On friday, 16. February 1883 richard wagner, who had traveled much and far in his life, went on a rough journey for the last time. The sun was shining, the sky was swept clean, and the courtyard of the palazzo vendramin was a hive of activity: "the servants, in deep mourning, hurried to and fro", describes henriette perl, who was probably a contemporary witness or at least spoke with various contemporary witnesses, in her book "richard wagner in venice," published in 1883 the event. "The representatives of the italian press and of the foreign countries were attentive to every event and tried in vain to obtain the entrance to the burial chamber."
Representatives of the city of venice spoke once again to offer a dignified escort to the deceased and his survivors. And as on the first occasion, cosima wagner gratefully declined this tribute, asking instead that the station be cordoned off and that no funeral music be played "from which she recoiled in fear in her nameless grief. Towards the twelfth hour", so perl continues "they began to send boxes and suitcases, which were brought to the train station on special gondolas, because the family had decided to bring all their belongings to bayreuth at once."
"Various pieces of furniture, which had served the special use of the dead master and were now treated as precious relics, were now brought down; these were: a red damask sopha, on which lay the fur that had covered richard wagner during the last hour of his life; furthermore, the chair on which the dying man trimmed his hair, and finally the paper basket from his work cubicle. – these objects took up a gondola for themselves and were to be carried in a passenger carriage to make the journey north with the family at the same time."
"A few minutes later, the bed was brought down in which the master had rested during these last months of his life and which will henceforth remain the resting place of his widow. – next to the bed, however, one could also see a coarse, wooden, just as wide as it was long – this was the skeleton of that precious giant otoman that had formed the center of richard wagner’s study.
In the meantime, one could see telegraph operators with dispatches arriving every moment, because during these three days condolences came from all over the world, and already on the second day after wagner’s death their number amounted to three hundred and eighteen telegrams."
Finally the coffin was taken out of the palazzo vendramin. Eight men, including "ring-conductor hans richter "parsifal-decorator paul von joukowsky, wagner’s venetian family doctor dr. Friedrich keppler and italian musicians, artists and scholars" came down the wide staircase with the heavy bronze sarcophagus, decorated with four heads of lions. In reverent silence, the ladies strode through the serious rows with their noble burdens and thoughtfully carried the dead man to the gondola. – afterwards the servants of the house came with countless wreaths and donations of flowers, with which the sarcophagus was covered and a whole second gondola was filled."
"After a little while", henriette perl describes the course of events "frau cosima appeared on the arm dr. Kepplers, holding little siegfried, the master’s only son, by the hand. – her deeply veiled, tall, otherwise so upright figure seemed completely broken. – they were followed by passini with wagner’s daughter daniela, masters joukowsky and ruben led the other two daughters, isolde and evchen. In the deepest silence, the mourners passed through the crowd, which was visibly moved by the pain of the mourners. – silently they entered the black-covered gondolas, silently they glided in the lifeless vehicles along the long water surface of the canal grande, their eyes fixed steadfastly on the little ship that floated before them, carrying the sarcophagus richly adorned with laurel and palms, in which the dear deceased rested."
Luigi trevisan, wagner’s favorite gondolier, steered the black-curtained gondola to the station of santa lucia. There, "the magnificent hearse, decorated in black, sent to venice by the ‘concordia’ funeral company from vienna, was already ready to receive the body; it was followed by the saloon car, in which the family, accompanied by their friends, took their seats. Both cars were attached to the express train leaving at 2 o’clock." The train departed at 14.10 o’clock in motion, after the curtains on the windows in the saloon car had been carefully drawn and a last bell had sounded. "From vicenza", perl ends her report "should the funeral procession continue its way via verona, ala, kufstein, munich by means of pre-ordered extra train to bayreuth, the last resting place of the master."
At the stops, for example in bolzano and innsbruck, journalists and delegations awaited the funeral procession with wreaths and flower arrangements. In kufstein, the emissary of the king of bavaria, ministerial councillor ludwig von burkel, boarded the train. To him king ludwig II had. Said: "the artist for whom the whole world is now mourning, i first recognized, i saved from the world." The day before, king ludwig had already written his condolence letter to cosima in rough, fierce letters:
"dear madam! Dear friend! It is impossible for me to describe to you the deep pain that fills my soul at the terrible, irreplaceable loss that we have suffered. What a terrible stroke of fate that has struck her and the poor children, that has struck all of us, the friends and numerous admirers of the great, unforgettable friend and master, the most sublime spirit! Oh, that he was snatched away from us so early, who could have thought it?! Please be assured, my dear, honored friend, that I share with you in the deepest of my soul the bitter pain of the oh-so-terribly early departure of my beloved verklarten, and that I share it with you and your family. To the dear children, as an unchangingly loyal friend."
And further: "may the almighty grant you the strength to endure the terrible punishment and the terrible suffering. They receive for their children, who need their mother so much. Poor siegfried! Oh, how his father had been pleased to educate him, to supervise his education, in order to be able to entrust him confidently with his sublime spiritual heritage, the care of his immortal works! O tell them all how their sorrow goes to my heart and I grieve with them. How deeply I lament also liszt, her great father, who so rock solidly clung to the deceased, so faithfully stood by him in sorrow and joy."
"God be with you!", the king sends his letter. "He is well, he has endured! How I love you for the strong love you so unshakably devoted to him, the unforgettable one, and thus spared him life and made it a happy one! In cordial affection always to her u. Their own unchangingly faithful friend ludwig"
what else can one say after such royal words?? At best, that on 16. February 1985 at the dresden semper opera the so called opera vision "the way of love and death of cornet christoph rilke" was premiered by siegfried matthus. By the way, since 2007 there is also an opera by the name of "cosima, which the composer, who was never at a loss for press campaigns, originally presented as an opera fragment by friedrich nietzsche. The premiere took place in the theater gera, where it could be experienced how skilfully and ironically matthus is able to cover music by richard wagner and georges bizet.