German operatic composer.
Autograph Musical Manuscript, Richard Wagner, one page, small oblong octavo, [Paris], undated but circa March 1861. A manuscript comprising Tannhäuser’s final words in the second Act “Vers Rome,” in score, for voices and strings. Four measures, notated in pencil on six staves. This is probably an alteration attached to the manuscript of the French score of the opera. It appears to have been written for the second performance in Paris, where Wagner changed Tannhäuser’s words from “À Rome!” to “Vers Rome!” (see Wagner Werk-Verzeichnis, XIVe).
An opera house favorite today, Tannhäuser had a dramatic, one is tempted to say “Wagnerian,” history. Richard Wagner wrote the prose draft of Tannhäuser in the summer of 1842 and the libretto the following spring (in 1843). The following summer he began composing the music, completing the full score in April 1845.
His inspiration was a poem by Heinrich Heine (Elementargeister), telling of the lure of the grotto of Venus, and two German legends (in story form): E.T.A. Hoffman’s “The Singer’s Contest,” and Ludwig Tieck’s “Faithful Eckhart and Tannhäuser.” Weaving all these elements and ideas together, Richard Wagner created a powerful love story centering on the struggle between sacred and profane love, and redemption through love (a theme running through almost all Wagner’s mature work). This combination of the mythological and the medieval, and they manner in which they are united in the character Tannhäuser’s mysterious personality, would ultimately prove enduring, but not without struggles, revisions, and general opera angst.
The first performance was given in the Royal Theater in Dresden on October 19th, 1845. The part of Elizabeth was sung by Wagner’s nineteen-year-old niece; Richard Wagner himself conducted the orchestra. It was not an overwhelming success and Wagner, at once, started to tinker with it.
The opera was substantially amended for a special performance at the Paris Opera in 1861, requested by French emperor Napoleon III, at the instigation of Pauline von Metternich, wife of the Austrian ambassador to Paris. Wagner willing reworked the opera because he saw its performance in Paris as an opportunity to re-establish himself following his exile from Germany.
One of the revisions involved including a ballet, as required by the Paris Opera; Richard Wagner had the idea of a bacchanal in the Act I which would represent the sensual world of Venus’s realm. As it turns out, at the Paris Opera, the ballet was typically in Act II. This allowed certain members of high society, who liked to dine first, to arrive in time for the Act II ballet and not have to sit through the whole opera. Before the curtain had even gone up, important segments of the audience were already annoyed.
Richard Wagner was closely involved in the preparation of this Paris version, making changes large and small (as this piece demonstrates), through more than 164 rehearsals. Unfortunately, the later success of Tannhäuser was not evident on the night of its premiere in Paris, March 13th, 1861. There was a now famous uproar, pitching artists, music lovers and critics against each other. Wagner withdrew the work after only three performances but for months to come, it was a cause célèbre for the complex interfaces of music, aesthetics, society, and politics in nineteenth century Europe.
Framed in ivory silk and gilt, with an original postcard photograph. Framed measurements: 17 1/2 inches wide by 11 inches high.
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- Musicians / Composers