Composers Datebook®

A Wagnerian souvenir

Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883) Act I Prelude, fr Siegfried (Vienna Philharmonic; Sir Georg Solti, cond.) London 414 110

Composer's Datebook - June 5, 2021


June 05, 2021


In the 19th century, a young Boston-born American composer and pianist named William Mason made a point of tracking down and visiting the most famous European composers of his day, including a politically controversial German named Richard Wagner, who was then living in exile in Zurich.

The meeting took place on today’s date in 1852, when Mason was in his twenties, and the 30-something Wagner was just beginning to work on his epic cycle of operas entitled “The Ring of the Nibelungen.”

“At that time,” wrote Mason, “I had heard only ‘The Flying Dutchman,’ but considered it a most beautiful work, and was eager to meet the composer.”

Wagner found the young American to be genial company for a few hours, during which (not surprisingly) Wagner did most of the talking. As a souvenir, Wagner presented his young American visitor with a few bars of music inscribed: “If you ever hear anything of mine like this, then think of me.”

About quarter of a century later, in 1876, Mason did think of Wagner and that June afternoon when he heard his souvenir come to life as the ominous dragon motive heard at the opening of “Siegfried,” the third opera in Wagner’s “Ring” cycle.

Music Played in Today's Program

Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883) Act I Prelude, fr Siegfried (Vienna Philharmonic; Sir Georg Solti, cond.) London 414 110

On This Day


  • 1882 - Russian-born American composer Igor Stravinsky, in Oranienbaum (now Lomonosov), near St Petersburg, (Gregorian date: June 17); In the 19th century, the Julian calendar lagged behind the Gregorian by 12 days, and in the 20th century by 13 days; For most of the 20th century, Stravinsky chose to celebrate his birthday on June 18th, but "officially" it was celebrated on June 17th;

  • 1905 - Estonian-born Swedish composer Eduard Tubin, in Kalaste, near Tartu (Gregorian date: June 18);

  • 1923 - American composer Daniel Pinkham, in Lynn, Mass.;


  • 1625 - English composer Orlando Gibbons, age 41, in Canterbury;

  • 1722 - German composer Johann Kuhnau, age 61, in Leipzig;

  • 1816 - Italian opera composer Giovanni Paisiello, age 76, in Naples;

  • 1826 - German composer Carl Maria von Weber, age 39, in London;

  • 1944 - Italian opera composer Riccardo Zandonai, age 61, in Pesaro;


  • 1715 - Handel: opera "Amadigi di Gauli" (Julian date: May 25);

  • 1913 - Paris premiere of Mussorgsky: opera, "Khovantschina," in a version completed and orchestrated by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel;

  • 2003 - Oliver Knussen: Symphony No. 4, by the New York Philharmonic, Lorin Maazel conducting.


  • 1717 - For the last performance of Handel's opera "Rinaldo" at the King's Theater, the French dancer Marie Sallé appears as a performer for the first time in one of Handel's works (Greogorian date: June 16);

  • 1971 - Conductor James Levine makes his debut at the Metropolitan Opera, conducting Puccini's "Tosca"; In 1973, Levine became the Met's principal conductor and in 1976 its music director.