Sunday, April 8, 2012

King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Richard Wagner


King Ludwig II

Known by nick names:the Swan King,the Fairy Tale King, King of Hearts,the Mad King of Bavaria, the Dream King, and Mad Ludwig. Was “Mad King Ludwig” mad? This is only one of many mysteries that surround the former Bavarian regent to this day. Ludwig II (Ludwig Friedrich Wilhelm) has become one of the most legendary figures in Bavarian and German history.The Royal Master who lived and breathed in the world of historic saga, music and poetry and distanced himself from others matters of life.King Ludwig II was recluse,wildly eccentric and built fairytale castles that today rate as Germany's leading tourist attractions – but more than a century ago "Mad King" Ludwig II of Bavaria was declared insane, deposed and three days later his corpse was found floating in a lake south of Munich.

Mysteries include the enigma of Ludwig’s death by drowning in Lake Starnberg ,did he commit suicide or was he “helped”? Ludwig died under mysterious circumstances just three days after being declared legally insane. Today Ludwig’s extravagances such as his fairy-tale (and anachronistic) Neuschwanstein castle,Linderhof Castle and his other castles have become a huge tourist draw and a vital source of income for the state of Bavaria. Ludwig’s latent homosexuality and his patronage of the composer Richard Wagner have also contributed to the Mad Ludwig legend.

1865: Ludwig II of Bavaria in coronation regalia. From a painting
 by Ferdinand von Piloty.
The man who would become the king of Bavaria (Bayern, then a sovereign kingdom separate from Prussia and the other German states) was born in Nymphenburg Palace, the Wittelsbach dynasty’s summer residence just outside Munich, on August 25, 1845. (But see the box on the right for more about Ludwig’s actual birthday.) His parents were the 36-year-old Catholic Maximilian II of Bavaria and the 19-year-old Protestant Princess Marie of Prussia (who happened also to be her husband’s cousin). Unfortunately, Ludwig’s parents were neither very close to each other nor to their first son. Ludwig (whose only brother, Otto, would be born almost exactly three years later) would grow up in a spartan and sheltered environment. By any measure, he turned out to be a somewhat odd young man who had problems relating to women and people in general.

“Only emotional love is permitted, but physical love is cursed”.King Ludwig II.

The boy who would later be known as the “Swan King” spent much of his youth in a castle named Hohenschwangau (“high region of the swan”). His father Max had bought the ancient castle known as Schwanstein in 1832 and remodeled it as a royal residence set in the Bavarian Alps. Ludwig grew up there among swan images and icons, and the nearby Schwansee, or Swan Lake, featured the real thing. As a 12-year-old boy Ludwig had already developed a fascination with Wagner’s Lohengrin and its Swan Knight.
Neuschwanstein Castle,Ludwig II's masterpiece,it was made as a retreat and as a homage to the composer Richard Wagner.
Neuschwanstein Castle's Singer Hall
Herrenchiemsee  Palace , King Ludwig's Royal Place

Linderhof Castle, King Ludwig II's Summer Home.

Linderhof Castle in Winter

Venus Grotto is a totally artificial cave built for Ludwig II of Bavaria in castle of Linderhof.

Swans in Neuschwanstein Castle, starting as a boy, Ludwig had a life-long love for swans and their regal beauty.

The poet Paul Verlaine called Ludwig II the "only true king of this century". The shy dreamer, who had none of the typical characteristics of a popular king, lives on, still idolized,as"the Kini".

His palaces, which were barred to strangers, have been visited by over 50 million people since his death. They are records in stone of the ideal fantasy world which the king built as a refuge from reality. His historic, poetic and ideal interpretation of his role as king was finally his downfall. It is possible that he preferred to die rather than return to reality.

Ludwig, not yet 19 years old, ascended the Bavarian throne upon the death of his father in 1864. In faraway America a long, bitter Civil War was approaching its end. (Only two years later, Bavaria would be involved in its own war, fighting on the losing Austrian side in the Seven Weeks War against Prussia.) The German Karl Marx was in London working on volume one of Das Kapital, forming the First International, and starving.
The young King Ludwig II

 Ludwig was attracted to arts and architecture and especially music .His favorite artist was Richard Wagner, Ludwig admired Wagner's music and talents, but the composer’s libertine, independent ways put strains on the friendship between the two. While Wagner was living in Switzerland, he and Ludwig continued to exchange letters, but it would be many years before they would meet again.King Ludwig II payed all the debts of Wagner and then Wagner was able to return back to Germany.Not only that Neuschwanstein Castle,Ludwig II's masterpiece, was made as a retreat and as a homage to the composer Richard Wagner. When they did, Wagner managed to get Ludwig to help him finance the building of his new Festspielhaus concert hall in Bayreuth, completed in 1876. Despite their disagreements, Wagner’s death in 1883 affected the King of Bavaria deeply.  

"… Today I was brought to him. He is unfortunately so beautiful and wise, soulful and lordly, that I fear his life must fade away like a divine dream in this base world … You cannot imagine the magic of his regard: if he remains alive it will be a great miracle!" wrote Richard Wagner after his first meeting with Ludwig II

King Ludwig II and Richard Wagner
In 1868 Ludwig began his own building campaign. Much of the Bavarian king’s fame is associated with his castles: Neuschwanstein, Linderhof, and Herrenchiemsee. (A fourth castle, Falkenstein, was planned but never built.). Ludwig took a special interest in the building of all his palaces, sometimes to the extreme irritation of his architects and craftsmen.Ludwig drew much of his inspiration for his castles from Wagnerian opera (particularly Lohengrin and Tannhäuser) — although he insisted on the original Germanic mythology rather than Wagner’s operatic revisions.

 The "ideal monarchical poetic solitude" which the king chose for himself was not in the long run compatible with his duties as a head of state. The new settings he was constantly devising for himself were equally beyond the private means of a king. Ludwig failed through his desire to anchor his illusions and dreams in reality.From 1885 on foreign banks threatened to seize his property. The king's refusal to react rationally led the government to declare him insane and depose him in 1886 – a procedure not provided for in the Bavarian constitution. Ludwig II was interned in Berg Palace. The next day he died in mysterious circumstances in Lake Starnberg, together with the psychiatrist who had certified him as insane.

 Richard Wagner
Neuschwanstein castle , also known as the "Fairy Tale Castle"
Richard Wagner, the favourite artist of King Ludwig II.

Richard Wagner's Biography 
Richard Wagner was an influential German composer, conductor, music theorist, and essayist, primarily known for his operas (or "music dramas" as he later came to call them). His compositions, particularly those of his later period, are notable for their contrapuntal texture, rich harmonies and orchestration, and elaborate use of leitmotifs: themes associated with specific characters, locales, or plot elements. There are many reports of his extreme anti-semitism, massive ego-mania, wanton gambling and womanising, and his ruthless exploitation of anyone in order to achieve his ambitions.He was also a prolific writer who inspired poets, writers , philosophers and artists , he was a philosopher to some extent and first one who gave idea of dream speculation.Wagner was influenced by Arthur Schopenhauer and Hegel. The musicality of Nietzsche’s writings matches the philosophicality of Wagner’s music: while Wagner seemed to have composed the innermost feelings of Nietzsche’s soul, Nietzsche expressed the innermost thoughts of Wagner’s intellect. Young condenses the latter observation with a customary wit: “one can imagine an enlightened Wagner replying to requests for a statement of what he really thought about Greek tragedy with ‘I don’t know: ask Nietzsche what I think’.

Wagner wrote his first opera, Die Feen (The Fairies), in 1833, but it was not produced until after the composer's death. He was music director of the theater in Magdeburg from 1834 to 1836, where his next work, Das Liebesverbot (Forbidden Love), loosely based on William Shakespeare's (1564–1616)Measure for Measure was performed in 1836. That year he married Minna Planner, a singer-actress active in local theatrical life.In 1837 Wagner became the first music director of the theater in Riga, Russia (now the capital of Latvia), where he remained until 1839. He then set out for Paris, France, where he hoped to make his fortune. While in Paris, he developed an intense hatred for French musical culture that lasted the remainder of his life, regardless of how often he attempted to have a Parisian success. It was at this time that Wagner, in financial desperation, sold the scenario for Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) to the Paris Opéra for use by another composer. Wagner later set to music another version of this tale.

Wagner returned to Germany, settling in Dresden in 1842, where he was in charge of the music for the court chapel. Rienzi, a grand opera in imitation of the French style, enjoyed a modest success. In 1845Tannhäuser premiered in Dresden and proved the first undoubted success of Wagner's career. In November of the same year he finished the poem for Lohengrin and began composition early in 1846. While at work on Lohengrin he also made plans for his tetralogy (a series of four dramas), Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelungen), being captivated by Norse sagas. In 1845 he prepared the scenario for the first drama of the tetralogy to be written, Siegfried's Tod (Siegfried's Death), which later became Die Götterdämmerung (The Twilight of the Gods).

Wagner had to flee Dresden in 1849 in the aftermath of the Revolution of 1848, which resulted in an unsuccessful uprising against the German monarchy or king. He settled in Switzerland, first in Zurich and then near Lucerne. He remained in Switzerland for the most part for the next fifteen years without steady employment, banished from Germany and forbidden access to German theatrical life. During this time he worked on the Ring —this dominated his creative life over the next two decades.
The first production of Lohengrin took place in Weimar under Franz Liszt's (1881–1886) direction in 1850 (Wagner was not to see Lohengrin until 1861). The year 1850 also saw publication of one of Wagner's most vulgar tracts, The Jew in Music, in which he viciously attacked the very existence of Jewish composers and musicians, particularly in German society.In 1853 Wagner formally began composition on the Rheingold; he completed the scoring the following year and then began serious work on the Walküre,which was finished in 1856. At this time he was toying with the notion of writing the drama Tristan and Isolde. In 1857 he finished the composition of Act II of Siegfried and gave himself over entirely to Tristan.This work was completed in 1859, but it was mounted in Munich only in 1865.

In 1860 Wagner received permission to reenter Germany except for Saxony, an area in eastern Germany. He was granted full amnesty (political freedom) in 1862. That year he began the music for Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremburg), which he had first thought of in 1845.
Siegfried Wagner with his father Richard Wagner. Siegfried Wagner was a German composer and conductor,like his father. He was a productive opera composer and was the artistic director of the Bayreuth Festival from 1908 to 1930.

King Maximilian II. dies on March 10 1864. He had been ailing for years but his all too sudden and sudden death had not been expected. Ludwig is deeply shaken when he bids his father farewell by his deathbed. On the day of his father's death the 18-year-old crown prince is proclaimed King Ludwig II. of Bavaria. The totally unprepared Ludwig assumes the government affairs but he has the best of intentions: "I will do everything in my power to make my people happy", he writes to his former teacher.King Ludwig is not an absolute ruler but no law can pass without his signature.
In the beginning he still shows himself to his people by attending excursions, granting audiences and at the annual Corpus Christy procession or the Oktoberfest. In the years to follow Ludwig develops more and more into an unsociable, egocentric individual and withdraws himself from the real world and his subjects to devote himself into the superficial world of his ideals.Ludwig II has only been King of Bavaria for a short time when he expressed the wish to meet Richard Wagner. At that time around 1864-65 Wagner was in heavy debts and was living in Switzerland.

By 1864 Wagner's life was at its lowest point,his marriage was over, many operas were unproduceable by musicians and he was in heavy debts.Wagner was almost suicidal with despair when on 3 May 1864, he received a card from Herr Pflstermeister, secretary to King Ludwig II of Bavaria, requesting to see him. Not seeing any point to the visit, Wagner refused but Herr Pfistermeister persisted, and when Wagner eventually agreed to meet, he realised that his salvation was at hand! King Ludwig II called Wagner back and decided to pay all the debts of Wagner and also finance his Operas and build him Opera Theaters and then Neuschwanstein castle.

The young, handsome King Ludwig was truly besotted with Wagner's music and wanted to become his patron. He offered to take all the financial burden away from Wagner leaving him free to create his art in an ideal atmosphere. To this end, King Ludwig installed Wagner in a beautiful villa close to the royal castle of Hohenschwangau.

On May 5 1864 the monarch and the composer meet for the first time.

After their first meeting in May 1864, King Ludwig writes to Richard Wagner:

"Be assured that I will do everything in my power to make up for your suffering of the past."
At the time Richard Wagner is in deep financial troubles, he is sickly and homeless. The king is his salvation. After his audience with King Ludwig II. he writes:
"...he loves me with the sincerity and glow of a first love... I am to complete the Nibelungen....he will give me everything necessary for me to perform my works. I shall be relieved of all problems. Can that be anything but a dream?"

The composer's debts are paid, he receives the impressive salary of 4000 guilders and is able to move into a large house in Munich.Preparations begin for the performance of "Tristan und Isolde".
More than 20 rehearsals place. Stage scenery and costumes swallow up large amounts of money. Following several postponements the day of the premiere the king had waited for so long finally arrives on June 10 1865. The king is received with loud cheers and fanfare in the royal Court Theater. The public breaks out into enormous storms of applause. It is a great triumph for Wager as well as for Ludwig.

Neuschwanstein castle's interior is inspired by Wagner's operas.

At this time, Wagner's happiness was further enhanced by a meeting with a lady who was to become the third and last great love of his life. Ludwig requested the presence of the conductor and piano virtuoso Hans von Bülow and his wife Cosima, who was in fact Franz Liszt's illegitimate daughter born out of wedlock, at Como, Italy, to the Countess Marie d'Agoult, a longtime mistress of Liszt. The idea was that the pair would help Wagner in all his musical activities. Both were keen admirers of Wagner's music, and incredibly, when Cosima and Wagner fell in love, Hans was prepared to sacrifice his unhappy marriage to the greater glory of Wagner's music.
The Meistersinger was completed in 1867; the first performance took place in Munich the following year. Only then did he pick up the threads of the Ring and resume work on Act III of Siegfried, which was finished in September 1869, a month that also saw the first performance of the Rheingold. He wrote the music forGötterdämmerung from 1869 to 1874. The first entire Ring cycle ( Rheingold, Walküre, Siegfried, andGötterdämmerung ) was given at the Festspielhaus, the shrine Wagner built for himself at Bayreuth, in 1876, over thirty years after the idea for it had first come to mind. He finished Parsifal, his final drama, in 1882. Wagner died on February 13, 1883, in Venice, Italy, and was buried at Bayreuth.

My own experience with Wagner was quite remarkable, his music has released forces inside me.His music is like a rainbow , covering every note and every emotion a man can think of.His music twists causing one to cry and then so powerful sometimes that you feel like you are under the influence of a massive force. Just like Nietzsche's philosophy his music release forces inside of you, there is that "Will power instinct" inside you roaring to take control and then there is that sad emotion that defines a tragedy.Wagner's music is hardest to digest, full of passion and the most emotionally diverse music of all.It seems to me that Wagner's music is complete.I mean,if you like movies for instance you'll find the same emotional feeling hearing his music. While  if you put 100 heavy metal bands together they can never achieve the "weight" of Wagnerian art.

 Wagner's Influence
Few composers have had so powerful an impact on their time as Richard Wagner (1813-1883). His operas and artistic philosophy influenced not only musicians but also poets, painters, and playwright. Such was his preeminence that an opera house of his own design was built in Bayreuth, Germany, solely for performances of his music dramas.Wagner's chromatic musical language prefigured later developments in European classical music (Anton Bruckner, Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss etc), including extreme chromaticism and atonality (Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Arnold Schönberg etc). He transformed musical thought through his idea of Gesamtkunstwerk ("total art-work"), epitomized by his monumental four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen (1876).Wagner's music is full of passion and, despite the flaws in his own character, he was able to move people and convey great emotion and love in music. "Tristan and Isolde" about a doomed relationship is especially moving, the music stretching the boundaries of established tonality and looking towards Modernism.
Richard Wagner was one of history's greatest composers, a theater artist of extraordinary genius and vision, and one of the most controversial characters in the entire pantheon of Western art. More than a century after his death, his legacy is still debated, his influence still felt in our very conception of Western music and in the contemporary forms of opera and the complete spectrum of theater and literary arts.
  • As a composer, he rewrote the rules for opera—reenvisioning its musical forms and creating dazzling and unforgettable dramatic tapestries that melded orchestral magnificence with the soaring beauty of the human voice.
  • As a theater artist, he pioneered the "Gesamtkunstwerk" or "total artwork" that incorporated music, drama, poetry, philosophy, myth, and ritual, building a theater of revolutionary design and creating musical dramas on a scale never before attempted in history.
  • And, as a self-styled theorist, he pursued an agenda of militant German nationalism, anti-Semitism, elitist prejudice, and unbounded self-glorification in his often troubling philosophical tracts and essays.

Tristan und Isolde was at his time was declared "unproduceable" and many conductors simply were unable to perform it.

When I hear Wagnerian music, I hear rampant masculinity and surging power. I also hear luscious eroticism. Wagner's ideal of music and drama combined to create something on a plane far above the normal level of artistic experience. Was Wagner’s ideal of Woman his Muse on this spiritual plane? Two quotations illustrate the power of the feminine in Wagner's creative process.
Music is a woman . . . She must be loved by the poet, must surrender herself to him, in order that the new art-work of the future may be born . . . the begetter must be the artist. (Richard Wagner, Opera and Drama, 1851) 
Such outpourings on the importance of Woman to his creative spirit preceded Wagner’s conception of Tristan und Isolde in 1857. It was inevitable, then, that he would attribute the artistic flow of this work to a woman — Mathilde Wesendonck — whose loving care and profound understanding of his nature was inspirational to the work. When Tristan und Isolde finally had its première in 1865, Wagner's musical imagery in the prelude drew on sexual longing he had himself experienced.
Audiences who have experienced similar feelings are swept along with the soaring sexuality of intervals demanding resolution, or the aching chromaticism of desire. With Isolde achieving transcendence in the climax, it could be said that the opera has a sustained feminine ending.
Wagner’s music springs from both his deep, personal experience with women and his power to awaken the feminine within his own essential nature. He preferred softness in all its forms during the process of artistic creation. From conception to the birth of his poetic and musical ideas, the feminine was woven into the finest threads of his musical fabric.

His concept of leitmotif and integrated musical expression was also a strong influence on many 20th century film scores. Wagner was and remains a controversial figure, both for his musical and dramatic innovations,his personality and for his anti-semitic and political opinions.
                                                                     Richard Wagner

Wagner, the most controversial figure in European art , the "opium for the people”, the magician, the impostor, the ultimate musical drug.Wagner, the redeemer. For those who seek salvation through art, Wagner built his musical sect. It quenches the thirst of the seeker of redemption.
In 1872, Wagner founded the Festival Theatre in Bayreuth and his epic masterpiece Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), a sequence of four operas (he actually preferred the term “music dramas” to “operas”) founded on German mythology.Parsifal, Wagner's last work was produced in 1882, a creative testament in which his concept of 'complete art work' was further refined to attest his belief in a synthesis of all the arts, representing the culmination of the Romantic philosophy. He died in Venice on February 13, 1883 and buried in Bayreuth, Bavaria.
The Bayreuth Festspielhaus, venue for the first complete performances of the Ring and Parsifal.

If Wagner would not have been called and funded by King Ludwig II we might not have privilege to hear these 4 great masterpieces:

  • Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg) 1867
  • Siegfried 1871
  • Götterdämmerung (The Twilight of the Gods), completes the operatic cycle der ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelungs) 1874
  • Parsifal, music drama 1882 
    Hans Zimmer

    Although separated by a century and an equally significant measure of musical evolution, the two highly esteemed German composers Richard Wagner and Hans Zimmer remain much more connected than one might think.However, it is my strong belief, that without Richard Wagner, there would be no Hans Zimmer as you can hear the influence of Wagner's music in Zimmer's soundtracks.

    List of Wagner's Operas:
    • Rienzi
    • Der Fliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman) - with some truly atmospheric storm music
    • Tannhauser - including the "Pilgrim's Chorus"
    • Lohengrin - from which the famous Bridal Chorus comes
    • Tristan and Isolde - this has Celtic resonances, set in Ireland, Cornwall and Brittany, and is musically powerful with its closing Liebestod (love-death) music of Act III Scene III
    • Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg (The Mastersingers of Nurnberg) - tuneful and somewhat lighter in tone
    • Parsifal - a semi-religious work
    Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring Cycle):
    • Das Rheingold
    • Die Walkure - with its "Ride of the Valkyries"
    • Siegfried - which was to give rise to the "Siegfried Idyll"
    • Gotterdammerung (The Twilight of the Gods)  
     I hope people start associating Wagner with Kind Ludwig II and not with the Nazis.


    1. This was just amazing and so informative on many levels. Thank you so very much for taking the time to post this...