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The curious tale of Wagner in Bourdeaux- Thank you Pristine

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And now, please do read on - for the intriguing and little-known tale of Wagner's brief Bordeaux stopover, a passionate affair of the heart with a much younger married Englishwoman, and his swift police eviction from the city of Bordeaux in 1850, whilst on the run from Dresden as a suspected revolutionary socialist-anarchist...

Andrew Rose

Wagner slept here - in May 1850​

It's an intriguing story, one that was first related to me by conductor Paul Daniel over drinks after a performance of Madame Butterfly at the Bordeaux Opera last November - and all because we were staying over in the city at a nearby hotel called Les Quatre Soeurs (The Four Sisters) - that particular night...

Wagner had stayed at the very same hotel, a few metres away from the opera house, in May 1850, under very unusual circumstances. As the local paper Sud Ouest described it in an article published in 2015 entitled Bordeaux: Wagner's escapades at the Four Sisters Hotel, it's a tale of "ardour, love, infidelity, financial interests, courage, intrigue..."

A couple of years earlier, following an 1848 performance of Tannhäuser conducted by the composer in Dresden, Wagner had received a visitor in his dressing room - a pretty 19-year-old Englishwoman named Jessie Laussot, née Taylor.​

Daughter of a distinguished lawyer, and a cultured Germanophile and pianist, Jessie Taylor (left) had married a Bordeaux wine merchant called Eugène Laussot who, it seems, cared more for his business than his pretty young wife. She had approached Wagner to express her admiration "with shyness".

Thus began what would be initially a chaste affair conducted by mail - the two corresponded for several months in the lead-up to Wagner's hurried fleeing of Dresden in 1849, accused of mixing in and wrong revolutionary circles and, in particular, his falling under suspicion thanks to a close friendship with one Herr Bakunin, anarchist and theorist of libertarian socialism.

During his time in exile from Germany, Wagner was to receive an invitation to stay for three weeks at the Bordeaux home of M. and Mme. Laussot, which he duly accepted. Once there, it seems that while Monsieur was busy concentrating on matters of business, Wagner was busy concentrating on matters of Madame - in his own words, much "great intimacy" took place! Was it her beauty or her money that attracted him - or both? At this point she offered to provide him with an annual income of some 3000 Francs...

There followed for Wagner some intriguing cross-country travels - first to Paris (Wagner wasn't much enamoured of the place, which apparently preferred Rossini's music to his own) and then, in May 1850, a fast train to Switzerland after hearing that his first wife, Minna, was on her way to Paris. In Switzerland he discovered from a letter that Jessie has confessed her feelings for him to her mother, that her husband had found out what had been going on, and that he had professed to be keen to get his hands on the composer and "shoot him in the head".

Wagner decided at this point to settle the Bordeaux matter. He "sped" across the country of France by stagecoach - which took a mere three days and two nights via Lyon and the Auvergne - until ifnall he settled himself into room 22 of a newly-built hotel near the opera house, calling itself the the Quatres Soeurs...​

From his second floor balcony window it was said that he could hear a grand piano being played at the Grand Theatre opera house - as you can surmise from this photo, with the hotel lit up on on the left and the colonnade of the Opera not too far away on the right, this is not entirely out of the question!

Not that Wagner had very much time to spend listening to music in the hotel's finest suite. The famille Laussot, upon learning of his impending arrival, had alerted the authorities and absented themselves from the city. The city's Mayor then arranged to have Wagner surrounded by police to "encourage" his swift departure from the area - and then banned him from returning to Bordeaux. He would shortly find refuge in Zurich, Switzerland - but not quite immediately...

For Wagner seemed apparently quite at ease in his comfortable hotel room, and had managed to negotiate a 48-hour reprieve from eviction from the city. During this short time he infiltrated the empty Laussot home and secreted a letter to Jessie in her work basket - only to receive a less than ideal reply a few months later. The letter had been discovered, and Jessie had been convinced by the Laussot family that she had been "manipulated by a professional seducer", and would thus be terminating their correspondence.

The two would meet again in Germany more than a quarter-century later, in 1876, by which time Jessie had quit her Bordeaux merchant and taken up with the German writer Karl Hillebrand, at one point a columnist for republican newspaper "La Gironde" (the name of the river which flows through Bordeaux) and a good friend of Frederick Nietszche.

Meanwhile it has been suggested by some musicologists that the dramatic direct sung by Siegmund and Sieglinde in Die Walküre was inspired by this episode in the composer's life. Believe that if you will!

And if you're ever in the city of Bordeaux, and have a chance to book a night well ahead, maybe try out Room 22 in the modest Four Sisters hotel. It's a very strange feeling going to sleep there and thinking "Wagner slept here", albeit in a previous bed...

(See also "The amorous adventure of Richard Wagner in Bordeaux", Bordeaux Gazette, 2014)​
Wagner's View, 1: left to the opera house and square​
Wagner's View, 2: straight out over the Allées de Tourny​
Wagner's View, 3: right towards the Monument aux Girondins​
Wagner slept here - the room as it looks in 2023​
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Thank you for sharing! So interesting it still exists, even under the same name as when Wagner stayed there.
Thank you for sharing! So interesting it still exists, even under the same name as when Wagner stayed there.
Our musical heritage is history and needs to be taught in history, IMO.
Our musical heritage is history and needs to be taught in history, IMO.
Indeed, but perhaps not that story - at least not to impressionable school children. 🤣
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