From bombastic to beloved, Joachim Sauer's trip to Wagner's "grail"

Wed Jan 23, 2013 2:03am EST
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By Michael Roddy

BERLIN (Reuters) - In his youth, theoretical chemist Joachim Sauer found the music of Richard Wagner "bombastic". All that changed when he was in his early 20s with a chance encounter with Wagner's 'Siegfried'.

Now the annual Wagner summer festival in Bayreuth is one of the few occasions when the media-shy Sauer is seen in public with his wife, German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

This year, the bicentenary of Wagner's birth, is a special one for the many millions of "Wagnerians" who share Sauer's passion. It was the chance to talk about Wagner's music, and only about music, that prompted Sauer to speak to Reuters.

"If you ask me what is the best good fortune in my life of course I say that I have seen in my lifespan the Wall coming down, the reunification," said Sauer, 63, who grew up in communist East Germany.

"But the second, which comes with it, is perhaps that I now can go to Bayreuth."

Sauer, considered a top expert in his field for his quantum chemical work with catalysts used in the chemical industry, and also in cars, met for an interview in English over dinner recently at the restaurant of the Deutsche Oper in Berlin where he went on to see Puccini's "Tosca".

"They see me all the time at Bayreuth and think I only like Wagner's music and it's not true," Sauer said. He also likes Beethoven, Mozart, some of the Romantic repertoire, even the music of the 20th century, and Verdi's "La Traviata", which he considers a masterpiece.

But what is it about Wagner's music that Sauer, a slender, fit and cordial man whose smiling countenance throughout the dinner of fish and a glass of white wine belied his somewhat dour image in the German press, finds so engaging, if not to say addictive?   Continued...