Academic journal article The Beethoven Newsletter

Wagner's Beethoven: A Posthumous Pilgrimage to Beethoven in 1840

Academic journal article The Beethoven Newsletter

Wagner's Beethoven: A Posthumous Pilgrimage to Beethoven in 1840

Article excerpt

I. Introduction: Wagner's Credo

In 1841, while living in Paris, Wagner penned the following remarkable and fervent artistic Credo:

I believe in God, Mozart and

Beethoven, and also in their

disciples and apostles.

I believe in the Holy Ghost and in

the truth of the invisible Art.

I believe that An proceeds from

God and lives in the hearts of all

enlightened men.

I believe that whosoever has once

revelled in the lofty enjoyments of

this high Art will be her devotee

forever and can never deny her.

I believe that all can become

blessed through Art, and that,

therefore, everybody should be

permitted to die of starvation for

her sake.

I believe that I shall be highly

beatified through death.

I believe that I was a discord on

earth which through death shall

be resolved in purity.

I believe in a last judgement

which will condemn terribly all

those who have dared to practice

usury in this world with that high

and chaste An, those who prosti

tuted and dishonored her through

the depravity of their hearts and

vile greed for sensuality!

I believe that all such evil doers

will be condemned to listen to

their own music for all eternity.

Yet I believe that the faithful

disciples of this high An will be

transfigured, clad in heavenly

garments of sunny and scented

melodies, and will be united with

the divine source of all harmony

forever and aye.1

The prayer, an intentionally sacrilegious rewrite of Roman Catholicism's Apostle's Creed, falls from the mouth of the dying musician who is the central character in Wagner's 1840 oddly uplifting novella, A Pilgrimage to Beethoven, and its roundly depressing conclusion from 1841, An End in Paris. While it may seem strange to begin this exploration of the first novella at the end of the second, Wagner's 1841 Credo - with its emphasis on the inseparable fusion of art and religion in the new trinity of God, Mozart and Beethoven; its insistence on "High Art" and physical poverty accompanied by spiritual and artistic wealth; and finally its disdain for usurious musicians who prostitute themselves for the sake of sensuality - all of these serve as apt introduction to Wagner's straightforwardly autobiographical tale.

II. Wagner's Beethoven writings

Wagner's novella is relatively unknown today to most Beethoveners and even, I will hazard to suppose, to some Wagnerians. The first of three novellas composed in 1840 and 1841, Eine Pilgerfahrt zu Beethoven was translated into English in 1896 by Otto Weyer and published in Chicago in 1897 by the Open Court Publishing Company. A second English translation appeared in 1898 in volume seven of the eight-volume English translation of Wagner's prose works prepared by William Ashton Ellis.2 The novella has had its own fascinating reception history: as one example, during World War II copies were distributed to German soldiers, in an 2 1/2 inch by 3 1/2 inch format, as part of a series of inspirational books intended to boost and maintain morale.

Wagner began to write about Beethoven in 1840 at the age of thirty-seven and continued until 1873, when he was sixty. His most widely circulated, famous, and famously impenetrable work is the monograph Beethoven, which appeared in 1870 to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Beethoven's birth.3 The essay is so convoluted, thanks to the influence of Schopenhauer,4 that Wagner's young friend Friedrich Nietzsche reported that a fellow professor from Basel had asked him whether the essay was wrtten "against Beethoven."5 (Nietzsche also returned a copy of the essay to Wagner with the judgment that he thought few people would be able to follow Wagner in it.6) In the preface, which is vintage Wagner in its flourishing sense of self-importance, he explains:

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