Robert Gauldin, Tragic Love and Musical Memory
Example 7. Music which Wagner probably associated with memories of his own romantic relationship with Mathilde Wesondonk, emphasizing the key of Ab major.
- A preexistent associations of femininity and love with the key of
Ab major in his earlier operas: Act II Love Duet in Tannhäuser, Elsa and her dream in
Lohengrin, and the Rhinedaughters in Das Rheingold (and later portions of
- The Ab major Album Sonate (1853, dedicated to her). The opening melodic gesture of the sonata = Eb Ab G Bb may represent a possible origin of the motif for the
"So stürben wir" duet in Act II of Tristan = Eb Ab G (Gb Ab) Bb.
- The Prelude to Act I of Tristan, composed in the heat of the "affair of the heart" between Richard and Mathilde at Aysl, especially the
"Tristan chord" itself (Robert Bailey considers this sonority as an
Ab minor triad with an added 6th) and its first twenty-one measures (to the D minor harmony).
- The Ab major "Träume" (December 1857) based on her text; especially the piano introduction (the
"Tristan chord" outlined in a context of Ab) and coda, which most resemble the chromatic tonal language of
- While working on Act II of Tristan in Venice (already begun at Asyl), Wagner employed a parody of the
"Träume" material in its opening Ab major Love Duet. This Duet represents
the crucial tonal shift in the opera toward a subsequent succession of ascending minor-third key centers (Ab - B - Dm / Fm - Ab - B).
- The two scenes in Meistersinger between Eva (= Mathilde) and Sachs (= Wagner) are both set primarily in
Ab major and feature
"Tristan-like" harmonies. Sachs's famous admonition to the two lovers (Act III, Scene 4) quotes the opening measures from the
Tristan Prelude, transposed a half-step lower to Ab! These scenes (especially Act II, Scene 4) symbolize Wagner's personal renunciation of any further physical desire toward Mathilde.
- The "Tristan chord" (at its original pitch level and with implications of
Ab) is related to sexual love and lust in the revised
"Venusberg music" of Act I for the 1861 Paris production of Tannhäuser and the encounter between the young Parsifal and Kundry in Act II of
Parsifal. The primary Ab major of this last music drama may represent complementary aspects of
"love:" where eros = the Ab Flowermaidens' Chorus, Kundry, and sensual love versus
agape = the Ab Knights of the Grail and Christ's redeeming spiritual love.