About this work
Wagner's need for money expanded exponentially as his ambitions grew. From cadging "loans" from friends as a youthful survival strategy to nearly bankrupting the Bavarian state treasury -- through the pliancy of his enraptured fan King Ludwig II -- for the realization of ever more grandiose goals and the maintenance of a fantastically sybaritic lifestyle, a Niagara of cash poured continually through his hands. Yet, he was always in need. Through the 1850s, during more than a decade of Swiss exile -- a fugitive from revolutionary activities in Dresden in 1849 -- Wagner's operas achieved fame throughout Germany, securing for him recognition as one of the great German composers, in the line of Mozart, Beethoven, and Weber. On this vast prestige he never failed to turn a thaler, a franc, or a buck whenever possible. Through the 1860s, long-cherished dreams of a festival theater for the exclusive performance of his works took definite shape. The small Bavarian town of Bayreuth was chosen as its site and Wagner began soliciting funds for its construction. On his 59th birthday, May 22, 1872, the foundation stone of the Festspielhaus was laid on a hill overlooking the town. Wagner Societies sprang up over Germany, but even the faithful could not keep up with the voracious needs of ongoing construction, much of it done on credit. A Festival Committee issued Patrons' Certificates for sale to large contributors, which gave the venture some business standing, and Ludwig, in February 1874, arranged a loan of 100,00 thalers from the Bavarian treasury to be repaid from the certificates' receipts. Ludwig also gave Wagner 25,000 thalers to complete Villa Wahnfried, the luxurious family mansion where, swaddled in satins, silks, and furs, his walls voluptuously shrouded with rich velvets and bathed in the redolence of amber, Milk of Iris, and attar of roses, Wagner composed Parsifal. Rehearsals for the Ring began in the completed Festspielhaus in August 1875. Meanwhile, the United States was preparing to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and, at Christmas 1875, commissioned Wagner to compose a commemorative march for the occasion. By February 1876 it was completed, as music for the Flower Maidens in Parsifal sprang to mind -- perhaps they wanted to be Americans, he quipped. Wagner was obviously correct when he said of this vacuously pompous effusion that the best thing about it was the $5,000 he was paid for it, which funded -- despite a festival deficit of 150,000 marks -- an Italian vacation.