Richard Wagner

Albumblatt in Ab major

WWV95 • “Ankunft bei den schwarzen Schwänen”

About this work

Wagner's production of Tannhäuser at the Paris Opera on March 13, 1861, was shouted down by members of the Jockey Club in protest both against Wagner's refusal to compose the obligatory second-act ballet and the machinations of Princess Metternich, wife of the Austrian ambassador and highly esteemed at the French court. When further performances on March 18 and 24 were similarly assailed, Wagner prevailed to cancel further presentations. Three concerts of his music the year before and the Tannhäuser fiasco lent his music fanatical cachet among French poets, painters, and musicians. Baudelaire was a convert, as were Théophile Gautier and Catulle Mendès, spokesman for the burgeoning group of Parnassian poets, most of them Wagnerians. Many of the Impressionist painters were Wagnerians. Led by Duparc, most of the bande à Franck -- d'Indy, Chausson, Chabrier, de Breville, Lekeu, Magnard -- would become so, carrying his legacy in France into the twentieth century. But at the moment Tannhäuser foundered the greatest concern to its composer was the loss of steady royalties from continued performances. Broke and cadging money where he could, he left Paris for Karlsruhe, where the Grand Duke of Baden wanted the premiere of Tristan und Isolde for his theater, and on to Vienna to find capable singers. In Vienna he heard Lohengrin, completed in 1848, performed by the Vienna Court Opera on May 11, 1861, for the first time and was obliged by tremendous applause to make a brief speech to the audience. Owing to his acceptance at the French court, most of the German duchies had been inveigled to forgive Wagner's revolutionary involvements in Dresden in 1849, for which he had been a fugitive, though he was still not permitted to enter Saxony. In Vienna, Aloys Ander, singing Lohengrin, seemed to Wagner ideal for Tristan and he planned a Vienna premiere. Rehearsals were scheduled for August when Ander strained his voice and was delayed for several months, apparently terrified of the part. Meanwhile, back in Paris to supervise a French translation of Der fliegende Holländer, having closed his apartment, Wagner was given a room at the Prussian embassy by ambassador Count Albrecht Pourtalès. In a pool in the garden were two black swans, for which Wagner developed a particular fondness, and his album-leaf, dedicated to Countess Pourtalès, who helped him out in cash, recalls them in a musing, gemütlich working of "Sei mir gegrüsst" from Tannhäuser, composed July 29, 1861, and titled Arrival at the Black Swans.