A to Z of Wagner: C is for Cosima

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C is for Cosima Wagner; AKA Francesca Gaetana Cosima Liszt, illegitimate daughter of Franz Liszt; AKA Cosima von Bülow, wife of the conductor Hans von Bülow, who proved remarkably understanding when Cosima fell in love with the sexually rampant Wagner in 1863.

Cosima was tall, aloof, beak-nosed, antisemitic and altogether a bit weird. According to Wagner expert Barry Millington, she believed women could only fulfill themselves through suffering, and was determined to sacrifice herself on the altar of Wagner's genius. She abandoned poor old Hans, with whom she had had two daughters; then, in an echo of her own chaotic upbringing, bore Wagner three illegitimate children (Isolde, Eva and Siegfried – each named after a Wagnerian character); only marrying him once Von Bülow had consented to a divorce in 1870, and thereafter put up with her new husband's philandering. That same year she was the recipient on her birthday – which she celebrated on Christmas Day – of the so-called Siegfried Idyll; inspired Parsifal (which Nietzsche hated, arguing that the Francophone Cosima has corrupted Wagner's German-ness); and played a key role in the mid-1870s in getting the Bayreuth festival off the ground and making a success of it after a financially disappointing first season.

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