Vol I No. 7

Liturgy, Wagner and the Heresy of Art-Religion

Daniel Orsen

Boston is a uniquely Wagnerian city. The Swan Boats that return every Spring to the Public Garden were designed in 1877 by Robert Paget, who was inspired by the swans in Lohengrin. Isabella Stewart Gardner, a great patron of the arts and a parishioner of Church of the Advent, was a genuine Wagner nut who made frequent pilgrimages to Bayreuth. The Gardner museum actually houses several pieces of Wagner memorabilia, including a first edition libretto for Parsifal, sketches for set designs of Meistersinger, an autograph letter in Wagner’s own hand, and a pressed ivy leaf from Wagner’s grave. It was the Germania Musical Society, a group of musicians who left Berlin after the 1848 revolutions and toured throughout America, which gave this country its first taste of both professional orchestral playing and Richard Wagner. And in 1852, exhausted from four years of touring, the Germania settled in Boston, and where for a time it was the city’s pre-eminent orchestra. 

Not that Boston was alone in such connections. Minnesota is also a uniquely Wagnerian territory. Wagner seriously contemplated moving to Minnesota. In 1852, he wrote that “I am planning to make a start soon on my great Nibelung trilogy. But I shall perform it only on the banks of the Mississippi!” This was not as crazy an idea as it might first appear. Wagner had just been exiled from Germany, there

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