In 1855 Wagner went to London to conduct a season of the Philharmonic Society. That body invited him on the recommendation of Sainton, the violinist, and the season was one of its most successful. The feuds that arose, and the newspaper and other squabblings, have small interest for us now; but it is certain that the finer spirits appreciated, or partly appreciated, him, and Royalty flattered him. Into this period comes the Paris performance of Tannhaeuser, which was a disgraceful failure—I mean disgraceful to the Parisians, and especially to their Jockey Club, which resolutely went to work to prevent the music being heard by cat-calls and shoutings. The event was not of any great artistic importance—indeed, it is hardly worth calling an event; it was only one more sin on the soul of a musically benighted people.
Wagner’s prospects were still of the poorest; he was still living mainly on charity; but in 1859 he had finished Tristan, and much of the Ring was sketched or actually written. He was amnestied and free to return to Germany, and he could do little good there. Tristan was accepted at Vienna, but the production was put off. He was busy on the Mastersingers—busy with all manner of impracticable dreams, and could not earn a livelihood. His concert tours brought him little or no profit; in Paris a series of concerts cost him 10,000 francs, and where on earth he found the money I do not pretend to know. He was fifty-one years of age; his fortunes seemed at their very worst, the outlook was of the blackest, when of a sudden all was changed. King Ludwig of Bavaria sent for him, and promised to help him in every possible way. He had many rebuffs to face, but from this time (1864) his ultimate victory was assured.
From the outset squabbles and intrigues made Wagner’s life bitter. He did not do things by halves, and when he had succeeded in getting the music school of Munich re-organized to suit his wishes, with Buelow as chief director, the local musicians felt they had little cause to love him. Buelow was appointed kapellmeister of the Court Theatre; reforms, peculiarly disagreeable to those reformed, were set on foot; and singers, players, regisseurs, who had anticipated sleeping away their existence in the good old fashion, were violently awakened by this reckless adventurer, charlatan, and what not, who had won the King’s ear. The invertebrate flunkeys attached to every Court were jealous of his influence over the King, and did what they could to hinder the execution of his plans. But Wagner was not the man to be hindered, and if these backboneless crawling things made life at Munich so loathsome to him that he sought peace to complete his work at Triebschen, near Lucerne, nevertheless his plans were carried out. Tristan and Isolda was produced in 1865 and The Mastersingers of Nuremberg three years later. If I had space, it would be amusing to quote the contemporary criticisms passed on the first. Tristan was hopelessly misunderstood at the time, and even now it is misunderstood by many professed Wagnerites. It created an uproar in Germany; in England our sires were too busy singing the oratorios of Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn to pay any attention.