Ernest Newman.

Wagner online

. (page 5 of 11)
Online LibraryErnest NewmanWagner → online text (page 5 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


one with the night-scene in which it is set.
She is accosted by Ortrud, who so works



74 THE MUSIC OF THE MASTERS

on her sympathies that Elsa leaves the
balcony in order to admit her into the house.
While she is away, Ortrud calls upon her
old Pagan gods for help. Elsa returns, and
Ortrud tries to make her suspicious of
Lohengrin, motives 26 and 27 playing a
prominent part in the orchestra. As Elsa
re-enters the house, taking Ortrud with
her, Frederick emerges for a moment from
his hiding-place.

Day is now breaking, and the reveille of
the warders is heard echoing from turret
to turret. Frederick again hides himself,
and the stage begins to fill with people.
The Herald comes forward and pronounces
a ban on Telramund, his crown being given
to Lohengrin, which announcements are
received with acclamations by the crowd.
Soon Elsa's bridal procession makes its way
towards the church, to the strains of solemn
and lovely music. She is greeted by a
rapturous, full-throated chorus ; but as she
is mounting the church steps, Ortrud rushes
forward claiming the right to enter first.
She pubhcly taunts Elsa with her ignorance
even of Lohengrin's name ; her music,
dramatic as it is, falls back into the set
declamatory style and monotonous rhythm
and accents which we have already noticed



•• LOHENGRIN '* 75

in the three earlier operas. Elsa's reply,
affirming her confidence in her lover, re-
minds us somewhat of Wolfram's song in
the second Act of Tannhduser. The King,
Lohengrin, and the nobles enter from the
palace ; Elsa casts herself into the arms
of Lohengrin, who cows Ortrud with a few
angry words, and the procession turns again
towards the church. Now Frederick steps
forward, and accuses his rival of having
defeated him by sorcery. He cannot shake
the public confidence in Lohengrin, but in
the general commotion he manages to draw
near to Elsa, and — with motive No. 27
sounding m the wood-wind of the orchestra
— he tells her that ii she will only arrange
that he may cut off even the finger-tip of
Lohengrin, her husband's loyalty to her
will be for ever assured. He is driven away
by Lohengrin, mto whose arms Elsa falls,
reiterating her love and confidence in him ;
and the procession slowly enters the minster.
The third Act commences with the superb,
full-blooded epithalamium with which con-
cert-goers are familiar. The curtain then
rises on the bridal chamber ; Elsa and
Lohengrin enter, the former led by the
ladies, the latter by the nobles, to the
strains of the well-known wedding chorus —



76 THE MUSIC OF THE MASTERS

in which simpHcity has made one step too
far forward and fallen into the common-
place. The lovers are left alone, to indulge
in a love-duet that is one of the finest
specimens of Wagner's art up to this time.
There is very little monotony of phrasing
here ; the periods are beautifully varied and
divided and caught up again. ^ As in the
great Tristan duet, an infinity of moods
and passions is touched upon. Elsa is
being impelled, by a force she cannot fight
against, to ask the fatal question as to
Lohengrin's name and origin ; what is in
her mind is told us very clearly by the
occurrence in the orchestra of the sinister
Ortrud motive (No. 27). At last, wrought
to frenzy by the belief that she hears the
swan approaching to carry her husband from
her, she asks the question : simultaneously
Frederick and four associates break in ;
Lohengrin slays Frederick, and the re-

^ In the passage for Lohengrin, commencing "Athmest
du nicht mit mir die siissen Diifte," we get the most pro-
nounced return to the old rhythm of

I J J J I J. .^1 J I J. J I J J M

It reappears in one or two other places. When one thinks
of the flexibility of Wagner's rhythms in later days, one
wonders that his imagination should have been so long
enslaved by this formula.



" LOHENGRIN " 77

mainder drop their swords and kneel before
the knight. He looks reproachfully at Elsa,
and an orchestral echo of their love-duet
speaks eloquently of the happiness they
have lost. He gives her in charge of her
ladies, then slowly and sadly departs, re-
solved to tell his name and race pubHcly
before the King.

The next scene shows the banks of the
Scheldt, as in the first Act, at dawn. The
King and nobles, assembled in order to
proceed to the war with Hungary, await
only Lohengrin. Telramund's body is
brought in ; then Elsa enters falteringly,
the motive of warning (No. 26) and that of
Ortrud (No. 27) proclaiming the cause of
her grief. She is followed by Lohengrin,
who, to the consternation of all, announces
that he cannot lead them in the campaign.
He uncovers Telramund's corpse, and asks
for the verdict of the assembly on his
action ; this being justified, he next arraigns
Elsa before them. They had heard her
pledge her word never to ask his name and
origin ; this word she has broken. Now
he wiU teU his name. He comes from the
distant mountain of Monsalvat, where the
precious Grail is kept. Its knights are
invincible, and their mission is to defend



78 THE MUSIC OF THE MASTERS

the innocent and right their wrongs ; but
this they can only do so long as their name
and origin are unknown. He himself is the
son of Parzifal, and his name Lohengrin.
The King and chorus comment on the won-
drous story in a brief ensemble, remarkable
for its long and slow melodic descent —

No. 28. ^va - ..



ig



leac



:S=^



>-'



&c.



The unhappy Elsa falls to the ground.
She is raised by Lohengrin, into whose
heart comes a great gush of human love.
He breaks out into a passionate lament
over the evil she has wrought by her un-
fortunate curiosity. The duet between
them, supported by the voices of the
chorus, rises to a fine intensity of regret
and passion. No entreaties, however, can
now detain him. The swan is seen approach-
ing to the strains of No. 25 transposed
into the minor. Lohengrin turns to Elsa
and tells her that had she trusted in him
for one year her brother would have been
returned to her ; he is not dead, but has
been transformed by sorcery. Handing his



*' LOHENGRIN " 79

sword, horn, and ring to her, to be given to
her brother if he should ever return, he
hastens towards the boat, and is about
to depart amid the sorrow of all, when
Ortrud, rushing forward, exultingly declares
that Lohengrin's swan is really Elsa's
brother, Gottfried ; she herself changed him
into this form, from which Lohengrin, had
he stayed, could have released him. Hearing
this, the knight prays a moment. Then
the white dove of the Grail flies slowly down
and hovers over the boat. Lohengrin looses
the chain from the swan ; it sinks, and in
its place Gottfried comes up. Ortrud falls
with a shriek. The dove draws Lohengrin's
boat down the river, before the astonished
eyes of the King and the nobles. Elsa
turns from embracing Gottfried, realises
that Lohengrin has gone, and sinks life-
less into her brother's arms. In the last
bars of the opera the orchestra gives out
the typical Lohengrin theme (No. 24).

The Prelude deals mainly with this theme
in various forms. It swells from pianissimo
to a fortissimo climax ; then the descending
theme shown in No. 28 brings it to a
quiet conclusion, the last few bars again
sounding a reminiscence of the first Lohen-
grin theme. The Prelude thus opens and



80 THE MUSIC OF THE MASTERS

closes again like a flower. Wagner himself
wrote a programme analysis of it, which
may be compressed thus : —

" Out of the clear blue ether of the sky
there seems to condense a wonderful yet
at first hardly perceptible vision ; and out
of this there gradually emerges, ever more
and more clearly, an angel-host bearing in
its midst the sacred Grail. As it approaches
earth, it pours out exquisite odours, hke
streams of gold, ravishing the senses of the
beholder. The glory of the vision grows
and grows until it seems as if the rapture
must be shattered and dispersed by the
very vehemence of its own expansion. The
vision draws nearer, and the chmax is
reached when at last the Grail is revealed
in all its glorious reality, radiating fiery
beams, and shaking the soul with emotion.
The beholder sinks on his knees in adoring
self-annihilation. The Grail pours out its
light on him like a benediction, and conse-
crates him to its service ; then the flames
gradually die away, and the angel-host
soars up again to the ethereal heights in
tender joy, having made pure once more
the hearts of men by the sacred blessing
of the Grail."

Beside this may be set the analysis of



" LOHENGRIN " 8l

Liszt, which concerns itself more closely
with the actual musical texture of the piece.
It will be noticed that here also the im-
pression is of something faintly objectivat-
ing itself out of the ether, expanding to a
glorious intensity of form and colour, and
then fading away again into vapour : —

" It begins with a broad, reposeful surface
of melody, a vaporous ether gradually un-
folding itself, so that the sacred picture
may be delineated before our secular eyes.
This effect is confided entirely to the violins
(divided into eight different parts), which,
after some bars of harmony, continue in
the highest notes of their register. The
motive is afterwards taken up by the
softest wind instruments ; horns and
bassoons are then added, and the way pre-
pared for the entry of the trumpets and
trombones, which repeat the melody for the
fourth time, with a dazzling brightness of
colour, as if in this unique moment the
holy edifice had flashed up before our
blinded eyes in all its luminous and radiant
magnificence. But the flood of light, that
has gradually achieved this solar inten-
sity, now dies rapidly away, like a celestial
gleam. The transparent vapour of the
clouds retracts, the vision disappears little

VOL. L F



82 THE MUSIC OF THE MASTERS

by little, in the same variegated fragrance
from the midst of which it appeared, and
the piece ends with a repetition of the
first six bars, now become more ethereal
still. Its character of ideal mysticism is
especially suggested by the long pianissimo
of the orchestra, only broken for a moment
by the passage in which the brass throw
out the marvellous lines of the single motive
of the Prelude."

Lohengrin lives and will live in virtue of
the noble and beautiful music to which
three-fourths of it are set. On the poetical
side it indeed compares well with the
average opera, but badly with the real
drama. As in The Flying Dutchman and
Tannhduser, Wagner has convincingly de-
lineated his two chief characters. But
Frederick and Ortrud have the ancient
smell of the footlights ; they are theatrical,
not dramatic, figures. The scenario has
again that touch of the puerile that clung
to Wagner like his own shadow. No one
takes the swan and the dove as seriously
as he did ; while the transformation scene
at the end of the opera is downright
triviahty. Great drama is not built on
lines like these. We cannot, then, get up
much interest in Ortrud when Wagner, in



" LOHENGRIN " 83

words we have already quoted, tells us
that she " is a woman who does not know
love. . . . Politics are her essence. . . .
There is a kind of love in this woman, the
love of the past, of dead generations, the
terribly insane love of ancestral pride, which
finds its expression in the hatred of every-
thing living, actually existing." ^ It may
or may not be so ; but it really does not
matter. Nor are we greatly moved when
he tells us that " Lohengrin . . . S3rrQbolises
the most profoundly tragic situation of our
age, namely, the longing which besets us
to descend from the highest heights of
mortal contemplation and plunge into the
depths of human affection — the desire to
be immersed in feeling — that desire which
modern reality is as yet powerless to
satisfy." All this empty metaphysic and
thin sociology is merely the stage expres-
sion of what a very bad time Richard
Wagner had in Dresden, and how very
much he would have liked people to under-
stand him better and love him more. The
operas can be made no better by this kind
of thing ; it is fortunate that it cannot
make them any worse. The best tribute to
the magic of Wagner's works is that they

^ Letters to Liszt^ i. 192, 193.



84 THE MUSIC OF THE MASTERS

have survived the commentaries on them
of Wagner and his friends. It is the music
of Lohengrin that has kept it aUve, and
that will still keep it ahve when the world
has almost forgotten that its composer ever
wrote prose.



CHAPTER VI

" THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG "

It was out of Wagner's personal need and
longing, again, that his next great work
was born. The early years he spent in
Switzerland, after his flight from Dresden,
were marked by the most atrocious ill-
health ; physical suffering and mental worry
combined had strung his nerves up almost
to the snapping-point. There was an in-
tense and never-ending commotion in the
brain, though too often the wheels were
just spinning round and round at feverish
speed without grinding anything out.^
Roeckel evidently diagnosed him well when
he ad\dsed him, though in vain, to tear
himself away from dreams and egoistic
illusions, " and look at things in their

^ See, for example, his fourth letter to Roeckel, pp. IT-^Ji
where the essential thought could be put into ten lines.
There is a huge whirr of intellectual machinery, but nothing
comes of it all.

8S



86 THE MUSIC OF THE MASTERS

reality." For Wagner, the real reality was
the phantom mental world in which he
lived. As we have seen, he generally got
at his dramatic situations by a generalisa-
tion from his own experience of the moment ;
if he was misunderstood, he drew a char-
acter who also was misunderstood, and who
straightway s}Tiibolised " the only tragedy
of the present."

Reflecting feverishly upon his own cir-
cumstances, it appeared to him that he was
not and had not been " free." He could
not " realise " himself as he would have
liked, in face of the crude opposition of an
ignorant society. Accordingly he will now
paint a character who shall be free — a
simple, natural, unsophisticated being, free
from all the complexity, the constraint, and
the sophistication of which Wagner thought
modern society was composed. So he hghts
upon the character of Siegfried. He is to
be half the essential human being ; the
other half, making the complete whole, is
Brynhilde.

Then another personal element comes
uppermost. The one need of his life was
love — under which term he included many
things, artistic and social. One of these
things was actual, unquestionable feminine



" THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG '' 8y

love for himself. We know him to have
been unhappy with his wife Minna. He
seems to have loved her in a way ; cer-
tainly he pitied her ; but she was not the
woman he wanted. He having made an
unhappy marriage, the social law that
prevented him getting rid of the incon-
venient tie whenever he hked was, of
course, a serious blot on our social arrange-
ments. So he worked out a theory of the
need for " change and renewal," and the
dilemma of a pair of people being chained
to each other after love has cooled down
is symbolised in the relations of Wotan
and ' Fricka — this lady being the mythical
equivalent of Mrs. Grundy. " Examine,"
he says in one of his letters to Roeckel,
" the first scene between Wotan and Fricka,
which leads up to the scene in the second
A.ct of The Valkyrie. The necessity of
prolonging beyond the point of change the
subjection to the tie that binds them —
a tie resulting from an involuntary illusion
of love, the duty of maintaining at all
costs the relation into which they have
entered, and so placing themselves in hope-
less opposition to the universal law of
change and renewal, which governs the
world of phenomena — these are the con-



88 THE MUSIC Oti" THE MASTERS

ditions which bring the pair of them to
a state of torment and mutual loveless-
ness." ^

This theory of the close connection be-
tween Wagner's personal circumstances and
his philosophy of the cosmos will appear
fanciful only to those who in Wagner the
demigod cannot see Wagner the man.
But even Mr. H. S. Chamberlain admits
that Wagner's marriage " was the source
of daily and hourly torments. Rarely does
a word escape Wagner's lips upon the
subject, but when it does, it reveals an
abyss of misery." ^ The Ring, then, has
V its roots, hke Wagner's previous works, in
Wagner's personal circumstances and needs.
But leaving for the present the ethical
aspects of the operas, let us glance at the
drama as Wagner unfolds it.

1 The recently published letters to Mathilde Wesendonk
throw much light on this epoch in Wagner's life. The
paragraph above quoted has no doubt special reference to
his passion for Frau Wesendonk, whom he met about this
time. See the beginning of chapter vii, of the present
volume.

^ See the references Mr. Chamberlain gives to various
letters to Liszt and Uhlig, in which Wagner voices his
passionate longing "for a M^ife who shall love unreservedly,"
"a woman's soul into which I can plunge my whole self,
which can grasp me entirely." The Lohengrin problem
was, of course, just this.



■^ " THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG " 89

In the Rhine Hes a treasure of gold,
guarded by three Rhine-maidens. These
are shown, in the opening scene of Tho
Rhinegold, swimming about in the river
in play. Everything suggests primitive
nature ; the Prelude is like the surging
of the waters out of the primeval chaos ;
it consists of a long and incredibly ex-
pressive handling of the chord of E flat.
Alberic h, the hideous Nibelung dwarf, enters
the river and tries to capture one of the
maidens, but they only laugh at his ugly
appearance and absurd love-making. The
sun comes out and lights up the gold on
the rock ; it is greeted by the maidens with
a lovely lyrical cry —

No. 29.






In their joy they tell Alberich of the marvel
of the gold — ^how it will confer unlimited
power on him who can get possession of
it and forge from it a ring ; but only he
who renounces love can achieve this. His
former amorous passion instantly gives way
to a passion for the gold. He is willing
to forswear love for it, and seizes it brutaUy,



go THE MUSIC OF THE MASTERS

driving away the terrified maidens. From
it he will forge the Rin^ —




He dives with it, and darkness is diffused
through the waters.

These gradually give place to clouds,
which vanish in mist, showing a meadow
among the mountains. Wo tan and Fricka,
his wife, are sleeping side by side. At the
back, on a hill, is a glorious turretted castle.
Between this and the actors is a valley,
through which the Rhine flows. Wotan
looks with pride on this noble pile —






Its history is told in the ensuing dialogue
between him and Fricka. To be lord of
the world, free from all fear of attack, he
has had this castle built by the two giants,
Fasolt and Fafner. In payment he has
promised them Freia, the goddess of youth.
This has been contracted between them
most solemnly by runes engraved on Wotan's
spear —



" THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG " 9I

No. 32. ^TT^T^'* ^- i |bJ =j^g^



but as the gods will fade into age and
ugliness without Freia he does not mean
to keep his promise. When the time for
payment comes, he hopes that the knavish
fire-god, Loki, will invent some way of
escape for him. Incidentally it becomes
clear that Fricka has been much annoyed
by the marital infidelities of Wotan, and
has hoped that this new toy would keep
him by her side.

The giants come and claim Freia as
payment for their work. A scene of trouble
follows ; Wotan anxiously awaits the return
of Loki, who has been sent round the world
to find something the giants might take
instead of Freia ; but when he enters he
tells that his quest has been in vain —
everywhere men prefer the love of woman
before all things. Only one exception does
he know — and he tells how Alberich re-
nounced love to get the gold. This gold,
the giants now declare, they will take
instead of Freia ; so Wotan in his distress
sets out, accompanied by Loki, to procure
it if possible. By an ingenious piece of
stagecraft they appear to descend into the



92



THE MUSIC OF THE MASTERS



bowels of the earth — to Nibelheim, where
the dwarfs are.

They find these now the slaves of
Alberich ; one of them, Mime, has just
made for him the Tamhelm —

No. 33.



m



w



t=^



t=^i



2^



3^



•gOg- -S- •^J.-g- ^ '^ ^- it ^:






^



^



lA



^



Si



^



^^



St=a!:



»(S1 ' — m-



'^¥^



e^ frJ I J 3-M



:p^ — I



3*



3^



li). *-:^



which confers invisibility on its wearer.
Loki induces him to show off its virtues ;
Alberich first becomes a large snake, then
a toad ; upon the latter animal Wotan
puts his foot. They seize the Tamhelm,
bind the raging Alberich, and drag him
back with them to the upper world.

Here he is ordered to summon the
Nibelungs and tell them to bring the gold.
He does so, thinking no more will be asked
of him ; but first the Tamhelm is thrown
on the pile, and then the Ring itself is



" THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG " 93

taken from his finger. In his wrath he
curses the Ring and all who may possess
it ; it shall bring them no joy, but only
pain and fear and death —

No. 84. ,7" ff-^



l^^^fP=^T : g ig ~ ^H '-T-^gg g



&c.

Fasolt and Fafner reappear with Freia ;
they will take gold for her, but it must be
as much gold as will cover her till she is
wholly hidden. The Tamhelm has to be
sacrificed to cover her head ; but, worse
still, Wo tan is asked for the Ring to stop
\ip a last chink through which one of
B'reia's eyes can be seen. He refuses, and
the giants make off with Freia. Then
a bluish light breaks out of the rock, re-
veahng the fateful and prophetic Erda,
who eerily urges Wotan to give up the
Ring, warning him of a terrible day that
is to dawn for the gods. He yields ; the
Ring is given to the giants, and instantly
the curse works. The pair quarrel over
the spoil, and Fafner slays his brother.
Then he makes off with the gold and the
Tamhelm, while the orchestra peals out
the terrible motive of the curse (No. 34).
Horror falls on all the spectators, till Donner,
to clear the air, ascends a high rock and



94 THE MUSIC OF THE MASTERS

smites it with his hammer. There is a
vivid flash of hghtning followed by a
thunder-clap ; the clouds disappear, show-
ing a glorious rainbow stretching over the
Rhine, making a bridge from the valley to
the castle. An inspiration comes upon
Wotan. He sees a way out of his diffi-
culties ; he hails the castle with -his spear,
dubs it Valhalla, where security may be
had from fear and trouble, and the gods
march slowly to it over the rainbow bridge.
Loki looks critically after them. " They
are hastening to their end," he says, " al-
though they deem themselves so strong ; "
and he goes off to flame throughout the
world. Below in the valley, the invisible
Rhine-maidens pour out an exquisite, haunt-
ing song of lamentation over their lost
treasure.

The next stage of the story is told in
The Valkyrie. Wotan's problem is how to
get possession of the Ring again, for there
is a chance of Alberich getting it from
Fafner, in which case the gods, after their
ill-treatment of him, are doomed. Yet
Wotan himself must not seize the Ring,
for Erda's warning still echoes in his ears.
The only solution is this — some one must
get possession of it unaided by the gods,



" THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG " 95

yet it must be one who will not use against
the gods the power he thus acquires. (This
free one is ultimately found in Siegfried,
the hero of the third and fourth dramas
of the series.) In the interval between The
Rhinegold and The Valkyrie, Wotan has
had by Erda nine daughters — the wild
Valkyries — who bear home to Valhalla the
bodies of slain heroes, there to form a
protective force for the gods. The chief
of these Valkyries is Brynhilde. Further,
by a union with a mortal woman, the race
of the Volsungs is bom to Wotan. Among
these are a brother and sister — Siegmund
and Sieghnde — in the former of whom Wotan
hopes to find the deliverer. These two
have been long separated ; the homestead
has been raided, and Sieglinde carried off
to become the wife of black Hunding.
Their father, too, disappears, and Siegmund
believes himself alone in the world. One
day he is worsted in a fight with his enemies,
and his sword being broken he has to flee.
The Valkyrie opens at this stage.


1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryErnest NewmanWagner → online text (page 5 of 11)