Example 6. Background on Richard Wagner and Mathilde Wesondonk’s “affair of the heart.”

  1. The couple first met in 1852 when she was only eighteen. Wagner composed his one-movement Album Sonate for her in 1853 prefaced with a dedicatory quotation from the Norns (“Know you what will follow?”), the meaning of which she was ignorant.  
  2. Mathilde became his “muse”for the Siegmund-Sieglinde Love Duet in Act I of Walküre (1854).  
  3. In April 1857 Wagner and Minna came to live in a cottage (Asyl) on the Wesondonk estate. During this time intimate correspondence passed between W. and M, although most scholars doubt that their affair was ever physically consummated. By December he had not only completed the Prelude and most of Act I for Tristan, but had also composed the song "Träume" based on Mathilde’s text. Its orchestral arrangement (Christmas 1857) was prefaced with a dedication to Mathilde (“ … the angel who raised me so high.”). The couple looked on Tristan as a collaboration, the “symbolic child of their spiritual and platonic union”(Bailey). She traced over his pencil Preliminary Drafts for Acts I and II with ink, while he reciprocated by giving her the pencil sketch of the Tristan Prelude and the manuscripts for the Five Songs, which were originally intended as “private” documents. Increasingly strained relations between Otto and Minna eventually culminated in Wagner’s decision to leave Asyl in August 1858.  
  4. During the composition of Die Meistersinger (1861-62) Wagner wrote a number of letters to Mathilde (some of which were signed “Hans Sachs”) in which he admitted that his former physical ardor for her had abated (“We will see each other now and then. But without any desire.”)  
  5. Wagner continued to see Mathilde occasionally and carried on an active correspondence with her until 1877.