HumanitiesWeb HumanitiesWeb
Sort By Author Sort By Title

Sort By Author
Sort By Title


Get Your Degree!

Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.

Powered by Campus Explorer

& etc

All Rights Reserved.

Site last updated
28 October, 2012
Real Time Analytics
The Loves of Great Composers
Wagner and Cosima
by Gustav Kobbé

No woman not a professional musician has ever played so important a part in musical history as "Frau Cosima," the widow of Richard Wagner. In fact, has any woman, professional musician or not? Bear in mind who "Frau Cosima" is. She is the daughter of Franz Liszt, the greatest pianist and one of the great composers of the last century, and was the wife and, in the most exalted meaning of the term, the helpmeet of the greatest of all composers! The two men with whom Cosima has thus stood in such intimate relation are exceptional even among great musicians. Composers are usually strongly emotional, inspired in all that pertains to their art, but with a specialist's lack of interest in everything else. Not so, however, Liszt or Wagner, for not since the time of Beethoven had there been two musicians who, in the exercise of their art, approached it from so clear an intellectual standpoint. Beethoven through the greatness of his mind was able to enlarge the symphonic form, which had been left by Haydn and Mozart. It became more responsive, more plastic, in his hands. Form in art is the creation of the intellect; what goes into it is the outflow of the heart. Thus Liszt created the Symphonic Poem, and Wagner completely revolutionized the musical stage by creating the Music-Drama. Into the Symphonic Poem, into the Music-Drama, they put their hearts; but the creation of these forms was in each an intellectual tour de force. The musician who thinks as well as feels is the one who advances his art. In the historic struggle between Wagner and the classicists Liszt played a large part. He was the first to produce "Lohengrin" - was, as orchestral conductor, its subtle interpreter, and, thus, a pioneer of the new school; he was Wagner's steadfast champion through life, and a beautiful friendship existed between "Richard" and "Franz."

[Illustration: Richard Wagner.
From the original lithograph of the Egusquiza portrait.]

Even now the reader can begin to realize the rôle Cosima has played in music. That she is the daughter of Liszt is not in itself wonderful, but that she should have fulfilled the mission to which she was born is one of the most exquisite touches of fate. Liszt was one of Wagner's first champions and friends. He came to the composer's aid in the darkest years of his career - during that long exile after Wagner had been obliged to flee from Germany because of his participation in the revolution of 1848. It was, in fact, through Liszt that Wagner received the means to continue his flight from the Saxon authorities and cross the border to safety in Switzerland.

Nor did Liszt's beneficence stop there. From afar he continued to be Wagner's good fairy. To fully appreciate Liszt's action at this time, one must keep in mind the position of the Saxon composer. To-day his fame is world-wide; we can scarcely realize that there was a time when his genius was not recognized, but at that time he was not famous at all. Those who had the slightest premonition of what the future would accord him were a mere handful of enthusiasts. Such a thing as a Wagner cult was undreamed of. He had produced three works for the stage. "Rienzi" had been a brilliant success, "The Flying Dutchman" a mere succès d'estime, "Tannhäuser" a comparative failure. From a popular point of view he had not sustained the promise of his first work. We know now that compared with his second and third works "Rienzi" is trash, and that rarely has a composer made such wonderful forward strides in his art as did Wagner with "The Flying Dutchman" and "Tannhäuser." But that was not the opinion when they were produced. The former, although it is now acknowledged to be an exquisitely poetic treatment of the weird legend, was voted sombre and dull, and "Tannhäuser" was simply a puzzle. After listening to "Tannhäuser," Schumann declared that Wagner was unmusical! Unless a person is familiar with Wagner's life, it is impossible to believe how bitter was the opposition to his theories and to his music. Does it seem possible now that he had to struggle for twenty-five years before he could secure the production of his "Ring of the Nibelung"? Yet such was the case. Then, too, he was poor, and sometimes driven to such straits that he contemplated suicide.

When the public remained indifferent to one of his works and critics reviled it, Wagner's usual method of reply was to produce something still more advanced. Thus, when "Tannhäuser" proved caviar to the public, and seemed to affect the critics like a red rag waved before a bull, he promptly sat down and wrote and composed "Lohengrin." But how should he, an exile, secure its production? There it lay a mute score. As he turned its pages, the notes looked out at him appealingly for a hearing. It was like a homesick child asking for its own. What did Wagner do? He wrote a few lines to Liszt. The answer was not long in coming. Liszt was already making the necessary arrangements to accede to Wagner's request and produce "Lohengrin" in Weimar, where he was musical director. Liszt's name gave great éclat to the undertaking; and through the acclaim which, with the aid of his pupils and admirers, he understood so well how to create, it attracted widespread attention, musicians from far and near in Germany coming to hear it. Of course, opinions on the work were divided, but the band of Wagner enthusiasts received accessions, and the interest in the production had been too intense not to leave an impression. The performance was, in fact, epoch-making. It raised a "Wagner question" which would not down; which kept at least his earlier works before the public; and which made him, even while still a fugitive from Germany, and an exile, a prominent figure in the musical circles of the country that refused him the right to cross its borders.

All this was done by Liszt. Next to Wagner's own genius, which would eventually have fought its way into the open, the influence that first brought Wagner some degree of recognition was Franz Liszt. His assistance to Wagner at this stage in that composer's career cannot be overestimated. He was his tonic in despair, his solace in his darkest hours. Few men appear in a nobler rôle than Liszt in his correspondence with Wagner during this period. Is it not marvellous that some twenty years later, at another crisis in Wagner's life, another being came to his aid and became to him as a haven of rest; and that that being should have been none other than the daughter of his earlier benefactor, Franz Liszt? Fate often is cruel and often unaccountable, but in this instance it seems to have acted the rôle of Cupid with an exquisite sense of what was appropriate, and to have set the crowning glory of a great woman's love upon Wagner's career.

When Liszt was producing "Lohengrin," aiding Wagner pecuniarily, and cheering him in his exile, Cosima Liszt was a young girl in Paris, where she, her elder sister Blandine (afterward the wife of Emile Ollivier, who became the war minister of Napoleon the Third) and her brother Daniel lived with Liszt's mother. It was in Mme. Liszt's house that Wagner first met her. He had gone to Paris in hopes of furthering his cause there. During his sojourn he held a reading of his libretto to "The Ring of the Nibelung" at Mme. Liszt's before a choice audience, which included Liszt, Berlioz and Von Bülow. This occurred in the early fifties. Cosima, who was among the listeners, was at the time fifteen or sixteen years old. The mere fact of her presence at the reading is recorded. Whether she was impressed with the libretto or its author we do not know. It is probable that their meeting consisted of nothing more than the mere formal introduction of the composer to the girl who was the daughter of his friend Liszt, and who was to be one of the small and privileged gathering at the reading. Wagner soon left Paris, and if she made any impression on him at that time, he does not mention the fact in his letters.

[Illustration: Cosima, wife of Wagner. From a portrait bust made before her marriage.]

Whoever takes the trouble to read Liszt's correspondence, which is in seven volumes and nearly all in French, will have little difficulty in discerning that Cosima was his favorite child. He speaks of her affectionately as "Cosette" and "Cosimette." Like his own, her temperament was artistic and responsive, and she also inherited his charm of manner and his exquisite tact, which, if anything, her early bringing up in Paris enhanced. In 1857, when she was twenty, Wagner saw her again and describes her as "Liszt's wonderful image, but of superior intellect."

Well might Wagner speak of her resemblance to her father as wonderful. I have seen Liszt and Cosima together, on an occasion to be referred to later, and was struck with the remarkable likeness between father and daughter. Both were idealists; if he had his eyes upon the stars, so had she. Here is a passage from one of Liszt's letters:

"Une pensée favorite de Cosima:' De quelque coté qu'un tourne la torche, la flamme se redresse et monte vers le ciel.'" ("A favorite thought of Cosima's: Whichever way you may turn the torch, the flame turns on itself and still points toward the heavens.'")

A woman whose life holds that motto is in herself an inspiration. Whatever turn fortune takes, her aspirations still blaze the way. She herself is the torch of her motto.

Although not a musician, although keeping herself consistently in the background during Wagner's life (much as a mere private secretary would), her influence at Bayreuth was continually felt; and since his death she has been the head and front of the Wagner movement, and yet without seeking publicity. Her intellectual force quietly assured her the succession. There have been protests against her absolute rule, but she has serenely ignored them. She still moulds to her will all the forces concerned in the Bayreuth productions.

When Mme. Nordica was preparing to sing "Elsa" at Bayreuth, it was Frau Cosima who went over the rôle with her, sometimes repeating a single phrase a hundred times in order to assure the correct pronunciation of one word. It taxed the singer to the utmost; but she found Wagner's widow willing to work as long and as hard as she herself would. The performance established Mme. Nordica as a Wagner singer. Despite the criticisms that have been heaped upon Frau Wagner for assuming to set herself up as the great conservator of Wagnerian traditions, it is significant that when, some years later, Mme. Nordica decided to add "Sieglinde" to her repertoire, but with no special purpose of singing it at Bayreuth, she arranged with Frau Cosima to go over the rôle with her, and in order to do so made a trip to Switzerland, where the former was staying. So far as adding to her reputation was concerned, there was not the slightest reason for Mme. Nordica to do this. That the American prima donna elected to study with Frau Cosima shows that she must have found Wagner's widow a woman of rare temperament.

Cosima was not Wagner's first love, nor even his first wife. For in November, 1836, he had married Wilhelmina Planer, the leading actress of the theatre in Magdeburg where he was musical director of opera. Her father was a spindle-maker. It is said that her desire to earn money for the household, rather than the impetus of a well-defined histrionic gift, led her to go on the stage; but, once on the stage, she discovered that she had unquestionable talent, and played leading characters in tragedy and comedy with success.

Minna is described as handsome, but not strikingly so; of medium height and slim figure, with "soft, gazelle-like eyes which were a faithful index of a tender heart." Later, however, the Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein wrote to Liszt that she was too stout, but praised her management of the household and her excellent cuisine. Her nature was the very opposite of Wagner's. Where he was passionate, strong-willed and ambitious, she was gentle, affectionate and retiring. Where he yearned for conquest, she wanted only a well-regulated home. But she could not follow him in his art theories, and as they assumed more definite shape she became less and less able to comprehend them and, finally, they became almost a sealed book to her.

[Illustration: Richard and Cosima Wagner.]

Doubtless, the ill success of "The Flying Dutchman" and "Tannhäuser," works which, after "Rienzi," puzzled people, engendered her first misunderstanding of Wagner's genius. Some may be surprised that this lack of appreciation did not bring about a separation sooner, instead of after nearly a quarter of a century of married life. But when a man is struggling with poverty, the woman who unobtrusively aids him in bearing it is regarded by him as an angel of light, and the question as to whether she appreciates his genius or not becomes a secondary one in the struggle for existence.

But when at last there is some promise of success, some relief from drudgery, and with it a little leisure for companionship - then, too, there is opportunity for an estimate of intellectual quality. Then it is that the man of genius discovers that the woman who has stood by him through his poverty lacks the graces of mind necessary to his complete happiness, and the self-sacrificing wife who has been his drudge, in order that he might the better meet want, and who has perhaps lost her youth and her looks in his service, is forgotten for some one else. The worst of it is that the world forgets her and all she has done for the great man in her quiet, uncomplaining way. The drudge never finds a page in the "Loves of the Poets." The woman who comes in and reaps where the other has sown, does.

Wagner's friend, Ferdinand Praeger, has much to say of Minna's fine qualities. But he also tells several anecdotes which completely illustrate how absolutely she failed to comprehend Wagner's genius and ambition. Praeger visited them in their "trimly kept Swiss chalet" in Zurich in the summer of 1856. One day when Praeger and Minna were seated at the luncheon table waiting for Wagner, who was scoring the "Nibelung," to come down from his study, she asked: "Now, honestly, is Richard really such a great genius?" Remember that this question was asked about the composer of "The Flying Dutchman," "Tannhäuser" and "Lohengrin." If she was unable to discover his genius in these, how could she be expected to follow its loftier flights in his later works?

On another occasion when Wagner was complaining that the public did not understand him, she said: "Well, Richard, why don't you write something for the gallery?" So little did she understand the man whose genius was founded upon unswerving devotion to artistic truth.

During Praeger's visit, a former singer at the Magdeburg opera and her two daughters called on Wagner. They sang the music of the Rhine-daughters from "Rheingold." When they finished singing, Minna asked Praeger: "Is it really as beautiful as you say? It does not seem so to me, and I'm afraid it would not sound so to others."

While, as can be shown from passages in his correspondence, Wagner appreciated the homely virtues of his first wife, and never, even after they had separated, allowed a word to be spoken against her, the last years of their married life were stormy. She had been tried beyond her strength, and, not sharing her husband's enormous confidence in his artistic powers, she had not the stimulus of his faith in his ultimate success to sustain her. Moreover a heart trouble with which she was afflicted resulted, through the strain to which their uncertain material condition subjected her, in a growing irritability which was accentuated by jealousy of women who entered the growing circle of Wagner's admirers as his genius began to be appreciated.

The crisis came in 1858, when they separated, Minna retiring to Dresden. Two years later, when Wagner was ill in Paris, she went there and nursed him, but they separated again. An interesting fact, not generally known, is that, in 1862, when Wagner was in Biebrich on the Rhine composing his "Meistersinger," Minna came from Dresden as a surprise to pay him a visit - evidently an effort to effect a reconciliation. Wendelin Weissheimer, a conductor at the opera in Mayeuse on the opposite bank of the river and a close friend of Wagner's at that time, has left an enlightening record of the episode.

Wagner, he says, "the heaven-storming genius, who knew no bounds, tried to play the rôle of Hausvater - of loving husband and comforter. He had some cold edibles brought in from the hotel, made tea, and himself boiled half a dozen eggs. [What a picture! The composer of 'Tristan' boiling eggs!] Afterwards he put on one of his familiar velvet dressing-gowns and a fitting barretta, and proceeded to read aloud the book of 'Die Meistersinger.'

"The first act passed off without mishap save for some unnecessary questions from Minna. But at the beginning of the second act, when he had described the stage-setting - 'to the right the cobbler shop of Hans Sachs; to the left,' etc., - Minna exclaimed:

"'And here sits the audience!' at the same time letting a bread-ball roll over Wagner's manuscript. That ended the reading."

The visit of course was futile. Minna returned to Dresden, where she died in 1866. Poor Minna! A good cook, but she did not appreciate his genius, would seem to sum up her story. Yet it is but just that we should pay at least a passing salute to this woman who was the love of Wagner's youth and the drudge of his middle life, and who, from the distance of her lonely separation, saw him basking in the favor of the king, who, too late for her, had become his munificent patron. - What a contrast between her fate and Cosima's!

[Illustration: Richard and Cosima Wagner entertaining
in their home Wahnfried, Liszt, and Hans von Wolzogen.
Painting by W. Beckmann.]

Were it not for Liszt's letters, meagre would be the information regarding Cosima before her marriage to Wagner. But by going over his voluminous correspondence and picking out references to her here and there, I am able to give at least some idea of her earlier life.

This extraordinary woman, who brought Wagner so much happiness and of whom it may be said that no other woman ever played so important a part in the history of music, came to her many graces and accomplishments by right of birth. She was the daughter of Liszt and the Countess d'Agoult, a French author, better known under her pen name of "Daniel Stern." Thus she had genius on one side of her parentage and distinguished talent on the other; and, on both sides, rare personal charm and tact.

The Countess d'Agoult's father, Viscount Flavigny, was an old Royalist nobleman. While an émigré during the revolution, he had married the beautiful daughter of the Frankfort banker, Bethman. After the Flavignys returned to France, their daughter, an extremely beautiful blonde, was brought up, partly at the Flavigny château, partly at the Sacré Coeur de Marie, in Paris. Talented beyond her years, her wit and beauty won her much admiration. At an early age she married Count Charles d'Agoult, a French officer, a member of the old aristocracy and twenty years her senior.

When she first met Liszt she was twenty-nine years old, had been married six years and was the mother of three children. She still was beautiful, and in her salon she gathered around her men and women of rank, esprit and fame. In 1835 Liszt left Paris after the concert season there. The Countess followed him, and the next heard of them they were in Switzerland. They remained together six years, Cosima, born in 1837, being one of the three children resulting from the union. In the Countess's relations with Liszt there appears to have been a curious mingling of la grande passion and hauteur. For when, soon after she had joined him in Switzerland, he urged her to secure a divorce in order that they might marry, she drew herself up and replied: "Madame la Comtesse d'Agoult ne sera jamais Madame Liszt!" Certainly none but a Frenchwoman would have been capable of such a reply under the same circumstances. Equally French was her husband's remark when, the Countess's support having been assumed by Liszt, he expressed the opinion that throughout the whole affair the pianist had behaved like a man of honor.

After the separation of Liszt and Countess d'Agoult, he entrusted the care of the three children to his mother. During a brief sojourn in Paris, Wagner met Cosima, then a girl of sixteen, for the first time. She formed with Liszt, Von Bülow, Berlioz and a few others the very small, but extremely select, audience which, at the house of Liszt's mother, heard Wagner read selections from his "Nibelung" dramas. In 1855, the burden of the care of the children falling too heavily upon Liszt's mother, the duty of looking after the daughters was cheerfully undertaken by the mother of Hans von Bülow, who resided in Berlin.

In a letter written by Von Bülow in June, 1856, he speaks of them in these interesting terms: "These wonderful girls bear their name with right - full of talent, cleverness and life, they are interesting personalities, such as I have rarely met. Another than I would be happy in their companionship. But their evident superiority annoys me, and the impossibility to appear sufficiently interesting to them prevents my appreciating the pleasure of their society as much as I would like to - there you have a confession, the candor of which you will not deny. It is not very flattering for a young man, but it is absolutely true." Yet, a year later, he married Cosima, one of the girls whose "superiority" so annoyed him.

How strange, in view of what happened later, that Von Bülow so planned his wedding trip that its main objective was a visit to Zurich in order that he might present Cosima to Wagner, who had not seen her since she had formed one of his audience at the "Rheingold" reading in Paris. It is in a letter to his friend, Richard Pohl, written the day before his wedding, that Von Bülow mentions the "Wagnerstadt," Zurich, as the aim of his wedding journey. Was it Fate - or fatality - that led him thither with Cosima? The daughter of Liszt, the bride of Von Bülow, being conducted on her honeymoon to the very lair of the great composer for whom she was, within a few years, to leave her husband! What wonderful musical links destiny wove in the life of this woman who herself was not a musician!

Hans and Cosima arrived at Zurich early in September. "For the last fortnight," writes Von Bülow, under date of September 19, 1857, "I and my wife have been living in Wagner's house, and I do not know anything else that could have afforded me such benefit, such refreshment as being together with this wonderful, unique man, whom one should worship as a god."

On his side Wagner was charmed with the Von Bülows. In one of his letters he speaks of their visit as his most delightful experience of the summer. "They spent three weeks in our little house; I have rarely been so pleasantly and delightfully affected as by their informal visit. In the mornings they had to keep quiet, for I was writing my 'Tristan,' of which I read them an act aloud every week. If you knew Cosima, you would agree with me when I conclude that this young pair is wonderfully well mated. With all their great intelligence and real artistic sympathy, there is something so light and buoyant in the two young people that one was obliged to feel perfectly at home with them."

Wagner allowed them to depart only under promise that they would return next year, which they did, to find a household on the verge of disruption and to be unwilling witnesses to some of the closing scenes of Wagner's first marriage.

During her childhood in Paris Cosima was frail and delicate. Liszt, in one of his letters, confesses that this caused him to regard her with a deeper affection than he bestowed on her elder sister. Later he speaks of her as a rare and beautiful nature of great and spontaneous charm. A friend of Liszt's who saw her at the Altenburg in 1860 writes that she was pale, slender, wan and thin to a degree, and that she crept through the room like a shadow. Liszt was greatly concerned about her, for the year previous her brother Daniel had died of consumption, and he feared she might be stricken with the same malady.

Daniel's death was a sad experience through which they passed together, and which strengthened the ties of tenderness that drew Liszt to his younger daughter. The son died in his father's arms and in her presence. She had nursed him devotedly in his last illness. "Cosima tells me," Liszt wrote, before he had seen Daniel on his sick-bed, "that the color of his beard and of his hair has taken on a touch of brownish red, and that he looks like a Christ by Correggio." Together, after Daniel's death, they knelt beside his bed "praying to God that His will be done - and that He reconcile us to that Divine will, in according us the grace on our part to accept it without a murmur."

Such a scene was a memory for a lifetime. Cosima herself, in one of her letters, gives a beautiful description of her brother's passage from life. "He fell back into the arms of death as into those of a guardian angel, for whom he had been waiting a long time. There was no struggle; without a distaste for life, he seemed, nevertheless, to have aspired ardently toward eternity."

With a pretty touch Liszt gives an idea of Cosima's interest in others. It seems that a certain Frau Stilke was anxious to possess a gray dress of moiré antique, and Liszt had persuaded the Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein to place the necessary sum for buying it at his daughter's disposal. "In order to estimate the cost," he writes, "Cosette has devised this excellent formula: It should be a dress such as one would give to persons who want a dress - only it is necessary that it should be gray and of moiré antique to satisfy the ideal of taste of the person in question."

Wagner does not seem to have seen Cosima after the Von Bülows' second visit to him at Zurich until they came to him for a visit at Biebrich during the summer of 1862. What a contrast Cosima must have seemed to poor Minna who, in the same house and but a short time before, had desecrated the manuscript of "Die Meistersinger" by allowing a bread-ball to roll over it! Wagner's favorable opinion of Hans and Cosima underwent a great change during their sojourn with him. In a letter, after speaking of Von Bülow's depression owing to poor health, he writes: "Add to this a tragic marriage; a young woman of extraordinary, quite unprecedented, endowment, Liszt's wonderful image, but of superior intellect."

That this woman who so impressed Wagner was in her turn filled with admiration for his gifts appears from two letters which, during the summer of 1862, she wrote from Biebrich to her father. In one of these she speaks enthusiastically of some of the "Tristan" music. The other letter concerns "Die Meistersinger:"

"The 'Meistersinger' is to Wagner's other conceptions what the 'Winter's Tale' is to Shakespeare's other works. Its fantasy is founded on gayety and drollery, and it has called up the Nuremberg of the Middle Ages, with its guilds, its poet-artisans, its pedants, its cavaliers, to draw forth the freshest laughter in the midst of the highest, the most ideal poetry."

It is evident that two souls so sympathetic could not long remain in proximity without craving a closer union. "Coming events cast their shadows before," remarks one who often was present during the Biebrich visit of the Von Bülows to Wagner.

How deeply Cosima sympathized with Wagner's aims even then is shown by another episode of this visit. One evening the composer outlined to his friends his plans for "Parsifal," adding that it probably would be his last work. The little circle was deeply affected, and Cosima wept. Strange prescience! "Parsifal" was not produced until twenty years later, yet it proved to be the finale of Wagner's life's labors.

The incident has interest from another point of view. It shows that Wagner had his plans for "Parsifal" fairly matured in 1862, and that it was not, as some critics, who see in it a decadence of his powers, claim, a late afterthought, designed to give to Bayreuth a curiosity somewhat after the façon of the Oberammergau "Passion Play." Decadence? Henry T. Finck, the most consistent and eloquent champion Wagner has had in America, sees in it no falling off in the composer's genius; nor do I. Wagner's scores always fully voice his dramas, - "Parsifal" as completely as any. The subject simply required different musical treatment from the heroic "Ring of the Nibelung" and the impassioned "Tristan."

In a letter written by Wagner in June, 1864, occurs this significant sentence: "There is one good being who brightens my household." The "good being" was Cosima, who from now on was destined to fill his life with the sunshine of love and of devotion to his art.

"Since I last saw you in Munich," Wagner writes to a friend, "I have not again left my asylum, which in the meanwhile also has become the refuge of her who was destined to prove that I could well be helped, and that the axiom of my many friends, that 'I could not be helped,' was false! She knew that I could be helped, and has helped me: she has defied every disapprobation and taken upon herself every condemnation."

This was written in June, 1870, a year after Cosima had borne him Siegfried, and two months before their marriage. For in August, 1870, the following announcement was sent out:

"We have the honor to announce our marriage, which took place on the 25th of August of this year in the Protestant Church in Lucerne.
Richard Wagner.
Cosima Wagner, née Liszt.

"August 25, 1870."

When, in 1882, I attended the first performance of "Parsifal" in Bayreuth, I had frequent opportunity of seeing Wagner and Frau Cosima. Probably the best view I had of them together, and of Franz Liszt at the same time, was at a dinner given by Wagner to the artists who took part in the performances. It was in one of the restaurants near the theatre on the hill overlooking Bayreuth. Wagner's entrance upon the scene was highly theatrical. All the singers and a few other guests had been seated, and Liszt, Frau Cosima and Siegfried Wagner were in their places when the door opened and in shot Wagner. It was as well calculated as the entrance of the star in a play. On his way to his seat he stopped and chatted a few moments with this one and that one. Instead of Wagner sitting at the head of the table and his wife at the foot, they sat together in the middle. It seemed impossible for him, though, to remain seated more than a few minutes at a time, and he was jumping up and down and running about the table all through the banquet. On the other side of Wagner sat Liszt; on the other side of Frau Cosima, Siegfried Wagner, then still a boy. Among the four there were two pairs of likenesses. Liszt was gray; but, although Frau Cosima's hair was blonde, and her face smooth and fair as compared with her father's, which was furrowed with age and boldly aquiline, she was his child in every lineament. Moreover, the quick, responsive lighting up of the features, her graceful bearing, her tact - that these were inherited from him a brief surveillance of the two sufficed to disclose. Combined with these fascinating, but after all more or less superficial characteristics was the stamp of a rare intellectual force on both faces. No one seeing them together needed to be told that Cosima was a Liszt.

Nor did any one need to be told that Siegfried was a Wagner. The boy was as much like his father as his mother was like hers. Feature for feature, Wagner was reproduced in his son. That there should be no trace of the mother, and such a mother, in the boy's face struck me as remarkable; but there was none. Siegfried Wagner was a veritable pocket edition of his famous father. His later photographs as a young man show that much of this likeness has disappeared. After dinner, there were speeches. Wagner, his hand resting affectionately on Liszt's shoulder, paid a feeling tribute to the man who had befriended him early in his career and who had given him the precious wife at his side. I remember as if it had been but last night the tenderness with which he spoke the words die theure Gattin.

It was a wonderful two or three hours, that banquet, with the numerous notabilities present, and at least two great men, Liszt and Wagner, and one great woman, the daughter of Liszt and the wife of Wagner; and the experience is to be treasured all the more, because few of those present saw Wagner again. Early in the following year he died at Venice. He is buried in the garden back of Wahnfried, his Bayreuth villa. He was a great lover of animals, and at his burial his two favorite dogs, Wotan and Mark, burst through the bushes that surround the grave and joined the mourners. One of these pets is buried near him, and on the slab is the inscription: "Here lies in peace Wahnfried's faithful watcher and friend - the good and handsome Mark."

What Cosima was to Wagner is best told in Liszt's words, written to a friend after a visit to Bayreuth, in 1872, when his favorite child had been married to Wagner two years. "Cosima still is my terrible daughter, as I used to call her, - an extraordinary woman and of the highest merit, far above vulgar judgment, and worthy of the admiring sentiments which she has inspired in all who have known her. She is devoted to Wagner with an all-absorbing enthusiasm, like Senta to the Flying Dutchman - and she will prove his salvation, because he listens to her and follows her with keen perception."

That Bayreuth with Wagner's death did not become a mere tradition, that the Wagner performances still continue there, is due to Frau Cosima. She is Bayreuth. No woman has made such an impression on the music of her time as she. Yet she is not a musician!


Terms Defined

Referenced Works