George Grove.

A dictionary of music and musicians (A.D. 1450-1889) by eminent writers, English and foreign : with illustrations and woodcuts (Volume 4) online

. (page 83 of 194)
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i the merits of their work ? Heroic music
Beethoven's manner was the true ideal;

it seemed doubtful whether anything ap-
wjhing it could be attained in connection
h the stage. — The cases before him showed
b effective music can certainly be produced on
jrent lines and on a lower level; the desi-
ita, as far as he then saw them, were, to con-
e a play with rapid and animated action ;
compose music that would not be difficult
sing and would be likely to catch the ear of

public. His sole attempt in such a direc-
L — ' Das Liebesverbot,' an opera in two acts
ir Shakespeare's ' Measure for Measure ' (the
t of Isabella intended for Mme. Devrient) —

not had a fair chance before the footlights.

sketched the libretto during the summer
days, and worked at the score in 1835 and 36,



Details of the plot and the rather licentious
tendency of the whole are described in his Ges.
Schriften, vol. i. The music is curiously unlike
his former models ; and it is easy to trace the in-
fluence of ' La Muette,' and even of 'II Pirata'
and 'Norma.'

In the autumn of 1S34 Wagner undertook the
duties of ^Musikdirector at the Magdeburg thea-
tre. The troupe of actors and singers, mostly
young people, was not a bad one; they liked
him, and the curious life behind and before the
scenes afforded interest and amusement. At
concerts under his direction the overture to ' Die
Feen ' and a new overture to Apel's play ' Colum-
bus ' (1S35) were performed ; he wrote music for
the celebration of New Year's Day 1835, songs to>
a fantastic farce ' Der Berggeist,' etc., and came
to be liked by the public as well as the artists.
In the summer of 1835 he went on a tour to find
new singers, and was promised *a benefit per-
formance ' as a set-off against expenses. During
this tour he again met Mme. Schroeder-Devrient
when she appeared at Niirnberg as Fidelio, and
as Emmeline in Weigl's ' SchweizerfamUie.' The
theatre at Magdeburg was supported by a small
subvention from the Court of Saxony, and managed
by a committee. But in spite of such assist-
ance and supervision the worthy Director, Herr
Bethmann, was ever on the brink of bankruptcy.
He had a habit of disappearing when pay-day
came round, and the troupe was in a bad plight
during the spring season of 1S36. 'We meant
to close,' writes Wagner, 'towards the end of
April with my opera, and I worked hard to get
score and parts finished in good time. But as
early as March the leading members threatened
to leave ; for my sake they agreed to remain till
the end of the month and to study my work. This,
however, was not an easy task. No Singspiel,^
but music after the manner of La Muette ! Herr
Bethmann represented that he would be put
to sundry expenses for stage properties, etc., and
claimed the first night for his benefit. I was
to profit by the second.' There were twelve
days left, and the preparations went on inces-
santly ; rehearsals at the theatre, rehearsals at
every private lodging ; all Magdeburg excited ; yet
no man knew his part, and the eusemhlcs were
hopeless. At the general rehearsal Wagner's
conducting, gesticulating and prompting, kept
things together somehow. Not so at the per-
formance"(March 29, 1836) — a crowded house,
and utter chaos. The repetition for the com-
poser's benefit was duly announced, but col-
lapsed ere the curtain could rise — few people
in the auditorium, and a free fight behind the
scenes!^

W^agner had many debts and no means to pay.
He repaired to Leipzig, hoping that the long
connection of members of his family with the
theatre there would smooth the way for ' Das
Liebesverbot.' He was advised to offer the part
of Marianne to the daughter of the director ; but

1 See SiKOSPiEL, vol. iii. p. 51G.

2 For a droll account of the performance, see 'Bericht uber eine
erste Opernauffuhrung,' Ges. Schriften, voL i.



350



WAGNER,



WAGNER.



I



Herr Ringelhardt, after perusing the libretto,
stated that his paternal conscience would not
permit him to sanction the appearance of his
daughter ' in a piece of such frivolous tendency.'
Wagner next applied to the Konigstaedter
Theater at Berlin— equally in vain. Penniless,
he left Berlin for the Prussian town of Konigs-
berg, where colleagues from Magdeburg— Fran
PolTert the prima donna, and his special friend
Wilhelmina or ' Minna' Planer, the actress (erste
Liebhaberin)— had found engagements. With a
view to the conductorship he arranged concerts at
the Schauspielhaus, at one of which an overture
of his, presumably ' Columbus, ' was performed.—
At length the appointment as conductor was
promised ; and he forthwith married Fraulein
Planer (Nov. 24. 1836)— the third daughter of
the'Mechanicus'GothilfPlaner of Dresden. 'I
wasted a year at Konigsberg amid petty cares,
worrying myself and others. An overture " Rule
Britannfa " is the only thing I wrote.' How to
get out of this groove of mediocrity ? He longed
for Paris. In those days success in the operatic
world began in Prance. Had not Meyerbeer
recently cleared 300,000 francs by ' Les Hugue-
nots' ? Wagner sent sketches for an opera in tour
acta-' Die hohe Braut,' after a novel of Heinrich
Konig's— to Scribe the librettist, hoping thus to
approach the Parisian Opera.' Of course Scribe
took no notice. — About Michaelmas the Director
at Konigsberg followed Heir Bethmann's ex-
ample, and declared himself bankrupt.

Wai^ner eagerly grasped at a chance which
presenleditself from theRussiansideof the Baltic.
A theatre was about to be started under Karl v.
Holtei at Riga. On the recommendation of Dorn,
who had gone thither some years before, Wagner
was chosen 'First Musikdirector,' and his wife,
and her sister, Therese Planer, were engaged
for the ' Schauspiel.' As compared with Magde-
burg or Konigsberg, Riga was a wealthy place,
and the salaries were liberal. Wagner found all
that was needful to attain good performances, and
set to work energetically. During the winter sea-
son he conducted orchestral concerts ; his over-
tures 'Columbus' and 'Rule Britannia' were
played ; he wrote various arias for the vocalists ;
and the text to a comic opera in two acts, ' Die
gliickliche Barenfamilie.'^ Dec. i ith is the date
of a 'Benefizvorstellung von Bellini's Norma,
fiir Herrn Musikdirector Wagner.' — During the
summer of 1838 he rehearsed Mehul's ' Josejdi '
' with great love and enthusiasm for the work ' —
and completed the book of ' Rienzi.'

"When in the autumn I beptan the music to Eionzi,
my sole care was to do justice to the subject. I had
so laid it out that a first performance would be impos-
sible at a second-rate theatre. I had Paris in view.—
The thought of conscious triviality, even for a single
bar, was intolerable. The character of Kienzi, ardent,

1 In 1S42 these sketches were carried out in light verse to oblige
rapellmelster Keissig»r. Wagner's colleague at Dresden. In IMS the
ppera, entitled (Bianca uiid Giuseppe, or) 'Die Franzosen in Nizza.'
In 4 acts, and with sundry alterations enforced by the Austrian
censorship, music by Kapellmeister J. F. Kittl, was performed at
I'rague with considerable and lasting success.

2 L. Nohl found the MS. at llina in lh72, together with sketches for
bits ui the music— M la Adam." These are quoted iu Keue
Zeiischrift (luia. p. 244;.



k



aspiring, amid barbarous surroundings, interested' "
I approached it by way of tlie grand opera ; stil^ '
first care was to depict it in accordance with
feelings.'

In the spring of 1839, ^^ *^^ terminatioB
his contract, the first two acts were finis!
He returned to Konigsberg (July 1839), |
his debts, repaired to the port of Pillau,
took berths, on board a sailing vessel boun^
London, for himself, his little wife, and a I i,,
Newfoundland dog, en route for Paris. ' 1 1
never forget the voyage: it lasted three weeks
a half, and was rich in disasters. Throe t
we suffered from the effects of heavy sto:
The passage through the Narrows made a i Ij,
drous impression on my fancy. The legen
the ' Flying Dutchman ' (he had read i
Heine's Salon) 'was confirmed by the sai
and the circumstances gave it a distinct
characteristic colour in my mind. We stoj j
eight days in London to recover from the ti
effects of the voyage. I was interested a
all things in the aspect of the town and'^
Houses of Parliament ; of the theatres 1 1
nothing.'*

At Boulogne he made the acquaintance
Meyerbeer, and remained four weeks to cultii
it. How far the music to ' Rienzi' pleased Mfl
beer does not appear, and the saying attribi
to him that 'Rienzi' is the best opera-]
extant is not sufficiently authenticated. Me
beer provided Wagner with letters of intra
tion to the Directoi s of the Op^ra and the Th^^
de la Renaissance, to Schlesinger the m||
publisher and proprietor of the ' Revue et Ga«
Musicale,' and to M. Gouin his agent, 'V<\
ego du grand niaitre.' Assertions in Gen
journals that Wagner was then or at a I
period under pecuniary obligations to Meyer)
are groundless, and have been publicly con
dieted. The true relations of the two men
be described further on.

Paris. Wagner arrived in Paris in Septen j
1839, and remained till April 7, 1842 (set. 26-
His hopes and plans were not realised ; yut
the growth of his power as an artist this v,^
important and eventful time.

Except for the sake of my poor wife, whose pati
was sorely tried, I have no reason to regret the a'
ture. At two distinct periods we felt the jjiiu
poverty severely— actually suffered from cold and
ger. I did a good deal of work, mere drudgery fo
most part, but I also studied and wrote assiduously,
the performances of Beethoven at the Conservo
were invaluable to me.

They found lodgings in an out-of-the- '
quarter, Rue de la Tonnellerie, 'au fond'i
appartement garni d'assez triste apparence »
an old house which claims to have been «
birthplace of Molifere. Patronised and ii »■
duced by Meyerbeer, Wagner was race ^

8 See • Elne Mittheilung an meine Freunde.'

4 They lodged tor a night at the Hoop and Horseshoe, 10 Queen I >■
Tower Hill, still existing; then stayed at the King's Arms boi 'I
house. Great Compton Street. Soho ; from which place the d( •
appeared, and turned up again after a couple of days, to his ni! ''
frantic joy. Wagner's accurate memory for localities was » J
when lie wandered about Soho with the writer in lbT7 and fal *
find tlie old house. BIr. J. Cyria-x, who has zealously traced r
step of Wagner's in London, 1839, 53, and 77. states that the pn «
have been pulled duwu.



WAGNER.



WAGNER.



351



marked politeness. ' Leon Pillet, Director
le Op^ra, at that time called 'AcadAnie
le de musique ' [see vol. i. p. 6] lui tend
Dras, Schlesinger lui fait mille ofFres de
ce, Habeneck (Conductor at the Op(5ra and
conservatoire) le traite d'^gal k egal.' But
ion found that fine speeches meant anything
)r than help or goodwill. In fact, Meyer-
s intervention seems to have told against,
sr than for him. ' Do you know what
3s me suspicious of this young man ? ' said
le ; 'it is that Meyerbeer recommends
' ' When told of Wagner's antecedents and
languine hopes of success, Heine devoutly
d his hands in admiration of a German's
. — There was no chance whatever for
nzi ' at the Opera. ' Quand il lui d^-
s les merveilles de son Rienzi, le directeur
'academic enveloppe sa phrase laudative
thfetes plus reservees : quand 11 insiste et
mde une audition k jour fixe, son interlo-
iT recule visiblement, et redouble d'amenit^s
(ires pour ^viter un engagement formel.' A
3r for the ' Vari^t^s ' undertook a transla-
of the libretto of ' Das Liebesverbot ' for
Ch^atre de la Renaissance. Three numbers
tried and found acceptable. * Wagner quitte
hate la rue de la Tonnellerie, trop ^loignee
e monde d'artistes avec lequel il va se
?^er journellement en contact. II achate
meubles et s'etablit triomphalement rue du
ler.' On the very day of his removal M.
the Director failed, and the doors of the
tre were closed. Wagner attempted to gain
oting at one of the Boulevard theatres,
■e was a talk of his setting a vaudeville of
lanoir's, ' La Descente de la Courtille,' and
jinning was made. ' Malheureusement, les
istes du theatre ne s'etaient pas aguerris en-
k cette^poque avec la musique de La Belle
ne, et, aprfes quelques repetitions d^risoires,
^clara celle du jeune Allemand parfaitement
scutable. On en conserva seulement une
son: "Allons a la Courtille!" qui eut son
e de ceiebrite.' * Wagner ojffered himself as
loriste ' at a still smaller Boulevard theatre,
ime off worse than Berlioz when he was in
milar predicament. The conductor who
id my capabilities discovered that I could
sing at all, and pronounced me a hopeless
all round.'

e tried song-writing with a view to the
ns. A French version of Heine's ' Die bei-
Grenadiere ' was made for him, and he set
atroducing the ' Marseillaise ' at the close
,g) — a rather difficult and not altogether
itactory composition, refused by professional
ers with sufficient reason. It appears strange,
ever, that neither singers nor publishers
Id have anything to do with three other
)le and lovely songs to French words: the

1 the authority of Theodor Hagen, late editor of the New York
zeitung. No other weil-authenticated utterance of Heine's
ling Wagner has come to light. The so-called letter to Laube
recently appeared in ' Das Orchester* (Dresden), and was ]e-
id by Herr Kastner in 'Parsifal.' is not a letter at all, but a
ction made up of Laube's words,
isperiui. 'K. Wagner," p. 27. The ohansoQ has not beeu traced.



delicious little. Berceuse, 'Dors, mon enfant,*
Ronsard's ' Mignonne,' and Victor Hugo's 'At-
tente.' These were, literally, too good for the
market. For 'Mignonne' Wagner in the end got
a few francs when the song was printed in the
music pages of a French periodical. Subsequen tly
(1841-42) it appeared together with 'Attente'
and 'Dors, mon enfant,' in the 'Beilagen' to
Lewald's 'Europa.' April i, 1841, is the date
of a touching letter to the editor of ' Europa,' to
whom Wagner submits the three songs, request-
ing speedy payment of the ' maximum ' fee paid
for such contributions, since prices are known
to vary from 5 to 9 florins (about io-i8s.),
'Ein Schelm, wer sich besser giebt, als er ist:
mich hat man hier so zugerichtet I '

On Feb. 4, 1840, the score of a superb orches-
tral piece, published 15 years later as ' Eine
Faust Ouvertiire,' was finished. This is the first
work that has the true stamp of Wagner. It
was conceived after a rehearsal of Beethoven's
Ninth Symphony at the Conservatoire in the
winter of 1839 (set. 26), and is in some sense
a piece of autobiography written in music. As
originally planned it was to form the first
movement of a Faust Symphony. — After a trial
performance at Dresden, July 22, 1844, it was
laid aside till 1855, when a revised version
was published bearing a motto from Goethe's
' Faust ' —

Und so ist inir das Dasein eine Last,

Der Tod erwunscht, das Leben mir verhasst!

It is a masterpiece of construction and instrumen-
tation. The influence of Beethoven is apparent
in the concise power of the themes, and the plain
direct manner in which they are set forth, yet
the work is Wagner's own from beginning to end.
Performances in Paris were not so good as he
had anticipated. ' The Acadeinie .savours of me-
diocrity ; the inise en seine and decorations are
better than the singing. — At the Opt^ra Comique
the representations have a completeness and a
physiognomy oftheirown such as we know nothing
of in Germany, but the music written for that
theatre is perhaps the worst that has yet been
produced in these days of decadence. The miser-
able quadrille rhythms which now (1842) rattle
across the stage have banished the grace of
M^hul, Isouard, Boieldieu, and young Auber.
For a musician there is but one thing worth atten-
tion — the orchestral concerts at the Conservatoire ;
but these stand alone, and nothing springs from
them.' His remarks about the stars at the Opera
— Duprez, Dorus-Gras, Rubini 'with his sem-
piternal shake ' — are rarely without a sting. —
The facile success of virtuosi annoyed hiin. — ■
Liszt, with whom he was to be so closely con-
nected in after days, and who was then at the
height of his fame as a virtuoso, appeared quite
antipathetic. Wagner called once only at Li.szt's
lodgings, and left them in a state of irritation.
' Take Liszt to a better world and he will treat
the assembly of angels to a Fantaisie sur le
Diable.' — Paris at the time harboured many
Germans — artists, savants, literati — in needy



352



WAGNER.



circumstances for the most part, but warm-
hearted and impulsive. In such circles Wagner
found congenial associates. * I met with many
proofs of true friendship in Paris' — and the words
may be taken to explain how it was that he and
his ' bildhiibsche kleine Frau'^ did not actually
starve during that first winter. The dog was
stolen before they left the Rue de la Tonnel-
lerie.

Having no immediate prospects, he set to
work to complete the music to ' Rienzi,' and for
its ultimate performance cast his eye on Dres-
den, where his name might be supposed to
have some little weight. On Nov. 19 the score
was completed, and on Dec. 4 he dispatched it
to Herr v, Llittichau, the Intendant. In the
meantime, to keep the wolf from the door, he
did all manner of odd work for Schlesinger,
reading proofs, arranging rubbish for various
instruments — the cornet-k-piston among the
number — making partitions cle piano of operas,
etc. In 1S41 he began to write for the ' Gazette
Musicale.' A clever novelette, 'Une visite k
Beethoven,' ' fut trfes remarqu^ par Berlioz, qui
en parla avec ^loge dans le Journal cles Debuts.'
Such things improved his position in the estima-
tion of musicians, and preserved his self-respect.
But the pay was small and partly absorbed by
the expenses of translation ; for Wagner, like
most Germans, knew enough French for every-
day purposes, but could not write the languay:e
effectively. His contributions to the Gazette
•were — to give their German titles: — 'Der
Virtues und der Kiinstler,' ' Der Kiinstler und
die Oeffentlichkeit,' ' Ein gliicklicher Abend,'
• Der Freyschiitz,' ' Eine Pilgerfahrt zu Bee-
thoven,' 'Das Ende eines deutschen Musikers
in Paris.' The original German of the two latter
has been preserved in the 'Dresdener Abend-
zeitung ' of Theodor Hell (Hof rath Winkler) for
1 841 ; the other articles have been translated
back into German by Frau Cosima Wagner.
Further articles written in Paris which the author
thought worth reprinting are : — Rossini's ' Stabat
Mater,' dated Dec. 15, 1841, and signed H.
Valentino (Schumann's 'Neue Zeitschrift llir
Musik'), 'Le Freyschiitz,' 'BerichtnachDeutsch-
land' (Ges. Schrift. vol. i.),^ 'Ueber die Ouver-
tiire ' (ditto, do.). A series of gossiping articles
in Lewald's ' Europa,' signed V. Freudenfeuer,
and styled 'Pariser Amusements' and 'Pariser
Fatalitaten fur Deutsche,' also the correspondence
written for the Dresden Abendzeitung — ' Nach-
richten aus dem Gebiete der Kunste imd Wis-
senschaften,' have been cancelled — with the one
exception of an article on Halevy's ' Reine de
Chypre,' Dec. 31, 1841 (Ges. Schrift. vol. i.).

On Feb. 4, 1841, Wagner's overture 'Colum-
bus' was performed at the annual concert to
which the publisher Schlesinger used to invite
the subscribers to the Gazette musicale. This,
by the way, was the only performance of one
of Wagner's works at Paris during his first resi-

> So described by Friedrich Techt, the painter.

2 According to Kastner. this was a contribution to the 'Aiigs-
burger Abendzeitung '— ou Wolzogen's autboriijr it should be Dm-
dener AbeadzeltUDg, 1641.



WAGNER.

dence there. Score and parts disappeared at tl
time, and have not yet been found.

When Meyerbeer returned in the summer ^
1840, Wagner was in great distress. Meyerbe^j
a^ain introduced him to the Director of the Op^
M. Pillet. This time it was a personal introdni
tion, and the reception accordingly was still moi
polite and encouraging. On Meyerbeer's
vice Wagner submitted detailed sketches for tl
libretto to .an opera, ' Der fliegende Holland^
witli the proposal that a French text-book shoi
be prepared for him to set to music. Was
had come to an understanding about the tn
ment of the story with Heine, who had a claim t
be consulted, inasmuch as it was Heine who hi
recently related it and had suggested a new anc
touching denouement which Wagner wished tcT
adopt. In Heine's 'Memoiren des Herrn VQJ
Scbnabelewopski,' the imaginary hero witness^
the beginning and end of a play about the 'Ahai
uerus of the ocean ' at some theatre at Amsterdaai
and reports that in the course of that performanM
the salvation of the doomed captain was brou^
about by the devotion of a woman 'faithful untb
death.' * Matters at the Opt;ra apparently pro-
gressed just as Wagner desired. His sketches ;
were accepted, and the names of various arran-
fjeurs were mentioned. Meyerbeer again lefl
Paris, and soon after his departure M. Pillel
astonished Wagner by telling him that he had
taken a liking to ' Le Vaisseau-Fant6me,' and .
was therefore anxious to dispose of it in favour
of a composer to whom he had long ago promised
a good libretto. Wagner refused to listen to anj
such proposition, and demanded his manuscript
back. But this again did not suit M. Pillet.
and so the matter remained in abeyance, Wag
ner consoling himself with the hope that Meyer-
beer would ultimately set it straight. In tht
spring of 1841 Wagner, pressed by creditors,'
sub-let his rooms in the Rue du Helder, and tooS
lodgings in the suburbs, at Meudon. Accidentall)
he heard that the plans for the ' Hollander' haC;
been handed to M. Paul Foucher for versificatioB'
and that if he did not choose to give his consent tc'
what was going on, he might be left in the cole'
altogether. Protests proved useless, and in th<
end M. Pillet paid £20 by way of compensation!

Wagner lost no time in completing his owi
poem and setting it to music. In seven weeks th<
score of the entire opera, except the overture
was finished. But £20, even at Meudon, cannoi
last for ever. Before Wagner could find lejsun
to write the overture he had to do two monthi
more of journeyman work (Partitions de pianc
of Halevy's 'Guitarrero,' ' La Reine de Chypre,
etc.). * I did it all cheerfully enough, corre
sponded with the artists at Dresden, and looke(
forward to my deliverance. I offered the boo!

3 It was however not a Dutch play at Amsterdam, but. as Dr. Franci
Hueffer has shown, an English play of i'itzball's at the Adelpnl 1
London which Heine witnessed in 1S27, and which furnishel m
with the outlines of the story. Still the Ingenious denouoment i

T'Le Vais'seau-Fantome,' libretto by Foucher and Keroll. c;
Wagner's plan, but with sundry interpolations of the conveii
tional son. music by Pierre Louis Philippe Dietsch (chorusmaste
and subsequently conductor at the Opera, born 1608 at Dijon, aie
1603 at Pans;, was performed Nov. 9, 1642.



WAGNER.

ube Hollander to the managers at Munich
1 Leipzig; they refused it as unfit for Ger-
ny. I had fondly hoped it would touch
rds that respond quickest with Germans ! '

Berlin a word from Meyerbeer suflB.ced to

it ' accepted,' but without prospect of imme-
te performance.

\.fter the composition of the ' EollJinder ' he
b about for other subjects. During a course
listorical reading he met with the story of the
quest of Apulia and Sicily by Manfred, son
the Emperor Eriedrich II. The picturesque
li-oriental circumstances of the story attracted
1, and he sketched a libretto, 'Die Sarazener,'
(vhich a prophetess, Manfred's half-sister by
Arabian mother, kindles the enthusiasm of

Saracens and leads to victory and to Man-
I's coronation. Mme. Devrient, to whom
16 years later he submitted the fully deve-
3d plan, objected to the denouement, and it
I dropped altogether,

iy a lucky chance, the popular version (Volks-
h) of the story of Tannhauser now came into
hands and took possession of his fancy. It

abeady been said that he was familiar
li the subject; in early youth he had read
ck's rhymed 'Erzahlung' of Tannhiiuser, and
Sfmann's novel 'Der Sangerkrieg'; he was
I aware that Weber had planned an opeia
ihe legend of Tannhauser. ' When I re-read
jk's altogether modem poem, I saw clearly
7 its mystical coquetry and frivolous catlio-
;m had formerly repelled me. The Volks-
h and the plain Tannhiiuser-Lied -"^ present



Online LibraryGeorge GroveA dictionary of music and musicians (A.D. 1450-1889) by eminent writers, English and foreign : with illustrations and woodcuts (Volume 4) → online text (page 83 of 194)