Richard Wagner


WWV57 • “Mignonne allons voir si la rose”

About this work

It is curious that the young, unknown Wagner, during his first miserable sojourn in Paris over 1839-1841, attempting to bring his name to prominence in the brilliant salons where artistic reputations were made, should have chosen to set verses by Renaissance poet Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585). "Mignonne, allons voir si la rose..." struts a conceit that was already banal for being essayed by such ancient writers as Ausonius, Tibullus, Seneca, Philostratus, Propertius, Catullus, etc. -- writers Ronsard knew intimately -- that the admired girl's charms, like a flower's, will fade. The nearest approach in English to Ronsard's elegant charm is not a literal translation, however well-turned, but Robert Herrick's familiar lyric from a century later, "Gather ye Rose-buds while ye may, Old Time is still a flying..." ("To the Virgins, to make much of Time"). This is stranger yet in that, through a meeting with one Samuel Lehrs, a consumptive philologist and scholar to whom he was introduced by his soon-to-be brother-in-law, Eduard Avenarius, his attention was avidly turned to the medieval German poetry that would furnish matter for nearly all of his mature works -- Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal, and, above all, Der Ring des Nibelungen. Meanwhile, the unfortunate Avenarius, who had already found the Wagners a modest apartment in the Rue de Tonnellerie, was tapped for a "loan" -- the meager funds Wagner had arrived with were fast disappearing and he had only a letter of introduction from the kindly Meyerbeer (who must have written hundreds of similar missives) to Duponchel, director of the Opéra, and no immediate prospects, for supporting his ménage. Through Meyerbeer's good offices, he did eventually secure an audition for several numbers from his second completed opera, the elephantine apprentice work Das Liebesverbot, before a new interim director, Edouard Monnais, magnanimously attended by the importuned Scribe, opera's most sought-after librettist. Fobbed off with polite indifference, Wagner determined to infiltrate the fashionable salons with songs set to French lyrics and intended as frank salon fare -- an ambiguous term encompassing everything from soporific background entertainment to the spirited romances of Berlioz. Composed and published in 1840, Mignonne is one of Trois Mélodies, the others being settings of Hugo's "L'Attente" (from Les Orientales) and a generic lullaby, Dors, mon enfant. Playing less than three minutes, Mignonne's generic charm, undistinguished melodic profile, and tediously predictable accompaniment outrun their feeble interest long before the end. Mignonne, one suspects, would not be persuaded by even a stellar performance.