Parsifal Chronology

The table below provides a summary of stages in the development of Parsifal and the approximate dates of related significant events. This is not, however, the whole story. See also my discussion of Wagner's source material, where he found ideas and inspiration for the opera.

It is often stated that Wagner found inspiration for a Parsifal opera in Marienbad in 1845. This is not correct. In 1845 Wagner did not consider Wolfram's poem a good source for an opera libretto. It was not until his "Good Friday" in 1857 that he saw a possibility of a Parsifal opera. Even in 1859, after Mathilde Wesendonk had sent him the latest translation of the romance, Wagner wrote to her that Wolfram's Parzival was a thoroughly immature phenomenon and he could do nothing with it. The genesis of the opera really began in 1857 and it had much less to do with Wolfram than is widely supposed.

Dates Event
April-May 1857 RW writes a prose sketch (TEXT I), now lost.
27 June 1857 RW breaks off work on Siegfried to concentrate on Tristan und Isolde.
October 1858 RW's thoughts return to Parsifal and Die Sieger. He writes to Mathilde Wesendonk about compassion, the Buddha, art and redemption. Countess d'Agoult sends him a Chinese statue of the Buddha1.
May 1859 RW reads Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival in a new edition sent to him by Mathilde Wesendonk. He writes to tell her that Wolfram understood nothing of his subject. RW will have to invent everything, keeping the sublime purity of Parsifal in the foreground.
August 1860 RW completes Tristan. He writes to Mathilde Wesendonk about reincarnation and purity. He describes Lohengrin as a reincarnation of Parsifal who inherits his father's purity. In another letter RW tells her that, once he had realised that the seductress of the second act of Parsifal was the same Kundry we saw in the first act, everything had fallen into place.
27-30 August 1865 At King Ludwig's request, RW writes the first prose draft (TEXTS II and III) of Parsifal. He considers alternative treatments of the spear, which had by now become a unifying element of the story.
9 February 1876 RW writes down a "rocking melody" in A flat major, his first documented musical idea for Parsifal. One week later he tells Cosima that it will be the melody of the Flowermaidens.
25 January to
23 February 1877
RW writes the second prose draft (TEXT IV). He makes only minor changes; the spear that stops in mid-air is added to the second act; Titurel no longer rises from the dead at the end of the last act.
14 March 1877 RW changes the name of the hero from Parzival to Parsifal.
19 April 1877 RW completes the poem or libretto (TEXT V).
August 1877 Wagner begins the Act 1 composition sketch.
8 to 21 October 1877 Cosima makes a fair copy of the poem or libretto (TEXT VI).
1 December 1877 Wagner finishes correcting the proofs of the poem or libretto (TEXT VII) and sends it to be printed.
22 December 1877 Wagner receives a printed copy of the poem or libretto from the publisher, Schotts. The libretto is dated 1877 (TEXT IX).
29 January 1878 Completion of the Act 1 composition sketch (Erster Gesamtentwurf).
31 January 1878 Completion of Act 1 orchestral sketch (Zweiter Gesamtentwurf). Wagner had developed a working method in which he would go back and forth between the two-stave composition sketch and the more detailed, short-score, orchestral sketch, the latter lagging by a few days.
30 September 1878 Completion of Act 2 composition sketch.
13 March to 11 October 1878 Composition of Act 2 orchestral sketch.
30 October 1878 to
16 April 1879
Composition of Act 3 composition sketch.
14 November 1878 RW begins the Act 3 orchestral sketch.
25 December 1878 (Cosima's birthday) Performance of the Prelude to Act 1 (Urfassung mit Konzertschluss: MUSIC IV) by the Meiningen orchestra at Haus Wahnfried.
16 April 1879 Wagner marks the (few) changes he has made to the words during the composition of the music, on six pages of the printed libretto (TEXT VIII).
26 April 1879 Completion of the Act 3 orchestral sketch.
23 August 1879 to
25 April 1881
Full orchestral scoring of Act 1.
22 May 1880 Wagner's family and some close friends (Rubinstein, Plüdderman, Humperdinck) celebrate his birthday by performing a chorus from the Act I Grail scene: Den sündigen Welten. (See Humperdinck's memoirs for an account of this event).
6 June to 20 October 1881 Full orchestral scoring of Act 2.
5 November 1881 to
13 January 1882
Full orchestral scoring of Act 3.
26 July 1882 First performance, Bayreuth Festspielhaus.

Footnote 1: In response to an inquiry that I made to the Wagner Museum in 2001, I was informed that the Buddha statue was not in Bayreuth, and that the Museum did not know of its location.