General FAQ for humanities.music.composers.wagner
The list of frequently asked questions (and their answers) for the newsgroup humanities.music.composers.wagner (hmcw), with pointers to other sources of information. This version supersedes all previous versions.
The bibliographical supplement to this FAQ ("Wagner Books FAQ") can be found here. The Wagner Books FAQ concentrates on titles that are available (although not necessarily in print) in English. A few books in other languages, of relevance to matters discussed in the newsgroup but not available in an English translation, are included.
Welcome to humanities.music.composers.wagner! In this newsgroup we discuss Richard Wagner, his life, works and influence. Steve Milne started this group back in December 1995. His charter for the newsgroup provides general guidelines for the scope of discussions here.
The humanities.* placement of the group is intended to reflect the academic orientation of much of the discussion.
Charter for humanities.music.composers.wagner
The newsgroup humanities.music.composers.wagner is intended to provide a forum for mature discussion of all aspects of Richard Wagner. Subjects discussed in the newsgroup might include (but are not limited to):
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D. Abbreviations and acronyms
The following abbreviations and acronyms often appear in hmcw postings:
This section provides only general background information. To find out more about Richard Wagner (RW), you could consult one of the many biographies; see subsection C below. There is a chronological table of Wagner's life and works here.
A. Wagner's life, work and ideas
Richard Wagner (1813-1883) started out as a conductor and composer of operas, but he soon reacted against the whole clinking, twinkling, glittering, glistening show, Grand Opera! Wagner (RW) concluded that what was wrong with the operas of the early 19th century was that drama had become nothing more than an excuse for the performance of music. Wagner intended to reverse this, and to create 'music-dramas' (not a term introduced by RW but one that has often been applied to his later dramas) in which music would serve the purposes of drama; therefore ideally the orchestra would be invisible and the action on stage would be deeds of music made visible. In order to achieve a closer unity between poetry and music, RW became one of the first operatic composers to write their own texts.
RW is perhaps best known for his cycle, The Nibelung's Ring, a massive work that took him almost 27 years to write. During the composition of this work, RW realized that there was no stage in Europe suitable for the Ring. He set about raising money to build his own 'Festival Theater' in the small German town of Bayreuth. Although the first festival was a financial disaster, the Bayreuth Festival, which was the begetter of the whole festival idea, survives to this day.
In addition to his talent for musical composition on the largest of scales, RW was a man of the theatre. His theories, innovations and experiments had a profound effect on the staging of opera and attitudes to opera everywhere.
B. Wagner's political and racial ideas
Wagner tends to generate rather fierce, lively and often bad-tempered debate between "Wagnerites" and "Anti-Wagnerites", not least where his political and racial ideas
are concerned. Dieter Borchmeyer has written:
Wagner was Hitler's favorite composer; this coupled with his own anti-Semitism (as expressed most clearly in his essay, Judaism in Music, concerning which see below under 'Frequently asked questions') has made RW a controversial figure even today. His music is still widely boycotted in Israel; although a recent performance of the Siegfried Idyll by the Rishon Lezion SO attracted, among a large audience, only one protester. It needs to be added that RW never advocated violence against the Jews, nor against any racial or ethnic minority.
During RW's early career, he associated with radicals and revolutionaries (such as the anarchist Bakunin, whom some people regard as the model for Siegfried). For his part in the Dresden Uprising of 1849, from which he made a narrow escape, RW was outlawed in most of Germany and he went into exile in Switzerland. In his later career, under the sponsorship of the king of Bavaria, RW became more conservative (although he never renounced his utopian socialism) and nationalistic.
He was particularly negative about the French, especially after the failure of his opera Tannhäuser at the Paris Opera in 1861 (hence RW's A Capitulation of 1870, in which he obviously enjoys the idea of the besieged Parisians eating rats). According to RW (in German Art and German Policy, 1867) the Germans were capable of developing a culture superior to the civilisation of the despised French -- a culture in which German art, not least Wagner's art, would occupy centre stage.
C. The Total Work of Art
During the first half of the 18th century German intellectuals were aware that their culture lacked the deep roots in Roman civilisation that were shared by the "Latin" countries, including Italy and France. Those countries had continuous linguistic and cultural traditions that could be traced back to the Roman Empire. In Germany, which at that time did not exist as a nation but only as a commonality of language, even that language did not belong to the family of Romance languages. One result of this concern on the part of German intellectuals was their attempt to recover a German cultural tradition from the Middle Ages and, in order to push their roots deeper into human history, scholars sought the antecedents of medieval literature in the Icelandic sagas and poems. It was from this rediscovered heritage that RW began to develop his scenarios for truly German art.
Wagner realised that it was possible to side-step the issue of Romance civilisation by building upon the artistic achievements of the Greeks. So he looked back, far beyond the Middle Ages, to the arts of the lyric age of Greece and in particular to Athenian tragedy. Wagner developed a theory that the separate arts -- the primary trio of poetry, music and dance/mime, and the secondary trio of painting, sculpture and architecture -- had once been united, in the dramas of ancient Greece. This unity had begun to fall apart in the 5th century BCE and the arts were now overdue to be reunited. Therefore Wagner conceived the idea of creating a total work of art (Gesamtkunstwerk), in which the separate arts would once more assist each other. He argued that music had reached its limits in the works of Beethoven, who had discovered, when composing his 9th symphony, that he needed the assistance of Schiller's poetry in order to go beyond those limits. Just as, in that case, poetry had come to the aid of music, so could music come to the aid of poetry as spoken drama, and dance/mime or dramatic gesture could assist both.
D. Wagner's philosophy and spirituality
Wagner's study of philosophy and spirituality gave his music-dramas a depth and universality that sets them apart from most other works for the musical theatre. Although RW lost interest in institutional religion during his teens, he developed a lasting interest both in mysticism (both in western mystics such as the Dominican Meister Eckhart, and in eastern ones such as the Sufi poet Hafiz) and in that part of philosophy closest to theology. He dedicated his essay, The Art-Work of the Future (1849) to Ludwig Feuerbach, the philosopher and author of The Essence of Christianity. Commentators have seen the influences of Feuerbach's philosophy of religion and of Hegel's philosophy of history in the Ring.
Five years later, a friend introduced him to the writings of another philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, whose The World as Will and Representation he read four times in less than a year. This book not only revealed to RW the meaning of his own Ring poems, but led him to write new texts (notably Tristan und Isolde) that deal with human existence in terms of this philosophy. Infected by Schopenhauer's interest in Indian religions, RW began to study books on this subject recommended by Schopenhauer. These studies led him to begin a work that he never completed, the Buddhist drama Die Sieger, and to another which he did, Parsifal.
E. Biographical sources
It is sometimes claimed (inaccurately) that more books have been written about RW than anyone who has ever lived, with the exceptions of Jesus Christ and Napoleon Buonaparte. In fact there have been thousands of books and many thousands of articles published about RW and his works, ranging from the scholarly to the totally wacko.
A selection of the biographies of Richard and Cosima Wagner can be found in the Wagner Books FAQ, Section II.
F. Musical works
The catalogue of Wagner's musical and dramatic works is the Wagner Werk- Verzeichnis. It lists 113 works, although it is reasonably certain that no music was written for a handful of them.
Here is a shorter list of the major works among them, grouped by category, with the dates of their completion and of their first performance:
Completed Operas and Music Dramas
T= date of completion of text (with the exception of any small changes made later), M= date of completion of music, P= date and location of first performance.
Only the ten operas from Holländer to Parsifal are performed at the Bayreuth Festival, although some of the early operas have been staged as "fringe" productions in Bayreuth. These ten works (or seven if one counts the Ring as one work) are known as the canonical dramas.
The young Wagner had ambitions as a symphonist. His first attempt was the Symphony in C of 1832 (WWV 29) an imitation of Beethoven. Although there were a few false starts, Wagner never completed another symphony. Despite the dismal failure of his youthful Drum-beat Overture (WWV 10) in 1830, he persevered in composing overtures; the best example being the Faust Overture (originally intended as the first movement of a symphony) in d minor (WWV 59) of 1840/1855. He also wrote a few marches, including one for the American Centennial (Grosser Festmarsch, WWV 110), written in 1876.
Two other orchestral works are noteworthy: the Funeral Music (Trauermusik , WWV 73), for the return of Weber's ashes to Dresden, is for an enormous wind band (1844). At the opposite extreme, the Siegfried Idyll (WWV 103), which at one time bore the title 'Symphony', is for an orchestra of 13 players. Ernest Newman believed that it had begun life as a string quartet. It was first performed as a birthday surprise for Cosima in 1870.
Wagner composed a variety of choral music, of which the following pieces are the most noteworthy. Das Liebesmahl der Apostel (The Love Feast of the Apostles, WWV 69) is a biblical scene for choir, first performed by massed choral societies in Dresden in 1843. It is a strikingly original work, despite its hurried composition.
An Webers Grabe (WWV 72) is another piece composed for the return of Weber's ashes to Dresden. It was performed at the reburial ceremony on 15 December 1844.
The young Wagner composed several arias for insertion into operas by other composers, including a bass aria for Bellini's Norma (WWV 52). He also composed a number of songs for solo voice and piano, including (during his miserable existence in Paris) a setting of Heine's Les deux grenadiers (WWV 60). The most important of his songs are the Five Songs for a Female Voice (WWV 91), to texts of Mathilde Wesendonck (1857-58). These songs are closely connected to (or studies for) Tristan und Isolde.
Wagner's piano music mainly consists of small pieces, such as the Albumblatt für Frau Betty Schott of 1875 (WWV 108), or the Ankunft bei den schwarzen Schwänen (Arrival of the Black Swans) of 1861 (WWV 95). Three more substantial works were composed in 1831-32: the Fantasia in f# minor (WWV 22), Sonata in B flat (Wagner's official 'opus one', WWV 21) and the Grosse Sonate in A major (WWV 26). In 1853 Wagner composed another piano sonata, in A flat: Eine Sonate für das Album von Frau MW (WWV 85), which some consider to be the most important of these piano works.
Those who find Wagner too serious and those who take Wagner too seriously should seek out his piano four-hand Polonaise (WWV 23) of 1832. It was not published until 1973, by Novello.
Wagner also made a number of piano arrangements during his Paris years, of which the most substantial is the four-hands version -- it could even be called a rewriting -- of the Grande fantasie sur la Romanesca by Henri Herz (WWV 62c, 1841).
G. Prose and poetry
Besides his activity as a composer and a librettist Wagner wrote an astonishing number of books, articles and poems: the list published in the Wagner Handbook contains about 240 titles. There are a number of minor writings that are not included in that list, however, so the total is probably over 300. The literary spectrum ranges from aesthetic theory to political speeches.
H. Abandoned operas
In addition to works that were published during his lifetime, Wagner's output included sketches and drafts for many stage works that were never completed. His first attempt at writing opera, at the age of 17, was soon abandoned and neither text nor music from his "pastoral opera", based on a play by Goethe, Die Laune des Verliebten, has survived. His next operatic project was Die Hochzeit, WWV 31, from which three numbers have survived, although he destroyed the libretto.
Shortly after completing Das Liebesverbot (see above), he attempted to write a grand historical opera, Die hohe Braut oder Bianca und Giuseppe, WWV 40. He completed only the libretto, which among other influences showed that of Schiller and which he allowed his friend Jan Bedrich Kittl to set to music. Kittl took such liberties with the book, however, in particular diluting the revolutionary content of the work and making much of the plot confused and unmotivated, that Wagner asked that his name be removed from it. The libretto that appears in volume 11 of Wagner's collected works is the one rewritten by Kittl; it is unclear how much of Wagner's text remains in it, although a comparison with his prose draft shows that Kittl made significant changes. At about the same time, Wagner drafted a comedy based on a tale from the Arabian Nights: Die glückliche Bärenfamilie, WWV 49. Unfortunately he abandoned the project after sketching the first three numbers.
Later unrealised opera projects included The Mines at Falun (Die Bergwerke zu Falun) WWV 67, Friedrich Barbarossa WWV 76, Wayland the Smith (Wieland der Schmied) WWV 82 and The Victors (Die Sieger) WWV 89. Only for the last of these did Wagner sketch any music; see Osthoff, 1983.
The answers given below have been compiled from responses given to similar questions when they have been posted in the newsgroup. These answers do not necessarily reflect the views of the editor.
The Ring Disc is no longer on sale. Second-hand copies have been available on Amazon.
Adolf Hitler was born after Wagner died. Hitler was without doubt a great admirer of RW. Opinions differ on whether there was any kind of direct influence. The fundamental problem of the Hitler-Wagner link is that no-one has ever been able to satisfactorily explain or understand Hitler. This would imply that no definitive understanding of his relationship with RW is available at present. Sources that suggest an influence include Hermann Rauschning (Gespräche mit Hitler, 1940; Hitler Speaks, 1939) and August Kubizek (Adolf Hitler, mein Jugendfreund, 1953; Young Hitler, the Story of Our Friendship, 1955).
Hermann Rauschning's 'Hitler Speaks'
The widely-held belief that Wagner was an important influence on Hitler has been formed by the association of these two figures in the media and popular literature. Popular (i.e. non-scholarly) discussion of Hitler's relationship with Wagner ultimately relies on a single source: Hermann Rauschning's Hitler Speaks. With the exception of a speech given by Hitler at the unveiling of a memorial to Wagner on the 50th anniversary of the composer's death, Hitler rarely mentioned Wagner in public. In that speech Hitler spoke of Wagner only as an artist; he said nothing to suggest that Wagner had been an ideological influence on him. Records and recollections of Hitler's private conversations reveal that he often spoke with enthusiasm about Wagner's music but never made any reference to Wagner's political ideas. So Rauschning's book is the only source that presents Hitler acknowledging Wagner as an ideological influence.
In the early 1930s Hermann Rauschning was the leader of the Nazi party in Danzig. He fell out with Gauleiter Albert Forster over economic issues and had to resign under pressure from Hitler. In 1935 Rauschning left the Nazi party and Germany for France and then to the United States, where he reinvented himself as a Christian conservative, claimed to have been a close personal friend of Hitler, and wrote (almost certainly with the assistance of a Hungarian-American journalist called Emery Reeves and probably also the British journalist Henry Wickham-Steele) his book. For accounts of the origins of Rauschning's 'Conversations' see: Why Hitler: The Genesis of the Nazi Reich by S.W. Mitcham Jr. (Praeger, Westport and London, 1996), p. 137; and 1933: The Legality of Hitler's Rise to Power by H.W. Koch, in Aspects of the Third Reich (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1985), p. 39.
As was often the case with defectors of later decades, Rauschning tried to satisfy the curiosity of his new masters even when his information was very limited; and like
other defectors, he exaggerated his own importance and the extent of his high-level contacts. In recent years it has been shown that passages in his book were compiled, by
Rauschning and his ghost-writer, from Hitler's speeches or other identifiable sources (see below); and so not recalled from "conversations with Hitler". It has been
established that Rauschning only met Hitler on about four occasions, at Nazi party functions, where their conversations consisted of small-talk. The balance of probability
is that those sections of the book that were not copied from already published sources, were invented by Rauschning and Reeves.
Hänel's research, published in 1983, put the last nails in the coffin of Rauschning's reputation. Der Spiegel (7 September 1985) commented:
In his acclaimed biography of Hitler, Ian Kershaw wrote:
Those who cling to the belief that Wagner was Hitler's ideological forerunner and therefore (as their only support) to the authenticity of Rauschning's 'Conversations' point to other historians, lawyers and journalists who have accepted Rauschning's account without question. Although this was common up to about 1975, since then Rauschning has been regarded with increasing scepticism and his book eventually discredited by the research summarised above. In short: the book is a hoax, written for the purposes of wartime propaganda and for the financial benefit of its authors.
August Kubizek's 'Young Hitler'
Kubizek's recollections of his boyhood friend are a different matter, although also here there are grounds for suspicion that material has been elaborated if not invented. This book has long been popular with Hitler's apologists and sympathisers, for its unusually rose-coloured portrait of the Führer as a young man. The Hitler described in Young Hitler is no vicious madman, hardly even an anti-Semite, but rather an intelligent aesthete and visionary, a patriot who showed unusual leadership qualities from a young age.
Kubizek's Young Hitler made three significant contributions to the myth of Hitler's inspiration by Wagner:
In his recent book Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics (Overlook, Woodstock and New York, 2003), Frederic Spotts is sceptical concerning
Kubizek's claim that the young Hitler read Wagner's prose writings and letters. Even more so concerning Joachim Fest's claim (1973) that Wagner's prose was Hitler's
favourite reading matter.
A comparison of the two books is instructive. They were written for different audiences: Reminiscences in 1944-45 for the Nazi faithful and
the more polished Young Hitler for a post-war readership. The evidence of the Reminiscences is that young Hitler had
been impressed by a performance of Wagner's Rienzi, and that Kubizek and Hitler wandered round the
Apart from being popular with neo-Nazis, Kubizek's Young Hitler has been a key resource for those who have portrayed Wagner as a proto-Nazi and as a source of Nazi ideology, such as Paul Rose, Marc Weiner and Joachim Köhler.
Wagner was an anti-Semite from, at the latest, 1850, when he wrote Judaism in Music (Das Judenthum in der Musik). The English translation of this title is a little misleading, since Wagner has little to say about Judaism; the article is mainly concerned with the situation of the Jewish artist (poet or composer) in a non-Jewish culture. This essay was first published anonymously in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik in two instalments in September that year. RW took as his starting point earlier articles in which Theodor Uhlig had attacked Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots. RW reprinted his article practically unchanged in 1869, thereby provoking demonstrations at the first performances of Die Meistersinger. It includes the following assertions (page references are to Wm Ashton Ellis' English translation of the Prose Works, which follows the 1869 revision):
RW, however, did not explicitly advocate anything like extermination; in the afterword to 'Judaism', published with it in 1869, RW explained that he was arguing for the assimilation of the Jews, which would benefit both them and their host community. In his private life RW had close Jewish friends who appear to have regarded him with considerable affection. Nonetheless, his second wife Cosima held strongly anti-Semitic views.
After RW's death, Bayreuth became a focal point for anti-Semitic and right-wing individuals, encouraged by Cosima. This culminated in the marriage of her daughter Eva
to the right-wing ideologue, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who saw world history in terms of conflict between races. The son of Richard and Cosima, Siegfried, was more
A good starting point for reading about RW's anti-Semitism is the book by Jacob Katz, The Darker Side of Genius, Univ. of New England Press, 1986. A number of recent books have taken a fresh look at this subject, including:
These two books refer to earlier articles by Hartmut Zelinsky which ignited a heated controversy in Germany. Zelinsky interpreted RW as a proto-Nazi, and attempted to demonstrate that racial and anti-Semitic schemes lay beneath the surface of RW's music-dramas. Hartmut Zelinsky's published writings include:
Although himself a critic of Zelinsky, Barry Millington has presented arguments for an anti-Semitic theme in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The relevant articles are:
Other sources that discuss Wagner's anti-Semitism include Aspects of Wagner by Bryan Magee (who has also written an interesting article on the subject, included as an appendix to his Wagner and Philosophy); Richard Wagner: the Terrible Man and his Truthful Art by M. Owen Lee; and Dieter Borchmeyer respectively in chapter 5 of the Wagner Handbook, in an appendix to his Richard Wagner: Theory and Theatre and in the proceedings of a seminar held in Bayreuth: Richard Wagner und die Juden, ed. D. Borchmeyer, Aami Mayaani and Susanne Vill, Stuttgart, 2000.
Millington's elaboration of Adorno's suggestion of an anti-Semitic theme in Die Meistersinger has been discussed (and progressively demolished) by a number of writers, including: Thomas Grey in Deutsche Meister, ed. Danuser and Münckler; Hans Rudolf Vaget in The Opera Quarterly, no.12, 1995; Dieter Borchmeyer in the Bayreuth Festspielbuch for 1996; Hermann Danuser in Richard Wagner und die Juden (see above); most recently by David B. Dennis in his article, 'Most German of all German Operas: Die Meistersinger through the Lens of the Third Reich', in Wagner's Meistersinger: Performance, History, Representation, ed. Vaszonyi, pages 98-119.
Several explanations have been offered. The simplest explanation is that the leitmotiven are not as closely tied to non-musical ideas as many people have thought; in other words the reason for Wagner using this melody at this point could be purely musical. Other explanations try to find a link between Alberich's renunciation of love, and later appearances of this motif: Fricka's condemnation of Wotan's treatment of Freia, Siegmund's drawing of the sword, Wotan's farewell to Brünnhilde and her refusal to yield the ring.
The occurrence in Die Walküre act one has been regarded as problematic, for example by Cooke in his book I Saw the World End. It was suggested that this is an example of dramatic irony: the sword-redemption is an ironic moment, not only because of events in the immediate future, but because for the first time, on a human level, Wagner reveals and celebrates the protagonistic force (love) that will overcome worldly and godly power.
Discussion of what this motif might signify usually results in alternative names being suggested for a motif that von Wolzogen called, Renunciation. The names suggested by participants in hmcw have included Acceptance of Destiny, and Power of Love. Another suggestion was that since Siegmund's words are
Monte Stone, an occasional participant in hmcw, has included commentary on this motif on his 'Ring-disc' (see B above). Stone
notes that in one of Wagner's drafts for Das Rheingold, he appears to refer to this motif as Love-Curse
(Liebesfluch), which is the name used by Darcy in his book about this drama. Stone observes that Alberich goes beyond the renunciation of love -- Alberich curses love
Perhaps because, from the moment Alberich's caught, his hands are tied, so he cannot reach the ring, as he seems to need to. Only when he agrees to the ransom, and sends his command to the Nibelungs, is he allowed to get at it again. So that, one guesses, would be the time to use its power. In productions by Scottish Opera and ENO, among others, Alberich was thoroughly trussed up as Wagner intended, with only one hand freed to wield the ring, and Wotan had his spearpoint at Alberich's throat throughout.
Or, for the same reason it couldn't protect either Fafner or Brunnhilde from Siegfried. The ring never had that kind of power. Deryck Cooke, in I Saw the World End asserts that the ring was only good for finding wealth, i.e. gold. Alberich uses it for that purpose in Rheingold, and that is the reason Wotan wants it so badly. The power of the ring isn't a direct, blow- them-away kind of power, although obviously it can help him create such things. It cannot destroy rope or chains, or make them come loose.
Further, it might be that the ring (like the magic fire, or Wotan's spear and the rule of law that it represents) does not have any power, except over those who believe in it, or fear it. Therefore it does not have any effect on Siegfried, who never learned (or has forgotten that he had learned) fear. If Brünnhilde had been a little smarter, she would have realised from this that her captor was Siegfried in disguise.
In The Perfect Wagnerite, G.B. Shaw compared Alberich to a capitalist and, in one of his late essays, Wagner himself compared the ring to a
Although the Ring is most often interpreted in terms of a conflict between love and power, this interpretation is not universally accepted; and many of those who do see the cycle in those terms, also acknowledge that it is not only concerned with this conflict. It is possible that Wagner was primarily concerned with love and power when he wrote his libretto; it is certain that his own understanding of that libretto changed after he had become a disciple of Schopenhauer. Therefore it might be an oversimplification to regard the ring as a source of power, or even as a symbol of power.
Wagner said that Wotan had ended up by willing his own destruction. Wotan loses part of himself, a part that continues to live in his daughter Brünnhilde. She learns, and teaches Wotan, that love wins over power, in the end. Not only is Valhall destroyed, but the Earth is purified by fire and water. Perhaps Valhall burns for the same reason Manderly burns in Rebecca and Atlanta burns in Gone with the Wind: to symbolize the end of the old and the beginning of the new.
Some argue that Alberich is killed in the final apocalypse, we just don't get to see it on stage. In a recent production in Stuttgart, Alberich was killed on stage. But it has become fashionable in many recent performances to speculate that Alberich is the only survivor, and that he is plotting to steal the gold yet again ... in other words, the stealing of the gold is a sort of 'eternal recurrence' in which events are doomed to repeat themselves throughout eternity.
In the Barenboim/Kupfer Ring, before the music starts, the curtain opens on a full stage, and Alberich is lying on the stage in the forefront. The other characters soundlessly depart, then the music begins, and when it is time for Alberich to enter the scene, he simply stands up rather than entering from offstage. When we reach the conclusion of Götterdämmerung, Alberich arrives on stage just as the gold is returned to the Rhinemaidens, and then he ends up in the exact same spot where he is at the beginning. Presumably the figures on stage at the beginning of Das Rheingold were the participants in some earlier Ring cycle. In other words, Alberich is the linking element between an infinite series of dramas in which Alberich fights to obtain the gold. The Chicago Ring also used this idea, as the last image on stage is of Alberich and a group of Nibelungs under his control manipulating some sort of ring-shaped device.
J.K. Holman summarised the fate of the dwarf as follows:
The following members of the Wagner family often are mentioned in the newsgroup:
i. Wolfgang Wagner (1919-2010) and his brother Wieland were the prime movers in the revival of the Festival after WW2 and in the development of the "New Bayreuth" style of production that was first presented at the 1951 Festival. After the death of his brother, Wolfgang was the sole Festival Administrator for the next 40 years.
ii. Wieland Wagner (1917-1966) has been widely regarded as one of the most gifted directors in the history of the theatre. Inspired by the theories of Adolphe Appia, Wieland designed and produced minimalist stagings of his grandfather's works in Bayreuth and elsewhere. These productions emphasised the epic and universal in the Wagner dramas and explored the texts from a viewpoint of depth psychology. See Penelope Turing's book New Bayreuth (1969) and Geoffrey Skelton's book Wieland Wagner: The Positive Sceptic (1971).
iii. Friedelind Wagner (1918-1991) is often considered to have been the white sheep of the family. In 1941 she escaped from Nazi Bayreuth to exile in Switzerland and, after receiving death threats from her mother, with the help of Toscanini emigrated first to Britain and then to the USA. There she provided first- hand information about Hitler to the security services and participated in anti- Nazi propaganda broadcasts. See her book, written with Page Cooper, Heritage of Fire (1948).
iv. Nike Wagner (b. 1945) is a daughter of Wieland Wagner and Gertrud Reissiger. Nike has been openly critical of Wolfgang Wagner and of the current administration of the Bayreuth Festival. Her latest book has appeared in English translation as The Wagners: The Dramas of a Musical Dynasty (2001).
v. Eva Wagner-Pasquier (b. 1945) is the daughter of Wolfgang Wagner and his first wife Ellen Drexel. Eva is now Festival Administrator jointly with Katharina.
vi. Gottfried Wagner (b. 1947) is the estranged son of Wolfgang Wagner and Ellen Drexel. Over recent years Gottfried has moved from a position in which he criticised Richard Wagner's life and works, the achievements of his own family and the Bayreuth Festival as it exists, to a position of active hostility. His autobiography has appeared under various titles including He who does not howl with the wolf (1998). Adolf Hitler was known to the young Wolfgang Wagner as "Uncle Wolf".
vii. Katharina Wagner (b. 1978) is the daughter of Wolfgang and Gudrun Wagner. She made her debut as opera producer in September 2002 with Der fliegende Holländer at Mainfrankentheater in Würzburg. Katharina is now Festival Administrator jointly with Eva. She is sometimes referred to by the less respectful elements of the German press as "Bayreuth Barbie".
There is a fairly complete family tree showing the descendants of Richard and Cosima Wagner on the Web here (produced by Joseph Erbacher).
The 'Ride of the Valkyries' (Der Ritt der Walküren) from the music-drama, The Valkyrie (Die Walküre). It is played at the start of the third act.
RW's posthumous reputation as a womaniser is not justified by what is known of his liaisons. Wagner's more significant, intimate relationships with members of the female sex involved:
i. Leah David (1813-?)
Richard Wagner's first love was Leah David, a friend of his elder sister Louisa and the only daughter of a Jewish widower. The young Wagner made himself unwelcome in the David household by his rudeness towards Leah's cousin, whom he was later told she was going to marry.
ii. Wilhelmine (Minna) Wagner née Planer (1809-1866)
RW's biographers are critical of his treatment of Minna, perhaps more so than the facts support. The young Wagner married a woman who was in no way suitable for him, given that her intellect and interests were no match for Richard's own. She had been seduced at the age of 15, and had a daughter, Nathalie, who was always passed off as her little sister. It was later discovered that Minna would not be able to have any more children, and the Wagners considered adopting a child. Within a few weeks of their wedding in 1836, Minna ran off with another man. Richard accepted her back, and she stuck by him during the turbulence and hardship of their years in Riga, London, Paris and Dresden. Finally she followed him into exile in Switzerland, where their marriage was wrecked on the rocks of Tristan und Isolde. Richard, to his credit, continued to support Minna financially (or at least, his creditors did so!) until her death; although at one time he considered seeking a divorce.
iii. Jessie Laussot née Taylor (1829-1905)
The musical, English-born wife of a Bordeaux wine merchant. Richard and Jessie had a brief but passionate affair there in 1850, but plans to elope to Greece were prevented by the intervention of her husband. Jessie left him soon after and moved to Florence, where she lived with and later married the essayist Karl Hillebrand. Jessie was also a friend to Liszt, von Bülow and Julie Ritter, mother of Karl Ritter and a benefactor of Wagner; before the Bordeaux affair, Jessie and Julie had plans to set up a fund for Wagner's financial support.
Above left: Minna Planer, about 1834. Below right: Mathilde Wesendonck, in 1850.
iv. Mathilde Wesendonck née Luckemeyer (b. Elberfeld 23.12.1828, d. Traunblick am Traunsee 31.08.1902)
Poet and author. Richard and Mathilde exchanged voluminous correspondence over more than a decade. Otto and Mathilde Wesendonck helped the Wagners financially and provided a home for them, in the form of 'Das Asyl', a cottage in the grounds of their Zurich mansion. RW's friendship for Mathilde developed into love, and she became the muse to the poet as he wrote the text and music of Tristan und Isolde. Eventually, Minna could tolerate the intimacy of Mathilde and her husband no longer; there was a crisis, after which Richard left Zurich for Venice, where he resumed work on his music-drama in relative calm.
v. Friederike Meyer (?-?)
Actress, sister of Frau Meyer-Dustmann of the Vienna Opera. It seems that Friederike had a brief affair with Wagner in 1862, after he had separated from Minna. As a result of the affair, Wagner had difficulties in getting Tristan und Isolde staged at the Vienna Opera.
vi. Mathilde Maier (1833-1910)
Mathilde seems to have been a sweet-natured young woman, whose heart went out to the unhappy composer she met at Schott's house in Mainz in 1862. It is almost certain that Wagner considered marrying her; he might even have proposed. Unlike some of Wagner's other women, she is mentioned in his autobiography.
vii. Cosima von Bülow née Liszt (b. Como 24.12.1837, d. Bayreuth 1.4.1930)
Cosima was the illegitimate daughter of the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt and the French aristocrat, the Countess Marie d'Agoult. As a result of this parentage, no doubt, she became an ardent German nationalist. She married the composer and pianist Hans von Bülow, and it was as the Baroness von Bülow that she visited Zürich. During this visit Wagner read the poem of his Tristan und Isolde to a small gathering that included Minna, Cosima and Mathilde. Later, with her marriage under strain, she began an affair with Wagner. Their conduct scandalised the Munich public. Wagner had told King Ludwig that he and Cosima were just good friends, but this relationship was put to a test when Malvina Schnorr von Carolsfeld (the first Isolde) revealed to Ludwig that Cosima was Richard's mistress. The only person who seems to have taken the whole affair calmly was Hans, who remained a faithful friend and supporter to the Wagners for the rest of his life. After the death of Minna Wagner and the completion of divorce proceedings, Cosima and Richard were able to marry.
Cosima remained at Wagner's side for the rest of his life. Apart from running the Wagner household, Cosima acted as her husband's secretary. She also recorded Richard's life in deeds and words, in the diary entries that she made almost every day. They were inseparable in life and in death. On 13 February 1883, Richard died in Cosima's arms; she then held onto his body for the next 24 hours. After the funeral, Cosima began to take charge of the Bayreuth Festival, which remained under her administration and artistic control until a series of strokes incapacitated her in December 1906. After her death in 1930, Cosima was buried beside Richard in the garden of Haus Wahnfried.
Above left: Cosima Wagner, in 1879. Below right: Judith Gautier, about 1876.
viii. Judith Mendès Gautier (b. Kabylia, Algeria 24.8.1845, d. St-Énogat 26.12.1917)
French novelist and writer on music, who first visited the Wagners at 'Tribschen' in 1869. Judith had an affair with Wagner during the 1876 Festival, but how far it went is uncertain. At that time she was separated from her husband Catulle Mendès (1841-1909), but had arrived in Bayreuth with Louis Benedictus. Wagner was infatuated with her during his last years, although she was relatively cool to him. They kept up a secret correspondence during the late 1870's; Judith's letters being sent to Wagner's barber. Eventually Cosima put a stop to it. Judith also helped Wagner with the procurement of the silks, satins and rose-water that he needed for his work-room at 'Wahnfried', while he wrote Parsifal. Judith translated the libretto into French.
ix. Caroline (Carrie) Mary Isabelle Pringle (b. Linz 19.03.1859, d. Brighton 12.11.1930)
English soprano, one of the 1882 solo flowermaidens. It was the announcement of an impending visit by Carrie to Wagner in Venice, that has been thought (at least by
Curt von Westernhagen) to have prompted the argument between Cosima and Richard that precipitated his fatal heart-attack. Only two days earlier, he had told Cosima that he
had dreamt about Schröder-Devrient (the first Adriano, Senta and Venus):
Mrs. Wälse is not named. Fricka refers to the mother of Siegmund and Sieglinde as a she-wolf:
Here Wagner is mixing his main Siegmund source, the Volsungasaga, with the story of the Wölfings. (Siegmund to Hunding:
Returning to Volsungasaga, however, we read that Sigmund and his sister were twins, among the children (ten boys, of whom Sigmund was the eldest, and one daughter, Signy) of Volsung and his wife, Hljód. Interestingly, Hjlód was not a "mortal woman", but the daughter of Hrimnir the giant. It is possible that Hjlód was the daughter of Hrimnir who was described as one of Odin's wishmaidens, earlier in the saga. Volsung is the third of his line, his grandfather Sigi being "reportedly" the son of Odin. So both Sigmund's mother and father had connections with Odin.
But that's all in one of Wagner's sources for the Ring, not in the Ring poems themselves. Strictly speaking, Mrs. Wälse does not have a name. If you want to give her a name, then Hljód (huh-l-yöd) is as good as any. This Old Norse name translates as "howling", which seems singularly appropriate for a she-wolf!
M. Which recording of the Ring/ Dutchman/ Lohengrin/ Tristan/ Parsifal/ Mastersingers/ Tannhäuser should I get as my first version?
It is extremely difficult to answer these questions. Firstly, because responses to recordings (and for that matter, to performances) vary greatly. Secondly, because there is no definitive recording of any of Wagner's stage works. It is possible to give some suggestions, however, based on the following assumptions:
Taking both the above and newsgroup discussions into consideration, the editor of this FAQ makes so bold as to suggest the following as first recordings.
Richard Wagner and his family moved into the Palazzo Vendramin-Calergi on the Grand Canal on 18 September 1882. It was there that Wagner died on 13 February 1883.
Palazzo Vendramin now houses the local Casino. Wagnerians visiting Venice who wish to visit the Wagner rooms must make an appointment in advance. The following are the visiting arrangements at present. They might be changed at any time without notice.
You can only visit the rooms on Saturday at 10 a.m. precisely, if and only if you have made an appointment prior to noon the Friday before. To do this you must telephone (+39) (41) 52-32-544 and speak (in Italian) to Signora Pugliese.
Note! You will not be admitted if you turn up on Saturday without an appointment, nor will you be admitted if you arrive later than 10 a.m.
There is no information about visiting the Wagner rooms at the main door of the Palazzo at the calle larga Vendramin; but outside the main door there is a small sign with an arrow showing the way to the "staff entrance". This is two minutes (one block) away at the calle Vendramin. At the staff entrance there should be a porter to assist visitors.
The ending of Tristan und Isolde is often, wrongly, called the 'Liebestod' (Love-death). Wagner himself referred to it as 'Isolde's Transfiguration' and he applied the term 'Liebestod' not to the end of the drama, but to the prelude to the first act. See Wagner's letter to Weissheimer of 5 October 1862, in which he proposed to make a concert-piece from the 'Liebestod' followed by the 'Transfiguration'.
When Parsifal was first performed at Bayreuth in 1882 there was some confusion about when to applaud. At the end of the second act there was much applause and shouting, at which Wagner got up in his box and called out to the audience that he had asked for no curtain calls until the end of the performance. At the end there was silence until Wagner got up and said that he had not meant that they could not applaud, after which there was enthusiastic applause and confused curtain calls. By the second performance various accounts of what he had said were circulating. Many thought that Wagner had asked for no applause until the end of each performance and therefore the first two acts were received in silence (except for Wagner himself shouting "bravo" at the departing Magic Maidens, for which he was hissed). At the third and subsequent performances there was no applause at the end of the first act but applause after the second and third acts. This became a Bayreuth tradition that continues to this day. Wagner gave the custom his approval, saying that applause was not appropriate after the quiet ending of the first act, but the claim that it was his idea is untrue.
The tradition of not applauding at the end of the first act of Parsifal is a Bayreuth Festival tradition. Therefore it does not apply in ordinary opera houses. Sometimes, in some houses, there is a note in the programme asking for no applause at the end of the first act; but in the absence of any such request it is entirely up to each member of the audience whether to applaud at the end of the first or subsequent acts. Please do not hiss or "shush" those who choose to applaud. Above all, please do not follow Wagner's example and shout "bravo" at the end of the scene with the Flower Maidens!
The following productions have been announced:
Existing productions are phased out as new ones are introduced.
At the beginning of the second act of Parsifal the sorcerer Klingsor conjures Kundry out of her death-like sleep, recalling that she has been both Herodias and Gundryggia. This is a reference to earlier lives in Kundry's cycle of existence.
The historical Herodias was the wife of the tetrarch Philip and later of his brother Herod Antipas. She is mentioned in the New Testament as the cause of the death of John the Baptist. Herodias and her daughter became the subject of several poetic and dramatic treatments during the nineteenth century, including Heine's poem Atta Troll, Flaubert's novella Herodias and later Wilde's play Salome. Herodias was infamous for her incestuous marriage and her contempt for religion, as Wagner knew from reading Renan's Life of Jesus. Although she belonged to the ruling family of Judea, Herodias was neither Jewish by race or by religion.
The name Gundryggia most likely was invented by Wagner. It is a play on the name of Gunn, one of the favourite valkyries of Odin (=Wotan). The connection between Herodias and Gunn is that in different versions of the same folk tradition, they ride with the Wild Hunt. In Germanic folk legend Herodias became identified with Frau Holda, who was variously equated to the goddesses Diana or Venus. The identification with Diana was recalled by Heine in his Atta Troll.
The simple answer to this question is "no". Hanslick was not known to Wagner when he wrote his first Prose Draft of Die Meistersinger in July 1845. The character who in the libretto (of 1862) would be given the name of Sextus Beckmesser is a caricature of music-critics in general and it is beyond doubt that one of the music-critics whom Wagner had in mind when he wrote the libretto was Eduard Hanslick.
It is widely believed, however, that Beckmesser was a caricature of Hanslick alone. There are two reasons for this widespread but erroneous belief. The first of them is that, in the second Prose Draft of October- November 1861, Wagner gave the name Veit Hanslich to the Marker and Town Clerk. This was a private joke of which he soon tired, however, and in the poem or libretto written in January 1862 he gave this character the name of Beckmesser. The second reason is Wagner's account of a reading of his poem in Vienna in November 1862 (My Life pages 703-4). According to this autobiographical account, Wagner believed that Hanslick was in some discomfort at this reading and friends of Wagner who were present got the impression (according to Wagner; his account is uncorroborated) that Hanslick had seen himself as Wagner's target.
In late 1846 there appeared in the Allgemeine Wiener Musikzeitung a number of references to Richard Wagner by a young music critic, Eduard
Hanslick. The young man hailed Wagner as
On closer examination there is no reason to believe that Hanslick saw the poem of Die Meistersinger (in which the character was called Beckmesser, of course) as a personal attack. Indeed there is nothing to indicate that he knew about "Veit Hanslich". Not even in the account of the Viennese incident in Hanslick's memoirs (see Spencer's compilation, Wagner Remembered, pages 135-138). His supposed reaction to the poem is a myth of Wagner's invention.
The myth has been given a new lease of life by Barry Millington, who has argued that Beckmesser is an anti-Semitic caricature. The reason for Wagner to introduce the anti-Semitic references that Millington has ingeniously decoded is, we are told, that Beckmesser is a caricature of Hanslick, whom Wagner believed to be of Jewish descent. Those who wish to read more about this complicated theory are referred to the articles listed under the answer to Question D above.
The Wagner literature contains references to Mathilde Wesendonk and to Mathilde Wesendonck, more or less evenly distributed. Otto and Mathilde actually used the spelling, Wesendonck, one that also appears on the title pages of Mathilde's published works; but their eldest surviving son called himself Franz von Wesendonk. The title of Wolfgang Golther's edition of the correspondence between Wagner and Mathilde is, Richard Wagner an Mathilde Wesendonk. Wagner's Fünf Gedichte für eine Frauenstimme (WWV 91) is usually known as the Wesendonck-Lieder. The family villa in Zürich, which now houses the Museum Rietberg, is known as the Villa Wesendonck.
No. Wagner was not a Freemason. Perhaps you were thinking of Mozart? Nor did Wagner have dealings with the Rosicrucians, the Illuminati or the Priory of Sion. Especially the last of these, which did not exist before 1956.
No. Wagner was not a vegetarian; he always liked a good steak, preferably washed down by champagne. It was his young friend Nietzsche who was the vegetarian.
Like Nietzsche, Wagner was concerned for the welfare of animals and opposed anything that caused unnecessary suffering to them, including hunting and vivisection. Like Schopenhauer, Wagner found the Buddhist attitude to animals preferable to the Judaeo-Christian tradition, in which man had received divine permission to use or abuse animals.
In 1880 Wagner read a pamphlet about vegetarianism written by Gleizès. He became convinced that mankind's change to a meat-based diet was one factor that had contributed to a degeneration of mankind. This is one of the theories advanced by Wagner in his so-called "regeneration essays".
Wagner's drama Parsifal (libretto published in 1877) does not, as some commentators have alleged, advocate vegetarianism. The Grail knights do abstain from meat; they live on the food and drink provided by the Grail and, when this is denied, survive on herbs and roots. There is no evidence that Wagner intended this to promote vegetarianism, although there is a subtext against hunting.
Many musicians, most of them Jewish, were sent to concentration camps. Some of them took their instruments and played in the camp orchestras. Unfortunately for those who claim that Wagner's music was played in the camps, almost all his published compositions are for large orchestras; the only piece that would have been within reach of one of these bands would be the Siegfried Idyll. There is no record either of this or of any other piece by Wagner having been played in a Nazi concentration camp.
The idea that Wagner's music was played in the camps is an example of an urban legend. Everybody "knows" that Wagner's music was played in the concentration camps, just as everybody "knows" that there are alligators living in the New York sewers.
The legend of Wagner's music in the camps is associated with the widespread belief that Wagner wrote the musical score for the Third Reich. In fact, the composer who was most praised by Nazi ideologues such as Alfred Rosenberg was Beethoven (see Spott's Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, page 228); and the composer whose music was most associated with the Nazi party was Franz Liszt, whose symphonic poem Les Preludes provided the music that preceded official announcements on radio. So the music that was most likely to have been heard in the camps would have been written by Liszt and Beethoven.
Formal or semi-formal evening dress (for men, dinner suit and black tie) is the norm at Festival performances, although anything smart and comfortable would do just as well. The auditorium can get quite warm, so lightweight suits and dresses are advisable.
During the Festival there are invariably a few evenings with thunderstorms and heavy rain, so you should take a raincoat and an umbrella; it might be a warm, sunny afternoon when you stroll up the Green Hill but by the time the performance is over, the rain might have arrived.
Some Bayreuth hotels provide bus or minivan transport to and from the Festspielhaus. In fine weather many people walk back to their hotel but in wet weather a ride home is usually a better option.
In addition to the official program of the Festival, musical and literary events take place at many different venues while the Festival is on. You will find posters around the town but you might also like to visit the tourist information centre, near the town hall (where there is usually an interesting Wagner-related exhibit).
A. Offline sources
The following sources of information can be found in libraries and bookstores.
i. What books should every Wagner fan have on their bookshelves?
We suggest the following:
ii. Wagner's writings
There have been two major editions of Wagner's writings in German, as follows:
The nearest thing to a complete edition available in English is Richard Wagner's Prose Works in 8 volumes. For details, see the Wagner Books FAQ.
English translations of some of Wagner's shorter prose works, together with letters and articles by Wagner and his close associates, can be found online at the Wagner Library, an ongoing project of Patrick Swinkels.
iii. Wagner's musical compositions
The critical edition of Wagner's compositions is:
The planned content of this at present incomplete edition is as follows:
For books about Wagner's works, see the Wagner Books FAQ, Section IV.
iv. Diaries of Richard and Cosima Wagner
The publication of diaries by Cosima Wagner, that had long been suppressed by the Wagner family, has greatly increased our knowledge of Richard and Cosima Wagner and their life together. Also Richard's own diaries/notebooks are of interest. The Wagner diaries are the following:
Details of English editions of the above are given in the Wagner Books FAQ.
v. Letters to and from Richard Wagner
RW was an active correspondent, often writing several letters a day. It has been estimated that he wrote over 10,000 letters during his lifetime. Unfortunately, Cosima Wagner destroyed many unpublished letters, including the originals of Richard's letters to Mathilde Wesendonck, those from Otto and Mathilde to Richard, Nietzsche's letters to Cosima, Peter Cornelius' letters to Richard, those written to him from Pusinelli, Röckel, H. Heine, Berlioz, Herwegh, Semper, Gasperini, Baudelaire, Nietzsche, Gobineau and H. von Stein, and all of the correspondence with Hans von Bülow in the period preceding and immediately after their divorce. Later Cosima even burned many of Richard's letters to herself. Wagner himself had destroyed letters from Judith Gautier. Further bundles of correspondence were incinerated by Eva Wagner in 1909.
Many of Wagner's letters have been published, usually in a separate volume for each correspondent; for example, the letters between RW and Mathilde Wesendonck (an important resource for students of Tristan, Die Sieger and Parsifal) were published in Berlin, 1904, with an English translation (by Ellis) of them published in London, in 1905. Also important is the collection of correspondence between RW and his patron, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, 5 vols., edited by Otto Stroebel and published 1936-39, Karlsruhe.
In 1967, work began on a complete edition of the existing letters in their original languages. At that time, the editors anticipated an edition of fifteen volumes, but in the introduction to volume 6, they revised their estimate to 30 volumes, containing between 7000 and 7500 letters. The project is now being led by Dr. Werner Breig.
A critical edition of over 500 letters in English translation has been edited by Stewart Spencer and Barry Millington. Details of this edition and of some other collections of letters in English translation are given in Section VI of the Wagner Books FAQ.
vi. Wagner-related periodicals
Most Wagner Societies publish their own newsletter; that of the UK Society has the title, Wagner News.
vii. Sources for Wagner's texts
To save space in this FAQ, information about Wagner's sources has been moved to a new document: sources.
viii. The Bayreuth Festival
A good general history of the Festival can be found in Frederick Spott's book, Bayreuth: A History of the Wagner Festival, Yale 1994.
The atmosphere of 19th century Bayreuth was captured in Colette's novel Claudine and Annie (Claudine s'en va), which is included in The Claudine Novels, Penguin USA, 1995.
Other books about the history of the Bayreuth Festival and productions of Wagner's stage works at the Festival, can be found in section VII of the Wagner Books FAQ.
B. On-line sources
i. A few good, general Web sites about Richard Wagner
ii. Web sites, synopses and online discographies
iii. Web sites related to the Bayreuth Festival
iv. Wagner Societies
A number of Wagner Societies (each affiliated to the international Richard- Wagner-Verband) have their own Web pages, including the following:
v. On-line libretti and vocal scores
There are shareware editions of the Ring libretti with Jameson's English translations here.
There is a hypertext libretto of Tristan und Isolde online.
The following vocal scores can be accessed through the Web:
vi. Performance diaries
If you want to know where Wagner is being performed in Europe this week, this and other information can be found at Richard Wagner Werkstatt. This site has a lot of fun stuff - check out the cartoon synopsis of the Ring!
vii. Related newsgroups and message boards
Wagner-related postings often appear in rec.music.opera; but be warned that this newsgroup is notorious for flames, abuse and cat-fights. To read r.m.o. requires a strong stomach and to post there one needs a thick skin.
This FAQ was created by and is maintained by Derrick Everett (email@example.com). The editor would like to thank the following individuals who have helped or contributed to this document: Joe Bernstein, Mike Scott Rohan and Simon Weil. Also many others who have made helpful comments and suggestions.
This compilation copyright © 2000-2014 by Derrick Everett. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Permission is hereby granted for electronic distribution by non-commercial services such as internet, provided that it is posted in its entirety and includes this copyright statement. This document may not be distributed for financial gain. Any other use, or any commercial use of this document without permission is prohibited by law.
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