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Title: Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde": An Essay on the Wagnerian Drama
Author: Hight, George Ainslie
Language: English
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  Passing the visions, passing the night,
  Passing, unloosing the hold of my comrade's hands,
  Passing the song of the hermit bird and the tallying song of
      my soul,
  Victorious song, death's outlet song, yet varying, ever-altering
  As low and wailing, yet clear the notes, rising and falling,
      flooding the night,
  Sadly sinking and fainting, as warning and warning, and yet
      again bursting with joy,
  Covering the earth and filling the spread of the heaven,
  As that powerful psalm in the night I heard from recesses.

  _Walt Whitman._


The following pages contain little if anything that is new, or that
would be likely to interest those who are already at home in Wagner's
work. They are intended for those who are beginning the study of
Wagner. In spite of many books, I know of no Wagner literature in
English to which a beginner can turn who wishes to know what Wagner
was aiming at, in what respect his works differ from those of the
operatic composers who preceded him. Some sort of Introduction appears
to me a necessary preliminary to the study of Wagner, not because his
works are artificial or unnatural, but because our minds have become
perverted by the highly artificial products of the Italian and French
opera, so that a work of Wagner at first appears to us very much as
_Paradise Lost_ or a tragedy of Sophokles would appear to a person who
had never read anything but light French novels. He must entirely change
the attitude of his mind, and the change, although it be a return to
nature and truth, is not easy to make.

Those who wish fully to understand Wagner's aims must read his own
published works. I have not attempted to give his views in a condensed
form, being convinced that any such attempt could only end in failure.
Whenever it has been made, the result has been a caricature; you
cannot separate a man's work from his personality. All that I could do
was to endeavour to lay some of the problems involved, as I conceive
them, before the reader in my own words.

SAMER, PAS DE CALAIS, _May_, 1912.


















[Greek: Theohus d' ephame eleountas aemas sugchoreutas te kahi
choraegohus aemin dedo¯ke'nai to'n te Ap'ollo¯a kahi Mousas
kahi dhae kahi tri'ton ephamen, ei' memnaemetha, Dionuson.]



A new work on Wagner requires some justification. It might be urged
that, since the _Meister_ has been dead for some decades and the
violence of party feeling may be assumed to have somewhat abated, we
are now in a position to form a sober estimate of his work, to review
his aims, and judge of his measure of success.

Such, however, is not my purpose in the following pages. I conceive
that the endeavour to _estimate_ an artist's work involves a
misconception of the nature of art. We can estimate products of
utility, things expressible in figures, the weight of evidence, a Bill
for Parliament, a tradesman's profits. But a work of art is written
for our pleasure, and all that we can attempt is to understand it.
True, we must judge in a certain sense, we must weigh and estimate
before we can arrive at understanding; but it is one thing to meditate
in the privacy of one's own mind, quite another to publish these
constructive processes as an end in themselves, to set up critical
"laws" and expect that poets are going to conform to them.

Art, says Ruskin, is a language, a vehicle of thought, in itself
nothing. Plato's teaching in the third book of his _Republic_ is
the same, and the idea of the secondary nature of art, of its value
only as the expression of something else, of a human or moral purpose
only fully expressible in the drama, is the nucleus of all Wagner's
theoretical writing. In private conversation and in his letters he
often spoke very emphatically. "I would joyfully sacrifice and destroy
everything that I have produced if I could hope thereby to further
freedom and justice."[1]

[Footnote 1: The episode which gave rise to this remark is too long to
relate in the text, but is highly characteristic and instructive for
Wagner's attitude towards art. It will be found in the sixth volume of
Glasenapp's biography, p. 309.]

Let us clearly keep in mind the distinction here involved between the
two elements of every work of art: matter and form, substance and
technique, [Greek: onta] and [Greek: gignomena], Brahm and Mâyâ, Wille
und Vorstellung, the emotional and the intellectual life of man, or,
untechnically, what he feels and his communication of those feelings
to others as a social being. With the first of these the critic has
nothing to do; the matter is given; all he has to consider is whether
it has found adequate expression--that is, to try to understand the
language, that when he has mastered it he may help others to do so
according to his ability. I do not say that the matter is one to which
we are indifferent. On the contrary, it is far the more important of
the two, since the thing expressed is prior to its expression. Only it
is no concern of the critic, because we may fairly assume that if the
technical expression is correct and intelligible the artist has
already told us what he wishes to convey in the most perfect language
of which that idea is susceptible, and that any attempt to put it into
the lower and more prosy language of the critic would only weaken and
distort the thought.

It does not seem to me that passions have abated very much, or
judgments have become much more sober, since Wagner has left us. In
England at least the ignorance and indifference which prevail among
the ordinary public are still profound. In truth the seed which he
sowed has fallen upon evil soil; his fate has been a cruel one. He,
the most sincere and transparent of men, whose only wish was to be
seen as he actually was, has perhaps more than any other great man
been the victim of misrepresentation, alike from his senseless
persecutors and from his equally senseless adulators. While he lived,
every imaginable calumny, plausible and unplausible, was invented to
besmirch his character and his art. Now it is, in Germany at least, no
longer safe to revile him on the ground of his technical artistic
style. The days are long past when the terms "charlatan," "amateur,"
"artistic anarchist" could be applied to him with impunity, and it is
fully recognized by all who have any title to speak that Wagner, so
far from being a revolutionary destroyer, was, like all true
reformers--Luther, for example, or Jeremiah or Sokrates--an extreme
conservative. Those who like Walt Whitman preach libertinism in the
name of democracy do not want reform; they are satisfied with things
as they are. Wagner battled, both in music and in literature, for
_der reine Satz_--purity of diction as against the untidy licence
which was then and still is fashionable among weak-kneed artists and a
thoughtless public.[2]

[Footnote 2: It is perhaps still necessary to produce some warrant for
these statements. The deep-rooted conservatism of Wagner's character
is a prominent feature of all his literary work, and especially
noticeable in his educational schemes, as, for example; the report on
a proposed Munich school of music, with its text: "The business of a
Conservatory is to conserve." On his musical diction the testimony of
Prof. S. Jadassohn will probably be considered sufficient by most
people. He writes: "Wagner's harmonies are clear and pure; they are
never arbitrary, nor coarse nor brutal, but throughout conscientious
and clean according to the strict rules of pure diction (_des reinen
Satzes_). Consequently the sequences and combinations of the chords
and the course of the modulation are easily followed by those who know
harmony. Similarly, his polyphonic style is easily intelligible to the
trained contrapuntist"--and more to the same effect, Jadassohn is here
only expressing what every competent musician knows. Before the first
performance at Bayreuth in 1876 Wagner's last word to the artists was:
_Deutlichkeit_--"clearness"--a word which sums up all his
technical teaching throughout his life.]

Mr. Hadow has truly observed that we have not yet learned to treat
genius frankly, and either starve it with censure or smother it with
irrational excess of enthusiasm. If the malicious misrepresentations
and persecutions which Wagner endured during his lifetime were the
outcome of ignorance, assuredly the hysterical raving of our day is no
less ignorant and contemptible. I hear it said that in England
"Wagnerism" is an attitude, and can only reply that it is so in
Germany too. Among the cosmopolitan audiences who crowd the theatres
of Dresden and Munich on a Wagner night and greet his works with
thundering applause, there is probably not one person in a hundred who
really knows what he sees and hears. Not that these people are not
perfectly sincere; _something_ they have undoubtedly taken in;
the marvellous euphony and balance of Wagner's orchestra under the
conductors we now have, the exquisite grace of the melodic and
harmonic structure, and the lyric beauty of so many scenes are
apparent to all, and will always awaken the boundless enthusiasm of
those who go only to be diverted. But these are only the ornaments of
the drama; to understand the drama itself requires a serious effort on
the part of the hearer which few are prepared to make, a moral
sympathy with the composer and receptive understanding of his aims of
which few are capable.

We in England seem content to remain in darkness. I am not, of course,
referring to the many competent men who have given serious attention
to the works of Wagner; I am speaking of the general public. The
English people has plenty of poetry in its heart, but our attitude
towards German literature and art is not creditable to us as a nation.
We who possess the finest literature ever produced by any people,
whose Chaucers and Shakespeares and Popes and Byrons are the models on
which the poets of other nations endeavour to form their style,
scarcely think their literature worthy of serious consideration. A
German boy when he leaves school has generally a pretty close
acquaintance with Shakespeare, and knows at least something of other
English authors and poets. An English boy at the same stage of his
education has perhaps heard of Goethe and Schiller, but has rarely
read any of their works. At the Universities it is no better. I really
believe that in England Gounod's _Faust_ is better known than
Goethe's! It would be impossible that such travesties of _Faust_
as appear from time to time upon the English stage would be endured if
our scholars and intellectuals were better informed. Towards ancient
languages, except the two which are fashionable, we are just as
indifferent. It was no less a person than Sir Richard Maine who
asserted that, except the blind forces of nature, nothing exists in
the world which is not Greek in its origin! Truly more things are
dreamed of in our philosophy than are in heaven and earth! When great
scholars make such statements as this it is scarcely surprising that
ordinary people should care little for the origins of their own
language. The parents of modern English are not Greek but Anglo-Saxon
and Scandinavian or Icelandic. Both these languages have a literature
of the very highest rank, but are little studied in this country. The
eighth-century English lyrics are amongst the finest in the language.
As for Scandinavian, not every one in England is aware that the
Icelanders are, and have been for a thousand years, the most literary
people in the world;[3] that in one important branch of literature,
that of story-telling, they are absolutely without a rival, except in
the Old Testament. From these Scandinavian sources we have received
the heritage which has grown into our magnificent language and
literature, but we trouble our heads little about them and leave them
to foreigners to study. Ignorance may perhaps be excusable; what is
wholly inexcusable is the habit of some Englishmen of criticising and
censuring the work of foreigners which they dislike because they
cannot understand it. There is a certain section of the English people
who seem to think that it shows patriotism and a becoming national
pride to belittle the work of other nations and speak of it in an
insolent tone of contempt. They habitually misrepresent the
achievements of foreigners in order to make them appear ridiculous.
Over twenty years ago a writer in one of our high-class magazines
informed an astonished world that "the Wagner-bubble has burst!" and
the preposterous nonsense has been repeated again and again in one
form or another ever since. Quite recently we read in one of our
leading English dailies the following sentences: "... Among many of
the best-known critics there is a general consensus of opinion that
with the completion of Strauss' important work [_Elektra_],
Wagnerism will diminish in popularity.... For years and years vain
attempts have been made to get away from Richard Wagner. Creative
musicians have long felt that Wagner's great and never-to-be-forgotten
art no longer suited modern times"! One feels inclined to ask whether
the writer looks upon musical composers as racehorses to be pitted
against each other, or as religious creeds which must destroy their
rivals in order to live.

[Footnote 3: Feeling some doubt as to whether this statement were not
an exaggeration, I have submitted it before publication to my friend
Mr. Eirikr Magnússon of Cambridge, whose profound knowledge of
European literature, ancient and modern, needs no attestation from me.
He replies that, except for the two centuries succeeding the Black
Death in 1402-4, the statement in the text is quite correct. With that
reservation therefore I allow it to stand.]

There is another and a graver charge to be brought against some
writers whose works are popularly read in England, to which it will be
my duty to return. I have said enough here to show the state of Wagner
criticism in this country. Abroad it is little better. Wagner is
indeed fashionable. His works are regularly performed in every capital
in Europe, and he has probably saved the existence of the costly
_Hoftheater_ in Germany. But success, in the sense in which he
understood it, he has not yet achieved. It is very questionable
whether his influence has on the whole been for good, either upon
musicians and dramatists, or upon the public. It is not his fault.
Nothing would show more convincingly the utter inability of the modern
public to appreciate the highest and best in art than the literature
which has gathered round the great name of Wagner. In all the vast
mass how much is there which was worth the writing, or can be read
with any profit by reasonable people? I think that, putting aside
purely technical works on music, stage-management, etc., the number of
really good books could be counted on the fingers. The rest is feeble
rhapsody on the one hand, malicious misrepresentation on the other. Of
works of first-rate importance, works that really add anything solid
to our knowledge, I only know one: Nietzsche's _Geburt der
Tragödie_. Of others the best are mostly in French. Lichtenberger's
_R. Wagner_ is admirable so far as it goes, but treats the
subject exclusively from the literary standpoint. The small treatise
of our marvellous countryman, Mr. H. S. Chamberlain, _Le drame
wagnérien_[4] (Paris, 1894), is thoughtful and suggestive, and
quite worthy of close attention, as are also the works of Kufferath,
Golther, etc. There may be a few more, mostly of small compass, but
not many. Glasenapp's great biography, a work of astounding industry,
and invaluable to the student, can scarcely be included among the good
books because of its terrible literary style and its fulsome
sentimentality. The magnificent work begun by the Hon. Mrs. Burrell,
of which there is a copy in the British Museum, would have been a
monumental biography had she lived to complete it, but it stops when
Wagner is about twenty. Of the rest, the less said the better. Of
works against Wagner I know of none that are even worth reading,
except Hanslick, to whom I shall have occasion to return. It is much
to be regretted that none of Wagner's opponents have ever stated their
case fairly and soberly. There is much to be said, but assuredly it
has not been said by men of the stamp of Nordau, who cites disgusting
accounts from French medical journals in order to show his abhorrence
of what he considers Wagner's immorality! Tolstoi is a writer of wide
authority among his followers, and might be expected to feel some
responsibility for his utterances; yet he thought it right to publish
his verdict to the world after having witnessed _one_ very
inferior performance of a _portion_ of Siegfried! He is often
appealed to as if he were an authority by the opponents of Wagner, but
his utterances have no more weight than the thoughtless expressions of
a Ruskin or a William Morris, which their biographers have thought fit
to drag from the privacy of private letters or conversation and
publish as their deliberate judgments. From Nietzsche at least
something better might have been expected, but I can find little in
his anti-Wagnerian writings except coarse vituperation and low
scandal. There is no anti-Wagnerian literature worthy of the name.
There are plenty of highly musical and artistic natures who honestly
dislike his art, and I am so far able to sympathize with them as to
believe that an inestimable benefit would be conferred upon all of us
if they would publish their objections in sober and reasoned form. But
they do not; or if they do speak, they descend to the slums.

[Footnote 4: Not his _Richard Wagner_, which is a more popular

Such has been the response of the public through its literature to the
man who expressly did not wish to be worshipped, but only to be
understood. Assuredly there is yet plenty of room for good work to be
done! The purpose of the following pages is criticism, not as judging,
but as selecting. In choosing certain characteristics to show them in
a different perspective from an altered point of view the critic may
hope to help others to a better understanding of the art. I have
endeavoured to do this for English readers in respect of Wagner's
dramatic works through one of the most characteristic and
representative of them. The problem resolves itself into two. First
there is the general technical one, so fully treated by Wagner himself
in his theoretical writings, whether music is capable of being used as
a means of dramatic expression; and secondly, how far the endeavour
has been successful in the particular work selected for illustration.
To treat these problems satisfactorily it will be necessary for me to
go far beyond the limits of music and dramatic art, and to enter
rather fully into questions of psychology and metaphysics, which I
fear may discourage some readers, but which cannot be shirked by those
who wish to form a judgment based upon a more solid foundation than
their own personal taste. The mistake made by nearly all writers on
Wagner hitherto has been to suppose that the mere assertion of an
individual opinion has any value at all, however illustrious the
person who holds it, however able his exposition. Of what use can be
the assertion that a certain progression of chords is acceptable and
pleasing to the healthy ear (even with the usual addition that all who
do not think so are blockheads), when some other person equally
competent asserts the contrary? Or how am I to persuade my readers
that _Tristan und Isolde_ is what I hold it to be, the loftiest
paean of pure and holy love ever conceived by a poet, when others see
in it only a "story of vulgar adultery," steeped in sensuality? The
moral law is the same to all men, and differences of judgment upon
moral acts are due to imperfect understanding. But I cannot hope to
make my own position clear without descending to the foundations of
all art, of all life, without asking: what is drama? what are its
aims, and how does it express them? what is human life which it
reflects? Wagner felt this very strongly, and soon realized that an
ontological basis was required for his own theories; that to reform
art he must reform human life. "Oh ye men," he exclaims passionately
in a letter: "feel rightly, act as you feel! be free!--then we will
have art."

We may learn the true principles of criticism from Wagner himself.
Truthfulness in literature is what correctness is in _Vortrag_.
They are objectivity, the art of seeing things as they really are,
clearness of vision, right understanding. The truthful representation
of an artist as he really is does not preclude, but rather stimulates,
enthusiasm, for we may believe that the true artist and the true work
of art as he intended it are superior to the flattering creations of
our own fancy.

Lessing observes that of ten objections raised by the critic, nine
will probably have occurred to the author; that he himself will read a
passage twenty times rather than believe that the writer contradicted
himself. Some of our critics seem to proceed upon an opposite
principle and to reject a thought at once if it does not seem to agree
with what they themselves have thought, and they observe little
restraint in expressing their authoritative judgment. One critic
speaks of Wagner meditating on problems "which any clear-headed
schoolboy could quickly have settled for him"; we are not surprised to
find the same critic sneering at Kant and Plato! Such writers there
will always be, but a nation which tolerates them cannot expect to
maintain an honourable place in the intellectual commonwealth.



The distinction so often made with a genius between the "man" and the
"artist" has been justly ridiculed by Wagner himself. For the truest
individuality of an artist is in his art, not when he leaves his own
proper sphere and enters one that is foreign to him. Beethoven is the
writer of symphonies and sonatas, not the suspicious friend and
unmannerly plebeian. The _man_ is the same in both relations,
_i.e._ his character remains the same, only it manifests itself
differently under changed conditions, and the difference lies not in
him, but in the point of view from which we regard him. Let us bear
this in mind in considering Wagner as he appeared away from his art.

A genius has been aptly likened to an astronomical telescope, which is
able to scan the heavens, but is useless for things close at hand. To
some extent this is true of Wagner, but less so than with most, and
not in the sense in which it has been often asserted. The attacks
which have been made upon Wagner's private character show little
discrimination, for it is a simple truth that the particular vices of
which he has been accused are just those from which he was singularly
free. No charge has been more audaciously or persistently brought by
ignorant writers or believed by an ill-informed public in England and
America than that of morbid sensuality. Just as Wagner's dramas have
been called licentious, so his character has been described as
sensual, in defiance of easily ascertainable facts. Not long ago the
discovery was made that his health had been undermined by loose living
when he was young. It is easy to invent such charges, for which there
is not a particle of evidence, and unfortunately the reader is not
always in a position to verify the authorities, and naturally thinks
that the writer must have some ground for what he says. As a rule
these statements have originated with Ferdinand Praeger's book
_Wagner as I knew him_, a book which I am astonished to see still
quoted in England, as if it were an authority. I have not seen it, and
do not know what it contains. Its character was exposed by two
Englishmen, Mr. H. S. Chamberlain and Mr. Ashton Ellis, soon after its
publication in 1892, and it was consequently withdrawn from
circulation in Germany by its publishers, Messrs. Breitkopf und
Härtel. In England and America it still seems to be widely read, and
is, more than any other single work, responsible for the false notions
that are abroad about Wagner. Sensuality, that is in the morbidly
sexual sense of the term, was no part of Wagner's character, nor could
it be of the man who justly claimed that no poet had ever glorified
women as he had done. His Sentas, Elsas, Brünnhildes, and I must add
his Isoldes, rightly understood, afford the best answer to such

"But," it is said, "his music is unmistakably sensual." I must defer
it to a future chapter to consider how far pure music, that is, music
apart from words, is capable of expressing a specific human quality,
but may here anticipate by saying that the nature of music is to
assimilate the elements with which it is joined; the hearer may,
within certain broad restrictions, put into it whatever he likes, and
will therefore hear in it the reflection of himself. This is why
different people hear such different things in the same music. If a
man hears sensuality in the _music_ of, let us say, the second
act of _Tristan und Isolde_, it is his own interpretation.
Another hears something very different, an anticipation of eternity,
of that world beyond which the lovers are about to enter to be united
with each other and with all nature in a higher love of which all
earthly love, with its degrading garment of sensuality, is but the
debased image. The music by itself will bear either interpretation;
each hearer will find in it just that which he looks for and can
understand. But when the words are added the meaning is clear. People
are not "sensual" when death is right before them, as it is here. I do
not wish to be understood as meaning that Wagner excluded sensuality
from his works, or that he did not treat the most universal and most
ungovernable of human impulses in accordance with its character. The
drama must include everything human, and when passionate sexuality is
a necessary part of the dramatic development, Wagner no more shirks it
than did Shakespeare or any other great dramatist. But Wagner always
treats it with such consummate grace and refinement that it ceases to
be repulsive and appears in its own uncorrupted beauty, as in the
_Venus_ music and in the flower-maiden scene in _Parsifal_. Only to
the impure are the senses impure.

An unbiassed consideration of all that is known about Wagner's life
will acquit him of all the graver vices, unless a propensity for
living beyond his income be reckoned as such. Whatever his faults
there was nothing dishonourable or mean about them, and he is entitled
to the treatment that is always accorded by one gentleman to another,
whether friend or enemy, so long as he does not disgrace himself.
Surely it ought not to be necessary to insist upon this before an
English public, but it has not always been observed.

Similar is the charge of "ego-mania," that is, of overrating his own
importance, so often heard. There cannot be any notion of his
_over_rating his importance, for all are now agreed that his
influence, whether for good or for bad, can scarcely be overrated.
Only society requires, very rightly, that a man shall speak of himself
and his achievements with a certain reticence, leaving it to others to
judge of them. Nowhere that I know of has Wagner offended against this
very proper rule. It has so long been the practice to represent Wagner
as a man of overweening vanity, a man who tried to exalt himself at
the expense of other artists, that some in England will not believe me
when I say that there is no foundation whatever for such assertions. I
only ask of those who think there is to read Wagner's own published
writings, and to judge from them, not from what is said about him. I
do not mean to say that he did not believe with the most intense
conviction in his own idea of a new German dramatic art, uniting the
separate arts in itself, and did not proclaim it as a thing of the
first national importance; every serious reformer believes in himself
in that sense. But that is not the same thing as asserting his own
powers to realize it. With regard to these he speaks very modestly of
himself as a beginner, a pioneer only. In fact the question of his own
particular genius is, he says, irrelevant, and has nothing to do with
the other one, adding rather cynically that genius is often given to
the wrong people.

It is in this sense that I understand the famous words of his speech
after the first performance of the _Ring_ at Bayreuth, in 1876,
which have been so often quoted in illustration of his arrogance: "You
have seen what we can do; it is now for you to will. We now have an
art if you will." Namely, thus: "Germany now has for the first time an
indigenous drama, not imported from foreigners; if you accept it, try
to develop and perfect it." Or shortly: "I and my friends have done
what we can; the rest is for you to do." This seems to me the natural
meaning of the words, and agrees with all his utterances at other
times, namely, that the public must not leave it all to the artist,
but must exert itself to cooperate with him. It has latterly become
almost a fashion among some German authors to transgress all bounds of
modesty in advertising themselves. Nietzsche, for example, leaves us
in no doubt whatever as to what he requires us to think about him. But
nothing of the kind will be found in Wagner.

The charge of "grapho-mania" is scarcely worth discussion, except to
show what slender arguments have to be relied upon by those who try to
prove Wagner insane. Ten, not _bulky_ volumes, as Nordau calls
them, but volumes of very moderate dimensions, some 30 per cent. of
which are accounted for by his dramatic works, are not a very large
allowance for a man who lived seventy years, and was often under the
necessity of writing to eke out his income. They are scarcely
sufficient to be regarded as an indication of insanity. The fact is,
that Wagner, either as dramatist or as author, was not a voluminous
producer. It is the quality, the intensity, of his work that is
important, not its bulk. This is only another instance of the amazing
indifference to the most easily ascertainable facts shown by Wagner's
assailants, and of the truth that if you only assert a thing, however
nonsensical, persistently enough, there will always be some who will
believe it. I cannot be expected to go through in detail the whole
string of aberrations which Nordau finds accumulated in Wagner. They
are all of the same kind, and all equally fanciful.

The endeavours to prove Wagner a "degenerate" are professedly made in
the name of science, so often a cloak for the most unscientific
vagaries, by men who are disciples of the late Professor Lombroso of
Florence. Lombroso was a serious man of science, and many of his
investigations into the nature and indications of insanity have
permanent value, but it is certain that he went much too far, and his
views are only very partially accepted by those who are qualified to
judge of them.[5] When a theory of insanity is made to include such
men as Newton, Goethe, Darwin, and others who are generally supposed
to be the very types of sober sanity, a Richard Wagner may well be
content to remain in such company. We are reminded of Lombroso's own
story of the lunatic's reply to one who asked when he was coming out
of the asylum: "When the people outside are sane." In fact the
theories when pushed to their extreme consequences become absurd.
There is nothing discreditable to a serious student of science who in
the enthusiasm of discovery presses his inferences beyond their valid
limits, since all theory must at first be more or less tentative. Very
different is the case when these dubious theories are applied by men
with very modest scientific acquirements, or with none at all, to
injure the reputation of a man whom they dislike. We may then fairly
ask, with Lichtenberger, on which side the degeneration is more likely
to be. These are the men who bring science into discredit.

[Footnote 5: For a very fair estimate of his work, see an article in
the _Times_, October 20, 1909.]

It would not have been worth my while to dwell at such length upon the
calumnies of irresponsible writers did I not know that they represent
the popular opinion among the less well-informed in England of to-day,
as in Germany thirty or forty years ago. They begin with people who
ought to know better, and in time find their way into the magazines
and popular literature of the day, to be greedily read by a public
which, next to a prurient divorce case, likes nothing so well as
slander of a great man. We have heard much of late years about the
decadence of the English Press, but editors know very well the public
for whom they cater.

That Wagner's was one of those serene and universally lovable
characters who live at peace with God and man it is far from me to
wish to convey. Such men there are, and women, who seem lifted above
the meaner elements of human existence, without envy, without
reproach, untouched by its iniquities, unsullied by its vileness. Pure
themselves and self-contained they see no guile in others, or if they
see it they notice it not. Who has not met with such? who has not felt
their power? When such innate purity of soul is united with high
intellectual gifts we have the noblest creation of nature, and to have
been called "friend" by one such is the highest honour that life has
to offer.

But Wagner was not one of these. His was a stormy spirit--"The
never-resting soul that ever seeks the new." He likens himself to a
wild animal tearing at its cage and exhausting itself with fruitless
struggles. He could not make terms with falsehood and sophistry, or
leave them to perish naturally, but lived in ceaseless defiance of
them. He was a man who inspired intense, devoted love, or intense
hatred, according to the people with whom he was dealing. With his
moral character in itself we have indeed no concern, but it seems
necessary to explain why so many high-minded men who knew him
intimately, and loved him passionately, at last fell away from him.
The common theory of Wagnerites, that they were actuated by petty
motives of jealousy, and the like, cannot be entertained for a moment.
With Nietzsche it may well be that ill-health and drugs had begun
their fatal work in 1876; they may account for the violence of his
anti-Wagnerian writings, but surely the cause of his aversion lay
deeper. Similarly with Joachim. Even the noble Liszt, who had stood by
him and battled so bravely for him through the years of his deepest
distress, though he never failed in his admiration of Wagner's art,
seems to have cooled towards him personally when he was in prosperity.
His staunch band of Zurich friends one and all became to some extent
estranged after his exile was annulled. His acknowledged hasty temper
will not account for it; hastiness wounds, but in a generous and
ardently loving nature it does not estrange.

The cause is, in my belief, not far to seek. It lay in the domineering
spirit which is so noticeable in every act of his life, every page of
his writings. His life was his art. He was above all things a man of
action, and all who belonged to him in any relation whatever had to
serve him in his art or cease to be his. His power must be absolute;
talents, energies, life itself if necessary, must be surrendered to
the service of that one supreme purpose. Many were the men and women
who did not flinch from the sacrifice. I need only mention musicians
like Richter, Cornelius, Porges, literati like Glasenapp and Wolzogen.
Many, especially women, were ready to fling to the winds all thought
of personal wellbeing, and life itself. Cosima, to save him and his
art, sacrificed every worldly consideration. Ludwig of Bavaria did the
same, and brought his country to the verge of revolution. Singers,
like Hedwig Reicher Kindermann, literally gave their lives for him.
And no less than this did he exact from all who aspired to be his
disciples and supporters.

But Nietzsche's was a different character. He was Wagner's peer, and,
though thirty years his junior, had his own purposes to follow.
Nietzsche was, as he afterwards realized, under a delusion from the
first. His highly organized musical nature had been taken captive,
intoxicated by Wagner's music. But Nietzsche was a thinker, and it is
contrary to the natural order that the man of thought should serve the
man of action. Nietzsche was incapable of serving Wagner's art and had
to leave him.

Was this a fault in Wagner? Who shall say? If it was, it was a fault
which he shared with every earnest reformer who is not content with
preaching, but enforces his precepts with action. Reform is no
plaything; it cannot be achieved by listening to the well-meant advice
of friends who know no higher goal than personal success, who have no
glimmering of the motives that impel a great soul, who would fain tell
the thunderbolt where it shall strike. Every great man lives alone; he
has no friends and no disciples. His equals follow their own ends; his
inferiors cannot breathe in the regions where he dwells. He must rely
upon himself. Without this full dominion Wagner would not have been
himself; he would never have founded Bayreuth, never have had his
greater works performed, never even have composed them. And this
brings us to the most conspicuous feature of his character, the centre
of everything, namely, his uncompromising sincerity and truthfulness,
qualities so magnificent in him that I doubt whether they have ever
been equalled in any other, qualities which show Wagner no less great
"as man" than he is "as artist."

It is certain--and no one knew it better than himself--that Wagner
might easily have been successful from the first if he had liked. He
might have been wealthy, popular, petted by the great, have lived in
the luxury that he loved, at peace with all the world, if he had only
consented to traffic with his art and to produce what the public
wanted. For assuredly his talent for writing operas on the old lines
was not inferior to that of Meyerbeer or Rossini. His _Rienzi_
was the greatest immediate success of his whole life when grand
operas, of which it is the type, were fashionable, and a few more
works of the kind would have raised him above all anxiety for his
livelihood. This can scarcely be questioned now; it has been asserted
again and again by those who most hated him, and who were in the habit
of denouncing him as "past help" because he refused to listen to them.
To do so he would have had to sacrifice all that he held sacred. He
had "hitched his waggon to a star," and deliberately chose poverty,
exile, public calumny and ridicule, domestic unrest, rather than allow
the purity of his art to be sullied by departing for an instant from
the ideals after which he strove. Witness the events of the fateful
seventies, when his financial straits were perhaps at their worst,
when all the powers of Germany, statesmen, theatrical Intendants,
press, singers, seemed in league together to thwart the project of
Bayreuth upon which his all depended; when even King Louis of Bavaria
cooled for a time; when Bülow and Liszt had withdrawn their help, and
Nietzsche had seceded in horror and despair; when the first effort of
Bayreuth had left a ruinous debt, and the failure of the
_Patronat-Vereine_ shut off the last faint ray of hope. Well
might the _Meister_, now advancing in age, have thought of
accepting one of the dazzling offers which repeatedly reached him from
Russia, from America, from Vienna, Berlin, Leipzig, and other places.
But he only saw in them lures to tempt him into degrading his art by
commercial speculation with all its paraphernalia of advertisement and
other sordid abominations. Never once did his courage falter; no
thought of any concession, however small, however seemingly
reasonable, which he held to be dishonourable to his art ever found a
place in his mind. The surrender of _Die Walküre_ alone would
probably have turned the tide in his favour, and he was pressed for it
by most of the great theatres, but in vain. To mutilate the
_Ring_ was in his opinion to dishonour it and prepare the way for
its being misunderstood. So far from adopting any one of the many
courses which could not fail to lead to success and popularity we find
him occupied during this time in coaching singers personally, in
building his theatre, and devising schemes for a school of technique
where musicians, and especially singers, could learn the true methods
of their art, naturally--though perhaps imprudently--believing that
before his works could be understood as he meant them they must be
rightly represented. Without funds! without patronage! with nothing
but his own determined will! Can we wonder that the world's head was
turned by such a gigantic personality?

Let those who call Wagner self-willed and perverse because he could
not conform to _their_ notions of what is right for an artist,
who attempt to measure an infinite mind by the paltry canons of
self-interest, reflect upon the harvest that we are now reaping from
his unswerving loyalty to his art. To him alone, and to the conductors
whom he trained, do we owe the almost perfect performances of our
modern orchestras. It has been truly observed that Wagner's own
immensely difficult works are better performed at the present day than
were the far easier works of his predecessors before he came. The
Richters and Mottls and Schuchs of our day are a very different race
from the Reissigers and Lachners and Costas of a past generation. It
was Richter who taught us in London how a symphony of Beethoven ought
to sound; before he came, performances were approved which the present
day would not tolerate. He, as well as his great compeers, was brought
up in the school of Wagner, the essence of which lies in
_correctness_, in rendering the work as the composer intended it,
with conscientious attention to every detail, not only of notes, but
of rhythm, tempo, phrasing, dynamics, instead of the slovenly muddling
which then passed for breadth of style, and the substitution of the
conductor's own subjectivity for that of the composer. It has been
well expressed in a few incisive words by one of the greatest of the
school: "The privilege of an interesting subjectivity is given to few,
its expression will always give evidence of that instinctive logic
which is a necessary condition of intelligibility."[6] Call Wagner
perverse, dislike his art, say that his dramas are chaos and his music
discord--all this you have a right to do; but you cannot refuse your
homage to his rectitude of purpose, his courageous and resolute
struggle for the ideals which were before him.

[Footnote 6: I have translated rather freely so as to give the general
sense, as von Bülow's German is not always very easy to follow. It
will be found in his comments upon Beethoven's _Fantasie_, Op. 77.]

This is the secret of what is known as the modern German spirit--close
attention to every detail, faithfulness to the work in hand, with the
conviction that no part of the organism is so trifling as not to be
vital. This it was, and not bookish education, that inspired the
German army in its victories of 1870-71; this spirit it was that
enabled the Meiningers in 1882 to fill our Drury Lane Theatre to
overflowing with performances of our own Shakespeare in a foreign
language. At the present day it still continues to actuate German
trade and German handicrafts, while we English in our blindness think
to dispose of it by cant phrases and sneers.

To the nearer friends of his home-circle Wagner's personality must
have been singularly attractive, from the intelligent sympathy which
he showed with everything human, and from the irrepressible gaiety
which never forsook him for long. In times of stress it helped those
around him to tide through the most crushing disasters.

Genius is not a thing apart by itself, severed from the rest of the
world. Its one distinguishing mark is its intense humanity. If I may
speak in paradox, the true poet is more truly ourselves than we are.
The astronomical telescope is constructed upon the same principles as
the terrestrial one, only it is more powerful and more perfectly made.
Not only the lenses, but all the details of the mechanism are more
highly finished; more thought and more labour are bestowed upon them;
the parts are more skilfully co-ordinated together; it is a better
instrument. We do wrong to genius in connecting it with mental
aberration; it is more normal, more perfectly human, than we are; more
human in its virtues, in its faults, in its follies, above all, in its
consummate beauty; only with its greater perfection the organism
becomes more delicate, and is more easily injured. For genius is
exposed to heavier strains than we are, because it is in uncongenial
surroundings. If one part happen to be imperfect, if, as we say, "a
screw be loose," the injury is more serious than in ordinary natures,
and the exquisite adjustments may suffer in the rude handling of a
stupid and clumsy environment, wrecking the whole system. This, and
not natural proclivity, is the reason why genius so often shows a
tendency to eccentric and abnormal conduct. The fault is with society,
which feels instinctively that those who rise too high in excellence
must be crushed. And this is the theme of every real tragedy. Othello,
Lear, Njál, Grettir, Clarissa Harlowe, the Maid of Orleans, Antigone,
Prometheus, and, as I hope to show, Tristan and Isolde, these are but
a few among those who must perish from no fault in themselves, but
because they are too noble for their surroundings.

"The greater the man, the greater his love." We should not set the
genius on a pedestal to be first gaped at and then ridiculed. He needs
before all else our love and our sympathy; for his nature is
essentially that of a child, and, childlike, he craves for human love
as the first necessity of his life. To those who set up an idol of
their own fancy and worship that as his image, he will be cold and
repellent, but to those who know him as he really is he will return
their love with all the warmth and purity of his childlike nature. Two
things are intolerable to a healthy-minded child--rough brutality and
mawkish caressing; Wagner was fated to endure a full share of both. It
is touching to read of Wagner's simple affection for those who were
around him in humble capacities. Every one who has read his life knows
of his kindliness to his domestic servants. Now it is the village
barber who is "gar zu theuer," now his gondola-man in Venice. His love
for animals has been perhaps too much dwelt upon by his biographers,
but it is very characteristic.

Mankind is not divided into Wagnerites and anti-Wagnerites; nor is it
divided into Romanists and Protestants, nor into theologians and
rationalists, nor into Tories and Radicals, nor into any other of our
familiar party divisions. The true division is into great men and
small, lovers of truth and sophists, honest men and thieves. Thieves
and sophists wrangle, but the great and true "join hands through the
centuries," and between them is eternal peace.


Wagner's Theoretical Writings

Nothing probably has more tended to discredit Wagner's art with
thoughtful people than the statement sometimes made by his following
that he has created a new art. Wagner himself never made any such
claim. When he speaks of a new indigenous art of pure German growth,
he is merely contrasting it with the foreign art--Italian operas and
French plays--upon which Germans had lived hitherto. When an art, like
music or the drama, begins to flourish on a new soil, it is certain to
exhibit new features, to show new developments, so that with respect
to its external physiognomy it may in a sense be called new; but far
truer is the very opposite statement, that Wagner's art is as old as
art itself; its greatness lies not in any novelty of invention, but in
his having developed the old forms into something dreamed of by his
predecessors but never achieved before.

We often hear about Wagner's "theories," as if he had composed his
art-works in accordance with some theoretical scheme. After a fairly
close study of Wagner's writings extending over a great many years I
must confess my inability to say what his peculiar theories were. The
employment of music as an element of the dramatic expression was no
invention of Wagner. What he found out was how to maintain the
different elements, words, acting, music, in a natural relation to one
another in the drama. This is art, not theory; we learn it from his
works, not from his writings. It is true that Wagner's writings
contain many very interesting and valuable speculations on artistic
problems. If these are his theories, he must have abjured them the
moment that he set to work composing. In _Oper und Drama_, for
example, he has a very interesting discussion on the value of
consonants in the German language and on the characteristic difference
between the expression of the consonant and that of the vowel,
arriving at the conclusion that alliteration is better suited for the
German musical drama than the imported rime. Further, he shows--rather
convincingly, I think--that the true subject for the drama is
mythical. But not long after this he wrote _Tristan und Isolde_,
in which alliteration is generally discarded for rime or blank verse,
and a little later _Meistersinger_, which is a comedy of domestic
life, and has nothing to do with mythology. Then there are the
_Leitmotivs_ which are used so methodically in the _Ring_
that it would seem there must have been some preconceived system. But
Wagner never once mentions _Leitmotivs_ in his writings, nor did
he invent them. They have been dragged into the light by von Wolzogen,
and whatever theories we have about them are due to him, not to

There is indeed one doctrine which runs through all his writings, and
may be taken as their general text, namely, that art is not an
amusement but a serious undertaking, consequently that purity and
truthfulness are just as necessary in art as in actual life. It is no
excuse for the artist who deceives to say that his work is "only
poetry," and has no serious significance. He carried this exalted
notion of the mission of art almost to excess, if such a thing is
possible with so noble an idea, when he insisted upon art being a
matter of national concern. All the serious mistakes which he made in
his life, those acts which the sober judgment of his most ardent
admirers must condemn as ill-advised, sprang from his desire to
identify art with national life, for example, his part in the Saxon
revolution of 1849, his proceedings in Munich, in 1865,[7] his
attempts to influence Bismarck, etc.

[Footnote 7: See Note I. at the end of this chapter.]

Wagner's literary works are not easy reading; his German style, though
grammatical and idiomatic, is generally very involved and obscure,
often turgid. There is a want of self-discipline about the thought,
and he is too hasty in committing ill-digested thoughts ill-arranged
to print, while his style is full of tedious mannerisms, such as his
constant use of futile superlatives for positives, the constant
occurrence of certain words not always in their natural meaning, such
as _Bewusstsein_, _Erlösung_, etc. It is in marked contrast
to the lucid and finished workmanship of his dramatic and musical
composition. His dislike for theoretical exposition, and the
constraint under which he wrote are too manifest in his language.
Nevertheless, the reader who perseveres will be rewarded. The
fascination which Wagner's writings have for thinking minds is due to
the importance of the problems involved. As Dannreuther has observed,
wherever Wagner was brought to a stand a social problem lies buried;
the problems which engage his attention are those which lie at the
root of all art and all life. We may not always approve of the
solutions which he offers, but we cannot fail to be interested. And as
we travel on we gradually become aware of brilliant spots of verdure,
passages here and there--sometimes sudden flashes, sometimes whole
pages where the language and the thought are equally remarkable. What,
for example, could be more admirable than this description of Mozart?

  His artistic nature was as the unruffled surface of
  a clear watery mirror to which the lovely blossom of
  Italian music inclined to see, to know, to love itself
  therein. It was but the surface of a deep and infinite
  sea of longing and desire rising from fathomless depths
  to gain form and beauty from the gentle greeting of the
  lovely flower bending, as if thirsting to discover
  in him the secret of its own nature.[8]

Could any words give more concisely the peculiar character of the much
misunderstood Mozart, "the most delicate genius of light and love,"
"the most richly gifted of all musicians"? Does it not tell us more
than all the outpourings of Oulibichef?

[Footnote 8: _Ges. Schr._ (1872), iii. p. 304.]

Or this, in speaking of the formation of the opera and the demand for
better libretti after the period of Spontini?

  The poet was ashamed to offer his master wooden
  hobbies when he was able to mount a real steed and
  knew quite well how to handle the bridle, to guide
  the steed hither and thither in the well-trodden
  riding-school of the opera. Without this musical
  bridle neither musician nor poet would have dared to
  mount him lest he should leap high over all the fences
  away into his own wild and beautiful home in nature

I must apologize for these extracts to those of my readers who are
able to follow the original, and I hope that others may yet feel
something of the warmth of Wagner's language even in the feeble shadow
of a very free paraphrase. Many more might be gathered from his works
to show how vivid and forcible was Wagner's prose when he once threw
off the restraint of cold logical reasoning. Other passages well
worthy of perusal as specimens of his better style are the description
of the theatrical sunset in _le Prophète_, and especially the
admirably worked-out metaphor of the _Volkslied_ as a wild flower
in vol. iii. of his collected works, pp. 309 and 372 seq.

[Footnote 9: _Ges. Schr_., iii, p. 298.]

Very different views have been expressed about Wagner in his capacity
of philosopher. To some he appears as a verbose dilettante totally
unable to put two ideas logically together, while others look up to
him as a teacher of the profoundest truths. I cannot say that either
view is wrong. On the one hand he possessed the deep insight which is
the first qualification for a philosopher, but is found in so few; on
the other he lacked the patience to express himself logically, feeling
that in his art he wielded a far more powerful means of persuasion
than logic. Those who persevere in studying his writings until they
master what he really was aiming at cannot fail at last to admit that
as philosopher he is at least suggestive, as art-critic he is amongst
the very first of all times, worthy of a place beside Plato,[10]
Lessing, Ruskin.

[Footnote 10: See Note II. at end of this chapter.]

A critical discussion of only the more important of the problems
raised by Wagner would require not one volume but several. For the
purpose of this book, which is only to help readers in understanding
his works, I must confine myself to the one which directly bears upon
his artistic production, namely, that of the organic union of all the
arts into one supreme art, which as their crown and completion may be
designated "art," as a universal, in distinction from the separate
individual "arts." Such art, [Greek: kat' e'xochaen], can only be the
drama, which already holds a position of its own above all the other
arts from the fact that these only _depict_ or _describe_
while the drama _represents_; its characters actually enact the
events to be expressed, whence the expression is marked by a
directness and vividness not possible to the other arts. The natural
tendency which different arts show to unite and support each other is
evident in many familiar phenomena, as, for example, illustrated
books. Lessing, in his luminous essay, has traced the limits of the
arts of depicting (painting and sculpture) and of describing (poetry).
Painting with him is the art of rest, poetry that of movement.
Wagner's theory asserts that each art, when it reaches its natural
limits, tends to call in the help of another art to express what lies
beyond its own domain. If the two are able to coalesce so as to become
organically one, it will be found that the expressive power of each
has been enormously enhanced by the union, just as the union of a man
with a woman in marriage enhances the value of each for the community.

With Lessing painting and sculpture are determined by the law of
beauty (_Schönheit_); poetry is the wider art, including all the
elements of painting, but not bound by the same restrictions. Who can
forget his fine contrast of the howling Philoktetes in _Sophokles_ with
the gently sighing Laokoon, both in mortal agony, but the latter unable
to express his pain because, being in marble, he dared not distort his
countenance? With Wagner the notion of beauty (_Schönheit_)[11]
belongs by its very definition exclusively to the arts that address the
sense of sight, painting and sculpture, and from them it has been
transferred to music, but as a metaphor only. To speak literally of
"beautiful music" would be a contradiction in terms.

[Footnote 11: It should be noted that the German and English words,
having a totally different origin, differ somewhat in meaning.
"_Schönheit_" comes from "_schauen_," and has therefore
reference to the sense of sight, while "beauty" is from the root of
_bene_, _bonus_, and was originally a moral conception, not
a sensual one at all. In modern language the meaning of the two words
is practically identical, but the distinction is very important for
the understanding of Wagner. _Schönheit_ with him means
_sensual_ beauty.]

The one aim of dramatic technique must always be to obtain the utmost
clearness, truthfulness, and completeness of _expression_. I must
confess that many years ago, when I first began the study of Wagner,
filled with the enthusiastic Hellenism of Schiller, I was not a little
startled at Wagner's apparent insistence upon truthful expression at
the expense of beauty, and could not but feel that it was contradicted
by every movement of his music. No doubt many others have felt the
same hesitation; but there really is no cause for alarm. Wagner's is
the true doctrine. Let us turn for a moment to another art, that of
architecture, where the line of demarcation between decoration and
construction is easy to recognize. Wagner's position, if applied to
architecture, would be that the builder has only to consider how to
construct in the best possible way to attain the purpose for which the
building is intended, and elegance of external appearance must be
subservient to that. If he do this skilfully, so that every part is
seen to unite harmoniously with all the others to form an organic
whole, there will emerge quite of itself a gracefulness, an artistic
beauty, founded in truth, which are high above all intentionally
constructed decoration. It is the beauty and truth of nature, that of
adaptation to an end. There is no question of sacrificing euphony,
melody, or anything at all; on the contrary, the doctrine declares
that by right adaptation the expressive power and beauty of every part
will be enhanced. The notion that Wagner's music is unmelodious had
its origin in the bad musical ears of his early critics.

The arts of design, i.e. painting, sculpture, and the kindred arts,
are in space alone, and movement is excluded from them. The arts of
expression, gesture, poetry, and music are all arts of movement in
time. The first named, therefore, must necessarily take external
beauty (_Schönheit_) as their sole guide and must confine their
attention exclusively to the superficial appearance of the objects
they imitate. They can only arrive at the inner character indirectly,
through its external manifestation, and in the hands of an inferior
artist the step is an easy one to pretence and falsehood. Defective
construction can easily be hidden beneath an outer covering of
graceful forms which distract the eye from noticing the weakness and
falsehood beneath. We need only look around us at the decoration of
any modern drawing-room to find gross examples of such perversion of
art. This explains Wagner's mistrust--noticeable especially in his
earlier writings--of the arts of design with their principle of
beauty. An artist who possesses true poetic inspiration will be in no
danger of falling into errors of this kind; with him external beauty
is expression of inner goodness, as it is in nature, who never covers
up defects by external ornament.

We have therefore to recognize two distinct kinds of beauty in art,
two kinds of pleasure that we experience: external, with which
painting and sculpture are alone directly concerned--beauty in the
narrow sense; and inner or organic. Wagner has expressed it in a
sentence which defies even a free translation. Speaking of the lovely
melodies of the Italian opera he says: "_Nicht das schlagende Herz
der Nachtigall begriff man, sondern nur ihren Kehlschlag_." Men
cared only for the pleasing sound of the nightingale's voice, nothing
for the beating heart from which it sprang.

We are now able to understand his famous doctrine that the drama is
the end, music the means, and therefore secondary. In the Italian
opera the relation was reversed; music was made the end, the drama
being only a vehicle for the music. This is dramatically wrong, and
has led to a false and unnatural form of art; in the drama music can
only be a means of dramatic expression.

It is necessary here to enter a caution against a very serious
misunderstanding into which many of Wagner's critics have fallen, a
misunderstanding very natural to those who look upon the drama as a
literary production. It has been supposed that Wagner intended to
subordinate the music to the poetry, as if the function of music were
to illustrate and vivify the more definite thought contained in the
words. This view has been held by many critics, from Aristotle
onwards. It was the view of Gluck, and will be found formulated in the
_épître dédicatoire_ prefixed to his _Alceste_. Wagner's theory is
essentially different and is peculiarly his own. With him the _drama_
denotes, not the text-book, but the actual performance on the stage,
in which there are three co-ordinate elements, acting, words, and
music, not one of which is subordinate to the others, but all of equal
value, expressing different sides of the dramatic subject-matter. Of
the inability of words in themselves to inspire music, he is very
emphatic: "No verses of a poet, not even of a Goethe or a Schiller,
can determine the music. The drama alone can do this, i.e. not the
dramatic poem, but the actual drama as it moves before our eyes as
the visible counterpart of the music."

In order to be effective the union of the three elements must be
_organic_, and I must now explain what is meant. When we speak of
a work of art as an _organism_ we mean that the different parts
of which it is composed co-operate together towards the purpose of the
whole in such a way that not one of them is superfluous or could be
dispensed with. It resembles in this respect the products of nature,
and life, which is only a complex form of organized activity. In the
higher natural products, especially those we speak of as
_living_, the single parts are not dead weights, but are
themselves organisms, containing within them individual and complete
systems of living forces, acting independently, and at the same time,
as subordinate units contributing to the purpose of the whole, so that
shortly we may say that, as each part is conditioned by the whole, so
the whole is conditioned by the single parts. When a person loses a
limb, and has it replaced by an artificial one, his first impression
is of the enormous weight of the new limb, although it may only weigh
about a quarter of the old one. This is explained by the fact that the
new limb is a dead weight, whereas the former one was a living
organism. That is to say, when he lifted it, the nervous impulses
transmitted from the brain were sustained and enforced by forces
within the limb itself; being alive it _helped_ in the effort,
whereas the mechanical limb, however perfect its adaptation, will
always remain a piece of dead mechanism, a separate thing from the
body to which it is attached and simply opposing its own inertia to
the nervous effort.

In the _mechanical_ joining together of parts, each remains
isolated; if one be abstracted the others remain as they were, while
in an _organic_ union they combine to a whole, and if one be
withdrawn the whole is destroyed, or at least vitally impaired. This
furnishes us with a criterion for the technical construction of every
work of art, whatever it be; each single part must contribute its
share towards the whole; there must be nothing superfluous. The work
has an idea to express; if we find (in a drama, for example) that no
scene, no single speech even, or sentence, can be omitted without
impairing the work as a whole, and weakening its expression, then the
work is technically as perfect as it can possibly be made; its value
will then depend only on that of the idea to be expressed.

Now let us turn to Wagner's criticism of the sunrise scene in _le
Prophète_, which I mentioned a few pages back, in the first part of
_Oper und Drama_.[12] Here was a unique opportunity for a great
dramatic artist. After the representation, not unskilfully contrived,
of the victorious career of a young and aspiring hero, in the supreme
moment of his destiny, the sun rises, adding its glory to his triumph,
as if the very heavens were shedding their blessing upon the deeds of
a noble man;--so it might have been. But Meyerbeer and Scribe care
nothing for that; such is not the effect either felt by the audience
or intended by the poet. The latter had nothing higher in his mind
than a grand spectacular effect, which may be omitted without the rest
of the drama being any the worse, and the result is in the worst sense
theatrical, but not poetic--"effect without a cause."

[Footnote 12: _Ges. Schr., iii, p. 372.]

Compare with this the scene in the third act of _Parsifal_. The
verdant landscape is here no mere theatrical decoration; if it were,
we should scarcely go into a theatre to see what can be seen in far
greater perfection in any green place on a spring morning. It is the
dramatic representation of an idea perhaps suggested to Wagner by
Goethe's _Faust_, but as old as Christianity itself. The task is
achieved; the spear has been regained, and all nature smiling in its
flowery robes rejoices in the redemption of that Easter morning; even
the withered flower-maidens add their strains to the universal chorus.
How is such a miracle possible? Only by music in organic union with
the dramatic situation. Persuasive as a living person it is able to
carry us into realms far beyond those of language and reason, to the
realm of wonder. The decorations of the Grand Opéra are as artificial
and mechanical as modern dress; they are imposed by the fashion of the
day, the caprice of the luxurious, and stand in no relation to the
body to which they are fitted.[13]

[Footnote 13: Those who are interested in the subject will find some
admirable observations in Lessing's _Hamburger Dramaturgie_,
11tes. and 12tes. Stück, where the critic compares the ghost of Ninus
in Voltaire's _Semiramis_ with the ghost in _Hamlet_. He
condemns the former because it is nothing more than a poetical
machine, while Shakespeare's is one of the persons of the drama. His
position is essentially the same as Wagner's.]

The loose construction of the Italian opera has at least one
advantage; it can be trimmed to suit the local exigencies of
performance. With the new drama this was impossible. Wagner's
insistent refusal to permit any mutilation of his work always appeared
to Intendants and Impresarii who were anxious to meet him halfway like
monstrous egotism. What Rossini and Meyerbeer had always consented to
without the smallest hesitation might, they thought, content a Richard
Wagner. The reports of the Intendants to their respective Governments,
of Lüttichau in the forties, of Royer in Paris in 1861, show how far
the authorities were from understanding the nature either of the work
which they were undertaking or of the man with whom they had to deal.
Rossini and Meyerbeer had never had any other aim than their own
personal success; with Wagner the integrity of his art was far above
all personal considerations. On this point no concession on the
composer's side was possible. You may take five shillings out of a
sovereign and there still remain fifteen shillings, but if you take a
wheel from a watch the whole mechanism is destroyed; it was just this
that distinguished his productions from operas, and in conceding the
principle that they might be trimmed he would have surrendered

It might seem superfluous to have dwelt so long upon a point which,
when clearly laid out, can scarcely be controverted, were it not that
it has been continually misunderstood, not only by nearly everybody at
the present day, but even by critics of the rank of Gluck, Goethe, and
Grillparzer. To speak either of music as enforcing the words or of the
words as forming a basis for musical expression is to place one of
them--in the former case music, in the latter the words--in an
inferior position towards the other, whereas they are organic parts of
the whole, and co-equals. Wherever either principle is adopted it will
result in that very looseness of construction which is the vital
infirmity of the Italian opera. And the poetry will be of the kind
fashionable with some literary people under the name "lines for
music," the principle of which seems to be Voltaire's: _Ce qui est
trop sot pour etre dit, on le chante_. Once the principle of
organic unity is conceded as the first and most vital condition of a
work of art, the rest of Wagner's doctrine follows directly. The
governing whole is the drama, the thing to be enacted in its actual
representation on the stage, and the different elements, gesture,
music, words, are the instruments of its expression, to be so
co-ordinated together that each shall express just that which it alone
is able to express and no more. The first outcome of the union when
rightly and skilfully effected is to impart the one quality which is
the final and only aim of all artistic technique--clearness of
expression. The new drama can represent not only higher ideas, but can
express them more intelligibly than that which uses words alone.

It will now perhaps be asked why these three particular arts and no
others have been selected for dramatic purposes. Because they are the
three ways in which all living beings utter their thoughts. They have
belonged together from the beginning, and still do so; they have
parted company for a time, but have never been divorced.

Before considering this it will be well for me to explain some terms
which I shall have to use in the following. Poetry has commonly been
divided into "lyric", "epic," and "dramatic"; these terms answer to
three different phases of expression. Lyric poetry is the purely
subjective emotion of the poet uttering itself in words. Epic poetry
on the other hand deals with things and people external to the poet.
The drama is, as we have seen, not poetry at all; the actors perform
the acts themselves, using words only to explain the reasons for their
acts; dramatic poetry therefore involves both lyric and epic elements.

The most primitive, most natural, and simplest means by which a living
being can utter itself is gesture--action. It is not necessary to
speculate on prehistoric conditions. We need only observe the world
around us, the behaviour of our friends and acquaintances,
particularly those of South-European blood, to recognize how direct
and eloquent is the expression of gesture. On the stage a simple
series of dramatic actions can be fully represented by gesture and
scenery alone with a very high intensity of emotional expression.

All movement in nature is rhythmic. I need not trouble my readers with
the evidences of a fact which is well known in science, but will refer
them to the lucid demonstration in Herbert Spencer's _First
Principles_, Pt. II., ch. 10.

Rhythmic gesture then, or dancing, is the most primitive art, and it
is purely lyric, i.e. subjective. It is very important to bear this
fact of dancing, of which acting is only a species, as the primitive
form of art before our minds. It is common to men and animals. I have
often wondered whether the extraordinary development of Wagner's
histrionic faculty did not stand in some mysterious relation to the
close sympathy which existed between him and that most consummate of
all actors--the dog.

The vital activity of the throat and vocal cords becomes sound; song
may therefore be considered as a peculiarly specialized form of
gesture, but with the radical difference that as a vehicle of
expression it addresses the ear, not the eye. The fact that it enters
the brain through a different channel gives the art of sound an
entirely different character from that of gesture proper; moreover,
from being in time only, not in space, it is apprehended more
immediately by the inner sense, and the impression received is more
intimate, more forcible. Still it retains the same lyric or subjective

It was, I believe, Lord Monboddo who first observed that inarticulate
sound, music in its most primitive form, is the earliest form of
utterance, and is prior to language. Lord Monboddo's researches into
the origin and progress of language (1773) were valued so highly by
Herder that they were at his instance translated into German. The
conclusion at which he arrived, that the most primitive form of
utterance is not language but music, that language grew out of song
just as the art of writing grew out of picture-painting, is especially
valuable from the fact that it was afterwards adopted by Charles

[Footnote 14: Descent of Man, Pt. III., ch. 19. The whole of that part
of the chapter may be read in this connection. Unfortunately, the
speculations are somewhat vitiated by the _idée fixe_ of modern
science that everything must be referred to "courtship." i.e.

The "music" which Darwin and Lord Monboddo conceive as the vocal
expression of primitive man is of course not the highly-wrought
product which we now understand under that term; we may suppose it to
have been _rhythmic_ but not _metric_. It was nearer to the
cries of wild animals, and to some it may seem at first absurd to
describe such sounds as music at all. I do not think so; on the
contrary I find in the cries of some animals and many birds all the
essential qualities of music. They have tone, rhythm, cadence, in a
very high degree, and also melody, though vague and rudimentary. The
essential difference between melody and mere succession of sounds
consists in its being intelligible, that is, in its conforming to a
scale or musical scheme of some sort, but that scale is not
necessarily the one recognized in modern music. Our ears are so
accustomed to associate melody with a certain diatonic scale, and with
accompanying harmony, actual or potential, that it is very difficult
for us to comprehend as melody successions which do not conform to
that scheme, as, for example, the melodies of Oriental nations, the
scales of which are far more complex and difficult to understand than
ours. It is a very remarkable fact that while the course of evolution
is generally from simpler to more complex organisms, that of the
musical scale is just the reverse. Primitive scales are highly
complex, and involve intervals not appreciable by us as melody; with
time they gradually become simpler; and in the diatonic scale,
especially in its most modern developments, where the distinction
between major and minor tends to become effaced,[15] we seem to have
reached the limit, and the scale is reduced to the simplest possible
numerical relations. However this may be, I know that to a person who
has lived in close converse with nature and possesses a musical ear
the cries of wild animals and birds are full of melody in the strict
sense, though it is rudimentary and different from that of our
concert-rooms. And it is reasonable to suppose that man, when he first
emerged with far more highly organized faculties than any beast, would
gradually raise his musical expression into something higher,
something more melodious, than that of other creatures. Particularly
as his reason developed he would devise a scale; the rhythms would
become more definite and at the same time more varied and complex. The
result of these improvements would be to make his utterances more

[Footnote 15: Such is the deduction which I draw from recent theories
of harmony. See in this connection _Neue musikatische Theorien und
Phantasien_ (Stuttgart, 1906), § 40. Also Louis and Thuille,
_Harmonielehre_ (1908), especially Pt. I., ch. 6. The idea can be
traced back to Hauptmann.]

Helmholtz has observed that there is much more in a musical sound than
its mere _timbre_, and Wagner has noticed how every musical
instrument has not only its vowel sound, or _timbre_, but also
its peculiar consonant. We need not go so far as to connect the flute
with an "f," the trumpet with a "t," etc., since the instrumental
consonants need not conform exactly with those of the alphabet; it is
enough that each instrument has its own characteristic way of
attacking the tone. So we gain the idea of articulation; the point of
its entry into the musical expression marks the beginning of

Hitherto the expression has been, as we have seen, purely lyric; the
lower animals have no other. But as man rises out of his bestial
condition and acquires reason his wants become more numerous and
diverse. The mere expression of his inner feelings no longer suffices;
he differentiates objects in the external world, and needs
sounds--names--to express them. For this he utilizes the newly
developed faculty of language. It is the most momentous crisis of his
development, the point where he becomes a human being, severed by a
wide gap from other animals, and incomparably above them. The mark of
language has from the first rightly been made the _crux_ of the
theory of the evolution of man; it is the natural inevitable outcome
of his developing the faculty of reason. Thus the need for
communicating the perceptions of external objects calls forth
_epic_ expression.[16]

[Footnote 16: "Auf das was vor mir steht zeige ich; was in mir vorgeht
drücke ich durch Töne und Gebehrden aus; was aber abwesend oder einst
geschah bedarf, wenn es vernehmlich werden soll einer zusammenhangend
geordneten Rede. So ward das Epos."--Herder, _Kalligone_.]

We may now lay down a scheme of the three fundamental vehicles of
human expression based on their historical development. We have

  _Emotional or subjective:_
      Gesture--obvious and material.
      Music--warmer, deeper, and more spiritual.
  _Rational or objective:_

But a warning must be added against pressing this classification
unduly. All schemes of nature are only approximate; there are no such
sharply divided compartments into which our notions may be
pigeon-holed. Language may of course be intensely emotional, but we
may notice that just in proportion as it becomes emotional it calls in
the aid of music; the voice becomes melodious, it develops rhythm,
accent, cadence, and ultimately becomes poetry, which is language
united with a large element of music.

Students of economic science have of recent years given attention to
ethnology, and their researches into the origin and primitive
characteristics of labour have brought to light some facts which are
very interesting to us. The familiar distinction between _work_
and _play_ has no root in nature. Animals do not look upon their
labours as a painful task, only to be endured for a time and then to
be rewarded by an interval of diversion; to the horse or the dog the
day's work is the day's treat; and so with those men whom we
contemptuously call "savages." It is the same with artists; no artist
has mastered the technique of his work until it has become a pleasure
and a plaything to him. There could not be a more significant comment
on the unnaturalness of a civilization in which periods of leisure for
the workman have to be wrung from the community by legislation. The
true workman, like the true artist, is never happy unless he is at
work; he needs no diversion.

Of the greatest interest to us are the results of the inquiries of
economists into the relations between work, rhythm, and song amongst
primitive people. Especially valuable is a treatise by Dr. Karl
Bucher, professor of national economy in Leipzig, entitled _Arbeit
und Rhythmus_, which ought to find many readers in England if it
were translated. I know few modern books that are more fascinating,
and it would be hard to say whether its charm lies more in its solid
scientific method or in its admirable literary presentation and apt
illustrations from the delicate verse-song of the most primitive

"_Im Anfang war der Rhythmus_." According to Dr. Bücher, all
work, when efficient, tends to be rhythmic and each kind of work has
its peculiar rhythm. This is especially the case when the labour is
carried out in common by a number of people, and the rhythm is
embodied in a song, or rhythmic word of command sung by the leader.
Innumerable instances will at once occur to everybody--rowing,
hauling, marching, sewing, mowing, etc. In primitive people the
impulse to sing the rhythm is even more marked than it is among
ourselves, with whom the pressure of civilization helps to suppress
all natural expression of feeling, and the disturbance of so many
cross rhythms tends to obliterate the primary pulsations. The rhythm
is an essential part of the work, and not a mere ornamental adjunct;
people sing, not to "keep their spirits up," but to help on the work;
until the workman has acquired the rhythm he works imperfectly, and
tires very quickly. Those forms of work which do not admit rhythm,
such as adding figures, copying MSS., etc., are the most fatiguing.
Still more so is labour where the natural rhythm is subject to
frequent interruptions. Hence walking in the streets of a town is much
more wearying than walking in the country; you have to break the
rhythm at every few steps and never get the "swing." The constant
interruptions of rhythm by goods in shop-windows, advertisements,
etc., is, I am sure, largely the cause of nervous degeneracy in towns.

It cannot surprise us to find that amongst primitive people dancing is
the most universal occupation. All dance, dance to frenzy. Originally
the dance does not express joy or any other emotion; it is simply the
human impulse to activity, work, the most fundamental thing in human
nature. From the dance rhythm finds its way into music and poetry,
both being in the beginning intended to accompany dancing. One thing
is certain, that neither music nor the dance originated in sexuality.
Eroticism scarcely ever occurs in the poetry of primitive peoples. It
enters at a later stage.

It is not necessary to trace how, out of these primitive beginnings,
there grew the ancient drama of the more civilized countries, always
retaining the three elements from which it had sprung in closest
union. Speaking of the Indian drama in the time of the semi-mythical
Bharata, the Indian Thespis, Sir Monier Williams writes:

  The drama of these early times was probably
  nothing more than the Indian Nautch of the present
  day. It was a species of rude pantomime, in which
  dancing and movements of the body were accompanied
  by mute gestures of the hands and face, or by singing
  and music. _Subsequently dialogue was added_....

In Greece the early lyric epoch is represented by the Paians,
Dithyrambs, etc., at the festivals of Apollo and Dionysos, rhythmic
dances to accompaniment of cithara or flute, with words generally
improvised. Out of the Bacchic dithyrambs grew the tragedy. In the
works of the great Attic tragedians the chorus, or dance-song, which
had descended from earlier times still remained the principal feature
of the representation. It was the drama that crystallized out of the
music and dance, not the music that was called in to support or adorn
the drama. Not until the time of Euripides did the chorus become a
secondary element of the representation, and from this time on the
drama begins to decline, becoming more and more a literary product.

It would be a worthy undertaking for a competent student to set
himself the task of bringing order into the chaos of Wagner's
theoretical writings. They are crowded with thoughts of the deepest
import, which seem to point the way to further inquiry, but which
remain suggestions only. The most tiresome quality in Wagner's
literary style is that he scarcely ever comes to the point. Whenever
he asserts a rule in clear and unmistakable language, it is either
brought in almost parenthetically amidst a mass of rhetoric, or--as,
for example, in the dictum of music being a means to the dramatic
end--he treats it with scorn, as something too obvious to be stated.
In either case its chances of gaining the reader's attention are
seriously diminished by such wrong method. A student who should
undertake the task of ordering his thought would need to possess, in
addition to the highest musical and dramatic qualifications a
metaphysical habit of mind such as is rare at the present day, and a
sympathetic capacity for discerning the grains of golden truth amidst
the dross. He must construct anew. Wagner's theoretical edifice will
not stand as it is; it is too loosely jointed; but the materials are
valuable. That there will ever be a real science of aesthetics I do
not believe; art would cease to be art if it lost its mystery. For the
present at least we must be content to remain in darkness as to the
precise conditions of musical expression, and eschew theory. That
music does reveal the nature of things in a way different from words
can scarcely be questioned. So, too, does all nature through its
silent music reveal more than meets the senses. But we cannot say
exactly how or why. Enough that the divine reason whereby the world is
fashioned is not the same as our human reason, and will not be forced
into its forms.




Although I have no intention of defending the extravagances of the
Wittelsbach kings and may say at once that my sympathies are entirely
with the patriotic citizens of Munich who in 1865 succeeded in turning
Wagner out of a position which he ought never to have held, it is only
fair to point out that even from the standpoint of material gain the
lavish expenditure of those art-loving princes has proved a splendid
investment, of which the results may now be seen. What is it that has
enabled Munich to double its population in about twenty years and has
raised it from being a rather sleepy old-fashioned German town to its
present flourishing condition and made it the most delightful capital
in Europe, a meeting-place for the cultured of every country of Europe
and America? What else but the art-collections and musical
performances? Had Wagner then succeeded in founding his art-school and
theatre, with Semper, the builder of Dresden, as his architect, and
his own supreme mind directing the whole, who can say what the result
might have been?



I ought to say here that I find nothing more admirable in Plato than
his criticism of poetry, and I cannot understand the difficulties
which scholars find in his treatment of artists in the _Republic_
and elsewhere. After all, scholars have as a rule little experience of
any art that lies outside the narrow range of their own studies.
Plato's remarks appear to me the perfection of common sense. Would any
sane statesman, when devising such a revolutionary political scheme as
is contemplated in the _Republic_, not take the opportunity of
putting a bridle upon the mischievous vapourings of political poets,
reformers, dreamers, schemers, _et hoc genus omne_? It should
never be forgotten that the poet with the attractive fascination which
he possesses in his art is an enormous power in society, all the more
dangerous because his power is so subtle, and his doctrines not in
themselves untrue. Can it be doubted that our own Byrons and Shelleys,
with their frothy extravagances about freedom, have largely
contributed both to the socialism and to the libertinism with which
the politics of every nation in Europe are now infected? Even the
great Schiller was led astray by the false watchwords of his time, and
highly as I revere Goethe I cannot deny that the sensuality of his
poetry has had a most baneful influence upon modern Germany. Many more
might be named, and the subject is well worthy of fuller treatment.
With regard to Schiller, however, it ought to be explained that
"freedom" at that time in Germany meant only one thing, freedom from
the foreign tyrant--Napoleon.

Remember that it is not all poets whom Plato wishes to banish, not
those who feel the responsibility of their high calling, but only a
certain class. Nowadays poets do not slander the gods; it is not worth
their while, because nobody believes in the gods. They have other ways
of undermining society. Plato everywhere shows an unerring feeling for
art. Aristotle is a recorder and classifier, but no critic.



Dr. Milman, in his great _History of Christianity_, observes that
no religious revolution has ever been successful which has commenced
with the Government. Such revolutions have ever begun in the middle or
lower orders of society. The same is true of other branches of the
intellectual life of man. Neither Governments nor academies and
schools can ever originate anything new in art, politics, language.
All growth springs from the unsophisticated masses; growth is organic,
from below. The blossom must fade, and the seed fall to the earth
before it can bring forth new life. Academical training concerns
itself with the models of the past; its useful work consists in
criticizing, purifying, directing the raw material into something
higher, better, more useful than it was in the rough, as the gardener
produces new and better varieties; but it can no more originate than
the gardener can create new plants; and in perfecting it often

The reason why the Elizabethan drama is so infinitely more impressive
than the technically more perfect drama of the Restoration is that it
is steeped in nature and reality, whereas the later stage represents
men and women under the fashionable conventions of polite society.
"The people" indeed includes high as well as low, but none but the
very strongest natures--a Shakespeare, a Beethoven, a Goethe--can
endure the stress of Court favour. Where the national nourishment from
below is deficient, an elegant artificial semblance may indeed be
forced; but it is felt to be wanting in root and to lack that
spontaneity and universality which are the very life's breath of all
true art and specially mark the art of the people.

In England culture has severed itself entirely from popular life. The
very word "popular," unlike the German _volksthümlich_, carries
the notion of vulgarity. Yet the lower classes among themselves are
never vulgar; they only become so when they copy the manners of those
above them, and their poetry is the very reverse of what we understand
by that word. The _Volkslied_ exhales the very perfume of nature.
It may be uncouth, harsh, weather-beaten, but the perfume remains, and
it is never offensive like the modern music-hall song, which is the
_Volkslied_ of a class that tries to ape its social superiors.

All, or nearly all, our foremost English poets of recent times have
been products of that system of public school and university education
which is justly the pride of modern English upper-class life.
Admirable in many ways as this system is, it is essentially one of
artificial forcing. The routine is rigidly prescribed by fashion, and
is so devised as entirely to exclude all intimate fellowship with the
common people. Nature and reality have no part in English scholastic
life; "good form" and "sound scholarship" count for more than the
heart of man. That such a system fosters character and produces
first-rate men of action and rulers is undeniable, but it is fatal to
poetry, and the poetry which we produce is what might be
expected--refined, highly polished, but artificial and wanting in
sincerity. It bears the same relation to true poetry that etiquette
and polished manners do to truth and nature. To realize the difference
between the poetry of the school and the poetry of nature compare the
faultless English and elegant sweetness of the Idylls of the King with
the vigorous and expressive, but often ungrammatical, prose of
Mallory, or compare Virgil with Homer, Horace with Sappho, a chorale
by Mendelssohn with a chorale by Bach. Or compare a modern refrain
dragged in for no other reason than because the poet has felt that the
form requires a refrain of some kind and has tried to find one that is
suitable--compare such a refrain by Morris or Rossetti with

  In the spring time,
  The only pretty ring time
  When birds do sing,
  Hey ding a ding ding.

sung in the very joy of its heart by a childlike and poetic soul. Both
are poetry: but one is poetry of the drawing-room, the other of the
fields and forests; one is pretence, the other reality; the latter is
hardly poetry at all, and cannot be criticized logically; it is rather
human feeling finding its natural expression in verse of greater or
less perfection according to the skill of the versifier, but always
truthful, never posing, using no sophistic formulas, meaning just what
it says.

These preliminary remarks were necessary because I am sure that it is
to the narrow notions of classical elegance prevailing in England, and
to the want of sympathy with nature and the children of nature, that
so many fail to understand Wagner. German art, at least all that was
produced before the Franco-German war, is redolent of nature. When
reading a volume of typically German songs such as _des Knaben
Wunderhorn_ (whether they are technically genuine _Volkslieder_ or
not, is of no consequence) one feels as if one were walking through
a German forest. Even in the art which is necessarily confined within
a room the artist's mind seems to be wandering outside, and the
portrait-painter will admit through some open window or crevice a
breeze from field and forest beyond. In the same spirit the musicians,
and particularly the most German of all, Bach, Haydn, Schubert,
Beethoven, delight in the rhythms of the popular dance. Of all modern
composers Wagner was the most _volksthümlich_; the roots of his
art are in the _Volks-Sage_, the _Volkslied_, and the dance, and the
masses have always been true to him. He makes it his boast that while
intellectuals were raging and warning men not to heed his siren-tones,
the public in Germany, France, Italy, England, wherever the
performance was tolerably adequate, paid no heed, but invariably met
him with the warmest enthusiasm.

Jakob Grimm, in his essay on the _Meistergesang_, illustrates the
deep and pensive innocence of the _Volkslied_ by the story of the
infant Krishna, into whose mouth his mother looked and beheld within
him the measureless glories of heaven and earth while the child
continued its unconscious, careless play. "Such," he continues, "is
the completeness (Ganzheit) of Nature as compared with the halfness
(Halbheit) of human effort."

The condition for the growth of truly popular art is that society
shall present a coherent whole, the upper and lower classes united in
a bond of common sympathy with a feeling of brotherhood between them.
English society was not always so divided as we see it now. We possess
a wealth of popular song which has come down to us from mediaeval
times, a heritage nobler than that of any other nation; But can it be
said that our national life is in the smallest degree inspired by
these songs? They have indeed latterly become a fashion; we collect
them, arrange them with pianoforte accompaniments, listen to them at
concerts. It is a mere fashionable craze, like that for "the simple
life," and differs in no whit from that ridiculed by Wagner in the
Italian opera, and in Meyerbeer, as an attempt to extract the perfume
from the wild flower that we may have it conveniently to put upon our
pocket handkerchiefs and carry about with us, to enjoy the sweets of
nature and care nothing for the soul. To know the _Volkslied_ we
must descend from our fine palaces, and know it in the place where it
grows, and become one with them who brought it forth. We must live
their life, must learn so see what they see, to love what they love,
if we would understand their language.

Precisely parallel is the art in which the English genius specially
delighted, architecture. Noble and simple, learned and lewd, severed
by the Conquest, were united in the church, and our cathedrals are in
the truest sense the creations of the people. Like the _Volkslieder_,
like the great epics and the Icelandic Sagas, these works are anonymous.
No one knows, and no one seems to have cared, who made them. They were
built for the glory of God, not for that of man.

In about the twelfth century in Germany the whole community was one
body, scarcely differentiated into classes as regards their
Intellectual life. There were masters and servants, noblemen and
plebeians, as now, but they followed the same ends, received the same
education, and shared the same amusements. The _Volk_ was the
entire community, from the prince on the throne to the village child.
Literary education was confined to the clerical orders. The word
"ballad," which is, or was, the English equivalent of _Volkslied_,
signifies a dance, and at this early period the bond between dance and
song was still intact; the song was danced, and the dance sung to, as
it is to this day in the Shetland and Faroe islands, and in parts of
Norway and elsewhere. The ballad was a popular composition, in the sense
just described, but this does not mean that ballads grew up of
themselves, as wild flowers. Each owed its origin to some poet, who
composed music and words together. But the people who sang it cared
little for the personality of the poet; so long as his song was a good
one it was received and sung, but he was forgotten. Nor did they show
much respect for his text or tune; they trimmed both as they pleased, cut
away what they did not like, added and altered, changed names, turned
sense into nonsense, or less often nonsense into sense, moved by their
sweet will alone. It can be seen going on now in Germany among
students and foresters, and in all places where they sing. In a society
where men are free to follow their own natural bent, their minds
uncorrupted by books, the public taste is generally not only healthy, but
often very dainty and critical. They will find at least what they like
themselves, and have no need to consult any one else. Thus the
_Volkslied_ was the creation as it was the property of the people in
just the same sense as were our mediaeval churches. The fact that the
authors are not recognizable is vital for this kind of art.

The recreations of the people at this time were "_Sagen, Singen,
Tanzen_," story-telling, singing, dancing, in which all joined,
high and low together; no others were known. At the close of the
twelfth century, a great change began to take place in German song,
partly through the influence of foreign troubadours, but far more
owing to changes in social conditions. The reviving interest in
letters is indicated by the founding of universities in Italy and
France, by the publication of cyclopedias and other educational
treatises. There arises a cultured class outside the Church. When the
nobleman received a scholastic education, and consequently could form
a literary circle of his own, he began to look down upon the ignorant
rustic and popular poetry was affected accordingly. The Courts
attracted a special class of professional singers, the _Minnesingers_,
and it was natural that the more talented among the people should be no
longer content to blossom unknown, but should seek engagement at the
Courts where they were honoured and paid. Thus the _Volk_ was
drained of its talent; the poet becomes famous, art loses its native
innocence and becomes more like what we see it now, where the name
of the poet is of more consideration than the pleasure to be derived from
the poem.

The Court poets of the thirteenth century do not here concern us for
their own sake. Their song was short-lived and eventually withered
under the degenerate _Meistersingers_. But their work was not

With the decline of chivalry and the disappearance of Court life as a
thing apart the _Volkslied_ began once more to flower. From the
fourteenth century to the sixteenth song was universal, and it is from
this time that the ballads of our collections are mostly gathered. But
now its character has changed; the short period of fashionable
prosperity has not failed to leave its mark. Words, music, and dance
are no longer bound together in such close alliance. The first to part
company from the rest to begin an independent existence is always the
text, which becomes literary poetry for silent perusal or recitation.
Song is then no longer poetry set to music, but rather music
accompanied by verse. Instead of the two being co-ordinate, music is
now first, and the words are only its vehicle. The change was very
gradual, but the _Volkslied_ in its latest and most complete
development is practically an instrumental composition, retaining,
however, its bond with the past on the one hand through the words, on
the other through the _canto fermo_ in the tenor, the familiar
ancient tune round which the counterpoint was woven in a kind of
canonical imitation, first (fifteenth century) in three parts then
(sixteenth) in four, but always with the _canto fermo_ in
rhythmic contrast to the rest of the composition. It has been pointed
out by Liliencron[17] that what appears at first sight to be rhythmic
chaos in the polyphonic _Volkslied_ is really a highly artistic
and effective device for bringing the _canto fermo_--the ancient
tune--into prominence; whilst the other voices are generally in
_tempus imperfectum_ or square time, the tenor is in some other
contrasting rhythm. The standard of musical education must have been
exceedingly high at this period in Germany, since we hear of these
difficult compositions being sung, not only at concerts and festivals,
but in private circles as a common recreation. Indeed, as Sir H. Parry
has observed,[18] the practice of combining several tunes is by no
means so uncommon among people destitute of all musical training as
might be expected. At the present day in Germany, a girl of the lower
classes may often be heard singing at her work while her companion
adds an extempore part with considerable skill.

[Footnote 17: _Deutsches Leben im Volkslied_. Introd., p. xxix.]

[Footnote 18: _Art of Music_, pp. 99 seq. For an account of the
musical culture in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
see the Introduction to Dr. Naylor's _Shakespeare and Music_, a
most interesting and useful little work.]

The divorce between music and words became complete when songs were
arranged in transcriptions for various instruments. For now the
orchestra and the _Kapellmeister_ have come into being and the
further development of music is instrumental. With the invention of
printing and the influence of the Italian Renaissance with its
humanistic and pseudo-classical ideals the dissolution is completed.
Poems are no longer sung but only read, while instrumental music
follows its own paths alone.

In the Middle Ages instrumental music can scarcely be said to have
existed as an art. Musical instruments--"giterne and ribible"--were
known and played upon. "Fiddlers, players, cobblers, and other
debauched persons" tramped the country and appeared at festivals in
company with jugglers and mountebanks. Towards the beginning of the
sixteenth century, private orchestras were maintained by the noble and
the wealthy. Still the instrumental band held at best but a secondary
place beside the vocal choir. "Harping," says the ancient bard, "ken I
none, for song is chefe of myn-strelsé." The music which it played
differed in no essential respect from that intended for singing;
indeed the part-song was often arranged without alteration for
instruments, and so instrumental technique grew out of vocal technique,
but--and this is important--retaining important rhythmic characteristics
from the dance. Exactly as all stone architecture--Gothic, Classic,
Saracenic--bears the features of its wooden parent, so does our modern
instrumental music reproduce the physiognomy of its origin, uniting the
flowing cantilene of the voice with the marked rhythm of the dance, and
we may notice in any modern instrumental composition how the two are
contrasted together, now the one feature predominating, now the other.

There remains yet another current in the stream of musical development
of at least equal importance with the growth of dance and song. I
cannot here enter fully into the history of ecclesiastical music. We
are only concerned with the influence exerted by Dutch and Italian
composers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries upon the
development of later German music.

While pope and prelate cared only for the outer logical shell of
Christian doctrine, which they could use as a weapon in their struggle
for power, art laid hold upon its vital essence. Those politicians who
are in the habit of sneering at Wagner's steadfast belief in the
saving power of art for human society would do well to cast a glance
at the course of each development of the Christian ideal, the
political and the artistic respectively. In the Middle Ages the one
showed itself in councils like those of Nicea and Ephesus, in
political popes like Gregory VII. and Innocent III., in Isidorian
decretals, excommunications, interdicts, tortures, indulgences; the
other in our mediaeval cathedrals, in the poetry of a Dante, the
paintings of a Giotto and a Raphael, the sculpture of a Michael
Angelo, the music of a Palestrina, and our politician might then ask
himself which he thought had been the more beneficial as a social
force. There still remain as our meagre heritage from these times of
"faith," on the one hand the orthodoxy of the Nicene Creed, on the
other certain festivals and celebrations in the cathedral of a small
Bavarian town, little known, scarcely noticed, but still in the full
glory of their pristine mediaeval beauty.

No one who has not attended the celebrations in the cathedral of
Regensburg can fully measure what has been lost for mankind through
the domination of human rationalism in the place of religious
devotion. Here alone in Europe all who will may yet hear the great
masters of the sixteenth century rightly performed with the ancient
ritual, and Gregorian chant that belongs to it, without pretence,
without pomp or pageant, with the single purpose of serving God
worthily in that true spirit of mediaeval sincerity and purity which
our historians are apt to pass over unnoticed in their rancorous
eagerness to proclaim the sins of the Church. The compositions of
Palestrina and his compeers represent music in its highest form as
pure song in its most perfect consummation, attaining as song an
elevation which has never even been distantly approached since. "The
centuries have no power over the Palestrina style," says its
historian; "it can neither fade nor die." Truly does Wagner say we
shall never believe the vocal school which followed it to have been
the legitimate daughter of that wondrous mother.

The predominant feature of this music is harmony, brought forth by the
union, not of sounds, but of melodies--different and contrasting
melodies united in harmony, that is the characteristic of the
polyphonic school, and the rhythm is marked, not by accents, but by
changes of the chords. It is a rhythm of quantity alone, not of accent
and quantity combined, as in the song and the dance and in modern
music. Thus, although dancing was by no means excluded from the church
in early times--its trace still remains in the name choir [Greek:
choros] for that part of the church where the dancing was
performed[19]--its most characteristic element, accent, came to be
banished from the music of the church as something foreign to the
character of religious worship. But the loss was amply repaid by the
wealth and richness which the harmonic structure was able to acquire,
and which was rendered intelligible by that fine and expressive method
of handling the separate voices which we know as counterpoint. This is
not without some interest for us, because, widely as Wagner's
harmonies differ from those of Palestrina, we shall find that they too
can often only be understood through the progression of the voices.
The same is true of Bach's harmonies. Harmony was generated by
polyphony, and not _vice versa_; that is, men first tried fitting
melodies together, not chords, and when they had learned to do this
skilfully, so that they sounded well together, harmony came into
being. It does not follow that the music was unrhythmic because it was
unaccented, and because in writing it was not divided into bars. No
music can be intelligible without rhythm. The rhythmic pulsations are
there; they are distinctly felt by the hearer in the performance, and
in modern editions the barring is always introduced; but it is less
crude, less obvious, through not being enforced by strong accents.

[Footnote 19: Ménil, _Histoire de la Danse_, where an interesting
account of church dancing in the Middle Ages will be found.]

We have already seen how the _Volkslied_ became fertilized by the
polyphony of church-music. At the same time the music of the mass
itself received an important impulse from the _Volkslied_. The
employment of well-known popular song-melodies as _canti fermi_
in sacred contrapuntal compositions had a very beneficial effect upon
those works, inasmuch as it introduced a bit of fresh popular life
into music just at the moment when it was in danger of degenerating
into pedantry and triviality.[20] Possibly the secularization of
church music went too far, and at the Council of Trent the proposal
was very seriously considered whether the music of the church should
not be restricted to the traditional Gregorian chant, which had never
been popular and never will be, because priests cannot ordinarily be
found to sing it properly. The point at issue in this celebrated
discussion really was whether in polyphonic song the words could be
made intelligible,[21] for if not the music would become a mere
decorative feature, and the mass itself unmeaning. Precisely as in the
Wagner controversy of three centuries later, the question was whether
art was a diversion only to be enjoyed for the sake of the pleasure
which it afforded, or whether it had a serious didactic purpose
founded on a reality. It is impossible not to be struck with the
similarity of the issues involved with those of the Wagner struggle.
In both the question was raised whether music could be justified in
detaching itself from its basis--in the one case religious, in the
other dramatic--and assert an absolute existence for itself. Still
closer is the resemblance when we consider the dramatic character of
the Roman ritual, with its sublime conceptions of Real Presence and
Transubstantiation. The ritual during Holy Week, for example, is the
story of the Passion, partly narrated, partly in a sort of idealized
representation. When the solemn moment of the Crucifixion is reached
on Good Friday, when the officiating priests advance in turn to
adoration while the Cross itself lifts its voice in "Reproaches" to
the multitude with Palestrina's music, who does not feel the dramatic
directness of the representation?

  Popule meus, quid feci tibi? aut in quo contristavi
  te? responde mihi.

  _Chor_. [Greek: agios ho theos, agios hischuros, agios

  Quia eduxi te de terra Aegypti: parasti crucem
  Salvatori tuo.

  _Chor_. Sanctus deus, sanctus fortis, sanctus et immortalis.
  Miserere nobis.

--The chorus answering each "Reproach" alternately in the Greek of the
Eastern Church and the Latin of the Western Church. Such music as this
has quite a different character from that of our concert-rooms; it is
music which means something.

[Footnote 20: Ambros., Gesch., ii. p. 286.]

[Footnote 21: Ambros., Gesch., iv, pp. 14 seq.]

The problem was definitely settled for the church by the music of
Palestrina. But he did not change the course of history, and with his
death in the same year (1594) as that of his great contemporary
Orlando Lasso, his work came to an end. His influence had indeed been
profound, and he left as his disciples and successors men of gifts
scarcely inferior to his own; but the fashion had changed; Italian
humanism and the sway of the Press destroyed worship, destroyed
spontaneity, and by the year 1600 the pure vocal style and the
_Volkslied_ had both passed away.

Our results so far can be very shortly summed up. Modern music has
three main elements, which were fed from three sources:

      Rhythm    --    Cantilene    --    Polyphony.
         |                |                  |
      The dance      _Volkslied_         Church music.

It has been my endeavour in the preceding to show how these three
intermingled with and reacted upon one another. The outcome of all
three has been modern German orchestral music; for the distinctive
music of modern Germany up to Beethoven is orchestral. In saying this,
I have not forgotten the great German song-composers, but even their
work is insignificant beside that of the instrumentalists, and has
been so affected both in design and in technique by instrumental music
as in a great degree to lose its vocal character. The choruses of
Handel and Bach are almost entirely instrumental in character.

The change which came over artistic expression from about 1600 on
implied a deeper and more vital change in the conception of art
itself. Till then men had believed the things they told in their art.
Byzantine saints, Cynewulf's Scriptural legends, German
_Heldenerzählungen_, Icelandic _Sagas_, down to the saints
and angels of the pre-Raphaelites, all represented realities to the
poet; he would have felt no interest in telling of things which he did
not believe to be true. But henceforward we have art for its own sake;
the truthfulness of the subject-matter is of no account; the sole
canon of art is beauty of form; its purpose not instruction but

I know no episode in the history of art that is more instructive than
the birth of the Italian opera. It was typically a product of the
Renaissance, but it came at the very end of that movement, when the
freshness of its early vigour was past, when learning had declined
into pedantry, and its graceful art was lost in _barocco_.

The period of Italian history known as the Renaissance is important
because it brought forth a greater number of geniuses of the highest
rank than ever existed together in any country before or since, except
perhaps in the great time of Athens. But in itself it was a falsehood.
It was an attempt to revive former _Italian_ greatness,
forgetting that the greatness of Italy had been exclusively military
and political, whereas the modern movement was literary and artistic.
It committed the blunder of confusing together under the term
"classic" two very different forms of culture, the Greek and the
Roman, very much as we now group Hindus, Moslems, and Chinamen
together as "Orientals." All that was really great in art was Greek,
but they were content to receive it through the tradition of the most
inartistic nation that ever lived. Far indeed were the Renaissance
humanists from the noble simplicity of Hellenic art.

The Renaissance movement in Italy was not only, like the German
Reformation, anticlerical; it was atheist and immoral, at least in its
later degenerate period, and it is likely that the representatives of
the latest modernism who met and aired their views in the Florentine
salons at the end of the sixteenth century, were inspired as much by
hatred of religion, or by what is called love of freedom, as by
enthusiasm for art. Hitherto the Renaissance had taken little notice
of music. It was a barbarian art; how could Florentine exquisites,
disciples of Machiavelli, men of the vein of Lorenzo di Medici, Leo
X., and Baldassari Castiglione be expected to occupy themselves with
the art of men bearing such names as Okeghem or Obrecht? Popes and
Cardinals, however, had shown themselves much better connoisseurs of
art than the humanists, and had brought these barbarians to Italy, had
given them high appointments and become their pupils. The fact that
the antipathy of the humanists to music was extended to that of their
own great countrymen, to Palestrina, Vittoria, Suriano, cannot be
entirely accounted for by their dislike of everything clerical, still
less by want of taste. The cause lay far deeper. It was the transition
from the old order to the new, from mediaeval faith to modern
rationalism, from art to science.

Art and science both contemplate Nature, and seek to turn her gifts to
account to better and ennoble human life. Art accepts the beautiful
objects of Nature as they are, without questioning. The artist says:
"Let me lead you by the hand; I have seen something new and beautiful;
here it is; try to see it too, with my help, that we may both enjoy it
together." But he uses no compulsion; with those who turn a deaf ear
to him he is powerless. Science on the other hand tries to compel
belief by irresistible processes of logic; the scientist's axiom is
that if the premises be true the conclusion _must_ follow, and he
pours scorn upon all who refuse assent to his interpretations,
denouncing them as ignorant, superstitious, if not wilfully blind and
perverse. Mystery, according to the ancients the beginning of
philosophy, has no place in science; what cannot be explained is
superstitious and must be rejected as false. The source of art, as of
religion, must be sought not in the ineffable, incomprehensible
phenomena of nature, but in the human mind, in reason, to which all
art must conform.

This was the spirit in which the founders of the _nuove musiche_
sought to carry out their reforms; their intolerance rivals that of
Lucretius or Haeckel. It is impossible to suppose that men of their
highly-cultured aesthetic sense were deaf to the purely musical beauty
of polyphony. They were trained in its school, and had employed it
themselves most skilfully in their madrigals. It was the _mystery_ of
the mass and of its attendant music which they detested.

Another consideration must be added. Hand in hand with this
rationalizing tendency, indeed only another phase of the same
phenomenon, is the striving for self-assertion of the individual,
which is the mark of all progress towards higher civilization. The
contrapuntal mass or motet expressed the commonwealth of the Church,
where the individual disappears, absorbed in the community. The
_nuove musiche_ sought to emancipate the individual, and allow
him to express his own independent existence. Thus the progress of the
modern musical drama presents an exact parallel to that of the Greek
drama, from before Thespis onwards, except that here the change from
lyric to dramatic representation was slower, because, there being no
preconceived plan or model for the reformers to work by, the
development was gradual and natural instead of violent.

The year 1600 marks with considerable accuracy the transition from the
old order to the new. The two greatest masters of the old school had
recently died, and with them their work expired. At the wedding of
Henri IV. of France with Maria de' Medici in Florence, in that year,
was performed the opera _Euridice_, the joint work of Caccini and
Peri, which is the starting-point of the new music.

The details of the invention of the _nuove musiche_, the ideas
which brought it forth, how these were nursed in the salons of
Florentine noblemen, especially in that of Bardi Conte Vernio, are all
well known. They did not proceed in the first instance from musicians,
but from scholars, who, having read in the course of their studies
about Grecian (or Roman--it was all the same to them) dramatic music,
determined to add to the other accomplishments of the new order that
of reviving the ancient drama with its music. They were vehement in
their denunciations of the barbarous institutions of counterpoint and
loudly called for a return to the only true principles of music as
taught by the ancients. With this end in view they drew into their
circle the most gifted musicians whom they could find, and expounded
to willing and zealous ears the principles of music as embodied in the
rules of Plato and Aristotle, omitting, however, to state where they
found them in the works of those philosophers. The first result was
the opera, or operas (for there seem to have been two, one by Caccini
and one by Peri, welded into one) _Euridice_ performed at the
royal wedding. It was followed by other similar works and the series
has continued in unbroken course for three centuries, through
Monteverde, Carissimi, A. Scarlatti, down to our own time. The
physiognomy of the early operas of the classic revival is still
distinctly traceable in Rossini, Donizetti, and the early Verdi, after
whom its career was suddenly cut short almost in the height of its
fame by the publication of the first part of Wagner's _Oper und
Drama_ in 1851.

From the very beginning the Italian opera was what it is now,
frivolous, insincere, imbecile. Its sole function was, and always has
been, to help idlers of the upper classes to while away their
evenings. The absurd notion of a Platonic music was rivalled by the
absurdity of the composition. The inane dialogue was made up of
interminable recitative, in the midst of which an occasional
chorus--introduced in conformity with supposed classical
practice--must have come as a most refreshing relief; for choruses
they could write. It was dramatic in so far that it was provided with
all the paraphernalia of the stage and that the singers walked about
as they sang. Possibly, too, the performers had some initiation into
modern methods of operatic acting, and would raise one arm at the word
_cielo_, two arms at certain other words, etc.; but it would be
hard to detect any living dramatic idea in those mythological heroes
and heroines, Dafnes, Amors, Tirsis, Ariannas dressed up as stage
shepherds and shepherdesses. The only _raison d'être_ of the
music in the minds of the fashionable audience was--then as now--to
provide a stimulus for conversation and flirting, or a pleasant
diversion in the intervals of their business transactions.

But it is easy to ridicule the follies and failures of men who were
striving after an ideal. More profitable to us it will be to trace
what substantiality their dream of dramatic revival really possessed,
and if we strip it of the false garment of classicity in which it
masqueraded, and of its self-asserting intolerance, there is no
question that, whatever the results of the efforts of these reformers,
their intention was admirable. They themselves, the composers, were
deeply in earnest; their objects were not what they supposed, but they
were entirely worthy, and though we may wonder at their failure to
appreciate the entrancing beauty of polyphonic music, we must admit
even here that their objections were not without some force. To
realize this we must transfer ourselves in imagination to their
conditions and endeavour to consider the problems from their
standpoint, remembering how they were impelled by the irresistible law
of progress, the assertion of individualism, and by the desire for
dramatic treatment.

The main objection brought by the reformers against polyphony was that
the elaborate imitative treatment of the voices made the words
unintelligible. We may remember that exactly the same objection had
already been raised at the Council of Trent by clericals themselves.
Vocal music alone, the reformers contended, can be recognized as true
music, for music is essentially language and rhythm, and only in the
last place tone.[22] Consequently, _right declamation_ is of its
essence. On this ground they objected to mixing together high notes
and low, fast movement and slow, to dividing a syllable between many
notes, to repetition of words and phrases. Especially significant is
the advice given by Vincentio Galilei to composers to study the
expression of gifted actors.[23]

[Footnote 22: Ambros., iv, p.165.]

[Footnote 23: _Ib._., p. 170.]

It is impossible not to treat seriously a movement founded upon such
arguments as these. They are in the main incontrovertible. We seem to
be breathing the very atmosphere of Wagner, and it would be scarcely
too much to say that the humanist movement of the Bardi salon was in
its _intention_ the forerunner of the German movement dreamed of
by Herder, Schiller, Jean Paul, and accomplished by Wagner, who at
last succeeded in finding what the others had sought, namely, the true
relations between words, music, and acting. Even the idea of
concealing the orchestra originated with them. Why, then, did it not
succeed? Why did the very name of Italian opera become a by-word for
all that is frivolous and inartistic in dramatic art? The answer must
be sought in the dictum of Dean Milman quoted at the beginning of this
chapter. Art is an organic growth, and cannot be created by authority.
A drama which has been manufactured by fitting together words, action,
and music in such manner as appears right to the composer, or
according to models, real or fanciful, however skilful be the
execution, is no drama; it lacks the breath of life; it is not a
living organism, but an artificial counterfeit.

In Wagner's theoretical writings there are few things of more
practical importance than the principle repeatedly insisted upon that
a work of art is not a production of a gifted artist which he exhibits
for his audience to criticize, and either to admire and enjoy or to
reject according to their capacities, but is a mutual interaction, a
conversation as it were between the artist and his public, _to which
both contribute_. Nor is art a diversion to be taken up as a
relaxation after the fatigue of serious work, but a labour requiring
the best efforts of the hearer's faculties. Every artist worthy of the
name has something new to say, something which has not been heard
before, but is characteristically his own, and cannot be understood
without an effort. Artist and hearer must co-operate together towards
a common end. Wagner's first purpose throughout his life was to
educate his public, or, to use his own phrase, prepare a soil in which
his art could flourish. Whenever an attempt is made to create an art
by authority, whether it be Court patronage, theoretical exposition,
or any other form of authority, this important principle is forgotten.
The would-be teachers of the people scatter the seed irrespectively of
the soil, and the attempt, however laudable, is ill-timed.

The subsequent history of the Italian opera has been told by Wagner
himself in the entertaining pages of the first part of his _Oper und
Drama_, which should be carefully read by all who wish to gain a
distinct understanding of his aims. A useful supplement to Wagner's
treatise will be found in a conversation which took place between him
and Rossini in 1860, a "scrupulously exact" account of which has been
published forty-six years after it took place from notes taken at the
time in a pamphlet by E. Michotte of Brussels.[24]

[Footnote 24: Paris, _Librairie Fischbacher_, 1906.]

It would have been impossible for the opera to continue as it had
begun. People would not have gone to the theatre to hear dreary
recitatives, and from the very first we hear of concessions being made
to the singers--i.e. to the audience. By degrees there forms itself
that peculiar kind of vocal melody which we recognize to-day as
distinctively Italian. Not, be it noted, melody proper, which is the
very truest expression of the human soul; not the melody that was
known to the great Germans, but "naked, ear-tickling, absolute melodic
melody; melody which is nothing but melody; which glides into our
ears--we know not why; which we sing again--we know not why; which
to-day we exchange for that of yesterday, and forget to-morrow--still
we know not why; which is sad when we are gay, merry when we are
sorrowful, and which we yet hum--just because we know not why."

Let us not be misled by Wagner's bantering description into despising
Italian melody and supposing it to be a thing utterly worthless. True,
it has not the musical elevation of German melody. The little
Neapolitan urchin who basks all day in the sunshine, sings, steals,
and is ready to drive a knife into his companion, is not perhaps as
high a type of humanity as the English public-school boy. Nevertheless
he has a charm entirely his own, and his large round eyes will make
you forget his sins. Woe to art and to mankind when our hearts are
closed to such influences! Italian operatic melody is the expression
of Southern Italian individuality, and has in its very irresponsibility a
certain fascination different from that of the far nobler German music.
Wagner waged warfare, not against the Italian opera, not against
operatic composers, but against impostors and sophists, and while
trampling upon the serpent in his own path he was as little likely to
remain untouched by the good-natured lovableness of the Italian as
he was to slight the high intelligence, the artistic receptiveness and
thoroughness of the French. On reading his works it is hard to escape
the impression of a lurking fondness for Rossini on Wagner's part,
even while he is making game of the whole school. Above all, Italian
melody possesses one quality which is the highest of all in melody--it
is eminently singable. No German, unless perhaps Handel, ever
understood the human voice as did the Italians. Wagner's own
words leave no doubt as to what he thought. In one of his earliest
writings he utters a prayer that German composers may one day write
such melody and learn such treatment of the voice as are found in
Bellini's _Norma_. But, like Odysseus, he stopped his ears to the
siren-song (his own expression) while at the same time learning from
it and assimilating what was good therein. Wagner's vocal melody was
largely modelled on that of the Italians. Tristan itself was conceived
for Italian singers, and the part of Isolde was originally intended
for Mdlle. Tietjens. He even adopted Italian mannerisms, operatic
turns, trills, suspensions, cadences, and bravura tricks. We may
follow how these Italicisms appearing in all their banality in his
earlier works become more and more expressive as his style develops.

[Music: _Rienzi_, ACT V.
Du stärk-lest mich, du gabt mir ho-he Kraft]

[Music: _Tristan und Isolde_, ACT III.
Won . . . ne Kla-gend]

Cadences of the common Italian type with 6/4 chord or suspension swarm
in _Tannhäuser_ and _Lohengrin_. In _Tristan_ they never have the
stereotyped character which they have in his earlier works.

[Music: _Lohengrin_, ACT II.
Ein Glück dass oh-ne Reu]

The finer characteristics of Italian melody, that easy tunefulness
which seems to have sprung naturally and without effort out of the
mechanism of the vocal organs, is above all noticeable in the music of
his noblest creation, Brünnhilde.

[Music: _Walküre_, ACT III. SCENE I.
O heh re-stes Wun-der]

[Music: herr - - - lich-ste Maid]

[Music: _Siegfried_ ACT III. SCENE III.
Sieg-fried-es Stern ... Sie ist mir e-wig, ist mir
im-mer Erb' und Eig - en ... Ein ... er ist mir]

The flower-maidens' chorus in _Parsifal_ might be called the
apotheosis of Italian song. What Wagner means by his scathing ridicule
of the Italian opera and Italian melody, is not that it is worthless,
but that it has no meaning. In short it is not the drama.

We recognized the radical fault of the Italian opera to be its
subordination of the drama to the music. In opposition to this it has
been asserted that the music aids the drama by carrying on the action.
Let us examine this by the light of one example, the well-known
seduction scene of Zerlina in _Don Giovanni_. The form of music
as such is determined by rhythmic repetitions of themes, varied or
not. The scene is full of dramatic charm and has great capabilities.
Don Giovanni begins insinuatingly: "Give me your hand, Zerlina; come
away with me to my castle." The timid peasant girl at first hesitates.
"No, no," she replies, "I dare not--yet how I should like to!--but
what would Masetto say?" All this is in the most winning and seductive
melody; it is exactly the tone in which a young nobleman and a rather
coquettish but entirely innocent young girl would express themselves.
The situation becomes warmer; Don Giovanni is more pressing--he puts
his arm round her--he is just about to kiss her, when suddenly the
scene begins over again from the beginning with "Give me your hand,"
etc., and the whole episode is rendered absurd! Up to this point we
have been so transported by the interest of the scene and the
appropriateness of the expression that we almost feel ourselves to be
taking part in it, but the repetition checks our feelings like a
douche, by the necessity felt by the composer of preserving the
musical form. Had the action and the music been carried right through
to the second part, Zerlina's inexpressibly tender

[Music: An-diam!]

would have been most thrilling, and the way would have been naturally
prepared for the entry of Elvira just in time to save her.

Absolute or instrumental music requires the strict form which is
effected by means of balanced repetitions in order to supply that
intellectual element without which it cannot be understood, and which
in vocal music is afforded by the words. The drama needs no such
restrictions and cannot endure them. Human actions are not subject to
mechanical laws; they are intelligible in themselves, but cannot be
measured out. Human life is a continuous whole, one action leads
naturally on to another, without any break, and to attempt to range
the actions of men and women under schemes of arias, cavatinas, duets,
choruses, each existing for itself and sharply separated from all
others, can only render them unintelligible and ridiculous.



We have already seen that the drama is distinguished from all other
forms of art by its essential quality of directly enacting the things
to be communicated instead of merely describing them. Since only human
things can fitly be so enacted by human beings, dramatic art is
generally identical with human art; it is the art of representing the
actions of men and women--or of deities conceived as idealized human
beings--in such a way as to reveal the motives by which they are
impelled, their characters. The adjective "dramatic" may, however, be
understood in two ways, according as our interest is centred in the
actions themselves, their contrasts and conflicts, or in the motives
or _characters_ of the persons engaged. In the former case the
drama will endeavour to represent decisive and exciting actions
passing in rapid succession before the eyes. This may be called the
spectacular drama, and its greatest master is Schiller. When Goethe is
described as "the least dramatic of all great poets" it is in this
sense that the word is used. Goethe often hankered after spectacular
effects, but was never very successful in producing them.

But if we consider the essence of a dramatic conception to lie in the
conflict of opposing motives, not necessarily discharging themselves
as action, but subdued, and the more impressive because kept under
restraint within the soul of the actor, we shall rank Goethe amongst
the very foremost of dramatic poets. Examples of what I will call the
moral drama are all Goethe's maturer plays, such as _Tasso_ and
_Iphigenie_. To this class also belong Lessing's _Nathan der
Weise_ and the representative French plays of the classic epoch.
They are, generally speaking, bad stage plays, but are extremely
interesting to read, and gain in interest the more they are studied.
In the works of the greatest of all dramatists, such as Sophokles and
Shakespeare, the spectacular and moral elements are so closely united
as to be inseparable. In the Attic drama the more striking spectacular
events had, for technical reasons, to be kept out of sight. Ajax
piercing himself with his sword, Oedipus tearing out his own eyes,
are, like the thunderstorm in _Lear_, the outcome of terrific
internal motives bursting all confines with the force of an
irresistible torrent. Our interest is centred, not in the actions
themselves, but in the motives which produced them, in the characters.

Wagner, with his conscientious habit of accounting to himself for
everything that he did, found his artistic level more slowly than do
most poets. When the stylistic crudities of his earlier productions
had been overcome, he began the work of his maturer life with
_Rheingold_, the most spectacular drama ever written. _Walküre_
and _Siegfried_ were continued in the same vein, and it is very
significant that he broke off the composition and laid the work aside
just at the monstrous dragon-fight. It is no strained conjecture that as
the difficulties of his gigantic subject accumulated he at last realized
the practical impossibility of what he had undertaken. To bring the
whole story of the fall of the ancient Germanic gods into a spectacular
drama on the scale of the _Ring_ was beyond even his mighty powers,
and in _Die Walküre_ he is like a man trying to break away from the
path which he has laid down for himself, to get rid of the cumbersome
spectacular element and let the action develop itself naturally from
within. With all its unrivalled beauties the _Ring_ as a _drama_ is a
monstrosity. It turns upon motives which are not apparent from the
actions and have to be explained in dreary and most undramatic length.
Its very foundation is wrong; its central figure, the prime author of the
new and more blessed world which is to follow, is the offspring of an
incestuous union for which there is no occasion whatever. The myth
itself has sometimes been held responsible, and it has been asserted
that Wagner had to reproduce the tradition as he received it. Nothing
of the kind is true; Wagner has altered the entire story, taking,
leaving, or altering just as he pleased. In the _Völsunga_ paraphrase of
Eddic lays, upon which the story of the _Ring_ is founded, the child of
the unnatural union is not Sigurd, not the golden hero "whom every child
loved," but the savage outlaw Sinfjötli, half wolf, half robber, one of
the most terrible creations of mythology. To conceive such a union
as bringing forth a hero whom we are expected to regard as the very
type of human nobility and guilelessness is an artistic blunder which
we can only explain by supposing that Wagner found his material
unmanageable. He was struggling with impossibilities and gave up
the attempt.

From this he turned to _Tristan_, rushing at once to the opposite
extreme. The absence of clear and decisive action in _Tristan_ is
as remarkable as the excess of action in the _Ring_. Persuaded
that the motives and characters of men must be known before their
actions can be understood, and that these can only be revealed in
music, he has given us in _Tristan_ music such as no mortal ear
ever heard before or since; but action there is little or none. He
scarcely deigns to tell even the most vital incidents of the story.
Can any one say that he has understood the events connected with
Morold and Tristan's first visit to Ireland and the splinter of the
sword from the play itself without an independent explanation? Or that
Tristan's reasons for carrying off Isolde are clear to him from
Marke's account? Without these incidents the whole story is
unintelligible, but with Wagner in his then mood they counted for
nothing in the flood of emotional material. It was in _Die
Meistersinger_ that Wagner found the final equation between impulse
and action, and the public has again judged rightly in placing that
work first among all his dramatic compositions. But the musician and
the philosopher will always turn to _Tristan_.

There are four principal epochs in which the drama has been a
flourishing reality in Europe. They are: 1. In Athens in the fifth
century B.C. 2. In Elizabethan England. 3. In Spain in the seventeenth
century. 4. In France under Louis XIV.

Of the influence of the Elizabethan drama upon the Wagnerian drama it
is difficult to speak to any good purpose. Shakespeare is the common
heritage of all German dramatists, Wagner as well as others, and it is
not too much to say that the enthusiasm for Shakespeare which began
towards the end of the eighteenth century was the stimulus which
roused the German nation to create a drama of its own. It is enough
for the present if we note that the Elizabethan drama is
characteristically human and popular. True, the Elizabethans revel in
courts and high society, as do the populace; they represent kings and
rulers as they are beheld from outside, and there is always a
"Sampson" or "Gregory," or "Citizen" or "Merchant" ready as a chorus
to express with great shrewdness his opinion of the doings of his

For an opposite reason we may pass over very shortly the French
classical drama, namely, because it does not seem to have weighed with
Wagner at all. Corneille, Racine, and their contemporaries are little
mentioned in his writings; certainly he shows no enthusiasm for their
art. Yet the influence of the French stage was by no means a
negligible quantity in the development of the German drama.

It was Lessing who in the trenchant prose of his _Hamburger
Dramaturgie_ first revolted against the French domination, the
strength of which may be judged from the list there given of works
performed in the Hamburg theatre from April to July 1767. Of the
fifty-two plays there enumerated, fifteen were German, thirty-five
French, and two from other languages--only one being English. In
itself the French influence was not altogether for evil; what was bad
was the unlimited sway of a foreign art. The French sense for elegance
of form is far more acute than that of either Germans or Englishmen,
but with the Louis Quatorze dramatists it had degenerated into
pedantry. The "Unities," rightly understood, are a very important
feature of every drama. Aristotle has treated this much vexed question
with his customary Hellenic moderation. Inner unity is an
indispensable qualification of every work of art; dramatic unity is
technically called Unity of Action, that is, the mind must be able to
receive the work as a whole, and it must have a beginning, a middle,
and an end. Only nature is at once varied and eternal. Out of this
_may_ proceed the Unities of Time and Place, but so far from
being obligatory they were not even always observed in the Greek
tragic drama itself, where they seem specially called for by the
presence of the chorus and where the fact that a dramatic performance
was always a competition made some restrictions binding upon all
competitors necessary. Aristotle's only rule about time is that the
length must be such that it can be easily comprehended (_Poet._,
vii. 1450_b_), and he adds in a general way that in his day
tragedy generally tried as far as possible to keep within one
revolution of the sun, or thereabouts (_Ib._, v. 1449_b_).
Of the third Unity, that of Place, he says nothing at all.

Aristotle's eminently practical generalizations of the features of the
drama as it existed in Athens in his day were exalted by the French
dramatists of the seventeenth century into rigid inviolable laws, and
a dramatist would in a doubtful case think it necessary to demonstrate
to his public in a special discourse that he had not been guilty of
any breach of the law in this respect! The authority of the supreme
law-giver was incontestable; the only question was how to interpret
his enactments. Does, for example, "one revolution of the sun" mean
twelve hours or twenty-four? This and other such weighty matters were
subjects of warm controversy. Lessing's mind was critical rather than
creative; he, too, was an enthusiastic student of Aristotle, and read
with far truer artistic intelligence than Corneille. The criticism of
his _Hamburgische Dramaturgie_ cleared the way for the great
creative poets of the end of the eighteenth and first half of the
nineteenth century. It was a period of experiment, both in
subject-matter and in form. The latter hovers between that of classic
tradition and the licence of Shakespeare, while the subjects are
generally taken from foreign history or from Greek mythology; only
occasionally, as in _Götz von Berlichingen_ and _Wallenstein_, from
German history. The entire dramatic movement of this period is an
endeavour to find a workable compromise between the classic and
the Elizabethan drama, an endeavour which attained a fair measure
of success a little later in the superb classic tragedies of Grillparzer.
Still, noble as were its achievements in this direction, the German
nation had higher aims. As it gained in self-consciousness and
conceived its own artistic ideals it could not but feel itself worthy to
bring forth an art characteristically its own. Till now the only
indigenous German art had been instrumental music, and the stupendous
achievements of a Bach, a Haydn, a Beethoven must have helped to
bring home to the Germans the artistic capabilities latent within them.

The decisive step in German art was taken by Richard Wagner, whose
appearance is like a world-catastrophe. In one vast flood, comparable
only to the tide of his overwhelming music, all that was trivial and
experimental was swept away. What was strong enough to swim in the
tide was invigorated and strengthened; Goethe, Schiller, Kleist,
Grillparzer, Weber, Mozart, Beethoven, and their compeers are both
better performed and better understood now than they were before
Wagner's appearance, but all the second-rate has perished. The days of
experimenting have passed; the danger now threatening German art is
not from abroad, but is within itself, from those of its own body who,
just when the only hope lies in sobriety and self-restraint, are
goading it on the career of intoxication.

There remain the Hellenic and the Spanish dramas. Wagner's true
spiritual progenitors were Sophokles and Calderon. Different as are
the creations of two such widely separated epochs in their external
physiognomy, they possess one vital characteristic in common. In both
man is the instrument of higher powers; whether they be, as in the one
case, Zeus or Ate, or, as in the other, Honour or Christian faith,
matters little. These are the real actors, impersonated in flesh and
blood in the heroes.

An Englishman who, like myself, is ignorant of the Spanish language
and people can never hope to understand, still less to expound, their
literature. The Spanish drama is largely dependent upon subtleties of
metre and diction which cannot be reproduced in translations, and it
is inspired by motives very different from our own. Our watchwords are
"self-interest," "freedom," "progress"; those natural to the Spaniard
are "honour" and "Catholic Christianity." No great people has been so
uniformly true to the traditions of its nationality as the Spanish.
Alone among the nations Spain has refused to assimilate the
rationalist formulas fashionable in other countries; she has preferred
to relinquish her foremost place in the European commonwealth rather
than her ideals. To us the policy of Philip II appears as perverse as
the notions of honour and Christianity appear extravagant in Spanish
dramas; the reason is that we are not Spaniards, and we read their
history through the spectacles of rationalist historians. But if we
once concede their fundamental notions as they understand them, we
must acknowledge that Spanish history and Spanish art proceed directly
out of them more logically, more naturally, than in those nations
which are continually being drawn aside, now this way, now the other,
by the political notions and passing philosophies of the day.

Wagner made his first acquaintance with the Spanish drama in the
winter of 1857-58, when engaged on the composition of _Tristan_,
and at once seized its character with the sympathetic insight of
genius. His remarks in a letter to Liszt written at this time[25] are
so noteworthy, and bear so directly upon the work with which we are
concerned, that I will add a translation of a portion of the letter:

  I am almost inclined to place Calderon by himself
  and above all others. Through him, too, I have learned
  to understand the Spanish character. Unprecedented,
  unrivalled in its blossom, it developed so rapidly that
  its material body soon perished, and it ended in
  negation of the world. The refined, deeply passionate
  consciousness of the nation finds expression in the
  notion of _honour_, wherein its noblest and at the same
  time its most terrible elements unite to a second
  religion. Extremes of selfish desire and of sacrifice
  both seek to be satisfied. The nature of the "world"
  could not possibly find sharper, more dazzling, more
  dominating, and at the same time more destructive,
  more terrible expression. The poet in his most
  vigorous presentations has taken for his subject the
  conflict of this _honour_ with the deep human feeling of
  _sympathy_ (_Mitgefühl_). The actions are dictated by
  "honour," and are therefore acknowledged and
  approved by the world, while the outraged sympathy
  takes refuge in a profound melancholy, the more telling
  and sublime for being scarcely expressed, and revealing
  the world in all its terrible nullity. Such is the wondrous
  and imposing experience which Calderon presents
  to us in magic creative charm. No poet of the world
  is his equal in this respect. The Catholic religion
  intervenes as a mediator, and nowhere has it attained
  greater significance than here, where the opposition
  between the world and sympathy is pregnant, sharp,
  and plastic, as in no other nation. How significant
  too is the fact that nearly all the great Spanish poets
  in the latter half of their lives retired into the Church,
  and that then, after complete ideal subjugation of
  life they could depict that very life with certainty,
  purity, warmth, and clearness, as they never could
  before when actively engaged in it. Their most
  graceful, most whimsical creations are from the time
  of their clerical retirement. Beside this paramount
  phenomenon all other national literature seems

  [Footnote 25: No. 255 of the _Collected Letters_.]

Wagner knew Greek, but seems to have read his Aeschylos and Sophokles
in the excellent translation of Donner. From his seventeenth year
onwards, his exclusive occupation with music and the drama left him
little time for the study of classics. Yet he was a born classic. In
the earlier period of his school life, when at the _Kreuz-Schule_
in Dresden he showed remarkable aptitude for Greek, and translated
half the Odyssey into German as a voluntary task when he was about
thirteen. Unfortunately in the next year his family moved to Leipzig,
where his zeal was checked by the pedantry of schoolmasters, and his
studies soon began to take another direction, but throughout his life
he remained ardently in sympathy with Hellenic culture. His remarks on
the Oedipus tragedies of Sophokles are well worthy the attention of
those who value the poetry above the letter of a work. He was
attracted to the Spanish and to the Hellenic drama because they were
akin to himself. He was himself cast in a tragic mould, in that of the
heroes of Aeschylos, Sophokles, and Calderon. Prometheus suffering
torments rather than submit to the will of an iniquitous ruler is
Wagner voluntarily sacrificing all that made life dear to him rather
than adopt the conventional falsehoods of society. He is Prince
Fernando suffering disgrace and imprisonment rather than betray his
country. He is Tristan and Isolde going willingly to death rather than
sully their honour.



The origin of the Tristan myth is lost in antiquity. The Welsh Triads,
of unknown date, but very ancient, know of one Drystan ab Tallwch, the
lover of Essylt the wife of March, as a steadfast lover and a mighty
swineherd. It is indubitably Celtic-Breton, Irish, or Welsh. There
were different versions of the story, into the shadowy history of
which we need not enter; the only one which concerns us is that of a
certain "Thomas." Of his French poem fragments alone have come down to
us, but we have three different versions based upon it:

1. The Middle-High-German poem of Gottfried von Strassburg, composed
about 1210-20. 2. An old-Norse translation made in 1226 by command of
King Hakon. 3. A Middle-English poem of the thirteenth century
preserved in the so-called Auchinleck MS. of the library of the
Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh, and familiar to English readers
from the edition published by Sir Walter Scott. The poem was probably
composed by the famous Thomas the Rhymer of Ercyldoune or Earlstown in
Berwickshire. A reliable edition by G. P. MacNeill has been published
by the Scottish Text Society, with an introduction giving a full and
interesting account of the legend in its various recensions.

In these versions the story of Tristan and Isolde has nothing whatever
to do with the Arthurian court or the quest of the Grail. It became
exceedingly popular and was told again and again in varied forms in
every language in Europe. But even before this Sir Tristan had
sometimes been included among the Knights of the Round Table, such
honour being deemed indispensable to the dignity of every knight who
had any pretensions to fame.

Wagner was well versed in all the Tristan literature, and composed his
own version for the stage out of the materials which he found. In
order to understand his way of dealing with his subject-matter it will
be worth our while to follow the outlines of the old story, which is
essentially the same in all the three versions, though the incidents,
and especially the names, are somewhat varied. I shall follow in the
main the most important of the three, that of Gottfried von
Strassburg, so far as it goes, with occasional supplementary additions
from the Norse and English.

There was a certain King of Parmenia named Riwalin Kanelengres (in the
Norse saga he is King of Bretland; in the English he is called Rouland
rise, King of Ermonric), who, leaving his own country in the charge of
his marshal, Rual li foitenant, joined the court of the powerful King
Marke of Cornwall "and of England" in Tintajol. There he falls in love
with Blanscheflur (Norse: Blensinbil), the king's sister, but, on his
being recalled to his own land to meet an invasion from his enemy
Morgan, she begs him to take her with him. "I have loved thee to mine
own hurt," she says. "But for my being pregnant I would prefer to
remain here and bear my grief, but now I choose to die rather than
that thou, my beloved, shouldst be put to a shameful death. Our child
would be fatherless. I have deceived myself and am lost." She is
married to Riwalin and placed for safety in his stronghold Kanoël
while he marches to battle. He is killed, and she, on hearing the
news, dies after giving birth to a son who, in allusion to the
melancholy circumstances of his birth, is named Tristan.

Tristan is instructed by his tutor Kurwenal in the seven arts and the
seven kinds of music, and in all languages. One day he is carried off
by some pirates, and, on a furious storm arising, he is put on shore
alone on the coast of Cornwall, and finds his way to King Marke's
court at Tintajol, where he is honourably received.

Meanwhile his marshal, Rual li foitenant, has set out in search of
him, and, after wandering through many countries, arrives disguised as
a beggar at Tintajol. Tristan brings him before the king, to whom he
relates the whole story of Tristan's birth and parentage, which he has
hitherto kept secret, showing how he is King Marke's own nephew. He is
now overwhelmed with honours, and dubbed a knight, but is soon obliged
to return to Parmenia to fight the old enemy Morgan. He is victorious
and after some time returns to Cornwall, where he finds that the
country has been subjugated by the King of Ireland, Gurmun the Proud,
who has sent his brother-in-law, Morold, to collect tribute--thirty
fair youths--from the Cornishmen. Tristan, on arriving, at once
challenges Morold to decide the question of tribute in single combat
with himself. They fight: Tristan is wounded; Morold calls upon him to
desist from fighting, saying that his weapon is poisoned, and that the
wound cannot be healed except by his sister Isot, the wife of King
Gurmun. Tristan replies by renewing the attack; Morold falls, and
Tristan severs his head from his body, and, on Morold's discomfited
followers embarking hastily for their own country, Tristan throws them
the head, scornfully bidding them take it as tribute to their king.
But on their reaching Ireland, Isot the queen, and Isot the Fair, her
daughter, cover it with kisses, and treasure it up to mind them of
vengeance upon the slayer of their kinsman. In the skull they find a
splinter from the sword, which they keep.

Tristan's wound refuses to heal, and he sets off for Ireland
accompanied by Kurwenal to be treated by Queen Isot. On reaching
Develin (Dublin), he puts off alone to the shore, in a small boat,
taking only his harp with him. He introduces himself to Queen Isot as
a merchant named Tantris; she receives him favourably, heals his
wound, and appoints him tutor to her daughter, at last, on his earnest
entreaty, dismissing him to return to his home.

On returning to Marke's court he finds that intrigues have arisen and
a party has been formed to overthrow him. As the nephew of the
childless king he is the next heir to the throne of Cornwall, but,
being in fear of his life, he persuades Marke to marry, that he may
beget a child to be his successor. Reluctantly King Marke permits him
to return to Ireland to obtain "the maiden bright as blood on snow,"
Isot the Fair ("by cunning, stealth, or robbery," says the Norse).
There now follows an episode of the regular type. On Tristan reaching
Ireland disguised as a merchant, he finds the country being ravaged by
a terrible "serpant," and the king has promised his daughter with half
of his kingdom to whoever shall rid them of the scourge. Tristan slays
the monster, a certain "Trugsess" or steward, who wishes to marry
Isot, claims to have achieved the deed, but his fraud is exposed
through the machinations of the women. Queen Isot and her daughter
have recognized in Tristan their former acquaintance Tantris, and when
polishing his armour the princess finds the sword with a gap in its
blade exactly fitting the splinter which she has taken from Morold's
skull. She now realizes who Tristan is, and, filled with anger and
hatred, she goes with the sword to where Tristan is in his bath,
determined to wreak instant vengeance upon the slayer of her uncle.
Tristan cries for mercy, obscurely hinting that he is able to reward
her richly if she will only spare his life. Her mother enters with her
attendant or companion, Brangäne (Norse: Bringvet); matters are
discussed, Brangäne argues with great eloquence that he will be much
more useful to them alive than dead, and at last a bargain is struck.
In return for his life Tristan promises that he will find the Princess
Isot a husband who is much richer than her father. They all kiss and
are reconciled, the princess alone hesitating to make peace with the
man whom she hates in her heart. Everything is speedily arranged, King
Gurmun consenting to the marriage of his daughter to his country's
enemy, the slayer of his kinsman.

Before they depart on the voyage to Cornwall, Queen Isot brews a
philtre, which she entrusts to Brangäne, directing her to administer
it to King Marke and his bride on the day of their wedding. On the
ship Isot continues to nurse her hatred for Tristan. "Why do you hate
me?" he asks. "Did you not slay my uncle?" "That has been expiated."
"And yet I hate you." By and by they are thirsty, and a careless
attendant finding the love-potion handy, gives it to them to drink. At
once they are overcome with the most ardent love for each other.
Brangäne is drawn into the secret, and on reaching Cornwall, is sent
to take Isot's place in King Marke's bed.

It will not be worth our while to follow the details of the rest of
the story, which is made up of a series of shameless tricks played by
the lovers upon King Marke, whereby they are enabled to enjoy their
love together in secret. At last Tristan is banished the court, and
takes refuge with a duke of Arundel in Sussex, named Jovelin, who has
a daughter, named Isot of the White Hand, of whom he becomes
enamoured. Here Gottfried's story ends, unfinished, but it is
continued in the other versions. Isot of the White Hand is married to
Tristan, but remains a virgin. We can omit the adventures with giants,
etc., which follow, but the end must be related. Tristan has been
wounded in a fray, and again no one can heal the wound but his former
love, Isot the Fair. A messenger is sent to bring her, with orders
that if he has been successful he shall hoist a blue-and-white sail
for a signal as the ship approaches; if unsuccessful, a black one. She
comes, and the blue-and-white sail is seen; but Isot of the White
hand, out of jealousy, informs Tristan that the sail is a black one.
Uttering the name Isot he expires. She enters too late, and dies with
her arms around him. "And it is related that Isot of the White Hand,
Tristan's wife, caused them to be buried on opposite sides of the
church, that they might not be together in death. But it came to pass
that an oak grew from the grave of each, and they grew so high that
their branches twined together above the roof."

Such is the story from which we are asked to believe that Wagner drew
the materials for his Tristan drama. The earlier part of Gottfried's
story is not unskilfully told; all that relates to Riwalin and the
birth of Tristan is worthy to stand beside the best products of German
mediaeval poetry. But from the time when Isot and her intriguing
mother enter on the scene the story is as dull as it is immoral. What
sane-minded person can possibly take an interest in a succession of
childish tricks played by two lovesick boobies upon a half-witted old
man? The plot is trivial in the extreme, and the characters are
contemptible; most contemptible of all are the hero and the heroine.
The spectacle of a knight on his knees before two women, imploring
them to have mercy upon him, and, in return for his life, promising to
find a rich husband for one of them would be hard to match. Add to
this the constant obtrusion of the poet's own personality, with his
moral reflections and trite philosophy, one can only wonder how the
much admired epic can ever have been listened to with patience. Deep
indeed must culture have sunk at the courts of Germany when princes
and nobles could take pleasure in such fustian while they possessed
the stories of the great epics, the Nibelungenlied, the Gudrunlied,
and the delicate lyrics of Walther von der Vogelweide.

Wagner's procedure in dealing with such a story as this is that of
Siegfried with the sword. Instead of trying to patch and adapt he
melts the whole down to create something entirely new out of the
material. Wagner's story is not the same as that of "Thomas" and
Gottfried, if for no other reason than that he has only one Isolde.
Whatever dramatic interest the older story may possess lies in there
being _two_ Isoldes, and in Tristan's desertion of one for the
other, of an unlawful mistress for a lawful wife. It seems from
certain remarks of Wagner[26] that he at first intended to preserve
this feature of the original, but discarded it as the emotional unity
of his subject-matter grew upon him.

[Footnote 26: Especially his remark on the kinship of the Tristan and
Siegfried myths (_Ges. Schr._, vi. 379), for the kinship lies in
the feature I have mentioned, the desertion of one love for another.]

The essential feature of Wagner's drama is that the love of the hero
and heroine remains unsatisfied. Their motives are consequently quite
different from what they are in Gottfried, and all the complex
intrigue which is the chief interest of the older story falls away of
necessity. On the other hand he has retained from Gottfried much more
than the names of the persons, many subordinate motives, not vital to
the story, and likely to be unnoticed by many, but which his skilled
eye detected as effective for scenic representation. Such are Isolde's
hatred and violent denunciations of Tristan before they drink the
philtre (Gottfr. 14539, 11570),[27] Brangäne's distress and remorse at
the effect of her trick (11700, 12060); the play upon his name,
"Tantris" for "Tristan." Kufferath quotes--unfortunately without
giving a reference--a _Minnelied_ of Gottfried, which is
obviously reproduced in the second act, where the lovers keep harping
upon the words "mein und dein." Many references which are obscure in
Wagner are explained in Gottfried's epic, such as the circumstances of
Tristan's first visit to Isolde in Ireland, with the splinter in
Morold's skull. Even the description of the boat in which he came as
"klein und arm" is accounted for by Gottfried (7424 seq.). Tristan's
motives for insisting upon Marke's marriage are, as we gather from
casual indications, the same as those set forth in Gottfried. He has
been entangled in political intrigues. Utterly free himself from any
sordid or selfish motive, he insists upon Marke's marriage as the only
possible means of obtaining tranquillity for his distracted country,
whereas in Gottfried he acts under fear of assassination.

[Footnote 27: I quote from the German translation of Karl Pannier in
Reclam, which is the most recent.]



Wagner's treatment of his material is worth a closer consideration
because it is characteristic of his conception of the drama. Like
every poet of the first order he regards it exclusively from the moral
standpoint. In a former chapter I drew a distinction between the drama
which depends upon the play of human actions for their own sakes and
that in which the interest is centred in the motives or characters of
the actors. The character of any individual is only another name for
his permanent will, the abiding metaphysical side of his being and its
most direct expression is music, while words are the proper vehicle of
the logical intellect. Gottfried's epic--the latter part of it I mean,
with which alone we are concerned--is entirely spectacular in the
sense in which I have used that term. The poet conducts us through a
succession of incidents related as being interesting or amusing in
themselves. Wagner, for reasons which I have explained, in dramatizing
the story, went to the opposite extreme, and composed a work so
entirely musical that it makes the impression of a gigantic symphony.
Gottfried cares nothing for the moral characters of his heroes.
Wooden, soulless puppets are sufficient for him so long as they act
and react upon one another. But the drama which centres in these
characters cannot be satisfied with nonentities; the poet had
therefore to create them himself, and the incidents then dropped out
as superfluous.

For a character to be poetically interesting it is not necessary that
it should be faultless. But it must be human--intensely human, both in
its virtues and in its defects; then the large-hearted spectator can
reverence its nobility and sympathize with its shortcomings without
his aesthetic or moral faculties being outraged. Some loftiness of
purpose there must be in a dramatic hero, something which raises us
out of ourselves and calls forth feelings of worship and awe in spite
of what seem to be his errors. "Es irrt der Mensch so lang er
lebt"--"It is not the finding of truth, but the honest search for it
that profits"; the spectacle of a noble soul striving against
adversities and often failing, but never crushed, is one which touches
the heart most deeply, and is the proper subject of tragedy. Above all
the hero must be truthful; we must not be always on the watch to find
him out unawares, as in actual life.

Wagner's drama has been often described as a story of adultery; we are
even told that it would have no interest were it not a tale of illicit
love, and so it is regarded by nine out of ten of those who witness
the performance without having closely studied the text. That such a
notion should prevail in spite of the clearness of the text on this
point is due to the fact that most people can only conceive of a drama
as spectacular. They expect incidents, and, finding none, they seek
for pruriency. All they see is a man and woman in passionate love for
each other without any hope of ever being married, so they conclude it
must come under the familiar heading of illicit love. The difficulty
of the language is no doubt partly responsible for this gross
misapprehension, and the music gives no help. It tells of the passion,
but can say nothing about its legality. Of adultery or illicit love
there can be no question in Wagner's _Tristan_, if for no other
reason than that Isolde is not married to King Marke, and owes him no
allegiance. She has been carried off to be married to him, but that is
quite a different thing. Are we to suppose that after all that
happened on board the ship she consented to become the wife of King
Marke? Certainly the text gives us no authority to suppose anything so
incredible; we only learn from some words of King Marke in the second
act that she is still an inviolate virgin. Even if we could believe
the gentle and chivalrous Marke capable of committing such an outrage
upon a woman as to go through a form of marriage with her against her
will, no rite so performed would be binding by any law of God or man.
Without her consent she cannot be the wife of King Marke. The point
would not be of any real importance did it not seem to lend colour to
the absurd charge of licentiousness and sensuality which has so often
been brought against Wagner.

I have already remarked that an important difference between the old
conception of the story and Wagner's lies in the fact that in the
latter their love remains unsatisfied. The notion of their longing
being fulfilled is utterly foreign to Wagner's _Tristan_, nor is
there at any moment the smallest hope of their ever possessing each
other in this life. However consumed they are with love they retain
perfect mastery over themselves. This is so abundantly clear from the
first moment when their love is revealed--when they drink the
potion--that it is inconceivable for a misunderstanding to occur to
any one who follows the text with any attention. Were the mistake
confined to vulgar and careless people who make up the bulk of the
audience, however deplorable, it would be intelligible, but from
scholars and professional critics we expect at least acquaintance with
the text. An author who enjoys a deservedly high reputation as an
authority upon Greek art and is widely read by young students writes
in a recent work: "Any one at first hearing of Wagner's _Tristan und
Isolde_ would perceive that it was a most immoral subject.... It is
an artistic glorification of adultery." How, one must ask, does the
learned author reconcile this statement with Tristan's words just
before he drinks the supposed poison: "Tristan's Ehre--höchste Treu'"?
What is the meaning of the whole dialogue of the second act, of
Tristan's address to Isolde at the end, and of her reply to him when
both go forth to die? How does it come that at last, when all
obstacles have been surmounted, when nothing more hinders the lovers
from full possession of one another, he deliberately puts an end to
his own life? This and much more could only be explained by supposing
that Wagner wrote, in operatic fashion, words without meaning, with an
eye solely to stage effect. It is the old story! Wagner having been
once written down as the poet of licence and immorality, the facts
have to be altered to suit the theory.

Tristan's crime is indeed in the eyes of a chivalrous soul a far
blacker one than that of adultery. He has betrayed his friend, his
sovereign, his kinsman, his benefactor, and has broken his faith
towards the woman who trusted him. He is so completely overcome with
love for the woman whom he himself has brought to be the bride of his
uncle, that no going back is possible. But one course is yet open to
him to save his honour. He may die; and he accordingly seeks death
with full consciousness and determination. Three times he tries to rid
himself of life: first when he drinks the supposed poison with Isolde;
again when he drops his sword in the duel with Melot; the third time
he succeeds, when he tears off his bandages at the decisive moment,
when no escape is possible but by instant death.

Love for its own sake is not a subject for dramatic treatment.
Love-stories are the bane of love. In real life we do not talk about
our love-affairs, most men thinking that they have quite enough to do
with their own without caring to hear those of other people. Still
less do we wish to hear the vapid inanities which seem proper to that
condition poured forth on the stage. I know of no European drama of
any importance which treats of a prosperous and happy love as its
principal subject; it needs the delicate pen of a Kálidása to make it
endurable. It does not of course follow that love is to be altogether
banished from dramatic art. The dramatist surveys the whole field of
human life and could not, if he wished, afford to neglect the most
powerful and universal of human motives. All depends upon the
treatment, and no subject is more beset with difficulties. The earlier
Greek dramatists, with their usual unerring judgment, avoided sexual
love, i.e. the love between a young woman and a young man, although
love-stories and love-lyrics were well known to them. The only play
which has come down to us where love is a predominant motive is the
_Trachiniae_. The love of Deianeira is the ardent longing of a
highly emotional young woman and mother, but its very intensity brings
disaster on both herself and her husband. Broadly speaking, love is a
legitimate motive for the dramatist when it is used, not as a purpose
in itself, but as a setting for something else. In the words of
Corneille, "l'amour ne doit être que l'ornement, et non l'âme de nos
pièces," and this is how it is generally employed by the best
dramatists. The love of Benedict and Beatrice, for example, is simply
a setting for their witty talk and repartee. On the Spanish stage love
is often a setting for entertaining intrigue, as in Lope de Vega's
_El Perro del Hortelano_. In Schiller's _Wallenstein_ the
love of Max and Thekla is a refreshing breath of pure air through the
abyss of treachery and corruption; almost the same applies to _Romeo
and Juliet_, and in both the end is death. Of the Elizabethans,
Ford seems to have had a predilection for love-plots, but all, as far
as I remember, end tragically. I have selected, as they occurred to
me, a few representative plays from the dramatic literature of
different countries; an exhaustive inquiry would, I feel sure, only
confirm the view that a preference for love subjects for their own
sake is a sure sign of decadence in the drama. Goethe, who in his
youth swore to dedicate his life to the service of love,
and--unhappily--kept his vow; Goethe, who nauseates us with love in
his romances and lyrics, who even in the Eternal City cannot forget
his worship of "Amor" and his visits to his "Liebchen," never misuses
love in his dramas. He tells us sarcastically that on the stage, when
the lovers are at last united, the curtain falls quickly and covers up
the sequel.

A work of art like _Tristan und Isolde_ can never be understood
by the norms which prevail in society. By the social theory, marriage
is a contract between two parties for their mutual advantage; it is
inspired by a refined form of selfishness. That spontaneous
self-immolation which marks the love of pure and vigorous natures lies
beyond its intelligence. The law is satisfied if only the parties
subscribe their names in solemn agreement before a proper civil or
ecclesiastical authority. It could not well be otherwise, for the
true-born _Aphrodite Ourania_ will not submit to any bonds but
her own. I should be indeed misunderstood if it were thought that I
was advocating licence in any form whatever. What is called
"free-love" is pure sensuality, the bastard _Aphrodite Pandemos_.
Nothing is more sacred to me than the marriage vow, but I hold that
the marriage vow itself needs the sanction of love, and that when this
is absent, or has broken down in the stress of life, I say--not that
sin is justified, but that love will take vengeance upon those who
have insulted her name. Lovers whose object is sensual enjoyment with
as little personal inconvenience as possible, who break the law while
wishing to escape the legal penalty, have nothing in common with
Wagner's _Tristan und Isolde_. Those who love for the sake of
loving, whose love is stronger than life, who readily and cheerfully
accept death as the due penalty of sin, these, and these alone, are
beyond the pale of human conventions; they can only be judged by the
laws of a higher morality than that of human tribunals.

Some details of the story we must construct for ourselves, and are
entitled to do so when they are not essential. The poet is himself not
always conscious of all the bearings of what he composes; he works by
inspiration, not by reason, and we know that Wagner himself was
sometimes under singular delusions with regard to his own works. Two
questions will occur to everybody at the beginning: 1. Has Isolde
started on the voyage to be the bride of King Marke with her own
consent? 2. Does she love Tristan before they drink the potion? Many
will answer these questions quite positively, the first in the
negative, the second in the affirmative. But the indications are very
shadowy indeed in the text, and the old story, the only source which
could throw any light on the question, tells the contrary in both
cases. Perhaps it will be contended that the constant presence of the
love-motive at decisive moments leaves no doubt that they love each
other from the beginning. To this I reply that it is not possible for
a musical strain by itself to prove anything. It can only call to mind
as a reminiscence something with which it has been definitely
connected before. We cannot do better than leave such questions to be
answered by each according to his own judgment. Like a skilful painter
Wagner has drawn secondary incidents with a shadowy outline in order
that the attention may be concentrated on the main features. The main
thing is to realize that they are inessential, but those who feel the
need of greater clearness may reconstruct for themselves. My own
belief is that their feelings at the beginning of the first act are a
very subtle and complex mixture, of which they could not then have
given a very clear account even to themselves, and that the poet has
therefore, with consummate artistic skill, purposely left them

The one decisive and all-important motive of the drama is the love of
the hero and the heroine in conflict with Tristan's honour; and on
this the whole force of the musical torrent is concentrated. In the
end love must prevail. Love, with Wagner, is the divine possession
which dominates every noble heart, but here it is incompatible with
the conditions of human life, and of that honour which is its very
breath. And so at the end, as the lovers pass through their
death-agony clasped in each other's embrace, the love-motive soars
triumphant and joyous above the surging billows of the orchestra, and
they are united in the more glorious love beyond, in the "love that is
stronger than death."

I have now to speak of Wagner's much discussed "pessimism." At first
sight it might seem a strange contradiction to speak of pessimism in a
man who composed _Die Meistersinger_, whose love of all things
beautiful was a passion, whose faith in human nature, unshaken by
every disillusionment, would almost seem like madness, did we not know
that it was that very faith which finally carried him through to
victory. Wagner's pessimism was not borrowed from Schopenhauer, but
was his own, as it is, in one form or another, the creed of every
thinking man, the foundation of every satisfying philosophy and art.
Pessimism does not consist in looking only at the dark side of things,
and closing the eyes to all that is beautiful; that is blindness and
ignorance, not philosophy. Pessimism is on the contrary the outcome of
an intense love, of a passionate delight in the harmony, the fitness,
and beauty of nature, inspiring a keenly sympathetic soul. He cannot
close his eyes to the fact that all this lovely world is made to
perish; that its individuals are engaged in a fierce warfare upon one
another; each preys upon its fellows with a savagery which shuns no
cruelty and recks of no crime. Love itself in its mortal embodiment
withers and turns to evil. His moral sense tells him that this ought
not to be; there must be some delusion; is it in nature or is it in
his own understanding? As a rule we put this darker aspect of nature
out of sight; we exclude the poor, the vicious, the unhappy from our
company, because they would hinder us in our mad pursuit of pleasure,
and it needs the strength and sincerity which accompany the advance of
years to bring a revolt against the selfish blindness of our youth. As
we watch and learn from the terrible tragedy of nature, as we realize
more and more the baseness and depravity of human life, our faith
becomes stronger that beauty, truth, righteousness, are eternal and
cannot be born only that they may perish; that man is not "a wild and
ravening beast held in check only by the bonds of civilization," but
is a divine and immortal being. Our vision gradually opens and we
learn more clearly that all which we once took for pleasure and for
pain are unreal, visionary reflections from a higher and purer
existence where all creation is united in the eternal embrace of love.
For those who, through courage and sincerity, through faith and hope
and love, have attained the higher insight, have seen the very face of
Brahm behind the delusive veil of Mâyâ, there is no discord or
contradiction in all this; despair gives way to a resigned quietism,
to that "peace of God which passeth all understanding." Such is the
ineffable insight of the artist, and no poetry is satisfying which
does not spring from this source. Wagner in the letter I quoted
before, speaks of the cheerful playfulness of Spanish poets after they
had adopted the ascetic life. The philosophic pessimist is not a
fretful and malignant caviller who sneers at the follies of others
because he thinks himself so much wiser than they. Any one may note
among the ascetics of his acquaintance, those who take no pleasure in
what delights others and live a life of self-denial and
abstemiousness, how cheerful is their conversation, how bright and
steadfast their glance, how their tolerance of the follies of others
is only equalled by the saintliness of their own lives.

Such is Wagner's pessimism; it is the pessimism of the Vedânta
philosophy; that is to say, it is most clearly formulated in that
system, and in the Upanishads upon which it rests, but really it is
the common basis of all religions.[28] It breathes in the poems of
Hafiz, in the philosophy of Parmenides, Plato, and the Stoics, in the
profound wisdom of Ecclesiastes, in mediaeval mysticism, and the faith
of the early Christian Church. Buddhism and Christianity are both
pessimist in their origin. It is not an "opinion," i.e. a creed or
formula which may be weighed and either accepted or rejected, but is
an insight which, when once understood and felt, is as self-evident as
the air we breathe. But it is an insight which can only be attained
through moral discipline, never through the rationalism of vulgar and
self-seeking minds. Nor is it for those who are enlightened at all
moments of their lives, but only in times of poetic exaltation, when
the faculties are awake and become creative.

[Footnote 28: Except Islam, which is rather a moral discipline than a



In this chapter I propose to consider certain criticisms which are
often made on Wagner's treatment of the drama, which differ from some
of those mentioned before, in being intelligible and worthy of
respect, since they have not been made maliciously or through
ignorance. In so far as they are invalid they rest upon
misunderstandings which can easily be accounted for by Wagner's
unparalleled originality, by the novelty of his art, necessarily
involving a wide departure from the classic standards by which alone
the critic can form his judgment. To comprehend his work we must give
up many of those cherished canons which hitherto have passed

Wagner's _Tristan_ has often--even by Lichtenberger--been
described as a philosophic work; and as abstract thought or
philosophy, it is said, is foreign to art, a work which admits it must
be condemned. Let us first understand what is meant by philosophy. It
is surely a train of thought in the mind of the spectator, not in the
object which he contemplates. Anything in the world may be the subject
of philosophic thought, or may suggest it; there is plenty of
philosophy to be drawn from a daisy, but we do not therefore call a
daisy a philosophic flower. So, too, we may philosophize about
Wagner's _Tristan_, but the philosophy is our own; it is not in
the work. What is meant no doubt is that the work itself is not a
concrete reality, but an exposition of an abstract conception.
Philosophy has only herself to blame if abstractions are in the naïf,
ordinary mind opposed to realities, for it is unhappily true that
nearly the whole of our current philosophy does consist of
abstractions which are mere "Hirngespinnste," rooted in words and not
in nature; philosophy itself has in art become a term of reproach from
being associated with unreality. We must, however, distinguish between
notions which are real but difficult to grasp and those which cannot
be grasped, because there is nothing in them, and this distinction
cannot be made without thought and labour from which the ordinary mind
shrinks, being too indolent or indifferent. Poetry is not opposed to
philosophy, and is not the less poetry when it concerns itself with
those higher notions which are outside the range of our more ordinary
comprehension, [Greek: ho¯s philosophias ousaes megistaes monsikaes].
Both poetry and philosophy deal in abstractions, only in both the
abstractions must be true, i.e. must be true general statements of
ideas found in nature; when this is the case poetry and philosophy
are indistinguishable, except by mere external and conventional
features. Under which heading are we to class, for example, Plato's
_Republic_? Or the _Upanishads_? or the book of _Job_? They
are generally thought of as philosophy, but all who have even partially
understood them will feel their poetic spell. Or if we take our greatest
poems, to mention only some of those most familiar to us: _Paradise
Lost_, Goethe's _Faust_ or Marlowe's, Tennyson's _In Memoriam_,
Fitzgerald's _Rubáiyát_--all of these might be just as well classed under
philosophy as under poetry. Only untrue philosophy is unpoetical, that
which has grown out of the reason of man. Abstractions manufactured
by human reason are no more philosophy than an account of centaurs
and gryphons is natural history. They are not to be found in Wagner's

The particular philosophy which Wagner's _Tristan_ is supposed to
set forth is that of Schopenhauer. But Schopenhauer's doctrine of
Negation of Will or Nirvâna--for it is identical with that of
Buddhism--is a negation of existence itself absolutely. The man who
puts an end to his own life does not attain Nirvâna; he is not
dissatisfied with life in itself, but only with its conditions, and he
passes through the endless cycle of Samsâra until the moment arrives
when, sickened with the wearisome struggle, he longs for complete
annihilation. The lovers in _Tristan_ look forward to a renewed
existence beyond the grave, in the "realm of night," where, freed from
the trammels of the senses their love will endure, purified from the
pollution of human lust in glory undimmed by the sordid conditions of
human life.

  Sehnen hin zur heil'gen Nacht
    Wo ur-ewig einzig wahr
  Liebes-Wonne ihm lacht.

Such a future life would with Schopenhauer only be a renewal of the
misery of existence in another form. It is the Christian, not the
Buddhist, way of feeling that inspires the lovers. Christianity starts
from the insufficiency and misery of human life, but contemplates
redemption therefrom by love, whereas Buddhism conceives of no
possibility of redemption. Its release is annihilation, and it is a
religion of despair, not of hope.

It would be interesting, if it did not take us too far from our
present subject, to compare this conception of love with that of
Sokrates as set forth in the _Symposium_ of Plato. Sokrates
believed fully in immortality, but wisely refrained from speculating
on the conditions of existence after death. His _Eros_ is
confined to this life, but none the less he treats it as a divine
gift. Love is the mediator and interpreter between gods and men; and
love of the beautiful, which manifests itself in the procreation and
love of offspring, is the desire for immortality, the children being
the continuation of the immortal part of their parents.[29] This is
the lower mystery. The higher, which is not revealed to all, is the
gradual expansion of love until it comprehends the eternal Idea. The
beauty which we love in the individual becomes a stepping-stone from
which we may rise to the love of all beautiful things, passing from
one to many, from beautiful forms to beautiful deeds, from them to
beautiful thoughts, laws, institutions, sciences, until we contemplate
the vast sea of beauty in the boundless love of wisdom, a beauty which
does not grow and perish, but is eternal. There could be no finer
commentary on Wagner's _Tristan_ than this wondrous speech of
Sokrates in the _Symposium_.

[Footnote 29: It is worth noting in passing how this beautiful
conception of Plato coincides with views expressed in our own day by a
scientific man of the highest distinction, the foremost living
representative of Darwinian evolution, Professor Weismann. See his
_Essays on Heredity_.]

It is true, however paradoxical it may seem, that Wagner's very
stupendous power is itself a source of weakness; it is too great for
more limited minds to grasp. If love is really the one divine fact of
human existence, to which all else is as nothing; and if at the same
time a pure and burning love resolutely followed of necessity leads to
destruction, then how are we to live at all? Is this life to count for
nothing? I shall not attempt to answer this question. I cannot bring
the truth that all noble and generous actions are bound to end in
failure, to bring death upon their doers, within the scheme of a
divinely ordered universe. I will only observe that it is a truth
tacitly acknowledged by all who compose tragedies or take pleasure in
witnessing them. How else could we endure to contemplate the failure
and destruction of a Lear, a Wallenstein, a Deianira, an Antigone?

Here our attempts to extract philosophy out of the Tristan drama must
cease. My only purpose has been to show that its abstractions are warm
with the living breath of reality, and whatever is beyond this must be
left for the student to carry out for himself, from the point of view
of his own mind. Such exercises are interesting and salutary to the
philosophic mind, but for minds trained in the modern formulas of
"self-interest" and "liberty" they are only possible after a complete
reconstruction of the foundations of knowledge, a "revaluation of all

The decisive part played by the magic love-potion has given rise to
much comment. Hostile critics ridicule it, and condemn the whole work
as turning on an absurdity, while those who are favourable try to
explain it away, but their explanations have always seemed to me more
unnatural than the thing explained. Why may we not accept it as it is
evidently intended? In art at least, rationalism has not yet--thanks
perhaps to Shakespearian traditions--prevailed so far that we must
exclude supernatural motives altogether. Wagner could scarcely have
used the myth and the names of Tristan and Isolde without introducing
the philtre with which they have always been associated. It would be
just as reasonable to explain away the ghost in _Hamlet_ as the
love-potion of Isolde; if we accept one we can accept the other, for
in both the prime mover of the tragedy is supernatural. Lessing, in
comparing the ghost of Hamlet's father with the ghost of Ninus in
Voltaire's _Semiramis_, has some remarks which are equally valid
for all supernatural motives in the drama. The principle which he
evolves is that a supernatural being to be admissible must interest us
for its own sake as a living and acting personage; in other words, it
must be an organic portion of the play, not a mere machine brought in
for stage effect. "Voltaire treats the apparition of a dead person as
a miracle, Shakespeare as a perfectly natural occurrence." I do not
think that the difference between what is allowable and what is not
could be more clearly put than in this last sentence. We are not
obliged to believe that the potion is the sole cause of their love;
that they hated each other as deadly enemies at one moment and became
lovers at the next. Such a notion would be altogether too crude. We
are justified in supposing that behind Isolde's rage and Tristan's
disdain there lies a deeper feeling, as yet unconfessed but
sufficiently deep-rooted to endure when the anger of the moment has
passed away, and that this is what is effected by the draught.

A very marked characteristic or mannerism of Wagner's dramas is the
tedious length of explanation in some scenes or soliloquies, and they
have often been severely criticized. There is one in _Tristan_,
King Marke's speech at the end of Act II., and I may say at once that
after all that has been said the objections cannot be entirely set
aside. It numbers nearly two hundred bars in slow tempo, and takes
about ten minutes. The argument generally used in defending it is that
the action is laid within, and the interest is in the music. But the
objection--to me at least--is not that the action is at a standstill,
but that the scene is undramatic, and much of it unmitigated prose.
The action has stood still nearly all through the act, but no one
would wish to miss a bar of any other portion. The king's reproaches
of his friend and vassal for his treachery, and the music with its
gloomy orchestration, mostly of horns, bassoons, viola, and lower
strings, with occasional English horn, and the deepest notes of the
clarinet interspersed with wails of the bass-clarinet, are profoundly
touching and proceed naturally out of the situation. Had there been
nothing more than these it might have been much shorter, but Wagner
has taken the occasion to try to throw some light upon the
circumstances that preceded the events of the play. If they were to be
told they should have been told earlier. Here we have forgotten our
perplexity at the beginning and are now thrilled with the situation,
not at all in the mood for hearing explanations. Nor does it really
explain; if the hearer does not already know why Isolde was brought to
be the bride of King Marke, he will scarcely learn it from Marke's

When I spoke just now of Wagner's predilection for long soliloquies
and prosy explanations as a mannerism, I do not think that I was
expressing myself too strongly. Thus in _Die Walküre_, in Wotan's
long speech to Brünnhilde in Act II., he sketches the main events of
_Das Rheingold_. In _Siegfried_ the amusing riddle scene, a
reminiscence of the Eddic _Alvísmál_, seems intended to relate
events which have gone before. In _Götterdämmerung_ it is
Siegfried who just before his death tells the story of the preceding
evening.[30] In _Parsifal_ Gurnemanz explains all the circumstances
to the Knappen. How undramatic are these explanations we shall
realize when we compare them with such soliloquies as Tannhäuser's
account of his pilgrimage or Siegmund's story of his life, which, though
equally lengthy, keep us spellbound from the first bar to the last,
because they directly lead up to and form part of the scene which is
actually before us. Tannhäuser's wild aspect and manner, Siegmund's
desolation and longing for community with other human beings, are in
direct connection with the story told.

[Footnote 30: From which we may conclude that Wagner when composing
the tetralogy contemplated the separate numbers being sometimes
performed singly. For this the explanations are again inadequate. Much
better it would have been to provide at the performance a short
printed or spoken introduction, a plan which in my humble opinion
might well be adopted in most plays.]

I am, of course, only expressing an individual opinion, because I feel
bound in giving a full account of the work to say how it appears to
me; others may very probably feel it differently. It matters little.
Even if I am right in thinking that Wagner has miscalculated the
effect on the stage, _Tristan_ will still remain a work
immeasurably superior to a thousand that are faultless.



"Art generally ... as such, is nothing but a noble and expressive
language, invaluable as a vehicle of thought, but by itself nothing.

"Art, properly so called, is no recreation; it cannot be learned at
spare moments, nor pursued when we have nothing better to do. It is no
handiwork for drawing-room tables, no relief of the ennui of boudoirs;
it must be understood and undertaken seriously or not at all. To
advance it, men's lives must be given, and to receive it, their

These words, among the first written for serious publication by John
Ruskin when he was a young graduate of Oxford, are the text of his
whole life's teaching.

"Daily and hourly," writes Carlyle, "the world natural grows out of a
world magical to me.... Daily, too, I see that there is no true poetry
but in reality."

More than two thousand years before Plato had written in the third
book of his _Republic_ against the indifference to manly virtue
and the cult of a languishing effeminacy in the poetry and art of his
day. He inveighs against the [Greek: panarmonia] and [Greek:
poluchodia] of the musicians, by which we may understand
over-instrumentation,--as if the Athenians even then had their
Berliozes and Strausses--and continues (I quote from Jowett's
translation): "Neither we nor our guardians whom we have to educate
can ever become musical until we and they know the essential forms of
temperance ([Greek: so¯phrosunae]), courage, liberality, magnificence
([Greek: megalorepeia]), and their kindred, etc."

The teaching of all these three great masters, and I might have
multiplied quotations from the works of the greatest--but only from
those of the greatest--thinkers of ancient and modern times, is the
same: that art is not a mere play of beautiful forms, but that the
artist must know a truth and have been able to express it; that his
work must be approved or condemned according as that truth is
healthful or the reverse. It is the doctrine of sincerity, and is
opposed to the common and weaker doctrine of "art for art's
sake"--i.e. that art is self-contained, that we occupy ourselves with
it solely for the pleasure which it affords through our senses, that
it has no didactic purpose. By this latter view, beauty in art is an
idea quite distinct from utility or morality; by the other, beauty,
utility, and morality are fundamentally one, being all emanations from
the one supreme Idea of creation named by Plato--"the Good," or "the
Good in itself," "the Idea of Good."

Can we apply this distinction to music? All the other arts derive
their subject-matter from the material world, but Polyhymnia seems to
detach herself from her sisters, to soar away from the things of this
earth, and to dwell in the ethereal regions of pure ideality. The
objects of painting, poetry, sculpture, etc., are those of our
surroundings; the artist only puts the things familiar to us in nature
in a new light, and, by concentrating the attention upon certain
aspects, reveals much that minds less poetic than his had not noticed
before. The morality which these arts are able to convey is the
morality of nature. But music is not concerned with any material
objects; its means are rhythm, melodic intervals, harmony, all purely
ideal existences, and seemingly all connected in some mysterious way
with number, itself an immaterial idea of time. And although the
manner of our perception of harmony has, to some extent, that of
melody to a still smaller extent, been explained in our time by
physiologists, the explanations only relate to the form of our
perception. They show how, through the harmonic overtones, the mind is
able to recognize the connection between a chord and the one which
preceded it, but cannot tell why one progression of harmonies is
pleasant, another the reverse, as Helmholtz himself was fully aware.
How then can it be possible for music to be a vehicle of thought? What
can it have to do with "temperance, courage, liberality"?

The question is not one which I can hope fully to answer within these
pages, but it cannot be altogether passed over; we must know something
of the nature of music, must have some clear notion of what it is if
we are to understand its relation to language in the drama. The
explanation given by Leibnitz that it is an _exercitium arithmeticae
occultum nescientis se numerare animi_ is quite inadequate. Music
is not a purely intellectual affection like that of number and
proportion, but is in the highest degree emotional. The pleasure which
we receive from contemplating a mathematical process of great
complexity is altogether different from that of music. Highly complex
as are the mathematical relations of the vibrations which convey
musical tones from the instrument to the ear the final result of those
relations, the impression on the rods of Corti's organ in the Cochlea,
are as purely physiological as the impressions of touch. Scientific,
i.e. inductive, research must always find an end at the point where
the organs become too small for observation; it can throw no light on
the nature of the impression transmitted from Corti's organ to the

A suggestion has been put forward by Schopenhauer which may be viewed
as an attempt to explain transcendentally the nature of music. It is
well known that, according to Schopenhauer, a work of art represents
the (Platonic) Idea of the object which it depicts, this Idea being
itself the first and highest stage of objectivation of Will. Music is,
however, a direct objectivation of Will, i.e. not through an Idea.

Music, therefore, is not like the other arts the image (Abbild) of an
Idea, but an image of the Will itself, of which the Ideas are also the
objectivity. This is why the impression which music makes upon us is
so much more powerful and more penetrating than that of the other
arts, for they tell only of the shadow, music of the substance. But
inasmuch as it is the same will that objectivates itself, only in
quite different ways in the Ideas and in music, so there results, not
indeed a _resemblance_, but rather a _parallelism_, an _analogy_
between music and the Ideas which appear in the world, multiplied
and imperfect as phenomena.

Beyond this we must not follow our author. Schopenhauer no doubt
possessed a very keen sense for music, but his theoretical education
was of the slightest, and his further remarks make the impression of
his having read up _ad hoc_ some theoretical writer of his time.
But we may accept his definition as at least a first step in the

The objective world lies before us in two forms, as light and as
sound. From the visible world of light we receive all the data for our
_understanding_, in the forms of time, space, and causality.
Beside it lies the world of sound, in time alone, and appealing
directly to our inner emotional consciousness, or, as we vaguely
express it, to the "_feelings_," which the light-world can only
reach indirectly through the understanding. Both these worlds are
fundamentally one, differing only in their manifestation, and, however
diverse they may appear, they are united by the element common to
both, Rhythm. In general the language of the understanding is
articulate speech, that of the emotions is music. The Unity subsisting
between these two worlds, of understanding and emotion, of language
and music, can only be realized intuitively; it can scarcely be
demonstrated. But we have vivid illustrations of it in many familiar
facts, for instance, that animals are able to make themselves
understood to us and to each other without articulate language, by
gesture and song. Thus we have the mutual relations of the two
dramatic elements. Shortly stated, words tell the story, music the
feelings of the persons. Gesture would seem to hold a place between
language and song, appealing to the emotions as directly, and
sometimes almost as forcibly as sound.[31] These relations are not so
sharply marked off from each other as appears in the analysis. In a
highly wrought organism each part, while keeping strictly to its own
functions, is nevertheless capable to some extent, when necessity
arises, of extending its field. It is like a well-disciplined army
where the duties of each unit are strictly laid down, but where the
units themselves possess intelligence and are capable when needful of
independent action, and a continual intercommunication between all the
parts ensures their harmonious working.

[Footnote 31: The reader who is interested will find the subject more
fully treated in Wagner's _Beethoven_.]

Applying what has been said to the drama let us select one incident of
our work, the tearing down of the torch by Isolde in the second act.
The words have told us that the torch is a signal of danger, and now
the sounds of the hunt having died away, its removal informs Tristan
that the way is clear for him to approach. More than this the poet
could scarcely do in the words. To have expatiated upon the awful
consequences which the lovers know full well must inevitably follow,
on the conflict of hope, awe, heroic resolution, defiance of the
certain death before them--to have told all this in words would have
necessitated a long speech, most unnatural and undramatic at such a
moment of tension, and could scarcely have avoided degenerating into
bombast. By a few simple transitions, a few devices of instrumentation,
the orchestra relates all this and much more, while Isolde's
flute-motive, so exquisitely graceful and tender in the preceding scene,
has now become a shriek of resolution bewildered but undaunted in the
supreme crisis, above the savage call of the trumpets to death. So far
the music; we _see_ in the torch hurled from its shining post and left
expiring on the ground, a symbol of the drama that is concentrated
in the act; of Tristan's glory extinguished in the realm of night. All
this in the scenic representation forms one issue, the different elements
coalescing in the hearer's mind into a single dramatic incident.

Wagner's view of the relation of music to words has been the subject
of much controversy, often unhappily very heated. Before Wagner the
common notion was that music in combination with words had only to
enforce them and to accentuate their declamation. Such was the view of
Gluck. As regards lyric productions, the setting of songs to music,
this principle may be sufficient, but the case is different when both
words and music are controlled by a dramatic action.

Another view places music in a class altogether by itself, apart from
the other arts, and unable to unite with them except in so far as to
employ them as its vehicle. Wherever music appears in company with
poetry, music must take the lead, must be governed by its own laws,
retain its own forms, while poetry, its compliant servant, must avoid
all higher expression and accommodate itself as best it can to the
music. So the highest form of music will be instrumental, where it is
unfettered by the ties of poetry.

A little work published in the fifties by the Vienna critic, Dr. E.
Hanslick, entitled _Vom musikalisch-Schönen_, discusses this
question very fully. It attained great celebrity at the time of its
publication and is still read. It is the best attempt that I have seen
to state theoretically the case against Wagner in sober and reasoned
language, and though it contains a few misunderstandings it is free
from offensive personalities and well worthy of attention. The author
is a disciple of that school of German aestheticians of which F. Th.
Vischer is the foremost representative.

According to Dr. Hanslick, music, being an art isolated from objective
nature, can never be anything but music. Whatever it expresses can
only be stated in terms of music; it can never present a definite
human "feeling." The essence of music is movement, and it can
represent certain dynamic ideas. Thus, although it can never express
love, hope, longing, etc., since those feelings involve a perception
(_Vorstellung_) or a concept (_Begriff_), things foreign to
its nature, it can represent given ideas as strong, weak, increasing,
diminishing, etc.--or as anything which is a function of time,
movement, and proportion. It can also _by analogy_ suggest in the
hearer the ideas of pleasing, soft, violent, elegant, and the like.
Whatever is beyond this is symbolical. Movement and symbolism are the
only means by which music can express anything. The notion that music
can express a definite feeling was, the author declares, universally
held by aestheticians at that time, and amongst those who held it he
seems to include Wagner. By way of exposing its fallacy he quotes the
air from Gluck's _Orpheus_:

[Music: J'ai per - du mon Eu - ri - di - ce-- rien n'é - ga - le mon
mal - heur.]

It would be possible, he says, to substitute words of an exactly
opposite meaning--

  J'ai trouvé mon Euridice,
  Rien n'égale mon bonheur--

without the music being affected in any way. This being so, he
continues, music can never unite with words to express any notion at
all, and the only form artistically admissible is absolute or
instrumental music. The pleasure which it imparts is the same as that
which we derive from a kaleidoscope, except in so far as it is
ennobled by the fact of its emanating from a human mind instead of
from a machine. The union of music with words is a morganatic
marriage, in which the words must suffer violence. With this the
author believes himself to have demolished Wagner's canon that in the
musical drama the music is only a means, the end being the drama.

Undoubtedly there is much truth in these observations. If for the
moment we confine our attention to instrumental music it is undeniable
that a musical melody in itself can never be anything but music.
Wagner himself has insisted that music attains all the fulness of
which it is capable as absolute or instrumental music, and as this
truth has been too often forgotten by composers, we have nothing but
gratitude for an author who once more strives to bring it into notice.
But it is only a one-sided truth, and insufficient. By the same rigid
reasoning it might be contended that a human face, being nothing but
modelling and colour, can never express anything but functions of
lines and forms, and colours. Everything in nature as well as in art
has for those who look below the surface a significance beyond its
external features. Nor does it follow that music will always remain
content with its own glorious isolation, that it will never seek for
union with other arts, sacrificing indeed its pristine purity, but
gaining mightily in warm human expression. Even in the heyday of
absolute music, in the instrumental compositions of Sebastian Bach, we
may notice this tendency, though here it is rather the dance than
poetry with which it strives to ally itself; while in Beethoven's
symphonies the yearning for human community and human fellowship is
noticeable from the first, and in the final work it breaks its bonds
and dissolves into song.

The primary error in Dr. Hanslick's argument is that it begins at the
wrong end, and tacitly assumes that art can be controlled by
theoretical speculations. An _a priori_ development of the theory
of art out of supposed first principles must in the end lead to
contradictions and absurdities, and every one must feel his conclusion
that the union of music and words is illegitimate--a view which, among
other things, would deprive us of Schubert's songs--to be an
absurdity. Had the inquiry commenced with familiar instances from
existing works of art in which music is felt to possess a very vivid
power of expression and then been carried backwards to find what it
can express and what not, and what are the conditions of its
expression, the results might have been valuable and we should have
been spared a dissertation resting wholly upon confusion of the
meaning of words. Here a definite meaning has been attached to the
word "feeling" (_Gefühl_); it is understood as including such
feelings as "hope," "love," "fear," etc. These, of course, music
cannot express. Wagner himself insists that music can never express a
_definite_ feeling, and even censures it as a "misunderstanding"
on the part of Beethoven that in his later works he attempted to do
so.[32] The best word to denote what music can express is that used by
Helmholtz--_Gemüthstimmung_--untranslatable into English, but for
which we may use the term "emotional mood" as denoting something
similar. It is a _tuning_ or a _tone_ of the mind, a _mood_ that music
expresses, and from a word of such vague meaning there is no risk
of false deductions being drawn.

[Footnote 32: Wagner, _Ges. Schr_., iii. 341; iv. 387.]

All our musical sense revolts against the dictum that music cannot
under any circumstances express a general feeling. Take, for example,
Agatha's outburst on seeing the approach of her lover Max in the
second act of _Der Freischütz_:

[Music: All' mei - ne Pul - se schla-gen, und das Herz wallt un - ge -
stüm, Süss ent - - zückt ent - ge - - - gen ihm,.... etc.]

Would it be possible to hear this passage and not feel the melody as
a direct and most vivid expression of joy?--joy, that is, in the
abstract, but not a definite joy at some given event--that is told by
the words and scenery? Whatever share words and gesture may contribute
is as nothing compared with that exultant and rapturous outburst of
melody. Wherever there is any character-drawing in Italian opera,
it is in the music, not in the words, as, for example, in the more
dramatic portions of Elvira's music in _Don Giovanni_. The frequent
movement in octaves imparts a nobility and dignity to her expression
which are altogether absent in the words.

The paraphrase of the words of the air from Gluck's _Orphée_ is
amusing enough as a _jeu d' esprit_, but surely cannot be taken
seriously. Hanslick seems to have misapprehended the music; it does
not express grief, and is not intended to. The _words_ express
the desolation of Orpheus at the loss of his beloved, but the
_Stimmung_ of the melody is one of calm resignation. It is the
serene self-restraint with which Gluck loves to imbue his classic
heroes and heroines, and which is equally appropriate to joy and
grief. Grillparzer, whose authority both as a dramatist and as a
sensitive lover of music is rightly esteemed very highly, has declared
that it would be possible to take any one of Mozart's _arias_,
and set words of quite different meaning to them. This may be true of
many of Mozart's _arias_, which were often composed more with
regard to the organ of a particular singer than to the text before
him, but is assuredly not true of his great dramatic scenes and

Whatever value such speculations may possess vanishes before the
unconscious instinct of the creating artist. It is well known that
German dramatists and poets have from the beginning felt keenly the
need of musical expression. If the need was less felt by English
dramatists of our great period the reason is that it required the
development of music in the hands of the great German masters before
its power could be fully known. Herder, Schiller, Goethe, Hoffmann,
Richter, and a host of others all sighed for the aid of music.[33]
Kleist declared music to be the root of all the other arts. Their
dream could not be realized until the right form of the drama which
could unite with music had been found. It was at last found by Wagner
after repeated trial and failure. He determined the form as that in
which the characters act out of their own inner impulses. The
historical drama shows men as torn hither and thither by external
political considerations. The action is impelled by wheels within
wheels of intrigue and complex psychological mechanism. For such
subjects the romance, with its almost unlimited powers of expatiation,
is the proper vehicle, but they are unfitted for music; they
necessitate wearisome explanations of complicated motives altogether
foreign to the direct emotional character of musical drama. The
musical character is the one who is entirely himself, and whose
motives are therefore clear from the first; such subjects are to be
found above all in the mythologies of imaginative and poetically
gifted peoples. That does not of course mean that other subjects are
excluded, for there is no domain of life which may not offer the same
conditions, provided only that the characters have a strong and
well-marked individuality. When once this principle was discovered the
musical drama became a reality. Wagner uses for this form of drama the
term _reinmenschlich_--purely human--an expression which was in
keeping with the humanitarian views prevalent at the time when he
wrote, but not free from objection and apt to be misunderstood in our

[Footnote 33: Many utterances of German poets to this effect will be
found reproduced in Chamberlain's _Richard Wagner_.]

If the drama longed for the means of expressing its own inmost nature,
no less did music seek for a nearer approach to objectivity and to the
conditions of human existence. If it is true that music is the root of
all the arts, then it must also be the root of human life, and must
seek to reveal itself in life and in the drama which is the mirror of
life. The desire for human expression is already, as we have seen,
very clearly discernible in the symphonies and sonatas of Beethoven,
but it is since his time that the most remarkable development has
taken place. The programme music of Berlioz, Liszt, and other
composers has rightly been condemned by many critics, but the mistake
was in the manner of the composition rather than in the intention,
which was natural, indeed inevitable. Wagner's assertion that with
Beethoven "the last symphony has been written"--rationally understood,
of course, as meaning that nothing beyond is possible on instrumental
lines--is quite true. There was nothing left but for music to take
form in things of human interest. Only the composers, perhaps as much
from want of an adequate dramatic form as from want of skill, failed
to attain their end. While evidently striving to follow out
Beethoven's hint, _mehr Ausdruck der Empfindung als Malerei_,
their powers failed, and they produced more _Malerei_ than
_Empfindung_. The reader may consider by the light of these
remarks the passage in Liszt's _Faust_ symphony in the slow
movement, where Gretchen is represented as plucking a daisy,
repeating, "He loves me, he loves me not," etc. The composer has
depicted the scene with wonderful skill and exquisite poetic feeling,
but the essence of Goethe's scene, which lies entirely in its
unconscious innocence, is gone in this highly wrought artificial
presentation. It is the difference between nature and art, between the
naïve, pure-minded maiden and the actress painted and decorated for
the stage.

There are few persons, I believe, who on hearing an instrumental
composition do not feel a desire to form a mental picture of its
contents, so to speak, to objectivate it in their minds. Aestheticians
tell us that we are wrong, and we are apt to laugh at each other's
pictures, but we all do it. Beethoven, as we know from his friend
Schindler and his pupil Ries, often, if not always, had some object
before him when composing his instrumental works. The fact that the
same music suggests different interpretations to different minds will
not disturb us if we remember that music does not and never can
_depict_ or _describe_ its object: for that we have the arts
of poetry and painting. What music can give is the emotional mood
which it calls forth, and which may be common to many objects very
different in their external character. A "stormy" movement may be
referred to a storm of winds and waves, or to a storm of human
passions, and so might suggest a battle, a shipwreck, a revolution, a
violent emotion of love or hatred, or a play of Shakespeare. But the
aversion which we naturally feel to the labelling of sonatas and
symphonies with titles is in my opinion justifiable,[34] because here
we recognize an attempt to stereotype one particular interpretation,
instead of leaving the mind of each hearer free to form his own.

[Footnote 34: The latest and most atrocious outrage on good taste in
this respect is the labelling of Beethoven's great B flat sonata as
"_the Hammerklavier_." All musicians of finer feeling should
unite to kill this absurd name.]

A musical composition is a vessel into which many wines can be poured.
It cannot in itself express either any material object or any definite
feeling which involves such an object. No music can alone, without a
suggestion from elsewhere, express a person, a place, or love or fear
or a battle or "a calm sea and prosperous voyage," or any similar
thing. But it has a marvellous power of receiving suggestions which
are offered to it, by words or otherwise, of carrying them on and, by
means of its own forces of movement and proportion, intensifying their
expression to, a degree inconceivable without its aid. Mathematics
present an exact analogy to music, and are to science what music is to
art. Both are ideal forms which in one sense only attain complete
individuality when they are pure, but in another sense have no meaning
until they are applied to some object of nature. A mathematical
formula is only true so long as it remains an ideal in the mind; but
its existence has no other purpose than to state a law for material
phenomena, when it at once loses its essential qualities as a
mathematical formula, certainty and accuracy. In this way we may
understand simultaneously the supremacy of absolute music and the
truth for which Wagner contends, that music can never be anything but

Dr. Hanslick's dictum that music has no other means for its expression
than movement and symbolism cannot be admitted. It can express through
association. All the senses have in some degree the faculty of
recalling in the mind impressions with which they have once been
associated. Who has never had the memory of his home or of some place
familiar to his childhood recalled by the scent of a flower or a
plant? No sense possesses this power in anything like the same degree
as that of hearing, especially when the connection has been
established through a musical strain. It is on this principle that
Wagner mainly relies in his dramatic musical motives. In itself the
connection is in the first instance artificial. A musical strain of a
striking individual character is brought into connection with some
idea of the drama, it may be a person or a scene or an incident, in
short, anything which may serve as a dramatic motive, and
thenceforward whenever the musical strain is heard, the idea with
which it has been associated will be called up in the mind of the
hearer. All the resources of modern music are then at the disposal of
the composer for exhibiting his motive in the most varied lights,
intensifying, varying, contrasting, or combining with other motives,
as the dramatic situation requires.

It often happens that the musical strain is heard before its
association with an idea of the drama has been established, as, for
example, in the instrumental prelude. The idea then seems to hover in
the music as a vague _presentiment_ (_Ahnung_) of something
that is to come. A superb example of this occurs at the end of _Die
Walküre_. Wotan has laid his daughter to rest, and surrounded her
with a barrier of fire. "Let none cross this fire who dreads my
spear," he cries, and at once the threat is answered by a defiant
blast from the trombones uttering a strain which has not yet taken
definite form, but which we learn from the sequel is the theme proper
to Siegfried the hero, who is destined to bring to an end the power of
the god.

Or the motive may reappear after it has served its purpose on the
stage; it is then a _reminiscence_ of past events. No finer
example of this could be found than in the music of Isolde's
swan-song, the so-called _Liebestod_, which is built up out of
the motives of the life into a symphonic structure of almost
unparalleled force and truth.



Before beginning the detailed consideration of our work, I wish to say
a few words on some features of the music. As I am writing for the
general reader and not for the musician, I shall endeavour to express
myself in generally understood terms, and avoid technical details.

Each of Wagner's works presents a distinct and strongly defined
musical physiognomy marking it off from all the others. The music of
each is cast in its own mould and is at once recognizable from that of
the rest. The most characteristic features of the music of _Tristan
und Isolde_ are its concentrated _intensity_ and the ineffable
_sweetness_ of its melody. The number of musical-dramatic motives
employed is very small, but they are insisted upon and emphasized by a
musical working out unparalleled in the other works. In
_Rheingold_, for example, some twelve or fifteen motives--if we
count only those of well-marked contours, and which are used in
definite dramatic association--can be distinguished; whereas in the
whole of _Tristan_ there are of such _Leitmotive_ in the
narrowest sense not more than three or four. The treatment is also
very different. The _Ring_ is not entirely innocent of what has
been wittily called the "visiting-card" employment of motives, while
in _Tristan_ the musical motive does not repeat, but rather
supplements, the words, indicating what these have left untold, thus
entering as truly into the substance of the drama as it does into that
of the music.

The most important motive of all, the one which pervades the drama
from beginning to end, is the love-motive. Its fundamental form is
that in which it appears in the second bar of the Prelude in the oboe
(No. 1).[35] Variants of it occur without the characteristic semitone
suspension (1_a_) or with a falling seventh (1_b_). The
cello motive of the opening phrase of the Prelude may also be
considered as derived from the same by contrary movement (1_c_).

[Footnote 35: See the musical examples at the end.]

Of equal importance, though occurring less frequently, and only at
important and decisive moments, is the death-motive (2). This motive
is less varied than the last, recurring generally in the same key--A
flat passing into C minor--and with similar instrumentation, the brass
and drums entering _pp_ on the second chord.

The second act opens with a strongly marked phrase which is the
musical counterpart of the great metaphor so conspicuous throughout
the act, of the day as destructive of love. The working out of this
motive whilst the lovers are together is a marvel of musical
composition, and it always returns in the same connection.

Perhaps we may also include among these fundamental musical-dramatical
motives one occurring in the middle of the second act at the words
"_Sehnen hin zur heilgen Nacht_" (No. 4). It is akin to the
death-motive proper, but the solemn harmonies are here torn asunder
into a strain so discordant that without the dramatic context it would
scarcely be bearable. It is the rending of the bond with this life and
with the day. The music here reminds us that, however heroically the
lovers accept their inevitable end, they feel that it means a rough
and painful severance from that life which was once so dear and

Other motives are reminiscences more or less of a purely musical
nature or connected only in a general way with scenes or incidents of
the drama. They call back indistinctly scenes of bygone times, and
will be spoken of as they occur in the work.

The best preliminary study for Wagner's use of motives is that of
Beethoven's sonatas and symphonies. _Macmillan's Magazine_ for
July, 1876, contains a valuable article by the late Mr. Dannreuther
which will be useful as an introduction, and ought to be familiar to
all who are interested in modern developments of music. Mr.
Dannreuther there treats of the type of variation peculiar to
Beethoven, which he compares to the metamorphosis of insects or of the
organs of plants: "It is not so much the alteration of a given
thought, a change of dress or of decoration, it is an actual creation
of something new and distinct from out of a given germ." He then
proceeds to trace the principle in some of Beethoven's later works,
and shows how for example the great B flat sonata (Op. 106) is built
upon a scheme of rising tenths and falling thirds; the A flat sonata
(Op. 110) upon two simple melodies. Wagner's procedure is similar; he
takes a musical motive which has already been used and brings forth
out of it something totally new, scarcely resembling its parent in
external features, and yet recognizable as the same.

The problem before Wagner was how to render this new acquisition
available for the drama, and we shall best understand him if we look
upon him as all his life seeking its solution, each work representing
an experimental stage rather than a perfectly finished model. In the
earlier part of the _Ring_ he began with a purely conventional
conjunction of a musical strain with a tangible and visible object--a
ring, a giant, a goddess, etc. This is wrong method, and, although
generally his instinctive sense of dramatic propriety kept him from
going very far astray, the effects of his wrong procedure are
occasionally visible. Why, for example, should a given melody in
thirds on two bassoons denote a ring? and why should it bear a
thematic kinship to another melody denoting Walhall? The association
is purely conventional and serves no purpose, for the material object,
a ring, is fully expressed in the word; there is nothing more to be
said about it than that it is just a ring, and we do not want the
bassoons to repeat or confirm what is quite intelligible without them.
In _Tristan_ this pitfall is mostly avoided, but it is in _Die
Meistersinger_ and _Parsifal_ that we find the motives most
skilfully employed.

A critical analysis of the harmonic structure of our work does not
fall within the scope of this treatise. It will be found in text-books
specially devoted to the subject. I can here only offer a few general

Modern harmonies are made theoretically much more difficult than they
need be by our system of notation, which grew up in the Middle Ages.
The old modes knew no modulation in our sense, and in the seventeenth
century, when the tempered system came into vogue, making every kind
of modulation possible, the old notation was retained. How unsuited it
is for modern music appears from the drastic contradictions which it
involves. It is quite a common thing to see the same note
simultaneously written as F sharp in one part and as G flat in
another. This is what makes modern harmony seem so much more difficult
than it really is, for when the music comes to be _heard_, these
formidable-looking intervals resolve themselves into something quite
natural and generally not difficult of apprehension by a musical ear.
Unfortunately we are compelled to learn music through the medium of a
keyed instrument, generally through the most unmusical of instruments,
the piano, and we learn theory largely through the eye and the reason
instead of through the ear. The problems of harmony will seem much
simpler if we remember that its basis is the _interval_--music
does not know "notes" as such, but only intervals--that the number of
possible intervals is very small and their relations quite simple, and
that everything which is not reducible to a very simple vulgar
fraction is heard, not as a harmony, but as a passing note, an
inflection of a note of a chord. In fact the advance made in chord
combinations since the introduction of the tempered system is not very
great. All, or nearly all, the chords used by Wagner are to be found
in the works of Bach. The suggestion to explain Wagner's harmonies by
assuming a "chromatic scale" rests upon a misapprehension of the
nature of a scale. Every scale implies a tonality, i.e. a tonic note,
to which all the other notes bear some definite numerical relation.
There cannot be a chromatic scale in the scientific sense in music;
what we call by that name in a keyed instrument is merely a diatonic
scale with the intervals filled in; it always belongs to a definite
key, and the accidentals are only passing notes. It is in passing
notes that we must seek the key to Wagner's harmonies. With Wagner
more than with any other composer since Bach the parts must be read
horizontally as well as vertically. As long as we look upon harmonic
progressions as vertical columns of chords following one upon the
other we may indeed explain, but we shall never understand them. Each
chord must be viewed as the result of the confluence of all the
separate voices moving harmoniously together. This, too, will help us
to grasp the character of "altered" chords, so lavishly employed by
Wagner, and of "inflection," by which term I mean to denote all kinds
of passing notes, appoggiaturas, suspensions, changing notes, and the
like. All are phenomena of harmonic notes striving melodically
onwards, either upwards or downwards.

Although little has been done in the invention of new combinations,
the character of the harmonic structure has changed considerably since
the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This is evident at
first glance on comparing a score of Haydn or Mozart with one of
Wagner or Liszt. There, although chromatic harmonies are not
unfrequent, they occur only sporadically, the general structure being
diatonic, whereas with the later masters the whole tissue is
chromatic; the score fairly bristles with accidentals, and a simple
major or minor triad is the exception. Very different too is the
periodic structure. The phrases no longer fall naturally into
eight-bar periods interpunctuated with cadences, but are determined by
the text, and although the eight-bar scheme is generally
maintained--much disguised, it is true, but still recognizable--it is
determined not by half-closes at the sections, but by the eight beats
of the two-line metre, while the periods follow each other in even
flow without any indication of cadence. In other words the musical
form is governed by the declamation.

Theory of harmony is one thing, living music quite another. The
musical hearer of a work like _Tristan und Isolde_ will
understand its harmonic structure, though he know nothing of the
theoretical progression of the chords, provided the performance be
good, i.e. correct, just as a man ignorant of grammar will understand
a sentence which is clearly enunciated. The composer needs no theory
of harmony; his ear is his only guide, as the eye of the artist is a
sufficient guide for his colouring without any theory of colour. There
is only one thing which the composer must keep before him and which
the hearer must consciously be able to recognize--the Tonality. The
problem of harmony therefore in practice reduces itself to that of
modulation. To recognize the tonality quickly and certainly, look for
the cadences. They are as it were landmarks, placed along the melodic
road, indicating from time to time where we are.

I cannot dismiss the subject of harmony without mentioning the chord
which from its employment at decisive moments and its extraordinary
mystic expressiveness has been called the soul of the _Tristan_
music. Its direct form is


as it occurs in the beginning of the Prelude.

The instrumentation of _Tristan_ does not present any special
features different from that of Wagner's other works. It is less
heavily scored than the _Ring_, and at the same time the
instrumentation is more concentrated. Wagner usually employs his wind
in groups of at least three in each colour--e.g. three flutes, two
oboi and one English horn, two clarinets and a bass clarinet,
etc.--and so is able to keep his colours pure. It is partly to this
that the extraordinary purity of his tone in the tutti is due, partly
also to the sonority imparted to the brass by means of the bass tuba,
and still more to the consummate skill of the composer in the
distribution of his parts.

There is an interesting note at the beginning of the score in which
the composer seems to be trying to excuse himself for using valve
instruments in the horns. While admitting the degradation of tone and
loss of the power of soft binding resulting from the use of valves, he
thinks that the innovation (which I need scarcely observe is not his)
is justified by the advantage gained in greater freedom of movement.
In such matters one must be allowed to form one's own judgment, and
though it may seem like trying to teach a fish to swim, a humble
amateur may be permitted to wish that Wagner had here resisted the
tide of progress. It is not only that the tone and power of binding
are injured, but the whole character of horns and trumpets is altered
when they are expected to sing chromatic passages like the violin and
the clarinet. As the point is of some interest, I should like to bring
it before the reader with some examples. The essential character of
the horns is nowhere more truly conveyed than in the soft passage near
the beginning of the overture to _Der Freischütz_, and it is the
contrast between the two nature scales on the C horn and the F horn
which gives the character to this lovely idyll. The trumpets are
capable of even less variety of expression than the horns, as their
individuality is even more strongly marked. How entirely that
character is conditioned by the mechanism of the instrument may be
illustrated by an example. The third movement of Beethoven's seventh
symphony contains an interlude _molto meno mosso_. The choral
theme is accompanied by a continuous A, sustained in octave in the
violins, which in the intervals between the verses descends to G sharp
and returns


The repeat at the end enters _ff._ after a strong crescendo, and
at this point the sustained A is taken over from the violins by the
trumpets and given forth with piercing distinctness above the tutti of
the orchestra, the effect being one of extraordinary brilliancy. Now
comes the point with which we are concerned. In the intervals the
trumpet cannot descend to G sharp, because it has not got the note in
its natural scale, and is therefore obliged to repeat


Indisputably the composer would have written G sharp had the trumpet
been able to play it; it was only the defective scale of the
instrument which led him to write A, but the effect of hearing A when
we expect G sharp is electrifying; the unbending rigidity of the
trumpet is here expressed with a vividness and force which nothing
else could have given.

Many more examples might be brought from the works of the great
composers to show how the horns and trumpets have lost in expressive
power by having adopted the chromatic scale of other instruments.
Wagner's use of the brass generally is most skilful; he is especially
happy in avoiding the blatancy and coarseness which soils the scores
of some composers. Neither trumpets nor drums are much used
continuously in the score of _Tristan_. The former are often
employed in the lower part of their scale and only for particular
effects. Trombones generally utter single chords, or slow successions
of chords, adding solemnity to the sound, and crowning a climax. A
favourite instrument with Wagner is the harp, and he uses it freely in
_Tristan_. The effect is, as it were, to place the orchestra upon
springs, adding lightness and elasticity to the tone, as may be
noticed in the accompaniment to the duet at the end of the first act.

We often hear Wagner's melody described as if it were not melody in
the ordinary meaning of the word, but a kind of "recitative" or
"declamation." The great French singer, Madame Viardot Garcia, was
asked on one occasion in a private circle to sing the part of Isolde.
She took the score and sang it _a prima vista_ to Klindworth's
accompaniment. On being told that in Germany singers could not be
found to undertake the part, alleging that it was too difficult and
unmelodious, she naïvely asked whether German singers were not
musical! Assuredly any person to whom Wagner's music, especially that
of _Tristan_, appears unmelodious is unmusical, or at least
defective in the sense for melody. Wagner's music is easy to sing;
much easier, for example, than that of Mozart. This, however, is only
true for singers who are highly musical. The great majority have not
had any real musical education, and it is to these that the common
notion that Wagner's music is unsingable, that it ruins the voice, is
due. The notion that recitative and melody are things opposed to one
another is itself a misunderstanding. The characteristic mark of
recitative in the narrow sense is that it is not bound by rhythmic
forms, and therefore has a somewhat dry, matter-of-fact character,
which would become tedious if it continued unrelieved--as life would
be dull without any sweets. Wagner says: "My melody is declamation,
and my declamation melody." There is no line of demarcation; they are
as inseparably united as emotion and intellect. But although the
stream of emotion in human life is continuous, it is not continually
at the same tension. Moments of high exaltation alternate with more
subdued intervals, and a very large part of the mechanical routine of
life is emotionally almost quiescent. In the drama the emotional
element alternates with the narrative, and according as the one or the
other predominates, the weight of the expression is in the music or
the words; each therefore rises and falls in alternation. Even in
Shakespeare's spoken drama traces of this ebb and flow may be noticed,
the language becoming more musical under the stress of higher emotion.
In the opera the intervals between the lyric _arias_, etc., had
to be filled in with dry explanation or narrative, and there arose the
_recitative secco_, a rapid recitation in which the melody is
reduced to a mere shadow. The German language was unfitted for dry
recitative of this type, and these filling-in parts had therefore to
be spoken--a device which proved intolerable, since it destroyed the
illusion of the music. Wagner, as we saw, got over the difficulty by
choosing a form of drama in which the emotional element was supreme,
and the narrative filling in reduced to a minimum. We further saw how
in _Tristan und Isolde_ the principle is driven to such an
exaggerated extreme as sometimes to render the action almost
unintelligible. Nowhere is the music unmelodious or uninteresting, but
it is elastic and pliable and changes its character with the emotional
intensity of the dramatic situation, being more subdued in parts of
the first act, asserting itself whenever rage, irony, tenderness, or
other emotion call for expression; omnipotent in the great love-duet,
culminating in the nocturne, and once more soaring in highest ecstasy
in Isolde's dissolution, with endless gradations in the portions
between. Hearers who are not accustomed to the dramatic expression of
music attend only to those moments of intense lyric expression, just
as in the opera they attend only to the _arias_; all else appears
to them uninteresting and unmelodious. This is to miss the essential
thing in Wagner's works--the drama itself; but it is precisely what is
done by those hearers who are incapable of the effort of following
attentively the dramatic development.



It remains for us now to examine the work itself, scene by scene, that
we may see how the principles of art which we have been considering in
the preceding chapters are illustrated. The following notes are
written with a practical end; they are intended to assist those who
are unacquainted with the work and are about to hear it for the first
time to follow the composer's intentions. They do not profess to give
a full commentary or explanation, but only to start the reader on the
right path that he may find the way for himself. Those who read German
should begin by thoroughly mastering the text. Tristan is not like a
modern problem play to be understood at once from the stage, without
any effort. There are many, I regret to say, who spare themselves even
this trouble, but it is indispensable, for even if singers always
enunciated their words more distinctly than they do, it would be quite
impossible to follow the difficult text on first hearing. Beyond this,
however, very little preparation is necessary; especially the study of
lists of _Leitmotive_ should be avoided, since they give a
totally wrong conception of the music. We cannot study an edifice by
looking at the bricks of which it is built. Lectures with musical
illustrations, provided they are really well done, by a competent
pianist, are valuable, and it is also of use to study selected scenes
at the piano with text and music, the scene on the stage being always
kept before the mind, and the voice part being sung as far as
possible. For those who are quick of musical apprehension such studies
are not necessary, but the careful reading of the text is
indispensable for all. In all studies at the piano the arrangement of
Hans von Bülow should be used, even by those who are unable to master
all its difficulties, since the simplified arrangements are very
imperfect. As a help to those who study the text at home, I have
recounted the general course of the action and dialogue just in
sufficient outline to enable the reader to follow what is going on,
adding here and there a literal translation, where it seemed
desirable, especially where the meaning of the original is difficult
to grasp.

Some introductory matter must first be told. Marke, King of Cornwall,
has lately been involved in a war with the King of Ireland, whose
general, Morold, has invaded the country to compel tribute. Tristan,
King Marke's nephew, has defeated the army and killed Morold, but
himself been wounded in the fight. His wound refusing to heal, he has
sought the advice of the renowned Irish princess and medicine-woman,
Isolde. She had been the betrothed bride of Morold, and in his head,
sent back to Ireland in derision, as "tribute," by the conqueror, she
has found a splinter from the sword which slew him, and has kept it.
While Tristan is lying sick under her care she notices a gap in his
sword, into which the splinter fits, and she knows that he is the
slayer of her lover. She approaches him with sword upraised to slay
him; he looks up at her; their eyes meet; she lets the sword fall, and
bids him begone and trouble her no more. Tristan returns to Cornwall
cured. His uncle is childless, and wishes to leave the kingdom to
Tristan when he dies. But there are cabals in the state; a party has
been formed, under Tristan's friend Melot, to induce King Marke to
marry and beget a direct heir to the throne. Tristan joins them, and
with great difficulty persuades his uncle to despatch him to Ireland
to bring the Princess Isolde to be Markers wife. The curtain rises
when they are on board the ship on the voyage to Cornwall, just
approaching the land.

The Prelude is a condensed picture of the entire drama. As an
instrumental piece it is unable to render the definite actions, but it
can give with great distinctness a tone or an atmosphere out of which
these acts will shape themselves in the sequel, a presentiment of what
is to be. The subject of our work is Love trying to raise itself out
of the contamination of human life into a higher and purer sphere, but
failing so long as it is clogged with the conditions of bodily
existence. The text of the Prelude may be taken from the words of
Tristan in the third act:

  Sehnen! Sehnen!
  Im Sterben mich zu sehnen,
  Vor Sehnsucht nicht zu sterben.

This theme is enunciated with almost realistic eloquence in the very
first phrase, in the two contrasting strains, the love-motive striving
upwards in the oboe, and its variant fading downwards in the 'cello.
The union of the two produces a harmony of extraordinary
expressiveness, which I have already referred to in the last chapter
as the "soul of the _Tristan_ music." Every hearer must be struck
with its mysterious beauty, and it has been the subject of many
theoretical discussions. It is best understood as the chord on the
second degree of the scale of A minor, with inflections:


G sharp being a suspension or appoggiatura resolved upwards on to A
while the D sharp (more properly E flat) is explained by the melody of
the violoncelli, which, instead of moving at once to D, pass through a
step of a semitone. There is, however, one thing to be noticed in this
melody. The dissonant D sharp (or E flat) is not resolved in its own
instrument, the violoncelli, but is taken up by the English horn, and
by it resolved in the next bar. This instrument therefore has a
distinct melody of its own, consisting only of two notes, but still
heard as a kind of sigh, and quite different from the merely
filling-in part of the clarinets and bassoons. There are really three
melodies combined:

[Music: Oboi. V' celli. Eng. Horn]

It will not be necessary for us to anatomize any more chords in this
way. I did so in this case in order to show the intimate connection
between the harmony and the melody, and how the explanation of the
harmonies must be sought through the melodies by which they are
brought about.

The entire Prelude is made up of various forms of the love-motive. The
key is A minor, to which it pretty closely adheres, the transient
modulations into a'+, c'+, etc., only serving to enforce the
feeling of tonality. The reason for this close adherence to one key is
not far to seek. Wagner never modulates without a reason; the Prelude
presents one simple feeling, and there is no cause for or possibility
of modulation.[36] At the 78th bar the music begins to modulate, and
seems tending to the distant key of E flat minor, the love-motive is
taken up _forte_ and _più forte_ by the trumpets, but in bar
84 the modulation abruptly comes to an end, the soaring violins fall
to the earth, and the piece ends as it began, with a reminiscence of
the first part in A minor. An expressive recitative of the violoncelli
and basses then leads to C minor, the key of the first scene.

[Footnote 36: See the remarks on modulation at the end of his essay
_Ueber die Anwendung der Musik auf das Drama, Ges. Schr._ x. pp.
248 seq., where he gives the advice to young students of composition:
"Never leave a key so long as you can say what you have to say in

ACT I., SCENE I.--The scene opens in a pavilion on the deck of the
ship. Isolde is reclining on a couch, her face buried in the pillows.
Brangäne's listless attitude as she gazes across the water, the young
sailor's ditty to his Irish girl as he keeps watch on the mast,
reflect the calmness of the sea as the ship glides before the westerly
breeze, and contrast with the tempest raging in Isolde's breast.
Suddenly she starts up in alarm, but Brangäne tries to soothe her, and
tells her, to the soft undulating accompaniment of two bassoons in
thirds, how she already sees the loom of the land, and that they will
reach it by the evening. At present Brangäne has no suspicion of
anything disturbing her mistress, whose feelings are indicated by an
agitated passage in the strings (No. 6). She starts from her reverie.
"What land?" she asks. "Cornwall? Never." Then follows a terrific

  _Is_. Degenerate race, unworthy of your fathers!
  Whither, oh mother, hast thou bestowed the might
  over the sea and the storm? Oh, tame art of the
  sorceress, brewing balsam-drinks only! Awake once
  more, bold power! arise from the bosom in which thou
  hast hidden thyself! Hear my will, ye doubting
  winds: Hither to battle and din of the tempest, to
  the raging whirl of the roaring storm! Drive the
  sleep from this dreaming sea; awake angry greed
  from its depths; show it the prey which I offer; let
  it shatter this haughty ship, gorge itself upon the
  shivered fragments! What lives thereon, the breathing
  life, I give to you winds as your guerdon.

Both the words and the music of this wonderful invocation are worthy
of attention. Especially the words of the original German with their
drastic alliteration may be commended to those who still doubt
Wagner's powers as a poet. The music is mostly taken from the sailor's
song (No. 5), but quite changed in character; the rapid staccato
movement with the strongly marked figure of the bass have transformed
the peaceful ditty into a dance of furies. The entry of the trombones
at the words _Heran zu Kampfe_ is characteristic of Wagner's
employment of the brass throughout the work. Their slow swelling
chords add volume and solemnity to the orchestral tone. They continue
for a few bars only, and the voice distantly hints at the love-motive
(_zu tobender Stürme wüthendem Wirbel_), but for a moment only;
it goes no further.

The terrified Brangäne tries to calm her, and at the same time to
learn what is the cause of her anger. She recalls Isolde's strange and
cold behaviour on parting from her parents in Ireland, and on the
voyage; why is she thus? A peculiar imploring tenderness is imparted
to her appeal at the end by the falling sevenths, an interval which we
have already met with in the Prelude and which is characteristic of
this act.

Her efforts are vain; Isolde starts up hastily crying "Air! air! throw
open the curtains!"

SCENE II.--The curtain thrown back discloses the deck of the ship with
the crew grouped around Tristan, who is steering,[37] his man Kurwenal
reclining near him. The refrain of the sailors' song is again heard.
Isolde's eyes are fixed upon Tristan as she begins to the strain of
the love-motive accompanied by muted strings:

  Chosen for me!--lost to me!
  .       .        .     .         .
  Death-devoted head! Death-devoted heart!

enunciating with these words the death-motive (No. 2).

[Footnote 37: A curious mistake in the stage-management may be
noticed. The scene is obviously laid in the forecastle; one glance at
the stage is enough to show this, and the sails are set that way. Nor
can it be altered, for it would never do to have them looking among
the audience for the land ahead. So that Tristan's ship has her rudder
in the bow! Rarely is Wagner at fault in trifles of this kind; in all
other respects the deck-scene is admirably truthful. The sailors
hauling, the song in the rigging, the obvious time of day--in the
"dogwatches"--are little touches of realism which will be appreciated
by all who know board-ship life.]

She turns to Brangäne, and with a look of the utmost scorn, indicating
Tristan, she asks:

What thinkst thou of the slave? ... Him there who shirks my gaze, and
looks on the ground in shame and fear?

Isolde here strikes the tone which she maintains throughout the act
until all is changed by the philtre. Never has such blighting sarcasm
before been represented in the drama as that which Isolde pours out
upon Tristan. She is by far the stronger character of the two. Her
rage is volcanic, and uses here its most effective weapon. Tristan
writhes under her taunts, but cannot escape. The music unites
inseparably with the words; even the rime adds its point as in mockery
she continues Brangäne's praise of the hero:

  _Br_. Dost thou ask of Tristan, beloved lady? the
  wonder of all lands, the much-belauded man, the hero
  without rival, the guard and ban of glory?

  _Is._ (_interrupting and repeating the phrase in mockery_).
  Who shrinking from the battle takes refuge where he
  can, because he has gained a corpse as bride for his master!

She commands Brangäne to go to Tristan and deliver a message; she is
to remind him that he has not yet attended upon her as his duty

  _Br_. Shall I request him to wait upon you?

  _Is. [Tell him that] I, Isolde, _command_ [my] presumptuous
  [servant] fear for his _mistress_.

While Brangäne is making her way through the sailors to where Tristan
is standing at the helm, an interlude made of the sailors' song phrase
is played on four horns and two bassoons over a pedal bass, the
strings coming in in strongly marked rhythm on the last beat of each
bar, marking the hauling of the ropes to clear the anchor. Tristan is
in a reverie, scarcely conscious of what is going on around him; the
love-motive once in the oboe shows how his thoughts are occupied. He
starts at the word Isolde, but collects himself, and tries to conceal
his evident distress under a manner of supercilious indifference.
Brangäne becomes more urgent; he pleads his inability to come now
because he cannot leave the helm. Then Brangäne delivers Isolde's
message in the same peremptory words in which she has received it.

Kurwenal suddenly starts up and, with or without permission, sends
_his_ answer to Isolde. Tristan, he says, is no servant of hers,
for he is giving her the crown of Cornwall and the heritage of
England. "Let her mark that, though it anger a thousand Mistress
Isoldes." Brangäne hurriedly withdraws to the pavilion; he sings an
insulting song after her in derision of Morold and his expedition for

  "His head now hangs in Ireland,
   As tribute sent from England!"

As she closes the curtains the sailors are heard outside singing the
refrain of his song, which is a masterpiece of popular music. One can
imagine it to be the national song of the Cornish-men after the
expedition. With regard to its very remarkable instrumentation, I
cannot do better than quote the remarks of that admirable musician,
Heinrich Porges: "The augmented chord at the words _auf ödem
Meere_, the humorous middle part of the horns, the unison of the
trombones which, with the sharp entry of the violas, effect the
modulation from B flat to D major, impart the most living colour to
each moment."

SCENE III.--(_The interior of the pavilion, the curtains
closed._) Isolde has heard the interview, and makes Brangäne repeat
everything as it happened. Inexpressibly pathetic is the turn which
she gives to the words of the song as she repeats the phrase of

  _Is_. (_bitterly_). "How should he safely steer the ship
  to King Marke's land...." (_with sudden emphasis,
  quickly_) to hand him the _tribute_ which he brings from

--the last sentence being to the refrain of the song.

Upward scale passages of the violins are suggestive of a sudden
impulse, and there now begins (K.A. 25'1) a movement of great musical
interest in which Isolde tells Brangäne of Tristan's previous visit to
her as "Tantris," recounting how she discovered him by the splinter of
the sword, the words: "_Er sah mir in die Augen,_" bringing the
characteristic form of the love-motive with the falling seventh
(1_b_). Brangäne cries out in astonishment at her own blindness.
Isolde continues to relate "how a hero keeps his oaths": _Tantris_
returned as _Tristan_ to carry her off "for Cornwall's weary king"
(K.A. 29'5):

  _Is_. When Morold lived, who would have dared to
  offer us such an insult?... Woe, woe to me! Unwitting
  I brought all this shame on myself. Instead of
  wielding the avenging sword, helpless I let it fall, and
  now I serve my vassal!

Again rage overcomes her at the thought of Tristan's treachery. Her
inflamed imagination conjures up his report of her to King Marke:

  _Is_. "That were a prize indeed, my lord and uncle!
  how seems she to thee as a bride? The dainty Irish
  maid I'll bring. I know the ways and paths. One
  sign from thee to Ireland I'll fly; Isolde, she is yours!
  The adventure delights me!" Curse on the infamous
  villain! Curse on thy head! Vengeance! Death!
  Death to us both!

She subsides exhausted amidst a stormy tutti of the orchestra with the
trombones _ff_.

  _Br_. (_with impetuous tenderness_). Oh, sweet, dear,
  beloved, gracious, golden mistress! darling Isolde!
  hear me! come, rest thee here (_she gently draws her to
  the couch_).

The music presents no special difficulties in this scene. It is so
complete in itself that, as has been truly remarked, it might well be
performed as an instrumental piece without the voice. It would be
impossible to follow here the endless subtleties of the working out,
nor is it necessary, since they will reveal themselves to every
musical hearer who is familiar with the methods of Beethoven. The
whole movement is in E minor, and is built on a motive which has grown
out of the love-motive by contrary movement, with a characteristic
triplet accompaniment. Throughout it follows the expression of the
words closely, using the previous motives, and is a model of Wagner's
musical style in the more lyric portions. Wagner has remarked in one
of his essays how Beethoven will sometimes break up his motives and,
taking one fragment, often consisting of not more than two notes,
develop it into something entirely new. The following scene is built
on motives developed out of the last two notes of the love-motive,
either with or without the falling seventh:


It must here be noted how entirely Brangäne misunderstands the
situation. Wagner has intentionally represented her as a complete
contrast to Isolde, as one of those soft, pliable natures who are
capable of the most tender self-sacrificing devotion, but are utterly
wanting in judgment. Woman-like, she thinks that it is only a passing
storm which she can lull with caressing words. Her scarcely veiled
suggestion that, though Isolde may marry King Marke, she need not
cease to love Tristan, shows the enormous gulf which separates her
from her terrible mistress. She suggests administering the philtre
which her mother has prepared for Marke to Tristan. The music, in
which, so long as Brangäne is speaking, gaiety and tenderness are
mingled, is permeated with the love-motive. Isolde thinks of her
mother's spells with very different feelings; the music becomes more
gloomy, and with the words, "Vengeance for treachery--rest for my
heart in its need," the death-motive, with its solemn trombone-chords,
betrays the thought in her mind. She orders Brangäne to bring the
casket. Brangäne obeys, and innocently recounts all the wonderful
remedies which it contains:

  _Br_. For woe and wounds is balsam; for evil poisons
  antidotes. The best of all I hold it here (_holding up
  the love-potion_).

  _Is_. Thou errst. I know it better (_seizing the black
  bottle containing the death-drink and holding it aloft_).
  _This_ is the drink I need!

A motive already heard in the Prelude (bar 29, bassoons and bass
clarinet) now becomes very prominent in the brass:


The falling seventh here carries an air of profound gloom appropriate
to the deadly purpose of Isolde.

At this moment a diversion occurs outside. The ship is nearing the
port, and the crew are heard taking in the sails preparatory to
anchoring. Kurwenal enters abruptly.

SCENE IV.--I have already remarked how happily Wagner has contrived to
hit off the character of the board-ship life. Here it is the clatter
and bustle of coming into port that is represented; people hurrying
about the deck, the young sailors' motive joyously ringing from the
violins and wood, sailors hauling, and the colours fluttering in the
breeze (semiquaver motives in clarinets and bassoons), all are
preparing for the shore. Kurwenal enters and roughly orders the
"women" to get themselves ready to land. Isolde is to prepare herself
at once to appear before King Marke escorted by Tristan. Isolde,
startled at first by Kurwenal's insolence, collects herself and
replies with dignity:

Take my greetings to Sir Tristan and deliver him my message. If I am
to go at his side to stand before King Marke, I cannot do so with
propriety unless I first receive expiation for guilt yet unatoned.
Therefore, let him seek my grace. (_On Kurwenal making an impatient
gesture, she continues with more emphasis._) Mark me well and
deliver it rightly: I will not prepare to land with him; I will not
walk at his side to stand before King Marke unless he first ask of me
in due form to forgive and forget his yet unatoned guilt. This grace I
offer him.

Kurwenal, completely subdued, promises to deliver her message and

The orchestral accompaniment during Isolde's speech has a very solemn
character imparted to it by slow chords of the trombones,
_piano_, with somewhat feverish semiquaver triplets on the
strings, snatches of the love-motive and other motives being heard in
the wood-wind; while in the pauses, runs on the violins mark
Kurwenal's impatience. The death-motive will be noted at the words
"_für ungesühnte Schuld_."

SCENE V.--This is a scene of great pathos. Like Elektra[38] when she
recognizes Orestes, so Isolde, when left alone with the only friend
who is true to her, throws aside all her haughty manner, forgets her
wild thirst for revenge, and for a moment gives way to all the
tenderness which is hidden under that fierce exterior. Death is just
before her; she throws herself into Brangäne's arms, and delivers her
last messages to the world. The unhappy girl, still quite in the dark
as to her mistress's intentions, only vaguely feeling the presage of
some impending calamity, is told to bring the casket and take out the
death-potion, Isolde significantly repeating the words in the previous
scene. Brangäne, almost out of her senses, obeys instinctively, and in
the midst of her entreaties Kurwenal throws back the curtain and
announces Sir Tristan.

[Footnote 38: Soph., _Elektra_, 1205 seq.]

SCENE VI.--My purpose in these notes is to explain what may at first
seem difficult; it is no part of my plan to expound the obvious. The
following scene, where for the first time the two principal personages
stand face to face, though the most important that we have met with so
far, is perfectly clear, both in the music and the words. No one could
mistake the force of the blasts of the wind instruments with which it
opens (No. 8). The device of repeating a motive in rising thirds was
adopted by Wagner from Liszt, and is very common in _Tristan_. We
first met with it in the opening bars of the Prelude, where the
love-motive is so repeated.

The first part of the scene is a trial of wits between Isolde and
Tristan, in which the latter is helpless as a bird in the claws of a
cat. The dialogue as such is a masterpiece, unrivalled in the works of
any dramatic poet except Shakespeare. At last, crushed by her taunts,
Tristan hands her his sword, asking her to pierce him through, only to
be answered with scorn still more scathing than before. "No," she
says. "What would King Marke say were I to slay _his best
servant_?" There is not a trace of love in the scene; nothing but
anger and contempt. In other parts of the act there are indications of
smouldering fire which threatens to break out upon occasion, but there
is nothing of the kind when they are together. If once, when he lay
helpless and in her power, she was touched with pity for so noble a
hero, that has long ago been overcome, or only remains as a distant
memory of something long past and gone. It has been truly observed
that Tristan and Isolde are not like Romeo and Juliet, two children
scarcely conscious of what they are doing. Both are in the full
maturity of life and in the vigour of their intellectual powers.

In keeping with the dialectic, argumentative character of the
dialogue, the music is generally dry and formal, but broken through
occasionally with rending cries of agony, and interpolated with
moments of tender emotional beauty. The orchestra generally gives the
tone to the situation, only occasionally departing from that rôle to
enter at critical moments to support and enforce specific words or
actions. The leading motive throughout is the one which I have quoted:
"vengeance for Morold."

After some preliminary _persiflage_, in which she laughs to scorn
the excuse which he offers for having kept away from her from a sense
of propriety, she at once comes to the point:

  _Is_. There is blood-feud between us!

  _Tr_. That was expiated.

  _Is_. Not between us!

  _Tr_. In open field before all the host a solemn peace
  was sworn.

  _Is_. Not there it was that I concealed Tantris, that
  Tristan fell before me. There he stood noble and
  strong; but I swore not what he swore; I had
  learned to be silent. When he lay sick in the silent
  room speechless I stood before him with the sword.
  My lips were silent, my hand I restrained, but the vow
  passed by my hand and my lips, I silently swore to
  keep. Now I will perform my oath.

  _Tr_. What didst thou vow, oh woman?

  _Is_. Vengeance for Morold.

  _Tr_. Is that what is troubling you?

Once, and once only, does the victim turn to retort upon her with her
own weapon of irony. The attempt is disastrous. At once changing her
tone she assumes the air of an injured woman. Tristan has taken her
lover from her, and does he now dare to mock her? As her thoughts
wander back to past days of happiness she continues in strains of
surpassing tenderness, mingled with hints of warlike music in the

  _Is_. Betrothed he was to me, the proud Irish hero;
  his arms I had hallowed; for me he went to battle.
  When he fell, my honour fell. In the heaviness of my
  heart I swore that if no man would avenge the murder,
  I, a maiden, would take it upon me. Sick and weary
  in my power, why did I not then smite thee?

She states the reason why she did not slay him when he was in her
power in language so strange that I can only give a literal

  I nursed the wounded man that, when restored
  to health, the man who won him from Isolde should
  smite him in vengeance.

Such is the German; what it means I must confess myself unable to
explain, and can only suspect some corruption in the text.

There is a solemn pause in the music; the love-motive is uttered by
the bass clarinet. Nothing is left for the vanquished and humbled hero
but to offer her what atonement he can. He hands her his sword,
bidding her this time wield it surely and not let it fall from her
hand. But she has not yet finished with him:

  _Is_. How badly I should serve thy lord! What
  would King Marke say if I were to slay his best
  servant who has preserved for him crown and realm?
  ... Keep thy sword! I swung it once when vengeance
  was rife in my bosom, while thy measuring
  glance was stealing my image to know whether I
  should be a fit bride for King Marke. I let the sword
  fall. Now let us drink atonement.

The motive of the drink of death is here heard in trombones and tuba.
It recurs constantly in the following portion.

She then signs to Brangäne to bring the drink. The noise of the
sailors furling the sails outside becomes louder.

  _Tr_. (_starting from a reverie_). Where are we?

  _Is_. CLOSE TO THE PORT! (_death-motive_). Tristan,
  shall I have atonement? What hast thou to answer?

  _Tr_. (_darkly_). The mistress of silence commands me
  silence. I grasp what she conceals, and am silent
  upon what she cannot grasp.

Another dark saying, of which, however, we fortunately have the
explanation from Wagner himself. "What she conceals" is her love for
Tristan; "what she cannot grasp" is that his honour forbids him from
declaring his love for her.[39]

[Footnote 39: Glasenapp's Biography, v. 241 (footnote).]

Even now, on the brink of dissolution, while actually holding the cup
which is to launch them both into eternity, Isolde cannot bridle her

  _Is_. We have reached the goal; soon we shall
  stand ... (_with light scorn_) before King Marke! (_death-motive_).

With dreadful irony she repeats the words with which she supposes
Tristan will introduce her:

  "My lord and uncle! look now at her! A softer
  wife thou ne'er could'st find. I slew her lover and sent
  her his head; my wound the kindly maid has healed.
  My life was in her power, but the gentle maiden gave
  it to me; her country's shame and dishonour--that
  she gave as well; all that she might become thy
  wedded bride. Such thanks for kindly deeds I earned
  by a sweet draught of atonement offered to me by
  her favour in expiation of my guilt."

  _Sailors_ (_outside_). Stand by the cable! Let go the

  _Tr_. (_starting wildly_). Let go the anchor! Veer her
  round to the tide! (_he tears the cup from Isolde's hand_).
  Well know I Ireland's queen, and the wondrous might
  of her arts. I took the balsam she once gave to me;
  now I take the cup that quite I may recover. Mark
  well the oath of peace in which I say my thanks:

    To Tristan's honour--highest faith!
    To Tristan's woe--bold defiance![40]

  Delusion of the heart; dream of presage; sole
  comfort of eternal sorrow; kind drink of forgetfulness
  I drink thee without flinching (_he puts the
  cup to his lips and drinks_).

  _Is_. (_tearing the cup from him_). Treachery again.
  Half is mine! Traitor, I drink to thee! (_she drinks
  and dashes the cup to the earth_).

  [Footnote 40: "Ehre" and "Elend" are dative.]

Instead of falling dead, the lovers stand transfixed gazing at each
other. Brangäne has changed the drinks, and they have drunk the
draught of love for that of death. Wagner sometimes expects his
artists to possess powers beyond those which are allotted to man. The
actors have here to express by gesture the change of feeling which
gradually comes over them. They start, tremble, the love-motive steals
into and at last dominates the orchestra, and they fly into one
another's arms.

The increasing commotion outside and the cheers of the men indicate
that King Marke has put out from the shore and is nearing the ship. An
aside of Brangäne at this moment is not without significance. She has
been sitting apart in suspense and confusion; now, as she begins to
realize the consequences of what she has done, she gives way to
despair. How much better would a short death have been than the
prospect of the life that is now before them! The fact of her courage
giving way so soon shows that she was only acting under a momentary

Little more need be said of the rest of the scene. The lovers raise
their voices in a jubilant duet. Almost unconscious of their
surroundings they are dragged apart. The royal garments are hastily
laid over them, and the curtain falls to the joyful shouts of the
people as King Marke steps on board.



  Tu sentiras alors que toi-même tu environnes tout ce que
  tu connais des choses qui existent, et que les existantes que tu
  connais existent en quelque sorte dans toi-même.--_Avicebron_

ACT II.--If the essence of the drama lies in contrast and surprises,
then _Tristan und Isolde_ may be called the most dramatic of
Wagner's works. In the first act we had the picture of a woman of
volcanic temperament goaded to fury by cruelty and insult; in the
second we have the same woman gentle, light-hearted, caressing, with
nothing left of her past self except the irresistible force of her
will. Isolde is not restrained by any scruples about honour, nor need
she have any; in full possession of the man she loves, she can abandon
herself to the moment. The music almost shows the flush upon her
cheek, and she seems twenty years younger. She is quite conscious of
the inevitable end, and quite prepared to meet it, but that is as
nothing in the fulness of the present moment. Her words and her
actions are characterized by a playful recklessness, an _abandon_
which finds admirable expression in a characteristic motive (No. 9).
Thematically related to this is another motive which we shall meet
with very frequently in the sequel (No. 10). It is not directly
connected with any definite dramatic event except generally with the
first scene. The halting fourth quaver in each half-bar imparts a
nervous restless character which at the meeting of the lovers becomes
a delirium of joy.

The events of the second act seem to take place on the evening of the
day after the landing, or at least very soon after--exact chronology
is not necessary. The lovers have arranged a meeting in the palace
garden in front of Isolde's quarters after the night has set in. A
burning torch is fixed to the door; its lowering is to be the signal
to Tristan to approach. King Marke and the court are out on a hunt,
and the signal cannot be given until they are out of the way.

The Prelude opens with an emphatic announcement of the principal
motive of the act (the "daylight"--No. 3) in the full orchestra
without brass. A cantabile strain in the bass wood-wind continued in
the violoncelli with a broken triplet accompaniment in the strings
seems to tell of the expected meeting. The new motive (No. 9) is heard
in its proper instrument, the flute, but gives way to No. 10, which is
worked in conjunction with the love-motive, settling again in B flat
as the curtain rises. It is a clear summer night; the horns of the
hunting-party grow fainter in the distance. Brangäne, with anxiety in
her expression, is listening attentively and waiting for them to cease
when Isolde enters.

A word must be said about the music of the hunting motive. The key
is, as has already been said, B flat major. In the bass a pedal F is
sustained by two deep horns or by the violoncelli, while six horns (or
more) on the stage play a fanfare on the chord of C minor alternating
with that of F major. A very peculiar colouring is imparted to the
first chord, partly by the very dissonant G (afterwards G flat),
partly by the minor third of the chord. This is a completely new
effect obtained from the valve horn, fanfares on horns and trumpets
having before always been in the major, since the natural scale
contains no minor chord. Brangäne and Isolde listen intently: Isolde
thinks the horns are gone, and what they hear is only the murmuring of
the stream and the rustling of the leaves. The fanfare is taken up by
wood-wind (K.A. 85'2(1)), and at last melts into a new sound, with
clarinets in 6-8 time against muted violins and violas in 8-8,
beautifully suggestive of the rustling of leaves. Then the horns are
heard no more. Brangäne, who has been on the alert, suspects a trap
behind this hunting-party, which has been arranged by Tristan's friend
Melot, but she doubts his good faith. Isolde gaily laughs at her
cares; her heart is bursting and she recks of nothing but the approach
of Tristan. The music is almost entirely made up of her joyful motive,
and there begins a first indication of that wonderful lyric outpouring
which continues until it culminates in the Nocturne, and which has
placed the second act of _Tristan_ on an eminence of its own,
apart and unapproached. She throws open the flood-gates of her heart
as in words recalling Lucretius:

  Te, dea, te fugiunt venti, te nubila caeli
  Adventumque tuum, tibi suavis daedala tellus
  Summittit floras, tibi rident sequora ponti.

She tells of the all-ruling, all-subduing might of "_Frau
Minne._" The ode is full of lyric inspiration, and is generally
recalled in the sequel by the motive No. 11, which consists of two
parts, the melody in the first and second violins, and that in the
bass--strictly a horn passage, but here in the lower strings. The
accompaniment of the ode is throughout in keeping with the rhapsodical
character of the words and melody: note the long, persistent A of the
first and second violins in octaves at the words "_des kühnsten
Muthes Königin, des Weltenwerdens Waltering_," followed by their
joyous upward flight; the broken chords of the harp; the swelling
upward semitones of flute, oboe, and clarinet bringing forth the germ
of No. 11_b._; the trombone chords at the words "_Leben und Tod
sind unterthan ihr_"; the arpeggio accompaniment of the violas, and
the wonderfully poetic climax at the end, "_des Todes Werk ... Frau
Minne hat es meiner Macht entwandt._" Brangäne's entreaties are
vain; again she cannot feel what Isolde feels--notice the difference
between her melody and the soaring freedom of Isolde's. A little later
(K.A. 99'4 seq.) Isolde's immovable resolution is admirably expressed
by her persistence on one note. At last she seizes the torch and hurls
it to the ground to a terrific downward rush of the strings and the
yell of the death-motive in the trumpets, the entire orchestra with
drums being heard together for the first time.

SCENE II.--Isolde signals to her lover with her white scarf to music
redolent of Weber's _Oberon_, and of the transition to the final
movement of Beethoven's sonata _Les Adieux_. From the moment when
he enters, neither words nor music come to full articulation; all is
swept away in the whirlwind of the dominant rhythm


a variant of the motive No. 10, in still more rapid tempo. For a great
part of the time the entire orchestra is occupied, and until far into
the scene the voices are quite unable to pierce the volume of sound
from the orchestra.[41]

[Footnote 41: I convinced myself in 1906 that this is not the case in
Bayreuth theatre, the acoustic qualities of which are unique.]

We take up the scene again when the storm has in some measure subsided
at the words "_wie lange fern, wie fern so lang_" on p. 109 of
the piano score. To make anything like a detailed analysis of the
elaborate working out of the daylight motive with other subsidiary
motives which now follows would be impossible here, and would only be
of use to the student of composition. The music wanders through many
keys, but C major is generally discernible as the centre round which
the tonality oscillates. The words demand closer attention, and I must
invite those of my readers who have been driven back by the
difficulties of the road to accompany me along the dull path of
literal translation and comment.

The keynote of the dialogue is the opposition of day and night,
typifying delusion and reality, avidyâ and Atman. In the words of

  [Greek: eudousa gap phraen ommasin lamprunetai.
  e'n haemera de moir aproskopos broto¯n.]

The dialogue cannot be understood by the light of the rationalist
theory that love and marriage are things to be contracted for the sake
of the benefits which they bring to both parties. Those who approach
it from this standpoint must be content with the explanation sometimes
heard that "lovers are to be excused if they behave like lunatics,
since it is part of their condition." This is not quite the poet's
intention. With Wagner love is a _sacrifice_--or for those who so
prefer it, a _sacrament_. Hence the deep mystery of the kinship
of love, the vivifying principle, with death, typified in the Hindu
emblem of the _ling_. In the present scene it is often difficult
to tell whether the strains denote the languishing of love or the
fading away of life. The best preparation would be to read the opening
portion of the seventh book of Plato's _Republic_. It is
difficult to think that this passage was not in Wagner's mind when he
composed the scene; although the imagery is rather different, the
thought is similar. Plato is speaking of the roots of knowledge;
Wagner conceives of Love as Plato does of knowledge, and in the minds
of both love and knowledge are the same, as are also music and
philosophy. The idea comes at once to the front in Isolde's

  Im Dunkel du, im Lichte ich.

We remember that according to Plato there are two kinds of blindness:
one is from living in the dark, the blindness of ignorance; the other
from having gazed too steadfastly at the sun when the eyes were not
strong enough to bear it. Tristan was dazzled with the light of the
sun, and therefore unable to see the truth. For with Wagner the sun is
not, as with Plato, the source of all light and truth, but rather the
enemy of love and truth. To put it more shortly, the meaning of the
line which I have quoted is: "You were blinded by ambition; I saw more
clearly." Tristan understands her as meaning the light of the torch
for the extinction of which he was so long waiting. Then follows a
discussion in which she urges that it was through her act, in pulling
down the torch, that he was led from the light of day to the darkness
of love. Porges here makes the true remark that the mainspring of
Tristan's life is ambition; that love is naturally foreign to him, but
that he is at last drawn to it by Isolde.

We resume at p. 114 of the piano arrangement. The German construction
is exceedingly difficult and confusing. I translate literally:

  _Tr._ The day, the day that glossed thee o'er, that
  carried Isolde away from me thither where she resembled
  the sun in the gleam and light of highest
  glory. What so enchanted my eye depressed my heart
  deep down to the ground. How could Isolde be
  mine in the bright light of day?

  _Is_. Was she not thine who chose thee? What did
  the wicked day lie to thee that thou shouldst betray
  thy beloved who was destined for thee?

  _Tr_. That which glossed thee o'er with transcendent
  splendour, the radiance of honour, the force of glory,
  the dream of hanging my heart upon these held me
  in bonds. The day-sun of worldly honours, which,
  with the clear refulgence of its shimmer, shone bright
  upon my head with the vain delight of its rays, penetrated
  through my head into the deepest recess of
  my heart. That which there watched darkly sealed
  in the chaste night, that which unconscious I received
  there as it dawned, an image which my eyes did not
  trust themselves to look at, when touched by the
  light of day, lay open gleaming before me.

In these mysterious words Tristan indicates the impression which
Isolde had made upon him at their first meeting. He regarded her
through the spectacles of his political ambition, with its vain
delight of personal glory, which had penetrated from his head to his
heart. It illumined the image of Isolde slumbering yet unconscious
(_ohne Wiss' und Wahn_) in his breast, and revealed it to the
day--namely, as a prize in the political game which he was playing:

  That which seemed to me so glorious and so noble,
  I glorified before the whole assembly; before all
  people I loudly extolled the most lovely royal bride
  of the earth. The envy which the day had awakened
  against me, the jealousy which became alarmed at
  my good fortune, the misfavour which began to
  weigh down my honour and my glory, I defied them
  all, and faithfully determined, in order to uphold my
  honour and my glory, to go to Ireland.

  _Is_. Oh vain slave of the day.

Here (K.A. 119'3 at the words "_Getäuscht von ihm...._") there
begins a new development of the same motive which has occupied us
hitherto (No. 3) with the first indications of the syncopated
accompaniment which forms so prominent a feature of the following
part. Explanations are now finished. The words begin to find wings.
For moments it seems as if all consciousness of earthly things were
lost and the lovers were dissolved into dreamland:

  Wo des Trugs geahnter Wahn zerrinne.

K.A. 122. The modulation into the key of the death-motive, A flat, is
effected through the chord of the augmented sixth. The violins keep up
a broken triplet accompaniment, trombones entering on the A major
chord, oboe lightly breathing the principal motive (No. 3), while the
voice follows its independent melody, to us a simile of Wagner's like
a boat designed to move exactly upon that sea, and under those
conditions. The whole passage is a vision of the death which they are
awaiting, but without its bitterness, only as the portal of eternity.

On p. 123 the voice brings the intervals of the chord which throws an
atmosphere over the whole of the rest of the scene, and which has
already been mentioned as "the soul of the Tristan music." The
intervals are enharmonically the same as those of the chord in the
first bar of Prelude--F, A flat, C flat, E flat,=F, G sharp, B, D
sharp--but the treatment and surroundings are very different.

A reference to the draught occasions a joyful outburst on the part of
Tristan, which is of importance as explaining its real significance:

  _Tr_. Oh hail to the drink.... Through the door
  of death whence it flowed it divulged to me wide and
  open the joyful kingdom of night, wherein before I
  had only dreamed as one awake.

The words are accompanied by a violin figure in very rapid tempo,
which was already prominent in the early part of the scene at the
meeting. The exultant episode soon ends, the stormy tempo continuing,
and by degrees all subsides into the discordant motive which I have
quoted as the fourth of the fundamental dramatic-musical motives, and
seeming to indicate the agony of death (No. 4).

Already there have been indications of a characteristic accompanying
rhythmic figure consisting of one note repeated in triplets, and now
as the lovers sink on a bank of flowers in half-conscious embrace, its
nervous character is enhanced by a complex syncopation. The passage
beginning 131'4 is in the mystic mood of Beethoven's last sonatas
and quartets. The triplet movement seems inspired by the similar
movement in the sonata Op. 110 from the beginning of the slow movement
_Adagio ma non troppo_ to the end. In both the feverish pulsation
indicates a morbid condition, leading in Beethoven to a calmly
triumphant end. The second movement of the quartet Op. 127, _Adagio
ma non troppo_, with which Porges compares the scene, gives a
different side, from which the morbid element is absent. The rhythm
which dominates this scene is a development of the preceding triplet
rhythm and must be taken quite strictly--3-4 time, the first two
crotchets being divided into triplet quavers, the last into two. The
syncopated chords are on the four strings, all muted, and each divided
into two parts. In the tenth bar (counting from the double bar
_mässig langsam_ 3-4) the woodwind (Cl. Hr. Fag.) enter,
sustaining the chord "_sehr weich_," the first clarinet having
the upper note, quite soft, like a sigh, forming a cadence after each
phrase of the voice part. The extreme nervous tensity is emphasized
almost beyond endurance by the incessant syncopated triplets of the
strings. The lovers are raised entirely away from the external world;
it is the sleep of approaching death into which they sink; rather
dissolution into eternity. The words begin to lose coherence and
meaning, and are often purely interjectional.

One passage may be noted for its interesting modulations, the
alternating duet with the words "_Barg im Busen uns sich die
Sonne_." It is in phrases of three bars in rising semitones, A
flat--A natural--A natural--B flat, ending in the beautiful strain No.
13 as they fall asleep in one another's arms.

We have now in Brangäne's watch-song, and the instrumental nocturne
that accompanies it, reached the highest point of the musical
expression, not of the Tristan drama alone, but of all music since
Palestrina. Before such music silence is the only thing possible. It
scoffs at our words; it is not of this earth. Many will now prefer to
draw the veil, to pass over the little that I have to say, and resign
themselves to the aesthetic impression. For those who feel curiosity
to know the mechanism by which its wondrous effect is brought about, I
will analyse the instrumentation. The thematic material employed is
very slight; only here and there a motive from the preceding is
indicated as if in a dream.

The syncopated pulsations are resumed in one-half the full number of
strings muted, and continue to the end, as do the broken chords of the
harp. The wood-wind generally sustain soft chords, clarinet, oboe,
flute, and horn succeeding each other with the sighs from No. 12.


Brangäne's voice on the watch-tower behind the scene enters at once in
3-2 rhythm against 3-4 in the orchestra. At bar 11 (counting from
first entry of the harp) four pairs of unmuted violins detach
themselves from the body of the strings, and play a quartet
independently, with free polyphonic imitation, afterwards joined by
soli violin, viola, and 'cello, in such close score and intercrossing
as to make the whole resemble a very closely woven pattern of
exquisite beauty, but of which the single threads are hardly
distinguishable.[42] Half the violas, joined later by half the
'cellos, maintain an accompaniment of broken chords. They are the
voices of the night through which are heard the long-sustained notes
of Brangäne's watch-song, wood instruments here and there uttering
motives like passing dreams from the lovers' melodies:

  Realms where the air we breathe is love,
  Which in the winds on the waves doth move,
  Harmonizing this earth with what we feel above.

[Footnote 42: For the independent string parts, see the Appendix.]

At the end three trombones enter, sustaining slow chords. The whole
body of the strings, now united, soar once more and subside to rest.

The dialogue which follows is the most difficult in the whole work. It
will be necessary to take it sentence by sentence. Tristan, as the
cooler and more self-possessed of the two, sees more clearly than
Isolde whither they are tending. He has sunk into a state of almost
complete oblivion, from which Isolde wishes to rouse him. He replies
(139'1(6)): "Let me die, never to awake." Isolde, scarcely yet
realizing that this is indeed the only possible ending, asks
(139'4): "Must then daylight and death together end our love?" He
replies: "Our love? How can death ever destroy that? Were mighty death
standing before me threatening body and life--that life which so
gladly I resign to my love--how could its stroke reach our love? Were
I to die for that [love] for which I gladly would die, yet that love
itself is immortal and cannot end with me. So Tristan is himself
immortal through his love." Now (141'3(8)) she grasps his meaning:
"Our love is the love of _both_--Tristan _and_ Isolde." Then
there follows a little conceit on the virtue of the word "and," i.e.
the bond which unites them both together. The notion is according to
Kufferath taken from a couplet of Gottfried von Strassburg:

  Zwei vil kleinin Wortelin, Min und Din,
  Diu briuwent michel Wunder uf der Erde.

Tristan continues: "What would die in death (namely, this bodily and
worldly life) is only that which comes between us and prevents us from
loving and living." Isolde returns to her play with the word "and."
"What is true for you is also true for me. Tristan can only die
through Isolde's death." The final conclusion is reached in the great
duet beginning p. 143'1, "We die but to be united for ever in a more
perfect love." with the motive No. 14.

The duet ends with a reminiscence of the nocturne, Brangäne's voice
entering with beautiful effect warning the lovers in the midst of
their rhapsody. I resume at 146'1. The previous dialogue began with
Isolde's rousing of Tristan with the words "_Lausch' geliebter_."
Now _he_ turns to her smiling and asks: "_Soll ich lauschen_?" and
_she_ replies: "_Lass mich sterben_." She has now attained full insight,
and when he finally and seriously puts the question to her: "Shall I
return once more to the day?" she replies with enthusiasm
("_begeistert_"), "Let the day yield to death," and the piercing
harmonies of No. 4 indicate the wrench of the parting. Her mind is now
quite resolved. To another decisive question she replies: "Eternal be
our night!" It is this that Tristan has been waiting for; until he knew
that Isolde was ready to accompany him he could not form his own resolve.
Herein we have the key of the whole of this complex and difficult
scene. Wagner's aim was not, as might appear on a superficial view,
to prolong a rhapsodical love-scene, but a dramatic one, to bring the
two characters, each being such as he had conceived it, to a full
understanding of each other before they could be united in death.

An introductory passage made of the love-motive simultaneously in
direct and contrary movement--the union of opposites--leads to a duet
which opens with the harmonies of No. 4 (K.A. 117). Its character
throughout is triumphant joy, well supported by a running violin
accompaniment which continues to the end. In the course of it there
appears another important motive (No. 15), first in the clarinet. All
ends in a crash of the entire orchestra; Kurwenal rushes in crying,
"Save yourself, Tristan," and in the next moment Marke and his court
enter conducted by Melot. "The wretched day for the last time."

SCENE III.--Words and music of the next scene need little comment. It
may be noted that a great part of Marke's address is in strophic form,
with four lines of two accents followed by one of three accents.
Tristan stands before Isolde screening her as well as he can, crushed
to earth by Marke's calm dispassionate reproaches, with short
interludes on the bass clarinet. The music is of great beauty, but, as
I have observed in an earlier chapter, the explanatory parts are too
much extended. The King calls upon Tristan to say what is the deep,
mysterious cause of such a falling off in his honour. Tristan cannot
answer, but the love-motive in its most complete form, as in the
opening of the Prelude, replies more clearly than words.

Tristan now turns full round to Isolde, and in impressive words asks
her whether she is prepared to follow him to the land to which he is
now going; it is the land where no sun shines, the dark land of night.
The voice takes up the melody No. 12 from an earlier part of the act.
Her reply is if possible even more sublime. When Tristan carried her
to a stranger's country, she had to follow. Now he calls her to his
own, to show her his possession and heritage; how should she refuse?
"Let Tristan lead the way; Isolde will follow."

He then calls upon Melot to fight with him, but first lets fall a
significant remark:

  My friend he [Melot] was ... it was he who urged
  me on to wed thee to the King. Thy glance, Isolde,
  has dazzled him too; out of jealousy he betrayed me
  to the King, whom I betrayed.

From these enigmatical words Wagner leaves us to conjecture what we
can. They fight; at the first pass Tristan lets the sword drop from
his hand and falls wounded to the earth.



ACT III.--Wagner has described the slow introduction to Beethoven's C
sharp minor quartet as the saddest music ever written. If there is
anything sadder, it is the instrumental introduction to the third act
of _Tristan und Isolde_. Tristan, after being wounded by Melot,
has been carried off by Kurwenal to his own home, Kareol in Brittany,
where he is discovered lying asleep on his couch in the castle garden,
Kurwenal by his side. Nothing could exceed the desolation of the
scene, nor the utter woe expressed in the music which begins with a
new transformation of the love-motive (1_a_). Isolde alone can
cure the sick man, and word has been sent to her to come from
Cornwall. Her ship is just expected, and the shepherd who is on the
watch outside plays a sad strain so long as the ship is not seen, to
be changed to a joyful one when she appears in sight. The plaintive
strain is played on the English horn, an instrument which in the hands
of a skilful player is capable of very great expression, and, unlike
most of the wood, has a considerable range of soft and loud, a quality
of which Wagner has made very happy use.

The melody itself seems to have caused some heartburning to many
excellent critics. Even Heinrich Porges describes it as a sequence of
tones apparently without rule,[43] and has not a word to say about its
enthralling melodic beauty. Really what difficulty there is, is only
for the eye, and only in one note, the constantly recurring G flat,
which is easily accounted for. In a later part of the scene (p. 200),
it will be found fully harmonized.

[Footnote 43: _"Eine scheinbar regellose Tonfolge."_]

SCENE I.--In the first scene of the third act, Kurwenal attains an
importance far beyond what he had in the first and second acts. He,
too, is changed; he is no longer the rough, unmannerly servant, the
events which have passed and the responsibility now resting upon his
shoulders, have brought out the finer qualities of his nature. There
is noticeable in his melody all through the act an air of freedom and
lofty devotion quite different from his former self. He is, as it
were, transfigured, and there is a refinement in his tenderness which
may surprise those who have never observed what delicacy and
sensitiveness are often hidden beneath a rough exterior among the
lower classes.

After a short conversation between Kurwenal and the shepherd, who
looks over the wall to ask how the patient is progressing, Tristan
awakes, asking with feeble voice where he is. Kurwenal relates how he
has brought him to his own home in Kareol, where he is soon to recover
from wounds and death. It is some time before Tristan fully
understands, and as memory begins to awaken, he tells of where he has
been, speaking as one inspired:

  I was there where I have ever been, whither for
  ever I go, in the wide realm of the world-night, where
  there is but one knowledge--divine utter oblivion,

i.e. in that Brahm, that eternal negation, in which all physical life
has its existence. The words are accompanied by _pianissimo_
chords of trombones with tuba. It is the first time that the heavy
brass has been heard in this act, and the effect is excessively
solemn. He continues:

  How has this foretaste (of eternal night) departed
  from me? Shall I call thee a yearning memory that
  has driven me once more to the light of day?

The music of this and the following part is very interesting, but the
modulations are too subtle and too evanescent for analysis. The
motive, which has throughout been associated with the metaphor of
daylight, is united with the languishing love-motive and with No. 4,
of which three motives the following part is chiefly made up. The
combination is expressed in Tristan's word, _"Todeswonne-Grauen,"_
"the awful joy of death." The culminating point is reached at the
strongly alliterative words, _"Weh' nun wächst bleich und bang mir
des Tages wilder Drang,"_ when for the moment there is quite a
maze of real parts in wood-wind and strings. Immediately following
is a very curious passage, nothing else than a succession of
augmented chords in an upward chromatic scale, seemingly
illustrating the words _"grell und täuschend sein Gestirn weckt zu
Trug und Wahn mein Hirn."_ For a moment Kurwenal seems overawed
by the words and sufferings of his beloved master. His free bounding
spirits are gone, and he speaks like a broken man. But he soon
recovers his former mood as he tells of Isolde's expected arrival. The
news, scarcely comprehended at first, is the signal for an outburst of
joy on the part of Tristan expressed in a new motive, No. 17, p.
193'4. His joy is so violent that it brings on a return of delirious
raving. He seems to see the ship, the sails filling to the wind, the
colours flying, but at that moment the sad strains of the shepherd's
song tell him that the ship has not yet appeared. He knows the tune,
which once bewailed his father's death and his mother's fate when she
brought him forth and died. And now it tells of his own lot:

  to long--and die; to die--and to long. No! Not
  so! rather to long and long, dying to long, and _not_
  to die of longing.

He cannot find the death for which he longs.

In the following soliloquy the plaintive melody is woven into the
orchestral accompaniment and taken by various instruments in turn. I
resume at the words _"Der Trank, der Trunk, der furchtbare
Trank"_ (p. 207'1), where the full orchestra accompanies with
brass and drums, the tempo being still rather slow.

  The draught! the draught! the terrible draught!
  How it raged from my heart to my head.... Nowhere,
  nowhere may I rest. The night casts me back
  on the day for ever to feed the sun's rays on my suffering....
  The fearful draught which has consigned me
  to this torment, I, I myself brewed it! Out of [my]
  father's woe and [my] mother's anguish, out of tears
  of love ever and aye, out of laughing and weeping,
  joys and wounds, I have gathered its poisons. Thou
  draught which I brewed, which flowed for me, which I
  joyfully quaffed, accursed be thou, accursed he who
  brewed thee.

He sinks once more into unconsciousness. This drink, this fearful
draught which has brought him into his present state, is the work of
his whole life, the outcome of all his former deeds. The despair which
he feels now as his end approaches is expressed in the motive No. 18,
in unison in the wood-wind. Both music and words of this soliloquy
offer great difficulties and need close study, with special attention
to the tempo.[44] It ends with the F sharp minor chord in the 6-4
position with full brass and drums; then sudden silence in the
orchestra as the voice sings the words _"furchtbarer Trank."_

[Footnote 44: This is the passage which perplexed the greatest of all
Wagner singers, Schnorr von Carolsfeld, so much that it hindered him
from taking the part of Tristan until light came to him from Wagner
himself. See the interesting account in Wagner's _Reminiscences of
Schnorr von Carolsfeld_ in his collected works, viii. 221.]

As he lies in a swoon the wood-wind in turns continue the malediction.
The tone then changes as Kurwenal stands beside him, uncertain whether
he is alive or dead. The wood softly sound the chord which we have so
often heard before, No. 12, in syncopated triplets, as in the great
duet in the second act (pp. 131 seq.). Above there floats a melody of
exquisite tenderness, first in the oboe, then in the clarinet,
continued later in a solo violin. A horn quartet then begins the soft
theme No. 13, Tristan's failing voice telling how he sees the vision
of Isolde floating towards him over the sea. It is as if the strains
of the garden scene were hovering in his dreams and calming his
troubled thoughts. As he reads in Kurwenal's looks that she is not yet
in sight, he once more threatens to become violent, when suddenly the
joyful tune, the signal of Isolde's approach, is heard.

SCENE II.--The catastrophe which now follows is one of the most
terrible ever conceived by a dramatist. Directly Kurwenal is away,
Tristan begins to toss in his bed; he seems almost to rise from the
dead. Strange, restless orchestration and 7-4 time seem to show that
something is pending. Several motives are hinted at, and at last there
breaks out in the lower strings and wood the motive No. 13 from the
second act, but now how changed! The tender, dreamy melody, now in
distorted 5-4 rhythm, appears like a dance of death, first in C major.
A short climax brings it in A major and again in C major with the
utmost fury and the force of the entire orchestra. It is as if the
very gates of hell had burst and every fiend were dancing around him,
shouting: "Live! live! and be for ever damned! false knight! perjured
lover!" He springs from his couch, tears the bandages from his body;
the blood streams from his wound; he staggers to the middle of the
stage as he hears Isolde's voice and sinks into her arms as she
enters. The love-motive is heard in the wood-wind like a long dying
breath as, breathing the word "Isolde," he expires. The orchestra dies
away; one chord is heard alone on the harp, and the violoncello
continues the love-motive as he breathes away his life.

Isolde is left alone with Kurwenal, who has followed her. The
soliloquy in which she laments the cruel destruction of the plan for
saving Tristan is profoundly touching, both in the words and in the

  Art thou dead? Tarry but for one hour, one only
  hour. Such anxious days longing she watched, to
  watch but one more hour with thee. Will Tristan
  beguile Isolde of the one last ever-short world-happiness
  (No. 4). The wound? where? Let me heal
  it, that, joyful and serene, we may share the night
  together. Not of the wound--die not of the wound!
  Let us both united close our eyes to the light of

Sounds are heard without. Another ship has arrived, and with it Marke
in pursuit of the fugitive princess. Hastily the gates of the castle
are barricaded. Brangäne's voice is heard imploring them not to
resist. It is vain; Kurwenal leaves no time for parley, but rushes
upon them and is at once pierced through. He is just able to reach his
master's body and die at his side; when Marke has forced an entry he
finds nothing but death. Brangäne notices that Isolde is still living,
and they now explain. The secret of the love-potion has been told to
King Marke, and he has hurried up to renounce his intention of wedding
Isolde and to unite her to Tristan.[45]

[Footnote 45: Another proof, if any were needed, that he is not united
to her by any indissoluble tie.]

It needed but a few minutes' delay for all to have ended happily. Why
did not the poet take the opportunity offered and spare us the
harrowing scenes at the end? Why could he not have lowered the curtain
on the lovers united with Marke's full approval? Dramatically there
was no reason why he should not have done so, but poetically it was
impossible. The whole of the story is brought about by Tristan's guilt
which had to be expiated; it is not diminished by Marke's generosity.

Isolde now rises to bid the world her last farewell before she departs
with Tristan. The words of her swan-song have been described by an
English writer as "no more poetry than an auctioneer's catalogue."[46]
Of that I must leave my readers to form their own judgment; they must,
of course, be read with their context in the drama. She is speaking in
a trance, with ecstatic visions before her eyes. The voice melody is
mostly built upon the song of union in death in the second act (No.
14), passing into the exultant motive which occurs in the great
love-duet (No. 15). The orchestral accompaniment, beginning quietly,
gradually swells into a torrent of music quite unrivalled among
Wagner's great finales. The end of _Götterdämmerung_ is
impressive because of the wonderful gathering together of the musical
motives of Siegfried's life, but as a musical composition it cannot
compare with the end of Tristan. As it approaches the end the
love-motive absorbs the whole orchestra, passing into No. 10 from the
prelude of the second act, rising higher and higher. The wonderful
euphony of tone, the harmony and peacefulness which pervade the
surging mass of instruments are due to the consummate art of the
instrumentation, and at last as the music seems to leave this earth in
its heavenward flight we feel borne away upon its wings. Isolde does
not die; she is carried upwards on the pinions of love, dissolved in
the ocean of endless melody.

[Footnote 46: A comparison which, by the way, seems a little severe
against auctioneers, if, as I presume, the objection is to the want of
clearness of the language!]

Her finish has given occasion to the witticism that the most beautiful
thing in the work is the last note. To this I see no reason to demur;
it contains nothing more entrancing than the rise to the fifth of the
chord at her final cadence

[Music: höch - - - ste Lust.]

Once more the love-motive is softly breathed in the oboi and the whole
closes on the chord of B major three times repeated by the orchestra.



Wagner always looked upon himself as one who had broken a new path in
art and done some of the first rough work, not as having completed the
road. Those who seek to continue his work must have the same goal
before their eyes as he had. It is the fate of a great man who more
than others longs for human fellowship and love, to live alone and,
after death, to overwhelm his contemporaries and successors; he
occupies a space which leaves no room for others. In the thirty years
which have elapsed since Wagner died, many great composers have come
to the front, all of whom without exception show in their external
physiognomy the impress of his personality. How many have inherited
his spirit? How many have been actuated by his sincerity, his fearless
resolve to follow his inspiration from on high at every cost,
regardless of all personal advantage? Future ages alone can answer
this question. The German nation is at the present day passing through
a severe trial of its inner strength. The true _Sturm und Drang_
began for Germany in 1871, and is now at its height. Her mission is
indeed a noble one; it is to maintain the principles of law, good
government, and pure religion; her genius lies in sober conservatism
and high-minded monarchy; her heroes are Dürer, Luther, Frederic the
Great, vom Stein, Richard Wagner. It is scarcely surprising if, in
view of the history of Germany during the last hundred years, some of
her sons have become intoxicated and in their zeal for German ideals
threaten to destroy the very principles by which she has risen; if
while affecting to despise the southern nations for libertinism they
should themselves have cast off the bonds of self-restraint. All
Europe is infected with the taint of unbridled licence and
shamelessness, in every department of life, intellectual and
political. On the stage the public revels in cruelty for its own sake,
not in the service of justice; it prefers bombast to bravery, lechery
to love; "the basest metal makes the loudest din"; while those to whom
we look as our leaders for direction only pander to the common
vulgarity and grow rich thereon.

There is one ingredient of art mentioned by Aristotle, although it has
been little noticed by critics; his word for it is [Greek: aedusma],
"sweetening." The poet should never forget that art, however serious,
is intended for our pleasure; the hard edge of fate needs to be
tempered by a recognition of the reality and beauty of positive life.
The aim of the true poet is not to harrow the feelings with the mere
picture of suffering or wickedness. We have enough of these in actual
life without going to the theatre; the poet has to show them as
subservient to a higher order of beauty and righteousness, and will
try to mitigate the pain which they inflict. In the tragedies of the
greatest dramatists the sweetness is so conspicuous a feature that it
might almost be ranked as a third essential of tragedy, along with the
awaking of pity and terror. The purpose of art is to show the unity of
truth and beauty, and thus to enhance the power of both, not to
sacrifice either in favour of the other. It teaches the divine lesson
of nature--perfect fitness united with perfect loveliness.

One more word and I have finished. It is easy to hear too much of
Wagner, and I think there can be no question that his works are made
far too common in Germany. Wagner's characters are not those of
everyday life; they are on a higher and more ideal moral level than
ordinary men and women; they are semi-divine. Nor are his works for
everyday hearing, but only for high festivals when we can enjoy them
at our leisure with our minds prepared. For our daily bread we have
other composers as great as he, and more nutritious and wholesome for
continued diet--Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, and how many more of
the highest rank! Caviare and champagne are excellent things at a
feast, but we do not wish to live upon them.

Every cultured person should hold it a duty to visit the Bayreuth
festival at least once in his life. He need not have any musical
training; nothing more is needed than "a warm heart and open senses,"
and, let me add, sincerity of purpose. Those who go expecting perfect
performances and ideal surroundings will be disappointed. Immense care
is bestowed on the preparation of the performances, and the site and
building present incalculable advantages. On the whole the
performances are better than elsewhere, but, excepting in the
orchestra, there are many shortcomings, and the fashionable audience
from Paris, and other capitals of Europe and America, is far indeed
from what was contemplated by Wagner. All honour is due to Madame
Cosima Wagner, who has worked unflinchingly against immense
difficulties to maintain the honour of her husband's heritage. She is
not to blame if she has not fully achieved the impossible; If the tree
has partly withered, the fault is not with the gardener; it was too
vigorous, too noble, to flourish in the soil of human society.

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