Richard Wagner in Switzerland


The German composer Richard Wagner spent 12 years in exile in Switzerland from 1849 to 1858, after his involvement in left-wing politics in Dresden saw him wanted by the police as a revolutionary. He lived in Zürich at this time, writing and publishing essays about opera, ‘The Artwork of the Future’ and ‘Opera and Drama’. The opera ‘Siegfried’ was started in Zürich, as were the libretti for ‘The Valkyrie’, ‘The Rhine Gold’, and ‘Tristan and Isolde’. Wagner lived with his wife in ‘Rieterpark’, a house lent to him by a German merchant and patron of the arts, Otto Wesendonck. In the following years Wagner had an affair with Wesendonck’s wife, Mathilde, which ended in the composer moving alone to Paris in 1858 when the affair was discovered.

Rieterpark and its house, Villa Wesendonck, were bought by the City of Zürich in 1945 and the Rietberg Museum of non-European culture is now housed there. The now-public park, landscaped with its pond and fountain, is used for classical concerts and theatre. Some of the beech trees in the park are from the original planting in 1855.

Rieterpark is in the Zürich Enge area of the city, close to Lake Zürich. Tram no. 7 from the main station in Zürich takes you to the park in 12 minutes. Bus no. 33 (direction Morgental) drops you at Hügelstrasse, from where it is a 6 minute walk. Alternatively, it is a ten minute walk to Rieterpark from Enge train station. (It is not advisable to go by car, as there is no parking at the museum.) The museum is open daily at 10am except Mondays; there is an entry fee, but children under 16 are free. It has a café and shop.

Note: the Rietberg Museum is not about Wagner, but you will be inside the house he lived in from 1849 to 1858.

In 1864 Wagner acquired an enthusiastic patron in King Ludwig II of Bavaria, and went to live in Munich. However after a scandalous affair with Liszt’s daughter Cosima, who had his child, Wagner was forced to leave Munich for Lucerne, where Ludwig provided him with the Villa Tribschen, beside the lake. Wagner moved into the empty house in 1866 with Cosima, who became his second wife in 1870, and their children. The estate consisted of the villa, and parkland on the shore of Lake Lucerne. Here Wagner composed ‘Die Meistersinger’, which had its premiere in Munich and performances in Vienna and Mannheim, and completed the ‘Ring’ cycle. He wrote the third act of ‘Siegfried’ and began work on ‘Gotterdämmerung’. Liszt, who had remained a friend in spite of the affair in Munich, and King Ludwig II were among distinguished visitors to the villa.

Villa Tribschen is now the Richard Wagner Museum. Externally what you see is architecture of 1800, but there was a house there from the late Middle Ages, and the basement inside dates from that period.
The museum is on the ground floor, displaying a collection of artefacts from Wagner’s six years here before he left for Bayreuth.

The Richard Wagner Museum is closed from 1st December to 14th March; the rest of the year it opens daily at 10am, except Mondays. Please note the museum closes from 12 noon to 2pm. However the café is in the park and stays open at lunch time (April to September only). You reach Villa Tribschen by buses 6, 7 or 8 from Lucerne main station (10 minute walk from the Wartegg stop); or by boat from Lucerne Bahnhofsquai (afternoons April to October only); or by car from Bundesplatz on Tribschenstrasse and follow the signs.

Wagner wrote of Lucerne: “Lucerne is a charming place. It begins at the water’s edge … and scrambles up and spreads itself over two or three sharp hills in a crowded, disorderly but picturesque way.” Enjoy the photos that follow!

Rieterpark, Villa Wesendonck, Zurich
Rieterpark, Zurich Rieterpark, Zurich Enge  Villa Wesendonck  Wesendonck, Zurich
 Rieterpark, Villa Wesendonck  Villa Wesendonck, Zurich  fountain, Wesendonck  Villa Wesendonck, Zurich
 Villa Wesendonck Cafe Remise, Rieterpark Museum Rietberg, Smaragd Parkvilla, Rieter
Richard Wagner Museum, Lucerne
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Richard Wagner Museum Lucerne Wagner Museum Lucerne Wagner Museum Lucerne Wagner Museum Lucerne