Tristan and Isolda, the Opera, completed by Wagner at the Wesendonk estate in 1859, was born mainly under the influence of two factors. On the one hand, this is the strong influence of the philosophy of Arthur Schoppenhauer. On the other hand, the necessity for the composer to sing the greatness of love, evoking his own personal experiences of the “impossible” love with Mathilde Wezendonk – 24year old wife of a prominent Zurich merchant, with whom the composer fell in love, while residing in their mansion. Thus did Wagner discover the suitable form for the medieval Celtic legend of Tristan and Isolde.
Mathilde Wesendonk was inspiration to Wagner in other opuses as well. In Die Meistersingern von Nuernberg, which is an autobiographic and retrospective opera, Mathilde is the prototype of Ewa, and Wagner himself of the knight Walter.
On poems by Mathilde Wesendonck did Wagner set his Fünf Gedichte für eine Frauenstimme (also known as Die Wesendonk Lieder), two of which – „Im Treibhaus“ (“In the Greenhouse”) and „Träume“ (“Dreams”) were used as studies for Tristan und Isolde. The first one conveys Tristan’s grief and is used in the orchestral prelude to Act three. The finale of the same Act contains the Scene of Isolda’s death. Musically, it is modelled after the love duet in the second act.