Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Wednesday, January 2

Wagner's "shaggy dog" story

Synopsis

On today’s date in 1843, Richard Wagner’s opera “The Flying Dutchman” had its premiere performance in Dresden. The story is often told how the opera’s sea-swept overture was inspired by a stormy voyage Wagner and his wife Minna took from Riga to Paris, their journey interrupted by an emergency stop in a Norwegian fjord due to rough weather and a longer layover in London.

As usual, Wagner was fleeing creditors, and, as usual, this was due to his own outrageous extravagance. Imagine making a cramped sea voyage in the company of a huge Newfoundland dog named Robber. Wagner may have been fleeing creditors, but he wasn’t about to leave his dog behind, even though a three-week voyage in the company of a wet, sea-sick Newfoundlander must have made the trip seem as interminable as the Flying Dutchman’s eternal wanderings!

Negotiating London also proved a challenge, as Wagner recounted in his memoirs: “The dog whisked round every corner and dragged us every which way. So the three of us sought refuge in a cab which took us to the Horseshoe Tavern, a sailor’s pub recommended to us by our captain… The narrow London cabs were meant to carry two people facing each other, so we had to lay Robber across our laps, his head through one window and his tail through the other…”

Music Played in Today's Program

Richard Wagner (1813-1883) The Flying Dutchman Overture Concertgebouw Orchestra; Edo de Waart, cond Philips 400 089

Additional Information

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