E. Belfort Bax September 1881
Source: Modern Thought, “Richard Wagner,” September 1881, p.243-249;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
In 1855 a comparatively obscure and unquestionably eccentric German musician came over to this country for the purpose of conducting the concerts of the Philharmonic Society. The invitation to fill this post, it may be observed, was the result of the earnest intercession of one individual only, who happened to be then influential in the musical world, and was not by any means a spontaneous act on the part of the Society. The obscure and eccentric foreigner, after fulfilling his functions during one season, resigned, and left the country, as he had come, unknown and forgotten, at least so far as the general British public was concerned, having succeeded only in disgusting the Philharmonic band with extra rehearsals and other disciplinary penances. The unpopular conductor who thus came and left without exciting any notice worth mentioning, was the Richard Wagner whose name has since become a household word throughout the civilised world.
All I know concerning the personal history of Wagner is derived from an autobiographic sketch. The apostle of the Zunkunfts musik, it appears, was born at Leipsic on the 22nd of May, 1813, his father dying the same year. Frau Wagner subsequently married a portrait-painter of the name of Geyer, who seems to have proved, in every sense, a second father to his step-children, but Richard had the misfortune to lose him also when but seven years old. It is related that shortly before his death on hearing Wagner playing the Jungfern-Kranz, from Der Freischutz, then just appeared, he predicted the boy’s talent for music. No evidence of this was shown, however, for many long years afterwards. Young Richard’s school career was by no means a brilliant one. It was not that he was unstudious, but his mode of study was not calculated to ensure academical success, even within the humble sphere of a realschule or a gymnasium. Classical mythology and ancient history appear to have been the subjects that interested him chiefly. He took lessons on the piano and played various “pieces” by ear. But here again he refused all regular training and never achieved much. His earliest creative effort was not musical but dramatic, and consisted of a five-act tragedy, a compound of “Hamlet” and “King Lear,” as he terms it. “Forty-two persons,” he says, “died in the course of the piece, and want of living characters compelled me to let most of them reappear as ghosts in the last act.” He subsequently attempted to compose the incidental music to this remarkable production, at a time when he was completely ignorant of the elementary principles of composition. The great practical result of this juvenile effort, was to induce him to enter seriously upon a course of theoretic studies in music, lasting some years, which he carried through to complete technical mastery.
The first reward of his diligence was the appointment at the age of twenty to the conductorship of a small operatic company at Magdeburg. There he produced two short and unsuccessful operas, and soon after left the place for Konigsberg, where he obtained a similar appointment. He then married an actress, and at the same time — impecuniosity. In 1835 he went to Riga, on the Baltic, and wrote what was practically his first work, “Rienzi,” founded on Bulwer’s novel of that name. This was not, as might be supposed, destined for the Riga stage, but for no less an arena than the Paris opera house! As soon as the work was completed he accordingly set out from the Baltic port in a sailing-vessel, bound for London, with the intention of proceeding thence, after a short stay, to Paris. The voyage was a rough one, and lasted nearly a month, but to it we owe the conception of that greatest of musical sea-pieces, the “Flying Dutchman.” The autumn of 1839 found Wagner in Paris, wrestling with the principalities and powers of the operatic world. Not only were his hopes frustrated, but death from starvation stared him in the face. Never had he been in such straits before. It was now when at his lowest ebb, that he commenced the “Flying Dutchman” at Meudon. In 1842 hope first dawned, in the shape of the favourable verdict of the Dresden opera management upon his “Rienzi.” He at once started for the Saxon capital, with the view of preparing his work for the stage of that city. Its success was complete, and led to the engagement of the composer as conductor of the Dresden Royal Opera. This was unquestionably a great advance for the future maestro, both socially and financially. Henceforth he was at least free for a time from livelihood cares.
But this peaceful state of things was not to last many years. Even during his Capell-meistership refusal and failure continued the lot of Wagner after his first brief success. In 1843 the “Flying Dutchman” was produced at Dresden, without result, while at Berlin it also failed. “Tannhaüser” was written and the score sent to various theatres, but returned. When at last it was brought out, a chorus of opposition and invective greeted its appearance from all critics, on account of the new, and to them distasteful, principles it was seen to embody. Notwithstanding this, the opera was beginning to make its way with the public, and “Lohengrin,” which was finished in 1847, might possibly have met with a more immediate success, had not the revolutionary year intervened to put a stop to all chances of its production, and to compel the composer to fly Germany and find refuge in France and Switzerland. Wagner, in fact, had entered warmly into the views of the ‘48 republicans, and the zealous advocacy of his principles, both in the press and in the street, rendered any farther residence on German soil, after the triumph of the reaction, an impossibility. Zurich was his eventual place of exile. He occupied himself during this period to a large extent with literary productions, consisting, besides his great work, “Oper und Drama,” chiefly of essays and pamphlets, wherein he elaborates his aesthetic principles, and which have subsequently been published in a collected edition of his works. He also wrote autobiographical and other sketches.
“Lohengrin” was first produced at Weimar in 1850, under the direction and through the exertions of Wagner’s constant friend, Franz Liszt. Wagner was once more in Paris this time in the character not of an aspirant for the honours of the Grand Opera, but of a political refugee. Again he was thoroughly disheartened. “Only recently,” he writes, “I had had proofs of the impossibility of making my art intelligible to the public, and this deterred me from the commencement of any new dramatic works. I thought, indeed, that all was over with my artistic creativeness.” At his greatest despair he thought of “Lohengrin,” the score of which was lying idly by, and sent it to Liszt, “that wonderful friend,” as he calls him, as a last effort. The work was produced and succeeded in exciting the greatest interest on all sides, though the stupendous and lasting character of its success could hardly have been foreseen at first. The conception and partial execution of the great Nibelungen Trilogy dates from the period of his exile. It was interrupted by the Philharmonic engagement above alluded to, and was not completed till after his final return to Germany. “Tristan and Isolde” was also sketched out and composed about this time. In 1861 occurred the well-known fiasco of “Tannhauser” in Paris. This was due, however, to mere national and personal spite. The verdict of the Paris Jockey Club and French legitimatism was by no means endorsed by the real literary and artistic judges of France. “The Meister-singers of Nürnburg” next occupied Wagner’s attention and was finished in 1867.
The “music of the future,” so long derided, was now becoming rapidly popular. In 1863 its originator had undertaken a remarkably successful concert tour through the principal cities of Germany and Russia. In 1864 he had accepted the patronage of King Ludwig II. of Bavaria, a connection maintained ever since. “Tristan und Isolde” and the “Meister-singers” were both performed with éclat at Munich. But well-nigh the sole object of Wagner’s thoughts was henceforth the completion and production of the “Nibelungen Trilogy,” the mature and crowning effort of his genius.
Of the starting of the Bayreuth scheme, and of its realisation and success, culminating in the performances of 1876, it is needless to speak, as these are all matters of newspaper notoriety. The project of a theatre by national subscription, destined solely for the performance of one man’s works, certainly seemed chimerical enough, but it justified itself by its realisation within the space of ten years. On the success of the concerts in London in 1877 it is likewise unnecessary to dilate. Wagner’s new work, “Parsival,” I may observe, is expected to be produced at Bayreuth next year.
The important part played by the present Madame Richard Wagner throughout the Bayreuth enterprise, is worthy of notice. It is mainly to the untiring exertions of this remarkable woman that its success is owing. One of the daughters of Liszt by the late Comtesse D'Agoult, known in literature as Daniel Stern (authoress of the “Revolution of ‘48,” and other historical and critical works), she inherited all her mother’s bohemianism and a fair share of her father’s musical genius. Though originally married to the pianist Hans von Bülow, she eloped with Wagner in 1870, and has been his devoted worshipper ever since.
Much has been said, and some severe things written, about the personal character of Richard Wagner. His immorality and his pride have been repeatedly criticised and denounced. In this as in other cases, the best and perhaps only answer to such criticism is contained in the French proverb, “chacun a les défauts de ses qualités.” Where the qualités are great we must not be surprised if the défauts are great also.
As to the accusation of inconsistency sometimes brought against Wagner in his accepting the patronage of the King of Bavaria after repeated declarations of staunch Republican principles, it must be remembered, at least, in mitigation of this, that Wagner was above and before all things an artist. He saw in the offer of Ludwig II. a unique opportunity for introducing his art to the world, and accepted it accordingly, waiving all other considerations. It would seem, however, that Wagner’s democratic spirit has not been altogether exorcised in spite of his contact with court life. When the “Tetralogy” was being given in Berlin in the spring of the present year, a message was sent to the composer at the close of one of the performances that his Imperial Highness the Crown Prince wished to speak with him in the royal box. “I am deeply honoured,” replied Wagner, “but I don’t wish to speak with his Imperial Highness.” The “cut direct,” delivered in this manner, must certainly have been a new experience for the Hohenzollern. Of course the fawning bureaucratic and “respectable” press of Berlin was indignant at the slight offered to its idol. Such independence of spirit anywhere outside the working classes is an uncommon spectacle in Polizei-ridden Germany in the present day.
It must not be supposed that Wagner first of all evolved a theory and then proceeded to construct his opinions in accordance therewith, by way of deductive application, as he has been accused of doing more than once by hostile critics, who from these false premises have demonstrated a priori the invalidity of his claims to be a creative artist. It is only needful to appeal to the works themselves to refute such misrepresentation. Anyone who could mistake the inspiration of the “Dutchman” or “Lohengrin” for the calculated productions of a mere theorist must be wonderfully lacking in aesthetic perception. No, the theory was an induction from the promptings and the results of his own genius, and was the expression of what Wagner’s genius told him was a necessity for its full development.
Music is pre-eminently the art of the modern age. Among the various sensuous media through which the aesthetic consciousness acts, that of musical sound has been the latest to attain a full development. Throughout classical antiquity music was completely subordinate to poetry and the drama. It was either mere recitative or the simple rythmical accompaniment to action. In the middle ages it was not much better — the songs of the troubadours were but crude chants and recitatives. Not until after the Renaissance in the Romance countries, and the Reformation in the Teutonic, did music emerge from this infant state and show signs of becoming an independent art. Even then its development was slow; but the schools of Italy and the Netherlands arose and flourished, and the Italian, Palestrina, may lay claim to the title of first musical composer, properly so-called, in modern times, or indeed in the world’s history. Thenceforth the tables were, in a sense, turned, since in the new art-form, the opera which followed, poetry, plot, and dramatic action, became the mere handmaids of music. Not that this transformation took place suddenly. In what may be considered the first opera performed in Florence in 1594 the music was still secondary. But with Scarlatti who introduced the modern operatic form with its arias, concerted pieces, &c., its purpose became distinctly, and of necessity, exclusively, musical. The librettist had to submit himself entirely to the will of the composer, and the result certainly justified Voltaire’s sarcasm, ce qui est trop sot pour être dit, on le chante. This was bad enough, “but worse remained behind.” The composer in his turn soon had to bow to the vocalist, and thus the whole lyric drama was degraded to being the mere vehicle for popular singers to display their tours-de-force. Mozart was one of the first to throw aside in some measure this last and most degrading feature of the Italian opera; and the German composers generally, while adopting the form of the latter, never succumbed to its artificiality. But with all this, they did not conceive of the opera being more than a piece of music. The words and plot were still little better than a background for musical display. Wagner felt it his artistic mission to proclaim the essential equality of poetry, action, and plot with the music in the constitution of the opera, or, as he prefers to term it — the “music drama.” To this end, he abandoned the antiquated machinery of aria, duet, recitative, finale, &c." and made the motif or phrase the basis of the whole. Nothing can be more absurd, as he justly observes, than to stop short in the middle of a situation of a distressing and urgent character to apostrophise it (or still worse the weather) in a long cantilena. The work must be an organic whole — poetry, action, plot, music, be mutually subordinated to one another. The music, in short, must be solely concerned with the poetic thought and the dramatic action. According to Wagner, “absolute music,” that is music per se, and out of relation to any other art (in other words classical music as such), ended with Beethoven’s Choral symphony. It began with Bach, was perfected by Haydn and Mozart, and received its final expression in Beethoven’s third style. In the last movement of the Choral symphony the great master instinctively felt that his art had reached a point at which its union with words became a necessity. It had expressed in the period from Bach to Beethoven all it was capable of expressing in an abstract form. Henceforth it must work in harmony with other arts or wholly degenerate.
Although deeming himself the first logical and conscious exponent of the principles with which his name is associated, Wagner is far from claiming absolute originality for his conception. Gluck, in the eighteenth century, had endeavoured to effect an operative reform in the same direction in France. But the time was not ripe for it, and he only succeeded in incensing the conservative party, and thus giving rise to the celebrated war of the Gluckists and Picinists. Gluck. moreover, although anxious for reform, never contemplated surrendering the orthodox operatic model, the only way by which reform can be effected. Wagner speaks in terms of the greatest respect of his immediate precursor, Carl Maria von Weber whom he admits to have vaguely felt and endeavoured to realize what he has himself succeeded in distinctly enunciating alike in theory and practice.
The influence of Arthur Schopenhauer or Wagner, although commencing somewhat late in the composer’s career, was considerable it giving shape to his theoretical views. It mainly to he found embodied in a pamphlet on Beethoven published in 1870. Schopenhauer regarded Art generally as an expression of the Platonic ideas or types of the various orders of existence in the hierarchy of Nature. The phenomenal world as such, merely presents a more or less imperfect copy of these primal types which it is the function of the fine arts to re-produce in their purity. In proportion as Art does this, is it true Art. Music differs from all the other arts in being the portrayal not of the ideas, “but the representation of the Will itself, whose objectivity the ideas are." It is the most immediate expression of the one immanent Will which constitutes the essence of all Being as known to us. The other arts borrow their material from the world of sense — Music is quite independent of this world. The world might cease to exist without affecting its creations: an assertion which could not be made of sculpture, painting or even of poetry. From the above premises Wagner proceeds to deduce sundry further propositions of a more immediately practical bearing. Foremost among these is the doctrine that Harmony, being in a sense independent alike of space and time, the primary conditions of the sense-world, constitutes the purest form of music; melody which is based on rhythm, and, therefore, on time, at once carries us into the world of phenomena. For this reason music in which mere rhythm is predominant (dance tunes &c.) is intrinsically of a lower type and although most easily understood by the uncultivated proves itself of no permanent value. Melody in the highest sense grows out of harmonic progressions to which mere rhythm must be always subordinated.
Wagner has excited almost as much conservative indignation among musical theorists by the revolutionary character of some of his harmonic combinations as he has among the partizans of the old opera by the novel construction of his music-dramas. The old recognised laws of progression are ruthlessly set at defiance, as inadequate to modern art. Of course a certain order of critics have seen nothing but eccentricity in the startling effects to be found in “the music of the future.” A strict adherence to rules which sufficed for Hadyn and Mozart, being to them apparently a sacred duty for all time. It never seems to occur to these theorists that the aesthetic consciousness progresses in intensity and that that which may have been perfectly adequate to express the musical sense of a century ago, is totally inadequate in the more advanced phase reached in the present day. All empirical forms and rules in art are but relative. Without entering into the physio-psychological question of the causes of the particular sensations of pleasure or pain produced by harmony, dissonance, &c., there is ample evidence that the pleasant or unpleasant character of these sensations is anything but uniform. In proof of this I need only cite the effect produced in us by the popular music of most non-Aryan races, or the fact that the early schools of Florence and the Netherlands found nothing disagreeable in consecutive fifths, and octaves. The plain duty of the creative artist be he poet, painter or musician, is to follow whither his muse leads him, neither seeking nor shunning untrodden paths, because they are untrodden. The objection that this may sometimes give rise to affected eccentricity, where there is no true genius, if valid at all is amply outweiged by the counter objection that strict adherence to rule under like circumstances leads to pedantry.
I have said that Wagner makes the “phrase” the basis of his musical-dramatic works. A further development of this principle is the Leit-motiv which is a special phrase of melody or harmony, allotted to each personage, idea or important incident in the story, as their invariable concomitant throughout the work. A foretaste of this is to be found in Der Freischütz, in the three bass notes that always herald Samuel’s approach. But with Wagner the principle is carried out with the greatest minuteness. I need only refer my readers to “Lohengrin” for abundant and readily comprehensible illustrations of the leit-motiv.
I am precluded by considerations of space from anything approaching an analysis of the separate works which have established Wagner’s fame and in which the foregoing doctrines are embodied. “Rienzi,” his first opera, was in the old form, at the time it was written Wagner being solely actuated by the desire of emulating the fame of Meyerbeer (the object of his subsequent invective as the degrader of art) and the other composers of French grand opera. It is in the “Flying Dutchman” written as he says merely to satisfy his own artistic cravings and without hope of reward that his individuality first becomes apparent. As a piéce de théatre the “Dutchman” may not be on the whole an effective opera, but for magical picturesqueness of description combined with intensity of pathos we venture to think Wagner has rarely excelled this his first original work. I may mention as one among many thrilling effects the cry of Senta Ich bin, die dich durch ihrer Heil erlösen following upon the ballad. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that the work is in many respects immature. Its form is certainly somewhat anomalous. The leit-motiv and other Wagnerian characteristics are visible side by side with a retention of the skeleton of the regular form. With all its wonderful originality as a whole, there are moreover, one or two reminiscences of other composers, a thing rare enough with Wagner. In Tannhäuser the nearer approach to the true Wagnerian music-drama is marked, but this latter first appears in its full completeness in “Lohengrin.”
That Richard Wagner marks an epoch in the history of art there can be no reasonable doubt. That his influence, at least up to a certain point, will be lasting is admitted by many of his most severe critics as at least a possibility. At the same time his admirers see that his unprecedented success is due in a large measure to a combination of personal qualities unlikely to recur again very soon. A genius at once in musical, poetic, and dramatic composition, not to speak of the possession of general literary and critical abilities of a high order in addition, is a phenomenon of such supremely rare occurrence as to be hardly worth reckoning with in estimating the chances of a school. And yet how much in Wagner’s principles depends on this almost unique combination. How can the unity of plan, visible in his works, be otherwise attainable than by one mind? His poems are no mere libretti, his dramatic conceptions and personalities no ordinary opera plots and characters. They and their corresponding music are cut out of the same block. The effect of any mind of inferior range attempting to “do” Wagner over again is horrible to think of. And yet a “music drama,” the work of more than one mind, could hardly fail to be a patchwork at best. As to the chances of survival for Wagner’s own works, it has been justly remarked that the later ones, especially the “Tetralogy,” are heavily handicapped by their enormous cost and difficulty of production. A work occupying four nights in performance, requiring mechanical contrivances and scenery costing thousands, besides an orchestra including instruments seldom or never otherwise used, the whole of such difficulty as to necessitate a long previous course of special training, is certainly at a great disadvantage; whether it will rise superior to it time alone can show. Meanwhile the music of the “Ring” being such as to demand frequent hearing for its adequate comprehension, we cannot but regret the circumstance that the conditions of its performance preclude this.
The school sought to be founded by Richard Wagner may be styled the mythical school. The primitive mythos is its material. We see in the series of his works a progressive rapprochement to the myth. “The Flying Dutchman” and “Tannhäuser” are still predominantly romantic in character. They are concerned with Medieval legends. In “Lohengrin” the note of a more remote epoch is struck. Its plot, indeed, is laid in the early middle ages, but its leading incident is indirectly connected with the so-called “Arthurian” mythic cycle, which in its turn based on primitive Keltic nature-myths. In the “Trilogy” the mythic tendency is fully developed, its characters being exclusively the gods and heroes of old Gothic and Teutonic lore. Here we are at once launched into the realm of personified natural forces and objects. This, according to Wagner, is the “ideal subject-matter for the poet,” the material for the art of the future.
I must candidly confess my inability to discover in pure Nature-myth the promise of any lasting material for Art. The increased interest in the Mythos awakened by the researches of philologists and comparative mythologists in the present day is undeniable, but the very fact of its being resolved into the dawn, the evening clouds, the night sky, and general etymological blundering, can hardly fail to lower its interest as narrative, however much it may enhance it philosophically. Had we but the shred of a Euhemeristic explanation left, the case would not be so bad. But with a full consciousness that Wotan, Brunhild, Siegfried and the Nibelungs merely represent elemental forces (of which fact we are irresistibly reminded in Wagner’s own case throughout the drama, both by plot and stage machinery), to throw oneself into such dramatis personæ appears to me to be fraught with difficulty. It is not, of course, to super-naturalism, as such, that we object. Romantic art employs supernatural machinery and deals with legend. But the characters, or at least most of them, are human. The action and plot turns upon human interests, the super-naturalism merely forming a background. In this latter case, we are merely required to throw ourselves into the feelings and beliefs of our other selves in a past age. Who finds any difficulty in entering into the loves, fears, and superstitions of a Max, an Aenchen, or even a Caspar? The horrors of the wolf’s glen merely represent the mental attitude of the men and women of the age in which the drama takes place. But it is very different where every character and incident is but a thinly veiled natural force or phenomenon — where, in short, there is no terra-firma of reality — and yet this must necessarily be the case with the primitive nature-Mythos, under whatever form it presents itself. For this reason we very much doubt the Mythic-school attaining a wide and lasting influence, and throwing out such ramifications as the Romantic school has done. The Romantic school was a reaction against an artificial classicality, a recognition of the true significance and grandeur of the middle ages, which in an exaggerated devotion to the classical civilisations had been overlooked. A brilliant roll of poets, painters, musicians and novelists arose to redress the balance, and find their ideal subject-matter not in the temple, the grove, the pasture, and the city of the ancient world, but in the forest, the castle, the township and the church of medieval Europe; not in the semi-nude shepherdess, the toga'd citizen, or the long-robed priest, but in the peasant maiden, the mailed-knight, the rough-clad burgher, and the hooded friar. A Hugo, a Balzac; a Scott, a Byron; a Schlegel, a Weber, with a host of lesser names, were prepared to vindicate the claims of Catholicism, Feudalism, and Chivalry with all their superstitious lore, as the material for Art. Can we expect the same of the Mythos? I think not. Tennyson has indeed dealt with the Arthurian cycle, but this, even if originally derived from Nature-myth, has reached us in a sufficiently historical shape, to render the latter unrecognisable except to the specially initiated.
It will be seen, from what I have said, that the theoretical side of Wagnerism has many different aspects, to a large extent independent of one another. For instance, it is quite possible to embrace to the full Wagner’s operatic reform, without accepting myth as the basis of the Art of the future. Wagner himself was at one time on the point of founding a new historical school. Again, there are probably few, if any, of Wagner’s followers who would adopt, at least without considerable modification, his doctrines respecting “absolute” music. According to Wagner, Beethoven is the only composer of pure instrumental music, who has any practical significance for us at the present time, all previous to him having but an historical interest. Such a doctrine can hardly fail to lead to depreciation, and we are not surprised accordingly at Mozart’s compositions being styled “after-dinner music.” But this is by no means the worst. Much of Mozart and Haydn may indeed seem tame to modern ears, but what shall we say of a musician who ignores his contemporaries, Schumann, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, or Raff? Have they said nothing more than Beethoven or his predecessors?
Such views can only be regarded in the light of the proverbial aberrations of genius.
In conclusion I must notice one point in which Wagner is distinctly in advance of every artist and every writer on aesthetics. He has recognised the necessary dependence of aesthetic progress upon social and political development. He saw, if imperfectly, that for a high and enduring aesthetic taste, a broad democratic basis is essential. His thoughts on this subject were given in a pamphlet entitled “Art and the Revolution,” written in 1848. We have no reason to suppose his ideas have undergone any essential change, however much events may have led him to despair of the realization of his ideal in the near future.
The one thing never thought of by our artists and art critics in their narrow exclusiveness, is that Art has a broadly human bearing. Ever since the Renaissance culture has been the heritage of a clique: but with what result? What became of the Florentine and Venetian oligarchies of the 15th and 16th centuries? what of the French salons of the 18th? what of all exclusive cultures in the world’s history? Have they not like hot-house plants withered away at the first blast? And yet we constantly hear of the suppression of the proletariat and the revolution in the interests of culture. The dread of organic change engrained in the bourgeois mind finds convenient expression in an affected solicitation for culture; instead of an acknowledgement of its true origin — the cash-box. The “social justice” so much dreaded as destructive of culture, it only requires a little reflection and acquaintance with history to show, is what alone can infuse into it fresh vitality and cause it to strike out newer and deeper roots. So long as the immense majority of civilized mankind are practically shut out by the conditions of their existence from all “part and lot” in the higher life of Humanity, so long must Art remain an exotic. Even should the much-dreaded “flood of revolution” really result in a loss, this would only be like the effect of fuel on a hollow fire — a temporary eclipse indemnified by a subsequent brighter and more lasting flame. The Art of ancient times achieved what it did, because it was relatively broad. It appealed not to the salon, but to the people. The Art of the future will have to be universal if it is to become an integral and active element in the life of Humanity.
E. BELFORT BAX.
P.S. — The present article has not dealt at any length with the separate works of Wagner, the design being more to give a general sketch of his significance as a leader of modern thought on matters relating to art-theory, and space not permitting of a treatment from both points of “ view. Those who desire further information respecting Wagner, and more especially an interesting sketch and analysis of the operas, may be referred to Wagner’s great literary exponent in this country — Dr. Franz Hüeffer — in his little volume recently published in the series of “Great Musicians” (Messrs. Sampson, Low, & Co.), as well as in his larger work on the “Music of the Future.”
1. Her sister was the wife of Emile Olivier of “lighthearted” notoriety. She did not live, however, to witness her husband’s conversion to imperialism.
2. As a contribution to the study of Wagner’s character, I subjoin an extract or two from a series of letters recently published, between the author of “Lohengrin” and a Viennese milliner; they are curious as exhibiting the comparatively low state of Wagner’s finances even after he had attained a considerable name, and also as exhibiting the fact that a minute attention to small and even trivial matters is not of necessity incompatible with a genius of the most exalted kind:-
“Dear Fraulein Bertha, — Herewith I send you 500 florins. It is not possible for me to scrape together more just now. Perhaps I shall be able to send something again soon. You know I was never prepared from the beginning for heavy payments without previous notice. Please remit me the whole account that I may know how much I still owe you. With kind regards and best wishes, Yours,
Munich, April 15th, 1865.” RICHARD WAGNER.
Thereupon follows a detailed enumeration of colours and stuffs for bed-coverings and dressing-gowns with prices affixed. Here is an extract from another letter to Fraulein Bertha:-
“Can you let me have a good heavy satin of light brown by Sunday, two also of dark pink? Is the enclosed shade to be obtained of good quality at from four to five florins? The blue I should also like, but rather lighter than darker. Has Szontag a good assortment of the red or carmine heavy satin with which you lined the white dressing-gown with flowered pattern. Please let me have pattern of the enclosed six shades and materials, and also let me know if you accede to my proposal for a yearly account. This will be most, convenient for me, and in this way I shall be able to employ you continuously. It is to be hoped you still have my measure. Awaiting your reply,-
“P.S. — Do not change pattern No. 2, the dark pink for light pink, but for a pink as dark and fiery as possible.”
Whether Fraulein Bertha found it advantageous to dispose of this correspondence, consisting of sixteen letters in all, I do not know, but at all events they formed a “lot” in a miscellaneous auction sale held in Vienna about two years since and were purchased for a considerable sum by the Neue Freie Presse, being subsequently published in the feuilleton of that journal.
3.Schopenhauer. Welt elt als Wille and Vorstellung. Vol.1, p.292. See Modern Thought Vol. 2 p.490.
4. I might have added the later contrapuntal writers, — Instances of “consecutives” are not uncommon in Bach.
5. Strangely enough there is a passage in the duet in the first act between Daland and the “Dutchman” which might have been taken almost bodily from Mendelssohn!
6. I make no mention of the rabid attacks on Mendelssohn, as there are, I believe, other people besides Wagner who can see nothing in the last-mentioned composer beyond a melange of Bach and Beethoven.