Course #5 / The Flamboyant Bavarian King Ludwig II
The eccentric King of Bavaria never really had a true passion for politics and thirst for power. When it came to the music and Richard Wagner – it was the opposite. Ludwig had a pure admiration to the German composer and he did him many favors after he came to the Bavarian throne in 1864. It is fair to say that Ludwig saved the career of Wagner, who had a lot of debts and foes around Germany. Protection and generous gifts from the king solved most of his problems.
Wagner was the musician of the future in the view of the Bavarian king. Ludwig was deeply impressed by his poetry since the early years when he visited his aunt, the Duchess Ludovica, and first saw the compositions of Wagner. It helped the young king to develop his already rich imagination, fantasize about the heroes, and love stories of the Old German sagas. His admiration only strengthened when at the age of fifteen, young prince Ludwig attended Wagner’s opera Lohengrin. The story about the legends of swan knights made a lasting impression on the future King of Bavaria.
When Ludwig came to power in 1864, he was free of strict policies and criticism of his father. It allowed the young king to bring Wagner to Munich. Ludwig was so excited to meet his idol that soon after his coronation, his private secretary Herr von Pfistermeister was given a task – to find Richard Wagner and deliver to him a photograph of King Ludwig and a precious ring, set with a ruby. Impressed by such gesture, the composer soon arrived in Munich to meet his admirer.
Their meeting had a great impact on both of them – they both were impressed by the charisma of each other. Wagner recalled this meeting in a letter to his friend: “He (Ludwig) is unhappily so handsome and so intellectual, so full of soul and so glorious. He loves me with the tenderness and warmth of first love. He knows me and all about me, and understands me as he does his own soul. He wishes me to live with him altogether, to work, rest, and have my works performed. He will give me everything I may require for this purpose. You cannot imagine the charm of his glance. I only hope he may live; it is a real marvel!”
Ludwig did all he could to make Wagner feel comfortable in Bavaria. Debts were paid and the composer was well suited in a villa that the king had him provided. Wagner could live a stress-free life under the patronage of Ludwig and work on his upcoming operas. He often visited his idol and they could spend hours together, often remaining together until the early morning. However, this haven did not last long and there was another side of the coin to see.
Not many influential people in Bavaria shared the same feelings towards Wagner, as their king did. Many were uninterested in art and music, while some were openly hostile towards the composer due to his extravagant temper and shady past. The blind admiration of Ludwig eventually had to be tested, when the Bavarian press started to strongly criticize Wagner and his manners. To be fair, the eccentric composer sometimes overused the generosity of Ludwig and bought various items on credit that later had to be paid by his royal patron.
Criticism from all the sides eventually influenced Ludwig and he felt betrayed about the fact that Wagner had an affair with Cosima fon Bulow. Bavarian king had a jealous nature and Wagner’s affection to this woman made him bitter. However, this also made it easier for Ludwig to ask Wagner to leave Munich and have some distance between them. As a king, Ludwig could not ignore the public opinion and voices in the political arena. Some even believed that Wagner had some influence on the king’s political decisions, which is more of a myth. Despite being a great admirer, Ludwig still drew the line when it came to the topics, related to politics. He focused their relationship on art and music.
Though their relationship took some scars, Ludwig and Wagner remained friends. Bavarian king continued to support some of Wagner’s ventures, but his mood started to change and his spirit was less joyful than before. He felt some kind of bitterness towards the citizens of Munich because they never really shared his love for music and Wagner’s genius.
For Ludwig, Wagner was kind of cure and a key to his delicate inner world. At the same time, Wagner’s overly eccentric character made king unhappy and later events showed that Ludwig was truly lonely and perhaps, his beloved composer was his only true friend. On the opposite, Wagner enjoyed the fruits of their friendship and his legacy was positively influenced by the Moon King. If not the great admiration and generosity from Ludwig, Wagner would probably never reached the heights and fame he had. King made his life comfortable and allowed creating lasting musical works. By this, Ludwig II wrote his name not only in the history of his homeland but also in the history of music.
Clara Tschudi. Ludwig the Second, King of Bavaria (1908)
Christopher McIntosh. The Swan King: Ludwig II of Bavaria (2003)
Frances A. Gerard. The romance of Ludwig II of Bavaria (1899)