Wagner, Richard Wilhelm

Wagner's time was now divided between brooding over projects of reform, both in the state and theatre, and work on opera and sketch. It was in these days that he completed Lohengrin, wrote a series of historical essays and prepared the greater part of the text of Gotterdammerung. The last part of his service at the Dresden Opera was marked by humiliations very hard to bear; he could not get Lohengrin produced, and proposals for reform at the theatre were ridiculed by the court. Reference is not infrequently made to Wagner as a " revolutionist in behalf of the theatre." Whatever the impelling motive, there is proof that he took part in the progress of events; before a meeting of Radicals made a speech that called down upon him police reprimand, and had active part in the rioting of May, 1849. When the Prussian soldiers took possession of Dresden his friend Roeckel was among those seized and imprisoned, but Wagner succeeded in escaping. He found his way to Weimar, and here Liszt, " who was producing Tannhauser as serenely as though there were no such things as revolutions in the world," befriended him ably. When word came that a warrant was out for his arrest, instant effort was made to assist him in further flight; Liszt gave him money, a passport under an assumed name was secured, and Wagner got safely out of the country. He hastened to Zurich, later going to Paris. There, meeting nothing but discouragement in regard to his operas and for his plan of a series of articles on Art and Revolution, he turned his back on the French capital and returned to the hospitable shelter of Zurich.

After a few months of separation Minna Wagner was enabled to rejoin her husband, generous Liszt making the journey possible. But close upon rejoicing over the arrival of his wife Wagner found reunion resulting in added perplexity. Minna  could give her husband no sympathy in his highflown ideas, dreams to her fantastic, baseless of great operas and opera reform; she urged him to try something popular for the French stage, to aim for what the people liked. In response to such urging from both friends and wife he set to work on a pot-boiler, Wieland, the Smith, and when the sketch was in shape went to Paris to make effort at getting it accepted. Finding no encouragement, again he came back to Zurich, where he was destined to spend the chief part of his twelve years of exile. When word arrived, soon after his return from Paris, that Liszt was to give at Weimar a production of Lohengrin, Wagner rashly planned to present himself at Weimar for the event; but Liszt forbade the risk. Presently news came that the first appearance of Lohengrin, August 28, 1850, was given to an audience on the whole sympathetic and appreciative and that Liszt purposed to present the work again and again. In addition to this effort in Wagner's behalf the famous virtuoso wrote a long analytical essay on the opera, which attracted wide attention; public interest in Lohengrin was awakened, and the opera houses in the German cities opened their doors to the work which was to become the most widely popular of all operas. Concerning the debt owed Liszt by Wagner, Finck declares Liszt gave the first impulse to the Wagner movement. The friendship that existed between Liszt and Wagner belongs to the roll of great friendships, their correspondence covering a period of thirty years and being the story of true comradeship, of rare sympathy and affection. The history of Wagner's early years in exile is concerned especially with his literary efforts. He had decided to write no more operas because of the impossibility of their getting proper presentation; for even in his poverty and unpopularity he would not lower his requirements of artists and stage-setting. For six years he did not write a note of music, but in place of operas produced the five theoretical works: Art and Revolution, Art and Climate, Art Work of the Future, Opera and Drama, Communication to my Friends, and Judaism in Music. Finck analyzes the value of these essays and books thus: "With the exception of the last part of Opera and Drama these writings are not among Wagner's best literary productions, and some of them are so dry, abstruse and uninteresting that only an enthusiast for his operas could ever be expected to work his way through them from beginning to end."