Cosima Wagner

Francesca Gaetana Cosima Wagner (1837-1930)

  • Cosima Liszt was born on 24 December 1837 in Como, Italy; we’ve talked about this - some controversy about the date - Cosima and Richard Wagner both refer to her birthday as Christmas day, but her birth certificate and a letter written by her mother confirm that it was actually Christmas Eve
  • Left to a foster mother as a child, until 1839 when Marie returned to Paris with her two daughters; the girls then moved in with Anna Liszt
  • Attempts to please her father through letters depicting success in school, at the piano, wishes for him to come to Paris
  • They went to Madame Bernard’s school in Paris; after bitter arguing about the girls’ education, Marie was basically informed that she may only see the girls by visiting them at the school (which she never did)
    • Blandine discovered Marie’s address in 1850, and she and Cosima went to visit her, first without telling Anna, then when Anna was visiting Liszt in Weimar; Blandine made the mistake of telling her father, who was outraged, and removed the girls from school
  • At the age of fifteen, Cosima would meet Wagner for the first time as a friend of her father’s
  • Cosima and Blandine’s governess was getting old, Cosima was chronically ill with some kind of mystery stomach upset - so Liszt decided to find a place to move the girls; asked the mother of his student, Hans von Bülow, Franziska von Bülow to help him and take in the girls
    • She picked up the girls from Paris and took them to Weimar (they did not know of their future living situation)
    • Move to Berlin in 1855; Hans was teaching at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin at the time
    • Bülow and Cosima supposedly agreed to get married, but neither of them seemed too excited about it
  • 1857: at twenty, she would marry German conductor and pianist Hans von Bülow
    • Two daughters, Daniela (12 Oct 1860) and Blandine (20 March 1863).
    • By the time Blandine was born, in 1863, Cosima and Richard Wagner had already begun their courtship.
  • 1861: when Cosima visited Blandine and Emile Ollivier in Bad Reichenhall, Wagner was with the couple, but Cosima spent most of the time having sister time with Blandine - except for when she left, and then she gave Wagner a “look of almost timid inquiry” (according to Wagner)
  • 1862: Wagner and Cosima had been acquaintances for some time, meeting at random, but nothing significant had come of it; in July of this year Cosima and von Bülow spent a few weeks in Biebrich (a town on the Rhine River), which was where Wagner was living at the time; in Cosima’s recollections of this in a letter to her daughter (in 1882, 20 years later), Oliver Hilmes observes that she does not mention her husband
    • Wagner’s recollections of this time, from his autobiography: “I noticed on Cosima’s countenance the same expression she had showed me… at that leave-taking in Zurich; but this time the ecstasy had dissolved into a serene transfiguration. Here everything was silence and mystery, only now the belief in her belong to me came over me with such certitude that in my eccentric exuberance I became boisterously high-spirited.” (quoted in Hilmes, 59)
  • 1863: Wagner visits Berlin, where he and Cosima took a cab ride on 28 November through the city while Bülow was off working, and “gazed mutely into each other’s eyes and an intense longing for the fullest avowal of the truth forced us to a confession, requiring no words whatever, of the incommensurable misfortune that weighed upon us.” Hilmes points out that through Cosima’s diaries we see that 28 November is considered an important date

1864: Wagner encourages Bülow to take a job in Munich, so Cosima and Bülow move in June; Cosima moved first, with the daughters, while her husband tied things up in Berlin; Anna Mrazek, a servant of Wagner’s, speculated that this was when their relationship began physically (9 months later Cosima gives birth to Isolde)

  • 10 April 1865, Isolde, the first daughter of Cosima and Wagner, was born, though Cosima and Von Bülow were still married
  • Cosima and Wagner would move in together (at Tribschen, on Lake Lucerne) in 1868 with Isolde and their second daughter, Eva (b. 17 February 1867)
  • In 1869 Hans von Bülow granted Cosima a divorce (this is the same year that she begins her diaries, which she continues as an account for her children until 1883)
  • Cosima and Wagner’s son, Siegfried, b. 6 June 1869
  • 25 August 1870: Cosima marries Wagner
    • Von Bülow continued to work in close proximity to Wagner for much of his career, regardless of the scandal that he was subjected to by the composer
  • At first Liszt does not seem too happy with Cosima’s choice to leave von Bülow for Wagner
    • 1869, Cosima writes: “I thought of the last letter from my father, in which he said to me, ‘Passion dies, but the pangs of conscience remain.’ What a superficial judgement! As if my coming to R. had been an act of passion, and as if I could ever feel pangs of conscience on that account! How little my father knows me, after all!– How willingly I would give up any sort of joy if I knew but one being to whom I could entrust R.’s isolated life! … The daily contemplation lies heavily on my heart…” (Diaries, 64)
    • Additionally, Wagner suspects Liszt of trying to stop their relationship: “After lunch we discussed the present comprehensive letter from Hans. He feels my father must have advised Hans against a divorce.” (Diaries, 138)
    • Wagner speculates whether or not converting to Catholicism would make Liszt feel better - at which Cosima asks if he would have become a Catholic if that was necessary to marry? Wagner says that this is a “‘devilish’ question” - Cosima then reflects: “At first I was disconcerted; my immediate feeling was that I am giving everything up, religion and all else besides, in order to ally myself with him, but then I understood. A woman may and should sacrifice all for her beloved, a man, on the other hand, can and should have a point from which he neither shifts nor wavers.” (Diaries, 80)
      • Cosima actually converts in 1872 to Protestantism
  • She does seem to feel guilt about von Bülow, though, despite her adamance - “Richard [C.W. wrote “Hans” by mistake] brought me a letter from the cook in Munich, saying that Hans had gone away, despondent and sad, without saying where. Terrible grief overcomes me, or, rather, bursts forth. I sob, completely possessed by the thought that my true duty would be to die.” (Diaries, 141)
  • Eventually Liszt decides to help his daughter: “In the afternoon a letter from Judith [Gautier, French poet and historical novelist], she tells me that my father wishes to settle my affairs for me, that he loves me, that Hans has gone away to expedite the matter.” (Ibid.)

Idolized Wagner's musical genius: after a performance of Siegfried Idyll (a piece written for her by Wagner) on the piano, she once exclaimed, “Alas, what gifts have here been deposited in an earthly frame, how well I understand what he must suffer when life eternally keeps him from pouring out these gifts!”1.

  • “Cosima came to Wagner with a clear understanding that she was to live for him and to help him play his great role on the world stage and she never deviated from that mission until her death." (Salzman, 338)
  • Cosima found supporting a musical husband "immensely rewarding" (Neuls-Bates, 175)
  • They move to Bayreuth in 1872
  • When Wagner died in 1883, she became the music director of the Bayreuth Festival - music festival for performance of Wagner opera, started in 1876; that duty would be handed down to Siegfried in 1908
  • Goes blind in 1920