To judge from letters, the likes of Berlioz, Brahms and Mahler were constantly absconding to this watering hole or that in attempts to repair their shattered health. Few, however, went in for it with the zeal of Richard Wagner.

Richard Wagner Richard Wagner with his son Siegfried

The composer’s first visit occurred as early as 1834 when the 21-year-old checked into a spa with his friend Theodor Appel. As he grew older, Wagner became increasingly troubled by skin and bowel complaints, in particular erysipelas, haemorrhoids and what sounds like almost terminal flatulence. Good health was to prove as elusive for Wagner as the Holy Grail, while his quest for a decent bowel movement was akin to the wanderings of his hero Parsifal.

Never one for half measures, 1843 finds Wagner attempting to drink vast quantities of water to cure his abdominal complaints, giving it up, as he lamented to his wife Minna, when he almost soiled the bed. In 1851 he went the whole hog, checking in for a two-month cure at Dr Zacharia Brunner’s Hydrotherapy Institute at Albisbrunn, some 10 miles from his home in Zurich.

“At 5:30 in the morning, a wet wrap until...

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