|Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt
|The golden age of Bayreuth had seemingly past when someone came along who roused it from its
slumber. The grand opera house in Bayreuth, with its large stage, proved so appealing that it was not
long before Leipzig-born composer Richard Wagner eyed the theater as a suitable possibility in which
to stage his lavish and imaginative works.
Wagner traveled to the town in 1871, and liked it very much, but found that the opera house was not
quite suitable for his needs. However, when the Mayor of Bayreuth offered him a piece of real estate
on the “Grüner Hügel” and King Ludwig II pledged generous financial support, Wagner decided to
relocate to Bayreuth and build an opera house of his own, to be called the Festspielhaus.
Wagner's beloved Wahnfried Villa was partially destroyed by the impact of a firebomb. A large
reception room and the stage above entirely exploded into flames. Fortunately, the library of Richard
Wagner was removed two weeks beforehand, or it would have also been the victim of the flames as
so many cultural treasures were. Only the front of the house is original, the side has been rebuilt.
The Ring of the Nibelungen was the first opera to be performed. The Festspielhaus remains to this
day the site of the annual Wagner Festival. Haus Wahnfried was the composer’s former home and in
its rebuilt form is now the Wagner Museum. In front of the house stands a statue of King Ludwig II
and the in the rear lie the graves of Wagner, his wife Cosima, the daughter of Franz Liszt, Liszt
himself and their dog.
There is also a Franz Liszt museum in Bayreuth devoted to the work of Wagner’s father-in-law. The
pediment of Wagner's residence is engraved with: "Here, where my illusions found peace thus,
Wahnfried, I name this house."
The greatest pianist of his time, Franz Liszt, 1811- 1886, composed some of the most difficult piano
music ever written. Liszt invented the term 'sinfonische Dichtung' ('symphonic poem') for orchestral
works. Liszt, spelled List originally, was born in the Austrian village of Raiding.
He had a loving Austrian mother and his father, a Hungarian of ethnic German descent working at
the court of music patron Count Esterhazy, started his son on his first music lessons when he was six
years old. Local aristocrats noticed his talent and paid a scholarship so that he was able to go to
Vienna and then Paris. In Vienna he was educated in piano technique by Czerny and Salieri. He
formed an early friendship with Chopin, but they later became rivals. After moving to Paris he
moved in the intellectual circles of the day, and had 3 children with his live-in companion, writer
Marie Catharine Sophie de Flavigny (pen name Daniel Stern). From 1840 to 1841, he gave concert
tours in England which flopped and put his finances in disarray.
In 1847, Liszt met author Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein and he lived with her until his
death, unable to marry her because her husband was alive and the Catholic church forbade a divorce.
She wrote prolifically, and her work on gypsy music intrigued Liszt, who later composed the
Hungarian Rhapsodies which appeared as a set of nineteen pieces based on a form of art music
familiar in Hungary fostered by gypsy musicians. Liszt's symphonic poems met strong criticism from
champions of "pure" of music, and they ridiculed his attempts to translate the greatest works of
literature into music. In 1848, Liszt gave up public performances on the piano and went to Weimar,
where he stayed until 1861 as conductor at court concerts and on special occasions at the theater. He
also gave piano lessons, one of his students being Hans von Bulow who married Liszt's daughter
Cosima. An intense Catholic, Liszt retired to Rome in 1861 and joined the Fransciscan order in 1865.
Lizst's daughter Cosima left the abusive von Bulow for Richard Wagner in 1869, and although
Wagner troubled him, Lizst still championed Wagner's music. Liszt then taught in Budapest for a
time. He died in Bayreuth four years after the death of his son-in-law Wagner at his daughter's house
on July 31,1886.
|Richard Wagner - Lohengrin - Prelude