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Title: Richard Wagner - Composer of Operas
Author: Runciman, John F., 1866-1916
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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It is now one hundred years since Richard Wagner was born, thirty
since he died. In every land he has his monument in one shape or
another; his music-dramas can be heard all the world over; all the
ancient controversies as to their merits or demerits have died down.
The Bayreuth theatre, the outward and visible sign of his inner
greatness, has risen to the point of its most splendid glory and
lapsed into the limbo of tenth-rate things. Every one who really cares
for the art of music, and especially the art of opera (of which art
music is by far the most important factor), has had ample time and
opportunity for making up his mind. It is, therefore, high time to
simplify and to cease from elaborating. In this book will be found, I
trust, no special pleading, no defence or extenuation, no preposterous
eulogy on the one hand, and on the other no vampire work, but a plain
and concise attempt to depict the mighty artist as he lived and to
describe his artistic achievement as it is. We have all had time to
consider and to sort out (so to say) the reams that have been written
and printed about Wagner: the bulk of it has had to be thrown on the
scrap-heap: what there was of value has, I hope, been utilised.

An author who plans a book on an artist or an artistic question must
be wary, especially at the beginning of his adventure. To start away
with a theory, whether new or old, and to yield to the seductive
temptation to convince humanity of its truth--this is to lay a trap
and to take the path that leads straight into it. Theories should be
kept for scientific matters. A work proving that parallel straight
lines never meet need not land the writer in self-contradictions; and
another writer may prove that they must and do meet, and still avoid
getting tangled amongst his own arguments. I even read a book once in
which it was clearly shown that the earth was flat; and, granted a
ludicrous premise, one could but admire the irrefragable logic with
which the conclusion was reached. With regard to art, be your premises
sound or grotesque, the result is the same--muddle. Logic, science,
philosophy, applied to art, spell certain disaster. With mingled pain
and amusement I have noted how more than one writer on music, setting
out in triumphant high spirits to demonstrate this or that, has before
his third chapter demonstrated just the contrary: I have never seen
anything else occur.

Wagner wrote so much about himself and his art, and appeared so fully
satisfied with his explanations of why he became just what he became
and of why his art was just what it was, that naturally for nearly a
generation his critics fell into one or other of two errors. Either
they accepted his theorisings unreservedly or as unreservedly they
rejected them. In the second case they had to face the difficulty of
coining, shaping, a theory of their own; in either case shipwreck
nearly always promptly ensued; and on the whole, if Wagner had to be
theorised about, one would prefer to have it done by Wagner. He
himself knew the tiny value of his theorisings about his art, for he
declared that when he wrote _Tristan and Isolda_ he found he had
already left his theories far behind. This discovery might well have
served as a warning both to Wagner and to the hosts of his
commentators. Unluckily Wagner was far too fond of theorising,
moralising and generally talking of himself and his works, and he
reckoned he had a big propagandist work to do; so he went on
scribbling to the end. As for the commentators, they neglected the
warning and took Wagner's later doings as an example, with the result
that the library shelves of Europe are stopped and blocked with as big
a heap of rubbish as ever was provoked by great works of art since the
world began to turn round. For Wagner there is an ample excuse: he
honestly thought it necessary to spread his ideas abroad; his aims and
intentions had been so misunderstood, and so stupidly, wickedly,
recklessly misrepresented, that he did not believe his music-dramas
would ever find acceptance until he had cleared the way by explaining
himself. Little good came of it--in fact, the only good result was
that some of his writings fell into the hands of Ludwig II of Bavaria,
and thus led to the ending of his days of misery, and indirectly to
Bayreuth. For the commentators no word of extenuation can be said.
Those, perhaps, of the period 1867-77 were justified in pressing their
master's claims on the public at large, for the support of the public
at large had to be won, and the best way of winning it seemed to lie
in advocating those claims, in season and out of season, through the
agency of the newspaper-press; but the rest of the herd have proved
themselves an unqualified nuisance and a hindrance to a right
understanding of Wagner.

This herd I would not willingly join. In the following pages no
general theory concerning Wagner will be found. I shall indulge in no
theorisings whatever, but stick to the facts, facts which can now be
ascertained with certainty. My endeavour will be to tell a plain,
unvarnished tale of what Wagner did and of what he suffered, of the
environment amidst which he grew up and laboured and struggled: with
all that he said and wrote I shall deal as briefly as may be,
regarding his endless loquacity of mouth and pen as of interest only
when it throws real light on the artist. Least of all shall I waste
the reader's patience on the morals that may be drawn from his musical
works. The moral to be drawn from his prose works is simply that a
man, even a stupendously great man, may write far too much; the moral
to be drawn from his musical works every man may find out for himself:
for myself, I have found none, any more than I could ever find a moral
in a play of Æschylus or Sophocles or Shakespeare.

There are plenty of authorities for the statements now to be made. We
have the exhaustive _Life_ by Glasenapp and W. Ashton Ellis; then
there is Wagner's own work, _My Life_, lately translated into
English; finally there are the _Letters_. Many of these are of no
interest or value whatever, dealing only with details concerning
scores and proof-sheets and petty money matters. Many, on the other
hand, notably those to Uhlig, are invaluable to every one who wishes
to understand Wagner. Extensive use is made of them in this book,
though, as they are easily accessible, I have forborne to quote more
than is absolutely necessary. _My Life_ I think but little of, and
have not relied greatly on it.

Wagner the reformer will receive no lengthy consideration. He did not
"reform" the opera form--the opera form of Mozart and Weber needed no
reforming--he simply developed it. He did reform operatic performances
by insisting on precision and intelligence in place of slovenliness
and stupidity, on enthusiasm for art in place of stolid indifference;
and he did as much in the concert-room. I shall not theorize about
these matters, but point out what he achieved by making a continuous
appeal to indubitable, indisputable facts.

I am indebted to Messrs. H. Grevel & Co. for kind permission to print
extracts from Mr. Shedlock's translation of Wagner's _Letters_, and to
Messrs. Novello for similar permission regarding quotations from the
libretti of the operas. Two words may be said about the quotations,
both words and music, of the operas: in some cases, when I could
neither find nor make an adequate translation of verses, I have stuck
to the original German; with regard to the music, I have given as
little as possible. Both musical and verbal citations are meant for
reference--there is only one exception, the Sailors' Song from the
opening of _Tristan_. Catalogues of Wagner's themes have for long been
issued by several publishers; but they are of small assistance in
helping one to understand Wagner.





III  EARLY LIFE (_continued_)


















PORTRAIT OF WAGNER (_Photogravure_)



(_From life and on stone by N. Hanhart_)

(_From the portrait by A.F. Pecht_)



WAGNER DIED, FEB. 13, 1883





As the springtide of 1813 was melting into early summer the poet and
musician of spring days and summer nights was born at the house of the
Red and White Lion on the Brühl in old Leipzig. The precise date was
May 22; and owing to many causes the 16th of August came round before,
at the church of St. Thomas, the child was christened Wilhelm Richard
Wagner. The events and circumstances of the period have furnished the
imaginative with many striking portents with regard to the future
mighty composer; and, to do the prophets full justice, after the
event--long after the event--they have widely opened their mouths and
uttered prophecies. Thus the name of the house, describing a beast
such as never was on sea or land, distinctly warned a drowsy people
that the monstrous dragon of _Siegfried_ was about to take the road
leading from Nowhere to Bayreuth. The spring foretold the songs in
_Tannhäuser_ and the _Valkyrie_; the summer, the nights in King
Mark's Cornish castle-garden and amongst the fragrant lime-trees in
the streets of ancient Nuremberg; the horrors of the war raging at the
very gates of Leipzig and Napoleon's flight, the advent of the
preacher who was to earn a long exile by advising the Saxon soldiers
not to shoot their brethren. Events provided material for these and
many another score of prognostications: only, fortunately, no one read
events rightly at the time, and something fresh was left for the
biographers to expend their ingenuity upon.

Richard Wagner came of a German lower middle-class stock. There is not
amongst his ancestry a single man distinguished in letters or any art.
His uncle Adolph, of whom some Bayreuth gentlemen make much, would not
be remembered had he not been Wagner's uncle. Only by patient research
has it been discovered that one or more of his forebears could so much
as play the organ. His father was an amateur theatrical enthusiast,
and he too would have been utterly forgotten had he not been Wagner's
father. His stepfather--though this seems hardly to the point--was an
actor and portrait-painter; and his one claim to remembrance is that
he was Wagner's stepfather. So, however scientifically minded we may
be, however strongly disposed to account for the sudden appearance of
a stupendous genius by the cheap and easy method of pointing to some
distinguished ancestor and talking pompously of the laws of heredity,
in Wagner's case we are baffled and beaten. He came like a
thunderbolt out of a blue sky. We must be content with the fact that
he came. His father and grandfather were state or municipal officials
both; and bearing in mind Wagner's frank detestation of officialdom,
the scientist can scarcely draw much comfort from that.

The grandfather, Gottlob Friedrich Wagner, was born in 1736, only a
few years later than Haydn. In 1769 he married the daughter of a
charity-school master or caretaker; and in 1770, the year of
Beethoven's birth, his first child, christened Carl Friedrich Wilhelm,
was born. Four years later Adolph arrived. Gottlob was a douanier, an
exciseman, at the Rannstadt gate of Leipzig, and passed his days, I
dare say, as honestly as an exciseman can, in examining incoming
travellers to see that they did not bring with them so much as an egg
that had not paid duty. He died in 1795. Meantime, Carl Friedrich had
received a thoroughly sound education, and he became deputy-registrar
to the Leipzig town court. In 1789 he married Johanna Rosina Pätz
(whose name, it seems, is susceptible of many spellings).

The scientific mind may after all find consolation in the
all-illuminating truth that Friedrich and all his children were more
or less passionately addicted to the theatre and attracted by it. It
was Friedrich's one hobby; and though Friedrich's brother Adolph had a
horror of it, the feeling was not aroused by it as an artistic
institution, but as an agency for the intellectual, moral and worldly
ruin of young men and women. In his leisure Friedrich arranged
dramatic performances and took part in them, and, as amateurs go, he
appears to have been highly successful. Histrionic persons were
constant guests at his house on the Brühl--amongst them notably one,
Ludwig Geyer, who became a fast friend of the family and played an
important rôle, off the stage, with regard to that family soon after
Richard's birth. Friedrich, during his later years, cannot have had
much spare time for amateur theatricals or any other amusement.
Napoleon was fighting his last desperate fights against the combined
forces of reactionary Europe; all the powers of feudalism had combined
to crush an emperor who had no royal blood in his veins; he raged over
Germany like an infuriated beast with a genius for military tactics,
scattering armies which dispersed only to join together and face him
again. While Richard was in his cradle the whole of Saxony was filled
with the squalor and misery and loathsome terrors of war. Leipzig was
occupied by the French; Marshal Davoust was left there as commandant,
with power of life and death, and all the other privileges of a
military governor; and in the deputy-registrar of the law-court he
found the man for the post of provisional chief of the police "of
public safety." Who kept the public safe from the police I am unable
to say. Fighting was going on perpetually in the neighbourhood; the
dead and dying lay scattered in all directions; the stench bred
epidemics more murderous than all Napoleon's cannon. Friedrich must
have found his hands full day and night. Richard was baptized on
August 16; the following day Napoleon won a victory which cost him
dear; the 18th, being Sunday, was observed as such by a soldiery in
need of a rest; on the 19th Napoleon was a beaten man, and ran to save
his skin past the windows of the house of the Red and White Lion on
the Brühl. Richard's mother had been trembling for her own safety and
that of her children and husband; but when, as she herself afterwards
told, she saw the dreaded conqueror bolt in haste without his hat, she
breathed again. Whether she and the family were any better off under
the deliverers is a question that does not concern us here: the point
is that she thought she was. It was all one to Richard, who, aged
three months, slept peacefully on.

After the deliverance Friedrich's work became even heavier than
before. The town through its length and breadth was shattered and
dilapidated; whole families were homeless and packed like rabbits in
hutches; the slaughtered dead, men and beasts, could not be buried
quick enough; black death stalked abroad in the guise of what was
called hospital typhus--an epidemic fever of some kind. After the
French flight, I take it, provisional chief-policeman Wagner had
returned to his deputy-registrarship; but his toils were none the
lighter for that. He exhausted himself; the appalling fever attacked
him and he had no strength to resist it; and he died on November 22,
exactly six months after the birth of Richard. Wagner's ill-luck, his
wicked fairy, struck her first blow while his age had to be reckoned
in months; she went on striking, and never ceased to strike, until he
was beginning to grow a little weary and his age was reckoned in
decades of years, and in terms of masterpieces accomplished and
insults and ill-usage by no means patiently borne. It must have seemed
hard to his widowed mother, after the uncertainties and horrors of the
last years, that when at last a period of happy peace seemed about to
dawn, uncertainties and griefs and worries of a fresh sort should come
upon her.

Whether Frau Wagner ever actually drew any pension from the good
burghers of Leipzig or the greedy state officials of Saxony seems,
when all is said, very uncertain. In such times of stress and struggle
great crown officers, laudably anxious about their own interests and
the interests of their families, are apt to be rather careless, not to
say callous, about the smaller fry. However, pension or no pension,
with the aid of relatives and friends the Wagners pulled through.
Chief and best amongst the friends was Ludwig Geyer.

A few words must be said about him. Born in 1780, he was ten years
Carl Friedrich's junior. An actor who had taken up painting, or a
painter who had taken up acting, in both arts he had won at any rate a
local reputation. We know what was thought of his histrionic gifts
from more or less competent contemporaries; but what to think of his
paintings I do not know, for two reasons: I do not trust my own
judgment in such a matter, and if I did, I have never seen any of
Geyer's work. Of this, however, I am very sure: he cannot have been a
good painter unless nature had worked a miracle in sending a good
painter to Germany in the eighteenth or nineteenth century. German
artists of the period must be classified not as sheep and goats, but
as bad goats and worse goats. But if he was not a fine painter he was
what is better, or, at any rate, more useful to the rest of human
kind, a fine character: a noble, generous, self-sacrificing man. In
haste on hearing of Carl Friedrich's death he came from Dresden to
attend to the burying of the dead and the nourishing of the living.
The details of this first period of Richard's ill-fortune do not
amount to a great deal and are unimportant, since our subject is
Richard, and his mother, brother and sisters only so far as their
lives and characters influenced Richard. Albert, the eldest of the
children, was now fourteen years old; he was at the Royal school in
Meissen, and there he remained. Rosalie went to dwell with a friend of
Geyer's, a lady who lived at Dresden. Louise was adopted by a Frau
Hartwig, also at Dresden. Richard in his cradle remained with his
mother and the younger members of the tribe in Leipzig.

And so presently life began to move on as before, while the dead man
slept in his grave. But immediately fresh troubles came. Albert fell
dangerously ill and was threatened with a total breakdown of his
health; Richard was an ailing infant; and a change in the arrangements
of the theatrical company which provided Geyer with a portion of his
income compelled him to remain in Dresden continuously. This proved
really a stroke of good fortune. Glasenapp, basing his calculations
on I know not what authorities or documents, computes that his
earnings as an actor at this time came to £156 a year, and there seems
every reason to think he was at least fairly well paid for his
portraits. It was not enough to be shared between two families, or, we
had better say, to be devoted to the up-keep of two homes. He
determined rapidly on a bold stroke. That he was in love with Frau
Wagner is more than any one can declare with confidence; but she was
an amiable, bright woman, a good mother and thrifty housekeeper; and
it is likely enough that she had inspired a deep affection in a
singularly loving man. After the recovery of Albert the widow had gone
for a change to Dresden; and there Geyer resolved to marry her--and
resolved quickly; for Carl Friedrich died in November 1813, and early
in 1814 the marriage took place. Soon after, the new Frau Geyer
returned to Leipzig; then the whole family migrated to Dresden, where
Richard was to pass from babyhood into boyhood and spend the first
fourteen years of his life.


The Geyer-Wagner family set up their tent in the Moritz-strasse in
Dresden, which belonged to the seventeenth or eighteenth century--was
in fact almost mediæval. Life must have been atrociously narrow and
trammelled to any free spirit. But Germany did not produce many of
that sort at the time, and those she did produce were quickly
silenced in gaol. Whether Geyer had yearnings for outward liberty
cannot be said; but if he had he gave no expression to them, being
himself a court player and a semi-court painter. Undoubtedly the main
thing to him was that in the drowsy court air he could at least earn
the means of bringing up adequately the large family he had taken on
his shoulders. He played constantly in all sorts of parts, and in his
off hours painted; he also wrote a number of theatre pieces of varying
type and importance--none of which concern us here. His wife enjoyed a
period of peace in which to attend to her husband, children and house,
as a faithful hausfrau should. If Geyer was industrious and much
occupied, he nevertheless found time to cultivate friendships, and
some of them in later days were continued by Richard.

The whole life of the circle went on around the theatre or in it; it
must have been their whole world, for of culture other than of the
theatre there is no indication--save one or two half-hearted remarks
of Geyer's at a slightly later period. They admired Goethe and
Schiller, of course, and knew their theatre works; they knew of the
Romantics in so far as they affected the theatre; it seems to have
been only through the theatre they saw anything or could see anything.
Breathing the theatrical atmosphere constantly, one after another of
Geyer's step-children caught the theatre malady (for it will be
admitted that men or women must have something the matter with them if
they deliberately choose a theatrical life); and within a few years
three of them were appearing on the stage. Albert left school and went
to the university to study medicine; after a very brief struggle he
gave this up, studied singing, and in 1819 or 1820 made his debut as a
light-opera tenor. Before this Geyer had warned him against taking
such a course; but apparently he was obdurate. On May 2 of the former
year Rosalie had first appeared as an actress in a piece by Geyer;
still earlier Louise had also begun acting child-parts. There must
have been a good deal of family discussion and commotion about these
things. It had been the wish of Friedrich Wagner that Rosalie should,
or perhaps might, take to the stage as a profession, but in no case
until she had attained the age of sixteen. Friedrich's brother Adolph,
as I have said, set himself in deadly opposition to anything of the
sort happening. Letters and counter-letters ensued; but the instinct
of the youngsters turned out to be sufficiently strong, and perhaps
the opposition of Geyer too feeble to carry the day; and one after
another the Wagners took to the boards as ducklings to water. Geyer
kept his word to his dead friend, however; and Rosalie, though she had
been long preparing, made no public appearance until she reached
sixteen. A little longer and Clara took up the family occupation. How
all this affected the family generally, and especially Richard, we
shall see before long. In the meantime it may be mentioned that
Julius, the second son, nine years Richard's senior, was apprenticed
at Eisleben to Geyer's younger brother, a goldsmith: he alone was not
pulled stagewards.


Naturally enough there is nothing but idle and frequently fatuous
hearsay to repeat of these early years, save this only, that Richard
did not show the slightest musical precocity. Nor need this surprise
us. Mozart, Bach, Beethoven were brought up in households where music
was as the daily bread; their ears must have been filled with it while
they were in their cradles. It is true that Handel's father dreaded
music as a disease and a musician as a vagabond; but in this case the
precocity is quite unattested, and the stories of the six-year boy
practising on a dumb-spinet at midnight originated when the boy had
become the most celebrated musician in Europe. I wish here to make a
few not wholly irrelevant remarks. The tales of Handel's wondrous
babyhood were repeated, and repeated many times, by writers who did
not know what a dumb-spinet was and certainly made no inquiries
regarding the source of the tales. Both legend and dumb-spinet are
swallowed cheerfully to this day because so many authors accept them;
and I would point out that the first author, No. I, was simply copied
recklessly by author No. II, that author No. III, maybe a little less
recklessly, copied No. II because he was supported by No. I; and thus
the game went on until the simple minds of a generation think that
what fifty writers have said must be true. Ten thousand times more has
been written about Wagner than all that Handel provoked, and even less
honest investigation has been made--result, a gigantic series of
tales, genuine or mythical, based on what amounts to no authority
whatever. Unless these are verifiable I leave them to the care of
others, and pass on. So with regard to Wagner's childhood we know he
showed himself no wonderful genius. We do know that he lived amidst
folk whose whole conversation must have been of the theatre and drama,
actors and actresses; that he was petted and taken about by his
stepfather, and as soon as he was old enough, or sooner, went to the
theatre while rehearsals were going on. "The Cossack," as Geyer called
him, grew up a lively, quick-witted child, active and full of
mischief, "leaving a trousers-seat per day on the hedge" and sliding
down banisters--much indeed like many other children who afterwards
for want of leisure neglected to compose a _Ring_ or a _Tristan_. The
theatrical life, I feel sure, did not differ greatly from the same
life to-day. It is for the most part a sordid, petty existence, one in
which one's days, weeks, months and years are frittered away; they
pass and there is nothing tangible to show for them. When performances
are not over until late, no one rises early; then come the rehearsals;
then the evening performance again--and so home and to bed. Long
intervals of waiting between spells of monotonous work can hardly be
used for anything but gossiping at the stage-door or idling in cafés.
Save for those who have risen high in popular favour--or, during
Wagner's boyhood, the favour of kings or their mistresses--it is an
uncertain life, with engagements terminable, and very often
terminated, after a few years; and thus a hand-to-mouth way of
grubbing along is generated, and a vagrant spirit developed: and in
the majority, the huge majority, of cases lives spent in squalor, mean
squabblings, spells of mechanical work alternating with enforced
idleness, end in destitution and utter misery. Uncle Adolph was quite
right: he knew how close the ordinary actor and opera-singer was to
the _cabotin_. But Geyer, we must remember, was very far away indeed
from the _cabotin_. Good-natured and sociable as he seemed, he must
have held to his purpose with iron determination and stuck to his
work; and whatever Richard and his brothers and sisters may have seen
going on around them, we may be sure they saw none of it in their own

When in 1817 Weber arrived at Dresden to set up a real German opera,
it seemed he must have landed in exactly the wrong place to carry out
his plans. Only by a series of miracles did they get partially carried
out; and here, as we know, he composed two works, _Der Freischütz_ and
_Euryanthe_, destined in after years to exert greater power over
Richard's genius than any other music save Beethoven's--a power not
inferior to that of Beethoven's music in some respects. Weber
inevitably became a friend of the Geyers, and before Richard was much
older he knew the great person to speak to and set him up in his heart
as a demi-god. But as yet Richard was only picking up a little
knowledge and trying, very faintly trying, to play the piano.

Meanwhile, Geyer's health was failing, though no one then foresaw what
was to come. He acted, he painted, he wrote plays, he saw to the
debuts of Albert and Rosalie; he tried a cure here and a cure there.
In 1821 he moved to a larger house at the corner of the Jüdenhof and
the Frauengasse, and rejoiced to have a larger studio for his
picture-work. In July he went to Breslau and returned ill, tried
Pillnitz and came back appearing a little better, and promptly got
worse. On the evening of September 29 he heard Richard strumming the
"Jungfernkranz," and asked his wife whether it was possible the boy
had any gift for music; the following evening he died. The next
morning Richard was told by his mother that his father would fain have
made something of him; and, like young Teufelsdröckh, Wagner for long
fancied something would be made of him.


So, less than eight years after, Ludwig Geyer followed his friend Carl
Friedrich Wagner to the grave, like him to a premature grave. He left
only one child of his own, Augusta Cäcilie (born February 26, 1815);
but he made Friedrich's widow his wife and her children were as his
children; and he toiled hard for their comfort and planned unceasingly
for their welfare; and when on an October morning he was left in his
last peaceful home to rest, it must have seemed to his widow as though
happiness was to be denied her until she joined him. The winter of
1813 had been black enough, but at once she had Geyer; in 1821 there
was no second Geyer. Adolph Wagner may have seen in the tragedy a
marked instance of the folly of having anything to do with the stage
or actors. Possibly he did not realize that precisely through Geyer's
connection with the theatre, and only to a comparatively small extent
by means of his reputation as an artist, his sister-in-law and nephews
and nieces suffered less than might have been anticipated. For on the
morning following Geyer's death Rosalie swore to take his place as
provider for the family, and that promise she kept.

When Richard was six months old, fate, as we have seen, struck her
first blow, placed the first obstacle in the path of a successful
infantile career, and swiftly sent Geyer to his aid. Now, when he was
just turned eight, she snatched away Geyer, and had already Rosalie in
readiness to help him. And, in fact, throughout Wagner's life fate
seemed never to tire of delivering staggering blows with one hand, and
with the other hand, at the same moment or a moment later, giving him
compensation, often ample, sometimes on a scale of lordly generosity.
From the beginning to the end of his seventy years no man ever had
worse or better luck than Wagner. It is perfectly clear that fate
meant him to write the _Mastersingers_ and _Tristan_, and at times she
was cruel to him only to be kind to humanity. It is true she seems to
have made a mistake when she allowed him to complete _Parsifal_--but
that matter lies as yet many chapters ahead.

It would appear that Frau Geyer had a pension of some sort; since May
1 Rosalie had been engaged with the Royal Court players of Dresden;
Albert and Louise both had engagements at Breslau--one of Geyer's last
acts had been to see Albert safely fixed there; it is probable, if not
certain, that Adolph Wagner--who, after all, was fairly well off--lent
a helpful hand: and the family, if not in the modest affluent
circumstances they enjoyed while Geyer lived, at any rate tasted none
of the bitterness of poverty. Glasenapp states that Geyer's "stock of
pictures" had gone up in value after his death; but as he just
previously tells us of Geyer's lack of time and of "would-be sitters"
waiting their turn, we cannot see how the stock can have been very
large. Let us hope, however, that it was, and that Geyer in his grave
went on helping those he loved. Julius was safely bestowed at
Eisleben; and the widow had Clara, Ottilie, Richard and Cäcilie to
look after--quite enough, it is true, and calling for all the
resources of her housewifery to make ends meet; but, still, nothing
like the burden Geyer had taken up so courageously a few years before.
How much Rosalie and Albert could spare out of the small salaries paid
in those--and still paid in these--days by German theatres is a matter
entirely for conjecture: it cannot have amounted to a mighty sum, the
main point is that it served. I deal with these details, because at
the first glance one is puzzled to know however the family managed to
pull through at all and avoid the workhouse.

At first Richard was sent to his step-uncle Geyer at Eisleben, where,
he himself says, he did little in the way of learning. Geyer tried to
persuade him to work at his books and sent him to a school kept by one
Alt, promising him he should go to the Kreuzschule at Dresden; but he
had grown too fond of doing his reading on out-of-the-way lines; he
was fond also of roaming the countryside. There was endless trouble in
discovering what to do with him and what to make of him. At last a
time came when Uncle Geyer could no longer keep him; and in response
to inquiries Uncle Adolph answered virtually that he could and would
do nothing. So towards the end of 1822 Richard was sent home to
Dresden, and there on December 2 he was entered at the Kreuzschule as
Richard Geyer. This, let me remark in passing, was and is common
enough when a widowed mother has married a second time. Several such
cases are within my own experience; and malicious snarls at Wagner's
double name, as though at some period he had gone under an alias, are
purely futile and worthy only of an advocate with a desperate case.

With this Wagner's period of infancy ends and he enters on that of
boyhood--his life begins. Henceforth we shall hear less of other
members of his family--though they will by no means drop out of the
story completely, or all but completely, as they did when he came to
his marrying days.




So far all we can learn about Wagner that is worth knowing amounts to
this: he was born into and passed his first years in the precincts of
Bohemia, where the Bohemian atmosphere was tempered with officialism,
court-etiquette, and the influence of a methodical and resolutely
conscientious stepfather. When Richard became a man and wrote on the
theatre and theatrical life he showed an intimate knowledge of all
details hardly possible to one who had not gone through this early
experience: scores of things that an ordinary educated Englishman
learns with considerable surprise were to him the merest matters of
course. When an English composer resolves to write an opera, in the
spirit in which a sculptor may decide to paint a picture or a
flute-player to play the fiddle, he has to learn all, or as much as he
can, about the requirements of the stage, and even then if his work
comes to rehearsal he has to accept corrections and make alterations
at the instance of those who have been through the proper early
training. No one had anything to teach Richard in these respects: he
knew by what seems an infallible instinct, but which was mainly the
result of all he had seen since his babyhood, precisely what was
effective and what ineffective on the stage, what was possible and
what impossible. He made no mistakes; even the "impossibilities" of
the _Ring_ proved feasibilities and are now accomplished nightly
without trouble in every opera-house of Europe.

This training--for it was a training, perhaps the very best for the
career before him--now went on as in Geyer's time. He still dwelt in
Bohemia, but as the influence of his stepfather had been salutary, so
now to an extent came in the influence of school. Hitherto we have had
rather to consider his family than him; but now the little
individuality begins to emerge, more and more clearly and distinctly,
from that circle. He begins an independent existence, controlled in an
overwhelming degree by the life of the theatre and home-life, but also
leading a life of his own at school and very wilfully taking a line or
lines of his own there. We can now begin to trace the growth of the
mental, and especially the artistic, nature of one of the most
stupendous geniuses the earth has produced. It is altogether
unnecessary to try to piece together anything approaching an elaborate
sketch of the activities and escapades of these days: this would
involve laying violent and liberal hands on the fruits of the labours
of Glasenapp and a dozen other pickers-up of unconsidered trifles,
would yield us nothing essential and might drive the reader to an
untimely end. Out of the strangely tangled skein of truth and obvious
fiction which is called his "life" for this period I shall endeavour
only to pick out such threads of fact as seem to me helpful.

Richard remained five years at the Kreuzschule and took to the
classics with avidity. The best part of his education was classical.
True, he learned enough arithmetic to know how many marks made twenty
and how many francs a louis; but the classics provided him with the
pabulum his growing mind hungered for. His Greek professor took a
special interest in him, which is not surprising when we remember that
at the age of thirteen he translated twelve books of the Odyssey as a
holiday task. Besides this he worked at philology and the ordinary
school curriculum. It is just possible--just, I say--that had the
family remained longer in Dresden he might never have turned to the
Scandinavian sagas at all, but have become an eminent scholar and the
composer of mediocre symphonic music. That, luckily, is one of the
might-have-beens, and we need not mourn over it. Music he was very far
from dropping. He had played a Weber scene while his stepfather was
dying; and he continued to bang away at overtures with such a
fingering, as Mr. Bernard Shaw has said, as of necessity would be
employed by the average worker at a circular-saw. But the great
awakening was not yet. He had first to give the world the mightiest
drama ever conceived by the mind of an energetic, bright,
self-confident boy.

I do not think there is on record a single instance of a great
engineer having manifested artistic preferences in his youth, or of a
great painter having misspent his boyhood in making toy machines.
Always, from the very beginning, the boy unconsciously, without
reflection, instinctively, helplessly, starts away in the direction he
is destined to follow as a man; and though some potential great poets
may be thwarted and ultimately discouraged and lost to the world, by
far the more common phenomenon is that of young geniuses overcoming or
brushing aside or dodging all obstacles at all costs (to themselves
and every one else) and finding their true road, the path nature
shaped them to tread. At the first glance Wagner might seem a
startling exception to the nearly universal rule; but he is no
exception. The theatre was his first love, and to the theatre he ever
remained faithful: only through the theatre did his genius manifest
itself; apart from the theatre it may be doubted whether he could have
developed into the consummate technical musician of _Tristan_ and the
_Mastersingers_. Music was his second love, music associated with
drama; and throughout his long career we find him engaged, first, in
getting his drama true, poignant and effective, and then in allying it
with music. Third in his affections came philosophy; and at this time
of day it need scarcely be remarked that he always considered himself
a bit of a philosopher, and toyed to the last with philosophy and
pseudo-philosophy. Reams of good paper and gallons of good ink have
been used in writing about the musician, the composer of the most
magnificent operas in the world; weeks, months, years have gone to the
writing. But all the paper, all the ink, all the labour, all the
mental effort and sympathy and love seem a bagatelle when we look
through the bibliographies and realize how much paper, ink,
effort--not always to be called mental--sympathy and love have been
used up in expounding Wagner's philosophy. The cases of Whitman and
Browning make a poor show compared with this case. I believe there are
still some human beings who turn for guidance to Wagner the
philosopher. Later I shall be compelled to say something about the
subject. What Wagner's docile apostles say does not greatly matter--in
fact, does not matter at all; what Wagner said does demand a little
consideration; and we must bear in mind that philosophy and
pseudo-philosophy supplied him with the stuff out of which he wove the
word-tissue of his dramas.


There is not much, then, to detain us during this period. Rosalie and
Albert had their engagements, Rosalie being the mainstay of the
family. On May 1, 1824 Clara made her debut. Uncle Adolph, ceaseless
in objurgations touching every one who had any connection with the
court or trade theatres of the day, had to accept the situation; and,
apparently in desperation, or because he found life intolerable with
two nagging females in the house where he dwelt, quietly went in 1824
and married Sophie, a sister of his friend Amadeus Wendt.
Thenceforward he lived in peace at a house called "The Hut," visiting
his two nagging ladies every day, however. One was his sister,
Friederike, the other Jeannette Thomä. He was a studious, retiring
man, and in the course of time produced some books that are worthless,
or all but worthless, now. Of course the Bayreuth worshippers and
idolizers of the Wagner family will have it that he, being one of the
family, was inevitably a man of superlative gifts; but as I have
already indicated, there is nothing to justify such an assumption. A
cultivated man of sound sense he must have been; and it is true he was
in some slight touch with a few of the stronger artistic and literary
spirits in that very dull and disheartening period; it is true that he
influenced, wholly for good, Richard a few years afterwards. When that
is said all is said.

Richard is said to have studied English, but how much he actually
learnt I never could ascertain. I have been told with solemn
mysteriousness at Bayreuth that, like the parrot, he could have
rattled off our tongue with tremendous volubility had he chosen; but
the fact that he never chose lends colour to the supposition that in
reality he had no choice. However, in the original or in translations
he read Shakespeare; and it may be presumed that he knew Goethe and
Schiller almost by heart. Naturally he determined to rival them. In
that heyday of the big Romantic movement he just as naturally
determined to rival or to beat them by piling terror on terror, horror
on horror. At that period the latest word in the theatre was melodrama
of the wildest sort, and a play which did not contain a few murders,
ghosts, enchanted woods and haunted castles had not the faintest
chance of success. According to Wagner's own account he made a
handsome bid for success; for nearly all the _dramatis-personæ_ came
to an untimely end, and a spectre told one, not yet finished off, that
if he moved another step his nose would then and there crumble to

While this masterwork was in process of construction, circumstances so
altered that Frau Geyer thought it wisdom to quit Dresden and return
to Leipzig. Albert, Rosalie, Louise and Clara were in various towns
fulfilling engagements; she was left alone with the younger children.
In 1826 Rosalie had gone to Prague; Albert and Clara were in Augsburg;
Louise had been in Breslau, had tried Berlin, then finally took a
permanent post at the theatre in Leipzig. So a move was determined on,
and the family made another migration in 1827. Richard stayed on for
some time, in connection with his schooling, I presume; then he
followed, incidentally taking the most momentous step in his young

These five years had been for him profitable. He got the best part of
his education at Dresden, where he had skilful and sympathetic
masters; and almost, one may say, without knowing it he had received
an informal musical education which was profoundly to affect him as
soon as he started writing operas. I mean that he constantly attended
the opera while Weber was conductor, and Weber, who had been a friend
of Geyer's, used to call at the house to pass the time of day with the
widow. Richard looked up to him with awe and worshipped every bar of
his music; and this, together with a knowledge of the road Richard was
soon to take and of what he was to become, makes one wonder that he
had not already decided to compose another _Freischütz_. But, as I
have said, the theatre--that is, the theatre with the spoken
drama--was his first love; and evidently it had a wondrous hold on
him, for after spending a rapturous evening with _Freischütz_--first
given in Leipzig in 1822--he would return contentedly to his tragedy.
It took a stronger spirit even than Weber's to awaken the musical side
of his nature. But unconsciously the foundation had been laid, as we
shall have ample reason to understand before long. These years at
Dresden, too, are noteworthy, inasmuch as they saw the beginning of
some friendships, at least one of which was to prove lifelong and
invaluable to Richard.


When the family settled again in Leipzig one Ludwig van Beethoven died
(March 1827), and Wagner heard of this composer, it is said, for the
first time. It is all but unimaginable, yet there seems no reason to
doubt it. After all, that was not an age of halfpenny morning and
evening papers, and if composers were boomed the deed was accomplished
tranquilly in the houses of great society leaders, dukes and
archbishops, and the general public knew little of what was going on.
I dare say even in our newspaper age many a clever boy of fourteen has
never heard of Strauss or Josef Holbrooke, and Beethoven did not loom
nearly so large before the eyes of the people as these composers do:
the names of Salieri, Marschner, Meyerbeer, Spontini, Spohr and Weber
would be much more familiar than his; even in Vienna he was regarded
mainly as a deaf, surly old crank who had the support of highly placed
personages. So there is the amazing fact: Wagner, who worshipped
Weber's operas, had not, when fourteen years old, heard of the
existence of a musician a thousand times mightier than Weber. The
great hour was at hand.

First, however, he had to pass through a period of boyish disgust and
disappointment. At Dresden he had been a favourite with his masters,
and had worked hard. His own account of the methods, temper, and
intellectual qualifications of his masters seems to me eminently
reasonable. Their aim was to bring out whatever was best in their
pupils. His account of his first masters at Leipzig similarly bears
the stamp of truthfulness. They were a set of conceited academics
with only two ideas in the world: first, that they were the very
finest flower of Teutonic culture; second, that they must so impose
their personalities on the boys, so impress them with their ideal,
that every pupil would carry to his dying hour the stamp of the
culture of the Nicolai school. Utterly unsympathetic, narrow beyond
the dreams of the narrowest of modern schoolmasters, they were
frankly, virulently hostile to any one in whom they perceived--as they
always did perceive with the unerring instinct of stupidity to detect
cleverness--the smallest trace of originality of character, thought or
outlook on life. As a rule they seem to have been successful in
achieving their aim. An old German friend of mine told me he had
calculated that the Nicolai school turned out in ten years more
complete, complacent blockheads than any other school in Germany had
turned out in half-a-century; and my friend gave me many notable
instances of men who had soon won the proud distinction of being
unmistakable pupils of the Nicolai school. There were rebels, and
Wagner makes it clear that he was amongst them. To begin with, he had
been in the second class at the Kreuzschule. The more effectually to
imbue him with the Nicolai ambition of becoming a scholar, _i.e._ a
pedant, and a complete, if sausage-munching, German gentleman of the
period, they degraded him to the third. No doubt there were protests:
one cannot believe that Wagner the boy any more than Wagner the man
could refrain from declamation under a grievance; but with such
impervious skulls and thick hides protests would be unavailing. The
mischief was done: he was numbered amongst the rebels, the lost souls,
the unhappy beings who dared to have notions of their own. He
neglected his studies and sought refuge in his drama. I wonder if he
found, or made, an opportunity of satirizing his precious professors
in it.

At home his life cannot have been much better. Good Hausfrau Geyer
cannot have understood where the shoe pinched: she can only have seen
how he was wasting his time. The tragedy was discovered and there seem
to have been solemn family deliberations regarding the probable fate
of the reprobate. His Uncle Adolph seems to have acted as the great
consoler. He, at any rate, knew better than to think a boy was on the
way to the bottomless pit simply because he could not get on with a
gang of dull pedagogues. Now and later he lectured Richard in a kindly
if sententious way; and he must have fostered the boy's natural strong
spirit of revolt. Adolph loathed authority, especially the authority
of irresponsible court officials; and in some of his preserved letters
he lashes these gentry, the scum of humanity and the parasites of
courts, with scathing sarcasm. His sarcasm had no practical result,
because the officials never saw it--if they had they would have
shrugged their fat shoulders and gone to draw their comfortable
salaries. But he taught Wagner that officialdom is the curse of the
human race; and in after years that certainly had some practical
results--at the moment calamitous to Wagner; in the long run
beneficial to him and the human race. Perhaps of all forms of
authority that which Adolph found least tolerable, that which he
taught Richard to loathe and hate and spit upon, was official
authority in art matters. Nowadays, when public opinion counts for
something, when those who pay the taxes insist on having some small
say as to the way in which they are spent, the intendant of a German
theatre is by no means the lordly court-parasite he was once. Yet even
now he often flouts his paymasters, feeling fairly secure under court
protection. We can easily imagine the high-and-mighty jack-in-office
he must have been in Adolph's time.

Wherever he made his power felt it blasted honest art and checked
honest art endeavour. It was fitting that Richard should have dinned
into him--as I have no doubt he did--his uncle's views on these
heroes; for later Richard had a fair amount of fighting to do with
them, and in the end it was he more than any other one man who broke
their power for ever by appealing to the great public. This attitude
is due to Richard's preaching and example; and he learnt it from Uncle
Adolph. In one other respect Adolph's influence was good: he opened
out to Richard's vision immense fields of literature that the
youngster had never heard of. I have previously mentioned that all the
culture of the Geyer family came through the theatre. To this Richard
added a small school-acquaintance with the classics; and now came
Adolph to show him a huge, truly vital literature--poetry and prose
dealing with the life of our own epoch. Adolph wrote reminding him of
how finely Weber Had cultivated himself, of his breadth, of his
outlook on history and mankind. It is evident that Adolph, seeing the
irresistible bent of the Wagners towards the theatre, and fearing that
Richard might in time learn to be content with a life of ignorant
theatre tittle-tattle, did his best to save him, not so much by
warning him against the theatre--which he certainly knew to be
useless--as by showing how many great and interesting things the world
holds. The preaching did not fall on deaf ears; and Richard always
declared that in this regard he was incalculably indebted to his
uncle. One of Richard's most strongly marked characteristics was the
tenacity with which he held any idea that once entered his mind; and
it is worthy of note that about this period he read E.T.A. Hoffmann's
collected fantasies and Tieck's _Tannhäuser_. From the first he
unmistakably got the minstrels' contest in his own _Tannhäuser_; from
the second, Tannhäuser's coming home after being cursed by the Pope.

So things went on. Richard's mother, Richard, Louise, Ottilie and
Cäcilie formed the household; Uncle Adolph and Aunt Sophie lived not
far off; and they had plenty of friends. They lived at first in the
Pichhof outside the Halle gate and later removed into the town.
Richard wandered about the city, seeking the scenes of his babyhood;
and his mother pointed out to him the spot where she saw Napoleon
rush off, without his hat, to make his: escape after the battle of
liberation, while Richard was in his cradle. The Rannstadt gate, where
his grandfather spent his life collecting dues, was still standing,
though it was soon to vanish; and the house of the Red and White Lion
on the Brühl, where Richard was born, was now in the very heart of the
Jew quarter. The costumes, speech and gesticulation of these strange
animals left an indelible impression on him, and were, perhaps,
incidentally responsible for the notorious _Judaism in Music_ of 1850,
and all the fallacies contained in that deplorable essay. Richard got
his own way in most things, and the seeds were sown of the
self-confidence, egotism, selfishness--call it what you will--that was
to carry him through unheard-of difficulties and troubles in later
life, and was often, unfortunately, to show as an objectionable, even
odious, feature in his character. He still laboured at his tragedy,
killing off his personages and turning their noses into dust with the
careless facility and cheerfulness of buoyant boyhood. He had always
been fond of roaming the country, and he continued to nourish that
love of the pleasant earth which forced him to keep up the habit all
his life and resulted in the glorious pictorial music of the _Ring_.
He struggled in vain to conquer the piano-keys, and, indifferent to
the fable of the fox and the grapes, came to the satisfying conclusion
that the instrument was not worth mastering. We must remember that
through Louise he was in constant touch with the theatre, and it is
evident that he kept up the connection after her marriage to
Brockhaus the bookseller in 1828, for when the theatre was entirely
reformed next year Rosalie came as a principal lady and Heinrich Dorn,
who speedily became his friend, as conductor. Drama, literature,
school-tasks, open-air rambles, talks with Uncle Adolph--these
constituted his life. Now another element was to enter and overwhelm
all the rest.




In the second half of the eighteenth century some enthusiasts at
Leipzig had founded a series of concerts, with a very small orchestra,
which were given in "Apel's house"; in 1781 they migrated to the
Gewandhaus, and by this name the concerts were afterwards known. In
still later days Mendelssohn became conductor, and for brilliance and
neatness the concerts were famous throughout the world; then Reinecke
came and they became the most slovenly in the world--in this fine
quality of slovenliness not even our London Philharmonic Society could
hope to rival them; also, as Reinecke was an acrid reactionary, no
modern music could get a hearing there. However, that did not greatly
matter; and the world owes the Gewandhaus concerts an everlasting debt
of gratitude.

Richard, we know, had never heard of Beethoven, had never heard a bar
of his music. At the Gewandhaus the symphonies were regularly played,
and to one of the performances he went, contented, with his head full
of his play, not dreaming of what was to happen to him ere the morrow.
Here are his own words: "I only remember that one evening I heard a
symphony of Beethoven's, for the first time, that it set me in a
fever, and on my recovery I had become a musician." This is from one
of his stories, but it describes with sufficient closeness what
actually happened. We know that saturated solutions of some salts at a
touch solidify into a mass of crystals, and as far as intentions were
concerned this, figuratively, happened to Richard: his purpose was
instantly set--he would be a musician--nay, he felt he _was_ a
musician. As to his proceedings, however, a better simile would be
that of a liquid into which you drop a little of another liquid and
immediately a violent commotion with much heat is set up. Beethoven's
music touched his young being, and a fermentation began which drove
him forthwith to make himself a perfectly equipped technical musician.
Almost like Teufelsdröckh and St. Paul, he was "converted" in the
twinkling of an eye.

The change was astounding; but Wagner was an astounding genius. The
bald fact is that he was musical as well as dramatic; hitherto the
dramatist in a favourable environment had grown and flourished while
the musician lay latent waiting his time; but the moment the spirit of
Beethoven spoke to his spirit the musician sprang up and responded.
Weber had been his musical god, but he was now set a little lower, and
Beethoven took his place. When he started to compose seriously it was
Weber and not Beethoven he copied, but that is easily explained:
Wagner, like Weber, wrote theatrical music for the theatre, whilst
Beethoven wrote only utterly untheatrical music for the theatre, and
it was from Weber and not Beethoven he had to learn his art of theatre
music. But it was from Beethoven and not from Weber that the impulse
to, compose came. He had heard, probably, all Weber's operas without
any desire to go and do likewise; but having heard Beethoven's
symphonies, and the incidental music to _Egmont_, he at once realized
that his tragedy would be incomplete without music, and he resolved to
write it. Carlyle, overlooking the trifling fact that there is such a
thing as the technique of the novelist's trade, and believing in the
omnipotence of the human will, set out to write a work of fiction; and
we may imagine his disgust and the sincerity of his objurgations when
the brute of a novel obstinately refused to be written.

When the incidental music to--whatever the name of his play
was--obstinately refused to be written, young Wagner may have said
something, though it is not on record; but having a finer instinct
than Carlyle he perceived the necessity of acquiring the technique of
his new trade. So he got possession of Logier's _Method_; in a few
days made a complete study of it; then he set to work in earnest
--with, alas! no more satisfactory fruits. Something that might serve,
however, was achieved, and the ambitious composer went on to a fresh
struggle. He had heard Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, so, taking
Goethe's _Laune des Verliebten_, he started a kind of fantasia,
concocting words and music together. An account of Wagner's youth
would be incomplete without some mention of these brave doings; they
show clearly how strong the instinct which led him on to the _Ring_
was in him at this early time--to what an unusual degree the child was
father of the man. But to take seriously his tragedy and these first
musical attempts, made at the unusually advanced age of sixteen, even
if I had seen them--which I have not: I do not know whether they are
in existence--would be preposterous.

Richard began to see that he could make no headway, and he persuaded
his family to let him take lessons from Gottlieb Müller, who must have
been a bad teacher for such a boy. Nothing was learnt. Richard was
told he must not do this and must not do that, and he was not told
what he might or should do; in the end both he and Müller grew
disgusted and the lessons were abandoned. I dare say Müller was in a
humdrum way a good coach; he could have prepared candidates for our
absurd academic examinations; but for an artistic genius, bursting
with inarticulate ideas and inchoate purposes he was worse than
useless. So Richard had to muddle along as he best might, while his
good relatives doubted whether he would ever be able to do anything at
all, until by good fortune he tried Theo. Weinlig. Weinlig saw what
was wrong and what was wanted; instead of Müller's "you must not do
this or that: it is against 'rule,'" he explained matters and showed
Richard that if he once learnt the tricks of the trade he would be
able to compose just as he liked; in six months Richard had become an
expert contrapuntist and could fugue it with students who had toiled
for years. "Now," said Weinlig at the last, "you will probably never
want to write a fugue, but the knowledge that you can will give you
confidence." According to the late Mr. Dannreuther his words were,
"You have learnt to stand on your own legs." So it came to pass that
Richard's ambition was fulfilled: he was a musician.

In the life of a being so extraordinary as Wagner it is not surprising
that he took many steps, each of which seemed the most momentous in
his career; but I think on the whole we must reckon this one, from the
amateur enthusiast to the fully equipped professional musician, the
most important. How long he would have been about it but for Weinlig's
timely aid cannot be said. He was steeping himself in Beethoven. He
could not play the piano, but he could read scores: Heinrich Dorn
declared that he copied those of the overtures with his own hands. He
arranged the Ninth Symphony and offered it to Schott, who declined it,
of course. Another arrangement, for four hands, was afterwards
accepted by Breitkopf, in exchange, it would seem, for a copy of the
full score of the same work. Possibly he had borrowed the copy he
worked from--or thumbed it until it fell to pieces. Dorn said he never
came across such a Beethoven enthusiast, and he felt sure something
would come of it. We know something did come of it. Weinlig had taught
him the principles of musical form as well as harmony and
counterpoint, and thus made the grasping of the plan of each
masterpiece an easier task; and to Weinlig the world owes a huge debt
of gratitude. Richard acknowledged the debt; and after Weinlig's death
in 1842 he dedicated _The Love-feast of the Apostles_ to his widow.


Richard, when he was some years older, said bluntly he cared little
for his family; and some of the Wagner-mad Bayreuth host point out
that the family did little for him and did not understand him. One
might ask why they should be expected to do much: they had plenty to
do in looking after themselves. But no questions and no appeals to
sweet reasonableness are needed, for the very patent fact is that his
family helped him to the uttermost limit of their means. Geyer first,
his widowed mother afterwards, then Rosalie and his brother Albert,
without a doubt Louise--all did their best to make his young existence
comfortable and happy. He got a much better education than in that
epoch fell to the lot of the average student belonging to a family of
such straitened means; when he wanted lessons in music he got them,
and if the family did not pay for them I don't know who did. He was
fed, clothed and apparently provided with pocket-money to hold his own
with his fellow-students until at the age of twenty he began to earn a
little money for himself; and it was Albert who gave him his first
appointment. Long after then he drained their resources and the
resources of the families into which his sisters had married. Wagner,
as I have observed, was a spoiled boy and was made utterly selfish;
and as years went on and he came to think music the salvation of
Germany, and himself the salvation of music, by a simple logical
process he arrived at a conclusion which justified his
selfishness--namely, that it was every one's duty to support him, for
to support him was only to help art and the fatherland. It is all very
charming, and it makes one rather glad not to be a German. Without
Wagner's colossal egotism he never could have got through the
difficulties he had to face, and his selfishness is the defect of his
quality; but it is pitiable to find writers--Glasenapp, Ashton Ellis,
Chamberlain and Wolzogen--sunk so low in abject flunkeyism as to
glorify the defect as the quality.

In 1829 a court theatre, as has been said, was opened. Rosalie came as
a leading lady, and one Heinrich Dorn came as musical director. Dorn
was nine years older than Richard at a time of life when nine years
make an immense difference; but the elder, certainly through the
influence of Rosalie, from the beginning took a keen interest in the
younger. He played Richard's music at the theatre--to his own
confusion on at least one occasion. Richard had composed an overture
in six-eight time with a fearful stroke of the drum, a _Paukenschlag_,
every fourth or fifth bar; Dorn played it; the audience grew mirthful.
That is all. What the motive was for the drum-strokes I cannot guess.
Still, Dorn did not give him up, and performed other and, let us
hope, less ludicrous efforts. Presently I shall devote a page or two
to the compositions prior to his first professional engagement; but
first let me set down a few of the needful facts of his outer life.

The Paris revolution of 1830 set all youthful Europe in a ferment. The
students of Leipzig university were not behind, and though Wagner did
not yet belong to the sacred circles he mixed much with them, hearing
them talk and doubtless doing not a little talking himself. At one
stroke, he says, he became a revolutionist; and, within his own
meaning of the word, a revolutionist he remained all his life. When we
deal with the period during which his revolutionary ideas got him into
serious trouble it will be time to discuss his views: for the present
we need only note that the conduct of the Leipzig students in various
riotous scenes that took place filled him more than ever with
admiration for them, and with a determination to enrol himself amongst
them as early as possible. He had quitted the Nicolai and gone to the
more congenial Thomas school; but he would not wait to finish his
course there. On February 28, 1831 he had his wish and matriculated.
He was, I say, spoilt in everything. Most German musicians who
received any education worth speaking of at that time got it because
of the ambition of infatuated parents to see their children turn out
successful lawyers or win high official positions, for Germans have a
touching trust in their government and its power of providing for
their children. Richard, however, had no taste either for law or
officialism--he knew indeed that lawyers and officials are the
parasites and curse of our civilization. He had evidently taken to
heart his Uncle Adolph's admonitions--"Remember how wide was the
culture of C.M. von Weber," etc.; and he entered the university with
the intention, as he imagined, of acquiring some of that culture. But
I fancy he deceived himself. As a schoolboy, as we have just noted, he
aspired to the glory of studentship; having won to that he seems to
have rested content. Certainly he did no work, attended no lectures.
His days and nights were devoted to two things, composition and
politics. With Apel and others whom he used to meet at a café he
denounced governments, police officials and the rest of it; at home he
composed overtures and finally a great symphony in C major. It is hard
to say which of his two occupations he took the more seriously.

The artist was growing up strong within him; but the injustice and
robbery he saw perpetrated on every side of him, the wholesale theft
of Poland by Russian officials--by which I mean the Tsar, his
ministers, his generals, soldiers, subservient judges and police--set
his blood aboil; and I suppose that, like other boys of his years, as
well as many grown men, he fancied his talk would do something to put
the world and society right. But in no picture of his life at this
time that I have come across is there any hint of the poetic
atmosphere in which he should have lived. Surely in those days before
his health broke down, with his fervid imagination, his intimacy with
the masterworks of music and poetry, he must have drawn in a richer
air than the reek of a Leipzig café, his inner vision must have seen a
diviner light than the common light of the stodgy Leipzig streets,
with his inner ear he must have heard a music sweeter than the hoarse
arguments of students half-filled with lager-beer. In the accounts of
this time there is not--to use the phrase colloquially--a touch of
romance. Even his letters are stodgy. My surmise is that just as in
his boyhood the musical part of his nature lay latent and unsuspected
until Beethoven's music awoke it, so now the poetic part lay fallow
awhile, and he worked away at the technical side of his music,
mastering form and conventional development of themes, and in his
leisure spent his excess of energy in talking politics and
metaphysics. The C Symphony of the period can now be seen by all and
has often been played; and it supports my view very forcibly. When I
say there is no hint of Wagner in it I do not mean that the
phraseology does not resemble that of the later Wagner--one could
hardly expect that; I do mean that from _Die Feen_ onward there is
always atmosphere, always emotion and colour, in his music; while the
symphony is as bald, as unpoetical, as any mean street in Kennington.
I do not doubt that he had his poetic dreams, because with such a
nature he could not help it; but he must have been temporarily
indifferent to them, absorbed in mastering the purely technical part
of his business. If we compare the letters of the time with, say,
Keats's and Shelley's, it is startling to find him enthusing over the
affairs of the parish and seemingly turning his back on the great
thoughts of life, on life's colour, romance, poetry--call it what we
like. About the Poles he is enthusiastic and fiery enough. Hundreds of
these heroes passed through Leipzig, living on charity as they went to
their new homes in all quarters of the globe--where many of their
descendants live on charity to this day. Richard wept over their
griefs, and got the idea for a "Polonia" overture; and his ardour was
sufficiently hot to last out until 1836, when he wrote the work at
Königsberg. Or it may be that he had forgotten all about the Poles
till he got into the vicinity of their dismembered country. Richard
himself confesses to leading a dissipated life during this period; but
probably he exaggerated when in after years he began to realize the
brevity of life and to regret wasted hours. His guide, counsellor,
friend, and, I doubt not, inspirer of most of his great achievements,
Praeger, tells a fine story of this part of his life; and one can have
no hesitation in calling it a pack of lies. On the other hand, forger
though he was, Praeger is quite as worthy of credence as those writers
who want us to believe that Wagner as a boy of fourteen had a fully
developed character and clearly foresaw the _Ring_ and _Tristan_ as
things before him, only waiting to be accomplished. Richard was still
a boy, impulsive to the point of madness, a hotheaded fanatic, with
his character still in the making, his artistic purposes neither
defined nor capable of being defined. He was not yet a great man. But
he had the makings of a great man in him; and in the meantime it is
much that he gained the affection of most of the people he came
across. In fact it was as true now as ever it was in later life that
of those with whom he came in contact most became his friends and the
rest his enemies: few could disregard him or remain indifferent.

His apprenticeship was by no means run out in 1832. He had written and
heard performed some overtures, and he set to work and completed the
big Symphony in C major, "in the style of Beethoven"; and this done he
went for a holiday and to gain some little experience in Vienna. That
he could afford such a trip, when at the age of nineteen he could not
contribute a penny to the household expenses, bears out what I have
said about the assistance he received from his family. He contributed
nothing, and, considering his headstrong temper, only a courageous or
reckless man would have prophesied that he would ever be able to
contribute anything. However, to Vienna he went, and heard
_Zampa_--many more times than he wished. He heard Strauss' waltzes and
liked them; he saw Raymund's forgotten achievements and waxed eloquent
about them too. He seems to have learnt nothing but a lively contempt
for a frivolous people who had forgotten how lately Beethoven had died
amongst them--only five years before; a people who danced and made
merry and went philandering while every hour cholera was carrying off
its tens and sometimes hundreds of victims. He himself was
light-hearted and gay then; and having seen what there was to be seen
he went back to Leipzig _via_ Prague. Here he sketched _Die Hochzeit_;
met Dionys Weber, who had known Mozart, and Tomaschek, who had at all
events seen Beethoven; and made the acquaintance of Friedrich Kittl, a
fat, double-chinned amateur, just blossoming into a full-blown
professional musician, who ten years later succeeded Dionys Weber as
principal of the Prague conservatoire.

He still had very much to learn. But an Overture in D minor was
performed at the Gewandhaus concerts on February 23, 1832; a Scena and
Aria were sung by one Henriette Wüst at a "declamatorium" in the
Hoftheater on April 22 of the same year; a C major Overture was given
at the Gewandhaus eight days later; on January 10 of the following
year the C Symphony was played at the Gewandhaus after being tried by
a smaller orchestral society; an Overture to a preposterous play,
_King Enzio_, in which Rosalie took a part, had been played nightly
while the piece ran. I don't know what the "Scena with Aria" may be; a
"declamatorium" seems to be a fine term for a recitation or evening of
spouting; the C major Symphony was the last work of Wagner's to appear
on a Gewandhaus programme. At the same concert Clara Wieck--afterwards
Schumann--played a piano-concerto by Piscio. Reinecke's malicious
idiocy need rouse no bitterness now; but I may repeat that under his
directorship these concerts earned the contempt of musical Europe as
thoroughly as did our own Philharmonic Society. Until lately, when
one mentioned either, every musician laughed: now both are trying to
rehabilitate themselves, without much success. Both the Philharmonic
and the Gewandhaus represented musical vested interests; musicians
like Reinecke in Leipzig, and non-musicians like Cusins in London,
owed their handsome incomes to the positions into which good-luck had
thrust them; and we could hardly expect them to show their publics
what much abler men were about. It was because Reinecke and Cusins
(and with him J.W. Davison of the _Times_) knew Wagner to be a great
musician that they "kept him out" by the simple plan of saying he was
not a musician. It was not the truth, of course, and they knew it was
not the truth; but it is too much to expect truth to be considered
when solid incomes are at stake.

At the Gewandhaus--and also at Prague, where Dionys Weber ran through
a Beethoven symphony as if it was a Haydn _allegro_--Richard got his
first lessons in the art of conducting, by a method for which much may
be said, that is, he first learnt here how the thing should not be
done. He knew the ninth symphony by heart, and was also entranced by
the blended loveliness and strength of Mozart's symphonies: played
here, all the effects and points he could plainly see in the score
disappeared. He knew better, even thus early, than to think the two
great composers capable of writing the kind of academic stuff which
looks like music on paper and when played sounds like anything you
like excepting music. He saw that when an orchestra carelessly romped
through a movement, paying no heed to expression, to nuances of
colour, to tempi, it did not really play, interpret, the music; and
soon his convictions bore very remarkable fruit.

At the theatre he learnt the final lesson needed to prepare him for
writing operas of his own. _Masaniello_ in its way opened his eyes as
much as Beethoven's symphonies had done. Not only the bustle, but the
clean sweep of the thing from beginning to finish of each act, with
brilliant climaxes in the finales, made him stare and gasp in
amazement. Weber he admired; but Weber's power lay in the beauty and
picturesqueness of his music: in _Masaniello_ the music made its
effect because of the theatrical skill with which it was used. The
same thing he felt in _William Tell_. These two men, Auber and
Rossini, were masters of the art of writing effectively for the
theatre. The drama of their operas was not particularly striking nor
lofty, the music did not come near Beethoven's, Mozart's, nor even
Weber's in beauty, but their mastery in writing theatre-music carried
them through triumphantly. The problem was, then, to acquire their
skill and use it for a high and noble purpose; and this Richard at
once attempted to do. He planned and wrote the words of _Die
Hochzeit_. He laid it aside because Rosalie disliked the plot; but
immediately he proceeded to another opera, _Die Feen_, which he
completed at Würzburg. The book of _Die Hochzeit_ is dated December 5,
1832, Leipzig. On January 10 of the following year his symphony was
given; on the 12th he replied to his brother Albert--now singer,
actor and stage-manager at the Würzburg theatre--accepting an
invitation to stay with him; a few days later he set out, reaching his
destination towards the end of the month.


Wagner had scarcely time to look around him before his brother Albert
offered him the post of chorus-master. The salary was magnificent--£1
(of our money) per month for about six months in the year; the work
was hard. We need only note with regard to it that he here heard, and
in the process of drilling his choristers undoubtedly got to know very
well, all the popular successes of the day. His own account is that he
liked them; and it is significant that during this period he heard
Meyerbeer's _Robert the Devil_. At the moment it does not seem to have
affected his compositions; but in a very few years Meyerbeer's
example, if not his music, had a most marked influence in shaping his
career. For the present he worked at _Die Feen_, and as soon as the
theatre closed and Albert and his wife went elsewhere to perform in
the off-season--just as German, French, Italian and American singers
come to Covent Garden now during the summer--he had plenty of time. By
New Year's day of '34 the work was complete. Parts of it were rendered
by some Music Union; but soon Richard left Würzburg, having gained
much experience if not any money. He was offered a post at Zurich;
but though that town was destined to be his home for years long
afterwards, it evidently did not tempt him then, for he returned to

Here at once began one of those squalid intrigues which drive serious
opera-composers crazy. Several of Richard's pieces had been played; he
had occupied one responsible position and been asked to take another;
he had the finished score of his opera; and he was young and by nature
sanguine to the verge of lunacy. He thought he had only to call on the
Intendant of the opera with his masterpiece and its production would
be assured. He did call, and soon he received a promise that his work
would be done. But Leipzig was now Mendelssohn's stronghold and no
rival could be tolerated. One of the great man's friends and admirers,
Hauser, determined that the work should not be done. He opined that
Wagner did not know how to compose nor how to orchestrate; he found
the music lacking in warmth. This from a worshipper of Mendelssohn
seems a little amusing to-day; but it had a result bad for Wagner in
1834. Underground work went on; and while Wagner waited with what
patience he could muster--and I expect that was not much--hoping every
day to hear that rehearsals had commenced, his score was quietly put
on the shelf. This experience falls to the lot of every writer of
operas and is so commonplace an incident that I should do no more than
barely mention it did not many followers of Wagner see in it the
beginning of that "persecution by the Jews" of which we heard so much
a few years ago. It appears to me nothing of the kind. The Jews did
not at that date particularly single out Wagner for attack: merely
they defended their vested interests exactly as the musical profession
in England defended and still defends its vested interests. It should
be remembered that he had quite as many friends as enemies amongst the
Hebrews; and I never could understand how, to mention only two, two
great conductors and intimates of Wagner, Mottl and Levi, could
tolerate all the nonsense talked on the subject at Bayreuth. When
Brendel published the notorious _Judaism in Music_ it is true many
Jewish journalists began to libel Wagner: it is true also that some
Jewish professors in the Leipzig conservatoire petitioned that Brendel
should be dismissed; but these were the shabby acts of individuals,
and far too many shabby acts were perpetrated by Richard's partisans
for it to be desirable for _them_ to raise the cry of persecution.
Perforce I must say a few words more on this disagreeable topic when I
come to deal with the Meyerbeer-Rienzi episode; but I promise the
reader to cut it as short as may be. Once for all, despite all
protestations, despite Wagner's honest belief to the contrary, I
dismiss the Jewish conspiracy theory as rubbish.

Richard's health was in no way injured by the breakdown of the
negotiations. His letters of the period are as buoyant as could be
wished. He had other schemes. At the Freemasons' concerts his _Die
Feen_ overture made a hit. He heard Schröder-Devrient in Bellini's
_Montechi e Capuleti_, and found to his astonishment that a great
singer could create great artistic effects in music of no very high
value. He had many friends, and amongst them Schumann and Heinrich
Laube--the latter a free-thinking journalist whose utterances so
scared the government-by-police, as tending to make people think for
themselves instead of peacefully submitting to be governed, that he
was put in prison. He was editor of a paper called the _Zeitung für
die Elegante Welt_--- a curious title for a journal which frequently
praised the democratic Richard. In the summer of 1834 he went for
another holiday, this time to Teplitz, where he sketched _Das
Liebesverbot_, his second opera to get finished and the first to be
performed--performed, by the way, in a very unusual fashion. Obviously
his spirits were not damped: obviously, also, the family which is
supposed not to have assisted him assisted him to the extent, at any
rate, of enabling him to take a holiday he could not pay for. He had
as yet not earned sufficient for his travelling expenses from Leipzig
to Würzburg and back, to say nothing of holiday trips. As on this trip
he planned _Das Liebesverbot_ his thanks were due to his family for
being able to begin that work. It is true he had Apel as a friend, but
he had not yet formed the habit of borrowing right and left, nor is
there any hint in his correspondence of Apel having paid his expenses.

I wish now to pass rapidly over two fresh adventures--the
conductorship at Magdeburg and that at Königsberg; but first let me
point out how the boy's was changing to a man's character. It is
plain that he worked very hard at Würzburg, for the score of _Die
Feen_ is a big one, and teaching his chorus must have occupied many
hours a day. It is equally plain that he set to work with the greatest
vigour on the new opera. Now, Nietzsche declared that Wagner by sheer
will and energy "made himself a musician." That is pure nonsense; but
it points to an important characteristic--namely, Wagner did not, even
at the age of twenty, trust to inspiration alone, as with his hot and
impulsive nature we might have expected, but also to unremitting work.
For the remaining fifty years of his life the labours of each day were
almost incredible.


At this point the reader must be asked to bear in mind that the
operatic companies with which Wagner was connected in these early
days--until he left Riga in 1839 and set sail for Paris _via_
London--were unlike anything in existence to-day. Dickens in _Nicholas
Nickleby_ and Thackeray in _Pendennis_ gave us pictures of the old
stock theatrical companies, with all their good-fellowship, jealous
rivalries, lack of romance and understanding of the dramatic art, and
abundance of dirt. One has only to read Wagner's accounts of the
enterprises at Würzburg, Magdeburg, Königsberg, and even at Riga, or
to glance at his letters of the period, to see that these concerns
differed in no essential from the companies ruled over by Mr.
Crummles and Miss Costigan's manager. Life went on in an utterly
careless way: the rehearsal for the day over, the company met in cafés
or beer-gardens and stayed there until it was time to move, in view of
the evening performance; any one who had a shilling spent it, while
those who had no shillings accepted their friends' hospitality and
hoped for the good time coming. Ladies quarrelled and then kissed;
gentlemen threatened to kill each other in honourable duel and sank
their differences deep in lager; one member left, another joined, some
members seemed to go on for ever; the great times were always coming
and never came. There was a company of this sort, the head being one
Bethmann, that wintered at Magdeburg and in the spring and summer
months played at Lauchstädt and Rüdelstadt; and Wagner got the
position of conductor--the first real position he had yet held, for
the Würzburg office, after all, was a very small affair. He now went
out to conquer the world for himself; he became nominally
self-dependent, though neither now nor in the future was he really so.
He did the usual round with his troop, arriving at Magdeburg in
October; and arriving there, he tells us, he at once plunged into a
life of frivolity. This may be true, but we must again note the
stupendous industry which enabled him to finish _Das Liebesverbot_ in
so short a time. The most important event in Richard's life about this
time was his engagement to Minna Planer. She is said to have been a
handsome young woman; and, as impecuniosity is everlastingly an
incentive to marriage, of course he married her. In the meantime he
thoroughly enjoyed directing all the rubbish of the day, the season
ended and he returned to Leipzig.

The next season barely began before Bethmann, according to custom,
went bankrupt; the company disbanded, and Richard was left with a
young wife and nothing to live on. An engagement at Königsberg proved
no better; but at last the conductorship of the opera at Riga was
offered to him, so off he went eagerly, never dreaming, we may
suppose, of the extraordinary adventures that lay before him. Here in
outward peace he was to remain until 1839, rehearsing and directing
operas; but here also he was inspired with the first idea that showed
he had grown into the Richard Wagner we all know. He toiled away at
the theatre, nearly driving the singers crazy with the ceaseless work
he demanded from them; and to his family, when they had news from him
or of him, it must have seemed as though he had already one foot on
the ladder and it was only a matter of time for him to climb to the
dizzy height of Hofkapellmeister of one of the larger opera-houses. No
one, however, who had only known Richard prior to this period could
realize how rapidly the new environment was to form and ripen his

He was now about twenty-three years of age and a master of his trade.
He had written two operas and saw little likelihood of either being
played--for his advantage, at least. He had composed some instrumental
things, but he knew that the theatre and not the concert-room was his
vocation. He must have reflected that even writers of successful
operas had died in poverty, either utterly abject, as Mozart died, or
comparative, as Weber died. On the other hand Rossini had made a
fortune and Meyerbeer was making one. What then? Well, Wagner wanted
neither to die poor nor to die at all: all his life he claimed from
the world luxuries as a right. He felt his powers at least equal to
Rossini's and far superior to Meyerbeer's (though at this time he
ranked Meyerbeer high). His artistic conscience was not so sensitive
as it afterwards became: he actually liked the sparkling French and
Italian stuff which was so popular. So, then, he would challenge
Meyerbeer on his own ground! And as all the musical fashions had to
come from Paris he would go to Paris and make a bid for fortune. Such
must have been the process of reasoning which led Wagner to take his
first great step in life.

For the present it is sufficient to say that out of Bulwer Lytton's
novel _Rienzi_ he took material to weave a libretto that would afford
opportunities for a great spectacular opera; and set to work and wrote
two acts of the music. Finally he took ship from Pillau to London,
bringing with him his wife and dog, with the intention of reaching
Paris ultimately. And on that journey I must leave him for the
present, pausing a little to consider the music he had composed up to
this time (not including the incomplete _Rienzi_).



With the exception of _Die Feen_, nothing composed by Wagner prior to
_Rienzi_ calls for serious attention, nor would receive any attention
whatever were not the author's name Wagner. He himself did not
distress his soul about the fate of his early works: he knew too well
their value; but when a Wagner cult came into existence these things
of small importance were acclaimed, one by one as they came to light,
as things of, at any rate, the highest promise. Not even that can
justly be claimed for them. _Die Feen_ has a certain atmosphere and a
set artistic purpose which may, in the light of his subsequent
achievements, be taken as an indication, a small hint, that the
subsequent achievements were possible. So much, but not more, may be
conceded. _Das Liebesverbot_ is known to me only from descriptions and
brief quotations, but these suffice to show that here is not the true
Wagner. Of the orchestral music--the overtures and the symphonies--I
have heard oftenest and studied most closely the C major Symphony. Let
us take it first.

Already I have referred to the absence of what, in the popular
acceptation of the word, might be called the "romantic" element in
Wagner's daily life during this period, and the symphony supports my
suggested explanation. In the letters, in accounts written by Dorn and
others, we find fire, enthusiasm, even a good deal of blatherskite and
wild vapouring, but scarcely a hint of "poetry," of the special
poetical sense, of the poet's outlook on life: and in his music he was
chiefly occupied in mastering the technical side of the craft,
assimilating, and at the same time emancipating himself from, the
lessons with Weinlig, and, absorbed in the task, simply letting
romance, poetry, imagination, fancy and the rest go hang; his
practical outward life was devoted to talking what he thought was
politics and drinking lager.

Though the symphony is worth looking at because it shows how far
Wagner had then got, the general interest in it has for thirty years
been its history. It has led to a deal of unnecessarily acrimonious
and barren dispute. Wagner's disagreeable diatribes aimed subsequently
at the Jews were, and are, in part attributed to Mendelssohn's
behaviour regarding it. It was sent to Mendelssohn; and that
industrious gentleman never referred to the subject. Wherefore we are
asked two things--to contemn the Jew and accept the symphony as a
manifestation of tremendous genius. Possibly Mendelssohn never clapped
eyes on the symphony. Had he done so, one would have expected him to
pay Wagner a superficial, insincere compliment about the score, and
imply that something might be done, etc. We have Richard's written
word for it that Mendelssohn never referred to Wagner's work. All the
same, what I believe may have been the case, and what Wagner most
certainly would not have believed to be the case, is that Mendelssohn
saw it, and saw nothing in it, and put it on one side, and totally
forgot it. The symphony was lost for long years; but some one
discovered the parts somewhere, and a score was made, and at the very
end of his life Wagner directed a private performance of it. He
dismissed it with a humorously disparaging remark, and we need have
heard no more about it, had not sundry gentlemen who refuse to accept
any Wagner save the inspired prophet of their own imaginings insisted
on having it performed in public.

I have, I say, heard it fairly often and beg to testify that it is a
miracle of dullness. The themes are not good of their sort, the sort
being, as he said, the sort that are useful for contrapuntal working.
That working is coldly mechanical, and is not distinguished either by
lightness or by sureness of touch. A dozen of Mendelssohn's pupils
could have done as well or better. In the andante their is neither
grace nor feeling: the music does not flow spontaneously, but is got
along by a clockwork tick-tick rhythm. The best stuff is in the
finale. Here we find at least sturdiness if not much character.

This criticism of his boyish work is not a disparagement of Wagner:
one might as well, indeed, disparage Shakespeare, or Beethoven, or the
sun and all the stars in heaven. The symphony tells us, as plainly as
words could tell, two things. First, that as far as craftsmanship is
concerned he fell between two stools: had his aim been lower, it would
have been also less confused, and the result would have turned out
better. That is, had he thought only of composing a well-constructed
symphony, with skilful, easy-running counterpoint, he might have
produced a more obviously clever if more superficial work. That aim
was missed by the fact that the Wagner who knew Beethoven by heart was
not at all content to achieve mere cleverness: he, too, wanted to
write a great symphony. But that ambition also was vague and robbed of
its force by his instinctive struggle to acquire a thorough technique.
So he showed himself neither a great poet-composer nor a contrapuntal
adept. The second fact so plainly stated in the symphony is that he
had not discovered what was to be the real driving force of his
invention throughout his creative career--the inspiration of a
dramatic or pictorial (not poetic) idea. The poetic idea is the
inspiration of the composer of pure, "absolute," music--the poetic
idea which is interpenetrated by the musical idea, the musical idea
that is interpenetrated by the poetic idea, the two being one and
indivisible. As this book proceeds the reader will see how, before
Wagner could shape fine music at all, he needed the
pictorial-dramatic-musical idea (if so cumbrous a phrase may be
allowed). From the very first he never succeeded in the attempt to
compose pure music of notable quality. As years went on he tried again
and again, but only such things as the _Kaisermarsch_, the
_Huldigungsmarsch_ and the _Siegfried Idyll_ are of any value, and
these, we may note, were meant to be played in a quasi-theatrical
environment. Immense crowds, flags, waving banners, uniforms,
flashing swords, snorting chargers and so on set Wagner to work on the
first as surely as the picture of the Hall of Song suggested the march
in _Tannhäuser_; the same is the case with the second; the _Siegfried
Idyll_, of course, was written for performance at the bedroom door or
window of Madame Cosima on that lady's birthday. A distinct picture
was in the composer's mind's-eye; and besides, the themes came out of
an opera already composed.

_Die Feen_--_The Fairies_--is based on a version of the child's tale
of _Beauty and the Beast_, Gozzi's _La Donna Serpente_. In Gozzi's
form a lady is changed to a serpent: the handsome and valiant prince
comes along and all ends well. Wagner had not then dreamed of the
_Nibelung's Ring_ with its menagerie of nymphs who could sing under
water, giants, dwarfs, bears, frogs, crocodiles, "wurms," dragons and
birds with the gift of articulate speech; and he would have nothing to
do with the serpent. The lady must be changed into a stone. Further,
Wagner had now got hold of the notion that haunted him for the rest of
his life--a notion he exploited for all it was worth, and a good deal
more--the notion that woman's function on the globe is to "redeem"
man. So the prince changes the lady back from a stone to a woman, and
then, like Goldsmith's dog, to gain some private ends, goes mad. The
lady is equal to the occasion: she promptly redeems him--that is,
cures him--and all ends well.

Here, at worst, we have the picture, or series of pictures, demanded
by Wagner's genius; here also is a dramatic idea of sorts. His
imagination immediately flamed. The music is not like that of the
symphony, dry and barren wood: on the contrary, it contains many
passages of rare beauty and feeling. There is little of the fairy-like
in it. To Wagner's criticism of Mendelssohn's _Midsummer Night's
Dream_ overture, that here we had not fairies but gnats, one might
retort that in his own opera we have not fairies but baby elephants at
play. But throughout there is a quality almost or quite new in music,
a feeling for light, a strange, uncanny light. It is worth noticing
this, because it is just this sense of all-pervading light which marks
off _Lohengrin_ from all preceding operas. The hint came, it goes
without saying, from Weber; but there is a vast difference between the
unearthly light of Weber and the fresh sweetness of _Lohengrin_, and
here, in his first boyish exploit, we find Wagner trying to utilise in
his own way Weber's hint.

For a boy of twenty the opera is wonderfully well planned. Whether,
had it been written by Marschner, we should take the trouble to look
at it twice is a question I contentedly leave others to solve. But, as
it is by Wagner, we do take the trouble to look at it many times, and
the main thing we learn is that from the beginning the composer could
write his best music for the theatre, while for the concert-room he
could only grind out sluggish counterpoint. In addition we may see
that it is a work of much nobler artistic aim than _Rienzi_.
Preposterous as is the idea of a woman sacrificing herself to "save"
a man, it is an idea, and it stirred the depths of young Wagner's
emotional nature. In _Rienzi_, as we shall see in a later chapter,
there is no idea of any sort; that opera did not spring from his
heart, nor, properly speaking, from his head, but simply and wholly
from a hungry desire for fame and fortune.

The clumsiness of the music is due to several causes. He modelled it,
he says, upon three composers, Beethoven, Spontini and Marschner--the
second and third being by far the more potent influences. Now,
gracefulness is not a characteristic of either of them. Then we must
consider that Wagner was not yet one-tenth fully grown, and it is the
hobbledehoy who is so heavy on his feet, not the athlete with all his
muscles completely trained: Wagner needed years of training before he
gained the sure, light touch of _Lohengrin_ and the _Mastersingers_.
His very deadly earnestness over the "lesson" of his opera and his
desire to express his feeling accurately and logically led to his
overweighting small melodies with ponderous harmonies. The
orchestration of the day was heavy. The art of Mozart had been
forgotten; Weber scored cumbrously--as was inevitable; Spontini and
Marschner scored cumbrously also, partly because they could not help
it, partly because they wanted to fill the theatre with sound. Wagner
naturally followed them. But it may be noted that the orchestration of
_The Fairies_ is not so widely different from that of the _Faust_
overture composed a short while afterwards. A sense of the contrasts
to be obtained by alternating word-wind and strings is peculiarly
his. Mozart and Beethoven had alternated them, but on the simple plan
adopted in their violin sonatas: in those sonatas the violin is given
a passage and the piano accompanies, then the same passage is given to
the piano and the violin accompanies; in all the symphonies of Mozart,
and the earlier ones of Beethoven, virtually the same plan is
followed, strings and wind standing for violin and piano. Wagner from
the first discarded this mechanical notion; wind and strings are
played off against one another, but there are none of these mechanical
alternations, one holding the bat while the other has the ball. On the
whole _The Fairies_ is very beautifully scored.




The late Sir Charles Hallé, probably retailing a story he had heard,
relates in his reminiscences that when Heine heard of a young German
musician coming from Russia to Paris to try his luck with an empty
pocket, a half-finished opera and a few introductions from
Meyerbeer--amongst them one to a bankrupt theatre--he clasped his
hands and raised his eyes to heaven, in silent adoration before such
unbounded and naïve self-confidence; and probably he had not then
learnt the whole truth of the matter. The journey from Riga, _via_ the
Russian frontier into Germany, and thence by Pillau, the Baltic, the
North Sea, London, the Channel and Boulogne, is surely the maddest,
most fantastic dream ever turned into a reality. That he turned the
dream into a reality shows how completely Wagner's character was now
formed: in no essential does the Wagner who built Bayreuth in the
'seventies differ from the Wagner of '39. He had unshakable tenacity
of purpose and perfect faith in his own genius; he was absolutely sure
he could accomplish the impossible; he took the wildest risks. As a
creative artist his development had just begun; but the qualities
which were in after years to enable him to force his creations on an
indifferent world were all there, ripe and strong.

The problem of getting away from Russia was by no means simple, but
may be passed over in a few words. Wagner's income in Riga had not
been large--300 roubles--and it had been mostly swallowed up by his
German creditors; and even in the town he managed to owe money. ("Was
ever poet so trusted?" asked Dr. Johnson, referring to Goldsmith). Had
he given notice of his intended departure his Riga creditors could
have stopped him; so when the company returned to Riga after their
annual summer series of representations in Mittau Wagner did not
return. He made what is, I believe, called a "bee-line" for the
frontier, met there a friend, one Möller, who helped him to dodge the
sentries and patrols, and in a few days reached Arnau. Very little
later, in July 1839, he, Minna and Robber the dog took ship at Pillau
and set sail for England. The date is one of the most memorable in the
lives of the musicians--quite as worthy of remembrance as the day on
which Haydn boarded the packet at Calais. Haydn's powers had been
ripened in the sunshine of Mozart's genius, but it is doubtful
whether, save for England, the twelve great symphonies would have been
written; Wagner's powers were beginning to ripen, but it is hardly
doubtful that the _Dutchman_ would never have been written but for the
voyage to England.

If he could have afforded it he probably would have travelled to Paris
by land. But travelling by land was quite out of the question; money
was then, as ever, scarce with Richard, and he realized that the
longest way round was the shortest--nay, the only--way there. He had
over three weeks of life on the ocean wave, and did not like it and
had no reason to like it. Uproarious storms raged unceasingly; the
ship was driven amongst the Norwegian crags for shelter; and the gloom
of these black, forbidding sea-precipices and fiords took possession
of his soul, mixing and giving pictorial shape to the weird old legend
of the phantom sailor doomed for ever to wander on the grey seas.
Glasenapp points out in an admirable passage that Sandwike, where
Daland goes ashore, is the name of the place where Wagner's ship put
in and he and the crew were regaled by a lonely miller with rum. There
is no rum in the _Dutchman_, but the atmosphere, terror and mystery of
the seas and rocky fiords of Norway are all there; and it was these
that inspired the _Dutchman_. He knew the tale in Heine's form of it,
and had thought of adapting it; but it was the sea gave the idea birth
in his imagination: without the sea the _Dutchman_ is inconceivable.
The _Dutchman_, the whole of the _Ring_ and the _Mastersingers of
Nuremberg_ are all operas in which the scenic environment is the
inspiration. Depend upon it, ere the ship had freed the Sound, and got
into the comparative safety of the open North Sea, the _Dutchman_
legend had formed itself in his mind ready for dramatic treatment.

Ultimately--to be precise, three and a half weeks after getting on
board--the family reached London, all three spent with sea-sickness
and want of food. They needed and took a rest, first staying near the
Tower and then in Soho. There is nothing to relate of Wagner's
experiences during his first London visit, save the episode of his
lost dog. The late Mr. Dannreuther got the story wrong and has since
been faithfully followed by biographers in saying the dog was away
several days, and on his return was hugged nearly to death by his
master; but in _My Life_ Wagner says the animal was lost for only a
few hours. But as he was intensely fond of animals all his life--he
always had two or three about him--the incident must have impressed
him. Anyhow, when he next came to London, fifteen years after, he
mentioned it to Mr. Dannreuther, and also pointed out to him where he
had lived and the points of interest he had seen. But nothing of the
slightest significance occurred, and soon he started for Paris by way
of Boulogne. When he reached Boulogne he stayed there a month for the
sake of the sweet company of Meyerbeer--which seems not a little funny

Wagner was only twenty-six years of age; like a rustic who has
suddenly been carried out of the dullness and darkness of his village
into some tawdry café of the town, and is dazzled and mistakes the
gilt wood for solid gold, so had Wagner been filled with admiration by
Meyerbeer's brilliant shoddy. It must be admitted that for sheer
theatricalism that gentleman beat any composer who preceded him.
Bellini's, Auber's and Spontini's scores are thin compared with his;
even Auber's grandest ensembles lack his sham magnificence. Wagner's
artistic conscience had not ripened to the point at which conscience
is an absolute, unfailing, unerring touchstone. He had been impressed
with Meyerbeer's showiness and superficial sparkle: it had not yet
occurred to him to test the music with the touchstone of truth. It is
not at all hard for me to believe that he had at this time a sincere
admiration for the Jewish autocrat of the opera world. He was passing
through that stage: he had not yet passed through it; in scheming
_Rienzi_ he had started, so to speak, with an immense rush to follow
Meyerbeer, and for some time the momentum acquired in that first rush
kept him going. When disillusionment came--well, we shall see.

He was an obscure German kapellmeister, and had never been conductor
in a theatre which did not suffer bankruptcy or where something worse
did not occur. Meyerbeer had certainly never heard his name, and
Wagner was aware of his: he had heard of Meyerbeer's name, and even if
he had not admired the musician he cannot at that period have been
insensible to the man's supremacy in the opera trade. And when we add
to this latter fact, the other fact, that he _did_ admire the
musician, it is easy to understand the feelings with which he
approached this emperor of the barren Sahara of opera. To the emperor
he got an introduction--whether or not in the way Praeger relates is
not worth inquiring into--and the emperor received him not merely with
courtesy, but with what appears to have been something a great deal
warmer than courtesy. He hearkened to the two finished acts of
_Rienzi_, and beginning with an expression of admiration for the
beautiful clear handwriting, presently grew interested in the music
and ended by commending it heartily. Wagner departed for Paris with
the autocrat's letters in his pocket and, as I have said, little
money, but a breast packed with glorious hopes. The most successful
opera-composer of the day had declared that he would succeed, and
guaranteed his belief by giving him those precious introductions. One
was to the direction of the Grand opera, one to Joly, director of the
Renaissance Theatre, another to Schlesinger, the publisher, another
again to Habeneck, the director of the Conservatoire. Of these the
letter to Habeneck proved useful to Wagner from the artistic point of
view; that to Schlesinger useful pecuniarily. The others were useless,
and were never meant to be of any service. Had Meyerbeer told Wagner
to go back to Germany it is just possible Wagner might have gone.
Instead, Meyerbeer sent him into a _cul de sac_--to starve, or get out
as he best could. In the whole history of the art of the world no more
cruel swindle was ever played on an obscure artist by a man occupying
a brilliant position.

For, figuratively, Wagner had not been in Paris twenty minutes before
he discovered that to be presented by the omnipotent Meyerbeer meant
nothing--absolutely nothing. Every one received him with the greatest
politeness; every one appeared to promise great things; no one did
anything. At the opera he had not the remotest chance, of course,
being young, unknown, a German, and without social influence. The
Renaissance speedily shut its doors, being bankrupt. Through Habeneck
he learnt to understand the Ninth Symphony even better than he had
understood it before; for the Conservatoire orchestra had rehearsed it
until, almost unconsciously, they discovered the real melody, or what
Wagner calls the melos. This is a question I shall go into later when
dealing with Wagner's own conducting; for the present it suffices to
mention the bare fact, as we can trace directly to these
performances--or, rather, rehearsals--the _Faust_ overture which
Wagner soon afterwards composed. Habeneck gave a performance of his
_Columbus_ overture; and in no other way was the acquaintance of any
value. So, as his little money was speedily gone, he had to live for a
while on what his relatives and friends could give him, and afterwards
by what he could earn by writing for Schlesinger's _Gazette Musicale_.
This is what Meyerbeer's introductions were worth.


However, he found and made friends, some, though not all, as poor as
himself. Laube, his crony of earlier years, was there and introduced
him to Friedrich Pecht, a student of painting, and to Heine. This last
was very suspicious of Wagner at first, because he did not believe
Meyerbeer would exert himself on behalf of any one possessing the
slightest ability. It is obvious that he soon discovered that he was
both right and wrong. Wagner had ability, and Meyerbeer, far from
helping him, had ingeniously dug a trap to keep a possible rival
quiet. Wagner made the acquaintance of Berlioz, and promptly uttered
the criticism he adhered to always--one that I humbly subscribe
to--that Berlioz, with all his imagination, energy and wealth of
orchestral resource, had no sense of beauty. Berlioz, he remarked,
lived in Paris "with nothing but a troop of devotees around him,
shallow persons without a spark of judgment, who greet him as the
founder of a brand-new musical system, and completely turn his head."
To a certain degree this judgment came home to roost in Wagner's later
years in Bayreuth; but he was saved by the fact that, being a great
musician, he also drew genuine musicians to him. If Bayreuth was
crowded by strange beings of low intelligence who bowed low before
Richard and found the weirdest meanings in his simplest melodies, and
who now write lengthy books about Richard's son Siegfried, yet we must
remember that the men who carried the news of Richard's true greatness
through Europe were Liszt, Bülow, Tausig, Jensen, Cornelius and many
smaller men--smaller men, but real musicians. Now, it was long since
pointed out that amongst his entourage Berlioz had no one possessing
an understanding of the art of music. Literary men and painters were
there in abundance: that is, they called on him; and because his
musical ideas or ideas for music seemed so vast they assumed that his
musicianship must be vast also; but those whose judgment would have
been trustworthy, and whose help worth having, stayed away altogether;
and when the celebrated personages had paid their call and gone their
several ways he was left to the flattery of a pack of incompetent
fools. This is not to exaggerate--it is simply to explain the
loneliness and sad tragedy of the end of Berlioz's life. He must in
his heart have known the bitter truth. One friend of Wagner's must not
be omitted--Lehrs. From him Wagner obtained what is called the middle
high-German _Sängerkrieg_, from which he extracted ere returning to
Germany the whole world of _Tannhäuser_ and _Lohengrin_; and this we
must consider later. We may note that his youngest sister Cäcilie,
Geyer's only child, had married Avenarius, who resided in Paris for a
time as agent for Brockhaus, the Leipzig publisher.


The whole story of this first visit to Paris is sordid, squalid,
miserable to a degree; and I don't know that we can be surprised. When
Wagner sailed from Pillau he had not had a single work of any
importance performed. Nay, more, he had not written a work of any
importance. _Die Feen_ had never been given; _Das Liebesverbot_ had
been given--under ridiculous circumstances and with the most
disastrous results; his symphony had been played, but by this time
score and parts had probably disappeared. Mendelssohn had received
them in Leipzig and never once referred to them. Anyhow, none of these
things were striking enough to have attracted much attention even in
Germany; and they certainly would have excited no interest in busy,
bustling Paris--the home of the Rossini and Meyerbeer opera, of
quadrilles, vaudevilles and the rest. But for the happy, or rather
unhappy, chance of meeting Meyerbeer in Boulogne, he would have
entered the city without a line to any one of position. His money, as
I have just said, gave out almost at once, and thenceforth he had to
keep the wolf from the door by slaving at any odd jobs which would
bring in a few pence. On more than one occasion he was reduced,
literally, to his last penny. With marvellous resiliency of spirits he
managed not only to pull through, but to complete _Rienzi_, then to
write one great opera and begin planning two very great ones. We have
accounts--mostly written long after the event--of merry meetings and
suppers; but against them we must set the dozens of despairing letters
and scribbled notes in which he complains of his luck and his lot.
Yet, I say, how can we feel surprise? Why, he could not even play the
piano well enough to give an opera-director any fair notion of his
music; and perhaps that is just as well, so far as Paris was
concerned, for the taste of the day was such that the better his
compositions were understood the less they were liked. Hallé remarks
that when he talked of his operatic dreams at this time he was
commonly regarded as being a little, or more than a little, "off his

It became evident at the outset that all hopes anent the opera must
fall to the ground. He met Scribe, the omnipotent libretto-monger of
the day, and of course nothing came of it. The spectacle of _Rienzi_
was on far too large a scale for the work to be possible at the
Renaissance, so, much against the grain, he offered Anténor Joly _Das
Liebesverbot_. He waited two months for a decided refusal or a
qualified acceptance, but heard nothing. At last a word from Meyerbeer
seemed to have settled the matter. One Dumersau, who translated the
words into French, was very enthusiastic about the music and made Joly
enthusiastic too; everything looked bright for the moment, and Wagner
moved from the slum where he had been living to an abode a little less
slum-like, in the Rue du Helder. On the day he moved the Renaissance
went bankrupt again. I say again, because Joly became bankrupt
punctually every three months--a fact which explains Meyerbeer's
readiness to help him in that quarter. In desperation he seized the
chance of earning a little money by writing the music for a vaudeville
production, _La Descente de la Courtille;_ but here again his luck was
out: a more practised hand took the job from him. He composed what he
considered simple songs adapted to the Parisian taste, and they were
found too complicated and difficult to sing. To earn mere bread he
arranged the more popular numbers of popular operas for all sorts of
instruments and combinations of instruments, and in one of his notes
we find him bewailing the sad truth that even this work was coming to
an end for a time. However, he wrote on for Schlesinger's _Gazette
Musicale_; for Lewald's _Europa_ (German) and the Dresden
_Abendzeitung_--though the work for the second two did not commence
till later on. This toil perhaps brought him bread: it did nothing
more; Minna had to pawn her trifles of jewellery; there seemed not a
ray of hope gleaming on the horizon. The performance of his old
_Columbus_ overture did him a precious deal of good--especially as at
the second performance--at a German concert arranged by
Schlesinger--the brass were so frightfully out of tune that people
could not make out what it was the composer would be at. It is
needless to tell the ten times told miserable tale in further detail
at this time of day; and I will now confine myself to the few facts
that bear upon the fuller life that soon was to open before him.


A new opera-house had been a-building in Dresden, a royal court
theatre; and a chance in Paris being denied to _Rienzi_, Wagner,
staggering along under the burden of his crushing woes, thought
perhaps his grand spectacular work would be the very thing to suit the
Dresdeners about the time of the opening. True, there remained three
acts to compose and orchestrate--but what was that to a Richard
Wagner! Only one other composer has achieved such astounding feats.
Mozart, amidst multitudinous worries, sat down and wrote his three
glorious symphonies "as easily as most men write a letter." Wagner was
born to achieve the impossible: he had already done it in getting to
Paris at all; and now, as a sheer speculation, on the very off-chance
of a Saxon court theatre accepting a work by a Saxon composer,
harassed by creditors, despondent under repeated disappointments,
drudging hours a day at hack-labour, he went to work and composed and
instrumentated the last three acts of the most brilliant opera that
had been written up to that date--1841. On February 15 of that year he
began; on November 19 he ruled the last double-bar and wrote finis.
That done, he dispatched the complete score and a copy of the words to
Dresden, with a letter to von Lüttichau, the intendant. Again the
delays seemed interminable; his letters, especially those to Fischer
and Heine, are packed with inquiries about the fate of his opera--he
could get no answer at all for a long while, and after it was
definitely accepted the usual troubles occurred through the whims and
caprices of singers. Even his idol and divinity, Schröder-Devrient,
great artist though she was on the stage, played the very prima
donna--which is about as bad a thing as can be said of any woman--off
the stage so far as _Rienzi_ was concerned. Being a prima donna first
and an artist afterwards, she thought nothing of dashing Wagner's
hopes by expressing a desire to appear in some other opera before
_Rienzi_; and as the delay meant a prolongation of the actual misery
and possible starvation at Paris we can picture Wagner's impotent
rage and despair.

On October 14, 1841, we find him writing to Heine:

    "... Herr von Lüttichau has definitely consented to my opera
    being put on the stage after Reissiger's. That is all very good;
    but how many questions does not this answer suggest! For
    instance: does the general management propose to place my work
    upon the stage with the outlay indispensable to a brilliant
    effect? On this point W----writes me: 'The general management
    will leave nothing undone to equip your opera in a suitable
    manner.' You will understand how terribly terse this seems to
    me! I am not greatly surprised at receiving no letter from
    Reissiger since last March: he has worked for me--that is the
    best and most honourable answer; besides, it would be foolish on
    my part to expect that Reissiger, now that his own opera must be
    fairly engrossing his attention, should be much occupied about
    me. But what alarms me is the absolute silence of our Devrient!
    I think I have already written a dozen letters to her: I am not
    exactly surprised at her sending me no single line in answer,
    because one knows how terrible a thing letter-writing is to many
    people. But that she has never even indirectly sent me a word,
    nor let me have a hint, makes me downright uneasy. Good heavens!
    So much depends upon her--it would really be a mere humanity on
    her part if she, perhaps through her lady's-maid, had sent me a
    message to this effect: 'Make your mind easy! I am taking an
    interest in your affair!'--certainly everything which I have
    learnt here and there about her behaviour with regard to me
    gives me every reason to feel comfortable; for instance, she is
    said to have declared some while ago in Leipzig that she hoped
    my opera would be brought out in Dresden. This token would have
    fully quieted me, if it had only come directly to my ears or
    eyes: hearsay, however, is far too uncertain a thing.

    "A month ago I likewise wrote to her, and earnestly begged her
    to let me have only a line with the name of the lady-singer whom
    she would like to be cast for the part of Irene, so that I might
    make a formal list to propose to the management. No answer! Oh,
    my best Herr Heine, if your kindness would only allow you a few
    words in which to make me acquainted with the intentions of the
    adored Devrient! Does she really wish to sing in my opera?--that
    is the question.

    "Good heavens! only to know how all this stands! I have written
    to Herr Tichatschek, and commended myself to his amiability:
    shall I be able to count on this gentleman?"

Again, on January 4 of the following year:

    "Should it really come to this, that my opera must be laid aside
    for the whole winter, I should indeed be inconsolable; and he or
    she who might be to blame for this delay would have incurred a
    grave responsibility--perhaps for causing me untold sufferings.
    I cannot write to Madame Devrient; for that I am much too
    excited, and I know too well that my letters make no impression
    upon her. But if I have not yet worn out your friendly feeling
    toward me, and if I can be assured that you rely upon my fullest
    gratitude, I earnestly beg of you to go to Madame Devrient. Tell
    her of my astonishment at the news that it is she who hinders my
    opera from at length appearing; and that I am in the highest
    degree disturbed to learn that she by no means feels that
    pleasure in and sympathy for my work which so many flattering
    assurances had led me to believe. Give her an inkling of the
    misery she would prepare for me, if (as I have now good reason
    to fear) a performance of _Rienzi_ could not after all take
    place this year! But what am I saying? Though you may be the
    most approved friend of Madame Devrient, even you will not have
    much influence over her. Therefore, I do not know at all what I
    should say, what I must do, or what advise! My one great hope I
    place in you, most valued friend! I have written to Herr von
    Lüttichau, and herewith turn to Reissiger. If Devrient cannot
    give up her Armida, if she cannot afford me the sacrifice of a
    whim, then all my welfare rests only on the promptness with
    which this opera is brought out, and my own is taken up. I
    therefore fervently pray Reissiger to hurry: and you--I beseech
    you--do the same with Devrient. By punctuality and diligence
    everything can still be set right for me; for the chief thing
    is--only that my opera should come out before Easter (that is to
    say, in the first half of March). I am truly quite exhausted!
    Alas! I meet with so little that is encouraging, that it would
    really be of untold import to me if, at least in Dresden, things
    should go according to my wish!"

These excerpts afford some notion of the struggles and disappointments
of this time--struggles that were to be repeated when, more than
twenty years later, _Tristan_ and the _Mastersingers_ were produced in
Munich. More need not be quoted, for the story is always the
same--delays caused by intrigues and the whims and caprice of singers,
and the indifference of inartistic directors.

It should be said that Meyerbeer seems, for the only time, really to
have helped Wagner in getting _Rienzi_ accepted, for a letter of his
to von Lüttichau recommending the opera, has been preserved; wherefore
let us gladly acknowledge this deed, which was a good, if a very
small, one. He again paid a visit to Paris, and this time gave Wagner
a word of introduction to Pillet, who had assumed the post of director
of the Opéra. Owing to this introduction the _Flying Dutchman_ was
written. Wagner sketched a scenario and let Pillet have it. The
customary procrastination set in, and at last Pillet flatly told
Wagner he could not produce an opera by him: he was young, a German,
and so on and so on; and in a word he liked the scenario and had
determined to have it set by one Dietsch--which is not a very
French-sounding name. He offered Wagner twenty pounds for it, and if
the offer was not accepted--well, Wagner might do what he chose.
Wagner took it.

He completed his libretto, took lodgings at Meudon, then a lovely
suburb of Paris, hired a piano and sat down to compose his _Dutchman_.
He gives a graphic account of his tremors whilst awaiting the piano:
he feared that during the degrading struggle for bread the power of
composing might have deserted him. The instrument arrived, he sat
down, and shouting for joy, struck out the sailors' chorus. In seven
weeks the draft was complete--it is dated September 13, 1841. Want of
funds compelled him to leave Meudon and resume his treadmill
toil--this time in the Rue Jacob in Paris; but he began to score his
opera in the autumn and by the end of the year it was entirely
finished. He sent it to the Berlin Opera, and at once began to cast
round for another subject. He had demonstrated to his own complete
satisfaction that grand historical themes were the only useful
material for a thoroughly "up-to-date" (date 1842--seventy years ago)
composer; and while doing what may be called foraging work he had hit
upon the story of _The Saracen Young Woman_. We may presume that this
appealed to him in a mood of reaction after the intensely personal
quality of the _Dutchman_. That mood sent him back in the direction of
_Rienzi_. About the _Dutchman_ he never had the slightest illusion. He
knew it to be so far ahead of the time that nothing in the way of a
popular success was to be hoped for it. On the other hand, he had
perfect faith--a faith justified by the subsequent event--in _Rienzi_;
and since the Wagner of 1842 was by no means the Wagner of 1862, or
even of 1852, since also he had been half-starved for a couple of
years and money seemed to him a highly desirable thing, he naturally,
inevitably, was drawn towards a subject which promised as well, from
the box-office point of view, as _Rienzi_.

However, there is--or was in Wagner's case--a divinity that shapes our
ends. Much as he hungered after comforts, luxuries and the flesh-pots
of Egypt, the dæmon within his breast was too strong for him. He had
planned a new work, more or less on the lines of _Rienzi_, and perhaps
some lucky or unlucky accident might have sent him the inspiration to
start with the music. But just at this juncture Lehrs' copy of the
_Sängerkrieg_ attracted his attention: the complete drama of
_Tannhäuser_, and the first vague notion of _Lohengrin_, flashed upon
him. As he said, and as I have repeated, a new world was opened before
his amazed eyes. The _Saracen Young Woman_ and the rest all went to
the wall; and when on April 7, 1842, he set out for Dresden he had
different plans altogether in his head. Before he could start
Schlesinger advanced the money for more cornet-à-piston arrangements
of opera-airs, and he had to take the scores of those operas amongst
his luggage.

As yet I have said nothing about his acquaintance with Liszt. It began
at this time, and of course was destined to have wonderful results,
but for the moment it was of no importance. Wagner was an unknown
composer; Liszt was a world-famous pianist. Wagner, moreover, had
written only _Rienzi_ and the _Dutchman_, and was unable even to play
them on the piano. He probably made only the slightest impression on
Liszt. The incident is worth noticing in this chapter, because, though
this Paris episode seems to be nothing but a series of disasters, it
is an instance of the good that came of it. Wagner undoubtedly learnt
a lot about the stage; he got to know Liszt; he had the world of
_Tannhäuser_ and _Lohengrin_ opened out to him. When he went off to
Dresden and touched German soil once more he swore he would never
again leave his fatherland. But he had learnt what his fatherland was
quite unable to teach him. His friends said his character changed
entirely during this period. Undoubtedly it did change: the Wagner who
had aimed only at worldly, commercial success, changed into Wagner the
artist whose sincerity carried him through all troubles to the
crowning triumph--and discomfiture--of Bayreuth. I have referred
before to the fact of the old momentum keeping him going in a certain
direction even after he knew that direction to be a wrong one; and the
same thing was to occur again, as we shall see in a moment. After
writing the _Dutchman_ he actually deliberated as to the wisdom of
doing another _Rienzi_. The claims of his stomach were, naturally
after a two years of semi-starvation, very strong, and another
_Rienzi_ might have meant easily earned bread-and-butter. But the
Paris change was fundamental; and even if he had tried to do another
_Rienzi_ he could not possibly have done it. Without his knowing it,
the artist in him had triumphed over the merely commercial composer.




Were _Rienzi_ an opera of the highest artistic importance, I suppose I
should have read ere now Bulwer Lytton's novel of that name. As it is,
I must confess my utter inability to wade through that pretentious and
dreary achievement. And it does not matter. Skimming over the novel, I
have gathered enough of the plot to see that Wagner took only the plot
and nothing else from Lytton. What else he could have taken I cannot
guess, unless it was a copious stream of high-falutin', and at this
period Wagner's own resources of the sort were ample. What he wanted
was a plot that would afford him an opportunity of planning a
spectacular opera on the largest possible scale, and this he found in

Two claims, or rather, a claim and a counter-claim, have been, and
constantly are, made with regard to _Rienzi_. The first is that it was
inspired by Meyerbeer and a copy of one of his works--which one I do
not know; the counter-claim is that Meyerbeer had no part in the
business, and that on the contrary he learnt more from Wagner than
Wagner could possibly have learnt from him. Now the notion, I take it,
of composing a grand work for the Paris stage was suggested by
Meyerbeer's stupendous success--of that, indeed, I cannot admit there
is the faintest shadow of a doubt. Starting from Paris, where they
were concocted together with Scribe, Meyerbeer's operas went the round
of the opera-houses of Europe, and save in one or two quarters
Meyerbeer lorded it over the opera-houses of Europe. It may be true
enough that some of his mighty works had not been played at Riga--it
may even be true that Wagner had not seen the scores. But that I feel
less sure about; and, anyhow, if he had not seen them he was bound to
have heard of them. The talk of musical Europe was not likely to be
unknown to a man who both read and wrote in the musical papers. As
soon as Wagner conceived the idea he wrote to Scribe concerning it;
and, as we know, Scribe quite naturally left his communication
unanswered. We find, then, that this, not more than this, though
certainly not less, is the extent of Wagner's indebtedness to
Meyerbeer: that Meyerbeer, by writing clap-trap for a large stage,
with showy, tawdry effects, had gained enormous popularity and
corresponding wealth, and thus unconsciously had thrown out a hint
that budded and blossomed into _Rienzi_. How little beyond this bare
hint Wagner got from Meyerbeer we shall see when we examine the music.
A word must be said about the counter-claim. In his age Wagner at
Bayreuth, although he had fine musicians as his friends, had round him
many gentry who told him--greatly daring, to his face--not only that
he owed no artistic debt to any one, but that, on the whole, most
other composers owed him a good deal. One can excuse the weary old
man, sorely battered in life's battles, lapping up a little of this
sweet flattery; but it is hard to forgive the stupidity that still
makes the great composer appear ridiculous thirty years after his
death. This legend of Meyerbeer borrowing or thieving from Wagner is
sheer rubbish; in all Wagner's music there is not a bar which could
have been of use to Meyerbeer. The most rowdy tunes in _Rienzi_ he
could easily equal: anything ever so remotely approaching the
beautiful he did not want. What! was he to run the chance of failure
by writing, or copying, one really expressive measure?

It needed the cruel disillusionment of the Paris days, it needed also
the time needful for Wagner's normal growth, before he was driven to
see that the music-drama, or something that ultimately evolved itself
into the music-drama, was the form that he needed for his deepest
utterances. _Rienzi_ is old-fashioned opera, barefaced, blatant and
unashamed. Wagner wanted effective airs, duets, trios, choruses and
marches; and no libretto-monger ever went to work in a more
deliberate, matter-of-fact and business-like way to provide
opportunities for these. Both in _Die Feen_ and in _Das Liebesverbot_
his purpose had been more definitely, more disinterestedly, artistic.
Now he set to work to manufacture for the Paris market. The subject
was eminently suitable. The personage Rienzi was intended for a great,
heroic figure and the music written for a brilliant tenor. The
indispensable love-element was provided by Irene, a soprano (though
it can well be sung by a mezzo), and Adriano, son of a patrician, a
mezzo-soprano (almost a contralto part)--which would be amazing did we
not know Wagner's aim. A woman-man carries us back to the days of
Handel and Gluck, and shows how little sincere Wagner was at the time,
how absorbingly bent he was on tickling the ears of the Parisians. The
villains of the piece, Colonna and Orsini, with their patrician
followers, are true stage-villains of melodrama in some
situations--proud, determined, unsparing; but in other situations they
whine in a very un-patrician-like way for mercy. In truth, Wagner was
determined to give all the singers a chance of showing off their
voices and their skill in every kind of music--heroic or noisy,
pathetic or whining, brave and obstreperous or feebly tender. A few
minutes' consideration of the story as Wagner lays it before us, and
the music he sets to it, will show that every character in the opera
is an unhuman chameleon. It is not worth while spending the reader's
time on an exhaustive analysis. We shall have enough to do of that
kind of thing when we come to the beginning of Wagner's riper work,
the _Dutchman_: time and space would only be wasted if we examined
_Rienzi_ very closely.

The curtain rises on a street in Rome; it is night, and in the
foreground Rienzi's house can be discerned. Orsini and his companions
run up a ladder to a window, enter, and come out carrying Irene,
Rienzi's sister. She screams for help quite in the Donna Anna manner;
Colonna and his companions come in and fall to blows--why, is not too
clear--with Orsini and his men. Adriano, Colonna's son, rescues Irene.
Crowds of the common people rush in, wildly asking one another what
the row is about; Raimondo, the pope's legate, comes on, and in the
name of holy mother church begs for peace; Rienzi, waked by this time,
sees what has occurred, and in a speech--uttered mainly in the driest
of dry recitative--taunts the patricians with their bad conduct and
their reckless readiness to break all the vows they have made. The
nobles announce their intention of going elsewhere to fight out their
quarrel to the bitter end, and they go. Rienzi beseeches the crowd to
wait their time, and he will lead them to destroy their oppressors.
They quietly disperse; Rienzi, Adriano and Irene have a scene; Rienzi
recognises in his sister's rescuer the son of his brother's murderer,
Adriano, and the latter, who has fallen in love with Irene, promises
to take Rienzi's part, and the three sing a trio as cold, undramatic
and commonplace as anything in Donizetti. There are two passages in it
which possess life: a variant of a theme from _Euryanthe_, and a theme
distinctly suggestive of the Wagner of _Tristan_. Then Rienzi goes
off, ostensibly to prepare for battle, but in reality to leave the
scene clear for Adriano and Irene to sing a rather maudlin love-duet.
A trumpet-call is heard; people rush in from all sides; Rienzi
addresses them; and after choruses, partly double-choruses, all go off
to fight the patricians. There is plenty of bustle; there is
tremendous vigour; and the scene affords chances for the stage manager
to manipulate big crowds effectively. But we must remember that the
thing had been quite as well done by Auber in _Masaniello_: even the
energy is not the true Wagnerian energy divine: it does not show
itself through the stuff of the music, but in the common rumty-tumpty
rhythms of the day, often offensively vulgar, and in the noisy
instrumentation. Any one can write for a big chorus and orchestra,
with plenty of trumpets and drums: to fill the music itself with
energy is a task that Wagner could not cope with as yet.

So far the characters have been consistent. In the second act they all
show signs of weakness. Messengers of peace enter: Rienzi has
conquered and freed the people from an unbearable yoke; he is
congratulated by the messengers who have wandered through the
country--a pilgrimage that in the fourteenth century might well have
occupied them for years--and everywhere peace prevails. The music here
has a certain charm and freshness, but no more can be said for it.
Wagner wanted a contrast to the imposing displays of the first act, so
he simply put in this unnecessary scene. The patricians enter and
whine, begging for mercy; Rienzi, now Tribune, joins the senators; and
Colonna, Orsini and the rest begin to plot his death. Adriano, amongst
them unnoticed at first, expostulates--begs them not to stain their
hands and souls with the blood of the vanquisher who has treated them
so magnanimously. They scorn him as a deserter of his own class; they
leave, and he swears to save "Irenens Bruder." He has become
sentimentalist; but some of the music of the scene has strength. Then
the people conveniently flock in; ambassadors come from all corners of
the earth to acknowledge Rienzi; Adriano warns him that mischief is
breeding, and Rienzi calmly smiles; there is a most elaborate ballet,
occupying many pages of the score and full of trumpery tunes; Orsini
stabs Rienzi, and all the patricians are seized by the guards; Rienzi
shows himself unhurt, being protected by a breastplate; the
conspirators are condemned to die and are led away. Then Adriano and
Irene plead for Colonna; at first Rienzi is obdurate; then he, too,
turns weakling and promises pardon. He pleads for his enemies with the
people; in spite of two citizens who see nothing but danger, he
prevails, and the act ends with another huge chorus. There is much
very Italian stuff in the music; but on the whole this scene is the
strongest in the opera. Of the real Wagner there is still small sign.

He had completed these two acts when he set out for Paris. Once he
realized how poor were the prospects of getting his work played there,
his ardour for bigness and noise seems to have cooled. There are no
more double choruses; everything is planned on a smaller scale. The
three remaining acts in their present form (for he afterwards
shortened the opera) can be, and often are, compressed into two, or
even one. They can be described in a few words. The people begin to
distrust Rienzi; the patricians recommence plotting; Rienzi leads the
people to victory against them, and Colonna, with the others, is
killed. Adriano again wobbles and swears vengeance; the capitol is set
on fire with Rienzi and Irene inside; at the last moment Adriano
repents and rushes in to die with them; the building falls with a
crash, destroying the three; and as the curtain falls the
patricians--such as are left--seeing the people leaderless, fall upon
and scatter them. There are pages on pages that one can scarcely
believe came from Wagner's pen; in terrific theatrical situations the
most trivial Italian tunes are poured out in copious profusion. The
war hymn is sheer rowdyism; the great broad melody which forms part of
the prayer, and on which the introduction of the overture is based,
stands out from a weltering sea of orchestral bangs, noises and
screams and skirls of the strings. But there are numberless chances
for fine voices to be heard; and at that time of day these were even
more prized than they are to-day. The sparkle, the fireworks, the
sheer noise of the choruses, carried every one away. In Dresden Wagner
became the man of the hour. He had aimed at a success of this sort,
and he attained it, though by no means so quickly as he had expected,
nor in the quarter where a success would have been profitable.

It is not needful to say much more about the music. It shows a variety
of influences; it shows also that Wagner, before he was thirty, was,
as I have already said, a perfect master of the tricks of the trade.
In huge imposing effects he out-Meyerbeered Meyerbeer, out-Spontinied
Spontini. If his tunes have not the superficial gracefulness of
Bellini it is because Wagner, in spite of himself, was driven by his
dæmon to aim at expressiveness, and, as in the _Dutchman_ a very short
time afterwards, fell between two stools. His tunes lack the fluency
of the Italians because he did, in a half-hearted way, want to utter
genuine feeling; they are not finely, accurately and logically
expressive as they are in _Tannhäuser_ and _Lohengrin_, because the
Italian influence, and the necessity of writing to please the gallery,
perpetually held him back. The contours of the melodies are dictated
from outside, consciously copied from alien models: in the later works
they are shaped by the inner force of his own mind, and though the
Weber idiom is prevalent, he used it unconsciously, as children in
learning to speak acquire the accent of the elders about them or the
dialect of the neighbourhood in which they are reared. I say the tunes
lack external grace, and I might go further: all the themes, all the
passages that follow (rather than grow out of) the themes, are
characterized by a certain clumsiness. This followed, as night the
day, from the attempt to copy and to be original at the same time. He
could not obey his instinct and write directly and simply: he must
needs warp and twist the obvious, and disguise, even from himself, its
essential commonplaceness. A remarkable instance is his use of the
Dresden Amen in _Rienzi_ as compared with his use of it in
_Tannhäuser_. In the latter it is plain, diatonic and immensely--in
the best sense--effective; in _Rienzi_, in spite of the vigour of its
presentation, the effect is weakened by the way in which it is bent
away to a chromatic something which is neither frankly Italian nor
honestly German. Again, he composed with an audience in his mind's eye
that could only take in one melody or theme at a time. The melody
might be in an upper part, a middle, or in the bass. In one or another
it always is, and the rest of the musical tissue is only
accompaniment. Hence a heaviness, a lumbering motion of the harmonies,
which is irritating to our ears now that we are accustomed to webs he
spun in later days when music no longer consisted to him of top parts
and bottom parts, but of a broad stream of parts, all of equal
importance, and all flowing along together, preserving each its
individuality, and each individual blending with the others to produce
the total effect. In _Rienzi_ the bass often remains the same for bars
together, while in an upper part a florid tune flourishes its tail, so
to speak, for the public amusement. An ugly trick he indulged in at
this time was giving to the voice the notes of the instrumental
bass--a remnant of the eighteenth-century way of writing for the bass

Artistically _Rienzi_ was a sin. Remembering that _Die Feen_ had been
written years before, it is useless to contend that Wagner did not
know he was aiming at something lower than the best he could produce.
He never again fell away from his highest and truest self, though he
was sorely tempted.


The simple, terrible old legend of the Flying Dutchman had in it no
elements of drama. The irascible mariner of ancient times, vainly
struggling to round Cape Horn (or some other cape) against a head
wind, swore in his wrath that he would succeed if he tried until the
Day of Judgment; a lightning flash in the sky proclaimed that he was
taken at his word; thenceforward his ship sailed the seas without
stopping; it never could reach any port, and release would only come
at the last day. The crew died and their ghosts worked the vessel; the
vessel rotted and the ghostly crew continued to work a phantom ship;
only Vanderdecken, the skipper, seems to have lived on in the flesh.
Other ships passed through the phantom as though it was a cloud; and
the living crews shuddered, and cursed the dead. Before this thing of
terror and mystery could form a part of any drama, adventures had to
be invented and grafted on to it. As with the legend of the Wandering
Jew, this was done in a hundred, perhaps a thousand, instances; and
never had a good piece of work been the result. Whether Heine did or
did not himself devise the form in which the legend is used in his
reminiscences of Herr von Schnabalewopski it is not worth troubling to
find out. It is enough that in Heine, Wagner found the story more or
less as he employed it. It is an odd compound--odd at this time of day
at least--of the hard old superstition with soft German sentimentality
of the Romantic period. A good Angel, thinking the Dutchman's fate
too hard, interceded for him; and though his sentence could not be
wholly remitted, a bargain was struck. Once in seven years
Vanderdecken could land and spend a certain time ashore. If during
this interval of peace he could find a maiden who would love him
faithfully to death, he would be released: his wanderings would be
o'er, and death would swallow him up. How the maiden's fidelity could
be tested does not appear.

Wagner would have it that with the _Dutchman_ he ceased to be a mere
stringer of opera verses and became the full poet. The work does not
support that view; nor is the construction of the plot one whit better
than a hundred others put together by hacks before he was born. Each
act is crammed with conventional tricks out of the hack's common
stock; in each scene, from the very first, characters come on or go
off, not because it is inherent in the action that they should do so,
but because without such helps the librettist, or "poet," could not
have got along. The curtain rises on a rocky Norwegian fiord where a
sailing-vessel has found shelter from a storm that is raging on the
open sea. Daland, the skipper, has gone ashore to survey the land and
to find out, if he can, whither his ship has been driven. He
recognizes the spot: it is Sandwike, and the tempest has blown him
"sieben Meilen" out of his course. However, he is glad enough to be
safe; and seeing signs of better weather goes into his cabin to wait,
leaving a watchman on guard. This is the first specimen of the old
stage-craft; Daland had to be got rid of, so, instead of attending to
any damage the waves may have caused the ship, he goes quietly
downstairs to take a snooze. The watchman tries to keep himself awake
by singing. But it is no use. The librettist is inexorable: the stage
is wanted for some one else; and the watchman's song merely acts as a
soporific, and at last the poor fellow snores. In the distance appears
the ship of the Flying Dutchman--"blutroth die Segel, schwarz der
Mast"--she nears rapidly, enters the fiord and casts anchor hard by
Daland's boat, and Vanderdecken comes ashore. It is the seventh year,
and he has the usual short respite in which to seek the maid who will
redeem him. He has a long soliloquy; then, in the nick of time, Daland
awakes, comes on deck, unjustly reproaches the watchman for dozing,
hails the Dutchman, and joins him on the rocks for a chat. They soon
grow friendly and strike a bargain. Daland is to take the stranger
home with him, and if his daughter Senta proves satisfactory,
Vanderdecken is to have her as his bride in return for infinite
treasure out of the hold of the strange vessel. Daland has been shown
a sample, and is overjoyed with his bargain: a distinguished-looking
husband for his daughter and the husband's wealth for himself. The
wind changes to a favourable one; Daland sets out first, leaving the
Dutchman to follow in a boat which we may well believe goes faster,
for it is driven by the devil and carries a private hurricane wherever
it goes. The convenient veering of the wind need not be taken as
forced on the stage manager by the librettist, for Daland foretells
it at the very beginning of the act.

I do not wish to treat so noble a work as the _Flying Dutchman_ with
any irreverence; but if it is worth understanding Wagner's art, and
the slow processes of its transition from the baldness and
ultra-conventionality of _Rienzi_ to the richness and simplicity and
directness of _Tristan_, we must realize clearly that in its present
stage the craftsmanship was little in advance of Scribe's. In some
respects he was very far in advance of Scribe. The whole thing springs
from and swings round a central idea, the idea of the lonely outcast
doomed to sail a stormy sea for ever without even the prospect of hell
as a refuge, always seeking one to redeem him and free him from his
torments, and at last finding her. But Wagner had not yet evolved or
invented the technique which would enable him to present his idea in
the theatre without resorting to those crude conventionalities which
seemed harmless and even reasonable enough at the time, though now
they compel us to smile. He could no more have constructed the
framework of the _Dutchman_ without shoving on and pulling off his
puppets as seemed desirable than he could have written the music
without using the set forms, airs, duets, etc., of a type of opera
which, in intention, he had already gone far beyond. The
conventionality shows itself in one rather surprising way. Throughout
the opera it is made plain that the whole world knows the Dutchman
story: mariners shiver when they think of meeting him; children are
scared when they are told of him. Yet when the very ship described in
the "old ballad," sung in the second act, sails into the fiord with
its blood-red sails and black masts, no one evinces the faintest
astonishment. Daland has the Dutchman's picture at home; he sees the
ship before his eyes; but in a matter-of-fact manner he asks him who
he is. Daland's sailors are called on deck to set sail, and pay no
attention to so weird a craft.

In the next act we have a room in Daland's house. A number of girls
are spinning; Senta alone is idle, absorbed in a portrait that hangs
on the wall--that of Vanderdecken. From earliest girlhood she has
heard his tale and brooded over it; and self-sacrifice being her
hobby, she has evidently worked herself up into a morbid state of mind
and resolved to "redeem" the unfortunate man should the opportunity
occur. This is honest work, not Scribe make-believe. Cases in which
men and women have wrought themselves into an exalted mood and planned
and achieved deeds, great or small, noble or ignoble, but always more
or less mad, are common enough in history to justify a dramatist in
taking a specimen as one of the persons of his drama. Besides, Senta,
from the moment she is seen, stands out as the principal figure. The
Dutchman is there to give character and atmosphere to the piece, but
dramatically he is nothing more than Senta's opportunity personified.
The girls spin on; a kind of forewoman, Mary, upbraids Senta with
idling and staring at the picture and dreaming away her life--for the
girl is quite open about her sympathy with the accursed seafaring
man. She wants Mary to sing the _Flying Dutchman_ ballad; Mary curtly
refuses; "Then," rejoins Senta, for all the world like a leading lady
in a melodrama giving the cue for the band to begin the royalty-song,
"I'll sing it myself"; and, despite protests, she does. It recounts,
of course, the story of the Dutchman prior to his meeting with Daland.
At the end she announces her intention of saving him; and while the
women are expostulating, Eric rushes in to add his voice to theirs. He
tells them Daland's ship is in sight; and all save he and Senta scurry
off to make preparations. Eric wishes to marry her, and pleads his
cause; she asks him what his griefs are compared with those of the
doomed man whose picture hangs on the wall. He (rightly) thinks her
semi-demented, and tells a dream he had: of the Dutchman entering, of
Senta at once giving herself to him, and then sailing away. His story
has a result precisely contrary to what he intended and hoped: her
ecstasy becomes more violent than ever; he (the Dutchman) seeks her
and she will share his grief with him. Eric rushes off in despair and
horror; Senta subsides; she prays that the Dutchman may be able to
find her--and her father and Vanderdecken enter.

She stands mazed, not greeting her father nor uttering a word, gazing
at the stranger. Now Daland, I have already remarked, has noticed no
resemblance between this man and the picture, and he cannot understand
his daughter's silence. Finally she salutes him and asks about
Vanderdecken; and Daland, in haste, discloses his plan. Neither
Vanderdecken nor Senta speaks; so, with a stroke of the old-fashioned
opera trickery, Wagner makes Daland feel himself _de trop_ and go
away. Vanderdecken at once begins his story, and the pair sing a duet,
which I will deal with shortly; for the moment I need only remind the
reader that Senta's mind was made up in advance. When the Dutchman,
almost warningly, reminds her that it is nothing less than a life's
devotion he demands, she proudly answers, "Whoever you are, whatever
the curse on you, I will share your life and your doom." The
librettist now having need of his services for the finale, Daland
enters, and the act winds up with a showy trio.

No further comment is needed on this act: in structure, like the
first, it is only old-fashioned opera. It is in the third act that the
inherent weakness of the story for operatic purposes shows with almost
disastrous results. Only the sheer force of the music averts a
complete breakdown. The problem was to show Senta literally faithful
unto death. Evidently it was impossible for Vanderdecken to claim and
carry off his bride forthwith. Had that been possible the work might
have terminated with a short scene to form the real finale of the
second act. But Vanderdecken had asked for a wife, and Daland would
not have dreamed of letting his daughter go until the proper ceremony
had taken place. Besides, Wagner was writing an opera with the very
practical view of a performance in the theatre; and in those days of
lengthy operas (_Rienzi_ at first played five and a half hours) the
public would have grumbled if they did not get enough for their
money. No manager would have looked at a work no longer than the first
and second acts of the _Dutchman_. The final scene could not be made
very lengthy; so the composer determined to pad out the act with pure
irrelevant music, and the librettist had to find him words. In a piano
score now before me the essential part of the act, the scene in which
Senta redeems the Dutchman, occupies twenty-four pages; and these are
preceded by fifty pages of choruses of sailors, maidens and ghosts.
Allowing for the larger space occupied by choruses on the printed
page, we are half-way through the act before serious business begins.
It must be owned that Wagner has done his work superbly, even making
use of it to a certain extent. Girls bring provisions and drinks for
Daland's crew, and there is a lot of chorus and counter-chorus and
dancing. Then both men and girls call upon the Dutch crew. There is no
response. The ship lies wrapt in gloom; and, half afraid, the girls
and Daland's men taunt them with being dead. But suddenly the hour
arrives for the Dutchman to sail. With perfect calm all around, a
hurricane shakes her sails and shrieks and pipes in the rigging, and
the waters roar and foam; the crew come to life and call for their
captain in a series of unearthly choruses. Daland's men,
horror-struck, make the sign of the cross; the spectres give a
"taunting laugh" and subside; once again all is peace, and the
sinister vessel lies there, the air seeming to thicken and grow
blacker about her.

The women have gone off; the sailors occupy themselves with eating
and drinking; and Senta, pursued by Eric, comes on. He has heard of
the intended marriage, and begs passionately that she shall not
sacrifice herself, ending with a cavatina--a cavatina by Richard
Wagner!--in vain. But Vanderdecken has heard all from the
wings--another bit of old-fashioned stage trickery, like the
"asides"--and resolves that Senta shall not sacrifice herself. "For
ever lost," he cries, realizing that he is renouncing his last chance.
Senta declares her determination to follow him--she will redeem him
whether he wishes it or not; in a regular set trio she, he and Eric
thrash the matter out; she is not to be shaken; Eric gives a
despairing cry which brings on the women folk and the sailors. The
Dutchman says farewell, pipes up his spectral crew, who heave the
anchor, and he goes on board. As the ship moves off Senta throws
herself into the water; the ship falls to pieces; the sun rises, and
in its beams the "glorified forms" of the pair are seen mounting the
skies. Senta has had her way: she has worked out her destiny and
"saved" the wanderer. The curtain falls.

This is the first of the genuine Wagner dramas, the first, therefore,
from which the Wagnerians have drawn, or into which they have read,
"lessons." As we get on I shall try to show that no moral can be
tacked on to any of Wagner's works. But supposing that he did wish to
teach us something in the _Dutchman_, what on earth can it be? Not,
surely, that one should not swear rash oaths in a temper? We have all
done that and needed no redeemer. There is no touch of essential
veracity in the old legend, a bit of puerile medieval fantasy; there
is no sort of proportion between the trivial offence and the appalling
punishment; even in an age which thought to oppose the will of the
Almighty the rankest blasphemy it can never have been considered
eternally just that a righteous and merciful Creator should deal out
such a punishment. Besides, in the ancient legend, as in Wagner's
book, the Almighty has little to do with the matter: it is the foul
fiend who snaps up Vanderdecken in his momentary lapse. Again, after
the first act Vanderdecken is second to Senta. Even the belated
attempt to show him heroic in his determination to sail off alone to
his doom has no dramatic point; it has no bearing on his salvation,
for nothing happens until Senta jumps into the sea, and we feel sure
nothing would have happened if she had not jumped. _That_ lesson, at
any rate--a childish, inept, inane, insane one at best--is not set
forth in the _Dutchman_. The only other possible one is that
self-sacrifice is a worthy and beautiful thing in itself. In itself, I
say, for Senta's self-sacrifice is purely a fad: she knows nothing of
Vanderdecken save a rumour shaped into a primitive ballad. Such
self-sacrifice is not worthy, not beautiful; but, on the contrary, a
very ugly and detestable form of lunacy. In truth, not only is there
no lesson in the _Dutchman_, but the whole idea is so absurd that only
the power of the music enables us to swallow it at all. The condition
on which the Dutchman can be saved is purely arbitrary; what
difference ought it to make to him that some one, for the sake of an
idea, sacrifices herself? The "good angel" who proposed it must have
been temporarily out of her senses, and the Creator when he agreed
must have been nodding. And the whole business is smeared over with
German mawkish sentimentality--this business, I mean, of Senta
_loving_ the Dutchman. Had he seen and loved her, and resolutely
sailed off without her, and found his salvation in that, there would
be some semblance of reason; but the fumbling attempt to make
something of the man at the last moment is futile, and we are left
with nothing but sentimental sickliness, nauseating and revolting. In
a word, then, we must take the _Dutchman_ libretto as it is,
unreasonable, false: only a series of occasions for writing some fine
music. That it is nothing more than such a series I have endeavoured
to establish at all this length; because if it is worth understanding
Wagner at all, and if we wish to understand him, we must realise the
point he started from in his half-conscious groping after the opera
form which he only found in its full perfection in his _Tristan_


In the music the head and shoulders of the real Wagner emerge boldly
from the ruck of commonplace which constitutes the bulk of the
operatic music of the time. How any one could have failed to see the
strength and beauty of much of the _Dutchman_ is one of those things
almost impossible to understand to-day. Of the tawdry vulgarity, the
blatant clamour, of _Rienzi_ there is not a hint. The opera is by no
means all on the highest level, but a good third of it is, and there
are pages which Richard never afterwards surpassed. A dozen passages
are prophetic of the Wagner of _Tristan_ and the _Ring_. Let me begin
by quoting a few of these. The phrase (_a_, page 118) immediately
suggests _Tristan_, as it screams higher and higher with
ever-increasing intensity of passion; a variant of it (_b_) is charged
with the same feeling, and is used in the same way. The feeling is not
the same as in _Tristan_; both are used when Eric makes his last
despairing appeals to Senta. But look at (_c_). Compare it with one of
the themes (_d_) expressive of Wotan's anguish, and then recollect
that (_c_) is used when Vanderdecken, in veiled speech, tells Daland
of his woes. When Vanderdecken is yearning for Senta's love, and
trembling lest by telling the truth he should frighten her, we get
(_e_), afterwards developed with such poignant effect in the first and
last acts of _Tristan_. Vanderdecken enters with Daland, and Senta,
almost stunned, sets eyes on him for the first time. The musical
phrase is (_f_), which, simplified and more direct in its appeal, was
to be used when Siegmund and Sieglinda first gaze on one another. Then
the passage (_g_) is one which the reader will find mentioned in my
chapter on _Tristan_ (p. 263) as standing for quite a multitude of
things in the _Ring_. A curious case is the little phrase (_h_) which
occurs in the middle of the watchman's song. Of no significance here,
of what tremendous import it is in the first act of _Tristan_.

None of these phrases or passages is developed with the power and
resource characteristic of Wagner's later work; but it is astonishing
that after the baldness and noise of _Rienzi_ he should have gone
straight on to invent such music at all. He was still groping his way,
and had to trust to the conventional framework of opera construction
to a large extent; that is, each act is divided into set numbers, even
when the numbers are based on music which has been heard before and to
which, therefore, a definite meaning has become attached. He could not
yet trust himself in an open sea of music, as he did in _Tristan_;
rather, we have a chain of lakes, the music sometimes overflowing out
of one into another. The marvellous continual development of themes
with intricate interweavings and incessant transmogrifications--all
this was part of the technique of the _Tristan_ period. Neither in the
_Dutchman_ nor in _Tannhäuser_ nor in _Lohengrin_ is there any sign of
it. Of what may be called leitmotivs there are only three, the
Dutchman (_i_) and Senta (_j_), while a portion of the second (_k_)
may be regarded as a third, for it is used by itself, independently.
One little group of notes (_l_) I have seen described as a leitmotiv;
and if it is one, I should like to know what it stands for. As can be
seen, it is a bit of the Senta theme (fourth bar of _j_); and in the
overture a long connecting passage is built on it. But it also forms
part of the chorus of sailors in the first act, part of the watchman's
song in a varied form, part of another sailors' chorus (_m_); it is
the very backbone of the spinning chorus; and lastly, a large portion
of the spectral sailors' chorus is made up of it. I have no
explanation to offer--unless it be that Wagner, bent on suggesting the
sea throughout the opera, felt that this phrase helped him to sustain
the atmosphere. The sea, indeed, throughout the _Dutchman_, is the
background, foreground, the whole environment of the drama; in this
wild legend which came out of the sea, every action is related to the
sea, and one might say that the sea's voice is echoed in every one's
speech. The sea music, therefore, based on Senta's ballad--apart from
the leitmotivs which that contains--is of the very first importance.
The easiest way to get a firm grasp of the _Dutchman_ is to analyse
this ballad. Then in passing rapidly over the score afterwards we
shall see at a glance the structure of the whole, and how the new
thematic matter is either welded into this sea music or stodgily
interpolated. The song is too long to be transcribed here; but every
reader must have in his possession a copy at this time of day. There
are ten bars of introduction: in the eleventh, to the Dutchman theme,
Senta sings the "Yo-ho-ho"; at the fifteenth, with a glorious swing
and rush she dashes into the ballad--

    "Traft ihr das Schiff im Meere an,
    Blutroth die Segel, schwarz der Mast?
    Auf hohem Bord der bleiche Mann,
    Des Schilfes Herr, wacht ohne Rast."

This consists of eight bars--a four-bar section repeated. Then we get
the storm music, four bars of which I quote (_n_), and this is freely
employed throughout the opera. The storm subsides, and at bar
thirty-nine Senta sings to her own theme--

    "Doch kann dem bleichen Manne Erlösung einstens noch werden,
    Fänd' er ein Weib, das bis in den Tod getreu ihm auf Erden."

leading into the second part (_k_) to the words--

    "Ach! Wann wirst du, bleicher Seemann, sie finden?
       Betet zum Himmel dass bald
       Ein Weib Treue ihm halt'!"

The three themes are of very unequal power. The first is one of the
landmarks in musical history; neither Wagner himself nor any of the
other great masters ever hit upon a more gigantic theme, terrible in
its direct force at its announcement, still more terrible as it is
used in the overture and later in the drama. The second, Senta, is a
piece of sloppy German sentimentality: this is not a heroine who will
(rightly or wrongly) sacrifice herself for an idea, but a hausfrau who
will always have her husband's supper ready and his slippers laid to
warm on the stove shelf. It is significant that Senta herself in her
moment of highest exaltation does not refer to it: Wagner often
calculated wrong, but he never felt wrong. The third, the grief and
anguish of the condemned sailor, and pity for him, is one of the most
wonderful things in music; for blent with its pathos is the feeling of
a remoter time, the feeling that it all happened in ages that are
past, the feeling for "old, unhappy, far-off things, and battles long
ago." This sense of the past, the historic sense--call it what you
will--was thus strong in Wagner at this early period, and it grew even
stronger later on, finding its most passionate expression in _Tristan_
and its loveliest expression in the _Mastersingers_. The faculty to
shape pregnant musical themes is the stamp of the great master. The
early men are supposed to have "taken church melodies" and worked them
up into masses: what they did was to take meaningless strings of
notes, bare suggestions, and give them form and meaning by means of
rhythm (for only boobies talk of the old church music not possessing
rhythm). The later composers sometimes followed the same
procedure--which is equivalent to a sculptor "taking" a block of
marble and hewing out a statue; but more and more they trusted to
their own imaginations. In either case the "mighty line" results; and
there is not a great composition in the world which has not great
themes; and, _vice versa_, when the themes are trivial the work
evolved from them is invariably trivial. I see modern works full of
cleverness and colour: I do not waste much time on them; there cannot
be anything in them, and they will not survive. Along with some weak
motives--or, to be more accurate, motives which are musically weak but
dramatically a help--Wagner has a huge list of tremendous ones, each a
landmark. However, this by way of digression.

Music evolved from this ballad forms, as I have said, the structural
outline of the opera. The overture is almost entirely shaped out of
it, being one of that sort which is supposed to foreshadow the opera,
to tell the tale in music before we see it enacted on the stage. From
the _Dutchman_ onward Wagner nearly always constructed his
introductions--whether to whole operas or to single acts or even
scenes--on this plan, largely discarding the purely architectural
forms. Here, for example, we have at the outset the blind fury of the
tempest, taken and developed from (_n_), with the Dutchman theme. The
storm reaches its height, and there is a brief lull, and Vanderdecken
seems to dream of a possible redeemer; the elements immediately rage
again, with the wind screaming fiercely through sails and ropes, and
waves crashing against the ship's sides; he yearns for rest (_k_),
seems to implore the Almighty to send the Day of Judgment; and at
length the Senta motive enters triumphantly, and with the redemption
of the wanderer the thing ends. That, one can see, is the chain of
incidents Wagner has translated into tones, or illustrated with tones;
but as a prelude to the opera, it is the atmosphere of the sea that
counts: the roar of the billows, the "_hui!_" of the wind, the dashing
and plunging. When the curtain rises the storm goes on while Daland's
men, with their hoarse "Yo-ho-ho," add even more colour. The motion of
the sea is kept up, partly with fresh musical material, until at last
it all but ceases; the watchman sings his song of the soft south wind
and falls asleep. Then the sky darkens, the Flying Dutchman comes in,
and the storm music rages once more. It is woven into Vanderdecken's
magnificent scena (surely the greatest opera scena written up to
the year 1842); and then disappears. In its place we get pages of
(for Wagner) wearisome twaddle. The reason is obvious. For the purpose
of explaining the subsequent movement of the drama there is a lot of
conversation which Weber, in the Singspiel, would have left to be
spoken, and Mozart would have set to dry recitative. Wagner was
determined that his music should flow on; but the inspiration of the
sea was gone, and he could only fill up with uninspired stuff. He had
not yet mastered his new musico-dramatic art; indeed, I much doubt
whether he realized its possibilities. In his _Tristan_ days he knew
how to avoid explanations on the stage; nothing in _Tristan_ needs
explanation; in the _Mastersingers_ and the _Ring_ his resources--his
inventiveness and technical mastery of music--were unbounded, and an
intractable incident he simply smothered in splendid music. Here, the
bargaining of Daland and Vanderdecken is a very intractable incident,
and in trying to make the best of it he made the worst. That is, he
would have saved us an appalling _longueur_ had he given us two
minutes of frank recitative in place of twenty minutes of make-believe
music--music in the very finest kapellmeister style of the period.
Even the passage quoted (_c_) is made nothing of. There are one or two
fine dramatic touches, as, for instance, when Daland asks if his ship
is any the worse: "Mein Schiff ist fest, es leidet keinen Schaden,"
with its bitter double meaning; but on the whole things are very
dreary and dispiriting until the south wind blows up and stirs the
composer's imagination. The sweet wind carries off the mariners to
their home; the water ripples and plashes gently; and to the last bar
of the act all is peace and beauty. The music has not, perhaps, the
point of, say, the quieter bits of Mendelssohn's _Hebrides_, but it
runs delicately along, and it more than serves.

The figure (_l_), which has been so prominent in the overture and
sailors' choruses, is equally noticeable in the next act. The spinning
chorus, in fact, may be said to grow out of it. There is no break
between the two acts (Wagner's first intention was to go straight on,
making the _Dutchman_ an opera in one long act); the introduction to
the second is a continuation of the conclusion of the first. The
figure is repeated several times in a long diminuendo, changing the
key from B flat to A major, so we never cease to feel the presence of
the eternal sea. Inside the skipper's old-world house one is conscious
that the waves are plashing not far from the walls, and that the air
is salt and fresh there. There is a pervading dreamy atmosphere: again
we are carried away into far-off times; the scene has the unreality of
a dream, a dream of the sea. Mlle. Senta quickly shatters that
illusion with her passion and living young blood; but in memory one
always has this cottage, where women pass the days in singing, where
there are no clocks, and time can only be measured by the waves as
they break on the shore. The maiden's spinning song is small scale
music; nothing ambitious is wanted, and nothing ambitious is
attempted. As a bit of music it is infinitely superior to the clumsy
wooden bridal chorus in _Lohengrin_; the touch is light, the melodies
fresh and dainty, and the subdued hum of the wheels and the bustle are
suggested throughout without becoming monotonous. Not for a musical,
but for a purely theatrical, reason we get a snatch of (_k_); Senta is
not spinning; she is engaged in staring at the picture. After much
chattering she sings the ballad, and at the end declaims her intention
of saving the Dutchman to the music which is employed when she
actually accomplishes that feat. When Eric rushes in, the orchestra
has the usual operatic storm-in-a-teacup sort of stuff; the chattering
chorus of women getting ready for Daland's reception is neither here
nor there; Eric's expostulations are insignificant, and the air he
sings--with interruptions on the part of Senta--is by no means equal
to the better parts of the opera. Here Wagner has again been faced by
the difficulty he met in the first act: a prosaic scene had to be set
to poetic music, and the task was beyond him. Eric is one of the most
frightfully conventional personages in opera; he bores and exasperates
one to madness. He warbles away in the approved Italian tenor fashion
while one's enthusiasm is growing cold and one's interest waning. His
dream, however, in which he sees Senta meet the Dutchman, embrace him
and sail away with him, has a genuine ring. The atmosphere is strange,
almost nightmareish, with the Dutchman theme sounding up at intervals,
dreamlike. With the exception of the mere mention of this motive in
the score, the music is new, is not evolved out of previous passages;
but when Eric has finished we hear the Senta theme, both sections.
The Dutchman and Daland enter, and we hear (_f_) three times in all;
but there is no development of it. Daland's air is entirely fresh
matter; as is the opening of the big duet between the Dutchman and

We are now approaching the supreme moment of the drama. The Dutchman's
recitative-like beginning--declamation of the same type, and with the
same accent, as some recitative in the song-tournament in
_Tannhäuser_--is noble in the highest degree; we have a recurrence of
the dream-atmosphere at Senta's words, "Versank ich jetzt in
wunderbares Träumen?"--for though her fanaticism is all too real, when
her opportunity comes she is for the moment incredulous. It hardly
does to consider the moral aspect of the play at this juncture.
Vanderdecken is merely a greedy, selfish skipper who, having got into
some trouble, is anxious that a pure young maiden should throw away
her life that he may be comfortable. Not any casuistry or splitting of
hairs can alter the plain fact--

    "Wirst du des Vaters Wahl nicht schelten?
    Was er versprach, wie?--dürft' es gelten?"

However, he has the honesty to warn her of her probable fate. She
rises to the occasion. She may be as mad as a hatter, but in the music
she is given to "Der du auch sei'st," her lunacy becomes sublimity. Up
to the moment of writing this white-hot glowing passage Wagner had
never reached the sublime: now for a few minutes he sustains it.
Again the breath of the sea is brought in when the Dutchman a second
time warns her, and the sea music roars as a sinister accompaniment.
Senta only becomes the more exalted. "Wohl kenn' ich Weibes heil'ge
Pflichten," she sings to music which is absolutely the finest page in
the opera. The pure white flame of a deathless devotion is here. I
doubt whether Wagner ever again in his life had such an ethereal
moment: it is sheer fervour and sweetness, unmixed with the hot human
passion of _Tristan_ or the smoky philosophies of the _Ring_. To wish
Senta had a reasonable cause for her ecstasy of self-immolation is, of
course, to wish the _Dutchman_ were not the _Dutchman_. In truth, we
must take the scenes as they come without inquiring too curiously; the
storm music which goes with the wanderer, and the moments of glorious
splendour that come to the redeeming woman, are things worth living to
have written and worth living to hear.

The music of the last act I shall pass quickly over. The seamen's and
women's choruses are not particularly striking; the spectral choruses
certainly are. The sea music is here turned into something unearthly,
frightful; these damned souls have no hope of being saved, and in
their misery they scoff and mock and laugh hideously. More new musical
matter, some of it of a very fine quality, is introduced when Eric
again appeals to Senta; and the figure (_a_) is developed with
stupendous effect. In the final scene, when the Dutchman goes off,
Senta can say nothing more after her declarations in the
second--nothing, that is, of any musical value; and Wagner has wisely
confined her to recitative.

The _Flying Dutchman_, then, has many weaknesses. The libretto is a
manufacture, not, like _Tristan_, a growth. Much of the music does not
rise above the level of Spontini or Marschner; there are wearisome
pages, there are heavy chords repeated again and again with violin
figurations on top, there are lines of the verse repeated to fit in
with the conventional melodies in four-bar lengths. It was only a few
years before that Wagner, at Riga, had written enthusiastically about
Bellini and his melody, a type of melody he felt to be fresh and
expressive compared with the dry-as-dust mixture of Viennese melody
(_i.e._ the Haydn and Mozart type) and stodgy German counterpoint
which formed the bulk of Marschner's and Spontini's music; and here we
see him in the very deed of trying his hand at it. Very often the
result, it must be admitted, is lamentable. There was no Italian
suppleness and grace in Wagner's nature: when he was in deadly
earnest, and striving to express himself without thinking of models,
he wrote gorgeous stuff; when the inspiration waned, or when he
deluded himself with the belief that what he supposed to be
Bellini-like tunes really expressed the feeling of the moment, then he
gave us pages as dry and dreary as Spontini and Marschner at their
worst. Besides those I have already mentioned there are in the love
duet--if it can be called a love duet--mere figurations over bar on
bar on leaden-footed, heavy chords; and these figurations are not true
melody. These tunes in regular four-bar lengths are melody of an
amorphous sort; only when they were tightened up, made truer, more
pregnant--in a word, when they were so shaped as to stand really and
truly for the thought and feeling in the composer--did they become the
beautiful things we find in _Lohengrin_, foretelling the sublime
things we find in _Tristan_. Eric's tunes are as colourless as
Donizetti's. All this we may joyfully admit, knowing how much there is
to be said on the other side, and seeing in the _Dutchman_ only a
foretaste of Wagner's greatest work. A really great work it assuredly
is. We have the magnificent sea-music, and, in spite of outer
incoherences, the smell and atmosphere of the sea maintained to the
last bar of the opera. In his music at least Vanderdecken is a deeply
tragic figure. There is the ballad, by very far the finest in music;
there is Senta's declaration of faith. Whenever it was possible for
the composer to be inspired he instantly responded. Had he not lived
to write another note his memory would live by the _Dutchman_. It is
an enormous leap from _Rienzi_. There brilliancy is attained by huge
choruses and vigorous orchestration and rhythms that continually verge
on the vulgar. In the _Dutchman_ it is the stuff and texture of the
music that make the effect. Play _Rienzi_ on a piano, and you have
nothing; play the _Dutchman_, and you have immediately the roar of the
sea, the Dutchman's loneliness and sadness, Senta's exaltation. I have
spoken of Wagner having finished his apprenticeship when he went to
Magdeburg, and in a sense he had; but perhaps in the fuller sense he
finished it only with the _Dutchman_. He made mistakes, and thanks
largely to them, so mastered his own personal art that he was prepared
to take another and a vaster leap--from the _Dutchman_ to
_Tannhäuser_. He cast the slough of the old Italian opera form.



Some characteristics of his harmony and instrumentation will most
conveniently be considered later. For the present I wish to draw my
reader's attention rather to Wagner the musico-dramatist than to
Wagner the technical musician.




When Wagner left Paris on the proceeds of some work for Schlesinger
which still remained to be done, he had learnt three lessons. The
first, that it was foolish for an unknown man to go off into unknown
lands, proved useful for a time. That is, for a time he put up with
many vexations rather than undertake such adventures. No one likes to
be starved and to see his wife starving, Wagner least of all men; and
we shall see that, once settled in Dresden, he set his teeth and
grinned and bore up against lack of appreciation and against actual
insult, so determined was he that his Minna should, if possible, live
in comfort. This lesson had been emphasized by his experiences before
he received a permanent appointment. His creditors of the north,
learning of the success of _Rienzi_, and little dreaming his profits
to be £45, immediately began to worry him; and until he got the
conductorship of the Royal opera-house his plight was little, if any,
better than it was in the Paris days. The second lesson was, that
whatever might happen in the future, it was futile to raise his eyes
to Paris: Paris would not listen to him or to any sincere artist. The
third was that nothing was to be hoped at all from the modern opera.
That lesson he never forgot. Unfortunately its teaching clashed with
that of lesson number one, and for some time it was neglected. But
Dresden reinforced it as only a court-ridden town can, a town whose
inhabitants were, almost to a man, the sort of flunkeys who hang
around a Court.

Wagner did not wish to be kapellmeister--on the contrary, wished most
vigorously not to be kapellmeister. What on earth he did wish to be,
how he hoped to earn bread--he who had had only one opera produced,
and gained £45 by it: it is idle to speculate concerning such
questions. Excepting that he laboured incessantly at his
operas--scheming and sketching, if not actually composing and
writing--he would seem at this stage of his growth to have been a Mr.
Micawber, whose contemporary, of course, he was. He flirted with von
Lüttichau, the intendant of the theatre, a fine specimen of a court
barbarian. Wagner neither would nor wouldn't; and it was only when the
theatre found it could not well do without him, and asked him to say
definitely if he would, that he accepted the offer. We can imagine how
poor, stupid, unimaginative Minna would rejoice at the news. She ought
to have married a pork butcher, or would have behaved admirably as the
mistress of a beerhouse or café; but as the wife of a man of genius--!
To be the wife of the kapellmeister of one of Germany's principal
opera-houses--a court opera-house--that was almost, if not quite, as
good; and for the time she rested content with her lot. And we may
believe that Richard, too, felt a double gratification, even against
his deepest and truest instincts. The salary lifted a burden off his
shoulders for a while; and was he not appointed to the very post his
idol Weber had occupied? Nevertheless, things soon came to pass which
show how the Richard who set off from Pillau to Paris with his bare
travelling expenses, and the Richard who was to do yet madder things
hereafter, was the Richard of this middle period. This von Lüttichau
said it was the rule of the court that a new conductor should serve a
year on trial. Wagner was quite brutally reminded that the mighty
Weber had been compelled to do so; and he was told _he_ must do so. He
point-blank refused; sent the Lüttichau man a long explanation--which,
I dare say, was never read--of why he couldn't accept such terms;
spoke of the necessity of getting some sort of order and discipline
into an orchestra which Reissiger had allowed to go to pieces, etc.,
etc. But he had to his credit, as we have seen, the triumphs of
_Rienzi_ and the _Dutchman_; and it shows how much he was wanted that
Lüttichau yielded; he waived the twelve months' probation without
murmuring--a thing almost unheard of in the case of a German official,
a German court official. So on the 2nd of February, 1843, he was sworn
in "for life" as co-conductor with Reissiger; and promptly learnt that
he had to wear a livery like others condemned to penal servitude for
life. This was the least of his troubles.

Reissiger had been the slackest of theatre conductors, the slackest
of the slack old school. I may have mentioned that once I had the
misfortune to play the piano part in a number of his trios; and though
these are the only compositions of his known to me they suffice. A man
who had the patience to plod through the task of writing such dreary
stuff and the presumption to send it forth to a world already familiar
with Mendelssohn's trios, if not with Beethoven's, cannot have had a
spark of the genuine, enthusiastic musician in him. His waltz--known
as "Weber's last thoughts," in Germany and England as "Weber's last
waltz"--must have been the fruit of a lucky accident--or perhaps he
did have a moment of inspiration: it would be hard if that had not
come once in a lifetime to a man who wrote so much. The little thing
is certainly pretty. But it is not enough to counteract the impression
made by his trios on me, nor by his operas and conducting-work on
Wagner. The latter, indeed, was fond of telling anecdotes showing how
entirely indifferent Reissiger was to his work, so long as he got
through it somehow, reached home in good time, and drew his pay
regularly. One story, though well enough known, ought to be mentioned,
because it reveals the man whose duties Wagner had to share, and the
result of whose faults Wagner had to cure and efface. Wagner met
Reissiger on the river bridge one evening at nine o'clock, when the
opera ought to have been in full swing with Reissiger at the
conductor's desk. "Are you not conducting the opera to-night?" asked
Wagner--possibly in a fit of consternation, thinking it might be
_his_ night. "Have had it," Reissiger replied; "how's that for smart
conducting?" As long as they got through, Reissiger was content. Not
so Wagner. His first duty was to make the band a smart, clean-playing,
smooth-working machine; the players had to learn to follow his beat
and to obey his directions; and he at once met with opposition. The
bandsmen, like Reissiger, and in fact all officials who regard their
posts as more or less sinecures, wanted to go on in the old slovenly
fashion, rehearsing carelessly, hastily, or not at all, and quite
satisfied so long as they got through. During the first weeks of the
new regime the principal first violin declined to follow Wagner's
directions, and, moreover, had the impudence to tell our arrogant
Richard he was wrong, and, above all, to tell him in von Lüttichau's
presence. Wagner, having the pen of a too-ready writer--like old
Sebastian Bach before him--sent in one of his long letters; and with
that the trouble ceased for the moment. But similar episodes seem to
have been of frequent occurrence during his six years of
conductorship. Still, he introduced discipline into the band, and, on
the whole, got on well with his men. With genuine artists, even of the
humblest sort, he was always on good terms. He had a fine fund of good
humour and sanguine cheerfulness, a ready wit and a kind heart; he won
the respect due to a man who really knew his work, knew what he
wanted, and how it could best be attained. What he wanted was
performances worthy of the house to which he had come as conductor.
Tricks were played on him, so that he had to direct operas which had
been insufficiently rehearsed or not at all rehearsed; and the press
made the most of shortcomings which he realized better than the

He had compensations. August Roeckel became his assistant at the
theatre and a close personal friend; he had Heine, Fischer, Uhlig and
others amongst his intimates; and by what was undoubtedly the most
artistic section of the community he was made much of. The Liedertafel
chose him as its first Liedermeister. For the unveiling of a statue to
Friedrich August I he organized a gigantic musical festival, writing
for the occasion a hymn. Mendelssohn had composed something for the
event; and the whole affair made the Dresden folk open their mouths as
well as their ears. For the Liedertafel he wrote the _Love-feast of
the Apostles_, which was performed on July 6 of this year (1843) with,
so far as one can judge, immense effect and success. The pious
press-men were, of course, scandalized by his very secular treatment
of a sacred subject; they expected, or at least asked for, a
Mendelssohnian psalm--and they would have grumbled even had they got
it. It was considered a crime to compete with Mendelssohn, also a
crime not to imitate him.

At this time he appears to have been happy with Minna; the good lady
had all she wanted; and the rift within the lute did not show until
Wagner later on began to kick against the pricks. Perhaps the greatest
pleasure that he had at this time--perhaps the greatest he had had in
his life--came through old Spohr the violinist, then conductor (and
king) of the Cassel opera. Spohr had heard _Rienzi_ at Dresden, and,
antiquated stick though he was--as any one might guess who knows his
_Last Judgment_ or _Calvary_--he yet recognized in Wagner an original
and deeply sincere musician. He wrote, after seeing the _Flying
Dutchman_, "I believe I know my mind sufficiently to say that among
the dramatic composers of our day I consider Wagner the most gifted."
He produced the _Dutchman_ at Cassel, directing the representation
himself, and sent Wagner a letter which lifted that young man into the
seventh heaven of delight. Wagner always cherished the recollection of
this, the first genuine praise he had received from an older musician,
and one famous throughout Europe; and on Spohr's death, long
afterwards, he wrote one of the most beautiful obituary articles in
all literature. His answer to Spohr shows that at this time there were
no serious differences in the household; he speaks in terms of the
greatest affection of his wife, and regrets that she is not there to
share his joy. The Cassel performance took place June 5, 1843. It was
unsolicited: Spohr himself had asked for the score; and this had a
double or triple value to Wagner. Spohr's authority was immense
throughout Germany; and the mere fact that he had asked for the
_Dutchman_, and, later, performed it, was a recommendation to every
other opera-house. And, as a matter of fact, it was done elsewhere,
though in many towns the thing was found incomprehensible, and the
score returned to Wagner unused, sometimes the parcel containing it
unopened. By the way, Berlioz was in Dresden at the time, doing
mountebank tricks with the orchestra, and after hearing, the
_Dutchman_ he went so far as to speak well of it. Liszt was
enthusiastic over _Rienzi_.

When Spohr's letter arrived Minna was at Teplitz, ill; Wagner joined
her there immediately his holiday began, but not before writing to
Lehrs (July 7) that the book of _Tannhäuser_ was finished. Whether
Lehrs received the letter I do not know, for he died on July 13. It
will be remembered that it was Lehrs who gave Wagner the _Sängerkrieg_
from which he drew both _Tannhäuser_ and _Lohengrin_. Before dealing
with these operas, Wagner's first very great ones, we must pass in
review the remainder of the Dresden days, ending with the insurrection
of May 1849 and the flight to Switzerland.


Nothing in Wagner's life has been less perfectly understood, or more
completely and wilfully misunderstood, than his share in this May
insurrection of 1849. He was never at any time a politician; of
politics he knew nothing, and he held the trade in profound,
undisguised contempt. He wrote much about the State, and in every
paragraph contrived to show the astounding breadth of his
ignorance--an ignorance of that kind which Dr. Johnson might have
described as not natural but acquired. Everlastingly he prattles
about the State until he throws us into a condition of imbecile
confusion. Then we resolutely sit down to his prose writings and track
his meaning or meanings. And at last we perceive this: the State in
his mind, the State he talked and wrote about, was something purely
ideal, such a State as has never existed, and at the present day,
nearly seventy years after Wagner's solitary plunge into practical
politics, seems as unlikely as ever to come into existence. He wanted
(1) an all-wise absolute monarch who should work the will of all his
subjects, no matter how conflicting their interests might be; (2) some
millions of these subjects to think alike on every conceivable
question--to think, that is, as Wagner thought; these millions to make
sublime sacrifice of themselves that Wagner's art-schemes might
prosper. All this, be it noted, was to be the barest basis and
beginning of the perfect State. How this point could be reached by our
imperfect human race was a question he scorned to discuss: he simply
assumed that it could be reached, and proceeded to further argument.
The point had to be attained in the first place; then humanity--by
which he meant German humanity--was to move upward, working out the
beast, talking German philosophy, reading what is called German poetry
(though Shakespeare might be tolerated), looking at what is called
German painting, listening to German music, dreaming thin, mystical
German dreams and munching thick German sausages. Thus should the
inhabitants of a small subsidiary State, whose kings could be, and
had been, made and unmade by other kings, create for themselves a new
heaven on earth and become the wonder of the world.

It is very like sheer lunacy. But this account is no exaggeration of
Wagner's doctrine and plans. The one truth which emerges and speaks
unequivocally is that Richard, deeply dissatisfied with the theatre of
the day, and tracing its sad degeneracy to the corrupt state of
society, wished to see society upraised, not that men and women might
live more happily, but that a finer, nobler theatre might flourish.
The most magnificent egotist of the century, it seemed to him the
prime concern of mankind that Richard Wagner's works should be
understood and loved. Being an egotist also, if I may say so, on a
national scale, he thought humanity could only be redeemed by German
art. Disregarding the fact that Germany has had no painters, no poet
of the first rank, no genuine dramatist, and that before "our art," as
he persistently calls music, had got a root in Germany, three great
schools had flourished, the English, the Flemish and the
Italian--disregarding all this, he looked for the regeneration of the
human species by means of the efforts of German artists alone. It is
comical, and, I say, very like lunacy. Mr. Ernest Newman will have it
that Wagner's was only a very mediocre intellect. The cold truth is
that only a mighty intellect, gone wrong on one point, could have
evolved the idea of such a new social system. For, mark you, Wagner
propounded no scheme for the regeneration of humanity: he assumed that
it could regenerate itself by wishing, or willing, and that then the
thousand years of peace would commence, with Richard as
conductor-in-chief. He could not see that humanity cannot jump out of
its shadow and regenerate itself, any more than gentlemen of
intelligence gone wrong on one point can see that Bacon could not have
written Shakespeare's plays, or that perpetual motion is a crazy

It is curious to picture the share Richard took in the Dresden ferment
of 1848-49. Of course, all Europe was in a condition of excitement;
and the powers that were got their guns ready, and their men.
Political liberty was the thing aimed at: the "outs" wanted to be in.
Every right-thinking man must be in sympathy with the "outs." The
governments of Europe were in the hands of shameless place-seekers;
the working men, the merchants, all other classes were supposed to
labour and pay taxes for the benefit of these gentry. Money was
squandered on useless court-flummery while men were toiling sixteen
hours a day for bread. The aristocracy were resolved that this state
of affairs should continue; the average citizens were resolved that it
should not. What did Wagner propose?--obedience to the puppet king and
a reformed opera! It is small wonder that he was considered a
visionary. He made at least one speech, talking about the State,
meaning thereby something very different from the meaning his audience
attached to the word; he heard speeches, and undoubtedly in all
sincerity read his own thoughts into them. He thought the millennium
was at hand. When the fighting began he joined the revolutionists;
though I can nowhere find proof that he shouldered a musket. Had he
done so it is extremely probable he would have shot the man behind
him. It is hard to get at the truth about these days of May. Perhaps
he did help to escort supplies; but with his excitable brain we must
remember that what he thought he saw and what he actually did see may
be two very different things. A good many other people who were in
Dresden at the time have let their pretty fancies run away with them;
for their accounts of Wagner's doings contradict one another to such
an extent that any attempt to reconcile them is futile. I must confess
to a boundless distrust of "recollections" set down or spoken at any
length of time after the event. Ask, reader, ask any of your friends
to give an account of some striking occurrence of a year ago. In
ninety-nine cases out of a hundred it will not tally with yours. You
may be wrong or your friend may be wrong: in either case some one's
memory has played a trick. In this book I have omitted many a dozen
picturesque touches, simply because there is no proof of their truth
and every probability that they are false. It is perhaps enough to
remember that the hopes of liberty were crushed, that Roeckel,
Wagner's assistant and friend, was taken and afterwards sentenced to a
long term of imprisonment, and that Wagner had to run for safety. From
every point of view it was as well he got away from Dresden. If he had
not got away he would have shared Roeckel's martyrdom. Had the
revolution succeeded, a terrible disillusionment would have been his
share of the spoils: the revolutionists thought a fine opera of no
more importance than did their enemies, and had Richard asked to be
set up in his kingdom he would have quickly found the defenders of
liberty as adroit in evading him and his claims as any court flunkeys
could be. It was well he got away from Dresden also because, as he
afterwards said, the court livery had grown too tight for him. He had
had a comfortable income, and had he not been Richard Wagner he might
have vegetated happily, in the Reissiger way, for life. Minna would
have been content. Being Richard Wagner, he felt his soul strangled;
and that Minna had for some time been worrying about what he might do
next is shown by his remark to a friend--that other people had their
enemies outside their houses: _his_ enemy sat at his own table.


Things had not gone well at the theatre. In spite of performances
never before equalled in the town--nay, probably because of them--he
had enemies all around, especially in the Jew-controlled press. His
carefulness about rehearsals was called fussiness; his determination
that the singers should not at their own sweet pleasure mar fine
operas with interpolations, alterations and "liberties" generally, was
called interference with their rights. Even when he played
Beethoven's Pastoral and Ninth Symphonies, as they had never been
given before, he was impertinently taken to task by press scribblers
for departing from the Mendelssohn tradition. I have already expressed
the opinion that _Judaism in Music_ was a huge mistake; yet one must
own that when one considers how the Jews consistently attacked him for
venturing to challenge inferior Jew composers and conductors on their
own ground, the thing seems almost excusable. At any rate, it is
surprising that he dealt so tenderly with Mendelssohn. There is one
point always to be borne in mind. Wagner was assailed at this time not
so much _quâ_ composer as _quâ_ conductor. Now we of the generation of
to-day--the younger members, anyhow--are so accustomed to really able
conductors, that it is somewhat difficult to realize what things were
like throughout Europe in 1843-49. Perhaps the nearest approach to a
true idea may be formed by those who heard our own precious
Philharmonic Society under the late Cusins. As in London in the
'eighties, so in Dresden in the 'forties. Callous indifference to the
beauty of fine music and complete slovenliness in every detail of the
rendering of it went hand in hand. If Europe to-day is stocked with
competent conductors, that is a debt we owe to Wagner. Himself one of
the greatest conductors who has lived, he almost created a new art,
and by his immediate and direct example and through his pupils Bülow,
Richter, Levi and Seidl, not to mention his influence on Liszt, he
certainly created the school which has now ousted the older
inartistic men. It was precisely this fact that maddened the older men
and their friends.

Another discomforting circumstance was Wagner's intense Germanism. It
was through his efforts that Weber's remains were brought from the
Roman Church in Moorfields and re-interred in Dresden (December,
1844); for the ceremony he compiled some funeral music and delivered
an oration. He was not content to claim Germany for the Germans: he
claimed all Europe, or at least all European art, for the Germans. The
Germans themselves were contentedly jogging on with the hybrid music
of Spontini, Bellini, Donizetti, Meyerbeer and Mendelssohn; and Wagner
never tired of telling them to create an art of their own, or really
he would have to do it for them. He did as well as talked and wrote;
he produced the nearest thing he could find to pure German opera--for
instance, Marschner's _Adolph von Nassau_ in 1845. Of course, he
ceased not to press Weber upon his audiences; and Weber at that period
appears to have gone temporarily out of favour. Wagner lived in an
atmosphere of depreciation and disapprobation which must have got upon
his nerves and hastened the catastrophe--that of his taking active
part in the attempted revolution. Sneers from artistic enemies
outside; whimpering and nagging inside because he would not conform to
court rules, and seek popularity as a good livery-wearing conductor
should--no wonder he gave a sigh of relief at quitting Dresden.

He had no option. The Prussian troops were ruthless; the judges were
paid to "punish" those whose crime was fighting for their ordinary
rights; and as the judges' billets would not have been worth twenty
minutes' purchase if they had not obeyed orders, they cheerfully
obeyed them. It is a fine thing to accept a handsome salary to do
dirty work and to call the doing of it doing your "duty": duty is a
fine word that has covered a million crimes since it was invented.
Bakunin, who said Richard Wagner was "a visionary"--obviously meaning
a harmless fool--and many others got long terms of imprisonment.
Wagner had left the town without leave, and for that offence he was
dismissed from his post at the opera. Next, the police issued a
warrant for his arrest.

He had gone quietly to visit Liszt at Weimar, meaning to "lie low"
till the storm had blown by. He was apparently quite unconscious of
having broken any laws. Liszt was not so easy in his mind. He made
inquiries: found that Wagner must bolt at once: it is supposed he
somehow "squared" the local police official to defer executing the
warrant; he got a passport in a false name, and six days after his
arrival Richard set out again on his travels. What need be recorded
about the journey to Zurich and the getting of Minna there, will best
be described when I come to tell of his settling down in his new abode
and the years he spent there.




Wagner alternated between what we may call the worldly--the sensual or
animal, or love of outward show--and the magical, mystical or
religious. After _Die Feen_, a story of magic, he went to _Das
Liebesverbot_, a story of lust; then he went on to a drama of warring
ambitions, with the outer brilliant show of armed men, gorgeous
processions, conflagrations and what not in the way of spectacle.
After that we have the _Dutchman_, strange and remote and mysterious,
with some pages of passionless ecstasy as its culminating point. The
reaction came, and he wrote _Tannhäuser_, the opera we are now to
examine. It is largely based on sheer animal passion, though another
reaction takes place before the end is reached. That reaction proceeds
further in _Lohengrin_, which is sheer mysticism. _Tristan_ is pure
human passion--Tristan's soul is the antithesis of Lohengrin's. The
_Ring_ is, from beginning to end, a gorgeous spectacle, a
glorification of the grandeur and loveliness of the earth, the
splendour and beauty and strength of human life. Not even Wotan's
renunciation takes away a jot from its note of praise of
humanity--one might even say praise of the joy of living. _Parsifal_
is a denial of the value and richness and worthiness of human life:
the world is pushed away; and the hero attains perfect peace by
shutting himself up in a monastery with no women to disturb him. John
Willett recommended his son, when he went to London, to climb to the
top of the Monument--"there are no young women up there, sir"--and
Wagner evidently agreed with John Willett. Parsifal is left to pass
his days in walking, with the most preposterous steps ever seen on or
off the stage, in idle processions from nowhere to nowhere without any
object beyond walking, in making meals off invisible food, in
impressing his fellow-monks with puerile chemical and electrical
experiments, and perhaps, for a change, in going out to see trees and
rocks taking a constitutional. If to say this is to be flippant, well
then, I am flippant. The drama of _Parsifal_ is the least intelligent,
the most pretentious to intellectuality,-the most absurd and
ridiculous and mirth-provoking drama ever set to music. Or, if we must
needs oblige the Wagnerites by regarding it as a lofty contribution to
ethics and a philosophy, no words are strong enough to describe its
infamy. At the moment these lines are penned eager controversy is
going on in every European capital as to whether _Parsifal_ can or
cannot be produced this year without the permission of the Bayreuth
clique; and my devout hope is that it will be given everywhere as soon
as possible. Once it is seen without the quasi-religious, or rather
mock-religious, character of the Bayreuth performances, the
hollowness, trumpery staginess and evil tendency of the work will be
only too obvious, and if Bayreuth wants a monopoly of it no one will
wish to say Bayreuth nay.

These oscillations of mood were very frequent, the changes often very
abrupt, with Wagner; also he rarely worked at only one opera at a
time. The _Dutchman_ was conceived before _Rienzi_ was finished;
_Tannhäuser_ and _Lohengrin_ were slowly shaping themselves in his
imagination while he scored the _Dutchman_; the _Mastersingers_
libretto, in its first form, was drafted immediately after
_Tannhäuser_ was finished, and before _Lohengrin_ was begun; the
composition of the _Ring_, _Tristan_ and the _Mastersingers_ went on
simultaneously. He did not totally exhaust one group of ideas and
emotions before proceeding to another, and the result is twofold.
First, the moods belonging of right to one opera often found their way
for moments into another, so that the description I have given above
of his various alternations is very rough, though it is in the main
accurate; second, the true antipodes of one opera may not be that
which stands next to it in chronological arrangement, but one which he
did not complete till years afterwards. I have just digressed a little
about _Parsifal_, because it, and not the _Mastersingers_, is the true
contrary and complement to _Tannhäuser_. _Parsifal_ is pitilessly
logical, _Tannhäuser_ wildly illogical; _Parsifal_ preaches the gospel
of renunciation, of the will to dwarf and stunt one's physical, mental
and moral growth: _Tannhäuser_ preaches nothing at all, but is an
affirmation of the necessity and moral loveliness of healthy relations
between the two sexes, with a totally uncalled-for and incredible
falling away or repentance at the end, on the part of one who has in
no way sinned--to wit, Tannhäuser; the music of _Parsifal_ is sickly,
tired, with mystical chants that make one's gorge rise in disgust; the
music of _Tannhäuser_ is strong, healthy, full of manly passion--even
at its saddest it is free of the nauseating whining of _Parsifal_.


Tannhäuser, a knight and celebrated minstrel, led away by an
exaggeration of healthy human desires, has left his friends and gone
to live with Venus in the Hörselberg. He soon tires of her; she tries
to keep him; he calls on the Virgin; the hallucinatory dream is
shattered, and he is in the free open spring air. A shepherd boy plays
on his pipe and chants a song to spring; a procession of old pilgrims
to Rome passes; Tannhäuser, feeling his exaggeration of passions, sane
enough in themselves, to be a sin, praises the Almighty for his
deliverance from what seems now to him like an evil dream. Hunters'
horns are presently heard from all sides; enter Tannhäuser's former
friends, Walther, Wolfram, Biterolf with the rest; they try to
persuade him to return to his former life with them, but in vain,
until Wolfram tells him that by his singing he had won the heart of
the Landgrave's daughter Elisabeth, and she has pined ever since at
his unaccountable disappearance. Tannhäuser, at first incredulous, in
the end joyfully agrees to go back to the Wartburg, where the
Landgrave's castle can be seen, and the merry clatter of hunting horns
is heard on all sides as the curtain falls. It will be seen that there
is no vestige of the old stage trickery of the _Dutchman_ here: all
seems natural because all is inevitable; of songs and concerted pieces
we get plenty, but they grow spontaneously out of the drama: the drama
is not twisted and delayed for the sake of getting them in.

In the second act Elisabeth has heard of her knight's return; she
enters the hall of song and pours forth her feelings of thankfulness;
Tannhäuser comes in and begs to be favoured; there is a long
love-duet; and then preparations are made for a musical tournament.
The popular march is played; the hall becomes crowded; the Landgrave
makes a speech--satisfying to German audiences, no doubt, because it
praises German valour and music--and in announcing the subject on
which the minstrels shall enlarge, he hints that perhaps Tannhäuser in
his contribution will let them know in what mysterious lands he has
sojourned during his long absence. The theme is, What is love, and how
do we recognize it? The prize will be given by the Princess, and it
shall be anything the successful singer chooses--that is, it shall be
the Princess. Wolfram stands up first and praises a mild platonic
attachment as being true love, and his sentiments win much applause.
Tannhäuser sings passionately of the joys of burning fleshly desire,
though as yet his language is a little veiled. The audience, who are
the judges, make no sign; Elisabeth alone shows that in her heart she
goes with Tannhäuser and not with Wolfram. Walther, in turn, tells
Tannhäuser that he knows nothing of sincere love; Tannhäuser grows
angry, and scoffingly tells him that if he wants cold perfection he
had better worship the stars; but he, Tannhäuser, wants warm, living
flesh and blood and healthy desires in the woman he loves. Biterolf
calls Tannhäuser a shameless blasphemer, and challenges him to combat;
Tannhäuser replies bitterly; the surrounding nobles want to silence
him; his anger becomes rage, and his rage madness; Wolfram tries to
calm every one, but Tannhäuser is now too far gone, and in "wildest
exaltation" he chants the hymn he sang to Venus in the first act.
"Only in the Venusberg can one experience the joys of true love," he
shouts; the ladies rush out in terror, leaving only Elisabeth; the men
attack Tannhäuser. He would be killed, but Elisabeth suddenly
interposes--all stand aghast at the bare notion of her interceding for
so shameless a wretch; but in the end she gets her way. "Who would not
yield who heard the heavenly maid?" they sing; during a momentary
stillness the voices of young pilgrims following the elder to Rome are
heard; Tannhäuser is pardoned on condition of joining them and
confessing to the pope and gaining his forgiveness; and, being a man
of uncontrollable passions, with fits of abject depression as low as
his ecstatic flights are high, he humbly acquiesces. The curtain comes
down in the second act as he goes off.

The third act is, I say, quite illogical unless one accepts as a
truism, as Wagner accepted it, the patent absurdity that by
sacrificing him-or herself one being can save the soul of another
being. But Wagner was not a German of the Romantic epoch for nothing.
He believed the absurdity with a fervour now laughable, and was
especially enthusiastic when the sacrificed person was a woman: woman,
to his mind, was the redeemer of man: that was her _métier_. Senta
redeems Vanderdecken; in his last work Kundry redeems Parsifal by
thoughtfully dying so as to leave that unamiable idiot to lead the
higher life of the monastery, as I have described it. And somehow
Elisabeth is to redeem Tannhäuser--also, it appears, by dying at an
appropriate moment. In the fit of depression and degradation following
his mad outburst the hero goes to Rome, interviews the pope, and
confesses all to him. "If you have dwelt with Venus," says the Lord's
vicar, "you are for ever cursed; God will not forgive you until my
staff of dry wood blossoms." At this sentence of eternal doom
Tannhäuser, in the legend as Wagner found it, returned to the
Hörselberg: in the story, as Wagner shaped it, he gets as near as the
Wartburg on his road back to Venus. By the roadside, as in the second
scene of the first act, Elisabeth is praying before the shrine where
Tannhäuser had knelt to thank heaven for his deliverance; Wolfram
watches near. Both await the pilgrims from Rome. These arrive--and
Tannhäuser is not amongst them. "He will return no more," says
Elisabeth despairingly; and she prays to the Virgin to free her from
all earth's griefs. Then she wends her way up to the castle while
Wolfram remains to sing his song of renunciation. Ominous sounds are
heard; Tannhäuser, tattered and woe-begone, enters, tells his tale to
Wolfram, and, working himself into a condition of madness as he did at
the Tournament of Song--only now the madness is the madness of
despair, not excessive exaltation--he calls on Venus. From the heart
of the mountain she answers; the scene grows wilder and wilder; he
sees Venus awaiting him; the air is filled with strange odours and
stranger music. Wolfram struggles to prevent Tannhäuser going to
Venus; Venus calls him clearly and more clearly; suddenly Wolfram
says, "A maiden is even now making intercession for you at God's
throne--Elisabeth!" "Elisabeth!" echoes Tannhäuser--stunned and
astonished. The mists clear away; from behind the scenes a requiem for
Elisabeth's soul is heard; Venus gives a final wail, "Woe! lost to
me!" and sinks into the earth; slowly morning dawns, and a funeral
train bearing Elisabeth on a bier slowly comes in. "Holy Elisabeth,
pray for me," Tannhäuser cries, and, sinking down, he dies. More
pilgrims enter, bearing the pope's staff, which has miraculously
blossomed in token that God's mercy is greater than man's, and that
Tannhäuser is pardoned; all sing a song of praise, and the opera

At the Dresden performances in 1845 this ending was cut, but that
Wagner reckoned it of the utmost importance is shown by a letter
written to Uhlig in 1851: "The reason for leaving out the announcement
of the miracle, in the Dresden change, was quite a local one: the
chorus was always bad, flat and uninteresting; also an imposing scenic
effect--a splendid, gradual sunrise was wanting." Now, in the
twentieth century, it is indeed hard to understand how an intellect so
keen as our Richard's, a dramatic and poetic instinct almost
infallible with regard to all other things, could have failed to see
and feel the absurdity of Elisabeth's death being necessary to
Tannhäuser's salvation. Was it the only way to get rid of the lady--a
_pis aller_?--a last remnant of the old-fashioned technique? In the
original legend Tannhäuser goes back to Venus: that would be
ineffective and leave Elisabeth's future unprovided for. On the other
hand, Wagner would never have selected the story for operatic
treatment at all had it not instantly shaped itself in his mind as it
now stands: he was, I say, obsessed by this notion of man's redemption
by woman; it was part of his creed and not to be questioned. So I
think that we must simply take it as it is, accepting Wagner's creed
for the moment as a necessary convention. At the same time let us
realize that it is an illogical development of the drama and not, as
the Wagnerites comically insist, the symbol of an eternal verity.
Allowing for the time occupied in mediæval days by the journey from
Rome to the heart of Germany, the pope's staff must have burst into
leaf and flower long, long before Elisabeth's death. While she was
waiting for Tannhäuser to come in with the first band of pilgrims, the
second band was already on its way with the token of his pardon. We
need not be too inquisitive and wonder why Tannhäuser should be
expected back with the first band when he had set out with the second,
and why Elisabeth could not at least exercise a little patience and
wait for the second. The point is that she does not wait, but goes
home to die, and, dying, is supposed--as Wolfram explicitly states--to
redeem a sinner who is already redeemed. Her sacrifice is an act of
suicidal insanity due to her lacking the common sense to reflect that
Tannhäuser might arrive with the second contingent; it is foolish and

This is the sole flaw in a very fine opera book. _Tannhäuser_ is the
noblest expression in music of the glory and worth of human life. An
assertion of the glory and worth of human life is bound to be, as
_Tannhäuser_ is, tragic; life and the value of life can only be
realized when we see life in conflict with death and overcome by
death. All the great tragedies are assertions of the joy of living, in
the deepest sense of the phrase--in the sense in which _Samson
Agonistes_ or Handel's _Samson_ are such assertions. Tannhäuser
suffers defeat and is glorious, like Samson in his overthrow. Even
Elisabeth, a trifle mawkish though she may be, has loved life, and
only at the finish, when fate (or, as she would say, heaven) decides
against her, does she resign herself and renounce what cannot be hers.
This is the first of Wagner's operas the plot of which is virtually
all his own; for precisely the combination of the legend of Tannhäuser
with the Tournament of Song makes it what it is and was--Wagner's
invention. All the stale old devices of explanatory asides are gone,
as are the convenient goings-off and comings-on of the _dramatis
personæ_ at the sweet will of the composer who wants here a duet and a
trio there. The drama is self-explanatory--the librettist does not
shove on a character to explain it for him; as it unfolds, the
musician is given ample opportunities for all the songs or concerted
pieces that the heart of composer could long for--he has not by main
force and at all costs (in the way of unreasonableness) to drive
opportunities into the drama.


In 1842 Wagner finished first _Rienzi_ and then the _Dutchman_; in
April of 1845, that is to say three years later, _Tannhäuser_ was
complete, and in October of that year it was produced at Dresden. Its
success or non-success with the public and those strange animals the
critics does not greatly concern us to-day. Wagner's own account of
the proceedings is not very trustworthy. The opera was cut and
doctored to suit the singers--notably Tichatscheck; the first
performance seems to have missed fire, and at the second the house was
empty; at the third it was full; and, but for the intrigues of some
of the musicians and scribblers, and the insanity of the management,
it appears probable--one has a right to use so moderate a word--that
before long it might have won in Dresden the success it presently won
throughout Europe. That, I say, is not a matter for the twentieth
century to worry about; but the twentieth century is bound to marvel
over the obtuseness of the middle nineteenth in not recognizing the
advent of the greatest power that had yet meddled with high and
serious opera. (I do not mean that Wagner's was a greater musical
power than Mozart's and Beethoven's. But Mozart never had a libretto
to compare with Wagner's; and _Fidelio_, though serious enough in all
conscience, is not an opera at all.) In three years, 1842-45, the
growth of Wagner's strength was astounding, incredible. One sees at
once how the old stage devices have departed from the libretto, and
with them the fragmentary and jerky style of music; the intermittent
inspiration of the _Dutchman_ is replaced by an unchecked torrent of
inspired music. All the little suggestions of Bellini and Donizetti
are clean gone; the amorphous melody of the _Dutchman_ is gone, or
metamorphosed by being charged with energy, colour and meaning; every
phrase has character, and communicates a very definite shade of
feeling; in every phrase we feel how intense has been the inner
thought and emotion, and with what terrible directness these are
communicated to us. I say terrible directness because it is in
_Tannhäuser_ that we first find the godlike Wagner hurling his
thunderbolts. It was Spohr who spoke of the godlike or titanic energy
of the music, and this energy finds expression, not as it did in
_Rienzi_, in noisy orchestration, big ensembles and thumping rhythms,
but, in a far greater degree than in the _Dutchman_, in the stuff of
the music itself. We find no more lumpish harmonies and basses of
leaden immovability: the basses stalk about with arrogant
independence, and the harmonic progressions, even when most daring and
perilous, are superbly poised. The old awkwardnesses, due to the
endeavour to copy and to be original at the same time, have
disappeared. Wagner wrote _Tannhäuser_ entirely to express and to
please himself: he had given up the notion of being original; he was
bent only on being himself.

He boasted that here, at last, was a sheer German opera. Well, that is
not in itself very much. Personally, I would rather be an Englishman
than a German; and few of us will be prepared to accept the view that
because a work of art, or so-called work of art, happens to be by a
German, it must therefore be a great work of art, or even a work of
art at all. Richard never lived down the tendency, natural in one, I
suppose, of a conquered tribe (the Saxons), to incorporate and
identify himself with his conquerors, and he glorified everything
Prussian as German, and everything German as perfect; but, even so
late as 1852, I cannot imagine that he quite understood what he meant
when he held forth on the subject of German art, its non-existence,
and--of all things--its supremacy. He certainly felt very keenly what
many members of every half-grown nation must feel--the necessity of
acquiring a national conscience, artistic or other; he wanted to
create an art-work which would appeal to the heart and understanding
of every German, and would make the Germans feel themselves one race,
an entity. Which, precisely, of the German races he would have
accepted in the new brotherhood of man I cannot say. But the point is
that Wagner longed to create, and in _Tannhäuser_ thought he had
created, this universal work of art; and in declaring, as he did, that
he had achieved the feat, he was revealing the truth about himself. He
had thrown overboard Bellini, Donizetti, even Spontini and Marschner,
and by going back to his first idols, Beethoven and Weber (especially
Weber), he found his natural voice and mode of expression.
Paradoxically, _Tannhäuser_, while one of his least original
compositions--owing as much to Weber as ever one composer had owed to
another--is one of his most original. He spoke the matter that was in
his own heart, but he freely, without self-consciousness, used the
Weber idiom.

Before examining the means by which the varying atmospheres of the
different scenes are got, I ask the reader to notice the way in which
the rather pointless, inexpressive melody of the _Dutchman_ appears
now again, but so transformed as to be scarce recognizable. Compare
the musical illustration (_o_) on page 119 with (_a_) at the end of
this chapter. The type of tune is the same, but the first is
commonplace and not quite worthy of the situation in which it occurs;
the second has a glorious, though dignified, swing, and thoroughly
expresses the words of welcome which Wolfram addresses to the errant
Tannhäuser. Compare Daland's song in the _Dutchman_ with Wolfram's
description of how Elisabeth has pined, or Senta's last passages in
the final scene with Elisabeth's salute to the hall of song. We feel
at once how, by dropping Italian, French and mediocre German models,
and writing in the way that came natural to him, Wagner at once became
a composer of the first rank, from whom great expressive melodies
sprang spontaneously. The noble passages in the _Dutchman_ were drawn
out of him, despite his conscious or unconscious imitation of what
were considered the best models of the day, by sheer force of feeling;
and I pointed out how, when the situation gave him a chance, he took
it. In _Tannhäuser_ he has become a splendid artist whose brain
refused to shape the commonplace. Later on his style was to become
more individual, more purely his own; but so far he had now got--and
it was a very long way. The pilgrims' chorus melody, which first
appears in the overture, is, to my mind, very Weberesque. It is not
particularly strong--for Wagner--and hardly bears the weight of the
brass with which it is afterwards thundered out; but think of it and
of Rienzi's prayer! The second part, of course, is Wagner at a sublime
height, but of that presently. What I wish is to give examples of how
he has discarded all the involutions, convolutions, twiddles and
twaddles of melody, and gone back to the simplicity and directness of
Weber and Beethoven. His earlier manner and type of tune, the
operatic manner of his day, had, I make no doubt, its origin in the
advisability, not to say the necessity, of writing so as to please
singers who could sing in the Italian style and no other. Wagner had
now ceased to think of singers' whims. He had a matter to find
utterance for, and he went to work in the most direct way, considering
nothing but his artistic aim. We know he conceived _Tannhäuser_ at a
white heat, and in a condition of white heat wrote the words; and
though he afterwards cooled down and had, he said, to "warm up" to his
work again, yet he warmed up so effectually that he composed at
furious speed, haunted by a terror lest he should not live to complete
the opera. This fervour alone might account for his artistic
development in the _Tannhäuser_ period. It drove him to find the
secret of the one true mode of expression--the law of simplicity, the
unvarying rule that anything more than is needed for the expression of
the thing to be expressed is bad art, and, in the long run,
ineffective. With greater simplicity in the melody came the greatest
possible simplicity in the harmony. There is a kind of awkwardness to
be found in the music of all the pundits which almost defies analysis.
The progressions are correct enough, are good enough grammar, yet the
result is more disconcerting, even distressing, to the ear than a
schoolboy's first efforts. Of this style of harmony the Italians were
masters, and too often in his _Rienzi_ days Wagner, thinking of his
"melody" (for at that time by "melody" he meant Bellini melody),
showed how little they could teach him in this respect. With the
simpler "melody" went the harmony--complicated as you like when the
occasion called, but never more complicated than the occasion
warranted. Compare with the war-chorus and march in _Rienzi_ the march
in the second act of _Tannhäuser_, and the difference will be seen.
This march, by the way, ought to have been signed "after C.M. von


_Tannhäuser_ was written in an epoch of long or big works of every
description. Think of the length of the novels of Thackeray and
Dickens; think of the interminable _Ring and the Book_! Our immediate
ancestors were a long-enduring, often long-suffering, generation.
Perhaps they liked good value for their money. If so, Richard gave
them what they wanted. He himself must have felt he had done so in
_Tannhäuser_, for fond though he was of his own music, he allowed it
to be cut freely. Even as it stands, the finale of the second act is
preposterous: the ripe and perfect artist who planned _Tristan_ would
never have done such a thing. But with regard to the finales--and they
are all too long--it certainly appears that Wagner deliberately made
use of crowds of people and masses of tone to carry through and
emphasize his dramatic purpose. In the first act every one is rejoiced
to have Tannhäuser amongst them, and Tannhäuser himself has much to
say on finding himself free of the Hörselberg nightmare, and in
familiar, homely, human scenes once more. The anger of the nobles in
the second, Elisabeth's grief and intercession for her lover, her
self-abasement--it is part of the drama to make us feel these things
and time is required. The finale of the last act I give up altogether.
Nor can I understand why Elisabeth's prayer should be so long drawn
out. Elisabeth has "nothing to do with the case." However, Wagner
thought she had; so we can only be thankful when she finishes, and
after Wolfram's song the action recommences with the entry of
Tannhäuser. The opera is planned on a huge scale, and in such works
_longueurs_ are apt to occur.

The overture foretells the drama that is to ensue, but not
consecutively as in the _Dutchman_. We have the pilgrims' hymn, the
second section of which is one of those things of which one can truly
say that only Richard Wagner could have penned them. The accent of
grief is intensely passionate, yet it remains solemn, sublime. Then
the Bacchanal music and Tannhäuser's chant in praise of Venus are
heard; but all the tumult dies down, and the pilgrims end the piece
not as it began, but triumphantly. We have here, as I have said, the
great Wagner, working confidently and with ease on a vast scale. The
curtain rises; and if we could not see the scene the music would tell
us of the billows of hot rose mist, and the dancers working themselves
up to frenzy. There is a hush, and the sweetest song ever sung by
sirens is heard, full of languor and soft seductiveness. When
Tannhäuser starts up declaring he has heard the village chime in his
dreams, it is as if a breath of cool air, laden with the fragrance of
wild flowers, blew into that hot, steaming cavern. Music of
unimaginable beauty and freshness sings of the pleasant earth--the
green spring, the nightingale. When Venus coaxes him, he responds with
one of the world's greatest songs--the hymn to Venus. Her "Geliebter,
komm" is another piece of magic. The very essence of sensuality is in
it, and never was sin made to seem so lovely. One great theme follows
another. "Hin zu den kalten Menschen flieh'" is almost Schubertian in
its spontaneity. The music never flags; there are scarcely any of the
old formulas--not even, for example, to express Venus's anger; the
fund of melody seems inexhaustible. Three main points may be observed.
First, the dramatic propriety of every phrase is perfect--the music
wanted for each successive situation fitly to express the emotion of
the situation is infallibly forthcoming; the music invariably reveals
the inwardness of the situation. Second, in spite of following the
drama, move by move, so to speak, the continuity of the musical flow
is absolute; phrase seems to grow out of phrase (the drama being true
and the music always exactly expressive of the essence of the drama,
this follows as night the day); and partly by reason of this, and
partly owing to the simplicity of the themes and tunes, the total
effect is one of stately breadth. Third, the wealth of invention, the
constructive power, and the command of technical devices, place Wagner
in the first rank of sheer musicians. True, he could not write a
symphony such as Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven wrote; but neither could
they have written a music-drama; the music-drama was his form, the
symphony theirs.

In the next scene we have music of a different sort. A shepherd-boy
pipes and sings one of those songs which, for freshness and purity,
seem unapproachable--the watchman's song in the first act of the
_Dutchman_ is another example. The piping goes on while the elder
pilgrims chant a sort of marching tune as they pass--part of it is the
second section of the great hymn already described--the boy shouts
"Good luck!" after them, and Tannhäuser, in an ecstasy of relief and
restfulness after the unceasing whirl of lust and fleshly delights
from which he has found deliverance, pours forth his soul in a
wonderful phrase. It is repeated afterwards when Tannhäuser very
guardedly tells Elisabeth of the wonder of his deliverance; and indeed
it is expressive of a mood that became more and more characteristic of
Wagner as he grew older, as though he got momentary glimpses of some
blessed isle of rest where peace and relief from all earthly troubles
could be found. A few years later we find him writing to Liszt of his
longing for death as an escape; and though his appetite remained good,
and he seemed bent on having the best of everything on his table, we
can well believe that, overstrung by nature, in constant poor health,
and making stupendous demands on his nervous energy (like his own
Tannhäuser), doing everything too much, he had moments--nay, days--of
reaction and feelings which he expressed quite sincerely in his
letters. This brief passage touches the sublime. The hunters enter,
and from the moment Wolfram begins his really beautiful song about
Elisabeth, it remains on Wagner's highest level. The finale is a set
piece, of course, and is in free and joyous contrast to the lurid heat
and sensual abandonment of the first scene. While the trees wave in
the wind and the sun shines, the men shout merrily, and the huntsmen
blow away at their horns--and Tannhäuser has returned to his former
healthy life.

In the second act we have Elisabeth's greeting to the hall of song,
very charming; a duet with Tannhäuser, very fine in parts, but not a
true love-duet; the popular march; and then the tournament. Now,
Wolfram's bid for favour seems to me both too literal and too long. He
does what undoubtedly the minstrels of old did--freely declaims his
verses, occasionally twanging his harp. He grows indeed almost fervent
in his praise of the quiet life, of adoring your beloved at a safe
distance and never disturbing her (nor yourself) with a word about
human passion; but, for my humble part, I beg to say I always share
Tannhäuser's impatience and am glad when it is over. As soon as
Tannhäuser gets up the mighty spirit of Wagner begins to work. With a
dramatic abruptness that startles one, a fragment of a Venusberg theme
shoots up; then a few chords, and Tannhäuser begins praise of the
thing he understands by love. His strains are impassioned--too much so
for another of the troubadours, Walther, who follows somewhat in
Wolfram's manner, but with much more energy. Again there is, as it
were, a glimpse of the Venusberg fire in the orchestra, and Tannhäuser
sings another song, more intense, again, in passion than his first,
and ending with an aggressively fierce declaration of his creed.
Biterolf challenges him; the Venusberg music boils up once more--we
almost see the vision that is about to break on Tannhäuser's inner
sight; he sings more passionately still the joys of a human love;
Wolfram again contends, giving us this time a really glorious song,
and the storm breaks: the Venusberg is before Tannhäuser's eyes; the
violins sweep to their highest register, and remain there boiling and
dancing in a kind of divine fury; and in mad exaltation he chants his
hymn to Venus. Then the commotion occurs as I have described.

Let us consider this scene a moment. For theatrical effect, in the
best sense, it is in most respects one of the greatest Wagner wrote.
There is the pomp of the entry of the knights and ladies, and
afterwards of the minstrels; the Landgrave's music is effective, which
is more than can be said for that usually allotted to the heavy father
in an opera; the business of arranging the order in which the
competitors shall stand up is accompanied by fragments of the graceful
march--or, rather, processional--to which the minstrels had entered,
and these come as a welcome preparation of the ear for the essential
part of the scene. Wolfram's first effort, I say, I can hardly
tolerate, considered as a piece of composition; yet, shortened, it
would be admirably in place. From the moment Tannhäuser begins all is
perfect. Tannhäuser's music grows in intensity, and Wagner is careful
not to give us a setback by allowing the other singers to throw
Wolfram-ian cold douches over us; on the contrary, they get excited,
too; and the orchestra is let loose with them by degrees, until in the
last outburst it is blazing and crackling as though it had gone as
completely mad as Tannhäuser himself. The whole thing, with the
reservation I have made, must be admitted to be consummately managed
from the composer's as well as from the dramatist's point of view.

What follows needs little discussion. Wagner knew quite well how to
represent a row on the stage without passing beyond the limits of what
is music. Here we have ample energy, but nothing demanding closer
notice until Elisabeth's interposition. Then at once we get stuff on a
high level. The culmination is reached in a series of melodies hardly
to be matched for pathetic beauty; the orchestra seems to throb with
emotion--a device which Wagner often employed extensively in the
_Ring_--the chorus join in, and a wondrous effect is obtained. The
ensemble is the last piece of this description Wagner was destined to
write. It is pure emotion, and not dramatic--that is, not
theatrical--and its warrant is that the drama at the moment is nothing
but a drama of emotions in conflict. The only musical-and-dramatic
effect now occurs where the voices of the young pilgrims are heard: it
is electrical.

Wagner gave a title to the prelude of Act III, "Tannhäuser's
Pilgrimage," and it differs only in that from his other preludes and
overtures. To those who know what is to follow it tells a story more
or less distinctly, while those who hear it for the first time must
feel the atmosphere and emotion, and thus be prepared for the drama.
It is built up of the pilgrims' marching song and one of Elisabeth's
melodies and a most expressive theme which depicts Tannhäuser
painfully getting over the weary miles, with a sad heart, to seek the
pope's pardon; then comes in the Dresden Amen--the significance of
which will appear presently--then a crash followed by a mournful
phrase (taken entire from Beethoven), and some recitative-like
passages leading direct to the rising of the curtain. As music it is a
splendid thing, and, as I have said, it tells its tale plainly, when
one knows the tale. Almost immediately we hear the pilgrims' hymn of
rejoicing, with which the overture begins--the hymn of those whose
sins have been taken away. The pilgrims pass; Tannhäuser is not
amongst them, and Wagner there gives Elisabeth a phrase which makes
one think that he had Schröder-Devrient in his mind when he wrote the
part. That gifted lady used--Berlioz said abused--the device of
occasionally speaking, not singing, a few words; and here, where
Elisabeth, in despair, says, "Er kehret nicht zurück," Wagner gives
her notes that can be either spoken or sung, and certainly are most
effective when spoken. The part, by the way, was not "created" by the
Schröder-Devrient, but by Johanna Wagner, the daughter of that brother
Albert who had given him his first post in a theatre. I have nothing
further to say about the Prayer, nor about the "Star of Eve" song. As
night gathers over the autumn scene and Tannhäuser enters, the music
at once leaps to life. Not that we have not heard some very lovely
things, notably a quotation in the orchestra from one of Wolfram's
competition songs; the star shines out, and Wolfram, his harp now
silent, sits gazing dreamily up in the direction Elisabeth has taken
homeward to die. But now we get a renewal of the furious energy of the
tournament scene. As Tannhäuser declares his intention of returning to
Venus, the music crackles and roars for a moment; then it subsides to
broken phrases of utter despair as he describes his journey to Rome.
The Dresden Amen accompanies him at first with ethereal effect, and
afterwards with the utmost grandeur, as he tells how he knelt before
the Rood to pray--in a few bars every aspect of St. Peter's is brought
to our minds, and the atmosphere and colour. Wagner himself never
surpassed the declamatory passage of the pope's curse. Bach and Mozart
knew how to write recitative, but they rarely attempted to fill it
with anything approaching the intensity of meaning with which this
terrible recitative is filled. Then, again, the music boils, and with
unearthly effects the themes from the Hörselberg scene sound out, now
from behind the scenes, now from the orchestra; the thing grows madder
and more mad, until suddenly Wolfram perceives the bier bearing
Elisabeth being carried down. "Elisabeth!" he cries, and a requiem is
heard from behind the scenes. As a stage effect I know only one thing
to match it. In _Hamlet_ the hero has been philosophizing to his
heart's content, when a funeral procession approaches--

    _Hamlet_: What, the fair Ophelia?

    _Queen_: Sweets to the sweet, farewell....

Every one knows the magic of that stroke: the abrupt change of key,
the instant disappearance of bitterness, and the introduction of
pathos and pure beauty; so here the Venusberg music disappears like a
flame that is blown out. "Elisabeth!" Tannhäuser echoes, and the
chorus chants solemnly "Der Seele Heil," etc. "Henry, thou art
redeemed," cries Wolfram; and then we have the final scene, the entry
of the young penitents with the pope's staff. The final chorus is
effective enough, though it suggests the audience getting up and
looking for their hats.

As a whole, the music of _Tannhäuser_ is characterized by intense
energy, the greatest definiteness, and richness and gorgeousness of
colouring. Inviting as must have been the opportunities offered in the
opening scene of indulging in a riot of voluptuous colour, the
definiteness is never lost. Through the whirling, dancing-mad
accompaniment runs a fibre of strong, clean-cut, sinewy melody. The
picture is drawn with firm strokes as well as painted with a full
brush. Or perhaps the better analogy would be to describe each scene
as an architecturally constructed fabric; and each is also so
constructed as to lead inevitably into the next. Hence, as already
pointed out, the artistic restraint and breadth in scenes where, with
such heat of passion at work, we might fear spasmodic jerkiness.

When _Tannhäuser_ was published, Wagner sent the score to Schumann,
and Mendelssohn also saw it. The comment of the latter was
characteristic: he liked a canon entry in the finale of the second
act; and indeed it was too much to hope that the successful purveyor
of oratorios should like or in the least understand so mighty, fresh
and passionate an opera. He did not understand Beethoven, and
virtually admitted as much without realizing how completely he had
committed himself. Moreover, opera was a form of art with which he had
no real sympathy. It is true his friend Devrient tells us that he was
anxious to write one, and would have done so had not his fastidious
taste prevented him ever finding a libretto to his liking--which is
equivalent to saying a man would have painted a fine picture could he
only have secured a good subject. In some respects Schumann was even
more antipathetic. Wagner, all who knew him declare, never ceased
talking; Schumann was a silent man--sometimes in a café a friend might
speak to him: Schumann would turn his back to the friend and his face
to the wall, and continue to imbibe lager. Wagner would talk for an
hour, and, getting no response, go away; he would afterwards declare
Schumann an "impossible" man, out of whom not a word could be got;
while Schumann would declare he could not tolerate Wagner, "his tongue
never stops." Schumann had no dramatic instinct, and no comprehension
for opera; in _Genoveva_--as, in fact, in his so-called dramatic
cantatas--he failed utterly: he went straight through the words,
setting them to music _pur et simple_, taking no thought for dramatic
propriety. The score of _Tannhäuser_ simply puzzled him; he saw in it
only the music _pur et simple_, considered as which it was, of course,
very bad. It was not bad in all the ways he thought, however. His
remark about the clumsy orchestration long ago returned to roost. For
the rest, when he saw the opera performed he changed part of his mind,
and wrote admitting that much which he did not like on paper seemed in
place when the work was sung, and some of it "moved me much." Some
time afterwards he played some of his music to Wagner, who found it
muddled, as if the sustaining pedal was held down all the time--and I
have no doubt it was. Another gentleman who saw the score was
Hanslick, then a young man looking around for some one to attach
himself to--a peripatetic barnacle. Later, he found Brahms, as all the
world soon found out, and revised his early notions of the greater
musician. But at first he was all enthusiasm and gush, and wrote
articles "explaining" _Tannhäuser_. However, his views are of no
importance to-day. Liszt, generous soul, had the opera played at
Weimar at the earliest possible moment.





_Lohengrin_ was first drafted in 1845--for Wagner during this period
allowed no grass to grow under his feet. He was a member of a coterie
that met at Angell's restaurant, and there on November 17 he read the
complete libretto to his friends and acquaintances. Schumann was
amongst them, and he bluntly asserted that such a libretto could not
be set. Others were more favourable, but many were doubtful. However,
that made little difference to Richard. He knew his own strength and
trusted his instinct; and however much he was urged to alter the
_dénouement_, he stuck to his guns and his libretto.

In point of structure the libretto of _Lohengrin_ closely resembles
that of its predecessor. There are even fewer set pieces, there are
more fragmentary speeches. The drama is so contrived as to let in the
set pieces naturally: of the old forced operatic business of sending
out or bringing in characters as seems advisable there is not a sign.
The story is on the whole simpler than that of _Tannhäuser_. Lohengrin
is son of Parsifal, head of the mystic Montsalvat monastery where the
Holy Grail is kept; where the monks never seem precisely to die; and
where, without marriage and even without women, children are somehow
born to the favoured ones. He comes in a magic boat drawn by a swan
to aid Elsa against Telramund and his wife, who falsely accuse her of
having murdered her brother; he fights for her and overcomes the
accusers, first exacting a promise that she will never ask him his
name nor where he comes from. She promises, yielding herself
unconditionally to him; and so ends Act One. Next Ortrud, wife of
Telramund, gets Elsa's ear, begging for mercy, and contrives to poison
the girl's mind with doubts regarding Lohengrin; and when later the
wedding procession is nearing the church, Telramund himself accuses
Lohengrin before the king and all the crowd of sorcery and witchcraft.
Nothing happens at the moment; Telramund is pushed on one side, and
the procession goes its way. But in the next act, when Lohengrin and
Elsa are left alone she can no longer restrain her curiosity nor
conceal her fears: in spite of his warnings she questions him. At the
moment Telramund and other nobles rush in to assassinate him; he kills
Telramund, orders the other nobles to bear the body into the judgment
hall, and tells Elsa he must leave her. In the next scene he reveals
himself, and the swan returns to take him away. Ortrud mocks him and
tells how she, after all, has triumphed, for she changed Elsa's
brother into a swan; Lohengrin kneels and prays; the swan disappears
and the missing brother springs up; a dove descends and is attached by
Lohengrin to the boat, and he goes back to Montsalvat.

Now I would ask the reader if this story is reasonable, if any
"meaning" or moral can be read into it. On the face of it Lohengrin's
conditions are preposterous. Yet he is bound by the laws of the magic
domain he comes from; he trusts Elsa and does battle on her behalf
without any proof of her innocence; and she has no patience to wait
for him to explain matters. On the other hand, he hears her prayer in
a magical way, and comes drawn in a magic boat; and she has a perfect
right to assume that he would not have fought for her if he had not
known by his arts that she was innocent. It was just over this
_dénouement_, this forsaking of Elsa because of her inquisitiveness,
that many of Wagner's friends boggled; and nothing that he then or
afterwards wrote in defence of it seems to me worth a moment's serious
consideration. Mr. Ernest Newman suggests that perhaps Wagner was
using the savage's notion that in giving up your name you are placing
yourself in some one's power; but there is not a hint of that in the
drama. The thing to me is simply a fairy story. We must accept
Lohengrin and the conditions in which he lives, moves and has his
being. He is not his own master: somewhere far away he has an
all-powerful over-lord who, for no useful purpose to be comprehended
by mortal, sent him to rescue Elsa under these conditions. And I say
that, far from having a meaning, a "purpose," _Lohengrin_ is pure
romance, as innocent of moral ideas as any genuine mediæval romance.
Wagner's "explanations," like Bishop Berkeley's, take a great deal of
explaining; and though Glasenapp, Wolzogen and the rest have covered
many reams of paper in doing it, we are not an inch nearer to
perceiving a grain of sense in the whole affair. There is only one
part of it which can be, in one sense, explained--Wagner's intense
acrimony in his treatment of the female puppet Elsa. Even in 1845 he
had grown restive under the insults and stupidity of court officials
and the Press, and doubtless he had threatened often enough to quit
for ever the degraded German theatre. He never could see that the
German theatre had never been any better than it then was, but on the
contrary, a great deal worse; he never realized that it was on the
up-grade, and that he was to be instrumental in elevating it. He was
like a mechanic called in (by destiny) to repair a rickety machine,
who because it won't go when he "wills" it, kicks it to pieces. The
Reissigers and the rest were simply parts of the machine that were out
of order: time and patience were required to eliminate them and put in
sound working parts. Wagner could not understand this any more than he
could understand why all German (or rather, Saxon) mankind should not
at once be perfect, think alike and form the ideal State. So, as he
could not kick the Dresden Court Opera to pieces, he long meditated
quitting it--so much he explicitly affirmed afterwards--and he must
have worried Minna sadly. She understood neither his qualities nor his
defects, his ideals nor the short-sighted impatience which rendered it
impossible for him ever to attain them: she saw only too clearly that
at any moment he might kick over the traces, and that the starvation
and misery of the Paris episode would have to be faced again. We can
readily picture him coming in raging after a conflict at the theatre
with official imbecility, and Minna, instead of sympathizing,
counselling him to be wise and temporize. His exasperation grew, and
only the events of 1849 prevented a rupture--so much seems
certain--and he vented his spleen by making Elsa a stupid, shallow,
faithless creature who feels no gratitude towards the hero who saved
her from being burnt, but by maddening female pertinacity,
wrong-headedness and wilfulness destroys her own and his happiness. As
the reader will perceive later, I by no means defend Wagner in this
domestic squabbling, but something must be said for him; I don't say,
either, that he created Elsa to express his views about his wife, but
I do say that his feelings account for the excess of his rancour
against his own creation. So pitiable a specimen of feminine
inquisitiveness, bad temper and ungenerosity has never been put on the
stage as the heroine of a grand opera. Possibly Lohengrin saw this;
and, neglecting his recent marriage-vow, he went back to Montsalvat,
where, as we know, there were no women. All this would have to be said
in the course of this book; and I say it now because it helps us to
understand a defect in the art of a beautiful opera.

A beautiful opera _Lohengrin_ certainly is--the most beautiful of all
Wagner's operas. The story of it is a fairy story, as I have said, and
superficially a very ordinary sort of fairy story. We have the
distressed maiden in the hands of persecutors, the knightly hero who
rescues her, the maiden's faithlessness, and the contemptuous
departure of the hero. But Wagner has clothed the whole of this
work-a-day mediæval legend in a wondrous atmosphere of mystical
beauty, and that beauty springs from the thought of the river.


It is necessary to discuss as briefly as may be the leitmotiv, because
with _Lohengrin_ Wagner first began to use it with serious purpose. In
the _Dutchman_ two themes may be rightly described as leitmotivs; in
_Tannhäuser_ not one theme may be rightly so described. While in
_Lohengrin_ Wagner showed himself as much as ever the inspired
musician, he made for the first time use of the leitmotiv for dramatic
as well as musical ends. There we find three leitmotivs: one intended
by the power of association of ideas to evoke on the instant the
vision of Montsalvat and the Grail; a second to recall the thought and
emotion of Lohengrin the man; the third to remind us of the conditions
which Lohengrin imposes on Elsa before he is willing to fight for her.
The first (_a_, p. 191) is perhaps the most lovely thing Wagner
invented; the third (_d_)--not second--is a thing any one might have
concocted, though not a thing that any one I ever heard of could use
as Wagner uses it; the second (_c_) is by way of being a study for the
best of the _Parsifal_ themes. It must be remarked, in passing, that
the study is much more finely used than when his powers, largely
exhausted by a tedious struggle with the world, had got into a state
of decrepitude.

The leitmotiv (_a_) is of a serene beauty. I must cut out of it a
little bit (_b_) which colours the opera and gives it atmosphere from
the beginning far more than the complete theme. It is this, more than
anything else, which gives _Lohengrin_ the vividness of reality
combined with the vanishing loveliness of a sweet dream. The idea of
the swan, symbolizing the broad, shining river flowing from afar-off
mysterious lands to the eternal sea, is given us in this phrase, as
delicate and as firm, as unmistakable, as ever painter drew with his
brush. Here we have, not indeed Montsalvat the domain of monks, but
the land of ever-enduring dawn--a land that other poets have dreamed
of, a land where hope could be subsisted on. From beginning to end
Lohengrin, the man on the stage, moves in the atmosphere of this
strange, dreamy, fresh and silent land: if he did not, no one would
tolerate for a moment his behaviour. It is the magic charm that
reconciles him to us; it is this that makes us feel how he is
conditioned, chained, cribbed, cabined and confined. In obedience to
inexorable law he comes down the river, drawn by the swan; in
obedience to the same inexorable law he is drawn away, as helplessly
as a needle drawn by a magnet.

The prelude opens with a series of chords, ascending, all on A. Handel
might have done this: none of the Viennese composers could, or perhaps
I should rather say, would, have done it. Beethoven got as near to the
naked truth as ever composer did in dealing with the emotions of
humanity; Mozart, too, worked his miracles; Weber, non-Viennese
though he was, gave us weird, fantastic pictures of fairy adventures
in the darkness of grim woods, but nothing more. It was left for
Wagner to give us in a few bars a picture, such as no painter could
have painted, of the blue heavens on an almost unimaginably fine day.
The blue sky, the thin, clear air, the sunlight, are all given us in
the first few bars. It is far from my wish to intrude my personal
history into these pages, but I wish to give a convincing example of
an episode of a sort familiar to all those who have experimented with
Wagner's music. A relative of mine, who had spent many of his earlier
years in travelling the southern Atlantic and the Pacific in sailing
vessels, heard me play on the piano, as an illustration of some
argument I was foolish enough to advance, these opening bars of the
_Lohengrin_ prelude. He immediately said, "That takes me back into the
Trades"--the sweet days of perfect peace in southern climes, where the
sky was blue for day after day and week after week, where the wind
sang cheerfully without change for weeks on end, where a delicious sun
made all men (no matter what the feeling was on those foul old ships)
feel good-natured and good-hearted. That is to say, my relative at
once felt the magical truthfulness of Wagner's touch: the sweet, clear
air, the sunlight; and that is the atmosphere Wagner wanted to
establish at the beginning of this most magical of operas. Out of the
blue sky comes the Montsalvat (not necessarily the Grail) motive; it
descends with ever-gathering fulness, through key after key, until at
last it culminates in a tremendous climax for the brass: then comes a
wondrous cadence, falling slowly, as a mountain stream falls over
slabs of smooth-worn mountain rock, until we get back to the original
atmosphere. The Montsalvat vision has faded away into the blue whence
it came. Wagner afterwards achieved some marvellous things, but none
more marvellous than this.

The curtain rises: there is a rum-tum-tum by the orchestra. We are at
once in the discord of a turbulent armed camp: the fury of Telramund
against those who are not convinced of his evidently prejudiced view
that Elsa holds the lands he wishes to hold, is made to resound in the
orchestra as not the most expert Italian composer could make it
resound by the voices. When Elsa enters to defend herself the music
changes its character utterly; it is the embodiment of the sweetness
of young feminine kindly nature; and it is odd that Wagner, when
writing this music, which he fancied was the most German ever written,
should have gone so far as, in some of its finest parts, to steal bits
of the Austrian hymn, composed, as we may remember, by not even an
Austrian, but a Croatian, pure Slav, composer. Elsa's account of her
dream is not dramatic as Wagner, by the time he wrote his next work,
would have understood the term--in shape it is an Italian aria, and
everything is at a standstill until it is finished--yet it occurs
fittingly, and prepares us by ethereal music for the music of a
gentleman who is very unethereal. In form the whole scene is as near
as may be a regular Italian opera scene. King Henry the Fowler and his
nobles show mighty patience in sitting or standing it out to the end.
The business of a champion for Elsa being called for, the moments of
suspense, the prayers of Elsa and her attendant maidens, the fiery
impatience of Telramund and the premature triumph of Ortrud are all
done with Wagner's consummate skill in writing purely theatrical
music; and when the swan and the hero are sighted the excitement is
worked up with the same skill to a glorious triumph, and we hear the
Lohengrin, "as hero," theme in its full splendour. Then comes the
fighting music, which, like all fighting music, is mediocre stuff, and
the gorgeous set piece, the finale. This last is quite old-fashioned
opera, but it is not forced in: it happens inevitably. The themes are
mainly new, but the Lohengrin heroic theme is worked in triumphantly.
Technically there is no advance or change in _Lohengrin_: the
counterpoint and interweaving of themes of _Tristan_ and the
_Mastersingers_ were to come a few years later. Indeed, there is less
of Wagner the contrapuntal virtuoso in _Lohengrin_ than in


In the music, as in the drama, the second act presents a total
contrast to the first. The music of the first is throughout full of
sunlight. At times it may be strident, violent, rather tumultuous; but
sweetness is the prevailing note, and as soon as Elsa comes on we have
the sheer loveliness of first her answers to the king, and then of
her vision; then comes Lohengrin, bringing with him the breath of the
land of eternal dawn, and of the shining river down which he was drawn
by the swan; then after the (rather theatrical) prayer, a few moments
of noise while the fighting is being arranged and carried out; then,
so to speak, the glorious midday sunshine of the finale. The second
act opens with two sinister phrases heard in the darkness (_e_ and
_f_)--Ortrud is planning vengeance, and the theme of Lohengrin's
warning and threat to Elsa is presently heard; that warning gives her
the hint as to the way of achieving vengeance. Ortrud and Telramund,
outcast, crouch there in the night; Ortrud deeply scheming, Frederick,
poor dupe, madly fuming, while the lights blaze at the palace windows,
and the trumpets sound out as the feast proceeds within. He rages, and
a theme (_f_) quoted is abruptly transformed into (_g_) as he bitterly
casts upon Ortrud the blame for their downfall. The vocal parts are
neither recitative nor true song; the orchestral tide is developed in
much the same symphonic style as in _Tannhäuser_. We are still no
nearer to the perfect blending of the orchestral stream and the vocal
parts that we get in _Tristan_ and in the _Mastersingers_. The style
is not homogeneous: the stream is broken by theatrical exclamations
and snatches of recitative that not only break the flow, but differ in
character from the rest. But the elasticity of motion is a great
advance on _Tannhäuser_: Wagner was coming to his own, and much of
_Tannhäuser_ strikes one as cumbrous and heavy in comparison. That
sinister atmosphere of mystery is never lost; the gloom and the
wretched crouching figures, the fierce anger and Ortrud's alternate
cajoling and threatening may be said, without exaggeration, to sound
from the orchestra with as powerful an effect on the imagination as
the sights and sounds on the stage. Most magnificent is the descending
chromatic passage that accompanies Ortrud as she casts her spell again
over Frederick. It resembles closely an Erda theme of the _Ring_--as
is quite natural, for one chromatic scale cannot but resemble another.
The significance of the resemblance is that the strange harmonies are
also much alike, and the central idea is the same in the two cases:
the idea of old Mother Earth, her everlasting stillness in strange
places, her never-ceasing internal workings, her mysterious power. In
the _Ring_ there is nothing baneful in the conception: it is Nature at
work in her sleep amongst the silent hills: mysterious, indeed, but
doing no evil. Here it is the earth as conceived by the mediæval mind,
the earth to which the coming of the White Christ had banished all the
gods of the older world, there to become the malevolent, malignant
divinities of the new world, and believed in as such by the first
adherents of the new religion. Frederick was a Christian, mediæval
style, and he implicitly believes that Ortrud can call up wicked
spirits, and by their aid weave enchantments when the God of the East
is not looking. The same may be said of the king, and indeed all the
characters in _Lohengrin_: again I say the opera is a fairy drama in
which these things must be assumed and accepted. That wondrous
passage must have sounded doubly wonderful in the ears of two
generations back; blent with that second sinister Ortrud theme, it
accomplishes as much in a dozen or so bars as Weber could accomplish
in as many pages. That Ortrud theme seems to wind round Frederick's
soul until at last he is wholly in his wife's grip; and the scene ends
with an invocation to "ye Powers that rule our earthly lot"--the
malignant gods of the underworld. We, knowing the kind of music Wagner
had in his mind when he wrote the libretto of _Lohengrin_, can easily
understand Schumann's dismay when this scene was read to him: nothing
of the sort had been composed before.

Suddenly Elsa appears on the balcony, and the character of the music
changes at once: all now is sweetness and light. Her serenade (to
herself) is a simple and very lovely thing, making full half of its
effect through its contrast with the harshness, agitation and gloom of
all that has gone before. There is a master-touch when Ortrud calls
softly, "Elsa": by one stroke, an abrupt strange chord, the whole
atmosphere is for the moment altered: the dreariness of the call is
unforgetable. There are many hints of Ortrud's purpose given out more
and more plainly till the climax is reached in her invocation to
Wotan, chief of the malignant divinities. (It is strange to think that
when he wrote this Wagner must already have had the other and more
celebrated Wotan in his thoughts.) Much of Elsa's melody is of a very
Weberesque quality--and is none the worse for it: far better that than
the touches of Bellini, Marschner and Spontini that abound in the
earlier operas. One or two other points may be noted. At the words
"Rest thee with me" we get a tune which might have grown out of one
previously heard and one in the bedroom scene--not only does the tune
resemble the others closely, but the rhythm of the phrases Elsa
addresses to Ortrud is the same as that of the phrases with which
Lohengrin seems to caress Elsa. There is, of course, no "significance"
in the sense in which the word is used by the Wagnerians. The short
duet following contains a divine melody, but Ortrud's "aside" is a
fairly lengthy one--forty bars--and is a bit of conventionalism which
Wagner soon discarded. The melody is played again as Elsa leads her
enemy into the house; Frederick returns to curse Ortrud and Lohengrin
in the same breath; all the sweetness goes out of the music as Elsa
disappears from view, and the scene closes as it opened, in gloom.

As daylight breaks Wagner indulges in one of the effects he was fond
of at this period. The reveille is sounded from a turret, and an
answering call comes from a distance; and the two parties trumpet it
in alternation until every one is awakened. It is a quasi-musical
effect only: there is no invention: the trumpet chords serve the
purpose and nothing more. He never reverted to this rather bald method
of filling up time while his people are being got on the stage:
compare this passage with, for instance, Hagen's call in _The Dusk of
the Gods_. The latter is rich and full of picturesque music: it means
something and is, in fact, an effective piece in a concert-room. Or
take the watchman with his cow-horn in the _Mastersingers_; the music
is redolent of the old world; it impresses the imagination more than
an entry in Pepys--"the watchman calling two of the morning and a
thick snow falling." In the _Lohengrin_ days his method still requires
these _longueurs_, these dry patches: later his mastery over his
material enabled him to deal his theatrical and his musical stroke at
the same time. As knights and retainers flock in, a long and elaborate
chorus is sung--a musical, not a dramatic, chorus, almost as much in
the _Rienzi_ manner as in the manner of _Tannhäuser_. It is curious to
observe how cautious and tentative Wagner was at this stage of his
growth. He was still groping, seeing only very dimly the destination
he would reach by the way he was taking. _Lohengrin_, had he followed
the plan he would certainly have adopted ten years later, would have
been terser, more closely dramatic, and would have made only a short
opera; there would have been fewer set numbers and a much smaller
quantity of the magnificent music. The whole idea, I have already
said, is not a dramatic one, but a musical one; and the advance on the
_Dutchman_ lies in the skill with which the musical opportunities seem
to grow out of the drama and are not pressed into it. In this respect
it is hardly an advance on _Tannhäuser_; indeed three of the great
ensembles have not an adequate dramatic motive. That at the end of the
first act, splendid music though it is, is a quite operatic finale, so
conventional that only when rendered in the conventional operatic
manner does it sound and appear impressive. It becomes, when done in
this manner, a kind of dance, for towards the finish all the crowd
should form in long lines and go twining about in a ballet figure. In
this opening chorus of knights and retainers in the Second Act (scene
ii) the musical inspiration is intense; but words are repeated as
irrationally as in a Handel oratorio chorus; and the same is the case
in the bridal procession music. Wagner still had a hankering after
imposing spectacle and brilliant choral writing. That bridal
procession and chorus are, of course, supremely beautiful music: music
and spectacle were aimed at and achieved, not music and drama, in the
later Wagnerian sense.

The scene of the interruption of the procession first by Ortrud and
then by Frederick has always seemed to me superfluous as well as
stagey. The whole thing is pure melodrama of the kind that used to be
popular until a very few years ago; and the music is as melodramatic
as the two incidents. The scene is far too long, and is thus rendered
doubly nonsensical. Only a few minutes before, the Herald has
announced the King's decree: any one harbouring either of the
offenders "will share his [it ought to be their] doom with life and
limb." Yet the offenders themselves are allowed to break up an orderly
procession and to hurl angry diatribes at the very people they have
been banned for seeking to injure. For many minutes Ortrud, encouraged
by a furious orchestra, pours forth a stream of insult directed at
Lohengrin and Elsa: she is not immediately seized and carried off to
be tortured: the bystanders utter a few exclamations, and leave Elsa
to reply for herself. When the king and Lohengrin enter they content
themselves with gentle remonstrances: even Frederick draws from them
only dignified if somewhat scornful protests. There has been some
other rather futile business: a few conspirators planning to support
Frederick in attacking not only Lohengrin, but the king. The flower of
a loyal army look on at all this and go on their way, leaving
Frederick free to make an attempt on Lohengrin's life in the third
Act. Again I emphasise a point because it reveals exactly how far
Wagner's art had got at this period. Well might he feel it necessary,
before proceeding to other masterpieces, to discover where he stood,
what was his ideal, and how he might attain it. For, observe, he
wanted to depict in music an imperious, ambitious, unscrupulous and
wicked woman with a temper that in the end is her own undoing; he felt
the necessity of contrasting her with Elsa, sweet, gentle and
lamentably weak--Elsa, who is strong, or, rather, pertinacious, only
once, and at the wrong time; and, third, he felt that his act would
terminate rather tamely with a mere wedding-march. The result is this
noisy melodramatic scene, with its melodramatic music. It could not be
otherwise. Music cannot express anger--at best it can only suggest. By
anger I mean human anger--the god's wrath of a Wotan is a different
matter. Brünnhilda knows Wotan to be angry by the raging storm that
marks his path through the heavens, by the lightnings and thunders;
and we have all enough of our primitive ancestors in us to feel in
some degree as they felt--indeed, plenty of people to-day see in a
storm a manifestation of the wrath of the Almighty. Human anger has
never been put into music. Why, Ortrud alternates her rantings (mere
recitative) with beautiful phrases of the same pattern as those sung
by Elsa! The music for the orchestra is turbulent rather than
forcible; it is incoherent in the old-fashioned way: essentially--in
spite of a free use of discords--it is as old-fashioned as anything in
_Don Giovanni_. Frederick and Lohengrin have hot words, and Telramund
is supposed to be a hotheaded idiot and Lohengrin a spotless, handsome
hero; and lo! with due regard for the respective ranges of their
voices, they might sing each other's music and no harm done. When the
chorus enters a very imposing piece of music is wrought, largely out
of the Ortrud insinuating theme (_f_); but it is not dramatic music.
The ending with the resumption of the procession is one of Wagner's
noblest things. It is not in the customary sense of the phrase an
operatic finale, but a perfectly satisfying piece of music that
prepares us for a pause during which we can take breath before the
action of the drama is taken up again in the third Act.


In that act we have the central idea of the opera--the poetic and the
musical idea--clearly, definitely set forth--the idea of Montsalvat,
far away up the rippling river on which the white swan
floated--Montsalvat, the land of eternal dawn, where all things
remained for ever young, and the flowers and the corn grew always and
never faded nor fell to the sickle. It is the land Mignon aspired
to--"Oh let me for ever then remain young"--the impossible dream of
poets and millions of men and women who were not poets: Nirvana, with
a difference; that realm in which, tired with the struggles and fights
in the devious ways of this dark world, they should after death awake
refreshed in a serene light and pure air, thereafter to dwell for ever
in a state of untroubled blessedness, where all earth's puzzles solve
themselves, and life is seen to be complete. As Senta's ballad is the
germ of the _Dutchman_, so is Lohengrin's narrative, "In fernem Land,"
the germ of this more beautiful opera. It plays a more important part
in _Lohengrin_ than does the ballad in the _Dutchman_. Without
exaggeration, the life, colour and emotion of the narrative wash
backwards and forwards over the _Lohengrin_ score, relieving scenes
that might be tedious and worrying--like those Ortrud scenes I have
just described--and making the beautiful pages still more beautiful.
The land of dawn, fresh and pure, the limpid river: these, the essence
of _Lohengrin_ and the pervading atmosphere, proceed from the

But much has to be got through before this point is reached. First, we
have the gorgeous prelude--the most brilliant Wagner wrote, and the
last he was to write that has no thematic connection with any portion
of the opera. Here we have no summary of the act, no hint of impending
disaster and tragedy, but simply a joyous, rattling preliminary to the
procession that escorts Lohengrin and Elsa to the bridal chamber. It
starts off with immense spirit, the music leaping straight up,
hesitating a moment on a cross-accent, then a noisy shake reaching its
highest note, and after a clash of the cymbals sliding off into the
more regular rhythm, broken slightly by occasional syncopations, in
which the piece as a whole is conceived. The melody in the bass that
follows, and the more tender strains of a middle section, are familiar
to every one nowadays--in fact, so familiar that we are likely to
overlook the intense originality of the whole thing. When we remember
the course the drama has now to take, the tragic beauty of its close,
we can perceive how exactly right Wagner's feeling was when he left
the plan he adopted throughout the _Dutchman_ and _Tannhäuser_--the
plan either of summing up or foreshadowing the ensuing scenes, or of
making the prelude part of the first scene. Of course the music at the
beginning of Act II is rather in the nature of an introduction than of
a distinct prelude; but Act III is not prefaced by so much as that.
Rather, it suggests that since Elsa and Lohengrin entered the church
all has been rejoicing, and that we catch only the tail-end of the
feast as the party comes on the stage.

The wedding chorus I pass over as rather trivial; and it contains
between the middle section and the repetition the eight most trivial
bars Wagner put to paper--I do not except the weakest portions of
_Rienzi_. The opening of the great love scene--the most curious love
scene in the world--is pure deliciousness. Nothing of the passion,
flaming hot and terrible, of _Tristan_ is here; only a sense of sheer
delight and happiness. Melody after melody--of a very Weberesque
pattern, of course, but sweet, voluptuous--is poured forth; and a
graver tone comes into the music only when Elsa begins timidly to lead
up to the questionings of Lohengrin which are her aim. She hints at
what she wants, and Lohengrin gives her, to a very pretty tune, an
answer that can merely be called sublimely fatuous. Drawing her to the
window, he bids her breathe in the odours from the flowers in the
moonlit garden beneath. "But," he blandly adds, "don't ask whence
their sweet scent comes, or you will its wondrous charm destroy." The
song is, I say, a pretty one; indeed, it is so pretty that but for the
enchantment of each successive phrase no one could stand the monotony
of so long a series of four-bar phrases. Of that fault in _Lohengrin_
I shall have more to say presently. More dramatic, living, and less
mechanical stuff follows at once: Elsa is not to be put off in that
way, and in agitated strains to an agitated but not spasmodic
accompaniment she presses on towards disaster. Lohengrin's warning
sounds out, sinister; Lohengrin pleads, always stupidly, but to music
of growing intensity and grip; the measures are no longer cut to a
pattern, not incoherent as they are in the squabbles of the second
Act; and at last a passage of Wagner at his theatrical best is
reached when he solemnly warns her again--"Greatest of trusts, Elsa, I
have shown thee." To another most lovely theme he tries again to
soothe her: she will not listen, and the Ortrud theme begins to writhe
in the orchestra, and we know that Elsa's soul is fast bound in the
spell of suspicion which Ortrud put upon her. She gets nearer and
nearer to the fatal question, and suddenly in the impotent rage of a
fretful woman who cannot get her way--a woman driven mad by baseless
jealousy--in fancy she sees the swan coming to lead Lohengrin away
from her; with mournful and dreary effect a fragment of the swan theme
sounds from the orchestra. This simple touch is weird to a degree
never dreamed of by all the purveyors of operatic horrors; it is
unearthly, uncanny, in its wild beauty. The climax is immensely
powerful, but very simple, and, above all, sheer art of the theatre.
There is a crash as Frederick rushes in to be instantly killed; a bass
passage tears down the scale to the depths; and the horns sustain two
pianissimo chords, two notes in each; then silence, broken only by
soft drum-beats to make the silence felt. Elsa has fainted, and as she
revives we hear a bit of the duet--Lohengrin's tenderness as he tends
her, and a fleeting dream of Elsa's, perhaps, seem to blend in it. All
is finished.

To compare this duet with that in _Tristan_ would be profitless but
for one reason. Wagner had not yet reached that perfect mastery of his
art which enabled him, so to speak, to fuse the dramatic and the
musical inspiration. We saw how in the _Dutchman_ the music rose to
its full height and splendour when the drama was sincere and true; in
_Tristan_ drama and music are inseparable. In _Lohengrin_, where the
inspiration is, if not wholly, at any rate mainly, musical, the drama
seems at times to be somewhat of a hindrance. I have mentioned the
fine dramatic or stage touches; but the finest things occur when the
pair, singly or together, are singing music that would be as effective
on a concert platform as on the stage. The art, that is, is far away
from the art of the _Tristan_ duet. At many points the situation is
saved by Wagner's stage dexterity: only when the music is almost as
completely self-moulded as in a symphony, or any other form of
"absolute" music, is it at its best. For practical purposes with
Wagner the songs are "absolute" music: the words were his own, and he
could alter them to suit the musical exigency.


The opening of the next scene is spectacular, and the music is not
striking--for Wagner, though Marschner or Spontini might have owned it
with pride. The entry of the nobles bringing Frederick's corpse, the
entry also of Elsa, "like Niobe, all tears," are theatrically
powerful. Elsa's entry is a particularly beautiful example of what I
have previously called Wagner's dramatict use of the leitmotiv. There
are twenty bars of accompaniment, and in that space we have three
motives, so arranged that those who knew their significance, but had
never seen the earlier portions of the opera, might easily read the
whole of Elsa's sad history. As she is led in, stricken down and
miserable, the warning theme is heard; then that winding, insidious
theme associated with Ortrud; and last, four bars of the music heard
in the first act when she stands helpless before the king and has
nothing wherewith to answer her accusers: she is as miserable now as
she was then, and the cause of it Lohengrin's edict and her defiance
of it under Ortrud's influence. The device I have always maintained to
be a naïve one; but it may be used to a sublime end, as in the _Dusk
of the Gods_ funeral procession, or as here, to emphasize Elsa's
situation, and to remind us at once of her being the authoress of her
own destruction. This is followed by acclamations as Lohengrin enters,
and nothing further of note occurs until he declares that, for reasons
which he cannot give, he will not go forth to fight the foe with the
Brabantians; and this declaration is set to the same passage, or part
of it, in which he has lately warned Elsa not to question him (p.
175). The meaning of the words and the dramatic significance of this
musical phrase are beyond my understanding. If Lohengrin did not mean
to tell his secret the musical phrase might imply that he had no
intention of letting them ask for it. But he has come there with no
other intention than that of revealing everything--and, in a word, the
whole business is incomprehensible because there is nothing to be
comprehended--because it is sheer nonsense. How Wagner, even supposing
he had originally some other idea for the ending of the work, could
let so flat a contradiction of his final plan stand--this also is
more than I can understand; for in later years he saw his opera
performed. And at that I must leave the matter. Lohengrin presently
proceeds to disclose his secret in that wondrous "In fernem
Land"--surely the most superb thing of its sort ever written. The
vocal part is--as I have already pointed out, this is often the case
in Wagner--something between pure song and recitative; and here it is
of a quality he himself rarely matched--not even in _Tristan_.
Technically, it is a piece of descriptive music for instruments; but
the words which give it significance and point are set to phrases
themselves so beautiful, pathetic and inevitable that one feels that
the vocal part and the orchestral were begotten simultaneously in that
marvellous brain. In other chapters I will point to passages,
especially in the _Ring_, where quite obviously the voice part has
been laboriously worked in with instrumental music already conceived
in its final form; but that was in Wagner's later years, when the free
inspiration, enthusiasm and energy of his _Tristan_ and _Lohengrin_
and _Mastersingers_ days had for ever departed. There is an accent of
passionate grief in Lohengrin's words to Elsa, and of remorse in
Elsa's wailings; but the most touching thing in this final scene is
the song in which he hands her his sword, horn and ring, to be given
to her brother should he return. The note of regret, especially in the
poignant "leb' wohl," reminds one irresistibly of Wotan's farewell to
Brünnhilda. The latter is broader, richer, vaster,--and yet the tender
simplicity of this is inexpressibly touching. After that the opera
proceeds to its conclusion in what one may call a normal manner: there
is nothing, anyhow, in the music that requires analysis.


_Lohengrin_ cannot be called Wagner's greatest achievement, but it is
a "fine," if not a "first careless rapture" whose freshness he never
quite recaptured. Yet, in a way, it is the most mannered of his works.
I know of no opera where one phrase, one harmony or set of harmonies,
or one violin figure is made to serve so many and such widely
different purposes; and not since the early seventeen hundreds had the
perfect cadence been so hard worked. Only two numbers are in other
than four-four time--the prayer and the wedding song. The melodies on
page upon page consist of regular four-bar lengths, commonly
terminating in a full close. We can admit all this--indeed, we must
admit it all--and then we are only bound the more to admire the vast
amount of variety Wagner got in spite of all the obstacles self-placed
in his way. His fondness for the diminished seventh, constantly
exploited throughout, was perhaps a fondness for his own adopted
child--for no one had ever properly employed it before: to him and to
every one at the time his use of it was new. Many points in his
prolonged passages which are simply arpeggios of the chord of the
diminished seventh must have seemed novel in the eighteen-forties,
though we hardly notice them now. The four-bar lengths send the
music along with a swing very different from the jerkiness of
contemporary opera music. The cadence is used only to attain, so to
speak, a fresh jumping-off place: there is no moment of real rest:
simultaneously with the attainment of a point of rest the new impulse
is felt, and away the thing flies again. But what compensates for all
these defects--and defects they are--is the perpetual presence of the
Montsalvat music: we are never long without hearing some of it. The
Montsalvat music is the source of the charm and fascination of the
opera, and its purity and freshness seem likely for ever to keep the
opera sweet.





The journey to Zurich was a risky one. Wagner, the composer of what is
now the most popular of all operas, _Lohengrin_, might indeed pass
unnoticed, for the work had not been heard; but the composer of the
_Dutchman_ and of _Rienzi_, and perhaps of _Tannhäuser_, and above all
the organizer and conductor of the largest musical festival ever held
in Dresden, could not easily slip past unobserved. As a matter of
fact, few or none of the officials seemed very anxious to catch him;
still, thousands of innocent persons were being taken by the
Prussians, "tried," and sent to long terms of penal servitude for
having done nothing--it being argued, apparently, that any one against
whom nothing could be proved must of necessity be guilty of some
crime. Wagner's first idea was simply to keep out of the way until
things had quieted down. It took things more than a couple of years to
quiet down. Meantime a warrant was out for Richard's arrest. His
movements between Dresden, Chemnitz and Freiberg are of no interest
nowadays; but things became a little exciting from the day, May 13
(1849), when he arrived at Liszt's. I have related how for a week or
so all seemed well, and Wagner thought himself safe, being out of
Saxony. He even intended witnessing a representation of _Tannhäuser_,
but the day before, if not sooner, the warrant was circulated in the
German fashion of those days, with a personal description which seems
to have been made purposely vague by some friendly hand, though more
naturally one would assume it to be due to official stupidity. Wagner
heard Liszt rehearsing something of his and was overjoyed, and also he
was so confident of his own security that he still wanted to stay to
hear _Tannhäuser_. Liszt would not hear of it; he packed his friend
off under an assumed name to some other friends; they procured a
passport, and he travelled to Zurich via Jena and Coburg. It should be
put on record that in the meantime he ran the risk of being captured
by lingering to have a last hour with his wife. Towards the end of the
month he reached Zurich, and had no more fear of the Prussian police.

We have already seen how sick he had grown of Dresden, where he
complained of being slowly stifled; but Liszt proposed--nay,
insisted--on something worse than Dresden--Paris. Wagner was now a
penniless, homeless wanderer, as he had been when he set out from Riga
ten years before; and Liszt fondly believed that only by making a hit
in Paris could he command any enduring success in Germany, and thus
gain money to live on, wherever he might happen to be. Liszt was the
good genie who found the funds, and Wagner, having nothing better to
propose, was bound to obey. So he stayed three days in Zurich and set
out; and a deal of good he did! He knew absolutely that such work as
his could scarcely hope to get so much as a bare hearing, and the
event proved him to be right. He submitted scenarios of several operas
to a French poet, and there, for all practical purposes, the business
ended. Here is a fragment from a letter to Theodor Uhlig, dated
Zurich, August 9, '49--

    "I am living here, helped in communistic fashion by Liszt, in
    good spirits, and I may say prosperously, according to my best
    nature; my only and great anxiety is about my poor wife, whom I
    am expecting here very shortly. To my very great astonishment, I
    find that I am a celebrity here; made so, indeed, by means of
    the piano scores of all my operas, out of which whole acts are
    repeatedly performed at concerts and at choral unions. At the
    beginning of the winter I shall go again to Paris to have
    something performed and to put my opera matter into order. You
    cannot imagine what joy one finds in frugality if one knows that
    thereby the noblest thing, freedom, is assured; you know how
    long I was brewing in my blood the Dresden catastrophe, only I
    had no presentiment of the exact hurricane which would drive me
    thence; but you are thoroughly convinced that all the annuities
    and restitutions in the world would not induce me to become
    again what, to my greatest sorrow, I was in Dresden. I have just
    a last remnant of curiosity, however, and you would give me much
    pleasure in letting me know how matters stand with you. My wife
    has never found leisure to give me news of Dresden, the
    theatre, and the band. Do relieve this last Dresden longing. Do
    you happen to know anything definite about the state of the
    police inquiry? The fate of Heubner, Roeckel and Bakunin
    troubles me much. Anyhow, these persons ought not to be
    imprisoned. But don't let me speak of it! In this matter one can
    only judge justly and adequately if one looks at the period from
    a lofty point of view. Woe to him who acts with sublime purpose,
    and then, for his deeds, is judged by the police! It is a grief
    and a shame which only our times can show."

He had no real intention of returning to Paris. Earlier in the same
letter he speaks of ending the speculating by his proposed _Jesus of
Nazareth_. Indeed, the slavery of working for the market in Paris was
even more repugnant to him than the liveried bondage in Saxony.
Previous to the writing of this letter Liszt had lent him twelve
pounds, and by the end of July he was back in Zurich, and though, much
against his will, he did go to Paris again, and, in fact, much
farther, Zurich was thenceforth for some years his headquarters. His
host at first was an honest musician Alexander Müller, who, I believe,
had known him in Würzburg long before; but he soon set up an
establishment of his own.

His main purpose at this time was to try to clear in his brain the
confused mass of theories and speculations concerning music, and
especially opera, which had long been seething there. _Lohengrin_, the
reader must have observed, was not a road leading anywhere, but an
impasse; a step towards the attainment of his ideal it was not: it
was, on the whole, a step backwards, although it is a much more
beautiful work than _Tannhäuser_. Wagner's mind, like Thoreau's,
Carlyle's, Brahms', needed filtering--an operation that could only be
performed in perfect peace and loneliness. Thoreau went to Walden;
Carlyle to Craigenputtock; Brahms at any rate retired from public
musical life. They worked out their own salvation. Wagner felt he must
do the same; as we know, he did the same: hence many of those terrible
volumes of prose-writings. His mental condition is indicated in
another few sentences from the letter quoted above--

    "Yet I must frankly confess that the freedom which I here inhale
    in fresh Alpine draughts is intensely pleasing to me. What is
    the ordinary care about the so-called future of citizen life
    compared with the feeling that we are not tyrannized over in our
    noblest aims? How few men care more for themselves than for
    their stomachs? Now I have made my choice, and am spared the
    trouble of choosing; so I feel free in my innermost soul, and
    can despise what torments me from without; no one can withdraw
    himself from the evil influences of the civilized barbarism of
    our time, but all can so manage that they do not rule over our
    better self."

We may as well note one point at once. When Thoreau, Carlyle and
Brahms went into their respective wildernesses, they maintained
themselves, as they thought merely proper. In this respect Wagner's
views did not coincide with theirs. He exclaims scornfully, "How few
men care more for themselves than for their stomachs!" What he meant
was that he should care for himself while his friends cared for his
stomach. As he cared a very great deal for his stomach, his demands
upon his friends were exorbitant and continuous. True, he offered the
fruits of his brain to the world at large, but all save the faithful
liked not the security. The creator of _Lohengrin_ and _Tannhäuser_
was quite justified in believing that he _ought_ to be supported, and
it may be that the respect we pay to the artists who starve it out is
only a complacent way of saying how pleased we are that no one asks us
to put our hands in our pockets. Nevertheless--!

We must remember, however, that he had no money and no prospects, and
carried the burden of gigantic unfinished, un-begun projects; his
worldly situation was even more desperate than it had been in 1839.
The voyage from Pillau was a voyage into the unknown, undertaken in
the hope of securing something tangible--a performance of _Rienzi_ and
fame and money; the voyage on which he had set out was into an even
stranger unknown, a voyage into the world of ideas, without any
prospects whatever in the worldly sense. He was groping his way
confusedly towards something greater than he had hitherto
accomplished; but he knew neither what subject to select nor how to
treat it. Nature had laid this burden upon him: he took it up only
because he must; and, luckily for us, the giver of the burden had
granted him the arrogance, the courage, the imperviousness to the
estimation in which he might be held by others--if the reader likes it
better, the sheer cheek--to find the means of living while he carried
the burden to the appointed place and so achieved his end. When John
the Baptist went into the wilderness he found camel's hair to clothe
himself and wild honey to feed himself. Even these primitive luxuries
are not to be had for looking in modern Europe, and Wagner asked his
friends to supply a substitute for them.

We find him suggesting to Liszt that a number of German princes might
combine to support him, and in return accept his works as he turned
them out; he suggested also that Liszt might himself guarantee him an
annuity. Liszt was from the beginning, and continued until the
appearance of King Ludwig in 1864, to be the most generous of helpers,
but he had ceased to go concertizing through Europe, and had not too
much money to spare. The Wesendoncks, Ritters, Wagner's own family,
all contributed as they could; but verily the man seemed to be a
bottomless abyss into which all the wealth of the world might be
dropped and still it would gape for more. If all his admirers in 1850
had contributed a penny a month he might have been satisfied--if half
the number of his admirers in 1913 could have contributed a penny a
year he would have had more than even he could have spent. But no such
plan seemed to be feasible; and on Liszt fell the brunt, whilst the
others did what they could or thought fit to do. Wagner may
reasonably be defended against the charge of greed or luxury. He was
in chronic ill-health, and his stupendous exertions made it unlikely
he would ever be better. We can believe even Praeger when he tells us
that Wagner's skin was so sensitive that he could tolerate only the
finest silk next to it; for we know that from babyhood he was tortured
by eczema. Had he not coddled himself he would not have had the
strength and nerve to achieve anything at all. He never knew one day
where next day's food was to come from; he was a homeless exile.
Happiness he never knew: such men as Wagner are not created to be
happy. Publishers and opera-directors alike treated him scurvily. To
show his state of mind I quote a portion of another letter to Uhlig,
dated September, 1850, after the production of _Lohengrin_ at Weimar--

    "Liszt spoke to me previously about an honorarium of thirty
    louis d'or for _Lohengrin_--instead of which I had altogether
    only 130 thalers. Further, he announced to me that I should
    receive a commission to write _Siegfried_ for Weimar, and be
    paid beforehand enough to keep me alive undisturbed until the
    work was finished. Until now they preserve there the most
    stubborn silence. Whether I should give _Siegfried_ to Weimar,
    intending it to be produced there, is after all a question
    which, as matters now stand, I would probably only answer with
    an unqualified No! I need not begin to assure you that I really
    abandoned _Lohengrin_ when I permitted its production at
    Weimar. I certainly received a letter yesterday from Zigesar,
    which informed me that the second performance--given, through
    somewhat energetic remonstrance on my part, only after most
    careful rehearsals, and without cuts--was a wonder of success
    and of effect on the public, and that it was perfectly clear
    that it was and would remain a "draw". Yet I need not give you
    my further reasons when I declare that I should wish to send
    _Siegfried_ into the world in different fashion from that which
    would be possible to the good people there. With regard to this,
    I am busy with wishes and plans which, at first look, seem
    chimerical, yet these alone give me the heart to finish
    _Siegfried_. To realize the best, the most decisive, the most
    important work which, under the present circumstances, I can
    produce--in short, the accomplishment of the conscious mission
    of my life--needs a matter of perhaps 10,000 thalers. If I could
    ever command such a sum I would arrange thus:--here, where I
    happen to be, and where many a thing is far from bad--I would
    erect, after my own plans, in a beautiful field, near the town,
    a rough theatre of planks and beams, and merely furnish it with
    the decorations and machinery necessary for the production of
    _Siegfried_. Then I would select the best singers to be found
    anywhere, and invite them for six weeks to Zurich. I would try
    to form a chorus here, consisting, for the most part, of
    amateurs; there are splendid voices here, and strong, healthy
    people. I should invite in the same way my orchestra. At the new
    year announcements and invitations to all the friends of the
    musical drama would appear in all the German newspapers, with a
    call to visit the proposed dramatic musical festival. Any one
    giving notice, and travelling for this purpose to Zurich, would
    receive a certain entrée--naturally, like all the entrées,
    gratis. Besides, I should invite to a performance the young
    people here, the university, the choral unions. When everything
    was in order I should arrange, under these circumstances, for
    three performances of _Siegfried_ in one week. After the third
    the theatre would be pulled down, and my score burnt. To those
    persons who had been pleased with the thing I should then say,
    'Now do likewise.' But if they wanted to hear something new from
    me, I should say, 'You get the money.' Well, do I seem quite mad
    to you? It may be so, but I assure you to attain this end is the
    hope of my life, the prospect which alone can tempt me to take
    in hand a work of art. So--get me 10,000 thalers--that's all!"

His friends, I say, did their best; but Liszt, though his generosity
had no bounds, still clung to the odd idea that Wagner should do
something for himself; also he could not get it out of his head that
the something could only be done in Paris. So, in another of the Uhlig
letters, dated more than six months anterior to the above, we find him
writing, half wearily, half defiantly--

    "I have never felt the consciousness of freedom so beneficent
    as now, nor have I ever been so convinced that only a loving
    communion with others procures freedom. If, through the
    assistance of X., I should be enabled to look firmly at the
    immediate future without any necessity to earn a living, those
    years would be the most decisive of my life, and especially of
    my artistic career; for now I could look at Paris with calmness
    and dignity; whereas, before, the fear of being compelled by
    outward necessity to make concessions, made every step which I
    took for Paris a false one. Now it would stand otherwise.
    Formerly it was thus: 'Disown thyself, become another, become
    Parisian in order to win for yourself Paris.' Now I would say:
    'Remain just as thou art, show to the Parisians what thou art
    willing and able to produce from within, give them an idea of
    it, and in order that they may comprehend thee, speak to them so
    that they may understand thee; for thy aim is just this--to be
    understood by them as that which thou art,' I hope you agree
    with this.

    "So on January 16, 1850, I go to Paris; a couple of overtures
    will at once be put into practice; and I shall take my completed
    opera scheme: it is _Wiland der Schmied_. First of all I attack
    the five-act opera form, then the statute according to which in
    every great opera there must be a special ballet. If I can only
    inspire Gustave Vaez, and impart to him the understanding of my
    intention, and the will to carry it through with me, well and
    good, if not, I'll seek till I find the right poet. For every
    difficulty standing in the way of the understanding I, and the
    subject connected with me, are attacked by the Press; if it is
    a question of clearing away without mercy the whole rubbish and
    cleansing with fresh water--in that matter I am in my right
    element, for my aim is to create revolution whithersoever I
    come. If I succumb--well the defeat is more honourable than a
    triumph in the opposite direction; even without personal victory
    I am, in any case, useful to the cause. In this matter victory
    will only be really assured by endurance; who holds out wins
    absolutely; and holding out with me means--for I am in no way in
    doubt about my force of will--to have enough money to strike
    hard and without intermission and not to worry about my own
    means of living. If I have enough money, I must at once see
    about getting my pamphlet on art translated and circulated.
    Well, that will be seen when I am on the spot, and I shall
    decide according to the means at my disposal. If my money comes
    to an end too soon, I confidently hope for help from another
    quarter--_i.e._ from the social republic, which sooner or later
    must inevitably be established in France. If it comes
    about--well, here I am ready for it, and, in the matter of art,
    I have solidly prepared the way for it. It will not happen
    exactly as my good-natured friends wish, according to their
    predilection for the evil present time, but quite otherwise,
    and, with good fortune, in a far better way--for, as they wish,
    I only serve myself--but as I wish to serve all."

The history of this third Paris episode is distressing enough; but we
to-day, knowing what Paris was and what Wagner was, need not trouble
much about it. I have passed over it quickly; but yet another excerpt
from an Uhlig letter may be given to show how matters did _not_
progress (dated Paris, March 13, 1850)--

    "So, my Parisian art-wallowings are given up since I recognized
    their profane character. Heavens, how Fischer will rejoice when
    he hears I have become a man of order! Everything strengthened
    me in my ardent desire for renunciation. After endless waiting,
    I at last receive the orchestral parts of my _Tannhäuser_
    overture, and pay with pleasure fifteen francs carriage for
    them. I then find that the parts have arrived much too soon, for
    the Union Musicale has time for everything except for the
    rehearsal of my overtures. I am, however, told that there may be
    rehearsals at the end of this month, and actually under a
    conductor who, in all the performances given under his
    direction, carries out the happy idea of indicating _tempi,
    nuances_, style in a manner quite different from that intended
    by the composer; and with passionate conscientiousness, insists
    on studying and conducting himself without ever allowing the
    composer to expound his confused views about his own work.
    Rocked in blissful dreams, I receive at last a letter of
    Heine's, with an enclosure from Wigand--namely, a money-order
    for ten louis d'or, which, from your letter, I had unfortunately
    expected would come to twenty louis d'or.

    "In short, early to-morrow morning (at eight o'clock) I start
    off with the intention of being back here at the end of the
    month, for the possible rehearsals of my overture.

    "I am sorry for Heine and Fischer. Poor fellows! they picture me
    floating along on a sea of Parisian hopes; they will be greatly
    and painfully undeceived. Salute and console them. When my
    cursed ill-humour of to-day has passed away, I will write to
    Heine. To his fidelity must I present an earnest face. A
    thousand greetings to my dear R----s, from whom I should so
    much have liked to receive a line. The merchant M----, of
    Dresden, will bring you something from me when he returns from
    his great Parisian business trip; a good daguerreotype copy from
    an excellent portrait which my friend Rietz has taken of me

    "What more shall I write? I am all confusion about my hasty
    departure. I have now only to write the verses to my _Wiland_;
    otherwise the whole poem is finished--German, German! How my pen
    flew along! This _Wiland_ will carry you all away on its wings;
    even your friendly Parisian hopes. If K---- does not write soon,
    I shall presume that he is raving too madly about Krebs. Krebs
    is clever--so is Michalesi--what more do you want? But K----
    should restrain himself, and not give himself away so much as he
    does, as with me!

    "Farewell! Another time you will receive a more sensible letter,
    with a list of misprints in my last book. If people do not
    comprehend me even after this work, if I am charged with
    improprieties, I clearly see the reason; one cannot understand
    my writings for the misprints. To my joy some one is playing
    the piano overhead; but no melody, only accompaniment, which has
    a charm for me, in that I can practice myself in the art of
    finding  melodies"--

And, finally, these few bitter lines, sent after his return to

    "It is impossible for me to conduct my overture myself in Paris,
    for this reason, that it will not be performed there at all, as
    there was not proper time for rehearsal--perhaps "next year". I
    received this answer on the eve of my departure from Paris, and
    truly in a very pleasant quarter. I think I never laughed so
    loud and so from the bottom of my heart as on that evening and
    in that place."

It will be seen that Wagner never ceased to work during all this
dreary time. He drafted his _Wieland the Smith_, made tentative shots
at what at length grew into the _Nibelung's Ring_, and poured forth an
enormous quantity of very prosy prose. Deferring a consideration of
this last, let me tell briefly what his everyday life was. Through a
little money from pamphlets, performing fees, etc., but mainly through
the generosity of friends, he managed to live; though, as I have said,
he never was quite sure about his next meal, a raven always flew in
from somewhere just in the nick of time. Minna came, and her sister,
and his home was made comfortable for him; he had many friends; he
rapidly became recognized as many a cubit taller than any other
musician in the parish. The opera and some orchestral concerts were
placed under his direction; and Hans von Bülow came to serve his
apprenticeship as conductor under him, very largely at the theatre.
Wagner mentions a performance of the _Flying Dutchman_, which afforded
him pleasure; for though, as he himself says somewhere, the band
consisted of players more accustomed to play at dances than in grand
opera, and not a singer of celebrity took part, yet all were
painstaking, enthusiastic and sympathetic, and a fine representation
was the result. This was the work he did outside his own house; his
inside occupations I have mentioned. He lived with almost clockwork
punctuality. Every afternoon he walked, accompanied by his dog,
amongst the mountains, and to these walks may be attributed, I think,
the atmosphere and colour of the _Ring_ and its backgrounds. Wagner
was as great a master as has lived of pictorial music, and the hills
and ravines, the storms amongst the pines, were things he must have
craved to translate into terms of his own art. After all, he found
time also for a good deal of social intercourse, though the enormous
quantity of work he turned out makes this difficult to believe. But
Liszt visited him; Praeger undoubtedly did; Bülow, as said, was with
him for some time; the Wesendoncks, his greatest pecuniary benefactors
after a while, were there; Wille and his wife were there; Alexander
Ritter, son of Frau Ritter, who made Wagner a regular allowance from
1851 to 1856, became his firm friend, and afterwards married one of
his nieces; there were Baumgärtner and Sulzer--in fact, a bare list of
names would fill a few pages. We must not take Wagner's plaints in his
letters too seriously; he was an overworked, nervous man of moods;
like Mr. Micawber, he seems to have come home of an evening weeping
and declaring himself a ruined man, and in a few hours gone to bed
calculating the cost of throwing out bow windows to his house.
Throughout his life his resilience of spirit was one of his most
amazing characteristics: I have no doubt that in the depth of despair
he would write to Liszt swearing that he only wanted solitude; and in
an hour's time he would think it might be pleasant to spend an hour
with the Wesendoncks--and go. In the same way he longed earnestly for
death while spending all his friends' money on baths and cures and
doctors, and seeing to it that Minna provided the best of everything
for his table. The pile of work remains to show his life was one of
incredible industry. Between the end of 1848 and the end of 1854 he
wrote at least a dozen long pamphlets, and as many more that are not
so long; he wrote the words of the _Ring_ and composed and scored the
_Rhinegold_, and began the music of the _Valkyrie_. Further, he
revised the overture to Gluck's _Iphigenia in Aulis_, and
reconstructed his own _Faust_ overture. How on earth he managed his
interminable correspondence is more than I can guess. When we bear in
mind the calls upon his time by his superintendence of opera and
concerts, we cannot wonder that a man who did so much, and was born a
weakling, was rarely quite well, and incessantly complains of his
nerves. Yet these nerves, he wrote, gave him wonderful hours of

There remains one thing to mention of these first Zurich years: his
operas were gradually spreading through Germany, and, especially,
Liszt had produced _Lohengrin_ at Weimar in 1850. It quickly became so
popular that before long Wagner could complain, or boast, that he was
the only German who had not heard it. His movements during these years
can easily be traced. Zurich remained his headquarters, but he went
hither and thither, mainly in search of health. But the chief cause of
his ill-health he carried with him--his irrepressible activity of
mind. Could some intelligent doctor have given him a dose to stop him
thinking for not less than one month, he would, I verily believe, have
enjoyed ten years of unbroken freedom from sickness. These flittings
are of no great interest in themselves; he never got far until his
famous expedition to London in the summer of 1855. But now it is time
to take a glance at the writings of the period.


In the introduction I announced my intention of dealing with Wagner's
prose-writings only in so far as they reveal anything of value
concerning the artist. His theories have been explained and elucidated
to death; hundreds of books have been written about them; never was a
man so much explained; never did a man suffer more from the
explanations. The day when Wagner began, not to theorise, but to
publish his theorisings, was an unlucky one for him. He began with the
intention, and certainly in the hope, of making himself clear to
himself; as I have already remarked, he wanted to find what it was he
wanted to be at and how to get there; and if, having achieved his end,
he had put all his pages of reasoning in the fire, he would have done
himself no ill-service. But he needed money, and in the 'forties and
'fifties there were, strangely enough, numbers of people who would pay
money for such stuff. Anything dull, "philosophic" in tone, anything
full of long words, longer sentences, and meanings too profound to be
understood by mortal--anything of this sort was sure of a paying
audience, if small, in "philosophic" Germany, no matter how fallacious
were the premises, how wrong the history, how perverse the inferences.
Hundreds of people must have risen from reading Wagner's essays
feeling themselves very deeply intellectual. In his first Paris days
Wagner had at once flown to his prose-scribbling pen as an instrument
to procure him bread; now, in Zurich, while writing and arguing mainly
to free his own soul, he had an eye on the publisher and the public,
for he needed bread as much as ever he had needed it; and he needed
other things besides: all the luxuries he had grown accustomed to and
could have done without ten years earlier. He persuaded himself of the
validity of another reason why he should unload his prose-wares on the
world. He had written much at times in various papers with a
wholehearted wish to purify and advance art. Now he determined to be
himself John the Baptist walking, in defiance of the laws of nature,
miles in front of himself in the wilderness, crying out that he who
was to redeem German music and the German folk was coming. He actually
persuaded himself, I say, that by reading these lucubrations German
audiences would prepare themselves to understand his works--as yet in
process of incubation--at a first hearing! Fools we are, and slight;
but surely no man was ever a bigger fool than our poor Richard when he
thought that a great work of art could possibly or should be
understood at the first glance, and that the feat would be easy if
only one had read some theories of art beforehand. The contrary holds
true: if you have seen and felt Wagner's operas, you may understand
what he is talking about in his articles and pamphlets; but to read
these first is merely to bewilder yourself utterly when you go to see
the operas. I will dismiss, therefore, much of the prose with very
brief notice, and some of it without any notice at all. It may be
remarked that of all the commentaries I have waded through (and been
well-nigh choked with), on the prose, there is, to my mind, only one
worth reading, Mr. Ernest Newman's valuable _Study of Wagner_.

The French stories and articles are as good as anything Wagner wrote.
He had not yet fallen into the villainous German philosophic style, or
was restrained by the consciousness that he must write in a lingo that
could be translated into French. These pieces were written for bread
and bread alone in the terrible years of starvation, 1840-41. _An
End_ [of a German Musician] _in Paris_ is full of autobiography, and
intensely interesting on that account; it is interesting, too, because
of its display of the naïve arrogance which leads Germans to believe
the whole world was made for Germans. This German musician, for
instance, arrives in Paris, where scores of French musicians--Berlioz
amongst them--are roughing it, if not actually starving in the
streets; yet he expects the French to find him employment in
preference to their own countrymen, their own flesh and blood. One can
overlook that, however; and the story is pathetic and beautifully
written. _A Pilgrimage to Beethoven_ is, in its way, a masterpiece. It
also is full of self-revelation; some of it conscious, some
unconscious. _A Happy Evening_ is another charming thing; the skit on
how Rossini's _Stabat Mater_ came to be composed is amusing, and is
cruel with a cruelty that was justified. The other articles are of no
particular value, save, perhaps, that on the overture; they are of an
ephemeral character and were evidently concocted when the writer was
fully aware he was writing for French readers, and if he hurt French
feelings or vanity, a French editor wouldn't print, wouldn't publish,
wouldn't pay.

The next production of any importance is his autobiographical sketch,
and of this nothing need be said. So much of it as seemed to me
needful has been utilized in this book. The account of the bringing
home of Weber's remains to Dresden from London has a perennial
interest. We know how Wagner idolized his mighty predecessor, and can
imagine the ardour with which he threw himself into this work.
Seemingly insuperable obstacles, most of them placed in the way
through the native stupidity and perversity of German and English
officialdom, had to be overridden, and Wagner triumphed. The speech
delivered on the occasion of the re-interment is
characteristic--exceptionally so even for Wagner of this period,
1844--in its assertion of the Germanity of Weber and Weber's music;
and his deep joy that at last the German musician's bones should
repose in German earth. This topic of Germanism haunted Wagner for
years, and I may have a little to say about it later. The account of
the 1846 rendering of the Choral Symphony is the most masterly
exposition of the right and the wrong way of playing orchestral music
to be found in any language. Wagner's method was, after all, very
simple: the conductor had to understand and feel the music aright, and
then pains, pains, never-ending pains must be expended on coaxing,
persuading, bullying or in some other way getting the band to
reproduce precisely what he felt.

We now reach the mass of theatrical and philosophical writings on
opera, drama, and, indeed, art generally. I need do nothing more than
give the fundamental basis of them all, the one point which he argues
in a thousand ways through them all. Wagner would have it, then, that
just about the time he came into the world, or a little later,
all--nothing less than all--the arts had gone as far as they could
separately, each alone. Art in ancient days, before there were _arts_,
was a fusion of music, dancing, poetry, statuary and painting--the old
drama. That each form of art might develop its full possibilities,
they separated and each went its own way. Wagner was mainly concerned
with music and with drama (poetic drama). Music reached its apogee
with Beethoven. Regardless of the fact that after Beethoven had
introduced words in the Choral Symphony, he went on composing music of
unequalled depth and splendour without words, Wagner insisted that he
felt the impossibility of doing more without words. We hear, said
Wagner, all these sounds going on, this stream of melody, and it is
very delightful to the ear; but unfortunately the highly organized
brain of modern man steps in and insists on knowing what is the
matter. What is the meaning of it all? asks the inquisitive intellect.
Words are necessary to satisfy the intellect. On the other hand,
poetic drama, in its endeavour to express pure feeling, could go no
further than Goethe and Schiller without becoming mere gush--a sort of
music that was not music. Wherefore music must be added. But this
combination of music and poetry was insufficient; we must have the
thing in visible form before the eye--the acted music-drama. Then the
actors must understand statuesque poses and get into them; they must
understand painting and contrive to form themselves, together with the
scenic background and accessories, into pictures. So once again we
should have the perfect fusion of all the arts, and live happily ever

To me there is almost more lunacy in this than in Wagner's political
tenets. It is a pack of fallacies. Here is my answer--

(i) As to an Art which was a perfect fusion of all the arts, it was
never done and never at any time attempted.

(ii) The finest music yet created has no words to it: the meaning is
perfectly clear without words.

(iii) The highest poetic drama needs no music. Without verging on
gush, it affords expression to the deepest and most intense feeling.

(iv) Fine poetry has been written in the dramatic form, though it will
not bear acting and was not intended to be acted. But we may
cheerfully concede that genuine drama ought to be acted.

(v) The function of scenery is to suggest atmosphere and nothing more.
It cannot be a picture; it can only be an imitation of a picture.

(vi) An actor who tried to look like a statue going through a variety
of poses would only make the audience laugh; or we should think he had
been taken ill.

At every point Wagner's reasoning goes to the ground. His basic facts
are no facts, and his reasoning is absurd. All the essays on music and
on drama and on the music-drama are as much an expression of himself
as his music-dramas. I have in earlier chapters gone so far as even to
labour the point that he could not get on in music without the aid of
drama; and as he could never look beyond himself nor imagine that
what he could not do--_i.e._ compose pure music--some one else--_e.g._
Schumann or Brahms--could do, he went out with absolute confidence to
persuade the world that he was right and all others were wrong. To
those who may be interested in the study of Wagner, the mighty
creative artist, as a cerebral curiosity, I commend Mr. Newman's book
aforementioned. Mr. Newman points out that Wagner was so magnificently
self-centred that he attributed all opposition to "misunderstanding."
To him it was incomprehensible that any one should say, "Yes, I
perfectly understand your argument; but I beg leave not to agree with
you." Any one who said that at once aroused his suspicions; such an
one, thought Wagner, cannot possibly be sincere. Hence the hot
denunciations of all and sundry who differed from him; hence the
nightmare phantom of an organized body of "persecutors." Had he not
been blinded by his wrath, and looked a little closer, he might have
seen that the persecutors, far from being an organized body or
confederacy, were fighting angrily, bitterly, amongst themselves. Many
of them had this in common: they could not understand and did not like
Wagner's music. That is different from the "wilful misunderstanding"
Wagner moaned about. These musicians could not help themselves; as
Sancho Panza remarks, "Man is as God made him, and generally a good
deal worse."

The essay which provoked the widest and fiercest hostility, especially
amongst the Jews, was the _Judaism in Music_. Wagner started from two
premises, (i) That the Jews, being alien in thought and feeling, could
not express themselves in _our (i.e._ German) art; and (2) that had
they thought and felt like Germans, they would have succeeded no
better; for music--that is, song--is idealized speech, and the
gurglings and bubblings which do duty for speech with the Jews cannot
be idealized into anything beautiful. The answer is that very great
music has been written by Jews; that music was an English, a Flemish
and an Italian art before the Germans knew anything about it; that if
music must be idealized German speech, with its guttural chokings, the
less we have of it the better. The Jews paid little attention to
Wagner's arguments, but objected to his "personalities." Now, the
reader must have observed that of all people practical jokers are
those who can least tolerate a practical joke played at their own
expense, and that those whose staple of conversation is banter or
"chaff" become irascible the moment they are flicked with their own
whip. For years Wagner had been the victim of unprovoked personal
attacks in the Jew-controlled press, and some of the worst of these
can be traced to Jew scribblers. Yet on the publication of _Judaism in
Music_ in the _Neue Zeitschrift für Musik_, a wail went up from these
journalistic descendants of Elijah; and several prominent Jew
musicians signed and presented to the authorities of the Leipzig
conservatoire of music a petition praying that Brendel (the editor who
published the essay) might be dismissed from his post in the
conservatoire. These underhand tactics put the Jews out of court.
Nevertheless, Wagner's essay was a bad mistake. It is bad science, bad
history, bad argument; it did no person, no cause, any good, and it
worked a very great deal of harm.

Wagner was at his best when writing about music or about musicians he
had known. A paper on Spontini, belonging to this period (Spontini
died in 1851), has a pleasant, generous note; and the account of the
pompous old gentleman's visit to Dresden a few years previous is
amusingly lifelike. The _Communication to my Friends_, a trifle
egotistical, is still full of interest. The article on musical
criticism is not so good as it might have been. Wagner had the utmost
contempt for the ordinary press criticism of the day: with that sort
of thing, he wrote Uhlig, one could not tempt the cat from behind the
stove. He knew what criticism should not be, but when he came to what
it should be his view was warped by the obsession that pure music had
reached its boundaries, and the future of music was involved with the
future of the music-drama. When his prejudices were not aroused, he
himself was the greatest critic who has lived: his programmes of the
Choral and Eroica Symphonies are masterpieces in their kind; and his
analysis of the _Iphigenia in Aulis_ overture can never be surpassed.
Stage-managers have found his directions for the performing of
_Tannhäuser_, _Lohengrin_ and the _Dutchman_ invaluable; they are also
sometimes read by conductors, and should be read by singers. They show
how in composing his operas Wagner meant every note he put to paper:
the most minute fibres of the musical growth are alive, a living part
of the organism.


"I shall probably never come back to Germany." So wrote Wagner from
Paris on March 2, 1855, to his friend Wilhelm Fischer, stage-manager
and chorus-master at the Dresden opera. Wagner was then on his way to
London to direct a series of Philharmonic concerts. "It was a great
piece of folly for me to come to London...." So wrote Wagner from
London to Fischer a little--perhaps a month--later. It was, says Mr.
J.S. Shedlock in his admirable translation of the _Letters to Dresden
Friends_, "an unfortunate visit." But was it? and, if so, in what
sense? "The public of the Philharmonic concerts is very favourably
disposed towards me." "The orchestra has taken a great liking to me,
and the public approves of me." And as a matter of fact Wagner had no
reason to be dissatisfied with the visit, nor has Mr. Shedlock for
calling it "unfortunate." The whole situation is summed up in another
communication to Fischer, dated London, June 15, 1855--

    "... The false reports about my quarrel with the directors of
    the Philharmonic Society here and my consequent departure from
    London are based upon the following incident--

    "When I went into the cloak-room after the fourth concert, I
    there met several friends, whom I made acquainted with my
    extreme annoyance and ill-humour that I should ever have
    consented to conduct concerts of such a kind, as it was not at
    all in my line. These endless programmes, with their mass of
    instrumental and vocal pieces, wearied me and tormented my
    aesthetic sense; I was forced to see that the power of
    established custom rendered it impossible to bring about any
    reduction or change whatever; I therefore nourished a feeling of
    disquietude, which had more to do with the fact that I had again
    embarked on a thing of the sort--much less with the conditions
    here themselves, which I really knew beforehand--but least of
    all with my public, which always received me with friendliness
    and approbation, often indeed with great warmth.

    "On the other hand, the abuse of the London critics was a matter
    of perfect indifference to me, for their hostility only proved
    to all the world that I had not bribed them, while it gave me,
    on the contrary, much satisfaction to watch how they always left
    the door open, so that had I made the least approach they would
    have turned to different pitch; but naturally I thought of
    nothing of the kind....

    "On that evening I was really in a furious rage, that after the
    A minor Symphony I should have had to conduct a miserable vocal
    piece and a trivial overture of Onslow's; and, as is my way, in
    deepest dudgeon I told my friends aloud that I had that day
    conducted for the last time; that on the morrow I should send in
    my resignation, and journey home. By chance a concert-singer,
    R---- (a German-Jew youth) was present; he caught up my words
    and conveyed them all hot to a newspaper reporter. Ever since
    then rumours have been flying about in the German papers, which
    have misled even you. I need scarcely tell you that the
    representations of my friends, who escorted me home, succeeded
    in making me withdraw the hasty resolution conceived at a moment
    of despondency.

    "Since then we have had the _Tannhäuser_ overture at the fifth
    concert; it was very well played, received by the public in a
    quite friendly manner, but not yet properly understood.

    "All the more pleased was I, therefore, when the Queen, who had
    promised (which is a rare event, and does not happen every year)
    to attend the seventh concert, ordered a repetition of the
    overture. Now, if in itself it was extremely gratifying that the
    Queen should pay no regard to my highly compromised political
    position (which had been dragged to light with great malignity
    by the _Times_), and without hesitation assist at a public
    performance under my direction, then her further behaviour
    towards me afforded me at last an affecting compensation for all
    the contrarieties and vulgar animosities which I had here

    "She and Prince Albert, who both sat immediately facing the
    orchestra, applauded after the _Tannhäuser_ overture--with which
    the first part concluded--with graciousness, almost amounting to
    a challenge, so that the public broke out into lively and
    prolonged applause. During the interval the Queen summoned me to
    the _salon_, and received me before her court with the cordial
    words, 'I am delighted to make your acquaintance; your
    composition has enraptured me!'

    "In a long conversation, in which Prince Albert also took part,
    she further inquired about my other works, and asked if it would
    not be possible to have my operas translated into Italian, so
    that she might be able to hear them, too, in London? I was
    naturally obliged to give a negative answer, and, moreover, to
    explain that my visit was only a flying one, as conducting for a
    concert society--the only thing open to me here--was not at all
    my affair. At the end of the concert the Queen and the Prince
    applauded me again most courteously.

    "I relate this to you because it will afford you pleasure; and I
    willingly allow you to make further use of this information, as
    I see how much mistake and malice touching myself and my stay in
    London has to be set right or defeated.

    "The last concert is on the 25th, and I leave on the 26th, so as
    to resume in my quiet retreat my sadly interrupted work."

Wagner was well paid for his work; he was well received in society;
the band liked him and the audiences liked him--the one cause of all
his grumbling was the character of the bulk of the music he had to
conduct. One might expect even a Wagner to prefer conducting a few
pieces of tedious stuff, even to put up with poor antediluvian Onslow,
rather than to return to his daily task of writing begging letters to
his friends from Zurich. Still, these are matters of taste, and each
to his own.

To those who only know the Philharmonic to-day, in its more or less
repentant and reformed state, it may not seem odd that Wagner should
have conducted its concerts. But to those who remember it from, say,
twenty-five years ago to quite recent times, a certain incongruity is
apparent. Wagner, the sincere, fiery artist, the man devoted to,
swallowed up by, his art; the man who journeyed, with his wife and a
dog, all the way from Russia to Paris with his bare travelling
expenses in his pocket; who had been through a bloody revolution, and
was now a political refugee; who had written part of the _Ring_ and
had _Tristan_ "already planned in his head"; a conductor whose ideal
was nothing lower than perfection--this gentleman came from Zurich to
conduct a society whose membership was compact of trim and prim
mediocrity, and whose directors were mostly duffers. Can we wonder
that both sides were disappointed? These amiable directors never quite
recovered from the honour of having Mendelssohn to conduct for them;
and they undoubtedly looked upon Wagner as scarcely a next-best. The
days of oratorio had by no means finished yet; oratorio was the thing;
an instrumental concert was very well for a change once in a while,
provided there were plenty of Italian opera airs to sugar the nasty
pill; Haydn was the last word in symphony, the homage paid to
Beethoven being the merest lip-worship. The Philharmonic was certainly
no place for Wagner; yet, it must be insisted, there was no real
reason for grumbling on either side. Wagner got his money; the society
had one of the best seasons on its record.

It is a pity that he who might have been the most valuable witness in
the matter should prove at every point to be the least trustworthy.
Ferdinand Praeger had known Wagner in his university days. They seem
to have been barely acquainted; but the moment Praeger found Wagner
was coming he scented advertisement for himself, as is usual with his
kind--the kind being the foreign professor settled in London. He will
have it that he arranged the whole business; but the terrible truth is
that he seems to have done no more than make his compatriot
comfortable in our dreary city. Certainly he did that, and Wagner
repaid it by inviting him to stay in Zurich, and the visit came off
duly. Sainton, who was by way of being a noted violinist, was head and
front of the offending from the directors' point of view--perhaps in
Wagner's view likewise. The directors were, to speak as the vulgar, in
a mortal stew. There was a small audience for orchestral functions in
those days, and Dr. Wylde, a worthy academic gentleman of no musical
distinction whatever, had started a rival series of concerts, and had
in this year, 1855, engaged no less a personage than Berlioz to
conduct. A rival was looked for; and since the directors knew little
or nothing of continental doings, as soon as Sainton told them one
Richard Wagner was their man, they agreed that negotiations should be
opened. Wagner came; and the visit ought to be interesting to English
musicians, for at Portland Terrace he scored part of the _Valkyrie_.
Moreover, he met Berlioz at dinner; but never those twain could meet
in other than a formal way. Neither liked the other; neither liked the
other's music; their rivalry in London mattered not two sous to the
one or one pfennig to the other, but they were both disappointed men
seeking appreciation and approbation on the continent. Wagner had
tried in Paris and Berlioz had tried in Germany. Wagner worked
stubbornly the whole time, and was mightily glad to get back to Zurich
in July. The episode is of small importance in Wagner's life; but the
attitude of the Press naturally filled him with disgust. He said if he
had paid the critics he would have received "favourable notices," and
when I reflect on the smallness of the critics' official salaries and
the splendour in which some of them lived I cannot but think he was
right: the money necessary to keep up big establishments had to be
found somewhere--where?

During the next few years Wagner went many journeys, again mainly in
search of "cures," but never got far. He worked unceasingly at the
_Ring_, with the wildest plans in his head regarding performances. How
wild some of these must have seemed at the time may be judged from the
following paragraphs taken from a letter to Uhlig (Dec. 12, 1851).
This is, of course, earlier than the period we are now dealing with;
but he never departed from the idea, and it eventually took shape at
Bayreuth, a quarter of a century later. Here is the letter--

    "For the moment, I can only tell you a little about the
    intended completion of the great dramatic poem which I have now
    in hand. Just reflect that before I wrote the poem, _Siegfried's
    Death_, I sketched out the whole myth in all its gigantic
    sequence, and that poem was the attempt--which, with regard to
    our theatre, appeared possible to me--to give one chief
    catastrophe of the myth, together with an indication of that

    "Now, when I set to work to write out the music in full, still
    keeping our modern theatre firmly in mind, I felt how incomplete
    the proposed undertaking would be; the vast train of events,
    which first gives to the characters their immense and striking
    significance, would be presented to the mind merely by means of
    epic narrative.

    "So to make _Siegfried's Death_ possible, I wrote _Young
    Siegfried_; but the more the whole took shape, the more did I
    perceive, while developing the scenes and music of _Young
    Siegfried_, that I had only increased the necessity for a
    clearer presentation of the whole story to the senses. I now see
    that, in order to become intelligible on the stage, I must work
    out the whole myth in plastic style. It was not this
    consideration alone which impelled me to my new plan, but
    especially the overpowering impressiveness of the subject-matter
    which I thus acquire for presentation, and which supplies me
    with a wealth of material for artistic fashioning which it would
    be a sin to leave unused. Think of the contents of the narrative
    of Brünnhilde, in the last scene of _Young Siegfried_; the fate
    of Siegmund and Sieglind; the struggle of Wotan with his desire
    and with custom (Fricka); the noble defiance of the Walküre; the
    tragic anger of Wotan in punishing this defiance.

    "Think of this from my point of view, with the extraordinary
    wealth of situations brought together in one coherent drama, and
    you have a tragedy of most moving effect; one which clearly
    presents to the senses all that my public needs to have taken
    in, in order easily to understand, in their widest meaning,
    _Young Siegfried_ and the _Death_. These three dramas will be
    preceded by a grand introductory play, which will be produced by
    itself on a special opening festival day. It begins with
    Alberich, who pursues the three water-witches of the Rhine with
    his lust of love, is rejected with merry fooling by one after
    the other, and, mad with rage, at last steals the Rhine gold
    from them.

    "This gold in itself is only a shining ornament in the depth of
    the waves (_Siegfried's Death_, Act III, Sc. i), but it
    possesses another power, which only he who renounces love can
    succeed in drawing from it. (Here you have the plasmic motive up
    to _Siegfried's Death_. Think of all its pregnant consequences.)
    The capture of Alberich; the dividing of the gold between the
    two giant brothers; the speedy fulfilment of Alberich's curse on
    these two, the one of whom immediately slays the other--all this
    is the theme of this introductory play.

    "But I have already chattered too much, and even that is too
    little to give you a clear idea of the vast wealth of the

    "But one other thing determined me to develop this plan; viz.
    the impossibility which I felt of producing _Young Siegfried_ in
    anything like a suitable manner either at Weimar or anywhere
    else. I cannot and will not endure any more the martyrdom of
    things done by halves. With this my new conception I withdraw
    entirely from all connection with our theatre and public of
    to-day; I break decisively and for ever with the formal present.

    "Do you now ask me what I propose to do with my scheme?--First
    of all to carry it out, so far as my poetical and musical powers
    will allow. This will occupy me at least three full years. And
    so I place my future quite in R----'s hands; God grant that
    they may remain unfalteringly true to me!

    "I can only think of a performance under quite other conditions.
    I shall erect a theatre on the banks of the Rhine, and issue
    invitations to a great dramatic festival. After a year's
    preparation, I shall produce my complete work in a series of
    four days.

    "However extravagant this plan may be, it is, nevertheless, the
    only one to which I can devote my life and labours. If I live to
    see it accomplished, I have lived gloriously; if not, I die for
    something grand. Only this can still give me any pleasure."

His creditors from Dresden were everlastingly at his heels; even in
Dresden, with a substantial and regular salary, he could not keep out
of debt--though it must be remembered that older debts pursued him
from the Riga days, and even earlier. By April of 1856 the _Valkyrie_
was scored and _Siegfried_ begun; next year he finished the first act
of the latter. His life, apparently, went on pretty much as before;
but the financial situation was rapidly becoming intolerable--even to
him. The famous invitation to write an opera for Rio de Janeiro
arrived, and he promptly set to work on the subject he had mentioned
in a letter to Liszt a few years before, _Tristan and Isolda_. His
health grew worse than ever, and somehow he found the means to spend
the winter in Venice. Then he settled for a while in Lucerne, and
completed _Tristan_.

Afterwards he removed to Paris, where in 1860 he gave some concerts;
in the same year the score of _Tristan_ was issued; next year came the
_Tannhäuser_ fiasco at the opera, and later he heard _Lohengrin_, in
Vienna, for the first time; next he stayed for a while at Biebrich,
and finally settled in Vienna.

This is all the biography of ten of the fullest years of his life that
we need trouble about at present. His everyday existence is only
diversified and variegated by little anecdotes not worth repetition.
He was everywhere, of course, the musical lion. And, speaking of
animals, he always had a few: it had been a real grief to him some
years before when his parrot died when it had just mastered a passage
of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

When he finished _Tristan_ in August of 1859, his prospects were, so
to speak, as bright as before. It may here be mentioned, by way of
showing how bright that was, that when, four years later, an attempt
was made to give _Tristan_ at Vienna, the work was abandoned after at
least fifty rehearsals.

His letters, first to his faithful servitor Uhlig, who died in 1853 at
the age of thirty-one, and then to Fischer, are full of requests to
get scores copied, to send them here, there and everywhere, and to
collect honorariums. But, as I have said, for years he had hungry
creditors snapping at his heels, and they devoured most of the fruits
of his early genius. It is a fact to be faced that Wagner never in all
his life earned his livelihood. He earned more than average men
require to live comfortably upon; but he was unceasingly extravagant,
and denied himself nothing. He had been hungry in his early Paris
days; for the remainder of his life he bent himself to the task of
making up for that spell of famine. The precariousness of his income,
the insecurity of his position, fostered the habit of self-indulgence;
by nature the reverse of miserly, if he had money to-day he spent it,
reflecting that he might have none to-morrow. His debts, moreover,
were not entirely for what we may call personal extravagances. So
confident and sanguine was he that he had the full scores of his
operas published at his own expense; and the charges had to be met out
of what the operas brought him. And so when he had finished _Tristan_
in 1859 the outlook was of the blackest.

It was not less than a disaster that, during this period, 1849-59,
Wagner got to know the writings of Schopenhauer. In my first chapter I
pointed out how from his youth Wagner was fond of dabbling in
pseudo-philosophy, and this had strengthened rather than weakened its
hold on him as he grew older. For some time Feuerbach was his mentor.
It is idle to ask what he saw in Feuerbach. It has long been a
commonplace that rightly to understand an author you must meet him
half-way. Wagner did more than that: he went the whole way, and often
a long way beyond. What he read was not Feuerbach, but the thousand
ideas that the merest chance sentences of Feuerbach aroused in his
seething brain. Feuerbach, however, was sent about his business as
soon as Schopenhauer entered. Wagner immediately wrote
enthusiastically to Liszt, telling how peace and light had come into
his soul; and one might wonder what particular doctrine of the grumpy
old pseudo-philosopher had this remarkable effect. (This is to assume
it to have had the effect. As a bare matter of fact it hadn't.
Wagner's soul knew no peace until he died.) It was the great gospel of
Renunciation. After reading this, in his own way, Wagner realized, if
you please, that both _Tannhäuser_ and _Lohengrin_ preached the same
doctrine; and one can only retort that, if they preach any doctrine at
all--which they don't, thank heaven!--it is not that. But
Schopenhauerism might easily have ruined _Tristan_--did not ruin it
only because Wagner himself, when writing it, was consumed with a
fervour of passion that is the negation of Schopenhauerism. It is
responsible, however, for many of the _longueurs_ of the _Ring_, as,
for instance, in Act II of the _Valkyrie_, when Wotan stops the action
to give Brünnhilde an elementary lesson in Schopenhauer-cum-Wagner
metaphysics. The funny thing is that Wagner never renounced anything:
to the end he was greedy, avid of life. He might have benefited by a
careful study of Schopenhauer's pungent phrases; but instead of thus
developing his own natural gift in that direction, his sentences
afterwards grew longer and more complicated than ever. His Beethoven
is a splendid essay; how much finer it might have been had he not
wasted so many pages on what he took to be Schopenhauer's science!




For those who have ears, eyes and understanding _Tristan and Isolda_
is Wagner's most perfect work, is the finest opera in the world.
Unluckily there are in the world far too many persons who are not
content to have a work of supreme art, but must needs read into it
old, stale platitudes: when they have proved it to be an exposition of
these platitudes they conceive that they have deserved the gratitude
of the people for interpreting the artist and of the artist for having
interpreted him, having made his meaning clear. As I have written
elsewhere of _Tristan_, "Wagner's consummate dramatic art, stage-craft
and knowledge of stage effect have combined to make all clear as the
day"; but the commentators have rushed in with their comments between
the stage and the audience only to obscure everything and bamboozle
people who are at least as capable as themselves of understanding the
drama. The platitudes read into _Tristan_ are of two sorts, truisms
and lying commonplaces. To take one of the latter kind, some one many
long years ago got off the pretty phrase, "love and death are one";
and poetasters and fiftieth-rate dramatists have ever since continued
to assert as a profound and original truth that love and death are
one. What on earth they understand by it, if they mean anything at
all, is much more than I can guess. But I know that love and death are
not one, that love is life, and death is death. We have had it pointed
out a thousand times that the "moral" of _Tristan_ is that these two
opposites are one; and in the latest books and articles about Wagner
the same game is kept merrily going. I can extract no such moral.
Perhaps some unfortunate essays and letters of Wagner gave the
commentators their cue and lead; for Wagner, when he put away his
music-paper and sat down to his writing-paper, often showed himself a
willing victim of catch-phrases; also many sentences of the drama can
be construed as paraphrases of this particular catch-phrase--for
example, "Nun banne das Bangen, holder Tod, sehnend verlangter
Liebestod." Such utterances as these, however, have a specific and
different meaning altogether, as will presently be seen. I can by no
means believe even Wagner capable of writing a three-act music-drama
to prove the truth of a catch-phrase or that he would have dreamed of
using such a catch-phrase as the motive of his music-drama. The
commonplaces drawn from _Tristan_ and gravely set forth as the
"meanings" of the operas are as numberless as sands on the sea-shore
and rather less valuable. That young women should not make a practice
of marrying old men, that illicit passions and intrigues may bring on
disaster, that it is madness to make love to another man's wife in a
garden, observable by all, that it is greater madness still to keep on
when a maidservant is screaming that some one is coming--these rules
of conduct are very well in their way and might commend themselves to
the denizens of Clapham; but, again, I hardly think Wagner would have
constructed a great music-drama to enunciate them. Nor did he
construct his music-drama to expound a philosophy. For a long time the
air was thick with arguments _pro_ and _con_ with regard to the amount
of Schopenhauer he had made use of in his libretto. Now, it is true
that both Tristan and Isolda indulge at times in something
approximating to the Schopenhauer terminology; but of Schopenhauer's
or any other philosophy I cannot find a trace. For that we must turn
to _Parsifal_. In _Tristan_ there are no "meanings"--none save the
very plain meaning of the drama and the meaning of the music, which is
plainer still.

It seems to me desirable in this way to clear off misunderstandings
and to indicate with precision my point of view. When Wagner wrote
_Tristan_ he wrote a tragic opera of passion and treachery and death,
and only as a tragic opera can I regard it. Every sentence in it is
accounted for by the course the drama takes; no further explanation is
called for; and I shall certainly not waste my readers' time by
picking out a few words here and there and trying to construe them
into a metaphysical exposition: there is quite enough to digest
without that. Even the longing for death which Tristan expresses as
the only cure for the woes of an impossible life arises from the
drama; Tristan no more preaches Schopenhauer than he preaches Buddhism
when he exclaims "Nun banne das Bangen, holder Tod." Wagner chose the
subject of _Tristan_ not to expound anything, but for the prosaic
reason that he wanted to raise money and the subject seemed the most
promising for the purpose. This is put beyond a doubt by a letter to
Liszt dated July 2, 1858. Everything seemed to work against him;
_Rienzi_ proved a failure when it was put on at Weimar, and nothing
could be hoped for in that quarter; the pecuniary situation was
desperate. He had received a commission from the Emperor Pedro I of
Brazil for an opera, and thought _Tristan_ a likely theme. As early as
December of 1854 he had written to Liszt mentioning it as planned in
his head; and in this letter of '58 he says, "... I saw no other way
open to me but to negotiate with Härtel, and I chose for this subject
_Tristan_, then scarcely begun, because I had nothing else. They
offered to pay me half the honorarium (two hundred louis d'or)--that
is, one hundred louis d'or--on receipt of the score of the first act,
and I made all the haste I could to complete it. That is why this poor
work was hurried on in such a business-like manner." It seems rather
comical now that the world's most magnificent, and certainly most
profound, musical tragedy should have been commenced to be sung by an
Italian company in such an out-of-the-way spot as Rio de Janeiro and
in the hope of pleasing semi-barbarian ears; and it is rather a pity
it never found its way there. One thing is certain: the press
criticisms could not have been more foolish than those that greeted
the opera when it was produced in Munich.

Exactly where Wagner got the idea from I cannot say. Of course, in
one shape or another the legend exists in every European literature;
and probably he had been familiar with it for years. Praeger's story
of Wagner getting hold of Gottfried von Strassburg's interminable
version in the summer of 1855 and conceiving the thing in a flash
might very well be true; only, unluckily for Praeger, the letter to
Liszt in the previous year shows it to be in another sense a story. By
September 1857 the poem was done, and Wagner at once set to work on
the music. He had sketched the first act by the end of the same year,
and in the early part of '59 the whole opera was complete. We have
just seen one reason for pressing forward "this poor work ... in such
a business-like manner"; but even without the pecuniary inducement I
fancy he would have composed quickly. _Tristan_ is one of those works,
like Carlyle's _French Revolution_, which one feels had either to be
written rapidly or not at all. The music seems to have welled forth in
a red-hot torrent, and his pen could not choose but fly over the
paper. None the less we are compelled to marvel at the industry, the
concentrated and continuous and patient energy of the man; for the
_Tristan_ score is as complicated as any ever written, and the mere
number of notes to be set down might well have appalled him. Handel
could write a _Messiah_ in three weeks and Mozart a _Don Giovanni_
overture in a few hours; but their scores are mere skeletons compared
with _Tristan_, a score which neither Handel nor Mozart could copy in
a much longer time than three weeks. We may hope that Wagner received
his remaining hundred louis d'or, for the Brazilian scheme came to
nothing, and he had to wait seven long years before _Tristan_ got its
first performance. But for the "kingly friend," mad Ludwig II, it
would not have been performed at all; and afterwards other theatres
found it too difficult, or the directors, with true inborn official
insolence, seemed to glory in not so much as looking at the score. We
will now look at it.

Out of one or another of the various versions of the legend Wagner
extracted the core--the plain, direct story of the passion of a pair
of tragic lovers. Tristan and Isolda love one another with a devouring
love, and circumstances will not allow them to be united; they find a
refuge in death from an existence intolerable without love; and this
is essentially the whole story. In its older form the tale consisted
mainly of what to the modern mind are excrescences--the intrigues,
fights, adventures and what not so dear to the mediæval mind. Wagner
sheared away this mass of overgrowth; or perhaps it would be truer to
say he hewed his way to the statue within, from out of the old stuff
picked out the elements that made just the drama as it had shaped
itself in his brain. Here is the story. Tristan, nephew of King Mark
of Cornwall, had gone a-warring in Ireland and had there slain Morold,
the betrothed of Isolda; and to Isolda he sends as a present Morold's
head. He is himself wounded, and by chance it is Isolda, "a skilful
leech," who nurses him back to health. She has found in Morold's head
a splinter of a sword-blade, and finds it was broken out of Tristan's
weapon. Full of anger, she raises the sword to slay the sick man: he
opens his eyes, and "the sword dropped from my fingers"--her doom is
upon her: henceforth she loves the slayer of her lover. Though Tristan
loves her he does not ask for her, but with many protestations of
gratitude and friendship sails away to Cornwall. Next occurs one of
those things at which most of us are apt to boggle: Tristan goes home,
it would appear, only to suggest that his aged uncle should marry
Isolda the peerless beauty; Mark consents, and sends Tristan to ask
for her. Tristan afterwards confesses that ambition led him to do
this; but in any case it was very close to a deed of downright
treachery, unless the fact was that Tristan did not suspect Isolda's
love for him, or thought his station too humble. Wagner's language is
ambiguous, and probably he intended his meaning to be the same. Isolda
has no two opinions about his conduct. It had been her duty to kill
him in the first place, and her love, her destiny, Frau Minna--call it
what you will--betrayed her; and now she is betrayed by the man whose
life she saved. Had she spoken one word in her father's castle Tristan
would not have returned to Cornwall: in all likelihood his head would
have been sent as an acknowledgment of Morold's. Her fury knows no
bounds; her grief and sense of ignominious humiliation almost defy
expression; her contempt for Tristan, when she finds words for it, is
scathing. All this we learn as the opera proceeds; but we should know
the facts of the history before seeing the work the first time, else
the first act is bewildering, for matters have arrived just at this
point when the curtain rises.


The prelude is the only operatic prelude in the world which is an
integral, organic part of the drama; it cannot be omitted without
detriment to the drama. In several of Mozart's operas the overture, by
means of a modulation, is made to lead without a break into the first
scene; Gluck had done precisely the same thing; Wagner, in the
_Mastersingers of Nuremberg_, did the same thing. But in the cases of
Gluck and Mozart and of Wagner in the _Mastersingers_, if by chance
the parts of the overture were missing, the opera could start away and
go on merrily, and we should miss nothing but the preliminary pleasure
of hearing the overture. In the case of _Tristan_, where Wagner's art
of combining the music and drama in an indivisible whole was at its
culminating point--a point from which it gradually receded--this is
not conceivable. If the band parts of the _Tristan_ prelude were
mislaid it would be well to omit the first act altogether. What Wagner
tried to do in the _Flying Dutchman_--to make the whole opera a solid
thing from which not one bar might be subtracted without ruining the
whole effect--he achieved once, and once only, in _Tristan_.

What may seem an irrelevancy turns on this very point. There is no
necessity for reasoning about a work of art; yet there is both
pleasure and mental profit in doing so in certain instances. If there
is any necessity at all for understanding Wagner's mind and Wagner's
art, we may as well do it as thoroughly as we can. Therefore the
reader will perhaps bear with me patiently if I point out something he
has doubtless discovered for himself, namely, that _Tristan_ is
Wagner's only opera in which music and drama had birth simultaneously
in his brain. He himself, in several significant passages in his prose
writings, indicated this. He said that when, after several years
devoted to expounding his theories in essays,--mainly, he said, to
make these theories clear to himself: mainly, I think, for the
accruing cash--he began _Tristan_, he immediately found he had left
the theories far behind. That is, he constructed his dramas, without
thinking of theories or traditions, simply as a common-sense
dramatist-musician should, building up the whole edifice with two
hands at once, the dramatist's pen in one hand, the musician's in the
other. He also said that when he set down the words the music was
already (in an amorphous state--we must presume he meant) in his
brain. It was to this effect he wrote in _Opera and Drama_ the most
skilful defence ever put together by a creative artist--or rather not
so much a defence as a plea for his particular form of art, or perhaps
an explanation of the form.

This is entirely different from his procedure with the _Ring_, or
indeed any of his works, not even excepting the _Dutchman_. The
_Dutchman_, he said, grew out of Senta's ballad; but I have already
shown that this statement was a mere piece of self-deception: not the
whole of the _Dutchman_, not one-tenth of it, grows out of Senta's
ballad; Senta's ballad is not an oak-trunk with all the solos, duets,
choruses and the rest growing out as branches with leaves grow from a
trunk--it is a scaffold-pole upon which these things are tacked in an
almost unparalleled fervour of imagination. That Wagner recognized
this is plainly seen in the prose remarks he penned, in very cold
blood, in his after years, when he looked at his first really fine
work as though it had come from the hand of some other composer. Gluck
had not one-thousandth part of Wagner's sheer genius, or, born into
the nineteenth century, he might have done the thing as Wagner did it
in _Tristan_; Mozart had not one-hundredth part of Wagner's
intellectual power, or, born into the nineteenth century, he might
have done it. Wagner alone did it. _Tristan_ is a feat accomplished
once and for all; at this moment it is impossible to imagine such a
feat ever being done again. Those of us who live on for another five
hundred years may see something like it; but even then _Tristan_ will
not be old-fashioned--not older-fashioned, at any rate, than
_Antigone_ or _Hamlet_, and perhaps less old-fashioned than _Macbeth_
or _Lear_. The breath, the spirit, which is eternal life, is in it,
and it can only perish when the human race perishes.

Far too much theorising has been done about Wagner, and I would not
add my quota did I not hope that this small contribution would save
complicated explanations, now that I come to deal with the concrete,
so to say, with the very stuff of _Tristan_, the words and the music.
We are to be prepared for a drama of human passion in sharpest
conflict with a dispassionate, indifferent, even antagonistic world.
The passion is the naked elemental thing, the love of a man for a
woman and a woman for a man; and these twain, had they lived on an
island by themselves, might have been happy or unhappy, and felt the
passion fade away and no one a penny the worse. As it is, everything
seems to oppose them; shock after shock comes upon them; until in the
end they are content, feel themselves blest, to be allowed to pass out
of life. We are shown them in four clearly defined phases: first,
loving one another but the love unconfessed; second, the love admitted
and the world opposing it; third, love at its height and the world
breaking in upon it; last, love beaten in the fight and retreating to
the realms of death. Throughout the drama there is no musical theme
representing the idea of the antagonistic world. There are a dozen
love-themes and two death-themes and a great number of what in a
symphony would be called subsidiary themes. By far the most important
theme in the whole opera is that with which the prelude opens, one
made up of a couple of phrases (_a_, p. 274).

I shall not for the moment discuss the full significance of the themes
as subsequently unfolded: it suffices now to note the use they are
put to in this prelude. A continuation of this love subject presently
is announced (_b_); then the poison motive (_c_); and finally yet
another love theme. A tremendous climax is worked up: the very ecstasy
and madness of love; it dies down, and the prelude ends with a
sinister and tragic phrase (_d_), leading straight to a sea-song sung
from the masthead of a vessel, on which the curtain rises.

No melody ever sang more clearly of the sea; no melody was ever less
like a sailor's chanty. I have quoted words and tune in full (_f_).
The words set the drama a-going; out of the phrase marked (_g_) the
main body of the music of the first scene is spun. Isolda very
naturally thinks an insult is aimed at herself: it is the spark that
sets a light to the explosive material that has been accumulating in
her heart for heaven knows how long. She curses the ship, Tristan, and
every one concerned in the conspiracy that is to rob her of the man
she loves and hand her over as a slave to the old man she has never
seen. Brangaena, her maid, scared out of her wits, begs to know the
truth; Isolda screams for air, which she assuredly seems to need; the
curtains at the back of her pavilion are opened, and there, on the
stern of the vessel, stands Tristan, the enemy whom she loves. From
the masthead comes again the sailor's song. This time it does not
immediately arouse Isolda to fury; for now her purpose is set--to kill
Tristan: take her revenge and end her own life of misery. "Once
beloved, now removed, brave and bright, coward knight. Death-devoted
head, death-devoted heart," she sings, gazing at Tristan; and at the
last words we hear the tremendous death-or murder-theme (_h_), a theme
whose sinister meaning is afterwards unfolded. She sends Brangaena to
order Tristan to come into her tent. He bitterly avoids understanding
her meaning; Brangaena becomes more urgent; Kurvenal, Tristan's
servant, a faithful watch-dog, asks to be allowed to reply; Tristan
says he can. Kurvenal bellows out a song praising Tristan as the
heroic slayer of Isolda's betrothed, Morold. Brangaena precipitately
retreats and closes the curtains; Isolda and she face one another in
the tent, the second nearly prostrate with dismay, the first boiling
with wrath and shame at the insult hurled at her. She now tells
Brangaena the whole of the preceding history--her nursing of Tristan
and his monstrous treatment of her--and finishes with another curse.
Brangaena tries to soothe her; Isolda, outwardly quietened, inwardly
is planning how to carry out her purpose; Brangaena unknowingly
suggests the means. "In that casket is a love potion: drink that, you
will love your aged bridegroom and be happy once again." She opens the
casket; "not that phial," says Isolda, "the other." The poison motive
(_c_) sounds under the agitated upper strings: "the deadly draught,"
Brangaena shrieks: at this point the shouting of the sailors is heard
as they begin to shorten sail; Kurvenal enters brusquely and bellows
at Isolda the order to prepare to land. She refuses to move until
Tristan has come in to ask her pardon "for trespass black and base."
Here she begins to speak in terrible double-meanings: it is not
Tristan's discourtesy on the voyage he must apologise for, but the
more tragic occurrences leading up to his bearing her away to
Cornwall. She orders Brangaena to prepare the draught, and awaits her

She stands there outwardly composed while one of the finest passages
in the whole of the world's music betrays her inward anxiety and
suspense (_i_). It is useless to describe the scene in any detail: the
words are simple and seemingly direct; the marvellous music alone
reveals their fateful, fearful significance. Isolda asks Tristan to
sink the ancient quarrel between them--caused by the slaying of
Morold--and drink a cup together; he knows perfectly well a large part
of her meaning--that she means to poison him. Whether she herself
intends what presently occurs no one can tell: I doubt whether Wagner
knew much or cared at all. Tristan knows how great is the crime he
must make amends for: not merely Morold's death, but the winning of
Isolda's heart, the desertion, the cruel coming to claim her as his
uncle's bride; he says he will drink--only in oblivion can he find
refuge from the toils in which he has involved himself; he lifts the
cup to his lips, drinks, and as he drinks Isolda, crying "Betrayed,
even here," snatches the cup from him and drains it.

Brangaena has betrayed her: the cup contains not the poison but the
love-potion. In this stroke there is no fairy-tale or pantomime
foolery. The course the drama now pursues is determined not by a magic
draught, a harmless infusion of herbs, but by the belief of the
lovers that they have taken poison and are both doomed. Whether
Tristan had previously known Isolda to love him does not matter: he
knows it now. It has been remarked that the language is ambiguous: or
rather, Isolda in her rage may easily be supposed to go beyond the
truth when she speaks of having exchanged love-vows with Tristan. She
knows that he loves her. They have only a few minutes to live and to
love: why not speak? They stand gazing at one another in a state of
tremulous emotion, and at last rush into each other's arms. The hoarse
voices of the sailors are heard outside hailing King Mark; the ship
has reached land; Brangaena enters, and is horrified to find that
_both_ have taken the potion; the pair cling to one another; a stream
of the most passionate music in existence sweeps on: Brangaena tries
to attire Isolda in the royal cloak; Kurvenal shouts to Tristan that
the king is coming; Tristan can understand nothing--"What king?" he
asks; the deck is crowded with knights; and the curtain falls as the
lovers embrace and the trumpets announce the arrival of King Mark.

Before dealing more fully with the music of this act let me quote a
few words I wrote elsewhere on the dramatic course of the whole opera.
"The end of each act sees the lovers in a situation which is at heart
the same, though in externals different. Rapt in each other, they care
nothing about the sailors, attendants, approaching crowds, and the
rest, at the end of the first act; at the end of the second they
scarcely understand Mark's passionate affection--they only know it is
an enemy of their love; and, finally, they are glad when death frees
them from life, which means an incessant trouble and interruption to
them. The tragedy deepens and grows more intense with each successive
scene; each separates them more widely from life and all that life
means, until in the last act the divorce is complete. This is the
purpose of the drama: this _is_ the drama...." When Wagner conceived
Tristan he was as fine a master of stage-craft as has ever lived; and
certainly by very far the finest who ever wrote "words for music." The
first scene prepares us to understand clearly and to grasp firmly the
forces that are presently to be let loose and run the drama on to its
tragic dénouement; and after that, scene follows scene with absolute


During Wagner's five years of theorising after quitting Dresden in
1849 he had thought of subjects and written parts of the _Ring_.
Tristan is the greatest work he completed. A reservoir full of music
must have accumulated in his brain; and he seems now to have opened
the sluices. Never did a more fiery impetuous stream flow from any
composer: never was there, in a word, more inspired music. The
profusion of the material is wonderful, and even more wonderful is the
concentrated quality of that material. In the _Ring_ and
_Parsifal_--as in _Lohengrin_ and _Tannhäuser_--there are _longueurs_;
in _Tristan_ there are none: not a bar can be cut; there is not a bar
that does not hold us. In a paradoxical mood, or irritated, by being
obstinately, wilfully, stupidly regarded as one of the trade setters
of opera-texts, Wagner declared to Bülow that "one thing is certain, I
am not a musician." This has been interpreted as meaning, "I am no
musician," whereas, of course, he meant he was very much more than a
musician: which, in a sense, he was. He was not a greater genius than
Mozart and Beethoven, who had nothing of the dramatist in them, nor
than Shakespeare, who was not, technically at least, a musician; but
he was something different from both species of men--a dramatist who
could not get the drama out of himself without the aid of music, and a
musician who could not beat out his music without the aid of drama.
Music and drama had simultaneous birth in the case of _Tristan_, and
it is difficult to describe and criticise them separately. There is no
other way of doing it, however, and as the drama is the structural
foundation I have dealt with it first; but the music is of not less

Many readers will remember how, not so very many years ago, a common
criticism of Wagner's music was that it possessed no melody. Happily
at this time of day there is no need to try to disprove this; for when
we hear the first act of _Tristan_ the first thing to strike us must
surely be its richness in melody. It teems with tunes--it is an
unbroken tune from the first note of the prelude to the last chord of
the act. At times we feel the terrific energy as something that might
easily grow wearying to the nerves, and then comes a long song, such
as Brangaena's remonstrance to Isolda, which is a sheer delight to the
ear and prepares us for the next dramatic outburst. That is the first
thing to strike us; the next is the perfect skill with which the sound
and feeling, the very breath, of the sea are kept ever present. The
body of the music is made up of music growing out of the passage in
the sailor-song (_g_); this goes through a hundred transformations,
and is put to a hundred uses as the action progresses; and the swing
and lilt of it never fail to conjure up a vision of smooth rollers and
the sea-wind filling the sail and driving the ship fast towards
Cornwall. It takes one shape when Brangaena tells Isolda that they
will land before evening; and in nearly the same shape it returns when
Brangaena goes to bid Tristan enter her mistress's presence; in the
meantime lengthy passages have been woven from it during Isolda's
first angry outburst; in one form or another it is worked again and
again, always conveying just the feeling of the moment, yet never
losing its original colour. Wagner's mastery of the art of pictorial
suggestion, while faithfully and logically expressing, explaining and
enforcing the actors' emotion, is here at its supremest height. In the
_Ring_ he often wrote purely pictorial music for a few pages with
simple, almost speaking, parts for the singers, trusting, as he well
could, to the stage situation explaining itself and making its own
effect. But the burning passion with which _Tristan_ is filled
necessitated another mode of treatment, a mode which Wagner alone
amongst musicians had the art and strength to employ. Other
composers, notably Weber and Mendelssohn, had given the world grand
scenic music; but where they left off Wagner began. Their picture is
an end in itself: Wagner's are settings for the dramatic action.

There are not many leitmotivs in _Tristan_, and they are used for
ideas and passions--never for personages. Tristan, Isolda, Mark,
Brangaena and Kurvenal have none of them a representative theme. Each
act has its own themes--a multitude of them--each carried through the
act in which it appears, and nowhere else employed; only (_a_) and
(_h_) appear throughout the opera. Some small use is made of (_c_),
but once the poisoning episode is done with the subject ceases to have
any significance. That marked (_h_) is of great importance. Its effect
is terrible when Isolda is enticing, or compelling, Tristan to drink
the cup. The sailors break in with their "Yo, heave ho!" and Tristan,
bewildered, asks, "Where are we?" Isolda, with sinister purpose,
replies, "Near to the end!" The intense originality, due to their
being closely allied to the dramatic meaning, of all the themes should
be noted: only one, the second part of the love-theme (_a_), suggests
any other music. It is reminiscent of the introduction of Beethoven's
Sonata "Pathétique," and, after all, the phrase was not new when
Beethoven employed it.


We have seen in this first act, if not the birth of love, at any rate
the avowal. The scene is laid on the sea, fresh, breezy, salt,
bracing, suggestive of infinite energy and possibilities. We are now
to witness it in its ripeness: not by any means a healthy ripeness,
but ecstatic to the point of frenzy, burning to the point of madness,
tumultuous, unbridled passion and lust; and, as these violent delights
have violent ends, ending in tragedy. When the curtain rises the
picture is in exquisite contrast with that presented in the first act.
Well did Wagner know the value of the scenic environment; he always
got it just and true and, from the artistic point of view, in sympathy
with the prevailing emotion. The demands on the scene-painters and
stage-machinists are nothing in _Tristan_ compared with those made in
the _Ring_ and _Parsifal_; but when the directions are complied with,
as I understand they occasionally are (I have seen them carried out
once), nothing more gorgeously effective can be dreamed of. Instead of
the morning air of Act I we have a warm summer night in a luxuriant
garden; on the left is a castle with steps leading up to the door, and
a burning torch makes the dark night darker; trees at the back and on
the right are massed black against the dark sky; in the centre under a
tree there is a seat for the convenience of the lovers. At the very
first glance we are taken into the atmosphere for a great
love-scene--the most magnificent love-scene ever conceived; and also
we are carried ages back--back to a time that never existed. This
old, world-old feeling, this sense of the past, is present to some
degree in the first act; but here the music makes it of overwhelming
power, and just as in the first act the sea is always present, so here
the sense of a remote period is never allowed to leave us.

When the first chord of the brief, passionate introduction was first
heard in a theatre nearly half a century ago, it sent a shudder
through every professional class-room in every conservatoire in
Europe, and the theme is perhaps the most important in the act (_j_);
and the cutting, almost raucous chord lets us know at once that big
doings are at hand. Another theme follows--one of impatience and sick
anxiety: it is that which is played again when Isolda, hardly able to
contain herself while waiting for Tristan, wildly waves her
handkerchief, beckoning to him. Another and most lovely melody is
heard (_k_); and then some of the love-music which is played when he
does come and rushes to her arms. This leads straight to the rising of
the curtain, and Brangaena is seen on the steps by the torch, keeping
watch and listening to the horns of a hunting party; the sounds are
growing fainter in the distance.

Isolda enters, and Brangaena vainly tries to dissuade her from meeting
Tristan. This night hunt, she swears, is a scheme of Melot's for the
betrayal of Tristan, his foe. Isolda laughs. Melot is Tristan's
friend, and the night hunt was arranged that the lovers might meet.
They dispute to some of Wagner's loveliest melodies. The theme (_k_)
flows along as an accompaniment, and becomes more prominent when
Isolda says she can no longer hear the horns; she hears the gentle
plash of the brook running from the fountain--as "in still night alone
it laughs on my ear"--the party of hunters must be many miles off. The
signal for Tristan is the extinguishing of the torch, and the music
associated with this deed now is used again in the last act in another
form. Brangaena prays her mistress not to put it out: it means death,
she says, and as a sort of subsidiary death-theme this melody is
afterwards used. Isolda is too completely mastered by desire to
listen. When Brangaena curses herself for having changed the magic
drinks she is laughed at. To music filled with passion and of perfect
beauty she says the whole business was arranged by Venus, goddess of
love, and we hear yet another love-theme (_l_); then to the crash of
what we must call the torch-theme, blent with the death-theme from Act
I, she throws down the torch and frantic with impatience awaits her

He enters, and after some delirious pages not to be described in words
the pair fall to talk in Schopenhauerian terminology about the light
and the dark. But the passion never goes out of the music. On the
contrary, it grows in intensity, for the madness of the meeting is
nothing to the white-hot passion we get later; and in spite of the
terminology the meaning of both Tristan and Isolda is perfectly clear.
Light has been, and is, the enemy of their love; in the garish light
of day Tristan, filled with daylight dreams of ambition, first made
over to Mark, so to speak, his rights in Isolda; "is there a pain or a
woe that does not awaken with daylight?" he asks; and now, declared
lovers, they may only meet in the dark: during the day they must be
distant strangers. They know whither fate is driving them: Isolda has
said as much to Brangaena: "she may end it ... whatsoe'er she make me,
wheresoe'er take me, hers am I wholly, so let me obey her solely."
They are embodiments of sheer passion; love is the most selfish of
passions, and placed as they are, realising that they live only for
and in that passion, they have no thought for any one else, regarding
the outer world, the world of daylight, as their foe. Isolda does not
hesitate to remind Tristan of his perfidy in the days of light; and
he, far from defending himself, finds it quite sufficient to remark
that he had not then come under the sway of night: that is, they have
no ordinary human affection for each other. If they had, neither would
lead the other into such danger. Shakespeare did not, could not, make
his lovers live so entirely in their passion as this: he had no music
to express himself by, and had to speak through human beings. So when
Romeo says, "let me stay and die," Juliet instantly hurries him away.
Tristan and Isolda know they are wending to death, and are content.

Their feelings subside into soft languor, and then they sing the
sublime hymn to night. Brangaena's voice is heard from the
watch-tower, warning them of approaching danger; and they heed her
not. Again she sings to them that the danger is imminent--night is
departing; Tristan, resting his head on the bosom of his mistress,
simply says, "Let me die thus." The catastrophe is at hand. The duet
reaches its glorious climax; Brangaena gives a shriek from her tower;
Kurvenal rushes in yelling "Save yourselves," but it is too
late--Mark, Melot and the other huntsmen come in quickly, and--the
game is up. The red dawn slowly breaks; Tristan hides Isolda with his
cloak; Melot turns to Mark and says, "Did I not tell you so?"--his
ruse has succeeded quite well enough. And now follows a scene which
has proved a stumbling-stock to many.

The ordinary dramatist or play-monger would drop the curtain on this
dénouement; and undeniably it would be what is called an effective
"curtain." However, effective curtains were not Wagner's business in
planning _Tristan_; he had long since passed through that stage. He
could not after such a curtain--the sort of curtain that ends many an
opera--have carried out the plan of _Tristan_--to show us the lovers
realising their impossible situation in life and deliberately seeking
death as the refuge. Tristan and Isolda care nothing for shame and
disgrace: they care only for their love, and their love relentlessly
drives them into their grave. Mark has a great affection for them
both, and precisely on that account he is their enemy. He begins a
long expostulation: "How is it that the two people dearer to him than
all the world have so betrayed his trust?" It is lengthy, and must
needs be so; each proof he gives them of his love only more clearly
defines his real significance and relation to them. Tristan does not
fear Melot: he dreads Mark's affection. He (Tristan) calls out,
"Daylight phantoms! morning visions, empty and vain--away, begone!"
but Mark continues, putting in a dozen ways the same question, "Why,
why have they done this?" It is not the behaviour of a barbaric king;
but we must remember that Wagner's Mark is not, and is not intended to
be, the legendary Mark any more than Tristan and Isolda are the
legendary Tristan and Isolda: he is the personification of human
affection, a thing to which they, enthralled by elemental love, are
indifferent--detest, indeed, as interfering with their love. When he
ends Tristan knows he has no explanation to offer--none that Mark
could possibly understand: human affection and elemental human passion
are unintelligible to one another. He replies that he cannot answer
Mark's "Why?" and turning to Isolda asks whether she will follow him
whither he is now going--the land of eternal night. He, not Mark,
plans his death. Isolda answers straightway that she will follow.
Tristan and Melot fight, but Tristan allows his treacherous foe to run
the sword through him, and he falls. _Then_ we get the curtain;
Tristan has done with this world and has started out for another, and
the drama has taken a second step towards its goal.

This, held for long to be bad craftsmanship, is consummate, daring
craftmanship. _Tristan_ is a drama of spiritual conflicts; and those
who do not like that sort had better try something by the trade
playwrights of to-day.


The music of the first act is largely fierce, angry, turbulent, often
bitter music, blent and merging into music expressive of fierce
desire, the hunger of the man after the woman, of the woman after the
man. There is one moment of sweet longing--the moment after Isolda and
Tristan have drunk the fatal potion; but instantly the torrent breaks
forth, and though it is in a way sweet, the sweetness is mixed with
fire; the stream is as a stream of molten lava, scalding, consuming.
The note of the music to the second act is utterly different; there is
fire, indeed, a golden fire; there is greedy impatience and
restlessness; but the fire does not scorch nor scald, the impatience
is not despairing, the love is not--as it certainly is in the first
act--that passion which is but one remove from deadly hate. Almost at
the beginning of the first act Isolda, devoured by a longing for
revenge, schemed to murder Tristan, and she does not falter in her
purpose until he has taken the drink; the reaction has all the
violence of a cataclysm; all is delirium; there is not a moment of
happy lingering over the joy of a possible; new life; there is no time
for that, no thought of it. All is burning wrath and hate and equally
burning lust and greed for the possession of the beloved one's body.
In the second act the anger has died out, and in the whirl of the
music, though at its maddest, there is a fulness, an assured sense of
coming satisfaction; and the excitement settles down into long,
drawn-out, luscious, voluptuous strains as the lovers, held in each
other's arms, exchange the sweet confidences usual (I suppose) on such

Musically the act may be regarded--conveniently, though roughly and
crudely--as a kind of symphony, in four sections which to an extent
overlap. We have section one from the first bar of the prelude to
Tristan's entry; section two, the impassioned duet; three, from the
hymn to night until the lovers are discovered; and four, from that
point to the end. Many of the themes are worked right through, but the
sections vary vastly in colour, atmosphere and feeling. The variety
unified into a completely satisfying whole is astounding. Amongst the
really great musicians only four possessed the organising brain in
this degree--Wagner himself, Beethoven, Handel and Bach. This act is
even more completely an organic whole than the first; every part
performs its functions and retains its individuality, yet all the
parts are co-ordinated. I have seen miraculous pieces of machinery in
which each part seemed to be alive and doing its duty independent of
the others; yet all working together to achieve one purpose. The score
of _Tristan_ is as marvellous--indeed, more so, for the purpose is not
a mechanical one, but the expression, with rigid fidelity to truth, of
the most subtle and exquisite feelings.

I have said earlier that in evolving his purely musical structures
Wagner adopted one plan. He not only used the subjects of his operas
for the overtures, or (as in the present case) of the preludes to the
acts, but he makes them tell a story dramatically. Merely to use
themes for an opera as conventional subjects to be treated in symphony
form had been done; but Wagner never dreamed of adopting a form and
imposing it on his material from outside; with him the form is
determined by the material and the significance the material bore in
his mind. This is very different from deliberately writing a symphonic
poem--deliberately sitting down in cold blood and setting to work to
illustrate a story. _That_ method is antithetical to Wagner's; a
symphonic poem writer is simply a setter of opera texts, one who
follows with devout care the book of words put before him--with this
difference, that the opera-writer must, to some extent at least,
consider his words, his singers, his stage, while the composer of
symphonic poems can do just as he pleases and consider no one's
convenience, shortening this section or lengthening that as the
musical exigencies demand, while making use of some tale or a poem as
an excuse for writing in a form which in itself is unintelligible and
illogical. So far as Wagner could he let music and drama grow up
together; then to start with the right atmosphere he took certain
themes and spun a piece of music from them, letting the themes, as I
have said, unfold themselves logically and determine the form. The
result is always a fine piece of music; and thousands of listeners
have derived artistic enjoyment from the _Mastersingers_ overture,
the _Lohengrin_ prelude and _Tristan_ prelude without troubling to
trace the story as it is plainly told. In the prelude to Act II here,
for example, no one need seek a story, though it is obvious enough.
First we have the daylight theme, peremptorily, harshly announced;
then the impatience of Isolda, then her longing, then her thoughts of
love and her hopes of fulfilment, and just before the curtain rises
the crash which accompanies the extinction of the torch.

I have already alluded to the old-world atmosphere got at once by the
horn calls and the lovely passage in which Isolda sings of the brook
"laughing on" in the still night; but in this first scene, which is by
comparison a mere introduction to the duet, we find a thousand
beautiful things. At this period of his life Wagner was by no means so
economical as he afterwards became; he squandered his pearls with
prodigal hands. In a few pages are enough melodies and themes to set
up a Puccini--or for that matter a Strauss or an Elgar--for life. The
blending of the death-theme with one of the love-themes, when Isolda
speaks of love's goddess, "the queen who grants unquailing hearts ...
life and death she holds in her hands," is one of the miracles of
music--stern beauty made up of defiance of fate and careless
voluptuousness. In the very next melody to make its appearance, the
second bar after the change to the key of A, we may note what I think
is the first sign of one of the many mannerisms of Wagner's "third
period," as we call it--the period extending from _Tristan_ to the
finishing of the _Ring_ (_Parsifal_ being as the tail to the dog, or
perhaps the tin-kettle tied to the tail). It is the phrase quoted
(_l_). Those five notes of the second bar were to be made to serve
many purposes hereafter; and the Wagnerites will insist that this was
done for a high artistic reason. Perhaps it was; but to me it seems
that it is found so frequently sometimes because Wagner wanted to
utter precisely the same emotion as he had employed it for earlier,
and sometimes because, like all other composers, at times he found his
invention flagging. In the second scene of this act of _Tristan_ it
plays a conspicuous part, and is indeed one of the most pregnant love
motives of the drama--perhaps the most prolific of subsidiary themes
and passages.

The big duet beats description, and its structure must only be
discussed briefly. A figure which forms part of the music played while
Isolda impatiently awaits Tristan is turned into the whirling
accompaniment to impassioned and incoherent exclamations as they first
embrace; then to the seething mass of tone is added (_l_), and
gradually out of chaos and confusion emerges one clean-cut melody
after another. The daylight-theme which begins the introduction is
Protean in the shapes it assumes, and the emotions, now hot passion,
now the gentlest tenderness, it is made to express. The ferment
settles down, and we get the hymn to night and a series of melodies
which are love's own voice speaking. The dreamy voluptuousness that
pervades these duets comes from songs written by Wagner as studies.
They were not over highly esteemed by his friends, but he had his
revenge. This night in the garden--with the black night above and the
black trees around, the flowers, the musical brooklet, and the voice
of the caller heard at times from the roof--is the greatest thing of
the kind in all music: in all the arts, I know only the balcony scene
in _Romeo and Juliet_ which may be said to approach it. Melody upon
melody, delicate and sweet to the ear as the perfume of night flowers
and grasses to the nostrils, floats past; until at last the sheer
delight of the thing seems to work up the lovers to a state of
heavenly rapture, and in the final verse of the hymn to night they
pray only to be removed from the dangers of returning day; and here
the strains swell to an intensity of yearning for peace quite
unprecedented in music. And, as we know, their prayer is immediately
answered in a fashion they were hardly prepared for.

Mark's address is deeply touching; and it is odd that when attacked by
Melot Tristan's accents are almost his. The sublime is again touched
when Tristan asks Isolda to follow him and in her answer. Melot then
stabs him, and the curtain drops to one of Mark's reproachful phrases
thundering from the orchestra. This, then, is Tristan's answer to
Mark's questioning--told in the music, not in the words.


Who first uttered that immortal piece of nonsense, Love and death are
one, I cannot say. The Greek conception of Death as Eros with an
inverted torch is quite different: it is a kind of _Tod als Freund_
idea; we are called out of life by an irresistible force or god, which
god must be love, else he would not want us. The inverted torch is the
sign that shows whither he calls us. It had a mighty fascination for
many fine minds of the second-rate sort last century; and judging from
the phraseology of _Tristan_ it seems to have captured Wagner. He was
everlastingly bewildering himself with cheap catch-phrases which
happened, through suggestion or otherwise, to stir his emotions. He
took up one philosophical and political system after another, only to
abandon them in turn; but they left a kind of sediment in his mind,
and one never feels sure that the pellucid stream of his music-drama
will not the next moment be gritty to the palate with some of this
outworn stuff. The bits of Schopenhauer's broken brickbats embedded in
the libretto of _Tristan_ serve their turn, though a finer and more
poetical way of saying the same things might have been found. But
Wagner did not find that more poetical way, so let us rejoice that
through this uncouth lingo Wagner managed to get into a sort of verse
the idea that night was the friend of Tristan's love and day its
enemy, and that in the end everlasting night is best of all. In his
letters, however, we find him playing with the love and death notion,
though he must have known that love is not death, but life; that if
love and death are one, then death and love are also one, and to be in
love is to be in death, to be dead--which is preposterous: corpses
don't love. Presently we shall see that Isolda died in a state of
exaltation akin to the state of being in love; but that does not
establish the thesis. Blake, for hours before he died, shouted till
the ceiling rang for joy to think that he was soon to be with God:
does that prove that mysticism and death are one? Mr. Chamberlain, in
his exegesis of _Tristan_, will have it that Wagner composed the opera
to demonstrate the truth of a very trite and ridiculous lie. The fact
is, Wagner's was far more a feeling, emotional, imaginative brain than
a thinking one, and in the hazy, steamy, overheated thinking part he
often let idle phrases play about without himself firmly grasping
their meaning or want of it. Anyhow, if he had done what Mr.
Chamberlain and many others say he did, we should have found it in the
last act. Instead, there is not a word on the subject. Wagner's
thinking might be misty: his dramatic instinct was supremely right and

In the first act Isolda and Tristan enjoy their love only for a few
minutes; the world, daylight, breaks in and separates them. In the
second they revel in it for hours; the world, daylight, again
separates them. In the last the world again breaks in; but Tristan has
already found his refuge in death, and Isolda, obedient to her
promise, follows him, and they are joined, safe from the annoyances of
the "phantoms of the day," in "the impregnable fortress," the grave.
The action, as in the preceding portions of the drama, is of the
simplest. On his bed of pain and sorrow Tristan lies wounded and
unconscious. Kurvenal has got him away from Mark's court in Cornwall
to his own castle in Brittany; and now he has been brought out into
the castle yard for coolness and air. It is hot, sultry, close; the
sea in the distance seems to burn; the castle is dilapidated and
overgrown with weeds. Kurvenal watches by his master; from outside the
saddest melody ever conceived is heard on a shepherd's pipe. Presently
the shepherd looks over the wall and asks how the master fares, does
he still sleep? If he awakes it will only be to die, replies Kurvenal;
unless the lady leech (Isolda) comes there is no hope. A moment after
Tristan comes out of his coma, wanders in his mind a little, but at
last understands where he is and that Isolda will come. At that news
he works himself into a condition of unbounded excitement, fancies he
sees the ship bringing Isolda, but at the sound of that sad, droning
pipe melody, and when Kurvenal tells him it is a signal that no ship
is yet in sight, he lapses into unconsciousness again. Then he wakes
up, goes over the whole history of his love for Isolda, and faints
once more; once more he half awakes and as in a dream sees the ship
decked with flowers speeding over the summer sea. Suddenly the
shepherd strikes in with a lively tune: "Isolda is at hand," cries
Kurvenal. "Hasten to bring her," shouts Tristan, and Kurvenal does so.
Tristan, left to himself, goes mad for sheer joy, staggers off his
couch, tears his bandages off so that his wound bleeds afresh, and
Isolda rushes in just in time to catch him in her arms, where he dies
murmuring "Isolda." She laments over his body and sinks down beside
it. Another alarm is given; Kurvenal barricades the gate; Mark, Melot
and the rest break it down, and there is a terrible hand-to-hand
fight; Kurvenal is run through with a spear, and creeps to his
master's side, to die, groping for his hand. Brangaena enters, and she
and Mark try to explain how she has told the whole story of the potion
to Mark; how Mark has come, too late, to unite the lovers. Isolda does
not listen; presently she rises to sing the matchless death-song; she
sees Tristan before her, smiling, transfigured, his love envelopes her
as in billows; she is his now, at last, for aye; and, exhausted, she
again sinks down beside Tristan, and dies.

There is thus in _Tristan_ next to no action--no more than serves to
turn spiritual forces loose and helps to interpret various spiritual
states. The spectator is interested, indeed, in the _doings_ of the
people on the stage only in the first act. Isolda's command to Tristan
to come before her, Tristan's evasions, Kurvenal's rude answer, the
rough gibing bit of sailor chorus, the episode of the two chalices
--the love potion and the poison--the scene between Isolda and Tristan
in which he offers her his sword and tells her to take her revenge by
killing him forthwith, the drinking, the wild embraces and the arrival
of the ship in port amidst the clatter of triumphant trumpets--such
things might have been, and were, done by Wagner in his _Tannhäuser_
days. But consider how little is done in the second act and in the
third. These two portions of the music-drama are more symphonic than
operatic, and it is small wonder that in the days when good folk
expected to see opera when they went into an opera-house, they thought
they had been diddled when they were given _Tristan_ for their money.
If anything so new and unexpected were sprung upon us to-day we should
raise the same cry as was raised when _Tristan_ was given nearly half
a century ago. The introduction opens with a phrase (_m_) of threefold
meaning. It is clearly derived from the second phrase of the first
love-theme (_a_, page 274); it is a realistic representation in music
of Tristan's stertorous breathing; it expresses his delirious state of
mind--chiefly, however, in the upward-drifting thirds and fourths with
which it ends at each occurrence. Then comes the music associated with
his suffering and the "lady leech." The whole passage is then
repeated, and afterwards we get the shepherd's pipe (_n_). This forms
the prelude, and the music of the short scene with the shepherd is
practically the same. Some new matter is brought in, for dramatic
rather than sheer musical purposes, as Tristan awakens; but the next
subject that I need call attention to is the noble one which comes in
when Kurvenal assures him he is safe in his own castle (_o_). The
whole of Tristan's subsequent ravings are made up of reminiscences,
more or less distorted, of various passages out of the first and
second acts, as he goes over, as in a dream, his recent life--the
sight of Isolda, the scene on the ship and that in the garden. Another
new theme to be noted is blazed out by the orchestra when Kurvenal
tells him Isolda has been sent for. When he sinks back exhausted and
no ship is in sight the shepherd's pipe keeps wandering through his
brain with strange, weird, terrible effect, mixing with fragments of
other themes; he gathers strength, and his despair rises to frenzy as
he curses himself--"'Twas I by whom [the draught] was brewed"--to a
phrase overwhelming in its intensity of expression (_p_), and again

Presently follow a few pages of perhaps the divinest music to be found
in Wagner's scores, Tristan's dream of Isolda crossing the summer sea.
To an evenly pulsing gentle accompaniment we hear first the second
part of a love-theme (_q_), then fragments of others, till the point
of supernal, Mozartean beauty is touched at "full of grace and loving
mildness." The pathos of it is almost intolerable: no one could stand
the strain another second, when after the cry, "Ah, Isolda, how fair
art thou," he rouses himself to anger because Kurvenal cannot see on
the rolling waters what he with his inner vision sees so bright and
clear. How any one could, even at a first hearing, fail to realize
that the composer of this sublime passage was by far, infinitely far,
the mightiest and tenderest composer of opera music who has
lived--this is a phenomenon that passes our comprehension nowadays.
The scene where the shepherd sounds his pipe to signal the coming of
the boat, and Tristan, his delight wrought up until it grows into
anguish, goes mad and tears off his bandages, baffles description. It
is made up of the love music of the first and second acts, the
melodies being metamorphosed in marvellous fashion. At the last he
sees Isolda throwing down the torch as she did in Act II, and as
darkness comes over his eyes we hear the same music combined with the
love-themes. There is only one thing of the kind to match Isolda's
lament--Donna Anna's grief over her father's body in _Don Giovanni_.
The rest of the act is largely made up of music which has been heard
before. The death-song is an extended and glorified version of the
hymn to night; and the close is of sad, tragic sweetness. The lovers
are joined together and at peace--but in the everlasting darkness of
the grave.

Any one who has heard _Tristan_ a few times will begin to notice that,
despite the endless variety of the music, it possesses an odd
homogeneity. After hearing it fifty or a hundred times one begins to
feel it to be comparable--if such a comparison could be made--to an
elaborate oration delivered in one breath. The whole thing, complete
in every detail, must (one thinks) have come bodily into the
composer's mind in one inconceivable moment of inspiration and
insight. Of course we know it was not so. A god may think a world into
being in that way: a mortal requires time and unflagging energy to
produce a masterpiece. We know that Wagner incorporated his own
studies in his masterpiece; we can see how theme is evolved from
theme. But the unity is so complete that if some sketches were to come
to light showing that the last form of some of the music was in
existence before the portions from which it seems to be evolved, I
should not be in the least surprised, so perfect is the unity, so
inevitably does every note fall into its proper place to express the
feeling of the occasion. I take it that when he drafted the words he
had before him a prophetic shadow of what the music was to be; and
when he came to compose, the uninterrupted white heat of inspiration
and enormous cerebral energy and intellectual grip of his matter, and
the boundless invention which provided that matter for him, so to
speak, so that he had only to pick it up ready made, enabled him to
make that more or less dim, prophetic shadow a living, concrete
reality. Never, from the first bar to the last, does the inspiration
fail him; there is not a phrase that says less, or says it less
adequately than the situation demands, than he has led us to expect.
Old Spohr, when he heard _Tannhäuser_, though his ears rebelled
against the unaccustomed discords, spoke about the Olympian
inspiration and energy he felt in the work; and this criticism--and
very just and fine criticism it was: as just and fine as it was
unexpected from an old-world musician such as Spohr--is equally
applicable to _Tristan_. In its power and perfection it seems the
handiwork of one of the gods. The very truth of every phrase, and the
fulness of utterance with which every phrase expresses the emotion of
the moment, has given rise to a common delusion or absurdity: that in
the Wagnerian opera every phrase is evolved or developed out of the
previous one. If Wagner ever thought of adopting such an insane
procedure he would have been puzzled to know how and where to start.
He might, perhaps, have evolved the first from the last, and thus got
a perfect rounded whole--a serpent with its tail in its mouth. As a
matter of prosaic, or poetical, fact, Wagner, in all his work,
incessantly introduces fresh matter, and dozens of themes appear, are
worked out, and disappear entirely.

Now, when all this overgrowth of rubbishy comment is being swept away,
and those who contemned Wagner are disappearing with those who
battened on him and his memory, _Tristan and Isolda_ remains, a
world-masterpiece, the most powerful, beautiful, sweet and tender
embodiment to be found in any art of elemental human love in all its
splendour, loveliness, fearfulness, terror and utter selfishness.
Thousands of years hence, when Europe has sunk under the waves and
fresh continents have arisen, perhaps a stray copy by hazard preserved
in the Fiji Islands will come to light, will be deciphered by pundits,
and a new race will see in it a primitive but consummate work of art,
and the pundits will argue themselves black in the face about the name
of the composer, whether he was Wagner or another man of the same
name. In the meantime millions of our epoch will have understood it,
loved it, and seen in it a thousand times more than we see in it
to-day, and many thousand times more than I could say in the preceding





By way of a footnote to this chapter I may be allowed to add a few
words about the smaller characters. All that Wagner took from the old
legends was the suggestion for the two lovers who sinned and perished
for their sin. Crudely or coarsely, gentlemanly (as in Tennyson),
refined and spiritualized, that idea is the central idea of every form
of the tale. To these two people Wagner added Brangaena and Kurvenal,
and, taking only the name of King Mark, he created a new personage,
unlike any of the older versions of the man, necessary for the
exposition of his idea. Brangaena is the most difficult part to sing
and act, and it is also the most grateful to the actress. She has not
a phrase that is not beautiful, from her first dozen bars to her last
recitative. Kurvenal has his song in the first act and scarcely
appears again until the last, when all his music is of an unspeakable
pathos. His phrase to Tristan, "The wounds from which you languish
here all shall end their anguish," is as touching in its rough,
uncouth way as a hound licking the hand of its dead master. That is
all Kurvenal is--a faithful human dog done in artistic form; and it
requires a very great artist to interpret it. David Bispham's
impersonation remains in my memory as the greatest I have seen. Mark's
reproaches in the second act, and his utter grief in the third, are
also very hard to render. In fact, only fine opera singers can take
any of these parts without coming to grief. The invisible sailor must
be able to sing beautifully; the shepherd must both act and sing with
no little skill.




The next period of Wagner's life, from the date of finishing
_Tristan_, 1859, till King Ludwig sent for him, 1864, was stormy. The
struggles and endless disappointments made of him the somewhat hard
and embittered Wagner of later years. The constant battles, the few
victories and the many disappointments must be related in my next
chapter, as it is simpler and easier for the author, if not the
reader, to consider the _Mastersingers of Nuremberg_ immediately after
_Tristan_. A few facts may be mentioned now to enable us to place the
second opera in its true chronological order. The _Nibelung's Ring_
was still in abeyance; _Tristan_ finished, Wagner, in search of means
of subsistence--the patience and indeed the means of his friends fast
giving out--undertook a series of concert trips, going to Brussels,
Paris, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Marienfeld, Leipzig and Vienna. In 1861
his last hopes of a Paris success with _Tannhäuser_ were extinguished;
his concerts up till then had resulted only in an increasing burden of
debt; his domestic existence was unendurable; things were as bad as
bad could be. So he sat down and wrote his only comedy. It was not a
simple case of "tasks in hours of insight willed can be through hours
of gloom fulfilled." The _Mastersingers_ had been sketched, as we
know, in 1845; but the new work was a change, in that he created the
character of Hans Sachs afresh, and the opera became an entirely
different thing. He himself gave an account of the joy with which he
worked at it, incidentally proving the truth of his assertion that he
was a "wholly [creative] artist." He was not built to be happy in the
outer world, but in his world of art he was content; in the outer
world he might have an hour of felicity and months of misery, but
given a chance of settling down for a while to his operas he at once
became and remained cheerful. Fate did not will that in the case of
the _Mastersingers_ his contentment should endure any length of time.
No sooner was his text written than he had to set out on his travels
again, hunting his daily food from land to land. It was not until 1862
that he began the music; not until 1867 did he get it finished, and in
the interval many things tragic and other, had occurred. These, I say,
will occupy us presently.

In the sixteenth century there flourished in Nuremberg, as in many
another city, a guild of minstrels--at once poets and musicians. The
name of Hans Sachs is familiar to us all, but not his verse; and as
for his music, it has gone down the winds. After composing
_Tannhäuser_, Wagner thought of doing what Germans call a comic
pendant to that tragedy; though what there is in the _Mastersingers_
that hangs from _Tannhäuser_ I beg the reader not to ask me. There is
this similarity: the central scene of each is a minstrel-contest;
there is this dissimilarity: one opera is tragic in spirit and the
other comic in spirit. Beyond this there is no connection, whether of
resemblance or of contrast, between the two. The plan was not
developed in 1845, the obvious real reason being that Wagner felt the
want of a great central figure, Sachs being originally not more than a
benevolent heavy father. When he had created a soul for this Sachs he
went ahead and wrote the poem.

All that it is necessary to know of the plot may be briefly told in a
skeleton form. One of the mastersingers, Pogner, dissatisfied with the
prizes usually given at the competitions, has decided to grant his
daughter Eva in marriage to the winner of the next. There are cases on
record where such an offer has had the effect of reducing the number
of entries--as when in a later age Matheson and Handel would not
compete for the position of organist because one of the conditions was
that the successful man must marry the retiring organist's daughter.
There is no cup of joy without its drop of bitterness, but Handel and
Matheson evidently thought the bitter outdid the sweet. In the
_Mastersingers_, however, the lady is all that is attractive, and
goodly sport is expected. Hans Sachs himself, though past middle-age,
loves her, and might well hope to win; Beckmesser, another master of
the guild, means to do his best; and a young knight, Walther von
Stolzing, has just become infatuated with her and she with him. He
cannot strive in the contest, however, not being a master; and when he
submits to a trial the guild rejects him with scorn. Things have
arrived at this point at the end of the first Act. In the next,
Walther and Eva, desperate, resolve to fly under cover of darkness;
Sachs overhears them planning and sings a curious sort of
warning-song, letting them know that he is on the look-out and will
prevent the elopement; Beckmesser comes to serenade Eva, and David, an
apprentice, thinks he has come after _his_ (David's) sweetheart and
falls to fisticuffs with him; there is a street row, amidst which Eva
escapes into her father's house, while Sachs pulls Walther into his.
In the third Act Eva, who has already told Sachs quite plainly enough
that if only a master may win her, and Walther cannot become a master,
she prefers him to any other, practically repeats her hint. But
Walther has composed another song and Sachs has devised a scheme: if
Walther sings his song he is certain to be the victor, and Sachs has
determined that by hook or by crook he must sing it. Beckmesser grabs
the song, under the impression it is by Sachs; Sachs, without
committing himself, tells him to make use of it at the contest if he
can. The people gather to watch and hear and judge; Beckmesser makes a
muddle of the song and is laughed off the scene; then Sachs pleads
Walther's case, and he is allowed, though not a master, to sing. He
triumphs, and by one stroke is admitted to the guild and wins the
prize. Virtually the play ends here. Sachs' winding-up address can
only be dealt with in connection with the music.


The personality, the soul, of Sachs, its conflict with itself, its
victory over itself and renunciation--undoubtedly Wagner felt this to
be the centre of the action of the play, and undoubtedly without it he
could never have gained the impulse to write the drama at all. It
gives the note of seriousness, even sadness, without which all humour
is the crackling of thorns under the pot, without which the play would
be farce with a trite love adventure thrown in. We may grant that, and
then ask ourselves whence came the impulse to work the thing up into
one of the longest of Wagner's operas. The impulse was the vision of
old Nuremberg--a vision as indissolubly blent with music as was the
vision of the river and the swan with the music of _Lohengrin_. One
may say truly that once the germ of the dramatic action was in
Wagner's brain he needed the musico-pictorial inspiration of the
scenic environment and atmosphere before the thing took final shape
and he could compose the music. He says explicitly this was so in the
case of the _Dutchman_; in _Tannhäuser_ it is perhaps a little less
obviously the case. But even in that second of the great operas we
need only read his directions for the right performing of it to see of
what importance to him were the different scenes--the hot, steaming
cave of Venus, the fresh spring morning by the roadside, the great
hall of song--about which he was very particular--the autumn woods in
the last act. In his letters to Uhlig this comes out very plainly: for
instance, he gives as his reason for cutting down the finale of the
last act that it was impossible at Dresden to get a glorious sunrise,
with which the work should end. I have already laid sufficient stress
on the true source of _Lohengrin_; in _Tristan_ adequate and
appropriate scenery is absolutely demanded to sustain the atmosphere;
and here, in the _Mastersingers_, music and a series of pictures go
together, and the pictures seem to inspire the music--or rather, music
and pictures are parts of the first inner vision.

Mediæval Nuremberg, with its thousand gable-ends, its fragrant
lime-trees and gardens, its ancient customs, its processions of the
guilds and crafts, its watchman with his horn and lantern, calling the
hour, its freshness and quaint loveliness by day and its sweetness on
soft summer nights--it is these Wagner employed all his superb
musico-pictorial art to depict; they are the background to the purely
human element of the play, and at the same time they help to express
that element. If the _Mastersingers_ was a little less successful as a
work of art we should still have to regard it as an amazing _tour de
force_. The opera is far too great for that term--one at once of
praise and of reproach. The music is full of the spirit of a past
world; but the feeling of that world is not got by the use of
artificially archaic phrases or harmonies. Kothner's reading of the
rules of correct minstrelsy is one of the exceptions, and the
night-watchman's crying of the hour is another; but these, as Lamb
said of Coleridge's philosophic preaching, are "only his fun." The
melodies are often quite Weberesque in contour; the harmonies are
either plain work-a-day ones or modern--so modern that no one had used
them before. Nor it is by the sadness of the music alone that he gains
his end: some of the merriest scenes belong, by reason of the music,
to mediæval times. By his art, the intensity of his feeling for those
times, and the fidelity with which he could express every shade of
feeling, he conjures up this vision out of the dead and dusty past,
makes the dead and dusty past live again, takes us clean into it and
keeps us there a whole evening without for a moment letting the spell
be broken. It is significant that the very title he gave his work is a
peremptory warning to us of what to expect: it is not _Hans Sachs_,
nor _Walther von Stolzing_, nor even the _Mastersinger_, etc., but in
the plural form, the _Mastersingers of Nuremberg_. This is not to cast
doubt on Wagner's sincerity when he declared that he only got the
creative impulse to go on with his work when he had conceived Sachs as
Sachs now stands: it is only to say that his extraordinary sense of
colour, atmosphere, and his historical sense, led him to do much more
than he thought he was doing and perhaps realized he had done.

The overture as plainly as the title of the opera proclaims the
composer's purpose: it sums up the solid and pompous old burghers, the
impudent apprentices, the love of Walther and Eva, and says nothing
about Sachs. As an afterthought, in fact, Sachs is left for the
prelude to the third act. As a piece of music, detachable from the
opera, and by no means an integral part of it as is the case with the
_Tristan_ prelude, the overture transcends every other work of
Wagner's. As a contrapuntal feat it remains, with some of Bach's organ
fugues and Bach's and Handel's choruses, a veritable miracle of
musical art--not of ingenuity alone, for each separate fibre in the
musical web has character and combines with the other fibres to
produce an ensemble of overwhelming strength and beauty. The energy of
the thing is almost superabundant; the gorgeous colouring is dazzling;
and every minutest fibre of it lives. The first theme is another
landmark in musical history. The harmonisation is extraordinary, not
only for its gigantic strength, but for the free employment of
chromatics that do not weaken it: in fact, chromatic harmony is so
employed throughout the _Mastersingers_ that it sounds diatonic.
Throughout _Tristan_ and in the Venusberg music of _Tannhäuser_
chromatic harmony is put into the service of passion; but here we have
music that is as solid, equable, serene as a Handel eight-part chorus.
With consummate skill the stream of music is, so to say, led on to the
theme that always accompanies the mastersingers, as distinguished from
the citizens, of Nuremberg; next Walther's song is extemporised upon
(no other phrase serves) for a couple of minutes--the most passionate
page in the opera--and after that come the apprentices. We shall
presently observe that Wagner in this opera made light-hearted fun of
the pundits, and as if to show them that he had a right to do so he
played with the devices that to them were a very serious business
indeed. What to them was an end--I mean all the tricks of
counterpoint--was to him a means to expression: more expressive music
was never dreamed of in a musician's imagination, and at the same time
he accomplished with ease part-writing that the most skilful
contrapuntists could only perform by labouring long at expressionless,
stale old themes first contrived before the Flood to "work well," as
the phrase goes. The apprentices' music, then, is an instance: Wagner
takes the solid burghers' theme and writes it in notes one-quarter the
length, so that it sounds four times as fast. The effect is
unexpectedly droll, the music skips about in the most irresponsible
way, and (when one knows what it is meant for) depicts the gambols of
the herd of young rascals who come on the scene in the first act. This
contrivance, called "diminution," is resorted to again presently when
the mastersingers' theme, in notes of half the length, is used as an
accompaniment to a combination of Walther's song and the burghers'
music. There is a good deal of _tour de force_ about this, but the
result justifies the means: the superb melody swings over the
ponderous bass, both melody and bass singing out clear and strong
amidst an animated, bustling and whirling sea of merry tunes.

Composers generally left the composition of the overture till last--as
it were doing the thing only because an overture had to be
written--but Wagner knew the importance of his work and must have
composed this one very early; for in 1862, five years earlier than
the completion of the opera and six before the first representation,
he directed a performance of it in the Gewandhaus at Leipzig. He never
was a favourite in that stodgy city, the headquarters of musical
Judea, and the audience is said to have been scanty. In fact, he
himself said that, although he gave concerts only to gain money, he
never made any profits until he went to Russia. The audience, if
small, was enthusiastic. But, without entertaining any delusions about
persecution and the deliberate ignoring of his work, it is easy to see
that such music as this could not possibly be understood at once.
Though this overture is clarity itself to our ears, it is terribly
complicated, and the style was absolutely new. I doubt whether the
players quite knew, as our players know now, what they were doing; for
here was something quite alien from the patchwork of four-bar measures
which constituted the ordinary symphonic novelty at that time. There
was no "form"--no statement of first and second subject, no
working-out section measured off with compass and ruler, no
recapitulation and coda; and mid-nineteenth century ears and brains
were utterly baffled. The thematic luxuriance, the richness of the
part-weaving, the blazing brilliance of the colouring--these were a
mere vexation; and the volcanic energy was quickly found exhausting.
Worst of all, even in those days there were Wagnerites. Chief amongst
them was Wagner. A Wagnerite is a person who devotes his days and his
nights to raising a stone wall of misunderstanding between the
composer's music and the ears of the audience; and at this game Wagner
was an adept. The generation rising up to-day finds it hard to see
what an earlier generation found to carp at in Wagner's music; in
fifty years' time the war between Wagnerites and anti-Wagnerites will
be inexplicable, and the story of it may not improbably be regarded as
grossly exaggerated, if not a pure myth. Men of my generation know
very well it was an ugly and stupid reality; we know also it was
brought about by the Wagnerites. Not Wagner's "discords," his "lack of
melody," his "formlessness" and so on hindered an almost instantaneous
appreciation of his music, but the "explanations" of the music. Things
easy to grasp, many things as old as the eternal hills, were
"explained" as being terribly difficult, and the world was told of the
"revolution" Wagner had brought about in music. No wonder many good
folks were distrustful; no wonder many would not listen to it,
believing the Wagnerites' claim that their master had rejected all the
rules observed by previous composers. Wagner's own account of this
overture is enough to turn a man's hair grey and to break a woman's
heart. Had he only written a good deal less prose--or none at all!

The opera is entirely a praise of pure, true song, and is the longest
song in existence. Nearly all the characters are supposed to be
singers; in the first act are two beautiful pieces of song; in the
second a fine song saves the young lovers from making fools of
themselves and a bad song provokes a street riot; the opera winds up
with the presentation of the prize to the composer of a song. If there
must be a hero in the opera that song is the hero. We hear snatches of
it from time to time, and at the last it comes out in all its glory
with a choral accompaniment. There are interludes, of course--Wagner
knew better than to cloy our ears with sweetness too long sustained;
but the whole work must be regarded as one great song, of which the
clear-cut songs interspersed are parts. Even in the 'sixties, when
nothing later than _Lohengrin_ was known, the charge was brought
against the composer that his music was unvocal and could not be sung
--the _Mastersingers_ was his answer. The overture leads into the
first piece of song, the chorale that forms a vital part of the
musical texture as the opera proceeds. We see part of the inside of a
church and Walther making signs to Eva, who is clearly not attending
to her devotions. Most readers are aware that in Germany it was the
custom for the organist to play short interludes between the lines of
hymn-tunes--a preposterous trick, but one which Bach put to a splendid
use; and here Wagner transfers these interludes to the orchestra and
makes them serve as a voice for Walther's feelings on seeing Eva for a
second time: on the first occasion, the day before, they had fallen in
love with each other. The next real song-music begins to flow with the
entry of the singers' guild; but meantime there has been some music of
the sort we have noticed as forming a large part of _Tristan_.
Recitative--often broken sentences and mere ejaculations--merges
imperceptibly into passionate melody, and this in its turn gives way
to recitative, the whole thing being held together by the fairly
continuous flow of the orchestral accompaniment. The apparatus, in a
word, is precisely the same as in _Tristan_. In this first scene
Walther pleads his suit with Eva and her maidservant Magdalena; then
we have the apprentices, amongst them Magdalena's sweetheart David, to
some rollicking choruses and to their own music--the burghers' music
played four times as fast; and next David instructs Walther in the
rules to be observed if he wishes to compose a master-song and to be
admitted to the guild. Here Wagner indulges in positively uproarious
satire of the pseudo-classicism and the school harmony, counterpoint
and "composition" of the nineteenth century; and the music is not less
ludicrous than the words. It is a parody of the very kind of music
Wagner wrote in his _Rienzi_ days, with sneers at the Jewish composers
of psalms. Walther, in wrath, disgust and despair, cries out that he
wants to learn how to sing, not to cobble boots.

The entry of the masters is a scene that only Wagner could have
executed. A stream of Mozartian melody ripples on as the men shake
hands and go through the conventional business of the gathering of
people on the stage: what in the operas of the day--a dozen instances
might be mentioned--is wearisome stodge is here turned into a thing of
surpassing beauty. These shifting shadows of the old world become for
the moment alive; yet we see them as though across the centuries
through the magical web of music. The steady swaying motion of the
accompaniment--and, of course, the whole charm lies in the
accompaniment--has a curious resemblance to the duet of the Don and
Zerlina in the first act of _Don Giovanni_, though Mozart's score is
simplicity itself compared with this. This use of a kind of rocking
figure led many younger musicians astray; and I make a comparison
between their use of it and Wagner's with no intention of being odious
to any one, but to show exactly where Wagner's superiority lay. Take a
composer of very fine genius, Anton Dvoràk, and look at a beautiful
number (beautiful in a primitive, almost savage way) in his _Stabat
Mater_, the _Eia, mater_. The theme of this (_a_, page 318) is a
descendant, with several of Wagner's subjects, and three or four at
least of Sir Edward Elgar's, of the opening of Handel's "Ev'ry
valley." Dvoràk's form of it is quite original, but he never gets any
further: he cannot develop his subject. He adds an echoing, antiphonal
phrase; but even with this help he gets no further. At a first hearing
of this really very sincere and for moments entrancing work one hopes
for the best at the end of the first dozen bars; but better is not to
be. The theme becomes an accompanying figure to some not very engaging
choral passages: in the invention of the theme the whole force seems
to have gone out of the man: he has no power of achieving a climax
save by the addition of instruments: a growing climax to him means
nothing more than growing noise, and the grand climax is only the
noisiest passage of all. The one figure is repeated over and over
again, always with more instruments, until at last the complete
battery of the modern orchestra is hard at it, and Dvoràk's resources
are at an end. Now look at our mighty Wagner. He takes the simplest of
figures (_b_), plays with it, with seeming carelessness, for a while,
then adds what is, technically, a counterpoint to it; he develops that
counterpoint, adds melody on melody--always keeping his figure going,
that the thing may be held together--until, after a rich and ever
broadening and deepening tide of music, he gets his climax at the
predetermined dramatic moment; and the climax does not consist of
noise, but is in the stuff of the music. Development, real
development, is not mere juggling with musical subjects, but
continuous invention of melodies, and the driving-force behind it is
the ceaseless craving of the spirit to express itself fully.

Even more striking than this instance is the treatment of a figure
heard first when Pogner announces to the assembled mastersingers his
intention of giving his daughter Eva as the prize in next day's
contest. "To-morrow is Midsummer Day," he sings, and this figure (_c_)
sounds from the orchestra. It is made up of two distinct sections.
That formed by the first two bars is used largely as an accompaniment,
but it continually comes round to the third and fourth bars, and
counterpoints are added until at last we are far away from the
beginning, though, as in the example discussed above, the figure welds
all together into a coherent whole for the intellect to grasp apart
from the appeal the music makes to "the feeling." This "feeling" of
Wagner's was absolutely right, it was infallible; and in consequence
we find a curious state of affairs is promptly established. The rich,
joyous strain of music, lull of the feeling of summer, immediately
becomes what was, so to say, at the back of Wagner's mind--the sense
of a spring not known to ordinary mortals, the everlasting spring of
Montsalvat, a spring full of promise and just as full of regrets, the
spring Tennyson sings of--

    Is it regret for buried time
    That keenlier in sweet April wakes?

The enchanting flood of music wells up from the orchestra, and the
vocal writing for Pogner is in Wagner's most lordly manner: there is
not a hint of the mechanical "faking" which characterises similar
passages in the _Ring_. If it was necessary to think that one part was
written before another one would be apt to say the voice part was done
first; yet when one pays attention to the orchestral part, with its
intricate contrapuntal weaving and interweaving of themes, that seems
impossible, and one realizes that the two must have been conceived
simultaneously. The interweaving becomes ever more marvellous as the
speech proceeds, the burgher theme in a varied form being added, until
at last, with the acclamations of the masters, it culminates in a
passage at once dramatically true, supremely beautiful and as
elaborate in its texture as any Bach fugue. We used to hear much of
the necessity for ambitious young composers to devote years to the
study of text-book counterpoint--indeed, the failure of many youthful
gentlemen to achieve anything on the grand scale has often been
attributed to their lack of diligence, their want of patience with
professorial instruction: yet here we have music which, from the
scientific point of view, is as perfect as any in the world, composed
by a daring soul who had no more than six months' teaching. It may be
remarked in passing that Spohr, in his naïve way a good enough
fugue-writer, never received any instruction at all: in point of
effectiveness his fugues beat anything coming from the Jadassohn and
Hauptmann pupils.

With the re-entry of Walther and his proposal as a member of the guild
by Pogner, we get another of these great phrases, half-theme,
half-accompanying figure, and then Walther's spring song. He describes
how, sitting by the hearth in winter, he first learnt the art of
minstrelsy from reading "das alte Buch" of the greatest of minstrels,
Walther von der Vogelweide; then when the winter had passed he heard
the birds in the green trees singing the selfsame song. Thematically
this is much richer than the spring-song in, for instance, the
_Valkyrie_, and for the best of reasons--that in the _Valkyrie_ is
incidental, part of a long duet woven from quite other material, while
that in the _Mastersingers_ is itself the material of a large portion
of the opera. The tune of the first stanza in the _Valkyrie_ is only
referred to once again throughout the work; and by far the most
expressive part is made out of a love-theme previously heard. In the
_Mastersingers_ song there is subject-matter enough to make a whole
opera. From this point it is impossible to quote themes--they are far
too long. In this respect a writer on music is at a disadvantage with
a writer on literature; the latter can cite long passages to establish
a case or illustrate his meaning; the unfortunate musical writer must
refer his readers to scores, and it is inconvenient to sit amidst a
pile of these--and Wagner's are the longest and weightiest in
existence--and dive now here, now there, to follow the author without
danger of mistaking him. The most important passage in Walther's song
begins at bar 13 (counting from the beginning of the nine-eight
measure); and it is developed in as masterly a fashion as any of the
earlier subjects, only now the style is symphonic, in the Viennese
way, as the others were contrapuntal. The whole thing is full of the
yearning spirit of spring; and, not at all strangely, bears a marked
family likeness to Siegfried's song about his mother in the _Ring_.
Throughout the deliberations of the masters the music remains at a
high level: there are no _longueurs_; dry recitative and barren
attempts to treat prose poetically alike are absent. Kothner's
delivery of the rules of the art are good-natured fun; Wagner, with
his parody of eighteenth-century mannerisms, laughing at the wiseacres
who wished to tie down modern musicians to the procedure of their
forbears. Walther's trial song, with its gorgeous instrumentation, and
the rush of the winds of March through budding woods, is even finer
than the first; and it contains passages which are employed with
exquisite effect in the next Act. There occurs a deal of what can only
be called musical horseplay as Beckmesser, the pedant type, hidden
behind a curtain, marks Walther's "mistakes"; then comes the only
phrase (_d_) in the opera which can be said to be definitely associated
with Hans Sachs. It stands first for Sachs' honest longing for the
_new_; and afterwards it is made to express the longing in his soul
for other things. With the consummate craftsmanship Wagner possessed
at this period he adds to the score the utterance of the masters'
disapproval, of Sachs' approval, of Beckmesser's pedantic
maliciousness, of the riotous fooling of the apprentices, until we
have them all hard at work united in accompanying Walther's song in
what is nothing more nor less than a grand operatic finale. The thing
is justified theatrically, so to speak, rather than truly
dramatically; for though the masters manifest dissatisfaction by their
ejaculations, and the 'prentices, seeing the way the wind blows, get
out of hand, and chant their scoffing song in the most uproarious
fashion, Walther, inspired by a sense that he is right and a
determination not to be put down, continues his song to the end. Then
he proudly quits the room and the rest follow in confusion, leaving
Sachs for a moment to show his vexation; then the curtain drops.


The music of this Act is of the highest order of beauty and never
falls to the level of mere prettiness; from the first note to the
last it is vigorous, sturdy. The combination of strength with delicacy
and gentleness is extraordinary: one feels that the reserve of this
strength behind it all must be unlimited. The orchestration is like
the music: it is always exactly appropriate to the music. One
characteristic of the themes should be noted: with the solitary
exception of that expressive of the deep longing in the heart of Sachs
(_d_) all are singable. Even the burgher motive can be sung and is
sung. When we consider the other operas we perceive that this is by no
means always the case. The _Dutchman's_ motive is not so much sung as
jodelled by Senta; the Montsalvat music is rather orchestral than
vocal; all the motives in _Tristan_ are either orchestral or
declamatory. In saying this I do not at all underrate the other
operas: simply I wish to point out the very marked difference in the
quality of the music. The _Mastersingers_ is a long song, and the
first act the first verse of it. Such a profusion of melodies has
never been scattered over one act of an opera--not songs simply
pleasing to the ear, but constituting subjects surcharged with feeling
and capable of unfolding, as the opera goes on, into fresh forms of
the rarest beauty and splendour. We cannot lay our finger on a
superfluous bar, not one that can be cut without badly injuring the
whole work. This criticism applies to the other two acts. As new
material is introduced it is all singable; though harmonious effects
are freely used they are all there to enforce the melody. The swan, or
river, phrase in _Lohengrin_ is, of course, purely an effect of
harmony; but in this glorification of song Wagner seemed determined to
trust entirely to song and use his harmonic resources and
devices--which were inexhaustible--another day. Only once does he
resort to them: in the third act when Walther tells Sachs he has had a
lovely dream, by a single unexpected chord he gets the dream
atmosphere he wanted. At the same time the harmonies throughout are
freer, more daring, than they are even in _Tristan_. They are managed
with consummate mastery, the sharp collisions of the many winding
voices of the orchestra occurring infallibly in precisely the right
place. As I have said, not Bach himself managed a score of many parts
with finer mastery, nor gives one a more satisfying sense of complete
security; not Bach, nor Handel, nor Mozart was a greater
contrapuntist; instructively, instinctively, he knew the way his
stream of music was going, and so mighty a craftsman had he grown that
to achieve new harmonies and harmonic progressions by the interweaving
of many melodies, each individual and expressive, seems almost like
child's-play to him. But the old saying, easy reading means hard
writing, is true in the case of the _Mastersingers_. We have only to
glance at Wagner's letters to see the labour all his later works cost
him, and his incessant complaints about the state of his nerves are
significant. The writing of the _Mastersingers_ was spread over six
years. It does not matter whether it was written easily or with
difficulty--the marvel is that it was written at all.


The first act is the song of spring, the second one of a beauteous
summer night. The night slowly falls, and lights are seen at the
windows of the gabled houses. The apprentices put up the shutters of
the shops and bar the doors. We have old Nuremberg before our eyes; by
Sachs' door is the inevitable elder-tree, by Pogner's the just as
inevitable lime; and as surely as Schumann caught the scent of flowers
from a piece of Chopin's, do we catch the fragrance of those trees in
Wagner's music. The 'prentices, hard at work, merrily chant
"Midsummer's Eve" ("Johannestag"--not a precise translation), and
banter David concerning that very serious matter, his courtship of
Magdalena, the accompaniment being spun largely from the midsummer
theme of the first act. The atmosphere, sweet, clear, redolent of the
old world, and seeming to sparkle with excitement about the coming
joys of the morrow, is first created by a prelude scarce thirty bars
long. Through more than half of this section we get shakes and
arpeggios on one (technical) discord (_e_), with snatches of the
midsummer theme, and the exhilaration of the eve of a holiday given to
us in this very simplest of ways shows the miracle worker in his
happiest mood. Like the opening of the _Rhinegold_, this brief prelude
is an exemplification of Wagner's advice to young composers--never
travel out of the key you are in if you can say in it what you have to
say. The instrumentation is delicate, almost ethereal--in fact, the
whole thing would be ethereal, or, at least, fairy-like, but for the
note of gaiety, jollity, struck in the apprentices' tunes. But
presently played-out fugue subjects are heard, and we know it is
Beckmesser or no one. Dramatically the scene is of the lightest, but
Wagner seizes the opportunity to paint a musical picture of Nuremberg
as Pogner holds forth on the festivities arranged for the morrow;
never did he give us anything more delightful than this picture of a
mediæval city, anything more beautifully or more fully charged with
the sense of the past. They go in, and shortly Sachs comes out; he
tells David to arrange his tools and get away to bed, and sits down,
intending to work outside. The hammering motive (_f_) sounds out
vigorously for a couple of minutes; but Sachs is already dreaming of
Walther's song, and presently we get a phrase of it in a shape of
superb beauty--the fifty times distilled essence of spring is in
it--then another bit of it is taken and used as an accompaniment with
most enchanting effect: one feels the cool night breeze touching
Sachs' cheek, and, as in the introduction, one scents the aroma of
lime and elder--

    "The elder scent floats round me; so mild, so rich it falls,
    Its sweetness weighs upon me; words from my heart it calls...."

With its gently rocking motion and the tremolando in the bass it is as
beautiful in its way as the opening scene, already discussed, of the
second Act of _Tristan_--the picture of the brook running through the
darkness from the fountain in King Mark's castle garden. Sachs
abruptly ceases, and sets to work; and the hammering phrase is heard
again, now combined with the beginning of another subject, liker than
ever to Siegfried's great song--the very harmonies as well as the
general rhythm are the same--and this subject is developed before long
into the Cobbler's song. But "and still that strain I hear"; and he
stops and dreams again over Walther's song. "Springtime's behest,
within his breast, on heart and voice there was laid," he sings; and
to music compact of sheer loveliness he praises the song, terminating
with a passage which I take to be nine bars of vocal writing as fine
as can be found in the whole of music--"The bird who sang this morn."

Eva steals out from her father's door, and at once the dramatic motive
of the action deepens. We have had up to now the joy and beauty of the
night, the aroma of the trees, and all the warmth of Sachs' artist's
heart as he dwells on Walther's song of spring: now the human element
comes in and is reflected in the music. Eva wants to know whether
there is any hope for Walther or any chance of help from Sachs, and
she tries to find out without fully disclosing the secret of her love.
Her wistful longing is expressed in two perfect melodies, one new, the
other shaped from a fragment of Walther's first song; these two are
gone over again and again, always varied and growing more intense in
expressiveness, until Eva's secret is no secret from the audience,
though Sachs himself is supposed not to be at first quite sure about
it. When he satisfies himself the orchestra at once sings the phrase
(_d_), and its full significance is brought out. The real Hans Sachs,
we are told, when getting on in years wooed and won quite a young
girl, and the union turned out satisfactorily. That, obviously, was
too tame a matter to be set forth in a long opera--every one would
have yawned before the finish of the first Act; and, as it has been
pointed out, the main change made from the original sketch of the
libretto to the libretto of the actual opera lies in this: that Wagner
created a soul for _his_ Sachs. Sachs loves Eva, too, with a blending
of benevolent fatherly affection and sexual love; but for the
haphazard appearance of Walther he would certainly have gained her for
his wife; for she would have infinitely preferred him to Beckmesser, a
pedant, a bad artist, and, to speak colloquially, a mean and
disastrous cad. In the trial scene he has already half divined
Walther's object, and the theme (_d_) in its application hints not
only at his longing to grasp "the new" in Walther's song, but also his
longing to possess Eva, with a sting of bitterness as he resolves to
renounce her in favour of the younger suitor. Towards the end of the
opera, when Sachs brings the young pair together he says (to music
quoted from _Tristan_) he would not play the part of King Mark and
thus invite his Isolda to find a Tristan. I ask the reader to compare
this phrase with one form of the first love-theme in _Tristan_ (_g_).
The essential notes are the same; but as a melody is made to sound
another and different thing by varying the harmonies, there is in the
Sachs phrase a touch of sadness, nearly hopelessness, but no hint of
it in the _Tristan_ form. The true meaning is not obvious when it
first occurs: Sachs seems simply to be the appreciator of true art and
to be standing up for the true artist Walther against the barren
pedant Beckmesser.

And I beg leave here to make a digression. I have spoken of Wagner's
obsession by the notion that he could by his union of drama, music,
pictorial art, etc., make his work clear enough to be understood at a
first performance: in his letters he referred to a plan for giving the
_Ring_ only once and then burning the theatre and the score--he did
not add the composer and the artists. Unfortunately this view has been
taken as a tenable one by good critics, and it has been argued
seriously that such a phrase as (_d_) is meaningless, because its
significance becomes apparent only in the second act. No great work of
art can be seen at one glance--least of all Wagner's. If a painter
puts before us a picture, say, of Perseus and Andromeda, we know at
any rate what it is about; and there is no difficulty in understanding
a Madonna. But, with the exception of the _Dutchman_, Wagner reshaped
all his subjects so that, for instance, an acquaintance with the
Nibelung legends is rather a hindrance than a help to a swift
understanding of the _Ring_. At first his King Mark is a puzzle to
those who know the Arthurian legends; and in the same way, if the
Sachs of history is confounded with Wagner's Sachs, we are at once
utterly at sea. But a knowledge of Wagner's Sachs can scarcely be
acquired from the words alone: more is told us in the music than in
the words; and before we can grasp the drama as well as Wagner's use
of phrases we must hear the opera many, many times. I deny that this
is an illegitimate mode of appeal to an audience; I deny that the
indispensability of knowing an opera thoroughly before you judge it is
to imply that it is less than a very great work of art; I affirm that
the nobler, profounder, more beautiful a work of art, the more
necessary it is to be able to look at every passage with a full
consciousness of all that is to come after, as well as of what has
gone before. Wagner himself was compact of contradictions, and so,
while trying to create his operas in such fashion that a single
performance would suffice to reveal their splendour, he took the
precaution to write detailed explanations which might serve the same
purpose as many previous performances; and he also wrote explanations
of Beethoven's symphonies.

Throughout this long scene the tender stream of melody flows on, never
lapsing into anything approaching prettiness or feebleness, flooding
us with an overwhelming sense of a far-away past, while full utterance
is found for Eva's anxiety, then her despair, and her wish, timidly
spoken, to give herself to Sachs rather than to be won by Beckmesser.
A scene of such length, constructed on such a plan, could have been
carried through by no other composer than Wagner--the sweetness,
variety and dramatic strength and truth are Wagner at his ripest and
best. After Eva's heart has been opened to us he takes up (_d_), and
though Sachs is a little grumpy--the effort to resign Eva inevitably
though insensibly showing itself--we learn all about him and share
his secret, too, in a very short while. Then Magdalena calls Eva and
tells her Beckmesser intends to serenade her, and goes in to take her
place at the window; and then comes the only love-duet in the opera.
Walther appears; and Eva chants a melody that is surely first cousin
to one of the greatest in _Euryanthe_. As we get on we find it harder
to give any adequate idea of the enchantment of the thing. The gentle
evening wind makes its voice heard, low, soft; and Walther, scorning
the masters who compose and sing only by rule--and, by the way, what
would Wagner have done in the days when a musician had to play and
sing before he could be understood or ever heard as a composer?--works
himself up to a state of tumultuous indignation; then a strange noise
is heard in the distance, the watchman's cow-horn. A minute's silence,
and next one of the sweetest melodies in all music--expressive of the
love of Walther and Eva, but also full of that feeling for the remote
past; then the entrance of the watchman, with his warning to the folk
to look after their lights and fires: it is ten o'clock (late hours)
in our city, and disaster must be kept off at all costs. Sachs has
heard the talk between Eva and Walther and determined to ward off
disaster in one shape at any rate: he places a light so that they
cannot get away without being seen; they are furious, desperate, but
that loveliest of melodies flows on until Beckmesser comes in to
perform his serenade. From this point Wagner, without ever ceasing to
be the consummate artist or allowing the old-world atmosphere to
weaken its hold on our senses, lets himself go like a schoolboy out
for a holiday. He begins his splendid song, a parable: Eve was well
enough off in the Garden of Eden, but when she took a wrong step the
Lord sent a shoemaker to save her. The words are in the very spirit of
the Middle Ages: a materialistic, naïve, literal handling of spiritual
things; but the most devout of believers can find no cause of offence.
The song opens, as I have mentioned, in the rhythm (4-4 instead of
3-4) of the Sword scene, the harmonies being practically the same. The
tune is one of Wagner's finest: indeed, if we did not know what he
could do, if we could not hear the opera once in a while, we should
refuse to believe that such dignity and beauty of utterance could be
kept up alongside of the grave old cobbler's humorous bedevilment.
Beckmesser wants to serenade Eva--mistaking Magdalena at the window in
Eva's dress for that lady; Sachs insists on finishing Beckmesser's new
shoes for the contest of the morrow, and revenges himself for the
insult inflicted upon Walther in the morning by striking one blow for
every mistake. Before this is arranged there is a long altercation,
and as the heat of the men's temper dies down that sweet love melody
of the old world creeps in again; but then the farce commences.
Beckmesser's song is almost outrageous caricature; the parody of the
academics of Wagner's day who made no mistakes from the academic point
of view, and yet could write nothing that sounded right, is
excruciatingly funny; then David, under the impression that the chief
of the academics is serenading Magdalena, comes out, goes in to fetch
a stick, comes out again armed, and sets to work with it upon
Beckmesser; the good burghers have been annoyed by Beckmesser's
caterwauling and Sachs' hammering; out they come to keep their streets
in order; and the tumult begins in serious earnest. Every one hits at
every one else, as Irishmen hit, it is said, at Donnybrook Fair;
Beckmesser is sadly injured; Sachs kicks David indoors, Eva and
Magdalena are got in to Pogner's; Sachs gets Walther in with him also;
the row dies down. No one save Sachs and David knows how it started;
no one knows why it ends. It is--allowing for the lapse of four
centuries--rather like a cab accident in London or any other great
city: ladies in night attire look out of windows, and, seeing their
husbands engaged in deadly warfare, in the very spirit of Miss Miggs
begin to empty pails of cold water over the combatants
indiscriminately. Apparently this cools the ardour of everybody. One
by one the crowd makes for shelter; the watchman's horn is heard a few
streets away; and when he arrives with his lantern and stick a few
minutes later the alley and platz are deserted. The moon shines out on
the lovely scene; the old man chants his call--it is eleven of the
night; all the world should be in bed; all the lights and fires should
be out; he goes off, leaving us the wondrous picture of old Nuremberg
sleeping in the heart of old Germany; and the curtain slowly falls. A
very ineffective "curtain" it was in the eyes of most opera-goers in
the 'sixties, and is in the eyes of the ordinary play-goer of to-day;
but, for all that, one of the most superb to be found in the whole of
the dramatic works of the world.

It is, I have just said, difficult to analyse the music of such a
scene as this, and only one or two points may be noted now. I have
referred again to the consummate mastery of technique manifested
throughout the opera, and here there is no falling off from this
mastery. Throughout we have that atmosphere of bygone generations, and
also a combination, curious when looked into, of homeliness with
nobility. Sachs' song is merrily trolled out, but underneath its
joviality we feel the greatness of the man--a man so great in
character that no suits of shining armour, no heralds and no waving
banners are needed to make him impressive: he remains, even while he
works at his last and sings a sort of club-dinner song, the simple
cobbler-poet, great by reason of his sincerity and his artist-soul.
The street scrimmage is the most realistic thing of the sort ever
attempted, not to say achieved. It is customary to describe the music
as a fugue, and, if that is so, no more unfugue-like fugue was ever
penned. It begins with a parody of a fugue, the answer being announced
before the subject--that is, what purports to be the answer occurs a
fifth instead of a fourth below; then what purports to be the subject
is re-announced one tone above its first statement, and answered, as
before, a fifth below. Then the melody of Beckmesser's grotesque is
brought in and treated contrapuntally, with what theorists call free
imitation in the accompaniment. Fugue, real or tonal, there is none.


This midsummer night's orgy over, we next have midsummer day. The
curtain rises; the early morning sun shines through the windows of
Sachs' house; Sachs sits there, a book on his knees, but dreaming, not
reading. But before the rising of the curtain there is a prelude to
tell us of his musings. When we know the opera this piece is easy
enough to follow. He thinks over the events of the past night, and
passes through thought into dream, getting clean away from earth into
a serener air--and coming slowly back to earth again. Structurally
this piece is on the same plan as others of the preludes--that of the
third act of _Tannhäuser_, for example. It is nonsense to say the
piece is meaningless because it cannot be fully grasped at a first
hearing: I have already spoken of the fallacy involved in that
contention--the fallacy that a work of art should be completely
comprehensible at a first hearing. It is equally nonsensical to decry
the "literary" method of composition: that method was the method of at
least two others of the great composers, Haydn and Beethoven, who
"worked to a story." In fact, all these unreasonable reasoners who
tell us these fine incontrovertible pieces of absurdity place
themselves on the same level as the pundits who pointed out that
because Wagner used the piano when composing, therefore he could not
compose--forgetting Haydn's explicit statement that he always composed
at the piano; forgetting how Mozart spent hours and days at the piano
in doing the creative work of a new opera; forgetting that Beethoven
used the piano even when he could no longer hear it (see Schindler's
or Ries' account of the composition of the "Appassionata" sonata). As
a mere piece of music, a succession of tones and combinations of
tones, the rare quality of this prelude cannot but be felt; and though
we may not at once grasp its full significance, no one can miss the
sequence of the emotions expressed--the grave reflection of the
opening, the hymn-like succeeding passage, the gradual mounting of the
music into a beauteous, calm morning air, some realm of ecstatic peace
far above the clouds, the gradual return to the mood of the opening.
When we do know what it is all about the expression of the different
stages of feeling is felt to be more precise--that is all.

The prelude prepares for Sachs' monologue, a profound thing, and one
moreover entirely new--had Shakespeare been a musician he might have
done something like it. Then David the Irresponsible enters, and we
get some more of Wagner's exquisite fooling; next we have Walther with
his "dream," out of which the Prize-song is made. This is a long
scene--perhaps a little too long--for Wagner seems to have been
determined that if the audience did not feel the beauty of his melody
it should not be for want of hearing it often enough. As Walther
sings Sachs takes it down in tablature, calling out to him what
sections are next required. Sachs then declares that this is indeed a
master-song, and will win Walther the prize he so much desires; he and
Walther go off to attire themselves for the contest, and Beckmesser
limps in. In dumb show he describes his aches and pains and shows how
he is thinking of his thrashing of the night before; and what he does
not say the orchestra says very plainly for him. There is far too much
of it--for English tastes, at any rate--before he is alarmed by
discovering the still wet manuscript in Sachs' handwriting. He
snatches it up and conceals it; Sachs comes back dressed for the great
ceremony, and there is a row--Beckmesser querulous, bitterly angry and
suspicious, on the one hand, Sachs quietly scornful on the other. Let
me point out that this scene is another example of Wagner's stage
craftsmanship at its best. There is nothing conventional in the way
Sachs and Walther are got off to give Beckmesser his chance: what more
natural than that they should go to prepare themselves? Nor is the
finding of the manuscript one of those things that give people who
don't like opera cause to blaspheme: Sachs simply left it on the table
to dry until he returned for it. Compare this scene with that in
Verdi's _Falstaff_, where that fat hero, hiding behind a screen, must
be supposed not to hear an elaborate ensemble number sung by the other
characters--an instance which one might presume to be intended to make
the "aside" so ridiculous that no one would ever dare to use it again.
Wagner, for the time, at any rate, had ceased to make demands on the
credulity of his audiences or their meek acceptance of a preposterous
convention. The business is kept up too long, as I have just
confessed; and this is perhaps explained by Wagner's evident desire to
make fun of the men who for years had called him a charlatan, a bad
musician, and generally done their best to prevent him earning his
living. Still, it is a small blot on a big opera. The music for such
incidents cannot be of the highest beauty; here we have one of the
cases of a _tour de force_. But even its inferiority is made to serve
a purpose; it serves as a foil for that which accompanies the entry of
Eva and her conversation with Sachs. Beckmesser has gone away joyfully
with the manuscript, fully believing he has got possession of a song
by Sachs--who has told him he can do what he likes with it--and
revealing the fact that, despite all his boasting, in his heart he
knows the cobbler to be immeasurably his superior. In music hardly to
be matched for sensuous beauty Eva's trembling perturbation and hopes
and fears are exquisitely suggested; then with the arrival of Walther,
and also of Magdalena and David, we get a little more fooling,
followed by one of Wagner's loveliest and most amazing feats, the
quintet. If only for one reason it is amazing. Only a few years before
the notes were set down, and certainly only a year or two before the
thing was planned in the libretto, he had vehemently declared, in
essays and letters, that never again would he compose anything in the
operatic style: he was for ever done with opera; henceforth
music-drama alone would occupy him. And lo! here, at the very first
opportunity, we find him not merely writing a grand opera finale to
his first act--which he could justify; a rough-and-tumble finale to
his second act--which he could justify; but a set concerto piece in
the middle of his third act--which according to his own theories at
any rate, he could not justify! He might well avow that when he came
to compose _Tristan_ he discovered he had gone far beyond his
theories. The justification for the quintet is its beauty and the fact
that it finds expression for the feeling of the moment. All the same,
I have heard it encored more than once; and an encore in the middle of
the act of a Wagner music-drama, or even music-comedy, is almost


The two pairs, Walther and Eva, and David and Magdalena, having been
joined together, and David having been freed from his 'prentice
servitude by a hearty box on the ear, the quintet having been sung and
(as just remarked) sometimes encored, Wagner gathers himself together
for a gigantic scene as characteristic of his genius as anything he
conceived: no one, indeed, but Wagner could have done or would have
thought of attempting such a scene. He has shown us the masters of
Nuremberg in conclave, the apprentices romping and joking, the crowd
in the street losing its head; and how he gives us a picture of the
town on a fête-day, with the trade-guilds marching to the
singing-contest. The tailors, the shoemakers, the bakers and the
butchers all file past, chanting the merits of their various callings,
finally gathering on the meadow outside the town to await the arrival
of the chief burghers. It is a picture, not a dramatic scene, and to
judge only from the text might suggest the _Rienzi_ way of planning
things. It is not, however, a spectacle in the sense in which we apply
that word to some of the _Rienzi_ scenes; there is nothing pompous
about it, no recourse is made to gorgeous costumes. The artisans march
past in their holiday clothes, each guild bearing its banner; the
banners wave in the bright sunlight, and there is plenty of colour as
well as of bustle and gaiety; but all is homely in style--there is not
a noble person in the crowd--and the thing is carried through by the
vividly imagined music, the energy and sparkle of it, the positive
splendour of the orchestration. The various guild-choruses are full of
humour, the many ridiculous things being saved from lapsing into mere
horseplay and nonsense by the endless series of beautiful tunes. This
part of the business ends with a waltz which shows that Wagner might,
had he chosen, have been the finest writer of dance-music in Europe,
and driven the Strausses and the rest from the field.

The signal is given of the masters' approach, and as Sachs comes on
the whole crowd presses to greet him with a setting of his own song to
Martin Luther. The transition from the jollity of the dancing to the
solemnity, nay, sublimity, of this chorus is managed with perfect
deftness: there is no incongruity. It is this song that passed through
Sachs' brain when we found him absorbed in meditation at the beginning
of the act. The poem--written by the historical Sachs--is itself
beautiful, and Wagner has made it immortal; only he at his ripest and
best could combine in an opera-chorus such strength with such
sweetness, combine the directness of a part-song with the free play of
parts, with never a touch of formalism. It must be held to be one of
the most superb things in an opera which is as nearly perfect as ever
opera is likely to be.

This over, we are gradually prepared for the ridiculous and
preposterous again. Beckmesser is to make his bid for Eva's hand with
what he supposes to be a song by Sachs; and to an accompaniment of
music which, lively and graceful enough, is purposely of no very
distinctive character. The preparations are made. By the time he
mounts the heap of turf to address his audience we are ready for him.
Of course he makes a fine ass of himself. He has not had time to
memorise the poem of the song, and with extravagant fun Wagner makes
him change the poetical and serious words into words of most ludicrous
significance. Walther's melody he has not got hold of at all, and in a
state of intense nervousness tries to fit the words to the burlesque
tune of his previous night's serenade. The accents all fall in the
wrong place; and as he stumbles miserably along the crowd begins to
titter. Wagner of course was parodying and satirising the pedants of
his own day, especially the composers of psalms who could not set a
straightforward Bible sentence without making nonsense of it. Readers
acquainted with the ordinary musical setting of a portion of the
Church of England service, or the average organist's anthem, will know
what I mean: the average organist seems to consider it a point of
artistry, if not indeed of honour, to accentuate the words so as to
leave the meaning as little intelligible as possible; and in many
cases--I have some before me now--he contrives to make them
nonsensical. It was this sort of thing, perpetrated by the very men
who denied him any musical gift, that Wagner held up to derision in
Beckmesser's song. The tittering swells into a roar, and at last
Beckmesser, cursing Sachs for a deceiver and false friend, flies. With
that, fooling ends. To music of a rare sweet gravity Sachs invites the
"volk" to hearken to the song when given by the man who composed it.
Walther steps up and sings; as he goes on the people again make
themselves heard, but to praise, not to deride; towards the finish
their voices form a choral accompaniment, and we have the counterpart
to the finale of the first act. Walther wins the day and Eva; and,
slightly against his will, he is made a Master. There is an address
from Sachs, in which he exhorts Walther and all present not to despise
art, but to honour it as being (for this is what his speech amounts
to) the heart's blood of national life. Preachments are not usually
stimulating, but this one is mercifully brief, and is accompanied by
fine, melodious strains. With its contrapuntal weaving it leads to
the final chorus, and also it puts Sachs back again into the position
from which the importance of Walther's song has thrust him: it is a
last reminder that the opera is a glorification of song, and that the
masters have a sacred trust--to guard song pedantry and commercialism.
The work closes with a grand chorus made up of familiar music, a
glorious blaze and riot of orchestral and choral colour.


The second section of this chapter contains what I have to say by way
of summing up. Let me repeat that the _Mastersingers_ is notable for
the endless flow of beautiful melodies, neither broken and scrappy
nor, on the other hand, approaching monotony: there is infinite
variety combined with magnificent breadth; for the nobility hidden
under homeliness--a characteristic most marked in Sachs' music; for
miraculous colouring now pitched in a low and tender key, now blazing
as in the last finale; for the picture of Nuremberg in the old time,
and for the vigour and fun with which the old life is depicted. It is
Wagner's one cheerful opera, and from some points of view, perhaps,
his most perfect; nowhere else did he try to keep on a high and even
level of pure song for so long; it does not strain our nerves, and
will bear hearing perhaps more frequently than anything else he wrote.




In resuming Wagner's biography we may conveniently take it up after
the completion of _Tristan_ in August, 1859. I summarised the events
leading up to his beginning on the _Mastersingers_; but it is
necessary to go over some of the ground in a little more detail to
show in what a terrible plight Wagner had been landed when King Ludwig
II of Bavaria sent for him. He was bankrupt financially, in health and
in hope. Like the nose of his boyish hero, everything turned to dust
the moment he touched it. Concerts in Paris nearly brought utter
ruin--would have brought utter ruin had not a woman friend and admirer
come to the rescue. He gained no money by his concert tour until, as
he said, he got to St. Petersburg, and there the amount cannot have
been stupendous. He laboured with brain, heart and hand to give the
world masterpieces; the world responded by not responding at all--by
taking absolutely no notice. In Paris he made many valuable friends,
but they were useless to him for the realisation of his projects. They
might help him from moment to moment, and did help him to remain alive
and to avert calamities: a secure and peaceful living they could not
guarantee him: they could not assist him in getting his works
properly performed, or performed at all. I have already discussed the
mistaken policy, on his part, of writing so much about himself, and
the futility of his German friends taking up the pen on his behalf.
The friends meant well, and there was nothing else they could do; but
at the time their efforts resulted in nothing. He published the words
of the _Mastersingers_ and of the _Ring_, and the consequence was only
that a professor publicly implored him not to set such a monstrosity
as the second to music. It is hard to say who did him the greatest
amount of harm--his French friends, his German friends, or his enemies
on either side of wherever the frontier was in those far-off days.
Whatever was done for him, whatever he did for himself, whatever was
done against him, it seemed all one: he walked steadily on into the
thickest of grimy fogs. By romping over Europe like any itinerant
conductor of this day, he might earn an uncertain livelihood: as for
any prospect of getting on with his _Mastersingers_, his _Ring_ and a
score of other plans bubbling in his head, that was a receding
prospect indeed: every year, every month, made the prospect still more
remote. His music was either misunderstood or disliked: certainly the
man's writings and the writings of his friends resulted in _him_ being
disliked. When he settled in Vienna after the triumphs of his earlier
operas he speedily discovered this sad truth, but did not discover the
reason why. His life had been a long tragedy, and with this collapse
of his Vienna hopes he seemed to touch the lowest depths.

So he got away from Vienna, and one day had a visitor. This gentleman
said, in effect, that King Ludwig II had just ascended the throne, and
would be glad of a call. Instantly the grimy fog cleared away; all was
splendid sunshine: in that sunshine Richard was henceforth to bask and
the fruits of his genius were to ripen. He went to Munich, and there
were prompt results. In 1865 _Tristan_ was (at last) produced; he was
enabled to make a new start on the _Mastersingers_, which was
eventually produced in Munich in 1868. But in Munich, as elsewhere,
the inevitable occurred. Wagner suddenly became the "favourite," quite
as in mediæval times, of a not very popular king, one of a line noted
for mental and moral deficiency; and, without consulting any of the
powers that had ruled for a long time in Bavaria, in his mad
enthusiasm he set about "reforming" everything. Apparently he wanted
within twenty-four hours to set up a Saxon Utopia in the midst of a
people who hated the Saxons. He wanted to establish a new opera-house,
where perfect artists were to give perfect performances for audiences
that did not pretend to be perfect. As such performances could not
possibly pay, the audiences, besides putting down the price of
admittance, had, as taxpayers, to make good the deficits. King Ludwig
was supposed to do it; but where on earth was Ludwig's money to come
from if not out of the taxpayers' pockets? Then there was to be
founded a genuine school of music--an excellent scheme, but one,
again, which could not possibly be profitable, or for some time earn
enough to cover its expenses. Who was to pay?--of course King Ludwig:
that is, the taxpayers. And Wagner was not only known (with absolute
certainty) to wish to divert from the pockets of "placemen" funds they
had learnt to consider their perquisites, with a view of turning
Munich into a musical paradise on earth: it seemed to many that he was
gaining such an ascendancy over the feeble mind and will of the king
that shortly he would be dictator of the country. That view was not
well-founded: Wagner, dreamer though he was, had a strong practical
vein in his character: if he saw that one of his dreams could be
realised he realised it at the first opportunity; if he saw it could
not be realised he explained it in an article and left others to make
the first effort at realisation. The man who created Bayreuth was not
the man to imagine altogether vainly that he could, per favour of a
king, whom he must have known to be utterly weak, turn some millions
of citizens and villagers into an Utopian nation of art-lovers and so
on. But hatred surrounded him everywhere; the machinery of the state
came early to a standstill, and, finally, the king had to ask him to
withdraw for a longer or shorter while.

This is the plain truth of an affair concerning which there has been
an immense amount of lying on both sides. The scandals about the
personal relations of the king and Wagner I leave to the vampires; as
for the gentry who will have it that Wagner was "persecuted" out of
Munich by Jews, Christians, journalists and bank-managers, I leave
them to anybody who likes to take them up. That Wagner had to quit
Munich was a sad thing in his life--a very sorrow's crown of sorrow;
and it was a bad thing for German music. It put back the clock many
years. But, sad though it was for Wagner, in the long run it proved
good for him. He would have composed little more in such a city--a
city so misgoverned and misguided as Munich: his days would have been
filled with bitterness, his nerves would have been quickly shattered
by intrigues. He was now amply provided for; a villa--the celebrated
"Triebschen"--was taken for him on the shores of Lucerne, and here he
settled and remained for some years. Here he finished the _Ring_ and
planned Bayreuth.

Another thing which contributed to his unpopularity was his relations
with his own and another man's wife. Hans von Bülow, his pupil, had
married Liszt's daughter Cosima: that lady became infatuated with
Wagner, and Wagner with her, and they virtually eloped together.
Minna's cause was eagerly taken up by musicians, operatic people
generally, and journalists, though none of them cared a rap about
Minna. The most scandalous stories were circulated, and Wagner came to
be thought not only a charlatan cadger living on the State funds, but
one who used those funds to satisfy his carnal and other appetites.
His silk dressing-gowns, his gorgeous apartments, his sybarite
feastings, were the common talk of the newspapers: while he was
slaving, as the saying goes, twenty-six hours out of twenty-four, the
common fancy was taught to picture him as taking his ease in
unheard-of luxury.

These matters have nearly all been indirectly dealt with already, and
as we come to review the situation, this is what we find. Minna was an
impossible wife for such a man: she never could understand why he
could not have remained quietly at his post in Dresden, indifferent to
good or bad opera representations, and unambitious concerning the
proper artistic production of his own works. When calamity followed
calamity, to her all the trouble seemed due to Richard's
pig-headedness; and she would at once have grown cheerful and
good-natured had he burned his finished and unfinished scores and
written "something popular." She was, I say, impossible. Cosima, for
her part, found Bülow impossible. A splendid character in many ways,
he was as wayward and quarrelsome a man as has lived. So Richard and
Minna drifted apart, and Bülow and Cosima drifted apart, and in the
end Richard and Cosima drifted together. The censures that still are
passed at times on their conduct are hypocritical and grotesque. The
people who pass them are usually people who think that the Ten
Commandments were made only to be observed by the poorer classes, or
by other people, not themselves, and are willing enough to excuse
offences against the marriage laws when they are committed by folks of
exalted social position. The whole truth about the Richard-Cosima
affair will evidently never be known; no one has told; three of the
four concerned have passed away; and those writers to-day who pretend
to know most are precisely those whom I suspect of knowing least.

The charge of living in luxurious surroundings is well enough
founded--Wagner undoubtedly did love them: he said so himself. What
did the luxury amount to? A few carpets, chairs, a silk dressing-gown,
and sufficient to eat and drink! He certainly worked hard enough for
them and had a right to them. It is odd to think that most of those
who brought these charges against him themselves grasped at as much
luxury as they could get: had King Ludwig spent his money on _them_
there would have been no objections raised, and doubtless they would
have given us _Rings_ and _Mastersingers_. This must be the judgment
of every sane person.

However, Wagner settled peacefully at Triebschen, and remained there
until the Bayreuth idea took solid and visible shape. He completed the
_Mastersingers_ and _Siegfried_, and made progress with the _Dusk of
the Gods_. When Minna died in 1868 he immediately married Cosima. The
idea of what ultimately became Bayreuth took shape. Bayreuth was first
thought of for a very prosaic reason. The town theatre at that time
possessed the largest stage in Germany, and in many respects was far
ahead of every other German theatre, and this drew the attention of
Wagner and his friends to the spot. Various causes combined to make
the idea of giving the first performances of the _Ring_ in this
theatre an utter impracticability, and Wagner reverted to his old pet
idea of building a theatre for himself. An eminent architect,
Gottfried Semper, cheerfully helped at planning a building which
should unite the utmost artistic usefulness with the smallest possible
expense. The house is long out-of-date, but in the 'seventies it
seemed a marvel. The seats were so arranged that every one commanded,
theoretically, the same view of the stage; the stage was fitted with
the most modern machinery, lights and so on. The orchestra was sunk,
so that the movements of the conductor and his fiddlers should not
distract the attention of the audience; the auditorium was darkened,
so that everything happening on the stage could be seen with the
greatest possible clearness. When the good burghers of a decaying
mediæval town found what was going to happen to them they rejoiced,
for they foresaw invasions of millions of aliens who would not hurt
them but would pay out handsomely, and renew the days of the town's
prosperity. Sites were granted free of cost, both for Wagner's own
house--Villa Wahnfried--and the Festival Theatre. When the foundation
of the latter was laid, brass bands and processions took an important
part in the proceedings.

From the very start the enterprise was looked on as a commercial one.
Wagner's house was built, but work at the theatre had soon to be
stopped for want of money. Numerous Wagner societies were started to
raise it; concerts innumerable were given with the same object; the
composer himself laboured incessantly; and eventually it was possible
to resume building. But the very means, or some of the means, adopted
to raise money aroused fierce antagonism amongst the musicians who
did not believe in Wagner, or had been attacked by him and his
disciples, and put into their hands a weapon of counter-attack.
"Begging" was a term freely employed; and a thousand newspapers were
found willing--nay, anxious--to insinuate or to state boldly that the
money was badly needed to enable the composer to live on a sumptuous
scale. When, in the summer of 1876, the first cycle of the _Ring_ was
given, no artistic undertaking could have made a worse start. People
did not know what they were asked to see and to hear; they did know
that all these scandalous rumours had been flying about for years,
that the "entertainment" was not ordinary opera, that the opening of
Bayreuth was to mark the beginning of a millennium--a new moral,
religious, political and goodness knows what sort of era. Bayreuth
from the first had attracted a very disagreeable set of persons, men
whom fathers would not allow to speak to their daughters--or to their
sons. Wagner himself had invited ridicule by claiming that his theatre
was not to be a mere opera-house, but, as he told Sir Charles Hallé,
the centre of the intellectual and artistic world. "A noble ambition!"
scornfully replied the pianist. In a word, nothing was done to
conciliate; everything was done to create resentment and opposition.
King Ludwig's unpopularity must not be forgotten. Not Bavarians only,
but all the German-speaking peoples, knew Bavarian national finances
to be in a deplorable, desperate condition, and it seemed to them
scandalous that State funds should be used--as, rightly or wrongly,
was thought--for Ludwig's own gross, unspeakable pleasures. While the
Germans were thus alienated, Wagner immediately after 1871 had stirred
up the wrath of the French by speaking of the German army as the
"world-conquerors"; he had angered the English musicians by the many
remarks concerning them uttered by or attributed to him after his
exploits with the Philharmonic society. He had written against the
Jews, and though their finest musicians were with him, the bulk were
against him.

That the performances were in many respects admirable, indeed without
any precedent, we are bound to believe. The artists, great and little,
had toiled for months to attain perfection. Most of the orchestra,
headed by Wilhelmj, had slaved without payment that there might be no
deficiencies in their department. The stage machinery, crude though it
seems to us nowadays when we read of it, was on all sides reckoned
marvellous. Interminable rehearsals had been held, Wagner supervising
them all. In the end, even the anti-Wagnerites who went to curse,
admitted that unheard-of results had been achieved: they would not
give in about the music, which remained, in their crass ears, "without
form or melody"; and we may therefore the more readily accept their
testimony as to Wagner's supremacy as a musical director. The late Mr.
Joseph Bennett's reports--and he was till his last breath a violent
anti-Wagnerite--are typical: they may be read in the files of the
_Daily Telegraph_, and are well worth reading. But, alas! when those
heartless people called accountants came to add up their mysterious
sums and to put figures on the credit side and on the debit side, they
proved incontestably that an appalling deficit was the most obvious
result of the whole proceedings; and if Wagner had any doubts, the
steady inflowing tide of bills to be met must have finally convinced
him. To pay the deficit, dresses and scenery had to be sold; and for a
time, at any rate, it was clear the theatre could not open again.
Wagner, in his old age, had to commence once again giving concerts, in
London amongst other places, to raise funds. Ludwig had done much, and
dared go no further. A huge subscription was arranged, and a large
amount of money had been collected, when help came from somewhere,
whereupon the subscriptions were returned. The detractors and
slanderers who had shouted that all the money asked for in the name of
Bayreuth was really destined to pay for Wagner's and King Ludwig's own
private amusements received, if a vulgar phrase is allowable, a
violent blow in their noisy mouths. Wagner paid no further heed to
them, but went on working out his plans. The old dream referred to in
his letters to Uhlig had been realised; he had his ideal theatre, he
had given ideal performances, and he reckoned he had given the Germans
an art. And now let us see what that art was.




In the case of few artists is there an account of the creation of
their works worth serious consideration. In the colloquial as well as
the true sense of the word they are apt to be imaginative, and such a
story as Edgar Allen Poe's of the composition of the _Raven_ is not so
much imaginative as imaginary. The creative artist is usually the last
man in the world to give a veracious history of the genesis of his
creations, for the simple reason that he does not know, and, during
the later process of trying to find out, for his own private
satisfaction, he is given to invent theories--or, let us say,
hypotheses--which eventually he may come to believe pure fact. In
music the act of creation is often done in a hypnotic state. Goethe
mentions that his earlier songs were written in a state of
clairvoyance. Many much more recent poets seem to have achieved their
hugest popular successes whilst in a comatose state. Some, who also
managed to secure a success with the public, apparently conceived and
executed their mighty works in a state of hallucination--having
somehow got the idea into their heads that they were poets. Handel,
Mozart and Beethoven are three musicians who are known--if history may
be at all believed--to have composed in a hypnotic state: Handel would
sit for hours, unconscious of what went on around him; Mozart could
not be trusted with a knife at dinner--when he had a dinner; Beethoven
would pour cold water over his hands until the tenants beneath raised
violent objections. No such tales are related of Bach, of Haydn, of
Gluck, of Weber, nor of Wagner. If ever a man knew precisely what he
had been doing, even if he was not self-conscious at the moment of
doing it, that man was Wagner. He stands apart, therefore; apart from
some of the greatest composers. His case, I take it, is analogous to
that of a man who cannot remember a friend's address and thinks of it
that night in a dream: how he chances to dream he cannot tell, but he
knows what he has dreamt, and when.

It is worth insisting on this, partly because it is eminently
characteristic of Wagner, partly because it enables us now to trace
with some certainty the growth of the _Nibelung's Ring_, both drama
and music, from its birth to its final execution. The history of the
building-up of the drama, like the drama itself, is a mightily
complicated and entangled matter. Some of it had to be related earlier
in this book to account, so to say, for the way in which Wagner filled
up his days; but it will be convenient to summarise it here. Let us
begin with a few dates--

1848. Had studied the Nibelungen saga and
sketched the plan of the whole gigantic
      work much as it now stands.

1850-51. Discusses _Siegfried's Death_ in letters
      to Uhlig and Liszt. Begins the poem in
      another form, which he abandons.

1852. Writes the poem for the work practically in
      its final form; privately printed the
      following year.

1853. Begins _Rhinegold_.

1854. Completes _Rhinegold_.
      Begins the _Valkyrie_, and sketches _Siegfried_
      at the same time.

1856. Completes _Valkyrie_.
      Begins composition of _Siegfried_.
      Completes first and begins second act of
      _Siegfried_, and interrupts it to start work
      on _Tristan_.

1859. _Tristan_ completed.

1867. _Mastersingers_ completed.
      Composition of _Siegfried_ resumed.
      _Siegfried_ completed.
      _Dusk of the Gods_ begun.
      _Dusk of the Gods_ completed.

1876. The _Ring_ given at Bayreuth.

Wagner was thus occupied with the _Ring_ for fully twenty-five years.
The _Rhinegold_ followed _Lohengrin_, but there was a gap of five
years between them, mainly devoted to literary work (1848-53); and
during that period his whole style in music underwent a vast change.
In one respect the change is not so marked as that between the
_Rhine__gold_ and the _Valkyrie_; in the first there is little of the
passion, strength, grip and breadth of the others. While composing the
_Rhinegold_ his powers were developing at a prodigious rate, and had
the _Rhinegold_ been a better subject for the purpose they might have
reached maturity while writing it. But there is no human element in
it, and without that Wagner could not get on. We have already seen
that he abandoned the idea of the _Mastersingers_ for years--until, in
fact, he had created a soul for Sachs: then he went ahead and gave us
a series of magnificent pictures of old Nuremberg. In the same way,
though he wrote some fine music in the _Rhinegold_, in richness,
splendour of colouring, it does not compare with the _Valkyrie_, where
he is chiefly concerned with two human beings and a being who must be
called only a demi-goddess, half-goddess and half-human. He could not
compose unless he had the double inspiration, the human soul and the
pictorial environment. If I had to select three of Wagner's works to
live with I should take the _Valkyrie_, _Tristan_ and the
_Mastersingers_. In them we find inspiration and craftmanship in
absolute proportion; in the later dramas of the _Ring_ we shall see
how craftsmanship outran inspiration--sometimes with results that can
only be called deplorable. This matter must be reserved for discussion
until we deal with the operas separately.

The labyrinthine libretto owes its defects not to the many years it
took to write--for when once Wagner set to work it was done in a
single breath--but to the nature of the subject and the very German way
in which a German composer inevitably felt impelled to treat that
subject. In Chapter X, p. 193 and onward, the reader will recollect
certain letters: I beg him, before going further, to turn back to
these and mark with care Wagner's own story of the growth of this
gigantic opera. The letter on p. 227 is most characteristic of a
German. _Siegfried's Death_ did not explain enough, so an explanation
had to be offered; that explanation needed explaining, so a second
explanation was made; this left matters in as unsatisfactory a state
as ever, so, finally, the first opera of the four, the _Rhinegold_,
was written--and with that Wagner mercifully stopped. He had set
himself a task simply appalling in the demands it must needs make on
his time and creative energy; moreover, he had set himself a task just
as hard in the demands it made on his stage-craft. The four dramas
could not but overlap, and they do overlap to such an extent that in
the very near future "cuts" will be made freely to eliminate
repetitions which have even now grown a weariness to the flesh. The
poem--or, more properly, the four opera-books--must now be summarised,
and I will endeavour to avoid imitation of Wagner by not going over
the same ground twice, or more than twice.


The central figure of the _Ring_, considered as a whole, is Wotan. He
is absolute lord of earth and heaven as long as his luck lasts. The
luck lasts no longer than is determined, not by the hours, but by some
mysterious something, some unfathomable mystery of a power, behind the
hours. When the hour strikes, his stately home in the heavens shall be
rolled up like a scroll, shall be consumed in flames; Wotan and the
minor gods shall perish; a new start shall be made in the world. Now,
this idea of the old saga is clearly enough a way of stating, in the
guise of a story, a simple historical fact, that with the coming of
the White Christ the old deities were driven out. There is no drama
inherent in it: for the drama Wagner went to the explanatory story of
how the _dénouement_ came about, of the causes which brought it about,
which, with the self-contradictoriness of most of those primitive
attempts to account for the mystery of the world, were not causes at
all, but only incidents by the way, since the catastrophe had been
arranged for since the beginning of time. The main cause (in this
sense) is Wotan's lust for power, and Wagner reads it thus: since to
hold and exercise this power compels Wotan to do things which are a
violence to his best nature, to thrust love from him, he voluntarily
abdicates and calmly awaits the end. He first makes several struggles
to keep the power while shifting its responsibilities, and these form
the subject of three of the four dramas.

The power is symbolised by the gold of the Rhine; this gold, made into
a Ring--the _Nibelung's Ring_--gives absolute power to its possessor.
It is accursed; the curse being what I have just mentioned--that the
power cannot be exercised without its possessor doing violence to his
nature, thereby destroying that nature. Wotan thinks if an absolutely
free agent, a hero owing nothing to any one, bound by no conditions,
could gain this Ring, his power might be preserved: he might defy even
Fate, since no conditions were attached to the possession of it. He
makes the initial mistake when he determines to raise up such a hero:
the hero's act is as much Wotan's as if Wotan had himself committed

After this description of the main dramatic motive of the _Ring_,
those--if there are any now alive--who are unfamiliar with the work
may have no desire to see it, whilst those who know it may imagine
that I am purposely misrepresenting it. I beg both classes of readers
to be patient. If this were the whole _Ring_ it would indeed be a
barren, bleak and desolate affair. This is nothing more than the frame
which contains the dramas which make the _Ring_ the great work it
is--the dramas with their wealth of passion and colour, their hundred
varied emotions and scenes of love and tragedy. Before proceeding to
deal with them separately, let me again mention one point. There is
the flat contradiction between the Wotan who knows that when the
moment arrives his reign must automatically end, and the Wotan who
hopes to go on reigning by getting possession of the Ring through the
agency of a fearless hero who has struck no bargain with the powers
who are stronger than the gods. That contradiction is inherent in the
saga, and had Wagner been able to eliminate it--as he tried by diving
through the saga and to the myth behind--the very essence and
atmosphere of the drama would have been eliminated also. The idea of
predetermined destiny colours that drama throughout; the whole thing
might be the old Scandinavian way of stating a problem older than
Scandinavia, that of free-will and predestination.


The curtain rises, and we are in the depths of the Rhine; water-nymphs
sport about; Alberich, an evil being of the river, tries in vain to
catch them. The water grows brighter with the rising of the sun, and
the Rhinegold is seen to glow on the summit of a high rock. Defeated
in his attempts to capture a nymph, Alberich scales the rock, seizes
the gold and makes off with it. The silly creatures have told him that
their innocent toy, shaped into a ring, would confer upon its
possessor power to rule the whole world, on condition that he
surrendered love; and love being something Alberich is incapable of
understanding, though he is amorous enough, he willingly pays the
price for the sake of the power--that is, the power costs him nothing.
The light-giving gold being raped, darkness falls on the river.

The next scene is on a plateau; beyond it lies the valley of the
Rhine; further off is a mountain; light mists hover over the summit;
and, as they clear away in the early morning sunshine, a gorgeous
castle, Valhalla, gradually becomes visible. Wotan and Fricka his
wife lie in slumber. Fricka wakes first, and is startled, not to say
horrified, by the apparition. The Giants, Fasolt and Fafner, have
built the castle, and the promised payment is Freia, Fricka's sister,
whose apples all gods and goddesses must eat every day, else they will
fade and perish. Fricka tries to awaken Wotan: in his dreams he talks
of endless, omnipotent power, and of his castle, to be peopled by
heroes to fight for him against the brute forces of the earth. When he
is aroused he gazes at the building in deepest joy: _now_ his ambition
will be gratified. In vain Fricka expostulates, repeating (in homely
phrase), "What about Freia?" Wotan smiles a superior smile: he has
arranged that matter, and all will be well.

This is the beginning of Wotan's tragedy, the huge drama of which the
others constitute the working out. From this scene to the end we are
to see Wotan gradually forced into a corner. He has to learn by slow
degrees that you cannot have anything without paying the price. It is
in vain he argues with Fricka. She stands for law--inexorable law. She
seems a disagreeable woman, and it would be much more pleasant for
everybody concerned if she could be induced to hold her tongue and let
things take their course. So is what we call the law of gravitation a
disagreeable thing; all the same, we know that if we fall off a
house-roof we shall break our necks. In the Scandinavian cosmogony
Wotan holds sway only by treaties, bargains struck with the powers
that only sustain him so long as he sticks to his word, and are
capable of thrusting him down if he breaks his word. Even omnipotence
may be bought too dearly, and Wotan is not destined to taste the
sweets of even a quarter of an hour's omnipotence. In vain he tries to
evade responsibility, to get something for nothing; and his tragedy is
consummated when in _Siegfried_ he realises that omnipotence can never
be his. Then he renounces it.

This is by way of being a digression; but, for a clear understanding
of this main drama of the _Ring_, it is absolutely necessary that we
should see the source of Wotan's troubles, and here it is: that Fricka
will not allow him, figuratively, to jump off a house-top without
breaking his neck. What she tells him swiftly proves true. Freia flies
in, pursued by the Giants, who demand to be paid. "You rule by
treaties alone," they say. Wotan looks anxiously round for Loge, the
treacherous god of fire and lies. He has promised to find something
that the Giants will accept instead of Freia; and when he enters he
confesses to failure--there is nothing, in the estimation of an
earth-born creature, that is equal to a woman. But he tells of the
theft of the gold; the Giants listen greedily, and they agree to take
it, if Wotan can get it, instead of Freia. Wotan has a double motive:
he does not want all the gold, or, indeed, any of it, save the Ring
shaped by the Nibelung; that he determines to grasp, else the Nibelung
will become _his_ master. He has trusted to lies and trickery, and has
been swindled; but so overpowering is his thirst for universal rule
that he again trusts himself to Loge. The Giants hold Freia as a
hostage; presently all the gods begin to lapse into a comatose
state--they have not eaten of her apples that day--and in desperation
Loge and Wotan set out for the Nibelung's abode. The Nibelungs are the
slaves and sons of toil; they labour incessantly for Alberich; him
only does Wotan fear: he must get the Ring from them at all costs. The
pair descend into the Nibelung's cave. The Ring is already forged, and
the Tarnhelm--the cap of invisibility--is made which enables him to
render himself invisible or to change himself into any animal he
wishes. By a trick Wotan gets Alberich into his power, carries him to
the upper earth, and only lets him go free after he has surrendered
Tarnhelm, Ring and all the hoard of gold. Then the turn of the Giants
comes. The pile of gold they demand must hide Freia from sight; and in
the end she can still be seen, and Wotan must sacrifice the one thing
precious to him, the Ring. That is accursed, and no sooner have Fafner
and Fasolt got it than they quarrel; Fafner kills Fasolt, and goes off
with all to change himself into a dragon and to hide himself in a
cavern with his treasure. Wotan, in his extremity, has summoned Erda,
the wisdom of the earth, and she has counselled him to give up the
Ring, and it is with horror that he sees how wise she was. But his
ambition is boundless; he cannot give up the idea of reigning supreme;
and when things seem at their worst he has a sudden inspiration--that,
already mentioned, of raising up a hero who will freely take the Ring
from Fafner, and, by letting Wotan have it, free of treaties, enable
him to reign supreme. The thought is told us only in the music, and
in the music only in the light of the later operas of the series. Then
the gods cross a rainbow bridge, somewhat hastily thrown up by Donner,
the god of storms, and enter Valhalla; and underneath the dreary wail
of the Rhinemaidens is heard as they lament their loss. With this the
_Rhinegold_ closes.


Now let us consider the music of the _Rhinegold._

Already the discrepancy of styles has been referred to. The
_Rhinegold_, coming between _Lohengrin_ and _Tristan_, suffers from an
odd sort of pettiness of phrase--a pettiness which in all probability
we should not feel if we did not judge it by _Tristan_. The wide sweep
of the tide of music that we find in the _Valkyrie_ is absent; there
is a tendency to shorten the measures, a hesitation between boldly
going on, as in his later manner, and the symmetrical four-bar
measures of _Tannhäuser_ and _Lohengrin_. The opening of the second
scene is in structure that of a Handel opera air: we have the
ritornello, and presently the same music is repeated as the
accompaniment of Wotan's salute to his castle. This smallness of
design, it must be remembered, is only comparative: compared with
anything of the sort done before, the design is big and broad. The
Wagner of the _Valkyrie_, of _Tristan_ and of the _Mastersingers_, has
not acquired full mastery of his new art; there are still plenty of
full closes, and, though words are not repeated, the effect at times
would hardly be more conventional if they were.

But in all the music we have the first-fruits of Wagner's walks
amongst the Swiss mountains. When he sent the book of the _Ring_ to
Schopenhauer, that crotchety critic wrote in it that it seemed mainly
concerned with clouds; and truly it very largely is. The _Rhinegold_
ends with a storm, the flash of lightning and the roar of thunder; in
each Act of the _Valkyrie_ there is a storm; the Third Act of
_Siegfried_ opens with a storm; there is one storm in the _Dusk of the
Gods_. Wind screaming through the pines, the plash of rain, the
driving of thunder-clouds--these are the pictorial inspiration of the
_Ring_ as surely as old Nuremberg is the pictorial inspiration of the
_Mastersingers_. These Scandinavian gods are the divinities of river
and wood and mountain, and Wagner made full use of them. The _Ring_ is
far too lengthy, and the main drama is apt to get forgotten; the
repetitions, due to Wagner's desire not to let it be forgotten, are
wearisome. But one thing can never be forgotten--the sense of the open
air, the freshness of nature, the loveliness and health of the green
earth: that sense keeps the gigantic, overgrown thing sweet and an
endless delight.

The opening is as sublime in its simplicity as the first bars of the
_Lohengrin_ prelude. As the curtain rises on the depths of the Rhine,
"greenish twilight, lighter above, darker below," the lowest E flat
booms softly out (it has to be done by an organ pedal-pipe), the deep
voice of the river as it rolls massively on its course towards the
sea; and the effect is overwhelming. A theme then makes its appearance
in its first vague form, a theme which in one shape or another Wagner
uses throughout the four operas for the elemental beings--here, the
water nymphs, afterwards Erda. The mass of tone swells out; the music
becomes more active; and at last the voices of the Rhinemaidens are
heard. The whole of this is one of Wagner's most delightful things. It
is another illustration of his rule that a composer should never leave
a key as long as he can say what he wants while staying in it; for
some hundreds of bars there is no change, and then only a slight one.
With the entry of Alberich modulations begin. Here we have the
wonderful inventive Wagner: that figure, in the inner part of the
musical tissue, would alone stamp him as a great composer: the
composer who could invent such a theme could not possibly be a small
composer. The mock-coaxing of the nymphs might be a parody of the
Venusberg scene in _Tannhäuser_; and later on there occurs a passage
that might be a parody on parts of _Tristan_. When Alberich steals the
gold we get that degenerate form of the Valhalla theme repeated again
and again, and the full effect of the device is only felt when, with
the change of scene, we hear the passage in all its nobility and
splendour. Wotan's greeting to his new castle is rather grandiose than
really fine: one feels the theatrical baritone; one feels also that
the quality of homeliness which makes Sachs a great character is sadly
lacking. In the _Valkyrie_ this unpretentiousness, so to speak, is
always present, and the music gains proportionately in
impressiveness. Wotan's opening phrase, grand and sweeping though it
is, somehow evokes a vision of an Italian opera baritone expanding his
chest, with arms extended in the direction of the more expensive
seats: this is neither the mighty Wotan of the _Valkyrie_, nor even of
the underground scene in this opera.

Nor is the vocal writing, in another respect, that of the greatest
Wagner. I have already spoken of the perfect fusion of vocal and
orchestral parts which we find in _Tristan_ and the _Mastersingers_.
To that perfection Wagner had not attained when he began the _Ring_;
and much of this first speech of Wotan consists of notes written
simply to fit in with the Valhalla theme. That theme shows traces of
its descent from the Alberich motive--the greed for power--in that it
does not bear real development, but only variation; it is, in fact,
not a musical subject in the sense in which, say, the _Tristan_
subjects are musical subjects, but is, properly speaking, a figure.
But shaped to a stately rhythm and richly harmonised, and moreover
gorgeously orchestrated, it glitters with sufficient magnificence.
Fricka's remonstrances are at first querulous, but with the passage
beginning "Um des Gatten Treue besorgt" we get one of Wagner's
matchless bits of lovely melody. The entry of Freia, flying from the
Giants, is theatrically effective, and here we find for the first time
the phrase, already alluded to in the chapter on _Tristan_, which
throughout the _Ring_ is made to serve so many purposes. In this scene
I still feel the halting between the _Lohengrin_ style and later, the
indecision--nay, the uncertainty--in the handling of the musical
material. There are no regular four-bar measures and full closes as in
the earlier work; but a great deal is nothing more than dry recitative
disguised. The first scene of the _Rhinegold_ is purely symphonic:
even if Alberich's spasmodic, jerky exclamations seem to be written in
to fit the nature of this being, his whole mode of speech--harsh,
unmusical--renders the fact less glaring; and the tide of music flows
steadily on, reaching climax upon climax, until the final crash when
he disappears with the gold. Wagner did not find it possible to get
this continuity when he came to set to music the arguments amongst
Wotan, Fricka and Freia: there are short cantilenas, but they are
constantly broken by recitative.

With the entry of the Giants the music makes, so to say, a fresh
start. The old themes are welded to or interwoven with new material,
and a perfect symphonic whole results, one that can be listened to
with delight without stage accessories. I do not mean that music
intended for the theatre should stand the test of playing away from
the theatre, but that here Wagner, while writing strictly and
immensely effective theatre music, has got such a grip of his art that
he can combine the two things, dramatic truth, and symphonic beauty
and cohesion. The flood sweeps on, undisturbed in its flow by the
entry of the other deities, or by the introduction of themes full of
significance in the light of their after development. But another fact
must not go unnoticed. There is in the _Rhinegold_ little of the
spring freshness of the _Valkyrie_. The melody associated with
Freia's apples is supremely beautiful; but it is a mere short phrase,
several times repeated, and the mass of music in which it is embedded
smells more of the study and the lamp than of the mountains and the
woods. The Froh theme, too, is a trifle flat: it does not effervesce
or sparkle: the "dewy splendour" of the _Valkyrie_ music is not on it.
This is not to be hypercritical: it is to compare, as one must, a
great achievement with an achievement in all respects very much,
immeasurably, greater. Had we only the _Rhinegold_, with all its
plentiful lack of inspiration and its theatricality, it would rank
very high; but Wagner himself in the _Valkyrie_ set the standard by
which inevitably it must be judged.

When Wotan and Loge descend to the Nibelung's cave to steal the
treasure Wagner frankly lets himself loose. Here we have the
hobgoblins of the Teutonic imagination and the rude, boisterous,
humorous Wotan of the Scandinavian imagination--the Odin who tried to
drink the sea dry and laughed to find he could not. As the
once-celebrated Sir Augustus Harris declared, "This is pantomime."
Perhaps the scene is unduly protracted, but the music goes on merrily
enough. The renewed altercation with the Giants calls for little
remark. When, however, the Giants demand the Ring and Wotan calls up
Erda, the wisdom of the earth, a passage occurs which, though more or
less of an irrelevant interpolation, gives Wagner a chance of putting
forth his strength. Erda rises to most mysterious music, counsels
Wotan to surrender the Ring, and sinks down again to her sleep; and
one forgets the irrelevancy in the thrill of this vision of the Mother
Earth, the spirit that sleeps amongst the everlasting hills. Finally
the composer gets his great chance, and shows that, like Handel and
his own Donner, he "could strike like a thunderbolt." The gods are all
disheartened; mists have gathered; Donner--our old friend Thor--raises
his hammer and smashes something; there is a flash of lightning and a
peal of thunder; the mists and clouds clear away; and we see there the
rainbow bridge over which the gods wend on their way to Valhalla. We
have Wagner the sublime pictorial musician. The Rainbow motive is
perhaps not very graphic in itself, but it serves as a basis for a
delicious passage--evening calm and sunset after storm--comparable
only with a parallel passage in Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. The
storm itself is Wagner in the plenitude of his power. It is short: it
is not "worked up": in a few strokes, brief and telling as Donner's
own hammer-strokes, the whole thing is done. Then the Valhalla music,
glorified by a gorgeous accompaniment, is heard again, only
interrupted by the wail of the Rhinemaidens below, sorrowing for the
loss of their pretty, harmless toy. Wotan hears the cry, and passes on
to feast in his castle. Grim care goes with him; but he has the
consoling idea of the free hero and the irresistible sword. So ends
the _Rhinegold_--Fricka content to have both Wotan and Freia; the
other gods not much concerned about anything; Wotan full of
apprehensions and also of determination--determination to rule without
paying the price of rulership.


I have attempted nothing more than a broad and rough description of
the _Rhinegold_. The opera was planned as a prelude, and suffers from
the defects of the plan, as well as from the fact that it was written
before Wagner's new method was ripe. He wrote to Liszt that the music
came up "like wild," or, as an irreverent critic once observed, like
mould on a pot of jam; and the second description is truer than the
speaker thought. The _Rhinegold_ has aged faster than any other of the
great works. Alongside of the sublime we find the petty; after phrases
as sweet and fresh as raindrops on young spring leaves we find stodgy,
"made," music; the atmosphere is not preserved. But gigantic
possibilities are opened out. The Rhine music is afterwards used to
splendid ends; the Spear motive, which makes its first appearance in
rather a trivial form--it might be a quotation from Weber or
Spohr--becomes later one of the crowning glories of the _Ring_; the
Fire music--the Loge theme--comes out at once in its full
magnificence. It is fair criticism to say that had Wagner written the
opera again after finishing the _Valkyrie_ he might have wrought up
his material into a perfect work of art. A mere mortal, even the
greatest mortal, could hardly be expected to attempt the task, and the
_Rhinegold_ is a little less than perfect. Moreover, it is
superfluous. We can follow the _Valkyrie_, _Siegfried_ and the _Dusk
of the Gods_ quite well without it. Still, it is a part of Wagner's
scheme, and for many a long year will be enjoyed for its power and
beauty, a power and beauty that seem small only in comparison with the
greater operas.




The _Rhinegold_ suffers from a plethora of undeveloped themes, some of
which are treated at length as the _Ring_ proceeds. Of all announced
only two remain unchanged, the Valhalla and the Fire themes. The
first, I have just remarked, is not susceptible of development, and is
only slightly varied throughout the _Ring_; the second does not demand
development, but is varied much as Beethoven varied his melodies in
his last pianoforte sonatas. The most important of those that are
metamorphosed is the Spear motive. The Spear is the symbol at once of
Wotan's sovereignty and of his bondage. On its shaft, the world
ash-tree stem, are graven the mystic laws by virtue of which he rules;
did he break these laws his power would be gone from him. The essence
of the laws lies in the sanctity of compacts, and so we first hear its
representative theme when the Giants come to claim Freia as payment
for the building of the Burg: it makes its appearance quietly,
unobtrusively, almost apologetically, and might be, as I have said, a
fragment from Spohr or Weber. Its treatment in a simple snatch of
two-part canon, one part following the other at half-a-bar's distance,
seems like a mild gibe at those who only live for and by conventions.
When it reappears in the Second Act of the _Valkyrie_ it is
altogether a different thing: here we have Wotan the ruler determined
at all costs to rule and using to the full the power the Spear confers
on him. Like many of the greatest musical subjects, it is simple
beyond the daring of the minor composers, merely an unbroken scale
descending in heavy, emphatic steps to the lower octaves: it is
authority personified, will that brooks no opposition. This motive,
the Valhalla motive and the fire motive are the principal ones carried
into the _Valkyrie_ from the _Rhinegold_; and an immense amount of new
musical matter is introduced. We see no more of the inferior deities:
we hear the stroke of Donner's hammer in a storm _Lied_, and Loge
appears as consuming flame in the last act; but, excepting Wotan, only
Fricka is seen again in human shape. The stage is now occupied by
human beings, raised up, it is true, by Wotan himself, and by some
other mysterious beings, also raised up by Wotan, one of whom, _the_
Valkyrie, Brünnhilda, is condemned in the final scene to become human.

Two dramas, the huge encircling tragedy of Wotan in conflict with his
wife Fricka, the goddess of laws and covenants, especially the
covenant of marriage, and the subsidiary tragedy of Siegmund and
Sieglinda, are combined in perfect proportions in the _Valkyrie_. The
story at first sounds a little complicated; but the reader, bearing in
mind what has already been said of Wotan's Master-idea, can have no
difficulty whatever in following it. The Master-idea, we know, is to
raise up a hero who, acting freely, independent of and ever defying
the gods, will wrest the Ring from Fafner. Wotan, then, has descended
from his Valhalla, and, taking an earthly wife, begotten two children,
Siegmund and Sieglinda, who know themselves to be of the tribe of the
Volsungs. These he deserts. Sieglinda is taken captive and made the
loveless wife of Hunding; Siegmund, alone in the world, wanders hither
and thither, meeting ill-luck everywhere--ill-luck prepared by his
father. At last, in attempting to rescue a maiden from some raiders,
he is forced to fly. As he runs through the depths of an unknown
forest a storm breaks upon him, and he takes shelter, utterly
exhausted, in the house of Hunding. At this point the curtain rises.

The scene is the inside of Hunding's dwelling, built round a great
ash-tree; on the right the fire burns on the hearth. The steady roar
of the storm outside is heard, broken by shocks as the wind buffets
the trees and the house and by the plashing of the rain. The room is
empty; presently the door is roughly dashed open from outside and
Siegmund staggers in. "Whatever this house may be, I must rest here,"
he says, and throws himself on the hearth. (We must bear in mind that
the hearth was sacred: if my enemy took refuge on mine I might starve
him out, but so long as he stayed there I might not hurt him.)
Sieglinda enters; the two do not recognise one another; he calls for
water; she brings him mead. Presently they fall to talking; and it is
seen that the inevitable must happen. Hunding enters abruptly; they
sit down to supper; Siegmund discloses his identity, so far as he
knows it--all but his name; Hunding recognises the very man he has
been chasing, and gives him shelter for the night, but warns him that
in the morning he, without a weapon, must fight. He calls for his
night-draught, sends Sieglinda into the sleeping-room, and follows
her. She glances repeatedly from Siegmund to a spot on the ash-trunk;
but he does not take her meaning.

There follows a strange and beautiful scene. Siegmund lies down to
rest; the fire glimmers fitfully, then blazes up, revealing at the
point on the trunk at which Sieglinda had gazed a shining sword-hilt,
the blade embedded in the trunk. Still Siegmund does not understand,
and the fire dies down; he is beginning to slumber when Sieglinda
enters and calls him. He starts up; she has put a sleeping-powder in
Hunding's cup, and they are safe; and thus begins the greatest
love-duet, next to the _Tristan_, in the world. Sieglinda tells how
when she, full of grief, was wedded to Hunding, a grey old man, with
one eye, clad in a blue cloak, came in uninvited, drove the sword
Nothung into the ash-tree, and said that it should belong to the hero
strong enough to draw it out. From all parts warriors came, but none
could move it. Sieglinda feels that the appointed man has come;
Siegmund grasps the weapon and triumphantly pulls it out. Then they
reveal their names, and recognise one another as brother and sister,
and the Act ends.

This is the first step towards Wotan's discomfiture. The significance
of the Sword theme in the _Rhinegold_ at the moment when he has the
Master-idea will now be apparent. The sword was so endowed by Wotan
that only a fearless hero could use it; therefore, when Siegmund draws
it from the wood, Wotan, watching from Valhalla, knows he has
succeeded in raising up the hero he needed. Siegmund had been tested
by all manner of misfortune; no harder life could have been his; Wotan
had never aided him, but thrown disasters in his path; and had he
failed or succumbed Wotan's device would have failed. But freely,
independently, with no help from the god, he had come through all, and
now his own strength enabled him to take the sword to--to what?--to
work Wotan's will! That is, in creating Siegmund, even in testing him,
in preparing for him a weapon that none could stand against, Wotan,
far from successfully accomplishing his purpose, was accomplishing his
ruin. Disillusionment comes swiftly. The first deed of his hero is to
break two of the most sacred laws of heaven--laws binding on Wotan
until he gets the Ring--for he carries off another man's wife, who is,
moreover, his own sister. The punishment for that is matter for the
next Act. At the end of the first we have seen that Wotan's
Master-idea is a delusion. He might as well go and kill Fafner himself
and take the Ring as breed a hero to do it for him with the aid of a
magic sword. If he did so it would be by virtue of the power conferred
on him by the runes on the Spear; and by those runes--those
laws--Siegmund must be, and is, promptly judged and punished.


Before the rising of the curtain we have the first and one of the
greatest of the ear-pictures of the _Valkyrie_. There is no preamble;
at once the strings begin in repeated quavers to sustain (virtually) a
long D, while the basses start off with a figure many times
repeated--a figure which is simply a bold variant of the bass figure
in Schubert's _Erl-king_. So, for that matter, is the long D. Schubert
drew a fine picture of storm in black wood; but he was limited by the
form he wrote in and the instruments he wrote for. The energy,
superhuman energy, of the thing is amazing: the storm throbs in the
forest: one feels the pulse of the storm-god; the _sforzando_ shocks
and shrieks add to the terrific wildness of the scene. Pitilessly,
ever higher and higher, the wind shrieks, always to that beating bass,
until, amid the clatter and screaming, we hear Donner, exulting in his
mad strength and swinging his mighty hammer as he rides. The lightning
crackles vividly in the orchestra, the thunder rolls, crashes and
growls, and the thunder-god can almost be heard betaking himself off
to continue his riot afar. Then a labouring, panting and struggling
phrase--scarcely a theme--is heard as the storm slightly lulls; the
curtain rises and we see Hunding's dwelling, and Siegmund bursts in.

The music of the earlier portion of the first scene is not of the same
intrinsic quality, nor need it be. We have the setting before our
eyes, and the stupendous power of what has just been heard leaves in
our minds a vivid impression of what is going on out of doors.
Sieglinda comes in, surprised to find a stranger there at all,
especially on so wild a night; Siegmund asks for water; she brings it;
finding he is likely to fetch trouble on her head, he is for going.
But there is sympathy between them, and various Volsung motives and
phrases of the rarest beauty and expressiveness tell us why; and she
tells him to wait. "Hunding I will await here," says Siegmund. It is
in this scene that a passage occurs like one which I have referred to
in the chapter on the _Dutchman_--the phrase is marked (_f_) on p.
118. The _Dutchman_ phrase is longer and at the same time less
poignant; here it is brief and extraordinarily expressive; there it is
not developed, nor, after some repetitions, heard again; here it is
made the most of musically and appears so late as in the _Dusk of the
Gods_. But the situations are analogous. Senta gazes, rapt, on
Vanderdecken; Sieglinda and Siegmund look on one another and passion
begins to dawn. This is worth noting as showing that Wagner used the
leitmotiv spontaneously, so to speak, and not always as the result of
deliberate calculation. Like all the other composers, he had his
mannerisms: having invented a melody to find utterance for a feeling
or set of feelings, when similar feelings had to be expressed again it
was natural to him to use again the first melody, or something very
like it. No composer, not even Beethoven, was more resolutely bent on
writing _truthful_ music; and having once found the music to express
certain shades of feeling, he was like a writer who, having said
something as well as he can say it, prefers repeating himself to
trying to achieve a superficial appearance of variety. Wagner, I
think, repeated himself quite unconsciously very often: when the
repetition is conscious of course we have at once the genuine
leitmotiv; but it is the maddest of errors to see in every resemblance
between phrases the deliberate employment of the leitmotiv.

The pair have drunk mead together and stand looking at one another;
the storm has died away; and from the orchestra come passages of
wondrous delicacy, tenderness and freshness, scored by a perfect
master. Suddenly the clanking of a horse's hoofs is heard; "Hunding!"
exclaims Sieglinda; the door is again thrown open and the black,
ferocious barbarian stalks in. His theme is, figuratively, as black,
gloomy, sinister and forbidding as himself; and the heavy, sullen
tones of the battery of tubas which announces it intensify its
effectiveness a hundredfold. Hunding is no villain of the piece, but a
simple, surly chief of a tribe of savage fighters, and Wagner's music
exactly describes him. Save for Siegmund's recital of his woes, the
remainder of the scene remains sullen and gloomy; Siegmund, however,
has some touching passages, and notably a phrase of unearthly
strangeness when he tells how he came back to his hut and found his
father gone, only a wolf-skin lying there; and a bit of the Valhalla
motive in the orchestra thrills one with its suggestiveness. One is
carried into the dimmest recess of a forest where man has never been,
far back in a period so old that it is ridiculous to call it ancient.
Throughout the music is in Wagner's grandest manner; the vocal writing
is perfect; and though there are plenty of theatrical strokes, they
are done in a nobler way than the mere opera way of _Tannhäuser_ and
_Lohengrin_. In a word, the music is big: the breadth and sweep are
enormous: the greatest Wagner has arrived, the Wagner who has gone far
beyond the hesitations and littlenesses even of the _Rhinegold_.
Hunding is characterised more clearly and with more decisive strokes
than Hagen in the last opera of the _Ring_, partly because there is
more genuine inspiration in the _Valkyrie_, partly, perhaps, because
Hunding is a much simpler personage.

That strange scene where Siegmund lies on the hearth again, and,
realising his desperate situation, calls on his father the Volsung for
aid, is musically and dramatically splendid in its colour and force.
As he thinks of Sieglinda a feeling of spring again comes into the
music; thus is strengthened the beautiful music she is given; then
comes the avowal of love, and the flying open of the door. Outside,
the trees are seen in the moonlight, the dripping green leaves
glistening; and Siegmund sings a spring-song never to be beaten for
freshness (though, as I have pointed out, not equal in musical
significance to Walther's song in the _Mastersingers_); there comes
the magnificent scene of the plucking out of the Sword; the
recognition of the two as brother and sister; and the final
impassioned outburst which ends the scene as with a blaze of fire.

This Act will ever be accounted one of Wagner's most magnificent and
fully inspired. The superb vocal writing, the beauty and sheer
strength of the orchestral parts, the gorgeous colouring, and the
human passion blent with the sense of the green yet fiery spring, all
go to make up a thing unique in opera. A tide of life rushes through
it all; and the man's technical accomplishment was so fine and
complete that he found immediate incisive expression for every shade
of emotion, or complex blend of emotions, and every sensation. The
jealous, savage ferocity of Hunding is there; Siegmund's and
Sieglinda's despair, hope and final burst of ecstatic joy; and at the
same time we seem to smell the fresh, wet earth and leaves and to see
the sparkling moonlight.


The Second Act opens in a wild and rocky place amongst the mountains.
Siegmund and Sieglinda have fled; Hunding is in hot pursuit; and now
Wotan stands, the mighty war-god, brandishing his spear, and calling
his daughter Brünnhilda, the Valkyrie, to favour and aid Siegmund. She
joyfully assents and goes off, and Wotan exults. He persists in
deceiving himself: Brünnhilda, his own daughter, was created to
execute his purposes: the Runes make him accountable for her actions,
just as he is now for Siegmund's and in the later operas for
Siegfried's. As in the _Rhinegold_, Fricka instantly bids him remember
what and _how_ he is. As the goddess of covenants, laws, she wants
vengeance wreaked on Siegmund and Sieglinda: they have broken the most
sacred of all covenants in the eyes of a woman, the marriage covenant.
Vainly Wotan pleads that the Valkyrie works unaided: she presses him,
until at last he swears a sacred oath on his spear that Siegmund shall
die. Brünnhilda comes in, whooping her war-call, but her voice drops
at the sight of Fricka. Fricka, who thoroughly despises all the
Valkyrie maidens as being born out of true wedlock, tells her to take
her orders from Wotan, and goes off triumphant. Wotan, deeply
despondent, terrifies Brünnhilda with his grief; she casts down her
spear and shield and kneels before him, imploring him to tell the

Then follows a scene that is, and always will be, a stumbling-block:
Wotan seeks to explain his position in quasi-Schopenhauerian
terminology and at immense length. We know all about it: it has been
explained amply in the _Rhinegold_ and in the scene we have just
witnessed, and now he must needs go over the ground again--with dreary
and soporific effect. Brünnhilda, as love incarnate, pleads for the
man and woman whose only crime in her eyes is that they love (for laws
are things pure love cannot understand). Wotan cannot but be obdurate;
he pronounces sentence on Siegmund and goes off in a storming rage.
Sadly Brünnhilda, comprehending nothing of the compulsion Wotan is
subject to--for how should love know aught of greed for power?--picks
up her weapons ("How heavy they have grown!" she says) and prepares to
warn Siegmund he must die. (No warrior could look upon a Valkyrie save
in the hour of his death; therefore no living being had ever seen
one.) As sounds of the approaching steps of panting people are heard
she retires amongst the rocks; Siegmund and Sieglinda stagger in, the
woman fainting. She has sinned and is overwhelmed with terror; he
cannot comfort her; she faints, then sleeps--the Valkyrie having
thrown a spell on her. Siegmund bends over her; slowly Brünnhilda
advances and calls, "Siegmund! I come to call thee hence"; he raises
his head, sees her, and knows his fate. This is the final crushing
blow; the Volsung had always deserted him; but he had found the magic
sword and thought the promised help would not fail him in his worst
need. (Truly the gods treat us as toys to be broken at pleasure!) He
refuses to go, and speaks blasphemy of the high gods; Brünnhilda is
horrified: here she is going to take him to Valhalla to feast on
delights for ever--and he scorns her. He ridicules Valhalla and Wotan
and the serving-maidens: he wonders who the Valkyrie is, so beautiful
and cold and stern. The scene is one of the fullest dramatic
intensity: at last Siegmund asks whether, if he goes to Valhalla, he
will find his wife there. "Siegmund will see Sieglinda no more," is
the answer: Siegmund for the moment is crushed, but again rebels, and
takes his sword to kill first Sieglinda and then himself. Brünnhilda
is overcome with admiration: _this_, at any rate, this love she can
understand; she tells him to prepare to fight Hunding and she will
help him.

The next scene is unmatched, even in Wagner, for its terror and the
swiftness with which the climax comes on. Clouds gather; Hunding's
horn is heard and his voice; Siegmund leaves Sieglinda and goes off
cheerfully and confidently to meet his foe. Thicker gather the clouds;
thunder peals and lightnings flash; the antagonists are heard calling
as they seek each other in the darkness; Sieglinda speaks in her
dreams; as she awakes, Hunding and Siegmund are seen in the dim light
high up amongst the rocks; Brünnhilda encourages Siegmund, guarding
him with her spear; he is about to strike Hunding down; there is an
angry red glare, and Wotan shatters the sword with his spear; Hunding
runs his spear through Siegmund; Sieglinda shrieks and falls
insensible to the ground. Slowly the red light fades; "Go, tell Fricka
I have sent you," Wotan says bitterly, and at his nod Hunding falls
dead; Brünnhilda has run round, picked up the shards of the Sword,
and, gathering Sieglinda in her arms, rushed away. There is a moment
of suspense; the tragedy is accomplished; and now Wotan must punish
Brünnhilda for disobeying his commands; and amidst thunders and
lightnings, in flaming wrath, he rides off, and the curtain falls.

The drama of Siegmund and Sieglinda is ended; the second inner drama,
that of Wotan and Brünnhilda, is begun. Love, the best part of Wotan's
nature, has risen against him in his endeavour to rule; she cannot
prevent him destroying the creatures he has made, but she can defy
him. That sort of rule would be intolerable, so love shall be put away
from him and he will still rule. And, love being discarded, there is
no reason why he should not still get the Ring, by fair or foul means,
and reign--loveless indeed, but in no fear of Fafner or the Nibelung,
black Alberich.


As a musical structure the Second Act divides more easily and clearly
than the first into sections: the sections, indeed, are boldly
defined. First there is a prelude formed of the scene in which Wotan,
rejoicing in the coming combat, directs Brünnhilda to see to it that
Hunding is slain; and this is followed by what may be regarded as the
main first movement--the dispute between Wotan and Fricka, terminating
in his taking the oath; then comes his monologue, addressed, of
course, to Brünnhilda ("In talking to thee it is with myself I seem to
speak," to transcribe approximately what he says); Brünnhilda's
warning to Siegmund follows, and then the finale, the catastrophic
climax with Siegmund's death.

The prelude opens with the same fiery impetuosity as that to the First
Act. It is largely made up of what in the guide-books used to be
called the "Flight motive"--as though a serious composer would or
could invent a motive of Running away!--and as the opening bar may be
taken as a variation of the Sword theme, and the thing ends with what
we learn to be a tune associated with the Valkyries, a really fertile
and picturesque mind may see in it a musical account of Siegmund
flying with the Sword and pursued, for good or evil, by the Valkyrie.
What we really feel in it is the harshness of the opening discords,
the agitation, the power, all forming a fitting prelude to what we see
when the curtain rises, the barren rocks, and Wotan, exultant, calling
Brünnhilda. His phrases have, indeed, a glorious vigour, as have
Brünnhilda's in her answer. Her war-whoop plays an important part in
the Third Act. Fricka's music is royally imperious at first: such
declamation had never been thought of in the world before; but there
is rare beauty of an austere kind--the beauty of holiness--afterwards,
as she momentarily drops her dignity and pleads her cause. She gains
the day and departs, and after Wotan's tedious meditation comes the
most magnificent music of all. We hear the Fate theme--a strange
phrase that seems to question destiny without ever getting an
answer--and a subject taken bodily from Mendelssohn and made into a
new thing filled with a curious blending of wistful and tender pity,
mystery and power. It gives us a glimpse into the very heart of
Brünnhilda, obeying her father because she must, and revolting against
the task. Siegmund's declamation is a fine example of Wagner's finest
vocal writing at this period--the style which I have referred to as
something between recitative and true song. That is, it remains
metrical without the slightest tendency to fall into regular four-bar
measure, or any other regular measure; yet it decidedly is not
recitative. But as the prevailing mood becomes more exalted, so does
the music become more lyrical, and the ending of the dialogue, when
Brünnhilda's emotion swamps every other consideration than rescuing
the lovers, is sheer song. The orchestral part is symphonic
throughout, with a few dramatic pauses. One of the most wonderful of
these is at Brünnhilda's reply: "Siegmund will see Sieglinda no more."
There is no wailing, no sadness, in the accompaniment--only simple
chords; and the simple voice-phrase, evidently intended to be
half-spoken, makes an effect of overwhelming pathos. Of a different
order is Siegmund's refusal to go to Valhalla: it verges on the
melodramatic, and the emotion expressed justifies the means. It may be
remarked that though the instrumental writing is symphonic, there is
none of the contrapuntal intricacy of _Tristan_: the pictorial
requirement warranted a freer use of chords in the accompanying parts,
both--if a paradoxical phrase may be pardoned--for the abstract colour
of the chords and for the instrumental tone colour which the use of
chords permitted. Wagner never ceases to make us feel that the drama
passes amidst the wild mountains and woods: the drama is poignant
enough in all conscience, and the scenery is an aid to it. We have the
purely pictorial Wagner with the gathering storm--the voices calling
amongst the clouds. The sinister growling of the approaching thunder
is heard, and, still more sinister, the harsh notes of Hunding's
horn; the orchestra rages louder and louder, Sieglinda mutters in her
dream, the Valkyrie's call is heard encouraging Siegmund, the crash as
the Sword is splintered, and then an awful silence. The action has
been long delayed, but the catastrophe arrives with appalling
swiftness at the end, and the music is equal to the opportunity. It is
not wholly theatre music: that passage in the bass, galloping up and
down the scale against a _tremolando_ accompaniment, is in itself fine
music; even Hunding's rough cow-horn makes a musical effect. When
Wotan's fury breaks forth and he rides off in godlike wrath--even here
the music is glorious, taken simply as music. Had all the _Ring_ been
done with the superb mastery of this and the preceding Act, we should
have an art creation to be set above every other art achievement in
the world--above anything done by Æschylus, Sophocles and Shakespeare.


Like the First Act, the Third begins with a storm of rain, wind,
thunder and lightning; like First and Second, it opens with a display
of energy before which all listeners are as leaves in the wind. As
panoramic displays translated into music all the three introductions
are likely enough to be misunderstood; so at the outset let us
carefully bear in mind Wagner's intention at the beginning of the last
Act of the _Valkyrie_--to show, with unequalled force and splendour,
the strength of the god, soon to be shown as nothing before the
strength of Brünnhilda. Brünnhilda, let us always remember, stands for
human love, affection--not love in the _Tristan_ sense--but that love
of which Goldsmith sang that He "loved us into being"; the love of
human being for human being so strong that not for so many thousands a
year as a judge, so many pitiable hundreds a year as a magistrate,
immortality as an omnipotent ruler or a Wotan, will it perpetuate or
permit a wrong on a human being. To win omnipotence Wotan has
inflicted wrong upon wrong--wrong upon wrong on those he had created
for his purpose, on those the fine part of his nature loved. The fine
part of his nature revolts and conquers him. He struggles on, shorn of
nine-tenths of his strength, and it is not until the Third Act of
_Siegfried_ that he sees himself beaten and acknowledges it; but the
ending of the gods, which really began with Wotan's first grasp at
universal power, is first in this last Act of the _Valkyrie_ clearly
foretold. Wotan comes on clothed in thunders and lightnings to punish
Brünnhilda because she fought on the side of the higher instead of the
lower part of his nature--his higher self is cast from him, only (he
thinks) to unite later with a force (a hero) independent of him to
gain him his sovereignty.

The tempest rages and roars; the Valkyries arrive "by ones, by twos,
by threes," at the Valkyries' Rock; and presently, in hotter haste
than the rest, Brünnhilda comes in, bringing Sieglinda. She tells her
(Brünnhilda's) sisters how she has defied Wotan, the All-father; they
are scandalised, and desert her; Sieglinda feebly begs her to take no
more trouble--there is nothing left to live for; Brünnhilda tells her
she carries within her the seed of the highest hero of all the world;
Sieglinda is filled with joy, revives, and flies to the cave in the
wood where Siegfried is destined to be born. Wotan comes on with his
thunders and lightnings and calls for Brünnhilda; at last she answers,
and he announces her punishment: she shall be deprived of her godhood
and left on the mountains to become the wife and slave of the first
man that passes. The other maidens wail in protest; in anger he bids
them begone; Brünnhilda, overcome with shame, sinks at his feet. The
storm slowly dies away; Brünnhilda rises and pleads her cause--"Is
this crime of mine so shameful?--in protecting Siegmund the Volsung I
simply followed what I knew to be the dictates of your own innermost
heart." At first Wotan will scarcely hear her; gradually he relents.
But he cannot go back on his oath, on the sentence he has pronounced;
and in the end he yields her this much--that she shall lie guarded by
a wall of fire, only to be claimed by a hero who, not fearing his
spear, will pass through the fire. Then he bids her an everlasting
farewell; lays her to sleep in her armour, covered by her shield, her
weapon by her side; calls up the fire, and casting a last sad look on
her, his favourite child, goes slowly off as the curtain falls.

The drama here is of the most poignant kind; the scenic surroundings
are of the sort Wagner so greatly loved--tempest amidst black
pine-woods, with wild, flying clouds, the dying down of the storm,
the saffron evening light melting into shadowy night, the calm
deep-blue sky with the stars peeping out, then the bright flames
shooting up; and the two elements, the dramatic and the pictorial,
drew out of him some pages as splendid as any even he ever wrote. The
opening, "the Ride of the Valkyries," is a piece of storm-music
without a parallel. There is no need here for Donner with his hammer:
the All-father himself is abroad in wrath and majesty, and his
daughters laugh and rejoice in the riot. There is nothing uncanny in
the music: we have that delight in the sheer force of the elements
which we inherit from our earliest ancestors: the joy of nature
fiercely at work which is echoed in our hearts from time immemorial.
The shrilling of the wind, the hubbub, the calls of the Valkyries to
one another, the galloping of the horses, form a picture which for
splendour, wild energy and wilder beauty can never be matched.

Technically, this Ride is a miracle built up of many of the
conventional figurations of the older music. There is the continuous
shake, handed on from instrument to instrument, the slashing figure of
the upper strings, the kind of basso ostinato, conventionally
indicating the galloping of horses, and the chief melody, a mere
bugle-call, altered by a change of rhythm into a thing of superb
strength. The only part of the music that ever so remotely suggests
extravagance is the Valkyrie's call; and it, after all, is only a
jodel put to sublime uses. Out of these commonplace elements, elements
that one might almost call prosaic, Wagner wrought his picture of
storm, with its terror, power, joyous laughter of the storm's
daughters--storm as it must have seemed to the first poets of our
race. The counterpoint is not so obviously wonderful as in _Tristan_
and the _Mastersingers_, but only a contrapuntist equal to Bach and
Handel could have written such counterpoint. We may gain a clearer
idea of what this means if we compare, not to the disadvantage of one
or the other, this Ride with Berlioz's "Ride to the Abyss." At first
sight, Berlioz seems the more daring. He trusts to a persistent rhythm
and to orchestral effects. There is no inner structure--the separate
parts, or batteries of parts, have no individuality: nothing of the
sort is attempted or indeed wanted. The horses gallop on like mad
things: their pace cannot be checked; themes, properly speaking, there
are none--we hear the screeches of fearsome wild-fowl, the excitement
and the noise increase, until at last the catastrophe is reached, and
the final climax is the terrible gibberish-chant of all the devils in
hell. Regarded as sheer music, the thing gets as far by the twentieth
bar as ever it gets. The piece is as near to pure colour in music as
can be attained. Why, Wagner with his counterpoint seems old-fashioned
and formal by comparison! The four constituents, the wild laughter of
the shakes of the wood-wind, the slashing figure of the strings, the
galloping figure of the bass, the Ride theme--had these been used by
any one save Wagner the result would have been unendurably wooden. But
Wagner had unlimited harmonic resources at his disposal; and he had
the determination and the gift to achieve perfect truth in his
delineation of a storm. Delineation, I say, for here we have drawing
as well as colour. Of colour there is plenty: notice, for example, the
use of the brass against the descending chromatics; but the colour is
mainly harmonic. In a sense Wagner was not an innovator: so long as
the methods of his mighty predecessors served him he sought no
others--effects, whether of orchestration or of melody, were to him
simply means: never for a second was he beguiled into regarding them
as ends; and every musician knows that plenty of them came at his
call, more readily and spontaneously than in the case of any of the
later musicians.

It is worth looking at the plan of this Ride--which is, be it
remembered, only the prelude to the gigantic drama which is to follow.
After the ritornello the main theme is announced, with a long break
between the first and second strains; and again a break before it is
continued. Then it sounds out in all its glory, terse, closely gripped
section to section, until the Valkyries' call is heard; purely
pictorial passages follow; the theme is played with, even as Mozart
and Beethoven played with their themes, and at the last the whole
force of the orchestra is employed, and his object is attained--he has
given us a picture of storm such as was never done before, and he has
done what was necessary for the subsequent drama--made us feel the
tremendous might of the god of storms. A few of my readers may know
Handel's "Horse and his Rider" chorus--how he piles mass on mass of
tone until in the end we seem to see a whole irresistible sea rushing
over Pharaoh and his host. Wagner does a thing perfectly analogous;
but as I have remarked with regard to Weber and Mendelssohn and their
picturesque music, where Handel, having painted his tremendous
picture, had achieved his end and was satisfied and left off, is just
the point where Wagner begins what to him is much the more important
thing, the drama. The omnipotent master of Valhalla comes on apace:
the storm is a mere indication of what is coming.

A word must be said, too, about the words for such scenes as this.
Words had to be found, as in the first song of the Rhinemaidens, and
it is hard to see what else Wagner could have done than what he has
done. Like reversed Lohengrins they tell one another their name and
station at great length. This may be a vestige of the older
stage-craft: certainly there is none of it in the two great dramas
that followed the _Valkyrie_. It is not for even the minor personages
of a Wagner drama to come down to the footlights and take the audience
into their confidence. But, as I say, words were indispensable, and
Wagner found the best he could--I suppose. The defect is a tiny one;
none the less it is a defect.

With the final crash of the Ride a new element is introduced. The
godlike rejoicing in sheer strength disappears, and an agitated theme
sounds out--if, indeed, we may call it a theme--and then we get a lull
after all the hurly-burly. Brünnhilda and Sieglinda come in;
Brünnhilda tells of her disobedience, and like a flock of wild-fowl
disturbed the other Valkyries squeak and gibber in disgust and
horror. The music here is perhaps the most operatic part of the
opera--Brünnhilda begging first one and then another to aid her; one
after another refusing in very conventional phrases. The scene is
indispensable, and the music is, so to speak, coldly adequate: music
has no tones to express primness. With the voice of Sieglinda the
music at once begins to live in Wagner's own curious fashion. She has
nothing left in life, wishes to cause sorrow to no one, wishes only to
be left alone to die. Wagner well knew when the drama could make its
effect almost unaided--when, in fact, to write deliberately pathetic
music in the older style would be to overdo things. Sieglinda's
phrases are simple, many of them exquisite, most of them designed to
be sung parlando, rather spoken than really sung. Bathos is avoided:
the deepest depths of genuine pathos are touched. In fact the
technique of the scene is that of parts, only parts, of the previous
act. But with Brünnhilda's announcement to Sieglinda we get the great
lyrical Wagner, we get the germ of the magnificent harangue of the
last act of the _Dusk of the Gods_, and we get the mightiest of the
Siegfried themes. With the entrance of Wotan the music which concludes
the Second Act recurs: the All-powerful clothed in wrath and flame;
then comes his denunciation of Brünnhilda, another specimen of the
lyrical Wagner. Even more characteristic of Wagner is the dying down
of the storm. We can _see_ the setting sun and the departing
storm-clouds in the music, and with these we are made to feel the
abating wrath of the god. And then comes the noblest piece of
recitative in all music. The words in which Brünnhilda appeals to her
father have already been (roughly) quoted: to give an idea of the
musical phrases would require too many pages of this book. The Sleep
theme enters as Wotan sees a way to the great compromise--the
compromise foredoomed to bring him to ruin. He will put Brünnhilda to
sleep to await the hero; but he will hedge her in with fire so that
the hero shall be a true one. With the indescribable finesse,
subtlety, of his own particular art, Wagner lets us feel how
Brünnhilda, in begging to be protected in this (rather unusual) way,
is reading only her own father's thought: he seems for a long time to
contend, but at last yields. The music steadily increases in force and
passion, and at each stage where one would think the composer could
strike no harder he immediately does it. More and more of the divine
fury pours into the music, until the climax is reached in the bars
preceding the Farewell.

In the meantime we have had the wonderful Eternal Love theme--not
sexual love, but the mystic force that created the worlds and holds
them in their courses: in all Wagner there is no nobler and sweeter
passage than that in which Brünnhilda first sings it. The vivid
musical description of the crackling flames which are to surround her
is another of an unequalled series of marvels. The Farewell I have
already compared with that at the end of _Lohengrin_: the voice part
is at times in Wagner's own style of song-recitative, but a great deal
of it is sheer simple melody. No master has excelled, or perhaps
matched, Wagner in the art of expressing the most profound and
poignant pathos without ever a suspicion of letting it lapse into
bathos; and this he does by--what at first it may seem ridiculous to
say of so opulent and luxurious a genius as Wagner's--by his
instinctive artistic austerity. The word is not too strong to be
applied to the resolute simplicity which enabled him to write such
melodies as those of which I am now speaking and the Farewell in
_Lohengrin_: the temptation to let himself go, to wallow in sadness
and to wring our bowels must have been almost too tremendous to be
resisted by the man who within a year or so planned _Tristan_. In art,
harrowing our feelings never pays, and his self-repression has its
exceeding great reward: we could not feel more with Wotan's desolating
grief--one stroke more and we should rebel: we should know that our
most sacred feelings were being exploited--that an endeavour was being
made to gain our applause for a work of art by an illegitimate appeal
at one particular moment to those feelings. I have dwelt a little on
this because we all know _Tristan_ and its author, and though there is
little self-repression in that work--where it is not required--and
physically there was little but self-indulgence in its author's
nature, it is well to realise that the artist rose immeasurably
superior to the man. It must have come to us all at one time or
another with something of a shock to find that the voluptuous Wagner
of _Tannhäuser_ could be as austere as Milton. Austerity is not
barrenness--not the barrenness that would result from imitating the
austerity of the old church composers with their hundred rules and
regulations: the harmony is as free as could be wished; at the needful
moment the melodies pass without hesitation from key to key; but when
we have long known them and learnt to understand them we find them at
heart to be idealised folk-tunes--simple and indescribably pathetic,
as the situation demands.

An instance of Wagner's subtle feeling is the passage where Wotan
"kisses away" Brünnhilda's godhood and lays her to sleep, as one with
the rocks and stones of mother earth, Erda, whose music accompanies
the act. Wotan, like Alberich, has renounced love; so just previously
we have heard the corresponding passage from the _Rhinegold_. We have
the lulling Sleep theme, and then comes the Fire-music, a thing
unmatched--and, so far as I know, never attempted--in all music. The
mighty Spear strikes the ground to the mighty Spear theme; the earth
seems to shiver as the fire comes up; then the flames mount, yellow
against the deep blue sky; the Loge music sparkles in the orchestra,
the strings sustain a continuous whizz and roar, and over it all, and
at times in it or under it, swings that lulling Sleep theme. If it is
not too futile a word to use, the Siegfried "heroic" theme, as Wotan
uses it in commanding the fire (Loge) that only the noblest hero ever
born shall pass to Brünnhilda, is the most pompous form in which it
appears throughout the _Ring_; but the situation warrants it, demands
it. Amidst the roar of the fire and with the divine lulling phrase,
fragments of the Farewell are heard; and twice, as Wotan looks back on
his daughter, we hear the Fate theme--the Scandinavian sense that this
tragedy _mysteriously had to be_: the mighty god and lord of the
universe himself knows and feels that the things preordained must
happen. He goes slowly off; the central tragedy is virtually
accomplished; to the end the fire blazes and sparkles, and the curtain
descends on a soft chord. The revolving seasons will pass; strange
events will happen in the outer world of men; Brünnhilda will sleep
there, the guarding fire seen from afar by awe-stricken warrior

The spring freshness of the music, its vivid pictorial quality, the
intense human feeling expressed, its profound sense of the past and
the mystery of things, the godlike power, place it hardly second, if
indeed second, to _Tristan_. There are love-duets in music which may
be compared with those in _Tristan_: there is nothing with which the
music of the _Valkyrie_ may be compared. The grandeur of Handel's
picture-painting in _Israel in Egypt_ is a different quality
altogether. Handel is unapproachable; but he worked with a different
aim, in a different way, and in a different material. Wagner's music
is beautiful and sublime, and he blent the human element with the
others in a fashion no other musician has attempted.




In a letter to Liszt Wagner says he would not have undertaken the toil
of completing so gigantic a work as the _Ring_ but for his love of
Siegfried, his ideal of manhood. It is as well, from one point of
view, that his love of his ideal was so intense, for in consequence we
have the _Ring_; but from another point of view it is not so well, for
the youth Siegfried is the least lovable, perhaps the most inane and
detestable character to be found in any form of drama. He is a
combination of impudence, stupidity and sheer animal strength--mere
bone and sinew; his courage comes from his stupidity. The courage and
strength and impudence carry him through to his one victory; then his
stupidity leads him straight to destruction. He possesses not one fine
trait: he is as weak in will and intellect as he is strong in muscle.
In the 'fifties and 'sixties not only Germans but men of all other
nationalities seem to have vainly imagined they had solved all the
problems of this very difficult world by assuming and proclaiming that
might is right. Bismarck acted on this belief; our own Carlyle,
Tennyson and Ruskin preached it; and Wagner, being a feeble creature
physically, fell naturally, inevitably, a victim to the old delusion,
and set to work to glorify the strong man. There is a further
explanation. I need not do more than refer to an idea which took
definite form during the eighteenth century, that as many of the
defects and problems of modern life spring from the very conditions
under which our civilisation alone is possible, a return to a state of
nature, without government, clothes, or even houses to live in, would
be a return to the garden of Eden before the Fall. We see this notion
working in Wagner's mind continually in the prose writings, and in his
last opera we see Parsifal, the "pure fool," "redeeming" an
over-civilised world. To glorify the idiot absolute in this fashion
was to out-Rousseau Rousseau--though Wagner would have scorned the
suggestion. In _Siegfried_ he goes by no means so far; but he goes
quite far enough. Siegfried is no idiot; but he certainly is an
unamiable, truculent savage. He has been reared by a dwarf and
cripple, Mime, and the first we see of him is on his entry with a wild
bear in leash, which beast he drives at his terrified foster-father.
The justification is that he feels instinctively that Mime is bad, low
and cunning--and it does not justify him: Mime, with an ulterior
purpose, it is true, has saved him from death by starvation in his
infancy, and nurtured him, and the least Siegfried could do was to
leave the abject creature in peace. It is true also that he is mending
Siegfried's sword--but this is to anticipate. I cannot accept
Siegfried as a specimen of the highest heroic humanity. The boldness
of a man who because of his dull wits cannot realise danger is of no
use in this world under any imaginable conditions. Siegfried knows no
fear. There is a story of two officers conversing during a battle. One
asked, "Are you afraid?" Reply: "If you were as afraid as I am you
would run away." One, the tale assumes, had a finely organised brain,
the other brute force and insensibility. Which is the nearer approach
to an ideal of noble manhood? Wagner's _Siegfried_ answers, brute
ferocity. Judged by his own standard how would Wagner himself
stand?--as splendidly organised a brain as that possessed by any man
born into the nineteenth or any other century?


The continuous clink-clink-clink of a metalworker's hammer is heard;
the curtain rises, and we first see through an opening at the back of
the stage the bright green shining forest; as our eyes grow accustomed
to the darkness in the front we gradually perceive a rude smithy in a
cave, with an anvil, a forge with a smouldering fire, and a deformed
dwarf, Mime, at work trying to piece together the shards of the broken
sword. That sword was Siegmund's, shattered by a blow of Wotan's
spear; and long ago it was to this cave Sieglinda fled, bearing with
her the fragments. Siegmund and Sieglinda are long dead, Sieglinda
after giving birth to Siegfried; not far off is Hate-cave, where the
dragon Fafner lies guarding his precious gold amongst it the Ring;
far away Brünnhilda sleeps on the mountain, surrounded by her wall of
fire. There she lay on the evening of Siegmund's death; there she has
lain since. The world has gone on its way; Siegmund and Sieglinda have
departed; Siegfried has grown to manhood; year by year the young
shoots in the forest have sprouted and the leaves spread to the
sunlight: as we see the forest now, so was it on that fateful day, and
so it has been as the successive summers came. Siegmund lived, died,
and his memory has almost perished; save to the dwarf, the very name
of Sieglinda is unknown; other men have lived and died: nature only
goes on her course, the trees each year bringing forth fresh leaves to
repair last year's losses, as though the lives and deaths of brave men
and women were nothing to her. The earth is sweet and pleasant, but
nature must attend to her own affairs, and her indifference to the
affairs of men, her unchangeableness amidst all the vicissitudes of
men's lives, compel us to realise in such a scene as this at once her
own eternal youthfulness and man's brief, ephemeral existence. At one
stroke Wagner creates the atmosphere for his drama, and gives us as no
other artist has ever given it a sense of the unfathomable mystery of
the world and of life.

The dwarf taps away with his hammer; he longs to patch up the sword
that Siegfried may kill the dragon and he, Mime, get the hoard; he
bewails his weakness, but he does his best. All his labour proves
useless--the sword refuses to be mended; and in comes Siegfried with
his bear. The bear is driven off into the woods; there is a long
altercation and an explanation; Siegfried cannot believe that, as he
has been told, Mime is his father, and he learns the truth. He softens
into something approaching manhood as he hears of his mother's death;
and finally rushes off into the forest, leaving Mime again to his
task. Then follows a scene to be accounted for in only one way. First,
the scene: Mime sits in despair, and there enters an old man with his
slouch-hat drawn down over one eye, wearing a dark blue cloak (it
ought to be dotted with stars), and carrying a spear or staff in his
hands. He gains the sacred hearth, converses with Mime, and finally
bets him his head that he cannot answer three questions. Much to my
surprise when I first saw the score of _Siegfried_, these form merely
an excuse for going again over the ground covered in the _Rhinegold_
and the _Valkyrie_. The Scandinavian hegemony is expounded, and other
matters are gracefully touched on; the only point is made when the
last question is propounded and Mime cannot answer: Who is it shall
forge the sword, slay Fafner, take the hoard, pass through the fire
and take Brünnhilda for his wife? The old man laughs, leaves Mime his
head, but tells him it will fall to the hero who can do all these
things, the hero who knows not fear. He goes off; thunder is heard;
strange lights flicker amongst the trees; and Mime falls into an
ecstasy of terror, suffering all the agonies of a waking nightmare,
until the spell is abruptly broken by the entry of Siegfried. Why we
should have the two previous dramas of the _Ring_ told again in this
way is the puzzle. In the letter to Uhlig (p. 227) Wagner had plainly
given his reasons for writing the _Rhinegold_ and the _Valkyrie_--to
set before the audience clearly and vividly the events leading up to
_Siegfried's Death_, in action, not in narrative. We have seen them in
action, and lo! we get them in narrative! Wagner's idea must have been
to show us Wotan, realising how matters had passed beyond his control,
going about the world as the Wanderer, watching the development of
things and awaiting the inevitable day. He gives us the very awe and
thrill of our Scandinavian forbears with the apparition of the
grey-bearded man in his cloak coloured like deep night--the terrible
god that they believed walked the earth and might enter their
homesteads at any moment. Of course, as we shall see presently, the
answer to the third question prepares the next stage of the drama. But
as to why the whole story of the _Ring_ should be repeated--well, even
gods must have something to talk about if they wish to talk at all;
and the scene serves to sustain and to intensify the atmosphere in
which the whole drama is enacted, the atmosphere of the old sagas. But
I cheerfully concede that it is far too long, and in many respects an
artistic error.

The real drama of _Siegfried_, considering it as a separate,
self-contained opera, is now prepared for, and forthwith begins. We
know Siegfried and the task before him; we know Mime and _his_
task--to find out if Siegfried can be made to fear, and if he cannot,
to encourage him to kill the dragon, win the gold, and then to poison
him. He tries Siegfried with stories of terror, asks him if he has
never felt afraid of this, that and the other; and finding that this
is the veritable Hero, makes his preparation. Siegfried takes the
splinters of the sword--the splinters no smith can weld
together--files them to dust, melts the dust, re-casts the sword and
finishes it. Meantime Mime, working on, brews his poisonous broth,
muttering to himself about his purpose. At the end Siegfried tests the
sword and proves it true by splitting the anvil. All sorts of
allegorical meanings may be found in this gigantic scene; but the
plain meaning is that to a hero, unique, unparalleled in the history
of the world, a patched-up weapon, used previously by lesser men, is
useless: his sword must be new, and only he himself can forge it.


Before dealing further with the drama of _Siegfried_ I wish, for a
reason, to say a few words about the music of this First Act. From
_Tannhäuser_ onward Wagner showed in the music of his operas a
complete mastery of what can only be called the business-artistic side
of his art, or perhaps a complete knowledge of effectiveness. In so
long an affair as an opera, and especially a Wagner opera,
effectiveness depends largely on contrast, not simply between scene
and scene of an act, but also in a more marked degree between act and
act of an opera. In the _Dutchman_ there is none of this larger
contrast, and could hardly be, for the _Dutchman_ was originally
planned as an opera in one act. There is contrast enough, but he
contrasts set-piece with set-piece, scene with scene, not act with
act. In _Tannhäuser_ he works on the bigger scale and contrasts act
with act: the opening of the Second reveals a totally different mood
from that of the First, and the Third is entirely different from
either. This is true of the _Valkyrie_; but the _Rhinegold_, like the
_Dutchman_, is all of a piece, and is, moreover, the prelude to a huge
drama. When we come to _Siegfried_ we see at once how he was planning
his music on a still vaster scale: the atmosphere of _Siegfried_ is in
contrast, almost violent contrast, with that of the _Valkyrie_. The
music of the last act of the _Valkyrie_ is of a different character
altogether from that of the beginning of _Siegfried_. This is not
merely due to the development of Wagner's genius and his technical
power, but can be shown to be deliberately planned. Indeed, it ought
not to need any demonstration, knowing as we do know his knowledge and
grip of what is effective in the theatre. It would be absurd to
suppose that he was not perfectly well aware that every one would yawn
if after hearing the _Valkyrie_ his audience found _Siegfried_ to be
simply a continuation of the _Valkyrie_, found the two operas to be
virtually the same work with the scissors put through the score at an
arbitrarily chosen point. Consider the scenery of the two operas:
First Act of the _Valkyrie_, Hunding's hut with the smouldering fire;
Second, a rocky defile in the mountains and no particular weather;
Third, storm round the Valkyries' rock, black flying clouds, the pines
tossing their branches to the tempest, and, at the end, a peaceful
evening sky and then the yellow flames shooting up against it. We must
note the change to the beginning of _Siegfried_: a dark cave, and
outside it the forest, green, fresh and bright; Second Act, the
entrance to Hate-cave, time, night, long before dawn, and at the end a
summer morning, with the sun shimmering on the grass and the trees
gently murmuring in the wind; Third, a rocky ravine in the early
morning, grey storm-clouds scudding past, the wind whistling; at the
end, a mountain top, Brünnhilda sleeping, the peaceful trees, a horse
quietly grazing, morning sunlight. This sequence shows how carefully
the matter was schemed; and we may now turn to the music.

When the same leitmotivs are largely employed throughout a long
operatic work there must be a superficial, or, if I may say so,
external, monotony in the character of the music. A first glance at
the scores reveals to the eye the same series of notes and chords
repeated again and again; to any but the most attentive listener a
first hearing leaves the impression of the same themes and passages
endlessly repeated. But any one who leaves the theatre on an evening
after the _Valkyrie_ bearing with him a vivid memory of the brilliance
and sweetness of the close must at the very least be struck by the
sombre colouring of the opening of _Siegfried_ the following evening.
I do not mean the orchestral colouring, but the intrinsic thing, the
music itself. The tapping of the hammer on steel goes on, and in mock
seriousness the orchestra gives out a series of prolonged sighs or
groans of the most lugubrious character, reaching a climax as poor
miserable Mime at last gives up his job in despair. Mime, we must
remember, is a half-comic personage; and were his music allotted to
some heroic man facing an impossible task it would be much the same,
save that Wagner would not have so exaggerated the hysterical emotion.
To depict a being facing an impossible task with no noble, but with
only an ignoble, motive requires such an exaggerated mode of
expression. Mime's grief is real enough, but the cause of it
contemptible. After a considerable deal in this mournful key comes the
sudden entry of the bright young savage Siegfried, driving the bear.
His first theme is simply a bugle hunting call: Siegfried was then
nothing but a hunter, a wild child of the forest. But as he gets on
with what he has to say Wagner warms up to his work, and we get many
inspired pages, some of them showing the tendency to indulge in
counterpoint of the finest sort which manifested itself more fully in
the _Mastersingers_, though here the movement is fuller of rude
impetuosity. The movement--for it is a distinct movement--in which
Siegfried describes how he had often looked into the smooth-running
brook, and seeing his reflection there knew he did not resemble Mime,
who therefore could not be his father--for the cub is like the
bear--is one of Wagner's loveliest, and full of a delicate pastoral
feeling (again, in contrast with everything in the _Valkyrie_). The
Wanderer music is sublime. The theme was borrowed from Liszt, and
Liszt ought to have been grateful, for the possibilities of his own
musical subject were surely unfolded to him for the first time. In the
music here, even more than in the vision of the stage, we have the
grey Wanderer of the Scandinavian imagination--the mystery of wood,
mountain, river and ravine, with human sadness superadded, is clearly
communicated to us. Passing over the repetitions from the preceding
operas, concerning which I have already said sufficient, we come to
the nightmare music, where Wagner once more manifests that miraculous
gift of depicting, in terms of music, light and colour, a personal
emotion. We can see the flickering lights glaring amongst the trees
and feel Mime's terror.

The forge scene is one of Wagner's most stupendous efforts--for really
inspired, not mechanical, energy it is by far the greatest thing in
the opera. As Siegfried sets to work pulling the bellows, his first
call "Nothung!" (the name of the Sword) is practically the same as the
cobbler's song in the _Mastersingers_; but immediately after it goes
off into a sheer song of spring and the joy of spring; while the
bellows groan and the fire roars the feeling of growing green forest
life overflows into the music, and the intoxicating exhilaration is
expressed as only Wagner himself had expressed it before. When the
hammering business begins we again find a likeness to the Sachs music,
but what a dissimilarity from the petty tapping of Mime! Mime's
theme, and that of all the Nibelung smiths, is characteristic enough;
they are not contemptible in themselves, though through them we find
the whole tribe of these smiths to be contemptible; and the tremendous
swing of this second section of Siegfried's song makes every other
smith's song seem by comparison contemptible. Finally, when Nothung is
ready for action there is a coruscation of light from the orchestra as
the Sword theme, which, of course, we have heard long before, and the
Siegfried-the-hunter theme are blared out and the anvil is split.

Many other points must be left until later. I wish for the present to
give a notion of Wagner's powers at the time he wrote the earlier
portions of _Siegfried_. Had the whole opera been equal to these
portions it might have ranked with the _Valkyrie_. But though his
powers were not yet on the wane, as we get on we shall see that the
subject was getting a little stale. He had not the smallest hope of
seeing his work performed. If ever a man wrote purely for posterity it
was Wagner at this period; and though the general inspiration remained
as deep and powerful as ever, we cannot be surprised if the continuous
white heat of the _Valkyrie_ was checked and broken very often. The
surprising thing is that so circumstanced he achieved so much.


The story of the next Act is so simple that I shall deal with it and
the music at the same time. Near Hate-cave black Alberich, who first
steals the gold, ceaselessly watches: he cannot gain the gold, but its
attraction is irresistible. So he watches while we hear the snarling
music associated with him; and we can feel all the old-time horror of
the malignant semi-deities of the black forests and streams and caves.
Mime and he dispute angrily: Siegfried is about to slay the dragon,
the "Wurm," and the question is who is to have the gold. The music is
all of the sort that Wagner alone after Weber could write--wild, full
at times of frenzied energy, full also, if so forced a phrase may be
permitted, of black colour--black-green made audible as was the thick
darkness that might be felt made to be felt by Handel. Anger cannot be
directly expressed in music; but these dreary snarling noises from the
orchestra and the peculiar use made of the human voice--a use to be
referred to later--enable Wagner to indicate it indirectly in a way
effective on the stage. (We may note once again the contrast between
two successive scenes--the brilliance, the straightforward vigour of
the close of Act I, and these tortuous phrases at the beginning of Act
II.) Day begins to lighten, and Siegfried enters; he reclines on a
green bank and hearkens to a bird carolling amidst the rustling
branches. He tries to imitate its notes on a reed cut with his sword,
that emits strange noises; and at last, annoyed by his lack of
success, he petulantly blows a blast on his horn. This arouses Fafner,
who grumbles and discloses his hiding-place; and presently an
extraordinary reptile, one the like of which never was on sea or land,
comes forth to destroy the intruder. Siegfried (like the ordinary
audience) seems disposed to laugh, but when the monster opens its
giant jaws and sends out flames and steam, and red lights begin to
glare in its eyes, he sees serious matters are at hand. He prepares
for combat, and the battle is terrific, if not very convincing. At
last, however, he penetrates the odd brute in a vital part; it rolls
over and makes dying prophecies; at the last it asks its conqueror's
name and, having learnt it, groans that name once and dies. Siegfried
thereupon penetrates into the cave and returns with the hoard; then he
throws himself once more upon the green bank.

If the reader thinks I treat this episode rather flippantly, let me
promptly admit that this is so. It is pantomime of the most grotesque
sort, not serious opera. The dragon would not frighten a child. The
whole thing is an artistic mistake: the fight should take place with
the beast wholly or nearly out of sight: an occasional lash of the
tail, with plenty of smoke and red fire, would be much more effective
than this construction of lath and pasteboard. The music hardly ever
reaches a high level. There is not in existence any fine music
descriptive of any form of fighting; and here slashing passages on the
strings, blares of the brass, shrieks of the wood-wind, do not cover
the inevitable failure of invention. Fafner's dying speech is better,
for Wagner had something urgent to say on his own account: he wishes
to urge on us the significance of Siegfried's coming career; and he
does it with immense impressiveness. The day of the Ending of the gods
comes a little nearer when Siegfried takes possession of the Ring and
places it on his finger. As was arranged from the beginning of time,
things are taking their course; Fate, answering none who questions,
works out her plans silently, mysteriously, inexorably. A sense of our
darkness regarding our destiny fills the music with a profound

If there has been too much of the pantomimic grotesque so far, Wagner
soon offers us compensations. The music now is amongst his freshest
and most fragrant. A reservation must be made touching the absolute
perfection of its beauty, but only a minute one. When first the bird
sang sweetly in the branches outspread above Siegfried's head we heard
the beginning of the piece known in the concert room as "Forest
Voices," the most exquisite sylvan picture ever done in music. A low
rippling figure, or rather part-figure and part-melodic theme, is
heard: it mounts higher, descends again, sways about, swells and dies
away; other melodies are interwoven with it; it becomes more rapid in
its motion, and grows louder until we feel the wind getting up and the
leaves dancing, and then comes the voice of the bird. This may sound a
little high-falutin', but is the only way in which I can render my
impression. The picture is so absolutely convincing that many readers
who, like myself, first heard the thing in a concert room will
remember that with the one hint conveyed by the title no scenery was
needed to make its meaning and feeling quite clear. The bird-voice is
managed with consummate art: a penny toy would have enabled the
composer to give a faithful imitation of bird-song--and would have
spoilt the faithfulness of the whole picture. So Wagner has translated
the real bird-song into terms of art, and thereby given us its spirit
while sufficiently suggestive of the original. It is not sustained for
long. Siegfried, as I have described, tries to cut a reed so as to
imitate it, and there is some innocent fooling as he only gets odd
squeaks out of his instrument; then comes the combat with the Dragon,
and he returns to his place. The one tender spot in his nature,
awakened by the thought of his mother, who died for him, is touched by
the bird-song and the sweet morning; he is filled with vague,
sorrowful yearnings--and presently the bird sings again. But after
killing the monster he had touched its blood--it burnt his finger,
which he instinctively put in his mouth; and the taste of the blood
endows him with the faculty of understanding the speech of beasts and
birds. So now when the bird sings it is a human voice uttering words.
It is with regard to this I make a reservation. The abrupt entrance of
the human voice startles one: the picture is for a moment distorted,
made artificial. After a few hearings one grows accustomed to the
incongruity; but I still think Wagner would perhaps have done better
to let Siegfried tell us what he hears. This is, however, a mere
guess; and it savours of impudence to suggest what so great a composer
as Wagner should have done. The bird first warns Siegfried against
Mime. Mime crawls in with his basin of poisoned soup, meaning to offer
his "son" some refreshment after the labours of the morning. In
whining accents, verging on the ludicrous--for I have said that Mime
is semi-comic--he professes his love; but the dragon's blood also
enables Siegfried to understand what he means, and, just as Beckmesser
in singing the stolen song utters words very different from those he
means, so Mime in what he intends to be affectionate strains tells us
his real purpose. Siegfried plays with him as a cat plays with a
mouse, and at last plunges the sword into him--and from a thicket
comes the malignant laugh of Alberich, barked to Mime's own hammering
phrase. Disgusted, Siegfried returns to his resting place, but the
bird again engages his attention: it sings of the maiden afar off on
the mountain sleeping hedged in by the fire through which he alone can
break. Siegfried's longings take definite form: he will win the
maiden; the bird promises to lead him; it flutters off; he follows;
the curtain drops.

Thus ends one of Wagner's most splendid scenes--certainly the finest
in this opera. The passion of the music, its vivid picturesque
quality, its freshness, go to make it one of the many things of
Wagner's for which no parallel can be found. Wagner's technique had
now reached that supreme height which made _Tristan_ and the
_Mastersingers_ possible; and the spontaneous energy of his
inspiration was unabated. The Act, we may remember, was actually
completed after those two operas, but it was planned and partially
executed before.


During the long interval that elapsed between the execution of the
earlier portion of the Second Act of _Siegfried_ and the resumption of
his work many things happened to Wagner. He composed _Tristan_ and the
_Mastersingers_; he went through his worst years of utter despair; he
was taken up by King Ludwig. As I have mentioned, he went to
Triebschen to complete the _Ring_ for the sake of his conception of
the hero Siegfried--and he went there a jaded man. And there is an
unmistakable quality in the music of his Third Act. In _Tristan_ and
the _Mastersingers_ we have the perfectly mature Wagner; inspiration,
invention and technical accomplishment are perfectly balanced. What we
feel immediately in the third act of _Siegfried_ is a certain
over-ripeness--as if the writing of music had become too easy. As we
proceed I shall give some instances of this, though not so many as
might be given.

Siegfried is now on the point of reaching the height of his fortunes.
He has the Sword, has killed the Dragon, secured the Ring and the
magic cap which will enable him to change himself into any shape he
pleases. Following the fluttering bird he comes to a pass on the
mountain-side and encounters Wotan who, we know, had sworn that none
who feared his Spear should pass through the fire. He endeavours to
stop the Hero, who shatters the Spear. Siegfried passes on; the flames
leap up at his approach and subside as he boldly goes on. He finds
Brünnhilda sleeping, awakes her with a kiss, overcomes her resistance,
and the opera concludes with a triumphant love-duet. This is the
skeleton of what is, dramatically if not musically, the most important
of the three acts.

The curtain rises on this mountain pass in a dark dawn: an angry cold
wind whistles and screams, and wild wet clouds are flying. Wotan
stands there; presently he summons Erda, who rises, as in the
_Rhinegold_, with a "frosty light" about her; he asks her what will be
the upshot of the day's doings. Her answer is no answer, and Wotan
replies for her: Siegfried will pass and take Brünnhilda--and then the
End of the gods. The dramatic object of this scene I have never been
able to grasp. Both Wotan and Erda know what the end will be; and I
can only take it that Wagner, fully aware that each of the constituent
operas of the _Ring_ would certainly be performed separately, wanted
to make his intention and the whole plot clear to those who had not
seen the earlier parts of the work. Musically it shows signs of that
over-ripeness I have just spoken of. The introduction is magnificent:
the leaping figure on the strings, the subject that serves for Erda
here (and elsewhere in different shapes for all the elemental beings),
mounting up against it, the phrase expressive of Wotan's anguish
(from Act II of the _Valkyrie_), the Spear theme rising by degrees and
ever increasing force, the whole leading up to the Wanderer
music--these at once tell a story and paint a picture of tempest
amongst the wild mountainous rocks. Had Schopenhauer heard this music
it would have justified his remark about the use of clouds. From the
moment that Wotan begins his invocation the quality falls: the motive
is, for Wagner, a poor, mechanical thing; and an appearance of life is
only kept up by marked rhythms, forced changes of key, and noisy
orchestration. Erda's music is not on the highest level. The colour is
there, and an atmosphere is gained largely through the employment of
music previously heard; but the vocal phrases are not true song, nor
that blending of true song with recitative of which we have already
noticed so many examples.

With the approach of Siegfried, however, at once the superb artist
shows himself: a complete piece made from the fire-music, the
bird-music, and Siegfried the hunter's theme is begun, to be
interrupted for a while, then resumed and worked up into a glorious
thing. The interruption is the scene between Siegfried and his
grandfather the Wanderer. It brings the tragedy of Wotan more vividly
than ever before us, and is from every point of view not only
justified but necessary. Siegfried scoffs at the old dotard, who loves
the boy as his own flesh and blood (if one may say this of a pagan
god) doomed to death by his forbear's ambition and errors. At last
Siegfried, impatient to go on, smashes the Spear and ascends the path
to where we see the distant glow of the flames. The music is supremely
noble and touching, with just a hint here and there of over-facility:
I mean chiefly that the vocal phrases are not tense and full of
character as are those in the _Valkyrie_: they seem to have been _put
in_ to fit the orchestral web. In an earlier chapter I spoke of this
weakness in the _Ring_; and from this point onward till the end of
Wagner's writing days, unless he was writing undisguised song, the
liability to this weakness increased. The over-ripeness shows itself
also in the structure of the music: the parts lack definition (as
microscopists would say). Formalism is not at all a desirable thing;
but if we examine the great works, differing widely in character,
_Tristan_, the _Mastersingers_ and the _Valkyrie_, we find the utmost
distinctness combined with perfect freedom and expressiveness. Even as
early as the Second Act of _Siegfried_ the freedom threatens to
degenerate into sloppiness--or, to put it rather more mildly, at least
into vagueness. Perhaps he felt this himself; for certainly at the end
of the act we are discussing, and often in the _Dusk of the Gods_, he
gives us straightforward song. At best his song-recitative is sublime;
at worst it is insufferably tedious.

The gorgeous journey to the mountain-top is resumed as Siegfried
disappears amongst the rocks and Wotan goes off. We are now done with
him: his last ineffectual stand for supremacy having collapsed, as he
fore-knew it would, he returns to Valhalla to await the end. There is
darkness for a while; then light returns, and we find the scene that
of the termination of the _Valkyrie_. The mountain-top is sunlit;
Brünnhilda's horse Grani is contentedly at graze; Brünnhilda, covered
with her shield, her spear by her side, sleeps, motionless. Siegfried
comes over some rocks at the back of the stage, gazes around him in
wonder, finally discovers Brünnhilda, and with a kiss awakens her. At
first the godhood has not quite gone out of her, and "Woe! woe!" she
cries, as she realises her fate. But womanhood is strong within her;
she yields; hails Siegfried as the highest hero of all the world, and
the opera ends.

The music is nearly throughout the superb Wagner. The long ascending
violin passage which accompanies Siegfried's amazed gazing at the
wonders around him, chief amongst them Brünnhilda, is imagined with
absolute truth; Brünnhilda's Greeting to the sun is Wagner in the
plenitude of his powers, blending music which depicts her outspread
arms with human rapture in an incomparable way; Siegfried's masterful
and passionate entreaties are quite in the strain of Tristan, though
the Scandinavian atmosphere prevails; Brünnhilda's awe-stricken song,
"O Siegfried, highest hero," interprets the birth of love in a woman's
breast with, again, absolute truth; and that the man who had lately
written _Tristan_ could write such a finale is not the least
astounding of Wagner's feats.

The Siegfried Idyll, made of the Siegfried Themes, is, in a word, the
most beautiful thing he ever wrote.




This, the last of Wagner's really great works, was composed in hot
haste for the first Bayreuth festival. True, the festival did not take
place until some time after its completion; but at the moment Wagner
anticipated an immediate performance. There is nothing more pathetic,
nothing sadder, than the picture of the mighty world-composer
struggling against petty odds to complete what might have been a
world-masterpiece, and failing because of his hurry. He was sixty
years of age; worn by constant combat; worried even then by stupid
persecutions and the uncertainties of life; and he went on, if not
joyfully, at least indomitably, unconquerably. The result is a work
gigantic in idea, but far too rapid and facile in the execution. His
pen seems to have run of its own accord; the scenes are spread out to
a length positively appalling; pages on pages show no trace of
inspiration. Yet the _Dusk of the Gods_ is an opera no other composer
could have achieved; and with all its defects it will be a high and
holy joy to generations not yet born.

The last hour of the old gods has come; the Norns spin their web on
the Valkyries' rock; it breaks, and they sink into the earth, knowing
that all is finished. Dawn breaks, and Siegfried and Brünnhilda come
out of their cavern; Siegfried must now go forth to deeds of
derring-do, for, like Lovelace, "how could he love her, dear, so much,
loved he not honour more?" She bids him go, and he goes; the flames
immediately spring up again round her dwelling--for what reason Wagner
does not explain. Neither does he explain why Brünnhilda does not
travel with her husband--the explanation is made only too obvious
afterwards. He travels to the Rhine, and there meets Hagen, Günther
and Günther's sister Gutruna. Hagen, the son of Alberich, is more or
less like Mime, a half-super-natural being, malignant, diabolical,
with only one idea, that of getting possession of the gold, and, above
all, of the Ring. He knows of Siegfried's "deed," and knows that
Siegfried is coming that way; but he keeps the story to himself, and
tells Günther and Gutruna of the fearless hero and of Brünnhilda
sleeping on the mountain-top encircled by fire. Günther desires the
woman, Gutruna the man. But only Siegfried can pass through the fire.
Pat to the moment he arrives, and enters leading Grani. Hagen offers
him drink which contains a powder which destroys his memory; he
forgets all about Brünnhilda, but not, apparently, about the magic
cap; he gazes in rapture at Gutruna, and in a few minutes the pact is
made--Siegfried shall take Günther's form and win Brünnhilda for him;
in return he will have Gutruna, who is more than willing. The two men
go off together, and the scene changes again to the Valkyries' rock.
Brünnhilda sits alone looking at the Ring; Waltraute, one of the
Valkyries, rushes in and demands that Ring. She relates how for want
of it Wotan, dreading that it may fall into the hands of Alberich,
sits gloomy and silent in Valhalla. But Brünnhilda is now wholly woman
and has no sympathy with the gods; she refuses the Ring, and Waltraute
goes off in despair. The flames begin to flicker and dance;
Siegfried's horn is heard; and presently he enters in Günther's form,
or at least as nearly in it as can be managed on the stage. He claims
and seizes Brünnhilda, sends her into the sleeping-chamber, and,
swearing truth to his new friend Günther, follows with his drawn sword
ready to place between him and his bride.

So the act closes. Brünnhilda's horror and shame are unspeakable; she
cannot understand; Wotan had promised her the great hero, and this
promise is broken and a last humiliation inflicted on her. The act is
intolerably long; even were every moment crowded with Wagner's most
glorious music the strain on our attention would be terrific. But the
music is by no means uniformly of Wagner's best; for pages on pages
his sheer craftsmanship fairly gallops away with him. The Norn scene
is as purely theatrical as anything he wrote; the atmosphere is, so to
speak, artificially weird. The scene between Siegfried and Brünnhilda
is more inspired; and the journey to the Rhine is one of Wagner's
finest bits of picture-painting. The change of feeling towards the end
is superb: a sense of foreboding and dread comes into the music and
prepares us for the coming disaster. But when the curtain rises on
the hall of the Gibichungs we at once get more artificiality and
theatricality. In using the word theatrical I do not mean there is any
return to, for instance, the _Rienzi_ style: the music is theatrical
in Wagner's own later way: it seems to fit the situation, but the
appearance is an appearance only: the stuff is superficial: the
feeling of the moment is not expressed--the music, in a word, is
essentially the same as that of many inferior but clever opera
composers, only, of course, the Wagner idiom is always there. The
Waltraute scene is fine, being largely made up of old material; but I
cannot say much for the scene between Brünnhilda and Siegfried. In
this first act two important themes are introduced, the Tarnhelm theme
and that of the draught of forgetfulness. The first is of the
theatrical type: it is a leitmotiv of the same sort as Lohengrin's
warning to Elsa; the other is a miracle, one of the wonders of music.
It gives one in a brief phrase Siegfried's dazed sense that something
has gone from him, a strange sense of loss; and it has the pathos the
moment demands. As for the draught of forgetfulness itself, it cannot
be explained as symbolical of anything; it must be accepted as we
accept the Tarnhelm and the Rhinemaidens and black Alberich.


In the Second Act the scene is again the Gibichungs' hall. Siegfried
and Günther are away, and Hagen watches by night; his father,
Alberich, crawls up from the river and counsels him as to how to get
possession of the Ring; then he disappears as dawn begins to show. The
music is weird and sinister in Wagner's finest manner. Siegfried comes
in and says Günther and his bride will soon arrive, and goes off with
Gutruna, happy as a child; in a magnificent piece of music, largely
constructed of a harsh phrase associated with Hagen, he (Hagen) calls
up the clansmen and women; a pompous bit of chorus greets Günther and
Brünnhilda, and then once more we are plunged into a sea of
theatricality. To her amazement, Brünnhilda finds Siegfried there with
his new bride, unmindful of her. In rage she denounces him and
declares he has shared the joys of love with her; he denies it; but
Günther is shamed, and has no doubt that Siegfried has played him
false. Siegfried goes merrily off, and Günther, Hagen and Brünnhilda
swear that he must die. In the music we get any amount of physical
energy and dramatic emphasis; but we know this is no longer the Wagner
of the _Valkyrie_. I pass over the Act briefly now, because I can only
repeat what I have said before. Of course all the consummate skill of
the master is there.

The Third Act opens by the river-side. Siegfried has wandered away
from a hunting party, and is attracted by the song of the
Rhinemaidens--a regular set piece in the oldest-fashioned of forms,
but marvellously beautiful. The nymphs try to coax him to throw them
the Ring, which he had wrested from Brünnhilda; he refuses, and they
tell him that this day he must die. The other hunters come in, and
Siegfried is asked to tell of his adventures, and as he does so Hagen
offers him a cup of wine into which he dropped another powder;
Siegfried's memory gradually returns, and to Günther's horror he
relates how he first scaled the mountain, passed the fire and won
Brünnhilda. He means on the first occasion, but it shames Günther once
again. Hagen points in the air and asks Siegfried what he sees above
him; two black ravens fly over. Siegfried turns to look at them, and
Hagen instantly thrusts a spear into his back; the ravens wing their
way to Valhalla to tell Wotan that the fatal hour has come. In a
sublime passage Siegfried the dying hero sings of Brünnhilda, and
dies. Every one save Hagen is horror-stricken; the body is picked up
and carried downward through the moonlit mists over the mountain, and
the gorgeous funeral march is played. This is built up on Wagner's
customary plan: it tells the story of the Volsung race, now ended by
the death of Siegfried.

In the second scene of the Act there is one fine passage--Brünnhilda's
long address--and the rest is manufactured with dexterity and quite
uninspired. The body is brought in; Hagen wishes to take the Ring, and
a thrill is sent through us as the dead man's arm rises threateningly.
Günther interferes, and Hagen kills him; Brünnhilda comes on and sees
clearly everything; Gutruna claims Siegfried as hers--"he never was
yours; he is mine," Brünnhilda replies, and (by trick of true
stage-craft) Gutruna is seen to kneel down by the side of her dead
brother. She is absolutely alone--even Siegfried, dead, is taken from
her, and she instinctively creeps to the only thing that is in any
sense hers. Brünnhilda orders the funeral fire to be built; the body
is put on it and consumed: Brünnhilda mounts Grani and scatters the
ashes, and with them the Ring, into the river; the waters rise, and
Hagen rushes after the Ring, to be drawn down; Wotan's power went when
the spear was shattered, and now that the Ring is returned to the
Rhine no other power controls Loge. He flares up, and we see Valhalla
on high in flames.

So ends the _Dusk of the Gods_ and the whole gigantic cycle. A noble
race has come and gone, and the world is prepared to make a fresh
start. I have discussed the music as we went along, and there is
nothing more to add.




After Wagner had completed the _Ring_, a work which, in regard to its
gigantic size and proportions, stands without a parallel in music, he
was an exhausted and beaten man. Outwardly he was a highly prosperous
musician--more successful from some points of view than Mendelssohn or
Meyerbeer: at least he had, without means, achieved a greater triumph
than they, starting with their fathers' thousands or millions, had
dreamed of. No Mendelssohn, no Meyerbeer, no Rossini, would have
dreamed of gaining a king, even the king of a minor bankrupt state, as
his lackey--and his generous paymaster. After the first Bayreuth
festival a Rossini would have retired as swiftly as such a person
could with his percentage of the gross profits, leaving the guarantors
to straighten the little matter of the deficit; Meyerbeer had too much
of cold cunning in him to have gone on such an adventure at all;
Mendelssohn would have paid up everything and shaken the dust of _his_
Bayreuth off his feet for ever and a six-days week longer. I take
these three because they are three of the most successful financial
composers the world has seen; minor prophets of their order might be
added. That is what they would have done: made a little money they
did not need and retired from a hard conflict. Wagner was more
successful than they. He never accumulated the thousands of marks or
ducats or francs that they did: he did not want them, but in
proportion to his needs he accumulated more; he was richer than they
were, as Diogenes in his tub was richer than Alexander. Wagner's tub,
it may be remarked, was a preciously comfortable one, and he made no
pretence about it being anything else. He was a successful man of
business; in spirit he was broken, exhausted, defeated.

That is the first point to be considered; the next is a corollary.
This man of dashed, broken hopes still needed the driving force of
either human passions, griefs or sorrows, or of great human ideals,
before he could compose ten notes. It is no desire of mine to scoff at
the Schopenhauerian, Feuerbachian notions working in Wagner's brain
when he planned the _Ring_, and wrote its finest music; in art--as in
business, if it comes to that--one judges by results and results only.
But we can see that it was these ridiculous ideas, as perhaps I have
already pointed out, that were the postilion's whip to Wagner's
Pegasus. Of some men it can be said that no one knows anything of the
postilion's whip: of every artist concerning whom a fair tail of facts
is available and consultable we find a very distinct whip. We may
laugh at the idea of the "stories" to which Beethoven worked: who
would laugh at the Fifth Symphony would not even be laughed at. And I
have not the slightest hesitation in affirming that when Wagner set
to work on _Parsifal_ his most eager and greedy desire was to show the
world that he desired nothing. Knowing Bayreuth a failure, fancying
his whole life a failure, from a particular point of view, one idea
seized hold on him--- the idea that those who did not like his music
were in a pitiable condition, and compassion exhorted him to rescue
them, to redeem them. He meant to heap coals of fire upon a generation
that refused to recognise him as a prophet. He did it--with a double
vengeance: he made the detractors come to his knees and he made a
fortune out of them--them alone. For Bayreuth never became a
profitable investment for Jewish money until the one great Christian
drama of modern times was produced there.

_Parsifal_, in one form or another, had long fermented in Wagner's
brain. At first it was--incongruous though the thing may seem--either
_Jesus of Nazareth_ or _Wieland the Smith_; then _Parzival_ grew out
of the Siegfried idea; and at length, stimulated by the attentions and
help of poor Ludwig, he settled on _Parsifal_. These are matters not
of opinion, but of historical fact. Ludwig, when not masquerading in
woman's clothing, or ordering it from Paris, or appearing at private
performances in one opera or another, suffered from great attacks of
religion; and, unhappily for the art of music, what appealed to his
diseased brain from one side appealed to Wagner's tired brain from the
other side. Ludwig asked him to complete _Parsifal_ and he did so. I
doubt whether without the royal request he ever would have done so.
But in doing so he, as Americans say, "struck lucky." Throughout
Western Europe you have only to bawl the word "religion" and your
fortune is made; in America it is the same; on the two continents
innumerable fortunes have been made by bawling the word "religion." So
Wagner's conviction, Ludwig's desire, and advertisement possibilities,
all coincided; and thenceforth Bayreuth flourished--financially, if
not artistically or morally.

I shall devote little attention to _Parsifal_. The plot would disgrace
Wagner's memory if we did not know it to be the work of his tired-out
old age. The central idea is that of Renunciation; and I will give the
reader a skeleton, but a fair skeleton, of the plot, and ask him, Who
renounces anything? who gains anything by renouncing? or loses
anything by not renouncing? and, above all, what is any one called on
to renounce?

At the Montsalvat of _Lohengrin_--ah! what a different
Montsalvat--Amfortas, lord of the tribe of monks, has flirted with a
lady, and a magician, Klingsor, has seized the sacred spear with which
Christ's side was pierced and inflicted on Amfortas an incurable
wound. That is the state of affairs when the curtain rises. Gurnemanz,
a faithful warder, talks with sundry squires, not yet fully degraded
to the order of knighthood, and tells them how through a certain
wondrous woman Amfortas fell from his high estate. The wondrous woman,
Kundry, disguised as a sort of Indian squaw, enters, coming, she says,
from far lands; exhausted, she flings herself in a thicket to
sleep--sleep--she says. Gurnemanz does not know who she is--nor, for
that small matter, do I--but she comes and serves these knight-monks
faithfully for whiles and then disappears; and generally, it seems,
during her period of disappearance disaster falls on some treasured
pearl of a saint of a knight. Enter Parsifal, "the pure
fool"--Siegfried with all his bull-strength and energy shorn away. He
carries a bow and arrow, and promptly shoots a Swan, one of the prides
of Montsalvat. He is too stupid to understand that he has done any
wrong--wrong to a helpless bird or his own nature. Gurnemanz explains
in very unconvincing accents; Parsifal, the poor, "pure" fool, bursts
into tears, breaks his weapons and throws them away. And now the
reader must bear with me if I am both tedious and inexplicable in my
explanation. At some unknown period in the past it was prophesied that
only the "pure fool" taught by suffering could redeem suffering
Amfortas: mankind, that is, could only be made perfect by a perfect
idiot. Gurnemanz thinks he has found the required man--and he has, if
only he knew it--and he takes him on the most curious promenade in the
history of mankind--to the Hall of the Grail. The two men do not walk:
it is the scenery that walks. "Here," says Gurnemanz, "time and space
are one."

Arrived there, we are confronted by a scene much more Oriental than
anything we know of mediæval Christianity: a sort of mosque with a
huge dome, a circular set of Lockhart's Cocoa-rooms tables and
benches; at the back a mysterious catafalque. The pure fool is pushed
aside; Amfortas is carried in; he screams in agony of spirit; and then
the service begins. It is a sheer burlesque of the Lord's Supper. When
the last chords of the mysterious choir in the dome have died away,
Gurnemanz asks Parsifal what he comprehends of it all. "Nothing,"
Parsifal replies, and is immediately turned out of doors.

The origin of the guileless fool has already been indicated: this--as
it seems to us to-day--idiotic notion of the eighteenth century
started Wagner on the notion that if a modern child, with all the
developed brain of a modern child, could suddenly be transplanted into
a state of nature, all would be well with the world. What could
possibly happen? But it is silly to ask the question: the whole
juvenile population of the earth would have to be so transplanted, and
they would have to find a new earth to live on--at least an earth not
frequented by modern men and women.

In the next Act we are taken to Klingsor's magic castle. Klingsor
calls up Kundry and changes his castle into an enchanted garden full
of flower-maidens; Parsifal comes in, and, though curious about the
maidens, does not know what they would be at; he angrily drives them
off; Kundry calls him. She tells him of the death of his mother who
had loved him so dearly; he again weeps and learns the meaning of
compassion; Kundry kisses him, and he learns the meaning of sex and
temptation. In horror he casts her from him; Klingsor throws the spear
at him--the sacred Spear with which Christ's side was wounded, stolen
by Klingsor from Montsalvat--it remains suspended above his head; he
seizes and waves it, and at once garden, flower-maidens and all are
reduced to withered stalks and leaves. Parsifal returns, an
"enlightened" fool, and by touching the wound of Amfortas, cures him,
becoming himself head of the order.

The whole affair is a spectacle which I must say is disgusting to
healthy minds. The insinuations are frightful. Consider, reader,
seriously for a moment: Parsifal--Siegfried grown to manhood--knows
and cares nothing about womankind. As soon as he knows what a woman is
he revolts, learns through that knowledge and by his acquaintance with
suffering--acquaintance, I say, because he himself has never
suffered--that there are two cures for all the woes of humanity.
Discard women and pity the men. The thing is absurd, and suggests that
the mighty genius was on the verge of imbecility. But the desire to
please mad Ludwig accounts for it all in a very undesirable fashion.

Of the music it is not necessary to say more than that some of it is
fine. For the most part it lacks virility, though there are passages
of marvellous loveliness. The flower-maidens' waltz shows what Wagner
could do in that way; the Good Friday music, dating back to the
_Lohengrin_ days, is sweet and fresh. But the quasi-religious music
has no charms for me.

Of course the prelude is in its way, but only in its way, a beautiful
thing. One almost hears the beating of angels' wings; the remnant of
old church melody, fitted into the most modern of modern rhythms,
sings out; the old _Tannhäuser_ and _Rienzi_ Dresden Amen comes out
pompously if not very effectively. On the whole a splendid _tour de
force_ is accomplished. But as soon as the singers are introduced we
feel the lack of the inspiration of former days; the writing is not
vocal writing at all; it is simply notes chosen at will or at random
to fit in with the chord sequences that were constantly shaping
themselves in Wagner's brain--not sequences that sprang, as he himself
would have expressed it, from "the feeling." The woes of Amfortas are
described by the orchestra with a coldness that would have surprised
or stunned Wagner in his _Tristan_ days: had Meyerbeer done it no
paper would have carried his hot words. When Parsifal shoots the Swan,
Gurnemanz has two or three moments of true emotion: the rest ought to
be silence and is rubbish. The parody of the Lord's Supper is
deplorable: we have already heard enough of the music in the prelude
without having to go through it again. Klingsor's magic music is mere
theatricalism; about Kundry's account of Parsifal's mother I remain in
some doubt: it is certainly beautiful, but to those of us who know the
corresponding scene in _Siegfried_ it is rather beggarly. Parsifal's
denunciation of Kundry after she has kissed him has not a word of the
old truthful Wagner in it: Wagner had written so magnificently about
the ecstatic state of Palestrina and such of the other church
composers as he knew, that he must, absolutely must, have realised
that his _Parsifal_ stuff was essentially untrue. Theatrically, the
end of the Second Act sounds true; but it will not bear rehearing. The
opening of the Third Act, again, is false; and the ending of the whole
business is tawdry stuff such as Meyerbeer might have been proud to
sign. Technically, the old man retained his hand; but to compare this
decrepit stuff with the music of the _Valkyrie_ would be preposterous,
and I have no wish to write more about it.


_Parsifal_ having proved a tremendous success, Wagner went to work to
arrange for another festival. He had still a thousand opera plans
bubbling in his brain; doubtless, with his unconquerable vitality, he
imagined he had twenty years of life before him; he meant to make a
financial success of Bayreuth and to go on. The end came with awful
unexpectedness. He went to Venice, conducted there his boyish Symphony
in C, worked away at his _Parsifal_ arrangements; his heart ruptured
and he died on February 13, 1883. He had lived the perfectly rounded
life, achieved the three-score-and-ten, done everything that a man can
do, and gone through more experiences than most men suffer. His death
sent a shudder through Europe: one had come to think that such a man
could not possibly die. Swinburne wrote that we heard the news as "a
prophet who hears the word of God and may not flee." His vilest
detractors laid their homage at the dead man's feet. His widow laid
her hair by his head. He was buried at his Villa Wahnfried, and rests
there for ever. Had ever such a life so perfectly beautiful an ending?
We must regard _Parsifal_ as the last sad quaverings of a beloved
friend: after that came peace, immortal peace.


Amongst musicians of the first rank stand four commanding, tremendous
figures. First comes Handel, by far the greatest personality of them
all: him I beg permission to think the greatest man who has yet
lived--greater than Cæsar or Napoleon. After him came Gluck, a
triumphant bourgeois; then Beethoven, whose domination was the result
of his supreme genius and his bad temper; and, last, Wagner, whose
supreme genius and indomitable perseverance made him either an idol or
a terror to all who came in contact with him. Handel had an easy time;
he was of his period, he wrote for it, and only his native pugnacity
landed him in bankruptcy, and enabled him finally to win a fortune by
oratorio when no one would listen any longer to his operas. Gluck was
from the first a popular composer: there were rows, it is true, but
they did not concern him; he had always an assured public. Beethoven
had throughout his working life an ample pension and the friendship of
princes. Wagner had no such friends until he was sixty years old; he
had no pension; he offended every opera director in Germany by telling
those gentry that they knew nothing of their business; he got mixed up
with revolutionists, and, mainly because he was a man of unusual
ability, was regarded as dangerous by every bureaucrat. He was fast
becoming a popular composer; and he left his successes behind him and
went on to change opera in a fashion never attempted by Gluck or any
other composer. He was the most consummate contrapuntist of his age:
therefore the critics and professors declared he knew nothing about
counterpoint. He wrote the loveliest melodies of the nineteenth
century: therefore it was generally agreed that the gift of melodic
invention had been denied him by a merciful Providence, who reserved
that gift for the Jews and their friends. He could hold neither his
tongue nor his pen; if a bull may be excused, he replied before he was
attacked, he hit back before he was struck. Proud as Satan, and
through his pride a beggar; giving the world unheard-of delights, and
yet dependent on the world for his bread; quarrelling with his
friends, picking quarrels with his supposed enemies, quarrelling with
his wife, running away with the wife of his best friend, theorising
about his art and promptly throwing his theories overboard, declaring
he would never allow excerpts from his operas to be given, nor even
one single opera of the _Ring_ to be given, and then allowing single
operas to be given and conducting excerpts himself--there never was in
the world such a mass of contradictions as this musical apostle of
universal peace born during the Napoleonic wars of 1813.

All this we may joyfully concede, knowing how much may be said on the
other side. Wagner not only was the most stupendous personage born
into the nineteenth century: he was also one of the noblest, most
generous men that have lived. There is not a mean trait in his
character. He endured privation, actual starvation; he was shamefully
treated; his wife did not believe in his genius; his simplest actions
were misinterpreted; frantic endeavours were made to hound him out of
the public life of opera; his publishers took advantage of his poverty
to try to rob him; the scores of his masterpieces were returned
unopened from theatres--in some cases they were not returned, and he
had infinite difficulty to secure them; moreover, he was ill all his
life: yet he never lost faith in mankind, and when he became,
comparatively, a well-to-do man he went on doing generous deeds as
though nothing had happened. With humbugs and pretenders he would have
no dealings; but no genuine young artist ever asked his help in vain.
He spared even that rancorous decadent Nietzsche; he owned his
obligations to that soul of chivalry, Liszt. He spared that mediocre
person Meyerbeer; he treated Mendelssohn with almost exaggerated
courtesy. He fought a terrific fight with all the forces of reaction
and stupidity, and he came through untainted, unstained; if he sorely
belaboured the charlatans, he had all the finest musicians, and all
other fine artists, on his side. The composer who won and held the
friendship and esteem of such men as Liszt, Cornelius, Jensen, Tausig
and Bülow, not to mention the admiration of our own Swinburne, is not
a man to be dismissed by enumerating his defects. Some of us, I
suppose, will admit that we may possibly have our defects: none of us,
so far as I know, can possibly claim his great qualities.

He was rather an undersized man with an uncontrollable temper. As he
let himself go in his music, so did he let himself go in his daily
life. To any but the most patient he must have proved an impossible
personage; Madame Cosima Wagner must have possessed the temper of an
angel and the understanding of an archangel to put up with him. We see
that every one did put up with him; every one who knew him had the
same faith in his genius as he himself had; every one who knew
him--really knew him--loved him. Those who did not know him belaboured
him in the press or by word of mouth, and much honour and profit did
they get by it. He stands unsmirched by the mud thrown by his
detractors; he stands undamaged even by the adulation of his admirers.

Let us consider for a moment what the man's personal character and
momentum enabled him to achieve. Finely endowed personalities like
Mozart and Chopin did much: did they write a _Ring_ or a _Tristan_?
The question needs no answer. Did they or the still mightier Beethoven
dream of creating a Bayreuth? In the midst of years of privation
Richard Wagner planned and partly executed the _Ring_; he completed
_Tristan_ and the _Mastersingers_; as quite a young man he had dreamed
of a Bayreuth; as an old man he turned his dream into a reality. He
had his lieutenants--big men always have their lieutenants--but the
idea, the purpose, and the force behind were his and nobody else's
than his. Bayreuth does not stand for very much to-day; in the
'seventies it stood for a fierce attack on the general sloppiness of
opera performances all the world over, for the setting up of an ideal
to which there is no parallel in the history of the art of music.
Nothing but the personal force of this one man accomplished this
thing--personal force accompanied by a wholehearted devotion to his
art. I suppose the inventors of steam-engines and the builders of
giant dams have an ideal, too, in their crazy craniums, but they
invent and work with a very definite idea of personal gain. Wagner
hoped for no gain, and he gained little, though, as I have said, as
much as he wanted. He was helped by the only noble-hearted king born
into the nineteenth century; but he found that king and inspired him.
He risked everything for his idea; if his works have grown to be
valuable assets since his death, they were not during his lifetime. By
unheard-of energy while suffering privation--even of the ordinary
necessities of life--he went on and created masterpieces, and then by
creating Bayreuth set up a standard of musical execution that no one
before him had thought possible. All the great conductors of the last
fifty years are, musically, his offspring. Without him we should have
been without a Richter, or Richter's introducer to the English, an
Alfred Schulz-Curtius; without these two men we should have no Robert
Newman or Henry J. Wood. Wagner's influence has been further-reaching
than many of us think; and that influence was due not more to the
consummate skill of the musician than to the character of the man.

Outside his musicianship the man had interests in everything human--in
painting, sculpture, drama, poetry and prose. He made what we consider
mistakes, as what man does not who is a product of a period of
passionate revivals of human and humanising ideals?--but how few they
are! They hardly count. He absorbed all the culture of all the
centuries. The Greek and Latin poets were as familiar to him as were
the English. Hardly a great book had been written which he did not
know familiarly. There is not a great picture or piece of sculpture in
Europe he did not know. All came as grist to his mill. I end this book
by joyfully hailing him as one of the half-dozen greatest minds the
ages have produced--the equal of Shakespeare, Handel, Mozart,
Beethoven and Michael Angelo: a man it is an honour to have known as
it is a disgrace to have scorned--the one man born into the last
century that one can absolutely, without reservation, praise.


_Abendzeitung_ (Dresden), 75

Apel, August, 41, 51

Auber, D.F.E.,
 _Masaniello_, 47, 89;
 compared with Meyerbeer, 67, 68

Avenarius, Eduard,
 marries Cäcilie Geyer, 72

Bakunin, Michael, 136, 196

Baumgärtner, Wilhelm, 209

Bayreuth, 71, 323, 325-329, 400, 407, 409, 410

Beethoven, Ludwig van, 25, 26, 330, 331, 347, 350, 356, 371, 408, 416;
 his influence on Wagner, 33-35, 42, 62;
 arrangements of, by Wagner, 37;
 _Fidelio_, 148

Bellini, Vincenzo,  50, 92, 116, 150, 178

Bennett, Joseph, 328

Berlioz, Hector,
 Wagner's criticism on, 71;
 tragedy of his life, 72;
 praises the _Flying Dutchman_, 128;
 in London, 225;
 his relations with Wagner, 226;
 his "Ride to the Abyss," 370

Bethmann, Heinrich, 52, 54

Bispham, David, 277

Brahms, Johannes, 164

Brangaena, 245-248

 Wagner receives a commission from, 230, 237

Brendel, Karl Franz, 50, 218

Brockhaus, Friedrich,
 marries Louise Wagner, 32

Bülow, Cosima von,
 and Wagner, 60, 323-325

Bülow, Hans von, 71, 250, 418;
 serves his apprenticeship under Wagner, 208;
 married to Cosima Liszt, 323, 324

_Communication to  my Friends_, 219

Cornelius, Peter, 71, 418

Cusins, W.G., 46, 134

Dannreuther, Edward, 37, 67

Davison, J.W., 46

Dietsch, Pierre, 80

Dorn,  Heinrich, 32, 37, 39, 40, 57

_Dusk of the Gods, The_, 178, 188, 325, 356, 373, 398;
 analysis and criticism, 400-406

Dvoràk, Anton,
 compared with Wagner, 291, 292

Elgar, Sir Edward, 291

_End in Paris, An_, 212, 213

_Europa_, 75

_Feen, Die_, 42, 47, 48, 50, 52, 56, 60-63. 72, 86, 93, 137

Feuerbach, Ludwig, 232, 408

Fischer, Wilhelm, 76, 126, 205, 206, 220, 231

_Flying Dutchman, The_, 65, 66, 80, 81, 127, 128, 137, 170,
   187, 219, 243, 356, 385;
 analysis and criticism, 94-120;
 produced at Zurich, 208

_Gazette Musicale, La_, 70, 75

Gewandhaus Concerts, 33, 45, 46

Geyer, Cäcilie, 14, 16, 30, 72

Geyer, Ludwig, 4, 6-14;
 marries Frau Wagner, 8; his death, 14

Geyer, goldsmith at Eisleben, 11, 17

Glasenapps _Life of Wagner_, 8, 16, 19, 39, 66, 167

Gluck, 416, 417;
 his _Iphigenia in Aulis_ overture revised by Wagner, 209, 219

Goethe, J.W.  von, _Die Laune des Verliebten_, 35

Götterdämmerung. _See_ Dusk of the Gods

Gottfried von Strassburg, _Tristan_, 238

Gozzi, _La Donna Serpente_, 60

Habeneck, F.A., 69, 70

Hallé, Sir Charles, 64, 73, 327

Handel, G.F., 11, 330, 331, 390, 416;
 the "Horse and his Rider" chorus, 371, 372;
 _Israel in Egypt_, 377

Hanslick, Eduard, 164

_Happy Evening, A_, 213

Harris, Sir Augustus, 346

Hauser, Franz, 49

Heine, Heinrich, 64, 66, 70, 76-78, 94, 126, 205, 206

Heubner, Otto, 196

_Hochzeit Die_, 45, 47

Hoffmann, E.T.A., 30

_Huldigungsmarsch_, 59

Jensen, Adolf, 71, 418

_Jesus of Nazareth_, 196

Jews, Wagner and the, 49, 50, 57, 217-219

Joly, Anténor, 69, 74

_Judaism in Music_, 31, 50, 134, 217-219

_Kaisermarsch_, 59

Kittl, Friedrich, 45

Laube, Heinrich, 51, 70

Lehrs, F. Siegfried, 72, 82, 128

Leitmotiv, discussion of the, 170, 356, 357

Lewald, August, 75

_Liebesverbot, Das_, 51, 53, 56, 72, 74, 86, 137

Liszt, Cosima. _See_ Wagner, Cosima

Liszt, Franz, 71, 128, 156, 237, 238, 348, 378, 388;
 his first acquaintance with Wagner, 82, 83;
 helps him to escape to Zurich, 136, 194;
 produces _Tannhaüser_ at Weimar, 164;
 sends him to Paris, 194;
 his generosity and friendship, 195, 196, 199, 202, 208, 418;
 produces _Lohengrin_, 200, 201, 210

_Lohengrin_, 72, 82, 128, 137, 196, 197, 219, 332, 341, 358, 375;
 analysis and criticism, 165-192;
 the leitmotiv first introduced, 170;
 produced by Liszt at Weimar, 200, 201, 210

_Love-feast of the Apostles, The_, 38, 126

Ludwig II, King, 239, 319, 321, 322, 327-329, 395, 409, 410, 413

Lüttichau, von, 76, 77, 79, 80, 122, 123, 125

Lytton, Bulwer, _Rienzi_, 55, 84

Marschner, Heinrich August, 61, 62, 116, 150, 178, 187;
 his _Adolph von Nassau_, 135

_Mastersingers, The_, 109, 111, 179, 279, 319-321, 325, 333,
   341, 344, 358, 387, 388, 395, 398;
 the story, 280, 281;
 the influence of Nuremberg, 282, 283;
 the overture, 284-288;
 analysis and criticism, 288-318;
 produced at Munich, 321

Mendelssohn, Felix, 33, 49, 57, 58, 73, 126, 364, 372, 407, 418;
 _Midsummer Night's Dream_ overture, 61;
 _Hebrides_, 112;
 his comment on _Tannhäuser_, 163

Meyerbeer, Giacomo, 55, 407, 414, 415, 418;
 _Robert the Devil_, 48;
 his treatment of Wagner, 67-71, 73, 74, 80;
 his influence on _Rienzi_, 84-86

Müller, Alexander, 196

Müller, Gottlieb, 36

_My Life_, 67

Napoleon I, his flight from Leipzig 4. 5, 31

Newman, Mr. Ernest, 130, 167, 212, 217

_Nibelung's Ring, The_.  See _Ring_

Nicolai School, Leipzig, 27

Nietzsche, Friedrich, 52, 418

Overtures: "Polonia," 43;
 D minor, 45;
 C major, 45;
 _King Enzio_, 45;
 _Faust_, 62, 70, 209;
 _Columbus_, 70, 75

_Parsifal_, 16, 138-140, 170, 379;
 analysis and criticism, 409-416

Pätz, Johanna Rosina, 3

Pecht, Friedrich, 70

Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil, commissions an opera from Wagner, 230, 237

Philharmonic Society, the, 33, 45, 46, 134;
 concerts conducted by Wagner, 220-226

_Pilgrimage to Beethoven, A_, 213

Pillet, Léon, 80

Planer, Minna, marries Wagner, 53, 54.
_See_ Wagner, Minna.

Poe, Edgar Allen, 330

Poland, Wagner's sympathy with, 41, 43

Praeger, Ferdinand, 43, 68, 200, 208, 225, 238

Raymund, his "magic dramas," 44

Reinecke, Carl, 33, 45, 46

Reissiger, Gottlieb, 77, 79, 123-125

_Rhinegold,  The_, 209, 299, 350, 351, 354, 358, 376, 383, 385, 396;
 composition of, 332-334;
 analysis and criticism, 337-349

_Rienzi_, 55, 61, 62, 68, 69, 73, 74, 81, 82, 117, 127, 128;
 completed and sent to Dresden, 75-80;
 accepted, 80;
 Meyerbeer's influence on, 84, 85;
 analysis and criticism, 86-93;
 its success, 91, 121;
 a failure at Weimar, 237

Rietz, Julius, portrait of Wagner by, 206

_Ring of the Nibelung, The_, 105, 111, 137,176, 207-209, 226-230,
   320, 323, 325, 378;
 first cycle given at Bayreuth, 327-329;
 summary of its growth, 330-334;
 analysis of its main dramatic motive, 334-337;
 Schopenhauer's criticism, 342,
 _see_ also the separate operas

Ritter, Alexander, 208

Ritter, Frau, 199, 208

Roeckel, August, 126, 132, 133, 196

Rossini, G.A., 55, 407;
 _William Tell_, 47;
 _Stabat Mater_, 213

Sainton, Prof., 225

_Sängerkrieg auf Wartburg_, 72, 82, 128

_Saracen Young Woman_, 81, 82

Schlesinger, Maurice, 69, 70, 75, 82, 121

 his influence on Wagner, 231-233, 236, 265, 408;
 his criticism on the _Ring_, 342, 397

Schröder-Devrient, Wilhelmine, 50, 76-79, 160

Schubert's _Erl-king_, 355

Schumann, Clara, 45

Schumann, Robert, 51;
 on _Tannhäuser_, 163, 164;
 on _Lohengrin_, 165, 177

Scribe, Eugène, 74, 85, 97

Semper, Gottfried, 325

Shaw, Mr. Bernard, 20

Shedlock, Mr. J.S., 220

_Siegfried_, 200-202, 227-230, 325, 332, 414;
 analysis and criticism, 378-399

_Siegfried's Death_, 227-230, 332, 334, 383

_Siegfried Idyll_, 59, 60

Spohr, Ludwig, 294, 350;
 produces the _Flying Dutchman_ at Cassel, 127;
 on _Tannhäuser_, 149, 272

Spontini, Gasparo, 62, 116, 150, 178, 187;
 Wagner's essay on, 219

Strauss, Johann, 44

Sulzer, Jakob, 209

Symphony in C major, 41, 42, 44, 45, 56-59, 72, 73, 415

Swinburne, A.C., 415, 418

_Tannhäuser_, 30, 60, 72, 82, 92, 128, 137-140, 219,
   341, 343, 358, 376, 384. 385;
 analysis and criticism, 140-164;
 production and reception, 147, 148;
 opinions on, 163, 164;
 produced by Liszt at Weimar, 164

Tausig, Karl, 71, 418

Thomä, Jeannette, 23

Tichatschek, 78, 147

Tieck, Ludwig,  _Tannhäuser_, 30

Tomaschek, Wenzel, 45

"Triebschen," 323, 395

_Tristan_, 105, 106, 109, 111, 137, 187, 333, 341, 343, 344,
   353, 365, 375. 377, 395, 398, 399, 414;
 rehearsed at Vienna and abandoned, 231;
 folly of commentators on, 234-236, 266;
 intended for Rio, 230, 237;
 completed, 230, 238;
 produced at Munich (1865), 237, 239, 321;
 origin of, 237, 238;
 preliminaries of the story, 239-241;
 analysis and criticism, 241-277

Uhlig, Theodor, 126, 145, 195, 200, 202, 205, 219, 226, 231, 283, 329, 383

Vaez, Gustave, 203

_Valkyrie, The_, 209, 226, 230, 294, 332, 333, 341, 343, 344, 383,
   385, 388, 389, 398;
 analysis and criticism, 350-377

Verdi's _Falstaff_, 311

Victoria, Queen, and Wagner, 222, 223

Villa Wahnfried, 326

Wagner, Adolph, 2, 3, 10, 13, 15, 16, 17, 22, 23, 28, 29, 30, 32, 41

Wagner, Albert, 7, 8, 10, 16, 22, 24, 48

Wagner, Carl Friedrich, father of Richard, 2-5;
 his death, 5, 8

Wagner, Clara, 10, 16, 22, 24

Wagner, Cosima, second wife of Richard, 60, 323-325, 419

Wagner, Friederike, 23

Wagner, Gottlob Friedrich, 3

Wagner, Johanna, daughter of Albert, 160

Wagner, Johanna Rosina, mother of Richard, 3, 5, 6, 8, 14,15, 16, 24, 28

Wagner, Julius, 10, 11, 16

Wagner, Louise, 7, 10, 24, 30, 31, 32

Wagner, Minna, first wife of Richard, 53, 54, 65, 121, 122, 126, 127,
   128, 133, 168, 169, 195, 207, 323-325

Wagner, Ottilie, 16, 30

Wagner, Richard (for Works see under separate headings),
 birth and ancestry, 1-3;
 absence of precocity, 11 12;
 schooldays at Dresden, 17-24;
 early training in theatrical matters, 18-19;
 his love of the theatre, 21;
 Weber's influence, 25;
 at school at Leipzig, 26, 40;
 his debt to his uncle, 28-30, 41;
 unable to play the piano, 31, 37, 73;
 "converted" by Beethoven, 33-35;
 early compositions, 35. 36. 45;
 studies under Weinlig, 36-38;
 his arrangements of  Beethoven symphonies, 37;
 helped by his family 38, 44, 51;
 his egotism, 39;
 matriculates, 40;
 his revolutionary fervour, 40, 41, 43;
 visits Vienna, 44;
 at Prague, 45;
 works performed at the Gewandhaus concerts, 45;
 chorus-master at Würzburg, 48;
 returns to Leipzig, 49;
 his industry, 52, 53, 209, 298;
 his marriage, 53, 54;
 obtains conductorships at Magdeburg, 53, Königsberg, and Riga, 54;
 sails to London, 55, 64-67;
 meets Meyerbeer at Boulogne, 67-69;
 disappointments in Paris, 69-75;
 goes to Dresden, 82, 83;
 first acquaintance with Liszt, 82, 83;
 Kapellmeister at Dresden, 122-126, 133-135;
 his relations with Minna, 126, 127, 133, 168-169, 323, 324;
 his political views, 128-131;
 his share in the May insurrection of 1849, 128, 131, 132, 136;
 his Germanism, 135, 149, 150, 214;
 flees to Zurich, 136, 193, 194;
 goes to Paris, 194, 195;
 returns to Zurich, 196;
 friendship of Liszt, 194, 196, 199;
 his demands on his friends, 198-200;
 his ill-health, 200;
 his scheme for producing _Siegfried_, 200-202, 227-229;
 third visit to Paris, 203-207;
 life in Zurich, 207-210;
 his prose-writings, 210;
 speech at the re-interment of Weber, 214;
 his theory on the fusion of the arts, 214-216;
 unable to comprehend opposition, 217;
 directions for performing his operas, 219;
 visit to London, 220-226;
 settles in Vienna, 230, 320;
 his extravagance, 231;
 influence of Schopenhauer, 231-233, 236, 265;
 disappointments and failures, 278, 319, 320;
 the chief Wagnerite, 287;
 invited to Munich by King Ludwig, 319, 321;
 ambitious schemes, 321, 322;
 obliged to leave Munich, 322, 323;
 retires to "Triebschen," 323, 395;
 elopes with Cosima von Bülow, 323, 324;
 marries Cosima, 325;
 Bayreuth, 325-329;
 his worship of brute force, 378, 379;
 completion of the _Ring_, 400, 407;
 outward success, 407;
 his death, 415;
 his character and achievement, 416-421

Wagner, Rosalie, 7, 10, 15, 16, 22, 24, 32, 39

Wagner, Siegfried, 71

Wagner, Sophie (Wendt), 23

Wagnerites, the, 287

Walther von der Vogelweide, 294

Weber, Carl Maria von, 13, 55, 350, 372, 390;
 his influence on Wagner, 13, 25, 34, 35, 41, 61, 92, 150,
   153, 177, 185, 284;
 his re-interment at Dresden, 135, 213 214;
 _Euryanthe_, 13, 38, 305;
 _Der Freischütz_, 13, 25

Weber, Dionys, 45, 46

Weinlig, Theodor, 36-38, 57

Wendt, Sophie, marries Adolph Wagner, 23

Wesendoncks, the, 199, 208

Wieck, Clara, _see_ Schumann, Clara

Wigand, Otto, 205

_Wiland der Schmied_, 203, 206, 207

Wilhelmj, August, 328

Wille, Dr. and Frau, 208

Wüst, Henriette, 45

Wylde, Dr. Henry, 225

_Young Siegfried_, 227-229

Zigesar, von, 201

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