The Psychopathology of Richard Wagner: Daniel John Carroll

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday, 12 August 2012 | 7:15:00 pm

Below is the first in a series of papers from Wagner scholar Daniel J Carroll (I include Daniel's brief bio below). In what follows, he continues - and greatly expands upon -  previous work which suggests that Wagner may have suffered from some notable form of psychopathology. Whether you agree with Daniel's  findings or not (and he discusses the difficulties of psychological analysis both by physical distance and the separation of time) there is no-doubt that that his paper is well researched and that he uses a finer tool of analysis than some of his predecessors. Indeed, I strongly recommend that you read his detailed notes as well as the paper itself. More - in a vary different vein - from Daniel soon.



About the author

Daniel John Carroll is a graduate student and teaching assistant in the Department of Musicology and Ethnomusicology at Boston University. He has presented scholarly papers at academic conferences on philosophy and music (including the College Music Society and American Musicological Society) throughout the United States and Canada. His academic work has been published in The New Grove Dictionary of American Music and several conference proceedings. Non-academic writings include articles for Pulse, the arts, entertainment, and culture section of the Moscow-Pullman Daily News in Moscow, Idaho and The Public Humanist. Upcoming research projects include a stint as Lecturer in Residence for Boston Metro Opera, participation with the Phenomenology Research Center at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and the global seminar “The Aesthetics of Music and Sound: Cross-Disciplinary Interplay Between the Humanities, Technology, and Musical Practice” with the University of Southern Denmark

Richard Wagner and Borderline Personality Disorder

Richard Wagner is considered one of the most important and influential figures in the history of Western music. His music is among the greatest and most popular ever written, and can be heard around the world in concert halls, opera houses, and even in movies and cartoons.1 At the same time, Wagner remains “one of the most controversial…figures of his or any age”2 due to his anti-Semitism, fervent dislike of the French and their operas3, contradiction-filled prose works on musical and political topics4, and his desire to save and restore Germany and German culture through his art works.5 Over the years, the terms “egotist”, “narcissist”6, “anti-Semite”, and others have been used to describe Wagner. However, more effort should be expended on discovering evidence of psychological or psychiatric conditions that may have influenced his behaviors, as he was surely an individual who “strayed beyond the normal parameters of mental health.”7 As Julius Kapp stated,

"...a one-sided impression of him, such as he himself created in the Autobiography at the expense of his environment, cannot, in the interests of research, be tolerated; for research demands that justice shall be done also to those who were in touch with him, and that, in so far as a re-examination of reliable sources is feasible, tendenciousness shall be replaced by an objective…picture".8

In 2003, Professor John Louis DiGaetani published a book entitled Wagner and Suicide, in which he proposed, based on evidence from Wagner’s letters, autobiography, operas, and biographies about Wagner that the composer suffered from Bipolar Disorder.9 Likewise, I am proposing, based on evidence from not only his correspondence10 and biographical literature11, but from research on Borderline Personality Disorder from mental health professionals, that Wagner may have suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder possibly in addition to Bipolar Disorder.12 I do so by examining Wagner’s letters and the biographies about him to find instances where his behavior matched the accepted behaviors of Borderline Personality Disorder as indicated in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Text Revision and other relevant sources.13

Since I am not a psychology, psychiatry, or any other kind of medical or mental health student or professional, I am not qualified to render a definitive diagnosis of anything on to anyone. For this reason, I feel it is imperative that I use relevant source material from mental health professionals to support the ideas in this paper. I believe that my research strategy, because it uses research and evidence from actual mental health experts, convincingly supports my ideas. I am aware that it is not possible to arrive at an indisputable conclusion. I have merely proposed an idea, and have provided relevant data to support it.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition Text Revision from 2000 lists nine criteria for diagnosing an individual with Borderline Personality Disorder (page 710). Any five of the nine must be present in order to render a legitimate diagnosis. The seven (instead of the minimum of five) criteria that I believe Wagner displayed most strongly are:

  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
  • A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation
  • Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self14
  • Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending15, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)
  • Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness
  • Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)16


The other two main criteria of the disorder are:

Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)

Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms

I used the evidence of Wagner’s behaviors to complete the Millon Inventory of Diagnostic Criteria (MIDC), developed by Dr. Aubrey Immelman of the Psychology Department of the College of St. Benedict at Saint John’s University in Minnesota. Dr. Immelman described the MIDC as “more applicable and yield[ing] richer and more nuanced results…of evaluating public figures at a distance” than the DSM alone.17 I initially contacted Dr. Immelman because I discovered that he conducted a posthumous psychological evaluation of one of the 9/11 hijackers. Since I have engaged in a similar project (a posthumous psychological evaluation of a person) I contacted him for his input and opinions on the general idea and research strategies I have used. Dr. Immelman sent me the MIDC and instructed me to fill it out with the relevant data about Wagner’s behaviors and to send it to him so he could make a judgment of whether Wagner displayed borderline tendencies. I sent Dr. Immelman the MIDC with the relevant information on January 17, 2010, and on January 19, 2010, I received an email from him that contained the following quote: “I think you have sufficient data to demonstrate a borderline pattern in Wagner.”

EVIDENCE

Minna Planer
As for the first criterion, I have found information regarding his relationship to Minna Planer, his first wife. Wagner “thought he could not live without her” and that “it seemed impossible for him to live with her, but he could never really break free.”18 19 He also expressed fears of the abandonment that would come with his mother’s passing in a letter to her from July 25, 1835: “O Mother, what if you should prematurely die , ere I had fully proved to you that it was to a worthy son, of boundless gratitude, you shewed so great a love!”20 Elbert Lenrow proposed that Wagner’s autobiography, Mein Leben (My Life), was written solely to “repay everyone he knew for real or fancied wrongs done to him.”21 22

As for the second criterion, I have found evidence that suggests that he experienced this kind of pattern in his relationships with his friends until they refused to lend him money.23 (On this matter, Alfred Einstein wrote that “Wagner was unable to hold a single friend, without crises, to the end of his life.”24) An example of this is his friendship with Baron Robert von Hornstein in the late 1850s. Although they had a close relationship, Wagner eventually “devalued” Hornstein for his refusal to lend him money, in addition to another extravagant request.25 In response to Hornstein’s letter, in which he refused to send him money, Wagner wrote that “it will probably not happen again that a man like me will apply to you” citing the “impropriety of your [Hornstein’s] letter…[and labelling him] totally ignorant of my works.”26 Wagner seems to have displayed idealization and devaluation on a much larger scale when in 1849 he glorified the common working people in a prose work called “The Revolution27”, yet in a letter from December 30, 1851 to his friend Kietz, he referred to his

"...most bloody hatred of our entire civilization, [and] contempt for all that it has produced…That I ever set store by the workers as workers is something I must now atone for grievously: with the noises they make, these workers are the wretchedest slaves, whom anyone can control nowadays if he promises them plenty of ‘work’…In the whole of Europe, however, I prefer dogs to these doglike men".28

As for the third criterion, with the elaboration from the DSM-III-R from 1987, I believe that Wagner displayed this “markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.”29 Interestingly, it has been proposed that this can be caused by changes in “the fabric of traditional and organized societies”, such as Wagner may have experienced growing up in a society that was being changed by “rapid industrialization, immigration, mobility, technology, and mass communication”30 as well as by changes in his personal world as a result of being born “into a war-torn country and [a] frequently uprooted family.”31 32 Garten explained this feeling of uncertainty of identity: “At an age when most other composers had already achieved some masterpieces or at any rate established their unmistakable identity, Wagner was drifting aimlessly, unsure which way to go. What is more, for quite some time he vacillated between drama and music.”33 Wagner also changed his outlook on musical aesthetics as well as political philosophy throughout his life. In his younger years he was a “Young German” with left-wing political beliefs, but in his later years, he became disillusioned with the world and with politics and began following the pessimistic philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. “In any case he changed some of his key views over the years, in part radically…he rarely acknowledged the fact publicly and probably did not always admit it to himself.”34 These changes in beliefs have been attributed to the idea that “Wagner did what most people…tend to do in the fullness of time. He changed.”35 However, I believe that his mental state may have had an influence on these changes, as they are too far-reaching to be due to coincidence.36 For instance, in the years following his exile from Dresden in 1849, he expounded his ideas of the gesamtkunstwerk, or “total work of art”, in which music, dance, singing, and the visual arts of painting, architecture, and sculpture would be combined to achieve the large dramatic result, thus creating a more or less equal partnership between music and the other arts for this purpose. However, he seems to have deviated from this belief not only in that “it is music that in his Gesamtkunstwerk wins the real and final victories37” but that it did so to the highest degree in Tristan und Isolde, completed in 1859, several years after he worked out these theories.38

As for the fourth criterion, I have found evidence to suggest that he behaved in self-damaging ways by engaging in reckless spending39 and substance abuse.40 Hurn and Root stated that

Wagner was always short of money. He never had as much as he wanted. This was partly because he wanted so much. His tastes were extremely extravagant. He ran through considerable sums in years when he was living in poverty- because he spent as fast as he borrowed; more often he spent faster. He had to be smuggled across the frontier at Riga…because he had left so many debts behind him.41

As for the fifth criterion, I have found information from his letters that would suggest suicidal intentions. In a letter to Franz Liszt from March 30, 1853, he stated,

"My nights are mostly sleepless; weary and miserable, I rise from my bed to see a day before me which will bring me not one joy. Intercourse with people who torture me, and from whom I withdraw to torture myself! I feel disgust at whatever I undertake. This cannot go on; I cannot bear life much longer".42

In a letter from December 17th, 1853, he wrote, “my head is burning. There is something wrong with me; and sometimes, with lightning-like rapidity, the thought flashed through me that it would be better, after all, if I died.”43 In a letter from January 15, 1854 to Franz Liszt, he wrote, “not a year of my life has passed recently without my finding myself at least once on the very brink of a decision to end my life.”44 He also wrote in a letter to Otto Wesendonck: “My life is a sea of contradictions, from which I can only hope to emerge through death.”45 These letters seem to reflect “bouts of suicidal despair.”46

As for the sixth criterion, I have found information in his letters. For instance, in a letter to Anton Pusinelli from February 9, 1866, he wrote, “Oh God, how sad, how sad I am! There are only wounds and scars in my heart, scarcely one single sound place. Life is boundlessly difficult for me, and the longer I live, the more difficult it becomes!”47 I believe that the letters in which he expresses suicidal intentions are indicative of “chronic feelings of emptiness”, especially if these feelings are so strong as to cause the person to wish for death.

Franz Liszt
As for the seventh criterion, I have found mention of incidents of domestic violence towards Minna Planer. There were “violent arguments between the two of them” in which he would “rant and rave all night, committing acts of domestic violence so serious that Minna ‘lay there in convulsions for hours on end’… Overcome by remorse, he would then throw himself at her feet and, weeping, ‘beg for forgiveness like a child.’” 48 49 Six months after Wagner and Minna got married, “Minna, battered and bewildered by her husband’s lightning switches of mood from towering rage to tearful remorse, ran off with a merchant.”50 51 His letters also express threats of violence should Minna not return to him and commit herself entirely to him. A letter to her from November 7, 1835 states: “Open your heart Minna, if you don’t I am going to compel you; by God I shall come to Berlin and tear you away by force.”52 A letter from the next day to Minna states: “What is there left to say after my previous letters, to the girl whose heart has not been touched by these entreaties, by these presentations, these offers? This girl would no longer be touched in her heart—only by a sharp knife.”53 Most disconcerting is the contrast between these letters and his intention, expressed in a letter to her from a few days before on November 4, to send “from now on…only quite calm letters.”54

It is also important to note that “separation from or loss of primary caregivers in childhood is associated with the development of the disorder.”55 Wagner’s father, Carl Friedrich Wagner, passed away in a typhus epidemic when Wagner was sixth months old and his “adoptive” father, Ludwig Geyer56, who married Wagner’s mother Johanna after Carl’s death, passed away when Wagner was eight years old.

I believe that Wagner displayed one of the emotional responses inherent in borderlines known as “projection”, which is “the displacement of the hate and anger those with borderline personality disorders feel towards themselves….[and attributing] these unacceptable parts of themselves to others. Rather than dislike themselves, borderline patients believe it is others who dislike them and cause their problems.”57 For instance, he blamed Minna Planer’s “mere existence…for having ‘destroyed’ his position [as conductor in Dresden], when it is plain that he himself was largely responsible for the destruction of this as well as of his wife’s position and possibly life.”58

It seems that Wagner also displayed another one of the common emotional responses in borderlines known as “splitting”, which is the perception of “persons and institutions as all good or ideal, or all bad with no redeeming qualities.”59 One instance of this is in his views on Bismarck. He referred to him as a “barbarian Junker” when he argued against the rule of Germany by Prussia or Austria, but then held him to be the “new savior of Germany” and lauded Prussia as “the wave of the German future” and the embodiment of “the true German spirit.”60 He subsequently returned to a negative outlook on Bismarck, referring to him as a “pig caller” when he would not agree to fund Wagner’s Bayreuth enterprise after a Prussian military victory.61 62

Ludwig Geyer
Wagner also seemed to display “prominent patterns of manipulation of others” that are common in borderlines.63 “Wagner became a virtuoso at raking in money and, as in his art, he was not afraid of using extreme means, the excuses that he offered ranging from an urgent need for medical supplies to the threat of imprisonment for debt, a threat that on one occasion he even claimed had been realized.”64 He did this with “the cunning of little boys who often succeed in persuading their parents to buy them what they want.”65 66 He also seemed to manipulate his friends with efforts of “guilt-tripping” in order to obtain money from them. For instance, in a letter from November of 1862 to his niece Franziska, he asked her to ask a friend of his for a rather large loan, claiming that worrying about this matter had caused him to experience “a sleepless night” and also stating that “you alone can work it.”67 68 I believe that he behaved manipulatively in his political endeavors as well, as he was interested in the overthrow of the government in favor of one “whose chief interest would be opera” so that he may achieve his own artistic dreams.69 70

Although I have received the agreement of a psychiatrist for the idea that Richard Wagner may have had a borderline personality, it is not possible to absolutely prove that he suffered from one mental illness or another. However, it is still quite interesting to explore the literature on his life to obtain information that would suggest that he did, as it provides a more informed and enriched perspective through which we can view Wagner, and helps us to better understand how a creative genius can be afflicted with mental and emotional obstacles throughout his or her life. It is fascinating how, even though oppressed by personal and mental barriers, Wagner’s mind was able to flourish and operate in such a way as to create some of the greatest musical art in existence. As Revelli wrote:

 “...to this great master, the orchestra of today owes a debt of gratitude, as do thousands of conductors, hundreds of thousands of musicians, and millions of music lovers the world over.”71

WORK CITED

Beck, Jerry, editor. The 50 Greatest Cartoons As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals. Atlanta: Turner Publishing, Inc., 1994.

Bergfeld, Joachim. (translated by George Bird). The Diary of Richard Wagner 1865- 1882: The Brown Book. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1980.

Blaszczynski, Alex and Zachary Steel. “Personality Disorders Among Pathological Gamblers.” Journal of Gambling Studies 14 (1998): 51-71.

Braverman, Barbara Gross and Jean Shook. “Spotting the Borderline Personality.” American Journal of Nursing 87 (1987): 200-203.

Brener, Milton E. Richard Wagner and the Jews. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2006.

Burk, John, editor. Letters from Richard Wagner. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1950.

Carr, Jonathan. The Wagner Clan. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 2007.

Deathridge, John. Wagner Beyond Good and Evil. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.

DiGaetani, John Louis, Wagner and Suicide. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2003.

Einstein, Alfred. Greatness in Music. New York: Oxford University Press, 1941.

-------- Music in the Romantic Era. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1947.

Ellis, William Ashton. Family Letters of Richard Wagner. New York: Vienna House, 1971.

-------- Richard Wagner’s Prose Works: Volume 8, Posthumous. New York: Broude Brothers, 1966 reprint.

First, Michael B., editor. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (DSM-IV-TR). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 2000.

Foerster-Nietzsche, Elizabeth. The Nietzsche-Wagner Correspondence. London: Duckworth and Company, 1922.

Friedel, Robert O. Borderline Personality Disorder Demystified: An Essential Guide for Understanding and Living with BPD. New York: Marlowe and Co., 2004.

Garten, Hugh Frederick. Wagner the Dramatist. Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1977.

Golomb, Anath, et al. “Maternal empathy, family chaos, and the etiology of borderline personality disorder.” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 42 (1994): 525-548.

Gunderson, John, et al. “Descriptive and longitudinal observations on the relationship of borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder.” American Journal of Psychiatry 163 (2006): 1173-1178.

Gutman, Robert. Richard Wagner: The Man, His Mind, and His Music. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1968.

Hueffer, Franics, translator. Correspondence of Wagner and Liszt, Volume I. New York: Haskell House Publishers, Ltd., 1969 reprint.

Hughes, David. A History of European Music: The Art Music Tradition Of Western Culture. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1974.

Hurn, Philip Dutton and Waverley Lewis Root. The Truth About Wagner. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1930.

Hutchinson, Sister M. Clare Lucille Hutchinson. “The Musical and Literary Manuscripts of Ferdinand Praeger (1815-1891) in the Moldenhauer Archives.” Ph.D. diss., Indiana University, 1969.

Immelman, Aubrey, email message to writer, January 7, 2010.

--------email message to writer, January 19, 2010.

Johnson, Courtney Sue. “Borderline personality disorder: the influence of childhood trauma and family environment and their associations with different representations of the disorder criteria.” Ph.D. diss., Duke University, 1999.

Kapp, Julius. The Women in Wagner’s Life. London: George Routledge and Sons, Ltd., 1932.

Katz, Jacob. The Darker Side of Genius. Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 1986.

Köhler, Joachim. Richard Wagner: The Last of the Titans. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

Krawitz, Roy and Wendy Jackson. Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2008.

Kreisman, Jerold J. and Hal Straus. I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991.

Large, David Clay. “Richard Wagner and the Problem of German Identity,” in The Threat to the Cosmic Order: Psychological, Social, and Health Implications of Richard Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung, edited by Dr. Peter Ostwald and Dr. Leonard S. Zegans, 57-71. Madison: International Universities Press, Inc., 1997.

Lenrow, Elbert, editor and translator. The Letters of Richard Wagner to Anton Pusinelli. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1932.

May, Thomas. Decoding Wagner: An Invitation to His World of Music Drama. Pompton Plains, New Jersey: Amadeus Press, 2004.

Millon, Theodore. Disorders of Personality: DSM-IV and Beyond. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1996.

-------- “Sociocultural Conceptions of the Borderline Personality.” The Psychiatric Clinics of North America 23 (2000): 123-136.

Moldin, Steven. “Diagnosis According to the DSM-IV, Tape I”, VHS, produced by Only Child Motion Pictures, 1994.

Moskowitz, Richard A. Lost in the Mirror: an inside look at Borderline Personality Disorder. Lanham, Maryland: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2001.

Newman, Ernest. The Life of Richard Wagner. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1946.

-------- Wagner as Man and Artist. New York: Garden City Publishing Co., Inc., 1937.

Ogata, Susan N., Kenneth R. Silk, and Sonya Goodrich. “The Childhood Experience of the Borderline Patient.” In Family Environment and Borderline Personality Disorder, edited by Dr. Paul S. Links, 85-103. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press, Inc., 1990.

Plantinga, Leon. Romantic Music: A History of Musical Style in Nineteenth-Century Europe. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1984.

Plaut, Eric A. Grand Opera: Mirror of the Western Mind. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1993.

Redlich, Fritz C. “The Impact of Richard Wagner on Adolf Hitler,” in The Threat to the Cosmic Order: Psychological, Social, and Health Implications of Richard Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung, edited by Dr. Peter Ostwald and Dr. Leonard S. Zegans, 131-141. Madison: International Universities Press, Inc., 1997.

Revelli, William D. “Revolution in the Orchestra Pit: Wagner threw overboard the classic Mozart-Haydn-Beethoven orchestra, and modern instrumentation still shows his influence.” Etude 69 (July 1951): 20+.

Salzman, Eric. “On Reading Cosima Wagner’s ‘Diaries.’” The Musical Quarterly 68 (July, 1982): 337-352.

Sellar, Eleanor C., translator. Richard Wagner’s Letters to August Roeckel. Bristol: J. W. Arrowsmith, 1897.

Spencer, Stewart and Barry Millington, editors and translators. Selected Letters of Richard Wagner. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1987.

Taylor, Deems. “Wagner, the monster.” Philips Music Herald. (Summer 1964): 9-11.

Vetter, Isolde. “The art-work of the future from the perspective of a psychiatric past: Richard Wagner and Theodor Puschmann.” Wagner. (July 1989): 96-110.

Wagner, Richard. Mein Leben (My Life). New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1911.

Williams, Janet B.W., editor. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Third Edition-Revised (DSM-III-R). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 1987.


1 One of the most popular is the Warner Bros. classic, “What’s Opera, Doc?” In 1994, this short was voted the greatest cartoon of all time (Beck 1994, 30-35).

2 Hughes 1974, 417.

3 “He disliked the French and French culture…[and also stated that] the burning of Paris would be a symbol of the world’s liberation…from…all that is bad” (Salzman 1982, 343-351)

4 “No single statement of his on any issue can be taken as his settled opinion” (Plantinga 1984, 261).

5 “He, Wagner, would impose upon and raise the public to transcendence single-handedly through his grasp of the collective unconscious and his ability to express and induce rapture” (Salzman 1982, 350).

6 Wagner seems to have displayed narcissistic tendencies. “If he wanted anything, he had to have it…Wagner…regarded asking for what he wanted as his right and not as impudence at all…The ease with which he made his demands and the righteous indignation and fury with which he greeted any refusal sprang from his belief that he was so great a man that the world--and consequently all the individuals with whom he came in contact--owed him a living” (Hurn and Root 1930, 88-90).

7 Vetter 1989, 89.

8 Kapp 1932, xi.

9 DiGaetani is not the first or only person to have proposed a mental illness for Richard Wagner. Eric Plaut, in his book Grand Opera: Mirror of the Western Mind, states that “a vast amount of information about Wagner suggests that he suffered from a narcissistic personality disorder. The dictionary definition of this type of character structure could have been written with Wagner in mind: ‘Grandiose sense of self-importance or uniqueness; preoccupation with fantasies of limitless success; need for constant attention and admiration; and disturbances in interpersonal relationships such as lack of empathy, exploitativeness, and relationships that vacillate between the extremes of overidealization and devaluation’” (Plaut 1993, 184).

10 “In view of the unconvincing and frequently false accounts furnished by Wagner and his most partisan biographers, it has in fact become imperative for commentators to devote themselves to the personal side of Wagner’s career in an effort to separate fact from fiction and to clarify a story which otherwise might have remained shrouded by deliberate mystifications and suppressions” (Lenrow 1932, xiii).


11 However, one should not rely too heavily on his autobiography alone, since some ideas and the supporting evidence contained therein are “distorted out of all semblance to the truth” (Hurn and Root 1930, 185-186). Deathridge pointed out “the occasional manipulation of chronology, discreet addition, self-censorship, minor rewriting, telling omission, and many other modifications” (Deathridge 2008, 11).

12 This seems plausible since “patients with borderline personality disorder are significantly more apt to have comorbid bipolar I or bipolar II disorder than patients with other personality disorders and are more apt to have new onsets of bipolar I or bipolar II disorder” (Gunderson et al 2006, 1177).

13 Dr. DiGaetani bases his ideas partly on clues found in the operas themselves. I have adopted the strategy of Jacob Katz for his book The Darker Side of Genius: Richard Wagner’s Anti-Semitism. “I have in my work avoided relying upon evidence from Wagner’s artworks and have restricted myself to the artist’s direct statements along with other testimony” (Katz 1986, 123).

14 The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Third Edition- Revised from 1987 describes this criterion as “marked and persistent identity disturbance manifested by uncertainty about at least two of the following: self-image, sexual orientation, long-term goals or career choice, type of friends desired, preferred values” (DSM-III-R 1987, 347). I believe Wagner displayed these more specific tendencies as well in terms of his changing aesthetics/beliefs, “vacillations” between being a poet and musician, etc.

15 Gambling is also another behavior often displayed by borderlines. For instance, a study done for the Journal of Gambling Studies indicated that “the majority of gamblers evidenced personality disorders…with particularly high rates of borderline…personality disorders which were found to be associated with high levels of impulsivity and affective instability” (Blaszczynski and Steel 1998, 51). “For a time he (Wagner) haunted the smaller gambling dens of Leipzig-even going so far on one occasion as to stake his mother’s pension” (Newman 1937, 27). While this particular gambling activity occurred when Wagner was quite young, he subsequently resumed the behavior. According to Kapp, during his relationship with Minna, “he began to lead a fairly riotous life with some gay companions, fell a victim to gambling again, and landed himself, as he tells Apel, in such a mess of debts by his frivolity that his hair stood on end at the thought of them” (Kapp 1932, 24).

16 Dr. Golomb, et al., proposed that “vast amount[s] of rage” in borderlines may be caused by “excessive frustration due to inadequate parenting” (Golomb et al 1994, 526). In his autobiography, My Life, Wagner stated that his mother told him that when he was sick as a child, “she used almost to wish me dead” (Wagner 1911 translation, 3). He then said that he did not experience “that tender sweetness and solicitude which are usually associated with motherhood. I hardly ever recollect her having fondled me” (Wagner 1911 translation, 12) which may, if true, correspond to the “psychological unavailability or neglect on the part of borderlines’ parents, who seemed unable to meet adequately the emotional needs of their children” (Ogata, Silk, and Goodrich 1990, 98).


17 Email message from January 7, 2010.

18 Köhler 2004, 85.


19 “He (the borderline) fears abandonment, so he clings; he fears engulfment, so he pushes away… He craves intimacy and is terrified of it at the same time” (Kreisman and Straus 1991, 12).

20 Ellis 1971, 18.

21 Lenrow 1932, 10.

22 It is interesting that this phrase is quite similar to “real or imagined abandonment” as described above. “Angered by the failure of others to be nurturant, patients with BPD employ moods and threats as vehicles to ‘get back’, to ‘teach them a lesson’” (Millon 2000, 125).

23 It is interesting that even though Wagner borrowed enormous amounts of money and was able to live an extravagant lifestyle, he insisted in a letter to Pusinelli from January 12, 1870) that he suffered from an “absolute lack of means” and that this was one of “two principal obstacles in [his] life”, the other being his “very unsuitable marriage” to Minna (Lenrow 1932, 222-223).

24 Einstein 1941, 106.

25 In a letter to Hornstein from December of 1861, Wagner not only “require[d] an immediate loan of ten thousand francs”, but he also demanded that he be allowed to stay “for three months at one of your [Hornstein’s] estates, preferably in the Rhine district” (Hurn and Root 1930, 100-101). “Wagner was the more sophisticated, his ego and vanity requiring that he establish superiority in a relationship…so that, on the surface, he appeared to be condescending and disparaging in attitude” (Hutchinson 1969, 80).

26 Hurn and Root 1930, 103-104.

27 Wagner praised them here with such passages as “the poor, the hungering, the bowed by misery, are they no longer; proudly they raise themselves erect, inspiration shines from their ennobled faces, a radiant light streams from their eyes, and …[they] cry I am a Man” (Ellis 1966, 238)!

28 Spencer and Millington 1987, 243.

29 DSM-IV-TR 2000, 710.

30 Millon 1996, 680-681.

31 Spencer and Millington 1987, 3.

32 “Exposure to overwhelming danger from which there is no possibility of escape can lead to overwhelming fear and rage and can activate emotional defenses” (Moskowitz 2001, 35). “Children in families who frequently relocate may be at a greater risk for developing the disorder” (Johnson 1999, 12).

33 Garten 1977, 10-11.

34 Carr 2007, 3.

35 Carr 2007, 20

36 “The record of his youth and early manhood is one of constant fluctuation between one ideal or influence and another” (Newman 1937, 154).

37 Einstein 1947, 235.

38 “He was unwilling publicly to face the fact that endorsement of music’s superiority over her sister arts contradicted his writings on the reciprocal relationships with the Gesamtkunstwerk [total work of art]” and “he was reluctant to admit that his polemic tracts of a decade before were largely inapplicable to his work” (Gutman 1968, 291-292). In regards to Tristan und Isolde, Wagner wrote to Nietzsche that he “must pay attention to nothing but the orchestra” (Foerster-Nietzsche 1922, 135).

39 DiGaetani seems to have proposed that Wagner’s self-created financial difficulties were indicative of his Bipolar (manic-depressive) state by using the word “manic”: “This pattern of manic spending would be repeated over and over again in Wagner’s life. He would receive some good news- like the appearance of a wealthy patron or the performance of one of his operas- and that would generate in the composer a manic period when he spent wildly beyond his means, secure in the grand sense of entitlement his mania generated” (DiGaetani 2003, 9). However, this could also have been indicative of Borderline Personality Disorder, of which impulsivity in spending is a common feature.

40 “Wagner had a bad habit of taking promiscuously, and in considerable quantities, many strong medicines that had been prescribed for him by physicians whom he had previously consulted” (Newman 1946, 706).

41 Hurn and Root 1930, 87-88.

42 Hueffer 1969, 270-271.

43 Hueffer 1969, 347.

44 Spencer and Millington 1987, 297.

45 Brener 2006, page right before page 1.

46 May 2004, 4.

47 Lenrow 1932, 193.

48 Köhler 2004, 101.

49 [Borderlines] “vent anger only to recant and feel guilty and contrite” (Millon 1996, 669). “The slightest event or exchange can result in an angry outburst. You [the borderline individual] may then say and do things that are very destructive, and later regret that you did so” (Friedel 2004, 5).

50 Carr 2007, 11.

51 He is said to have been “inclined to explosive rages and lasting anger, resentment, and hostility” (Redlich 1997, 135).

52 Burk 1950, 37.

53 Burk 1950, 38.

54 Burk 1950, 33.

55 Johnson 1999, 10.

56 “A phenomenal amount of speculation has been invested in the issue of which man [Carl Friedrich Wagner or Ludwig Geyer] was Wagner’s biological father” (May 2004, 12).

57 Braverman and Shook 1987, 201.

58 Lenrow 1932, 153.

59 Braverman and Shook 1987, 201.

60 Large 1997, 63-65.

61 Large 1997, 67.
62 This is also an example of the alternation between idealization and devaluation in relationships that is common in borderlines.

63 Kreisman and Straus 1991, 27-28.

64 Köhler 2004, 120.

65 Hurn and Root 1930, 89.
66 “He wrote begging letters by the score, sometimes grovelling without shame, at others loftily offering his intended benefactor the privilege of contributing to his support, and being mortally offended if the recipient declined the honour” (Taylor 1964, 9).

67 Ellis 1971, 250.

68 This was “the insistence that the person addressed is the only one who can remedy matters” (Hurn and Root 1930, 97). This occurred in a similar letter of July 29, 1848 to Pusinelli, in which he proposed that he (Pusinelli) should purchase the copyrights to some of Wagner’s works (as a way of getting some money): “The more I think over the matter, the more I am convinced that only you, best friend, can and must be this purchaser” (Lenrow 1932, 25).

69 Hurn and Root 1930, 117.

70 The “behavior” in these instances was his writing pamphlets and essays by which he attempted to reach the public and convince them that the changes to society/conditions that needed to exist for the realization of his artistic ideals were in fact necessary.

71 Revelli 1951, 50.