Summer is a time for traveling, taking trips, and simply taking part in fun activities. One such popular activity is Summer Music Festivals. Everywhere you look these days there are outdoor concerts and festivals happening. One might think that this tradition is something that recently came to be popular, but that is not the case. Music festivals were very popular during the Clemens’ time, though the musicians and the music itself were quite a bit different than what people are listening to today. Instead of hip-hop or pop music, they were listening to classical operas. On Friday, July 31, 1891, the Clemens party started traveling to Bayreuth for the Wagner festival, which they arrived at the next day, on August 1, 1891. This festival was a huge deal-- such a popular event that the Clemenses had to reserve their tickets a year in advance.
This festival was put on by Wagner’s widow, and included over 141 singers and an orchestra almost 100 strong all performing Wagner’s incredible compositions in his own home! This event was one of such importance that the Hartford Courant reported on it. “At Bayreuth the rehearsals for the Wagner festivals are now being pushed forward very actively. The actual performances will begin on Monday, July 19, and will be on the usual monster scale which is so pleasing to the devotees of the music of the future. Thus no fewer than 141 singers will be employed, and there will be in addition sixty-four ballet girls and dancers. The orchestra, which is natural the exceedingly important factor in the presentation of these music dramas, contains thirty-two violins, two violas, twelve violincellos, eight bassos, five flutes, five oboes, five clarinets, five flageolettes, two trumpets and cornets, four harps and two drums.” (Hartford Courant, July 21, 1891).
This festival was great fun for the Clemens family, because though Sam did not love opera, everyone else in the family did, especially Susy and Clara. Sam was much more interested in the parties and dining out in Bayreuth as opposed to the operas, being that he was more of a spirituals man himself. Sam often left the opera early so that he could secure good seats for the family at dinner, as well as getting himself out of having to sit through the entire opera.
Though the music may have changed, the sentiments and fun that are behind these events still hold true. Going to see music of any kind with family is fun, particularly if there is a party afterwards-- at least for Sam.
-- Cassandra Saimond, Summer intern