Section VThey have created the Wagnerian myth

This section presents a series of biographical portraits of the people who contributed, in one way or another, to the construction of the Wagnerian work. Friendships or enmities sometimes surprising or unexpected, passionate love stories with the women in his life, sometimes muses and inspirations of his work, but also portraits of artists (singers, directors, conductors ... ) who, nowadays, "appropriate" the work of the composer and make it live differently on stage.

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mvrw-wesendonck-mathilde-205x300WESENDONCK Mathilde (born Agnes Luckemeyer)

(born on 23 December, 1828 – died on 31 August, 1902)
Poet, author and playwright.
Wife of Otto WESENDONCK (1815-1896)

« Sie ist und bleibt meine erste und einzige Liebe. » (Richard Wagner)

The name Mathilde Wesendonck alone evokes for any music lover a set of five melodies, unique in its history as well as its composition, the eminently famous cycle known as Wesendonck Lieder.

These melodies, wonders of delicacy both in poetry and in their musical setting, having become just as famous in the Wagnerian work as the prelude of Tristan and Isolde or the duet of the lovers in Act II of this same Tristan, were, a rare thing in the Wagnerian work, composed by four hands. The composition and writing of the verses was done by the poet Mathilde Wesendonck; the musical setting by the composer Richard Wagner.

The work in symbiosis of two unique human beings that art was able to unite for a few years, the time of major compositions. This fact is sufficiently unique in the history of the Wagnerian creation to be noted, as the Master has almost exclusively composed on his own verses and literary works…

Who was this Mathilde, sufficiently exceptional in the eyes of the composer, for him to leave the words to her… that he would set to music afterwards? Author of the verses of the cycle of these five melodies; inspiration behind the passionate (and thwarted) love affairs of unhappy lovers in The Valkyrie as well as in Tristan and Isolde; a devoted and discreet wife evolving in the shadow of a rich patron; caring mother; the impassioned correspondent of a composer of whom she was the Muse; a cultivated woman, poet and playwright at her spare time; Mathilde Wesendonck’s faces are as different as they are surprising since they are so unexpected. Portrait of one of the most famous Muse in Music History and that Richard Wagner, even in front of his wife Cosima to whom he dictated his autobiography, did not hesitate to call… « the only love of his life »!

A privileged childhood and adolescence under the benevolent gaze of the Muses

The future « Mathilde Wesendonck » was actually born under the name Agnes Luckemeyer, her true baptismal name.

mvrw-elberfeld-vers-1850The Luckemeyer family was a traditionally notable family of the Bergisches Land, one of these rich and trading regions of North Rhine-Westphalia. Among the ancestors of the young Agnes-Mathilde, one thus finds a certain Johann Luckemeyer in his time renowned Burgmeister of the small town of Breckerfeld.

The Bergisches Land became a province of the Kingdom of Prussia after the Treaty of Vienna in 1815, the Bergisches Land had among its main cities some rich commercial ones such as Elberfeld and Barmen, which were particularly important in the economy of the Grand Duchy.

And this was precisely in one of these commercial cities, in Elberfeld (now Wuppertal) that Agnes Luckemeyer was born on 23 December, 1828; two days before Christmas (Note : the coincidence, if it is purely fortuitous, does not lack « humor » as we will be able to see later).

The young girl’s father, a rich industrialist, focused all his future – as well as her family’s, the young Agnes already having many brothers and sisters when she came into the world – on the success of his professional career. In 1831, attracted by the prospect of an even superior position of responsibility, Agnes’s father moved with all his family to Dusseldorf.

And he was right since the bet paid off: in 1835, Agnes’s father became famous as one of the founding members of the Düsseldorf-Elberfeld Railway Company, a company that he subsequently took the reins of in December 1837.

From her early childhood (1830-1840), Agnes received a thorough education, her father’s professional success enabling her to pursue and study on the benches of Professor Lieth’s girls private school « Töchterschule » (the « Liethsche Privatschule « ) in Düsseldorf.

Her childhood and adolescence went without umbrage and the child became passionate at an early age about literature which, very quickly, became vital to her daily life. Agnes possessed an inexhaustible thirst for culture since she seemed to be interested in everything.

When she reached the age of eighteen, in order to perfect her education, her parents sent her to spend a few months in France (in Dunkirk, more precisely) where she had the opportunity to increase her mastery of the French language, her knowledge of the culture she enjoyed so much as well as her authors who inflamed this passionate little soul.

Naturally very good at learning foreign languages, Agnes thus learned the subtleties of French, English and then Italian, languages that she managed to master very quickly and in which she expressed herself with rare ease. But it was also the culture of the ancients, the « antique » languages, that attracted the young girl: very quickly, and just as naturally, Agnes, at the end of her education, mastered ancient Greek to the point of frequently reading the classics in the text.

It was undeniable, Agnes-future « Mathilde Wesendonck » had in her this gift and taste for languages and literature that became not only essential to her life, but also a means of existing and sometimes even escaping…

A marriage guided by reason.
Agnes becomes « Mathilde ».
First trials of marital life.

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If the Muses, instigators of the literary and artistic vocations of the young girl, bent over her cradle early on, the Fairies, propagators of grace and beauty, were not forgotten either during her christening. Agnes indeed grew up with grace and as she evolved, the years blessed her beauty. An indisputable beauty as confirmed by all the witnesses of the time. As evidenced by this magnificent portrait painted by Karl Ferdinand Sohn in 1850 – Mathilde was then just twenty-two years old – today exhibited at the StadtMuseum Bonn.

Agnes was now 20 years old. During a wedding reception where all the polite society of the city was gathered, the young woman met a businessman whose father himself was long ago in the service of the Luckemeyer family: Otto Wesendonck. The man was a rich trader and silk merchant from Elberfeld, Agnes’ birthplace. He also was then a tearful widower who did not, at that time, have as his absolute priority to remarry; his first wife, Mathilde, indeed died just a few months after their union was sealed.

But at first sight, this unfortunate man that Destiny had knocked down not so long ago immediately fell in love with the ravishing Agnes (thirteen years his junior). And it took little time for him to ask for her hand in marriage. Only there was one rather strange « condition« , out of loyalty to his first wife, Otto asked Agnes to renounce her first name and take the name of the deceased. The young woman, at the least accommodating and not taking any offence to this « whim« , agreed. The wedding was celebrated on 19 May, 1848. On the same day, Agnes Luckemeyer became Mathilde Wesendonck.

In the first months of this union, as « original » as unexpected, « Mathilde », decidedly a perfect and accomplished wife, offered Otto his first son: Paul, born on 27 November, 1849. But the young boy, born with a frail constitution, died just a few months after he was born (21 March, 1850).

It was a real trauma that the young woman felt, who, until then relatively protected by life, became aware, with this first confrontation with death, of the harshness of life. Having to cope with the ordeal, Mathilde bit the bullet and entered brutally into the world of adults. As for Otto, who saw in this death the prolongation of a curse that killed his loved ones one after the other, he was of hardly any help for the young wounded mother.

To mourn, as much as to get some fresh « open sea air », the couple decided to go on a long trip to New York and crossed the Atlantic.

 

mvrw-zurich-vers-1850The Zurich years

1) The « Wagner Passion » to the point of getting burnt…

When they decided to go back to Europe, in the spring of 1851, Otto and Mathilde chose Zurich as the place they would put down their luggages in and settle. Zurich was indeed at the time the center of the European silk trade, and thus offered Otto good prospects for his business.

While awaiting a more permanent move – if the Swiss city, with time, was to suit them – the spouses temporarily stayed at the Baur au Lac Hotel, the most famous palace in the city, directly overlooking the banks of the lake, an ideal and luxurious setting where, for that matter, all polite society of the city was used to getting together, during receptions, public readings or concerts.

And Zurich seemed to be a good omen for the couple, as Mathilde shortly after their Swiss move gave birth to their daughter Myrrha (born on 7 August, 1851). It was with this fresh start, full of hope, in an atmosphere where happiness from this point forward got back to normal as well as the promise of a new and happy life again that an event was brewing: a meeting that would disrupt their lives forever.MVRW-Mathilde-en-mere-de-famille-277x300

On 20 January, 1852, the couple attended a concert by the « Allgemeine Musikgesellschaft » (the concert company of the city) at the Zurich Theatre; that evening, the orchestra was conducted by a certain Richard Wagner. Impressed by the charismatic presence of the conductor at the stand, just like his new way of directing, the Wesendoncks however officially met the artist on 17 February, 1852 after a second concert where Wagner then directed various works by Beethoven; among them, the overture to Coriolan as well as the 5th Symphony.

But the real shock occurred a few days later, on 16 March, 1852. During this third concert, Wagner was still directing but this time there was also an excerpt from his own music (coupled with Beethoven’s 6th Symphony) that he presented to an astounded Zurich audience. During this evening, Mathilde discovered the work of the composer (in this case the overture to Tannhäuser). The young woman was as moved after discovering this new music as she was filled with enthusiasm… for the composer.

mvrw-otto-wesendonck-photoAs for Otto, who saw there the prospect of getting into cultural patronage – undoubtedly in order to acquire the respectability and notoriety necessary to be accepted in the social circles of his new adopted city – he decided to help the brilliant composer.
A financial support, it was incidentally the only help he could give the artist. This unexpected godsend thus enabled Wagner to set up – on 18, 20 and 22 May, 1853 – at the Zurich Theatre three exceptional concerts – a very first « Wagner Festival » – in which the orchestra would only play excerpts from his own works… many years before… Bayreuth !
An unexpected occasion for the then unknown composer in Switzerland to introduce his work to the local public. For the occasion, Otto Wesendonck, who spared no expense, had indeed taken responsibility for all the artists’ fees.

In order to thank his generous patron, Richard Wagner composed a piece for piano that he dedicated to his wife (the Sonata for the album of Madame M. W., WWV 85). The work, in this case an appropriate piece for piano and, one must admit, a rather uninspired one, was given to Mathilde on 20 June, 1853.

Although the composition offers a rather limited musical interest, the manuscript, on the other hand, contains a singular epitaph for who is foreign to the Wagnerian poetics… but also to the respective nascent inclinations of the artist and the wife of his patron. On the last page of the Sonata, the composer wrote these enigmatic verses from the Prologue of Twilight of the Gods: « Do you know what is happening? » A feeling that an unusual event was about to occur, or an invitation from the artist to embark his admirer in an adventure that only the two of them could write… and perhaps live?

For during these months of 1853 and 1854, the composer who, until then had stopped composing a single musical note in order to better devote himself to the writing of his theoretical writings on Art, took up again just as brutally the music that he had abandoned. And with « amount » of work a real epic, the Legend of the Nibelungen, that he was about to set to music during four operas, constituting the future Ring.

While the aim – the original epic of the Germanic civilization over more than sixteen hours of opera – was more than ambitious, the turn and form that this totally new, unprecedented and unusual artistic adventure took was as innovative as seemingly disconcerting. Only « enlightened souls » and nonconformists, or simply advocating novelty in all its forms and making a clean sweep of the past and of the « frozen » forms of artistic expression, were able to understand this terrifying expression of the work of art of the future.

And in this small bourgeois society – a little narrow – in Zurich, who other than Richard and Mathilde could better, one inspiring, the other transcribing with art, apprehend and understand this new form of art that was being born before their eyes?

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Mathilde the Chosen One, Mathilde the recluse, Mathilde thus privileged became this way Mathilde the Muse. And the Muse would inspire the composer, with her letters – countless letters starting from the moment the couple met the artist in 1852 – a very passionate work. That was how, under Mathilde’s aegis, the first act of The Valkyrie was born, all about fire and passion, an allegory of Richard’s passion for Mathilde that, suddenly, by the grace of music, borders on sublime.

And because they were alone in understanding what they were creating, and little by little, the exchanges became secret (Wagner filled the autograph manuscript of The Valkyrie’s first act with coded messages aimed at his Muse). The manuscript itself that the composer handed over to his « friend » contains as a tribute three seemingly innocuous letters « G.S.M. » (« Gesegnet sei Mathilde! » meaning « Blessed be Mathilde« ). Only the protagonists would understand the precise content of this quotation. In this game where, because of a feeling of solitude in the world, one feels chosen, Richard and Mathilde risked losing themselves.

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Starting from the beginning of 1855, a new page of this crazy adventure was about to be written. Indeed, the Wesendoncks decided to build a magnificent villa in Enge, then in the vicinity of Zurich, on the north-western shore of the lake, the « Green Hill« ; a superb neoclassical « Palais« . But before he could take possession of the premises – the construction of the building was very long since Otto showed himself to be demanding regarding the realisation of « his » Work – Mathilde gave birth to two new children: Guido on 13 September, 1855, then Charles on 18 April, 1857.

Having also acquired the land next to the future Villa’s and after arranging the half-timbered house (a sort of chalet), Otto offered the Wagners who then lived on the Zeltweg to move into « The Asylum« , in very short distance from their future residence. The Wagners, Richard and Minna, moved into this refuge on 28 April, 1857, even before the owners of the place, who moved in only a few months later, on 22 August, 1857 more precisely.

Immediately as it got occupied, the Villa Wesendonck became the meeting place for the art lovers of that time, namely Gottfried Semper, Gottfried Keller, François and Eliza Wille, Wilhelm Baumgartner, Vischer, Wendelin Weissheimer and many others…

Otto had to win his gamble: to shine himself thanks to his home that itself quickly became the « it » place where one could run into the popular artists and where one constantly breathed the fragrances of refinement and of cultural modernity.

mvrw-asyl-wesendonckFrom the « Asylum« , Wagner started composing a prose sketch of a future drama whose subject was nothing but the drama of… Tristan and Isolde! And as soon as Richard and Mathilde got close in the realm of the Wesendonck property, the composer temporarily abandoned his fantastic epic about the Nibelungen to dedicate himself totally to Tristan.

Mathilde, for the first time, emboldened by the throes of the unfortunate lovers’ passion told to her by her composer, really took the pen herself. She was strongly encouraged by Wagner himself who could not disapprove of an initiative by the beautiful Mathilde. For the very first literary work emanating from her pen, she composed a cycle of five poems – Der Engel (The Angel), Stehe still! (Stand still!), Im Treibhaus – Studie zu Tristan und Isolde (In the greenhouse), Schmerzen (Pain), TräumeStudie zu Tristan und Isolde (Dreams), the future famous so-called Wesendonck Lieder set to music by Richard Wagner.

On 23 December, 1857 (while Otto was absent from the domain), Richard Wagner organized a small surprise concert for the beautiful Mathilde for her birthday in the vestibule of the Villa Wesendonck: it was the Lied Träume orchestrated for the occasion for a small orchestra with ten instruments, the voice of the melody being interpreted by a solo violin.

(Author’s note: one cannot help when this « Wagnerian musical surprise » is mentioned to think of another « surprise » musical ode, « Siegfried Idyll ».., given a few years later almost to the day, in similar conditions this time on the occasion of… Cosima’s birthday… the women in Richard Wagner’s life having the curious custom of generally being born a few days before Christmas, if not the same day!).

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The beginning of 1858 was marked by the composition of Tristan, by an impassioned Wagner who sent, after each page of composed music, a very inflamed letter to the « Lady of the domain« . And it soon became an incessant game, a procession of servants that went from « The Asylum« , where art was created, to the Villa Wesendonck, where it was received by its very inspirer. A procession that was at least « too visible » for the « other » protagonists of this drama that played out privately while they were at daggers drawn. Minna, the neglected wife, suddenly brought the scandal to light: on 7 April, 1858 she intercepted a letter that Richard intended for his muse. Scorned, she showed this letter to Otto. It was henceforth impossible for the Wagners to stay in the vicinity of the Wesendoncks.

Wagner left the Wesendoncks’ domain on 17 August, 1858. Mathilde, dignified, especially since her husband seemed to not take her to task for it, remained from this point forward alone. « The Friend » was no longer there.

2) After Wagner….

As for Mathilde, revealed to herself regarding her literary talent, she from then on would write – firstly for herself – a certain number of poems and books. She also translated Dante and Leopardi, which, however, remained unpublished. But the Wesendoncks were again struck by misfortune: their son Guido, aged 3, died on 13 October, 1858 in Zurich. Concurrently with her life as a woman and mother – she would also give birth to a new child in Zurich, Hans, on 16 June, 1862 – Mathilde led a life as an author and started getting published her first collection entitled Poems, folkloric songs, legends, and myths.

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If a few times Mathilde had the opportunity to see her beloved composer again, first in November 1861 during a stay in Venice, then in November 1863 when the composer returned to Russia where he conducted a series of concerts, as well as in Prague and Budapest, it was no longer a question for the two souls to commit themselves again in any « adventure » nor « affair ».

Moreover, time and geographical distance got the best of the feelings of the two heroes of this thwarted passion.

And Wagner, at the end of the same month of November 1863, in the caulked space of a carriage, during a walk, confessed feelings of love to another woman, who was also married – as if the difficulty of the impossible made his adventures even more romantic – and moreover, the daughter of his best friend, Franz Liszt, and wife of his most fervent admirer, Hans von Bülow: Cosima.

Just a few months later, a little more than a year, an unprecedented event took place at the royal court of Bavaria. On 10 June, 1865, Tristan and Isolde, the opera of all dramas, was created at the National Theatre in Munich. With this creation, it was a page in Wagner’s life that turned, it was also the end of the « Richard and Mathilde » story. From then on, Tristan’s fate was sealed, even if the work was so astonishing, revolutionary, disturbing both with its libretto considered « scandalous » and its music well ahead of its time. Composed in the fever and throes of passion, terribly innovative, it would still have to face many criticisms before being accepted in the theatres of Europe. As for the adventure, Richard’s crazy passion for Mathilde, ended… with, as its apotheosis, the creation of a one-of-a-kind work. Henceforth, Wagner had a new patron in the person of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. His music was finally recognized, and the impulses of Richard’s heart launched into Cosima, inspirer of a new period of his life.

 

Then… what happened to Mathilde?

After the ravage of the Wagnerian passion, her role as Muse disappeared, but does that necessarily mean that Mathilde’s life was over?

Undoubtedly, Wagner had for Mathilde the role of a detonator. He made the young woman, who was so reserved and so anxious to play to the best of her ability her role as a wife, mother and hostess, be aware of her creative capacities and gave her self-confidence.

A confidence that, confined to the sole role of Mrs. Wesendonck, she could not have acquired on her own. It was from then on a more mature, more confident Mathilde who took her role as an author (who could have been mocked in the salons) seriously.

MVRW-Page-de-garde-de-la-premiere-edition-de-Genoveva-1866After the children’s tales, Mathilde embarked on the adventure of dramatic composition and some of her historical dramas were even created on stage during her lifetime. Otto did not seem to have taken umbrage with his wife’s career. Nor did he appear to have, strictly speaking, encouraged his wife’s talent for writing.

In 1866, after the Legends and the Children’s tales, it was a tragedy, Genoveva that saw the light under Mathilde’s pen. A tragedy that could very well have been an opera libretto, if a composer worthy of the name had set it to music. Similarly, in 1868, another drama, Gudrun, also saw the light. A drama that also remained without music, since « The Friend » was no longer there…

 

And what about the music precisely?

In 1876, another composer got interested in Mathilde’s works. Otto Lessmann indeed composed his three songs with vocals and piano accompaniment (Op. 22) based on poems by Mathilde Wesendonck. Let us just point out that Otto Lessmann was… Hans von Bülow’s pupil!

Ironically? From the end of the year 1865 and several times in 1866, another composer stayed in Zurich in the Villa Wesendonck where he was invited by the couple. His name: Johannes Brahms. Wagner’s other sworn enemy (after Meyerbeer)! Treason (if we can attribute to Otto the knowledge of the rivalry that existed between the two composers)? The rich patron even proposed to host this new « protege »… in « The Asylum« ! But the composer politely declined the invitation.

Mathilde, however, was charmed by Brahms’ music, that other « Giant of the Future » who scrambled as much the codes of classical symphony as those of tone. Was it, as was the case with Wagner’s music, the appeal of novelty, even of a certain nonconformism? And the beauty, innocently, began a correspondence with the « other » composer. Naïveté? In a letter dated 25 August, 1869, at the risk of compromising herself again, Mathilde told Brahms that she would almost « die » if he accepted – in turn – to set one of her poems to music. More cruel – and severe as for the appreciation of the quality of the young woman’s verses – he would respond by letter through an intermediary (to the surgeon Billroth) with mockery. Had he heard that Mathilde’s verses could lead a composer to their loss? End of the Brahms affair.

However, even if Tristan‘s inspirer – although this generally accepted status is subject to caution, cf. next week’s article – was absent from the productions of the most impassioned work of the Wagnerian creation, she was present at the staging of The Master-Singers of Nuremberg in Munich in June 1868, as well as during the « prohibited » production of The Rhinegold in 1869 ordered by King Ludwig II of Bavaria for the Theatre of the Court of Munich.

For such a long time, the city of Zurich was synonymous with peace and serenity, the storm from then on rumbled on that side of the Alps. An anti-German feeling was felt after the Franco-German War of 1870. When, after a celebration of the victory at the Tonhalle, violent riots against the Wesendoncks were felt and almost set their villa on fire, the couple decided to leave. They sold their villa on the green hill (now the Rietberg Museum).

That was how ended, in a hasty and involuntary way, the Wesendoncks’ time in Zurich, undoubtedly the one that marked the couple the most deeply, and marked each in its own way. Transforming them irremediably. Nothing, after Zurich, would be like before, neither for Otto, nor of course for Mathilde.

The Dresden years
The patrons of Richard Wagner’s Bayreuth Festival

From 1872, the Wesendoncks took up residence in Dresden and while Otto built a place in the world of business back up, Mathilde pursued her literary vocation.

But in the years 1875-76, an « old family friend » drew a lot of attention to himself in the region of Upper Franconia; Wagner, not to name him. The one who met the couple in Zurich in the early 1850s and who was only in the early stages of an art (the famous « Music of the Future » – cf. last week’s article – whose guidelines had been detailed in the theoretical works « The Artwork of the Future » and « Opera and drama ») had come a long way.

Thanks to his royal patron’s support, the composer had a theatre built, his own theatre, the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth. And thanks to a unique subscription offer in Music History, supporters of this incredible adventure got organized in the form of a Patronatsverein in order to enable the joint adventure of The Ring and the Bayreuth Festival to see the light of day. How could the patrons from the very outset – the Wesendoncks in this case – not have also taken part in this adventure?

That was how Otto and Mathilde participated in the first edition of the Bayreuth Festival in August 1876. If the reunion between Mathilde, the Muse from the Zurich era, and Wagner was obviously tinged with a certain form of nostalgia, it was quite « stifled » by the presence of other women, other lovers, other Muses, and another wife. They were named Mathilde Maier, Judith Gautier… and Cosima Wagner.

Spectator of the second Bayreuth Festival for the creation of Parsifal in 1882, the Wesendoncks demonstrated, with their constant presence, their indefatigable loyalty to Richard Wagner and his work. And when the news of the Master’s death came from Venice to Mathilde, on 13 February, 1883, it was like a final blow that struck her. While she had contained her tears in her for so long, her misery and her sorrows, she let out a cry that she would have wanted to hear resonate all over the Earth. This cry took the form of an ode, a plaintive cry composed for the funeral of the « Friend » on 17 February, 1883 in Bayreuth:

“ Ein Schmerzensruf geht durch die Welt,
Eine düstere Trauerkunde
Geht mitten durch der Menschheit Herz
Und klaget von Mund zu Munde !”

Wagner passed away, taking with him, undoubtedly, a part of Mathilde’s soul.

The last years: Berlin and Austria.

In the autumn of 1882, the Wesendoncks decided to leave Dresden and settle in Berlin.

Mathilde, with her husband Otto, who definitely withdrew from business this time, would confront the elite of Berlin’s cultural life, where, among writers, authors, historians and artists, she finally fully blossomed.

Members of the Goethe Society since 1886, where they appeared to be particularly active, also members of the German literature Society, the Wesendoncks did not forget to provide for Richard Wagner’s artistic legacy either by joining the Berlin Patronatsverein, destined to perpetuate the Bayreuth Festival, even after its brilliant creator’s death.

At the beginning of the 1890s, Mrs. Wesendonck who, thanks to her enlightened mind and undeniable erudition, gained a position and a reputation in what was the most cultural thing in Berlin, where she from then on held court. When she did not go, with diligence and this frenzy of knowledge and thirst for learning, to her peers’ salons.

Away from the small cultural life in Zurich which, as a small Swiss provincial town, could not help but gossip and chatter about the ambivalent relations between the Wesendoncks and the Wagners, Mathilde was finally free from the social constraint that she herself let go of, she glowed… and lived fully.

Otto, who was thirteen years her senior, died on 18 November, 1896, from a long illness.

All that remained for Matilde was to retreat far from the crowd too, far from social and cultural salons. It would be in Austria, in the idyllic and soothing atmosphere of the Salzkammergut region, specifically in Traunsee den Landsitz, where the couple had bought a property in the years 1876-77, that Mathilde took up residence to live her last days.

She died suddenly on 31 August, 1902, at the end of a particularly, if not fulfilled, full life.

Mathilde Wesendonck, whose portraits all agree to reflect, through the gaze, a certain enigma that we shall never be able to elucidate, and whose name will forever irremediably be associated with Richard Wagner’s, Muse, inspirer, wasn’t any less of a full-fledged artist. Passionate, determined (even if in the silence and in the dark light of her office where she worked and corresponded), nonconformist and even modern.

And the ultimate irony is that the Giant Wagner to whom she had inspired passionate dramas and music (although the influence of Mathilde Wesendonck’s personality on Richard Wagner’s artistic creation is subject to caution), had to die so the beautiful Mathilde could fully radiate, if not with her work – certainly interesting, but still quite conventional – then with her lively and curious personality, especially in Berlin’s literary and artistic circles of the 1880s-90s.

Mathilde Wesendonck will, in all Wagnerian history, have had at least this privilege: she was the only one in Richard Wagner’s entourage to have been encouraged to express herself with her art, to exist fully… and not to be absorbed by a genius who had a slight tendency to impose himself by crushing his peers.

 

 

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« G.S.M. » Gesegnet sei Mathilde !

NC/SB

 

 

 

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