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By The Roycrof ten
RICHARD WAGNER *
FREDERIC CHOPIN 75
ROBERT SCHUMANN . . . . 1 07
SEBASTIAN BACH 133
FELIX MENDELSSOHN .... 161
FRANZ LISZT . , . . . .185
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN ... 221
GEORGE HANDEL . . . . . 249
GIUSEPPE VERDI 273
WOLFGANG MOZART 297
JOHANNES BRAHMS .... 331
Was ever work like mine created for no purpose? Am
I a miserable egotist, possessed of stupid vanity? It
matters not, but of this I feel positive; yes, as positive
as that I live, and this is, my " Tristan and Isolde,"
with which I am now consumed, does not find its equal
in the world's library of music. Oh, how I yearn to
hear it ; I am feverish ; I am worn. Perhaps that causes
me to be agitated and anxious, but my " Tristan " has
been finished now these three years and has not been
heard. When I think of this I wonder whether it will
be with this as with " Lohengrin," which now is thir-
teen years old, and is still dead to me. But the clouds
seem breaking, they are breaking I am going to
Vienna soon. There they are going to give me a surprise.
It is supposed to be kept a secret from me, but a friend
has informed me that they are going to bring out
Wagner in a Letter to Praeger
BSURD and silly people make jokes
about mothers-in-law, stepmothers
and stepfathers we will none of
this. My heart warms to the melan-
choly Jacques, who dedicated his
book to his mother-in-law, " my
best friend, who always came when
she was needed and never left so
long as there was work to do." Richard Wagner's step-
father was his patient, loving and loyal friend.
The father of Wagner died when the child was six
months old. The mother, scarcely turned thirty, had
a brood of seven, no money and many debts. There is
trouble for you ye silken, perfumed throng, who
nibble cheese-straws, test the hyson when it is red, and
discuss the heartrending aspects of the servant-girl
problem to the lascivious pleasings of a lute!
But the widow Wagner was not cast down to earth
she resolved on keeping her family together, caring for
them all as best she could. The suggestion from certain
kinsmen that the children should be given out for
adoption was quickly vetoed. The fine spirit of the
woman won the admiration of a worthy actor, in
slightly reduced circumstances, who had lodgings in
the house of the widow. This actor, Ludwig Geyer by
name, loved the widow and all of the brood, and he
proposed that they pool their poverty. <I And so before
Mrs. Wagner had been a widow a twelvemonth they
In this marriage Geyer seemed to be moved to a degree
by the sentiment of friendship for his friend, the
deceased husband. Geyer was a man of many virtues
amiable, hopeful, kind. He had the artistic tempera-
ment without its faults. To writers of novels, in search
of a very choice central character, Ludwig Geyer af-
fords great possibilities. He was as hopeful as Triplett
and a deal more versatile. The histrionic art afforded
him his income of eleven dollars a week; but painting
was his forte if he only had time to devote to the
technique! Yet all the arts being one he had written a
play; he also modeled in clay and sang tenor parts as
understudy to the great Schudenfeldt. Hope, good-
cheer and a devotion to art were the distinguishing
features of Mein Herr Geyer.
All this was in the city of Leipzig; but Herr Geyer be-
coming a member of the Court Theater, the family
moved to Dresden, where at this time lived one Weber,
a composer, who used to walk by the Geyer home and
occasionally stop in for a little rest. At such times one
of the children would be sent out with a pitcher, and
the great composer and Herr Geyer would in fancy
roam the realm of art, and Herr Geyer would impart to
Herr Weber valuable ideas that had never been used.
The little boy, Richard, used to cherish these visits of
Weber, and would sit and watch for hours for the com-
ing of the queer old man in the long gray cloak.
The stork, one fine day, brought Richard a little sister.
He was scarce two years older than she. These two
sort of grew up together, and were ever the special
pets of Herr Geyer, who used to take them to the
theater and seat them on a bench in the wings where
they could watch him lead the assault in " The Pirate's
Richard regarded his stepfather with all the affection
that ever a child had for its own parent; and until he
was twenty-one was known to the world as Richard
The comparison of Ludwig Geyer with Triplett is
hardly fair, for Geyer's fine effervescence and hopeful,
rainbow-chasing qualities were confined to early life.
<I As the years passed Geyer settled down to earnest
work and achieved a considerable success both as an
actor and as a painter. The unselfish quality of the man
is shown in that his income was freely used to educate
the Wagner children. He was sure that Richard had
the germ of literary ability in his mental make-up, and
his ambition was that the boy should become a writer.
But alas! Geyer did not live long enough to know the
true greatness of this child he had fostered and be-
friended 5& 33
Unlike so many musicians Richard was not precocious.
He was slow, thoughtful and philosophic; and music
did not attract him so much as letters. Incidentally he
took lessons in music with his other studies, and his
first teacher, Gottlieb Muller, has left on record the
statement that the boy was " self-willed and eccentric,
and not fluid enough in spirit to succeed in music."
The mother of Wagner seems to have been a woman
of marked mentality not especially musical or poetic,
but possessing a fine appreciation of all good things,
and best of all, she had commonsense. She very early
came to regard Richard as her most promising child,
and before he was ten years of age, said to a friend,
" Richard will be able to succeed at anything he con-
centrates his mind upon."
The truth of the remark has often been reiterated. The
youth was superb in his mental equipment strong,
capable, independent. Had he turned his attention to
any other profession, or any branch of art or science,
he could have probed the problem to its depths, and
made his mark upon the age in which he lived.
In height Wagner was a little under size, but his deep
chest, well-set neck, and large, shapely head gave him
a commanding look. In physique he resembled the
" big little men " like Columbus, Napoleon, Aaron Burr,
Alexander Hamilton and John Bright men born to
command, with ability to do the thinking for a nation.
<I It 's magnificent to be a great musician, and many
musicians are nothing else, but it is better to be a man
than a musician. Richard Wagner was a man. Envi-
ronment forced literature upon his attention: he desired
to be a great poet. He wrote essays, stories, quatrains,
epics. Chance sent the work of Beethoven within his
radius, and he became filled with the melody of the
master. Young men of this type, full of the pride of
youth, overflowing with energy, search for a some-
thing on which to try their steel. Wagner could write
poetry, that was sure, and more, he could prepare the
score and set his words to music. He fell upon the
work like one possessed and he was. To his amaze-
ment the difficulties of music all faded away, and that
which before seemed like a hopeless task, now became
luminous before the heat of his spirit.
Nothing is difficult when you put your heart in it.
The obstacles to be overcome in setting words to
sounds were like a game of chess a pleasing diversion.
In a month he knew as much of the science of music
as many men did who had grubbed at the work a life-
time. " The finances! Get your principles right and then
't is a mere matter of detail, requiring only concen-
tration I will arrange it," said Napoleon.
Wagner focused on music, yet here seems a good place
to say that he never learned either to play the piano
or to sing. He had to trust the " details " to others. Yet
at twenty he led an orchestra. Soon after he became
conductor of the opera at Magdeburg.
In some months more he drifted to Konigsberg, and
there acted as conductor at the Royal Theater.
In the company of this theater was a young woman by
the name of Wilhelmina Planer. Wagner got acquainted
with her across the footlights. She was young, comely
and all that they became engaged. Shortly afterwards,
one fine moonlight night, in response to her merry
challenge, they rang up the " Dom " and were married.
They got better acquainted afterward.
]T is a fact that Wagner's imprudent marriage
at the age of twenty-three has been much
regretted and oft lamented. " What," say the
Impressionable Ones, "Oh, what could he
not have accomplished with a proper mate! "
It is very true that Minna Planer had no comprehension
of the genius of her husband; that her two feet were
always flatly planted on earth, and her head never
reached the clouds; and true it is that she was a weary
weight to him for the twenty-five years they lived
together. Still men grow strong by carrying burdens;
and we must remember that Wagner was what he was
on account of what he endured and suffered.
Wagner expressed himself in his art, and all great art
is simply the honest, spontaneous, individual expres-
sion of soul-emotion. Had Wagner's emotions been
different he would have produced a totally different
sort of art. That is to say, if Wagner in his youth had
loved and wedded a woman who was capable of giving
his soul peace, we would have had no Wagner; we would
have had some one else, and therefore a totally different
expression, or no expression at all. Probably the man
would have been quite content to be a village Kapell-
meister. His life being reasonably complete, his spirit
would not have roamed the Universe crying for rest.
The ideals of his wife were so low and commonplace
that she influenced his career by antithesis. His soul
was ahungered for the bread of life, and stones were
given him in way of the dull, the ugly, the affected, the
smug, the ridiculous. Wagner's life was a revolt from
the ossified commonplace, a struggle for right adjust-
ment a heart tragedy. And all this reaching out of
the spirit, all the prayers, hopes, fears and travail of
his soul, are told and told again in his poetry and in
All art is autobiography.
Minna Planer was amiable and kind, but the frantic
effort she made at times, in public, to be profound or
chic must have touched the great man on the raw. He
sought, however, to protect her, and at public gather-
ings used to keep very near to her in order that she
should not fall into the clutches of some sharp-witted
enemy and be lead on into unseemliness of speech. The
scoffs of critics and the ready-made gibes and jeers of
the mob were to her gospel truth ; her husband's genius
was a vagary to be stoutly endured. So for many years
she was inclined to pose as one to be pitied and so
she was. That she suffered at times can not be denied,
yet God is good, and so has put short limit on the
sensibilities of the vain.
But Wagner would never tolerate an unkind word
spoken of Minna in his presence, and once rebuked a
friend who sought to console him by saying, " Never
mind, Minna lives her life the best she can, and ex-
presses the thoughts that come to her what more do
you and I do? "
And in his later years, when calm philosophy was his,
he realized that Minna Planer had supplied him a
stinging discontent, a continued unrest that formed
the sounding-board on which his sorrow and his hope
and his faith in the Ideal were echoed forth.
Love is the recurring motif in all of Wagner's plays.
A man and a woman, joined by God, but separated by
unkind condition, play their parts, and our hearts are
made by the Master to vibrate in sympathy with the
central idea. Only a broken-hearted man could have
conjured forth from his soul such couples as these:
Senta and the Dutchman, Elizabeth and Tannhauser,
Elsa and Lohengrin, Tristan and Isolde, Siegmund
and Sieglinde, Walter and Eva, Siegfried and Brunhilde.
Wagner's unhappy marriage forms the keynote of
his art. Every opera he wrote depicts a soul in bonds.
From " The Flying Dutchman " to " Parsifal " we are
shown the struggle of a strong man with cruel Fate; a
reaching out for liberty and light; the halting between
duty and inclination; and the endless search for a
woman who shall give deliverance through her abiding
love and faith.
LL art seems controlled by fad and fashion.
No fashion endures, else 't were not fashion,
and in its character the fad is essentially
transient. Still we need not rail at fashion ; it
is a form of periodicity, and periodicity exists through
all Nature. There are day and night, winter and sum-
mer, equinox and solstice, work and rest, years of
plenty and years of famine. Comets return, and all
fashions come back. Keep your old raiment long enough
and it will be in style.
All things move in an orbit, even theories and religions.
Certain forms of fanaticism come with the centuries
every new heresy is old. All extremes cure themselves,
for when matters get pushed to a point where the
balance of things is in danger of being disturbed, a
Reformer appears and utters his stentorian protest.
This man is always ridiculed, hooted, reviled, mobbed,
and very happy indeed is his fate if he is hanged, cru-
cified or made to drink of the deadly hemlock; for then
his place in the affection of men is made secure, sealed
with blood, and we proclaim him liberator or savior.
The Piazza Signora is sacred soil because there it was
that Savonarola died; John Brown's body lies a-
moldering in the grave, but his soul goes marching
on; J. Wilkes Booth linked his own name with that of
Judas Iscariot and made his victim known to the Ages
as the Emancipator of Men.
These strong men, sent at the pivotal points in history,
are born out of a sore need they are sent from God.
Yet strong men always exist, but it is the needs of the
hour that develop and bring them to our attention.
Not always have the Reformers been fortunate in
their takings off many have lingered out lengthening,
living deaths in walled-up cells. The Bastile, Chillon,
London Tower, that prison joined to a palace by the
Bridge of Sighs, and all other such plague-spots of
blood are haunted by the ghosts of infamy. Before the
memory of all those who wrote immortal books behind
grated bars we stand uncovered.
Exile has been the lot of many who tried to live for
sanity, justice and truth when mad riot raged. Dante,
Victor Hugb, Prince Kropotkin and Wagner are types
to which we turn. Then there is an attenuated form of
persecution known as ostracism, which consists in being
exiled at home, but of this it is not worth while to
speak 3$ 33
Wagner was a strong, honest man who simply desired
to express his better self. The elements of caution and
expediency were singularly lacking in his character.
These qualities of independence and self-reliance
brought him into speedy collision with those who stood
in the front rank of the artistic world of his day, and
he became a marked man. His offense was that he
expressed his honest self.
In Eighteen Hundred Forty- three, when he appeared
upon the scene in Dresden as Hofkapellmeister of
the Royal Theater, matters musical were just about
where the stage now is in America. In this Year of
Grace, Nineteen Hundred One, the great Shakespeare
has been elbowed from the stage by the author of
"A Texas Steer"; and where once the haughty
Richard trod the boards, the skirt-dance assumes the
center of the stage and looms lurid like the spirit of
the Brocken. Recently a vaudeville " turn " of Hamlet
has been presented, where the gravediggers do their
gruesome tasks to ragtime; and on every hand we
behold the Lyceum giving way to the McClure Con-
Wagner abhorred the mere tune for the sake of tune.
' You can not produce art and leave man out," he said.
All art must suggest something. Mere verbal description
is not literature: it is only words, words, words; a
picture must be charged with soul, otherwise a photo-
graph would outrank " The Angelus." Music must be
more than jingling tunes and mincing sounds. And thus
we find Wagner at thirty years of age boldly putting
forth " The Flying Dutchman," with music not written
for the text, nor text written for the music, but words
and music created at the same time the melody mir-
roring forth the soul of the words.
In this play Wagner for the first time sacrificed every
precedent of musical construction and all thought of
symmetrical form, in order to make the music tell the
tale. " The Flying Dutchman " is to opera what Walt
Whitman's " Leaves of Grass " is to poetry, or Millet's
" Sower " is to painting. There is strength, heroic
strength, in each of these masterpieces I have named,
but the "Dutchman" needs a listener, "Leaves of
Grass " requires a reader who has experienced, and the
" Sower " demands one who has eyes to see, before its
lesson of love and patience and the pathetic truth of
endless toil are bodied forth.
Whitman's book was well looked after by the local
Antonius Ash-Box inspector of the day, its publication
forbidden, and the author incidentally deprived of his
clerkship at Washington ; Millet did service as the butt
for jokes of artistic Paris, and was dubbed " The Wild
Man "; Wagner's play was hooted off the stage.
VERY man is but a type representing his
class. Of course the class may be small and
one man may even be its sole living represen-
tative ; but Wagner had his double in William
Morris. These men were brothers in temperament,
physique, habit of thought and occupation.
Wagner wrote largely on the subjects of Art and
Sociology, and made his appeal for the toiler in that
the man should be allowed to share the joys of Art by
producing it. His argument is identical with that of
William Morris ; and yet the essays of Wagner were not
translated into English until after Morris had written
his " Dream of John Ball," and Morris did not read
German S& 3&
Both men hark back to a time when Man and Nature
were on friendly terms; when the thought, best exem-
plified by the early Greeks, of the sacredness of the
human body was recognized; when the old medieval
feeling of helpful brotherhood yet lingered; and the
restless misery of competition and all the train of woe,
squalor and ugliness that " civilization " has brought
Wagner's music is made up of the sounds of Nature
conventionalized. You hear the sighing of the breeze,
the song of the birds, the cries of animals, the rush of
the storm. Wagner's essay, entitled, "Art and Revolu-
tion," is the twin to the lecture, "Art and Socialism,"
by Morris; and in the "Art- Work of the Future,"
Wagner works out at length the favorite recurring
theme of Morris : work is for the worker, and art is the
expression of man's joy in his work.
In Eighteen Hundred Forty-four, when Morris was ten
years of age, Wagner wrote:
" I compose for myself; it is just a question between me
and my Maker. I grow as I exercise my faculties, and
expression is a necessary form of spiritual exercise. How
shall I live ? Express what I think or feel, or what you
feel? 33 33
"No, I must be honest and sincere. I must, for the need
of myself, live my own life, for work is for the worker,
at the last. Each man must please himself, and Nature
has placed her approbation on this by supplying the
greatest pleasure men ever know as a reward for doing
good work. I hate this fast-growing tendency to chain
men to machines in big factories and deprive them of
all joy in their efforts the plan will lead to cheap men
and cheap products. I set my face against it and plead
for the dignity and health of the open air, and the olden
time." 33 33
This sort of talk led straight to Wagner's arrest in the
streets of Dresden on the charge of inciting a riot; and
it was the identical line of argument that caused the
arrest of Morris in Trafalgar Square, London, when he
was taken struggling to the station-house.
Wagner was exiled and Morris merely " cautioned,"
placed under police surveillance and ostracized. The
difference in time explains the difference in punishment.
A century earlier and both men would have forfeited
In all of Wagner's operas the scene is laid at a time
when the festivals, games and religious ceremonies were
touched with the thought of beauty. Men were strong,
plain, blunt and honest. Affectation, finesse, pretense
and veneer were unknown. Art had not resolved itself
into the possession of a class of idlers and dilettantes
who hired long-haired men and fussy girls in Greek
gowns to make pretty things for them. All worked with
their hands, through need, and when they made things
they worked for utility and beauty. They gave things
a beautiful form, because men and women worked
together, and for each other. And wherever men and
women work together we find Beauty. Men who live
only with other men are never beautiful in their work,
or speech, or lives, neither are women. But at this early
time life was largely communal, natural, and Art was
the possession of all, because all had a share in its pro-
duction. Observe the setting of any Wagner opera
where Walter Damrosch has his way and get that
flavor of bold, free, wholesome, honest Beauty. And
yet no stage was ever large enough to quite satisfy
Wagner, and all the properties, if he had had his way,
would have been works of Art, thought out in detail
and materialized for the purpose by human hands.
Now turn to " The Story of the Glittering Plain,"
"Gertha's Lovers," " News From Nowhere" or " The
Hollow Land," by William Morris, and note the same
stage-setting, the same majesty, dignity and sense of
power. Observe the great underlying sense of joy in
life, the gladness of mere existence. A serenity and
peace pervades the work of both of these men ; they are
mystic, fond of folklore and legend; they live in the
open, are deeply religious without knowing it, have
nothing they wish to conceal, and are one with Nature
in all her many moods and manifestations sons of God!
N the history of letters there is a writer by the
name of Green, who exists simply because he
reviled a contemporary poet by the name of
Shakespeare. Green's name is embalmed in
immortal amber with that of Richard Quiney, who
wrote a letter to the author of " The Tempest " begging
the favor of a loan of forty pounds.
There are several ways of winning fame. Joseph Jef-
ferson has written in classic style of Count Johannes
and James Owen O'Connor, who played " Hamlet " to
large and enthusiastic audiences, behind a wire screen;
then there was John Doe, who fired the Alexandrian
Library, and Richard Roe, the man who struck Billy
Patterson. Besides these we have the Reverend Obadiah
Simmons of Nashville, Tennessee, who, in Eighteen
Hundred Sixty, produced a monograph proving that
negroes had no souls, the value of which work, to be
sure, is slightly vitiated when we remember that the
same arguments were used, in Seventeen Hundred
One, by Bishop Volberg, in showing that women were
in a like predicament.
And now Henry T. Finck has compiled a list of more
than one hundred names of musical critics who placed
themselves on record in opposition to Richard Wagner
and his music. Only such men as proved themselves
past masters in density and adepts in abuse are given
a place in this Academy of Immortals.
No writer, musician or artist who ever lived brought
down on his head an equal amount of contumely and
disparagement as did Richard Wagner. Turner, Millet
and Rodin have been let off lightly compared with the
fate that was Wagner's; and even the shrill outcry that
was raised in Boston at sight of MacMonnies' Bac-