Wagner’s maestro finally gets a tombstone

Wagner’s maestro finally gets a tombstone


norman lebrecht

January 25, 2021

Two years ago, the village of Garmisch-Partenkirschen, famed as the last resting place of Richard Strauss, tried to get rid of a grave it had neglected for decades – the tomb of Hermann Levi, conductor of the first Parsifal at Bayreuth and the last man to see Richard Wagner alive.

Levi’s grave had been vandalised in the Nazi era and, ever since, the good Volk of Garmisch thought it lowered the tone. They tried to palm off Levi’s remains onto the Jewish community of Munich.

An outcry raised by Slipped Disc stopped that devious scheme. Now, for the 120th anniversary of his death, Garmisch will restore the memorial to Hermann Levi.



  • slippedisc, striking says:

    what an overestimation, dear Norman. By no means this blog was responsible for this (important) change: there was a great nationwide agreement that Levi’s grave in GP must be preserved. also it wasn’t an act of anti-semitism, it was an attempt to use the property for private purposes, you can see this as you like. it is wonderful that finally the city of GP decided to preserve his tomb stone.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    There are some charming stories about Levi in John Burk’s biography of Clara Schumann; how Levi, a favorite visitor, would go to almost any length to make the Schumann children laugh, often joined in these efforts by Brahms, who at one time was a close friend even as Levi was becoming known as Wagner’s great champion. Burk also mentions Levi’s all around mastery as an opera conductor, and how when conducting The Magic Flute or The Barber of Seville, he would half turn around towards her seat in the stalls when reaching those passages he knew to be Clara Schumann’s favorites. Had he been a narrow and rigid Wagner acolyte Clara would have had nothing to do with him.

    By all accounts he was one of the fine musicians of his time and of greater scope and reach than just being Wagner’s conductor, although that association with Wagner, and all the bitter ironies attached to it, is mostly why his name lives on – rare enough for a conductor from before the era of recordings and who himself composed relatively little music.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Good story.

      Clara Schumann must have known of Levi’s Wagnerian association but found the advantage of having him as a friend sufficient compensation.

      Brahms was known to be fond of children, regretting not having some of his own. He compensated for it by treating the children of his housekeeper, Frau Truxa, very well and spoiling them at Christmas which he always celebrated with the Truxa family, a no-nonsense widow with two sons.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Welcomnews. Hermann Levi was a friend and great favorite of Wagner’s family, played hide-and seek with his children in Villa wahnfried, despite the problem of finding an empty chest large enough for him to hide in. He was a “Knight of the Grail” like Hans Richter and Karl Muck, and one of Wagner’s trusted associates.

    I didn’t know he was last to see Wagner alive. That must have been in Venice, where Engelbert Humperdinck and Franz Liszt were among his visitors. Humperdinck, who wrote the concert ending for “Siegfied’s Rhine Journey”, had bought up the parts of Wagner’s youthful four-movement symphony and prepared a full sore, which he brought to Wagner in Venice, who rehearsed it the last time he conducted an orchestra. Meanwhile Liszt wrote lugubrious gondolas, R.W. Venezia, &tc., mementos of his farewell visit to his old friend and son-in-law.

    There are no recordings by Hermann Levi or Hans Richter, but Karl Muck’s of Act III of “Parsifal” from Berlin,”and other excerpts,,some live, that Muck and Siegfried Wagner made in Bayreuth, are impressive documents.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Hi Edgar,
      I am also very happy that Hermann Levi’s memorial is being restored. It’s about time.
      Sadly, there never seems to be an end to anti-semitism. The Nazi flag waving lunatics here in the US are a chilling reminder of what the failed coup at The Capitol was really all about: racism and bigotry.
      And dear Edgar: I agree with you about Muck’s Parsifal recordings, except I believe you do not go far enough in their praise: IMO they are the greatest of ALL Parsifal recordings. Siegfried Wagner’s recordings are excellent too, and well worth hearing, but he was not the conducting genius Muck was.
      All of Muck’s Parsifal records, along with Siegfried’s “Good Friday Spell” with Kipnis and Wolff, are available on a stunningly remastered (by Mark Obert-Thorn) 1999 Naxos release, 8.110049-50.
      Among their many glories, Muck’s records preserve the sound of the original Bayreuth Parsifal bells, cast especially for the opera’s 1882 premiere, which were melted down by the Nazi bastards for their war effort in the early 1940s.
      The Naxos release also includes Alfred Hertz’ recordings of Parsifal orchestral excerpts made with the Berlin Philharmonic in September 1913, two months before Arthur Nikisch made his famous Beethoven Fifth discs wit the same orchestra.
      It’s all so fabulous!

  • Allan Leicht says:

    Since credit claims for the rehabilitation of Herman Levi are open, I submit MY PARSIFAL CONDUCTOR, a Wagnerian Comedy, produced Off-Broadway about two years ago to excellent reviews; e.g., “Zany, erudite and humane,” said The New Yorker, among others. The play subsequently aimed for it’s next production, but collided with world stage dormancy, now in year two, as dead as dear Levi. I enthusiastically recommend consideration, and I’m not saying that just because I am its author. There’s a web site and a draft for anyone interested in a comedy about genius and anti-Semitism, subjects that will never die. Maybe at the rejuvenated graveside?

  • Hilly Gross says:

    I had the privilege of seeing Alan Leicht’s My Parsifal Conductor,off Broadway ,two years ago and I loved it.It was brilliant in its exploration of the complex relationship between Levi and Wagner as well as its relentless spotlight on the eternal question of antisemitisim.For the life of me ,I still don’t understand how such a miserable bastard wrote such beautiful music.Maybe there is no connection between the two.In any event don’t give it up Alan Leicht,your play deserves a wider audience.German Production?

  • George says:

    We have to thank Levi for Bruckner’s revision of the 8th Symphony into an unsurpassable masterpiece.

  • JussiB says:

    Norman where is your evidence Levi was the last person to see Wagner alive? We all know in Venice after a Parsifal rehearsal jealous Cosima and Richard got into a big spat over a certain Flower Maiden and Richard had a fatal heart attack and that was that.

    • Allan Leicht says:

      The Wagners were in Venice for a vacation, so there was surely no PARSIFAL rehearsal. Their argument was indeed over a Flower Maiden, Carrie Pringle. In MY PARSIFAL CONDUCTOR Carrie Pringle is in Venice under the pretext of an audition. Why else would she be the cause of an argument? “Send her away, Richard!” And if for an “audition”, Hermann Levi would surely have been there.

      • John Borstlap says:

        As far as I know, Ms Pringle was not in Venice at the time, but had sent a letter, which was the subject of the row. There is no evidence that Levi was in Venice when RW died.

  • Le Křenek du jour says:

    Let’s be clear: Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a Nazi contraption.
    The Nazis forced in 1935 the fusion of the two historically distinct localities Partenkirchen (east of the river Partnach) and Garmisch (west of the river) into one entity, in view of the 1936 Winter Olympics.

    Hermann Levi’s villa and mausoleum are located in Partenkirchen.
    The Landhaus of Richard Strauss, and his grave, are found in Garmisch.

    It is just as well that Levi does not have to share a cemetery with Richard Strauss.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Slow reply due to computer problem. Thanks, Greg, for recalling the original Parsufal bells, Nikisch, and Hertz. I agree with all you say about Karl Muck.