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Cosima Wagner

Cosima Wagner: The Lady of Bayreuth

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 354
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  • Book Info
    Cosima Wagner
    Book Description:

    In this meticulously researched book, Oliver Hilmes paints a fascinating and revealing picture of the extraordinary Cosima Wagner-illegitimate daughter of Franz Liszt, wife of the conductor Hans von Bülow, then mistress and subsequently wife of Richard Wagner. After Wagner's death in 1883 Cosima played a crucial role in the promulgation and politicization of his works, assuming control of the Bayreuth Festival and transforming it into a shrine to German nationalism. The High Priestess of the Wagnerian cult, Cosima lived on for almost fifty years, crafting the image of Richard Wagner through her organizational ability and ideological tenacity.

    The first book to make use of the available documentation at Bayreuth, this biography explores the achievements of this remarkable and obsessive woman while illuminating a still-hidden chapter of European cultural history.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16823-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    Oliver Hilmes

    Bayreuth in midsummer: a white-haired Wolfgang Wagner can be seen standing next to his wife, Gudrun, and their daughter, Katharina, in front of the Festspielhaus, while themes from his grandfather’s operas waft down from the open-air balcony and women in long dresses and men in dinner jackets mill all around the theatre. The international press has also assembled here. Music critics from all over the world are filing reports on the performances for their readers at home, and television crews are on hand to film the offstage spectacle. ‘Did you see last year’sParsifal?’ visitors can be heard whispering. ‘What...

  5. 1 A Childhood Without Parents (1837–55)
    (pp. 1-33)

    ‘From every side, Lake Como offers one of those delightful vistas that are unique to Italy’s northern lakes. Surrounded by elegantly arching mountains and luscious vegetation, the town extends picturesquely along a gently sloping valley at the southern edge of the western arm of Italy’s most beautiful lake, to which the town also gave its name. Along its shore and both to the north-east and north-west, the hills are clothed in vineyards and dotted with olive groves and clumps of chestnut trees, all of them shimmering with Italianate splendour in the bright golden sunlight.’¹ Thus Franz Girard begins his description...

  6. 2 A Marriage of Convenience (1855–64)
    (pp. 34-76)

    The Bülows are members of an aristocratic German family that can trace back its origins to the thirteenth century. The dynasty is said to have been founded by Gottfried von Bülow, who is described as a Mecklenburg knight in a document dating from around 1230. During the centuries that followed, the Bülows have brought forth an impressive roster of high-ranking soldiers, diplomats, politicians, writers and musicians, and a draughtsman and actor, Bernhard Victor Christoph Carl von Bülow, better known to German audiences as Loriot. Many members of the family have been well-to-do, while others have got by as best they...

  7. 3 Wagner (1864–83)
    (pp. 77-156)

    Wagner left the Villa Pellet on Lake Starnberg in October 1864 in order to settle in Munich, moving into a palatial villa at 21 Bienner Straße that was placed at his disposal by King Ludwig II. He was now living close to the Königsplatz, Munich’s most exclusive residential area, facing the Propyläen and Glyptothek, his new home being no less elegant than its surroundings: the two-storey mansion, with its characteristic bay at the front, offered its new occupant ample room to expand, while the park-like garden invited him to relax in the shade of its ancient trees. The focal point...

  8. 4 The First Lady of Bayreuth (1883–1900)
    (pp. 157-223)

    In the days after Wagner was buried, Cosima was almost literally paralysed by grief. Now forty-five years old, she had spent only a relatively short period of her life with Wagner, and yet her initial reaction to his death was to regard it as the end of her own existence: life without Wagner seemed inconceivable to her. She refused to see people, spurned the food that was set before her and rejected all offers of medical help, with the result that friends of the house feared, not without good reason, that she was placing her own life at risk. ‘I...

  9. 5 A New Era (1900–14)
    (pp. 224-284)

    In 1899 Berliners marked New Year’s Eve with particularly lavish celebrations. Crowds flocked in vast numbers to the Schloßplatz, where the memorial to Kaiser Wilhelm was floodlit and the guards’ artillery regiment fired a twentyone- gun salute at the stroke of midnight. In the euphoria of the moment, revellers forgot the arguments of the last few weeks over when the new century should in fact be ushered in: on the night of 31 December 1899 or not until twelve months later. ‘It is true’, ruminated theVossische Zeitung’s editorial writer, ‘that people have been arguing over the matter and that...

  10. 6 The Long End (1914–30)
    (pp. 285-311)

    The twenty-second Bayreuth Festival opened on the evening of Wednesday 22 July 1914 with Siegfried Wagner’s new production ofDer fliegende Holländer. At first glance everything was just as usual: bunting fluttered from the buildings in the town, the hotels and guest houses were all fully booked and the streets and restaurants were teeming with well-dressed patrons. And yet many visitors felt that the mood was apocalyptic.

    Less than a month had elapsed since the events in Sarajevo, a period that seemed in retrospect to be the calm before the storm. In spite of the fact that his...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 312-314)

    ‘For us, the death could not have been foreseen,’ Verena Wagner – nine at the time of her grandmother’s death – now recalls. ‘As always, we were at school – it was the first of April, after all, and when we got home, our nursemaid, Emma, came out to meet us and told us that Grandma had died. Our first response was “April Fool”. We didn’t believe her.’¹ When Verena’s parents returned to Wahnfried twenty-four hours later, they found the dead woman laid out in the salon at Wahnfried. The news of Cosima’s death had spread very quickly, and within...

  12. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 315-316)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 317-348)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 349-354)
  15. Index
    (pp. 355-366)