About Ludwig II, Richard Wagner and the Golden century of the Bavarian culture
12 Dec 2016

About Ludwig II, Richard Wagner and the Golden century of the Bavarian culture

Ludwig II of Bavaria is maybe among the strangest crowned personalities in the world history. Born on 25 August 1845 under the sign of the Virgo in the capital of Bavaria, Munich, he succeeded the throne after the death of his father Maximilian II, when he was at the age of eighteen. Brought up in the country, in the family Hohenschwangau Castle surrounded by his mother and several servants, the little Ludwig grew up as a romantic teenager, who adored music and poetry, moreover absolutely unprepared for the government of the country. When he was presented for the first time in the court, all present people exclaimed with surprise: the young King was an exceptional handsome man, almost two meters high, with long black hair and serene blue eyes. The Bavarians at once called him “the Prince from the fairy-tales”.

When Ludwig was sixteen years old, in his life happened an event, which predetermined his destiny. On 2 February 1861, he was present at a spectacle of Richard Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin”. This music shook him up. In it he saw the embodiment of his dreams. Since this day, he became a passionate admirer of Wagner. When he sat on the throne, his first order was to find and invite Wagner in Munich. Their meeting took place on 4 May 1864 and turned out to be decisive for the life of both of them. The same evening Wagner wrote to his friend, Dr. Wille: “Unfortunately he (the King) is so brilliant, so noble, so emotional and amazing, and I am afraid that his life could disappear like a brook in the sand of this cruel world...”

Ludwig became patron of the composer, he built a luxurious home for him, took up all his expenses and material needs. Since this day, Wagner could dedicate himself entirely to his work, without thinKing of the daily bread. But the words in his letter turned out to be indeed prophetical...

The King founded a music school in Munich and decided to build a new opera theatre, conformable to the productions of Wagner’s operas. According to him, Munich had to turn into a music capital of Germany, something like “German Vienna”. But here his plans met the resistance of the Bavarian government and of the citizens of Munich. The reason was not only in the high price of the project, but also in the personality of Wagner. In the capital of Bavaria he was not wanted and many people didn’t accept the friendship between the King and the musician. Not that much because of his anti-Semitism, but because of his “Carbonarian”, revolutionary views, so foreign and hateful in the eyes of the Bavarian citizens. On this occasion, the “Bavarian courier” newspaper, organ of the local aristocracy and clergy, wrote: “This foreigner brought only evil things in our country with his insatiable appetite. This is a paid composer, a revolutionary, who in 1848, together with a band of butchers, tried to detonate the King’s palace in Dresden, and now he wants to isolate the King from his subjects and exploit him for his revolutionary ideas!”

More than one and a half year Ludwig II tenaciously fought against the resistance of the local parliament and the people’s masses. But at the end he was forced to give up and ask Richard Wagner to leave Munich. For him, of course, this was connected with heavy moral torments. Till the end of his life he didn’t forgive this the citizens of Munich. Since this moment started the mutual alienation of the King and the parliament, which got more and more complex with every passed day and had a fatal end. Ludwig started hating Munich to such a degree that he even decided to move the capital of Bavaria in Nurnberg. His relations with Wagner, however, continued, although not so much on the music plan, as it was spread by the rumour, although the composer was married. His wife was Cosima, the daughter of Ferenc Liszt, before that married to the famous conductor Hans von Bülow. After Wagner’s death, she became chief curator of the festivals of his name. And the King didn’t hurry up to get married, he had no relations with women too. He was engaged with a cousin of his, Princess Sophie, but the engagement was soon dissolved, without explanations and reasons. That way Ludwig II of Bavaria remained without heir.

In 1866, Bavaria was preparing for a war with Prussia, although the King was trying to avoid it. He was even ready to give up his throne because of this. He didn’t want to trust his government and secretly left Munich, in order to visit his friend Wagner in Switzerland and ask him for advice. What the musician told him we could only guess, but after two days the King returned in Munich, he renounced the abdication and declared general mobilization.

In this war, which continued only three weeks, Bavaria was totally defeated by Prussia and besides the many human victims, it suffered heavy losses – it had to pay to the winner reparations at the rate of 154 000 000 marks. On the background of this national disaster, Ludwig started realizing the romantic dream of his life – the construction of a series of castles in the Bavarian Alps. Actually they were three, but while he was alive was completed the construction of only one of them in Linderhof.

In 1869, Ludwig laid the foundation stone of the Neuschwanstein Crince. The project envisaged it to be like medieval castle with fortified walls, towers and bridges and a view to a big park. The construction continued entire seventeen years. By irony of fate in this romantic castle Ludwig II experienced the greatest humiliation in his life.

His favourite castle was Linderhof – a reduced copy of Versailles. Actually, during his whole life Ludwig copied his idol, the French King Louis XIV and imitated him in everything. Even the bedroom in Linderhof was designed on the model of the bedroom of the “Sun King”. The provocative luxury in Rococo style strikes even today the looks of the tourists. The exuberance of gold, crystal, fine porcelain and most expensive furniture, vases and different objects is really impressive. Ludwig collected Meissen porcelain, ivory articles, jewels, paintings and all sort of valuable things. Here there is an enormous crystal chandelier with 108 candles, which was never lit, because of fear of fire. The white grand piano, covered with golden ornaments and precious stones, was ordered and made specially for Wagner, but the musician never played on it. Actually, he had no occasion to visit Linderhof even once.

The King lived alone, secluded from his subjects and even from the court. All days long he was walKing along the parks and the lakes, listening to his favourite music, performed by specially invited by him first class orchestras and opera companies. In one of the caves near Munich, he built a small theatre for these concerts and spectacles. He alienated himself more and more from the matters and problems of state and closed himself in his romantic world of music, poetry and dreams.

Meanwhile, in 1870 broke out the French-Prussian war. According to the agreement from the previous war, Bavaria was obliged to be at war on the side of Prussia. After the victory of Wilhelm I in Versailles was concluded the peace treaty with France and was declared the unification of the German states in the German Empire. At the official ceremony were present all monarchs from the German principalities and Kingdoms. Absent was only Ludwig.

The vast and expensive construction of castles, palaces, theatres, galleries and representative state buildings impaired the state budget, as well as the personal wealth of the monarch. All this cost 21 000 000 marks, of which 5 500 000 were from the royal treasury, and the rest of 15 500 000 – from the state treasury. For some twenty years, Ludwig wasted this reserve, amassed during 800 years by his predecessors on the throne of Bavaria.

As a result of a successful coup d’etat, directed by the Minister-President Lutz, the King was declared for “incapable to govern” and deposed from the throne. Lutz organized his sending in exile in the Berg Castle on the Starnberg Lake. The court physician Gudden was charged with the difficult mission to tell him that according to the consultation of four specialist-psychiatrists he would be sent in seclusion for a cure.

– How can you declare me insane? After all, you have never seen or examined me before? – asked Ludwig.

To which the court physician replied:

– Your Majesty, it is unnecessary. We have at our disposal enough information, which gives us the necessary evidence.

On 13 June 1886, at six o’clock in the evening, Ludwig, accompanied by his physician Gudden, went out for a short scroll along the park. In the last moment, the doctor sent off the security. After several hours, the corpses of both of them were found in the waters of the lake. Whether it was a murder or a suicide, we don’t know to this day. The inquiry didn’t succeed to give a final conclusion. Both men were dressed with frock coats, with top hats and carried umbrellas. Moreover, Ludwig was an excellent swimmer. The probability this to be an accident is too insignificant. According to the authorities, the official version was that the King suffered from a mental disease, which led to this fatal end. After Ludwig’s death was enthroned his brother, the mentally deficient Prince Otto of Bavaria, with guardian uncle Prince Leopold.

Today we could define the government of Ludwig of Bavaria as “golden century” for the Bavarian culture and especially of music. He constructed not only castles and palaces, but also theatres and galleries, he founded the Bavarian Red Cross, the Munich Polytechnic, the Academy of Fine Arts and the Fund for development of the music culture, which later laid the foundations of the famous Wagner festivals in Bayreuth in the specially constructed Wagner opera theatre.

Ognyan Stamboliev