, Cosima

lived in Berlin until the composer invi- ted them to join him in and assist him in perfor- mances of his works. It was in Munich that Cosima von Bülow left her husband, joining Richard Wagner in Trib- schen near in in 1868. They subse- quently married and in 1872 they moved with their child- ren to where Richard Wagner was planning his festival theatre. This opened in 1876 and since then has been devoted exclusively to Richard Wagner’s works. Co- sima Wagner remained resident in Bayreuth until her death.


The background and biography of the “Mistress of Bay- reuth”, the “Keeper of the Grail” or “Meisterin”, as Cosi- ma Wagner was variously called, were sensational. Her birth was the result of a love affair between the Countess Marie d’Agoult and the famous pianist and composer . She herself rushed into an ill-considered marriage with the conductor Hans von Bülow in 1857 (“how it came about that we married is something I still don’t know … the wedding happened without any mood, motion or consideration on my part”). She wrote articles for a French newspaper, played the piano (although an excellent pianist, she never performed in public), atten- ded concerts, operas and plays, and was not merely high- ly gifted artistically, but also very interested in cultural matters. Then the composer Richard Wagner fell in love , Brustbild von unbekanntem Fotograf, o. D. with Cosima – 24 years his junior – and she reciproca- ted. The ensuing years were agonizing, as she was still of- Cosima Wagner ficially von Bülow’s wife and was the mother of his two Birth name: Cosima Francesca Gaetana de Flavigny children (Daniela and Blandine). Whereas Peter Wap- Merried name: Cosima Francesca von Bülow newski claims that “This nun shunned sensuality as the devil would avoid holy water”, Robert Gutman invented * 24 December 1837 in Bellassio, Königreich Lombardei the myth of her “highly strung sexuality”. She presumab- [heute: Bellagio, Italien] ly never rid herself of her feelings of guilt for her betrayal † 1 April 1930 in Bayreuth, of Hans von Bülow. During this time she gave birth to a daughter, Isolde, and although Wagner was the father Chronicler of Richard Wagner, director of the Bayreuth she was named von Bülow for reasons of decorum. Cosi- Festival and opera director ma had to mediate for Wagner in Munich in his dealings Cities an countries with King Ludwig II (who was financing him), and she es- sentially ran two households. Wagner was renting a hou- Cosima Wagner, née de Flavigny was the illegitimate se in near Lucerne, where she joined him per- daughter of Countess Marie d’Agoult (née de Flavigny) manently in 1868 and where their daughter Eva and son and the composer and pianist Franz Liszt. She grew up were born. The latter was only baptized after in Paris, living with Liszt’s mother. After a period of resi- Cosima had officially divorced in 1870, so that he might dence in , Liszt sent her to Franziska von Bülow, bear the name “Wagner”. In that same year, Cosima and the mother of his student the pianist, composer and con- Richard married. In 1872 the family moved from Trib- ductor Hans von Bülow. Hans and Cosima married and schen to Bayreuth, where Wagner founded his festival

– 1 – Wagner, Cosima theatre, built with the help of donations. It was inaugura- Bayreuth into an event of worldwide stature. As Stephan ted in 1876 with the world première of the Ring of the Ni- Mösch has convincingly argued, Cosima’s direction tea- belung. After Richard Wagner’s death in 1883, Cosima sed out the timeless, symbolic aspects of the works, and took charge of the Festival herself, only handing it over in the process occasionally went beyond Wagner’s own to her son Siegfried in 1906 on account of ill health. Cosi- production instructions. We can hear this in Hans Knap- ma’s great cultural, historical achievement lay in her ma- pertsbusch’s early recording of The flying Dutchman; he nagement of the Festival. As early as 1884 she drew up a had been an assistant in Bayreuth from 1909 to 1912, five-year festival plan, and began to direct operas there and was therefore well acquainted with Cosima Wagner’s herself in 1886. She displayed unprecedented energies in ideas. At the end of the duet in the second act, Wagner this task, achieved performances of high quality, and the- makes a kind of “cut” in which he has Daland appear, dis- reby ensured the survival of the Festival as an instituti- turbing the couple. Knappertsbusch ignores this, howe- on. She became a kind of “model widow” who adopted ver, instead using the first measures of the allegro vivace the ideology of her husband entirely, including his anti- as a continuation of the duet. He would surely not have Semitic shortcomings. dared to do this without Cosima Wagner’s example. And She assumed full control in 1886 with her production of with her cuts to , which she directed in Berlin, Cosi- Tristan, even designing the sets, determining the lighting ma succeeded in turning “the historical, colossal tableau and all other details – though she consistently adhered into a timeless symbol”. It was her overall endeavour to to the ideas behind the two productions in Munich in maintain Wagner’s staging ideas as much as possible on 1865 and Berlin in 1876 that Wagner had himself plan- the one hand, while emphasizing the symbolic, cultic, uni- ned. Above and beyond this, she made an intensive study versal aspects of the action on the other. In 1906, ill he- of the scores and applied her own observations of the sta- alth prompted her to pass on the directorship of the Festi- ge design and the manner of singing and acting. To inter- val to her son Siegfried. Her tireless advocacy of Richard pret this as obstinacy, as is stated in her biographies, me- Wagner’s oeuvre led Berlin University to award her an rely demonstrates that her gender stood in the way of her honorary doctorate in 1910. Isolde, her first child by Wag- success from the very start. After the performances of ner, began legal proceedings in 1913 in order to ensure in 1888, it was clear that the Festival was both a the position of her own son Franz Wilhelm Beidler as a stable institution and a major force in Germany whose fu- possible heir to Bayreuth. But Cosima denied that Wag- ture was no longer in doubt. In 1886, a modern cyclora- ner was her father, and refused to receive Isolde. Cosima ma system was considered but not introduced. However, made Siegfried the sole heir to the Wagner dynasty, and in 1898 Cosima decided to collaborate with the set desig- was able to do so because Wagner himself had left no ner Max Brückner to create new sets to replace the “ma- will. She also went about collecting all possible docu- gic garden” in the second act of Parsifal that had so de- ments, letters and other materials on Richard Wagner, lighted Wagner himself. In 1891, Cosima took on the task though she purged these by committing unwelcome docu- of producing Tannhäuser, and tracked down everything ments to the flames (including her own correspondence that had even the slightest connection with the work. Lo- with Richard, his correspondence with Mathilde Wesen- hengrin was performed in 1894 and was well-received in donck and with his first wife Minna). Her collection for- the press. These were followed in 1901 by The flying med the basis of the archives in the Villa , Dutchman, though Cosima by no means took the Munich most of which were later transferred to the Richard Wag- production of 1864 as her model – for the preparations ner National Archive through the creation of a foundati- for that production had not been complete by the time of on. Cosima and her son Siegfried died within several its performance. Instead, she applied her own interpreta- weeks of each other in 1930. tive ideas to the production. In 1906, Cosima produced a Appreciation new version of her Tristan staging. According to Fabian Kern, the sources reveal that she indeed dared to venture Cosima’s great cultural achievement lay in drawing up a into the realm of the Modern. She did not restrict herself five-year plan for the Festival as early as 1884 – i.e. just merely to copying old productions, but was open to new one year after Richard Wagner’s death – and her own sta- things. ging of operas there from 1886 onwards. She displayed Over the space of 23 years, Cosima’s hard work resulted unprecedented energies in her task, achieved performan- in a total of 220 performances that enabled her to turn ces of high quality and thereby ensured the survival of

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the Festival as an institution. lished. Hundreds of unpublished letters are held primari- ly by the Richard Wagner National Archive in Bayreuth, Reception but are also scattered across numerous other libraries The image of Cosima Wagner is still characterized to an and archives. Whereas, for example, research into Ro- equal degree by hagiography on the one hand and hate- bert and Clara Schumann has made progress with the re- ful tirades on the other. Thus we find her both placed on gular publication of volumes of their letters, research has a pedestal, idealized and venerated, as in du Moulin-Eck- stagnated in Bayreuth, despite the sources held there. An art, in Mollenkovitch-Morold and in the right-wing, con- edition of Cosima’s letters to her friend, the Countess Ma- servative adherents of the Bayreuther Blätter and their rie von Schleinitz, for example, would undoubtedly be of cohorts; but we also find her stylized as a hard, power- interest to research. conscious woman possessed of a “masochistic personali- Cosima Wagner’s anti-Semitism finds extreme expressi- ty disorder”. In other words, she has been pathologized, on in her private letters, though it remains a matter of de- as for example in Oliver Hilmes’s biography of her (Hil- bate whether it was intensified by Richard Wagner or mes 2007, p. 160). Hilmes barely pays attention to Cosi- whether it was present from her own childhood and you- ma Wagner’s real achievement – the continuation of the th onwards. It will take a long time for the unhappy pola- . According to him, she afforded her wi- rization of Cosima – veneration on the one hand, con- dowhood a “theatrical” intensification (Hilmes 2007, S. tempt on the other – to lead to a less one-sided depicti- 280). Her almost slavish readiness to give herself to Wag- on. The original feminist impulse according to which wo- ner and to follow him is a reflection of her having interna- men are always victims is, however, obsolete, and must lized the role of woman as was accepted at the time. But make way for further research. her desire to maintain Wagner’s heritage was also a sour- Authority control ce of inspiration to her, for as a talented musician herself she had recognized the extraordinary potential of this ar- Virtual International Authority File (VIAF): tist, who holds a unique position in music history. http://viaf.org/viaf/39385271 Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (GND): Research http://d-nb.info/gnd/118628232 The most important research site is currently the Ri- Library of Congress (LCCN): chard Wagner National Archive in Bayreuth, which holds http://lccn.loc.gov/n50021342 letters, writings, pictures, autographs and other material Author(s) from the possession of the , along with ap- propriate documentation. The Bavarian State Library in Eva Rieger, 31 July 2014 Munich however, also holds important material, inclu- Editing status ding the Gravina archives and archives from figures in Wagner’s circle. In 1935, Cosima Wagner’s daughter Eva Editorial staff: Regina Back, (deutsche Fassung) Chamberlain gave her mother’s comprehensive diaries to Meredith Nicollai, (English version) the city of Bayreuth as a “gift to the Richard Wagner me- Translation: Chris Walton morial institution”, though with rigorous restrictions per- First edit 02/09/2014 taining to access. The period of embargo ran out in 1972, Last edit 25/04/2018 and the diaries were published in 1976. They are among the most important sources for Wagner research. mugi.hfmt-hamburg.de Forschungsprojekt an der Need for Research Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg It would be desirable for future biographical work on Co- Projektleitung: Prof. Dr. Beatrix Borchard sima to pay closer attention to her achievements as an Harvestehuder Weg 12 opera director. From a gender perspective, there is a lack D – 20148 Hamburg of a new biography that would link and contextualize Co- sima Wagner’s restorative philosophy with her concur- rent readiness to abandon societal conventions. Only a small portion of her correspondence has been pub-

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