Wagner Quotations

[© Hannu Salmi, see also the original German quotations!]

It was Germany's incalculable misfortune that at about the time that the German spirit had reached a point of sufficient maturity to be finally able to confront the challenge that faced it in that sublime field, the German peoples' legitimate state interests were entrusted to the counsels of a prince to whom the German spirit was utterly alien, a man who was the most perfect embodiment of an un-German, Romance concept of the state.

KLRW IV, 18. Cf. PW IV, 156.

Curiously enough, our historical memory of the splendour of the German name dates from a period that was so harmful to the German character, namely, the period when the Germans ruled over non-German (ausserdeutsche) peoples.

KLRW IV, 15. Cf. PW IV, 153.

The Italian assimilated all those aspects of antiquity that he could imitate and reproduce, while the Frenchman, in turn, borrowed from this reproduction whatever might flatter his national sense of formal elegance; only the German recognised antiquity in all its purely human originality and as something that enjoyed a significance which, totally remote from utilitarian concerns, was uniquely suited to reproducing the purely human.

KLRW IV, 17. Cf. PW IV, 155.

The word "deutsch" is also found in the verb "deuten" (to make plain): thus "deutsch" is what is plain to us, the familiar, the wonted, that which was inherited from our fathers and springs from our very own soil.

PW IV, 152.

Bach's spirit, the German spirit, emerged from the sanctuary of the most wonderful music, the place where it was reborn. When Goethe's Götz appeared, a cry of joy went up: "That's German!"

PW IV, 163.

He showed the world what antiquity is, he showed the human spirit what Nature and the world are. These deeds the German spirit brought forth by itself from its inmost desire to become conscious of itself. And this consciousness told it what it was the first to proclaim to the world, namely, that the beautiful and the noble came into the world not for the sake of profit or even for the sake of fame and recognition, but that everything done in the spirit of this teaching is "German", and that is why the German is great; only what is done in this spirit can contribute to Germany's greatness.

PW IV, 163.

The birth of the new German spirit brought with it the rebirth of the German people: the German War of Liberation of 1813, 1814 and 1815 suddenly familiarised us with this people.


Today we need only faithfully to expound the myth of Oedipus according to its inmost essence, and in it we win an intelligible picture of the whole history of mankind, from the beginnings of Society to the inevitable downfall of the State. The necessity of this downfall is, in the mythos, merely foreshadowed: it is the part of actual history (die wirkliche Geschichte) to accomplish it.

Wagner, Opera and Drama, PW II, 191.

Stability is therefore the intrinsic tendency of the State (...) The embodied voucher for this fundamental law is the Monarch. In no State is there a weightier law than that which centres its stability in the supreme hereditary power of one particular family (...) Personally he has naught in common with the interests of parties, but his sole concern is that the conflict of these interests should be adjusted, precisely for the safety of the whole. His sphere is therefore equity, and where this is unattainable, the exercise of grace (Gnade). Thus, as against the party interests, he is the representative of purely-human interests, and in the eyes of the party-seeking citizen he therefore occupies in truth a position well-nigh superhuman.

Wagner, State and Religion, PW IV, 11-12.

It is very common for the patriot to quote his country's name in a spirit of total veneration. The more powerful a people, however, the less store it seems to set by referring to itself with such a degree of reverence. I have no doubt that it is far less common in public life in England and France for people to speak of `English' and `French virtues', whereas the Germans frequently refer to `German depth', `German seriousness', `German fidelity' and so on.

KLRW IV, 14. Cf. PW IV, 151.

Returning in the afternoon, I stretched myself, dead tired, on a hard couch, awaiting the long-desired hour of sleep. It did not come; but I fell into a kind of somnolent state, in which I suddenly felt as though I were sinking in swiftly flowing water. The rushing sound formed itself in my brain into a musical sound, the chord of E flat major, which continually re-echoed in broken forms; these broken chords seemed to be melodic passages of increasing motion, yet the pure triad of E flat major never changed, but seemed by its continuance to impart infinite significance to the element in which I was sinking. I awoke in sudden terror from my doze, feeling as though the waves were rushing high above my head. I at once recognised that the orchestral overture to the Rheingold, which must long have lain latent within me, though it had been unable to find definite form, had at last been revealed to me. I then quickly realised my own nature; the stream of life was not to flow to me from without, but from within.

Wagner, Richard: My Life. London 1911, p. 603.

Then came the Students' Association. The League of Virtue was founded. All so fantastic that no human being could grasp it. But I did. Now it is me no one grasps: I am the most German being, I am the German spirit. Question the incomparable magic of my works, compare them with the rest: and you can, for the present, say no differently than that - it is German. But what is this German? It must be something wonderful, mustn't it, for it is humanly finer than all else? - Oh heavens! It should have a soil, this German! I should be able to find my people! What a glorious people it ought to become. But to this people only could I belong. -

Wagner, Richard: The Diary of Richard Wagner 1865–1882. The Brown Book. Presented and annotated by Joachim Bergfeld. Translated by George Byrd. Cambridge 1980., 73.

(...) it was Schopenhauer who first defined the position of Music among the fine arts with philosophic clearness, ascribing to it a totally different nature from that of either plastic or poetic art. He starts from wonder at Music's speaking a language immediately intelligible by everyone, since it needs no whit of intermediation through abstract concepts (Begriffe); which completely distinguishes it from Poetry, in the first place, whose sole material consists of concepts, employed by it to visualise the Idea.

Wagner, Beethoven, PW V, 65.

Then let us sail across the sea, and here and there found a young Germany, let us fructify it with the products of our toil and striving, and let us beget and bring up the noblest and most godlike children: but let us do better than the Spanish, who turned the New World into a papal slaughterhouse, and better than the English, who have turned it into a shop. Let us make it German and glorious; from its rising to its setting, the sun shall look down upon a beautiful, free Germany, and on the borders of the daughterlands, as upon those of their mother, no downtrodden, unfree people shall dwell, the rays of German freedom and German gentleness shall warm and transfigure the Cossack and the Frenchman, the Bushman and the Chinese.

PW IV, 140.

The Italian made as much of the Antique his own, as he could copy and remodel; the Frenchman borrowed from this remodelling, in his turn, whatever caressed his national sense for elegance of Form: the German was the first to apprehend its purely-human originality (...) Through its inmost understanding of the Antique, the German spirit arrived at the capability of restoring the Purely-human itself to its pristine freedom; not employing the antique form to display a certain given `stuff', but moulding the necessary new form itself through an employment of the antique conception of the world.

Wagner, What Is German?, PW IV, 155-156.

Only on the shoulders of this great social movement can true Art lift itself from its present state of civilised barbarianism, and take its post of honour. Each has a common goal, and the twain can only reach it when they recognise it jointly. This goal is the strong fair Man...

Wagner, Art and Revolution, PW I, 56.

True Drama is only conceivable as proceeding from a common urgency of every art towards the most direct appeal to a common public. In this Drama, each separate art can only bare its utmost secret to their common public through a mutual parleying with the other arts; for the purpose of each separate branch of art can only be fully attained by the reciprocal agreement and co-operation of all the branches in their common message.

Wagner, The Art-work of the Future, PW I, 184.

Who, then, will be the Artist of the Future? The poet? The performer? The musician? The plastician? - Let us say it in one word: the Folk. That selfsame Folk to whom we owe the only genuine Art-work, still living even in our modern memory, however much distorted by our restorations; to whom alone we owe all Art itself.

Wagner, The Art-work of the Future, PW I, 204-205.

I believe in God, Mozart and Beethoven, and likewise their disciples and apostles; - I believe in the Holy Spirit and the truth of the one, indivisible Art; - I believe that this Art proceeds from God, and lives within the hearts of all illumined men; - I believe that he who once has bathed in the sublime delights of this high Art, is consecrate to Her for ever, and never can deny Her; - I believe that through Art all men are saved...

Wagner, An End in Paris, PW VII, 66-67.

I have long been convinced that my artistic ideal stands or falls with Germany. Only the Germany that we love and desire can help us achieve that ideal.

Wagner to Karl Graf von Enzenberg June 15, 1866, Wagner 1987, 697-698. Translated by Stewart Spencer.

...we are bound some day to reach a point, in the contest between French civilisation and the German spirit, where it will become a question of the continuance of the German Princes. If the German Princes are not the faithful guardians of the German spirit; if, consciously or unconsciously, they help French civilisation to triumph over that German spirit, so woefully misprised and disregarded by them: then their days are numbered, let the fiat come from here or there.

Wagner, German Art and German Policy, PW IV, 42.

"I am bad for the Napoleons", R. says. "When I was six months old there was the Battle of Leipzig, and now Fidi is hacking up the whole of France."

Cosima's diary recording September 4, 1870, in: Wagner, Cosima: Diaries. Edited and annotated by Martin Gregor-Dellin and Dietrich Mack. Translated by Geoffrey Skelton. Vol. 1: 1869–1877. London 1978, 266.


KLRW = König Ludwig II. und Richard Wagner. Briefwechsel. Bearbeitet von Otto Strobel. 5 Bde. Karlsruhe 1936–39.

PW = Richard Wagner's Prose Works. Translated by William Ashton Ellis. 8 Vols. London 1893–99. (reprinted 1993–95 by the University of Nebraska Press)

In the case of Ashton Ellis' translations on Wagner's prose works, the quotations are not always identical with the original. Some passages are new translations because Ashton Ellis' edition is not quote clear. I would like to acknowledge the help of Dr. Stewart Spencer in this work.

All the above quotations were gathered for my book Imagined Germany: Richard Wagner's National Utopia (Peter Lang, New York 1999).