Sunday, December 11, 2005

"Wagner: The Rebel"

In 1842 Wagner had begun to garner approbation and fame from the immense success of his third opera, Rienzi. He and Cosima soon moved to Dresden, where the opera had premiered. The next year he was appointed Kapellmeister at the Royal Court Theater after having conducted the premiere of Der Fliegende Hollander. Over the next five years he would also compose Tannhauser and Lohengrin, all of which marked his growth and maturity as a composer. His musical career and preoccupations did nothing to fetter his political activity, however.
A leftist nationalist movement had been gaining support within the independent German States. Many middle-class citizens felt downtrodden by social inequities and wanted their rights respected and improved upon in addition to unifying each of the weak German States into a stronger nation. Wagner was an earnest participant in this movement, hosting such guests in his home as the August Rockel and Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, an associate of Marx. Rockel happened to be Wagner's assistant conductor and editor of Volksblatter, a weekly journal. It was through this journal that Wagner and other political malcontents frequently published their diatribes against the government.
Wagner expressed much zeal not only for political reform, but for cultural and artistic reform as well. He proposed a plan to the government which entailed the formation of a German national theater with an elected director, the organization of a drama school and the expansion and autonomy of the court orchestra. Such avante garde ideas were of the same democratic mind-set as the goals of the new nationalist movement, however, and were therefore rejected.
If there had been anything equivocal or uncertain about Wagner's position among the revolutionaries, they were definitely expunged from everyone's mind in June of 1848 when he gave a speech to the Vaterlandsverein, the most prominent republican group. He spoke of republican goals in relation to the ruling Saxon monarchy. He castigated the corruption frequently correlated with commerce, labeling it as a hindrance to the liberties of mankind. He also foretold the downfall of the aristocracy. While Wagner and the other middle-class radicals sought out a new, constitutional republic, the maintained that the Saxon king would govern as "the first and truest republican of all." Of course, this idea was propagated not because of their approval of the concept, but because of necessary compromise that had to be made in light of the limited power of the republican group in face of the monarchy.
Frustration with the Saxon government came to a head in April 1849 when King Frederick Augustus II dissolved his parliament and dismissed the new constitution that his people presented to him. A revolution that would come to be known as the May Uprising broke out in retaliation, but was soon to be put down by the combined strength of Saxon and Prussian forces. Soon, warrants were issued for the arrests of all the revolutionaries. Because of Wagner's past political activities and his involvement in the rebellion, he and Cosima were forced to flee for their lives. With the help of Franz Lizst, they were sheltered in Weimar, then fled to Paris by means of a false passport. They soon left Paris and finally ended up in Zurich, Switzerland. Wagner was forced to spend the next twelve years there with Cosima in exile.

"Wagner, (Wilhelm) Richard,"Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2005
http://encarta.msn.com 1997-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

"Richard Wagner." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia 2005
http://en.wikipedia.org 2005 Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.

"Richard Wagner." Grove Music Online 2005
http://grovemusic.com 2005 Oxford University Press.