Hôtel des 4 sœurs – 6, Cours du XXX juillet.
Wagner in 1850.Pencil drawing by Ernst Benedikt Kietz for Jessie Laussot. Paris, 1850.
Whether we choose to simplify it or not, his history remains muddled. Richard Wagner, already famous for Rienzi and The Flying Dutchman, met Jessie Taylor in Dresden, where she was filled with admiration on seeing the performances of Tannhäuser. She possessed the musical score, which she had asked to be dedicated through Karl Ritter. Very shyly, “the young woman expressed her admiration in terms I had never heard.” That was in 1848. She was nineteen years old.
But in 1849, Wagner took part in the revolution in Dresden and, exiled, had to flee without a passport and without money to Switzerland, then Paris. In 1850, he received an urgent invitation to come to Bordeaux – “a new course in my existence” – from Jessie, married by her mother to a young vintner, Eugene Laussot. Did he see Jessie again in Paris, immediately afterwards in February 1850? Based on a letter to Franz Liszt dated 6 February, English historians attempted, without much success, to convince us that this was the case. What is certain is that he had his portrait done by the painter Ernst Kietz and that a letter from Jessie Laussot exists in which she thanks the artist.
Having left Paris post-haste, Wagner arrived on Saturday 16 March in Bordeaux and settled at the Laussot residence. To his friends, Theodor Uhlig in Dresden and Wilhelm Baumgartner in Zurich, he gave the following address: “Miss Jessie Laussot, 26 Cours du XXX Juillet” (now Cours du Maréchal Foch). He gave the same address to his wife, Minna, but for the attention of “Mr Eugene Laussot.” He was received with “courtesy and kindness.” He felt as though he was “in heaven: everyone here knows my work down to the last note,” he writes. Invited for a short visit, he stayed there three weeks.
Jessie was 21. Cultivated and a musician, she spoke German without an accent. She played the Hammerklavier sonata and Wagner’s difficult Grand Sonata. He read her the librettos of his future operas, Siegfried and Wieland the Smith, which she particularly liked. Eighteen months later, Tannhäuser was a distant memory, the first act of Die Walküre was being sketched out and Tristan was already on the way. Wagner describes having “made closer acquaintance” with her. The widow of an English lawyer, Mrs Taylor was of course rich and asked him to “accept” an annuity proposal of 3,000 francs. With this money, Wagner wanted to go to Malta, Greece and the Middle East... with Jessie. When Wagner returned to Paris, on 5 April, they separated “uncertain and unhappy.” In a letter dated 16 April, full of reproach, Wagner told his wife Minna he wanted to leave her.
Jessie Laussot (1826-1905).
While Wagner was in Paris, Jessie confided her troubles, or her intentions, to her mother, who in turn told her son-in-law, who from then on had just one goal: “to put a bullet in the head” of the composer. As for Minna, she had no intention of doing nothing. It was at this time that Wagner chose to write to his rival, suggesting that he come to sort the matter out, amicably, in person. Could he force a woman who no longer loved him to stay? In May, he returned in haste to Bordeaux after arranging a rendezvous in the hotel where they were to talk.
He arrived at 9 a.m., on 18 May 1850, and took a room at the Hôtel des 4 Soeurs, located on the same Cours du XXX Juillet. He waited in vain. The Laussot family left the city. That night, he received a summons from a police officer, who had been informed of his illegal status and gave him two days to leave the city. Time enough for Wagner to write and deliver a long letter to Jessie. In June, she had a letter sent to him saying she would never see him again.
There was never a Laussot lieder and Wagner never composed Wieland the Smith. The Liebesaffäre was … …
Jessie Laussot in Florence in years-70
Jessie Laussot in 1877, painting by Adolf von Hildebrand.
Jessie Laussot in Florence around 1900.
Vue cavalière du port de Bordeaux en 1850 by Antoine Héroult.