Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Thursday, February 8

Wagner on the banks of the Mississippi?

Synopsis

For a magic ring of gold, the dwarf Alberich was willing to renounce love and become master of the world. At least, that’s the story in Richard Wagner’s four operas entitled “The Ring of the Nibelungen,” which premiered in 1876 at Wagner’s specially constructed theater in Bayreuth, Germany.

And apparently, for one million U.S. dollars, Wagner himself was prepared to renounce not only Bayreuth, but Germany as well, and settle in America, offering in exchange the premiere and exclusive performance rights to his latest opera, “Parsifal.”

That was the offer Wagner outlined in a letter to his American dentist on today’s date in 1880. Dr. Newell Jenkins practiced in Dresden, and dutifully passed the proposal on to prominent music patrons back home in the states. Even the most ardent Wagnerians among them found the idea ludicrous: If Wagner couldn’t sell his operas in Germany, the idea that he would fare better on the banks of the Mississippi was downright crazy. Even so, Wagner’s wife, Cosima, recorded in her diary that Wagner seemed obsessed with idea of settling in Minnesota, of all places.

Well, as it happened, Wagner died in Venice, not Minneapolis, and “Parsifal” premiered in Bayreuth, not in St. Paul. Dr. Jenkins broke the news that a) the million dollars was not going to materialize, and b) there were such things as mosquitoes and blizzards in Minnesota. Wagner prudently decided to give Germany one more chance.

Music Played in Today's Program

Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883) Das Rheingold excerpt Soloists and Bavarian Radio Symphony; Bernard Haitink, cond. EMI 54633

Parsifal excerpt Netherlands Radio Philharmonic; Edo de Waart, cond. BMG 44786

Additional Information

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