Meistersinger – History of performance

at Dresden Opera house




“Sachs has his portrait painted by Herneisen”
Painting from 1574 by Andreas Herneisen (1538-1610).
The painter made a portrait of the “Nuremberg Mastersinger” Hans Sachs (1494-1576) in the cobbler’s workshop.
Colour print after the original in the Herzog August Library in Wolfenbüttel



“Die Meistersinger” – From idea to implementation [01]



Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Fotografie von Pierre Petit & Trinquart, Paris vom Februar/März 1860.
Album in Papier auf Karton

Richard Wagner

Hans Sachs as Opera hero

After completing this work [Tannhäuser] I was immediately able to take a rest at a Bohemian spa [Marienbad – Mariánské Lázne].
There, as has always been the case whenever I am able to with- draw from the smell of stage lighting and my “services” in their atmosphere, I soon felt light and merry; for the first time, my characteristic cheerfulness asserted itself with appreciable artistic significance.
With almost arbitrary deliberateness, I had of late already decided to write a comic opera next; I remember that in particular the well meant council of good friends had contributed to the idea, for they wished to see me write an opera of the “lighter genre”, because that would give me entrée to the German theatres and so precipitate an improvement in my financial circumstances, since my persistent lack of success had begun to assume alarming proportions. Just as the Athenians followed a tragedy with a light satyric drama, there suddenly came to me during that holiday the vision of a comic work, a suggestive satyric drama that in truth might follow my “Song Contest on the Wartburg”.

It was “the master singers at Nürnberg”, with Hans Sachs at their head. I set Hans Sachs as the last manifestation of the artistically productive spirit of the people and contrasted him with the bourgeois existence of the master singers, giving very personal expression to the altogether droll, tablature-poetic pedantry of the “Marker” figure. As is generally known (except perhaps by our critics), the “Marker” was an overseer selected by the singers’ guild, who had to “mark” with pen strokes the breaches of the rules by the contestants and specifically by those applying for membership. Anyone receiving a certain number of strokes was disqualified.


Der Merker
aus “Georg Hagersches Meistergesangbuch” Anno 1581 bis 1626

The oldest member of the guild then offers the hand of his young daughter to the master who wins the forthcoming public singing match.
The Marker, who is already courting the girl, gains a rival in the person of a young knight who, enthused after reading the Book of Heroes and the old minnesingers, leaves his neglected and decaying ancestral castle to learn the art of the master singers in Nürnberg.

He applies for admission to the guild, particularly because he has fallen head over heels in love with the prize maiden, “whom only a master of the guild shall win”; at the contest he sings an enthusiastic song in praise of women that incessantly offends the Marker, so that he fails the aspirant half way through his song.

Sachs, who has taken a liking to the young man, then thwarts him – for his own good – in his desperate attempt to elope with the girl; in doing so, he also takes the opportunity to annoy the Marker terribly.
The latter, who had previously taken Sachs to task for being tardy in completing a pair of shoes for him, stands before the girl’s window at night and serenades her to test her response to the song with which he hopes to win her, for he needs to be sure of her decisive vote in the contest. Sachs, whose shoemaker’s workshop is opposite the girl’s house, also begins to sing loudly when the Marker starts his serenade, telling the indignant singer that it is necessary if he is to stay awake while working so late and declaring that the work is urgent, as no-one should know better than the man who chided his cobbler so harshly about his shoes. Sachs at last promises the unhappy man he will stop, but only if he may draw attention to the mistakes he finds in the Marker’s song, according to his feelings and in his manner – as a shoemaker – with a hammer-blow on the shoe each time.
The Marker resumes his singing and Sachs hammers often and repeatedly on his last. The Marker enters in a fury; Sachs asks him with composure if his song is over. “Far from it,” cries the angry man.

Sachs now laughingly takes the shoes outside and declares they have just been finished by the “mark of the Marker”. Bellowing out the remainder of his song without a break between verses, the Marker stalks off in despair, and his songs fails miserably in the estimation of the girl, who is seen vigorously shaking her head through the window. The next day, he disconsolately demands from Sachs a new song to court his love; Sachs gives him a poem by the young knight, but claims he does not know where it comes from. He warns that it must be sung to a perfectly appropriate “tune”. With misplaced confidence, the vain Marker submits himself to the public verdict of masters and people and sings the poem to a completely unsuitable and disfiguring tune, so that he again fails, this time finally. Furious, he accuses Sachs of fraud for having given him a disgraceful poem; Sachs declares that the poem is altogether good, only it must be sung to an appropriate tune. It is decided that he who knows the correct tune shall be the winner.
That turns out to be the young knight and he wins the bride; but when he is offered membership in the guild, he declines. Sachs then defends the master singers’ tradition with humour and closes with the rhyme:

„Zerging’ das Heil’ge Römische Reich in Dunst, Uns bliebe doch die heil’ge deutsche Kunst.”
(if the Holy Roman Empire went up in smoke, we would still have holy German art.)

From: Richard Wagner,
Eine Mitteilung an meine Freunde (1851),
as published in the programme notes on the new production of “Die Meistersinger” in Dresden in 1950




Meistersinger – Create history


1827 Premiere of the drama Hans Sachs by Johann Ludwig Franz Deinhardstein in Vienna.
1829 Wagner sees a performance of the drama Hans Sachs in Leipzig.
1835 Publication of Geschichte der deutschen Nationalliteratur by Georg Gottfried Gervinus, whose historical survey provides Wagner with important stimulus for the Meistersinger conception, as did later the treatise “on the mastersinger’s noble art” by Johann Christoph Wagenseil, published in 1697.
1840 Premiere of the opera Hans Sachs by Albert Lortzing in Leipzig (libretto by AlbertLortzing,PhilipRegerand Philipp Jakob Düringer).
1842 Wagner sees a performance of Lortzing’s opera Hans Sachs in Dresden.
1845 Wagner writes the first prose draft on July 16, whilst holidaying in Marienbad.


In his autobiographical “announcement to my friends” Wagner goes into details of the prose draft, which has undergone a number of changes in the meantime.


Wagner writes the second and third prose drafts in Vienna between November 14 and 18. Shortly afterwards, he studies Wagenseil’s treatise (with its examples of melodies and rules).
In December he begins writing the verse libretto of Die Meistersinger in Paris.


On January 25 Wagner completes the libretto, thoroughly revising it shortly afterwards.
April 13 to 20: the orchestral sketch of the Prelude.
November 1: Under Wagner’s direction, the Prelude to Die Meistersinger is heard for the first time at a Gewandhaus concert in Leipzig.
1863 Schott in Mainz publishes the first edition of the libretto (it is dated 1862).
1867 October 24: The composition is completed.
December 24: Wagner gives the original score of Die Meistersinger to King Ludwig II of Bavaria.
1868 June 21: Premiere at the Royal Court and National Theatre in Munich, conducted by Hans von Bülow.
1869 January 21: First Dresden performance of Die Meistersinger.
Musical direction: Julius Rietz.
Hans Sachs: Anton Mitterwurzer
Pogner: Emil Scaria
Beckmesser: Eugen Degele
Walther von Stolzing: Leonard Labatt
Eva: Melitta Otto-Alvsleben.
1870 February 27: First performance at the Vienna Hofoper.
April 1: First performance at the Berlin Hofoper.
1880 June 27: First performance of Die Meistersinger in Dresden’s new, second Semper opera house.
Musical direction: Ernst Schuch
Hans Sachs: Emil Fischer
Pogner: Eduard Decarli
Beckmesser: Eugen Degele
Walther von Stolzing: Heinrich Gudehus,
Eva: Therese Malten.
1888 First Bayreuth Festival performance of Die Meistersinger, produced by Cosima Wagner.
Musical direction: Hans Richter.
With the Dresden singers:
Heinrich Gudehus as Walther von Stolzig and (sharing the role) Therese Malten as Eva.


From the programme notes
on the new production of “Die Meistersinger” in Dresden in 1985 (edited)






Die Meistersinger – From idea to implementation
Meistersinger-Performances in the first Semperoper 1869-1869
03 Meistersinger-Performances in the provisional theatre 1869-1877
Meistersinger-Performances in the second Semperoper 1880-1944
Meistersinger-Performances in the large auditorium of the Staatstheater 1950-1973
Meistersinger-Performances in the rebuilt Semperoper 1985



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