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[] Wagner General FAQ
Section - K. What about Wagner's women?

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RW's posthumous reputation as a womaniser is not justified by what is known
of his liaisons. Wagner's more significant, intimate relationships with
members of the female sex involved: 

i. Leah David (1813-?)

  Richard Wagner's first love was Leah David, a friend of his elder sister
  Louisa and the only daughter of a Jewish widower.  The young Wagner made
  himself unwelcome in the David household by his rudeness towards Leah's
  cousin, whom he was later told she was going to marry.

ii. Wilhelmine (Minna) Wagner née Planer (1809-1866) 

  RW's biographers are critical of his treatment of Minna, perhaps more so
  than the facts support. The young Wagner married a woman who was in no way
  suitable for him, given that her intellect and interests were no match for
  Richard's own. She had been seduced at the age of 15, and had a daughter,
  Nathalie, who was always passed off as her little sister. It was later
  discovered that Minna would not be able to have any more children, and the
  Wagners considered adopting a child. 

  Within a few weeks of their wedding in 1836, Minna ran off with another
  man. Richard accepted her back, and she stuck by him during the turbulence
  and hardship of their years in Riga, London, Paris and Dresden. Finally
  she followed him into exile in Switzerland, where their marriage was
  wrecked on the rocks of 'Tristan und Isolde'. Richard, to his credit,
  continued to support Minna financially (or at least, his creditors did
  so!) until her death; although at one time he considered seeking a

iii. Jessie Laussot née Taylor (1829-1905) 

  The musical, English-born wife of a Bordeaux wine merchant.  Richard and
  Jessie had a brief but passionate affair there in 1850, but plans to elope
  to Greece were prevented by the intervention of her husband.  Jessie left
  him soon after and moved to Florence, where she lived with and later
  married the essayist Karl Hillebrand.  Jessie was also a friend to Liszt,
  von Bülow and Julie Ritter, mother of Karl Ritter and a benefactor of
  Wagner; before the Bordeaux affair, Jessie and Julie had plans to set up a
  fund for Wagner's financial support. 

iv. Mathilde Wesendonck née Agnes Mathilda Luckemeyer (b. Elberfeld 
  23.12.1828,  d. Traunblick am Traunsee 31.08.1902) 

  Poet and author. Richard and Mathilde exchanged voluminous correspondence
  over more than a decade. Otto and Mathilde Wesendonck helped the Wagners
  financially and provided a home for them, in the form of 'Das Asyl', a
  cottage in the grounds of their Zurich mansion.  RW's friendship for
  Mathilde developed into love, and she became the muse to the poet as he
  wrote the text and music of 'Tristan und Isolde'. Eventually, Minna could
  tolerate the intimacy of Mathilde and her husband no longer; there was a
  crisis, after which Richard left Zurich for Venice, where he resumed work
  on his music-drama in relative calm.

v. Friederike Meyer (?-?) 

  Actress, sister of Frau Meyer-Dustmann of the Vienna Opera. It seems that
  Friederike had a brief affair with Wagner in 1862, after he had separated
  from Minna. As a result of the affair, Wagner had difficulties in getting
  'Tristan und Isolde' staged at the Vienna Opera. 

vi. Mathilde Maier (1833-1910) 

  Mathilde seems to have been a sweet-natured young woman, whose heart went
  out to the unhappy composer she met at Schott's house in Mainz in 1862. It
  is almost certain that Wagner considered marrying her; he might even have
  proposed. Unlike some of Wagner's other women, she is mentioned in his

vii. Cosima von Bülow née Liszt (b. Como 24.12.1837, d. Bayreuth 1.4.1930) 

  Cosima was the illegitimate daughter of the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt
  and the French aristocrat, the Countess Marie d'Agoult. As a result of
  this parentage, no doubt, she became an ardent German nationalist. She
  married the composer and pianist Hans von Bülow, and it was as the
  Baroness von Bülow that she visited Zürich.  During this visit Wagner read 
  the poem of his 'Tristan und Isolde' to a small gathering that included 
  Minna, Cosima and Mathilde. Later, with her marriage under strain, she 
  began an affair with Wagner.  Their conduct scandalised the Munich public. 
  Wagner had told King Ludwig that he and Cosima were just good friends, but 
  this relationship was put to a test when Malwida Schnorr von Carolsfeld 
  (the first Isolde) revealed to Ludwig that Cosima was Richard's mistress. 
  The only person who seems to have taken the whole affair calmly was Hans, 
  who remained a faithful friend and supporter to the Wagners for the rest 
  of his life. After the death of Minna Wagner and the completion of divorce 
  proceedings, Cosima and Richard were able to marry. 

  Cosima remained at Wagner's side for the rest of his life. Apart from
  running the Wagner household, Cosima acted as her husband's secretary. She
  also recorded Richard's life in deeds and words, in the diary entries that
  she made almost every day. They were inseparable in life and in death. On
  13 February 1883, Richard died in Cosima's arms; she then held onto his
  body for the next 24 hours. After the funeral, Cosima began to take charge
  of the Bayreuth Festival, which remained under her administration and
  artistic control until a series of strokes incapacitated her in December
  1906.  After her death in 1930, Cosima was buried beside Richard in the
  garden of Haus Wahnfried. 

viii. Judith Mendès Gautier (b. Kabylia, Algeria 24.8.1845, d. St-Énogat 

  French novelist and writer on music, who first visited the Wagners at
  'Tribschen' in 1869. Judith had an affair with Wagner during the 1876
  Festival, but how far it went is uncertain. At that time she was
  separated from her husband Catulle Mendès (1841-1909), but had arrived
  in Bayreuth with Louis Benedictus. Wagner was infatuated with her during
  his last years, although she was relatively cool to him. They kept up a
  secret correspondence during the late 1870's; Judith's letters being
  sent to Wagner's barber. Eventually Cosima put a stop to it. Judith also 
  helped Wagner with the procurement of the silks, satins and rose-water 
  that he needed for his work-room at 'Wahnfried', while he wrote 
  'Parsifal'.  Judith translated the libretto into French. 

ix. Caroline (Carrie) Mary Isabelle Pringle (b. Linz 19.03.1859, d. 
  Brighton 12.11.1930) 

  English soprano, one of the 1882 solo flowermaidens. It was the
  announcement of an impending visit by Carrie to Wagner in Venice, that
  has been thought (at least by Curt von Westernhagen) to have prompted 
  the argument between Cosima and Richard that precipitated his fatal 
  heart-attack. Only two days earlier, he had told Cosima that he had 
  dreamt about Schröder-Devrient (the first Adriano, Senta and Venus): 
  "All my women are now passing before my eyes".  Whether Carrie was one 
  of his women has been the subject of much speculation.

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