General FAQ for

Version 2.31

The list of frequently asked questions (and their answers) for the newsgroup (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.


I. Welcome to!

A. Charter

Welcome to! 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

The newsgroup 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):

B. How should I read and contribute to this newsgroup?

  1. If you haven't already done so, now is as good a time as any to read the guide to net etiquette (or "netiquette") regularly posted to the newsgroup news.announce.newusers. There is an HTML version of the guide.
  2. If you are new to Usenet, then you should read the rules for posting regularly posted both to news.announce.newusers and to news.answers. You can find an HTML version of the posting rules.
  3. DO NOT POST IN UPPER CASE. Submissions in a single case (all upper or all lower) are difficult to read.
  4. Do not flame. A "flame" is an angry post. Sometimes you will find angry posts in follow-up to your own. The temptation may then be to make an angry post in response. Think first. Just because somebody calls you a bad name, doesn't mean you have to respond in kind. Just because someone disagrees with you, it does not mean that he or she is a moron. If the poster is obviously a troll, then it might be better not to rely at all.
  5. It is advisable to lurk for a few days (or even weeks) without posting, before you post a message.
  6. Keep your postings to Wagner-related topics.
  7. We may have discussed the topic before - check the Google Groups archive to see if past threads might hold the answers to your questions. Before asking a "basic" question, please read the latest frequently asked questions posting.
  8. Specific questions are more likely to get useful answers than are general ones. For general information, you should try to obtain reference books from the lists provided in the Wagner Books FAQ.
  9. Avoid crossposting - ensure that your article is posted only to newsgroups where its content is appropriate. Don't spam. Spammers will be reported to their ISP's.
  10. Do not post binaries (pictures, sound files, etc.) to this newsgroup. Not everyone can handle those relatively large files and binaries in non-binary groups have been known to get those newsgroups removed from some ISP's. Instead put them on a web page or post them to an alt.binaries.* group and post a notice to their location on this group.
  11. Do not post in HTML or any other format that uses styles. Some newsreaders can only handle plain text.
  12. The language preferred by participants in the hmcw newsgroup is English. Posting in other languages is discouraged.
  13. Many of the postings to the hmcw group will contain quotes in German and will occasionally quote in other European languages. It is therefore recommended that you set the options in your newsreader for 8-bit characters, Western European encoding and the ISO Latin 1 character set (either ISO-8859-1 or ISO-8859-15). In subject fields, please use only standard ASCII characters; do not use ampersands (&).
  14. Keep line lengths to less than 80 columns. 72 is suggested, to allow for indentation of quoted text in replies.
  15. When replying to a posting do not quote more of the original than is necessary. It is seldom necessary to quote a whole message. Some posting software automatically quotes the whole message when you respond but you should delete the portions of the message that are not relevant to your response. Use ellipses ("..."). Do not quote .signatures. Do not leave the entire earlier posting at the end of your own posting.
  16. In the new Google Groups you can save yourself the trouble of copying and pasting from the message to which you are replying. Instead of clicking on 'Reply' at the bottom of the message, select 'Show options' and then 'Reply'.
  17. If you are not familiar with logic but want to make a convincing case, then you should read this introduction to Logic and Fallacies. Schopenhauer's essay on dialectic and debating can be found in English translation here: The Art of Controversy.
  18. Use of a standalone newsreader is recommended. Most of these programs provide the user with some filtering features, which allow you to filter out postings that you do not want to see. For example, from known trolls, like our anti-Semitic bootboy Jeff. Information about the newsreaders for the most popular platforms can be found at
  19. You will find that keeping your sense of humour will help you to get the most out of any newsgroup.

C. How do I read this FAQ?

Each question/section begins with 'Subject:' on a line of its own. If you have a suitably equipped newsreader then, in the plain text edition, you can automatically skip to the next 'Subject:' heading, e.g. trn will display the start of the section when you press ^G (control-G).

The above does not apply to this HTML version. You can however jump around in the HTML version, by using the internal links.

Recently updated or new questions are marked with a * at the beginning of the line in the table of contents.

D. Abbreviations and acronyms

The following abbreviations and acronyms often appear in hmcw postings:

Das Braune Buch (The Brown Book): Wagner's occasional diary.

Cosimas Tagebücher (Cosima's Diaries): the private diaries of Wagner's second wife, Cosima. See the Wagner Books FAQ, section VI-B.

Götterdämmerung, act N, scene n.

Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen: Wagner's own compilation of his collected writings. Volume X was added after Wagner's death but in accordance with his instructions. See the Wagner Books FAQ, section VI-C.

Middle High German (Mittelhochdeutsch): the medieval variant of the German language in which Wolfram's Parzival, Gottfried's Tristan and the anonymous Nibelungenlied were written. It bears approximately the same relation to modern High German as does Chaucer's Middle English to modern English.

Mein Leben (My Life): Wagner's unreliable autobiography. See the Wagner Books FAQ, section II-A.



Mathilde Wesendonck: see sections III-K and III-T below.

Old Norse: the original language of many of the sagas and poems on which Wagner drew for elements of his Ring. Some of those sources, such as the Edda poems, are in a dialect of ON called Old Icelandic.

Prose Works: W.A. Ellis' notoriously inaccurate translation, into a strange kind of English, of the prose writings in GSD. See the Wagner Books FAQ, section VI-C.

Das Rheingold, scene n.

RMO a newsgroup established for the discussion of opera but now mainly devoted to flame wars and the display of psychotic behaviour.

Richard Wagner.

Siegfried, act N, scene n.

Sämtliche Schriften und Dichtungen: an extended compilation of Wagner's prose and poetry. See the Wagner Books FAQ, section VI-C.

Tristan und Isolde, Handlung in drei Aufzügen, WWV 90.

Wagner-as-Nazi: a lunatic fringe of writers who have promoted the idea that Richard Wagner was a proto-Nazi. It includes Hartmut Zelinsky and Joachim Köhler.

Die Walküre, act N, scene n.

The World as Will and Representation (Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung) by Arthur Schopenhauer: the book that changed Wagner's life.

Wagner Werk-Verzeichnis: the catalogue of Richard Wagner's musical and dramatic works. See the Wagner Books FAQ, section III-E.

II. Who was Richard Wagner?

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.

Richard Wagner

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.

A man with a genius for many arts has brought those arts, in his own work, more intimately into union than they have ever before been brought; and he has delighted the world with this combination of arts as few men of special genius have ever delighted the world with their work in any of these arts. (Arthur Symons, 1905)

B. Wagner's political and racial ideas

Richard Wagner

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: The merest glance at writings on Wagner, including the most recent ones on the composer's life and works, is enough to convince the most casual reader that he or she has wandered into a madhouse. Even serious scholars take leave of their senses when writing about Wagner and start to rant. There are transcendental Wagnerians with their heads in the clouds, phallo-Wagnerians whose sights are set somewhat lower, meekly feminist Wagnériennes and brashly political Wagnerianer -- and in every case there are their polemical opposite numbers, busily condemning and unmasking Wagner in the name of the very same values and on the strength of the very same evidence, their desire to unmask Wagner driving them to the very brink of scientific and psychological flagellantism and persuading them to see a causal link between Parsifal and Auschwitz. [From the preface to Drama and the World of Richard Wagner, tr. Daphne Ellis, Princeton, 2003.]

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.