Richard Wagner.

Art life and theories of Richard Wagner, selected from his writings and translated by Edward L. Burlingame; with a preface, a catalogue of Wagner's published works and drawings of the Bayreuth opera house online

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Online LibraryRichard WagnerArt life and theories of Richard Wagner, selected from his writings and translated by Edward L. Burlingame; with a preface, a catalogue of Wagner's published works and drawings of the Bayreuth opera house → online text (page 1 of 24)
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Selected from his Writings and Translated






Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1875, by j


In the Office of the Librarian of Con stres s at Washington. I

3S2 '/ir *

LaNOR, LlTTl.K 4 Co.,


108 TO 114 WrwwTKR Stukkt, N. Y.



Introduction v

Autobiography. i

The Love-Veto, the Story of the First Perform-
ance of an Opera 27

V Pilgrimage to Beethoven 41

/\x P:nd in Paris 67

Der Freischütz in Paris :

L Der Freischütz, an Address to the Parisian

PubHc 92

II. " Le Freischütz ; " a Report to Germany. . . . 108

The Music of the Future 132

An Account öT~TrHE"PRCrf)ucTioN of Tannhäuser in

Paris 190

L he Purpose of the Opera 203

Musical Criticism : Extracts from a Letter on
THAT Subject to the Editor of the " Neue

Zeitschrift für Musik " 233

The Legend of the Nibelungen 242

f he~T5perX-Hoüse at Bayreuth :

I :..: 256

* II 268


s^DEx OF Names, Places and Important Works



Front Elevation.... , Frontispiec

Interior, to face page 2

Ground Plan, , to face page 2



/^~\ UTS IDE of Germany, only the most devoted
^^ students of Wagner's theories have any true
knowledge of him as a writer — or at all events, as a
writer of anything beyond the texts of his operas.
And even among those most interested, either as up-
holders or opponents of his beliefs, such knowledge
has been confined to readers who have a much better
understanding of German than is sufficient to follow
the general course of an ordinary treatise. Thus, al-
though many have an excellent acquaintance with his
ideas as interpreted by others, very few know them as
interpreted by himself; and it is safe to say that only
a small minority of those who take a keen interest in
the new school, know of even the existence of the
nine stout octavo volumes of *' collected works," which
entitle Wagner to the name of its first literary and
philosophical expositor, as he is otherwise entitled to
that of its first composer.

Only a few of his pamphlets, essays, and letters,
have been translated into English. The essay on
Beethoven (not included in this volume) has been


translated in America, and I believe in England also ;
but it does not form a very appropriate or, indeed, a
very inviting, introduction to Wagner's works. The
letter on ''The Music of the Future " was translated in
England by Mr. Dannreuther, but the version is prac-
tically unknown to American readers, and attracted
little attention at a time when Wagner had fewer Eng-
lish-speaking followers than now. The nine
present a great but rather formidable field of choice ;
the difficulty in selecting frccn them matter that will
form a just exposition of the composer's theories,
without alarming the reader by essays of unfit length
and technicality, is very great ; and these facts are
perhaps the reasons why the present is, so far as I
know, the first venture made in this direction ; — they
are certainly the reasons why my volume claims no
higher title than that of "• Miscellanies," and does not
pretend to include more than enough to furnish a syn-
opsis of Wagner's creed.

Without asking any undue indulgence for the trans-
lations here given, justice to Herr Wagner himself
makes it necessary to say something of the very unus-
ual difficulties in the way of rendering his style satis-
factorily into English — or, into satisfactory English —
the reader may interpret the phrase in whichever way
he will. No explanation of these difficulties will be
needed by anyone who has ever read any of the or-
iginal German ; but to anyone who has not, I can per-


haps best explain the hardness of the labor, by asking
him to imagine such .an undertaking as the endeavor
to render Carlyle's English into French ; — a task which
does not seem to me, as I look back over my work, to
present a greatly exaggerated comparison. Indeed,
as far as the mere use of language is concerned, Wag-
ner's s tyle has not a few character istics of Carlyle*s.
The absolute independence with which he(c oins word s)
is one of these ; and he indulges to the full in that in-
exhaustible resource of the German nigta^l^j^^ician, —
that immense length of sentence which does not hinder
the intelligibility of his own language, but works much
ruin if we endeavor to transfer it into our own. The
very nature of his subject compels th'e coining of words
and even phrases ; the purely metaphysical charac-
ter of much of it often renders almost necessary the
length and intricacy of his clauses ; but behind this,
the chief difficulty in rendering his writings is a certain
diffuseness of style, the result of his being essentially
a poet and an artist, rather than one accustomed to
express himself in exact and careful prose. He con-
stantly acknowledges this in his essays, expressing his
dislike for critical and speculative writing ; but his
translator is forced to refer to it also ; and while I
have no wish to escape from any judgment of my work,
I feel justified in believing that some passages which
may appear too diffuse and vague are only unchanged
representatives of similar parts in the original, — pas-


sages where Wagner forgets the expositor, in a mo-
ment's dreaming over ideals that need no explanation
for himself. ^^

Tlie short, dry, and somewhat stiff sentences in the
little autobiographical sketch preceding the Miscellan-
ies, presented difficulties of another kind. They were
so much of the nature of disconnected notes, that it
was hard to give them enough of the character of a
continuous record.

I have not tried to translate any one of Wagner's
poems — even of those shorter ones in his collected
works which it might have been possible to include in
such a volume as this. Apart from my belief in the
German proverb which declares that it needs a poet to
translate a poet, I had not leisure to make even the
audacious attempt. But I earnestly hope we may
some time have an English version of the best of those
noble dramatic works, which sufficiently prove to every
reader of German that we should have known Wagner
as a true poet, if we had not first seen his rare genius
in another aspect. The great drama of the Nibel-
ungen would be a worthy study for any translator
ambitious enough and confident enough to begin the
labor ; and English readers would gain from a really
noble rendering of it, a new idea of the capacity and
power of the man whom they now know only from a
single side.

I have spoken of the difficulty of selecting from the


voluminous collected works, "■ matter that will form a
just exposition of the composer's theories without
alarming the reader by essays of great length and
technicality ; " a brief explanation of the reasons for
the choice I have made for this volume will show that
at least an earnest effort has been made to solve the

The account of the production of the •* Liebesver-
bot " (the title of which is a piece of word-coinage that
compelled me to the imitative *' Love- Veto ") was se-
lected because it is the only thing besides the Auto-
biography which gives us a glimpse of Wagner's ear-
lier youth, and shows him in a stage altogether prior
to the development of his later views. The *' Pilgrim-
age to Beethoven," the ** End in Paris" {Ein Ende in
Paris) y and the two papers on the Parisian perform-
ance of " Der Freischütz," are what seemed to me
to be the best of a series of sketches written in Paris
itself, during the period of great want and distress re-
ferred to in the Autobiography ; and in their original
arrangement, as well as in the collected works, they
were presented in the character of papers found in the
portfolios of the author's fictitious friend " N.," whose
death is described in ''An End in Paris," and who
might have been drawn from Wagner himself at this
time of his greatest misery. They present Wagner in
a different light from that given by any others of his
writings ; the ''Pilgrimage " and the " End in Paris "


are, I think, the only bits of prose fiction we have
from him. ^^

The choice of the essay on ** The Music of the Fu-
ture" needs, of course, no explanation. With the ex-
ception of the extended treatise on **The Opera and
the Drama" {Oper und Drama), by itself occupying an
entire volume, and therefore inadmissible here, it is
the most complete general explanation of his most im-
portant art-theory that Wagner has written. It must
be said here, that in the original edition of the Col-
lected Works, the title of the essay (ZiLkiiJtftsimisik)
was placed between ironical quotation marks, — the
writer's method of showing that he had himself
adopted a phrase at first applied derisively by his
enemies. I did not repeat the inverted commas in
my translation, partly because I was in doubt whether
their meaning would be appreciated there, and partly
because I feared they would be generally taken for
additions of my own, made on the supposition that
the term was only half-seriously used by us. In spite
of its origin as a mere chaffing phrase, it has really
become the only designation under which all the theo-
ries of Wagner's school are at once understood.

The account of the production of Tannhäuser in
Paris seemed to me one of the most important of
those letters in which we get a little autobiography,
and to be valuable for other reasons also, as the au-
thor's own version of a well-remembered musical


event, and as containing some candid confessions
about the Parisians, which partly offset the bitterness
of the paper ironically entitled '^ Le Freischütz^

The '* Purpose of the Opera" (I think this the only
translation of the title that makes it cover the whole
ground in English) needs as little explanation as
**The Music of the Future," though as an essay it is
much less clear and satisfactory. The extracts from
the letter on " Musical Criticism" are valuable as sug-
gestions; and the " Legend of the Nibelungen" is the
original scheme made out by Wagner to indicate the
arrangement he intended to give to the myth in his
great trilogy. It is inserted chiefly on this account ;
for the extreme conciseness which has been given to it
here, takes away all its beauty as a version of the Ni-
belungen story.

Finally, the account of the inception and progress
of the Bayreuth Opera-house undertaking, seemed so
timely as to come within the limits of the collection,
although it is wanting in the clearness and definiteness
needed for a good description, and is largely occupied
with an explanation of the theories governing the con-
struction of the building, rather than with such an ac-
count of the result as would at this time gratify many
readers. The two plates which have been selected
from a considerable number affixed to the German
edition of the two papers, will, however, aid in giving
a clear idea of the interior arrangements of the build-


ing, and the way in which Wagner's desires have been
carried out in them.

I have avoided including in this collection any of
those polemic writings to which Wagner has frequently
been aroused by the intense hostility formerly dis-
played against him. Strong and biting as they are,
and well as they show still another side of his power
and intense individuality, I regard them as of too tem-
porary and merely national interest to find place
among these selections. The insertion of any one of
them, it is true, might give English and American
readers a clearer understanding of the intensity of the
musical war that raged in Germany during the growth
of Wagner's theories ; but even the briefest of his de-
fensive essays would occupy space more useful for
other matters.

I desire to express my hearty thanks to my friend,
Mr. William F. Apthorp, of Boston, for the great ser-
vice he has done the readers of these translations, by
preparing the list of Wagner's published works which
closes the volume. It is of the greatest value in fol-
lowing the growth of the composer's theories and pro-
duction — what may be called his art-biography ; and
I do not know of so complete a catalogue elsewhere,
though scattered materials for an even fuller one no
doubt exist in Germany, in a style inaccessible to the
ordinary reader. I have also to thank Mr. Apthorp
for frequent aid and suggestions, of a kind which his

IN TR OD UC TION. xi i i

thorough musical knowledge and experience as a
critic made particularly serviceable. Had I been able
to avail myself of his criticism in any other way than
by occasional correspondence, I might have avoided
any errors in the use of technical terms — errors into
which I may have had the misfortune to fall, but which
I have earnestly endeavored to avoid, in spite of the
many cases where an English equivalent is difficult to
find. In many such cases I profited by the kind aid
of a very thorough musical student among my friends

I also wish to express my thanks to Mr. Fitzgerald,
of the Popular Science Monthly, the able translator of
Strauss' " Preface," etc., for taking part, when I was
somewhat hurried, in the translation of the Bayreuth
article, and in that of the extracts on " Musical Criti-

E. L. B.
New York, March, 1875.



MY name is WiLHELM RICHARD Wagner, and
I was born in Leipzig on the twenty-second
day of May, 1813. My father, who was a poHce actu-
ary, died six months after my birth.

My step-father, Ludwig Geyer, was an actor and a
painter, and had written several comedies, — one of
which, "■ The Slaughter of the Innocents," had con-
siderable success. The family went to live with him
in Dresden. He wished to make a painter of me,
but I had decidedly no talent for drawing.

My step-father, too, died early — when I was only
seven years old. A little while before his death I had
learned to play on the piano " Ueb' immer Treu und
Redlichkeit " and the "Jungfernkranz," then quite a
novelty ; and on the day before he died he had me
play them both over to him in an adjoining room. I
heard him say in a faint voice to my mother, ** What
if he should have a talent for music ? "

Early the next day, after he was dead, our mother
came into the nursery, and said something to each of
us children; to me she said, *'He hoped that some-
thing worth having might be made of you."

And I remember that I long imagined something
would be made of me.


With my ninth year I entered the Dresden Kreuz-
schule. I wanted to study ; I had no thought of
music. Two of my sisters were learning to play the
piano ; but I listened to them without taking lessons

Nothing pleased me so much as "■ Der Freischütz."
I often saw Weber pass our house when he came out
of the rehearsals. I always looked upon him with
religious awe.

At last my private tutor, who taught me to construe
Cornelius Nepos, had to give me piano lessons as well.
I had hardly finished the first exercises in fingering
when I began secretly to study the overture to the
*' Freischütz," at first without notes. My teacher once
overheard me doing this, and pronounced that I
would come to nothing. He was right ; I have never
in my life learned to play the piano. Still, I played
then for myself alone, — nothing but overtures, and
these with the most terrible fingering. It was impos-
sible for me to play a passage clearly, and in this
way I came to have a great horror of all " runs."

In Mozart's music I only liked the overture to the
"Magic Flute;" ''Don Juan" I disliked because it
had the Italian text under it ; this seemed to me su-
premely ridiculous.

This whole connection with music, however, was
entirely a thing of secondary importance. Greek,
Latin, Mythology, and Ancient History made up my
chief employment. I made verses, too. On one oc-
casion a school-fellow of ours had died, and the teach-
ers set us the task of writing a poem on his death.
The best poem was to be printed. Mine was printed,


but only after I had cut out of it a good deal of bom-
bast. I was then eleven years old.

I now longed to be a poet. I projected tragedies
after the Greek model, incited thereto by reading
Apel's tragedies, " Polyidos," *' The ^tolians," and
the rest. I was thought at school to be apt at literary
studies ; even while I was in the third form I had
translated the first twelve books of the Odyssey. At
one time I began to learn English solely that I might
know Shakespeare thoroughly. I even made a metri-
cal translation of Romeo's monologue.

My English, however, I soon dropped ; but Shak e-
speare re mained my model. I projected a great trag-
edy, more or less a compound of Hamlet and Lear.
The plan was on the most stupendous scale. Forty-
two persons perished in the course of the piece ; and
in order to perform it I found myself compelled to re-
introduce the majority of them as ghosts ; for other-
wise I should have exhausted my personnel.

This piece occupied my attention for two years,
during which time I left Dresden and the Kreuzschule
and went to Leipzig. There, at the Nicholas seminary,
I was put into the third form, after I had been in the
second at the Dresden school ; and this circumstance
so embittered me that from this time I let all my
philological studies go by the board. I was idle and
disorderly ; and only my great tragedy kept its place
in my heart.

While I was finishing it, I made, at the Leipzig
Gewandhaus concerts, my first acquaintance with
Beethoven's music. The impression it made upon me
was powerful to the last degree. I made friends with


Mozart, too, especially through his Requiem. Beet-
hoven's music in Egmont so excited me, that I deter-
mined that my now completed tragedy should not
proceed a step farther without being provided with
just such accompaniment.

Without hesitation I put full confidence in my own
ability to write this necessary music myself; at the
same time I thought it best to get a few of the chief
rules of thorough-bass clearly in my mind. In order
to do this rapidly I borrowed Logier's ** Thorough-
bass Method " for a week, and studied it zealously ;
but the study did not bear such quick fruit as I had
imagined. The difficulties delighted and fascinated
me. I decided to be a musician.

Meanwhile, however, my great tragedy had been
discovered by the family. They were extremely an-
noyed at it ; for it was now revealed that I had utterly
neglected my school studies for it ; and I was thence-
forth kept rigidly to their diligent continuance.
Under these circumstances I kept my secret profession
of music to myself; but I nevertheless composed, in
the greatest secrecy, a sonata, a quartette, and an

When I felt my musical studies sufficiently advanced,
I at last came out with the disclosure. Naturally, I
had to meet with much opposition ; for my relatives
looked upon my inclination for music as also nothing
but a passing fancy, since it was not justified by any
preparatory studies, or especially by skill in any in-

I was then in my sixteenth year, and infected with
the wildest mysticism b y reading Hoffman ; during

the day, while half dozing, I had visions in which
fundamentals, thirds, and fifths appeared to me incar-
nate, and revealed to me their wonderful meaning ;
what I wrote of them was the purest nonsense. At
last I was put under the teaching of a capable music-
master. The poor man had sad trouble with me ;
he had to explain to me that what I looked upon as
marvellous figures and powers were really intervals
and chords. What could be more disappointing for
my family than to find that I proved myself careless
and unsystematic in this study also ?

My teacher shook his head ; and it certainly looked
as though in this, too, I should come to nothing sen-
sible. My zeal for study gradually died away, and I
preferred to write overtures for a full orchestra, one of
which was once produced in the Leipzig theatre.

These overtures formed the culminating-point of my
absurdities. I chose, to aid the clearer comprehen-
sion of any one who should study the parts, to write
them in three different inks, — the stringed instruments
red, the reed instruments green, and the brass instru-
ments black. Beethoven's ninth symphony was to be
a mere Pleyel's sonata beside this wonderfully com-
posed overture.

When it came to be performed I was especially in-
jured by the regular repetition, every four bars
throughout the piece, of a recurring fortissimo pound
upon the drum : the audience soon passed from their
original wonder at the obstinacy of the drummer, into
unconcealed disgust ; and thence into a levity that
wounded me deeply. This first performance of a piece
of my composition left a deep impression upon me.

6 A uro BIO GRA PHY.

Now came the revolution of July (1830). With
one bound I became a revolutionist, and adopted the
opinion that every man with any aspiration should de-
vote himself exclusively to politics. I enjoyed noth-
ing but association with political literati ; I even be-
gan an overture dealing with a political theme.

Thus I left school and entered the university ; not,
indeed; to pursue any one of the studies of the facul-
ties, for I had really determined upon musical study ;
but to hear lectures on philosophy and aesthetics.

From this opportunity to educate myself, I derived
practically no profit ; I rather gave myself up to every
kind of student's excesses, and with such recklessness
and ardor that they soon disgusted me. At this
period I gave my people great trouble, and my music
was almost utterly neglected.

I soon came to my senses, however ; I felt the ne-
cessity of beginning anew, and strictly disciphning my-
self in my musical studies ; and Providence led me
to the right man to inspire me with new love for the
pursuit, and to rectify it by the most thorough teach-
ing. This man was Tlieodor Weinlig , cantor at the
St. Thomas seminary in Leipzig. Though I had al-
ready made some attempts at the study of fugue, I
began with him for the first time the really thorough
study of counterpoint, which he had the happy faculty
of making the pupil learn as he played.

At this period I first learned to really know and
love Moza| -t. I composed a sonata, in which I freed
myself from all bombast, and committed myself to a
natural and unforced style. This very simple and


modest work appeared in print, published by Breit-
kopf and Hiirtel.

My studies with Weinlig were over in less than half
a year; he himself let me leave his teaching after he
had carried me so far that I was able to solve easily
the most difficult problems of counterpoint.

" What you have gained through this dry study,"
he said to me, *' is self-reliance."

During these same six months I also wrote an over-
ture after the model of Beethoven, whom I now un-
derstood somewhat better ; and it was played amid
encouraging applause at one of the Gewandhaus
concerts. After several other works, I also set to
work at a symphony ; and t o my chief model ^ Beet-
hoven, I joined Mozart, especially his great symphony
in C major. Clearness and strength were what I
strove for in this, though amid many singular errors.

On the Completion of the symphony, I made, in the
summer of 1832, a journey to Vienna, with the sole
object of making a hurried acquaintance with the
much-praised musical city. What I heard and saw
there improved me little ; wherever I went I heard
*'Zampa," and pot-pourris of 7.2.vci^dL by Strauss.
Both — especially at that time — were horrors for me.
On my return I stayed awhile in Prague, where I
made the acquaintance of Dionysius Weber, and
Tomaschek ; the former had several of my composi-
tions, among them my symphony, played in the Con-
servatory. There, too, I composed the text for. a
tragic opera — "The Nuptials" i^Die Hochzeit). I no
longer remember where I got the mediaeval material
for it ; — a mad lover climbs to the chamber-window of

Online LibraryRichard WagnerArt life and theories of Richard Wagner, selected from his writings and translated by Edward L. Burlingame; with a preface, a catalogue of Wagner's published works and drawings of the Bayreuth opera house → online text (page 1 of 24)