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instrument, even the cornet." In spite of all this
drudgery, Wagner clung to Paris with a kind of
desperate hope. Professing to believe that his non-
success with Rienzi was due to the libretto, he started
on a new opera having less of a romantic story and
less of mere theatrical show. This was the Flying
Dutchman, completed in seven weeks. Unfortunately,
the Dutchman was no more wanted in Paris than
Rienzi; and the latter having by this time been



RICHARD WAGNER 191

accepted at Dresden, where its composer was better
known, Wagner bade farewell to Paris, and in the
spring of 1842 saw the German Rhine for the first
time, and swore eternal fealty to the Fatherland.

The Dresden performance of Rienzi duly came off.
It was so successful that the Flying Dutchman was
immediately accepted, and the composer himself made
conductor of the Dresden Opera, at the comfortable
salary of ^250 a year. This was in 1842, and Wagner
remained at Dresden till 1848. It might have been
supposed that his troubles were now practically ended.
But in reality they were only beginning. When the
Dutchman was performed at Dresden its reception
was lukewarm and hesitating. The public could neither
understand it nor appreciate it. It was too serious for
them, accustomed as they were to the then prevailing
style of Italian opera, with its " glittering processions,
splendid scenery and groupings, and imposing action
coupled with brilliant music." Berlin tried it in 1844,
but with what success may be gathered from the fact
that not for ten years after was it once heard anywhere
else. Wagner was dismayed. " I was in sufficiently
ill-humour to remain silent," he said.

He did not remain silent, for it was in 1845 tnat
Tannhauser was given for the first time, again at
Dresden. But that, too, failed to bring him the suc-
cess it should have brought. The intellectual ttite of
Dresden showed little sympathy towards the work,
which, besides, provoked a storm of newspaper con-
troversy. Critics complained that Tannhauser was



192 MASTER MUSICIANS

totally destitute of melody, and musicians thought that
the breaches of technical rule made by the composer
were outrageous. A prominent London musical writer
ridiculed it as a chaos of absurdities. Prosper Me'rime'e
declared that he could compose something as good
after hearing his cat walk over the piano keys. Rossini
went to a performance, and when asked his opinion
replied : " It is too important and too elaborate a work
to be judged after a single hearing ; but so far as I am
concerned, I shall not give it a second." Even when the
now popular Overture was first performed by the
London Philharmonic in 1855, the Times printed this
amazing criticism : " A more inflated display of ex-
travagance and noise has rarely been submitted to
an audience, and it was a pity to hear so magnificent
an orchestra engaged in almost fruitless attempts at
accomplishing things which, even if really practicable,
would lead to nothing." Verily, the whirligig of time
does bring in its revenges. For some years past, Tann-
hduser has been one of the greatest draws in the
operatic repertoire.

But Wagner could not foresee this in 1845. Re-
garding his then state of mind he wrote : " A feeling
of complete isolation came over me. It was not my
vanity. I saw a simple possibility before me, namely,
to induce the public to understand and participate in
my aims as an artist." A possibility, indeed, but hardly
a probability ; for Wagner was already far away from
the familiar and accepted operatic path, and as con-
cession and compromise were not in his nature, he was



RICHARD WAGNER 193

again left with his old companions of defeat and despair.
Still, he worked on. Lohengrin was completed in 1848,
and without staying to consider as to its future, he began
to give his mind to its successor. Meanwhile, the poli-
tical troubles of the country were occupying the atten-
tion of the people. The poor were crying out against
the oppressions of the rich, and revolutionary clubs were
being formed everywhere. Wagner was, as Liszt de-
scribed him, a born reformer, undaunted by blood or fire;
and no sense of discretion or expediency would restrain
him at this juncture. He made red-hot Republican
speeches, and even, it is said, fought at the barricades.

Ultimately, in 1849, a warrant was issued for his
apprehension, which was renewed in 1853, calling
upon all German officials to " arrest Richard Wagner,
one of the most prominent adherents of the Revolu-
tionary party, and to deliver him up to the Royal
Court of Justice." The police description gives us a
fair idea of what the man Wagner was like. It ran :
" 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 pro-
portioned ; chin round. Particulars : in speaking and
moving he is hasty." The " particulars " are slight, but
essential. Animation, says a biographer, marked all
his ways, and at times he revelled in the wildest spirits.
Periods of deep depression occurred to him, but his
nervous energy seldom deserted him.

Wagner luckily escaped arrest. Mainly by the
help of Liszt, he got safely out of the country and

O



194 MASTER MUSICIANS

soon found himself once more in Paris. Liszt, to his
everlasting credit, never failed to answer his appeals
for help. It was during these early days of exile (in
1850) that this loyal friend, to whom the score was dedi-
cated, brought Lohengrin to a hearing at Weimar. " At
the end of my stay in Paris," wrote Wagner, referring
to 1850, "when, ill, miserable, and despairing, I sat
brooding over my fate, my eye fell on the score of my
Lohengrin, totally forgotten by me. Suddenly I felt
something like compassion that this music should
never sound from off the death-pale paper. Two words
I wrote to Liszt ; his answer was that preparations
were made for the performance on the largest scale
the limited means of Weimar would permit." It is
pathetic to note that Wagner himself was afraid to go
to Weimar, even secretly, to hear his own work. He
used to say that for many years he was the only
German who had not heard it ; for he did not hear it
till 1 86 1. At first, and indeed for many years,
Lokengrin was regarded with the utmost indifference,
if not aversion. It did not reach London till 1875,
when a leading critic described it as an opera without
music. Even Germany failed to appreciate its beauties.
Gustav Engel said it seemed like " blubbering baby-
talk " ; while Dr. Hanslick, the great Viennese critic,
remarked that "the simplest song of Mendelssohn
appeals more to heart and soul than ten Wagnerian
operas." How ashamed these purblind critics would
feel now if they could rise from the dead to learn of
the hold that Lohengrin has gained on the public !



RICHARD WAGNER 195

Well, poor Wagner was an exile, and could not go
to Weimar to hear this his own work. The isolation
and banishment told severely on his health and spirits,
and for a time he did nothing new. During a temporary
residence at Zurich he wrote a great deal on the theory
and philosophy of his art. But his hopes always drifted
back, as he did himself, to Paris. He thought now
of influencing directors and managers of theatres by
a series of concerts at which extracts from his operas
should be given. But here again he was mistaken, and
once more he had to give up the campaign after a
heavy expenditure of time and money. In 1861 the
edict that had so long separated him from his native
country was removed, and he returned to Germany.
During the late years of his exile he had been working
at the stupendous drama of The Ring. He had
been induced to start it by a cheerful message sent
him by Liszt just after the Weimar performance of
Lohengrin. " Behold ! we have come so far," wrote
Liszt ; " now create us a new work, that we may go
still further." The new work was created, but the
plan which Wagner had mapped out for himself as
early as 1851 was not realised until 1875, when
Bayreuth first heard the Rhinegold, the Valkyrie,
Siegfried ', and the Dusk of the Gods the four great
music dramas which compose The Ring.

When he returned to Germany after his exile, he
had little better than begun the gigantic creation, and
he saw no hope of ever completing it. He was poor
and unhappy, and the lack of general appreciation of



196 MASTER MUSICIANS

his former music dramas chilled his incentive if not
also his inspiration. But in man's affairs, as in the
natural world, the darkest hour is often before the dawn.
Wagner's deliverance was at hand. Everybody has
heard of the mad Kings of Bavaria. Well, it was one
of these tragically pathetic monarchs, Ludwig II., who,
mad as he was, saved Wagner to the world. When
Ludwig mounted the throne of Bavaria, he was a youth
of nineteen, fond of music, and with ample means of
indulging any whim in that direction. He had taken
a fancy for Wagner, and he now offered the composer
a substantial income, besides a handsome villa in the
vicinity of the palace. The story is familiar, how
Ludwig sent Adjutant Sauer to seek the composer.
Sauer went first to Vienna and then to Switzerland,
without success. Then one told him : " Wagner is in
Stuttgart, hiding from his creditors." So it turned out,
and the statement has frequently been repeated that
Wagner was just about to put an end to his life when
Ludwig's welcome emissary arrived. Ludwig, he wrote
shortly after, "wants me to be always with him, to
work, to rest, and to produce my music dramas. He
will give me all I need. I am to finish The Ring, and
everything shall be as I wish." So it was ; and let ui
thank the poor mad king for it. Ludwig was in a
sense the discoverer of Wagner. He was a poet who
tried to make the dreams of poetry the realities of
daily life. He lived in remote and marvellously
beautiful castles which he had erected upon the crests
of mountains, and was seen by his people only in fitful



RICHARD WAGNER 197

glances, dashing along through the night on a white
horse, or glittering with gold-inlaid armour in the
moonlight like a second Lohengrin. In time it was
obvious that his mind had altogether failed. He was
put under the charge of physicians, but escaped from
them and cast himself into the lake. This was in
1886, three years after Wagner himself had gone to
the great Beyond.

It would be superfluous to follow up the remaining
details of the composer's career. Though comfortably
settled, as we have just seen, a certain storm and stress
accompanied him to the end. Three great works were
still to emerge from his brain : Tristan und Isolde,
the Meistersingers, and Parsifal. The first named
came to him as a veritable inspiration, embittered
though he then was with debts and disappointments,
by a nervous illness, and by the imminent rupture of
his home life. When he was sketching out the text,
he wrote to Liszt : " As I have never in life felt the
real bliss of love, I must erect a monument to the
most beautiful of all my dreams, in which, from
beginning to end, that love shall be thoroughly
satiated." And Tristan was the result, the magnificent
result, of this conception. Completed in 1859, it was
not heard until 1865, when King Ludwig had it pro-
duced at Munich under Von Billow's direction. It
was received, the reports tell us, with "applause of
the most vigorous kind " : the first genuine success
that had so far fallen to Wagner's lot.

Then followed the now familiar Meister singers,



198 MASTER MUSICIANS

which was also produced at Munich (in June 1868),
and again under the direction of Hans von Biilow
he whose divorced wife, a daughter of Liszt, was
presently to become Frau Wagner. For poor Minna
had now been dead two years, separated from her
husband since 1861. The mother of Cosima Liszt was
that Comtesse d'Agoult who wrote under the pen
name of " Daniel Stern." Liszt lived with the Comtesse
for a few years. Cosima married Biilow in 1857, and
to Biilow Wagner was a god. Think, then, of the
bitter joke which the Fates played on Biilow ! Wagner
had got Ludwig to make Biilow Court pianist and
conductor at Munich, and here was the result. Biilow
magnanimously forgave Wagner, but caustically ex-
pressed the wish that he had been another so that he
might have shot him. The marriage took place in
1870, and proved entirely happy. Wagner himself
wrote of Cosima as " her who was destined to show
that I could well be helped, and that the axiom of
many of my friends that I could not be helped was
false. She knew that I could be helped, and she helped
me. She has defied every disapprobation and taken
upon herself every condemnation." Frau Wagner
still (1909) lives, a sort of second Madame Schumann
for her husband's interests.

In 1872 Wagner moved to Bayreuth, which was
destined to be the home of his later years, the scene
of such triumphs as he was to achieve during his life,
and the last resting-place When all was over. Here
a theatre was built solely for the performance of his



RICHARD WAGNER 199

works, in which one of his ideals was carried out of
having the orchestra sunk below the stage level, and so
invisible to the audience. The first performances given
in this magnificent house were on a colossal scale,
and the debt remaining over was equally colossal. To
get in money a grand Wagner Festival, the composer
himself conducting, was tried in London. The cult
caught on, and Wagner returned with some solid cash
in his pocket. But his work was almost done. Parsifal
has been called his musical will. It was completed at
Palermo in January 1882, only thirteen months before
his death.

The call came to him very suddenly. In the autumn
of 1882 he and his family (a son, Siegfried, had been
born to him) went to Venice for a holiday. Wagner
had been in poor health, and was suffering from a
heart affection. He was perfectly careless about exer-
tion, and he fell faint several times. On February
13, 1883, he rested till late. At noon he sent for the
maid and ordered a light luncheon. Soon after it had
been brought the maid heard Wagner call for her in a
faint voice, and running into the room she found him
in agony. " Get my wife and the doctor," he said.
The wife reached his side in time to witness his last
struggle ; when the doctor came he was dead. Thus
passed into the Eternal Silence the most stupendous
musical genius of the last half of the nineteenth century.
He lies where his faithful dog " Russ " had been laid,
in the garden of his own house at Bayreuth that
Bayreuth which he declared to be the art centre of



200 MASTER MUSICIANS

the world. His wife cut off her long blonde tresses,
which he had so admired, and buried them with him
as a final sacrifice. He died a disappointed man,
though he died rich at last, with an income of 5000,
and the ability to travel to Italy in a private car.
What a change from the early days in Paris !

About Wagner the man there would be a great
deal to say if there were space for it. One thing
should be remarked, that he was probably himself
largely to blame for the opposition and non-success
which marked his career. He spared no one's feelings.
He was vain of his own powers, and affected to be
indifferent to the powers of some of his predecessors.
He had no talent or patience for compromise ; and
he had few of those social qualities and graces that
go to the making of friends and the conciliation of
enemies. For the public, even the applauding public,
he had little consideration, and sometimes scant
courtesy. During the performance of Parsifal he
interrupted the applause to point out that the work
was not meant to rouse excited enthusiasm, and at
the close, when acknowledging the plaudits of the
house, he turned his back on the people and addressed
a long speech to the performers.

To his friends and intimates he was no doubt
different ; but to the outside world he was arrogant,
aggressive, contemptuous, sometimes positively rude.
He was selfish too ; and protested that the world should
give him a gratuitous living " without asking anything
in return beyond what I am actually doing " that is,




LISZT



HANFSTAENGL COLLECTION



RICHARD WAGNER 201

composing. When the world declined this high honour,
he threatened to buy a pistol and put a stop to his
existence. He certainly required money to keep him
going, for he had the most expensive tastes. In a letter
to Praeger he said : " By nature I am luxurious,
prodigal, and extravagant, much more than Sardana-
palus and all the other old emperors put together."
Here he spoke the sober truth. His voluptuous tastes
went far beyond a fondness for rich colours, for
harmonious decorations, for out-of-the-way furniture,
for well-bound books, and so on. He wore silken under-
wear at all times, and he employed a high-priced
Viennese dressmaker to make the rich garments which
he felt indispensable for composition. There is a story
about him wanting some flamingo feathers before he
could obtain sufficient inspiration to finish the flower-
maiden scene in Parsifal. Any caller who had not seen
him before was likely to suffer a mild shock ; for on
entering the room where his visitor was seated, Wagner
would throw the door wide open before him, as if it
were fit that his approach should be heralded like that
of a king, and he would stand for a moment on the
threshold, a curious mediaeval figure in a frame. The
mystified visitor, rising from his seat, would behold a
man richly clad in a costume of velvet and satin, like
those of the early Tudor period, and wearing a bonnet
such as is seen in portraits of Henry VI. his compos-
ing costume. He made " a veritable rainbow of himself,
and even wore many-coloured trousers," says one.
Alexandre Dumas, calling upon him, made some



202 MASTER MUSICIANS

good-humoured remark about his own ignorance oi
music ; but his pleasantries were listened to with such
a smileless stolidity that he went home in a huff, and
wrote his contemptuous protest against " Wagnerian
din inspired by the riot of cats scampering in the dark
about an ironmonger's shop." On the day before this
protest was printed Wagner returned Dumas's visit,
and was kept waiting half an hour in an ante-room.
Then the author of the Three Guardsmen marched in,
superbly attired in a plumed helmet, a cork life-belt, and
a flowered dressing-gown. " Excuse me for appearing
in my working dress," he said majestically. " Half my
ideas are lodged in this helmet, and the other half in
a pair of jack-boots which I put on to compose love
scenes."

Wagner admitted frankly that his tastes were
luxurious, but he held that luxury was a necessity to
him as an aid to work. " I cannot live like a dog," he
wrote. " I cannot sleep on straw and drink bad whisky.
I must be coaxed in one way or another if my mind is to
accomplish the terribly difficult task of creating a non-
existent world." There is something unmanly about
this perhaps, especially when we think of how little
luxury Mozart and Beethoven and Bach and Schubert
could afford themselves. But the individual is a law
unto himself in matters of that kind ; and if Wagner
had not been able to indulge his expensive tastes we
should probably have been without some of his greatest
music-dramas to-day.



A CLUSTER FROM THE OPERATIC
BRANCH

What love is to man, music is to the arts and to mankind.
Music is love itself it is the purest, most ethereal language of
passion, showing in a thousand ways all possible changes of colour
and feeling ; and though only true in a single instance, it yet can
be understood by thousands of men who all feel differently.
WEBER.

OPERA has a sort of separate history of its own. Certain
composers have a " vein " for it, as we say, and practi-
cally confine themselves to it ; other composers never
touch it, or if they do, make no success of it. Bach did
not meddle with the form at all. Beethoven made just
one attempt with his Fidelio ; Schumann also one
attempt with his Genoveva. Schubert tried opera, but
to little purpose. Handel and Haydn wrote operas
which are completely forgotten. Mendelssohn made
no effort in this direction (for the unfinished Loreley
hardly counts) ; nor Chopin ; nor Brahms. Wagner
stands alone as the only really great composer who
confined himself to opera to music-drama, as he
called it. And then there were the lesser lights, some
of whom wrote opera only, while some took it as a by-
path in the great field of musical form. To these lesser
lights we shall give some attention now, ranging them

203



204 MASTER MUSICIANS

conveniently under their nationality as German, French,
and Italian. England does not claim any striking re-
presentative of opera, for though Balfe's Bohemian Girl
remains as popular as ever, no one would dream of
calling Balfe a great composer. Of course there is Sir
Arthur Sullivan, but then it was comic operas, and very
good ones, that he wrote.

GLUCK

In point of chronology, Christoph Willibald Gluck,
the son of a German forester, was the first composer
who really influenced modern opera, for he was born
in 1714, and had begun to write before Handel gave
up opera for oratorio. Gluck indeed came into direct
conflict with Handel when he encroached on Handel's
preserves in London in 1745. Handel, then at the
height of his popularity, detested both Gluck and his
music, exclaiming, " he knows no more counterpoint
than my cook." As if counterpoint were essential in
opera ! Doubtless, as Elson says, Handel would have
been surprised to learn that the later work of this
intruder was destined to banish wholly from opera the
intricate artificialities of his own contrapuntal writing.

But Gluck had no success in London in 1745, so he
took his wounded vanity across the Channel. He had
been thinking a great deal about opera, and gradually
he arrived at the conclusion that the recognised Italian
opera of the day was cast on totally wrong lines. It
was " nothing but a more or less miscellaneous concert,
with a thread of plot running through it." Gluck was



A CLUSTER FROM THE OPERATIC BRANCH 205

a long time in putting his ideas into practice, but at
last, in 1762, he brought out that history-making work,
Orfeo ed Euridice, the principles of which were so well
founded that it survives in active life even to the present
Wagnerian days. " The story," to quote an authority,
" is written in a broad and dignified manner, and the
music rests on no artificial law, but is the natural
expression of the emotions and situations found in the
poem." Here is the significance of Gluck's reform in
the evolution of opera. He was in reality the forerunner
of Wagner in treating the opera as an integral whole ;
though Wagner had again to break the fetters that
bound opera within the formal rules and conventions
of the Italian school. This was due chiefly to the
temporary eclipse of Gluck's reform by the " baleful
genius" of Rossini, who "set back the hands of the clock
of operatic progress by about half-a-century."

The reformer's way is hard, and Gluck suffered some
bitter experiences by his bold defiance of tradition.
He had been settled in Vienna for a time. From there
he went to Paris, buoyed up by the expressed approval
of his old pupil Marie Antoinette. Paris welcomed him
at first : called him the Hercules of music, dogged his
footsteps in the streets, and loudly applauded him at
public assemblies. But this did not last. Paris was tied
to the old operatic convention. A powerful opposition
arose, and they imported the Italian Piccini, who, after
a fortnight's downpour of rain, plaintively asked if the
sun never shone in France. Piccini came as an ex-
ponent of the current style of Italian opera ; and soon



206 MASTER MUSICIANS

after his advent musical Paris was split up into two
powerful factions, the Gluckists and the Piccinists.
They fought with each other both by tongue and pen.
Marie Antoinette was for Gluck, while Madame du
Barri, the King's mistress, glad of an opportunity of
piquing the Queen, was for Piccini.

" Women and men alike entered into the fray," says
the Baroness Oberkirch. " Then were such passions
and furies raised, that people had to be separated ;
many friends, and even lovers, quarrelled on account of
this." Gluck said he knew one who would give dinners
and suppers to three-fourths of Paris, to gain proselytes
for Piccini. The quarrel even extended to the boards
of the Opera. Then, when Mile. Levasseur, as Alceste
in Gluck's opera of that name, reached the words
" You break my heart," one of the Piccini party cried,


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Online LibraryJ. Cuthbert (James Cuthbert) HaddenMaster musicians; a book for players, singers and listeners → online text (page 13 of 17)