Wagner's finances are at least as interesting as his music. He must have been among the most persuasive and grandiose confidence men in a century of bounders and cads. From the beginning of his career, his modus operandi included amassing enormous debt with anyone who would give him credit and cadging "loans" from acquaintances, friends, patrons, and businesses that were very seldom -- and under duress -- repaid. In 1841, during the dismal years of his first sojourn in Paris, after pawning everything movable, he was clapped into debtors' prison, where he completed the composition of Rienzi. He could accept enormous amounts of money and luxurious living quarters in Zürich from his patron, Otto Wesendonk, while pursuing a protracted affair with his wife. In 1859 he sold the copyrights of Das Rheingold and Die Walküre to Wesendonk for 6,000 francs each and in 1860 sold the same scores to music publisher Franz Schott for 10,000 francs, taking care to ask Wesendonk to regard the sum paid as an advance on parts of the Ring des Nibelungen yet to be composed. In 1864 he signed an agreement giving King Ludwig II of Bavaria, for an undisclosed sum fraught with ancillary compensation, rights to the still-uncompleted Ring -- rights Wagner ignored as he peddled the Ring operas after their performance at the first Bayreuth Festival in 1876 to theaters across Germany. It was only to be expected that he would attempt to shake down his publishers at every opportunity. In 1862, Die Meistersinger, barely begun, was sold to Franz Schott on the understanding that it would soon be completed. Wagner, demanding further advances, was in no hurry, while the publisher, seeing a bottomless pit, refused to pay. Meanwhile, his wife, Betty Schott, usually supportive, took offense at the still-married Wagner's latest affair with actress Friederike Meyer. Wagner, in his quest for money, once pursued Schott to a resort where he was undergoing a water cure and had to be held off at the door by Frau Schott. Wagner continued to wheedle money from Schott until his death in May 1874. The album leaf he composed for Frau Betty on February 1, 1875 -- no doubt, intended to smooth the way at Schott's for more chicanery -- is his most perfect piano piece, a pendant to the Siegfried Idyll, working themes from Siegfried's last act into an evocative, contrapuntally laced, and moving meditation. Betty Schott died on April 5, 1875, and Schott published Wagner's piece the following year.
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Description by Adrian Corleonis
|2014||Signum Classics||SIGCD 388|
|2012||Melba Recordings||MR 301141|
|Art of Classics||885916|