Richard Wagner by Giuseppe Tivoli.
For Romantic-era composer Richard Wagner, Christmas of 1870 was an especially significant one.

It was in this professionally and personally fruitful year that Wagner would premiere his music drama Die Walküre (the second part of his epic "Gesamtkunstwerk”: an “all-encompassing work of art” from his operatic “Ring” series) in Munich, which was well received; he was also enjoying his first year as husband to Cosima Wagner, daughter of composer and virtuoso pianist Franz Liszt, and as new father to the couples first son, Siegfried.

Wagner had certainly found his match in Cosima. Not only was her father a friend and mentor to her new husband, their marital union secured the patriarch Liszt as father-in law to the enigmatic composer.

Alongside the newly minted Mrs. Wagner, Richard and second-wife Cosima would together go on to found the Bayreuth Festival - an annual showcase of Wagner’s many operas, with special reverence shown to the Ring cycle and Parsifal.

The Bayreuth Festspielhaus in Bayreth, Germany.

Composer and virtuoso Pianist Franz Liszt
was a friend and mentor, and later father-in-law
to Richard Wagner through the formers' marriage
to the latters' daugther, Cosima.
This festival proved so popular that it continues to be a yearly tradition to this day, with performances showcased in the Bayreuth Festspielhaus - an acoustically engineered architectural marvel masterminded by the composer Wagner himself. So exclusive is it’s patronage, modern-day Wagner aficionados and admirers are said to wait up to ten years (although some in five) just to be granted admission! It is said that to hear the lush orchestrations, lavishly efficient sopranos and heldontenors in the way the composer designed and staged them, is to hear beauty unlike anyone could experience from witnessing a Wagner performance in an ordinary opera house. After first 'discovering' and falling hopelessly in love with Tristan many years ago, I can’t even begin to imagine the acoustical refinements of the Festspielhaus - the experience sounds cosmically ethereal. I can only dream of one day experiencing the pleasure of the architectural wonder and indulging in such Wagnerian excess.

A Wagner innovation: the Sunken Orchestra Pit at Bayreuth.
This must have been how Isolde felt as she begged for the absolution and freedom of Liebestod (love death) in the final act of Tristan: 

"soll ich atmen...lauschen?...Soll ich schlürfen, untertauchen? ...in dem tönenden Schall, ertrinken, versinken...unbewußt: Höchst Lust!"  (shall I breathe? ...listen? ...immerse? ...in the resonating sound ...drown? ...be engulfed? ...unconscious! Supreme delight!)

“...now let me die!” - Cosima Wagner Cosima Wagner certainly thought so on the dawn of Christmas morning 1870, in the couple’s home in Lucerne, Switzerland. It was the morning following her birthday (which was held on Christmas Eve) when Cosima awakened to a heart-renderingly beautiful orchestral dedication to her, composed by her husband Richard, expressing their love, and the love of their two children, performed by a small ensemble of hand selected musicians now standing on the first two flights of her staircase, playing a nearly twenty minute[1] ode to their miraculous union, and indeed, to Cosima herself. Wagner stood at the helm, conducting. Soon the entire household had arisen to the sumptuous and moving aural delight, and almost immediately the home was awash in a flood of tears.

The gorgeous 'Tribshen' villa and Wagner family home
overlooking Lake Lucerne in Switzerland.
Originally titled 'Tribschen-Idyll, with Fidi-Birdsong and Orange Sunrise' the famous “tone-poem” now known to the world as “Siegfried Idyll” (after elements of the music later appeared in Wagner’s opera 'Siegfried'), the composition was deeply personal to the Wagner clan: “Fidi” was the nickname used by Richard and Cosima for their young son, the "Orange Sunrise" was many times significant: one of the interpretations could be a representation of Wagner’s heightened spirit in love and the expression of that love for his paramour by staging the work’s premiere in an intimate setting - in the “Tribschen” (a name employed by Wagner to represent the family home) - on the date of his ladylove's birthday. The couple also shared a young daughter, Eva, who was represented in the piece though a solo oboe playing segments of a popular German lullaby commonly sung by her parents "Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf”. (Sleep, Baby, Sleep).

Richard and Cosima Wagner share an embrace.
The sheer beauty of the piece aside, these very intimate dedications from husband to wife were deeply impacting to the former Ms. Liszt. Certainly, for Cosima and for the Wagner family, Christmas and the newly minted matriarch Wagner's birthday would forever hold a special and loving significance in their hearts, and indeed, in the hearts of many Wagnerians like myself.

Happy birthday, Cosima.

And merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah to my readers! There will be lots more to come on Richard Wagner and many other Composers and musicians at unravelingmusicalmyths.blogspot.ca

keep checking back for updates!

And now, a little Tribschen Idyll as conducted by maestro Herbert von Karajan:

[1] The original running time of Siegfried Idyll (formerly "Tribschen Idyll") was said to have been somewhat more rapid, with most
modern performances clocking in at around twenty three to just over twenty five minutes.

READ MORE OF MY POSTS ON RICHARD WAGNER in the Wagner archives here.


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