The Artwork of the Future

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Titlepage of the first edition Richard Wagner Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft 1850.jpg
Titlepage of the first edition
Wagner in 1853 Richard Wagner, Aquarell von 1853.JPG
Wagner in 1853

"The Artwork of the Future" (German : Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft) is a long essay [1] written by Richard Wagner, first published in 1849 in Leipzig, in which he sets out some of his ideals on the topics of art in general and music drama in particular.

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol (Italy), the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.

Richard Wagner German composer

Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, theatre director, polemicist, and conductor who is chiefly known for his operas. Unlike most opera composers, Wagner wrote both the libretto and the music for each of his stage works. Initially establishing his reputation as a composer of works in the romantic vein of Carl Maria von Weber and Giacomo Meyerbeer, Wagner revolutionised opera through his concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk, by which he sought to synthesise the poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts, with music subsidiary to drama. He described this vision in a series of essays published between 1849 and 1852. Wagner realised these ideas most fully in the first half of the four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen.

Leipzig Place in Saxony, Germany

Leipzig is the most populous city in the federal state of Saxony, Germany. With a population of 581,980 inhabitants as of 2017 it is Germany's tenth most populous city. Leipzig is located about 160 kilometres (99 mi) southwest of Berlin at the confluence of the White Elster, Pleiße and Parthe rivers at the southern end of the North German Plain.



The essay is one of a series which Wagner produced in a period of intensive writing following his exile after the Dresden May uprising of 1849. It follows "Art and Revolution" and precedes "Jewishness in Music", developing the ideas of the one and prefiguring some of the issues of the other.

May Uprising in Dresden

The May Uprising took place in Dresden, Kingdom of Saxony in 1849; it was one of the last of the series of events known as the Revolutions of 1848.

Art and Revolution literary work

"Art and Revolution" is a long essay by the composer Richard Wagner, originally published in 1849. It sets out some of his basic ideas about the role of art in society and the nature of opera.

Das Judenthum in der Musik literary work

"Das Judenthum in der Musik" is an essay by Richard Wagner which attacks Jews in general and the composers Giacomo Meyerbeer and Felix Mendelssohn in particular. It was published under a pseudonym in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (NZM) of Leipzig in September 1850 and was reissued in a greatly expanded version under Wagner's name in 1869. It is regarded by some as an important landmark in the history of German antisemitism.

Wagner wrote the whole essay over about two months in Zürich. He wrote to his friend Uhlig on November 1849, 'This will be the last of my literary works'. On this, as on many other matters in his life, Wagner was to change his mind. The essay is dedicated to the philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, whose works (perhaps particularly Principles of the Philosophy of the Future), inspired some of its ideas. [2] In September and October 1849, Wagner had read both Feuerbach's Reflections on Death and Immortality and his The Essence of Christianity . [3] Wagner's biographer Ernest Newman opined that Wagner's prose style in this essay and others was also heavily influenced by Feuerbach, who was 'constitutionally prone to the antithetical'; whilst noting that within a few years Wagner rejected Feuerbach's philosophy for that of Schopenhauer. [4]

Zürich Place in Switzerland

Zürich or Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and the capital of the canton of Zürich. It is located in north-central Switzerland at the northwestern tip of Lake Zürich. The municipality has approximately 409,000 inhabitants, the urban agglomeration 1.315 million and the Zürich metropolitan area 1.83 million. Zürich is a hub for railways, roads, and air traffic. Both Zürich Airport and railway station are the largest and busiest in the country.

Ludwig Feuerbach German philosopher and anthropologist

Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach was a German philosopher and anthropologist best known for his book The Essence of Christianity, which provided a critique of Christianity which strongly influenced generations of later thinkers, including Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Richard Wagner, and Friedrich Nietzsche.

<i>The Essence of Christianity</i> book

The Essence of Christianity is a book by Ludwig Feuerbach first published in 1841. It explains Feuerbach's philosophy and critique of religion.

The title of the essay was to haunt Wagner; thereafter his opponents were to taunt him as a self-appointed prophet of 'the music of the future'.

Immediately following the essay Wagner dashed off a draft libretto, mostly in prose, Wieland der Schmied ( Wieland the Smith), outlined at the close of the essay itself, which he thought appropriate as material for his ideal music-drama, and originally intended to develop for production in Paris. However he abandoned this plan, and the draft eventually became the basis for the first Slovak opera, Kovac Wiland, by Ján Levoslav Bella, (produced in Bratislava in 1924).

Libretto text used for an extended musical work

A libretto is the text used in, or intended for, an extended musical work such as an opera, operetta, masque, oratorio, cantata or musical. The term libretto is also sometimes used to refer to the text of major liturgical works, such as the Mass, requiem and sacred cantata, or the story line of a ballet.

Wieland der Schmied(Wieland the Smith) is a draft by Richard Wagner for an opera libretto based on the Germanic legend of Wayland Smith. It is listed in the Wagner-Werk-Verzeichnis as WWV82.

Paris Capital of France

Paris is the capital and most populous city of France, with an area of 105 square kilometres and an official estimated population of 2,140,526 residents as of 1 January 2019. Since the 17th century, Paris has been one of Europe's major centres of finance, commerce, fashion, science, and the arts.


Wagner begins, 'As Man stands to Nature, so stands Art to Man.' [5] Man, or more particularly the Volk (the community of 'men who feel a common and collective want') creates Art to fill that want. Those who feel no want are outsiders to the Volk and crave only pointless luxury – true Art thus comes only from the atavistic needs of the Volk. When luxury (by which Wagner implies base entertainment posing as true art – i.e. Grand Opera and its like) has been abolished by the Volk they will be able to join to create the Artwork of the Future. [6]

Wagner goes on to talk of the three basic elements of art, which he lists as 'Dance, Tone [i.e. music] and Poetry' which were originally united in ancient Greek drama (as extolled by Wagner in Art and Revolution ). Modern attempts to unite these give rise to the 'unnatural abortion, the Oratorio', and to the 'shameless insolence' of contemporary opera [7] Only when these and other tawdry entertainments are swept aside will the Artwork of the Future arise.

This artwork will command all the arts – 'Architecture can set before herself no higher task than to frame' it, [8] (an early prefiguring of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus). The Artwork of the Future will of course bring forth the Artist of the Future who will be 'without a doubt the Poet.' Wagner points out that it is a matter of indifference whether this be a word-poet or a tone-poet, perhaps hinting at exactly what sort of a fellow this Artist must be. However the Darsteller (translated by Ellis as 'performer' but perhaps meaning rather the 'purveyor') of the Artwork will be a communal matter, a 'fellowship of all artists'. [9] In this communal aspect of the Artwork of the Future, Newman sees an anticipation of the Bayreuth Festival concept. [10]

The essay closes with a précis of Wieland the Smith.

"Music of the Future"

The essay is not to be confused with Wagner's 1861 essay, "Music of the Future" ("Zukunftsmusik"), (q.v.).


  1. About 150 pages in Wagner (1993)
  2. Millington (1992), p. 231; Wagner (1993), pp. ix, 69. All translations of Wagner's texts in this article are taken from this edition.
  3. Gregor-Dellin (1976), 85–86
  4. Newman (1976), p. 431
  5. Wagner (1993), p. 69
  6. Wagner (1993), p. 77
  7. Wagner (1993), p. 151
  8. Wagner (1993), p. 184
  9. Wagner (1993), pp. 195–96
  10. Newman (1976) pp. 253–54


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