»BAROQUE FANTASIES «
Under the patronage of HRH Herzog Franz von Bayern
The new Versailles. The world knows Ludwig II as the fairy-tale king who built Neuschwanstein, and who, as an admirer of the operas of Richard Wagner, lent stone reality to the legendary worlds of Tannhäuser and Lohengrin. But the transformation of a knightly castle into a romantic dream palace was not the king’s most important concern. From the days of his youth, he had entertained the vision of a ‘New Versailles’ at the foot of the Bavarian Alps. A memorial and festival site for the most splendid age of the French monarchy was to be created, the era of Louis XIV and Louis XV. The Wittelsbach king threw himself into this project, immersed himself in this age. He engaged celebrated specialists and historians, had Versailles dramas composed for his private performances, and commissioned court ballets in the style of the age of Lully.
Vision and technology. At the same time, though, Ludwig II was an enthusiastic admirer and promoter of technological innovations. When after years of fruitless attempts in the Graswang valley, the ‘New Versailles’ at last took shape on Herrenchiemsee, its builder took it for granted that the rapid progress of the project would be guaranteed with power sawmills, a cargo-steamer, and a narrow-gauge railway. Steel-and-glass roofs that could be raised hydraulically, and hot-air central heating were to ensure his comfort and that of his guests. Even the ground plan of Versailles was rigorously adapted by the king to his ideas. For Ludwig’s boldest, most extravagant palace had to be two things at once: a solemn celebration of French Baroque, and a demonstration of the latest technology.
Playing with reality and appearances. Ludwig II could well be thought of as an eccentric loner. But in truth, like no other, he represented, with his thoughts and actions, an entire era. For it was precisely at the time when Bavaria’s fairy-tale king was planning his castles and palaces that the industrial revolution really started to make its mark on mainland Europe. Neighbourhoods with neo-Baroque apartment blocks, neo-Gothic factory halls and neo-Renaissance railway stations were shooting out of the ground. And while the Baroque era had been despised by the Romantics at the start of the nineteenth century as backward and reactionary, it served the very next generation of musicians, architects and artists as an almost inexhaustible source of inspiration. It is to this aspect – the ‘real’ and the ‘pseudo’ Baroque, the frank imitation and the subtle allusion – that this year’s Herrenchiemsee Festival is devoted.
Baroque fantasies. At first we shall hear, as the foundation of the discourse, some great and pioneering manifestations of Baroque music: German church cantatas alongside the coloratura art of the Italian opera, Corelli’s church sonatas alongside Bach’s concertos, the radiant courtly music of Versailles alongside the sensitive, sometimes passionately riven harpsichord works of Johann Sebastian’s son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Above all, though, we shall hear the acts of homage to the Baroque by later generations. Thus Mozart wraps Handel’s oratorio ‘The Messiah’ in the tonal garb of Viennese classicism. Felix Mendelssohn revealed an image of Bach deeply tinged by Romanticism. Richard Strauss transformed, with his ‘Ariadne’, the pattern of the Baroque opera into an unfathomably cheerful play within a play. But melancholy echoes are also audible: be it the invocation of a Bach chorale in Alban Berg’s Violin Concert, or the half serious, half ironic veneration of a lost world in Ravel’s ‘Le Tombeau de Couperin’.on truly comes into its own.