When the Ring was presented at Bayreuth last week, there were two rest-days, one between Walküre and Siegfried and the other between Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. The true Bayreuth pilgrim would have passed the time pondering the finer points of the Ring libretto over an Eiskaffee, but I took the opportunity to go on two extended drives, becoming well acquainted with the A9 Autobahn that goes north toward Berlin. First, I went to Weimar and Eisenach, and two days later I spent an afternoon in Leipzig. Here are a few stray notes from the road, which may be of use to fellow travelers; a Leipzig post will follow.
In Weimar, I engaged in a bit of Harry Kessler tourism, stopping at the Palace Museum to see the collection of post-Impressionist art that Kessler assembled when he was directing the Museum für Kunst und Kunstgewerbe. (I wrote about Kessler for The New Yorker last year.) As a Salomite, I especially enjoyed Lovis Corinth's portrait of Gertrud Eysoldt in the role of the princess. I also looked in on the Nietzsche Archive, which resides in the villa where the philosopher spent his last years. One of the most unforgettable passages in Kessler's diaries describes his stay at the Nietzsche house, his sleep interrupted by howls in the middle of the night. When the house became an archive, Henry van de Velde, Kessler's close collaborator during his Weimar period, redesigned the ground floor (photos above). I made time as well for the Liszt House and the Bauhaus Museum.
I drove on to Eisenach, which I'd never seen. The Wartburg is something of a tourist trap, but no Wagnerian can afford to miss it. Down the slopes from the ancient fortress is the Reuter-Wagner-Museum, which houses the extaordinary collection of Wagneriana assembled by Nikolaus Oesterlein and first exhibited in Vienna. (Here's an 1882 version of the Oesterlein catalogue.) Display cases are well stocked with Wagner knick-knacks of the late nineteenth century:
The Vienna Parsifal train of 1884:
I then walked to the center of Eisenach, in order to see two major sites associated with Johann Sebastian Bach, born in the town in 1685: the Bachhaus, the birthplace museum; and the Georgenkirche, where the baby Bach was baptized. As it turned out, Wagner's shadow was inescapable: scattered around the Bachhaus were twelve sound-and-light installations gathered under the title Wagner Licht. Most of these were fairly trivial: several New Age-y remixes of famous Wagner motifs, a tedious meditation on Wagnerian politics (the composer's eyes flashing red with Holocaust images superimposed). But I rather liked Maike and Daniel Statz's How Everything Was, in which an aluminum-foil object representing Erda appears inexplicably in one of the bedrooms of the house. How typical of Wagner to barge into Bach's devotional realm on the occasion of his anniversary — I don't recall seeing many Bach installations at Bayreuth in the Bach year 2000:
The Bachhaus is a lovely and informative museum, but it gives few intimations of the presence of the Master. The Georgenkirche is another matter. In 2011 I wrote about John Eliot Gardiner's majestic Bach Pilgrimage, noticing especially the “Christ lag in Todesbanden” recording made in Eisenach; in his liner notes, Gardiner speaks eloquently of the experience of performing Bach's great meditation on death within sight of the font. Indeed, there is something absolutely uncanny about the object itself; it seems to stand outside of time.
The day of my visit was the 263rd anniversary of Bach's death, and I was fortunate to catch a short recital by the fine Dutch organist Eric Koevoets. "I wish you open ears and an open heart," a cleric said, introducing the program. During the Fantasia and Fugue in C Minor, a baby began crying in the back of the church. I went away feeling suitably overawed.