Revolutionary in Exile
Between completing Lohengrin and starting composition on The Ring of the Nibelungs, a nexus of public revolution and private crisis occurred in Wagner's life that changed his whole career and his position not only in the German theatre, but in German society as a whole.
The Karlsbad Decrees of 1819 had created a society in which individual rights were limited, economic opportunities exceptionally confined, and constitutional development stunted. A series of minor risings in 1830 had indicated the fragility of absolutist government in the various German states, all of which were still nominally independent. Widespread protests throughout German-speaking Europe did not erupt until early in 1848. Then, ignited by the February Revolution in Paris that led to the abdication of the French king, insurrection in Vienna first toppled Prince Klement Wenzel Metternich and later caused the abdication of the Austrian emperor in favor of his nephew. These events led to demonstrations and occasionally violent riots in various German states, though only in Berlin was there any serious bloodshed. The upshot of these civil disturbances was the introduction of a number of democratic measures and liberal ministers in various local state governments. The most significant immediate outcome of the 1848 revolution in Germany was the establishment of a National Assembly in Frankfurt, composed primarily of professionals and intellectuals representing the several German states. Ideally, the Assembly would bring political unity to Germany and thereby weaken the power of autocratic royalist government in each of the states. As conservative reaction to the revolution