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Collection Overview

Wagner, Richard, 1813-1883.
Princeton University. Library. Special Collections
Richard and Cosima Wagner Letters
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
1 box and 0.2 linear feet
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Box 1


Consists of selected letters of both German composer Richard Wagner and his second wife, Cosima Wagner, chiefly about Wagner's operatic works.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of selected letters of the German composer and conductor Richard Wagner and of his second wife, Cosima Wagner, daughter of the pianist Franz Liszt, regarding her husband's work. There are three early Wagner letters, the first of which, written from Venice, dated December 5,1858, and addressed to Franz von Dingelstedt, discusses the arrangement for the proposed performance of "Rienzi Overture" in Weimar, Germany. The second, dated February 19, 1861, and sent to the French soprano Pauline Viardot, regards the production of Wagner's three-act opera "Tannhäuser" in Paris in 1861 and gives news of Franz Liszt and Hans von Bülow. The third letter, also written in Vienna and dated June 6, 1863, is addressed to the conductor and composer Louis Schindelmeisser; in it, Wagner gives his reviews on the performance of his operas at the time. A letter to Emil Scaria, dated Bayreuth, December 7, 1874, concerns the completion of an act from an opera and of Wagner's plans on giving a concert in Vienna of selections from his "Götterdämmerung" because he is in need of money. The last Wagner letter, dated Bayreuth, August 5, 1876, and sent to George Unger, discusses the voice of Wagner's friend and the character of Froh in "Das Rheingold."

Cosima Wagner's letters include a "Thank you note" in French, dated 1872(?), to Franz Servais for sending her books. In a letter dated August 21, 1877, she expresses her regret to Dr. Fige that he has not received her reply concerning concerts at Joseph Kroll's theater in Berlin. In a letter dated December 20, 1888, Cosima sends Christmas wishes to a dear friend, and in a letter in French, dated March 16, 1894, to Monsieur Maurice Kufferath in Brussels, she defends the instrumentation of her husband's operas and discusses the cuts in "Tristan und Isolde." Cosima's last letter, which is dated December 18, 1901, concerns a controversy stirred up by author Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who later married Wagner's daughter Eva; he had written an article which was objectionable to her. Her letter thanks an editor of the journal which published the retraction of Chamberlain's article.


Organized by accession number.

Collection Creator Biography:

Wagner, Richard, 1813-1883.

Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, music theorist, and essayist, primarily known for his operas or "music dramas." He pioneered advances in musical language, such as extreme chromaticism and quickly shifting tonal centers, which greatly influenced the development of European classical music. He transformed musical thought through his idea of Gesamtkunstwerk or "total artwork," the synthesis of all the poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts, epitomized by his monumental four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen (1876). Wagner even built his own opera house to try to stage these works as he had imagined them.

Cosima Francesca Gaetana Wagner was the daughter of the pianist and composer Franz Liszt. She became famous as the second wife of Richard Wagner and, after his death, as director of the Bayreuth Festival for thirty-one years.

Collection History


Wagner's letter dated February 7, 1874, was a gift of C. A. D. Burk on June 29, 1937 .

Wagner's letters dated December 5, 1858, and June 6, 1863, were purchased on June 30, 1982 .

Wagner's letter to Pauline Viardot and Cosima Wagner's letters were purchased on November 11, 1982 .

Wagner's letter dated August 5, 1876, was a gift of the Estate of Richard K. Korn, Princeton Class of 1967, on May 14, 1982 .

Custodial History

The collection was formed as a result of a Departmental practice of combining into one collection material of various accessions relating to a particular person, family, or subject.


No appraisal information is available.

Processing Information

Folder inventory added by Nicholas Williams '2015 in 2012.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. For instances beyond Fair Use, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

Richard and Cosima Wagner Letters; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Box 1