Wagner, Richard Wilhelm
From the time that work was begun on the Nibelungen to the putting it down finished twenty-three years are counted. When the monumental task at last neared completion Wagner's mind dwelt on a special theatre essential to proper presentation of the Tetralogy, and frequently discussed ideals and means with his friends. One of these, the gifted Carl Tausig, conceived the idea of a Society of Patrons, which, it was hoped, would be of such power and enthusiasm as to insure a large sum for the longdreamed-of festival playhouse. Then Emil Heckel, of Mannheim, started a Wagner Society, beginning a movement that spread to the far ends of the musical world; Wagner Societies from all over the Old World and generously from the New sending funds toward forwarding the work. More than once Wagner in his struggles and failures had thought of trying his fortunes in America. It is of certain interest to note that in 1875 an American city, Chicago, came to the fore with expression of desire for the honor of the first Nibelung Festival. For the celebration of the American Centennial at Philadelphia in 1876 Wagner was commissioned to write a composition, and sent the Centennial March, a work that suggests "written to order." Bayreuth was the place selected for the building of the theatre Wagner favored, because it was near the center of Germany and was a Bavarian town. In 1872 he removed there from Triebschen, and on May 22, 1872, his fiftyninth birthday, the laying of the foundation stone of the new theatre was celebrated, the occasion made doubly memorable by a splendid performance of Beethoven's Choral Symphony, Wagner's Kaisermarsch also being given. Land for the theatre was donated by Bayreuth, and also ground on which to establish a home; and in the little Franconian town Wagner built the now famous " Wahnfried." Though the years at Wahnfried were happy ones on the whole, the period was by no means free from strife and strain, these seeming to attend him as long as he lived. In raising the needed funds for the theatre, he aided the work of the societies by conducting concerts in various musical centers, himself, friends and patrons working with unabated zeal; but these efforts came against apathy and enmity, a lack of national interest, and a hostile press. Again and again was the festival delayed, Germany being slow to help the son, who with Weber may be said to have created German Opera. But King Ludwig could not see the project fail and saved the day by advancing the sum of 200,000 marks. At last the Festival was announced. At Bayreuth, in August, 1876, Der Ring des Nibelungen was given in its entirety, Hans Richter conducting, and nearly every great operatic artist in Germany aiding- in the performance.
But the first Festival was attended by a heavy financial loss, a deficit of about $35,000. A series of concerts in London was undertaken to repair the loss, which notable series was given at Albert Hall during the month of May, 1877, selections from all of his operas being presented. Some money was realized from these concerts, but the greater part of the deficit was made up by a season of the Ring at Munich. Previous to the London visit the poem of Parsifal was written; on return to Bayreuth work was begun on the music, and mention may be made of an interesting series of essays that appeared during this period in the Bayreuth Blatter. Work on the Parsifal music progressed but slowly, interrupted by failing health, and, strangely, by the indifference of the German public. The Parsifal music did not reach completion until January, 1882, being finished during a winter sojourn in Italy. Of the friends that came to the support of the Parsifal Festival, attention should be called to Hans von Bülow, who testified to his belief in the " Music of the Future " by the gift of $10,000. King Ludwig again gave his powerful aid. Others sent in generous contributions. At Bayreuth, July, 1882, a great festival production of Parsifal was given under Wagner's supervision, this event being the climax of his career.
The days of struggle being finally at an end, now a goodly income was assured, and unquestioned recognition at last won. But, following the strain of work on Parsifal and the excitement of its production, Wagner's health was much impaired, and an early start was made for a sojourn in the south, which he had been wont to find so refreshing. Early in the fall the household moved to Venice, and there, in the Palace Vendramin, the last months were passed. Old ailments had returned and there were increasing symptoms of heart trouble. He worked up to the end, however, and alternated the hours of labor with the customary enjoyment of family life, hours of ease at home or gondola excursions with wife and children. Liszt was with him part of the time, but left in January, and one month later, Feb. 13, 1883, Wagner closed his eyes on the tempest of life. In death all honor was paid him; Venice offered silent sympathy as the black gondolas passed from the Palace. All Bayreuth was in mourning at the sad home-coming. King and humblest citizen gave tribute to the great dead, as he was laid to rest in a corner of the garden at Wahnfried.