General FAQ for humanities.music.composers.wagner - this is no longer actively maintained

Version 2.31

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.


  • I. Welcome to humanities.music.composers.wagner!
  •   A. Charter
  •   B. How should I read and contribute to this newsgroup?
  •   C. How do I read this FAQ?
  •   D. Abbreviations and acronyms
  • II. Who was Richard Wagner?
  •   A. Wagner's life, work and ideas
  •   B. Wagner's political and racial ideas
  •   C. The Total Work of Art
  •   D. Wagner's philosophy and spirituality
  •   E. Biographical references
  • *  F. Musical works
  •   G. Prose and poetry
  •   H. Abandoned operas
  • III. Frequently asked questions
  •   A. How can I get tickets to the Bayreuth Festival?
  •   B. Where can I obtain the Ring Disc?
  •   C. Was Wagner a personal friend of Adolf Hitler?
  •   D. Wasn't Wagner anti-Semitic?
  •   E. Why does Siegmund sing the renunciation motif as he draws the sword from the tree?
  •   F. Why didn't Alberich use his ring to escape when he was captured by Wotan and Loge?
  •   G. Why is Valhall set on fire at the end of the 'Ring' cycle?
  •   H. Why didn't Wagner kill off Alberich?
  • *  I. Who are the Wagner family and how are they related to each other?
  •   J. Does anybody know the title of the helicopter tune in 'Apocalypse Now'?
  •   K. What about Wagner's women?
  •   L. What is the name of the mortal woman who is mother to Siegmund and Sieglinde?
  • *  M.Which recording of the 'Ring'/ 'Dutchman'/ 'Lohengrin'/ 'Tristan'/ 'Parsifal'/ 'Mastersingers'/ 'Tannhäuser' should I get as my first version?
  •   N. How can I get inside the Palazzo Vendramin in Venice?
  •   O. What is the difference between the 'Liebestod' and 'Isolde's Transfiguration'?
  •   P. When can I applaud at a performance of 'Parsifal'?
  • *  Q. What new productions are planned for the Bayreuth Festival?
  •   R. Who were the Herodias and Gundryggia referred to in 'Parsifal'?
  •   S. Was Beckmesser based on Eduard Hanslick?
  •   T. Is the name Wesendonk or Wesendonck?
  •   U. Was Wagner a Freemason?
  •   W. Was Wagner a Vegetarian?
  •   Y. Was Wagner's music played in the Nazi concentration camps?
  •   Z. What should I know before my first visit to the Bayreuth Festival?
  • IV. Where can I find more information?
  •   A. Offline sources
  •   i. What books should every Wagner fan have on their bookshelves?
  •   ii. Wagner's writings
  •   iii. Wagner's musical compositions
  •   iv. Diaries of Richard and Cosima Wagner
  •   v. Letters to and from Richard Wagner
  •   vi. Wagner-related periodicals
  •   vii. Sources for Wagner's texts
  •   viii. The Bayreuth Festival
  • *  B. On-line sources
  •   i. A few good, general, online sites about Richard Wagner
  •   ii. Web sites, synopses and online discographies
  •   iii. Web sites related to the Bayreuth Festival
  •   iv. Wagner Societies
  •   v. On-line libretti and vocal scores
  •   vi. Performance diaries
  •   vii. Related newsgroups and message boards
  •   viii.Museums
  • V. Acknowledgements and Copyright

I. Welcome to humanities.music.composers.wagner!

A. Charter

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):

  • The music dramas, their meanings and contemporary relevance.
  • Recordings of Wagner's music. Recommendations of recordings. News of forthcoming releases.
  • Discussions about performances of Wagner's work - reviews of current opera productions and information about forthcoming productions.
  • Discussions about the history of the Bayreuth Festival, along with information about ticket availability, strategies for procuring tickets for the festival.
  • Debates about Wagner's artistic and theoretical ideas
  • Wagner's contemporaries their influence on Wagner and vice-versa
  • Wagner's influence on art and the theatre.

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.
  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 newsreaders.
  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.

rec.music.opera: 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.

  • Die Feen (The Fairies), grand romantic opera, WWV 32. This work is in a mixture of German and Italian styles.
    T: February 1833, revised 1834. M: Spring 1834. P: 29 June 1888, Munich.
  • Das Liebesverbot, oder Die Novize von Palermo (Forbidden Love), grand comic opera, WWV 38. This German comedy was completed in 1836 and performed only once - the second performance had to be abandoned before the curtain rose and the bankruptcy of the opera company prevented any further performances that season. The music is clearly influenced by Bellini, as well as by Donizetti, Rossini, Marschner and Auber.
    T: December 1834. M: March 1836, revised Spring 1840. P: 29 March 1836, Magdeburg.
  • Rienzi, der Letzte der Tribunen (Rienzi, Last of the Tribunes), grand tragic opera, WWV 49. This was Wagner's attempt to create a French Grand Opera in imitation of Meyerbeer. Wagner also acknowledged the influence of Halévy.
    T: August 1838, tr. early 1840. M: September 1840. P: 20 October 1842, Dresden.
  • Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman), romantic opera, WWV 63. This is the first work in the 'Bayreuth canon', i.e. the works that are regularly staged at the Bayreuth Festival. It is a German opera on supernatural themes, showing the influences both of Weber and of Marschner (in particular, of his 'Der Vampyr').
    T: May 1841. M: October 1841, rev. January 1860. P: 2 January 1843, Dresden.
  • Tannhäuser und der Sängerkrieg auf Wartburg (Tannhäuser and the Song Contest on the Wartburg), grand romantic opera, WWV 70. Completed in 1845, but substantially revised at least three times:
    * Version 1. T: April 1843. M: October 1845. P: 19 October 1845, Dresden.
    * Version 2. T: Spring 1847. M: May 1847, minor revision September 1851, not published until June 1860. P: 1 August 1847, Dresden.
    * Version 3. T: March 1861. M: March 1861. P: 13 March 1861, Paris.
    * Version 4. T: September 1861, revised (and translated back into German) Spring 1865. M: Various dates. P: 1 August 1867, Munich.
  • Lohengrin, romantic opera, WWV 75. After completing this opera in 1848, Wagner became mixed up in politics, with the consequence that he had to leave Germany. As an exile, he was unable to arrange for it to be performed or to supervise the first performance, conducted by Franz Liszt.
    T: November 1845. M: April 1848, Dresden. P: 28 August 1850, Weimar.
  • Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Nibelung's Ring), a 'stage festival play', WWV 86. Wagner's original intention, which was shared by a number of other composers at the time, was to write an opera based on the 'Nibelungenlied', to be called 'Siegfried's Tod' (The Death of Siegfried). Wagner actually got as far as writing the music for the first two scenes before he abandoned it, in favour of a cycle of four dramas. Once the text of all four had been completed (except for revisions later), Wagner composed the music to the first and shortest of the dramas in his cycle. First performance of the complete cycle: 13, 14, 16 and 17 August 1876, Bayreuth.
  • Das Rheingold (The Rhine Gold), preliminary evening of the Ring cycle, WWV 86a.
    T: November 1852. M: September 1854, Zürich. P: 22 September 1869, Munich.
  • Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), first day of the Ring cycle, WWV 86b.
    T: July 1852. M: March 1856, Zürich. P: 26 June 1870, Munich.
  • Siegfried (originally 'Der junge Siegfried'), second day of the Ring cycle, WWV 86c, was well under way before Wagner, despairing of ever getting this hugely expensive project staged, put it on hold. Wagner needed to find something more practical, if not profitable. He would not finish the music until 1871, and staging would have to wait until after a new theatre had been built for the Ring.
    T: December 1852, revised 1856. M: February 1871, Tribschen. P: 16 August 1876, Bayreuth.
  • Tristan und Isolde, WWV 90, was intended to be a small, practical opera that Wagner could get staged. Interrupted by a marital crisis, he continued to work on the score in Venice. After King Ludwig put the resources of the Munich Court Theatre at Wagner's disposal, his revolutionary work was staged there in 1865. 'Tristan-fever' has continued to this day.
    T: September 1857, Zürich. M: August 1859, Lucerne. P: 10 June 1865, Munich.
  • Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, WWV 96. For the first time since Das Liebesverbot, Wagner returned to comedy (again of a rather heavy, Germanic kind).
    T: January 1862, revised January 1867. M: October 1867, Tribschen. P: 21 June 1868, Munich.
  • Götterdämmerung (The Twilight of the Gods, or Night Falls on the Gods), third day of the Ring cycle, WWV 86d. The 1848 text of what had been Siegfrieds Tod was substantially rewritten in 1852 and revised in 1856. It then gathered dust until Wagner had returned to and completed Siegfried, when he was able to compose the music for the final part of his cycle.
    T: December 1852 (revised May 1856 and 1872). M: November 1874, Bayreuth. P: 17 August 1876, Bayreuth.
  • Parsifal, sacred stage festival play (Bühnenweih- festspiel), WWV 111. Inspired, according to Mein Leben, on and by Good Friday 1857, this drama too had a long gestation. A detailed prose draft was written in August 1865, but the libretto was not completed until 1877. After it was first performed in Bayreuth in 1882, the Wagner family lawyers ensured that it was not staged anywhere else for the next twenty years. The Metropolitan Opera in New York was the first to defy Bayreuth, by staging this drama in 1903.
    T: April 1877. M: January 1882, Palermo. P: 26 July 1882, Bayreuth.

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.

Orchestral Works

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.

Choral Works

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.

Vocal Works

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.

Piano Works

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.


III. Frequently asked questions

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.

A. How can I get tickets to the Bayreuth Festival?

  1. Since the FAQ first answered this most frequent of all questions in this context, things have changed, and in the view of most people, for the better. In addition to the donations from corporate sponsors and the patient support of the Friends of the Bayreuth Festival, much of the funding for the Festival is provided from public sources; including financial support provided by the German federal government and by the Free State of Bavaria. In December 2011, the Bavarian General Accounting Office and the German Federal Court of Auditors concluded a review of how the Festival was using this public money and gave the Festival Management an ultimatum: either change the unfair system for obtaining tickets -- in which, they noted, less than 50% of the tickets were made available for purchase through the box office -- or there would be no more public subsidy.
    On receiving this news, the Festival Management took immediate action. It seems that this included: significantly reducing the list of "friends" who had always received tickets each year (with obvious exceptions for the Federal and Bavarian governments); stopping the supply of tickets to Bayreuth hotels; and terminating arrangements with tour operators who had been selling Bayreuth Festival package tours. Reportedly, this last group alone took about 30% of Festival tickets, which then could not be bought except as part of a package. The allocation to the Friends (as distinct from "friends") does not appear to have been affected because the Friends have provided financial support to the Festival since 1951 and continue to do so. Initially the allocations of tickets to Wagner Societies were severely reduced but recently they have been partly restored, after the Societies argued that they too support the Festival, mainly through the Bayreuth Bursary for young singers. The result of these changes is expected to be a reduction in the waiting time for those who apply each year to the box office. Before the changes it had been 9 to 10 years; now it should be significantly less but probably still at least 5 years.
  2. You should write, in English, German or French, to the box office of the Bayreuth Festival, not later than the middle of September, at the following address:
           Postfach 10 02 62
           D-95402 Bayreuth
    Ask for a booking form. When this arrives, you will need to complete it and send it back, to arrive not later than the closing date which is usually in the middle of October. The good news is that, once you have the order form, it is now possible to order tickets online from the Bayreuth Festival website. Note, however, that you need the order form to get your activation code so that you can do the online ordering. Now for the bad news. You won't get tickets. All you get is a 'negative' registered in the box office computer-system. You have to repeat this process each year until you have enough 'negatives' to qualify for tickets. As noted above, the waiting time until very recently was 9 to 10 years but it should be shorter now; we will have to see how long it takes. If you are not concerned about attending particular performances, or about sitting in a particular part of the house, you can write 'EGAL' across the appropriate column. In other words, I'll take anything. You might also improve your odds, by asking for older rather than newer productions. Reportedly, under the old ticket allocation system, no more than 16% of tickets for a new production was sold through the box office. Do not rely on getting an order form automatically each year. Make a note in your diary to write in July. If you have an activated account for online orders, you should check the Festival website for information about when booking opens for the next year.
  3. NEW! From 2012 onwards the Festival has been making cautious steps towards a more conventional booking system, allowing some tickets for selected performances to be booked online, on a "first-come first-served" basis. In 2013 there were several performances made available for online booking already in October, with another performance made available on a later date, for those who had the patience to fight with the awful online system. After a long delay to get into the system, frequent time-outs and strange error messages would appear until, eventually, only the most patient users could get tickets into their shopping basket. It would seem that other users gave up before they had completed the course, so that some tickets that had disappeared became again available after one hour. A large pot of coffee and great patience is recommended for those who wish to do battle with the online dragon. In early summer 2014 there were more tickets available, perhaps after being returned to the box office. Therefore it is advised to check the Festival website frequently for announcements.
  4. You can join your local Wagner Society (see the list of home pages below). Each society gets a small allocation of tickets, which are then allocated, usually by a ballot for which only members can apply. As noted above, the allocation is smaller than it used to be, and for some Societies that means very few tickets.
  5. If that also fails, the last thing you can do is come to Bayreuth and queue in front of the box office from early in the morning (with your evening wear in a bag, just in case) until just before the performance (when, sometimes, returned tickets appear as if by a miracle).
  6. After giving up at the box office, you can sit in front of the Festspielhaus, in your best evening wear, holding up a sign that says "Suche Karte" and with a sad look on your face. Do not give up even after the performance has begun; sometimes patrons leave during one of the intervals and give their tickets to some of the pathetic creatures sitting on the pavement. At least you get to see the last act.
  7. If you are wealthy, buy a ticket on the black market. WARNING! In recent years the attitude of the Festival management has hardened not only towards the "scalpers" who trade in black-market tickets but also those who buy such tickets. A "scalper" is anyone who asks more for a ticket than its face value. The Festival management regard such tickets as void and invalid. You might be blacklisted, so take care!
  8. If you are really wealthy, join the Friends of Bayreuth. After an initial period, friends are usually allocated a limited number of tickets every second year. You will also gain a voice in the management of the Festival, since the Friends are represented on the Board of Trustees. There is a substantial fee payable by those joining the Friends and then the annual subscription. This does not include the price of any tickets that you might be allocated as a member of the Friends; so by the time you get your first batch of tickets you will already be out of pocket by almost one thousand dollars. There are events arranged by the Friends during the Festival, mostly in the first week.
  9. If you are a writing person, then get a newspaper or a magazine to send you as their correspondent. You will have to write something for them, of course. If you are not a member of the Friends of Bayreuth, or the German Chancellor, then attending the Festival as a journalist is about your only chance to see a premiere.

B. Where can I obtain the Ring Disc?

The Ring Disc is no longer on sale. Second-hand copies have been available on Amazon.

C. Was Wagner a personal friend of Adolf Hitler?

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. The research of the Swiss educator Wolfgang Hänel has made it clear that the 'Conversations' were mostly free inventions. (Encyclopedia of the Third Reich, ed Christian Zentner and Friedemann Bedürftig, tr. Amy Hackert, MacMillan Publishing, 1991, volume 2, page 757).

Hänel's research, published in 1983, put the last nails in the coffin of Rauschning's reputation. Der Spiegel (7 September 1985) commented: Hänel not only proves the falsification, he also shows how the impressive surrogate was quickly compiled and which ingredients were mixed together. Those ingredients included extracts from the writings of Ernst Juenger and Friedrich Nietzsche; extended quotes from speeches made by Hitler after 1935; and a short story by Guy de Maupassant.

In his acclaimed biography of Hitler, Ian Kershaw wrote: I have on no single occasion cited Hermann Rauschning's Hitler Speaks, a work now regarded to have so little authenticity that it is best to disregard it altogether. The leading German historian Hans Mommsen has written: The authenticity of Rauschning's book, moreover, is no longer accepted today. (From Weimar to Auschwitz: Essays in German History, Hans Mommsen, tr. Philip O'Connor, Oxford University Press, 1991, note 67.) Except by a few writers who have drawn heavily on Rauschning for inspiration (notably Robert Gutman and Joachim Köhler). They have been reluctant to acknowledge their discredited source, which is only obvious to readers who are familiar with the relevant passages in Rauschning's book.

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:

  1. He claimed that Hitler read at least some of Wagner's essays;
  2. He claimed that Hitler made an attempt to write an opera based on Wagner's draft for Wayland the Smith;
  3. The story that Hitler attended a performance of Rienzi with Kubizek, that after that performance Hitler decided to become the leader of a revitalised Germany, and that when Kubizek met Hitler again in 1938 and reminded him of that night, Hitler supposedly replied, "In that hour it began."

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. There is no corroborative evidence for either of these claims. Hitler never ascribed any of his views to Wagner, not in Mein Kampf, his speeches, articles or recorded private conversations... Indeed, there is no evidence that Hitler ever read Wagner's collected writings, much less that they were 'his favourite reading'. The origin of the myth is probably Kubizek's book, where the youthful Hitler was said to have read every biography, letter, essay, diary and other scrap by and about his hero that he could lay his hands on. But Kubizek himself contradicted that story in his wartime Reminiscences, which he later expanded into the more marketable, post-war book Young Hitler.

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 dark, cold and foggy streets of Linz after the show, and that it was a memorable night. But Kubizek did not say, as he would do later in Young Hitler, that on that night Hitler had declared an intention to unite Germany. Or that, when Kubizek met Hitler again in 1939 and reminded him of that night in Linz, Hitler had said, In that hour it began; perhaps because those passages were written by Kubizek's ghost-writer?

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.

D. Wasn't Wagner anti-Semitic?

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):

  1. Jews are hateful (passim)
  2. Judaism is rotten at the core; a religion of hatred (PW3 p90-1)
  3. Jewish composers are comparable to worms feeding on the body of art (PW3 p99)
  4. Jews are hostile to European civilisation (PW3 p84-5)
  5. The Jew rules the world through money (PW3 p81)
  6. The cultured Jew is the most heartless of all human beings (PW3 p87)
  7. The Jews should, like Ahasuerus, go under (PW3 p100)

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 balanced: whether a person is Chinese, a Negro, an American, an Indian or a Jew is to us a matter of complete indifference. Siegfried died in 1930, the same year as his mother. His English-born widow Winifred had already developed a close friendship with Hitler when he was still a young unknown, and she was largely responsible for Bayreuth's Nazi links.

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:

  • Wagner: Race and Revolution by Paul Lawrence Rose, who presented a view in which racial and anti-Semitic ideas were the driving force behind RW's creativity, even in Der fliegende Holländer. Many Wagner scholars vehemently oppose this view, in particular harshly criticising Rose's scholarship; see for example Stewart Spencer's review (Wagner, January 1995, pages 46-48).
  • Wagner and the Anti-Semitic Imagination by Marc Weiner, is a study of RW's anti-Semitism that has been met with hostility by many Wagnerians, although other Wagnerians, including the editor of this FAQ and also Anthony Arblaster in his review (Wagner, January 1996, pages 44-47), think that Weiner sheds light on some dark corners of RW's character.

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:

  • In Musik-Konzepte 5: Richard Wagner: wie antisemitisch darf ein Künstler sein?, ed. H-K. Metger and R. Riehn. Article entitled: 'Die Feuerkur des Richard Wagner oder die neue Religion der Erlösung durch Vernichtung', Munich 1978.
  • Richard Wagner: ein deutsches Thema: Eine Dokumentation zur Wirkungsgeschichte Richard Wagners 1876-1976, Frankfurt am Main 1976, Vienna 1983.
  • In Parsifal: Texte, Materialen, Kommentare, ed. A. Csampai and D. Holland. Articles entitled: 'Richard Wagners letzte Karte', 'Der verschwiegene Gehalt des Parsifal'. Hamburg 1984.

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:

  • Nuremberg Trial: Is There Anti-Semitism in Die Meistersinger?, in Cambridge Opera Journal, volume iii, 1991. Reprinted in The Wagner Compendium, London 1992.
  • Richard Wagner's Anti-Semitism, in the Musical Times, December 1996. Reprinted in Wagner, May 1997, vol. 18 no.2.

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.

E. Why does Siegmund sing the renunciation motif as he draws the sword from the tree?

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 Holiest Love's Deepest Distress, Wagner is attempting to draw our attention not to Siegmund's distress, but rather to the more far reaching distress of love itself, as it is threatened by the loveless machinations of Alberich.

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 itself. Later, during Siegmund's passionate affirmation of love, we are reminded of the curse under which love labors, and we are given a brief but grim foreshadowing of the fate in store for these lovers.

F. Why didn't Alberich use his ring to escape when he was captured by Wotan and Loge?

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 stock-exchange portfolio. Dieter Borchmeyer has commented: This comparison underlines the abstract power of an object that cannot be used in acts of physical violence, which explains why it can repeatedly be wrested from whoever happens to be wearing it... the ring grants its wearer power over the world only because it is a symbol, albeit one grounded in myth and magic. As the abstract basis of the possibility of accumulating capital, the ring may be capable of allowing its wearer to win 'the world's inheritance' and 'measureless might' ... but it can be stolen from its wearer with a minimum of cunning and force, just as any artful dodger can steal money, checkbooks, documents and credit cards from the most powerful capitalist in the world if the latter carries them around with him or her unprotected. [Drama and the World of Richard Wagner, tr. Daphne Ellis, Princeton, 2003, pages 171-2.]

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.

G. Why is Valhall set on fire at the end of the Ring cycle?

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.

H. Why didn't Wagner kill off Alberich?

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: Alberich is last seen at the end of [Gd II-i], having urged his son Hagen to persevere in the plot against Siegfried. Alberich has said that if Brünnhilde ever returned the ring to the Rhine Daughters, then 'no ruse could ever retrieve it'. Alberich presumably no longer poses a danger but he is the only major character to survive and whose whereabouts at the end is unknown. One doubts that his ambition and hatred are quenched.

I. Who are the Wagner family and how are they related to each other?

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).

J. Does anybody know the title of the helicopter tune in Apocalypse Now?

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.

K. What about Wagner's women?

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.

Minna painted by Alexander von Otterstedt

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.

Cosima painted by Franz von Lenbach

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.

Judith Gautier

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): All my women are now passing before my eyes. Whether Carrie was one of his women has been the subject of much speculation.

L. What is the name of the mortal woman who is mother to Siegmund and Sieglinde?

Mrs. Wälse is not named. Fricka refers to the mother of Siegmund and Sieglinde as a she-wolf: jetzt dem Wurfe der Wölfin wirfst du zu Füssen dein Weib? (W-2-ii).

Here Wagner is mixing his main Siegmund source, the Volsungasaga, with the story of the Wölfings. (Siegmund to Hunding: Ein Wölfing kündet dir das, den als Wölfing mancher wohl kennt, W-1-i). The main sources for this clan were the saga of Dietrich von Bern (Thidhrekssaga af Bern) and the Hugdietrich-Wolfdietrich poems.

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:

  1. A beginner usually wants a recording in excellent sound, therefore we should first consider modern, stereo, possibly digital recordings. The beginner might wish to explore historical recordings later on, but not first.
  2. A beginner would prefer to avoid recordings with distracting stage sounds or audience noise. Therefore many live recordings can be ruled out.
  3. All listeners prefer great singers over good singers, and would prefer not to listen to recordings with less good singers.
  4. If one begins with a recording that employs either unusually fast or unusually slow tempi, all subsequent recordings heard will sound either too slow or too fast in relation to one's first impression of the work.
  5. A beginner might not want to spend too much money, so we should consider recordings that might be available at a discount. Unfortunately this mitigates against recommending the very latest recordings.
  6. It would also be helpful if the first recording was packaged with a libretto, which the cheapest recordings usually lack.

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.

  • Der Ring des Nibelungen, studio recording, DECCA/London, 1964. Conductor: Sir Georg Solti. Vienna State Opera Chorus and Vienna Philharmonic. With Hans Hotter (R,S), George London (W), Birgit Nilsson, James King, Régine Crespin and Wolfgang Windgassen. Some consider the Götterdämmerung of this cycle to be not only the best Wagner recording ever, but the best recording of the 20th century. The Penguin Opera Guide comments, There is not a single weak link in the cast. Recently reissued after remastering. See the Wagner Books FAQ for books by John Culshaw, the producer of this recording. A beginner might also find useful the CD set, An Introduction to Der Ring des Nibelungen, in which Deryck Cooke introduces the leitmotives of this work, using musical examples from the Solti/Culshaw recording.
  • Dutchman, studio recording, Naxos, 1992. Conductor: Pinchas Steinberg. ORF Symphony Orchestra, Budapest Radio Chorus. With Alfred Muff, Ingrid Haubold, Erich Knodt and Peter Seiffert. A cheap and cheerful recording with libretto but no translation. Alternative also currently at budget price: Dorati on Decca/London, 1962, with London, Rysanek, Tozzi and Liebl, no libretto.
  • Lohengrin, studio recording, EMI, 1964. Conductor: Rudolf Kempe. Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Vienna State Opera Chorus. The Swan Knight is Jess Thomas. Also with Elisabeth Grümmer, Dietrich Fischer- Dieskau, Christa Ludwig (in a much-admired interpretation of Ortrud), Gottlob Frick and Otto Wiener. There are some imperfections in sound quality. Reissued on 3 CDs (and therefore usually cheaper than sets with 4 CDs). Alternative: Kubelik.
  • Tristan und Isolde, live recording, DGG, 1966. Conductor: Karl Böhm. Chorus and Orchestra of the Bayreuth Festival. Recorded in RW's Festival Theatre. With Wolfgang Windgassen and Birgit Nilsson in the title roles. Also with Christa Ludwig, Eberhard Waechter and Martti Talvela. Although the tempi are a little faster than usual (which allows each act to fit on a single CD) and the orchestral playing is not always perfect, this is widely regarded as one of the best Tristan recordings. There is no audience noise and very little stage noise. Recently reissued after remastering. For alternatives, see the new discography by J. Brown.
  • Parsifal, studio recording, Teldec, 1991. Conductor: Daniel Barenboim. Berlin State Opera Chorus and the Berlin Philharmonic. Parsifal is Siegfried Jerusalem, Kundry is Waltraud Meier, Gurnemanz is Matthias Hölle, Amfortas is José van Dam. Alternatively, the 1980 Bavarian Radio studio recording conducted by Rafael Kubelik. Parsifal is James King, Kundry is Yvonne Minton, Gurnemanz is Kurt Moll, Amfortas is Bernd Weikl. For other alternatives, see the online discography of complete recordings.
  • Mastersingers, studio recording, Arts Archives, 1967. Conductor: Rafael Kubelik. Chorus and Orchestra of Bavarian Radio. There is a broad consensus in the group that this is the all-round best recording of the opera. Hans Sachs is Thomas Stewart, Walther is Sandor Konya, Eva is Gundula Janowitz. Although the booklet contains a libretto, there is no translation.
  • Tannhäuser. There is a wide choice of CD recordings for the 'Dresden' (stage 1 and stage 2, variously mixed) versions of the score. There are also several CD recordings available of the Bayreuth version, which puts the 1861 Bacchanale into what is otherwise a 'Dresden' score. (The change to the 'Paris' score is made in the middle section of the Overture about where the curtain should rise; the 'Dresden' Venusberg returns with the singers). For the Bayreuth version the natural choice is the "studio" recording with Sawallisch conducting (with Windgassen, Silja, Waechter, Bumbry, Greindl). For the 'Paris' (stages 3-4) versions there is only one recording available that includes all of the revisions that Wagner made for Munich and Vienna: Solti conducting (with Kollo, Dernesch, Braun, Ludwig, Sotin).

N. How can I get inside the Palazzo Vendramin in Venice?

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.

O. What is the difference between the 'Liebestod' and 'Isolde's Transfiguration'?

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'.

P. When can I applaud at a performance of Parsifal?

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!

Q. What new productions are planned for the Bayreuth Festival?

The following productions have been announced:

  • 2010 Lohengrin
    Conductor: Andris Nelsons
    Stage director: Hans Neuenfels
    Set and costumes: Reinhard von der Thannen
    Chorus director: Eberhard Friedrich
    With: Jonas Kaufmann, Anette Dasch, Georg Zeppenfeld, Lucio Gallo, Evelyn Herlitzius, Samuel Youn.

Existing productions are phased out as new ones are introduced.

R. Who were the Herodias and Gundryggia referred to in Parsifal?

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.

S. Was Beckmesser based on Eduard Hanslick?

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 the greatest living dramatic talent. He sent Wagner his enthusiastic review of Tannhäuser, for which Wagner thanked him in a long letter of 1 January 1847. This was the beginning of a friendship that eventually collapsed under the weight of differences of opinion about musical aesthetics. Hanslick became increasingly critical of Wagner, who began to regard the critic if not as an enemy at least as no longer a friend. Hence the joking renaming of the Marker as "Veit Hanslich" in the second Prose Draft of Die Meistersinger.

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.

T. Is the name Wesendonk or Wesendonck?

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.

U. Was Wagner a Freemason?

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.

W. Was Wagner a Vegetarian?

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.

Y. Was Wagner's music played in the Nazi concentration camps?

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.

Z. What should I know before my first visit to the Bayreuth Festival?

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).


IV. Where can I find more information?

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:

  • At least one of the biographies, such as Millington's (in one volume) or Newman's (in four volumes). None of Wagner's biographers are infallible. Both Millington and Newman have their particular angles and prejudices.
  • Wagner Nights (UK title) or The Wagner Operas (US title) by Ernest Newman. Useful for information on the sources, text and music of the canonical works, but of limited assistance in understanding them.
  • Of Wagner's own writings, his Opera and Drama (Oper und Drama) of 1851 and The Art-Work of the Future (Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft) of 1849.
  • Either Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation (Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung), or any introductory text on Schopenhauer's philosophy (such as Michael Tanner's 54 page Schopenhauer in the series 'The Great Philosophers' from Phoenix Paperbacks).

ii. Wagner's writings

There have been two major editions of Wagner's writings in German, as follows:

  • Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen, 10 volumes, Leipzig 1871-83. The first edition of Collected Writings, prepared under RW's direct supervision.
  • Sämtliche Schriften und Dichtungen, 16 volumes, Leipzig 1911-1916. Currently it is the most complete edition of Wagner's prose and poetry.

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.

iii. Wagner's musical compositions

The critical edition of Wagner's compositions is:

  • Sämtliche Werke, 31 volumes, Mainz 1970-. Editor: Dr. Egon Voss.

The planned content of this at present incomplete edition is as follows:

  • Vol. I:      Die Feen
  • Vol. II:     Das Liebesverbot
  • Vol. III:    Rienzi
  • Vol. IV:     Der fliegende Holländer
  • Vol. V:      Tannhäuser (1845-1860)
  • Vol. VI:     Tannhäuser (1861-1875)
  • Vol. VII:    Lohengrin
  • Vol. VIII:   Tristan und Isolde
  • Vol. IX:     Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
  • Vol. X:      Das Rheingold
  • Vol. XI:     Die Walküre
  • Vol. XII:    Siegfried
  • Vol. XIII:   Götterdämmerung
  • Vol. XIV:    Parsifal
  • Vol. XV:     Unfinished stage works and insertion numbers
  • Vol. XVI:    Choral works
  • Vol. XVII:   Songs with piano accompaniment
  • Vol. XVIII:  Orchestral works
  • Vol. XIX:    Keyboard works
  • Vol. XX:     Arrangements
  • Vol. XXI:    Supplement (diverse)
  • Vol. XXII:   Text and documents: Die Feen, Das Liebesverbot
  • Vol. XXIII:  Text and documents: Rienzi
  • Vol. XXIV:   Text and documents: Der fliegende Holländer
  • Vol. XXV:    Text and documents: Tannhäuser
  • Vol. XXVI:   Text and documents: Lohengrin
  • Vol. XXVII:  Text and documents: Tristan und Isolde
  • Vol. XXVIII: Text and documents: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
  • Vol. XXIX:   Text and documents: Der Ring des Nibelungen
  • Vol. XXX:    Text and documents: Parsifal
  • Vol. XXXI:   Stage works without music

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:

  • Die Rote Brieftasche in Sämtliche Briefe, ed. G. Strobel and W. Wolf, 1967. Wagner's Red Pocketbook, containing his autobiographical notes for the years 1813 to 1839. Notes from later years were included in the Brown Book as the 'Annals'.
  • Das Braune Buch: Tagebuchaufzeichnungen, 1865 bis 1882, ed. Joachim Bergfeld, 1975. Wagner's diary and notebook, which he used at various times between 1865 and 1882. English translation by George Bird, 1980, as The Brown Book.
  • Cosima Wagner: Die Tagebücher 1869-1883, 2 vols. hardback, 4 vols. paperback. Edited by Martin Gregor-Dellin and Dietrich Mack, 1976-77. English translation in 2 volumes by Geoffrey Skelton, 1978-1980; out of print, but a condensed version is available in one volume.

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

  • Richard Wagner Archive Hannu Salmi's web site is a comprehensive source of information about RW and his works. In English and German.

ii. Web sites, synopses and online discographies

Jonathan Brown has put material from his discography of Tristan und Isolde online.

Other sources:

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

See under the heading 'Wagner' at Opera Glass. There are a few of Wagner's libretti (poems) at the German Gutenberg Project site.

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.

viii. Museums

  • Richard Wagner Museum at Haus Wahnfried, Bayreuth, Germany
  • Museum Rietberg (Villa Wesendonck) in Zürich. It was here that Wagner wrote most of the music to the second act of Siegfried, the outline for Parsifal and the poem of Tristan u. Isolde.

V. Acknowledgements and Copyright

This FAQ was created by and is maintained by Derrick Everett (parsifal@monsalvat.no). 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 © 2000-2020 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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