lady of beyreuth


Cosima Wagner had about as interesting a life as anyone who didn’t found a religion or personally lead an invasion of a foreign empire. It’s perhaps surprising, since her whole existence was just as an appendage to her husband, Richard, the great composer. Before she met him, everything in her circumstances seemed to be preparing her for the momentous marriage. After he died, she devoted the rest of her long life – she died 47 years after him, in 1930 – to perpetuating his memory and sustaining the festival of his works at Bayreuth. By the time she died, Wagner’s reputation was in an aesthetic aspic, and at the forefront of a terrible political dynamism: antique stagings of his works were presented to audiences of Brownshirts. For that, Cosima Wagner was as much to blame as anyone. She was the daughter of Franz Liszt and his aristocratic mistress, Marie d’Agoult. Though they had three children together, they maintained rather a loose connection – Marie once wrote to Liszt, on tour, to ask his permission to commit adultery with an English diplomat. Cosima and her siblings were abandoned to the casual care of elderly women – Liszt’s mother Anna, then the governess of Liszt’s new mistress, the legendarily bonkers Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein.

more from Philip Hensher at The Telegraph here.