The libretto of Tannhäuser combines mythological elements characteristic of German Romantische Oper (Romantic opera) and the medieval setting typical of many French Grand Operas. Wagner brings these two together by constructing a plot involving the 14th-century Minnesingers and the myth of Venus and her subterranean realm of Venusberg. Both the historical and the mythological are united in Tannhäuser’s personality; although he is a historical poet composer, little is known about him other than myths that surround him.
Wagner wove a variety of sources into the opera narrative. According to his autobiography, he was inspired by finding the story in "a Volksbuch (popular book) about the Venusberg", which he claimed "fell into his hands", although he admits knowing of the story from the Phantasus of Ludwig Tieck and E. T. A. Hoffmann’s story, Der Kampf der Sänger (The Singers’ Contest). Tieck’s tale, which names the hero "Tannenhäuser", tells of the minnesinger-knight’s amorous adventures in the Venusberg, his travels to Rome as a Pilgrim, and his repudiation by the pope. To this Wagner added material from Hoffmann’s story, from Serapions-Brüder (1819), describing a song contest at the Wartburg castle, a castle which featured prominently in Thuringian history. Heinrich Heine had provided Wagner with the inspiration for Der fliegende Holländer and Wagner again drew on Heine for Tannhäuser. In Heine’s sardonic essay Elementargeister (Elemental spirits), there appears a poem about Tannhäuser and the lure of the grotto of Venus, published in 1837 in the third volume of Der Salon. Other possible sources include Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s play Der Sängerkrieg auf der Wartburg and Eichendorff’s Das Marmorbild (The Marble Statue, 1819).
The legend of Tannhäuser, the amorous crusading Franconian knight, and that of the song contest on the Wartburg (which did not involve Tannhäuser, but the semi-mythical minnesinger Heinrich von Ofterdingen), came from quite separate traditions. Ludwig Bechstein wove together the two legends in the first volume of his collection of Thuringian legends, Der Sagenschatz und die Sagenkreise des Thüringerlandes (A treasury of the tales of Thuringian legends and legend cycles, 1835), which was probably the Volksbuch to which Wagner refers to in his autobiography. Wagner also knew of the work of another contemporary, Christian Theodor Ludwig Lucas, whose Über den Krieg von Wartburg of 1838 also conflated the two legends. This confusion (which explains why Tannhäuser is referred to as ‘Heinrich’ in the opera) does not fit with the historical timeline of the events in the opera, since the Singers’ Contest involving von Ofterdingen is said to have taken place around 1207, while Tannhäuser’s poetry appeared much later (1245–1265). The sources used by Wagner therefore reflected a nineteenth century romantic view of the medieval period, with concerns about artistic freedom and the constraints of organised religion typical of the period of Romanticism.
During Wagner’s first stay in Paris (1839–1842) he read a paper by Ludwig Lucas on the Sängerkrieg which sparked his imagination, and encouraged him to return to Germany, which he reached on 7 April 1842. Having crossed the Rhine, the Wagners drove towards Thuringia, and saw the early rays of sun striking the Wartburg; Wagner immediately began to sketch the scenery that would become the stage sets. Wagner wrote the prose draft of Tannhäuser between June and July 1842 and the libretto in April 1843.
Neuschwanstein Castle (German: Schloss Neuschwanstein, pronounced [ˈʃlɔs nɔʏˈʃvaːnʃtaɪn], Southern Bavarian: Schloss Neischwanstoa) is a 19th-century Romanesque Revival palace on a rugged hill above the village of Hohenschwangau near Füssen in southwest Bavaria, Germany. The palace was commissioned by King Ludwig II of Bavaria as a retreat and in honour of Richard Wagner. Ludwig paid for the palace out of his personal fortune and by means of extensive borrowing, rather than Bavarian public funds.
The castle was intended as a home for the King, until he died in 1886. It was open to the public shortly after his death. Since then more than 61 million people have visited Neuschwanstein Castle. More than 1.3 million people visit annually, with as many as 6,000 per day in the summer.
2.1Inspiration and design
2.5World War II
5In culture, art, and science
5.1World Heritage candidature
A northward view of Neuschwanstein Castle from Mount Säuling (2,047 m or 6,716 ft) on the border between Bavaria and Tyrol: Schwangau between large Forggensee reservoir (1952) and Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein palaces
The municipality of Schwangau lies at an elevation of 800 m (2,620 ft) at the southwest border of the German state of Bavaria. Its surroundings are characterised by the transition between the Alpine foothills in the south (toward the nearby Austrian border) and a hilly landscape in the north that appears flat by comparison.
In the Middle Ages, three castles overlooked the villages. One was called Schwanstein Castle.[nb 1] In 1832, Ludwig’s father King Maximilian II of Bavaria bought its ruins to replace them with the comfortable neo-Gothic palace known as Hohenschwangau Castle. Finished in 1837, the palace became his family’s summer residence, and his elder son Ludwig (born 1845) spent a large part of his childhood here.
Vorderhohenschwangau Castle and Hinterhohenschwangau Castle[nb 2] sat on a rugged hill overlooking Schwanstein Castle, two nearby lakes (Alpsee and Schwansee), and the village. Separated by only a moat, they jointly consisted of a hall, a keep, and a fortified tower house. In the nineteenth century only ruins remained of the twin medieval castles, but those of Hinterhohenschwangau served as a lookout place known as Sylphenturm.
The ruins above the family palace were known to the crown prince from his excursions. He first sketched one of them in his diary in 1859. When the young king came to power in 1864, the construction of a new palace in place of the two ruined castles became the first in his series of palace building projects. Ludwig called the new palace New Hohenschwangau Castle; only after his death was it renamed Neuschwanstein. The confusing result is that Hohenschwangau and Schwanstein have effectively swapped names: Hohenschwangau Castle replaced the ruins of Schwanstein Castle, and Neuschwanstein Castle replaced the ruins of the two Hohenschwangau Castles.
Inspiration and design
Neuschwanstein embodies both the contemporaneous architectural fashion known as castle romanticism (German: Burgenromantik), and King Ludwig II’s enthusiasm for the operas of Richard Wagner.
In the 19th century, many castles were constructed or reconstructed, often with significant changes to make them more picturesque. Palace-building projects similar to Neuschwanstein had been undertaken earlier in several of the German states and included Hohenschwangau Castle, Lichtenstein Castle, Hohenzollern Castle, and numerous buildings on the River Rhine such as Stolzenfels Castle. The inspiration for the construction of Neuschwanstein came from two journeys in 1867—one in May to the reconstructed Wartburg near Eisenach, another in July to the Château de Pierrefonds, which Eugène Viollet-le-Duc was transforming from a ruined castle into a historistic palace.[nb 3]
Neuschwanstein project drawing (Christian Jank 1869)
The King saw both buildings as representatives of a romantic interpretation of the Middle Ages, as well as the musical mythology of his friend Wagner, whose operas Tannhäuser and Lohengrin had made a lasting impression on him.
In February 1868, Ludwig’s grandfather King Ludwig I died, freeing the considerable sums that were previously spent on the abdicated King’s appanage.[nb 4] This allowed Ludwig II to start the architectural project of building a private refuge in the familiar landscape far from the capital Munich, so that he could live out his idea of the Middle Ages.
It is my intention to rebuild the old castle ruin of Hohenschwangau near the Pöllat Gorge in the authentic style of the old German knights’ castles, and I must confess to you that I am looking forward very much to living there one day […]; you know the revered guest I would like to accommodate there; the location is one of the most beautiful to be found, holy and unapproachable, a worthy temple for the divine friend who has brought salvation and true blessing to the world. It will also remind you of "Tannhäuser" (Singers’ Hall with a view of the castle in the background), "Lohengrin’" (castle courtyard, open corridor, path to the chapel) …
— Ludwig II, Letter to Richard Wagner, May 1868
The building design was drafted by the stage designer Christian Jank and realised by the architect Eduard Riedel. For technical reasons, the ruined castles could not be integrated into the plan. Initial ideas for the palace drew stylistically on Nuremberg Castle and envisaged a simple building in place of the old Vorderhohenschwangau Castle, but they were rejected and replaced by increasingly extensive drafts, culminating in a bigger palace modelled on the Wartburg. The king insisted on a detailed plan and on personal approval of each and every draft. Ludwig’s control went so far that the palace has been regarded as his own creation, rather than that of the architects involved.
Whereas contemporary architecture critics derided Neuschwanstein, one of the last big palace building projects of the nineteenth century, as kitsch, Neuschwanstein and Ludwig II’s other buildings are now counted among the major works of European historicism. For financial reasons, a project similar to Neuschwanstein – Falkenstein Castle – never left the planning stages.
The palace can be regarded as typical for nineteenth-century architecture. The shapes of Romanesque (simple geometric figures such as cuboids and semicircular arches), Gothic (upward-pointing lines, slim towers, delicate embellishments) and Byzantine architecture and art (the Throne Hall décor) were mingled in an eclectic fashion and supplemented with 19th-century technical achievements. The Patrona Bavariae and Saint George on the court face of the Palas (main building) are depicted in the local Lüftlmalerei style, a fresco technique typical for Allgäu farmers’ houses, while the unimplemented drafts for the Knights’ House gallery foreshadow elements of Art Nouveau. Characteristic of Neuschwanstein’s design are theatre themes: Christian Jank drew on coulisse drafts from his time as a scenic painter.
The basic style was originally planned to be neo-Gothic but the palace was primarily built in Romanesque style in the end. The operatic themes moved gradually from Tannhäuser and Lohengrin to Parsifal.
Neuschwanstein under construction: Bower still missing, Rectangular Tower under construction (photograph c. 1882–85)
Neuschwanstein under construction: upper courtyard (photograph c. 1886)
In 1868, the ruins of the medieval twin castles were completely demolished; the remains of the old keep were blown up. The foundation stone for the palace was laid on 5 September 1869; in 1872 its cellar was completed and in 1876, everything up to the first floor, the gatehouse being finished first. At the end of 1882 it was completed and fully furnished, allowing Ludwig to take provisional lodgings there and observe the ongoing construction work. In 1874, management of the civil works passed from Eduard Riedel to Georg von Dollmann. The topping out ceremony for the Palas was in 1880, and in 1884, the King was able to move in to the new building. In the same year, the direction of the project passed to Julius Hofmann, after Dollmann had fallen from the King’s favour.
The palace was erected as a conventional brick construction and later encased in various types of rock. The white limestone used for the fronts came from a nearby quarry.
The sandstone bricks for the portals and bay windows came from Schlaitdorf in Württemberg. Marble from Untersberg near Salzburg was used for the windows, the arch ribs, the columns and the capitals. The Throne Hall was a later addition to the plans and required a steel framework.
The transport of building materials was facilitated by scaffolding and a steam crane that lifted the material to the construction site. Another crane was used at the construction site. The recently founded Dampfkessel-Revisionsverein (Steam Boiler Inspection Association) regularly inspected both boilers.
For about two decades the construction site was the principal employer in the region. In 1880, about 200 craftsmen were occupied at the site, not counting suppliers and other persons indirectly involved in the construction. At times when the King insisted on particularly close deadlines and urgent changes, reportedly up to 300 workers per day were active, sometimes working at night by the light of oil lamps. Statistics from the years 1879/1880 support an immense amount of building materials: 465 tonnes (513 short tons) of Salzburg marble, 1,550 t (1,710 short tons) of sandstone, 400,000 bricks and 2,050 cubic metres (2,680 cu yd) of wood for the scaffolding.
In 1870, a society was founded for insuring the workers, for a low monthly fee, augmented by the King. The heirs of construction casualties (30 cases are mentioned in the statistics) received a small pension.
In 1884, the King was able to move into the (still unfinished) Palas, and in 1885, he invited his mother Marie to Neuschwanstein on the occasion of her 60th birthday.[nb 5] By 1886, the external structure of the Palas (hall) was mostly finished. In the same year, Ludwig had the first, wooden Marienbrücke over the Pöllat Gorge replaced by a steel construction.
Despite its size, Neuschwanstein did not have space for the royal court, but contained only the King’s private lodging and servants’ rooms. The court buildings served decorative, rather than residential purposes: The palace was intended to serve King Ludwig II as a kind of inhabitable theatrical setting. As a temple of friendship it was also dedicated to the life and work of Richard Wagner, who died in 1883 before he had set foot in the building. In the end, Ludwig II lived in the palace for a total of only 172 days.
Neuschwanstein in 1886
The King’s wishes and demands expanded during the construction of Neuschwanstein, and so did the expenses. Drafts and estimated costs were revised repeatedly. Initially a modest study was planned instead of the great throne hall, and projected guest rooms were struck from the drafts to make place for a Moorish Hall, which could not be realised due to lack of resources. Completion was originally projected for 1872, but deferred repeatedly.
Neuschwanstein, the symbolic medieval knight’s castle, was not King Ludwig II’s only huge construction project. It was followed by the rococo style Lustschloss of Linderhof Palace and the baroque palace of Herrenchiemsee, a monument to the era of absolutism. Linderhof, the smallest of the projects, was finished in 1886, and the other two remain incomplete. All three projects together drained his resources. The King paid for his construction projects by private means and from his civil list income. Contrary to frequent claims, the Bavarian treasury was not directly burdened by his buildings. From 1871, Ludwig had an additional secret income in return for a political favour given to Otto von Bismarck.[nb 6]
The construction costs of Neuschwanstein in the King’s lifetime amounted to 6.2 million marks (equivalent to 40 million 2009 €), almost twice the initial cost estimate of 3.2 million marks. As his private means were insufficient for his increasingly escalating construction projects, the King continuously opened new lines of credit. In 1876, a court counselor was replaced after pointing out the danger of insolvency. By 1883 he already owed 7 million marks, and in spring 1884 and August 1885 debt conversions of 7.5 million marks and 6.5 million marks, respectively, became necessary.
Even after his debts had reached 14 million marks, King Ludwig II insisted on continuation of his architectural projects; he threatened suicide if his creditors seized his palaces. In early 1886, Ludwig asked his cabinet for a credit of 6 million marks, which was denied. In April, he followed Bismarck’s advice to apply for the money to his parliament. In June the Bavarian government decided to depose the King, who was living at Neuschwanstein at the time. On 9 June he was incapacitated, and on 10 June he had the deposition commission arrested in the gatehouse. In expectation of the commission, he alerted the gendarmerie and fire brigades of surrounding places for his protection. A second commission headed by Bernhard von Gudden arrived on the next day, and the King was forced to leave the palace that night. Ludwig was put under the supervision of von Gudden. On 13 June, both died under mysterious circumstances in the shallow shore water of Lake Starnberg near Berg Castle.
Neuschwanstein front façade and surroundings (photochrom print, c. 1900)
A 1901 postcard of Berg Castle
At the time of King Ludwig’s death the palace was far from complete. He slept only 11 nights in the castle. The external structures of the Gatehouse and the Palas were mostly finished but the Rectangular Tower was still scaffolded. Work on the Bower had not started, but was completed in a simplified form by 1892 without the planned figures of the female saints. The Knights’ House was also simplified. In King Ludwig’s plans the columns in the Knights’ House gallery were held as tree trunks and the capitals as the corresponding crowns. Only the foundations existed for the core piece of the palace complex: a keep of 90 metres (300 ft) height planned in the upper courtyard, resting on a three-nave chapel. This was not realised, and a connection wing between the Gatehouse and the Bower saw the same fate. Plans for a castle garden with terraces and a fountain west of the Palas were also abandoned after the King’s death.
The interior of the royal living space in the palace was mostly completed in 1886; the lobbies and corridors were painted in a simpler style by 1888. The Moorish Hall desired by the King (and planned below the Throne Hall) was not realised any more than the so-called Knights’ Bath, which, modelled after the Knights’ Bath in the Wartburg, was intended to render homage to the knights’ cult as a medieval baptism bath. A Bride Chamber in the Bower (after a location in Lohengrin), guest rooms in the first and second floor of the Palas and a great banquet hall were further abandoned projects. In fact, a complete development of Neuschwanstein had never even been planned, and at the time of the King’s death there was not a utilisation concept for numerous rooms.
Neuschwanstein was still incomplete when Ludwig II died in 1886. The King never intended to make the palace accessible to the public. No more than six weeks after the King’s death, however, the Prince-Regent Luitpold ordered the palace opened to paying visitors. The administrators of King Ludwig’s estate managed to balance the construction debts by 1899. From then until World War I, Neuschwanstein was a stable and lucrative source of revenue for the House of Wittelsbach, indeed King Ludwig’s castles were probably the single largest income source earned by the Bavarian royal family in the last years prior to 1914. To guarantee a smooth course of visits, some rooms and the court buildings were finished first. Initially the visitors were allowed to move freely in the palace, causing the furniture to wear quickly.
When Bavaria became a republic in 1918, the government socialised the civil list. The resulting dispute with the House of Wittelsbach led to a split in 1923: King Ludwig’s palaces including Neuschwanstein fell to the state and are now managed by the Bavarian Palace Department, a division of the Bavarian finance ministry. Nearby Hohenschwangau Castle fell to the Wittelsbacher Ausgleichsfonds, whose revenues go to the House of Wittelsbach. The visitor numbers continued to rise, reaching 200,000 in 1939.
World War II
Due to its secluded location, the palace survived the destruction of two World Wars. Until 1944, it served as a depot for Nazi plunder that was taken from France by the Reichsleiter Rosenberg Institute for the Occupied Territories (Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg für die besetzten Gebiete), a suborganisation of the Nazi Party. The castle was used to catalogue the works of arts. (After World War II 39 photo albums were found in the palace documenting the scale of the art seizures. The albums are now stored in the United States National Archives.)
In April 1945, the SS considered blowing up the palace to prevent the building itself and the artwork it contained from falling to the enemy. The plan was not realised by the SS-Gruppenführer who had been assigned the task, however, and at the end of the war the palace was surrendered undamaged to representatives of the Allied forces. Thereafter the Bavarian archives used some of the rooms as a provisional store for salvaged archivalia, as the premises in Munich had been bombed.
The effect of the Neuschwanstein ensemble is highly stylistic, both externally and internally. The king’s influence is apparent throughout, and he took a keen personal interest in the design and decoration. An example can be seen in his comments, or commands, regarding a mural depicting Lohengrin in the Palas; "His Majesty wishes that … the ship be placed further from the shore, that Lohengrin’s neck be less tilted, that the chain from the ship to the swan be of gold and not of roses, and finally that the style of the castle shall be kept medieval."
The suite of rooms within the Palas contains the Throne Room, King Ludwig’s suite, the Singers’ Hall, and the Grotto. The interior and especially the throne room Byzantine-Arab construction resumes to the chapels and churches of the royal Sicilian Norman-Swabian period in Palermo related to the Kings of Germany House of Hohenstaufen. Throughout, the design pays homage to the German legends of Lohengrin, the Swan Knight. Hohenschwangau, where King Ludwig spent much of his youth, had decorations of these sagas. These themes were taken up in the operas of Richard Wagner. Many rooms bear a border depicting the various operas written by Wagner, including a theatre permanently featuring the set of one such play. Many of the interior rooms remain undecorated, with only 14 rooms finished before Ludwig’s death. With the palace under construction at the King’s death, one of the major features of the palace remained unbuilt. A massive keep, which would have formed the highest point and central focus of the ensemble, was planned for the middle of the upper courtyard but was never built, at the decision of the King’s family. The foundation for the keep is visible in the upper courtyard.
Neuschwanstein Castle consists of several individual structures which were erected over a length of 150 metres on the top of a cliff ridge. The elongate building is furnished with numerous towers, ornamental turrets, gables, balconies, pinnacles and sculptures. Following Romanesque style, most window openings are fashioned as bi- and triforia. Before the backdrop of the Tegelberg and the Pöllat Gorge in the south and the Alpine foothills with their lakes in the north, the ensemble of individual buildings provides varying picturesque views of the palace from all directions. It was designed as the romantic ideal of a knight’s castle. Unlike "real" castles, whose building stock is in most cases the result of centuries of building activity, Neuschwanstein was planned from the inception as an intentionally asymmetric building, and erected in consecutive stages. Typical attributes of a castle were included, but real fortifications – the most important feature of a medieval aristocratic estate – were dispensed with.
Overview of palace complex; position of the planned chapel marked in yellow
View from location of unrealised chapel along upper courtyard level: Bower (left), palace front, and Knights’ House (right)
The palace complex is entered through the symmetrical Gatehouse flanked by two stair towers. The eastward-pointing gate building is the only structure of the palace whose wall area is fashioned in high-contrast colours; the exterior walls are cased with red bricks, the court fronts with yellow limestone. The roof cornice is surrounded by pinnacles. The upper floor of the Gatehouse is surmounted by a crow-stepped gable and held King Ludwig II’s first lodging at Neuschwanstein, from which he occasionally observed the building work before the hall was completed. The ground floors of the Gatehouse were intended to accommodate the stables.
The passage through the Gatehouse, crowned with the royal Bavarian coat of arms, leads directly into the courtyard. The courtyard has two levels, the lower one being defined to the east by the Gatehouse and to the north by the foundations of the so-called Rectangular Tower and by the gallery building. The southern end of the courtyard is open, imparting a view of the surrounding mountain scenery. At its western end, the courtyard is delimited by a bricked embankment, whose polygonally protracting bulge marks the choir of the originally projected chapel; this three-nave church, never built, was intended to form the base of a 90-metre (295-ft) keep, the planned centrepiece of the architectural ensemble. A flight of steps at the side gives access to the upper level.
Today, the foundation plan of the chapel-keep is marked out in the upper-courtyard pavement. The most striking structure of the upper court level is the so-called Rectangular Tower (45 metres or 148 feet). Like most of the court buildings, it mostly serves a decorative purpose as part of the ensemble. Its viewing platform provides a vast view over the Alpine foothills to the north. The northern end of the upper courtyard is defined by the so-called Knights’ House. The three-storey building is connected to the Rectangular Tower and the Gatehouse by means of a continuous gallery fashioned with a blind arcade. From the point of view of castle romanticism the Knights’ House was the abode of a stronghold’s menfolk; at Neuschwanstein, estate and service rooms were envisioned here. The Bower, which complements the Knights’ House as the "ladies’ house" but was never used as such, defines the south side of the courtyard. Both structures together form the motif of the Antwerp Castle featuring in the first act of Lohengrin. Embedded in the pavement is the floor plan of the planned palace chapel.
The western end of the courtyard is delimited by the Palas (hall). It constitutes the real main and residential building of the castle and contains the King’s stateroom and the servants’ rooms. The Palas is a colossal five-story structure in the shape of two huge cuboids that are connected in a flat angle and covered by two adjacent high gable roofs. The building’s shape follows the course of the ridge. In its angles there are two stair towers, the northern one surmounting the palace roof by several storeys with its height of 65 metres (213 ft). With their polymorphic roofs, both towers are reminiscent of the Château de Pierrefonds. The western Palas front supports a two-storey balcony with view on the Alpsee, while northwards a low chair tower and the conservatory protract from the main structure. The entire Palas is spangled with numerous decorative chimneys and ornamental turrets, the court front with colourful frescos. The court-side gable is crowned with a copper lion, the western (outward) gable with the likeness of a knight.
Floor plan of third floor, position of fourth-floor Hall of the Singers marked in red
Throne Hall detail
Had it been completed, the palace would have had more than 200 interior rooms, including premises for guests and servants, as well as for service and logistics. Ultimately, no more than about 15 rooms and halls were finished. In its lower stories the Palas accommodates administrative and servants’ rooms and the rooms of today’s palace administration. The King’s staterooms are situated in the upper stories: The anterior structure accommodates the lodgings in the third floor, above them the Hall of the Singers. The upper floors of the west-facing posterior structure are filled almost completely by the Throne Hall. The total floor space of all floors amounts to nearly 6,000 square metres (65,000 sq ft).
Neuschwanstein houses numerous significant interior rooms of German historicism. The palace was fitted with several of the latest technical innovations of the late 19th century. Among other things it had a battery-powered bell system for the servants and telephone lines. The kitchen equipment included a Rumford oven that turned the skewer with its heat and so automatically adjusted the turning speed. The hot air was used for a calorifère central heating system. Further novelties for the era were running warm water and toilets with automatic flushing.
The largest room of the palace by area is the Hall of the Singers, followed by the Throne Hall. The 27-by-10-metre (89 by 33 ft) Hall of the Singers is located in the eastern, court-side wing of the Palas, in the fourth floor above the King’s lodgings. It is designed as an amalgamation of two rooms of the Wartburg: The Hall of the Singers and the Ballroom. It was one of the King’s favourite projects for his palace. The rectangular room was decorated with themes from Lohengrin and Parzival. Its longer side is terminated by a gallery that is crowned by a tribune, modelled after the Wartburg. The eastern narrow side is terminated by a stage that is structured by arcades and known as the Sängerlaube. The Hall of the Singers was never designed for court festivities of the reclusive King. Rather, like the Throne Hall it served as a walkable monument in which the culture of knights and courtly love of the Middle Ages was represented. The first performance in this hall took place in 1933: A concert commemorating the 50th anniversary of Richard Wagner’s death.
The Throne Hall, 20 by 12 metres (66 by 39 ft), is situated in the west wing of the Palas. With its height of 13 metres (43 ft) it occupies the third and fourth floors. Julius Hofmann modelled it after the Allerheiligen-Hofkirche in the Munich Residenz. On three sides it is surrounded by colorful arcades, ending in an apse that was intended to hold King Ludwig’s throne – which was never completed. The throne dais is surrounded by paintings of Jesus, the Twelve Apostles and six canonised kings. The mural paintings were created by Wilhelm Hauschild. The floor mosaic was completed after the king’s death. The chandelier is fashioned after a Byzantine crown. The Throne Hall makes a sacral impression. Following the king’s wish, it amalgamated the Grail Hall from Parzival with a symbol of the divine right of kings, an incorporation of unrestricted sovereign power, which King Ludwig as the head of a constitutional monarchy no longer held. The union of the sacral and regal is emphasised by the portraits in the apse of six canonised Kings: Saint Louis of France, Saint Stephen of Hungary, Saint Edward the Confessor of England, Saint Wenceslaus of Bohemia, Saint Olaf of Norway and Saint Henry, Holy Roman Emperor.
Palace rooms (late 19th century Photochrom prints)
Hall of the Singers
Apart from the large ceremonial rooms several smaller rooms were created for use by King Ludwig II. The royal lodging is on the third floor of the palace in the east wing of the Palas. It consists of eight rooms with living space and several smaller rooms. In spite of the gaudy décor, the living space with its moderate room size and its sofas and suites makes a relatively modern impression on today’s visitors. King Ludwig II did not attach importance to representative requirements of former times, in which the life of a monarch was mostly public. The interior decoration with mural paintings, tapestry, furniture and other handicraft generally refers to the King’s favourite themes: the grail legend, the works of Wolfram von Eschenbach, and their interpretation by Richard Wagner.
The eastward drawing room is adorned with themes from the Lohengrin legend. The furniture – sofa, table, armchairs and seats in a northward alcove – is comfortable and homelike. Next to the drawing room is a little artificial grotto that forms the passage to the study. The unusual room, originally equipped with an artificial waterfall and a so-called rainbow machine, is connected to a little conservatory. Depicting the Hörselberg grotto, it relates to Wagner’s Tannhäuser, as does the décor of the adjacent study. In the park of Linderhof Palace the King had installed a similar grotto of greater dimensions. Opposite the study follows the dining room, adorned with themes of courtly love. Since the kitchen in Neuschwanstein is situated three stories below the dining room, it was impossible to install a wishing table (dining table disappearing by means of a mechanism) as at Linderhof Palace and Herrenchiemsee. Instead, the dining room was connected with the kitchen by means of a service lift.
The bedroom adjacent to the dining room and the subsequent house chapel are the only rooms of the palace that remain in neo-Gothic style. The King’s bedroom is dominated by a huge bed adorned with carvings. Fourteen carvers worked more than four years on the bed canopy with its numerous pinnacles and on the oaken panellings. It was in this room that Ludwig was arrested in the night from 11 to 12 June 1886. The adjacent little house chapel is consecrated to Saint Louis, after whom the owner was named.
The servants’ rooms in the basement of the Palas are quite scantily equipped with massive oak furniture. Besides one table and one cabinet there are two beds of 1.80 metres (5 ft 11 in) length each. Opaque glass windows separated the rooms from the corridor that connects the exterior stairs with the main stairs, so that the King could enter and leave unseen. The servants were not allowed to use the main stairs, but were restricted to the much narrower and steeper servants’ stairs.
Neuschwanstein welcomes almost 1.5 million visitors per year making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. For security reasons the palace can only be visited during a 35-minute guided tour, and no photography is allowed inside the castle. There are also special guided tours that focus on specific topics. In the peak season from June until August, Neuschwanstein has as many as 6,000 visitors per day, and guests without advance reservation may have to wait several hours. Those without tickets may still walk the long driveway from the base to the top of the mountain and visit the grounds and courtyard without a ticket, but will not be admitted to the interior of the castle. Ticket sales are processed exclusively via the ticket centre in Hohenschwangau. As of 2008, the total number of visitors was more than 60 million. In 2004, the revenues were booked as €6.5 million.
In culture, art, and science
Neuschwanstein is a global symbol of the era of Romanticism. The palace has appeared prominently in several movies such as Helmut Käutner’s Ludwig II (1955) and Luchino Visconti’s Ludwig (1972), both biopics about the King; the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and the war drama The Great Escape (1963). It served as the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, Cameran Palace in Lucario and The Mystery of Mew, and later similar structures. It is also visited by the character Grace Nakimura alongside Herrenchiemsee in the game The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery (1996).
In 1977, Neuschwanstein Castle became the motif of a West German definitive stamp, and it appeared on a €2 commemorative coin for the German Bundesländer series in 2012. In 2007, it was a finalist in the widely publicised on-line selection of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
A meteorite that reached Earth spectacularly on 6 April 2002, at the Austrian border near Hohenschwangau was named Neuschwanstein after the palace. Three fragments were found: Neuschwanstein I (1.75 kg (3.9 lb), found July 2002) and Neuschwanstein II (1.63 kg (3.6 lb), found May 2003) on the German side, and Neuschwanstein III (2.84 kg (6.3 lb), found June 2003) on the Austrian side near Reutte. The meteorite is classified as an enstatite chondrite with unusually large proportions of pure iron (29%), enstatite and the extremely rare mineral sinoite (Si2N2O).
World Heritage candidature
Since 2015, Neuschwanstein and Ludwig’s Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee palaces are on the German tentative list for a future designation as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. A joint candidature with other representative palaces of the romantic historicism is discussed (including Schwerin Palace, for example).
In Eisenach, Germany, in the early 13th century, the landgraves of the Thuringian Valley ruled the area of Germany around the Wartburg. They were great patrons of the arts, particularly music and poetry, holding contests between the minnesingers at the Wartburg. Across the valley towered the Venusberg, in whose interior, according to legend, dwelt Holda, the Goddess of Spring. In time, Holda became identified with Venus, the pagan Goddess of Love, whose grotto was the home of sirens and nymphs. It was said that the Goddess would lure the Wartburg minnesinger-knights to her lair where her beauty would captivate them. The minnesinger-knight Heinrich von Ofterdingen, known as Tannhäuser, left the court of the Landgrave of Thuringia a year ago after a disagreement with his fellow knights. Since then he has been held as a willing captive through his love for Venus, in her grotto in the Venusberg.[incomplete short citation]
The substantial overture commences with the theme of the ‘Pilgrim’s Chorus’ from Act 3, Scene 1, and also includes elements of the ‘Venusberg’ music from Act 1, Scene 1. The overture is frequently performed as a separate item in orchestral concerts, the first such performance having been given by Felix Mendelssohn conducting the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in February 1846. Wagner later gave the opinion that perhaps it would be better to cut the overture at opera performances to the Pilgrim’s Chorus alone – "the remainder – in the fortunate event of its being understood – is, as a prelude to the drama, too much; in the opposite event, too little." In the original, "Dresden" version, the overture comes to a traditional concert close (the version heard in concert performances). For the "Paris" version the music leads directly into the first scene, without pausing.
The Venusberg, (the Hörselberg of "Frau Holda" in Thuringia, in the vicinity of Eisenach), and a valley between the Venusberg and Wartburg
Scene 1. Wagner’s stage directions state: "The stage represents the interior of the Venusberg…In the distant background is a bluish lake; in it one sees the bathing figures of naiads; on its elevated banks are sirens. In the extreme left foreground lies Venus bearing the head of the half kneeling Tannhäuser in her lap. The whole cave is illuminated by rosy light. – A group of dancing nymphs appears, joined gradually by members of loving couples from the cave. – A train of Bacchantes comes from the background in wild dance… – The ever-wilder dance answers as in echo the Chorus of Sirens": "Naht euch dem Strande" (Come to the shore). In the "Paris" version this orgiastic ballet is greatly extended.
Scene 2. Following the orgy of the ballet, Tannhäuser’s desires are finally satiated, and he longs for freedom, spring and the sound of church bells. He takes up his harp and pays homage to the goddess in a passionate love song, "Dir töne Lob!" (Let your praises be heard), which he ends with an earnest plea to be allowed to depart, "Aus deinem Reiche, muss ich fliehn! O Königin! Göttin! Lass mich ziehn!" (From your kingdom must I flee! O Queen! O Goddess, set me free). Surprised, Venus offers him further charms, but eventually his repeated pleas arouse her fury and she curses his desire for salvation. (In the "Paris" version Venus’s inveighing against Tannhäuser is significantly expanded). Eventually Tannhäuser declares: "Mein Heil ruht in Maria" (My salvation rests in Mary). These words break the unholy spell. Venus and the Venusberg disappear.
Scene 3. According to Wagner’s stage directions, "Tannhäuser…finds himself a beautiful valley… To the left one sees the Hörselberg. To the right…a mountain path from the direction of the Wartburg …; in the foreground, led to by a low promontory, an image of the Virgin Mary – From above left one hears the ringing of herder’s bells; on a high projection sits a young shepherd with pipes facing the valley". It is May. The shepherd sings an ode to the pagan goddess Holda, "Frau Holda kam aus dem Berg hervor" (Lady Holda, come forth from the hill). A hymn "Zu dir wall ich, mein Jesus Christ" (To thee I turn, my Jesus Christ) can be heard, as Pilgrims are seen approaching from the Wartburg, and the shepherd stops playing. The pilgrims pass Tannhäuser as he stands motionless, and then, praising God, ("Allmächt’ger, dir sei Preis!" (Almighty God, to you be praise!)) he sinks to his knees, overcome with gratitude. At that moment the sound of hunting-horns can be heard, drawing ever nearer.
Scene 4. The Landgrave’s hunting party appears. The minnesingers (Wolfram, Walther, Biterolf, Reinmar, and Heinrich) recognise Tannhäuser, still deep in prayer, and greet him ("Heinrich! Heinrich! Seh ich recht?" (Heinrich! Heinrich! Do I see right?)) cautiously, recalling past feuds. They question him about his recent whereabouts, to which he gives vague answers. The minnesingers urge Tannhäuser to rejoin them, which he declines until Wolfram mentions Elisabeth, the Landgrave’s niece, "Bleib bei Elisabeth!" (Stay, for Elisabeth!). Tannhäuser is visibly moved, "Elisabeth! O Macht des Himmels, rufst du den süssen Namen mir?" (Elisabeth! O might of heaven, do you cry out the sweet name to me?). The minnesingers explain to Tannhäuser how he had enchanted Elisabeth, but when he had left she withdrew from their company and lost interest in music, expressing the hope that his return will also bring her back, "Auf’s Neue leuchte uns ihr Stern!" (Let her star once more shine upon us). Tannhäuser begs them to lead him to her, "Zu ihr! Zu ihr!" (To her! To her!). The rest of the hunting party gathers, blowing horns.
The Wartburg in Eisenach
The minnesingers’ hall in the Wartburg castle
Introduction – Scene 1. Elisabeth enters, joyfully. She sings, to the hall, of how she has been beset by sadness since Tannhäuser’s departure but now lives in hope that his songs will revive both of them, "Dich, teure Halle, grüss ich wieder" (Dear hall, I greet thee once again). Wolfram leads Tannhäuser into the hall.
Scene 2. Tannhäuser flings himself at Elisabeth’s feet. He exclaims "O Fürstin!" (O Princess!). At first, seemingly confused, she questions him about where he has been, which he avoids answering. She then greets him joyfully ("Ich preise dieses Wunder aus meines Herzens Tiefe!" (I praise this miracle from my heart’s depths!)), and they join in a duet, "Gepriesen sei die Stunde" (Praise be to this hour). Tannhäuser then leaves with Wolfram.
Scene 3. The Landgrave enters, and he and Elisabeth embrace. The Landgrave sings of his joy, "Dich treff ich hier in dieser Halle" (Do I find you in this hall) at her recovery and announces the upcoming song contest, at which she will preside, "dass du des Festes Fürstin seist" (that you will be the Princess of the Festival).
Scene 4 and Sängerkrieg (Song Contest). Elisabeth and the Landgrave watch the guests arrive. The guests assemble greeting the Landgrave and singing "Freudig begrüssen wir edle Halle" (With joy we greet the noble hall), take their places in a semicircle, with Elisabeth and the Landgrave in the seats of honour in the foreground. The Landgrave announces the contest and the theme, which shall be "Könnt ihr der Liebe Wesen mir ergründen?" (Can you explain the nature of Love?), and that the prize will be whatever the winner asks of Elisabeth. The knights place their names in a cup from which Elisabeth draws the first singer, Wolfram. Wolfram sings a trite song of courtly love and is applauded, but Tannhäuser chides him for his lack of passion. There is consternation, and once again Elisabeth appears confused, torn between rapture and anxiety. Biterolf accuses him of blasphemy and speaks of "Frauenehr und hohe Tugend" (women’s virtue and honour). The knights draw their swords as Tannhäuser mocks Biterolf, but the Landgrave intervenes to restore order. However, Tannhäuser, as if in a trance, rises to his feet and sings a song of ecstatic love to Venus, "Dir Göttin der Liebe, soll mein Lied ertönen" (To thee, Goddess of Love, should my song resound). There is general horror as it is realised he has been in the Venusberg; the women, apart from Elisabeth, flee. She appears pale and shocked, while the knights and the Landgrave gather together and condemn Tannhäuser to death. Only Elisabeth, shielding him with her body, saves him, "Haltet ein!" (Stop!). She states that God’s will is that a sinner shall achieve salvation through atonement. Tannhäuser collapses as all hail Elisabeth as an angel, "Ein Engel stieg aus lichtem Äther" (An angel rose out of the bright ether). He promises to seek atonement, the Landgrave exiles him and orders him to join another younger band of pilgrims then assembling. All depart, crying Nach Rom! (To Rome!).
In the "Paris" version, the song contest is somewhat shortened, possibly because of the lack of suitable soloists for the Paris production.
The valley of the Wartburg, in autumn. Elisabeth is kneeling, praying before the Virgin as Wolfram comes down the path and notices her
Scene 1. Orchestral music describes the pilgrimage of Tannhäuser. It is evening. Wolfram muses on Elisabeth’s sorrow during Tannhäuser’s second absence, "Wohl wusst’ ich hier sie im Gebet zu finden" (I knew well I might find her here in prayer) and her longing for the return of the pilgrims, and expresses concerns that he may not have been absolved. As he does so he hears a pilgrims’ prayer in the distance, "Beglückt darf nun dich, O Heimat, ich schauen" (Joyfully may I now you, O homeland, behold). Elisabeth rises and she and Wolfram listen to the hymn, watching the pilgrims approach and pass by. She anxiously searches the procession, but in vain, realising sorrowfully he is not amongst them, "Er kehret nicht züruck!" (He has not returned). She again kneels with a prayer to the Virgin that appears to foretell her death, "Allmächt’ge Jungfrau! Hör mein Flehen" (Almighty Virgin, hear my plea!). On rising she sees Wolfram but motions him not to speak. He offers to escort her back to the Wartburg, but she again motions him to be still, and gestures that she is grateful for his devotion but her path leads to heaven. She slowly makes her way up the path alone.
Scene 2. Wolfram, left alone as darkness draws on and the stars appear, begins to play and sings a hymn to the evening star that also hints at Elisabeth’s approaching death, "Wie Todesahnung Dämmrung deckt die Lande…O du mein holder Abendstern" (Like a premonition of death the twilight shrouds the earth… O thou my fair evening star).
Scene 3. It is now night. Tannhäuser appears, ragged, pale and haggard, walking feebly leaning on his staff. Wolfram suddenly recognises Tannhäuser, and startled challenges him, since he is exiled. To Wolfram’s horror, Tannhäuser explains he is once again seeking the company of Venus. Wolfram tries to restrain him, at the same time expressing compassion and begging him to tell the story of his pilgrimage. Tannhäuser urges Wolfram to listen to his story, "Nun denn, hör an! Du, Wolfram, du sollst es erfahren" (Now then, listen! You, Wolfram, shall learn all that has passed). Tannhäuser sings of his penitence and suffering, all the time thinking of Elisabeth’s gesture and pain, "Inbrunst im Herzen, wie kein Büsser noch" (With a flame in my heart, such as no penitent has known). He explains how he reached Rome, and the "Heiligtumes Schwelle" (Holy shrine), and witnessed thousands of pilgrims being absolved. Finally he approaches "ihn, durch den sich Gott verkündigt’" (he, through whom God speaks)[a] and tells his story. However, rather than finding absolution, he is cursed, "bist nun ewig du verdammt!" (you are forever damned!), and is told by the pope that "Wie dieser Stab in meiner Hand, nie mehr sich schmückt mit frischem Grün, kann aus der Hölle heissem Brand, Erlösung nimmer dir erblühn!" (As this staff in my hand, no more shall bear fresh leaves, from the hot fires of hell, salvation never shall bloom for thee). Whereupon, absolutely crushed, he fled, seeking his former source of bliss.
Having completed his tale, Tannhäuser calls out to Venus to take him back, "Zu dir, Frau Venus, kehr ich wieder" (To you, Lady Venus, I return). The two men struggle as a faint image of dancing becomes apparent. As Tannhäuser repeatedly calls on Venus, she suddenly appears and welcomes him back, "Willkommen, ungetreuer Mann!" (Welcome, faithless man!). As Venus continues to beckon, "Zu mir! Zu mir!" (To me!, To me!), in desperation, Wolfram suddenly remembers there is one word that can change Tannhäuser’s heart, and exclaims "Elisabeth!" Tannhäuser, as if frozen in time, repeats the name. As he does so, torches are seen, and a funeral hymn is heard approaching, "Der Seele Heil, die nun entflohn" (Hail, the soul that now is flown). Wolfram realises it must be Elisabeth’s body that is being borne, and that in her death lies Tannhäuser’s redemption, "Heinrich, du bist erlöst!" (Heinrich, you are saved). Venus cries out, "Weh! Mir verloren" (Alas! Lost to me!) and vanishes with her kingdom. As dawn breaks the procession appears bearing Elisabeth’s body on a bier. Wolfram beckons to them to set it down, and as Tannhäuser bends over the body uttering, "Heilige Elisabeth, bitte für mich!" (Holy Elisabeth!, pray for me!) he dies. As the growing light bathes the scene the younger pilgrims arrive bearing the pope’s staff sprouting new leaves, and proclaiming a miracle, "Heil! Heil! Der Gnade Wunder Heil!" (Hail!, Hail! To this miracle of grace, Hail!). All then sing "Der Gnade Heil ist dem Büsser beschieden, er geht nun ein in der Seligen Frieden!" (The Holy Grace of God is to the penitent given, who now enters into the joy of Heaven!).[incomplete short citation]
Wagner died in 1883. The first production of the opera at Wagner’s Bayreuth Festspielhaus (originally constructed for the performance of his Ring Cycle), was undertaken under the supervision of Cosima in 1891, and adhered closely to the ‘Vienna’ version. Later performances at Bayreuth included one conducted by Richard Strauss (1894), and one where the Bacchanal was choreographed by Isadora Duncan (1904). Duncan envisaged the Bacchanal as a fantasy of Tannhäuser’s fevered brain, as Wagner had written to Mathilde Wesendonck in 1860. Arturo Toscanini conducted the opera at Bayreuth in the 1930/31 season.[incomplete short citation]
In the words of the Wagner scholar Thomas S. Grey, "The Bacchanal remained a defining focus of many …productions, as a proving ground for changing conceptions of the psychosexual symbolism of the Venusberg." Productions including those of Götz Friedrich at Bayreuth (1972) and Otto Schenk at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, (1977) "routinely offer quantities of simulated copulation and post-coital langour, for which the Paris score offers ample encouragement". A Munich production (1994) included as part of Tannhäuser’s fantasies "creatures out of Hieronymus Bosch crawl[ing] around the oblivious protagonist".
The Operabase website indicates that in the two calendar years 2014/2015, there were 163 performances of 41 productions of Tannhäuser in 30 cities throughout the world.
Many scholars and writers on opera have advanced theories to explain the motives and behaviour of the characters, including Jungian psychoanalysis, in particular as regards Tannhäuser’s apparently self-destructive behaviour. In 2014 an analysis suggested that his apparently inconsistent behaviour, when analysed by game theory, is actually consistent with a redemption strategy. Only by public disclosure can Tannhäuser force a resolution of his inner conflict.
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