Having lost his post as conductor of the theater at Riga and pursued by mountainous debt (for which their passports had been confiscated), Wagner and his wife Minna made their escape across the Russian-Prussian border with an enormous Newfoundland, Robber, and took ship for England, arriving in August 1839. Failing to meet Bulwer-Lytton, author of Rienzi, the Wagners embarked for Paris, via Boulogne. Meyerbeer, whose Robert le diable (1831) and Les Huguenots (1836) had enjoyed phenomenal success at the Paris Opéra, was in Boulogne and Wagner introduced himself, sharing the libretto and the newly composed first two acts of Rienzi, and gaining a letter of recommendation to Duponchel, director of the Opéra. From Boulogne, Wagner and Minna moved on to Paris, arriving September 17 with high hopes and little money. Taunted by the prospect of success at the Opéra, and fabulous wealth to follow, the Wagners sank swiftly into abject poverty. With the completion of Rienzi constantly beckoning, and big with the burgeoning conception of Der fliegende Holländer, Wagner was forced to take any sort of hackwork to support his ménage -- making endless arrangements of popular arias, grinding out music for vaudeville, attempting to score a salon hit, writing journalism and short stories -- while Minna, once a famous actress, was reduced to a scullery maid. During the next two-and-a-half years he would pawn everything, including their wedding bands. He was briefly clapped into debtors' prison, where he worked at Rienzi. Even his dog deserted him. "Borrowing" from everyone who would advance him cash, Wagner came to resemble a character from Henri Murger's Scènes de la vie bohème, installments of which would begin to appear in 1845. Wagner's inability to master French limited him to the society of a small German enclave in Paris, including critic Heinrich Laube (who had praised his Symphony in C when it was performed in Prague in 1832), Heinrich Heine (whose prose style Wagner shamelessly imitated), Samuel Lehrs, a philologist who drew Wagner's attention to the Medieval German poetry from which most of his subsequent works were drawn, and painters Friedrich Pecht and Ernst Benedikt Kietz (1815-1892). Kietz idolized Wagner and, though struggling himself, often made him life-saving "loans." Later, when Wagner passed through Paris, he never missed a chance of visiting Kietz, who made notable sketches of both Heine and the composer. Composed on December 31, 1840, Wagner's little Albumleaf for Kietz, warmly beholden to Mendelssohn's example, is a gemütlich souvenir of hard times.
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Description by Adrian Corleonis
|2014||Signum Classics||SIGCD 388|