Richard Wagner and Festival Theatre

By Simon Williams | Go to book overview
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Chapter 6
The King's Friend

In April 1863, Wagner published the complete poem of the Ring-cycle, prefaced by an essay describing the ideal festival theatre in which he hoped the work would first be performed. Since such an institution had no chance of surviving in a commercial environment, he called for a German prince to serve as patron to the cause. "Will this Prince be found?" was the concluding question of the preface ( GSB, II, 132). This work was read by Crown-Prince Ludwig of Bavaria (Illustration 5), an idealistic, melancholy, and lonely young man, who, having read Opera and Drama at the age of twelve and seen Lohengrin at fifteen, had become the most fervent of Wagnerians. Ludwig was not especially musical, but he was inflamed by Wagner's vision of art as the salvation of the human race, which was being destroyed by its obsession with material gain. On 10 March 1864, when Ludwig was only eighteen, he ascended the throne of Bavaria. One of his first acts as king was to declare that he would be the royal patron whom Wagner was seeking. He therefore dispatched his Cabinet Secretary, Franz von Pfistermeister, to find the composer. Pfistermeister arrived in Vienna, only to discover that Wagner had taken flight from his creditors, so he followed the trail through Zurich to Stuttgart. On finding Wagner there, he issued him an instant summons to an audience with Ludwig.

The audience, which took place in Munich early in May 1864, left both men steeped in profound admiration, even adoration, for each other. Wagner offered Ludwig an artistic realm that seemed to realize tangibly his most incorporeal and mystical longings, while Ludwig provided Wagner


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