Bayreuther Festspiele

'... a rough theatre of planks and beams built according to this plan of mine ... '

Excerpts from Wagner's correspondence on his idea for a festival


I am genuinely thinking of setting Siegfried to music, only I cannot reconcile myself with the idea of trusting to luck and of having the work performed by the very first theatre that comes along: on the contrary, I am toying with the boldest of plans [...]. According to this plan to mine, I would have a theatre, made of planks, erected here on the spot and have the most suitable singers join me here and arrange everything necessary for this one special occasion, so that I could be certain of an outstanding performance of the opera.

Richard Wagner to Ernst Benedikt Kietz (1815-92), letter of 14 September 1850

[...] here where I am now and where certain things are not too bad, I would run up a rough theatre of planks and beams, building it according to this plan of mine in some beautiful meadow outside the town and equipping it merely with the sets and machinery needed to perform Siegfried. I would then select the best singers available and invite them to Zurich for 6 weeks: I would try to form a chorus made up for the most part of volunteers. [...] And I would also form my orchestra along the same lines. Starting in the new year, announcements and invitations to all the friends of the musical drama would appear in all the German newspapers, encouraging them to attend the proposed festival of dramatic music: anyone giving notice and travelling to Zurich for this purpose would be guaranteed a seat and like all the seats it would, of course, be free! [...] When everything has been properly organized, I shall then arrange for three performances of Siegfried to take place within a week: at the end of the third performance the theatre will be torn down and my score burnt. To those who like what they have seen, I shall then say: 'Now do the same!'

Richard Wagner to Theodor Uhlig (1822-53), letter of 20 September 1850

With complete level-headedness and with no sense of dizziness, I assure you that I no longer believe in any other revolution save that which begins with the burning down of Paris. [...] Just wait and see how we recover from this fire-cure: if necessary I could finish painting this picture and could even imagine how a man of enthusiasm might here and there summon together the living remnants of our former art and say to them - who among you desires to help me perform a drama? Only those people will answer who genuinely share that desire, for there will no longer be any money available, but those who respond will at once reveal to the world, in a rapidly erected wooden structure, what art is. [...] Just as we need a water-cure to heal our bodies, so we need a fire-cure in order to remedy (i.e., destroy) the cause of our illness.
Richard Wagner to Theodor Uhlig, letter of 22 October 1850

I propose to present my myth in three complete dramas preceded by a lengthy prelude. Although each of these dramas will form a self-contained whole, none of them will be a repertory piece in the modern theatrical sense. Rather, I mean to observe the following plan for their presentation: at a festival specially designed for this very purpose I propose at some future date to stage these three dramas and their prelude over the course of three days and a preliminary evening: I shall consider the object of this performance to have been completely achieved if I and my artistic colleagues - the true performers - succeed in artistically conveying my purpose to the true emotional (not critical) understanding of the spectators who have assembled over four evenings to become better acquainted with that purpose. A further series of performances is as indifferent to me as it is bound to seem superfluous.

Richard Wagner, A Communication to My Friends (1851)

With this new conception of mine I am moving completely out of touch with our present-day theatre and its audiences: I am breaking decisively and for ever with the formal present. [...] A performance is something I can conceive of only after the Revolution; only the Revolution can offer me the artists and listeners I need. The coming Revolution must necessarily put an end to this whole theatre business of ours: they must all perish, and will certainly do so, it is inevitable. Out of the ruins I shall then summon together what I need: I shall then find what I require. I shall then run up a theatre on the Rhine and send out invitations to a great dramatic festival: after a year's preparations I shall then perform my entire work within the space of four days: with it I shall then make clear to the men of the Revolution the meaning of that Revolution, in its noblest sense.

Richard Wagner to Theodor Uhlig, letter of 12 November 1851

The performance of my Nibelung dramas must take place at a great festival which may perhaps be organized for the unique purpose of this performance. It must then be given on three successive days, with the introductory prelude being performed on the preceding evening.

Richard Wagner to Franz Liszt (1811-86), letter of 20 November 1851

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