Göteborgs Symfoniker
Published at 27 Oct 13.00
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Wagner: Wesendonck Lieder

Recording with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, September 22, 2022, Gothenburg Concert Hall.

Richard Wagner only composed around twenty songs, including a handful in 1839–1842, when he tried in vain to win the hearts of Parisians. The next step was in 1857–1858: in political asylum in Zürich during his most revolutionary period, he simultaneously became involved in a passionate romance with Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of a wealthy Swiss silk merchant. Wagner and his wife had a cottage on the family’s estate in the countryside. One thing is for certain: as a revolutionary, Wagner was guided more by artistic dreams than political convictions.

He worked on Tristan und Isolde and read his libretto for the opera to his lover. She was delighted and responded with her own poetry, which was infused with the same spirit. Wagner was captivated by her poems and set them to music. He composed Der Engel, Schmerzen and Träume in the winter of 1857. They were completed the following May.

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Programme

Richard Wagner (1813–1883) Wesendonck Lieder (orch. Felix Mottl) Der Engel · Stehe still · Im Treibhaus · Schmerzen · Träume Richard Wagner only composed around twenty songs, including a handful in 1839–1842, when he tried in vain to win the hearts of Parisians. The next step was in 1857–1858: in political asylum in Zürich during his most revolutionary period, he simultaneously became involved in a passionate romance with Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of a wealthy Swiss silk merchant. Wagner and his wife had a cottage on the family’s estate in the countryside. One thing is for certain: as a revolutionary, Wagner was guided more by artistic dreams than political convictions. He worked on Tristan und Isolde and read his libretto for the opera to his lover. She was delighted and responded with her own poetry, which was infused with the same spirit. Wagner was captivated by her poems and set them to music. He composed Der Engel, Schmerzen and Träume in the winter of 1857. They were completed the following May. In the first poem, she portrays Wagner as a saviour of art. On the sheet music for the sketches of Act I of Tristan, he wrote: “To the angel who has lifted me up so high”. Love may have enchanted them, but practically speaking, working with Mathilde’s five poems provided inspiration for Tristan. Material ur Im Treibhaus (In the Greenhouse) was incorporated into the introduction of Act III. Schmerzen (Pain) begins with the same chord as Act II, and Träume (Dreams) can be viewed as an initial version of the love duet in that act. In a letter written exactly one year after completing the song, while Wagner was in Venice working on Act II of Tristan, he wrote: “I have taken a long break and I could not continue in the right mood. That caused me great concern. I was unable to progress. Then, Evil came knocking: he introduced himself to me as my trusty muse, and in a minute the passage was complete. I sat at the piano and wrote it down quickly, as if I had known it by heart all along. Strictly speaking, it contains a reminiscence: Dreams haunt there …” The songs were first presented at the home of the publisher Schott on 30 July 1862. But today, the Wesendonck songs are often heard with orchestral accompaniment. He orchestrated Träume for solo violin and chamber orchestra in celebration of Mathilde’s birthday on 23 December. In a letter to Mathilde, Wagner wrote: “I have never made anything better than these songs …” Stig Jacobsson

Participants

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra

Ryan Bancroft conductor

Nina Stemme soprano