Arthur Symons.

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singer who is not content to be Carmen or Charlotte Corday, but who
wants to invent a method of her own for singing and acting at the same
time, not as a character in an opera, but as a private interpreter
between poetry and the world.

Imagine a woman who suggests at the same time Sarah Bernhardt and Mrs.
Brown-Potter, without being really like either; she is small,
exuberantly blonde, her head is surrounded by masses of loosely twisted
blonde hair; she has large grey eyes, that can be grave, or mocking, or
passionate, or cruel, or watchful; a large nose, an intent, eloquent
mouth. She wears a trailing dress that follows the lines of the figure
vaguely, supple to every movement. When she sings, she has an old,
high-backed chair in which she can sit, or on which she can lean. When I
heard her, there was a mirror on the other side of the room, opposite to
her; she saw no one else in the room, once she had surrendered herself
to the possession of the song, but she was always conscious of that
image of herself which came back to her out of the mirror: it was
herself watching herself, in a kind of delight at the beauty which she
was evoking out of words, notes, and expressive movement. Her voice is
strong and rich, imperfectly trained, but the voice of a born singer;
her acting is even more the acting of a born actress; but it is the
temperament of the woman that flames into her voice and gestures, and
sets her whole being violently and delicately before you. She makes a
drama of each song, and she re-creates that drama over again, in her
rendering of the intentions of the words and of the music. It is as much
with her eyes and her hands, as with her voice, that she evokes the
melody of a picture; it is a picture that sings, and that sings in all
its lines. There is something in her aspect, what shall I call it?
tenacious; it is a woman who is an artist because she is a woman, who
takes in energy at all her senses and gives out energy at all her
senses. She sang some tragic songs of Schumann, some mysterious songs of
Maeterlinck, some delicate love-songs of Charles van Lerberghe. As one
looked and listened it was impossible to think more of the words than of
the music or of the music than of the words. One took them
simultaneously, as one feels at once the softness and the perfume of a
flower. I understood why Mallarmé had seemed to see in her the
realisation of one of his dreams. Here was a new art, made up of a new
mixing of the arts, in one subtly intoxicating elixir. To Mallarmé it
was the more exquisite because there was in it none of the broad general
appeal of opera, of the gross recognised proportions of things.

This dramatisation of song, done by any one less subtly, less
completely, and less sincerely an artist, would lead us, I am afraid,
into something more disastrous than even the official concert, with its
rigid persons in evening dress holding sheets of music in their
tremulous hands, and singing the notes set down for them to the best of
their vocal ability. Madame Georgette Leblanc is an exceptional artist,
and she has made an art after her own likeness, which exists because it
is the expression of herself, of a strong nature always in vibration.
What she feels as a woman she can render as an artist; she is at once
instinctive and deliberate, deliberate because it is her natural
instinct, the natural instinct of a woman who is essentially a woman, to
be so. I imagine her always singing in front of a mirror, always
recognising her own shadow there, and the more absolutely abandoned to
what the song is saying through her because of that uninterrupted
communion with herself.


Other orchestras give performances, readings, approximations; the
Meiningen orchestra gives an interpretation, that is, the thing itself.
When this orchestra plays a piece of music every note lives, and not, as
with most orchestras, every particularly significant note. Brahms is
sometimes dull, but he is never dull when these people play him;
Schubert is sometimes tame, but not when they play him. What they do is
precisely to put vitality into even those parts of a composition in
which it is scarcely present, or scarcely realisable; and that is a much
more difficult thing, and really a more important thing, for the proper
appreciation of music, than the heightening of what is already fine, and
obviously fine in itself. And this particular quality of interpretation
has its value too as criticism. For, while it gives the utmost value to
what is implicitly there, there at least in embryo, it cannot create out
of nothing; it cannot make insincere work sincere, or fill empty work
with meaning which never could have belonged to it. Brahms, at his
moments of least vitality, comes into a new vigour of life; but Strauss,
played by these sincere, precise, thoughtful musicians shows, as he
never could show otherwise, the distance at which his lively spectre
stands from life. When I heard the "Don Juan," which I had heard twice
before, and liked less the second time than the first, I realised
finally the whole strain, pretence, and emptiness of the thing. Played
with this earnest attention to the meaning of every note, it was like a
trivial drama when Duse acts it; it went to pieces through being taken
at its own word. It was as if a threadbare piece of stuff were held up
to the full sunlight; you saw every stitch that was wanting.

The "Don Juan" was followed by the Entr'acte and Ballet music from
"Rosamunde," and here the same sunlight was no longer criticism, but
rather an illumination. I have never heard any music more beautifully
played. I could only think of the piano playing of Pachmann. The faint,
delicate music just came into existence, breathed a little, and was
gone. Here for once was an orchestra which could literally be overheard.
The overture to the "Meistersinger" followed, and here, for the first
time, I got, quite flawless and uncontradictory, the two impressions
which that piece presents to one simultaneously. I heard the unimpeded
march forward, and I distinguished at the same time every delicate
impediment thronging the way. Some renderings give you a sense of
solidity and straightforward movement; others of the elaborate and
various life which informs this so solid structure. Here one got the
complete thing, completely rendered.

I could not say the same of the rendering of the overture to "Tristan."
Here the notes, all that was so to speak merely musical in the music,
were given their just expression; but the something more, the vast heave
and throb of the music, was not there. It was "classical" rendering of
what is certainly not "classical" music. Hear that overture as Richter
gives it, and you will realise just where the Meiningen orchestra is
lacking. It has the kind of energy which is required to render
Beethoven's multitudinous energy, or the energy which can be heavy and
cloudy in Brahms, or like overpowering light in Bach, or, in Wagner
himself, an energy which works within known limits, as in the overture
to the "Meistersinger." But that wholly new, and somewhat feverish,
overwhelming quality which we find in the music of "Tristan" meets with
something less than the due response. It is a quality which people used
to say was not musical at all, a quality which does not appeal certainly
to the musical sense alone: for the rendering of that we must go to

Otherwise, in that third concert it would he difficult to say whether
Schumann, Brahms, Mozart, or Beethoven was the better rendered. Perhaps
one might choose Mozart for pure pleasure. It was the "Serenade" for
wind instruments, and it seemed, played thus perfectly, the most
delightful music in the world. The music of Mozart is, no doubt, the
most beautiful music in the world. When I heard the serenade I thought
of Coventry Patmore's epithet, actually used, I think, about Mozart:
"glittering peace." Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, and Beethoven all seemed
for the moment to lose a little of their light under this pure and
tranquil and unwavering "glitter." I hope I shall never hear the
"Serenade" again, for I shall never hear it played as these particular
players played it.

The Meiningen orchestra is famous for its wind, and when, at the first
concert, I heard Beethoven's Rondino for wind instruments, it seemed to
me that I was hearing brass for the first time as I had imagined brass
ought to sound. Here was, not so much a new thing which one had never
thought possible, as that precise thing which one's ears had expected,
and waited for, and never heard. One quite miraculous thing these wind
players certainly did, in common, however, with the whole orchestra. And
that was to give an effect of distance, as if the sound came actually
from beyond the walls. I noticed it first in the overture to "Leonore,"
the first piece which they played; an unparalleled effect and one of
surprising beauty.

Another matter for which the Meiningen orchestra is famous is its
interpretation of the works of Brahms. At each concert some fine music
of Brahms was given finely, but it was not until the fourth concert that
I realised, on hearing the third Symphony, everything of which Brahms
was capable. It may be that a more profound acquaintance with his music
would lead me to add other things to this thing as the finest music
which he ever wrote; but the third Symphony certainly revealed to me,
not altogether a new, but a complete Brahms. It had all his intellect
and something more; thought had taken fire, and become a kind of


They are giving a cycle of Mozart operas at Munich, at the Hof-Theater,
to follow the Wagner operas at the Prinz-Regenten-Theatre; and I stayed,
on my way to Salzburg, to hear "Die Zauberflöte." It was perfectly
given, with a small, choice orchestra under Herr Zumpe, and with every
part except the tenor's admirably sung and acted. Herr Julius Zarest,
from Hanover, was particularly good as Papageno; the Eva of "Die
Meistersinger" made an equally good Pamina. And it was staged under Herr
von Possart's direction, as suitably and as successfully, in its
different way, as the Wagner opera had been. The sombre Egyptian scenes
of this odd story, with its menagerie and its pantomime transformation,
were turned into a thrilling spectacle, and by means of nothing but a
little canvas and paint and limelight. It could have cost very little,
compared with an English Shakespeare revival, let us say; but how
infinitely more spectacular, in the good sense, it was! Every effect was
significant, perfectly in its place, doing just what it had to do, and
without thrusting itself forward for separate admiration. German art of
to-day is all decorative, and it is at its best when it is applied to
the scenery of the stage. Its fault, in serious painting, is that it is
too theatrical, it is too anxious to be full of too many qualities
besides the qualities of good painting. It is too emphatic, it is meant
for artificial light. If Franz Stuck would paint for the stage, instead
of using his vigorous brush to paint nature without distinction and
nightmares without imagination on easel-canvases, he would do, perhaps
rather better, just what these scene-painters do, with so much skill and
taste. They have the sense of effective decoration; and German art, at
present, is almost wholly limited to that sense.

I listened, with the full consent of my eyes, to the lovely music, which
played round the story like light transfiguring a masquerade; and now,
by a lucky chance, I can brood over it here in Salzburg, where Mozart
was born, where he lived, where the house in which he wrote the opera is
to be seen, a little garden-house brought over from Vienna and set down
where it should always have been, high up among the pinewoods of the
Capuzinerberg. I find myself wondering how much Mozart took to himself,
how much went to his making, in this exquisite place, set in a hollow of
great hills, from which, if you look down upon it, it has the air of a
little toy town out of a Noah's Ark, set square in a clean, trim,
perfectly flat map of meadows, with its flat roofs, packed close
together on each side of a long, winding river, which trails across the
whole breadth of the plain. From the midst of the town you look up
everywhere at heights; rocks covered with pine-trees, beyond them hills
hooded with white clouds, great soft walls of darkness, on which the
mist is like the bloom of a plum; and, right above you, the castle, on
its steep rock swathed in trees, with its grey walls and turrets, like
the castle which one has imagined for all the knights of all the
romances. All this, no doubt, entered into the soul of Mozart, and had
its meaning for him; but where I seem actually to see him, where I can
fancy him walking most often, and hearing more sounds than elsewhere
come to him through his eyes and his senses, in the Mirabell-Garten,
which lies behind the palace built by an Archbishop of Salzburg in the
seventeenth century, and which is laid out in the conventional French
fashion, with a harmony that I find in few other gardens. I have never
walked in a garden which seemed to keep itself so reticently within its
own severe and gracious limits. The trees themselves seem to grow
naturally into the pattern of this garden, with its formal alleys, in
which the birds fly in and out of the trellised roofs, its square-cut
bushes, its low stone balustrades, its tall urns out of which droop
trails of pink and green, its round flower-beds, each of a single
colour, set at regular intervals on the grass, its tiny fountain
dripping faintly into a green and brown pool; the long, sad lines of
the Archbishop's Palace, off which the brown paint is peeling; the whole
sad charm, dainty melancholy, formal beauty, and autumnal air of it. It
was in the Mirabell-Garten that I seemed nearest to Mozart.

The music of Mozart, as one hears it in "Die Zauberflöte," is music
without desire, music content with beauty, and to be itself. It has the
firm outlines of Dürer or of Botticelli, with the same constraint within
a fixed form, if one compares it with the Titian-like freedom and
splendour of Wagner. In hearing Mozart I saw Botticelli's "Spring"; in
hearing Wagner I had seen the Titian "Scourging of Christ." Mozart has
what Coventry Patmore called "a glittering peace": to Patmore that
quality distinguished supreme art, and, indeed, the art of Mozart is, in
its kind, supreme. It has an adorable purity of form, and it has no need
to look outside those limits which it has found or fixed for itself.
Mozart cares little, as a rule, for what he has to express; but he
cares infinitely for the way in which he expresses everything, and,
through the mere emotional power of the notes themselves, he conveys to
us all that he cares to convey: awe, for instance, in those solemn
scenes of the priests of Isis. He is a magician, who plays with his
magic, and can be gay, out of mere pleasant idleness, fooling with
Papagenus as Shakespeare fools in "Twelfth-Night." "Die Zauberflöte" is
really a very fine kind of pantomime, to which music lends itself in the
spirit of the thing, yet without condescending to be grotesque. The duet
of Papagenus and Papagena is absolutely comic, but it is as lovely as a
duet of two birds, of less flaming feather. As the lovers ascend through
fires and floods, only the piping of the magic flute is heard in the
orchestra: imagine Wagner threading it into the web of a great
orchestral pattern! For Mozart it was enough, and for his art, it was
enough. He gives you harmony which does not need to mean anything
outside itself, in order to be supremely beautiful; and he gives you
beauty with a certain exquisite formality, not caring to go beyond the
lines which contain that reticent, sufficient charm of the



Bayreuth is Wagner's creation in the world of action, as the
music-dramas are his creation in the world of art; and it is a triumph
not less decisive, in its transposition of dream into reality. Remember
that every artist, in every art, has desired his own Bayreuth, and that
only Wagner has attained it. Who would not rather remain at home,
receiving the world, than go knocking, humbly or arrogantly, at many
doors, offering an entertainment, perhaps unwelcome? The artist must
always be at cautious enmity with his public, always somewhat at its
mercy, even after he has conquered its attention. The crowd never really
loves art, it resents art as a departure from its level of mediocrity;
and fame comes to an artist only when there is a sufficient number of
intelligent individuals in the crowd to force their opinion upon the
resisting mass of the others, in the form of a fashion which it is
supposed to be unintelligent not to adopt. Bayreuth exists because
Wagner willed that it should exist, and because he succeeded in forcing
his ideas upon a larger number of people of power and action than any
other artist of our time. Wagner always got what he wanted, not always
when he wanted it. He had a king on his side, he had Liszt on his side,
the one musician of all others who could do most for him; he had the
necessary enemies, besides the general resistance of the crowd; and at
last he got his theatre, not in time to see the full extent of his own
triumph in it, but enough, I think, to let him die perfectly satisfied.
He had done what he wanted: there was the theatre, and there were his
works, and the world had learnt where to come when it was called.

And there is now a new Bayreuth, where, almost as well as at Bayreuth
itself, one can see and hear Wagner's music as Wagner wished it to be
seen and heard. The square, plain, grey and green Prinz-Regenten Theatre
at Munich is an improved copy of the theatre at Bayreuth, with exactly
the same ampitheatrical arrangement of seats, the same invisible
orchestra and vast stage. Everything is done as at Bayreuth: there are
even the three "fanfaren" at the doors, with the same punctual and
irrevocable closing of the doors at the beginning of each act. As at
Bayreuth, the solemnity of the whole thing makes one almost nervous, for
the first few minutes of each act; but, after that, how near one is, in
this perfectly darkened, perfectly quiet theatre, in which the music
surges up out of the "mystic gulf," and the picture exists in all the
ecstasy of a picture on the other side of it, beyond reality, how near
one is to being alone, in the passive state in which the flesh is able
to endure the great burdening and uplifting of vision. There are thus
now two theatres in the world in which music and drama can be absorbed,
and not merely guessed at.


The performance of "Parsifal," as I saw it at Bayreuth, seemed to me the
most really satisfying performance I had ever seen in a theatre; and I
have often, since then, tried to realise for myself exactly what it was
that one might learn from that incarnation of the ideas, the theoretical
ideas, of Wagner. The music itself has the abstract quality of Coventry
Patmore's odes. I cannot think of it except in terms of sight. Light
surges up out of it, as out of unformed depths; light descends from it,
as from the sky; it breaks into flashes and sparkles of light, it
broadens out into a vast sea of light. It is almost metaphysical music;
pure ideas take visible form, humanise themselves in a new kind of
ecstasy. The ecstasy has still a certain fever in it; these shafts of
light sometimes pierce the soul like a sword; it is not peace, the peace
of Bach, to whom music can give all he wants; it is the unsatisfied
desire of a kind of flesh of the spirit, and music is but a voice.
"Parsifal" is religious music, but it is the music of a religion which
had never before found expression. I have found in a motet of Vittoria
one of the motives of "Parsifal," almost note for note, and there is no
doubt that Wagner owed much to Palestrina and his school. But even the
sombre music of Vittoria does not plead and implore like Wagner's. The
outcry comes and goes, not only with the suffering of Amfortas, the
despair of Kundry. This abstract music has human blood in it.

What Wagner has tried to do is to unite mysticism and the senses, to
render mysticism through the senses. Mr. Watts-Dunton has pointed out
that that is what Rossetti tried to do in painting. That mysterious
intensity of expression which we see in the faces of Rossetti's latest
pictures has something of the same appeal as the insatiable crying-out
of a carnal voice, somewhere in the depths of Wagner's latest music.

In "Parsifal," more perhaps than anywhere else in his work, Wagner
realised the supreme importance of monotony, the effect that could be
gained by the incessant repetition of a few ideas. All that music of
the closing scene of the first act is made out of two or three phrases,
and it is by the finest kind of invention that those two or three
phrases are developed, and repeated, and woven together into so splendid
a tissue. And, in the phrases themselves, what severity, what bareness
almost! It is in their return upon themselves, their weighty reiterance,
that their force and significance become revealed; and if, as Nietzsche
says, they end by hypnotising us, well, all art is a kind of hypnotic
process, a cunning absorption of the will of another.

"Parsifal" presents itself as before all things a picture. The music,
soaring up from hidden depths, and seeming to drop from the heights, and
be reflected back from shining distances, though it is, more than
anything I have ever heard, like one of the great forces of nature, the
sea or the wind, itself makes pictures, abstract pictures; but even the
music, as one watches the stage, seems to subordinate itself to the
visible picture there. And, so perfectly do all the arts flow into one,
the picture impresses one chiefly by its rhythm, the harmonies of its
convention. The lesson of "Parsifal" is the lesson that, in art, rhythm
is everything. Every moment in the acting of this drama makes a picture,
and every movement is slow, deliberate, as if automatic. No actor makes
a gesture, which has not been regulated for him; there is none of that
unintelligent haphazard known as being "natural"; these people move like
music, or with that sense of motion which it is the business of painting
to arrest. Gesture being a part of a picture, how should it but be
settled as definitely, for that pictorial effect which all action on the
stage is (more or less unconsciously) striving after, as if it were the
time of a song, or the stage direction: "Cross stage to right"? Also,
every gesture is slow; even despair having its artistic limits, its
reticence. It is difficult to express the delight with which one sees,
for the first time, people really motionless on the stage. After all,
action, as it has been said, is only a way of spoiling something. The
aim of the modern stage, of all drama, since the drama of the Greeks,
is to give a vast impression of bustle, of people who, like most people
in real life, are in a hurry about things; and our actors, when they are
not making irrelevant speeches, are engaged in frantically trying to
make us see that they are feeling acute emotion, by I know not what
restlessness, contortion, and ineffectual excitement. If it were once
realised how infinitely more important are the lines in the picture than
these staccato extravagances which do but aim at tearing it out of its
frame, breaking violently through it, we should have learnt a little, at
least, of what the art of the stage should be, of what Wagner has shown
us that it can be.

Distance from the accidents of real life, atmosphere, the space for a
new, fairer world to form itself, being of the essence of Wagner's
representation, it is worth noticing how adroitly he throws back this
world of his, farther and farther into the background, by a thousand
tricks of lighting, the actual distance of the stage from the
proscenium, and by such calculated effects, as that long scene of the
Graal, with its prolonged movement and ritual, through the whole of
which Parsifal stands motionless, watching it all. How that solitary
figure at the side, merely looking on, though, unknown to himself, he is
the centre of the action, also gives one the sense of remoteness, which
it was Wagner's desire to produce, throwing back the action into a
reflected distance, as we watch someone on the stage who is watching it!

The beauty of this particular kind of acting and staging is of course

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Online LibraryArthur SymonsPlays, Acting and Music A Book Of Theory → online text (page 12 of 13)