UZH Acquires Important Richard Wagner Manuscript

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Working manuscript ’A message to my friends’ by Richard Wagner (Imag
Working manuscript ’A message to my friends’ by Richard Wagner (Image: Zentralbibliothek Zürich)

UZH has made a spectacular acquisition of an important manuscript by Richard Wagner. In "Eine Mitteilung an meine Freunde" (-A Message to My Friends-), the composer takes autobiographical and artistic stock and looks to the future. The manuscript, which was written in Zurich, will now undergo further analysis.

Zurich was an important stage in Richard Wagner’s life and work. After taking part in the failed May Uprising in Dresden (1849) against the Saxon King Friedrich August II, Wagner lived in exile in Zurich from 1849 to 1858. The time in Zurich marked a turning point and reorientation in his life and work. Here he not only worked on his famous tetralogy The Ring of the Nibelung, but also wrote groundbreaking works of music and drama theory.

Some 170 years later, the original working manuscript of one of these writings, entitled Eine Mitteilung an meine Freunde ("A Message to My Friends"), has now returned to the place where it was created. UZH acquired the manuscript at an auction at Sotheby’s. The acquisition was possible thanks to donations from UBS Culture Foundation (Zurich), the Bareva Foundation (Vaduz) and the UZH Foundation, the foundation of the University of Zurich.

"The purchase of the Wagner manuscript is of great importance for Zurich, UZH and scholarly work," says UZH President Michael Schaepman. Musicologist Laurenz Lütteken, co-director of the University of Zurich’s Department of Musicology, is also excited about the successful acquisition: "Wagner manuscripts of such high caliber are otherwise scarcely available on the free market." The work of Richard Wagner is one of the focal points of the Department of Musicology’s research.

Eine Mitteilung an meine Freunde was written in August 1851 in the "Zum Abendstern" building in Zurich’s Enge district (roughly the location of today’s Lavaterstrasse 76), shortly before Wagner’s move to the Vordere Escherhäuser premises (Zeltweg 11). The text was published in the same year as the supplement and foreword to the libretti of the operas The Flying Dutchman, Tannhäuser and Lohengrin.

The message is a kind of autobiographical stocktaking, with reference to the works before the revolution and the great post-revolutionary Ring project. "Wagner provides an interpretation of his work to date and a succinct summary of what ’musikdrama’ should achieve in the future," explains Laurenz Lütteken. At the very end, there is also a sketch of the tetralogy in progress, as well as a plan for a performance "in the course of a specifically designated three-day festival plus a preceding evening." It is therefore also the first sketch of the festival idea that Wagner later brought to fruition with the Ring of the Nibelung.

The extensive autograph of this important Wagner work, which will now be kept at Zentralbibliothek Zürich, is not simply returning to its place of origin. It will continue to occupy researchers at UZH. Until now, the text has only been available in the first printing and the version published in Richard Wagner’s collected writings and poems. The handwritten version, on the other hand, reveals intensive effort. The manuscript is written in dark brown ink and contains extensive deletions, corrections, revisions and additions. The musicologists at UZH have now embarked on an extensive research project to analyze and trace the genesis of the text. This analysis will provide new findings and insights into the work, thinking and influence of Richard Wagner in Zurich.

Once the research at UZH has been completed, the manuscript will be made available by the Zentralbibliothek Zurich (ZB) library. The working manuscript of Eine Mitteilung an meine Freunde is another gem in the important collection of Wagneriana at the ZB, which includes music and text manuscripts, music prints, printed matter and letters.

      Working manuscript "A message to my friends" by Richard Wagner (Image: Zentralbibliothek Zürich)

      Richard Wagner, painted by Clementine Stockar-Escher: Richard Wagner. Leipzig: Verlag v. Breitkopf u. Härtel [1853] (Image: Zentralbibliothek Zürich)