Hans Von Bülow: A Life and Times

By Alan Walker | Go to book overview

Catastrophe in Munich,
1864–1869

You have no idea what has been going on. I could scarcely make
you comprehend verbally [let alone in a letter], the horror
and weirdness of what I have undergone.

—Bülow to Joachim Raff1


I

On March 10, 1864, Wagner’s declining fortunes experienced a dramatic reversal. Maximilian II of Bavaria died, and his eighteen-year-old son Ludwig ascended the throne. Ludwig was still a student, a romantic dreamer, more interested in music and theatre than in the military or politics— the usual enthusiasms for royalty. He was already a fervent admirer of Wagner. When he was thirteen years old, one of his private tutors had presented him with a copy of Wagner’s essay Opera and Drama. Fascinated by the Lohengrin saga, and especially by Wagner’s operatic treatment of it, the boy was thereafter on the lookout for anything that issued from Wagner’s pen. In 1863, a year before he became king, Ludwig got hold of one of the privately printed copies of Wagner’s poem of The Ring of the Nibelungen. The story held him in thrall; but it was the preface that compelled his immediate attention. There Ludwig read of Wagner’s despair at the impossibility of finding a German theatre capable of mounting such complexities as were to be found in his tetralogy. To be sure there were gifted singers in Germany, Wagner wrote, but they were scattered around various theatres; and the stage designers and machinists, required to solve mechanical problems not yet faced by any opera house, would have to be trained afresh if they were to help bring his gigantic conception to fruition. Then came the prophetic words that had for months pursued Ludwig like some Hound of Heaven. Only a German prince, with an interest in the

1. BB, vol. 4, p. 143.

-115-

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