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 88 of 194)
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 88 of 194)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


ginal and beautiful melodies,' as a starting-poin^
and supplement it with ' you must also prodnCiB
bold and beautiful harmonies, modulations, cxa^
trapuntal combinations, effects of instrumenii»
tion,' Let excerpts be made under these hem
from Beethoven's mature works, and a similai
number of examples be culled from ' Die Meistas
singer,' 'Tristan,' and the 'Nibelungen' — conUJ
it be doubtful that the aspect of such lists would
be that of a series of equivalents? and as for
originalitj', who can study the score of 'Tristan
and find it other than original from the first bai
to the last ? .

Wagntr's musical predilections may, perhapi
be best shown by a reference to the works thait
were his constant companions, and by a record
of a few of his private sayings. Everyday
friends, household words with him, were Bee-
thoven's Quartets, Sonatas, and Symphoniee;
Bach's ' Wohltemperirtes Clavier 'j Mozart's
'Zauberflote,' 'Entfiihrung,' ' Figaro.' and 'Don
Juan'; Weber's 'Freysclmtz,' and 'Euryanthe";
and ]\Iozart's Symphonies in Eb, G minor, and C.
He was always ready to point out the beauties oi
these works, and inexhaustible in supporting h\i
assertions with quotations from them.

Give me Beethoven's quartets and sonatas for in-
timate communion, his overtures and symphonies loi
iniblic performance. I look lor homogeneity of mate-
rials, and equipoise of means and ends. Mozart;
music ajid Mozart's orchestra are a perfect matcn

3 See the English translation ' On Conducting." London, 18S5.



WAGNER.

ually perfect balance exists between Palestrina's
and Palestrina's counterpoint ; and I find a
ir correspondence between Chopin's piano and
of his Etudes and Preludes. — I do not care for
LiadieG'-Cliopin,' there is too much of the Parisian
in that ; but he has given us many tilings which
bove the salon.

lumann's peculiar treatment of the pianoforte
3 on my ear : there is too much blur ; you cannot
ice his pieces unless it be mit obliriatem pedal.
; a relief to hear a sonata of Beethoven's ! — In
days I thought more would come of Schumann,
'eitschrift was brilliant, and his pianoforte works
?d great originality. There was much ferment,
ilso much real power, and many bits are quite
le and perfect. I think highlj-, too, of many of his
, though they are not as great as Schubert's. _ He
pains with his declamation — no small merit a
ation ago. Later on I saw a good deal of him at
len; but then already his head was tired, his
rs on the wane. He consulted me about the text
enoveva,' which he was arranging from Tieck's
■lebbel's plays, yet he would not take my advice
seemed to fear some trick.

endelssohn's overture, 'The Hebrides,' was
me favourite of Wagner's, and he often asked
; at the piano.^

adelssohn was a landscape-painter of the first
, and the ' Hebriden ' Overture is his masterpiece,
lerful imagination and delicate feeling are here
nted with consummate art. Note the extraordi-
beauty of the passage where the oboes rise above
(ther instruments with a plaintive wail like sea-
3 over the seas. ' Meeresstille imd glilckliche
t' also is beautiful; and I am very fond of the
movement of the Scotch Symphony. No one can
e a composer for using national melodies when he
i them so artistically as Mendelssohn has done in
cherzo of this Symphony. His second themes, his
movements generally, where the human element
s in, are weaker. As regards the overture to ' A
ummer Night's Dream,' it must be taken into ac-
t that he wrote it at seventeen ; and how finished
arm is already ! etc.

lubert has produced model songs, but that is no
n for us to accept his pianoforte sonatas or his
nble pieces as really solid work, no more than we
accept Weber's songs, his Pianoforte Quartet, or
?rio with a flute, because of bis wonderful operas,
mann's enthusiasm for Schubert's trios and the like
I mystery to Mendelssohn. I remember JNIendels-
speaking to me of the note of Viennese bonhommie
;erliche Behabigkeit) which runs through those
;8 of Schubert's. Curiously enoiigh Liszt still
to play Schubert. I cannot account for it; that
rtissement a la Hongroise verges on triviality, no
er how it is played.

m not a learned musician ; I never had occasion to
le antiquarian researches ; and periods of transition
lot interest me much. I went straight from Pales-
. to Bach, from Bach to Gluck and Mozart — or, if
:hoose, along the same path backwards. It suited
ersonally to rest content with the acquaintance of
irincipal men, the heroes and their main works. —
aught I know this may have liad its drawbacks ;
way, my mind has never been stuffed with 'music
neral.' Being no learned person I have not been
to write to order. Unless the subject absorbs me
iletely I cannot produce twenty bars worth listen-
o.

he latter part of this was said after a
ormance of the 'Centennial, Philadelphia,
ch'atthe Albert Hall (1877), and that march
the case in point.

instrumental music I am a Reactionnaire, a con-
itive. I dislike everything that reqiiires a verbal
anation beyond the actual sounds. For instance,
middle of Berlioz's touching scene d'amour in his
neo and Juliet ' is meant by him to reproduce in
ical phrases the lines about the lark and the
tingale in Shakspeare's balcony-scene, but it
nothing of the sort — it is not intelligible as
srr v. Wolzogen (Erinnerungen an Kichard Wagner) gives a
>1 rtsumi of his sajings on such occasions.
VOL. IV. FT. 3.



WAGNER.



369



music. Berlioz added to, altered, and spoilt his work.
This so-called Syinjihome dramatigue of Berlioz's as it
now stands is neither fish nor flesh — strictly speaking
it is no symphony at all. There is no unity of matter, no
unity of style. The choral recitatives, the songs and other
vocal pieces have little to do with the instrumental move-
ments. The operatic finale, Pere Laurent especially, is
a failure. Yet there are beautiful things right and left.
The convoi funibre is very touching, and a masterly
piece. So, by the way, is the offertoire of the Eequiem.
The opening theme of the schne d'ainour is heavenly ;
the garden scene aud fete at the Capulets' enormously
clever: indeed Berlioz was diY(6oZic«W!/cZe«er (verflucht
pfiffig). I made a minute study of his instrumentation
as early as 1840, at Paris, and have often taken up his
scores since. I profited greatly, both as regards what
to do and what to leave undone.

'Whenever a composer of instrumental music
loses touch of tonality he is lost.' To illustrate
this (Bayreuther Blatter, 1879),- Wagner quotes
a dozen bars from Lohengrin, Scene 2, bars 9 to
12, and then eight bars, 'mit ziichtigem Gebah-
ren' to 'Er soil mein Streiter sein,' as an
example of very far-fetched modulation, which
in conjunction with the dramatic situation is
readily intelligible, whereas in a work of pure
instrumental music it might appear as a blemish.

When occasion offered I could venture to depict
strange, and even terrible things in music, because the
action rendered such things comprehensible : but music
apart from the drama cannot risk this, for fear of becom-
ing grotesque. I am afraid my scores will be of little
use to composers of instrumental music ; they cannot
bear condensation, still less dilution ; they are likely to
prove misleading, and had better be left alone. I would
say to young people, who wish to write for the stage,
Do not, as long as you are young, attempt dramas —
write ' Singspiele.' ^

It has already been said that Wagner looks
at the drama from the standpoint of Beethoven's
music. Bearing this in mind it is easy to see
where and how he would apply his lever to lift
and upset the opera, and what his ideal of a
mmical drama would be. In early days the
choice of subject troubled him much. Eventually
he decided that mythical and legendary matter
was better for music than historical ; because the
emotional elements of a mythical story are
always of a simple nature and can be readily
detached from any side issue ; and because it is
only the heart of a story, its emotional essence,
that is suggestive to a musician. The niythicil
subj ect chosen (say the story of Volsungs and Nib-
lungs, or Tristan and Isolde), the first and hardest
thing to do is to condense the story, disentangle
its threads and weave them up anew. None but
those who are familiar with the sources of Wag-
ner's dramas can have any idea of the amount of
work and wisdom that goes to the fusing and
welding of the materials. When this formidable
preliminary task is finished, the dramatis persons
stand forth clearly, and the playwright's task
begins. In planning acts and scenes, Wagner
never for a moment loses sight of the stage ; the
actual performance is always present to his mind.
No walking gentlemen shall explain matters in
general, nothing shaU be done in the background,
and subsequently accounted for across the foot-
lights. Whatever happens during the progress
of the play shall be intelligible then and there.



2 Ges. Schriften. vol. i. p. 248.

3 [See Si.sesPiEL iii. 516.1



Bb



370



WAGNER.



The dialogue in each scene shall exhibit the
inner motives of the characters. Scene by scene
the prosjress of the story shall be shown to be
the result of these motives ; and a decisive event,
a turning-point in the story, shall mark the close
of each act. — The play being sketched, the leading
motives of the dialogue fixed, Wagner turns to
the verse. Here the full extent of the divergence
of his drama from the paths of the opera becomes
apparent. He takes no account of musical
forms as the opera has them — recitative, aria,
duet, ensemble, etc. If only the verse be emo-
tional and strongly rhythmical, music can be
trusted to absorb and glorify it. "With Wagner
as with ^schylus the verse is conceived and
executed in the orgiastic spirit of musical sound.
There is no need of, indeed there is no room for,
subtleties of diction, intricate correspondence of
rhyme and metre ; music can supplj' all that,
and much more. Whilst working on The Ring
he found that alliterative verse as it exists in
the poems of the elder Edda, in Beowulf, etc.,
was best suited to his subject, and that such verse
could be written in German without offering
violence to the language. In Tristan and
Parsifal he makes use of a combination of
alliteration, assonance, and rhyme. Firm and
concise, abounding in strong accents, the lines
seem to demand music ; indeed musical emph!\sis
and prolongation of sound render them more
readily intelligible and more impressive.

The poem finished, Wagner begins the music,
or rather begins to zvrite the music, for it is
obvious that whereas in his case playwright and
musician are one, the musical conception will
go hand in hand with the poetic, will perhaps
even precede it. Together with the first concep-
tion of the characters and situations at a very
early stage in the growth of the work, certain
musical phrases suggest themselves. These
phrases, themes, 'Leitmotive,''are the musician's
equivalents for the dominant emotions or charac-
teristics of the dramatis personse. Together with
other musical germs of kindred origin they are
the subjects — in a technical sense the themes —
which the dramatic symphonist manipulates,
using the full resources of Beethoven's orchestra,
and adding thereto whatever the dramatic action
may suggest. The pictures and actions on the
stage are as visions induced by the symphonic
music. The orchestra prepares for and floats
the action, enforces details, recalls bygones, is,
as it were, the artistic conscience of the whole
performance.

Wagner's treatment of the voice, his vocal
melody, has undergone many a change. First he
tried to find melodies effective from a vocalist's

1 [See the article Leit-motif, vol. ii. p. 113.] The term is Herr v.
Wolzogen's, not Wagner's, and should be used cautiously. At Pa.v-
reuth. in the summer of ISTT.atter warmly praising Herr v. Wolzogen's
'Thematische Leitf.'iden ' for the interesting information they
aiTijrd. and for the patience displayed in the attempts at thematic
analysis, Wagner added : "To a musician this naming and tracing of
themes is not particularly significant. If dilettanti are thus induced
to study a pianoforte arrangement a little more attentively. I can
liave no objection, but that dues not concern us musicians (fur uns
Musiker ist das aber nichts>. It may be worth while to look at the
complex combinations of themes in some o^ my .scores, to see how
music can be applied to the drama ;-ihis, however, is a n atter
lor private study."



WAGNER.

point of view ; then, in the Hollander, and mo j
consciously in Tannhauser the melodic ebbaij
flow is regulated by the action ; in Lohengr i
the emotions expressed, as much as any pec
liarity of melody, attract attention, whi!
characteristic harmony and instrumentation €
force the melodic outlines. In the later wor
the vocal melody often springs direct from t
words ; it is frequently independent of the i
chestra, in some cases indeed it is but an inte
sified version of the actual sounds of the Germ
language. _ ,

From the blatant and at times almost vulgj
.style of Eienzi there is a steady and truly i
tonishing increase in power and concentratic
subtlety and delicacy. The Kibelungen, Tr
tan, and subsequent works abound in harmon
melodic, .and rhytlin\ical combinations of gn
beauty and striking originality. The innovatic
in harmony and melody peculiar to Wagner :
mainly due to the free use of chromatics. Besic
bold chromatic and enharmonic progressio
he constantly employs chromatic anticipate:
changing, and passing notes, which have
melodic significance only. For purposes of i
al3-sis such chromatic notes should be eliminaf
— the harmonic framework will then stand foi
clearly, and prove perfectly consistent,
take a couple of examples already quoted : t
opening bars of the prelude to 'Tristan' — giv
under Leit-motif, vol. ii. p. 117 — if the G|
bar 2 and the A J in bar 3 be eliminated fr
the treble part, the progression appears thi

a - b

dj - dg

B - gj

f - E.

In the two bars from Act ii. of ' Tristan' — ^^
under Habmoxt, vol. i. p. 684 — the two chroma
notes of the upper parts are sustained as susp
sions into the next chord, etc. ; similar examj;
might be cited by the dozen. In the arti
Hakjiont attention is drawn to the com]
cated use of suspensions and passing notes * wh
follow from the principles of Bach in polyphe
as ap))lied to Harmony ' ; and the opening bars
the Vorspiel to the Meistersinger are tb
cited as an example of the manner in wli ,
suspensions are taken ' in any form or pi •
tion which can in the first place be possi
prepared bypassing notes, or in the second pi '
be possibly resolved even by causing a fr
discord, so long as ultimate resolution into c
cord is feasible in an intelligible manner.' [See ■>
i. P.6S2-83.] — The greater p.art of Wagner's oh ■
matic or enharmonic progressions will be fount •
be based upon correct diatonic progressions -
minor or major. Exceptionally, the chrom! ^
progression of parts upwards or downwards, o '.
contrary motion (Tristan, PF. arrt. p. 25, lines 1 .
etc.), forms a sufficient link between apparer '
contradictory chords. The exigencies and sug| •
tions of the dramatic action fully account "
sudden and far-fetched modulations, enharmc s
changes, rhythmical elisions (as when a beat ( *



WAGNER.

ord is dropped, the phrase being intelligible
jugh not logically complete, Tristan, p. 150, bar
;o 4 et seq.), interrupted cadences, "^ expansion

condensation of time (Tristan, PF. arrt., pp.
0-12, and 226-28), sequences of chromatically
;ered chords and other peculiarities (Siegiried,
r. arrt. p. 65 et seq.). In pure instrumental
jsic such eccentric and apparently extravagant
ings would not have sufficient rainon ctCtre ; but
their right place they require no apology, nor

they present special difficulties from the point
view of musical grammar. Indeed Wagner as

advanced grew more and more careful with
jard to diction, and it is not too much to say
it among the hundreds of imusual and com-
5X combinations in Tristan, Siegfried, the Gcit-
■dammerung and Parsifal, it would be difficult
point to a single crude one.
Wagner is a supreme master of instrumenta-
n, of orchestral colour. His orchestra differs
im Beethoven's in the quality of tone emitted ;
er and above efifects of richness obtained

the more elaborate treatment of the inner
rt of the string quartet, the frequent sub-
idsion of violins, violas, violoncellos, the use

chromatics in horn and trumpet parts, etc.,
sre is a peculiar charm in the very sound of
agner's wood-winds and brass. It is fuller
vx Beethoven's, yet singularly pure. And the
ison' for this is not far to seek. Wagner
rely employs instruments unknown to Bee-
Dven, but he completes each group or family
wind instruments with a view to getting full
ords from each group. Thus the two clarinets

Beethoven's orchestra are supplemented by
ihird clarinet and a bass-clarinet if need be ;
3 two oboes by a third oboe or a como-inglese
ito oboe) ; the two bassoons by a third bas-
in and a contra-fagotto ; the two trumpets by
third trumpet and a bass trumpet, etc. The
iults got by the use of these additional instru-
;nts are of greater significance than at first
pears, since each set of instruments can thus
iduce complete chords, and can be employed
full harmony without mixture oi timbre unless

2 composer so chooses.

To account for the exceptional array of extra
itruments in the scores of the Nibelungen it is
ough to say that they are used as special
sans for special ends. Thus at the opening
the Rheingold the question is what sound
11 best prepare for and accord with dim twi-
ht and waves of moving water 1 The soft
tes of horns might be a musician's answer ;
t to produce the full smooth wavelike motion
on the notes of a single chord, the usual two
four horns are not sufficient. Wagner takes
;ht, and the unique and beautiful effect is
:ured. Again, in the next scene, the waves
inge to clouds ; from misty mountain heights

3 gods behold Walhall in the glow of the morn-
l sun. Here subdued solemn sound is required.
)w to get it ? Use brass instruments piano.
it the trumpets, trombones, and tuba of W' ag-

[See the remarks on the quotation from Tristan, 'Mir lacht das
nteuer," under Inteebupied Cadence, vol. ii. p. 11.]



WAGNER.



371



ner's usual orchestra cannot produce enough of it ;
he therefore supplements them by other instru-
ments of their family; a bass trumpet, two tenor
and two bass tubas, a contrabass trombone, and
contrabass tuba ; then the full band of thirteen
brass instruments is ready for one of the simplest
and noblest effects of sonority in existence. At the
close of the Rheingold, Donner with liis thunder
hammer clears the air of mist and storm-clouds ;
a rainbow spans the valley of the Rhine, and
over the glistening bridge the gods pass to Wal-
hall. W^hat additional sounds shall accompany
the glimmer and glitter of this scene ? The
silvery notes cf harps might do it: but the
sounds of a single harp would appear trivial, or
would hardly be audible against the full chant of
the orchestra. W^agner takes six harps, writes
a separate part for each, and the desired effect is
forthcoming.

In the Ring, in Tristan, the Meistersinger, and
Parsifal, the notation of all that pertains to exe-
cution, tempi, gradations of sonority, etc. , has been
carried out in the most complete manner possible.
The composer's care and patience are truly ex-
traordinary. Nothing is left to chance. If the
conductor and the executants strictly follow the
indications given in the scores, a correct perform-
ance cannot fail to ensue. The tempo and the
character of each movement, and every modifica-
tion of tempo or character, are indicated in un-
mistakeable German (for instance, in Rheingold,
p. I, ' Ruhig heitere Bewegung,' which in the
conventional Italian terms would have been
' Allegretto piacevole,' or something equally mis-
leading) ; doubtful changes of time ; cases where
the notation would seem to suggest a change of
tempo, w'hereas only a change of metre occurs,
wlule the musical pulsation, the actual beat,
remains the same — are indicated by equivalents
in notes and elucidatory words. Thus in Tristan,
p. 69, where 2-2 changes to 6-8, the latter is
marked J • = c* ; that is to say, the dotted crotchet.s
shall now be taken at the rate of the preceding-
minims.^ The number of strings necessary to
balance the wind instruments employed is given
— in the Nibelungen it is 16 first violins, 16
seconds, 12 violas, 12 cellos, and 8 contra-basses.
When the violins or other strings are divided,
the number of desks that shall take each parn
is shown. To secure specially delicate effects the
number of single instruments required out of the
total is indicated, etc., etc.

It remains to add a few words as to the
quality of the average performances of Wagner's
works. Of late years his name has aiipeared
more frequently on the play-bills in Germany
than that of any other composer. Performances
of his early and even of his later works have
been surprisingly numerous, and, it must be said,
surprisingly faulty. Putting aside shortcomings
with regard to stage management, properties,
machinery, incomplete chorus and orchestra,
insufficient rehearsals, etc. — all of which can be

2 Many a disaatrousjiiM pro quo mifht be avoided if this simple
meiliod of noting the relation of one tempo to another were adopted.
ISee the article TEiiro, vol. iii. p. 75.]

B b 2



372



WAGNER



WAGNER.



set to rights without much real difficulty — a
glaring evil remains, au evil so great that it
seems to threaten the very life of Wagners
art. Among innumerable performances, not one
in a hundred is free from the most barbarous and
senseless cuts ; iu many instances mere sharas and
shabby makeshifts are offered to the public ! If
an aria be omitted in an opera of Mozart's (take
the first act of 'Nozze di Figaro' for instance),
the audience will lose so many bars of beau-
tiful music, and one of the characters will in so
far appear at a disadvantage. Cut an equivalent
number of bars in the Finale of the same opera,
and the case is already different — the balance
of an entire section appears marred, the action
disturbed, the sequence of musical effects crude.
But in a musical drama constructed on Wag-
ner's lines the damage done by such a cut wiU
be still greater, because the scenic arrange-
ments, the words, action, music, are inextricably
interwoven ; mutilate any portion of the music
and the continuity is lost, the psychological
thread connecting scene with scene torn asunder,
the equilibrium of the entire structure de-
stroyed. How can the result be other than
a sense of incongruity, vagueness, eccentricity,
and consequent irritation and weariness on
the part of the audience? All manner of lame
excuses, ' preposterous demands on the public
time,' 'strain on the singers' voices,' etc., have
been put forward ; but there is no valid excuse
for imitating and perpetuating the mistakes
of slovenliness and incompetency. It is easy to
discover the origin of any particular cut — the
true cause will invariably be found to lie in
the caprice of this or that conductor or singer
at some leading theatre whose example is blindly
followed. Tlien the text-books are printed with
the cuts, and before long something like an
authoritative tradition comes to be established.
Latterly things have been carried so far that
if leading executants from all parts of Europe
were brought together and asked to perform any
one of the master's works in its integrity they
could not do it. They would have to study the
cuts, the orchestra and chorus parts would have
to be filled in, and rehearsals begun afresh.

'If I had a chance,' said Wagner in 1S77,
' to get up the Meistersinger with an intelligent
company of young people, I would first ask them
to read and act the play ; then only would I
proceed with the music in the usual way. I am
certain we should thus arrive at a satisfactory
])erformance in a very short time.' 'Tlie deside-
rata are simple enough. Keep the work apart
from the ordinary repertoire, clear the stage for
at least a week, and during that time let every
one concerned give his attention to the task in
hand and to nothing else ; give the work entire,
and aim at reproducing the score exactly as it
stands. — Individual conductors and singers who
see the existing evils and suffer from them



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 88 of 194)