Wagner in Venice

Wagner in Venice. Richard Wagner the famous German composer; visited the city six times, between 1858 and his death in 1883.

Driven by a desire for seclusion, peace and quiet and an escape from the burdens of day-to-day life; Richard Wagner made Venice, his oasis for inspiration.

His final and most significant stay was in September of 1882, when he and Cosima, his second wife and family, over-wintered in Venice. He rented the entire mezzanine floor of the Palazzo Vendramin Calergi, on the Grand Canal, where he later died.

Venice is associated with Tristan und Isolde, part of which Wagner wrote there, and with Parsifal; his final opera.

The Wagner Museum opened at the palace in February 1995, in what is now the Venice Casino.  Its holdings constitute the largest private collection dedicated to Wagner, outside of Bayreuth. 

  • PALAZZO LOREDAN VENDRAMIN CALERGI  (Introduction / Architecture / History of Occupation) 


Richard Wagner in 1871

Wilhelm Richard Wagner. (22 May 1813 – 13 February 1883) 

German composer, theatre director, polemicist, and conductor. Photo: R.W. in 1871, by Franz Hanfstaengl. 

Wagner writing in a letter to his father-in-law, Franz Liszt; before arriving in Venice, on the first of his six stays in August 1858: Life in the big city has become completely unbearable for me, mainly because of the din of carriages that infuriates me. Now everyone knows that Venice is the calmest city, I mean the quietest city in the world and that is why I have decided it is absolutely the place for me”.


Wagner in Venice. BIOGRAPHY

  • Richard Wagner was a German composer best known for his operas, primarily the monumental four-opera cycle “Der Ring des Nibelungen”.
  • He was born Wilhelm Richard Wagner on May 22, 1813, in Leipzig, Germany. He was the ninth child in the family of Carl Wagner, a police clerk. Richard was only six months old when his father died, and he was brought up by his mother Johanna and stepfather Ludwig Geyer, an actor and playwright. Young Wagner studied piano from the age of 7 and soon developed the ability to play by ear and improvise. At age 15, he wrote piano transcriptions of Ludwig van Beethoven’s “9th Symphony” and orchestral overtures. He studied at the University of Leipzig and also took composition and conducting lessons, with the cantor of St. Thomas in Leipzig.
  • Wagner’s early operas did not meet with success, leaving him in serious financial difficulties. From 1836-1839, he was a music director in Riga Opera; where his wife, Minna Planer, was a singer and her extramarital escapades were the talk of the town. The Wagner’s amassed such significant debts, that they had to escape from creditors and fled Riga. They spent 1840 and 1841 in London and Paris, where Richard worked as an arranger for other composers.
  • Giacomo Meyerbeer promoted Wagner’s third opera, “Rienzi”, to performance by the Dresden Court Theatre; where the opera was staged to considerable acclaim. In 1842, the Wagner’s moved to Dresden and lived there for six years. Eventually, Richard was appointed the Royal Saxon Court Conductor. At that time he completed and staged “Der fliegende Hollander” (aka “The Flying Dutchman”) and “Tannhauser“.
  • Wagner was exposed to many conflicting political influences, ranging from Marxism and liberalism on the left, to German nationalism on the right and to the anarchism of Mikhail Bakunin. After the revolution of 1848-49, Wagner fled from Germany to Paris, then to Zurich and found himself penniless, unemployed and depressed (he had also suffered from a severe skin infection for many years). At that time, Wagner was unable to compose or perform music and he expressed himself in writing essays: “The Art-Work of the Future“, describing “Gesamtkunstwerk,” or “total artwork”; uniting opera, ballet, visual arts and stagecraft.
  • Wagner’s four “Ring” operas gradually evolved and he completed the libretto by 1852. Another year of suffering went by, until he began composing “Das Rheingold” (“The Rhine Gold”) in November 1853, following it with “Die Walkure” (“The Valkyrie”) in 1854. In 1856, he began work on “Siegfried“, but put the unfinished opera aside and focused on his new idea: “Tristan und Isolde” (“Tristan and Isolde”), which was composed between 1857 and 1859. In 1861, Germany ended the political ban on Wagner and in 1862, he ended his troubled marriage to Minna.
  • Tristan and Isolde” was initially accepted for production in Vienna. The opera had over 70 rehearsals between 1861 and 1864, but remained unperformed and gained a reputation for being unplayable. The young Bavarian King Ludwig II, an admirer of Wagner’s operas since his childhood; had settled the composer’s debts and financed his opera productions. Finally “Tristan and Isolde” was produced in Munich and premiered under the baton of Hans von Bulow, in June 1865. It was the first Wagner premiere in 15 years.
  • Cosima von Bulow, the wife of the conductor, Hans von Bulow and the eldest daughter of pianist/composer Franz Liszt; had an indiscreet affair with Wagner and their illegitimate daughter Isolde, was born in 1865. The affair scandalised Munich and Wagner fell into disfavour among members of the court; who were jealous of his friendship with the king. Ludwig was pressured to ask Wagner to leave Munich. However, from 1866 to 1872 the king placed Wagner and his family at Tribshen villa on Lake Lucern in Switzerland. There, Richard married Cosime in August 1870. The inspired composer created one of his most beloved works, the “Siegfried Idyll” for 15 players, written as a gift to Cosima and premiered on Christmas day, 1870.
  • In 1872, Wagner moved to Bayreuth with a plan that his “Ring” cycle was to be performed in a new, specially designed opera house. King Ludwig supported the composer with another large grant in 1874, and the Wagner’s bought “Villa Wahnfried” and made it their permanent home in Bayreuth. In August 1876, the new opera “Festspielhaus” opened with the premiere of “The Ring” and has been the site of the Bayreuth Festival ever since.
  • Richard Wagner, died of a heart attack on February 13, 1883, while wintering in Venice. He was laid to rest, in the garden of his “Villa Wahnfried” in Bayreuth.


Wagner in Venice. The Wagner Museum (Museo Wagner)


Palazzo Loredan Vendramin Calergi – Cannaregio 2040. Tel: 041 5297111    e-mail: info@casinovenezia.it Vaporetto stop: San Marcuola or less than 10 minutes’ walk east from Santa Lucia Railway Station


On February 13th 1995, the rooms on the mezzanine floor, where Wagner died; were entrusted by the local authorities, to the “Associazione Richard Wagner di Venezia”.

Richard WagnerThe area was turned into a museum and opened to the public, in eternal memory of the composer and his love for Venice.

Since 2003, adjacent rooms were added to the museum to house the “Josef Lienhart collection”; a donation including rare documents, posters, scores, signed letters, paintings, records, lithographs and various other heirlooms.

This is now the largest private collection, dedicated to the great German composer outside Bayreuth.

Driven by a desire for seclusion, peace and quiet and an escape from the burdens of day-to-day life; Richard Wagner made Venice, his oasis for inspiration.

Writing in a letter to his father-in-law, Franz Liszt, before arriving in Venice on the first of his six stays in August 1858, he stated: “Life in the big city has become completely unbearable for me, mainly because of the din of carriages that infuriates me. Now everyone knows that Venice is the calmest city, I mean the quietest city in the world and that is why I have decided it is absolutely the place for me”.


In April 1882, Wagner had on his return from Palermo, having completed the Parsifal score for the second edition of the Bayreuth Festival, scheduled for the summer of 1882. Wagner rented from Count Bardi, who was often out of town; the entire mezzanine floor of the Ca’ Vendramin Calergi.

The composer arrived on September 16 1882 and spent his last winter here in the city with his wife Cosima Liszt, four children Daniela von Bülow (adopted daughter of composer Hans von Bülow), Isolde, Eva and Siegfried Wagner and household servants. (photo left)

Wagner died of a heart attack in the palace, on the afternoon of 13 February 1883, aged 69. He had a history of angina.

After a funerary gondola, bore Wagner’s remains over the Grand Canal; his body was taken to Germany; where it was buried in the garden of the “Villa Wahnfried”, in Bayreuth.

A memorial plaque on a brick wall adjacent to the building, is inscribed with a tribute by novelist and poet Gabriele d’Annunzio that reads:In questo palagio / l’ultimo spiro di Riccardo Wagner / odono le anime perpetuarsi come la marea / che lambe i marmiI”.

The Associazione Richard Wagner di Venezia, operates the museum; as well as the “Richard Wagner European Study and Research Center” (Centro Europeo di Studi e Ricerche Richard Wagner). It also holds exhibitions, conferences and concerts and publishes scholarly papers; that promote the life and works of Wagner.

The International Association of Wagner Societies, also holds a symposium called “Wagner Days in Venice” (Giornate Wagneriane a Venezia); at the palace each autumn.

Part of the Casino di Venezia, visit this incredible house with all the composer’s memories.



Ca’ Loredan Vendramin Calergi

 Introduction. Ca’ Loredan Vendramin Calergi, is a 15th century palace on the Grand Canal, in the district of Cannaregio

It was commissioned by the patrician “Loredan” dynasty, namely Andrea Loredan and paid for by Doge Leonardo Loredan; with construction starting in 1481.

The architecturally distinguished building, was the home of many prominent people through history; as well as the place where composer Richard Wagner died.

It houses the Venice Casino (Casinò di Venezia) and the Wagner Museum (Museo Wagner).

Architecture. The spacious Renaissance-style palace, stands three stories high with direct water access to the Grand Canal and was designed in the late 15th century by Mauro Codussi; architect of Chiesa di San Zaccaria and other noteworthy churches and private residences in Venice.

Construction began in 1481 and was finished after his death by the Lombardo family; who completed it in 1509. The period it took to complete is considered short, based on the construction technology available at that time.

The beauty and balance of the building’s facade are exceptional. Classically inspired columns divide each level facing the canal. Two pairs of tall French doors, divided by a single column topped by arches and a trefoil window; rest above the doors on the piano nobile and upper levels.

Opulent paintings, sculptures, and architectural details originally filled the building’s interior. Baroque master, Mattia Bortoloni, decorated the ceilings of many rooms. The palace is locally known by the nickname “Non Nobis Domine” (“Not unto us, O Lord”); engraved in the stone under a ground-floor window.

History of Occupation. Andrea Loredan, a connoisseur of the fine arts, commissioned the palace, which was paid for by Doge Leonardo Loredan.

In 1581, the Loredan family suffered financial difficulties and sold it for 50,000 ducats to Eric II, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg; who took loans to afford it and to host sumptuous dinners for the Venetian nobility.

Left: Portrait of the Vendramin Family (1543–47), painting by Titian.

However, the duke kept it for only two years before selling it to Guglielmo I Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, who then sold it to Vittore Calergi, a Venetian noble from Heraklion, on the island of Crete.

Calergi, greatly expanded the building in 1614, with a large addition by architect Vincenzo Scamozzi called the “White Wing“; which included windows overlooking a garden courtyard. The addition was demolished in 1659 and rebuilt the following year.

In 1739, the palace was inherited through marriage by the Vendramins, a powerful patrician family of merchants, bankers, religious leaders and politicians; who owned it for more than a century.

In 1844, Caroline de Bourbon-Sicile, Duchess of Berry and her second husband, Ettore Carlo Lucchesi-Palli, Duke della Grazia; purchased Ca’ Vendramin Calergi, from the last member of the Vendramin family line.

In the turmoil of the Risorgimento, they were forced to sell the palace to Marie-Caroline’s grandson, Enrico, Count de’ Bardi and many of its fine works of art were auctioned in Paris. Count de’ Bardi and his wife, Infanta Adelgundes and the related Dukes of Grazia; maintained the home and hosted many famous names of the day. (Note: Risorgimento – 19th century movement for Italian unification that culminated in the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.)

In 1937, the last of the Grazia nobles, Count Lucchesi-Palli, sold it to Giuseppe Volpi, Count of Misurata; who remodelled the living quarters and turned it into a “Centre for Electromagnetic and Electrical Phenomena”.

The City Council of Venice purchased the palazzo in 1946.

Since 1959, it has been home to the celebrated Venice Casino (Casinò di Venezia) and from 1995, the Wagner Museum (Museo Wagner).



Unlike most opera composers, Wagner wrote both the libretto and the music for each of his stage works.

Initially establishing his reputation as a composer of works in the romantic vein of Weber and Meyerbeer; Wagner revolutionised opera through his concept of the “Gesamtkunstwerk” (total work of art). He sought to synthesise the poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts; with music subsidiary to drama. His concepts were announced, in a series of essays between 1849 and 1852. Wagner realised these ideas most fully in the first half of the four-opera cycle “Der Ring des Nibelungen” (The Ring of the Nibelung).

His compositions, particularly those of his later period, are notable for their complex textures, rich harmonies and orchestration and the elaborate use of leitmotifs – musical phrases associated with individual characters, places, ideas or plot elements.

His advances in musical language, such as extreme chromaticism and quickly shifting tonal centres, greatly influenced the development of classical music. His Tristan und Isolde, is sometimes described as marking the start of modern music.

Wagner had his own opera house built, the “Bayreuth Festspielhaus”, which embodied many novel design features. It was here that the Ring and Parsifal, received their premieres and where his most important stage works; continue to be performed in an annual festival, run by his descendants.

His thoughts on the relative contributions of music and drama in opera, were to change again and he reintroduced some traditional forms, into his last few stage works; including “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg).

Until his final years, Wagner’s life was characterised by political exile, turbulent love affairs, poverty and repeated flight from his creditors. His controversial writings on music, drama and politics have attracted extensive comment in recent decades, especially where they are said to express antisemitic sentiments.

The effect of his ideas, can be traced in many of the arts throughout the 20th century; their influence spread beyond composition into conducting, philosophy, literature, the visual arts and theatre.



“Wagner and Venice” by John W. Barker

University of Rochester Press – 456 Pages

Explores Wagner’s lengthy stays in Venice, his death there, and the meaning of his works – and his death – for that great city and its mystique.

Richard Wagner had a longstanding love affair with the city of Venice. His sudden death there in 1883 also initiated a process through which Wagner and his reputation were integrated into Venice’s own cumulative cultural image.
In Wagner and Venice, John Barker examines the connections between the great composer and the great city. The author traces patterns of Wagner’s visits to Venice during his lifetime, considers what the city came to mean to Wagner, and investigates the details surrounding his death. Barker also examines how Venice viewed Wagner, by analyzing the landmark presentation of Wagner’s Ring cycle two months after the composer’s death, and by considering Venice’s subsequent extensive Wagner celebrations and commemorations.

Throughout the volume, biographical detail from new and previously unavailable sources provides readers with a fresh interpretation of this seminal figure.Those already familiar with Wagner’s life will find new information about, and insights into, the man and his career, while simultaneously discovering a neglected corner of Italian and Venetian cultural history.

John W. Barker is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, specializing in Medieval (including Venetian) History. He is also a passionate music lover and record collector, and an active music critic and journalist.


LINKS (InternalExternal)

See my other related posts, in the category of: Art-Music-Literature

The Wagner Museum | Venice tourism (venice-tourism.com)



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