Wagner composed the Siegfried Idyll as a birthday present to his second wife, Cosima, after the birth of their son Siegfried in 1869. It was first performed on Christmas morning, 25 December 1870, by a small ensemble of the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich on the stairs of their villa at Tribschen (today part of Lucerne), Switzerland. Cosima awoke to its opening melody.
In its original form, the work was scored for an orchestra of fewer than 16 players. Struggling under debt, Wagner — to Cosima’s chagrin (she had regarded it as her own special gift) — later sold the piece, scored for a larger orchestra; it is this later version that is usually performed today.
"Having conducted concert performances of Wagner's great operas Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, and Siegfried," Maestro Butts related, "it is fun to conduct this beautiful work composed for himself and Cosima. One hears the awakening of the new musical style Wagner developed when he stopped work on the Ring Cycle in the middle of Siegfried. Here is the sensuous love music Wagner wanted for Siegfried and Brunnhilde on the mountain. It is truly ravishing."