Symphony

Richard Wagner

Symphony in E major

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About this work

After a year as chorus master in Würzburg, during which he composed his first completed opera, Die Feen, Wagner returned to Leipzig in the summer of 1834 and, with his popular actress sister's support, mounted a campaign with the Leipzig Theater to have it performed. Seeing a chance to be rid of him and his less than surefire work, the Leipzig Theater director suggested him to Heinrich Bethmann, director of a theater troupe based in Magdeburg, as an able conductor -- which Wagner, indeed, was fast becoming. Wagner caught up with the troupe, touring the provinces, in Lauchstädt and, taking in at once its shaky finances and haphazard management, backed away. But a chance encounter with the jeune première, the beautiful and demure Minna Planer, at the rooming house where he put up for the night changed his mind and his destiny. "I engaged the room on the spot, promised to conduct Don Giovanni on...Sunday" -- his debut as an opera conductor -- "regretted greatly that I had not brought my luggage with me from Leipzig, and hurried back there, in order to return to Lauchstädt as quickly as possible." It was the end of July 1835. For the next 16 months, through quarrels, separations, and professional vicissitudes, Wagner pursued, cajoled, importuned, and eventually seduced Planer, marrying her at last on November 24, 1836. She turned his head from the first. Always industrious -- given the stupendous length of his early operas, his productivity suggests heavy industry -- his uncharacteristic inability to complete a Symphony in E, begun within days of meeting Planer, points to a loss of concentration spurred by his giddy infatuation and looming obsession. Sketches were begun in Lauchstädt on August 4 and abandoned 29 bars into the second movement at Rudolstadt, where the company was appearing, on the 29. His inability to proceed is underscored by the fact that the extant portions of the Symphony in E are a frank reworking of the first two movements of his Grosse Sonate in A, composed in early 1832, much of it taken over verbatim. In Mein Leben, Wagner wrote that the symphony was composed under the influence of Beethoven's Seventh and Eighth symphonies, while the sonata witnesses the impact of Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" Sonata. The sketches turned up in a second-hand bookshop in Berlin in 1886, three years after Wagner's death, and were purchased by Cosima Wagner, who entrusted them to Felix Mottl for orchestration, rounding off of the second movement, and performance.

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