This week marks the birthday of the great German composer Richard Wagner, who was born in Leipzig on 22nd May 1813, and who died in Venice in 1883.
Like many other musicians throughout history, Wagner felt a strong affinity with Venice, and visited the city many times over the course of his life. As he observed in 1858 in a letter to his father-in-law Franz Liszt, “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 1882, having just completed the Parsifal score for the second edition of the Bayreuth Festival, Wagner returned to Venice once more in search of tranquility and inspiration. He rented the entire mezzanine floor of Ca’ Vendramin Calergi on the Grand Canal, and it was here that he spent his last winter with his wife Cosima Liszt, their four children and household servants, before passing away from a heart attack on 13th February 1883 at the age of 69.
Today, Ca’ Vendramin Calergi is most famously renowned as the site of Venice’s glamorous casino – but few visitors are aware that the palace also houses a museum dedicated to Wagner, situated in the very rooms where the revered composer lived and died. Opened in 1995, the Wagner Museum holds the Josef Lienhart Collection of rare documents, musical scores, signed letters, paintings, records and other heirlooms – constituting the largest private collection dedicated to Wagner outside of Bayreuth. Outside the palace, a memorial plaque is inscribed with a tribute written by novelist and poet Gabriele d’Annuncio: “In this palace the souls hear the last breath of Richard Wagner perpetuating itself like the tide which washes the marble beneath”. Open by appointment, with guided tours available on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, it’s a fascinating and atmospheric destination for anyone interested in discovering more about Wagner’s music, legacy and life-long love of Venice.