Cosima Wagner—A Marriage of Devotion and Coldness
I speak now of some aspects of the marriage of Cosima Wagner, which every wife can learn a great deal from. She was the daughter of the great pianist and one of the most passionate and intense composers, Franz Liszt, but felt he was cold to her as he toured Europe. She later wrote,
When she was 18, Cosima married one of Liszt's students and a friend of Wagner's, the accomplished conductor and pianist Hans Von Bulow, with whom she had two children. While visiting Wagner's home with her new husband, Cosima fell in love with his music. And as the years passed, and there was increasingly coldness between herself and Hans, she yearned to be with Wagner, who was 24 years older than she. Ultimately they were together, and she wrote in her Diary January 1, 1869: "My love became for me a rebirth, a deliverance, a fading away of all that was trivial and bad in me, and I swore to seal it through death, through... complete devotion." [Skelton, ed.] Cosima did want to care for something big, not be confined by something cold and small in herself. About his libretto of Die Meistersinger she wrote:
"All beauty," Eli Siegel stated, "is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves."
Listen to this section of Die Meistersinger. Ask if you don't hear both profundity and lightness, even humour. The violins are very busy—energetically playing runs, staccato eighth figures, and later trills and turns, which seem determinedly, good naturedly, to poke fun at the more somber, grand, and ongoing theme in the lower instruments.
[Play Die Meistersinger — brief section — 30 sec.]
As soon as they were together Cosima began to devote herself to having her husband's life quiet and undisturbed, so that he could write his music. With her encouragement Wagner completed the Ring series of operas for which the world is a much richer place and he was grateful to her.
Meanwhile, there was another purpose Cosima Wagner had, to own and manage what was beautiful in her husband, to have him exclusively to herself. "All of us," Eli Siegel wrote in Self and World "have an inclination to love by owning a person, in the depth of our minds." When Wagner complained, "Life was hard, Life was bitter," she became what Mr. Siegel described in me a "spiritual nurse"—buffering him from everyone, all his friends. In one biography George Marek writes:
Far from making love and marriage stronger, this shutting out of the world, making it into an enemy is the very thing that causes two people to distrust, be angry with, even despise each other. In The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known Ellen Reiss writes: "If two people are 'warm' to each other for the purpose of getting away from the world and of making themselves superior to the world, they will feel profoundly betrayed by each other."
This is what happened—Cosima not only agreed with, but egged on and instilled suspicions of other people. She writes in her Diary March 12, 1869:
Yet, now his wife, called him her "beloved" as he read to her passages from his essay titled "Judaism in Music," which was demeaning and, I think, arose from Wagner's competition with the Jewish artists of the time—Mendelssohn and the great poet Heinrich Heine. This horrible "warmth" based on an attitude of contempt for people—caused this husband and wife to despise each other. As the years went on a friend wrote: Wagner "lashed out more and more often at Cosima with 'uncontrollable fits of rage.'" She cried a great deal. And, it is reported, that three months before Wagner died, he jumped out of bed and shouted furiously at her "You think you are virtue incarnate."
Meanwhile, even after Wagner's death, Cosima took the offensive, adding her influence and voice to the hate and contempt growing in Germany and embodied in Adolph Hitler. While her life was different from wives today, it is absolutely crucial to see the hideous results of being warm to brutal injustice and cold to what is true and kind. Whenever two people use closeness to despise, mock, denigrate other people or things—however "ordinary" it may seem—there will be hell between them.
Copyright © 2000-2015 Barbara Allen, Aesthetic Realism Consultant