While it’s a fact that Bavaria’s famous Neuschwanstein Castle is largely influenced by King Ludwig II’s ardent admiration of “The Knight of the Swan” opera, there is little English literature about the related German folklore on which the narrative of the opera was based.
Setting aside the controversies shrouding the history of Schloss Neuschwanstein (Hohenschwangau) this article focuses on “Lohengrin” or “The Swan Knight” that inspired King Ludwig II to build his legendary fairy tale castle. Neuschwanstein, which means New Swan Stone, actually referenced the first stone laid at the site to formally start the construction project some time in 1869.
About Richard Wagner’s “Lohengrin” Opera
“Lohengrin” is a romantic 3-act aria composed and written by German musician and librettist Richard Wagner. The narrative of the opera was based on a medieval German folklore about a mysterious knightly figure who rode on a swan-drawn boat in his rescue of a captive damsel. In Wagner’s “Lohengrin” opera, which was catalogued as Wagner-Werk-Verzeichnis (WWV) 75, the Swan Knight and the noble lady he rescued fell in love and got married.
However, he had one request of his lady love, which was that of not asking about his origins or of taking any action to to find out where he came from. However, the noble lady’s curiosity got the better of her that she broke her promise, which caused the Swan Knight to leave her and never to return.
While many of Wagner’s musical compositions for “Lohengrin” are often performed as individual concert pieces, the most popular and frequently played worldwide is the Bridal Chorus. This is the chorus sung by the women while accompanying the lead female character to her bridal chamber after the wedding. The chorus gained immense popularity after it was given a marching tempo and used as the processional music at the wedding of Prince Frederick of Prussia to Princess Royal Victoria (eldest daughter of Queen Victoria of England and prince Albert.)
Since then, it was used in many wedding procession across the globe, and eventually became known by its colloquial American title “Here Comes the Bride.”
“Lohengrin” was actually the core inspiration of the many paintings commissioned by King Ludwig II as interior decors of the Neuschwanstein Castle. One of the main attractions of Schloss Neuschwanstein is the grotto or man-made cave and its artificial waterfalls and color-shifting stage lights. King Ludwig II also had a wave-producing machine installed to make the theatrical effects more realistic looking. The Bavarian king was reported to have spent many hours imagining himself to be the Swan Knight inside the man-made cave, while on board a gondola.
Richard Wagner on the other hand benefited from the Bavarian King’s patronage of his operatic compositions. Despite the rumours about the true relationship between King Ludwig II and Richard Wagner, it was something that the fairy-tale loving people of Bavaria prefer to overlook since it’s all part and parcel of the legacy that he left behind.