Biographical notes concerning Richard Wagner's associates, friends and enemies.

Some Brief Biographies

of Wagner's Associates, Friends & Enemies

  • Berlioz, (Louis-) Hector (1803-69)

    This French composer and music critic is regarded today as the leading French musician of his era. He made pioneering contributions to the art of orchestration: his treatise on the subject was studied by Wagner and influenced him. Like Wagner he was one of the first international virtuoso conductors. The misunderstanding and neglect Berlioz endured, not least in his dealings with the Paris Opéra, helped him and Wagner to identify with each other as fellow- sufferers, although they failed to sustain a close friendship. Berlioz' music contains a number of interesting pre-echoes of Wagner.

  • Brandt, Friedrich Georg Heinrich (Fritz) (1854-95)

    Joukowsky, Levi and Brandt
    Left: Paul von Joukowsky, Hermann Levi and Fritz Brandt.
    Fritz Brandt had worked closely with his father Carl on the technical aspects of the first Ring and was invited to assume overall responsibility for the technical arrangements for the 1882 Parsifal following his father's sudden death in 1881; he returned to the Bayreuth festival in 1883 and 1884.
  • Brandt, Carl (1828-81)

    As technical director of the theatre in Darmstadt, Brandt had a high reputation for his abilities, which Wagner drew on in the construction of the machinery for the Ring and of the Festspielhaus itself. Although he was often difficult to work with, Wagner and his production team recognised Brandt's exceptional talents and he was invited back to Bayreuth to prepare for the first production of Parsifal.

  • Brückner, Gotthold (1844-92) and Max (1836-1919)

    The Brückner brothers were employed by the Coburg Court Theatre when in 1874 Wagner commissioned them to execute the sets for the first Bayreuth Ring from the designs of Joseph Hoffmann. They similarly prepared the sets for the first Parsifal from those of Joukowsky.

  • Burnouf, Eugène (1801-52)

    Burnouf is regarded as the most competent and influential of the 19th century western scholars of the Sanskrit and Pali literature of Buddhist India. When manuscripts were sent from Nepal to Europe in 1837, Burnouf was the scholar best equipped to translate and interpret them. Before publishing any of these translations, however, Burnouf realised that they would mean little to a European readership without a general introduction to Indian Buddhism. Therefore he wrote his Introduction, the first book to describe, with some degree of accuracy and insight, the ideas of Indian Buddhism for a western readership. The book was read by — and subsequently recommended as an introduction to the religions of India by — Arthur Schopenhauer. On his recommendation, Wagner obtained and read a copy in 1855. On his return to Burnouf's book in the spring of the following year, Wagner was inspired both to sketch a Buddhist drama (Die Sieger) and to draft a Buddhistic ending to his existing poem for Götterdämmerung.

  • Dannreuther, Edward (1844-1905)

    English pianist of German origin. In 1872 Dannreuther founded the Wagner Society in London. He helped Wagner to obtain the dragon and other stage properties for the 1876 Ring. When Wagner visited England on a conducting tour in 1877, Dannreuther fixed the orchestra and conducted some of the preliminary rehearsals; the Wagners stayed with Dannreuther at 12 Orme Square in Bayswater, conveniently across the Park from the Royal Albert Hall where Richard Wagner was to conduct.

  • Gautier, Judith (1845-1917)

    Judith Gautier French author, orientalist and writer on music, daughter of the writer Théophile Gautier and his mistress, the contralto Ernesta Grisi. Judith was an enthusiast for Wagner's work from an early age. She met the equally devoted Catulle Mendès in the early 1860s and they were married in 1866. Together with the poet Villiers de l'Isle Adam they visited Wagner at Tribschen in 1869 and again the following year. In 1874 the Mendès couple decided to separate and by the time of the first Bayreuth festival, Judith had embarked on an affair with an amateur composer called Louis Benedictus. This did not discourage Wagner from pursuing her. Their relationship may or may not have been consummated; what is certain is that they continued to conduct a clandestine and intimate correspondence until 1878, when Cosima discovered some of the letters and put the affair to an end. Wagner claimed that he needed the intoxication of at least her spiritual presence, as well as the silks, satins and exotic perfumes she obtained for him in Paris, in order to compose Parsifal. Her intellectual contribution to Wagner's work consisted of a translation of Parsifal into French, various writings on Wagnerian topics, and a three-volume memoir of the composer.

  • Gobineau, Count Joseph Arthur de (1816-82)

    The writer, diplomat, historian and racial theorist, Count Gobineau, first met Wagner at Rome in 1876. He stayed with the Wagners in Bayreuth in May-June 1881 and in May-June 1882. Wagner, who was in later life surrounded mainly by much younger men, thought that he had found in Gobineau someone of his own age and a similar outlook. He was interested in Gobineau's theories about miscegenation as expounded in his Essai sur l'inegalité des races humaines (1853-5), although in profound disagreement that this was the cause of the supposed degeneration of the human species. Where Gobineau held that this had come about through interbreeding, Wagner held the view that it was primarily due to meat- eating and that redemption was to be found in the unity of mankind through the pure blood of Christ.

  • Heine, Heinrich (1797-1856)

    Christian Johann Heinrich Heine (born as Chaim Heine, also called Harry Heine in his youth) was one of the most significant German poets of the nineteenth (or indeed any) century. Born into a Jewish family, he found it convenient to convert to Christianity but this did not save him from anti-Semitism, either in his lifetime or after his death. During his time in Paris he became a follower of the utopian socialist Count Saint-Simon. Later he became disillusioned with utopian politics and wrote a long satirical poem Atta Troll: Ein Sommernachtstraum. Heine was not a Romantic poet: his criticisms of Romanticism, which became more and more scathing as he matured, would help to precipitate the realist phase of literary history. Heine's critiques of German thought and culture made him highly controversial in his native country; his works were banned in Germany for decades. One of Heine's poems includes the lines Where they burn books / They will, in the end, burn human beings: the Nazi regime not only burned copies of Heine's works but also tried to erase him from history. The influence of Heine and references to his writings can be found in many of Wagner's canonical operas, from Der fliegende Holländer (partly inspired by a short story by Heine) and Tannhäuser (partly inspired by Heine's parody of the old ballad) to Parsifal with its references to Atta Troll.
  • Humperdinck, Engelbert (1854-1921)

    Engelbert Humperdinck Humperdinck (right) began his musical studies at the Cologne Conservatory under Hiller, a one-time friend of Wagner who had drifted into the anti-Wagner camp. Humperdinck had cast off the yoke of Hiller's Schumannesque style when he moved to Munich in 1877 and enrolled in the Königliches Musikschule. He heard the Ring in 1878 and soon afterwards joined a band of local Wagnerians calling themselves the Order of the Grail. He won the Mendelssohn prize in 1879, which funded a scholarship tour of Italy and, to Wagner's amusement, the Meyerbeer prize in 1881. Humperdinck worked as a repetiteur at every subsequent Bayreuth festival until 1894.

    Soundbytes Prelude to Parsifal arranged for piano duet by Engelbert Humperdinck - played by Yaara Tal and Andreas Groethuysen (ogg format, stereo, duration 11.5 minutes)

  • Joukowsky, Paul von (1845-1912)

    Paul Joukowsky was the son of the Russian poet Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky. He was introduced to the Wagners at the Villa d'Angri on 18 January 1880 and, after accompanying them on their visits to Rufello and Siena, designed the costumes and four of the five sets for Parsifal.

  • Levi, Hermann (1839-1900)

    Hermann Levi held appointments in Saarbrücken, Mannheim, Rotterdam and Karlsruhe before becoming court conductor in Munich in 1872, a post he retained until 1896. At the insistence of King Ludwig, Levi was the conductor at the first performances of Parsifal. Richard and Cosima were sufficiently impressed by Levi that he was invited back to conduct at every festival, except that of 1888, until 1894.

  • Liszt, Franz (Ferenc) (1811-1886)

    Franz Liszt Hungarian composer and virtuoso pianist. He first met Wagner in Paris in March 1841, when Liszt was already at the height of his fame. But it was not until Liszt had retired from the concert platform that their friendship blossomed. It was to survive several periods of coolness, the most serious estrangement being the result of Wagner's involvement with Liszt's daughter, Cosima. The two composers were seen as the leaders of the New German School. They were each fascinated by the progressive musical ideas and innovations of the other: the influence of Liszt on Wagner can be seen most strongly in Tristan but it is also present in Parsifal.

    Soundbytes Feierlicher Marsch zum heiligen Gral aus Parsifal, piano transcription by Franz Liszt, 1882, R.283, S.450. Played by Endre Hegedüs (ogg format, stereo, duration 9 minutes)

  • Ludwig II, King of Bavaria (1845-86)

    The son of Maximilian II, Ludwig ascended the throne of Bavaria in 1864 at the age of 18. His passion for Wagner's music resulted in generous subsidies that transformed the composer's fortunes overnight. Free to realise his romantic dreams, the young king immediately summoned to Munich his idol, the composer Richard Wagner. Without Ludwig's patronage, Wagner might never have been able to produce Tristan und Isolde, complete Der Ring des Nibelungen or compose Parsifal. He would certainly not have been able to embark upon the Bayreuth project. The extent to which Ludwig supported Wagner, however, is often overestimated. The total amount received by the composer over the last 19 years of Wagner's life, including all presents, was 562,914 marks. This should be compared with, for example, the 1.7 million marks spent on a carriage for the royal wedding that never took place.

    King Ludwig II of Bavaria Right: Ludwig II in General's uniform, by F. Piloty. © W. Neumeister.

    Public opinion in Munich was scandalised by revelations about the composer's relationship with Cosima, at that time still married to the conductor Hans von Bülow, and by Wagner's supposed exploitation of the King's munificence; as a result of which, in December 1865, the King was forced to ask the composer to leave Munich. His support continued, however, and even though the relationship became strained, Ludwig made a timely contribution to the Bayreuth enterprise and remained fanatically devoted to Wagner's art. Ludwig withdrew progressively into his fantasy world of midnight sleigh rides, fantastic castles and Wagnerian extravagances such as his hunting lodge, based upon Hunding's hut. According to the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, he was just an eccentric living in a world of dreams.

    His penchant for building fantastic castles of monumental extravagance, combined with his erratic behaviour and progressive lack of interest in affairs of state, eventually led to a declaration of insanity and to Ludwig's deposition on 10 June 1886. The King and his attendant psychiatrist were found drowned in Lake Starnberg three days later. Ludwig identified intensely with several of Wagner's heros, not least Parsifal. He would sometimes sign his letters to Wagner with Parsifal. Ludwig provided much of the financing for the first performances of Parsifal, allowing Wagner the use of the Munich orchestra and chorus but insisting that the orchestra's conductor, Hermann Levi, should conduct the performances.

  • Meyerbeer, Giacomo (Jakob Liebmann Beer), (1791-1864)

    German composer, who dominated French opera for many years. His works are irrevocably associated with triumphal processions and Grand Guignol, aspects which made them hugely successful in the Paris of his day, but which appeal less to modern audiences. In his Oper und Drama Wagner described Meyerbeer's musical dramaturgy as nothing but effects without causes. Hence his works are little performed today. Wagner's hostility towards Meyerbeer, who seems to have behaved irreproachably towards the younger composer, has been related to his anti-Semitism, although biographers disagree on what is cause and what is effect. Meyerbeer generously helped Wagner during his Paris years, writing letters of recommendation and introducing him to influential men in the musical life of the city. It was Meyerbeer who wrote to the director of the Dresden court theater recommending a production of Rienzi there.

  • Meysenburg, Baroness Malwida von (1816-1903)

    German writer and political activist; a prominent democrat and campaigner for womens' rights. Following the 1848/9 uprisings, she was banned from Berlin on account of her connections with revolutionaries. As a result she moved first to London, where she became a governess and a newspaper correspondent, and met Wagner in 1855, then in 1862 to Italy. She was an admirer and trusted friend of Wagner, as well as of Nietzsche and Liszt.

  • Nietzsche, Friedrich (1844-1900)

    Friedrich Nietzsche German philosopher, who at the unprecedented age of 24 was appointed Professor of Classical Philology at Basle University. From the time of his visit to Tribschen the following year, he was a frequent and welcome guest at Wagner's house. His literary works were greatly admired by Wagner and Cosima, especially The Birth of Tragedy, which placed Wagner's art at the centre of Western culture. Nietzsche was fascinated and overwhelmed by the power of Wagner's music. The ambivalence of his attitude to Wagner began to appear in his essay, Richard Wagner in Bayreuth (1875-6). In subsequent years, he move into the anti-Wagner camp, and as his mental and physical health deteriorated (something which Wagner supposedly attributed to self- abuse), Nietzsche took up a bitterly hostile stance towards Wagner's decadent art.

  • Schopenhauer, Arthur (1788-1860)

    Arthur Schopenhauer German philosopher, the author of The World as Will and Representation, one of the great philosophical texts of the nineteenth century. Although he had no genuine successors and founded no school, his influence was very widespread from about the middle of the century onwards, his most famous disciple being Richard Wagner, who believed that Schopenhauer had revealed to him the meaning of his own works and who then consciously pursued a Schopenhauerian line. In the present century, Schopenhauer's philosophy of will has been one of the influences behind the development of existentialism and Freudian psychology.

  • Verlaine, Paul (1844-96)

    French poet, initially of the Parnassian school.

  • Wagner, Cosima (previously von Bülow) (1838-1930)

    Portrait of Cosima Wagner Left: A portrait of Cosima Wagner, about 1879.
    Daughter of Franz Liszt and the Countess d'Agoult, mistress and later the second wife of Richard Wagner. Cosima supported Wagner both emotionally and practically in the Bayreuth enterprise; on his death, she took immediate and effective control of the festival.

  • Wagner, Richard (1813-1883)

    Memorial to Richard Wagner, in Venice Right: A memorial bust of Richard Wagner, in Venice.
    German composer and writer on an enormous range of subjects, with an opinion about everything. Wagner revolutionised the art of theatre and made a significant and lasting impression on orchestral music. In 1876 he inaugurated the Bayreuth Festival, which has now become an annual celebration of Wagner's art.

  • Wesendonck, Mathilde (née Agnes Mathilda Luckemeyer) (1828-1902)

    Mathilde Wesendonk Right: Mathilde Wesendonck.
    German poet and writer. The friendship of Wagner and Mathilde Wesendonck that began in 1852 developed subsequently into an intense relationship that may or may not have been consummated. The impossible passion of Tristan and Isolde was mirrored in the relationship between the composer and Mathilde, eventually resulting in a marital crisis in August 1858. Five of her poems were set by Wagner and are usually known as the Wesendonck Lieder. Wagner confided in her by letter his thoughts about his planned work, Parsifal, and eventually shared in her concern for antivivisection, as reflected in his treatment of the incident of the swan in the first act of the work.

    Otto and Mathilde used the spelling 'Wesendonck'. Their son called himself Franz von Wesendonk. The spellings 'Wesendonck' and 'Wesendonk' are found in roughly equal proportion in Wagner literature.

  • Wolzogen, Baron Hans Paul von (1848-1938)

    German writer on music and literature. In 1877 he was invited to Bayreuth by Richard Wagner to edit the Bayreuther Blätter. Wolzogen remained editor of the journal until his death sixty years later. Under his editorship the Blätter became a reactionary and extremely nationalistic publication, reflecting the views of Chamberlain and the Bayreuth Circle. Wolzogen produced a series of thematic guides to Wagner's later works, which identified many leading motives and gave them names that are still in use today, and he edited three volumes of Wagner's letters.

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