Composers Datebook®

A Wagnerian souvenir

Composers Datebook - June 5, 2024


In the 19th century, young, Boston-born American composer and pianist 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, I had heard only The Flying Dutchman, but considered it a most beautiful work, and was eager to meet the composer,” Mason wrote.

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, from Siegfried; Vienna Philharmonic; Georg Solti, conductor; 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 18, but “officially” it was celebrated on June 17.

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

  • 1923 - American composer Daniel Pinkham, in Lynn, Massachusetts


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

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

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

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

  • 1944 - Italian opera composer Riccardo Zandonai, 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.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®