Richard Wagner's reflections on a fundamental reform of the theatre Best of friends, what is the point of our preaching to audiences? [...] There is a dam that must be broken down here, and the
means we must use is Revolution! A positive basis must be found; what we ourselves consider good and right must become a firm and immutable reality, so that all that is bad and at present in
power shall be transformed, as of itself, to become a stupid and easily vanquishable opposition. A single sensible decision by the King of Prussia with regard to his opera house, and all will be
Richard Wagner to Ernst Kossak (1814-80), letter of 23 November 1847
In the art of the theatre all the arts converge, to a greater or lesser extent, so as to leave an immediate impact on the public such as none of them is capable of producing on its own. Its essence is an association of the arts that none the less fully retains the rights of the individual. [...] As their superficial brilliance has increased, so the internal hollowness and demoralizing pointlessness of the vast majority of theatrical performances has reached such a point that the nation has come to look contemptuously on the theatre as nothing but an expensive place of entertainment, raising the question of how in desperate times like these such a pointless institution can claim support from the Civil List. [...] If we were to try to sum up the state's supreme requirement of the theatre in one brief sentence, we could even now find no finer definition than that of the Emperor Joseph: 'The theatre should have no other purpose than to work towards the ennoblement of taste and morals.' [...] Is it, therefore, only when people do not know how else to while away an idle evening that we assume that they go to the theatre? For a large cross section of the public this view has become a habit, and the theatre has therefore sunk to the level of a mere source of entertainment, a pastime that serves as a surrogate for playing cards and the like. Were we not to start with a far higher and worthier opinion of the theatre and if we did not seek to ensure that that view gained widespread acceptance, we should have no right to demand the nation's active support for this institution. Our view, as already set forth, is therefore a nobler one: we claim the fullest and keenest interest of the whole nation for an artistic organization that brings together all the arts with the object of ennobling taste and morals. This involvement on the part of the general public must be active and energetic - not weak and addicted to merely superficial pleasure.
Richard Wagner, Plan for the Organization of a German National Theatre for the Kingdom of Saxony (1848)
It is to be hoped that as soon as it comes to its senses, the free state will recognize its obligations and, considering the theatre's uncommon effectiveness, use that ability to achieve the noblest and freest object, which is the object of the state itself. And it will achieve this aim by so supporting the theatre that it becomes independent of every consideration other than that of strengthening and ennobling the morals and taste of the nation. This aim must be the only one assigned to the theatre, which must be allowed to pursue this single end freely and indepdentently. And every influence beyond that of the artistic intelligence of those appointed to run it and of the uncorrupted moral feeling of the whole community must be kept well apart from it.
Richard Wagner, 'On Eduard Devrient's "History of German Acting" ' (1849)
You friends of the theatre, your 'praxis' has brought great evil to artistic communities, so great that you think yourselves justified in denying them the right to look after their own affairs. Through your clever rules, you wise 'practitioners' have brought things to the point where these communities scarcely know any longer that they are bonded together in the common interests of art and that one thing alone can lead them to their goal: the feeling of belonging to a community. [...] And behold! We feel ourselves raised so far above your cleverness that we sense within ourselves a clear need to revive that common spirit of artistic fellowship by means of suitable arrangements. So rest assured, you 'practitioners', that no one knows better than these artistic communities themselves who is fit to run their organizations [...] and so no one knows better than they do whom to choose from any list of proposed candidates.
Richard Wagner, 'Theatre Reform' (1849)