Cosima Wagner: The Lady of Bayreuth
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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.
von Bülow, Hans von Bülow in Leben und Wort (note 4), 280. 6. Quoted by Marie von Bülow, Bülow: Briefe (note 2), vii.379–80. 7. Edith Stargardt-Wolff, Wegbereiter großer Musiker (Berlin 1954), 71. 8. See Isolde Vetter, ‘Hans von Bülows Irrfahrt durch die Medizin: Mit Briefen und anderen unveröffentlichten Zeugnissen aus seinem letzten Lebensjahr’, Südthüringer Forschungen 28: Beiträge zum Kolloquium Hans von Bülow, Leben, Wirken und Vermächtnis (Meiningen 1994), 100–18. 9. La Mara (ed.),
children back with him. But after four days the girls moved to Berlin, while Daniel remained in Paris, completing his education. ‘Blandine and Cosima are submitting willingly to their fate,’ Anna Liszt informed her son at the end of September. ‘They’ve written to tell me that you’ve promised to visit them in Berlin this winter, they are looking forward to seeing you and live in hope that you’ll come.’84 Initially, everything was terribly strange and unfamiliar. Above all, the two young women
no other did, my finest teacher and tutor. – I shall do all in my power to repay you for this! – Oh, how I have looked forward to the time when I should be able to do this! – I scarcely dared entertain the hope that I should so soon be in a position to prove my love to you.105 The story of the misanthropic king and his charismatic favourite composer began as a fairytale. But is that really what it was? Scarcely. Even the term ‘friendship’ seems ill suited to describing their complicated
finally, of political influence. If Bayreuth became a magnet for the ultra-right in the early years of the twentieth century, this was because of a shift in political emphasis in the reception of Wagner’s works. And it was Cosima who determined the direction that this development took, so that the cult of Wagner became the cult of an aggressive German nationalism. To that extent neither anti-Semitism nor Hitler nor all that he stood for came out of the blue in the Bayreuth of the 1920s. Brigitte
Wagner’s… . But how will this affect Bülow?’ he wondered. ‘Has he abandoned his wife entirely to Wagner as part of some ultra-romantic deal?’49 Involuntary Exile Following his expulsion from Bavaria, Wagner resumed his life of aimless wandering, calling for longer or shorter periods in Berne, Vevey, Lyons, Toulon, Hyères, Marseilles and Geneva. Meanwhile, one annoyance followed another with remorseless implacability. In early January a newspaper reported that he was allowing his wife Minna to