Wagner‘s wistful little album-leaf for Princess Pauline Metternich, dated “Paris, June 18, 1861,” was both a token of thanks and a bid for further patronage.Adrian Corleonis, All Music Guide
At the 2018 Heifetz Festival of Concerts, Artist in Residence Shannon Lee introduced a small page from the past that represented a major chapter in the history of one of the 19th century’s most celebrated – and notorious composers.
Shannon returned to the Institute to tune up for the 10th International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, where she will be among no fewer than five Heifetz Institute alums in the prestigious competition that kicks off on August 31. Among the works in her competition collection was a rarity by Richard Wagner: A charming little “Album Leaf” from the man far better known for his epic hours-long operas.
In its purest form, the term “Album Leaf” was a common practice by composers, artists, and literati of the 19th century, who would actually create small works in dedication to a friend, patron, or admirer, which would be physically inserted into their album or autograph book, and not intended for publication. The list of composers who left “leaves” behind is long and impressive.
Including this one by Wagner, written at the time of a particularly stormy chapter in his career…
. Despite being a fugitive for revolutionary activities in Dresden in 1849, productions of Der fliegende Holländer, Tannhäuser, and Lohengrin across Germany had established him as another in the line of great German composers. In Paris, Wagner organized a series of three enthusiastically received concerts of music from his works, given over January and February 1860, creating a vogue. To his surprise, he found that some of his most ardent fans were influential nobles at the court of Napoléon III, including the notorious Princess Pauline Metternich, wife of the Austrian ambassador. Though she’d heard Tannhäuser in Dresden, the Princess was a bit spotty on Wagner‘s music, telling him that she was avid to play his “fugues” on her piano.
Pauline saw Wagner as an opportunity to be in the vanguard by supporting a controversial artist, while her closeness to Empress Eugénie made this a real possibility. In the upshot, the Emperor ordered that Tannhäuser be mounted at the Opéra immediately, and that Wagner be given carte blanche in its production.
Undeterred, Wagner moved on, but not before leaving this little “Leaf” behind for the Princess – and all of us – to enjoy!
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