Example 7. Music which Wagner probably associated with memories of his own romantic relationship with Mathilde Wesondonk, emphasizing the key of A major.

  1. A preexistent associations of femininity and love with the key of A major in his earlier operas: Act II Love Duet in Tannhäuser, Elsa and her dream in Lohengrin, and the Rhinedaughters in Das Rheingold (and later portions of Der Ring).  
  2. The A major Album Sonate (1853, dedicated to her). The opening melodic gesture of the sonata = E A G B may represent a possible origin of the motif for the “So stürben wir” duet in Act II of Tristan = E A G (G A) B.  
  3. The Prelude to Act I of Tristan, composed in the heat of the “affair of the heart” between Richard and Mathilde at Asyl, especially the “Tristan chord” itself (Robert Bailey considers this sonority as an A minor triad with an added 6th) and its first twenty-one measures (to the D minor harmony).  
  4. The A major “Träume” (December 1857) based on her text; especially the piano introduction (the “Tristan chord” outlined in a context of A) and coda, which most resemble the chromatic tonal language of Tristan.  
  5. While working on Act II of Tristan in Venice (already begun at Asyl), Wagner employed a parody of the “Träume” material in its opening A major Love Duet. This Duet represents the crucial tonal shift in the opera toward a subsequent succession of ascending minor-third key centers (A - B - Dm / Fm - A - B).  
  6. The two scenes in Meistersinger between Eva (= Mathilde) and Sachs (= Wagner) are both set primarily in A major and feature “Tristan-like” harmonies. Sachs’s famous admonition to the two lovers (Act III, Scene 4) quotes the opening measures from the Tristan Prelude, transposed a half-step lower to A! These scenes (especially Act II, Scene 4) symbolize Wagner’s personal renunciation of any further physical desire toward Mathilde.  
  7. The “Tristan chord” (at its original pitch level and with implications of A) is related to sexual love and lust in the revised “Venusberg music” of Act I for the 1861 Paris production of Tannhäuser and the encounter between the young Parsifal and Kundry in Act II of Parsifal. The primary A major of this last music drama may represent complementary aspects of “love:” where eros = the A Flowermaidens’ Chorus, Kundry, and sensual love versus agape = the A Knights of the Grail and Christ’s redeeming spiritual love.