Tristan und Isolde -
'... you feel you are sitting in the tenth row center ...'
Richard Wagner was a voracious reader and as early as 1849 his private library contained three different editions of thirteenth century minnesinger Gottfried von Strassburg's epic Tristan und Isolde. Undoubtedly, he read Karl Joseph Simrock's 1855 edition of the work as soon as it was published, too. During the same period of time he was immersed in the dark philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer which also influenced his interpretation of the legend.
Thinking about composing an opera on the subject of Tristan in 1854, Wagner wrote to Franz Liszt, 'As I have never in life felt the real delights of love, I must build a monument to the most beautiful of all my dreams in which, from beginning to end, that love is completely fulfilled.' Shortly after that, when the composer and his first wife, Minna, were living in a home that they rented from wealthy Zurich silk merchant Otto Wesendonck, Wagner fell madly in love with Otto's attractive spouse, Mathilde. She was, in all probability, the inspiration for his unforgettable portrait of Isolde.
He finished writing the libretto in 1857 and completed the music in 1859. That year he moved to Paris and tried unsuccessfully to get it staged there. Eventually, he arranged for it to be performed in Vienna, but after 77 rehearsals the company cast it aside as unmanageable. It was not until 10 June 1865, that the opera was actually seen on stage. Munich's National Theater performed it at the behest of King Ludwig II of Bavaria who was extremely fond of Wagner's music.
Copyright © 13 March 2005
Maria Nockin, Arizona USA