An important stop for the young Richard Wagner is Riga at the end of the 1830s. However, there are no artistic reasons that lead the upcoming composer to the northeast of Europe.

"My dearest Louis, 
In the greatest of hurries, I am writing you a few words. After deliberating at length in the express car, I have come to the decision to now give everything to this commitment in Riga. My dear, dear friend, once again I urge you to do everything you can to deliver the contract with Holtei to me as soon as possible; it is of the utmost importance to me. Once again: - my wife need not be taken into consideration at all, - 1,000 silver rubles: contract for 2-3 years; if you could do anything more for me, that would be it.”

Richard Wagner to Louis Schindelmeisser, Leipzig, 7 June 1837
When the 24-year-old Richard Wagner wrote these lines to his friend, the Prussian conductor Louis Schindelmeisser, he was not yet on his way to 
Rīga (republikas pilsēta)
deu. Riga (Republik-Stadt)
, but searching for his wife Minna. She had run away a week earlier, after just half a year of marriage, with a local businessman with whom she travelled from 
East Prussia
deu. Ostpreußen, pol. Prusy Wschodnie, lit. Rytų Prūsija, rus. Восто́чная Пру́ссия, rus. Vostóchnaia Prússiia

East Prussia is the name of the former most eastern Prussian province, which existed until 1945 and whose extent (regardless of historically slightly changing border courses) roughly corresponds to the historical landscape of Prussia. The name was first used in the second half of the 18th century, when, in addition to the Duchy of Prussia with its capital Königsberg, which had been promoted to a kingdom in 1701, other previously Polish territories in the west (for example, the so-called Prussia Royal Share with Warmia and Pomerania) were added to Brandenburg-Prussia and formed the new province of West Prussia.
Nowadays, the territory of the former Prussian province belongs mainly to Russia (Kaliningrad Oblast) and Poland (Warmia-Masuria Voivodeship). The former so-called Memelland (also Memelgebiet, lit. Klaipėdos kraštas) first became part of Lithuania in 1920 and again from 1945.

 to Saxony. Though Wagner set off immediately in hot pursuit of the couple, he was held up along the way, his efforts hampered by a chronic lack of money. His first attempt saw him only get about a hundred kilometers, as far as the West Prussian town of , before he had to return to 
deu. Königsberg, rus. Калинингра́д

Kaliningrad is a city in today's Russia. It is located in the Kaliningrad oblast, a Russian exclave between Lithuania and Poland. Kaliningrad, formerly Königsberg, belonged to Prussia for several centuries and was the northeasternmost major city.

. It was only by selling some of the wedding presents and borrowing money that he was able to set off again to win back his wife.
The hasty journey was part of an episode in Wagner's life that would lead the still little-known composer to the north-east of Europe a little later, to Riga, the largest and culturally most diverse city in the Russian Baltic Sea region of
deu. Livland, est. Liivimaa, lav. Livonija

Livonia (latv. Livonija, est. Liivimaa) is a historical landscape in the Baltic States. Nowadays it includes parts of southern Estonia and northern Latvia. The landscape was named after the Livons who once lived there.

. Wagner urgently needed this contract as music director at the newly opened Riga City Theatre because he was an insouciant spendthrift who lived far beyond his means from an early age, always borrowing money without being able to pay it back. In 1835, even his mother had to urge her son's friends not to give him any more money. Not even "the cursed Jewish vermin", as Wagner had maliciously and frustratedly described Jewish moneylenders in a letter the year before, would grant him a loan. The letter gives a glimpse of the composer’s drastic and offensive anti-Semitism, which deeply overshadowed his character and which he would continue to espouse and spread through his writing, for example in his essay Das Judenthum in der Musik (Judaism in Music) (1850/1869).

“debts; - lawsuits... a bad situation; departure for Berlin on May 17th."

Richard Wagner in his personal notes, 1836 (Red Pocketbook)
By May 1836, Wagner had got himself so far into debt that he had to flee from his creditors and moved from Magdeburg to Berlin. It was here that he first considered applying for the job in Riga. In the summer, however, he first traveled to visit Minna Planer, who was still his fiancée and was working as an actress and singer at the Königsberg Theater. Not far from there, in the small village of 
Tragheim (Kaliningrad)
deu. Königsberg-Tragheim

Tragheim was a quarter of the former Prussian city of Königsberg, what is now Kaliningrad, Russia. It was located north of the castle and was known as an upscale district.

Historische Orte
East Prussia
pol. Prusy Wschodnie, eng. East Prussia
, the wedding took place on November 24th. A few months later, in the spring of 1837, Wagner succeeded in obtaining a position as music director at the Königsberg Theatre. After a few weeks, however, his employer went bankrupt. This was followed by the aforementioned chase to Saxony, and, on June 15th, Wagner travelled on to Berlin, where he was finally able to sign a contract with the Riga theatre director Karl von Holtei (1798-1880) (but only for a salary of 800 silver rubles, not the 1,000 he had previously insisted on).

"I am destitute now. I simply must get the Riga position […] I have no money at the moment, and my situation will not be easy to sort out. […] Do everything you can. This letter to Holtei. No more secrets. Warmest thanks to you my dear Louis! Adieu!!”

Richard Wagner to Louis Schindelmeisser, Dresden, 12 June 1837

"Minna, I went to Holtey's. Everything is arranged, we are in agreement, and tomorrow we sign the contract. Riga has been described to me as the most pleasant place to stay in the world, especially when it comes to earning money; [...] Minna, become a woman again, throw away all your harsh opinions, be mine again! 

Richard Wagner to Minna Wagner, Berlin, 20 June 1837
In August, after Minna had left him once again and Wagner could not find out her whereabouts in time, he embarked alone on a trip from Travemünde to Riga. At first he felt uncomfortable: "Sorrowful situation. Uneasy," he writes in his notebook, the Red Pocketbook. Only in October did Minna return to him.
His activities in Riga would come to play an important role in his work and life: Wagner continued to develop as a conductor and wrote large parts of the opera Rienzi, which led to his real breakthrough as a composer in the early 1840s. And the Riga theatre, disparagingly described as a "barn", is said to have been a model for the Bayreuth Festival Theatre with its layout of orchestra space and parquet flooring.
Nevertheless, Wagner could never completely shed his prejudices and resentments towards the place he worked. When he sent a musical score for a poem to the Stuttgart publicist August Lewald (1792-1871) for publication in November 1838, he wrote not only of “my ardent longing for the South,” but also how, in spite of these feelings, he now found himself “in Siberia”. Furthermore, a note he enclosed with his small composition attributed any lack in its quality to the place in which it had been written, while at the same time flirtatiously boasting of his own alleged ability:

“I found the enclosed poem in the “Musenalmanach” (Muses’ Almanac); though I have little fondness for the melancholy of the fir tree, it is sometimes impossible to resist it in Livonia; I have composed the piece in a Livonian key and am sending it to you with the request to add it to "Europa"; but by no means should you judge this composition in the same way you would one of my operas; the way I compose these, I think it is safe to say, is— thank God—less Livonian." 

Richard Wagner to August Lewald, Riga, 12 November 1838
The contract at the Riga Theatre was not renewed in 1839. Wagner travelled with Minna secretly and illegally to Paris in the summer of that year, without valid passports and once again fleeing old and new creditors. This journey is also begging to be filmed: The crossing of the border into Prussia takes place at night, during the changing of the guard of the soldiers at the strictly protected Russian border, over trenches, open firing ranges and in fright of being betrayed by the dog Robber, who is carried along. Behind Königsberg their carriage has an accident. And the small boat, which transports just a crew of seven men, the two fugitives and oats and peas to London, gets into multiple heavy storms on the trip there. After all, Wagner claims that the idea for the opera The Flying Dutchmen came to him in the course of this - in which several experiences of that journey are actually processed.
Nevertheless, the composer is still present in Riga's cityscape today: in the center of the Old Town, Richard Wagner Strasse (Riharda Vāgnera iela) has connected the traditional Kalkstrasse (Kaļķu iela) with Theaterstrasse (Teātra iela) since 1987. The historic building of the old city theatre still stands here at number 4, although it has been rebuilt several times. The Wagner Hall (Vāgnera zāle), which was established here in the 20th century, is to be extensively renovated in the coming years. 
English translation: William Connor

Siehe auch