Sunday, 28 August 2016


Today’s Quote of the Day comes to us from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, a one time ardent admirer (and later detractor) of 19th century romantic composer and fellow countryman Richard Wagner:

“And those who were seen dancing
were thought to be insane
by those who could not hear the music.”

-Friedrich Nietzsche

This month[1] Wagnerites around the globe observed the 146th wedding anniversary of German romantic composer Richard Wagner to one frau Liszt Cosima: illegitimate daughter of prolific pianist Franz, and adulteress formerly wed to famed conductor Hans von Bülow.

Richard Wagner and Cosima
Wagner and Cosima’s whirlwind romance was truly one for the ages, and possessed just the right kind of panache required for writing a veritably delicious libretto.

The bastard child of an illicit affair and daughter of an often absentee father, young Cosima would find herself, in the flower of her youth, craving the affections of her famous father. The virtuosic pianist and composer Franz Liszt, it seemed, employed only sporadic episodes of devotion to his daughter in her early years – it was a devotion, however, that, albeit infrequent, would prove most fruitful for Cosima – for it would be through introductions to Franz' former pupil Hans von Bülow and fellow composer Richard Wagner, that the daughter Liszt would come to meet husbands number 1 and 2.

Within a year of exchanging nuptials with von Bülow and spending more time within his musical sphere, Cosima would find herself the object of unbridled desire by another married man in Richard. Whilst Hans was busy devoting himself to rendering the operatic works of Wagner, the unlikely trio would become closer, to the point of residing together under one roof at maestro Wagner’s home at Biebrich.

It would be here, during a rehearsal that Wagner would observe of Cosima her charm and allure:
"I felt utterly transported by the sight of Cosima ... she appeared to me as if stepping from another world."
Cosima, by all accounts, shared the affections of Richard – just over a year after Wagner’s epiphany the two would succumb to one another:
"with tears and sobs...we sealed our confession to belong to each other alone." 
By 1868, just five years after issuing this undying pact, and two years before divorcing von Bülow, Cosima would move in with Richard permanently.

This famous love match would produce, much like in the music of the future groom, spectacles of rumor and intrigue of the most grandiose fashion. The union would begat a daughter, Isolde – whilst Cosima was still a von Bülow, no less – and a most unusual display of kinship: the scorned Hans went on, as originally planned, to conduct Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, knowing full well the daughter born by his philandering wife and close confidante shared the opera’s namesake. (The adulterous couple would bear three children in total before exchanging nuptials on August 25, 1870, producing two daughters - Isolde and Minna, and a son, Siegfried).  Hans' dedication to Wagner’s majestic oeuvre is not to be understated – the shafted husband conducted Tristan just two months after Isolde was born!)

Learn more about Wagner's dedication to Cosima here
Wagner’s marriage to Cosima would also go on to produce one of the most legendary operatic anecdotes that remains ever present in musical society even today. I am speaking, of course, of Wagner’s sublimely romantic interlude to his wife on her birthday at Tribschen.  It was here, at the couple’s villa in Lucerne, Switzerland that Richard famously roused his inamorata from her slumber with a beautiful serenade: the Tribschen (now Siegfried) Idyll – he, conducting a small orchestra from the home's stair steps his tender symphonic poem, penned especially for Cosima and for the couple’s three children – and she, at the landing, reduced to a puddle of tears.

It would be a grand romantic gesture that would be often repeated through the ages by many an admirer of Wagner – including by one of the maestro’s most ardent admirers, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, whose adoration for the composer ran so deep, it was claimed the young German sought to "elevate himself" to the “level” (i.e. the social standing) of his idol by not only attempting to become a composer himself, but also by making his Tribschen debut by issuing a dedication to Cosima just as Wagner had done the previous year!

It would be in the year 1871 that Nietzsche would pen a copy of his piano duet “Echo of a New Year’s Eve” with the dedication to Cosima, which, also much like his hero Wagner, he planned to send to her as a celebratory birthday gift.

Cosima, upon receiving the composition in the post, sat to play the work with the conductor Hans Richter, with husband Richard in attendance. It is said that Wagner was so amused by the young amateur’s oeuvre that he had to make a speedy exit from the room, whereupon he would later be found sprawled out on the floor, clutching his stomach, howling with laughter.

Nietzsche’s later attempts at composition fared little better than his first. A year later the philosopher-cum-composer’s latest work "Geburt der Tragödie" would receive harsh criticism from the conductor von Bülow - yet another member of Wagner’s inner circle with which Nietzsche hoped to ingratiate himself  – and who, after initially perceiving the work to be a joke, flat out told the young amateur musician:
“It's more terrible than you think!”
adding that the entire composition was
“the most undelightful and the most amateursical draft on musical paper that I have faced in a long time,”  
and that the only hope the budding musician had of pursuing a serious career in the composition of music was to limit himself to the production of vocal scores so that the voice could distract from the “wild sea of tones” that was synonymous with Nietzsche’s music.

Was Nietzsche’s music truly awful, or was the aspiring amateur composer a victim of straying from the rigid "rules" of German music established during his lifetime? Listen below to the philosophers' "Heldenklage" (A Hero's Sorrow - L) and "Beschwörung" (Entreaty -R)[2]  and decide for yourself:

[1] The Wagners' 146th anniversary was observed Thursday, August 25, 2016.
[1] Lyrics for "Entreaty" are based on a text authored by famed poet and writer Aleksandr Pushkin. A translation of this lied can be found at this external link:


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