Bayreuth - Encyclopedia

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BAYREUTH, or Baireuth, a town of Bavaria, Germany, district of Upper Franconia, 58 m. by rail N.N.E. from Nuremberg. Pop. (1900) 29,384. In Richard-Wagner-strasse is Wagner's house, with his grave in the garden. Franz Liszt (1811-1886) is buried here, as well as Jean Paul Friedrich Richter, who is commemorated by a monument (1841). His house was in Friedrichstrasse. Most of the buildings are of comparatively modern date, the city having suffered severely from the Hussites in 1430 and from a conflagration in 1621. There should be mentioned the palace of Duke Alexander of Wurttemberg, the administrative offices, the statue of King Maximilian II. (1860) and the collections of the historical society. Among the ecclesiastical buildings, the Stadt-Pfarrkirche, dating from 1439, and containing the monuments of the margraves of Bayreuth, is the most important. Bayreuth is a railway junction and has an active trade, chiefly in grain and horses. It manufactures woollen, linen and cotton goods, leather, delft and other earthenware, and tobacco, and has also several breweries and distilleries. The village of St Georgen is a suburb to the north-east noted for its marble works; and about 2 m. to the east is the Hermitage, a fanciful building, erected in 1715 by the margrave George William (d. 1726), with gardens containing terraces, statues and fountains. Bayreuth was formerly the capital of a principality of the same name, which was annexed in 1791 to the kingdom of Prussia. In 1807 it was ceded by Prussia to France, which kept possession of it till 1810, when it was transferred to Bavaria.

The Wagner Theatre

Among the many advantages which Wagner gained from his intimacy with Ludwig II., king of Bavaria, not the least was the practical support given to his plan of erecting a theatre for the ideal performance of his own music-dramas. The first plan of building a new theatre for the purpose in Munich itself was rejected, because Wagner rightly felt that the appeal of his advanced works, like the Nibelungen trilogy, would be far stronger if the comparatively small number of people who wished to hear them were removed from the distractions of a large capital; Bayreuth possessed the desired seclusion, being on a line of railway that could not be approached from any quarter without changing. The municipality furthered Wagner's scheme in every way, and in May 1872 the foundation stone of the Festspielhaus was laid, the event being commemorated by a notable performance of Beethoven's Choral Symphony in the old opera-house. The funds for the erection of the theatre were raised in part by the issue of 1000 certificates of patronage (Patronatsscheine), but the bulk of the sum was raised by founding "Wagner Societies" from St Petersburg to Cairo, from London to New York; these societies sprang up with such success that the theatre was opened in the summer of 1876 with the first complete performance of Der Ring des Nibelungen. The theatre, which stands on a height a little under a mile from the town, is built from the plans of Gustav Semper, the idea of the design being Wagner's own, and experiment indeed, but one which succeeded beyond all expectation. The seats are arranged on a kind of sloping wedge, in such a manner that every one has an almost equally good view of the stage, for there are no boxes, and the only galleries are quite at the back, one, the Fiirstenloge, being reserved for distinguished guests, the other, above it, for the townspeople. Immediately in front of the foremost row of seats a hood or sloping screen of wood covers a part of the orchestra, and another hood of similar shape starts from the front of the stage at a slightly lower level. Thus there is left a space between the two hoods through which the sound of the orchestra ascends with wonderfully blended effect; the conductor, sitting at the highest point of the orchestra, though under the screen, has a complete view of the stage as well as of his instrumentalists, and the sound of the orchestra is sent most forcibly in the direction of the stage, so that the voices are always well supported.

As an important addition to the work of the theatre, a permanent school has been established at Bayreuth for the sake of training young musicians to take part in the festival performances, which were at first exclusively, and then partially, undertaken by artists from other German and foreign theatres. The special feature upon which most stress has been laid, ever since Wagner's death in 1883, has been not so much the musical as the dramatic significance of the works; it is contended by the inmost circle of Wagnerian adherents that none but they can fully realize the master's intentions or hand down his traditions. What is called the "Bayreuth Idea" is set forth in much detail from this point of view by Houston Stewart Chamberlain, in his Richard Wagner (1897 and 1900).

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