This site in German

Legend Creation in Bayreuth - Nietzsche's last Visit and its Resonance in his "Zarathustra"

In the fall of 2002, by coincidence, I came across the book by Sophie Rützow, Richard Wagner und Bayreuth, Verlag Knorr & Hirth, München 1943, at Nuremberg's downtown Trempelmarkt (flea market). As a matter of course, the work is written entirely from Wagner's and Bayreuth's perspective -- already the headings of the main sections attest to this: I. Richard Wagner wählt Bayreuth (Richard Wagner chooses Bayreuth) II. Vollendet das ewige Werk! (completes his eternal mssion) III. Weihe und Ausklang (dedication and conclusion). Contrary to the earlier Bayreuth style of keeping silent with respect to Nietzsche, in this book, and with respect to the time prior to 1876, even rather objectively, even if still solely concencrated on Wagner, he is surprisingly often referred to. How difficult Bayreuth's view of Nietzsche, particularly after Wagner's death, has remained up to the 1940's can be seen from our report on an excerpt from this book, which I also refer to for the sake of this excerpts' featuring an 'interesting' interpretation of the tightrope walker episode in the "Zarathustra":

Visitors to Bayreuth (p. 127 ff.)

Rützow reports here that already at the Dammallee, another heartily welcomed visitor had appeared, namely Friedrich Nietzsche but that, up to August 1874, there had not occurred another visit, and that there was again a pause until July, 1876. Rützow refers to Wagner as a "fein empfindende Mensch" (sensitive man) who knew that something had risen up in Nietzsche's soul that did not agree with his presence in Bayreuth and that he, shortly after his move to Bayreuth had written to him, "Genau genommen sind Sie nach meiner Frau der einzige Gewinn, den mir das Leben zugeführt" (to be precise, after my wife, you are the only gain that life has provided me with), and she reports that Wagner invited him, half-encouragingly, "O Freund, warum kommen Sie nicht zu uns? Nur nicht so abgesondert! Ich kann Ihnen dann nichts sein! Ihr Zimmer ist bereit!" (O friend, why don't you come and visit us? Do not stay aloof! I can not be anything to you, then! Your room is ready for you!)

As Rützow reports, Nietzsche was hardly able to explain his hesitation, to himself and that in 1875, in a letter to his friend Rohde, he tried to put his conflict into words: "Überall Desperation! Und ich habe sie nicht! Und ich bin doch nicht in Bayreuth! Wie sich das reimt, begreifst Du’s? Ich begreife es fast nicht. Und doch bin ich mehr als dreiviertel des Tages im Geiste dort und schwärme wie ein Gespenst immer um Bayreuth herum. . ." (Desperation everywhere! And I do not have it! And I am not in Bayreuth, after all! What rhyme to you make of that, do you understand that? I can hardly understand it, myself. And yet, more than three quarters of a day, I am there in my mind and roam about in Bayreuth, like a ghost . . . ).

At that time, continues Rützow, Nietzsche's turning away from Wagner found its beginnings and that during the Tribschen years, he had chosen Wagner to be one of his teachers, that, however, his thinking now centered around the realization that reality would never measure up to such a dreamed-up ideal of such a teacher and that first doubts arose in him and increased steadily up to 1876, the year of the Bayreuth Festival until he, who had already arrived for the rehearsals, fighting raging headaches and declining vision, wrote to his sister: "Gestern habe ich die Walküre nur in einem dunklen Raum mitanhören können: Alles Sehen unmöglich. Ich sehne mich weg, es ist unsinnig, wenn ich bleibe." (Yesterday, I was only able to listen to the Walküre in a dark room: all vision is impossible. I long to be gone, it does not make any sense if I stay). Rützow then reports that at that time, Nietzsche fled into the Bavarian Forest and that after that, he and WAgner would meet only one last time, namely in the fall of that year, after the first Bayreuth Festival, in Sorrent, and that the "Sternenfreundschaft" had come to an end.

Rützow then refers to Glasenapp, Wagner's Biographer who sees the root of Nietzsche's turning away from Wagner in the fact that he could not bear to only be considered a "Wagner" writer and that his nerves were to fragile in order to withstand the constant enmity that he was exposed to as "Wagner" writer. Rützow then contrasts this with Hans Richter's theory who brought Nietzsche's turning away from Wagner into connection with his own musical ambitions: "Ich lasse es mir nicht nehmen, daß Nietzsches ‚Abfall’ bereits Anfang des Jahres 1872 begann, an jenem Abend, als er Frau Cosima eine eigene Komposition widmete. Er hielt sich für produktiv-musikalisch begabt, und er hat in Tribschen, selbst in des Meisters Gegenwart, nicht selten auf dem Klavier phantasiert. Richard Wagner sagte darauf bezüglich einmal doppelsinnig: ‚Nein, Nietzsche, Sie spielen zu gut für einen Professor!’

Nun hatte er Frau Cosima seine Komposition ‚Sylvesterglocken’ zugeeignet. Wir spielten sie zusammen mit ihr. Ich blickte verstohlen auf den Meister und sah, wie er unruhig dabei saß und sein Barett knetete. Schließlich ging er hinaus. An der Tür stand der ehrliche Jakob Stocker und sagte: ,Das scheint nicht gut zu sein!’ Als das Stück beendet war, ging ich auch hinaus, ich fürchtete ein Donnerwetter. Doch Jakobs ehrliche Kritik hatte es schon abgeschwächt. Ich fand den Meister bloß in vollem Lachen, und lachend sagte er: Da verkehrt man schon anderthalb Jahre mit dem Menschen, und nun kommt er meuchlings, die Partitur im Gewande.‘" (Richter thinks that Nietzsche's turning away from Wagner can be traced back to the beginning of the year 1872, to that evening, at which he dedicated his own composition to Cosima Wagner and that he considered himself musically talented as a composer, and that he, in Tribschen, in Wagner's presence, also improvised at the piano, not seldom. To this, reports Richter, Wagner replied with: "No, Nietzsche, you play too well for a Professor!' Richter then relates the incident of the New Year's Eve when Nietzsche had dedicated his composition 'Sylvesterglocken' to her and played it with her. Wagner is reported as having observed this, nervously kneading his baret and finally having left the room, and that, at the door, there stood the honest Jakob Stocker who reportedly said, 'That does not appear to good to me!', and, after the piece had ended, one would have feared for Wagner's outrage, but Stocker's remark had already calmed the situation down. Wagner is reported as actually having laughed about it and said, 'We have been socializing with this man for one and a half years, and then he attacks us from behind, with his score in his pocket.')

Rützow then refers to further musical misunderstandings between Wagner and his former 'pupil' Nietzsche, namely in Bayreuth when Nietzsche, visiting there during Easter, 1873, brought along another composition. Wagner's friend's Malvida von Meysenburg's foster daughter had married the Paris Professor Monod, and to this young couple, Nietzsche had dedicated his piano work for four hands entitled, 'Une Monodie ä deux’. During this time, reports Rützow, Richard Wagner and Cosima had great deal of burdens to carry, since of the 300 patron subscriptions for the Festspielhaus, so far, only two hundred had been signed, and the Bayreuth project was in danger of collapsing. Due to this, argues Rützow, the Wagners were even less in the mood than at other times to listen to "dilettantische Spielereien" (dilletant games), and, since the young couple had only been wed in a civil ceremony, one could not quite understand Nietzsche's 'churchy' conclusion of this piece and that Wagner, after having played the piece with Nietzsche, jokingly said, 'With this, you even forced papal blessings onto the Monods.' However, argues Rützow, since Nietzsche was looking for serious criticism, there remained a sting in him. And then, continues this author, there was that visit in August, 1874, on which occasion Nietzsche brought along the piano reduction of Brahms' 'Triumphlied' which he had heard with enthusiasm in the Basel cathedral.

Later, reports Rützow, Wagner had related to Nietzsche's sister that, "Your brother put the red volume onto the piano and every time when I cam down into the salon, this red thing stared at me, it virtually provoked me like a bull would be provoked by the red color, as if he wanted to say with it, 'Look, there is someone who can also compose something good' -- and one evening, I broke out, and how!", and when Nietzsche's sister asked Wagner as to how her brother had reacted, Wagner replied to her, "He said nothing. He blushed and looked at me with modest dignity... "

Rützow then states that Nietzsche suffered from Wagner and that his expanding, ascending mind wanted to free itself from the great man that he once had chosen as his leader, but that his admiration of the uniqueness of this man led him to new admiration, so that Wahnfried's guests would see the philosopher Nietzsche withdrawing into a quiet corner and praising Wagner, and that visitors at Angermann's would suddenly see a young man jumping up and sitting beside them to only speak of Wagner, calmly, quietly and with an infinitely beautiful expression in his eyes, through which his enthusiasm would glow.

Those, continues Rützow, who then, in Wahnfried, at Angermann's or elsewhere in Bayreuth, would encounter Nietzsche who was struggling with himself and with his mixed feelings, have all left this world, by now, and only one of them was still alive (in the 1940's), namely Adolf Wallnöfer who, when he came to Brayreuth, again, in 1876, did not stay at the 'Nibelungen-Kanzlei', but at the 'Sonne’. Rützow then relates Wallnöfer's recollection. Wallnöfer told her that one day, someone knocked at her door, a man that was unknown to him, with a drooping mustache and kind eyes behind his glasses, who turned out to be his next door neighbor at the 'Sonne', Professor Nietzsche, and since he had heard at Wahnfried that he had read his 'Geburt der Tragödie', he wanted to meet him.

The Festspielhaus in Bayreuth 1876

The two men then reportedly went on long walks at which they discussed this work, Bayreuth and various other questions of art, and that they got along, rather well. Wallnöfer then relates that one time, after such a long walk along the city boundaries, they had grown tired and thirsty and that, at some distance, they saw a large house in a park-like setting, which they approached, and that, as they entered it, they were received by a gentleman whom they asked if they could have something to drink, and that they were invited in, where they would receive excellent tea, since they were in a hospital.

Wallnöfer then reports that they saw many men there, some of them playing billiards, yet, very unruly, and that some of the men stared at them and took no notice of them, so that they realized that they had entered the Bayreuth insane asylum.

When the insane hear, continues Wallnöfer, that a young singer and composer from Vienna and a Professor from Basel had arrived, many of them moved closer and surrounded them. In spite of the institute director's apprehensions, they spoke with them and told them this and that, and since among them there were also patients who considered themselves intellectual or artistic geniuses, they were asked to admire their works, and that one patient whose insanity stared at them out of his eyes, forced his poem on them, as Nietzsche was supposed to render his opinion of it, and that Wallnöfer was supposed to set it to music. As he then reports, he held on to this poem as a memento of this peculiar hour. The poem's title is, ,Christus als Schmetterlingsrüssel’ (Christ as butterfly trunk)..

When Nietzsche and he were finally able to leave the circle of these patients and leave the facility, on their way back to Bayreuth, they read the poem, and Nietzsche reportedly said: ‚This look at the inside of an insane asylum was highly interesting. How terrible and grotesque at the tame time, when a man loses his own mental faculties!' He was then, reportedly, shaken by intense laughter. Wallnöfer states that he often had to think back to this event after Nietzsche became insane.

Rützow continues that, even if Nietzsche, after 1876, never returned to Bayreuth, it was this city that left two mile stones in his own creativity. His gift to Wagner on the occasion of the first Festspiele was his 'Richard Wagner in Bayreuth’ which she calls his 'incomparable hymn' on the 'great friend' which, perhaps, contains the most beautiful that has ever been said about Wagner, who, in her opinion, felt the same way when he wrote to him, "Freund . . . Ihr Buch ist ungeheuer!" (Friend . . . your book is incomparable).

Rützow then states that Bayreuth is connected to Nietzsche's work in another place, namely in the foreword to his 'Zarathustra', as Nietzsche might have once, or perhaps even several times, walked through the old town with Cosima and her children, around the old town church, and observed, half in awe, half eagerly, how there had been a rope spun between the two church bell towers and how rope walkers (from the rope walker family Knie) would delight the onlookers with their amazing tricks. Rützow then quotes this passage from the foreword to 'Zarathustra': "Und Zarathustra kommt in die nächste Stadt, die an den Wäldern liegt, da fand er daselbst viel Volk versammelt auf dem Markt, denn es war verheißen worden, daß man einen Seiltänzer sehen sollte ... Der aber trat aus einer Tür hoch oben auf dem Turm auf das Seil zwischen den Türmen . . ." (And Zarathustra arrived in the next city that lies near the forests; there, he found a large crowd gathered at the marked, since it had been announced that one would be able to see a rope walker ... the latter stepped out of a door, high up on the tower, onto the rope between the towers . . . ).

The old town church in Bayreuth

Rützow then states that the city by the forsests is Bayreuth, and that the towers are the church towers of the old town church, and only from his own experience would Nietzsche have been able to render this scene so 'faithful to Bayreuth', and then she wonders who might be the rope walker and arrives at the conclusion that, as some of Nietzsche's interpreters would say, it must refer to Richard Wagner, and that the 'crowd' would refer to his followers.

Rützow than goes as far as conceding that, if Nietzsche really became 'that personal' in his rendition of this scene, then he must, through secret threads, have been connected to Wagner, even at the time of his writing of this foreword, since, as Nietzsche completed the first part of his Zarathustra, in Venice, in the same 'sacred hours', his former beloved friend, Richard Wagner, had died.

Back to the Wagner Page