Rare Stories about Richard Wagner

Wagner was born in Germany and was a composer and opera producer. There are more biographies about Wagner than any other historical figure with the exception of Jesus and Napoleon. He was a great friend of Liszt and ended up marrying Liszt’s daughter in his second marriage.

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Richard Wagner Anecdotes

Good Morning Anecdote!

Among [Brahms’] admirers it was the fashion to despise Wagner, but to this he demurred, and a remark he often made,” His imitators are monkeys but the man himself has something to say,” was cited as proof of his noble, generous disposition. People like Joachim and Herzogenberg considered Wagner a colossal joke, and I remember their relating how, as a sort of penance, they sat through a whole act of Siegfried, keeping up each other’s spirits by exchanging a “Good morning” whenever a certain chord, let us say a diminished ninth, occurred in the score.
(Dame Ethel Smyth: Impressions that Remained. 1923)

German Beer Music

Friedrich Nietzsche worshipped Richard Wagner when they first met (in 1868) and Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy was heavily influenced by Wagner's views on Greek tragedy. By the time Die Meistersinger was completed, however, Nietzsche's admiration had soured. His verdict of the opera? "German beer music."
(Sources: Wilson, Brandy of the Damned; Nietzsche, The Case of Wagner; Headington, The Bodley Head History of Western Music)

The Great Hat Anecdote

The immortal Wagner is coming to London when at the zenith of his glory. A large orchestra is engaged for a series of ten concerts…The members of the orchestra are all in their places, when Herr Wagner appears, descending some steps, followed by Herren Richter and Franke. By some strange accident, in descending Herr Wagner has his hat crushed through coming in contact with some projection, and this gives a most undignified, if not comical appearance, as, strutting into the room, he approaches the orchestra, assuming a very haughty air. Those in his immediate presence seem to look at him with too much awe to propose taking off his hat and restoring it to a proper shape. Amongst the English members of the orchestra the incident provokes unmistakable signs of merriment, as the individual players call each other’s attention to the condition of the hat. But his is not shared by the German members of the orchestra, who view the English conduct in the matter as almost sacrilegious and most reprehensible. Herr Wagner, noticing this hilarity, and not divining the cause, glares at the perpetrators with surprise and disgust. However, a tap with the baton and the rehearsal begins. The second violins, with their long, rolling arpeggio like waves, make the atmosphere quite damp with the water of the Rhine, and this ism ore strongly emphasized, as, after rehearsal, I see two or three members of the orchestra causing a small crowd to collect as they pretend to wring water from the tails of their frock coats. The work has not proceeded far before the conductor taps his desk violently, and shouts, ‘Zuruch’ (Again). A fresh start is made, but ere long another misunderstanding, this time through the conductor, who, carried away by the music, relinquished his baton, expecting this huge machine to follow a beat, given only with one of his fingers on his shirt-stud. This time, whit with ill-concealed rage, the composer turns to Richter, and walking to and fro, repeats the word ‘Schlecht’ (Bad) two or three times. This little performance is not lost on the English portion of the orchestra, who, seemingly unable any further to control their mirth, burst into an unmistakable chuckle, to the consternation of the German and other foreign elements.

Here Herr Deichman, leader of the second violins, springs to his feet, and passionately tapping the music stand with his bow, says in bad English. “It is not think to laugh.” So violently does he strike his desk, that the little piece of ivory at the top of his bow flies across the room and strikes Herr Wilhelmj in the face. This last occurrence draws perfect howls of laughter, in which a good number of the foreign section freely join. Herr Wagner is by this time in a frenzy of passion. But this is the opportunity for that perfect tactician, herr Richter, who, taking the great composer by the arm, leads him away, speaking in a soothing, conciliatory tone. The orchestra, in the meantime, indulge in unrestrained jubilation. In a few moments the conductor returns, without Herr Wagner, and with the baton in his hand, says only two words, “Now, boys!” Every man in that orchestra looks back to the eye which seems to read into their very souls, as, electrified by the wonderful personality of the great conductor, each one pushes his chair nearer to his music-stand, and a volume of sound, as if from one instrument, conveys to the ear the glorious effects in that wonderful conception of one of the greatest musical and dramatic geniuses of the century.
(William M. Quirke: Recollections of a Violinist. 1914)