CONVERSATIONS WITH FRANCESCA: TCHAIKOVSKY, LISZT, AND WAGNER (AND ZANDONAI AND GRANADOS AND RACHMANINOV) GO TO HELL
Francesca da Rimini
Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque Art and Architecture
Italian Language and Literature
Tchaikovsky completed his tone poem Francesca da Rimini in 1876, during the period he was attending the premiere of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at Bayreuth. Critics of the work drew comparisons with the Tetralogy and faulted what seemed to be Tchaikovsky’s derivative inspiration. Indeed, the composer him-self acknowledged Wagner’s influence. In this paper, I set aside influence to consider intertextual dialogues between Tchaikovsky’s work and others by Liszt, Zandonai, Rachmaninov, and not Wagner’s Ring, but Tristan und Isolde. Drawing upon theories by Klein and Peirce, I examine parallelisms of topic, melodic contour, tonal motion, and timbral signifiers to establish a “conversation” between Francesca’s tale and King Marke’s speech at the conclusion of Act 2 of Tristan. The results reveal an interactive field of narration and symbolization that projects both stories’ themes of desire, betrayal, guilt, and love.