b. Leipzig, Germany / May 22, 1813; d. Venice, Italy / February 13, 1883
In 1866, Wagner, the most influential composer of the later Romantic period, entered into his final and most stable personal relationship, with Franz Liszt’s daughter, Cosima. The Siegfried Idyll is his tender musical love-gift to her. It was first performed at sunrise on December 25, 1870, on the winding staircase leading to the second floor of Triebschen, the villa on the shore of Lake Lucerne, Switzerland, where the Wagners were living. It was not only Christmas Day, but Cosima’s thirty-third birthday.
“As I awoke, my ear caught a sound which swelled further and further; no longer could I imagine myself to be dreaming, music was sounding, and what music!” Cosima wrote in her diary. “As it died away, Richard came into my room with the five children and offered me the score of the symphonic birthday poem – I was in tears, but so was the whole house....”
The piece’s name had two origins: the Wagners’ eighteen-month-old son, and the opera whose final act Richard had finished just a few months before, and from which he drew most of the material for the Idyll. This is decidedly unusual Wagner. He transformed the themes which sound so mighty and heroic in the opera into gentle, intimate musical poems.
Program Notes by Don Anderson © 2016