Richard Wagner


WWV55 • “Monte écureuil monte au grand chêne”

About this work

As it happens today, the celebrities of Paris were besieged by admirers and earnestly approached by wannabes. When Wagner arrived in 1839, a callow 26 year old, he had behind him six scrappy years conducting in provincial German theaters and the score of Das Liebesverbot, an apprentice work remarkable for its prolix loquacity and astounding length -- playing over three hours. Alive with dramatic ideas and aware of the burgeoning of extraordinary powers, Wagner recalls one to Ortega's remark, "The youth, because he is not yet anything determinate and irrevocable, is everything potentially. Herein lies his charm and his insolence. Feeling that he is everything potentially he supposes that he is everything actually." Wagner merely turned up in Paris, one might say, but assumed that he had arrived. Two and a half years of disappointment and frustration would disabuse him, sparking a rancor that would not find relief until the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Perhaps because Das Liebesverbot is an olla podrida of gambits, learned as a quick-study professional, from the operas of Auber, Beethoven, Hérold, Bellini, Marschner, Rossini, Meyerbeer -- and others now forgotten -- Wagner supposed that he belonged in their company and would be readily accepted by them. Already, in 1836, from Königsberg he had sent Scribe -- the fabulously paid librettist of La sonnambula, Robert le diable, L'elisir d'amore, La Juive, Le Comte Ory, -- the scenario for an opera based on Heinrich König's novel Die hohe Braut suggesting that Scribe versify it on condition that he secure Wagner a commission to compose the music. When no reply was forthcoming, he sent Scribe the score of Das Liebesverbot, which he commended to the notice of Auber and Meyerbeer. Once in Paris, with the help of the voluminously importuned Meyerbeer, Wagner wrangled an audition of several numbers from Liebesverbot before the director of the Opéra, Edouard Monnais, with singers from the Paris Opéra assisting, which Scribe, at Wagner's invitation, kindly attended. Unfortunately, Wagner, a mediocre pianist, accompanied. The verdict -- "charmante" -- and protestations that commitments at the Opéra were already scheduled years in advance masked polite indifference. Shifting his tactics, Wagner sought to approach the glitterati through their fashionable salons and composed several songs in French. Trois Mélodies, published in 1840, include Dors, mon enfant (a traditional lullaby) and settings of Ronsard's Mignonne and Hugo's "L'Attente." The latter, an impassioned evocation of a lover's impatience, was offered to Pauline Viardot, confidante of Berlioz and reigning diva, who refused it. Yet another door to immediate success slammed before him.