Online Exhibits@Yale

The Exhibition

Portrait of Richard Wagner

Franz Hanfstaengel, photograph of Richard Wagner, 1871

Franz Hanfstaengel

Photograph of Richard Wagner


This well known photograph shows Wagner in 1871, when he was in his late sixties. It is the work of Franz Hanfstaengel (1804-1877), a prominent artist, photographer, and lithographer. Hanfstaengel specialized in portraits of celebrated persons. Franz Liszt (Wagner’s father-in-law) and King Ludwig of Bavaria (Wagner’s patron) were two of his other subjects.

The provenance of the library’s copy of this photo is not known, but its handwritten caption—Wagner’s name handwritten in Greek—appears to be a clue.

Portrait File
Hope Leroy Baumgartner Fund

Program for concert performance of Lohengrin

New Haven Oratorio Society
New Haven Symphony Orchestra
Horatio Parker, Conductor
Woolsey Hall, New Haven
December 6, 1906

As Wagner’s popularity grew, his music became a major part of the repertory in the concert hall as well as the opera house. Orchestras often played instrumental excerpts, and vocal ensembles sometimes performed unstaged versions of entire operas. This program is an example of the latter: the New Haven Oratorio Society and the New Haven Symphony gave a concert performance of Lohengrin in Yale’s Woolsey Hall (which had opened just five years earlier, on the occasion of the Yale bicentenary). The conductor, Horatio Parker (1863–1919), was also the Dean of the Yale School of Music and an eminent composer in his own right. Charles Ives (Class of 1898) was one of Parker’s students.

Yale School of Music Papers


Letter to Franz Betz

November 29, 1874

In this letter to the singer Franz Betz (1835–1900), Wagner writes of never having received the “surprise” (apparently something financial) that Betz had told him to expect. Wagner further laments that he hasn’t received any of the receipts from a production of Der Fliegende Holländer—“they are, God help us, locked away in the secret archives of the royal intendant” —receipts which are in large measure owed to Betz (presumably because he was part of the production). But, Wagner writes, he hopes to be able to devote himself to this and other practical matters now that he has finished the score to Götterdämmerung. “This must be of only middling interest to you,” Wagner jokes, “since you appear in it only as a god in decline,” referring to the work’s title (translated as Twilight of the Gods) and the fact that Betz was projected to sing the role of Wotan.

In 1876, Betz did in fact sing Wotan in the first performance of the Ring. A photograph of him in costume appears elsewhere in this exhibit.

This letter formerly belonged to Lehman Engel (1910–1982), the composer and Broadway conductor. We are grateful to Oliver Schowalter-Hay for providing a summary. 

From the estate of Lehman Engel
Miscellaneous Letters and Documents File

Letter from Richard Wagner to unidentified recipient, January 2, 1878

Letter from Richard Wagner to an unidentified recipient, January 2, 1878

 Letter to unidentified recipient

January 2, 1878

 In this letter, written to someone at his publishing house, Wagner complains about a small typographical error. Modern readers may find the mistake amusing, but Wagner apparently did not:

 My dear doctor:

I have just observed to my astonishment that Brockhaus’s typesetter did not think it worth the trouble to rectify a mistake by me in the text of Parsifal which arose in some incomprehensible manner.

Page 29: bottom line should read “damned” [“verdammt”] instead of “cursed” [“verflucht”]. May I ask in any future printing that this change be included.With my highest regards and wishes,

Richard Wagner

 This letter belonged to Carl Stoeckel (1858-1925). Carl and his wife Ellen Battell Stoeckel founded the Norfolk Music Festival, and were important patrons of music. Carl’s father Gustave was the first music professor at Yale. Stoeckel Hall, now the home of the Department of Music, is named after him.

From the estate of Carl Stoeckel
Miscellaneous Letters and Documents File


Letter to Joseph Rubinstein

April 6, 1880

In this letter to the pianist Joseph Rubinstein (1847–1884), Wagner writes that he will remain in Naples through the fall in order to improve his health and spirits before returning to Wahnfried, his home in Bayreuth, for a full year. Once there, he writes, he hopes to complete the score to Parsifal so that it could be produced in the summer of 1882. Meanwhile he invites Rubinstein, who had committed his recent performance earnings to the Bayreuth Fund, to come to Naples. Rubinstein was at the time based in Bayreuth, where he published an article in the Bayreuther Blätter sharply critical of the music of Brahms.

This letter formerly belonged to Richard F. French (1915–2001), a music historian who served on the faculties of both Yale and Juilliard. The ink has faded, so in this online exhibit, we have digitally enhanced the contrast to make it more legible. We are grateful to Oliver Schowalter-Hay for providing a summary of the contents.

Gift of Richard French
Miscellaneous Letters and Documents File





Letter to Dr. Newell Sill Jenkins

February 8, 1880

 Dr. Newell Sill Jenkins (1840-1919) was an American dentist who spent most of his career in Europe, practicing chiefly in Dresden. He had many notable patients, including Wagner and his family. The Wagner family and the Jenkins family became friends, and they exchanged many letters, including the two seen here.

In this letter, Wagner suggests that his luck might run out in Germany, and perhaps he should move permanently to the U.S. with his family. (He had already composed an overture for the centenary of American independence, in 1876.) For the move to be possible, he explained, it would be necessary for a society of his admirers to raise one million dollars: half to be paid up front, to help the Wagners settle in an American state with a suitable climate, and the other half as an endowment that would generate income to support Wagner on an ongoing basis. This same society would also finance music festivals that would feature Wagner’s works, including the premiere of Parsifal. Wagner went on to propose that his American friend Jenkins was the man to organize this ambitious plan.

Jenkins was a dentist, not an experienced music impresario, but he wrote to several associates back in the United States to sound them out about Wagner’s ideas. It soon became apparent that the scheme was unrealistic.

The Wagner-Jenkins Correspondence is a collection comprising many letters between the Wagner family and the Jenkins family, as well as Jenkins’ correspondence with various Americans regarding Wagner’s proposals. It came to the library as a gift of Dr. Jenkins’ grandson, Newell Jenkins (1915–1996), the distinguished conductor and founder of the Clarion Society.

Gift of Newell Jenkins
Wagner-Jenkins Correspondence



Richard and Cosima Wagner

Letter to Dr. Newell Sill Jenkins

July 13, 1880

By the time he wrote this second letter to Dr. Jenkins, Wagner had abandoned his ambitious scheme for settling permanently in the United States; instead, he merely proposes a visit, beginning in September 1881. He explains that he wants to avoid working with the usual impresarios, so he hopes that Jenkins can help him find a society or wealthy person who could help finance the trip.

The first half of this letter is written by Richard Wagner and dictated to his wife Cosima. The second half is in Cosima’s voice as well as in her hand, and is written in quite good English, although she does spell “America” in the German fashion as “Amerika.”

Even Wagner’s scaled-down plans were still not feasible. He never did make it to the United States, and he died in 1883.

Gift of Newell Jenkins
Wagner-Jenkins Correspondence

Portrait of Karl Hill (1831-1893) as Alberich

Photograph of Karl Hill (1831-1893) as Alberich

Photograph of Karl Hill

(as Alberich)

Costuem-Portraits der
Bayreuther Buehnenfestspiele

(München: J. Albert, 1876)

 The complete Ring cycle received its first performance in August 1876 in Bayreuth. The event was commemorated in many ways, including a published portfolio of 25 photographs of the singers in costume. We have selected three of them for this exhibit.

Alberich is the character who sets the plot of the Ring in motion. After the Rhine Maidens reject his advances because he is an uncouth dwarf, he renounces love and steals the Rhine gold from them, using it to fashion the Ring and make himself all-powerful. The gods, in turn, steal it from him. Alberich is portrayed here by Karl Hill (1831–1893). Hill also sang in the premiere of Parsifal in 1882.

Gift of Mrs. Elisha Atkins

Portrait of Franz Betz (1835-1900) as Wotan

Photograph of Franz Betz (1835-1900) as Wotan

Photograph of Franz Betz

(as Wotan)

Costuem-Portraits der
Bayreuther Buehnenfestspiele 

(München: J. Albert, 1876)

This is another photograph from the premiere of the Ring in Bayreuth in 1876. Here we see Wotan, the king of the gods. Wotan has only one eye, and the treaties that provide his authority are carved on the spear that he carries. Like many of the characters in early Wagner productions, he wears a remarkable helmet. Wotan is played here by Franz Betz (1835–1900), a renowned German baritone who sang many Wagnerian roles. Our exhibit also includes a letter from Wagner to Betz.

Gift of Mrs. Elisha Atkins



Portrait of Amalie Materna (1844-1918) as Brunnhilde

Photograph of Amalie Materna (as Brünnhilde)

Photograph of Amalie Materna

(as Brünnhilde)

Costuem-Portraits der
Bayreuther Buehnenfestspiele 

(München: J. Albert, 1876)

This is another photograph from the premiere of the Ring in Bayreuth in 1876. Brünnhilde and her fellow Valkyries ride on horseback to bring fallen heroes to Valhalla, so it comes as no surprise to see her depicted with a horse. In defiance of her father Wotan, she aids her half-siblings Siegmund and Siegliende, and loses her divinity as punishment. She later marries Siegfried, the son of Siegmund and Sieglinde.

The Austrian soprano Amalie Materna (1844–1918) sang the role of Brünnhilde in the 1876 production. She was also known for several other Wagnerian roles, including Kundry in the premiere of Parsifal in 1882. 

Gift of Mrs. Elisha Atkins



Portrait of Jean de Reszke (1850-1925) as Siegfried in Wagner's Gotterdammerung

Photograph of Jean de Reszke (as Siegfried)


Photograph of Jean de Reszke

(as Siegfried)

Photographs (Mounted) of
Opera Singers and Other Artists,

Also of Royalty and Other Persons
Prominent Mainly in Europe

in the Late 19th and early 20th Centuries

Jean de Reszke (1850–1925) was one of the greatest opera stars of his era. He sang a variety of major Italian, French, and German roles, first as a baritone, and later as a tenor. In this photograph, he is seen as Siegfried, the ultimate Heldentenor role. The photo bears no information about date or place, but de Reszke is known to have sung in Siegfried at the Metropolitan Opera in 1896–97, and in Götterdämmerung two years later. On both occasions, his equally renowned brother Edouard (1853–1917) was also in the cast, first as Wotan, and then as Hagen. (Unfortunately their sister Josephine, who was also an opera singer, had died in 1891.) In our photo Jean de Reszke carries Siegfried’s characteristic props: his mighty sword (called “Nothung”) and the instrument on which he plays his famous horn call.

This photograph is from a large scrapbook, cataloged under the title Photographs (Mounted) of Opera Singers and Other Artists, Also of Royalty and Other Persons Prominent Mainly in Europe in the Late 19th and early 20th Centuries. It includes many photos of singers in Wagnerian roles.

Gift of Mrs. Wilmarth S. Lewis in memory of her mother, Mrs. Hugh D. Auchincloss



Hans von Wolzogen

Guide to the Music of Richard Wagner’s Tetralogy:
The Ring of the Nibelung: A Thematic Key

Translated by Nathan Haskell Dole
(New York: G. Schirmer, c1890)

Most operas before Wagner were made up largely of self-contained “numbers,” such as recitatives, arias, and ensembles. Wagner, in contrast, developed a new approach he called “endless melody”; the singers advance the plot in a continuous quasi-recitative style, while the orchestra offers a complex musical commentary of its own, sometimes even overshadowing the singers. This orchestral commentary relies heavily on memorable phrases that are repeated, transformed, and combined in highly sophisticated ways. Many of these phrases, which have come to be called leitmotifs, are associated with particular characters, objects, or ideas. Wagner wrote extensively about his music drama and how it should be composed, but he said little about leitmotifs. Other authors were happy to do it for him, and the cataloguing and explication of leitmotifs became a small industry. Hans von Wolzogen’s guide to the leitmotifs of the Ring (1876) was one of the earliest and most influential works of this kind. It went through many editions, and is seen here in an English translation. Everyone from music appreciation teachers to casual opera fans regarded learning the leitmotifs as essential to understanding Wagner.

Wolzogen (1848–1938) was a music journalist who became a member of Wagner’s circle in the 1870s. He founded and edited a prominent Wagnerian journal, Bayreuther Blätter, and remained a fervent supporter of Wagner to the end of his long life. He endorsed and elaborated on Wagner’s anti-Semitic ideas, and lived long enough to see the Nazis come to power in Germany.

The Perfect Wagnerite

George Bernard Shaw, The Perfect Wagnerite, illustrated by Julio Fernandez (cover)

The Perfect Wagnerite

P. 8

George Bernard Shaw

The Perfect Wagnerite

Illustrations by Julio Fernandez
(New York: Time, Inc., 1972)

The long list of Wagner aficionados included many of the leading cultural figures of the late nineteenth century, among them George Bernard Shaw. Even before he was hailed as the greatest English-language playwright of his era, Shaw (1856–1950) had already gained a reputation as a brilliant music critic. Shaw (who sometimes wrote under the pseudonym Corno di Bassetto) had many musical enthusiasms, but among them only Wagner inspired him to write at book length. The Perfect Wagnerite, first published in 1898, is Shaw’s analysis of the Ring cycle. Although Shaw was a well-informed music lover, he had a greater passion for big ideas from the realms of economics, sociology, and psychology. He argues that Wagner was offering his listeners “a first essay in political philosophy.” The Ring, Shaw writes, “with all its gods and giants and dwarfs, its water-maidens and Valkyries, its wishing-cap, magic ring, enchanted sword, and miraculous treasure, is a drama of today, and not of a remote and fabulous antiquity.” Shaw interprets the story in the light of his own Fabian socialism as well as Wagner’s revolutionary activities in Dresden in 1849. (As Shaw points out, the revolutions of 1848–49 were still recent history when Wagner drafted the libretto.) In Shaw’s view, the Ring is an allegory for the defects of capitalism and the class system. For example, Alberich is snubbed by his social betters, so he renounces love in the pursuit of wealth and power, and becomes a cruel and exploitative boss of the Nibelungs. When the gods refuse to pay the giants the agreed-upon wage for building Valhalla, this is an example of the aristocrats—posing as defend­ers of the law—snookering the humble artisans. But Shaw is no fanatic in the application of this framework. Indeed, he complains that the allegory collapses in Götterdämmerung, which he regards as an unworthy conclusion to the cycle, an all too conventional opera of men and women, rather than a lofty music drama of ideas.

Throughout the book, Shaw uses his own sometimes idiosyncratic translations of names and titles. For example, Valhalla is Godhome, Mime is Mimmy, the tarnhelm (as we have already seen) is the wishing cap, and Götterdämmerung is Night Falls on the Gods.

Yale has several editions of The Perfect Wagnerite. We have selected a relatively recent one, because of the striking illustrations by Julio Fernandez.

From the estate of Rodger Vaughan



Caricature of Richard Wagner

Caricature of Richard Wagner by André Gill, L’Eclipse, April 18, 1869

André Gill

Caricature of Richard Wagner

April 18, 1869

Wagner had many fervent admirers, but his detractors were just as passionate in their views. They denounced his music, his ideas, and his character at great length. But sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, and André Gill’s illustration of Wagner makes its point more eloquently than most of those essays. Gill (1840–1885) was a French artist who specialized in caricatures. This drawing has been reprinted many times, but few people have had the opportu­nity to see it as it was originally published, in a large-format Paris weekly called L’Eclipse. Gill’s drawings appeared regularly on the cover of L’Eclipse, and they often depicted important people in unflattering ways. The paper was censored frequently, and on one occasion Gill was imprisoned.



Richard Wagner

On Conducting

Translated by Edward Dannreuther
(London: W. Reeves, 1897)

Unlike most major composers of his era, Wagner was not an outstanding instrumentalist, but he did have a significant career as a conductor. He served as music director in Dresden from 1843 to 1849, and after losing that job because of his political activities, he had many guest-conducting engagements. Despite his successes as a conductor, Tannhäuser (1845) was the last major work whose premiere Wagner directed himself; he entrusted Lohengrin to Liszt, Tristan and Meistersinger to Hans von Bülow (even as he was having an affair with von Bülow’s wife), the Ring to Hans Richter, and Parsifal to Hermann Levi.

In characteristic style, it was not enough for Wagner to be an important conductor himself; he also wrote a highly opinionated book on the subject. Ueber das Dirigiren was first published in German in 1869; it is seen here in English translation. It is not an instructional treatise, but rather a series of ruminations and anecdotes on the subject. Wagner justifies his own practices and casts aspersions on other musicians, particularly Mendelssohn.

This book comes to the library from Richard Donovan (1891–1970), a professor of composition at the Yale School of Music.

From the estate of Richard Donovan



"Das Judenthum in der Musick", September 3-6, 1850

K. Freigedank [Richard Wagner], "Das Judenthum in der Musick" Neue Zeitschrift der Musik, September 3-6, 1850

K. Freigedank [Richard Wagner]

“Das Judenthum in der Musik”

Neue Zeitschrfit für Musik
September 3-6, 1850

In 1850, Wagner published his most infamous essay, “Das Judenthum in der Musick,” or “Judaism in Music.” In this article, Wagner expresses his distaste for the Jews and for their role in music and society. He argues that true musical greatness grows organically from the cultural soil, and that Jews, as perpetual outsiders, cannot be part of this. Consequently, he claims, Jewish musicians can never achieve any more than a superficial or imitative facility. Much of Wagner’s ire was aimed—directly or indirectly—at Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer, both of whom had attained a level of popular and financial success far surpassing what Wagner had achieved by that time. Mendelssohn had died in 1847, but in a letter to Liszt, Wagner privately acknowledged that his essay was motivated largely by his complex relationship with Meyerbeer.

The article appeared in two installments in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, an influential periodical founded by Robert Schumann in 1834. In 1845 Schumann had sold the Neue Zeitschrift to Franz Brendel, who became a staunch supporter of the Wagner, Liszt, and the “New German School.” Naturally, the article inspired opposition, although much of the criticism was directed at Brendel, because Wagner had written under a pseudonym (“K. Freigedank,” or “K. Freethought”). Some readers were able to discern the author’s identity, but any doubts were laid to rest in 1869, when Wagner reprinted the article under his own name, with a new preface. In subsequent years, he wrote several other articles on the same theme, and his wife’s diary shows that he also expressed such views in private conversation. When things did not go his way, he often blamed his troubles on Jews retaliating against him because of his controversial articles.

Despite his bigoted writings and comments, Wagner had a number of Jewish friends and associates, including the pianist Joseph Rubinstein—a letter from Wagner to Rubinstein appears elsewhere in this exhibit—and the conductor Hermann Levi, who directed the premiere of Parsifal.

Wagner died in 1883, six years before the birth of Adolf Hitler. Hitler admired Wagner and his music, and had close personal ties with members of the Wagner family, particularly Winifred Wagner, the widow of Wagner’s son Siegfried. Hitler was often a guest at the Wagner home in Bayreuth.

Wagner’s anti-Semitism has been the subject of several books and countless articles, and commentators still debate whether (or to what extent) it affected the characters and plots of his music dramas.

Larned Fund



Deems Taylor

Radio Talk for New York Philharmonic Concert

November 15, 1936
(Later published as "The Monster")

Commentators have responded to Wagner’s combination of musical genius and profound character flaws in various ways. Many of his contemporaries and immediate successors were so smitten by his works that they regarded him as a great and wise man in every respect; they accepted his opinions on all manner of topics, and they stoutly denied his faults. For a long time, this often included endorsing his anti-Semitism. Since World War II, few have been willing to go that far, but some advocates still find ways to downplay his most notorious flaw. Conversely, other commentators feel that Wagner’s odious views outweigh his musical accomplishments.

This radio talk by Deems Taylor is one example of how people have tried to come to terms with the cognitive dissonance they feel in the presence of Wagner’s strengths and weaknesses. The first three and a half pages of Taylor’s script consist of a long and vigorous recitation of Wagner’s flaws. We hear about his physical frailties, his egotism, his arrogance, his instability, his financial irresponsibility, his marital infidelities, and his penchant for making enemies. But then Taylor turns on a dime; in his final page and a half, he argues that “the curious thing about this record is that it doesn’t matter in the least.” He continues, “Listening to his music, you don’t forgive him for what he may or may not have been. It’s not a matter of forgiveness. It’s a matter of being dumb with wonder that his poor brain and body didn’t burst under the torment of the demon of creative energy that lived inside him…” Taylor’s talk is a rhetorical masterpiece, and it has been published (under the title “The Monster”) not only in anthologies of Taylor’s writings, but also in numerous textbooks and web sites aimed at developing the student’s reading comprehension and prose style. But while Taylor describes Wagner’s personal failings with gusto, he makes no mention of anti-Semitism. To the modern reader, the omission is striking. Did Taylor not consider anti-Semitism a flaw? Did he consider it a flaw so unforgivable that it would undermine his argument? Did he—or his superiors at the New York Philharmonic or CBS—judge that the American radio audience in 1936 included so many anti-Semites that he had to be wary of offending them? We can only speculate.

Deems Taylor (1885–1966) ranks among the most prominent and versatile American musical figures of his era. He was a composer (two of his operas were performed at the Metropolitan Opera), a journalist and critic for several newspapers and magazines, the host of the classic film Fantasia, and a popular radio personality. Beginning in 1936, he delivered commentaries during the intermission of the New York Philharmonic’s Sunday concerts. This talk was from his second week on the job. Wagner was Taylor’s favorite composer.

 Deems Taylor Papers



The Exhibition