Another website dedicated to Richard Wagner ? Certainly, yes… but why ?
With these two words, and on these two words – a first name and a last name, Richard Wagner – apparently everything has been said and written. Or even anything. And even those who admit to not knowing anything about the multiple facets of the artist (a musician, conductor, essayist and even philosopher, theorist, stage director and even architect, and of course especially genius composer) have their own opinions; peremptory opinions, hurled with profound conviction, for the subjects who can provoke hostile reactions are not lacking: a composer of never-ending operas of which one cannot understand anything, neither the music nor the libretto, a woolly theorist who one day appointed himself as the father of the « Music of the Future » (it says it all!), a composer who prefigured an aesthetic exploited by the Nazis, the creator of a festival in a small village in Bavaria (Bayreuth) for which – the ultimate snobbery! – one has to wait more than ten years to be let in…
In short, a jumble of misconceptions transmitted from generation to generation, and which were born at the very time when the composer presented his works to the public: a public that was enthusiastic to the point of being outright passionate in the face of hostile detractors determined to put an end to the advent of this music considered dangerous, that shook up the codes of this very conservative 19th century. Clearly, with Wagner and his work, it is a matter of passion and enthusiasts. It is loved to the point of veneration or hated and rejected completely.
Yet, it is admitted by all, admirers or detractors, there has been a « before » and an « after » Richard Wagner. A true revolution. It has been said that Richard Wagner was the most written about character, after Karl Marx and Jesus! Among these works devoted to him, some are true Bibles; others hastily and insidiously report fallacious arguments – so many errors, approximations and subjective comments in analyses that nevertheless claim to be objective.
With the advent of the Internet – which lists more than a hundred websites devoted to the life or work of the composer – all kinds of conflicting statements have been published; the sources of information – sometimes even contradictory – reveal certain superficial or subjective approaches, or even shortcuts established quite quickly between the events in the composer’s life and his posterity.
So, what are the stakes of this unprecedented website?
From serious references, our goal is to provide some possible answers, food for thought on the positive and negative dogmas that surround the Wagnerian legend.
We will highlight, as students-researchers, complex issues but that are treated in a comprehensible way by all, and serve on a platter (via the Internet) all of the author-director work that we offer to carry out.
Incidentally, his autobiography, dictated during his lifetime by Wagner to his wife Cosima, who put down in writing the sacred words and formulas of the husband she venerated almost as much as god, a one of a kind work, didn’t the author call it My Life (Mein Leben) ?
For, when he began to create, write and publish his autobiography, Wagner, who had reached the age of maturity, was aware that his personal life – at the very least extraordinary and worthy of a true adventure novel – had been so exceptional that it could only have influenced his artistic creation.
Endowed with a passionate character, this uncomparable composer was sometimes also an engaged politician, sometimes a revolutionary; he was a passionate lover who fed on the despair of the impossible love given to a married woman, Mathilde Wesendonck, to compose Tristan and Isolde ; he was a friend of the people whom he rubbed shoulders with in the breweries of Munich; he was a friend and a confidant of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who greatly supported the production of his operas; he was an aesthete who only wished to live in luxury, and who all his life had to flee creditors and bailiffs; he was a friend of philosophers – Nietzsche to take one example, formerly the brother, later the sworn enemy – with whom he conversed and theorized; he was the first (and the only one in the history of music) to consider that his work could be decently staged only in a theatre specially designed and built for him.
And the contemporaries that the artist bumped into through chance encounters, whether they were fascinated or irritated by this character, are among the most illustrious figures of his time: from Queen Victoria to Catulle Mendes, from Bismarck to Charles Baudelaire, and so many others…
And all, in one way or another, inspired either the characters of the composer’s operas or the problems and situations at the root of the librettos that these same operas produce on the stages of theatres around the world.
This obvious, fascinating and intrinsic link between Richard Wagner’s life and his artistic creations is what we offer to highlight through this new website entirely dedicated to the German composer.
A biography that we want to make as complete as possible, almost on a daily basis, will expose the events that marked the life of Richard Wagner, from his formation and his first musical clashes – due among others to Beethoven and Weber – to his political adventures that made him an exile, eternally wandering and discovering France, Italy, Switzerland in an endless flight, and his encounters with the crowned heads. All this favoured his recognition among the artists and philosophers with whom he exchanged many letters and who shaped both his thought and his mode of artistic expression. A life made of incessant torments, struggles, a life that had a considerable importance on the artist’s creation.
Outside of these factual elements, delivered in complete impartiality and without any personal judgment, gleaned from the biographical writings of Wagner himself, from the diary of his wife Cosima, as well as from the testimonies written by the close relations of the artist during his lifetime, inserts will allow us to question the main themes that are at the very foundation of the art of this genius of the 19th century, and we will try to find the links between the artistic, political, theological or even socio-economic positions of the composer and the way he exalted them in order to expose them on stage….
Richard Wagner, a life, a work.
A life that explains a work.
A work that we try here to explain by a life…. through a collaborative website accessible to all.