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Ring. Tristan and Isolde, wholly devoted to it, is a



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76 The Perfect Wagnerite

poem of destruction and death. The Mastersingers, a
work full of health, fun and happiness, contains not a
single bar of love music that can be described as pas-
sionate : the hero of it is a widower who cobbles shoes,
writes verses, and contents himself with looking on at
the sweetheartings of his customers. Parsifal makes an
end of it altogether. The truth is that the love panacea
in Night Falls on The Gods and in the last act of Sieg-
fried is a survival of the first crude operatic conception
of the story, modified by an anticipation of Wagner's
later, though not latest, conception of love as the ful-
fiUer of our Will to Live and consequently our recon-
ciler to night and death.

NOT LOVE, BUT LIFE

The only faith which any reasonable disciple can
gain from The Ring is not in love, but in life itself as
a tireless power which is continually driving onward
and upward — not, please observe, being beckoned or
drawn by Das Ewig Weibliche or any other external
sentimentality, but growing from within, by its own
inexplicable energy, into ever higher and higher forms
of organization, the strengths and the needs of which
are continually superseding the institutions which were
made to fit our former requirements. When your
Bakoonins call out for the demolition of all these
venerable institutions, there is no need to fly into a
panic and lock them up in prison whilst your parlia-
ment is bit by bit doing exactly what they advised
you to do. When your Siegfrieds melt down the old



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Siegfried as Protestant 77

weapons into new ones, and with disrespectful words
chop in twain the antiquated constable's staves in the
hands of their elders, the end of the world is no nearer
than it was before. If human nature, which is the
highest organization of life reached on this planet, is
really degenerating, then human society will decay ;
and no panic-begotten penal measures can possibly save
it : we must, like Prometheus, set to work to make
new men instead of vainly torturing old ones. On the
other hand, if the energy of life is still carrying human
nature to higher and higher levels, then the more
young people shock their elders and deride and discard
their pet institutions the better for the hopes of the
world, since the apparent growth of anarchy is only
the measure of the rate of improvement. History, as
far as we are capable of history (which is not saying
much as yet), shows that all changes from crudity of
social organization to complexity, and from mechanical
agencies in government to living ones, seem anarchic
at first sight. No doubt it is natural to a snail to think
that any evolution which threatens to do away with
shells will result in general death from exposure.
Nevertheless, the most elaborately housed beings today
are born not only without houses on their backs but
without even fur or feathers to clothe them.

ANARCHISM NO PANACEA

One word of warning to those who may find
themselves attracted by Siegfried's Anarchism, or, if
they prefer a term with more respectable associations,



J



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78 The Perfect Wagnerite

his neo- Protestantism. Anarchism, as a panacea, is
just as hopeless as any other panacea, and will still
be so even if we breed a race of perfectly benevolent
men. It is true that in the sphere of thought. Anarchism
is an inevitable condition of progressive evolution. A
nation without Freethinkers — that is, without in-
tellectual Anarchists — will share the fate of China,
r It is also true that our criminal law, based on a con-
ception of crime and punishment which is nothing but
our vindictiveness and cruelty in a virtuous disguise,
is an unmitigated and abominable nuisance, bound to
be beaten out of us finally by the mere weight of our
I experience of its evil and uselessness. But it will not
I be replaced by anarchy. Applied to the industrial or
political machinery of modern society, anarchy must
always reduce itself speedily to absurdity. Even the
modified form of anarchy on which modern civiliza-
tion is based : that is, the abandonment of industry,
in the name of individual liberty, to the upshot of
competition for personal gain between private capi-
talists, is a disastrous failure, and is, by the mere
necessities of the case, giving way to ordered Socialism.
For the economic rationale of this, I must refer dis-
ciples of Siegfried to a tract from my hand published
by the Fabian Society and entitled The Impossibilities
of Anarchism, which explains why, owing to the
physical constitution of our globe, society cannot
eflTectively organize the production of its food, clothes
and housing, nor distribute them fairly and economi-
cally on any anarchic plan: nay, that without concert-
ing our social action to a much higher degree than we



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Siegfried as Protestant 79

do at present we can never get rid of the wasteful and
iniquitous welter of a little riches and a great deal of
poverty which current political humbug calls our
prosperity and civilization. Liberty is an excellent
thing ; but it cannot begin until society has paid its
daily debt to Nature by first earning its living. There
is no liberty before that except the liberty to live at
somebody else's expense, a liberty much sought after
nowadays, since it is the criterion of gentility, but not
wholesome from the point of view of the common
weal.



SIEGFRIED CONCLUDED



In returning now to the adventures of Siegfried
there is little more to be described except the finale of
an opera. Siegfried, having passed unharmed through
the fire, wakes Brynhild and goes through all the
fancies and ecstasies of love at first sight in a duet which
ends with an apostrophe to " leuchtende liebe, lach-
ender Tod!", which has been romantically translated
into "Love that Illumines, laughing at death," whereas
it really Identifies enlightening love and laughing death
as involving each other so closely as to be virtually one
and the same thing.



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NIGHT FALLS ON THE GODS

PROLOGUE

Die Gotterdammerung begins with an elaborate
prologue. The three Norns sit in the night on Bryn-
hild's mountain top spinning their thread of destiny,
and telling the story of Wotan^s sacrifice of his eye, and
of his breaking off a bough from the World Ash to make
a haft for his spear, also how the tree withered after
suffering that violence. They have also some fresher
news to discuss. Wotan, on the breaking of his spear
by Siegfried, has called all his heroes to cut down the
withered World Ash and stack its faggots in a mighty
pyre about Valhalla. Then, with his broken spear in
his hand, he has seated himself in state in the great
hall, with the Gods and Heroes assembled about him
as if in council, solemnly waiting for the end. All this
belongs to the old legendary materials with which
Wagner began The Ring.

The tale is broken by the thread snapping in the
hands of the third Norn; for the hour has arrived
when man has taken his destiny in his own hands to
shape it for himself, and no longer bows to circumstance.



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Act I Night Falls on The Gods 8i

environment, necessity (which he now freely wills), and
all the rest of the inevitables. So the Norns recognize
that the world has no further use for them, and sink
into the earth to return to the First Mother. Then the
day dawns ; and Siegfried and Brynhild come, and have
another duet. He gives her his ring; and she gives
him her horse. Away then he goes in search of more
adventures ; and she watches him from her crag until
he disappears. The curtain falls ; but we can still hear
the trolling of his horn, and the merry clatter of his
horse's shoes trotting gaily down the valley. The
sound is lost in the grander rhythm of the Rhine as he
reaches its banks. We hear again an echo of the lament
of the Rhine maidens for the ravished gold ; and then,
finally, a new strain, which does not surge like the
mighty flood of the river, but has an unmistakable
tramp of hardy men and a strong land flavor about
it. Ai^d on this the opera curtain at last goes up — for
please remember that all that has gone before is only
the overture.

The First Act

We now understand the new tramping strain. We are
in the Rhineside hall of the Gibichungs, in the presence of
King Gunther, his sister Gutrune, and Gunther's grim
half brother Hagen, the villain of the piece. Gunther
is a fool, and has for Hagen's intelligence the respect
a fool always has for the brains of a scoundrel. Feebly
fishing for compliments, he appeals to Hagen to
pronounce him a fine fellow and a glory to the race
of Gibich. Hagen declares that it is impossible to



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82 The Perfect Wagnerite Acti

contemplate him without envy, but thinks it a pity
that he has not yet found a wife glorious enough for
him. Gunther doubts whether so extraordinary a
person can possibly exist. Hagen then tells him of
Brynhild and her rampart of fire ; also of Siegfried.
Gunther takes this rather in bad part, since not only
is he afraid of the fire, but Siegfried, according to
Hagen, is not, and will therefore achieve this desirable
match himself. But Hagen points out that since Sieg-
fried is riding about in quest of adventures, he will
certainly pay an early visit to the renowned chief of
the Gibichungs. They can then give him a philtre which
will make him fall in love with Gutruna and forget
every other woman he has yet seen.

Gunther is transported with admiration of Hagen's
cunning when he takes in this plan ; and he has hardly
r assented to it when Siegfried, with operatic opportune-
ly ness, drops in just as Hagen expected, and is duly
drugged into the heartiest love for Gutruna and total
oblivion of Brynhild and his own past. When Gunther
declares his longing for the bride who lies inaccessible
within a palisade of flame, Siegfried at once oflFers to
undertake the adventure for him. Hagen then explains
to both of them that Siegfried can, after braving the
fire, appear to Brynhild in the semblance of Gunther
through the magic of the wishing cap (or Tarnhelm,
as it is called throughout The Ring), the use of which
Siegfried now learns for the first time. It is of course
part of the bargain that Gunther shall give his sister
to Siegfried in marriage. On that they swear blood-
brotherhood ; and at this opportunity the old operatic



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Act I Night Falls on The Gods 83

leaven breaks out amusingly in Wagner. With tre-
mendous exordium of brass, the tenor and baritone
go at it with a will, showing ofF the power of their
voices, following each other in canonic imitation, sing-
ing together in thirds and sixths, and finishing with a
lurid unison, quite in the manner of Ruy Gomez and
Ernani, or Othello and lago. Then without further
ado Siegfried departs on his expedition, taking Gun-
ther with him to the foot of the mountain, and leaving
Hagen to guard the hall and sing a very fine solo
which has often figured in the programs of the Richter
concerts, explaining that his interest in the affair is
that Siegfried will bring back the Ring, and that he,
Hagen, will presently contrive to possess himself of
that Ring and become Plutonic master of the world.

And now it will be asked how does Hagen know
all about the Plutonic empire ; and why was he able
to tell Gunther about Brynhild and Siegfried, and to
explain to Siegfried the trick of the Tarnhelm. The
explanation is that though Hagen's mother was the
mother of Gunther, his father was not the illustrious
Gibich, but no less a person than our old friend Alberic,
who, like Wotan, has begotten a son to do for him
what he cannot do for himself.

In the above incidents, those gentle moralizers who
find the serious philosophy of the music dramas too
terxifyhig for them, may allegorize pleasingly on the
philtre as the maddening chalice of passion which,
once tasted, causes the respectable man to forget his
lawfully wedded wife and plunge into adventures which
eventually lead him headlong to destruction.



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84 The Perfect Wagnerite Act i

We now come upon a last relic of the tragedy
of Wotan. Returning to Brynhild's mountain, we find
her visited by her sister Valkyrie Valtrauta, who has
witnessed Wotan's solemn preparations with terror.
She repeats to Brynhild the account already given by
the Norns. Clinging in anguish to Wotan's knees, she
has heard him mutter that were the ring returned to
the daughters of the deep Rhine, both Gods and world
would be redeemed from that stage curse of Alberic's
in The Rhine Gold. On this she has rushed on her
warhorse through the air to beg Brynhild to give the
Rhine back its ring. But this is asking Woman to
give up love for the sake of Church and State. She
declares that she will see them both perish first ; and
Valtrauta returns to Valhalla in despair. Whilst Bryn-
hild is watching the course of the black thundercloud
that marks her sister's flight, the fires of Loki again
flame high round the mountain; and the horn of
Siegfried is heard as he makes his way through them.
But the man who now appears wears the Tarnhelm :
his voice is a strange voice : his figure is the unknown
one of the king of the Gibichungs. He tears the ring
from her finger, and, claiming her as his wife, drives
her into the cave without pity for her agony of horror,
and sets Nothung between them in token of his loyalty
to the friend he is impersonating. No explanation of
this highway robbery of the ring is oflFered. Clearly,
this Siegfried is not the Siegfried of the previous
drama.



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Act II Night Falls on The Gods 85

The Second Act

In the second act we return to the hall of Gibich,
where Hagen, in the last hours of that night, still sits,
his spear in his hand, and his shield beside him. At
his knees crouches a dwarfish spectre, his father
Alberic, still full of his old grievances against Wotan,
and urging his son in his dreams to win back the
ring for him. This Hagen swears to do J and as the
apparition of his father vanishes, the sun rises and
Siegfried suddenly comes from the river bank tucking
into his belt the Tarnhelm, which has transported him
from the mountain like the enchanted carpet of the
Arabian tales. He describes his adventures to Gutruna
until Gunther's boat is seen approaching, when Hagen
seizes a cowhorn and calls the tribesmen to welcome
their chief and his bride. It is most exhilarating,
this colloquy with the startled and hastily armed clan,
ending with a thundering chorus, the drums marking
the time with mighty pulses from dominant to tonic,
much as Rossini woiild have made them do if he had
been a pupil of Beethoven's.

A terrible scene follows. Gunther leads his captive
bride straight into the presence of Siegfried, whom
she claims as her husband by the ring, which she is
astonished to see on his finger: Gunther, as she
supposes, having torn it from her the night before.
Turning on Gunther, she says, " Since you took that
ring from me, and married me with it, tell him of
your right to it ; and make him give it back to you."
Gunther stammers, " The ring ! I gave him no ring —



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86 The Perfect Wagnerite Actii

er — do you know him ?" The rejoinder is obvious.
" Then where are you hiding the ring that you had
from me ? " Gunther's confusion enlightens her ; and
she calls Siegfried trickster and thief to his face. In
vain he declares that he got the ring from no woman,
but from a dragon whom he slew ; for he is manifestly
puzzled; and she, seizing her opportunity, accuses
him before the clan of having played Gunther false
with her.

Hereupon we have another grandiose operatic oath,
Siegfried attesting his innocence on Hagen's spear,
and Brynhild rushing to the footlights and thrusting
him aside to attest his guilt, whilst the clansmen call
upon their gods to send down lightnings and silence
the perjured. The gods do not respond ; and Siegfried,
after whispering to Gunther that the Tarnhelm seems
to have been only half effectual after all, laughs his
way out of the general embarrassment and goes off
merrily to prepare for his wedding, with his arm
round Gutruna's waist, followed by the clan. Gunther,
Hagen and Brynhild are left together to plot operatic
vengeance. Brynhild, it appears, has enchanted Sieg-
fried in such a fashion that no weapon can hurt him.
She has, however, omitted to protect his back, since
it is impossible that he should ever turn that to a foe.
They agree accordingly that on the morrow a great
hunt shall take place, at which Hagen shall thrust his
spear into the hero's vulnerable back. The blame is to
be laid on the tusk of a wild boar. Gunther, being a
fool, is remorseful about his oath of blood brother-
hood and about his sister's bereavement without



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Act II Night Falls on The Gods 87

having the strength of mind to prevent the murder.
The three burst into a herculean trio, similar in con-
ception to that of the three conspirators in Un Ballo
in Maschera ; and the act concludes with a joyous
strain heralding the appearance of Siegfried's wedding
procession, with strewing of flowers, sacrificing to the
gods, and carrying bride and bridegroom in triumph.
It will be seen that in this act we have lost all con-
nection with the earlier drama. Brynhild is not only
not the Brynhild of The Valkyries, she is the Hiordis
of Ibsen, a majestically savage woman, in whom
jealousy and revenge are intensified to heroic pro-
portions. That is the inevitable theatrical treatment of
the murderous heroine of the Saga. Ibsen s aim in
The Vikings was purely theatrical, and not, as in his
later dramas, also philosophically symbolic. Wagner's
aim in Siegfried's Death was equally theatrical, and
not, as it afterwards became in the dramas of which
Siegfried's antagonist Wotan is the hero, likewise
philosophically symbolic. The two master-dramatists
therefore produce practically the same version of
Brynhild. Thus on the second evening of The Ring
we see Brynhild in the character of the truth-divining
instinct in religion, cast into an enchanted slumber
and surrounded by the fires of hell lest she should
overthrow a Church corrupted by its alliance with
government. On the fourth evening, we find her
swearing a malicious lie to gratify her personal jealousy,
and then plotting a treacherous murder with a fool
and a scoundrel. In the original draft of Siegfried's
Death, the incongruity is carried still further by the



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88 The Perfect Wagnerite Actii

conclusioiij^at which the dead Brynhild, restored to
her godhead by Wotan, and again a Valkyrie, carries
the slain Siegfried to Valhalla to live there happily
ever after with its pious heroes.

As to Siegfried himself, he talks of women, both in
this second act and the next, with the air of a man of
the world. "Their tantrums," he says, " are soon over."
Such speeches do not belong to the novice of the pre-
ceding drama, but to the original Siegfried's Tod, with
its leading characters sketched on the ordinary rom-
antic lines from the old Sagas, and not yet reminted
as the original creations of Wagner's genius whose
acquaintance we have made on the two previous even-
ings. The very title " Siegfried's Death " survives as a
strong theatrical point in the following passage. Gunther,
in his rage and despair, cries, " Save me, Hagen : save
my honor and thy mother's who bore us both." "No-
thing can save thee," replies Hagen : " neither brain
nor hand, but Siegfried's Death'' And Gunther echoes
with a shudder, " Siegfried's Death ! "

A WAGNERIAN NEWSPAPER CONTROVERSY

The devotion which Wagner's work inspires has
been illustrated lately in a public correspondence on
this very point. A writer in The Daily Telegraph hav-
ing commented on the falsehood uttered by Brynhild
in accusing Siegfried of having betrayed Gunther
with her, a correspondence in defence of the beloved
heroine was opened in The Daily Chronicle. The im-
putation of falsehood to Brynhild was strongly resented



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Act II Night Falls on The Gods 89

and combated, in spite of the unanswerable evidence
of the text. It was contended that Brynhild's statement
must be taken as establishing the fact that she actually
was ravished by somebody whom she believed to be
Siegfried, and that since this somebody cannot have
been Siegfried, he beihg as incapable of treachery to
Gunther as she of falsehood, it must have been Gunther
himself after a second exchange of personalities not
mentioned in the text. The reply to this — if so ob-
viously desperate a hypothesis needs a reply — is that
the text is perfectly explicit as to Siegfried, disguised
as Gunther, passing the night with Brynhild with No-
thung dividing them, and in the morning bringing her
down the mountain through the fire (an impassable
obstacle to Gunther) and there transporting himself in
a single breath, by the Tarnhelm's magic, back to the
hall of the Gibichungs, leaving the real Gunther to
bring Brynhild down the river after him. One con-
troversialist actually pleaded for the expedition occupy-
ing two nights, on the second of which the alleged
outrage might have taken place. But the time is accounted
for to the last minute : it all takes place during the
single night watch of Hagen. There is no possible way
out of the plain fact that Brynhild's accusation is to her
own knowledge false; and the impossible ways just
cited are only interesting as examples of the fanatical
worship which Wagner and his creations have been able
to inspire in minds of exceptional power and culture.
More plausible was the line taken by those who ad-
mitted the falsehood. Their contention was that when
Wotan deprived Brynhild of her Godhead, he also de-



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90 The Perfect Wagnerite Act ii

prived her of her former high moral attributes ; so
that Siegfried's kiss awakened an ordinary mortal jeal-
ous woman. But a goddess can become mortal and
jealous without plunging at once into perjury and mur-
der. Besides, this explanation involves the sacrifice of
the whole significance of the allegory, and the reduc-
tion of The Ring to the plane of a child's conception
of The Sleeping Beauty. Whoever does not understand
that, in terms of The Ring philosophy, a change from
godhead to humanity is a step higher and not a de-
gradation, misses the whole point of The Ring. It is
precisely because the truthfulness of Brynhild is proof
against Wotan's spells that he has to contrive the fire
palisade with Loki, to protect the fictions and conven-
tions of Valhalla against her.

The only tolerable view is the one supported by
the known history of The Ring, and also, for musici-
ans of sufl[iciently fine judgment, by the evidence of
the scores ; of which more anon. As a matter of fact
Wagner began, as I have said, with Siegfried's Death.
Then, wanting to develop the idea of Siegfried as neo-
Protestant, he went on to The Young Siegfried. As a
Protestant cannot be dramatically projected without a
pontifical antagonist. The Young Siegfried led to The
Valkyries, and that again to its preface The Rhine
Gold (the preface i? always written after the book is
finished). Finally, of course, the whole was revised.
The revision, if carried out strictly, would have in-
volved the cutting out of Siegfried's Death, now become
inconsistent and superfluous ; and that would have in-
volved, in turn, the facing of the fact that The Ring



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Act II Night Falls on The Gods 9 1

was no longer a Niblung epic, and really demanded
modern costumes, tall hats for Tarnhelms, factories for
Nibelheims, villas for Valhallas, and so on — in short,
a complete confession of the extent to which the old
Niblung epic had become the merest pretext and name
directory in the course of Wagner's travail. But, as
Wagner's most eminent English interpreter once put
it to me at Bayreuth between the acts of Night Falls on
The Gods, the master wanted to " Lohengrinize " again
after his long abstention from opera ; and Siegfried's
Death (first sketched in 1 848, the year before the rising in
Dresden and the subsequent events which so deepened
Wagner's sense of life and the seriousness of art) gave
him exactly the libretto he required for that outbreak of
the old operatic Adam in him. So he changed it into Die


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Online LibraryBraun Illustrating Company Phoenix Publishing CompanyPen and sunlight sketches of Omaha and environs: Handsomely illustrated → online text (page 6 of 10)