me. - Must I then remind my loved one of Brynhilda's words? - Not only in gladness and enjoyment, but in suffering also Love makes man blest. ... When does my friend think of coming to the 'Hill-Top,' to the woodland's aromatic breezes? - Should a stay in that particular spot not altogether suit, why, I beg my dear one to choose any of my other mountain-cabins for his residence. - What is mine is his! Perhaps we may meet on the way between the Wood and the World, as my friend expressed it! ... To thee I am wholly devoted; for thee, for thee only I live
Unto death your own, your faithful
"Hohenschwangau, November 2, 1865.
"My one Friend, my ardently beloved! This afternoon, at 3.30, I returned from a glorious tour in Switzerland. How this land delighted me. There I found your dear letter; - deepest warmest thanks for the same. With new and burning enthusiasm has it filled me; I see that the beloved marches boldly and confidently forward, towards our great and eternal goal. " All hindrances I will victoriously like a hero overcome. I am entirely at thy disposal; let me now dutifully prove it. - Yes, we must meet and speak together. I will banish all evil clouds; Love has strength for all. You are the star that shines upon my life, and the sight of you ever wonderfully strengthens me. - Ardently I long for you, O my presiding Saint, to whom I pray! I should be immensely pleased to see my friend here in about a week; oh, we have plenty to say! If only I could quite banish from me the curse of which you speak, and send it back to the deeps of night from whence it sprang. - How I love, how I love you, my one, my highest good! ...
"My enthusiasm and love for you are boundless. Once more I swear you faith till death! Ever, ever your devoted

In these letters we see chiefly, of course, the passionate sentiments of which Ludwig was capable; but that Wagner fully understood the feeling and appreciated it may be gathered from various passages in his published writings - such as the following, in which he seeks to show how the devotion of comradeship became the chief formative influence of the Spartan State:

"This beauteous naked man is the kernel of all Spartanhood; from genuine delight in the beauty of the most perfect human body-that of the male-arose that spirit of comradeship which pervades and shapes the whole economy of the Spartan State. This love of man to man, in its primitive purity, proclaims itself as the noblest and least selfish utterance of man's sense of beauty, for it teaches man to sink and merge his entire self in the object of his affection"

and again:

"The higher element of that love of man to man consisted even in this: that it excluded the motive of egoistic physicalism. Nevertheless it not only included a purely spiritual bond of friendship, but this spiritual friendship was the blossom and the crown of the physical friendship. The latter sprang directly from delight in the beauty, aye in the material bodily beauty of the beloved comrade; yet this delight was no egoistic yearning, but a thorough stepping out of self into unreserved sympathy with the comrade's joy in himself; involuntarily betrayed by his life-glad beautyprompted bearing.

"This love, which had its basis in the noblest pleasures of both eye and soul - not like our modern postal correspondence of sober friendship, half business-like, half sentimental - was the Spartan's only tutoress of youth, the never-ageing instructress alike of boy and man, the ordainer of common feasts and valiant enterprises; nay the inspiring helpmeet on the battlefield. For this it was that knit the fellowship of love into battalions of war, and fore-wrote the tactics of death-daring, in rescue of the imperilled or vengeance for the slaughtered comrade, by the infrangible law of the soul's most natural necessity."

The Art-work of the Future, trans. by W. A. Ellis


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