The original idea of setting up a foundation to finance the festival dates back to Richard Wagner himself. The concept of a foundation with a range of responsibilities was brought up several times thereafter – for example, in 1914, by Siegfried Wagner. The planned “Richard Wagner Foundation for the German People” was to be in charge of the festival hall and Wahnfried House, but this was interrupted by World War I.
After the war, the notion of setting up a foundation to help re-establish the festival took on more solid form. In 1921, at a meeting in Leipzig attended by representatives of the “General Richard Wagner Society“, the “Bayreuth Union“, the “Richard Wagner German Women’s League”, the “Richard Wagner Memorial Foundation” and other Wagner associations, it was decided to found the “German Festival Foundation of Bayreuth”. However, after only a short time, Siegfried Wagner was forced to fend off vigorously the meddling attempts by the central Leipzig administration of the Wagner associations, who simultaneously acted as directors of the German Festival Foundation. By 1924, the foundation had become virtually paralyzed due to lack of funds and in the following years it sank into insignificance and was finally dissolved in 1929.
After Wieland Wagner’s death in 1966, it was decided to consider putting the Bayreuth Festival on a wider legal, institutional footing, in order to ensure it a permanently secure future. This proposal had its roots in the joint last will and testament of Siegfried and Winifred Wagner, drawn up on 8th March 1929, under the terms of which, after Siegfried’s death in 1930, Winifred Wagner became the sole heir. The original will states: “The festival hall may not be disposed of. It must be retained in perpetuity for the use for which it was originally intended by the constructor, namely exclusively for the festive production of the works of Richard Wagner.”
On 2nd May, 1973, after years of lengthy negotiation, the “Richard Wagner Foundation Bayreuth” was established as a legally liable, non-profit public foundation under civil law, a form in which it exists to this day. In addition to the members of the Wagner family, membership also includes the Federal Republic of Germany, the Free State of Bavaria, the administrative region of Upper Franconia and the city of Bayreuth, as well as the Upper Franconian Foundation, the Bavarian State Foundation and the Patrons’ Association of the Society of Friends of Bayreuth e.V. The mission of the foundation was adopted verbatim from the will of Siegfried and Winifred Wagner: “To maintain the festival hall permanently for the community, keeping it open to the public, and to retain it in perpetuity for the use for which it was originally intended by the constructor, namely exclusively for the festive production of the works of Richard Wagner.” It was further determined that the foundation should: “preserve the artistic legacy of Richard Wagner in perpetuity for the public”, “promote Richard Wagner research”, and “promote understanding of the works of Richard Wagner in particular among the young, and younger generations of artists”.
To this end, the Wagner family signed over the deeds of the festival hall, together with the adjacent buildings and real estate, to the Foundation free of charge. In return, the Foundation rents out the festival hall for the production of the Bayreuth Festival to the organizers – for preference, a member of the Wagner family. Initially, this was Wolfgang Wagner. From 2008 until 2015, the festival was run by Wolfgang Wagner’s daughters, Eva Wagner-Pasquier and Katharina Wagner. After Eva Wagner-Pasquier’s departure in 2015, Katharina Wagner took over the sole artistic responsibility for the Bayreuth Festival. Together with a commercial director (currently Holger von Berg), she is responsible for managing the Bayreuth Festival GmbH, founded in 1986. Equal shareholders in this private limited company are the Federal Republic of Germany, the Free State of Bavaria, the City of Bayreuth and the Society of Friends of Bayreuth e.V., whose representatives make up its administrative board.
With the deed of donation of 1973, the ownership of Wahnfried House passed to the City of Bayreuth, which also purchased neighbouring Siegfried Wagner House for 600 000 DM. The Wagner family archives (Richard Wagner archives/Wahnfried archives) were sold for 12.4m DM by the Wagner family to the Federal Republic of Germany, the Upper Franconian Foundation and the Bavaria State Foundation, which was then made available to the Richard Wagner Foundation on permanent loan. The City of Bayreuth also loaned Wahnfried House to the Richard Wagner Foundation, in order to set up the Richard Wagner Museum with its National Archives and research centre within the scope of the Bayreuth festival’s centenary celebrations. The Free State of Bavaria agreed to pay ongoing annual grants to fulfil the mission of the Foundation.