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 87 of 194)
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laritiit' ; 'Das Publikum in Zeit und Raul
1S78; 'Wollen wir hoffen ?' 'Ueber das Die -
ten und Komponiren' ; ' Ueber das OpernDicht
und Komponiren im Besonderen'; 'Ueber c
Anwendung der Musik auf das Drama,' 18;
— A more elaborate work, a sort of comnie
upon the ethical and religious doctrine of Pa
sifal, 'Religion und Kunst,' with its sequ
'Was niitzt diese Erkenntniss ? ' ' Erkenne di
selbst,' and ' Heldenthum und Christenthui;
(1880-81), he did not live to finish — a fragme
only of the concluding part was written in 18J
It is given under the heading 'Ueber d
Weibliche im Menschlichen,' in a posthumo
publication, ' Entwiirfe, Gedanken, Fragment
aus nachgelassene Papieren zusammengestell
(Leipzig, Sept. 1885), pp. 125-129.

Wagner began the music to Parsifal in his sixt
fifth year. The sketch of the first act was coi
pleted early in the spring of 1878, and t
greater part of the second act by the midc
of June (completed on Oct. 11); the third a
was begun after Christmas, and complet

■I Forinterestlngparticularsconcerningit see H. Forge's 'Ueber :
Auffiihrung der neunten Symphonie unter B. Wagner in Bayreutl



WAGNER.

pril 1879. Towards the end of the year his
i enemy erysipelas re-appeared in a severe
rm, and he sought refuge in Southern Italy.
le instrumentation to ' Parsifal' was continued
tie Vorspiel had already been performed pii-
,tely, by the Meiningen orchestra under Wag-
ir, at Ba^Teuth, Christmas, 187S), and was
lished during the next winter's sojourn in the
uth, at Palermo, Jan. 13, 18S2.
In July and August, 1S82 — six years after
er Eing des Nibelungen — 16 performances of
'arsifal,' everything under Wagner's super-
sion, were given ; the artists alternating —
irsifal, Winkehnann, Gudehus, Jager ; Kun-
y, Frau Materna, Frl. Brandt, Frl. Malten ;
iirnemanz, Scaria, Siebr; Amfortas, Eeich-
an, Fuchs ; Klingsor, Hill, Degele, Plank,
inductors, H. Levi and Franz Fischer. The
ork was repeated in 1S83 and 18S4, and is an-
mnced to be given again in the summer of 1 886.
During the residence at Venice (Palazzo Ven-
amini on the Grand Canal) in the autumn and
inter of 18S2-83, the state of Wagner's health
asnot satisfactory, though no unusualsymptoms
ipeared. He wi-ote for the BajTeuther Blatter ;
id was strong enough to rehearse and conduct
private performance of his Symphony in C
aentioned above, p. 348) at the Liceo Marcello
I Christmas Eve. — Late in the afternoon of
2b. 13, 1883, the great heart suddenly ceased

beat. — On Feb. iS the body was laid in the
;tle ivy-covered vault he had buUt long ago at
ayreutli in a retired spot of the garden at the
ar of his house ' Wahnfried.'
Apart from a host of letters, and the ' Lebens-
innerungen,' an autobiography covering fully
po-thirds of his life, there are no MS. literary
mains of importance. Reports of his having
lad or recited scenes from the poem to a Buddh-
tic di-ania 'Die Sieger,' or 'Die Biisser,' in-
inded to follow Parsifal, rest upon vague hearsay.
he fact is simply that in 1856-57 he came
jross a story in Burnouf 's ' Introduction a I'his-
)ire du Buddhisme' which interested him, and
lat he took note of the leading incidents with
view to dramatic treatment; but the plan was
ever matured, and what little of it had taken
lape in his mind was incorporated in Parsifal,
'or a short sketch of ' Die Sieger,' dated
Ziirich, 16 Mai, 1856,' see ' Richard Wagner —
;ntwurfe,Gedanken,Fragmente' (Leipzig 1885),
p. 97, 98. Cancelled articles, and unpublished
lusical works of early date will be found enum-
rated in the chronological lists, p. 373 a.

Wagner disliked sitting for his portrait, so
bat of the numerous likenesses current, few
re at first hand. Two excellent paintings exist :
ne, by Prof. Lenbach (with the old German
ap\ is now at Bayreuth ; the other, by jNIr.
lubert Herkomer (1877), is at the German
Uhenaeum, London (replica at Bayreuth). A
lUst (set, 28) by Kietz, of Dresden (a pupil of
)elaroche's whom Wagner met in Paris in 1840-
H), is also of interest (at Bayreuth); the
)ortrait sketch for it was reproduced in the
Zeitung fiir die elegante Welt,' 1842, where it



WAGNER.



365



accompanied the ' Autobiographisclie Skizze,'
(See ante, p. 353.) The best photographs are (i) a
large half-length published in the revised edition
of the 'Clavierauszug' of Tannhauser (Berlin,
Fiirstner) ; (2) full-length profile (rare), set. 52.
seated at a table reading, a dog at his feet
(Munich, Hanfstangl) ; (3) carte and cabinet
sizes (iBt. 64), (Elliot & Fry, London, 1877).

Like Beethoven, Wagner was slightly under
middle height, well built, quick in movement,
speech, and gesture. His carriage was usually
erect, his aspect commanding, and he made the
impression of being somewhat taller than he
actually was. After the political disturbances
of I S49, when he was ' wanted ' by the Saxon
police, the following ' Signalement ' was issued.
' Wagner is 37 to 38 years old, of middle height,
has brown hair, wears glasses ; open forehead ;
eyebrows brown; eyes grey-blue; nose and mouth
well proportioned ; chin round. Particulars: in
moving and speaking he is hasty. Clothing :
surtout of dark green buckskin, trousers of black
cloth, velvet waistcoat, silk neckerchief, the usual
felt hat and boots.' Like Beethoven, too, he at once
made the impression of an original and powerful
individuality. The fascination of his talk and
his ways increased on acquaintance. When
roused to speak of something that interested him
he looked what he meant, and his rich voice
gave a musical effect to his words. His presence
in any circle apparently dwarfed his surroundings.
His instinctive irrepressible energy, self-assertion,
and incessant productivity went hand in hand
with simple kindness, sympathy, and extreme
sensitiveness. Children liked to be near him.
He had no pronounced manners, in the sense
of anything that can be taught or acquired
by imitation. Always unconventional, his de-
meanour showed great refinement. His habits
in private life are best described as those
of a gentleman. He liked domestic comforts,
had an artist's fondness for rich colour, har-
monious decoration, out-of-the-way furniture,
well-bound books and music, etc. Tlie good
things of this world distinctly attracted him, but
nothing could be further from the truth than
the reports about his ways and tastes current
in Germiin newspnijers. The noble and kindly
man as his friends knew him, and the aggressive
critic and reformer addressing the public, were
as two distinct individuals. Towards the pub-
lic and the world of actors, singers, musicians,
his habitual attitude was one of defiance. He
appeared on the point of losing his temper,
showed impatience and irritation, and seemed
to delight in tearing men and things to pieces.
His violence often stood in the way of his being
heard ; indeed he has not yet been heard pro-
perly, either on questions of art so near and
dear to him, or on questions further off regard-
ing things political, social, or religious. It
has been said with much truth that wherever
Wagner was brought to a stand a social problem
lies buried ; hitherto, however, it is only his vehe-
ment protestations that have attracted attention,
whilst most of the problems, social or religious.



366



WAGNER.



remain unsolved. Regarding the state of music
and the theatre in Germany, those who had
access to the facts can account for a large
part of his excitement and irritation. One
has but to remember that from his eighteenth
year onwards his life was mi.xed up with that
most equivocal institution the German Opern-
theafcr. As a professional conductor, and subse-
quently as the recipient of tantitmes (percentage
on the receipts) — for a long time his sole source of
income — he could not afford to break the con-
nection. Here the idealist, the passionate poet,
there the opera and the operetta. How could the
most disastrous misunderstandings fail to arise ?
The composer of 'Tristan' confronted by the
Intendant of some Jloflheater, fresh from a per-
formance of Herr v. Flotow's ' Martha ' ! A
comic picture, but unfortunately a typical one,
implying untold suffering on Wagner's part.
Moreover he, the most irritable of men, im-
patient and fretting in his false position, was for
years the object of personal attacks in the press,
the 'best abused 'man in Europe, the object of
•wilful misrepresentation a.nd calunmy — 'it was
like having to walk against the wind with
sand and grit and foul odours blowing in one's
fjice.' '

All his life long Wagner was a great reader.
'Whatever is worth reading is worth re-reading,'
he said. Thus, though never a systematic stu-
dent, or even a good linguist (which as regards
Greek he greatly regretted),'"' he nevertheless
became thoroughly familiar with all he cared for,
and his range was a very wide one. He retained
whatever touched him symi3athetically, and could
always depend upon his memory. The classics
he habitually read in translations. With Shake-
speare (in German of course) he was as familiar
as with Beethoven. To hear him read an act or
a scene was a delight never to be forgotten. The
effect, to use his own words about Shakespeare,
was that of 'an improvisation of the highest
poetical value.' When in jaarticularly good spirits,
he would take up a comic scene and render it
with the exuberant merriment of a child. A list
of the principal books in the extensive and very
choice library at Bayreuth would give a fair
idea of liis literary tastes, for he kept nothing
by him that was not in some way connected with
his intellectual existence. The handiest shelves
held Sanscrit, Greek, and Roman classics; Italian
writers, from Dante to Leopardi; Spanish, Eng-
lish, French dramatists ; philosophers from Plato
to Kant and Schopenhauer. A remarkably com-
plete collection of French and German mediteval
jjoems and stories, Norse Sagas, etc., together
with the labours of German and French philo-
logists in those departments, occupied a con-
spicuous position ; history and fiction old and
new were well represented; translations of
Scott, Carlyle, etc., etc.

In a Dictionary of Music it would be out of
place to speak of Wagner's power as a poet or as

1 Consult Herr Tapperfs 'Ein Wagner Lexlkon-Wurterbuch der
CnhOflichkeit.' etc. (Leipzig 1>!77> for an astoQishlug record of the
length such things can go to in Germany.

' See Brief aa Fr. Xietache, Ges. Schriften, vol. 9,



WAGNER.

a writer on matters foreign to music. All tha
can be done is to point out the leading: feature
of his practice and theory as a musical dramatist
We may begin with his Lheoretical productions
premising merely that in his case, as in that o
other men who have had new things to say, ani
found new waj-s of saying them, Practice goe
before Theory ; artistic instincts lead the waj
and criticism acts in support and defence.

II. Broadly stated, Wagner's aim is jReform c
the Opera from the standpoint of Beethoven smiisu

Can the modern spirit produce a theatre tha
shall stand in relation to modern culture as th
theatre of Athens stood to the culture of Greece
This is the central question, the multiface
problem he set himself to solve. — Whether h
touches upon minor points connected with it
speaks of the mode of performance of a play e
an opera ; proposes measures of reform in tt
organisation of existing theatres ; discusses tb
growth of ojjeratic music up to Mozart an
Weber, or of instrumental music up to Bei
thoven ; treats of the efforts of Schiller an
Goethe to discover an ideal form for their dn
matic poems : whether he sweeps round th
problem in wide circles, comparing nioden
social, and religious institutions with ancien'
and seeking free breathing space for his artisti
ideals, he arrives at results tending in the sani
direction — his final answer is in the affirmativi
Starting from the vantage of symphonic musii
he asserts that we may hope to rise to the levt
of Greek tragedy : our theatre can be made t
embody our ideal of life. From the Opera at il
best a Drama can be evolved tiiat sh;ill exprei
the vast issues and complex relations of model
life and thought, as the Greek stage expressed tl
life and thought of Greece.

The theatre is the centre of popular cultun
For good or for evil it exerts the chief influence-
from it the arts, as far as they affect the peopl
take their cue. Practically its power is unlimitei
But who wields this power ? for what ends, an
for whom is it wielded ! Wagner's experiem
in Germany and in Paris furnished an answe
He had found coiTuption in every direction. I
front of the scenes, the stolid German Philistin
or the bored Parisian roue clamouring for novelt;
athirst for excitement ; behind the scenes, co:
fusion and anarchy, sham enthusiasm, labot
without aim or faith — the pretence, art ; tl
true end, money. Looking from the Germa
stage to the German public, from the public '
the nation, the case appeared hopeless, unle
some violent change should upset the soci:
fabric. — A hasty, and as it proved, mistakt
diagnosis of the political situation in German
in 1849 led Wagner to become a revolutionnai
for art's sake. Leaving the politics of the da
to take care of themselves, he endeavoured to S'
forth his artistic ideals. In ' Die Kunst und d
Revolution' (Art and Revolution) he points ■
the theatre of -lEschylus and Sophocles, search'
for the causes of its decline, and finds the
identical with the causes that led to the declii



WAGNER.

' tlie ancient state itself. An attempt is then
ade to disco\ er tlie principles of a new social
ganisation that might bring about a condition
' things in which proper relations between art
id public life might be expected to revive.
This pamphlet was followed by an elaborate
eatise, 'Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft' (The
rtwork of the future), which occupied him for
veral months. The first edition (1850) begins
ith a dedicatory letter to Ludwig Feuerbach
ince cancelled), in which the author returns
ithusiastic thanks for the instruction afforded
' that philosopher's works.^ Unfortunately
agner was tempted to adopt Feuerbach's
rminology, and to use it in a sense of his own.
16 result is bewildering, and the book, though
!h in matter, warm in style, and well worth
iding, is in every respect, difficult. The main
jument, as far as art is concerned, might be
etched as follows : — Poetry, niimetics, and
jsic were united in the drama of the Greeks ;
e drama disappeared with the downfall of the
thenian State ; the union of the arts was dis-
Ived, each had an existence of its own, and at
nes sank to the level of a mere pastime. At-
mpts made during the renaissance, and since,
reunite the arts, were more or less abortive,
ough the technique and the width of range of
)st of the arts increased. In our day each
:parate branch of art' has reached its limits of
awih, and cannot overstep them without in-
ning the risk of becoming incomprehensible,
itastic, absurd. At this point each art demands

be joined to a sister art — poetry to music,
metics to both; each will be ready to forego
otistical pretensions for the sake of an ' artistic
lole,' and the musical drama may become for
iure generations what the drauia of Greece
IS to the Greeks.

Wagner's next work, ' Opera and Drama ' (his
incipal critical and theoretical production)
atains little of the revolutionary and pseudo-
;ilosophical ferment. It was originally issued

three parts : i. containing a quasi-historical
iticism of the opera ; 2. a survey of the spoken
ama ; 3. an attempt to unite the results ob-
ined, and to construct the theory of the
isical drama. To us who have witnessed the
ibelungen and Tristan, the entire book is easy
iding; even the third and concluding part is
adily intelligible and of very great interest. A
neration ago, however, the case was different ;
peclally with regard to the third, and in the
thor's eyes the most important part, which con-
its, in the main, of abstract statements about
e new deptirture in art, the relation of verse

music, the function of the orchestra, etc. —
agner could not illustrate and support his
seitions by concrete examples; he thus laid
mself open to misunderstanding, and was misun-
irstood indeed ! Part the Second abounds in
ute observations on the elements of the drama-
it's art, with copious references to Shakespeare,

Wagner came acres a copy of Feuerbach's ' Das Wesen der
ligion'in the writer's library: "Solch contuses ZeuK liesst sich
:ht in jQngeren Jahren— ist an-und-auf-regeud— ich habe laiig
^»u gezehrt ; jelrt (1OT7) nil mirs aber uiiverdaulich."



WAGNER.



367



Schiller, and Goethe. It seems to have attracted
the attention of students of literature here and
there, but on the whole it fell flat. The First part,
however, caused a disturbance in the musical
world such as had not occurred since the paper
war between the Gluckists and Piccinists. It
is sufiiciently evident now tliat it was not the
propositions seriously put forward, nor the bril-
liant literary powers displayed, that attracted
attention. People were, or pretended to be, scan-
dalised by the references to living composers, the
biting satire, the fierce attack on Meyerbeer,
etc. Eut Wagner's name was henceforth in every-
body's mouth.

The course of musical history has already in so
large a measure confirmed and endorsed Wagner's
opinions regarding the opera, that a short resume
will answer the present purpose. The thesis of
' Oper und Drama ' is as follows : — In the opera
the means of expression {music) have been taken
for the sole aim and end, — while the true aim
(j/ie drama) has been neglected for the sake of
particular musical forms. — The dramatic cantata
of Italy is the root of the opera. The scenic
arrangements and the action formed the pretext
for the singing of arias, i.e. people's songs artisti-
cally arranged. The composer's task consisted
in writing arias of the accepted type to suit his
subject or to suit this or that vocalist. When
the ballet was added to the conglomerate of airs,
it was the composer's business to reproduce the
popular dance-forms. The airs were strung toge-
ther by means of recitatives, mostly conventional.
The ballet tunes were simply placed side by side.
Gluck's reform in the main consisted in his ener-
getic efforts to place his music in more direct
rapport with the action. He modified the melody
in accordance with the inflections and accents
of the language employed. He put a stop to
the exhibition of mere vocal dexterity, and forced
his singers to become the spokesmen of his dra-
matic intentions. But as regards the form of
his musical pieces (and this is the cardinal point)
he left the opera as he found it. The entire work
remains a congeries of recitatives, arias, cho-
ruses, dance-tunes, just as before. Gluck's libret-
tists furnished words for airs, etc., in which the
action was not lost sight of; but it was considered
to be of secondary importance. Gluck's great
successors, Mehul,Cherubini, Spontini, cultivated
the dramatic musical ensemble, and thus got rid
of the incessant monologue which the arias of the
elder opera had necessitated. This was an im-
portant step forward, and in essential matters the
development of the opera is therewith at an end.
For, although Mozait produced richer and more
beautiful music than Gluck, there can be no
doubt that the factors of Mozart's opera are
essentially those of Gluck's. Subsequently, in
the hands of Weber and Spohr, Rossini, Bellini,
Auber, Meyerbeer, etc., the history of the opera
is the history of the transformation of ' operatic
melody.'

Subject and form in the spoken drama are
investigated in the Second Part. With regard
to subject Wagner traces two distinct factors;



868



WAGNER.



first the mediceval romance and its offspring the
modern novel; secondly the Greek drama, or
rather the formal essence thereof as given by
Aristotle in his Poetics. He points to the plays
of Shakespeare as being for the most part dra-
matised stories, and to those of Eacine as con-
structed on the lines of Aristotle. In the course
of the argument, the works of Schiller and Goethe
are examined, and the conclusion is arrived at
that historical subjects present special difficulties
to the dramatist. ' The modern stage appeals
to our sensuous perceptions rather than to the
imagination.' Thus, Schiller was overburdened
with the mass of historical facts in his Wallen-
stein ; whereas ' Shakespeare, appealing to the
spectator's imagination, would have represented
the entire thirty years war in the time occupied
by Schiller's trilogy.' An interesting parallel is
drawn between the rhetorical art of Kacine and
Gluck's opera. Racine puts forward the motives
for action, and the efiects of it, without the
action proper. ' Gluck's instincts prompted him
to translate Racine's tirade into the aj-i'a.' In
view of the difficulties experienced by Goethe
and Schiller in their efforts to fuse di-amatic
matter and poetic form, Wagner asserts that
mythical subjects are best for an ideal drama,
and that music is the ideal language in which
such subjects are best presented. In the Third
pait he shows that it is only the wonderfully
rich development of music in our time, totally
■unknown to earlier centuries, which could have
brought about the possibility of a musical drama
such as he has in view. The conclusions arrived
at in 'Oper und Drama' are again discussed in
his lecture ' On the destiny of the Opera,' where
particular stress is laid on the fact that music
is the informing element of the new drama.
Further statements regarding the main heads of
the argument of the concluding part of 'Oper und
Drama,' and of the lecture ' Ueber die Bestim-
muug der Oper,' will be found incorporated later
on ill this article, where details as to Wagner's
method and jjractice as playwright and musician
are given.

Nineteen years after his ' Oper und Drama '
Wagner published 'Beethoven' (1S70). This
work contains his contributions towards the
metaphysics of music, if indeed such can be said
to exist. It is based on Schopenhauer's view
of music ; ^ which that philosopher candidly
admitted to be incapable of proof, though it
satisfied him. Wagner accepts it and supple-
ments it with quotations from Schopenhauers
' Essay ou Visions and matters connected there-
with,' ^ which contains equally problematic
matter. Apart, however, from metaphj'sics, the
work is an ' exposition of the author's thoughts
on the significance of Beethoven's music' It
should be read attentively.

One of the finest of his minor publications,
and to a professional musician perhaps the most
instructive, is 'Ueber das Dirigiren' (On Con-

l « Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung" (1818), vol. i. 5 52. Ibid.
t'ol. ii. cliap. 39.

- Tarerga und raralipomena.' Iterlin 1851. (Soe tlte appeadlx
tu Ihe English trauslatiuii ut ' Heethovcu.'j



WAGNER.

ducting), a treatise on style ; giving his viewi
to the true way of rendering classical mi
with minute directions how to do it and how
to do it, together with many examples in musi
type from the instrumental works of Beetho'
AVeber, Mozart, etc.^

' Zuni Vortrag der gten Symphonie,' is of great
interest to students of instrumentation.

The general reader will be interested in Waj-):
ner'ssmaller essays and articles: 'Zukunftsmusik^'
'Ueber die Bestimmung der Oper,' ' Ueber dM
Dichten und Komponiren,' ' Ueber das Opetfr !'
Dichten und Komponiren im Besonderen,' — ani '
especially in his graphic ' Erinnerungen,' recollafr g
tions of contemporaries, Spohr, Spontini, Rossi '
Auber. Three of the latter are excerpts
his ' Lebenserinnerungen ' — apparently impw^ )
visations, showing the master-hand in even '
touch, valuable for their width of range ani f
exquisite fidelity. Intending readers had bettil i
begin with these and ' Ueber das Dirigiien,' • ii

III. Regarding Wagner's weight and value,
as a musician it is enough to state that hif'
technical powers, in every direction in which a J-
dramatic composer can have occasion to show;
tliem, were phenomenal. He does not make u.?e"
of BaL-h's forms, nor of Beethoven's ; but this has ,-
little if anything to do with the matter. Sureljf
Bach would salute the composer of ' Die MeistCpf
singer' as a contrapuntist, and the poet-composa*
of the ' Eroica ' and the ' Pastorale ' would greet
the author of ' Siegfried ' and of ' Siegfrieds Tod.' ,,
Wagner is best compared with Beethoven. Take
Schumann's saying, 'you must produce bold, OB^



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 87 of 194)