Wagner, Richard. (1813–1883)

Autograph Letter about early productions of Rienzi and Tannhäuser

Important autograph letter signed ('Richard Wagner') to [the composer and conductor] Wilhelm Taubert (1811-1891), musical director of the Berlin Royal Opera, Dresden, December 11, 1847, 3 pages, 4to. With the attached integral address leaf and the remnant of the original red wax seal. Minor paper restoration to the seal tear, overall very fine. With a transcription and translation.  A richly detailed letter by the 34-year old Wagner about early productions of Rienzi  in Berlin and Tannhäuser in Dresden. Translated in full:

"Due to a report from a lady friend I have heard of a performance of my Rienzi on the 3rd of this month. I have been assured by the report that despite the audience being so cold, the singers and especially the conductor wouldn't be diverted in the least from their enthusiasm and for this reason the entire performance turned out to be an excellent one. Both are said never to have worked so well before. I implore you to please give my best regards to the dear singers who are said to have shown so much affection for the performance that evening, despite the lifelessness of the audience. Their faithful acclamations at the Berlin synagogue that I have forfeited. If i am not mistaken, the performance I am talking about took place at the insistence of the king, whom I had asked to protect my interests. If there is anything more that can be done for the opera, it might be in having it performed once more on a Sunday. As far as I know Herr von Küstner has given his friend Lachner the advantage of Sundays, in full awareness and with great indefatigability. As my opera has never been performed on a Sunday, Herr Küstner ought to consider my request right and fair. After having denounced him to the king, so to speak, I cannot very well approach him personally. Neither can i so quickly request another order for his manager from the king, can I? Accordingly, I only have recourse to you and the worthy singers of my opera. Perhaps you could, as mediator, manage to succeed in having Rienzi performed on one of the following Sundays. Do look and see what you can do. 

Moreover, I am not worrying much about the absence of success in Brandenburg. I have too much respect for Berlin to recite her the reason for my calmness. By comparison, the prosperity of our opera in Dresden gives me ever increasing joy: it was a lovely revenge for me to present a splendid performance of Tannhäuser here to your king recently. He was very impressed and he told me, among other things, that he would not demand a performance of this opera in Berlin from me, under the present circumstances. (Naive enough!!). How is your gullible colleague Palestrina? I meant to say Nikolai? Is he still frequenting the royal table, supplying clerical conspiracies? Many blame him for the Prussian diplomatic note to Switzerland -- I cannot believe that his influence also goes as far as to the cabinet. If you see him, don't give him my regards. Concerning our concerts, I think I can manage now; soon you will hear something about it. By the way, nothing could have been more beneficial to me than the gossip which seemed so idle to me then, and which really annoyed me and harassed me in Berlin.: You know, regarding my imaginary engagement in Bern. My manager cannot be talked out of the idea that upon returning to Dresden, I had vigorously torn myself away from a great temptation in Berlin. He treats me with utmost gratitude and praises my loyalty. You see, how well the Swiss can provide for a person. It is really very funny! Well, my dear Taubert, let me hear from you sometime -- that will please me very much. Receive again my sincere thanks for your friendship, and the services you have rendered me. Please give me an opportunity to reciprocate. My wife sends you her kindest regards. Farewell, and remember me in good humor."

Wagner's financial circumstances did not greatly improve, even after the 1844 publication of his first three opera scores (Rienzi, the Flying Dutchman and Tannhäuser) and their successful productions in provincial Dresden. 'Success in Berlin [on the other hand]...would have repercussions not only all over Germany but, in all probability, in Paris and London as well...if [Wagner] could plant one of his works permanently in the Berlin repertory he would be assured of a certain small regular income' (The Life of Richard Wagner, Volume I, Newman). While Wagner's efforts to persuade King Friedrich Wilhelm IV to accept the dedication to Tannhäuser proved fruitless, the monarch briefly supported the composer following the intervention of his sister, the Queen of Saxony. It was Friedrich who saw to Rienzi's Berlin premiere on October 26, 1847--barely two months before these lines were penned--and its subsequent entry into the repertory. Wagner himself conducted eight of the performances, and Taubert the remainder, after Wagner's return to Dresden. Wagner and his music were not popular at the Berlin Opera. Director von Küstner, for example, had rejected a production of Tannhäuser as 'too epic,' while promoting his friend, Franz Lachner's (1803-1890; Munich's leading musician), hugely successful but now forgotten Caterina Cornaro. 'It was impossible for Lachner to warm to Wagner's music, and personal confrontations with Wagner and his circle did not improve the relationship between the two men.' (The New Grove). That Otto Nicolai (1810-1849) had proven far more successful as an opera composer and conductor than his younger rival is evident from the acclaim accorded his 1841 production of Beethoven's Fidelio in Vienna, which introduced the Leonore Overture into the entr'acte. Nicolai also inaugurated a series of concerts featuring Beethoven symphonies, which eventually became the Philharmonic Concerts. In 1844 the king commissioned a new liturgy from Nicolai to be performed with the cathedral choir. Nicolai Immediately maneuvered--unsuccessfully--to be named director of the Berlin Opera. He was, however, appointed head of the cathedral choir, and, in March 1848, finally replaced Taubert at the Opera. Wagner well knew that Jewish singers would be expected at synagogue on a Friday evening such as December 3, 1847, rendering all the more callous his remark in our letter.  (22127)

Autograph Letter