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Title: Richard Wagner and his Poetical Work - From Rienzi to Parsifal
Author: Gautier, Judith
Language: English
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and his Poetical Work







By L. S. J.



Old Corner Bookstore



Richard Wagner was born May 22, 1813, in Leipsic, Germany. He died in
Venice on February 13, 1883. His father was a Leipsic city official,
who gave his son the benefit of the illustrious Thomas School,
preparatory to a university career. The latter, however, was not of
much advantage to him, as young Wagner devoted himself mainly to
musical studies. He led a theatre orchestra in Magdeburg, then in
Königsberg, then in Riga.

From the latter place he went, in 1839, to Paris, where he completed
"Rienzi" and the "Flying Dutchman," in 1841. The latter was suggested
by a gale which Wagner experienced during a short voyage. "Rienzi" was
first brought out at Dresden in 1842, and led to Wagner's appointment
as orchestra leader in Dresden, where he brought out his "Tanhäuser" in
1845. In 1849 Wagner had to leave Germany for political reasons, and
went to Switzerland, where "Lohengrin" was finished and the tetralogy
of the "Nibelung" was begun. Wagner then lived in Italy, Vienna, and
Paris, where "Tanhäuser" met with a disastrous presentation in 1861,
and led accidentally to the following pages.

In 1864 Wagner became intimate with Louis II., the young King of
Bavaria, under whose zealous patronage he brought out his "Tristan"
in 1857 the "Mastersingers" in 1768, "Rhinegold" in 1853 and the
"Walkyria" in 1870,--all at Munich, wrote the text for his operas, and
also numerous pamphlets, most of which led to acrimonious discussions.
Wagner's musical ideals received some outward impulses from the
Oberammergau passion play and the success of the Franco-Prussian
war, which led to the establishment of the German Empire. A special
Wagner theatre was begun in 1872 at Bayreuth, where the master has
since lived, and his works were first presented in 1876, in entire
harmony with his vast requirements. Wagner's last work, "Parsifal," was
published in 1878.

Wagner's early writings were collected in an edition of nine volumes,
published in Leipsic, 1871 to 1873. His life was written by Glasenapp
in two volumes, 1876 to 1878. Kastner published a Wagner catalogue. But
it will take years, perhaps decades, before a final and just estimate
can be formed of so great a master. The following pages were written
by Judith Gautier, the Paris writer, and translated by an American
lady. They have gone through several European editions, as they give an
account of Wagner's opera texts, and pay a tribute to the genius of the
great composer, who was also a remarkable and original author.


Will the reader kindly look upon the first pages of this book as a
fragment of reminiscences, which I hope some day to publish; not that
my life in itself is worth relating, but it has been frequently brought
in contact with that of celebrated artists. It treats here of certain
experiences only, written as if for myself,--reminiscences gathered
during several years of uninterrupted relations with Richard Wagner.
The books already published on the master, in every language and
every style, either to combat or glorify him, would fill a shelf; the
catalogue of these criticisms, studies, and biographies would form a
volume. Thus, the subject of his defeats, victories, and what is termed
his musical system, has been exhausted; repetition is therefore useless.

Beside this, I have of late renounced all idea of proselytism; after
a long struggle I abandon the contest, at the moment when, to many,
victory seems most probable. I have reasons for this which I do not
care to indicate, but which seem to me decisive. What I have for
so long a time taken to be the customary and fatal resistance, the
instinctive hatred which is experienced by every public in every
country for the innovations of genius, is, I fear, in France something
even more. Our quick intelligence, so light, so mobile, so disposed
to mockery, deprives us of that quality so indispensable to the
comprehension of master works--simplicity. We cannot refrain from
finding something to ridicule in grand sentiments, sublimity, and noble
or terrible passions; what pleases us above all is graceful, spirited
art, slightly sentimental, quick observation, and arrows of satire;
also, no people can rival us when comic operas, vaudevilles, and
comedies of manners are in question.

Art is for us an amusement. We frankly weary of anything serious, and
if by chance we happen to admit a masterpiece upon the scenes, it
is simply on the score of curiosity. Does a theatre exist in Paris,
this world's capital, where the great works, lyrical and dramatic,
of the entire world may be represented? Who troubles himself about
Calderon, Schiller, Goethe, Shakspeare? While absurd fairy scenes
and miserable comedies, in which the only discoverable merit is the
play or personality of the actors, and scenes of disgraceful realism,
remain upon the boards during a whole year, Othello drags painfully
on, barely reaching the twentieth representation. It will, perhaps, be
urged that the Frenchman dare not travel, and that works of art created
outside of his own little world do not interest him. And Victor Hugo!
Is there any sort of indignity or outrage which has been spared him in
his own country? It is true, that after sixty years of contest, his
glory radiates at last splendid and triumphant. Well, where is Victor
Hugo's theatre? Has the new generation ever seen the representations
of this master's greatest works? "Les Burgraves," "Cromwell," and "Le
Roi qui S'Amuse." This last drama, it is true, is about to reappear
upon the stage. But fifty years will have intervened between its first
and second representations. Why hope that Richard Wagner should stand
a better chance of vanquishing the native antipathy of the French
public to serious works than Shakspeare, who after three hundred years
has not yet triumphed among us; than Victor Hugo, the greatest glory
of France? Are the enchantments of music capable of working this
miracle? It is possible, but I no longer hope for it. The success of
Lohengrin in Paris is probable, but we shall go no farther. Neither the
great Scandinavian epopée, nor the metaphysical loves of Tristan and
Isolde, nor the mysticism of Parsifal will reach us. For this reason,
recognizing the generous error in which I have so long persisted, I
renounce all sterile efforts, and, blessing the invention of railroads,
I go bravely toward the mountain which cannot be brought to me.

This book is, in reality, only addressed to the small number of the
initiated who, having broken through the occult precinct of the new
art, have the incomparable joy of admiring without reserve all that
is worthy of admiration. They will find in these pages, in addition
to certain characteristic traits of the master, drawn from life,
and from which they will be able to modify the ideas which they may
have received from fantastic portraits, the detailed analyses of
poems which have not been translated into French, and, above all,
that of Parsifal. These analyses will enable those undertaking the
pilgrimage to Bayreuth, and who do not understand German, to follow the
representations. My sole ambition is to be useful to the extent of my
power to this intelligent minority, who, in my opinion, alone form this
world, and who, I truly hope, may alone form another, should it exist;
for I am convinced, with Charles Baudelaire, that paradise is made up
of the small number of chosen ones.


Part First


Part Second


From Rienzi to Tristan and Isolde




RHINEGOLD (introductory)--WALKYRIA (first day)--SIGFRID (second day)
--GLOOM OF THE GODS (third day)




It was under rather peculiar circumstances that the name of Wagner
was mentioned in my presence, for the first time, the evening of the
first representation of Tanhäuser in Paris. I had left school the day
before on a vacation, and if this great combat in regard to Tänhauser
had been mentioned in my hearing, I, at least, remembered nothing
of it. I was accidentally crossing the Passage de l'Opéra with my
father, the evening of this representation, during an _entr'acte_.
The passage was crowded; a gentleman, who approached my father with a
bow, stopped us. He was rather small, thin, with hollow cheeks and a
prominent nose, a broad forehead and brilliant eyes. He began to speak
of the representation, at which he had been present, with malignant
intensity, and such a ferocious joy at seeing the confirmation of its
failure, that, carried away by an involuntary sentiment, I suddenly
emerged from the silence and reserve imposed upon one of my age, to
cry with astonishing impertinence, "In hearing you, sir, it is easy
to divine that a great work is in question, and that you speak of a

"Now, what has come over you, naughty child," said my father, wishing
to reprove me, but quietly laughing to himself. "Who is it?" I asked,
when the gentleman had left us. "That was Hector Berlioz."

I have never forgotten this incident, and I have seemed later to see
in this sudden movement of anger, which roused my young conscience
to indignation in so singular a manner, a sort of presentiment,
--something which premonished me that one day I should become a
passionate admirer of this artist, whose name I now heard for the first

It seems evident that, at the moment when a new genius reveals
itself, a little group of chosen mortals springs to life, called to
form about him a devoted company to defend him, to console him for
all but universal hatred, to sustain him in his agonies, all the
while upholding the divinity of his inspirations. It was doubtless
my vocation to become a disciple of this new hero, to understand and
believe in him, for I was influenced by no one. One day chance placed
in my hands the score of the Flying Dutchman. My music teacher, who
hired music at Flaxland's, had taken this volume, among others, without
knowing its contents, and left it with me until the next lesson, as it
was inconveniently burdensome. I had profited little by my lessons,
and was a most indifferent pianist; notwithstanding which, after
having deciphered in the most incomplete and crude manner this unknown
score, I was entirely overcome, and in spite of my numberless mistakes,
the grandeur and meaning of this music were revealed to me by a sort
of intuition. I could not be persuaded to leave the piano; I became
infatuated, and my friends tried in vain to get the score out of my
hands. From this moment Richard Wagner had one more faithful disciple.

When, in 1868, I wrote several articles upon his works, I had still
a very imperfect knowledge of them from more or less satisfactory
executions upon the piano and desultory fragments heard at the popular
concerts. I was much alarmed at my own audacity, after having addressed
these articles to Wagner, then at Lucerne, accompanied by a letter,
begging him to aid me kindly with his advice for their correction and
completion. I hoped and waited for an answer with extreme anxiety:
would it come? I could not believe it, and yet I could think of
nothing else. I could hardly sleep, and as each morning passed, and
the messenger brought nothing, my heart filled with anguish. One day,
however, I spied the Lucerne postmark upon an envelope addressed in an
unknown hand, which I immediately recognized as remarkable.

I held this letter a long time between my fingers before opening it.
I experienced a strange emotion,--a sort of fear. How had I dared,
with my heedlessness, characteristically French, to write, confiding
alone in my instinct, upon the works of this artist, for whom I felt
already such an enthusiasm that I could only imagine him as existing,
after the manner of the gods, upon an inaccessible Olympus. Was this
letter really from him? I opened it at last, four pages of elegant
handwriting, very legible, and at the last line the magic signature.
The letter began thus: "Madam,--It is impossible that you could have
experienced the slightest doubt of the touching and kindly impression
made upon me by your letter and your fine articles. Accept my thanks
for them, and permit me to count you among the small number of true
friends whose clear-eyed sympathy is my only glory. There is nothing in
your articles to correct, nothing to suggest; but I perceive that you
have not yet a thorough knowledge of the Mastersingers." He then gave
me an interesting explanation of the introduction to the third act in
the Mastersingers, which had been performed by Pasdeloup a short time
previous at the popular concerts. The letter ended thus:--

"Pardon me, madam, if I venture to complete, above all with the aid of
my bad French, your acquaintance, otherwise so profound and intimate,
with my music, by which you have truly touched and surprised me. I
shall probably visit Paris before long, perhaps even this winter, and I
rejoice beforehand in the true pleasure of taking you by the hand, and
telling you face to face of the pleasure you have given to your truly
obliged and devoted,


I waited in vain for this proposed journey. Wagner did not visit France
during that winter. Nor has he come since then. There was but one thing
to be done,--go to Lucerne. But how should I be received? Fantastic
legends were reported in regard to Wagner; among others, it was related
that he had in his house a seraglio, composed of women of all colors,
from all countries, in magnificent costumes; but that no visitor
crossed the threshold of his dwelling. On the other hand, persons
who pretended to know him intimately, depicted him as an unsocial
man, gloomy and sullen, living in jealous retreat, having for sole
companionship two large black dogs. This wild solitude was tolerable,
and even pleased me; but the idea that a feeling of polite gratitude
might force him to break through it in my favor troubled me greatly.
On this account I wrote an extremely complicated letter, saying, that
passing through Lucerne by chance, only passing, I begged him to inform
me if he were still there and would permit me the pleasure of greeting
him. By this arrangement the fear of his disturbance being prolonged
beyond that of a short interview would be averted. To tell the truth,
chance had nothing to do with this journey, and there was nothing to
hurry me. The following letter entirely reassured me: "Madam,--I am
at Lucerne, and I have no need to tell you how much pleasure I shall
have in seeing you. I shall but beg you to prolong your sojourn at
Lucerne in order that the happiness you accord me may not vanish
too quickly. I suppose that you go to Munich for the Exposition of
pictures; however, as I have the presumption to believe that it will be
agreeable to you to hear some of my works, I would inform you that the
representation of Tanhäuser, Lohengrin, Tristan, and the Mastersingers
will take place in the month of June, that the theatre is at the
present moment closed, and that Rhinegold will be given at the earliest
on the 29th of August, if indeed it be given then. But I trust that
neither the postponement of the exposition, nor the closing of the
theatre, will retard your visit to Lucerne. Quite on the contrary, I
shall hope for a prolongation of your stay here, and while begging you
to kindly notify me by a word, of the day when you expect to arrive, I
pray you to accept the assurance of my respectful gratitude.


I arrived in Lucerne on a beautiful afternoon in the month of July,
1869. On entering the station I looked out of the carriage-door,
when I suddenly perceived Wagner on the platform. He did not in the
least resemble the unfavorable photographs which I had seen. I had
no hesitation in recognizing him and ran toward him. We shook hands
in silence, and he enveloped me with that intense glance which is
peculiar to himself, and seems to pierce one's soul. I experienced no
embarrassment during that moment of strange silence, in which my heart
was, so to speak, bare beneath his gaze, but a profound emotion, a
wild joy. "Come," he said, offering me his arm, "If you do not care
for magnificence, the Lake Hotel will please you; I have engaged rooms
there." The hotel was near by, and we went on foot. He stopped a moment
on the way, and with a very grave, almost solemn expression, said to
me: "We are bound by a very noble sentiment, madam." But an instant
later, after having recommended me to the innkeeper, he took leave of
me. "I am going to prepare for your reception," he said, "else I should
be stupid. Come presently when you have taken a little rest." From my
window I saw him move away with a rapid step, cross the old bridge of
Lucerne, and step into a boat. He told me later that he was in haste to
impart to his wife his impressions, which were not in the least what he
had anticipated. At sunset I reached Tribscheu, that consecrated bit of
land where, since that time, I have passed so many charming hours.

It was a sort of promontory, extremely picturesque, jutting into the
lake. There was neither grating nor door; the garden had no defined
limits, and extended indefinitely toward the neighboring mountains. The
exterior of the house was perfectly plain,--gray, with dark tiles; but
in the interior arrangements, full of grace and elegance, one felt
the presence of a woman. Madame Wagner appeared in the midst of her
children, fair, tall and gracious, with a charming smile, and tender,
dreamy-blue eyes. The sympathy with which she inspired me from the
first moment has never been broken, and our friendship, already of long
standing, has never known a cloud. It was a delightful evening; the
master displayed incomparable animation and gayety of spirits. I was
unprepared for this vivacity of mind, these witticisms, the delicacies
of language which we are wont to consider the monopoly of the Parisian,
and which acquired in him a peculiar charm from his foreign accent,
and, in spite of the great facility with which he spoke French, his
original and unexpected expressions. He spoke of Paris, where he had
greatly suffered, but which he still loved, and of the great contest
over Tanhäuser, without bitterness. I remember, among others, this
phrase:" Since the public at the opera do not like my music why inflict
it upon them?" The group of warm partisans which had formed itself in
France appeared to touch him deeply. Perhaps he founded secret hopes
upon the initiative spirit of the French. In spite of his steadily
increasing success in Germany he still had bitter adversaries, and was
still exposed to base persecutions. The press reviled him incessantly
with a coarseness and violence of which our French journals, even those
most eager for scandal, can give no idea. The calumnies went even so
far that Wagner, for the first and last time in his life, decided to
reply to them. "I have seen," he said, among other things, "the London
and Paris papers mock my works and tendencies without pity; these
works have been dragged through the mire, they have been hissed in the
theatres; but it still remained to me to see my person, my private
character, my domestic life, exposed to public contempt in the country
where my works are admired, and where a masculine energy and lofty
aspirations are recognized in my efforts." The nobility and clergy
were arrayed against him. What they sought for in him was doubtless
the revolutionist of the days in May, 1849; the deep thinker, the
powerful and energetic man of action, marching toward progress and the
liberation of thought. And what hatred! Banished, pursued, and not
knowing where to take refuge. Thus came about this almost incredible
thing, that, at one time, he might be thought the only German who had
not seen the representation of Lohengrin.

Notwithstanding the unalterable affection of King Louis II. he was, at
the time I saw him, morally exiled from Bavaria. His long-cherished
project of a theatre, the plans of which were already drawn by the
great architect, Semper, and which the king wished to have erected in
Munich, nearly revolutionized the city. The project was relinquished
and the plaster model of the building was sorrowfully banished to an
attic in the palace. But Wagner had not ceased to think of it, and who
knows if at this moment Paris was not the aim of his dreams? He was
then working upon the third part of the Nibelungen, Siegfried. I saw
the manuscript on his study piano, in a little apartment adjoining the
drawing-room. There was a portrait of his noble friend, handsome as
a hero of the Edda. I was told that he sometimes escaped from Munich
to pass a few days at Tribscheu, and that in this same room a bed was
arranged for him.

There is nothing more touching than the enthusiastic affection with
which this young king was inspired by the man of genius. He came to
him like a saving angel at the moment when all abandoned him. "What
shall I say to you," wrote Wagner to a friend, some time after his
first interview with the king; "the most incomprehensible thing, and
the only one, moreover, which could save me, is completely realized. In
the very year of my first representation of Tanhäuser, a queen brought
into this world the good genius of my life, him who was destined later,
in the depth of my distress, to give me safety and consolation. It
seems as if he had been sent me from heaven." The king was obliged,
however, to do battle for his great friend, for the entire court
was hostile to him, and the struggle was not without danger for the
newly-crowned youth. But nothing could change his heart. The world in
general revenged itself upon him by inventing various legends more or
less absurd and unworthy of his notice. His only peculiarity lies in
his deep intelligence, and his preference for masterpieces over the
frivolous and commonplace pleasures of the world.

For fifteen days I passed my afternoons and evenings in the charming
retreat Tribscheu, for I soon had the honor of being considered
a friend. When minds are once in sympathy hearts come quicker to
an understanding, and my affection for my host soon equalled the
admiration with which the artist had inspired me. Of all the
information given me about Wagner, his home life, the great reality,
was the one black spot. Rus was a handsome Newfoundland, very gentle
and pacific, who often came by himself to see me at the Lake Hotel. Few
visitors ever crossed the threshold of the master's house. He knew no
one at Lucerne, and this tranquillity was favorable to his work. Thus
I saw him alone with his family, in all the simplicity of his life,
and could form an exact idea of his character. I was greatly struck
in the first place by his powerful, resolute head, the extraordinary
brilliancy of his eyes, and his intensity of expression. There was also
an expression of infinite goodness, which would never be suspected from
his portraits. This almost superhuman goodness radiated from him at
every moment; it was visible in the adoration with which he inspired
not only his family but all who surrounded him. The members of his
little domain took advantage of this gentleness. Little by little
relations of every degree, near or far, gathered about him, who having
come for a visit stayed indefinitely. As I knew the master better, I
gained a further insight into his exquisite tenderness of soul, which
in him has nothing in common with the vulgar philanthropy so frequently
met with, and which is for the most part theoretic. It was a Frenchman,
the Count of Gobineau, who said of Wagner, "He can never be absolutely
happy, for he will always have some one near him whose sorrows he
feels bound to share."

One day I asked him if he had any plans for his new-born son. "My first
ambition," he said, "is to assure him a modest income, which will
render him independent, that he may be sheltered from the miserable
annoyances from which I have so cruelly suffered. Then I should wish
him to know something of surgery, enough to render aid to a wounded
person in emergencies, to prepare a first dressing. I have so often
been troubled by my own inability that I wish to spare him this
pain. Beyond this I shall leave him entirely free." Madame Wagner
told me that the composition of the Mastersingers had been suspended
during long months on account of a sick dog, wandering and abandoned,
which Wagner, then at Zurich, had picked up and endeavored to cure.
The dog had bitten his right hand badly, and the wound became so
painful as to prevent him from writing. It is impossible to dictate
music, and he was thus reduced to inaction, which put his patience
to a hard test; but the dog was none the less cared for. There are,
however, violence and roughness in Richard Wagner's character which
must be recognized, and which are frequently the cause of his being
misjudged, but only by those who regard merely the exterior. Nervous
and impassionable to excess, the emotions which he experiences are
always carried to an extreme. With him slight pain is almost despair,
the smallest irritation has the appearance of madness. This wonderful
organization of such exquisite sensibility has terrible vibrations,
and his resistance of them is wonderful. A day of anxiety ages him
ten years, but, happiness once reinstated, the day following finds
him younger than ever. He gives himself to others with extraordinary
prodigality. Always sincere, his whole heart is in everything he does;
but of an extremely variable temper, his opinions and ideas, fixed
the first moment, are by no means irrevocable. No one recognizes an
error more quickly than he does, but he must have passed his first
enthusiasm. By his frankness and vehemence he often wounds his best
friends unintentionally; always excessive he goes farther than he
intends, and does not recognize the grief he causes. Many, wounded in
their self-love, bear in silence the injury which aggravates them, and
thus they lose a precious friendship; whereas, if they had cried out
that they were hurt, they would have found the master filled with such
sincere regrets that he would have made an effusive effort to console
them, and their love for him would only have increased.

"With Wagner the second movement is the good one," said a French
violinist, who had left everything to enroll himself in the orchestra
at Bayreuth,--an artist of great merit, a man of spirit who was one
of those preferred by the master. In spite of his occasionally rough
manner, Wagner is, when he so chooses, a perfect charmer. There is
nothing to be compared with the fascination which he exercises upon
the interpreters working under his orders. After a few days the most
hostile and rebellious orchestra becomes attached to him. It is the
same with the singers, whom he inspires with unbounded devotion. The
illustrious Schnorr, the first singer of Tristan, in which part he was
sublime, cried, as he drew his last breath, "It is not I then who will
sing Siegfried." He regretted nothing in this life but the glory of
interpreting Wagner's works. One of the most remarkable things about
Wagner is the youthful gayety which so frequently breaks out, and the
charming good humor which his tormented life has never been able to
quench. His entertaining and profound conversation will become all
at once, without transition, full of humor and imagination. He tells
stories in the most comical manner, with a fine irony which belongs to
him alone. At Lucerne he surprised me by his skill in bodily exercises,
and by his singular agility. He climbed the highest trees in his
garden, to the terror of his wife, who besought me not to look at him,
because, she said, if he were encouraged he would commit no end of

He was then working very regularly, rising early in the morning. At
midday he was free, took long walks, or rested while reading, for
he has an insatiable thirst for literature, and is an indefatigable
student. In these hours of rest and meditation he has moments
of beautiful serenity. His features then assume an incomparable
sweetness, his face becomes enveloped with a pallor which has nothing
of ill-health, but seems to veil it with a slight cloud. At these
moments nothing troubles or agitates him. One feels that he is in
self-communion with his dreams, and one involuntarily thinks of a
magnificent lake reflecting the heavens. I have never witnessed
this peaceful reverie without emotion, without the deep desire that
nothing may trouble or dissipate it. But little is needed to bring
back agitation; the least breath suffices; happy if the tempest does
not break forth. Unfortunately for himself Wagner will never know
the feeling so wisely egotistical--polite indifference. Before my
departure from Lucerne he wished to organize an excursion of several
days to show us the country of William Tell. We were obliged to start
at dawn, and the carriage was winding its way by the lake of Lucerne,
or the Four Cantons, when the sun rose. I remember that a gleam of
light fell upon the master's lips while he was talking to us. In
speaking of Mendelssohn he said: "He is a great landscape-painter."

I confess to seeing very little of the country I was visiting. I
remember at the first halting-place a trout upon which Wagner made a
frightful pun, which I shall not translate. Then came the steamboat
which conveyed us to Zurich, where the master was welcomed by the
populace as a well-loved king; a mountain was climbed, a sail followed;
but all is confused. What has ever remained in my memory is the charm
of those days, passed in such glorious intimacy, his gentle gayety and
simplicity, the attentive cares, the art of organizing everything for
one's greatest comfort and pleasure. He was the first to rise and awake
the more slothful ones, and he hummed the Marseillaise as he tapped
upon our doors.

Once again at Lucerne Wagner confessed that he had been suffering
during the greater part of the journey, but had been careful to say
nothing lest he should spoil our pleasure. It was with sincere regret
that I finally took leave of my hosts, being, however, somewhat
consoled by the promise that I should often receive news from
Tribscheu, a promise which has been faithfully kept. I returned there
the following year, 1870, being at Lucerne when the war was declared.
It was evident with his ardent character that Wagner could not fail
to be deeply impressed by this event. The idea of a united Germany
impassioned him, and I confess that I should have loved him less had
he not experienced, like all of us, in these crises the inspirations
of patriotism. It was deemed expedient, however, not to touch upon
dangerous questions, where we could not possibly agree, but to remain
prudently in the regions of art, where we so entirely understood one
another. By this method the events which made us opponents could not
disturb our friendship. Returned to Paris, the last letter which I
received from him was dated the 5th of September. It informed me of
the baptism of his son, to whom I stood god-mother, but alas, at a
distance. "At the moment of the benediction," he wrote, "a storm
burst upon us with flashes of lightning and loud peals of thunder. It
appears that the thunder claps will play their part in the life of this
terrible child. I myself like such celestial auguries, while I hold
in aversion those terrestrial blows which have deprived us of your
presence. I keep to our silence so sensibly agreed upon. But happily
there is a region of existence where we are and always shall remain
friends. All that separates us, even in our opinions upon things which
belong to this region, can only contribute to draw us in time nearer
and more intimately together." The horrible tempest once calmed, we
met again with the same sentiments, each continuing to reserve his
own opinions. In 1872 Lucerne was abandoned for Bayreuth; the great
project so long cherished of the theatre built after Wagner's ideas
was at last to be realized. The 22d of April Madame Wagner wrote me:
"One last word from Tribscheu, my dear friend, which we leave with full
hearts and troubled minds. To-morrow Wagner goes to Bayreuth, and I am
to follow him with the children and Rus in a week. We cannot, however,
leave without sending you our tender remembrances."

The first stone of the theatre was solemnly laid at Bayreuth on
the 22d of May of the same year. On this occasion the king sent the
following despatch to Wagner:--

"From the depths of my heart, dear friend, I express to you, on this
day of such great import to all Germany, my warmest and sincerest
congratulations. Success and blessing to the great enterprise of the
coming year! To-day more than ever I am with you in spirit."


Beethoven's symphony, with choruses, directed by Wagner, was the
finest episode of the _fêtes_ which followed. The German public, who
knew it well, was enraptured by the inimitable performance. "We cannot
express in words our thanks and admiration for the manner in which
Wagner interprets the works of Beethoven," wrote the Musical Journal
of Berlin. "We have never heard an orchestra spiritualized to such
a degree. We add our share of enthusiasm to that of the transported
audience." And Mr. Richard Pohl, a well-known writer, said: "Richard
Wagner, who always directs without notes, knowing the score by heart,
exercises a marvellous and magnetic charm over his orchestra. He forces
it to accomplish his wishes, does with it what he will, sure of being
obeyed. He animates and electrifies each musician, and always remains
in sympathetic contact with the whole instrumental body. All divine,
so to speak, his thought. He handles the orchestra like a gigantic
instrument, with a certainty that never fails him, with a sovereignty
before which all joyfully bow. To form an idea of this prodigy it must
be witnessed; the revelation is as unique as is Wagner's incomparably
artistic nature." "Our fête is over," wrote Madame Wagner, several days
later, "and in spite of very bad weather it has been superb. The words
of Beethoven, 'all men become brothers,' seemed to be realized during
these few days at Bayreuth, where our friends, known and unknown, have
congregated from every quarter of the globe, having all one thought and
one faith."

In 1876 the theatre was finished, and that colossal work, the Ring of
the Nibelung, was brought forward and put upon the stage. Sovereigns,
artists, an intelligent crowd, rushed toward Bayreuth, which could
not contain it, and even the streets were put into requisition for
improvised camps. That little city, so completely obscure a few years
ago, suddenly rendered famous by the caprice of a man of genius, is
hidden behind the chilly mountains of Upper Franconia. Pine woods,
rapid streams, vast plains, bounded by blue-tinted hills against the
misty sky, long poplar-studded roads, along which harnessed oxen slowly
travel in couples under the brass yoke which forms a sort of crown over
their heads,--such is the approach to this once quiet city, which,
all at once, in honor of the theatre which rises in proud simplicity
on the hill, throws open its gates to welcome emperors, kings, and
princes from all countries, and finds itself filled with a joyous
crowd, which the innkeepers, waking from their long lethargy, swindle
to the best of their ability. While speaking of innkeepers I may recall
a characteristic incident which happened at Munich. The hotel-keepers
of the city, having previously come to a common understanding, offered
to build the projected theatre for Wagner at their own expense, but
at Munich, not in Bayreuth. They considered that it would be a great
affair for them. Even as a river is diverted from its course, so they
proposed to direct toward themselves the tide of visitors; but the
master held to Bayreuth and declined their offers.

Wahnfried! Such is the name of Wagner's villa at Bayreuth. Wahnfried, a
name full of melancholy doubt, which gives rise to many thoughts, but
is difficult to translate; its truest signification being illusions of
peace. At the height of his glory, adored almost, he whose life had
been so troubled and painful wished to persuade himself that he had at
last cremated, sheltered from all attacks, a retreat where he could
thenceforward live in peace; but he himself recognized the futility
of this scheme. Can repose exist for such a mind, always pushing
irresistibly forward and higher? Folly, illusion, thus to mark a
standing-place, to carve one's tombstone, and to dig a grave, while so
many desires are still fermenting, and while so many dreams are still
outlived, which must be formed, and then again dissipated.

Wahnfried! This word, which at first seemed to me to contain a regret,
held, perhaps, on the contrary a hope. The house, constructed upon
Wagner's own plan, appears at the end of a long avenue; it is built
of grayish red stones, almost square, and without other ornament than
the fresco upon the front, which recalls a scene from the Nibelungen.
A straight flight of steps leads to the door; that opens upon a small
anteroom, which again communicates with a large vestibule, very high,
and lighted from the top. It is surrounded, on a level with the first
story, by a gallery, decorated with paintings, representing Eastern
scenes. The floor is paved with flagstones, divans are placed in the
angles, together with marble statues of Wagner's heroes, the work of
enthusiastic sculptors, and a large American organ with brass stops.
At the right is the dining-room; on the left a little salon filled
with objects of art. Facing this is the great hall of reunion, vast
and sumptuous, at once library and working-room. It is terminated by
a glass rotunda opening into the garden, where a fountain is babbling

The theatre, which stands outside of the city on a hill, is a
construction of simple aspect, somewhat resembling the palace of the
Trocadéro. When I saw it for the first time rising majestically on the
height, illumined by the rays of the setting sun; when I saw that
contemplative crowd slowly ascending on every side toward this temple
of art, I could not restrain tears of joy. The dream of this man's
entire life was thus at last realized. The world that had persecuted
him hastened finally to greet him with a rapture beyond precedent. He,
once so persecuted, enjoyed even in life his apotheosis. This new phase
of his life had changed nothing in his manner of being; this immense
triumph failed to intoxicate him; he did not even appear to be greatly
impressed. It seemed to me that the Nibelungen were far from his mind,
which already meditated new creations. He made me visit the theatre in
all its details, from the hidden orchestra, sunk beneath the stage, to
the mechanism which held suspended the Undines of the Rhine. We had to
climb everything that was practicable, descend to the floor under the
stage; and I perceived that the master had lost none of his agility of

Those who were present at the admirable representations of 1876,
where everything had been prepared and directed by Wagner, will never
forget them. A like solemnity has not been reproduced since the great
theatrical celebrations of ancient Greece, and will remain a great
event in the future history of art. I shall close these few pages,
written from memory, by the relation of my last visit to the master,
copied from my travelling note book.

BAYREUTH, 29th of September, 1881.

It is with quickly beating hearts that we cross once more the threshold
of this dwelling, which, in spite of the cordial reception always
awaiting us, we feel to be consecrated ground, the holy of holies,
which should not be penetrated without a sort of sacred awe. The whole
family is assembled in the drawing-room, which is brightened by a ray
of sunlight. Liszt, who has come to pass a few weeks with his dear
grandchildren, is superb, with his long white hair, his bushy eyebrows,
beneath which shine a lion's eyes. My godson is already growing large;
he has a broad forehead, and blue eyes of exquisite sweetness. The
master comes up from the garden, always the same, even younger. Truly
the immortals defy time. He receives us with that tender effusion with
which those of his followers, by whom he knows himself perfectly loved,
inspire him, for he has nothing of the impassable egotism which so
often attacks great men when they arrive at a certain height of glory.
He is rather, as we have already said, too impressionable, allows
himself to be governed by the momentary violence of his impressions;
and the only uneasiness he causes to those who surround him, who live
only for him, proceeds from this intensity in his sadness or joy, or
from his anger, which a nature less tempered than his would not be
able to resist. He can sometimes forget, even completely change, his
opinion, love that which he once detested, and always with the same

We pass to the dining-room. The master is now rapturously gay; he
expresses himself with some difficulty in French, which does not,
however, prevent his playing upon the words as no one else can. He
tells us of his journey to Naples and Venice, of the pleasure he has
derived from Italy, and we quickly divine in him a longing for the sun
and new horizons; he is thinking of Greece, the Bosporus, India. Oh
Wahnfried, Wahnfried! One thing evidently wearies him greatly; it is
the instrumentation of Parsifal. He complains of not being able to form
young artists capable of aiding him in his work; but this is simply
make-believe, he well knows that it is impossible. "When one is young,"
he said, "when the nerves are not yet fatigued, and one writes scores
with a certain ease, even that of Lohengrin, without knowing all
the resources of coloring and combination, the work is not comparable
to that which the new works demand, and which must be written at a
maturer age. Auber, however, wrote until his eighty-fourth year without
fatigue; but he had not changed his manner." Liszt relates a speech of
Auber's, to whom a young musician of great promise had been presented.
"Are we not enough already?" cried the master. He afterwards spoke of a
counterbass with five chords, the object of which is to descend still
further in the lower notes than the ordinary counterbass does. Wagner
said of a gentleman who came to submit a similar process to him, that
he sent him about his business. Mendelssohn, however, has already tried
something of the kind and produced a fine effect.

We were reproached for not having come a month sooner, when the house
was full of singers, to whom the parts of Parsifal were assigned, and
who began their first studies. To console us, Wagner promised to let
us hear certain passages. But he pretends to play badly, so that it
will not be the same thing. There is a project to go to-morrow to the
theatre to see the models of the scenes, provided the machinist who is
expected has arrived to show them:

30th September.

We are early to-day at Wahnfried. The gate is never shut except by a
bolt, and we can take a solitary walk in the garden without disturbing
any one. Long trellises of virgin vines, already bloodstained by the
precocious autumn, creep the length of each side of the way leading to
the house; it is almost dark under their shelter; in places, however,
the green roof becomes lighter, and the dead leaves rustle under our
feet. The space intervening between these trellises and the centre
walk is reserved for the kitchen garden; but the soil does not appear
to be fertile. We come out at the conservatory, where there is already
a fire; all the delicate flowers have been brought in-doors. A few
exotic plants destined to ornament the drawing-room, but which are
withering, are there as in an infirmary. In front of the hot-house, on
the other side of the house, cries and a flapping of wings indicate the
hen-house; it is large and gay, and might be taken for a sample from
the garden of acclimation in Paris. Peacocks, silver pheasants, rare
hens, and a scattering of pigeons fill it, defying the cook's knife,
for the place is as sacred to them as if they were taking their sports
within the enclosure of a Brahmin temple.

In front of the drawing-room, and surrounding the fountain, is the
pleasure-garden; with fine lawns, beds of Bengal roses, and flowers of
all kinds, but many of them are already frostbitten. This free space
is enclosed by a bushy wood forming a sort of wall. One must penetrate
its shadows to approach the tomb, which has been already so much talked
of, and which by a sufficiently exuberant fancy the master caused to
be built at the same time with his house. It is completely enveloped
by the thick coppice, and is without egress; it is only when autumn
strips the trees that a large, gray marble slab can be seen through
the confusion of branches, over which the briars twine themselves.
A graceful pavilion of two stories, a gymnasium for the children,
hemicycles of grass, with stone benches, are scattered in this wood,
which leads to a little gate, looking out upon the royal residence. The
stroke of the clock recalls us to the house. The master has finished
his morning task, and shows us his well-filled page lying upon the
table. His life is one of the greatest regularity, above all when, as
at this time, he is pursuing a hurried and fatiguing work. He rises at
six, but after his bath retires again and reads until ten. At eleven
he sets himself to work until two o'clock. After dinner he rests for
a short time, always in company with a book. From four until six he
drives, then goes back to his work until supper, at eight; the evening
is passed gayly with his family, and before eleven all the household is
in bed.

At table Liszt announces that Darwin declares himself a partisan of
vivisection, but that this frightful practice has just been interdicted
in England. It is well known that Richard Wagner is one of the warmest
defenders of those innocent victims of the physiologist's cruel
curiosity. Some time ago he wrote a long article full of sadness and
anger, in which he repeats the words of Faust, "The dogs themselves
will no longer wish to live in such a world." "Our campaign has already
had good results in Germany," he said; "the joiners who manufacture
the instruments of torture destined for the unfortunate dogs complain
of the diminution of their sales." He asks us if this humane cause
has defenders in France; to which we reply that there are very ardent
ones; in the first instance, all honest people: and then we cite among
the journalists Victor Meunier, who, in the Rappel, rises vehemently
against these cruelties, and very justly compares the actual position
of animals to that of the former slaves, over whom their masters were
supposed to have every right.

A visit to the theatre is again spoken of; the machinist whom we
expected, evidently cannot come; but we shall go to see the models and
scenery in M. Ioukouski's studio. "My theatre will, I think," said the
master, "become a sort of conservatory where singers will be found, and
where the method in which my works will be executed and put upon the
stage will serve as a model to directors and managers who will mount
them elsewhere." The Paris Conservatory still holds to the tradition
of the movements of Gluck's Iphigenia.... "You have there," he added,
"an orchestra of the first order--Beethoven's Symphonies were played to
perfection." Liszt tells of a very singular appreciation on Boieldieu's
part of the Beethoven Symphonies, at the time of their first hearing
in Paris. "It certainly produces an effect," he said, "but it bears a
resemblance to people chewing tobacco and swearing in a guard-house."

We start upon a visit to M. Paul Ioukouski's studio. This young
painter, who, meeting Richard Wagner at Naples, solicited and obtained
the honor of being chosen for the work of the scenery in Parsifal, and
left all to follow the master, is the son of one of Russia's most
illustrious poets, who was the preceptor of Alexander II. The artist
is installed in a house in the immediate neighborhood of Wahnfried,
and lives there like a hermit, putting his whole heart into his work.
The sketches, which are real pictures, are displayed upon the various
easels. On the first is the forest, with the rising sun, for the first
tableau, which, to make place for the second, will slide gently from
left to right, sinking down little by little, while the characters
are supposed to be advancing as they ascend a hill. These characters
will disappear behind masses of rocks, then will be seen again in
grottoes near Cyclopean substructures, then in galleries. They finally
pass through a door, and the temple of the Grail will appear. Here
it is seen, upon the neighboring easel, with its porphyry columns,
its capital of precious stones, its vaults, its double cupolas, its
mysterious depths. The tables destined for the sacred repast, which
bring to mind the sacrament, are arranged on either side of the altar.
The smooth marble-paved floor reflects like a lake. Mr. Brandt,
machinist of the theatre at Darmstadt, a man of genius, it appears,
for whom the word impossible does not exist, says that he can produce
this glittering effect, and that the only difficulty lies in the rapid
shifting of the scenery.

The fantastic garden, created by the magician, Klingsor, in order
to reduce and ruin the Knights of the Grail, was a thing difficult
to conceive. Wagner wished for something absolutely improbable; the
conception of a dream, a wild efflorescence brought to life by the
stroke of a wand, not by plodding earthly labor; he was dissatisfied
with every attempt. He has, however, obtained his desire, and it
appears that on the stage this scene is one of the most successful
of all. What is most singular is that these giant flowers, sheaves,
clusters, and thickets, which leave only a corner on the horizon
visible, fade away and die in the twinkling of an eye, leaving in
sight only an arid moor, shut in by snowy mountains, while a shower of
withered leaves and dried petals falls upon the ground. The flowering
meadow near the spring wood, which shelters the hermit's hut, with its
clear spring murmuring beneath the thick moss, is truly enchanting.
From this we return by a shifting of scenes analogous to that in the
first act, to the temple of the Grail, where the piece ends. The
costumes are not more easy of invention, for the master will not be
satisfied with anything like the costumers' indignation. Even should
they all become wretched they must yield. The enchantresses evoked by
the magician,--women who are flowers, as the syrens are fishes,--are
those who give the most trouble. Wagner will not have attractive young
girls, but real animated flowers. There is also the tunic of the
terrible and marvellous Kundry.

1st October.

The master has kept his promise this evening, and has let us hear
fragments from Parsifal. "Liszt's presence makes me lose my powers in
a measure," he said, laughing, "he intimidates me, for I know that my
false notes irritate him." Unfortunately, Liszt, who only yesterday
improvised upon the piano in a delightful manner, blending with his
own inventions motions from Tristan and Isolde, has slightly wounded
his finger, and cannot play. It must certainly be acknowledged that
Wagner is an imperfect pianist, and he is the first to laugh at his
own imperfection. We notice, however, in a wonderful manner, certain
passages which the author knows how to render with the true expression,
better than any other. A few months ago, Liszt wrote to us: "Wagner
has worked a new miracle, Parsifal. Those who already have the good
fortune to understand this new work share this opinion; the singers
are enraptured. Judging from the general impression, this ought to be
a new transformation in the master's method,--one of those giant steps
to which he is accustomed. In this instance the height and refinement
of art combine to produce an effect of apparent simplicity and perfect
serenity." This evening we take leave of our illustrious hosts,
promising to meet them again next year at the first representation of




The spectacle, which represents a series of lofty and still loftier
peaks of a chain of mountains, at the moment when the morning mists
envelop them, furnishes a just comparison to that given us by these
works, which rise successively, one above the other, from the lovely
green hill to the dazzling and, for many, inaccessible summits. From
Rienzi to the Gloom of the Gods there is the same difference of
attitude as between the Capitoline Hill and the Himalaya. And what
gigantic strides from one work to the other. A powerful, enthusiastic
genius already reveals itself in Rienzi; but it has done little more
than assimilate, with the greatest facility, the beauties that had
most charmed one in the works of its predecessors. Wagner likes show,
pompous processions, the tumult of battle; the brilliant orchestra
resounds, is carried away, enthusiastic; the power which moves it,
not yet under control, expends itself in vociferations, heroic cries
of extreme vehemence; but as yet nothing presages the innovator, if
it be not the almost prophetic sense of the subject, so ardently

Between Rienzi and The Flying Dutchman lies an abyss. The young master,
disdaining the success of his first work, judges it with severity
and casts it aside; he considers it an essay. From the first he has
equalled his models, but he feels that he is still far from his ideal;
a new world palpitates in his mind; he must break the old moulds and
fetters of routine that he may soar untrammelled toward unexplored
regions. The artist, now sure of himself, definitely abandons
historical subjects, whose too hard reality is not in keeping with the
idealism of music. The natural poetry of legend and myth suits him far
better. Henceforward the path is found, he will no longer turn aside
from it, but continually enlarge upon its thought. From the popular
song, hummed by the Norwegian spinners while turning their wheels, he
will rise to the savage grandeurs of the northern theogonies. It was
upon a sea-voyage, during a storm, which cast him upon the coast of
Norway, that Richard Wagner induced the sailors themselves to repeat to
him the frightful story of the Flying Dutchman--Ahasverus of the Sea,
who, blaspheming, defied the storm with Satan's aid, and was condemned
to wander eternally, he and his fantastic ship. But the mystical young
girl, grown pale from the snow's reflections, who languishes with
love for the damned one, carried incessantly through shipwrecks and
lightning, will save him by her faithful devotion, even unto death, if
he but reaches her.

This work seems to have come at a single stroke, under the inspiration
of a violent emotion. The ocean, with its rage, its awe, its mystery
and sweetness--all is in this music, which is like the sea's own
soul. If a few traces of the old formulæ remain, it is only in the
subordinate parts of the work. The orchestra is no longer a great
guitar, accompanying a song; it already assumes a capital importance;
the designs, dividing and blending, have a precise meaning; the whole,
less noisy, acquires a power until then unknown. The orchestral
tissue becomes the woof upon which the characters are embroidered;
it becomes the ocean which bears the ship, the atmosphere which
envelops the action, where the thoughts, the sentiments of the heroes,
reverberating, amplifying, become visible, so to speak, and make the
mind experience all that is inexpressible in the sensations of the

The legend of Tanhäuser still exists in Germany, above all in leafy
Thuringia, where the famous castle of Wartburg stands, which, under
the hospitable landgraves of the thirteenth century, was the theatre
of pacific contests, fought by the illustrious troubadours. In front
of the castle rises a bare, dreary mountain, burned as it were,
which makes a strange blot in the midst of the fresh vegetation of
the neighboring valleys. This is the terrible Venusberg, inhabited,
according to popular tradition, by a dangerous goddess. This divinity
was formerly Hulda the beneficent, who came each year to awaken the
spring, and wandered over the country scattering flowers under her
feet. But being cursed by Christianity, she was obliged to take refuge
in the unknown caverns of the mountain; she was soon confounded with
Venus, the sovereign of the senses. The graces, syrens, bacchantes,
and fauns constituted her court, and enchanting voices seduced those
whose impure desires guided them toward the mountain; unknown roads
enticed them, and they were borne away to the mysterious palace which
it encloses, in the abode of eternal perdition, from which none return.
The Knight Tanhäuser, curious and intrepid, found the path of the
grottoes in the Venusberg, and was the spouse of the goddess during
seven years, after which, his desires satiated and himself devoured
with remorse, aspiring to human suffering, he succeeded in tearing
himself from the arms of his love by invoking the Virgin Mary. He
went and confessed to the pope, imploring his pardon, but the pontiff
replied, "that having tasted the pleasures of hell he was forever
damned." Then raising his crosier, he added, "Even as this wood cannot
become green again, so is there no pardon for thee." The legend adds,
that at the expiration of three days the crosier began to blossom,
signifying that celestial grace is greater than that of a pontiff.
It is from this recital, enlarged by a powerful spirit, that Wagner
has taken his drama, inter-weaving with his own tissue the tradition
about the famous contests of the poet-singers, and also the chaste
and melancholy face of Elisabeth, whom he voluntarily confounds with
the sainted princess whose virtuous life shed a lustre over the the
castle. But what Richard Wagner has above all wished to bring out in
this marvellous work is the eternal struggle between the flesh and the
spirit, the brute and the angel, which, being in man, dispute his soul.
And this he has rendered with incomparable clearness and grandeur. The
discussions formerly raised by the representation of Tanhäuser have
made this debated work better known than many others illustrious from
success. It is useless, therefore, to speak of it further.

Lohengrin, which has never been represented in Paris, and which can
scarcely be appreciated from partial executions of the most inferior
order, is, strange to say, almost popular. Whoever has heard the
orchestral prelude typifying the vision of King Titurel, when the
angels bring to him the Holy Grail, can never forget this admirable
passage, and the extraordinary impression which it produces. At first
an almost imperceptible vibration takes possession of the highest
notes of the flutes and violins. The air becomes agitated, the light
approaches and grows larger, soon with an irradiation of trumpets the
luminous vision shines resplendent in all its glory. The incomparable
cup, cut from a stone, it is said, which fell from Lucifer's crown when
he was precipitated from heaven, and which is now filled with the blood
of the Saviour, is confided to the pure hands of a holy knight. Then
the angels again take their flight, the glimmering becomes obliterated,
and the atmospheric vibrations, which can no longer be heard, little
by little diminish and die away. The curtain rises upon a site near
the environs of Anvers, on the borders of Scheldt. We find ourselves
in the tenth century. Henry the Fowler, King of Germany, has come to
Brabant to convoke the noble lords according to the feudal custom.
Frederick of Telramund, the most valiant of all the lords of Brabant,
has just accused, before all the people, Elsa, Duchess of Brabant, of
the murder of her young brother, who has disappeared, leaving no trace.
The young girl possesses no method of proving her innocence; her cause
then is to be submitted to the judgment of God. But when the herald has
resounded the trumpet toward the four quarters of the world, no knight
has entered the lists in her defence. Elsa, however, has confidence in
a singular vision: a charming warrior has appeared to her in a dream;
he will fight for her. However, the herald's second summons remains
without response. It is then that, with an impulse of sublime faith,
she throws herself upon her knees, and beseeches Heaven to send her the
defender who has visited her in a vision.

Soon, in fact, the people, grouped upon the banks of the river, see
in the distance, with increasing agitation, a strange bark drawn
by a dazzling swan; it approaches, it draws nearer; a knight of
wondrous beauty stands erect in the bark; his light helmet, his silver
breastplate are resplendent, he rests one hand upon his shield. "A
miracle! a miracle!" cries the crowd. "Can it be an angel sent by God?"
The mysterious knight steps upon the shore. With a calm and modest
voice he bids farewell to the beautiful swan which has conducted him
and now returns to the unknown regions from which it came. Then the
knight advances in the midst of the surprised and rejoicing multitude.
"I am come," he says, "to defend the innocent girl unjustly accused.
Who will do combat with me?" Telramund, notwithstanding the sacred
character of his adversary, and preferring death to dishonor, raises
the gauntlet and upholds the accusation. The knight draws near the
enraptured Elsa, and in a sweet, grave voice, says to her: "If I bear
off the victory, wilt thou that I should become thy husband? Then must
thou promise never to seek to discover from what countries I come, nor
what is my name or nature." "My shield, my angel, my savior!" cried
Elsa, "thou who defendest me in my distress, how could I do other than
faithfully keep to the law thou imposest upon me?" "Elsa, I love thee,"
murmurs the unknown knight with deepest tenderness. The king blesses
the arms, and the combat begins. The knight gains an easy victory over
his adversary, whose life he spares. Elsa's innocence is proclaimed by
the entire people in a triumphal hymn of joy.

But Ortrud, Telramund's wife, daughter of the King of Friesia, who
aspires to the throne of Brabant, succeeds in exciting feminine
curiosity in Elsa, and in pouring the poison of doubt into her heart
in order to blight her joy. She torments her until at last Elsa,
distracted, violates her oath, exacting from her spouse the avowal
of his origin. Doubt has killed faith, which carries with it all
happiness; the night of love ends in despair. It is upon a meadow
near the border of the Scheldt, amid flying, banners and flourishing
trumpets, in the presence of Brabant counts, followed by their vassals
called by King Henry for an expedition against the Hungarians, that the
mysterious knight will unveil his origin. "In a distant country," he
says, "upon a high mountain, called Mont Salvat, stands a magnificent
temple, in which knights of absolute purity guard a miraculous cup; it
is the Holy Grail, the cup in which Christ consecrated the bread and
wine at the time of the Lord's Supper, and in which, later, Joseph of
Arimathea received his blood. This cup had been carried to heaven by
the angels, but they brought it back again to the holy king, Titurel,
who founded the temple of the Grail, and the order of its knights.
Those who serve the Grail are endowed with wonderful virtue, but an
inflexible law forces them to remain unknown among men. If their name
be discovered, they must immediately depart, and once more regain the
sacred mountain. For this reason I must leave you, informing you that
Parsifal, my father, is King of the Grail, and I, his knight, am named
Lohengrin." The swan reappears upon the shore to bear the warrior away
to his miraculous country; Elsa has destroyed her happiness; she sees
her guardian angel depart forever.

Lohengrin is, perhaps, the most perfect of the three lyric dramas
which form the second period in the master's work. From Lohengrin to
Tristan and Isolde as great a distance is marked as between Rienzi and
the Flying Dutchman. It is a new revelation, a new art,--something
perfect and definite, a prodigious flight toward the future. There is
no longer, so to speak, any question of music in the sense formerly
attached to this word; it is poetry in superb and precise form, with a
sonorous resonant soul,--Apollo and Orpheus melted in a single lyre.
The works following may, perhaps, be grander, but Tristan and Isolde
is and will remain the masterpiece of masterpieces, by reason of the
poetical subject which, in art as in the human soul, takes by right the
first place. In Tristan and Isolde love itself, in its most complete
and perfect form, finds utterance. The most pointed phases of the
passion are pushed to their extreme. In the first act it is unavailing
love, heroically conquered, which consumes the heart while not a cry
escapes the lips,--Tristan, conducting toward another the royal
betrothed, whose hand he himself, in his blind love, has solicited for
the King of Cornwall. Tristan's love believes itself despised. Isolde,
consumed with anger and tenderness, powerless to master the tumult in
her soul, wishes shipwreck to the vessel which bears her away, with the
hero who disdains her, toward the shore which she hopes never to reach.
"Death rather, death for us both!" she cries. And when the tempest
betrays her, when already the hated land is signaled, she offers poison.

Tristan cannot refuse to empty a cup in Isolde's honor, to drink to
their reconciliation, for a debt of blood lies between them, long
since effaced by their unavowed love, but which she begins to remember.
Tristan well knows that eternal forgetfulness is poured out for him
by the hand which he secretly adores; he accepts with gratitude this
mitigation of evils which have no remedy. On the threshold of death,
however, both drop their mask, the fire then breaks out triumphant,
love casts them into one another's arms in the intoxication of a
supreme joy which should repay them for their past sufferings. Heart
against heart, eyes looking into eyes, thus will their hearts cease
to beat, and their mutual gaze be extinguished. But alas! they are
betrayed; the two devoted followers have substituted for the mortal
draught a love-drink, and instead of the kindly shade which reunited
them, behold the detested shore, and the deceitful day which separates

Such a love once free can no longer be stifled or conquered. It
is a formidable conflagration, a flame which death itself cannot
extinguish. It has devoured everything,--loyalty, honor, virtue.
The earth itself becomes effaced in the ravishing rapture of mutual
possession. Infinite and sublime ecstasy follows, which no heart can
have either experienced or foreseen. Their happiness even crushes
and stifles them; the heart cannot contain such love, the human
voice has no words to express it; the most burning embraces leave
them disunited. Tristan and Isolde are two, and they would become
one soul, a single thought, a scintillation of love in an unlimited
night. Desperate and unsatisfied, they aspire to the infinity of
death. They dream of a flight beyond all worlds in that mysterious
shade which protects them upon earth, but over which the day and the
empty phantoms of life triumph, ceaselessly inflicting the tortures of
impending separation. The eternal and great night of love without the
terrors of the morning! A long enchanting dream in unlimited space;
no names to separate; a single flame; a single thought; a sweet swoon
in each other's arms; the ardent rapture of death without end, without
awakening! Such is their thought. But suddenly, behold the cruel day,
and with it shame. This sublime love is dragged before the world,
which calls it an indiscretion, and censures. Then follows the combat,
in which Tristan, overcome with a divine ecstasy, is no longer the
victorious hero, but falls mortally wounded.

When we see him again, in the agonies of death, it is in the ancient
dungeon of his ancestors in Brittany. The faithful shield-bearer has
taken him across the seas in a bark. Now he is sheltered from all
surprise. But Isolde? When his eyes, which seem to be forever closed,
will awake to life, if they are not gladdened by his soul's sweet
sovereign, they will close again forever. Isolde knows her loved
one's retreat; she is coming to him, but the minutes are centuries,
and the sea is deserted and void, even to the silent horizon. See, the
hero now comes to himself with the dear name upon his lips. Tristan
cannot die while Isolde is still in the empire of the sun. The gates
of death, which had already closed upon him with a clang, reopen wide
before this invincible desire to see once more her with whom alone he
can lose himself in eternal night. Void and deserted is the sea! Thus
it is that the fury of despair tears Tristan's soul. Love and fever
mingling their delirium, he writhes upon his bed of pain with cries
of superhuman suffering. Nothing can render the impression of this
frightful agony, in which the flame of love cannot be extinguished by
death, of this distracted and expectant soul, retarding the supreme
departure. At intervals the hero falls to the ground, seemingly dead;
but when the weeping shield-bearer stoops to hear a last sigh, a last
palpitation, Tristan in a low voice murmurs the name of Isolde! Yet once
again hope springs to life in the breast of this martyr to love; he
perceives the ship, although common eyes cannot distinguish it, and
on the ship Isolde, who makes a sign to him. "Dost thou not see it
yet? Tender and majestic she crosses the breadth of the sea like a
sovereign; she comes carried toward land as by waves of intoxicating
flowers; her smile will pour out supreme consolation. Oh, Isolde!
Isolde! how beautiful, how welcome art thou!" The ship is, in truth,
signalled. The soul's eyes are not deceived. All sails spread, it flies
over the waters. She approaches--she, the enchanting one, she comes.
What delirious impatience, what joyous transports!

"Intoxication of the soul, rapture without measure, impetuous and
overheated, blood, how shall I support you chained to this couch? Up
then, up, on the march toward the beating heart!" Already Isolde's
voice is heard, and the hero throws himself, staggering, from his bed.
She comes, she calls him, holds her arms toward him; but he can only
die at her feet, uttering for the last time the infinitely-beloved
name. "Ah, live with me yet one hour, only an hour," cries the
distracted Isolde in her despair. "I have only lived through so many
days of anguish and desire to watch one hour with thee. Do not die of
thy wound, let me heal thee, that safe and strong we may share the
sainted delights of night." The flame is extinguished, the soul has
fled. Isolde, always faithful, will follow Tristan in death. Already
the loved one draws her toward the mysterious land; mighty waves seem
to overpower her. Her ears resound with murmurs of the infinite. Night,
consoling night, gently envelops her, overwhelms her. She is drowned,
lost, to unite herself forever to the twin flame, and loses herself
in the divine breath of the universal soul. It is almost impossible to
imagine the intensity of expression which this poem, so passionate,
so intense in itself, acquires united to the magic of music. It
is like the vital energy of the soul, a supernatural rapture. The
intoxication and the acute torments experienced in hearing this work
are ineffaceable. All who have entered into its transcendent beauties,
and undergone its terrible charm in all its power, recognize that no
other artistic impression is comparable to that which makes itself felt
in this extraordinary work. Many volumes in all languages have been
written upon Tristan and Isolde; many will still be written, for it is
the magnificent prerogative of a great masterpiece to be the perpetual
inspiration of noble minds.


The scene of this piece is laid in the sixteenth century, at that
singular epoch when art and poetry, disdained by the nobility,
had taken refuge among the citizens and trades-people. Since the
disappearance of the Minnesingers, those minstrels of love so closely
resembling the French troubadours, the Mastersingers alone taught
poetry and music. These masters were also chiefs of corporations, and
their scholars, at the same time their apprentices, learned to stitch
a sole and hold a note, to scan a verse and cut a pair of breeches.
It is easy to imagine in what degree art must have languished in such
a state, how the many rules and laws of these narrow-minded men must
have trammelled the flight of inspiration, which must of necessity
fold its wings and walk in trodden paths. It was like a bird brought
up by a mole. If by chance a new-comer, possessing no science save
his own genius, ventured into the circle of poet-mechanics, it is easy
to imagine what a concert of imprecations assailed the freedom with
which he broke the laws, minutely woven by routine, as if they had been
spiders' webs. It is an event of this nature which Richard Wagner has
chosen to form the plot of his comedy.

Walter von Stolzing, a knight of Franconia, is in love with the
daughter of Pogner, a rich goldsmith of Nuremberg; but only he who
shall be proclaimed mastersinger at the next competition shall obtain
the hand of Eva. Walter, who does not know the first word of art,
wishes to compete. He endeavors to gain a little information from the
untutored David, pupil and apprentice of Hans Sachs. The scene passes
in the aisles of the church named after St. Catherine in Nuremberg,
which the apprentices are about arranging for the masters' meeting.
"So you wish to become master?" says David to Walter. "It is so
difficult then?" "The art of a master cannot be acquired in a day.
Here I have been a whole year with the greatest man in Nuremberg, Hans
Sachs, who teaches me poetry and shoemaking at the same time; when
I have tanned the leather well, he makes me repeat the vowels and
consonants; when I have waxed the thread well he makes me understand
rhyme. Well, where do you imagine I am now?" "Perhaps you have made a
good pair of buskins?" "Oh, no, I am not so far advanced yet," cries
the apprentice. "Let us see; do teach me," says Walter. "Very well;
know then that the masters' tones and modes are numerous, and that
each has its name; there is the long tone, and the too long tone, the
mode of writing-paper, the sweet tone, and the rose tone, the tone of
short love, and the forgotten tone, the mode of English zinc, of the
cinnamon stalk, of frogs, of calves, the mode of the deceased glutton,
and of the faithful pelican, and so through a long, long chapter." "Good
heavens, what is all that," cried the terrified Walter. "But it is not
enough to know the names," continued David, "one must understand how
to sing each mode without changing what they call the figuration and
the tabulature. For myself, I am not yet so far advanced, and my master
often sings the mode of the martinet to me, and unless my good friend
Magdalene comes to my assistance I myself sing the mode of dry bread
and water. Know then that a mastersinger is he who composes a new mode
in poetry and music."

Poor Walter is bewildered. His love, however, prevents him from
renouncing his project, and when Pogner advances, accompanied by
Beckmesser, a grotesque scrivener, who also aspires to Eva's hand,
Walter draws near his beloved one's father, and informs him of his
desire to compete. Soon the Mastersingers assemble to deliberate
in regard to the public competition of the morrow. Among the odd
physiognomies of the poet-mechanics the handsome face of Hans Sachs,
the illustrious poet-shoemaker, stands out in fair relief. Pogner
presents the young gentleman to his brother artists, announcing that
he wishes to take part in the competition. A cry is immediately heard:
"In what school have you studied? who are you masters?" "When, in the
depths of winter," said Walter, "the snow covered the court and castle,
seated in a corner of the tranquil fireplace, I read an old book which
spoke to me of the charms of spring; then soon the springtime came, and
what this book had taught me during the cold nights I heard re-sound
in the forests and fields: it is then that I learned to sing." Imagine
what shouts and shoulder-shrugs greeted this audacity. He is invited,
however, to give a specimen of his talent. He must improvise something;
but should he offend the rules more than seven times, his work will
be declared unacceptable. The marker, or marksman, armed with slate
and pencil, already steps into the box, where he is to shut himself
up to listen to the song, and mark down the faults. This marker is
Beckmesser, the competitor and rival of Walter. "Begin," he sings out
from the back of his place. Walter seizes this word, which is cast at
him like a defiance.

"Begin!" he exclaims, "it is the cry uttered to Nature by Spring,
and her powerful voice resounds in the forests, in the thickets; the
distant echoes reverberate them. Then everything awakes and becomes
animated. Songs, perfumes, colors are born of this cry." All the joy
with which the birth of spring can fill a young man's heart, sings
in Walter's voice. But the rules, what has he done with them? and
the tabulature,--the rules laid down in the tables? At each instant
the pencil is heard grating upon the slate, and soon even the marker
springs furiously from his box, declaring that there is no more room on
his tablet. Then every tongue is set loose, and all vent their anger
upon the young knight; he has heaped error upon error, folly upon
folly; he does not know the first word of art. "He even rose hurriedly
from his seat," cries one master, at the end of his arguments. In
the midst of this tumult, which becomes formidable, Walter resumes
his free and joyous song, as if to protest, in the name of reviving
nature, against this glacial breath of blighting winter. The frolicsome
apprentices, delighted with this confusion, surround the furious
assembly in a wild round dance, and ironically wish that Walter may get
the betrothal bouquet.

The second act shows us one of the picturesque streets of ancient
Nuremberg. Hans Sachs' shop opens upon one side, while on the other
stands Pogner's house. Sachs returns from the tumultuous sitting in a
thoughtful mood; he alone has been deeply moved by the young knight's
improvisation, and feels his old beliefs wavering. "Ah," he cries,
while the orchestra rehearses again and again fragments of Walter's
song, "I cannot retain this melody, nor yet can I forget it; it was
new, and yet it sounded like an old song." He enters his house and
sets himself at work before the open window. Eva, who loves the young
knight, comes and surprises Hans Sachs, and tries to obtain information
from him in regard to the meeting, and the manner in which Walter was
received. "Oh, as far as that goes, all is lost!" cries Sachs. "My
child, he who is born master will not make his fortune among masters;
let him go elsewhere in search of happiness." "Yes, he will find it
elsewhere," cries the young girl, angrily; "near hearts which still
burn with a generous flame in spite of envious and crafty masters."
Walter comes back, still quivering with rage; he wishes to carry off
his beloved and marry her in his castle. It is nightfall, the hour is
propitious, the street deserted. Eva consents to follow her lover; but
Hans Sachs, who watches over the two, sets his shutters ajar, and lets
the light of his lamp fall upon them; a luminous trail bars the way;
the two lovers are made prisoners by this ray.

Moreover, here is Beckmesser, who appears armed with a guitar; he
imagines that a serenade will dispose Eva's heart favorably, and he
begins a prelude. Sachs, for his part, has carried his bench outside,
and resumes his work; by this arrangement he can better overlook the
lovers. He attends to his work with all his might, and strikes up
a noisy song, to the infinite displeasure of the serenader. Several
windows are already half opened, and inquisitive heads are thrust out
to inform themselves of what is going on. Beckmesser will not yield; he
sings louder and louder to drown Sachs's voice, who will not, on his
part, be silenced. The confusion becomes extraordinary, the awakened
inhabitants come in haste from every side, and David, who thinks that
the serenade is intended for his friend Magdalene, Eva's servant, falls
upon the singer with clenched fists. Pitchers of water are thrown
from the windows upon the heads of the noise-makers; the delighted
apprentices come to increase the confusion; every one speaks at once;
they become exasperated, and quarrel; blows are given at random, and
the squabble becomes general.

All at once a trumpet sounds in the distance, and the crowd disperses
as if by magic; each one takes refuge in his own house, the windows
are again closed, and the night-watch, rubbing his eyes, persuaded that
he has been dreaming, advances in the deserted street. "The eleventh
hour has struck," he sings, "guard yourselves against spirits and
hobgoblins." The moon, meanwhile, shows its broad face behind a pointed
gable. The curtain rises again upon the interior of Hans Sachs's house.
Walter, who has passed the night under the shoe-makers roof, enters
the studio, worn out and discouraged, for the day which is dawning is
that of the festival and competition. All hope of gaining Eva is thus
lost. "Come, come," says Sachs, "do not give up yet; make me a poem
upon the dream, for example, which has traversed your brain during
the night." The young man obeys, and Sachs writes the verses, upon a
sheet of paper, which he designedly leaves upon the table while both
go to prepare themselves for the festival. They are hardly gone when
Beckmesser arrives, still covered with bruises from the night's battle,
of which the orchestra wickedly reminds him. His eyes light upon the
sheet of paper; he reads the verses and imagines that Sachs also wishes
to compete and aspire to Eva's hand. When the shoemaker returns,
Beckmesser reproaches him bitterly on this score and overwhelms him
with sarcasms.

"What is the matter with you?" says Sachs, laughing. "I have never
dreamed of competing, and as these verses please you, I give them to
you; do with them what you will." Beckmesser, thinking the verses those
of Sachs, the most skilful master of Nuremberg, joyously carries off
the fortunate manuscript, sure of victory. Eva, beautifully adorned
for the festival, but with a sad, pale face, enters Sachs' studio as
she passes. She has made a pretext of her shoe, which hurts her, she
pretends; but Sachs well knows where the shoe pinches, in spite of the
reproaches she addresses to him for not divining it. While kneeling
before her the shoemaker holds her prisoner, one foot shoeless, and
pretends to rectify the shoe in which she finds so many faults.
Walter comes out of the bedroom, and stands dazzled at the head of
the staircase before the young girl, more beautiful than ever in her
betrothal dress. Then enthusiastically he improvises the last strophe
of his song. Eva, palpitating with surprise and emotion, holds her
breath as she listens. "Well, does the shoe fit at last?" says Sachs,
in a troubled voice. Eva understands the good shoemaker is her friend
and ally, and throws herself weeping into his arms.

After a short interlude, the curtain rises again upon the site where
the festival is to be held. It is on the border of the river in which
Nuremberg reflects its pointed roofs, towers, and ramparts; in a vast
meadow which extends along the banks. Peasants and citizens arrive from
every quarter; joyous companies disembark from flag-bedecked boats;
the corporations advance with the flourish of the city trumpets; the
apprentices, gayly decorated, add their enthusiasm to the merry tumult;
they clasp nimble young girls about the waist and dance a rustic
waltz upon the grass. But a rumor in the crowd announces the arrival
of the Mastersingers. Silence is established, and the masters make
their appearance in great style. The charming Eva is near her father,
holding in her hand the crown destined for the conqueror. Hans Sachs
appears in his turn. Upon seeing him, a prolonged tremor runs through
the assembly; the crowd cannot contain its joy; the people's favorite
is received with loud acclamations, and by a sudden inspiration every
voice chants the song with which Hans Sachs greeted Luther, and the
dawn of the Reformation:--

Rouse thyself; the day is breaking;
A voice rises from the coppice:
I hear the song of the nightingale,
It resounds from summit to summit,
In the valley and in the field.
The night is sinking in the west,
Red dawn is gleaming in the east,
And the sad cloud takes flight.

It is difficult to give an idea of the power of this piece, which seems
to embody all human aspirations toward liberty.

The competition begins. Beckmesser, who has not understood one word
of Walter's poetry, scans it after his manner, and sings upon the
grotesque motives of his serenade. He becomes so perplexed that the
crowd, at first surprised, breaks out in a loud peal of laughter.
"After all," said the singer, spitefully, "the verses are not mine, but

"Well, then, let Walter sing them," says Hans Sachs. The knight's
youth and grace impress the people favorably, and when his pure voice
resounds, and the poetry is heard in its own form, acclamations break
forth on every side. The masters themselves, disturbed, cannot conceal
their emotion. The enthusiasm is general.

The happy conqueror, transported with joy, kneels before his loved one,
who, trembling, lays upon his head the crown of laurels.



When the curtain rises there are seen through a bluish penumbra the
vague depths of a stream, bristling here and there with black rocks;
a peaceful undulation agitates the water, which seems to be flowing
slowly. Suddenly a voice re-sounds, and an Undine, gliding from the
heights, swims in circles about a reef, on the summit of which a gold
nugget glitters; then two other daughters of the Rhine glide into
the water, and all three chase one another as they play about the
all-powerful gold, as yet virgin and untouched. But see! from the
river's obscure depths clambers an odd dwarf, who follows the Undines'
charming game with eager eyes. He frightens them at first. But they
soon laugh at their fears, perceiving that the dwarf is in love with
them. They make sport of him by pursuing him, tempting him, then
escaping from him; defying him with their mocking laughter. The sun
now passes above the stream, a ray falls upon the gold nugget, which
suddenly shines resplendent, and illumines the water to its depths.
"What is that?" cries the astonished Nibelung. "What," they reply, "thou
knowest naught of the marvellous gold? He who will be able to forge a
ring of this gold shall gain the heritage of the world; but in order
to acquire this power, he must first renounce love. For this reason
we have no fear that our play-thing will be taken from us, for every
one who lives loves. None will renounce the delights of love, and less
than any other, Alberich the Nibelung, who is almost dying of amorous

But the dwarf has listened with profound attention to the Undines'
prattle, which has so imprudently disclosed the secret of the gold.
He climbs from summit to summit, slips, falls back again, becomes
infuriated, but soon cries in a terrible voice, "Scoff now, perfidious
spirits, you will sport henceforward in obscurity, for I shall tear
the miraculous gold from the rock. I will forge the avenging ring,
and let these waters hear me: I curse love." And the dwarf plunges
and disappears with his luminous prey, pursued by the disconsolate
Undines. The entire stream sinks with them and slowly lays bare the
summit of a mountain where the gods are sleeping. On the top of the
neighboring mountain, which little by little emerges from the morning
vapors, appears, gilded by the morning sun, a strange and formidable
castle. It is the Walhalla, the magnificent stronghold which the giants
have just finished for the gods. Wotan and Fricka, upon awakening,
contemplate it with joy and surprise; but the goddess is anxious; the
rude laborers will claim their reward. Wotan has imprudently promised
them Frya, the sweet divinity of love. The task now being finished, it
must be paid for. It is Loge, the genius of fire, who has taken it upon
himself to find Frya's ransom; he appears at last, the mocking god; but
he has explored earth and heaven in vain. In no place has he discovered
that which can surpass the charms of love. One being only has given
preference to the dominion of gold, stolen by him from the daughters
of the Rhine.

The giants have lent their ear to this recital, and the desire
to possess this gold is aroused in them. Let them be given this
all-powerful metal, and they will relinquish the fair Frya; meanwhile
they carry away the charming goddess, who weeps and supplicates. Then
the heavens become darkened; a mortal affliction has taken possession
of the gods. Old age has suddenly come upon them; Fricka totters, Wotan
droops his head, the god of joy sees the roses of his crown fading,
Thor no longer has his flashes of anger; the hammer which makes the
lightning burst forth drops from his hand; youth, beauty, love are gone
with Frya. Wotan suddenly resolves to go and conquer this longed-for
gold. Accompanied by Loge, he descends to the gloomy kingdom, where
the gnomes forge their metals ceaselessly. He soon gains the mastery
over the Nibelung, possessor of the gold, which has already brought
into subjection all the blacksmiths, and he carries him off with his
treasures to the mountain of the gods. But the despoiled Nibelung still
remains in possession of the all-powerful ring. He presses it between
his fingers in supreme despair. It is in vain. Wotan wrests it from
him, after which he leaves him free to return to the bowels of the
earth. The vanquished Nibelung then rises, full of fury and despair.
"May this ring be forever cursed!" he cries; "misfortune to the
possessor of the gold; may he who has it not covet it with rage; may he
who possesses it retain it in the anguish of fear; cursed! cursed!" and
he replunges into the night of the Nibelung's home.

Frya has returned, and with her have joy and youth. The giants lay the
Nibelung's gold before her. They desire a heap large enough to cover
the goddess. She disappears, indeed, but her glance, like a star's
ray, darts through an interstice. Alas! the treasure is exhausted;
the ring only remains, which will just fill the fissure, but Wotan
will not give it up. The gods entreat in vain, when a solemn voice is
heard, and in a pale light slowly appears the ancient Erda, the pallid
divinity, older than the world, from whom nothing is hidden. "Yield,
Wotan," she says, "fly the cursed ring; I know what has been; I know
what should be. Hearken! All that exists will have its end. A time will
come when a sinister gloom will descend upon the gods. Separate thyself
from the cursed ring, and reflect with terror." Erda disappears. Wotan,
full of anxiety, casts the ring from him. Pride and strength, however,
are now restored to the gods. Thor brandishes his hammer, and in
a formidable and joyous voice invokes the wind and the clouds. The
heavens become overcast, the lightning flashes, the thunder peals
with a crash, and, while the rain descends in heavy drops, the Walhalla
is disclosed on the mountain summit, and the rainbow stretches its
semi-circle above the valley. The gods take the direction of this
luminous bridge to enter into possession of the castle, which glitters
in the setting sun. Then plaintive voices rise from the valley; it
is the daughters of the Rhine lamenting their brilliant plaything;
but the piercing music from the divine castle overpowers the Undines'
voices, and the gods triumphant enter the Walhalla.


Here begins the human drama. Wotan is troubled since Erda's sinister
prediction, feeling that the shameful traffic which Walhalla has cost
him has lessened his divinity and disturbed the world's equilibrium.
Wotan has engendered a race of men of whom a hero shall be born, who
by his own force will wrest the gold from the giants and restore it to
its primeval place, thus expiating the fault of the gods. Sigmund is
the hero chosen by Wotan for this redemption. When the curtain rises
upon the second act it discloses the interior of a habitation of the
early ages. A venerable ash raises its enormous trunk in the centre
of the hall, and its verdant branches, extending in every direction,
support the canvas roof. A large stone serves as fireplace; on the bare
ground are spread skins of wild beasts; the gate is a high door made of
the trunks of trees. The tempest rages without. Sigmund, who seems to
be pursued by the angry heavens, enters staggering, and falls exhausted
near the fire-place.

A young woman, attracted by the noise, appears, and bends over the
stranger with compassionate surprise. Then, to revive him, she offers
him a horn of mead. Sigmund raises his eyes toward her; their
glances meet and remain fixed upon one another with an emotion rich
with trouble. But the young man suddenly raises himself. "Farewell!
farewell!" he cries, "I bear misfortune everywhere with me, let it
at least be kept far from thee." "Ah! remain," she replies, quickly,
"misfortune can do nothing where despair already reigns," and while
once more they contemplate each other in silence, overcome by growing
emotion, Hunding, the stern husband, the savage warrior, his helmet
bristling with curious ornaments, shows himself on the threshold. "It
is a guest, worn out with fatigue, who demands shelter," says Siglinda,
answering her husband's look of inquiry. "Hospitality is sacred to
me," says Hunding to the unknown; "may my house be sacred to thee,"
and with a gesture he orders the repast. Sigmund then relates from
whence he is come. Vanquished in a combat with a neighboring chief,
stripped of his arms, he was obliged to flee through the tempest.
"Thou makest light of misfortune," cries Hunding; "the chief whom thou
hast just named is my ally; thus hast thou chanced upon thy own mortal
enemy. I accord thee shelter beneath my roof, however, until morning;
afterward, out of my house, and let us meet in combat." And Hunding
retires with a sombre mien, dragging with him Siglinda, who casts a
despairing glance at the unfortunate guest.

Sigmund, spent with fatigue, falls again by the fireside, insensible.
Where may he find strength with which to defend himself? Who will
come to his aid in this bitter distress? Siglinda reappears. She has
poured out the juices of a sleep-making plant for her husband. The
stranger will be saved, provided he can wrench from the tree's trunk a
marvellous sword, which an old man once thrust into it. Truly the sword
is destined for Sigmund, for it yields at his first effort. Behold, it
glistens in his hand. Henceforward he fears nothing. He will be able
to defend the beloved woman, whom now he recognizes. Is she not his
twin sister, formerly carried off from the devastated fireside? He will
find her again, and wrest her from the enemy. "My love! my sister!" he
cries, passionately. And folding her in his arms, he bears her from the
sad dwelling through the moonlit forest.

In the second act we see again the mountains inhabited by the gods.
Wotan joyously announces to Brunhild, the beautiful Walkyria, armed
with silver helmet and cuirass, that to-day she must award the
victory to Sigmund, the beloved hero of the gods. But while the happy
Walkyria utters her war-cry, and bounds from summit to summit on her
black horse, Fricka, the jealous goddess, protector of conjugal vows,
arrives in her chariot, drawn by rams. She demands vengeance for the
outraged Hunding. "This Sigmund whom thou protectest," she says, "is
not the free hero who should redeem thee, for thou hast guided him,
pushed him to this end. Sigmund must die." Wotan is overcome. The
goddess is right. Sigmund has not acted by his own free-will. He must
then abandon this unfortunate youth. The god, overpowered with grief,
comes, however, to this conclusion. The hero, doomed to perish, must be
conducted by the Walkyria to Walhalla. Here come the fugitives, pursued
by the infuriated Hunding. Siglinda, at the end of her endurance,
swoons in the arms of her fraternal lover. It is then that the saddened
Walkyria shows herself to Sigmund. "Who art thou," he says, "who
appearest to me so beautiful and so grave?" "Those who behold me have
only a few hours to live," she replies. "Soon thou wilt follow me to
the dwelling of the gods." "And Siglinda, will she come also?" he
asks. "No; she must still live on earth." "Then thou deceivest thyself;
I will not be separated from her, for we will both die here." And he
raises his sword over Siglinda.

In the face of this love and sorrow, the Walkyria for the first time
feels herself moved by a human emotion. "Stay!" she cries, "go without
fear to the contest; I shall protect thee." Soon the savage Hunding
shouts his defiance to Sigmund; the adversaries meet in battle upon a
summit half lost in the clouds. Hunding is on the point of triumph; but
the Walkyria appears in a light, and covers Sigmund with her buckler.
Wotan, irritated by Brunhild's disobedience, shows himself also in a
storm-cloud, and setting loose the lightning, shatters the sword in the
hands of Sigmund, who falls mortally wounded.

The third act shows a rugged rock upon which Brunhild's sisters, the
Walkyrias, reunite after the combat. Here they come in haste, riding
through the clouds illuminated by the lightning; they call to one
another joyously, with savage cries, striking their arms tumultuously.
But Brunhild arrives all tearful; she has brought in her arms Siglinda,
who does not wish to survive her lover. "Live!" she says to her, "live
for the brave hero whom thou bearest in thy bosom." And she gives her
the precious fragments of Sigmund's sword. "Save her, my sisters, save
the poor woman," she adds; "for myself I must remain here to suffer
the punishment of my fault." In fact, Wotan's voice resounds, full of
anger. He soon rejoins the guilty goddess who has violated the supreme
command. "I obeyed not thy order, but thy secret wish," says Brunhild.
The god, alas! is not free, primordial laws enchain him; he cannot
pardon. The fallen Walkyria must sleep upon the road at the mercy of
the first comer who will find her. "So be it," she says; "but surround
me with a sea of flames that he who will approach must at least be a
hero." With what sadness does the god separate from his dearly-loved
one, and take her divinity from her in a supreme kiss! She is now only
a sleeping woman, around whom a flaming rampart is lighted.


After Sigmund's death Siglinda, having taken refuge in a wild forest,
gave birth to a son, and died, confiding him to the Nibelung, Mime,
whom Alberich, first possessor of the gold, had formerly forced to
forge the all-powerful ring. The deformed dwarf had brought up the
descendant of the gods in his cave, not in the spirit of devotion, but
with the sole idea of making him of service later in the conquest of
the gold, the object of all desires. Sigfrid is now a handsome youth,
impetuous and uncontrollable, whose heroic spirits are awaking, and
who dreams of conquering the world. Meanwhile he reigns master of the
forest; the joyous sound of his silver horn replies to the birds'
songs; the young madcap bounds with the roe and overthrows the deer.
There he comes rushing into the cavern; his pealing laugh resounds. He
drags after him, to Mime's terror, a black bear, which he has just got
into his possession.

But these sports and contests satisfy him no longer. Impatiently he
questions the dwarf in regard to the world, to him unknown; he wishes
to get away, leave the forest never to return. Mime then shows him
the fragments of the sword shattered by the lightning in Sigmund's
hands. Siglinda has bequeathed it to her son as the most precious of
inheritances. Sigfrid takes possession of these fragments of steel,
lights the forge fire, and throws the pieces into the crucible. Then
raising the heavy hammer with a triumphal song he completely reforges
Wotan's sword. He soon brandishes it, still smoking, and with a single
blow he cleaves in two the anvil, henceforward useless.

Mime then conducts the young hero to the wildest part of the forest,
before the cave where the giant Fafner, in the form of a dragon, guards
the gold wrested from the Nibelung. Sigfrid, laughing all the while
at his hideous aspect, fights with and kills the monster. He disdains
the treasure, taking only the ring, of whose power he is ignorant, and
a magic helmet which permits the wearer to assume any form. The young
man, as if weary, throws himself at the foot of a tree all bathed in
sunlight; he listens dreamily to the thousand rustlings of the forest.
An unknown desire stirs his heart. While the birds fly in couples he
is alone. He thinks of his mother, of this mysterious being, man's
companion, whom he has never seen, and of whom he knows nothing. The
song of a bird flying over his head finally captivates his attention.
He listens; he seems to comprehend the meaning of this song. The bird
speaks to him. May it not be his mother's soul? "Ah, Sigfrid," it says,
"now thou possesses! the treasure, thou should'st conquer the most
beautiful of women. She sleeps upon a high rock, surrounded by flames;
but shouldst thou dare to pass through the furnace, the war-like virgin
would be thine." And Sigfrid, filled with enthusiasm, follows the bird,
which takes its flight as if to guide him toward the lovely bride.

In the third act we see Wotan again. Leaning over the brink of a gulf,
in gloomy anguish, he invokes Erda, the lurid goddess who sees the
world's destinies; he will question her once again in regard to this
fall of the gods, which she has announced to him. At this sovereign
voice the sleeper rouses herself; with half-closed eyes she slowly
rises from the abyss, wrapped in her dull veils, and covered with
dew. But she has no further information to give to Wotan. The end is
inevitable. As if submerged by their own creation the gods will become
effaced before men. "So be it," cries Wotan, wearied perhaps of his
divinity; "it is to this end that I aspire." However, when Sigfrid,
leaping from rock to rock, his eyes fixed upon his winged guide, passes
near Wotan, this latter tries to bar his way; but the free and fearless
hero breaks the god's lance with a single blow of the sword which,
without assistance, he has forged for himself. Then he rushes joyously
to the assault of the burning rampart, passes fearlessly through the
furnace, beholds at last the sleeping warrior in her silver cuirass;
and, all quivering with love, awakens her with a kiss.


Under the nocturnal shade of an ash as old as the world itself the
three Fates spin and weave men's destinies. Their cold gaze is plunged
into the future, where they see only distress and malediction. They
throw from one to the other the thread which they have been spinning
uninterruptedly from the beginning of time. But suddenly the thread
snaps in their hands; the sombre spinners, seized with fear, press
closely together, and descend to the depths of the earth to take refuge
near the wise Erda. Then day breaks. Sigfrid and Brunhilda, supporting
one another, come out of the mysterious grotto which shelters their
happiness. The goddess has divested herself of her divinity for her
dearly-loved hero; she has unveiled to him the mysteries of the sacred
ruins and the knowledge of the gods; but it now appears to her that
she has given nothing to him who has revealed love to her. It is
necessary that Sigfrid should leave her for a time, and that he should
go in search of new exploits. It is he who thenceforward will wear the
Walkyria's armor, and bound upon the savage courser who formerly sped
with the storm. Before his departure the hero gives to Brunhilda the
gold ring, which to the lovers is only a pledge of fidelity, and they
part after taking a mutual oath of eternal love.

In his adventurous course through the world, Sigfrid arrives at the
dwelling of Gunter, a powerful chief on the Rhinish borders. Gutrune,
his lovely sister, lives with this warrior, also the sinister Hagen,
whom Alberich, the Nibelung, has begotten of a woman whom he misled,
by the attraction of the gold. The Nibelung has bequeathed his hatred
toward the offspring of the gods to his son, and has charged him to
regain the all-powerful ring. Hagen is already plotting Sigfrid's
ruin, when this latter crosses the threshold, with joyous impetuosity,
crying to Gunter, "Fight with me, or let us be friends!" The chief
receives him amicably, and Gutrune, advised by Hagen, pours out for
him a fatal draught, which will disturb his mind to such a degree as
to efface all remembrance. The young girl's resplendent eyes complete
his infatuation, and he soon forgets Brunhilda and her love; his new
passion has obliterated everything, and he demands his host's sister in
marriage. "Give her to him," breathes Hagen to Gunter, "on condition
that he shall go and conquer for thee the marvellous woman sleeping in
the midst of the flames." Brunhilda's name makes no impression upon
Sigfrid's soul; he remembers no longer. Certainly he will go without
delay to the conquest of this bride for his brother-in-arms, and
without tarrying further, he takes his departure, impatient to return.

Soon the fallen goddess, crushed and stupefied, is brought to Gunter.
Sigfrid, after wresting from her the ring, symbol of constant
tenderness, has dragged her by force to deliver her over to a stranger,
while he now hastens into the arms of another woman. As the love of
the daughter of the gods was sublime and absolute, so is her anger
terrible in the face of this betrayal. Sigfrid is doomed to death. It
is only by death that Brunhilda can reconquer the radiant hero to whom
she has given all. He is destined to perish at the hunt, treacherously
struck. The daughters of the Rhine emerge from the waves to warn him,
at the same time demanding from him the ring, which envelopes him
with its malediction; but Sigfrid refuses to restore it to them. Soon
after, while he is giving his companions a recital of his life, seeing
again little by little the thread of his memory, Hagen suddenly and
treacherously strikes him with his lance. The hero sinks to the earth
and dies, pronouncing the name, once more recalled, of Brunhilda. The
warriors, in consternation, lay Sigfrid's body upon his buckler, and
carry him slowly away in the light of the pale rising moon.

In the last scene a groaning crowd bears Sigfrid's body under the
massive portals of Gunter's dwelling, gloomily lighted by torches,
and mingles its lament with the dull roar of the Rhine, whose dark
waves flow in the background. Gutrune bursts into tears of despair,
but Brunhilda, solemnly advancing, puts an end to this clamor. "I have
heard," she says, "the tears of children lamenting their mother, but no
lament worthy of a hero." Then she commands a vast funeral pile to be
built, and when it has been lighted with a torch, and Sigfrid laid upon
it, contemplating him with indescribable emotion, she withdraws from
his finger the fatal ring, the cause of all misfortunes. "Suffering
has made me prophetic," she says: "those who should efface the fault
of the gods are predestined to misfortune and death. May our sacrifice
put an end to the curse. May the ring be purified by fire. May the
waters dissolve it forever! The end of the gods is at hand. But if I
leave the world without a master, I bequeath to men the most sublime
treasure in my knowledge. Know, then, that neither gold, nor divine
splendor, nor omnipotence, gives happiness. Happiness, in joy or in
suffering, comes from love alone." She has her horse brought to her by
a Walkyria, and, leaping into the saddle, with one bound she rushes
into the furnace. Then the Rhine overflows tumultuously, dispersing the
ashes of the funeral pile. The daughters of the Rhine joyously lift up
the reconquered ring, while Hagen, who had rushed forward to seize it
again, is carried away with the flood, and on the heights in a dim
light the Walhalla is seen crumbling about the gods, who fade away, and
become effaced.



The first act of Parsifal takes us to Mont Salvat, in the country where
the mysterious temple of the Grail rises upon the northern side of
the mountains of the Spanish Visigoths. A magnificent forest glade,
on the border of a beautiful lake, is just waking in the first gleam
of dawn. Two youthful shield-bearers and Gurnemanz, a robust old man,
are sleeping, stretched upon the grass at the foot of a tree. From the
further side of the temple and castle, which are not seen, is heard the
sound of trumpets solemnly pealing forth the early morning summons, and
the sleepers, whose mission it is to watch over the sacred forest,
start up ashamed of having allowed themselves to be overcome by sleep.
Gurnemanz gently reproves the young men; then all three prostrate
themselves in silent prayer. The old man is the first to rise. "Up
now, youths," he cries, "the hour is come for attending upon the king;
already I see messengers coming toward us preceding the bed of pain
which supports him." And approaching two knights who descend from
the castle he cries: "Greetings to you: how does Amfortas find himself
to-day? Truly he descends early toward the waters of the lake; tell me,
the healing plant obtained for him by Gawan's skill and audacity has, I
presume, brought him relief?"

"Thou presumest, thou who knowest all," replies the knight. "His
sufferings soon returned more heavy than ever, and deprived of sleep by
the violence of the pain, the king eagerly called for his bath."

"Fools that we are to hope for relief, where only recovery can heal!"
murmurs Gurnemanz, sadly bending his head. "Seek every herb, every
philter, wander over the entire earth! For him there is only one help,
one saviour!" But the old man returns an evasive answer to the knight
who demands this saviour's name. The shield-bearers, who have withdrawn
and look toward the valley at the rear of the scene, suddenly perceive
a strange, savage woman upon a running horse, which seems to fly over
the fields. Soon, bounding from her saddle, she precipitates herself
impetuously upon the scene. Her black hair falls half-plaited upon a
forehead of bronzen pallor; her shining eyes are sad and fixed; her
savage dress is held by a girdle of serpents' skins. "Hold," she says
to Gurnemanz, "take this balm; if it heal not, Arabia contains nothing
that can help the king. Question me not, I am weary." And she throws
herself upon the ground like an exhausted animal. This woman is the
savage and mysterious Kundry. No one knows who she is, nor from whence
she comes. She has constituted herself messenger to the Knights of the
Grail. She accomplishes the most perilous missions with skill and zeal,
but never does she accept thanks; her ironic laughter and her sinister
glance seem to belie the good she does. A frightful curse seems to
weigh upon her. Sometimes she disappears for months, and Gurnemanz has
often found her worn out under a bush, plunged in a strange, deathlike

A procession of shield-bearers and knights precede Amfortas, borne upon
a litter. They stop for a moment, and the king lets his feverish glance
wander over the wholesome freshness of the woods. "Ah!" he murmurs,
"after the exasperation of this painful night, behold the magnificent
early dawn of the forest; the waters of the sacred lake will revive me,
pain will cease, and the chaos of suffering will clear away. Gawan!"
"Gawan, my king, is no longer here; the virtue of this dearly-acquired
plant, having disappointed thy hope, he has taken his flight toward
new researches." "Without my permission!" cries the king. "Let him
expiate this infraction of the Grail's laws! Oh, woe to him, rash,
self-willed, if he fall into Klingsor's snares. Let nothing further
trouble our peace. I wait for that which is destined for me." "Knowing
by compassion, was it not thus?" "It is thus that thou hast told us."
"A harmless fool only; I think I recognize him. Ah, I should call him
Death!" "But make yet a trial of this," says Gurnemanz, holding toward
him the phial brought by Kundry. "From whence came this mysterious
phial?" demanded the king.

"It is brought to thee from Arabia."

"And who obtained it?"

"She who lies yonder; the savage woman. Rise, Kundry, come hither." But
Kundry refuses to stir.

"It is thou," says Amfortas. "Must I again thank thee, indefatigable
and unknown maid? So be it; I will yet try this balm, were it only out
of gratitude for thy fidelity."

But, agitated, Kundry says: "No thanks! Ha! Ha! Of what good is this
balm? No thanks! Away! Go to thy bath!" And while the procession moves
away, and Gurnemanz sadly follows the king with a heavy glance, the
shield-bearers scoff at Kundry who lies stretched upon the ground like
a beast of the forest; but Gurnemanz defends her, and reprimands the
youths, recalling the services which she has never ceased to render to
them. "And yet she hates us," says one of them. "See how she sneers as
she looks at us."

"She is a pagan, a sorceress."

"Yes," says Gurnemanz, "she well may be a damned soul. Perhaps she
lives now incarnate to expiate the sins of a former life, sins which
are not yet pardoned. If her repentance disposes her to acts profitable
to our order, she serves us, and purchases back her own redemption."

"If she be truly faithful and intrepid," says one of the
shield-bearers, "send her to reconquer the lost lance."

"That is a work forbidden to all," cries Gurnemanz, in gloom, and adds
with emotion: "O source of wounds! O source of miracles! Sacred lance!
I see thee brandished by the most sacrilegious hand! Too audacious
Amfortas, who could'st have restrained thyself when armed with this
lance, thou resolvedst to attack the magician? Already, on the
confines of the enemy's castle, the hero is taken from us.... A woman
of terrifying beauty has subjugated him. Filled with love he is in
her arms. The sacred lance falls from his hand. A cry of death! I fly
toward the king! Klingsor disappears with a sneer. He has stolen the
divine lance. Fighting, I protect the king's flight. But a wound burns
in his side. It is this selfsame wound that will not heal."

The shield-bearers have come and seated themselves in a listening
attitude at the old man's feet. "Dear father," they say, "speak
again. Tell us thou hast known Klingsor? How is that?" "Listen," says
Gurnemanz: "Titurel knew him well. It was at the time when the cunning
and strength of savage enemies menaced the kingdom of the pure faith
that in a solemn and sacred night our king, the holy hero Titurel, saw
bending toward him the blessed messenger of the Redeemer. The chalice
from which he drank at the time of the Lord's Supper, this cup of
august and sacred election, which later, when he was upon the cross,
received his divine blood, together with this selfsame lance which
caused his blood to gush forth,--these most precious among the sacred
relics, were confided to the safekeeping of our king by the celestial
messengers. Then Titurel erected the sanctuary. You, who have attained
to his service by paths inaccessible to sinners, know that only
pure men are permitted to associate themselves with these brethren,
consecrated to the highest works of deliverance, and fortified by the
sacred and miraculous virtue of the Grail. This is why he, in regard to
whom you question me, Klingsor, remained excluded, notwithstanding all
his pains. Beyond the mountains, in the valley, he became a hermit; all
around stretched the luxuriant land of the infidels. What sin he had
committed yonder, remained hidden from me; but he desired expiation; he
aspired even to sanctity. Powerless to destroy his guilty desires, he
laid a criminal hand upon himself. That hand, which he stretched out
toward the Grail, was repulsed with scorn by its guardians. Rage then
taught Klingsor how the horrible crime of his sacrifice could serve
him to exercise a fatal charm; he changed his desert into a garden of
delight. There, growing like flowers, are seductively beautiful women,
who, by their infernal fascinations, endeavor to attract the Knights
of the Grail. He who yields to this seduction is made his own, and
already, alas! many are lost to us. When Titurel, bowed down by age,
confided the kingdom to his son, Amfortas, this latter would take no
rest until he had done away with this scourge of hell. You know what
happened. The lance is in Klingsor's hands, and as, by its virtue, he
can wound even the saints, he imagines that he has already taken the
Grail from us."

"Ah! before all else, the lance must be restored to us," cries a

"Happiness and honor to him who will restore it."

And Gurnemanz resumes: "Amfortas, prostrated in ardent prayer before
the deserted shrine, implored a sign of deliverance, when a gentle
light emanated from the Grail, and a holy apparition spoke to him
distinctly, and he clearly discerned these words: 'Let a harmless fool
only, knowing by compassion, await him whom I have chosen.'"

But while the shield-bearers repeat the words of the oracle with
profound emotion, cries resound in the forest.

"Misfortune! misfortune! who is the criminal?"

"What is it?" ask Gurnemanz and the shield-bearers.

"Yonder!... a swan!... a wild swan!... he is wounded!"

"Who wounded it?"

Two knights, arriving unexpectedly, reply,--

"The king greeted the bird's whirling flight over the lake as a happy
omen, when an arrow was let fly."

New shield-bearers bring Parsifal forward and say: "Look! here is he
who sent the arrow."

"Is it thou who hast killed the swan?" demands Gurnemanz.

"Truly," cries Parsifal, "I shoot upon the wing whatever flies."

"Unprecedented misdeed! thou hast then committed a murder here in this
sacred wood, whose peacefulness surrounded thee; did not the familiar
beasts approach thee, gentle and caressing? What had this faithful swan
done to thee? To us it was a friend. What is it now to thee? Behold
the snowy plumage stained with blood, the drooping wings, the dying
glance,--Dost thou recognize thy fault?"

"I did not know," says Parsifal, greatly troubled. And he breaks his
bow with violence.

They question him: "From whence dost thou come? What is thy name? Who
has sent thee?"

The young man knows nothing of all this; he knows not even if he have a
name. But Kundry, who has fixed an eager glance upon Parsifal, answers
for him: "His mother brought him an orphan into the world, when Gamuret
was slain in combat. To preserve her son from a hero's premature death
she brought him up in the forest, a stranger to arms, like a fool, the
mad woman."

"Yes," says Parsifal, who has listened with lively attention, "and
once glittering men, mounted upon beautiful animals, passed along the
borders of the forest. I wished to resemble them, but they laughed
at me, and passed rapidly by. Then I ran after them, but I could not
overtake them. I came to wild places upon mountains, in valleys; often
night fell, the day returned; my bow defended me against the deer and
the giants."

"Yes," cries Kundry, eagerly, "the evil-doers and giants were overcome
by his strength. They all fear the valiant youth"--

"Who fears me, say?"

"The wicked."

"Were those who menaced me wicked? Who is good?"

"Thy mother, from whom thou hast escaped," says Gurnemanz; "she weeps
and grieves for thy sake."

"Her grief is over; his mother is dead," says Kundry.

"Dead! my mother! who says that?" cries Parsifal, throwing himself
furiously upon Kundry, and seizing her by the throat.

"Violence again, mad youth!" says Gurnemanz, holding him back.

"I perish," cries the young man, staggering. Kundry has rushed toward a
forest stream, and comes to bathe Parsifal's forehead with fresh water.

"It is well thus," says the old man, "such is the grace of the Grail,
you banish evil when you do great good."

But Kundry turns sadly away. "I never do good," she murmurs, "I seek
only repose. Alas! repose for her who is wretched. Ah! horror seizes
me, resistance is vain, the time is come, sleep, sleep I must." And
with a stifled cry, she sinks down behind a bush. Gurnemanz, however,
hoping that this may be the redeemer promised to the king, conducts
Parsifal toward the temple; he will be present at the ceremony, and
should Parsifal be the chosen one, his mission will be revealed to him
by the Grail.

The scene changes; the forest disappears, while the old man and
Parsifal appear to be advancing; the side of a large rock conceals
them, then they reappear in the galleries. Sounds of trumpets gently
swell forth, and bells toll louder and louder. They finally arrive
in a vast hall, whose lofty cupola permits the daylight to penetrate
like a luminous flood. The Knights of the Grail, clad in the white
coat-of-arms, a dove embroidered upon their mantle, advance in two
lines and chant piously: "Each day prepared for love's last repast,
and troubling himself little that it may be perhaps for the last time,
may it strengthen to-day him who can rejoice in his acts, and may the
repast be renewed unto him. Let him approach the holy table and receive
the divine gift." Voices of youths respond from the halls and heights:
"As formerly, with a thousand pains, his blood flowed for sinning
humanity, may my blood be poured out with a joyous heart for the hero
Saviour, and may this body which he has offered for our redemption
live in us by his death." And children's voices answer back from the
cupola's very heights: "Faith lives, the dove soars, sweet messenger
of the Saviour; drink of the wine which flows for you, and eat of the
bread of life."

Shield-bearers and serving-brothers then enter, bearing the litter
upon which Amfortas lies. Children advance, bearing a shrine covered
with a scarlet cloth, which they proceed to place upon a marble altar.
Suddenly from a vaulted niche at the end of the hall behind the altar
a voice makes itself heard. It is that of the aged Titurel. "My son,
Amfortas," he says, "doest thou officiate? Must I behold the Grail yet
again to-day and live? Must I die, no longer sustained by my Saviour?"

"Alas! alas! oh, grievous sorrow!" cries Amfortas. "My father, perform
once more thy holy office. Oh, live, and let me die." And Titurel: "I
live in the tomb by the grace of our Lord, but I am too feeble to
serve him. Expiate thou thy sin in his service. Uncover the Grail."

"No, uncover it not," cries Amfortas, in a passion of despair. "Oh!
can no one measure the torment which the sight that transports you
awakens in me? What is the wound and its agony of pain compared
with the infernal suffering of being damned here to officiate? Oh,
sorrowful heritage which has fallen to me! I must guard the sublimest
of sanctuaries, I, the only sinner among you all! Oh, chastisement,
chastisement without equal, inflicted by the all merciful One whom
I have offended! Alas! to him and to the mercy of his salvation I
ardently aspire from the depths of my soul; by expiatory penitence I
hope to return to him. The hour approaches, a ray of light descends
upon the sacred work, the veil falls, the sacred cup is illumined with
a radiant lustre; overcome by the celestial possession of pain, I
feel the stream of divine blood flowing through my heart, and the
impure wave of my own blood rushes impetuously back in wild terror to
cast itself toward the world of lust; it breaks anew its bonds, and
gushes from the wound, like unto his, made by the lance which of yore
opened in the Redeemer's side this wound which weeps in pity's sacred
ardor tears of blood for the world's iniquity! And from this wound
flows, though I be the keeper of divinest treasures, of the redeeming
balm, the fiery blood, renewed without respite by the fountain of
longing, which, alas! no penitence can extinguish. Mercy, mercy! oh,
all-merciful one. Ah! in pity take from me my heritage, close the wound
that I may die purified, and be born again in holiness unto thee."

As the king sinks down exhausted the knights murmur in a low tone:
"Let a harmless fool only, knowing by compassion, await him--him whom
I have chosen. Such is the revelation; await with hope, and this day
officiate." "Uncover the Grail," exclaims Titurel. The king has raised
himself in silence, he opens the golden shrine, and draws from it the
ancient relic, the crystal cup in which Joseph of Arimathea received
the blood of Christ; it is the miraculous Grail! A twilight dimness has
invaded the hall, a single ray coming from above falls upon the Grail,
and illumines it with a constantly-growing glory. From the cupola's
heights children's voices are heard: "Take my blood in the name of our
love! Take my body in remembrance of me."

They add: "By compassion and love the Saviour once changed the bread
and wine of the supreme repast into the blood which he has shed, and
the body which he has sacrificed. The blood and flesh of the sacrifice
the Redeemer whom you glorify changes to-day into this wine which flows
for you and this bread which you eat."

Then the knights: "Take the bread, transform it without fear into
strength and valor of body. Faithful even unto death, intrepid in
suffering, accomplish the Saviour's works. Take this wine, transform it
anew into life's burning blood, to fight, united in fraternal fidelity,
with joyous courage." All rise and exchange the kiss of peace. And the
voices from above cry: "Blessed in the faith! Blessed in love! Blessed
in love! Blessed in the faith!"

Parsifal has watched this scene with haggard eyes; but it has only left
his mind in a profound stupor. Gurnemanz, disappointed in his hope,
takes him by the arm and says: "Go, take thy way thither. Thou art but
a harmless fool. But Gurnemanz counsels thee for thy future to leave
the swans in peace. Seek rather after geese, thou gosling." He pushes
Parsifal out, slams the door, and while he follows the knights the
curtain descends.


In the second act we find ourselves in the castle of the magician
Klingsor, situate upon the confines of Spanish Arabia. The scene
represents the empty interior of an embattled tower. Along the walls
narrow steps only project, ascending toward the battlements, or flat
ledges of rocks. Klingsor, the enchanter, is seated upon one of these
before a metallic mirror; he gazes intently into its depths, and in its
magic shadows sees Parsifal advancing, joyous and thoughtless, drawn
by a charm toward the enchanted castle. Klingsor well knows that this
is the redeemer promised to the King of the Grail; if, however, the
magician can succeed in drawing him into the snares of the flesh before
the young madcap will have realized the high mission for which he is
chosen, Amfortas's safety is at an end. Klingsor will employ all his
cunning and the most powerful seductions to ruin the pure and artless
youth. Leaning over the tower's gloomy depths, he burns aromatics,
whose smoke ascends in bluish clouds; then, with mysterious gestures,
he pronounces a formula of incantation: "Come hither! obey thy master,
rouse thyself at his call, thou, the nameless and primeval devil, rose
of hell who wast formerly Herodias; rise, rise toward thy master, obey
him who holds thee in absolute control."

Kundry appears, slowly rising from the shadows. Like a creature
rudely awakened from a profound sleep, she utters a horrible cry of
fear, which little by little becomes extinguished in a feeble moan of
distress. It is she, it is the power of her beauty which should cause
the ingenious youth to fall into the magicians power. Is it not in
her arms that the King of the Grail forgot his holy duties? Is it not
on her account that he now suffers and writhes in the cruel flame of
guilty desire? In vain the temptress struggles and attempts to escape
from the power which holds her in dominion; the impure fires which burn
within her will force her to yield. Good and evil tumultuously dispute
the possession of this soul, already several times incarnate. Like a
feminine Ahasuerus, she formerly insulted Christ, and is condemned to
be born again ceaselessly in sin's suffering. In vain she aspires to
deliverance, she inevitably falls back again into the snares of the
flesh. He who would resist the enchantress might perhaps save her;
but before her beauty all are weak, all damn themselves with her. He,
Klingsor, holds her in his power, and knows how to rouse her from the
lethargic sleep, into which he plunges her at will.

"For me alone, thy seductions are powerless," he says to her.

"Ah! ah!" she cries with a harsh laugh, "would'st thou be chaste?"

"What dost thou ask, cursed woman?" shrieks Klingsor in a rage. "Oh,
cruel torment! It is thus that Satan scoffs me because I formerly
struggled for holiness; cruel torment, torment of unsubdued desire,
hellish urgency of horrible instincts, upon which I have imposed the
silence of death. Does he laugh now, and does he jeer at me by thy
month, thou bride of the devil? Beware, such scorn and raillery one has
expiated already,--he who once cast me from him, proud in the strength
of his sanctity; his race is to-day in my power, and the guardian of
the holy of holies must languish un-redeemed. Soon, I think, I shall
myself watch over the Grail! Ha! ha! he pleased thee, this Amfortas,
the hero whom I assigned to thee for thy joy."

"Oh, woe! woe!" groans Kundry, "he also weak, all are weak, all have
fallen with me by my damnation. Oh, eternal sleep, thou only blessing,
how attain thee?"

"Ah! he who would resist thee would deliver thee; make thy trial upon
the youth who approaches."

Kundry struggles already more feebly. "He is handsome, this youth,"
exclaims Klingsor, who looks from the castle's height; "see, he mounts
toward the castle. Hey, hey! Guardians! Knights! Heralds! About! The
enemy approaches. Ah! how they defend the walls, the egotistical fools,
to protect their gracious devils! That is it. Courage, courage! Ho!
ho! this one has no fear; he has just snatched his lance from the hero
Ferris. He brandishes it intrepidly toward the horde of combatants. How
little their zeal serves them, the dullards! The child breaks the arm
of one, the thigh of another. Ha! ha! they draw back, they take flight,
each carrying away a wound. Thus am I happy! Thus may the entire race
of knights cut one another's throats! Ah! thou tender shoot; although
omens may have forwarned thee, yet art thou fallen into my power, too
young, too innocent,--thy purity once stained, thou art mine." Kundry,
seized as if in spite of herself with a fit of ecstatic laughter, has
disappeared. The tower sinks little by little, and in its place one
sees a marvellous garden filled with a tropical vegetation, beyond
which appear the terraces and porticos of an Arabian palace of the most
sumptuous style. Parsifal advances, stupefied with surprise, in the
midst of all this splendor; ravishing young girls, similar to living
flowers, at first alarmed, but soon becoming reassured, press about
him, completing the measure of his stupefaction by all the charms and
graces which they display for his enchantment and ruin. "If thou art
gracious to us hold not thyself at a distance," they say, "and if thou
wilt not quarrel with us we will recompense thee. We do not play for
gold, our only stake is love. If thou thinkest to console us, surely
thou wilt gain it. Come, come, gentle youth, let us bloom for thee. Our
loving caresses are intended for thee."

"What fragrant perfume you exhale," says Parsifal, with tranquil
gayety; "are you flowers?"

"Beauties of this garden, fragrant spirits, in the springtime the
master gathers us! We grow here in the summer sunlight, and bloom
joyously for thee. Be thou then gracious and friendly to us, accord
to the flowers thy sweet tribute. If thou wilt not love us, we shall
wither and die."

"Take me upon thy breast."

"Let me refresh thy forehead."

"Let me kiss thy mouth."

"No, I ... I am the fairest."

"No, my perfume's the sweetest."

But Parsifal laughingly repulses them: "You, medley of flowers,
gracious and wild," he says, "if you wish me to share in your sports
widen this narrow circle."

"Why dost thou chide?"

"Because you are in conflict."

"We struggle for thy love."

"Do not struggle."

"Go. He wants me."

"No, he desires me."

"Dost thou repel me?"

"Art thou timid in the presence of women?"

"Thou lettest the flowers court the butterfly."

"Leave me, you will not catch me," exclaims the young man, who would
take flight.

Then Kundry appears voluptuously stretched upon a bed of flowers. She
is of supreme beauty, and adorned in the strangest and most superb
manner in the oriental fashion. "Parsifal, stay," she cries. At the
sound of this voice the young girls, frightened, withdraw regretfully,
casting tender glances toward the handsome youth. "All hail to thee,
thou innocent fool!" And they disappear with stifled laughter.

"Parsifal!" ... murmurs the young man, stupefied, "my mother once
called me thus in a dream." Then, with the majesty of a goddess, and
the tenderness of love, the seducer speaks to him of the mother whom
he abandoned, and who died after long tortures of despair. "My mother!
my mother! can I have forgotten her," exclaims Parsifal. "Alas! alas!
what have I ever remembered? A crushing madness alone possesses me!"
And overpowered with grief, he sinks at Kundry's feet. "Confession
and repentance will blot out thy sin," she says, bending toward him;
"they will change folly to reason; learn to understand the love which
enveloped Gamuret when influenced by thy mother's passion. The love
that gave thee form and existence, before which death and madness
must drawback, gives thee to-day, with the supreme greeting of the
maternal benediction, its first kiss." And with a most radiant smile,
the enchantress leans over the young man and presses a long kiss upon
his mouth. At the contact of their lips Parsifal rises quickly, as
if transfigured; the veil which enveloped his mind is suddenly torn
away; he now comprehends the meaning of everything he has seen; he
feels kindling in his own heart the devouring fire with which Amfortas
burns. "The wound! the wound!" he cries, "it burns in my heart. Oh,
lamentation! frightful lamentation! it cries out from the very depths
of my being. Here, here in the heart is the flame, the burning desire,
the terrible and unbidden desire which seizes all my senses and
subjugates them! Oh, torment of love! how the whole framework shudders,
trembles, and thrills with guilty desires!"

Again he sees Amfortas before the Grail, and the horror of sacrilege,
the sinner's torture he now understands.

"Superb hero, fly the illusion, be gracious at the approach of grace,"
says the temptress, filled with passionate admiration. And he, still
prostrated at her feet, regards her fixedly while she displays before
him all the charms of her beauty. "Yes," he says, "this voice! it is
thus that she called him, and this glance which smiled upon him, I
recognize it! These lips, yes, it is thus that he saw them quiver, it
is thus that she bent her head, thus raised it proudly. In this manner
flowed her silken curls, thus she enfolded him and gently caressed his
cheek. Allied to all the tortures of suffering, she kissed away from
him his soul's salvation. Ah! such kisses!" Raising himself quickly he
repulses Kundry impetuously.

"Away, corrupter!" he cries, "far from me forever."

The lofty mission which he is destined to accomplish is now regaled
to him; he must defy, like Amfortas, all the pleasures of guilty
temptations, suffer all that he has suffered; but resist where he has
yielded, and triumph where the other has succumbed; this is the price
by which he will save him.

Kundry, in a delirium of furious passion, sets loose in vain all the
seductions of hell against him; in vain she endeavors to soften him:
"Ah cruel one, if thou feelest naught in thy heart but the sufferings
of others, feel also mine. If thou be the Saviour, why not unite
thyself to me for my salvation; during eternities I have awaited thee.
Oh! if thou couldst know the curse which sleeping and waking in torment
and laughter invigorates me endlessly for new suffering. I saw Him,
Him, and I laughed. His glance fell upon me. Since then I seek this
glance from world to world, I shall meet it again yet; in the height
of my distress I seem to see it, I feel it resting upon me. Then the
cursed laughter seizes me again. A sinner falls into my arms, and I
laugh, I laugh; I cannot weep. I can only cry out, carried deliriously
into the night of folly ever renewed, from which penitence itself
scarce arouses me. Him whom I ardently desire in the midst of my agony
I recognize in thee; let me weep upon thy breast and unite myself to
thee for a single hour, and though seemingly rejected by God and the
world, let me be saved and redeemed in thee."

"Thou wouldst be damned with me for all eternity if for one hour I
should forget my mission in the embrace of thy arms."... "It was my
kiss which rendered thy eyes clear? the full gift of my love would give
thee divinity. Save the world if that is thy mission, and if this hour
has made thee a god, let me suffer damnation forever. Only give me
thy love."

"Thee too will I save, sinner; show me but the road which I have lost,
the way which leads to Amfortas."

"Never, never! thou shalt not find him," cries Kundry, transported with
rage. "Error, imposition, illusion, bar his war, entangle the paths
that his feet may never enter upon the road which he seeks; may all
ways be cursed that estrange him from me. Aberration! aberration! I
dedicate him to thee, be thou his guide!"

At Kundry's cries the young girls come forth from the palace. Klingsor,
armed with the sacred lance, throws himself upon Parsifal, but the
divine steel cannot harm him who has remained pure; it rests suspended
miraculously above him. The young hero seizes the weapon and traces the
sign of the cross in space. At this symbol the magic castle crumbles
away and disappears, the garden withers, the young girls, like dying
flowers, droop and sink to the earth; nothing is now seen save an
arid desert, with mountains and snowy peaks in the distance. Parsifal,
striding over the ruins, moves away, uttering a last word of hope to
the sinner: "Thou knowest where alone thou wilt see me again."


The third act takes us back to the domain of the Grail. The spring
festival gladdens the forest, everything is in flower, the tender
verdure of the fields is sown with Easter flowers, the stream forces
itself a passage through clusters of lilies of the valley. It is the
day sacred to all, upon which humanity was redeemed,--Good Friday.
Gurnemanz, now quite aged, comes forth from an humble hut hidden among
the trees. He has heard a groan and a lament, the mournful tone of
which is not unknown to him. He approaches the thicket, and raises a
woman who appears to be dead. He was not deceived. It is indeed the
strange heathen, whom he has already roused from this sleep, so like
unto death. Yes, it is Kundry; behold her as she arouses herself,
casting about a searching glance which is no longer savage. "To serve,
to serve," she murmurs, and she goes off to the side of the cabin, to
apply herself to the most humble labors. Gurnemanz, surprised, watches
her proceedings, but his attention is soon attracted by a stranger,
who advances hesitatingly and dreamily in the refreshing calm of the
forest. He is clad in black armor, his helmet is closed, and he holds
his lance lowered. Slowly he draws near and seats himself by the spring.

"Greeting, my guest," says Gurnemanz: "Dost thou not know what day this
is? Quickly lay aside thy arms; offend not the Saviour, who, stripped
of all defense, on this day offered his divine blood for the salvation
of the world." The sombre knight obeys; he takes off his helmet and
loosens his armor. Gurnemanz then recognizes Parsifal, the harmless
fool, whom he had sent away so roughly. With deep emotion he imagines
that he recognizes also the sacred lance, long before carried away from
the sanctuary. The young man, who looks calmly about him, recognizes
Gurnemanz, and extends his hand to him. "I am happy to have found thee
again," he says.

"What, thou knowest me yet? dost thou remember him, whom grief and
distress have bent so low? How earnest thou here, and from what place?"

"I am come in the paths of error and suffering," replies Parsifal. "Can
I believe myself delivered, since once again I hear the rustling of
this forest, and salute thee again, thou good old man?"

"Tell me, to whom should the path which thou seekest lead?"

"To him whose lament I formerly heard in bewildered surprise, to him
for whose salvation I to-day believe myself to be elected. But alas!
a horrible curse condemns me never to find the road to salvation, and
to wander in unknown paths. When I seemed to have found it, miseries
without number, with struggles and conflicts, chased me from the path.
Then had I almost despaired of keeping the sacred arm in safety. In the
effort to preserve and defend it I received wounds from every side, for
I could not make use of it in the combat. Inviolate I kept it by my
side. I take it back again, it glitters there, august and radiant, the
Grail's holy lance!"

"Oh mercy! supreme blessing! Holy and most august miracle!" exclaims
the old man, with enthusiasm; "if it be a malediction that turned thee
from the true path, believe me, my lord, it has yielded, for thou art
in the domain of the Grail, and its knighthood awaits thee. Ah! it
stands in sore need of the salvation which thou bringest! Since the
day that thou wert here, mourning and anguish have augmented even to
supreme distress. Amfortas, revolting against his wound, in sullen
obstinacy, longed for death; neither the supplications nor the grief
of his knights could impel him to fulfil his holy office. For a long
time the Grail has remained enclosed in its shrine, and its contrite
guardian, who could not die, should he contemplate it, hopes thus to
enforce his end, and terminate with his life his torment. The sacred
nourishment is denied us; also, our heroic strength perishes. Messages
and distant calls to holy combats no longer reach us. The knighthood,
deprived of chief and courage, wanders miserable and wan. Here in the
corner of the forest I have hidden myself in solitude, tranquilly
awaiting death, which has already become the lot of my old lord of
arms, Titurel; for the sainted hero, being no longer revived by the
sight of the Grail, died a man like all others.

"And it is I who caused all this misery!" cries Parsifal, with a burst
of grief. "Ah! what sin, what a mass of misdeeds must have weighed upon
this fool's head from eternity, inasmuch as, chosen for the redemption,
after having wandered distractedly, I see the last path to salvation
vanish." He sinks swooning upon a grassy hillock. Gurnemanz supports
him, and aided by Kundry endeavors to revive him. Like a new Jordan,
the limpid stream will refresh his brow and efface the sin; it will
wash the dust of long wandering and journeys from his weary feet.
Kundry, like Magdalen, passionately repentant, will shed perfumes
upon these feet, and will wipe them in her silken flowing hair, and
Gurnemanz, understanding that the day of salvation has come at last,
and that the Grail has a new king, will pour the sacred oil upon
Parsifal's head.

"Thus I bless thee, and consecrate thee king, thou innocent,
compassionate martyr, thou doer of holy deeds! Inasmuch as thou hast
suffered all the sufferings of the redeemed, be this last burden taken
from thy brow." And the first act of the new king is to pour the
baptismal water upon the head of the prostrate and weeping sinner,

"Thy tears are become a holy dew," he says to her with divine
tenderness, "thou weepest! See, Nature rejoices!" and he kisses her
upon the forehead.

The swelling sound of bells in the distance announces Titurel's
funeral. As in the first act, the country is gradually transformed,
and soon long files of knights in mourning are seen in the galleries
escorting the remains of Titurel. Finally the temple reappears, and
the knights who carry the Grail and the litter upon which Amfortas is
stretched meet the funeral procession.

"Whom does this casket that you bear in sorrow enclose?" they say,
"while we attend the shrine which shields the Grail." "This casket
encloses the sainted hero to whom God confided himself; we bear

"What has struck down him whom even God protected?"

"It was the heavy burden of age that hastened his end, as he saw the
Grail no more."

"Who prevented him from beholding the Grail and its blessings?"

"He whom you attend, the guilty guardian."

"We escort him once more to-day, because for the last time he wills to
discharge his priesthood."

"Woe, woe! for the last time be recalled to the duties of thy office!"

But Amfortas, distracted with grief, raises himself upon his couch.
"Yes, woe!" he cries, "woe to me! My father! hero thrice blessed,
toward whom the angels bent; I who coveted death; it is thy death I
have caused. Oh, thou who now beholdest, in divine light, the Redeemer
himself, implore him that he may grant me death at last! Death! death!
only grace! May the terrible wound and venom cease,--the wasted heat
grow cold! I invoke thee, my father, cry to him: Saviour, grant peace
to my son."

"Uncover the tabernacle," cry the knights, pressing in disorder about
Amfortas; "fulfil thy priestly office; thy father commands thee; thou
must, thou must!" But the wretched man, in a frenzy of despair, throws
himself into the midst of them, tearing his garments. "No, no! never
more! Ah! I already feel the shadow of death upon me, and must I return
once again to life? Which of you would force me to live since you can
give me nothing but death? Behold, the wound yawns, see the poison
and my blood! Steep your swords in my wound even to the hilt! Rise,
heroes! Destroy with one blow the sinner and his torment; and the Grail
will then shine brightly for you by its own virtue!"

All have drawn back in terror. Parsifal then advances solemnly;
stretches forth the divine lance, and with its point touches the side
of Amfortas. "One arm only is propitious," he says; "the lance that
opened the wound can alone close it. Be healed, redeemed, and saved!
May thy suffering, which gave supreme strength to compassion, and the
power of the purest wisdom to the timorous brother, be sanctified! I
restore to you the sacred lance!" And while Amfortas and Gurnemanz
kneel to do him homage, and Kundry, delivered at last, dies at his feet
with a look of gratitude, Parsifal ascends toward the altar, and raises
for the first time the Grail in all its splendor above the heads of the
enraptured knights.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Richard Wagner and his Poetical Work - From Rienzi to Parsifal" ***

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