Richard Wagner – Letter To America *

Dear and much esteemed friend:

It seems to me as if,
in my hopes regarding Germany and her future,
my patience would very soon be exhausted and that I might then regret not having long ago confided the seeds of my artistic ideas to a more fruitful and promising soil.

I do not regard it as impossible that I decide to emigrate forever to America with my latest work and my entire family.

For this,
Since I am no longer young,
considerable advances from across the ocean would be necessary.

An association would have to be formed that would offer me,
upon condition of my permanent settlement there and as a onetime payment for all my exertions,
a sum of one million dollars,
of which half would be placed at my disposal upon taking up my residence in some state of the Union with favorable climate,
the other half being invested as capital in a government bank at 5%.

Thus would America have bought me from Europe for all time.

the association would have to furnish funds for the annual Festival performances,
in which I should gradually bring all my works in model form upon the stage.

These would begin immediately with the first performance of my most recent work,
which up to that time I should allow to be given nowhere else.

All results of future labors on my part,
whether in directing of performances or as creative artist,
by reason of the sum made over to me,
belong for all time and without further compensation to the American nation.

Now I remember that on your last visit here,
in friendly enthusiasm,
you offered to assist me in case I should ever wish to make a
so-called artist’s tour in America.

You will therefore find it natural that I should turn to you and to no one else to explain my very much more far-reaching plan.

A mere artist’s tour,
to make so-and-so much money by giving concerts and then return to Germany,
would never be a thing for me.

Only a permanent emigration could have any significance for me!

Kindly take a little counsel with yourself in regard to this matter and,
if it impresses you favorably,
give me your opinion!

In greatest friendship,
yours faithfully,

Richard Wagner, February 8, 1880

* (I have taken the liberty of formatting the Letter, according to punctuation, so as to make it more readable aloud. I originally composed a piano score to accompany the spoken text, which I have not included here. The ‘much esteemed friend’ Wagner refers to in the salutation was an American dentist who treated Wagner in Germany in W’s later years.)