As the Revolution of 1848 swept Europe, Wagner, Kapellmeister to the King of Saxony, was involved in the composition of Lohengrin and scarcely noticed. But by the time it reached Dresden, in May 1849, Wagner was personally involved with local leaders Röckel and Mikhail Bakunin. Though Wagner's participation was limited to making speeches and distributing leaflets, he viewed the turmoil, in particular the burning of the opera house, with glee, and the rumor circulated that he had set fire to it. Professional disappointments, brought about by his scheming and abrasive personality, had soured him in his Kapellmeister's duties, while Dresden was coming to seem impossible owing to the enormous debts he'd amassed there. Only by accident did he escape being arrested with Röckel and Bakunin in Chemnitz and, discovering that there was a warrant abroad for his arrest, with Liszt's help and a false passport, he made his way to Zürich to enter a 13-year exile. Rienzi, Der fliegende Holländer, and Tannhäuser had been, by then, successfully produced and the latter two were frequently performed on German stages -- his fame preceded him. In Zürich he was in demand as a conductor, specializing in Beethoven. He also found fertile ground for more "borrowing." Living in luxury, he wrote, "I cannot sleep on straw and drink bad whisky. I must be coaxed in one way or another if my mind is to accomplish the terribly difficult task of creating a nonexisting world....Before all, I must have money...but what is the good of hundreds where thousands are needed?" Meanwhile, Wagner conducted his own music in a series of three enthusiastically received concerts in the spring of 1853. When receipts failed to cover costs, Otto Wesendonk, a wealthy merchant, made up most of the shortfall. Wesendonk's young bride Mathilde had already been swept away by Wagner conducting the Tannhäuser Overture the year before, nor had she escaped his notice -- to a friend he wrote in February 1852 that Wesendonk's "wife is very pretty and seems to have caught some enthusiasm for me...." By the end of the "Wagner Festival" concerts -- the last given on his 40th birthday on May 22, 1853 -- he wrote to Liszt that "There is a certain beautiful woman at whose feet I laid the entire festival." The jolly/wistful little Polka, a mere 24 bars composed on May 29, 1853, bears a dedication to Mathilde and a note -- "Melted here for the frozen one of yesterday."
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Description by Adrian Corleonis