On the lam in Zürich for revolutionary activities in Dresden in 1849, Wagner was supported in luxury by wealthy patrons, silk merchant Otto Wesendonk at their head, as his local fame waxed. After leading the Zürich orchestra in a richly nuanced performance of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony on January 15, 1850, he was much in demand as a conductor. On February 25, 1851, Hans von Bülow astounded the Zürichers by performing Liszt's piano transcription of the Tannhäuser overture, and Wagner followed, leading the orchestra in the work on March 16, 1852. "The women in particular," Wagner wrote to a friend, "were turned inside out...taking refuge in sobs and weeping...The moist, shining eye of a woman often saturates me with fresh hope." Among those so moved was Wesendonk's 23-year-old wife Mathilde. Quick to take advantage of audience interest, a "Wagner Festival" of three concerts was organized for a week in May 1853 -- the last on Wagner's 40th birthday on May 22 -- with a thrice-repeated program of excerpts from Rienzi, Der fliegende Holländer, Tannhäuser, and Lohengrin. Playing to packed houses, the concerts nevertheless produced a small deficit, covered by the project's guarantors, Wesendonk among them. Wagner was hearing the Lohengrin fragments for the first time. Completed in 1848, Lohengrin was his last substantial work -- during the intervening five years he had composed virtually nothing and rising desperation was provoking irascibility and despondent outbursts. But he had not been idle. In addition to prose works, the scabrous Jewry in Music (1850), for instance, or the autobiographical Communication to My Friends (1851), he wrestled the material of the Ring operas into four libretti (written in reverse order as the plan expanded). But the catalytic agent that brought him to begin composition of Das Rheingold on November 1, 1853 -- the sketch was completed by the middle of January -- was undoubtedly the sympathetic interest of Mathilde Wesendonk and his growing infatuation with her. Wagner was already sketching the libretto of Tristan und Isolde. Working from Gottfried von Strassburg's epic, the initial version of the Tristan libretto incorporated its two Isoldes -- King Mark's wife and Isolde of the White Hands whom Tristan later wed. With disconcerting frequency, Wagner's life imitated his art. In 1854, Mathilde's sister Marie Luckemeyer visited Zürich. Wagner composed a 34-bar waltz for her, the schmaltzily charming Züricher Vielliebchen-Walzer, dedicated to "Zürich's sweetest sweetheart...best of all dancers from Saxony," with a carefully revised but prolix note of indecipherable personal allusions appended.
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Description by Adrian Corleonis
|2014||Signum Classics||SIGCD 388|