The Manuscript Discovery in Hohenems, Austria and its Influence on Composer Richard Wagner

Hohenems Palace. Photo credit: Böhringer Friedrich

The small city of Hohenems, in western Austria, is the home of the annual music festival called the Schubertiade, so named because it focuses on the compositions of Franz Schubert. In addition to the music and scenery, there are museums and other historic sites which relate in some way to music history though are not necessarily to Schubert. One such place is the Hohenems Palace, or Palast Hohenems, where the first festival’s opening concert was held. Its history includes a manuscript of an epic poem that would later influence 19th-century composer, Richard Wagner.

The palace was built in the 1560s as the residence for count of Hohenems. The palace was enlarged by Count Kaspar von Hohenems in the early 1600s and the surrounding grounds were landscaped with beautiful gardens, outdoor fountains, and open air theaters. The count’s brother, Markus Sittikus, was the prince-archbishop of Salzburg where his attention to the arts and architecture remains visible today. All of this took place during the Renaissance, pursuing and collecting artistic and literary works, and encouraging scholarly endeavors.

In 1755, a Swiss physician, Dr. J. H. Obereit, discovered a manuscript in the palace library that was written either in the late 12th or early 13th century. This was manuscript C of the German epic poem, the Nibelungenlied, or The Song of the Nibelung. Another copy was discovered in 1779, also in the palace library, and is categorized as manuscript A. Scholars have determined that these are two of the oldest known copies of the Nibelungenlied.

Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

The story is based partly on Germanic myths and legends as well as historical events. The main character is Siegfried, a dragon-slayer. When German composer, Richard Wagner, wrote his Der Ring des Nibelungen, or The Ring of the Nibelung, he used the Nibelungenlied as one of his primary sources along with some Norse sagas.

There are four music-dramas that make up The Ring: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung. Although each of these has been performed separately on occasion, Wagner expected them to be performed as a series. The first Ring Cycle was in 1876 at the first Bayreuth Festival. Since then, there have been many adaptations of the story in other mediums.

Nibelungen Museum, Hohenems, Austria. Photo credit: Schubertiade

All of this is brought together in the Nibelungen Museum in Hohenems with exhibits of Wagner’s large work as well as other stage and film versions. Additional exhibits include some of the opera singers and actors who brought the characters to life, and a special exhibit about 19th-century soprano Lilli Lehmann.

The museum shares the combined story of discovery, history, and performance in another way–through the building itself. It was during the Renaissance that the manuscripts were placed in the palace library. It was also during the Renaissance that books were first printed in Hohenems. The Nibelungen Museum is in the building that was the area’s first printing press which printed its first book in 1616.

* * * * *

For more information:

Hohenems Palace

Schubertiade: Nibelungen Museum, Hohenems