That’s All I Ask

Richard Wagner
Composer Wilhelm Richard Wagner

On September 20, 1850, Richard Wagner shared his aspirations with critic Theodor Uhlig, writing from Zurich about the key to achieving his latest artistic goal:

What’s needed to accomplish the best, most decisive and important project that I can take on in the current circumstances, and to bring to fruition what I consider my life work, is a sum of perhaps 10,000 Thalers.

If I had that kind of money to work with, this is what I would do. Here, where I have a position and where the situation isn’t too bad, I’d have a makeshift theater of planks and beams set up, according to my own design, in a beautiful meadow just outside the town, and equipped with the bare essentials of scenery and the machinery necessary for a performance of Siegfried. Then I’d pick the most suitable singers, wherever they are, and invite them to Zurich for six weeks. I’d try to put the chorus together locally with amateurs (there are outstanding voices and strong, healthy people here).

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I’d assemble the orchestra by invitation the same way. In the New Year I’d place advertisements in all the German newspapers, inviting all lovers of musical drama to attend the proposed music festival…I’d give three performances of Siegfried in a week, and after three performances the theater would be pulled down and my score burned.

To everyone who had enjoyed it, I would say, “Now go and do likewise!” But if they wanted to hear something new from me, I’d say, “Now you get the money together!”

Do you think I’m completely crazy? Maybe I am, but I assure you that achieving this is the great hope of my life, the only promise that can spur me to take up any creative work. So find me 10,000 Thalers. That’s all I ask.