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The Desirable Ordeal


Attending the Bayreuth Festival became all the rage for musicians in the late nineteenth century. The annual tribute to Wagner’s operas drew performers and composers from all over the world. But it took a toll on its attendees, as composer Hugo Wolf wrote to Melanie Köchert on July 20, 1891:

Fortunately the first performance is over. I nodded off from time to time during Acts 1 and 3, and I’m just glad that I was able to take in most of the work. Bayreuth has put me in the worst of moods, and I’m not about to surrender myself again to the local environment, which is dreadful beyond compare. I hardly eat anything anymore, and even the beer tastes bad.

As for sleep, what’s that? It’s impossible to get to sleep before 2 a.m., and at 4 or 4:30 a person is jolted awake by all kinds of racket. Believe me, I’m a complete wreck, and would like nothing better than for this Bayreuth pilgrimage to come to a swift and peaceful conclusion for me. All of the people here disgust me (except perhaps for Humperdinck, who is mulling over a review for the Frankfurter Zeitung and every now and then urges me to hurry).

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My round-trip ticket has me seething with anger. What idiocy it was to set out on the trip by way of Nuremberg when it’s possible to do it easily in one day via Weiden. Now I’ll actually have to stay overnight in Nuremberg if I’m not permitted to go via Weiden…

I can’t report much about the Parsifal performance because I participated with half-open eyes and ears. People said it was very beautiful, and so it probably was.

Today it’s Tristan. May God keep me awake…Now you should thank God you’re not in Bayreuth. Soon I’ll be able to be human again and enjoy eating, drinking, and sleeping—ah, sleeping! Who cares about all those spiritual pleasures when the body is a wreck?