2 pp. of a bifolium. Quarto (223 x 272 mm). Densely written in the composer's attractive calligraphic hand. In ink on transparent paper. With integral address panel. In German (with translation). Laid into a custom-made dark red archival folder with leather spine, printed title label to upper board.
A long and important letter that touches on many aspects of both Wagner's personal and his professional life. The composer writes to his German expatriate friends in Paris, the painter and lithographer Ernst Benedict Kietz (1815-1890), for whom Wagner wrote his Lied ohne Worte (WWV 64); the philologist and philosopher Samuel Lehrs (1806-1843), who provided Wagner "with the source materials for his Tannhäuser and Lohengrin" (Brener: Richard Wagner and the Jews, p. 34); and Gottfried Engelbert Anders (1795-1866), music librarian at the Bibliothèque Royal in Paris.
Wagner and his wife Minna shared a bohemian life in Paris with these three close friends during the period 1839-early 1842. Wagner then left for Dresden, a parting very emotionally difficult for him, as evidenced in the present letter, written from Berlin, where Wagner had travelled after establishing himself and Minna in Dresden. The purpose of his trip was to discuss the production of Der Fliegende Holländer with the director of the Hofoper Count von Redern (1802-1883). While there, he met both Meyerbeer and Mendelssohn, among others.
Wagner writes in part:
"Now I am sitting here dreaming and thinking of you… Why did I leave you… what drove me? Why did I not stay with you, if only to starve?... What will… become of my empty heart?… Dear Kietz, I was not able to spend your 5-franc coin in Champagne; we did not even stop for two minutes in Epernay… I have a lot to tell you… I do not know anything for certain, just like one who is dreaming. Now I have even left my wife behind [in Dresden]. She wept, and wanted to go Paris to starve… I took a pinch of Nessing [a German snuff tobacco], and with this pinch of snuff… I clearly realized that I was again in undeserving boring Berlin and wanted to get an opera performed as I did back then. But now I have snuff from Paris in my nose again, and I am dreaming again. Nothing matters to me – my income, my existence, my future… Yesterday I talked to Meyerbeer... In Dresden, I met Fischer and Heine briefly… When I entered Fischer’s and told him who I was, he embraced and kissed me like crazy; from this I learned that I am of importance… My favorite pastime is to devise how I can raise funds to bring you here… My wife is in love with you all. I am not allowed to mention any of your names without making her weep. If I should die before we meet again, I will bequeath to you, Anders, my future royalties; to you, Lehrs, the Venusberg; and to you, Kietz, my two dogs lost in Paris - you well know to walk them. What about No. 14, Rue Jacob? Do people remember me fondly?… Dear brothers, I beg you, visit my sister and brother-in-law. They are very dear to me and should know that you think of me. You could also learn a few things about me from them, things I don’t write to you about… Also comfort Schlesinger if he should suffer too much from his dissociation with me. My last article, about Reine de Chypre, has probably not been published. It seems to me as if it were not good enough to be printed, even in La gazette musicale – Nonsense!"
With small modern rectangular bookplate to front pastedown. Slightly worn; creased at folds; split to central fold; minor staining; remnants of sealing wax with corresponding small seal tear to blank upper margin of address panel.
WBV 243. Largely unpublished (less than half the text appears in the Sämtliche Briefe, Vol. 2, pp. 74-75).
Wagner's letter to his friends in Paris was written shortly after leaving the city in April 1842. His two and a half years there are frequently referred to as the "years of starvation," as he struggled to find success and scraped together a living as an arranger and music critic. While living in Paris he completed Rienzi and worked extensively on Der fliegende Holländer, the two operas that were key to his early success and to securing his position as Kapellmeister in Dresden.
Wagner writes in his autobiography about bidding his three friends farewell: "Great, even overwhelming was our emotion at parting from our poor, faithful friends Anders, Lehrs, and Kietz. ... [Kietz] pressed upon me, despite all protestations to the contrary, yet another five-franc piece, just about the substance of his own fortune at that moment; he also stuffed a package of good French snuff for me into the side compartment of the coach in which we at last were borne away across the boulevards and to the city gates, of which we this time saw nothing, for our eyes were blinded with tears." Wagner: My Life, p. 216.
Among those referred to in the letter:
- Meyerbeer played a prominent role in the acceptance of Wagner's opera Rienzi for production in Dresden which, to a large extent, motivated Wagner to leave Paris for Dresden
- Wilhelm Fischer (1789-1859) was a choir director and stage manager at the Hoftheater in Dresden
- Ferdinand Heine (1798-1872) was an actor, theatre director, and costume designer at the Hoftheater in Dresden
- Maurice Schlesinger (1798-1871) was a music publisher in Paris for whom Wagner supplied musical arrangements and articles during his time there.
Venusberg is a medieval legend upon which Wagner drew as a source for Tannhäuser but, in this instance, possibly refers to one of the published accounts of the legend included in the writings of Ludwig Tieck, Romantische Dichtungen, published in 1799, or the well-known Des Knaben Wunderhorn, published in 1806.
We would like to acknowledge the assistance of Dr. Albrecht Gaub in the cataloguing of this item.
A significant and moving letter written at a seemingly somewhat desperate time in the composer's career. Wagner's early letters are uncommon. Item #31364
Price: $8,500.00 other currencies