JWR Articles: Travel - Wagner House (Featured artist: Richard Wagner) - August 31, 2010

Wagner House

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Wagner by the shore

No serious music lover can leave Lucerne without a visit to Tribschen—for 6 years Richard Wagner’s domain on Lake Lucerne. The three-storey house (two of which now constitute the museum; a seasonal café is also on the grounds), sitting atop a large hill, can be reached by lakeboat, car or approached on foot (a 20-30 minute stroll from the Kultur und Kongresszentrum Luzern, depending on your pace). Along the path comes one of the city’s beaches and a marina before an upward climb through the woods takes visitors to the door of one of opera’s most notorious, creative composers.

Famously, Siegfried Idyll had its première here December 25, 1870, magically celebrating then-wife Cosima’s birthday. Related to that auspicious event is a postcard-size commercial for Liebig’s Fleisch-Extrakt (curing all manner of ailments) where Wagner is shown happily conducting his German Idyll with a covey of musicians—a veritable brass band—most of whom had no part whatsoever in the original score. Curious to see that even then, mere artistic details mattered not when it came to cashing in on celebrity and selling snake oil (Berlioz was also roped into the promotional scheme). Thank goodness those days are gone!

A walk through the shrine is filled with all manner of scores (the Idyll, like the pages from Tristan und Isolde is somewhat unclear compared the excellent penmanship seen in Die Meistersinger, yet the Herculean, pre-computer effort required to jot down every measure is a spectacular feat on its own).

Aside from the actual music (with many of the more famous works playing discreetly over the speaker system), there are telegrams to and from singers, conductors and friends; a cabinet is filled with all manner of Alpine horns and a Wagner tuba—oddly silent in their cage; busts and portraits of Wagner and family and even his death mask—perhaps to reassure those who may assume that the wily artist had, in fact, become one of his own myths, ready to sail back to earth every seven years in search of true love ….

Enchanting as the artifacts are—displayed and surrounded by the lovingly kept house and grounds—a visit here can’t help but fuel the imagination, moving along the same passageways and savouring much the same views as the brilliant artist. Walking away from that marvellous experience, the mind soon begins planning the next musical encounter (whether live or recorded) with one of Wagner’s creations. Just days from now, Tristan und Isolde will flood KKL with perhaps the greatest love opera of all time. JWR

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Featured artist - Richard Wagner
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