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of the singing world and of the desire for display. Later
the genius of GLUCK restored again the original charac-
ter of the opera and at the same time there developed
from the modest operetta that style which, uniting an
attractive appeal to the senses with great dramatic
passion, found in MOZART its master and greatest ex-
ponent. After his death this style degenerated in Ger-
many into humdrum Philistinism and sentimentality,
while the great French and Italian masters, such as
Mehul, Cherubini, Rossini and Auber, were trying to
unite the dignity of Gluck with the inimitable sublime
charm of Mozart.

Only one immortal opera in classic style was written
during this time in Germany, Beethoven's Fidelio, the
text of which, adapted at first by Joseph Sonnleithner
and then by Friedrich Treitschke, effectively glorified
conjugal fidelity in the simplest dramatic form. Three


times revised, this, the only opera by Beethoven, received
its final form in 1814. It combines chaste grandeur
and warm genuine feeling within its strictly drawn

Although there was still found in classic opera a
number of noble masters such as Louis SPOHR, and in
comic opera such a successful talent as ALBERT LORTZING
who wrote Zar und Zimmermann (1837), and Der
Waffenschmied (1845), yet after all the leadership fell
from now on to the Romanticists. The longing to ex-
press the unconscious, the delight in musical effects, the
dislike to reasonable clearness all this went to make
music one of the fundamentals of the art of Romantic
writers and while they had tried in vain to win success
in spoken drama, the German opera of the nineteenth
century became permeated with their spirit and chose its
materials from their favorite fields, the fairy-story, Ger-
man legend and the life of the Middle Ages.

CARL MARIA VON WEBER was the creator of the Roman-
tic opera. In the year 1821 he finished his Freischiitz,
for which Friedrich Kind had written the text accord-
ing to a Bohemian legend as told by Apel. The national
character of the subject, the richness of melody, and
the employment of new and highly impressive means of
instrumentation prepared the way for the immense
success of the Freischiitz, by which means it gained the
ascendancy over the prevailing Italian art and has re-
mained the most popular German opera down to the
present day.

Weber in this work had already made use of recur-
ring themes, for the purposes of characterization, and
began to do away with the endless arias which destroyed
dramatic connection and to employ those freer recita-


tives which are on the border-line between song and
declamation. The dramatic element, represented up
to that time by the language alone, had played but an
unimportant part; now it appeared in the music on an
equality with the melody. At the same time greater
demands were made on the acting skill of the singers.
The orchestra now no longer served the purpose of
giving body and greater fulness of tone by its accom-
paniment, but it began, with its explanations and supple-
ments, to develop independently alongside the singing
voices and in its own purely instrumental movements
to become a significant factor of the opera.

A second great work of Weber's, Euryanthe (1823),
unsuccessful, indeed, because of the unfavorable sub-
ject, was still farther removed from the old-style opera
by its exact declamation and the strong emphasis laid on
characterization and on dramatic passion. In these
matters it showed still more clearly the road leading to
the art of Richard Wagner.

Between Weber and Wagner the link is HEINRICH
MARSCHNER. In his Hans Heiling (1833) we hear, in
addition to the strains of the Freischiitz, the advance
notes of the Fliegende Hollander.

In the meantime the so-called "Grand Opera" had
developed in France and Italy. It originated, as did
the German romantic opera, in an opposition to the
quiet, dispassionate art of the classic writer and chose
its subjects from the same domains as the former; it
did not aim, however, at plunging into the unexplored
depths of the soul nor at portraying the mysterious
workings of nature, but, by the use of strong and visible
passion, did aim at arousing at all costs powerful emo-
tion. In the choice of subjects and of artistic expedi-


ents it therefore followed the like-minded Romantic
writers of the French. It dazzled by an accumulation
of all effects that appeal to the senses, it offered a
full, exciting though often quite senseless plot and
brilliant stage-scenes to which an extrinsic grandeur was
given by massive music and crowds of actors; it antici-
pated all the lower instincts of singers and public and
ruthlessly destroyed unity and truth by interjecting
showy songs and ballets.

As in the old Italian opera so here the drama was
only an excuse for the satisfaction of curiosity and of
the vulgar passion for unusual performances of the
singing voice. But more cunningly than their predeces-
sors the composers of "Grand Opera" and their com-
plaisant text-writers succeeded in concealing these pur-
poses from a shortsighted public by an appearance of
dramatic unity.

The most noteworthy representative of this art was
JACOB MEYERBEER. He had constant success from Rob-
ert der Teufel (1831) and Die Hugenotten (1836) down
to his last work die Afrikanerin which was first played
in the year after his death (1864). All this time he
dominated the German as well as the French operatic

Only when one recognizes the pernicious influence
of Meyerbeer upon the German public, does one com-
prehend the passionate w r rath with which all, who had
the opera seriously at heart, fought against him. At
their head stand Robert Schumann and Peter Cornelius,
who, with their weak dramatic talents, tried in vain
to win the stage back to pure art, and Richard Wagner,
the victor in this strife.



The fifty-five years from 1830-85 present a picture
of the condition of the German drama outwardly similar
to that of the preceding period. Schiller remains, with
few exceptions, the only model for tragedy, and the
tradition of Romanticism continues with decreasing in-
fluence until it gradually dies out. The great changes
in the political and social conditions of Germany do
not find expression on the stage. The greatest writers
of the times, who are aiming at a new art suited to
their day, are scarcely noticed and gain no influence
over the production of the others or the taste of the
spectators. The German drama keeps sinking lower
and lower to a powerless decadence. The theatre be-
comes more and more the home of hollow phrases and
shallow entertainment while the belief in the exclusive
rights of the idealizing form is strenuously upheld.
Musical drama alone reaches the highest point of its
development through the mighty creative work of Rich-
ard Wagner.

How little it was possible in this period to convert
the correct perception of the artistic needs of the
present into deeds is shown by the example of that
group of writers brought together under the name,
Das junge Deutschland. They represented in general
the demands of the Liberals in Paris in the July-revolu-



tion of 1830 and opposed the romanticist alienation from
life and reality as well as all false idealism and visionary
caprice. LUDOLF WIENBARG, the aesthetic authority of
''Young Germany," insists upon the treatment of sub-
jects true to and full of life and emphasizes above all
what is important for the present of any particular
time. The place of poetic fancy is to be taken by that
enthusiasm which inspires to deeds. The Middle Ages
have outlived themselves and a protest is made against
dead and hollow formulas and also against the attempts
to regenerate the present with the help of the ancient.
From the drama Wienbarg demands national spirit but
not in the form of nature poetry, as the Romanticists
made it, but as a work of art with a democratic trend,
filled with the idea of a body of free citizens who had
become of age in a political sense. His second require-
ment was that the contents should be national and yet
not in the historical form of Goethe's and Schiller's
works and those of their successors. For poetry is not
dramatized history and national contents do not depend
upon national and historical material but upon the fact
that they are interesting and valuable for the whole
nation, that is, are national in the true sense. From
this is derived the third requirement of contents suited
to the times. The youth are to fight on against the
tenacity and opposition of reactionary efforts in all
departments and begin with what the "Storm and
Stress" writers strove for and in the same sense.

These requirements were met only in a very small
degree by the ' ' Young Germany ' ' writers, Heine, Laube,
Gutzkow, in their dramatic works. Heine was never
again active as a dramatic writer after his first abortive
attempts, Laube and Gutzkow were both too very eager


for stage effect to place themselves by innovations in
decided opposition to the prevailing taste.

This external theatrical technique, this cool scheming
for effect which had scarcely been known before in
Germany, at least in tragedy, was to be ascribed to
the strong influence of French models. Victor Hugo
and Alexander Dumas, pere, at the head of the French
Romanticists in historical drama, had taught them ex-
aggerated delineation of character and inconsiderate
working on the emotions of the public, while at the same
time Eugene Scribe, aided by numerous contemporane-
ous playwrights, dominated the stages of Europe with
his comedies. A fine outer polish, the greatest skill in
all that was technical, complete lack of any deeper
spirit, exciting intrigues, often carried out at the cost
of reality, these are the attributes which mark Scribe.
The influence of this thoroughly superficial but ever
graceful and entertaining class of drama reaches down
into the present and for a long time represented alone
finer comedy in Germany.

HEINRICH LAUBE was the best judge of the theatre,
the foremost manager whom Germany possessed in the
nineteenth century. As director of the Burg-theatre
in Vienna, he did a great work from 1849-66 in the
training of the players and in the enlargement of the
repertoire. But for the author those excellencies were
fateful which stood the director in good stead. The
mechanical nature of the effects was too much in the
foreground and instead of creating men he saw only
players guided by the invisible hand of the manager.
Therefore the most of his dramas are to-day as good
as forgotten. Die Karlsschiiler (1841) alone is still
played here and there, not because of its intrinsic merit


but because young Schiller, the author of Die Rduber,
is its hero; with it the tragedy, Graf Essex (1856),
keeps its place because of some good roles.

KARL GUTZKOW, too, strives after external effect but
with greater talent and more genuine passion than the
cool and prudent Laube. Gutzkow said to himself,
"The theatre is to reconcile life with art and art with
life"; "Put men on the boards who are taken not from
past centuries but from the present, not from the Assyr-
ians and Babylonians no, from your own surround-
ings." But when his first attempts to present the in-
herent contrasts of the times upon the stage had failed,
he turned again to historical drama and only in the
choice of his subjects and in his judgments upon the
conduct of his heroes did he permit the liberal view-
point of "Young Germany" to be seen.

On the border line between the modern and the his-
torical plays of Gutzkow stands his best work, Uriel
Acosta (1847), changed from a short story to a drama
of great elevation and genuine vitality. The conflict
between liberal thought and positive dogma, between
a sense of independence and of reverence, is here very
effectively converted into a succession of scenes argued
from a purely human standpoint; the characters, with
the exception of the pale youthful Spinoza who comes
in at the end, are drawn clearly and with life. This
drama may therefore be characterized as the best of
its kind, though it clearly shows the traces of decadence
in its too strong pathos, its lack of characteristic shad-
ing in the language and in its delight in strong, stirring
and extraneous incidents.

In the field of historical comedy Gutzkow also stands
at the head of his contemporaries. Zopf und Schwert


(1844) does not do justice to the historical importance
of Friedrich Wilhelm I, the central figure of the play,
because the powerful, far-seeing monarch is degraded to
a blustering family tyrant; but the tone is well caught,
the intrigues are clever and exciting, after the style
of Scribe, the characters superficial indeed and yet not
inaccurately delineated, and there is no lack of that
deeper spirit which is just as indispensable in comedy
as in tragedy. The higher signification of the whole
class is the subject of the comedy, Das Urbild des
Tartu ffe (1847). It does not equal Zopf und Schwert
in outward effect but its artistic merit is greater.

While these two works are now very unjustly neg-
lected and only rarely considered by the stage, Der
Konigsleutnant (1849) has held its ground up to the
present. It was originally merely destined to celebrate
the centennial of Goethe's birth and the author says
in his preface by way of excuse: "Opportunity is the
stepsister of the Muse." He knew very well that he
had not offered in this play a work of art, but thanks
to an effective role, the favor of actors has prolonged
the life of this mawkish sentimental play far beyond
its own inherent vitality.

Dependent upon the French or their "Young Ger-
man" imitators were a number of other dramatists
whose works attracted the public because of their strong
scenic effects and themes acceptable to the actors. To-
day they are all rightly forgotten, the most successful
of them alone, EMIL BRACHVOGEL'S Narziss (1856), not
having yet quite lost its attractiveness for travelling
' ' stars. ' ' The charm exercised by this degenerate genius
with his philosophical paradoxes and his despairing
humor, as well as the interesting condition of French


society before the Revolution, are made the most of for
the sake of effect. But there is a lack of all deeper
conception of the spirit of the times and of the historical
personages introduced; in their conversations they rep-
resent the political tendencies of liberalism and the
materialism, colored by natural science, of the author's
own times.

In comedy the clever technique of the style of Scribe
could be better preserved than in serious drama, es-
pecially where a stronger temper broke through the out-
ward polish and coldness of the French models. In
this way EDWARD VON BAUERNFELD succeeded in de-
lineating skilfully and ably, kindly and feelingly, the
society of Vienna. As with the French so also with
him there is a graceful vivacity in the conversations.
A fine cultivation of mind is revealed in the spontaneity
of his wit, in his fear of the trivial; a strong common
sense, enthusiasm for freedom and a cheery optimism
give his works their glow and make it possible to over-
look the theatrical artifices which he, too, does not
disdain for the sake of success. With his comedy
Biirgerlich und Romantisch (1835), which shows all
the best characteristics of the author, he reached the
climax of his powers; among his numerous dramas
Die Bekenntnisse (1834), Gross jdhrig (1846), and Ein
deutscher Krieger (1847) are also of a superior order.

From the French GUSTAV FREYTAG also learned what
is best in his dramatic technique. In his first comedy,
Die Brautfahrt oder Kunz von der Rosen (1841), he
allowed himself to be governed too much by the Roman-
tic delight in the bright game of life without considera-
tion for the demands of the stage ; then he produced in
Die Valentine (1846) a brightly colored play of in-


trigue which with all its cleverness was not successful
because genuine dramatic power is lacking in the funda-
mental theme. The same thing is true, too, of Graf
Waldemar (1850), which does not portray convincingly
enough the conversion of a blase worldling by the
awakening of a genuine and noble love. With Die
Journalist en (1853) alone did Freytag gain a great
and lasting influence because he found in it the subject
most suitable for his peculiar talent and his acquired
powers. The political extremes, at that time occupying
the centre of general interest instead of artistic and
philosophical questions, are made use of with success;
the vocation of the journalist is faithfully described in
its ideal importance and from its dark sides, the whole
giving a slightly idealized but yet not an indistinct
picture of German life, sketched with a sure hand and
finished with fresh colors here and there somewhat too
indifferent and cool. It is a very great pity, but it
shows Freytag 's clear self-knowledge, that he did not
determine to attempt something further in the domain
of comedy after this so singular success. His one
dramatic work of later origin, Die Fabler (1859), was
a tragedy which represented the fall of a great Roman
family in conflict with the needs of the newly organized
state. This significant but singular play could not hold
its place on the stage.



Even after 1830 the majority of writers of German
comedy were still following the methods of Iff land and
Kotzebue. The consummation of a marriage in middle-
class life, trade and the maintenance of an honorable,
comfortable living is the sole question with these
authors. The horizon is purposely narrowed as much
as possible, and not a single glance wanders beyond
the borders of the small town. For a long time there
was not to be found in these plays a breath of modern
times, with its railways and telegraphs, its export in-
dustries and its political contests. Especially the latter
were passed over most carefully so as in no way to dis-
turb the harmless doings of the townspeople. There-
fore the ethical teachings of these plays grow more and
more nervous, branding all independent expression of
emotion as immoral. The sentiments are inherently
mendacious and hypocritical, propriety is made the
standard for the individual and all great disinterested
actions and all independent striving to higher things
meet with bitter hostility.

This seemingly innocent class of plays became in real-
ity very dangerous and harmful, above all because they
stood for a long time in the way of genuine art and be-
cause, worse than the French plays which were de-
cried because of their immorality, they nattered the
lower inclinations, the laziness of mind and the self-com-
placency of the German middle-classes. Down to the
present day they continue unchanged, inwardly coarse
and outwardly proper, except that corresponding to the
change of public, their horizon has also apparently wid-
ened a little and instead of the houses of small merchants


we now see the electric-lighted villas of wholesale manu-
facturers, councillors and merchant-princes.

At the first glance one cannot of course estimate this
unfavorable influence in its whole extent, when one con-
siders, for example, the plays of RODERICK BENEDIX,
which seem to aim only at exciting hilarity especially by
means of comic situations. At most one will get an-
noyed with the clumsy, stupid dialogue and smile at
the lack of all finer details in the drawing of the charac-
ters, and the rude, axe-hewn plot. And yet the truth
of what has been said will soon be acknowledged when
one thinks of the immense numbers and the popularity
of the works of this class which rob better ones of light
and air. The differences in merit are scarcely sufficient
to enable one to pick out individual names from the
host of comedy-writers of the recent past who are for
the most part stage-experts and often in no way lacking
in talent. But public success gives some names a better
sound, such as, for example, JEAN BAPTIST VON
GUSTAV MOSER achieved the greatest effect with his
somewhat finer judgment and light work. His farce,
Der Bibliothekar (1878), verges on absurdity but to its
advantage is distinguished by genuine fun from the
weak hilarity of most of the middle-class comedies.

The so-called folk-plays are a grade lower in artistic
merit. They take their character's from the people, for
example, from the ranks of the mechanics and laborers,
inclusive of the proletariat, and from the view-point of
middle-class ignorance of the true life of these lower
classes deal with the surface of this existence, the essence
of which is falsely taken to be merely a longing for the
comfort of the middle classes and an amusing lack of


education and society manners. The "authors" sup-
pose that they have found a proper style for this class
when they forego all artistic care in plot and charac-
terization and with the rudest mechanical technique
preach an obtrusive philistine morality.

The actor and manager HUGO MULLER made a valu-
able gift in this line to the theatres of lower rank with
his folk-play, Von Stufe zu Stufe, while ADOLF L'An-
RONGE, who ranks a little higher, became a welcome
helper of court and city theatres in the sterile seventies
with his plays, Mein Leopold (1877), Hasemamis Tochter
(1877) and Doktor Klaus (1878). An honorable dispo-
sition is the distinguishing feature of all his characters
and to this especially, together with cheap and oft
repeated expedients to produce effect, is owing the favor
of sentimental people who believe that they hear in his
plays the voice of the German folk-soul.

One must not confuse these folk-plays, a degenerate
subdivision of the domestic play, with the farce (Posse)
which, as a dramatic form of contemporary satire, has
grown up in quite a different field. The Berlin spirit,
strongly permeated with Jewish elements, was its foster-
ing soiL Its ancestors were the writers of operettas and
dialect-plays; its father was DAVID KALISCH. The
loosely woven plot is intended to beget a very small
measure of excitement, because it is only the framework
upon which is hung one after another a mass of puns,
comic situations and satirical references to events of
the day, and these entirely conceal it. The form of
couplets perfected by Kalisch joined these real gems of
the farce into brilliant showy plays. In his hands they
did not fall out of their setting and become, as they did
later, an abuse. He also continued to aim at a connected


characterization which often caricatured definite per-
sonages, and at an outward propriety. He possessed
also a genuine, rich, sparkling humor. Only in AUGUST
WEYRAUCH did Kalisch find a successor of somewhat
equal rank. To-day the Berlin farce, his creation, is
the prey of a nasty reckoning upon coarse sensuality;
in it absurdity alone wields the sceptre and it is dis-
tinguished from the rude comic of the circus clown by
its ribald expressions and the situations which excite
the horse-laugh.

As in Berlin, so also everywhere the dialect and local
play has degenerated. In Vienna, it experienced its
greatest prosperity because of the stage-writers in Leo-
poldstadt, and here, in Nestroy's day and afterwards,
many of the most productive and clever writers of the
class arose, as for example, FRIEDRICH KAISER. But
the exclusive purpose of diverting their unassuming
public and of touching their emotions by the cheapest
means, as well as blind local patriotism and the arbi-
trariness of individual favorite actors, had in the long
run a completely destructive influence. There were in-
deed in the peasant plays of upper Bavaria the begin-
nings of an improvement in dramatic dialect-writing,
but here also sentimentality, low comic and mere theat-
rical effect remain the characteristics of a tendency ob-
noxious to art and of theatrical unnaturalness only im-
perfectly disguised by a covering of naive feeling and
peasant rudeness.

The only truly dramatic works dipped in the colors of
dialect went by unheeded. These were the comedies in
the Darmstadt dialect, Des Burschen Heimkekr oder der

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Online LibraryGeorg WitkowskiThe German drama of the nineteenth century → online text (page 4 of 17)