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ment which was stirred up in Catholic lands because of
the promulgation of the doctrine of infallibility in
1870. With an all too clearly outspoken tendency, with
a pathos of a superficial theatrical type, "Hell," the
priest with the striking name, represents the cause of
enlightenment. It was this character with its purpose-
ful sermons to the public that had great influence when
the play appeared and long afterwards.

In the episodes and in the figure of "Wurzelsepp"
the later Anzengruber, who is master of every scenic
detail, is already proclaimed. "Wurzelsepp" is the first
of his thinking peasants. They are not philosophers
who, with trained reasoning powers, look out over life
from a high watch tower; their thinking has its origin
in their feelings. Those of them who, because of ille-
gitimate birth, are outcasts from the peasant's social
order, or who are not willing to submit to the restraint
of custom or dogma, experience in their own person
the force of a power, the justice of which they do not
understand. Out of this arises at first hatred and
embitterment, but Anzengruber scatters in the deep
furrows of the lacerated soul the seeds of a human love


arid there grows up a joy in being and a belief in the
goodness of the world-spirit, revealing itself in nature.

In Die Kreuzelschreiber (1872), the cheerful com-
panion-picture to Der Pfarrer von Kirchfeld, he has
described this in most masterly fashion, in the person
of Steinklopfer-Hans, the best of his village philoso-
phers. He is armed against misfortune by the convic-
tion of his intimate connection with the everlasting
Ruler, who wisely guides all things for the benefit of
the world. Therefore this world is for him, the poor
and despised, a merry world. No harm can befall him,
he belongs to the universal and the universal to him.
In this glad certainty he finds his solution, when the
peasants, carried away by the trend of the times,
thoughtlessly rebelled against the church, and the
women, urged on by the priest, thereupon renounce
their marital duties until the offense is atoned for
by a pilgrimage to Rome. In these really comical con-
flicts appeared, peculiarly distorted, the great universal
contrasts: the power of tradition against which genuine
aspiration for freedom and indiscreet desire for innova-
tion alike fight in vain. The farcical merry comedy
is a not unworthy companion-piece to the Lysistratus
of Aristophanes. The fate of old Brenninger, harried
to death by the breakdown of lifelong customs, admon-
ishes one of the deep seriousness underlying the bright

While Anzengruber also attempted in Der Pfarrer
von Kirchfeld to give the peasant play greater value
by an outspoken didactic tendency, he now took the
right way to raise the class into the domain of genuine
art by giving greater depth to the conflicts, by describ-
ing the circumstances which decide them and by a more


detailed characterization. At the same time his courage
for truth had grown very considerably. His first play,
for the sake of theatrical conventionalities, had still
carefully avoided everything objectionable and shunned
the little traits serving merely to give an impression
of complete fidelity to life, because the prevailing theory
of art banished from the drama all naturalistic descrip-
tion as well as everything accidental and unimportant
for the outward course of the action. Now he fairly
revelled in the accurate observation of these details
and the great brawl at the close of the third act gave
evidence for the first time on the German stage of the
power of an art opposed to the old ideals of beauty.

Anzengruber had prepared the transition to this new
art in his second work, Der Meineidbauer (1871). Like
Shakespeare's Richard III, Matthias Ferner, the cross-
roads-farmer, had risen by crime and maintained his
high position with unfeeling harshness by means of new
crimes. He is in his way just as great a man as
the royal murderer of Britain and, like him, with brazen
front opposes avenging fate, which naturally employs
in this play meaner and more objectionable devices than
in the great tragedy.

In the speech and manners of the characters of the
Meimeidbauer there is still a good deal that is conven-
tional, but the technique is remarkably new, lifting
gradually one veil after another from the past, so that
along with men and things from the present their evo-
lution with its conditioning causes becomes clear. The
impression of compulsory necessity which is thus called
forth permits one to see more easily the sway of chance
in the last stages of the action which are transferred
to the stage.


Anzengruber again gave the serious picture of the
Meineidbauer a cheery companion when in 1874 he
composed Der G'wissenswurm. Here there is also a
criminal who, however, allows himself to be tormented
by qualms of conscience instead of stifling them, like
Der Meineidbauer, until it is shown that his worries
are only imaginary and artificially nourished by a self-
ish, legacy-hunting hypocrite. The meeting with his
former loved one, whom he had thought wretched and
ruined, and whom he now finds again, abounding in
strength and contented as the mother of twelve chil-
dren, is a capital invention of the poet; so also the
true-hearted girl who, in spite of the fact that she
knows neither father nor mother, has such a joyous
outlook on life.

The purest embodiment of the joy of life among
Anzengruber 's work is the peasant- farce, Doppelselbst-
mord (1875), a worthy dramatic companion-piece to
Keller's short story Romeo und Julia auf dem Darfe.
The son of the rich man loves the daughter of the
poor man and they go to the "Aim to be united for-
ever." The double sense of these words leads the
father of the lad and the other villagers astray and
all night they hunt anxiously for the fugitives. With
their mistake vanish also all hostile feelings.

Love in the abstract, shy and awkward of expression,
is revealed in the youthful couple. It is true poetry
without all the beautiful words and metaphors esteemed
necessary by earlier writers. Their place is taken by
inherent beauty, which bursts forth out of a rough shell,
and most touchingly where life itself has made it hard,
as is the case with the old carriage-jobber, the father
of the girl, who with his words "'s is a DummJieit"


(it's all nonsense) pretends to take no real interest
in things, while at the same time his heart is full of love
and sympathy. Never did Anzengruber combine so
intimately as in this play the mixture of love of life
and life's seriousness, the tragic contrasts of the true
world and its diverting superficial manners. Yet suc-
cess was denied him. Prudery, according to August
Wilhelrn Schlegel "the pretention to innocence without
innocence," took offence at the naivete of the farce.
Anzengruber himself was partly to blame for that,
because he yielded so far to the demands of the ordinary
public that it might be thought the poet himself had
wished to pander to depraved tastes in the choice of
his subject.

The very same is true of his next farces which
are furnished with a little less juicy heart, Der ledige
Hof (1876), which sacrifices a tragic and grand woman
character to the purpose of providing merriment at all
costs, 's Jungferngift (1878), and Die Trutzige (1878).

Through lack of success the poet became uncertain.
Even before this he had tried to leave his own field
for that of higher-class drama, e. g., in Elfriede (1872),
Bertha von Frankreich (1872-74), Die Tochter des
Wucherers (1873) and Ein Faustschlag (1877). In
them he aimed at presenting characters from the people
in the midst of the bustle of the large city, by which they
are estranged from nature. The cheery, unassuming
lower classes of old Vienna, whose portrait Raimund had
once placed before their very eyes, were dying out. A
new race was growing up, without the feeling of class-
honor, without energy of endeavor, anxiously pursuing
mere enjoyment. Modest competency, respectability and
the religious sense vanished when the ethical foundation


was gone from beneath their feet. The commandment,
"Honor thy father and thy mother," loses its validity
when the parents are not worthy of reverence. Anzen-
gruber's Viertes Gebot (1877) shows this by one ex-
ample each from the lower and upper classes, from
the family of the lazy turner Schalanter and of the
rich landlord Hutterer. In both the daughters are
sold, the sons spoiled by their education and only where
good old customs watch faithfully over the children
does parental love become a blessing to them. Not
only morally but physically the new generation is being
ruined by the sins of the old. Anzengruber represents
all this in a plot, which occupies a remarkable middle-
place between the old folk-play with its rich external
happenings but poor argumentation, and the new psy-
chological drama which is poor in plot. Scenes of
strong and affecting fidelity to nature alternate with
others full of sentimental bliss and false pathos. In-
stead of one simple straight plot we see three running
along side by side, crossing one another only at certain
points as chance may offer. A style in which to rep-
resent the inherent necessity of the incidents had not
yet been found but the beginnings of it are mighty
enough to cause an unusually potent influence to pro-
ceed from the work. Its independence in the face of
the prevailing hypocritical morality, its attack upon the
absolute nature of one of the Ten Commandments, and
its detailed description of the depraved were, however,
for Das vierte Gebot greater hindrances on the stage
than its own organic weakness. And yet it is easy
to see that the poet did not allow the lower instincts
to rule absolutely because of joy in what was ugly.
His fharacters are not blindly given over to one des-
tiny, their fate is not conditioned by natural law, edu-


cation or society. A firm will and a joyous faith in
goodness can lift them out of vice and misery. This
conviction is clearly set forth in the three less im-
portant Vienna plays by Anzengruber, Die alien Wiener
(1878), Brave Lent' vom Grund (1879), and Heimge-
funden (1885).

Anzengruber then returned once more to his old
field in his last drama, Der Fleck auf der Ehr' (1877).
An innocent peasant girl has come under suspicion
of theft and is ruined because the sense of honor of
her class count the suspicion which brought her to prison
as an inexpiable sin. As with the "children of sin"
of his earlier works, so here we find a fate which
destroys happiness where no guilt is present and only
outwardly is a happy ending brought about by an
improbable accident. The poet's accuracy in the use
of technical devices can not delude one into overlooking
the poverty of material and the inconsistency of the

The last plays by Anzengruber prove that through
constant battling with the decadent dramatic art of
his day, he had become discouraged and had lost his
nai've freedom in creative work. It is idle to ask
whether he would have found it again, if a share had
been granted him in the fresh goodwill which in the
very year of his death was directed to that serious
drama which was aiming to get away from tradition
and make an advance.



In the year 1880 Anzengruber cried plaintively, "We
have no longer a stage," and certainly he had a right
to this crushing judgment when he glanced at the doings
of the regular German theatres. Their activity was
governed by hollow idealism and ordinary business-
sense. But in two different directions the desire to
make improvements had already been made manifest in
deeds and with convincing success: on the circuits of
the Meininger and in Richard Wagner's Bayreuth fes-

In May, 1874, the court players of the Duke of
Meiningen began their first "starring" in Berlin with
the performance of Julius Ccesar. The surprising im-
pression made by this drama, long known and natural-
ized on the stage, was due to the carrying through of
this one principle ; everything to be subordinated to the
purposes of the poet and these to be realized by sum-
moning all the devices of dramatic art and of modern
stage-technique. The result of this was first, outwardly
the most conscientious observance of historical setting
in scenery and costumes. With such care and such
great expense as had up to that time been expended
on the opera alone, the Meininger provided for each
individual drama a suitable artistic setting and by this
means gave a new sensuous charm to the classic plays.
The fear that, because of extrinsic brilliancy, attention
would be diverted from the work itself, was very soon
proven false, because it was shown that dramas of ideal
type were brought nearer to the interest and understand-
ing of the present by this very realistic and faithful
historic background.


The second important innovation of the Meininger
was that of driving out the "Star" system. All actors,
from the highest to the lowest, had to place themselves
unreservedly at the service of the whole artistic pro-
duction, which by oneness of purpose grew out of drama,
performance and scenery. No one might refuse to take
over the smallest role. The performance of each indi-
vidual actor was brought to the greatest perfection in
numberless rehearsals by the conductor of the play, the
Duke of Meiningen himself, and then with those of
the other actors and of the carefully trained troops
of supernumeraries blended together to a complete unit
with just as indefatigable labor.

This hitherto unknown conscientiousness was above
all of great advantage to Schiller's dramas, the playing
of which had been quite neglected. They gained a new
and unexpected influence. The passionate energy of
the great mass-scenes of Die Rauber, of Fiesco, of
Wattenstein and of Die Jungfrau von Orleans had never
up to that time been felt so strongly, the structure of
the dramatic framework never so clearly seen and ad-
mired in its artistic completeness. No longer the
brilliant showpieces, the great monologues, but the hith-
erto unnoticed ensemble-scenes which develop the real
dramatic elements appeared as the climaxes.

For seventeen years, from 1874-1890, the Meininger
travelled through Germany and a number of other
countries, giving in this period 41 plays and 2,591
performances. They displayed their new art most suc-
cessfully in Schiller's and Shakespeare's dramas, but
did not shun the modern writers, as their experiments
with various works by Ibsen, Bjornson, Lindner, Fitger
and Echegaray give proof.


When they gave up their trips their mission was
fulfilled. The new dramatic art had become the com-
mon property of all theatres making any claim to artis-
tic rank. True, only rarely indeed was there to be
found the same lofty seriousness, the same expenditure
of time and means and the same capacity for personal
self-sacrifice as with them; besides, the conditions of
the regular theatres scarcely ever allowed of such in-
tense attention to one work. At the same time the right
relation of the individual factors of dramatic art were
once more restored. The author was again given the
chief place, the conductor took his place beside him as
his representative and interpreter, and the selfishness,
vanity and laziness of the actors, as well as the business-
sense of the directors, had to be subordinate to both.
So far as means at all permitted, the public and critics
now demanded a faithful observance of historic truth,
a conscientious study of each individual role and well
rounded ensemble-play.

Not only was new life breathed into the masterpieces
of old style by these principles, but the stage could now
offer to writers trying other roads actors who were more
tractable and better trained for their duties.


The fundamental thought that all arts must work
together in the service of the writer in order to obtain
the greatest effect for a drama had been uttered by
RICHARD WAGNER long before the appearance of the
Meininger and was overwhelmingly and grandly ex-
emplified when under his guidance his Ring des Nibel-
ungcn was first performed in 1876 at Bayreuth.


In 1813, E. T. A. Hoffmann wrote an essay entitled
Der Dichter wnd der Komponist in which he expressed
the conviction that Romantic opera is the only true
opera, because the music must necessarily have its origin
directly in the poetry, and that, because of these con-
ditions, musical drama must originate as the work of
a gifted and really romantic poet. "I maintain," he
says in this essay, "that the opera writer, just as well
as the musician, must compose everything as it were
in his soul and it is only the clear consciousness of
certain melodies, indeed of certain tones of the accom-
panying instruments, in a word, the easy command
of the spiritual field of tones which distinguishes the
latter from the former."

In the same year in which these words were written,
as if meant for him, Richard Wagner was born at
Leipzig, May 22, 1813. In Dresden he conceived an
admiration for Weber, then at Leipzig felt the influence
of the French and Italian music fashionable there. Its
sentiment, happy even to frenzy and to sensual frivolity,
appealed to his strong physical nature and in the style
of Auber and Bellini, after some imitative attempts,
he wrote in 1834 his opera, Das Liebesverbot oder die
Novize von Palermo, after Shakespeare's Measure for
Measure. In the very same style as ' ' Young Germany, ' '
he glorifies the victory of free sensuousness over pu-
ritanical hypocrisy. Wagner was at that time friendly
with Heinrich Laube and in his Zeitung fur die elegante
Welt he expressed for the first time his requirements
from the German opera.

Then followed years of travel, full of wretchedness
until he found a permanent position as bandmaster at
Riga (1837-39). For his great artistic views and his


liberal political ideas he sought artistic expression in
the opera, Reinzi, der letzte der Tribunen, the material
for which he took from Bulwer-Lytton 's novel. The
false brilliancy of Meyerbeer's art had dazzled him,
too, in those days so that he tried to imitate its outward
form. But the accuracy and conciseness of the dramatic
construction, the genuine passion and the poetic thought
of the opera distinguishes his work from the cool, cal-
culating "grand opera" of the French and Italians.

In vain did Wagner hope, when he went to Paris in
1840, to get his Rienzi performed by Meyerbeer's aid
and he suffered great distress. At this time he turned
away from this false art which he now attacked in
numerous essays after the style of E. T. A. Hoffmann.
He became again a German Romanticist and Der
fliegende Hollander, which took form in 1841 at Meudon,
followed Weber and Marschner directly, especially Der
Vampyr and Hans Heiling. He saturated the simple
thrilling legend, acquaintance with which he owes to
Heinriche Heine, with the opposing principles of sensual
love and of sympathy which impels to an expiatory
death in behalf of the lover. Like the ballads of the
northern people, the opera is a string of single, quickly
passing, garishly illumined pictures, which gleam up
like ghosts before the dark background of a mysterious

In 1842 Wagner returned to Germany and Tann-
hauser took form in Dresden in 1843-45. Tieck had
already connected the story of the old Tannhauser poem
with the legend of Der getreue Eckart, Hoffmann with
that of the SangerJcrieg on the Wartburg. Heinrich
Heine, in his parody of the old poem, had endowed


Tannhauser with the longing which drives him out of
the joys of the Venus-mountain back to earth.

Influenced by Hoffmann and Heine, Richard Wagner,
by an effective change of the closing part, added the
moral, religious and redeeming power of a pure virgin's
love and gave it form in the fictitious character of the
prince's daughter, to whom he gave the name of St.
Elizabeth. Thus out of the old opera which appealed
only to the senses there was made a problem-drama
which enlists music in the service of spiritual develop-

This happened in a still greater degree in Lohengrin,
composed immediately afterwards. Here, too, the old
legend is filled with a new content: Elsa's love askS
from the unknown, for whom she feels admiration and
gratitude, that she may know him fully in order to
devote herself entirely to him; but the god dare not
reveal himself to the mortal woman, else she would
die under his glance. As Semele is destroyed by her
wish to see Jupiter in his divine majesty, so Elsa is
destroyed by the loftiest of desires, having its founda-
tion in the essence of love.

Weber's Euryanthe had given the models for the
characterization of the gloomy figures Ortrud and
Telramund, the great court-scene in Marschner's Der
Tempter und die Jiidin had a great influence on the
first act, the quarrel between the queens in the Nibel-
ungen-epic gave the principal motive and many details
for the great scene of the bridal procession. And yet
as a whole the opera was the spiritual property of
Wagner and gave evidence of his independence in all
essential points, his lofty view of the work of a drama-


tist and the ability, shown by no one before him, to
combine the devices of music and of poetry in the
service of this work.

The complete break with the old rigid forms of
music was now accomplished. The declamation was
not hindered by the melody but rather increased in
effectiveness to the loftiest possibility of dramatic ex-
pression, the combinations of moods and the succession
of thoughts were disclosed in the orchestra, what is
unexpressed and inexpressible stood revealed. There
resulted a new management and interweaving of melo-
dies, the understanding of which was difficult for the
untrained ear and the sensuous beauty of which was
not apparent at the first hearing.

For this reason Wagner's new style was at first re-
jected with ridicule and anger by the great majority
of musicians and laymen and it was a bold act when
his faithful friend Franz Liszt produced Lohengrin
for the first time in Weimar, Aug. 28, 1850. From the
place which had witnessed the rebirth of higher-class
drama began the victorious march of German opera.
Schiller's hopes were fulfilled, that out of the opera,
as out of the choruses of the old Bacchus-festival,
tragedy would develop in a nobler form.

Wagner was not concerned merely about the purifica-
tion of the musical part. Like Hebbel he desired to
make the drama the image of the inner world of the
poet and the receptacle of the loftiest and deepest im-
pulses of the present, to combine philosophical, political
and social purposes. Music was to him only a means to
help give expression to the unconscious and to increase
the power of the senses to give impressions. There-
fore he could, as he went on, think of dispensing with


this aid and plan spoken dramas, like Friedrich der
Rotbart, Jesus von Nazareth, Wieland der Schmied and
Acliilleus, which were not indeed completed because
mighty influences soon- directed him once more to the

Wagner took part in the Revolution of 1849 in the
belief that through it his artistic purposes would be
furthered. He had to flee and the following years of
banishment were given to the philosophical foundation
and superstructure of his views on art. He had found
his guide in the philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach. Ac-
cording to him religion originated in the desire for
happiness; the gods were the reflected images of men,
the ideals of the people who gave them form. This
theory had a mighty influence upon Wagner, just as
it had on Gottfried Keller, for it recognized joyously
and consciously the truth of sense-perception and ex-
tolled death as the last and greatest right of the living,
the real conclusion of existence. Hostile to Christian
dogma, he took refuge in the antique world of beauty
which Anselm Feuerbach, Ludwig 's brother, had de-
scribed in his book, Der Vatikanische Apollo.

He did not, however, look at this depraved world with
fruitless complaints about a lost ideal but with a strong
desire to cause a new humanity to arise which should
be worthy of it. In antique tragedy he saw the reflex
of a free people fully developed in all directions. Here

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Online LibraryGeorg WitkowskiThe German drama of the nineteenth century → online text (page 9 of 17)