BEACON LIGHTS OF HISTORY, VOLUME XIV
THE NEW ERA
A Supplementary Volume, by Recent Writers, as Set Forth in the Preface and Table of Contents.
BY JOHN LORD, LL.D.,
AUTHOR OF "THE OLD ROMAN WORLD," "MODERN EUROPE," ETC., ETC.
In preparing the new edition of Dr. Lord's great work, it has been thought desirable to do what the venerable author's death in 1894 did not permit him to accomplish, and add a volume summarizing certain broad aspects of achievement in the last fifty years. It were manifestly impossible to cover in any single volume—except in the dry, cyclopaedic style of chronicling multitudinous facts, so different from the vivid, personal method of Dr. Lord—all the growths of the wonderful period just closed. The only practicable way has been to follow our author's principle of portraying selected historic forces,—to take, as representative or typical of the various departments, certain great characters whose services have signalized them as "Beacon Lights" along the path of progress, and to secure adequate portrayal of these by men known to be competent for interesting exposition of the several themes.
Thus the volume opens with a paper on "Richard Wagner: Modern Music," by Henry T. Finck, the musical critic of the New York Evening Post, and author of various works on music, travel, etc.; and then follow in order these: "John Ruskin: Modern Art," by G. Mercer Adam, author of "A Precis of English History," recently editor of the Self-Culture Magazine and of the Werner Supplements to the Encyclopaedia Britannica; "Herbert Spencer: The Evolutionary Philosophy," and "Charles Darwin: His Place in Modern Science," both by Mayo W. Hazeltine, literary editor of the New York Sun, whose book reviews over the signature "M.W.H." have for years made the Sun's book-page notable; "John Ericsson: Navies of War and Commerce," by Prof. W.F. Durand, of the School of Marine Engineering and the Mechanic Arts in Cornell University; "Li Hung Chang: The Far East," by Dr. William A. P. Martin, the distinguished missionary, diplomat, and author, recently president of the Imperial University, Peking, China; "David Livingstone: African Exploration," by Cyrus C. Adams, geographical and historical expert, and a member of the editorial staff of the New York Sun; "Sir Austen H. Layard: Modern Archaeology," by Rev. William Hayes Ward, D.D., editor of The Independent, New York, himself eminent in Oriental exploration and decipherment; "Michael Faraday: Electricity and Magnetism," by Prof. Edwin J. Houston of Philadelphia, an accepted authority in electrical engineering; and, "Rudolf Virchow: Modern Medicine and Surgery," by Dr. Frank P. Foster, physician, author, and editor of the New York Medical Journal.
The selection of themes must be arbitrary, amid the numberless lines of development during the "New Era" of the Nineteenth Century, in which every mental, moral, and physical science and art has grown and diversified and fructified with a rapidity seen in no other five centuries. It is hoped, however, that the choice will be justified by the interest of the separate papers, and that their result will be such a view of the main features as to leave a distinct impression of the general life and advancement, especially of the last half of the century.
It is proper to say that the preparation and issuance of Dr. Lord's "Beacon Lights of History" were under the editorial care of Mr. John E. Howard of Messrs. Fords, Howard, and Hulbert, the original publishers of the work, while the proof-sheets also received the critical attention of Mr. Abram W. Stevens, one of the accomplished readers of the University Press in Cambridge, Mass. Mr. Howard has also supervised the new edition, including this final volume, which issues from the same choice typographical source.
NEW YORK, September, 1902.
BY HENRY T. FINCK.
Youth-time; early ambitions as a composer.
Weber, his fascinator and first inspirer.
"Der Freischuetz" and "Euryanthe" prototypes of his operas.
Their supernatural, mythical, and romantic elements.
What he owed to his predecessors acknowledged in his essay on "The Music of the Future" (1860).
Marriage and early vicissitudes.
"Rienzi," "The Novice of Palermo," and "The Flying Dutchman".
Writes stories and essays for musical publications.
After many disappointments wins success at Dresden.
"Tannhaeuser" and "Lohengrin".
Compromises himself in Revolution of 1849 and has to seek safety in Switzerland.
Here he conceives and partly writes the "Nibelung Tetralogy".
Discouragements at London and at Paris.
"Siegfried" and "Tristan and Isolde".
Finds a patron in Ludwig II. of Bavaria.
Nibelung Festival at Bayreuth.
"Parsifal" appears; death of Wagner at Vienna (1882).
Beethoven, Schubert, and Chopin.
Other eminent composers and pianists.
Liszt as a contributor to current of modern music.
Berlioz, Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Strauss, and Weber.
"The Music of the Future" the music of the present.
BY G. MERCER ADAM.
Passionate and luminous exponent of Nature's beauties.
His high if somewhat quixotic ideal of life.
Stimulating writings in ethics, education, and political economy.
Frederic Harrison on Ruskin's stirring thoughts and melodious speech.
Birth and youth-time; Collingwood's "Life" and his own "Praeterita".
Defence of Turner and what it grew into.
Architectural writings, lectures, and early publications.
Interest in Pre-Raphaelitism and its disciples.
Growing fame; with admiring friends and correspondents.
On the public platform; personal appearance of the man.
Economic and socialistic vagaries.
F. Harrison on "Ruskin as Prophet" and teacher.
Inspiring lay sermons and minor writings.
Reformer and would-be regenerator of modern society.
Attitude towards industrial problems of his time.
Founds the communal "Guild of St. George".
Philanthropies, and lecturings in "Working Men's College".
Death and epoch-making influence, in modern art.
THE EVOLUTIONARY PHILOSOPHY.
BY MAYO W. HAZELTINE.
Constructs a philosophical system in harmony with the theory of evolution.
Birth, parentage, and early career.
Scheme of his system of Synthetic Philosophy.
His "Facts and Comments;" views on party government, patriotism, and style.
His religious attitude that of an agnostic.
The doctrine of the Unknowable and the knowable.
"First Principles;" progress of evolution in life, mind, society, and morality.
The relations of matter, motion, and force.
"Principles of Biology;" the data of; the development hypothesis.
The evolutionary hypothesis versus the special creation hypothesis; arguments.
Causes and interpretation of the evolution phenomena.
Development as displayed in the structures and functions of individual organisms.
"Principles of Psychology;" the evolution of mind and analysis of mental states.
"Principles of Sociology;" the adaptation of human nature to the social state.
Evolution of governments, political and ecclesiastical; industrial organizations.
Qualifications; Nature's plan an advance, and again a retrogression.
Social evolution; equilibriums between constitution and conditions.
Assisted by others in the collection, but not the systemization, of his illustrative material.
"Principles of Ethics;" natural basis for; secularization of morals.
General inductions; his "Social Statics".
Relations of Mr. Spencer and Mr. Darwin to the thought of the Nineteenth Century.
HIS PLACE IN MODERN SCIENCE.
BY MAYO W. HAZELTINE.
The Darwinian hypothesis a rational and widely accepted explanation of the genesis of organic life on the earth.
Darwin; birth, parentage, and education.
Naturalist on the voyage of the "Beagle".
His work on "Coral Reefs" and the "Geology of South America".
Observations and experiments on the transmutation of species.
Contemporaneous work on the same lines by Alfred R. Wallace.
"The Origin of Species" (1859).
His "Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication" (1868).
"The Descent of Man" (1871).
On the "Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals" (1872).
"Fertilization of Orchids" (1862), "The Effects of Cross and Self-Fertilization" (1876), and "The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms" (1881).
Ill-health, death, and burial.
Personality, tastes, and mental characteristics.
His beliefs and agnostic attitude toward religion.
His prime postulate, that species have been modified during a long course of descent.
Antagonistic views on the immutability of species.
His theory of natural selection: that all animal and plant life has a common progenitor, difference in their forms arising primarily from beneficial variations.
Enunciates in the "Descent of Man" the great principle of Evolution, and the common kinship of man and the lower animals.
Biological evidence to sustain this view.
Man's moral qualities, and the social instinct of animals.
Religious beliefs not innate, nor instinctive.
Bearing of this on belief in the immortality of the soul.
As a scientist Darwin concerned only with truth; general acceptance of his theory of the origin of species.
NAVIES OF WAR AND COMMERCE.
BY PROF. W. F. DUKAND.
Ericsson's life-work little foreseen in his youth and early surroundings.
His impress on the engineering practice of his time.
Dependence, in our modern civilization, on the utilization of the great natural forces and energies of the world.
Life-periods in Sweden, England, and the United States.
Birth, parentage, and early engineering career.
An officer in the Swedish army, and topographical surveyor for his native government.
Astonishing insight into mechanical and scientific questions.
His work, 1827 to 1839, when he came to the United States.
"A spendthrift in invention;" versatility and daring.
The screw-propeller vs. the paddle-wheel for marine propulsion.
Designs and constructs the steam-frigate "Princeton" and the hot-air ship "Ericsson".
The Civil War and his services in the art of naval construction.
His new model of a floating battery and warship, "The Monitor".
The battle between it and the "Merrimac" a turning-point in naval aspect of the war.
"The Destroyer," built in connection with Mr. Delamater.
Improves the character and reduces friction in the use of heavy ordnance.
Work on the improvement of steam-engines for warships.
Death, and international honors paid at his funeral.
His work in improving the motive-power of ships.
Special contributions to the art of naval war.
Ships of low freeboard equipped with revolving turrets.
Influence of his work lives in the modern battleship.
Other features of work which he did for his age.
Personality and professional traits.
Essentially a designer rather than a constructing engineer.
LI HUNG CHANG.
THE FAR EAST.
BY W.A.P. MARTIN, D.D., LL.D.
Introductory; Earl Li's foreign fame; his rising star.
Intercourse with China by land.
The Great Wall; China first known to the western world through its conquest by the Mongols.
The houses of Han, Tang, and Sang.
The diplomat Su Wu on an embassy to Turkey.
Intercourse by sea.
Expulsion of the Mongols; the magnetic needle.
Art of printing; birth of alchemy.
Manchu conquest; Macao and Canton opened to foreign trade.
The Opium War.
Li Hung Chang appears on the scene.
His contests for academical honors and preferment.
The Taiping rebellion.
Li a soldier; General Ward and "Chinese Gordon".
The Arrow War; the treaties.
Lord Elgin's mistake leads to renewal of the war.
Fall of the Peiho forts and flight of the Court.
The war with France.
Mr. Seward and Anson Burlingame.
War ended through the agency of Sir Robert Hart.
War with Japan.
Perry at Tokio (Yeddo); overturn of the Shogans.
Formosa ceded to Japan.
China follows Japan and throws off trammels of antiquated usage.
War with the world.
The Boxer rising; menace to the Peking legations.
Prince Ching and Viceroy Li arrange terms of peace.
Li's death; patriot, and patron of educational reform.
BY CYRUS C. ADAMS.
Difficulties of exploration in the "Dark Continent"
Livingstone's belief that "there was good in Africa," and that it was worth reclaiming.
His early journeyings kindled the great African movement.
Youthful career and studies, marriage, etc.
Contact with the natives; wins his way by kindness.
Sublime faith in the future of Africa.
Progress in the heart of the continent since his day.
Interest of his second and third journeyings (1853-56).
Visits to Britain, reception, and personal characteristics.
Later discoveries and journeyings (1858-1864, 1866-1873).
Death at Chitambo (Ilala) Lake Bangweolo, May 1, 1873.
General accuracy of his geographical records; his work, as a whole, stands the test of time.
Downfall of the African slave-trade, the "open sore of the world".
Remarkable achievements of later explorers and surveyors.
The work of Burton, Junker, Speke, and Stanley.
Father Schynse's chart.
Surveys of Commander Whitehouse.
Missionary maps of the Congo Free State and basin.
Other areas besides tropical Africa made known and opened up.
Pygmy tribes and cannibalism in the Congo basin.
Human sacrifices now prohibited and punishable with death.
Railway and steamboat development, and partition of the continent.
South Africa: the gold and diamond mines and natural resources.
Future philanthropic work.
SIR AUSTEN HENRY LAYARD.
BY WILLIAM HAYES WARD, D.D., LL/D.
Overthrow of Nineveh and destruction of the Assyrian Empire.
Kingdoms and empires extant and buried before the era of Hebrew and Greek history.
Bonaparte in Egypt, and the impulse he gave to French archaeology.
Champollion and his deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions.
Paul Emile Botta and his discoveries in Assyria.
His excavations of King Sargon's palace at Khorsabad.
Layard begins his excavations and discoveries at Nineveh.
Sir Stratford Canning's (Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe) gift to the British Museum of the marbles of Halicarnassus.
Layard's published researches, "Nineveh and its Remains," and "Babylon and Nineveh".
His work, "The Monuments of Nineveh" (1849-53).
Obelisk and monoliths of Shalmaneser II., King of Assyria, discovered by Layard at Nimroud.
George Smith and his discovery of the Babylonian account of the Deluge.
Light thrown by these discoveries on the Pharaoh of the Bible, and on Melchizedek, who reigned in Abraham's day.
Other archaeologists of note, Glaser, De Morgan, De Sarzec, and Botta.
Relics of Buddha, and the Hittite inscriptions.
The Moabite Stone, and work of the English Palestine Exploration Fund at Jerusalem.
Dr. Schliemann's labors among the ruins of Troy.
Researches and discoveries at Crete.
The mounds, pyramids, and temples of the American aborigines.
The cliff-dwellers and the Mayas, Incas, and Toltecs.
The Calendar Stone and statue of the gods of war and death found in Mexico.
What treasure yet remains to be recovered of a past civilization.
ELECTRICITY AND MAGNETISM.
BY EDWIN J. HOUSTON, PH.D.
"The Prince of Experimental Philosophers".
Unprecocious as a child; environment of his early years.
His early study of Mrs. Marcet's "Conversations on Chemistry," and the articles on electricity in the "Encyclopaedia Britannica".
Appointed laboratory assistant at the London Royal Institution.
Inspiration received from his teacher, Sir Humphry Davy.
Investigations in chemistry, electricity, and magnetism.
His discovery (1831) of the means for developing electricity direct from magnetism.
Substitutes magnets for active circuits.
Simplicity of the apparatus used in his successful experiments.
Some of the results obtained by him in his experimental researches.
What is to-day owing to him for his discovery and investigation of all forms of magneto-electric induction.
His discovery of the relations between light and magnetism.
Action of glass and other solid substances on a beam of polarized light.
His paper on "Magnetization of Light and the Illumination of the Lines of Magnetic Force".
His contribution (1845) on the "Magnetic Condition of All Matter".
Investigation of the phenomena which he calls "the Magne-crystallic force".
Extent of his work in the electro-chemical field.
His invention of the first dynamo.
His alternating-current transformer.
Induction coils and their use in producing the Roentgen rays.
Edison's invention of the fluoroscope.
Faraday's gift to commercial science of the electric motor.
His dynamo-electric machine.
Modern electric transmissions of power.
Tesla's multiphase alternating-current motor.
Faraday's electric generator and motor.
The telephone, aid given by Faraday's discoveries in the invention and use of the transmitter.
Modern power-generating and transmission plants a magnificent testimonial to the genius of Faraday.
Death and honors.
MEDICINE AND SURGERY.
BY FRANK P. FOSTER, M.D.
Jenner demonstrates efficacy of vaccination against small-pox.
Debt to the physicists, chemists, and botanists of the new era.
Appendicitis (peritonitis), its present frequency.
Experimental methods of study in physiology.
Hahnemann, founder of homoeopathy, and physical diagnosis of the sick.
The clinical thermometer and other instruments of precision.
Animal parasites the direct cause of many diseases.
Bacteria and the germ theory of disease.
Pasteur, viruses, and aseptic surgery.
Consumption and its germ; the corpuscles and their resistance to bacterial invasion.
Antitoxines as a cure in diphtheria.
Their use in surgery; asepticism and Lord Lister.
Listerism and midwifery.
American aid in the treatment of fractures.
Use of artificial serum in disease treatment.
Koch's tuberculin and its use in consumption.
Chemistry as a handmaid of medicine.
Brown-Sequard and "internal secretions".
Febrile ailment and cold-water applications.
Surgical anaesthetics; Long, Morton, and Simpson.
Ovariotomy operations by McDowell and Bell.
Virchow and the literature of medicine, anatomy, and physiology; his death; his "Archiv," "Cellular-Pathology," etc.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Dr. Jenner Vaccinates a Child After the painting by George Gaston Melingue
Richard Wagner After the painting by Franz von Lenbach
John Ruskin After a photograph from life
Herbert Spencer After a photograph from life
Charles Robert Darwin After the painting by G. F. Watts, R.A.
John Ericsson From a contemporaneous engraving
Li Hung Chang After a photograph from life
David Livingstone After a photograph from life
Sir Austen Henry Layard After the painting by H. W. Phillips
Michael Faraday After a photograph from life
Rudolf Virchow After a photograph from life
BEACON LIGHTS OF HISTORY.
RICHARD WAGNER: MODERN MUSIC.
BY HENRY T. FINCK.
If the Dresden schoolboys who attended the Kreuzschule in the years 1823-1827 could have been told that one of them was destined to be the greatest opera composer of all times, and to influence the musicians of all countries throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, they would, no doubt, have been very much surprised. Nor is it likely that they could have guessed which of them was the chosen one. For Richard Wagner—or Richard Geyer, as he was then called, after his stepfather—was by no means a youthful prodigy, like Mozart or Liszt. It is related that Beethoven shed tears of displeasure over his first music lessons; nevertheless, it was obvious from the beginning that he had a special gift for music. Richard Wagner, on the other hand, apparently had none. When he was eight years old his stepfather, shortly before his death, heard him play on the piano two pieces from one of Weber's operas, which made him wonder if Richard might "perhaps" have talent for music. His piano teacher did not believe even in that "perhaps," but told him bluntly he would "never amount to anything" as a musician.
For poetry, however, young Richard had a decided inclination in his school years; and this was significant, inasmuch as it afterwards became his cardinal maxim that in an opera "the play's the thing," and the music merely a means of intensifying the emotional expression. Before his time the music, or rather the singing of florid tunes, had been "the thing," and the libretto merely a peg to hang these tunes on. In this respect, therefore, the child was father to the man. At the age of eleven he received a prize for the best poem on the death of a schoolmate. At thirteen he translated the first twelve books of Homer's Odyssey. He studied English for the sole purpose of being able to read Shakspeare. Then he projected a stupendous tragedy, in the course of which he killed off forty-two persons, many of whom had to be brought back as ghosts to enable him to finish the play.
This extravagance also characterized his first efforts as a composer, when he at last turned to music, at the age of sixteen. One of his first tasks, when he had barely mastered the rudiments of composition, was to write an overture which he intended to be more complicated than Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Heinrich Dorn, who recognized his talent amid all the bombast, conducted this piece at a concert. At the rehearsal the musicians were convulsed with laughter, and at the performance the audience was at first surprised and then disgusted at the persistence of the drum-player, who made himself heard loudly every fourth bar. Finally there was a general outburst of hilarity which taught the young man a needed lesson.
Undoubtedly the germs of his musical genius had been in Wagner's brain in his childhood,—for genius is not a thing that can be acquired. They had simply lain dormant, and it required a special influence to develop them. This influence was supplied by Weber and his operas. In 1815, two years after Wagner's birth, the King of Saxony founded a German opera in Dresden, where theretofore Italian opera had ruled alone. Weber was chosen as conductor, and thus it happened that Wagner's earliest and deepest impressions came from the composer of the "Freischuetz." In his autobiographic sketch Wagner writes: "Nothing gave me so much pleasure as the 'Freischuetz.' I often saw Weber pass by our house when he came from rehearsals. I always looked upon him with a holy awe." It was lucky for young Richard that his stepfather, Geyer, besides being a portrait-painter, an actor, and a playwright, was also one of Weber's tenors at the opera. This enabled the boy, in spite of the family's poverty, to hear many of the performances. In fact, Wagner, like Weber, owes a considerable part of his success as a writer for the stage to the fact that he belonged to a theatrical family, and thus gradually learned "how the wheels go round." Such practical experience is worth more than years of academic study.
While Wagner cordially acknowledged the fascination which Weber's music exerted on him in his boyhood, he was hardly fair to Weber in his later writings. In these he tries to prove that his own music-dramas are an outgrowth of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. When Beethoven wrote that work, Wagner argues, he had come to the conclusion that purely instrumental music had reached a point beyond which it could not go alone, wherefore he called in the aid of poetry (sung by soloists and chorus), and thus intimated that the art-work of the future was the musical drama,—a combination of poetry and music.
This is a purely fantastic notion on Wagner's part. There is no evidence that Beethoven had any such purpose; he merely called in the aid of the human voice to secure variety of sound and expression. Poetry and music had been combined centuries before Beethoven in the opera and in lyric song.
No, the roots of Wagner's music-dramas are not to be found in Beethoven, but in Weber. His "Freischuetz" and "Euryanthe" are the prototypes of Wagner's operas. The "Freischuetz" is the first masterwork, as Wagner's operas are the last, up to date, of the romantic school; and it embodies admirably two of the principal characteristics of that school: one, a delight in the demoniac, the supernatural—what the Germans call gruseln; the other, the use of certain instruments, alone or in combination, for the sake of securing peculiar emotional effects. In both these respects Wagner followed in Weber's footsteps. With the exception of "Rienzi" and "Die Meistersinger," all of his operas, from the "Flying Dutchman" to "Parsifal," embody supernatural, mythical, romantic elements; and in the use of novel tone colors for special emotional effects he opened a new wonder-world of sound, to which Weber, however, had given him the key.
"Lohengrin," the last one of what are usually called Wagner's "operas," as distinguished from his "music-dramas" (comprising the last seven of his works), betrays very strongly the influence of Weber's other masterwork, "Euryanthe." This opera, indeed, may also be called the direct precursor of Wagner's music-dramas. It contains eight "leading motives," which recur thirty times in course of the opera; and the dramatic recitatives are sometimes quite in the "Wagnerian" manner. But the most remarkable thing is that Weber uses language which practically sums up Wagner's idea of the music-drama. "'Euryanthe,'" he says, "is a purely dramatic work, which depends for its success solely on the co-operation of the united sister-arts, and is certain to lose its effect if deprived of their assistance."
When Wagner wrote his essay on "The Music of the Future" for the Parisians (1860) he remembered his obligations to the Dresden idol of his boyhood by calling attention to "the still very noticeable connection" of his early work, "Tannhaeuser," with "the operas of my predecessors, among whom I name especially Weber," He might have mentioned others,—Gluck, for instance, who curbed the vanity of the singers, and taught them that they were not "the whole show;" Marschner, whose grewsome "Hans Heiling" Wagner had in mind when he wrote his "Flying Dutchman;" Auber, whose "Masaniello," with its dumb heroine, taught Wagner the importance and expressiveness of pantomimic music, of which there are such eloquent examples in all his operas. During his three and a half years' sojourn in Paris, just at the opening of his career as an opera composer (1839-1842), he learned many things regarding operatic scenery, machinery, processions, and details, which he subsequently turned to good account. Even Meyerbeer, the ruler of the musical world in Paris at that time, was not without influence on him, though he had cause to disapprove of him because of his submission to the demands of the fashionable taste of the day, which contrasted so strongly with Wagner's own courageous defiance of everything inconsistent with his ideals of art. The result to-day—Meyerbeer's fall and Wagner's triumph—shows that courage, like honesty, is, in the long run, the best policy, and, like virtue, its own reward.
It is important to bear in mind all these lessons that Wagner learned from his predecessors, as it helps to explain the enormous influence he exerted on his contemporaries. Wonderful as was the power and originality of his genius, even he could not have achieved such results had he not had truth on his side,—truth, as hinted at, in moments of inspiration, by many of his predecessors.
Wagner was most shamefully misrepresented by his enemies during his lifetime. A thousand times they wrote unblushingly that he despised and abused the great masters, whereas in truth no one ever spoke of them more enthusiastically than he, or was more eager to learn of them, though, to be sure, he was honest and courageous enough also to call attention to their shortcomings. In all his autobiographic writings there is not a more luminous passage than the following, in which he relates his experiences as conductor at the Riga Opera in 1838, when he was at work on "Rienzi":—
"The peculiar gnawing melancholy which habitually overpowered me when I conducted one of our ordinary operas was interrupted by an inexpressible, enthusiastic delight, when, here and there, during the performance of nobler works, I became conscious of the incomparable effects that can be produced by musico-dramatic combinations on the stage,—effects of a depth, sincerity, and direct realistic vivacity, such as no other art can produce. I felt quite elated and ennobled during the time that I was rehearsing Mehul's enchanting 'Joseph' with my little opera company." "Such impressions," he continues, "like flashes of lightning" revealed to him "unsuspected possibilities." It was by utilizing these "possibilities" and hints, and at the same time avoiding the errors and blemishes of his predecessors, that his superlative genius was enabled to create such unapproachable masterworks as "Siegfried" and "Tristan and Isolde."
The way up to those peaks was, however, slow and toilsome. For years he groped in darkness, and light came but gradually. It has already been intimated that his genius was slow in developing. A brief review of his romantic career will bring out this and other interesting points.
At the time when Richard Wagner was born (May 22, 1813), Leipzig was in such a state of commotion on account of the war to liberate Germany from the Napoleonic yoke that the child's baptism was deferred several months. To his schooldays reference has been made already, and we may therefore pass on to the time when he tried to make his living as an operatic conductor. Although he was then only twenty-one years old, he showed remarkable aptitude for this kind of work from the beginning, and it was through no fault of his that misfortune overtook every opera company with which he had anything to do. The bankruptcy, in 1836, of the manager of the Magdeburg Opera, affected him most disastrously, for it came at the moment when he had arranged for the first performance of an opera he had written, entitled, "Das Liebesverbot," or "The Novice of Palermo," and which therefore was given only once. Many years later an attempt was made to revive this juvenile work at Munich, but the project was abandoned because, as the famous Wagnerian tenor, Heinrich Vogl, informed the writer of this article, "Its arias and other numbers were such ludicrous and undisguised imitations of Donizetti and other popular composers of that time that we all burst out laughing, and kept up the merriment throughout the rehearsal." This is of interest because it shows that Wagner, like that other great reformer, Gluck, began his career by writing fashionable operas in the Italian style. A still earlier opera of his, "The Fairies,"—the first one he completed,—was not produced till 1888, fifty-five years after it had been written, and five years after Wagner's death. This has been performed a number of times in Munich, but it is so weak and uninteresting in itself that it required a splendid stage setting, and the "historic" curiosity of Wagner's admirers to make it palatable. It is significant that already in these early works, Wagner wrote his own librettos,—a policy which he pursued to the end.
Koenigsberg was the next city where the opera company with which he was connected, failed. This was the more embarrassing to him, as he had in the meantime been so unwise as to marry a pretty actress, Minna Planer, who was destined, for a quarter of a century, to faithfully share his experiences,—chiefly disappointments. The pittance he got as conductor of these small German opera companies did not pay his expenses, all the less as he was fond of luxurious living, and, like most artists, the world over, foolishly squandered his money when he happened to have any.
At Riga, where Wagner next attempted to establish himself, the opera company again got into trouble, and his financial straits became such that, relying on his future ability to meet his obligations, he resolved to leave that part of the world altogether and seek his fortune in Paris. He knew that the Prussian Meyerbeer had won fame and fortune there,—why should not he have the same good luck? He had unbounded confidence in his own ability, and what increased his hopes of a Parisian success, was that he had already completed two acts of a grand historic opera, "Rienzi," based on Bulwer's novel, and written in the sensational and spectacular style of Meyerbeer. He supposed that all he had to do was to go to Paris, finish this opera, get it accepted through the influence of his countryman and colleague, Meyerbeer, and—wake up some morning famous and wealthy. He was not the first man who built castles in Spain.
To-day a trip from Riga to Paris is a very simple affair. You get into a train, and in about twenty-four hours are at your goal. In 1839 there were no such conveniences. Wagner had to go to the Prussian seaport of Pillau, and there board a sailing vessel which took him to London in three weeks and a half. His journey, however, was a much more romantic affair than a railway trip would have been. In the first place, it was a real flight—from his creditors whom he had to evade. Next he had to dodge the Russian sentries, whose boxes were placed on the boundary line only a thousand yards apart. A friend discovered a way of accomplishing this feat, and Wagner presently found himself on the ship, with his wife and his enormous Newfoundland dog. In his trunk he had what he hoped would help him to begin a brilliant career in Paris: one opera completed,—"The Novice of Palermo;" two acts of another,—"Rienzi;" and in his head he had the plot and some of the musical themes for a third,—"The Flying Dutchman."
The sea voyage came just in time to give him local color for this weird nautical opera. Three times the vessel was tossed by violent storms, and once the captain was obliged to seek safety in a Norwegian harbor. The sailors told Wagner their version of the "Flying Dutchman" legend, and altogether these adventures were the very thing he wanted at the time, and aided him in making his opera realistic, both in its text and its music, which imitates the howling of the storm winds and "smells of the salt breezes."
So for once our young musician had a streak of luck. But it did not last long. He found Paris a very large city, and with very little use for him. He made the most diverse efforts to support himself, nearly always without success. Once it seemed as if his hopes were to be fulfilled. The Theatre de la Renaissance accepted his "Novice of Palermo;" but at the last moment there was the usual bankruptcy of the management,—the fourth that affected him! Then he wrote a Parisian Vaudeville, but it had to be given up because the actors declared it could not be executed. The Grand Opera, on which he had fixed his eye, was absolutely out of the question. He was brought to such straits that he offered to sing in the chorus of a small Boulevard theatre, but was rejected. His wife pawned her jewels; on several occasions it is said that she even went into the street to beg a few pennies for their supper. It was doubtless during these years of starvation that Wagner acquired those gastric troubles which in later years often prevented him from working more than an hour or two a day.
A few German friends occasionally gave a little pecuniary aid, but the only regular source of income was musical hackwork for the publisher Schlesinger, who gladly availed himself of Wagner's skill in having him make vocal scores of operas, or arrange popular melodies for the piano and other instruments. Wagner also wrote stories and essays for musical periodicals, for which he received fair remuneration; but his attempt to compose romances and become a parlor favorite failed. Nobody wanted his songs, and he finally offered them to the editor of a periodical in Germany for two dollars and a half to four dollars apiece. This may seem ludicrously pathetic; but then had not poor Schubert, a little more than a decade before this, sold much better songs for twenty cents each!
Meyerbeer no doubt aided Wagner, but considering his very great influence in Paris, he achieved surprisingly little for him. The score of "Rienzi" had been completed in 1840, and in the spring of the next year, Wagner went to Meudon, near Paris, and there composed the music of "The Flying Dutchman," in seven weeks, but neither of these operas seemed to have the least chance to appear on the boards of the Grand Opera. The best their author could do was to sell the libretto of "The Flying Dutchman" for one hundred dollars, reserving the right to set it to music himself.
The outcome of all these disappointments was that he finally lost hope so far as Paris was concerned, and sent his "Rienzi" to Dresden and his "Flying Dutchman" to Berlin. The "Novice of Palermo" he had given up entirely after the bankruptcy of the Renaissance Theatre, because, as he wrote, "I felt that I could no longer respect myself as its composer." Meyerbeer had, at his request, kindly sent a note to the intendant of the Dresden Opera, in which he said, among other things, that he had found the selections from "Rienzi," which Wagner had played for him, "highly imaginative and of great dramatic effect." Tichatschek, the famous Dresden tenor, examined the score, and liked the title role; the chorus director, Fischer, also pleaded for the acceptance of the opera; and so at last Wagner got word in Paris that it would be produced in Dresden. As Berlin, too, retained the manuscript of his other opera, there was reason enough for him to end his Parisian sojourn and return to his native country. He went overland this time, and, to cite his own words, "For the first time I saw the Rhine; with tears in my eyes I, the poor artist, swore eternal allegiance to my German fatherland."
It was fortunate in every way that he went to Dresden. His opera required many alterations and improvements, which he alone could make. He was permitted to superintend the rehearsals, which was, of course, a great advantage to the opera. The singers grew more and more enthusiastic over the music, and when the first public performance was given, on October 20, 1842, the audience also was delighted and remained to the very end, although the performance lasted six hours. The composer immediately applied the pruning-knife and reduced the duration to four hours and a half (from 6 to 10.30,—opera hours were early in those days); but the tenor, Tichatschek, declared with tears in his eyes, "I shall not permit any cuts in my part! It is too heavenly."
Those were proud and happy days for Wagner. "I, who had hitherto been lonely, deserted, homeless," he wrote, "suddenly found myself loved, admired, by many even regarded with wonderment." "Rienzi" was repeated a number of times to overcrowded houses, though the prices had been put up. It was regarded as "a fabulous success," and the management was eager to follow it up with another. So the score of "The Flying Dutchman" was demanded of Berlin (where they seemed in no hurry to use it), and at once put into rehearsal. It was produced in Dresden on January 2, 1843, only about ten weeks after "Rienzi,"—an almost unprecedented event in the life of an opera composer. Wagner conducted the second opera himself (also "Rienzi," after the first few performances), and gave so much satisfaction that he was shortly afterwards appointed to the position of royal conductor (which he held about six years).
So far, all seemed well. But disappointments soon began to overshadow his seeming good luck. The first production of the "Flying Dutchman" can hardly be called a success. Wagner himself characterized the performance as being, in its main features, "a complete failure," and the stage setting "incredibly awkward and wooden" (very different from what it is in Dresden to-day). Mme. Schroeder-Devrient was an admirable "Senta," and received enthusiastic applause; but the opera itself puzzled the audience rather than pleased it.
The music-lovers of Dresden had expected another opera a la Meyerbeer, like "Rienzi," with its arias and duos, its din and its dances, its pomps and processions, its scenic and musical splendors. Instead of that, they heard a work utterly unlike any opera ever before written; an opera without arias, duets, and dances, without any of the glitter that had theretofore entertained the public; an opera that simply related a legend in one breath, as it were,—like a dramatic ballad; an opera that indulged in weird chromatic scales, and harsh but expressive harmonies, with an unprecedented license. Here was the real Wagner, but even in this early and comparatively crude and simple phase, Wagner was too novel and revolutionary to be appreciated by his contemporaries; hence it is not to be wondered at that the "Flying Dutchman," after four performances in Dresden, and a few in Cassel and Berlin, disappeared from the stage for ten years.
Although Wagner was now royal conductor, he did not succeed in securing a revival of this opera at Dresden. His next work, "Tannhaeuser," was nevertheless promptly accepted. The score was completed on April 13, 1845, and six, months later (October 19), the first performance was given. Wagner had thrown himself with all his soul into the composition of this score. To a friend in Berlin he wrote: "This opera must be good, or else I never shall be able to do anything worth while." The public at first seemed to agree with him. Seven performances were given before the end of the season, and it was resumed the following year; yet Wagner came to the conclusion that he had written the opera "for a few intimate friends, but not for the public," to cite his own words. What the public had expected and desired was shown by its enthusiastic reception of "Rienzi," and its colder treatment of the "Dutchman." But "Tannhaeuser" was like the second opera; in fact, even "more so." Wagner had outlived the time when he was willing to make concessions to current taste and fashion; thenceforth he went his own way, eager, indeed, for approval, but stubbornly refusing to win it by sacrificing his high art ideals.
Here was true heroism, genuine manliness! Had he been willing to write more operas like "Rienzi," he might have revelled in wealth (he loved wealth!) and basked in the sunshine of popularity, like Meyerbeer. But not one inch of concession did he make for the sake of the much-coveted riches and popular favor.
Yet was not his next work, "Lohengrin," of a popular character? Popular to-day, yes; but in the days of his Dresden conductorship he could not even get it accepted for performance at his own opera-house! It was completed in August, 1847 (the last act having been written first and the second last), but although he remained in Dresden two years longer, all his efforts to get it staged failed, for various reasons. And when, at last, Liszt gave it for the first time, on August 28, 1850, at Weimar, whence it gradually made its way to other opera-houses, its reception everywhere showed that it was very far from being considered a "popular" work. The critics, especially, vied with one another in abusing this same "Lohengrin," which at present is sung more frequently than any other opera; and they continued to abuse it until about twenty years ago. "An abyss of ennui," "void of all melody," "an insult to the very essence of music," "a caricature of music," "algebraic harmonies," "no tangible ideas," "not a dozen bars of melody," "an opera without music," "an incoherent mass of rubbish,"—are a few of the "critical" opinions passed on this opera, which is now regarded in all countries as a very wonderland of beautiful melodies and expressive harmonies.
The non-acceptance in Dresden of this glorious opera, concerning which Wagner wrote, "It is the best thing I have done so far," was only one of many trials and disappointments which daily harassed him. He was over head and ears in debt, because, in his confidence in the immediate success of his operas, he had had them printed at once, at his own expense. The opera-houses were very slow in accepting them, and this left him in a sad predicament. There were, moreover, enemies everywhere,—ignorant, old-fashioned professionals, who objected to his way of interpreting the masters (though it was afterwards admitted that he was epoch-making as an interpreter of their deepest thoughts). All this galled him; and, furthermore, no attention whatever was paid to his pet plans for reforming the Dresden Opera, and theatrical matters in general.
In the state of mind brought about by this condition of affairs, it needed but a firebrand to start an explosion. This firebrand was supplied by the revolutionary uprising of 1849. Now, although Wagner had never really cared much for politics (to his friend Fischer he once wrote: "I do not consider true art possible until politics cease to exist"), he was foolish enough to believe that a general overturning of affairs would benefit art-matters, too, and facilitate his operatic reforms; so he became, as he himself admits, "a revolutionist in behalf of the theatre." He actively assisted the insurgents, and the consequence was that, when the rebellion failed, he had to leave Dresden and seek safety in flight.
Three of the leaders of the insurrection—Roeckel, Bakunin, and Heubner; personal friends of Wagner—were captured and imprisoned; he himself was so lucky as to escape to Weimar, where Franz Liszt took care of him. It so happened that Liszt, who had given up his career as concert pianist (though all the world was clamoring to hear him), and was conducting the Weimar Opera, had been preparing a performance of "Tannhaeuser," to which Wagner would, under normal conditions, have been invited as a matter of course. He was now there, but as a political fugitive, wherefore it was not deemed advisable to have him attend the public performance; but he did secretly witness a rehearsal, and was delighted to find that Liszt's genius had enabled him to penetrate into the innermost recesses of this music. It was impossible, however, for him to stay any longer. The Dresden police had issued a warrant for the arrest of "the royal Kapellmeister Richard Wagner," who was to be "placed on trial for active participation in the riots which have taken place here." No time was, therefore, to be lost. Late in the evening of May 18, Liszt's noble patroness, the Princess Wittgenstein, received this note from him: "Can you give the bearer sixty thalers? Wagner is obliged to fly, and I cannot help him at this moment."
Early the next morning Wagner, provided with a false pass, left Weimar and headed for Switzerland, which was to be his home for the greater part of the following twelve years of his exile from Germany. Had he been caught, like his friends, and, like them, imprisoned during these years, it is not likely that the world would now possess those seven monuments of his ripest genius, "Rheingold," "Die Walkuere," "Siegfried," "Goetterdaemmerung," "Tristan and Isolde," "Die Meistersinger," and "Parsifal." Even as it was, the world has undoubtedly lost an immortal opera or two through his unfortunate participation in the rebellion. For during the first four years of his exile, he did not compose any music. He reasoned that he had written four good operas and nobody seemed to want them; why, therefore, should he compose any more?
At the same time, he realized that there were natural reasons why his operas were not understood. They were written in such a novel style, both vocal and instrumental, that the singers, players, and conductors found it difficult to perform them correctly, the consequence being that they did not specially impress the audiences, which, moreover, were bewildered by finding themselves listening to works so radically different from what they had been accustomed to in the opera-houses. In the hope of remedying this state of affairs Wagner devoted several years to writing essays, in which he explained his aims and ideals for the benefit both of performers and listeners. Little attention was, however, paid to these essays, and although they are valuable aesthetic treatises, most lovers of Wagner would gladly give them for the operas he might have written in the same time,—operas uniting the characteristics of "Lohengrin" and "The Valkyrie."
Wagner's letters to Liszt and other friends show that he suffered tortures, and was often brought to the verge of suicide by the thought that, as a political refugee, he was unable to go to Germany to superintend the production of his works. His one consolation was that, as he put it, through the friendship of Liszt his art had found a home at Weimar at the moment when he himself became homeless. Weimar became, as it were, a sort of preliminary Bayreuth, to which pilgrimages were made to hear Wagner's operas. Liszt not only produced the "Flying Dutchman," "Tannhaeuser," and "Lohengrin," but wrote eloquent essays on them, and in every possible way advanced the good cause. It has been justly said that by his efforts he accelerated the vogue of Wagner's operas fully ten years. He also helped him pecuniarily, and induced others to do the same. Never in the world's history has one artist done so much for another as Liszt did for Wagner during all the years of his exile in Switzerland.
Few persons would consider residence in Switzerland (the usual home in those days of political refugees) a special hardship; nor would Wagner have considered it in that light except for the solicitude he felt for the children of his brain. Otherwise he greatly enjoyed life in that glorious country, and the Alpine ozone nourished and stimulated his brain. Moreover, from the creative point of view, it was an actual advantage for him to be away from the opera-houses of the great capitals. In Switzerland, except for a short time when he was connected with the Zurich opera, he heard no operatic music except such as his own brain created. Undoubtedly this helps to account for the astounding originality of the music-dramas he wrote in Switzerland.
These music-dramas go as far beyond "Lohengrin" in certain directions as "Lohengrin" goes beyond the operas of Wagner's predecessors. It was a reckless thing to do, to make another such giant stride before the world had caught up with his first, and he had to suffer the consequences; but genius disregards prudence, and looks to the future alone. What he was now writing was what his enemies tauntingly called "the music of the future," because, as they said, nobody liked it at present; but what he himself called the "art work of the future," in which all the fine arts are inseparably united.
The biggest of his works, the "Nibelung Tetralogy," was conceived and for the most part written in Switzerland. Before leaving Dresden he had already written the poem of an opera which he called "Siegfried's Death." Returning to this in his exile he came to the conclusion, gradually, that the legend on which it is based, and which he had sketched out in prose at the beginning, contained the material for two, three, nay, four operas. Accordingly, he wrote the poems of these: first, "Goetterdaemmerung," then "Siegfried," "Die Walkuere," and "Rheingold." The music to these four dramas was, however, composed in the reverse order, in which they were to be performed.
Wagner indulged in no illusions regarding these music-dramas. He knew that they were beyond the capacity of even the best royal opera-houses of that time, and that they could be performed only under exceptional conditions, such as he finally succeeded, after herculean efforts and many disappointments, in securing at Bayreuth in 1876. It is of great interest to note that the germs of a sort of "Bayreuth festival plan" can be found in his letters as early as 1850,—the year when "Lohengrin" had its first hearing. Thus a full quarter of a century elapsed between the conception of this festival plan and its execution. But Wagner had the patience of Job, as well as his capacity for suffering.
Amid privations of all sorts, he wrote the sublime music of these dramas, beginning with "Rheingold," on Nov. 1, 1853,—the first time he had put new operatic melodies on paper since the completion of "Lohengrin," in August, 1847. In his head, to be sure, he had been carrying much of the Nibelung music for some time, for he habitually created his leading melodies at the same time as the verse; and the four Nibelung poems were in print in 1853. On May 28, 1854, the score of "Rheingold" was completed, and four weeks later he began the sketches of "The Valkyrie," the completed score of which was in his desk by the end of March, 1856.
In the meantime his poverty had compelled him, much against his wishes, to accept an offer from the London Philharmonic Society to conduct their concerts for a season (March to June, 1855). He had reason to bitterly regret this action. With the limited number of rehearsals at his command it was impossible for him to make the orchestra follow his intentions and reveal his greatness as a conductor. He was not allowed to make the programmes, and the directors, ignorant of the fact that they had engaged the greatest musical genius of the century, gave no Wagner concert, and put only a few short selections from his early operas on the programs. Thus his hopes of creating a desire for the hearing of his complete operas, which had been one of his motives in going to London, were frustrated. He was, moreover, constantly abused for doing things differently from Mendelssohn, and the leading critics referred to his best music as "senseless discord," "inflated display of extravagance and noise," and so on. Almost the only pleasant episode was the sympathy and interest of Queen Victoria, who had a long talk with him, and informed him that his music had enraptured her.
For all this trouble and loss of time (he found himself unable in London to do any satisfactory work on the uncompleted "Valkyrie" score), he received the munificent sum of $1,000,—considerably less than many Wagner singers to-day get for one evening's work. Shortly before leaving London he wrote to a friend that he would bring home about 200 francs,—$40! For this he had wasted four months of precious time and endured endless "contrarieties and vulgar animosities," to use his own words.
Equally unsuccessful were his efforts, a few years later, to better himself financially by a series of concerts in Paris (1860). They resulted in a large deficit. Nor was he benefited by the performances of his "Tannhaeuser," which were given at the grand opera in March, 1861, by order of Napoleon, at the request of the influential Princess Metternich. He had refused to interpolate a vulgar ballet in the second act for the benefit of the members of the aristocratic Jockey Club, who dined late and insisted on having a ballet on entering the opera-house. They took their revenge by creating such a disturbance every evening that after the third performance Wagner refused to allow any further repetitions, although the house on the third night had been completely sold out. He was to receive $50 for each performance. The result was $150, or less than 50 cents a day, for a year's hard work and no end of worry in connection with the rehearsals.
How many men are there in the annals of art who would have refused, after all these disappointments and bitter lessons, to make some concessions? Wagner was writing a gigantic work, the Nibelung Tetralogy, which, he was convinced, would never yield a penny's profit during his lifetime. Sometimes despair seized him. In one of his letters he exclaims: "Why should I, poor devil, burden and torture myself with such terrible tasks, if the present generation refuses to let me have even a workshop?" Yet the only deviation he made from his plan was that when he had reached the second act of the third of the Nibelung dramas, the poetic "Siegfried," in June, 1857, he made up his mind to abandon the Tetralogy for the time being, and compose an opera which might be performed separately and once more bring him into contact with the stage.
This opera was "Tristan and Isolde;" but instead of being a concession, it turned out to be the most difficult and Wagnerian of all his works,—an opera with much emotion but little action, no processions or choruses such as "Lohengrin" still had, and, of course, no arias or tunes whatever. "Tristan and Isolde" was completed in 1859, and Wagner would have much preferred to have its performance in Paris commanded by Napoleon in place of "Tannhaeuser." What the Jockey Club would have done in that case is inconceivable, for, compared with "Tristan," "Tannhaeuser" is almost Meyerbeerian, if not Donizettian. No singers, moreover, could have been found in Paris able to interpret this work, with its new vocal style,—"speech-song," as the Germans call it. Even Germany could do nothing, at first, with this opera. In Vienna, after fifty-four rehearsals, it was abandoned, in 1863, as "impossible," and that city did not produce it till after Wagner's death. Instead of bringing him into immediate contact with the stage, it was not heard anywhere till seven years after its completion.
There was one more card for him to play. All his operas, so far, had been tragedies. What if he were to write a comic opera? Would not that be likely to get him access to the stage again, and help him financially? He had the plan for a comic opera; indeed, he had sketched it as early as 1845, at the same time as the plot of "Lohengrin." Sixteen years it lay dormant in his brain. At last he wrote out the poem in Paris, immediately after the "Tannhaeuser" disaster there. Perhaps it would be more accurate to call "Die Meistersinger" a humorous opera; for while the story of the mediaeval knight who wins the goldsmith's daughter has comic features, its chief characteristic is humor, with that undercurrent of seriousness that belongs to all masterpieces of humor. To a certain extent, it is a musical and poetic autobiography, the victorious young Knight Walter, who sings as he pleases, without regard to pedantic rules, representing Wagner himself and the "music of the future," while the vain and malicious Beckmesser stands for the critics, and Hans Sachs for enlightened public opinion.
It was during the time that he wrote the gloriously melodious and spontaneous music to this poem that the most important event of his life happened. Work on the score was repeatedly interrupted by the necessity of making some money. Most of his concerts in German cities, undertaken for this purpose, did not yield him any profits. In Russia, however, he was very successful, and as he had the promise of a repetition of his success, he rented a fine villa at Penzing, near Vienna, and proceeded to enjoy life for a change. Who can blame him for this? As he said to a friend not long after this, "I am differently organized from others, have sensitive nerves, must have beauty, splendor, and light. Is it really such an outrageous thing if I lay claim to the little bit of luxury which I like,—I, who am preparing enjoyment for the world and for thousands?"
Unfortunately the second Russian project failed, through no fault of his own, and as he had borrowed money at usurious rates on his expected profits, he found himself compelled to fly once more from his creditors. After spending a short time in Switzerland, he went to Stuttgart, where he persuaded his friend Weissheimer to go with him into the Suabian Alps, where he intended to hide for half a year, until he could finish his "Meistersinger," and with the score raise money for his creditors. The wagon had already been ordered for the next morning, May 3, 1864, and Wagner was packing his trunk, when a card was brought up to him with the inscription: "von Pfistenmeister, Secretaire aulique de S.M. le roi de Baviere," and the message that the Baron came by order of the King of Bavaria, and was very anxious to see him.
King Ludwig II. of Bavaria had declared, while he was still crown prince, that as soon as he became king he would show the world how highly he held the genius of Wagner in honor. He kept his word. One of his first acts was to despatch Baron von Pfistenmeister to search for Wagner, and not to return without him. He was to tell him that the king was his most ardent admirer; that he wanted him to come at once to Munich, to live there in comfort, at the king's expense, to complete his Nibelung operas, and produce them forthwith. Was it a wonder that when the Baron had left, Wagner, who was thus suddenly raised from the depth of despair (he had even meditated suicide) to the height of happiness, fell on Weissheimer's neck, and wept for joy.
Surely the brain of a Dumas could not have conceived a more romantic event than this sudden transformation of one who was a fugitive from debtor's prison into the favorite of a young and enthusiastic king. At last Wagner had an opportunity to bring forward his music-dramas. "Tristan and Isolde" was sung at the Munich Opera on June 10, 1865, with an excellent cast, and Hans von Buelow as conductor. "Die Meistersinger" followed on June 21,1868. Both these works were received with enthusiasm by the ever-growing band of Wagner-lovers. His plan of building a special theatre in Munich for the performance of his Nibelung operas could not be carried out, however, even with the king's aid; for his great influence with the king (he was rumored to be even his political and religious adviser, though this was not true), aroused so much hostile feeling that Wagner finally decided to have his Nibelung festival at the old secluded town of Bayreuth.
At the suggestion of the eminent pianist, Carl Taussig, Wagner societies were formed in the cities of Europe and America to raise funds for this festival and give Wagner a chance to establish a tradition by showing the world how his operas should be performed. With the aid of these and liberal contributions by his ever-devoted king, Wagner was able, after many trials, tribulations, and postponements, to bring out, at last, his great Tetralogy, on August 13, 14,16, and 17, of the year 1876. It was beyond comparison the most interesting and important event in the whole history of music. Wagner had personally visited the opera-houses throughout the land and selected the best singers. The audience included the Emperors of Germany and Brazil, King Ludwig, the Grand Dukes of Weimar and Baden, eminent composers like Liszt, Grieg, Saint-Saens, and many other notable persons. The impression made by the great work was the deeper because of the unusual circumstances: the theatre specially constructed after Wagner's novel plan; the amphitheatric seats; the concealed orchestra; the stereoscopic clearness and nearness of the stage scenes, etc.
The necessity of charging very high rates ($225 for the four dramas) naturally prevented the audiences from being large, and the result was that Wagner had a deficit of $37,000 on his hands as the reward for his genius and years of business worries. When, however, his last work, the sublime, semi-religious "Parsifal," was produced in 1882, there was a balance in his favor. He was then in his sixty-ninth year, and the exertion of producing this final masterpiece was too great for him. To recuperate, he went to Venice, where he died on Feb. 13, 1882. King Ludwig sent a special train to convey his body to Bayreuth, where it was buried in the garden behind his villa Wahnfried.
Since Wagner's death the Bayreuth festivals have been kept up with ever-increasing success, under the guidance of his widow Cosima, the daughter of Liszt (whom he married in 1870, four years after the death of his first wife), and their son, Siegfried, who has in recent years also won some success as an opera composer. The performances at Bayreuth are no longer what they were during Wagner's lifetime,—models for all the world; but they are still of unique interest. In truth, headquarters like Bayreuth are no longer needed, for all the German cities now vie with one another in their efforts to interpret the Wagner operas according to the composer's intentions; and his influence on other musicians, which began with the performance of "Lohengrin" under Liszt, in 1850, is to-day greater than ever,—more powerful, perhaps, than that ever exerted by any other master.
But while an eminent German critic wrote not long ago that "the music-drama of Wagner constitutes modern opera," it would be a huge mistake to make Wagnerism synonymous with modern music in general. Apart from the opera, there are several other very powerful currents, and while most of them can be traced to the first half of the nineteenth century, they are none the less modern. Their principal sources are Beethoven, Schubert, and Chopin, to whom we must add, in the second half of the century, Liszt.
The symphonies of Haydn and Mozart are like toy-houses compared with the massive architecture of Beethoven's. He not only elaborated the forms, but varied the rhythms, broadened the melody, and deepened the expression of orchestral music. In his works, too, are to be found the germs of romanticism, which others, notably Mendelssohn and Schumann, developed so fascinatingly in their best works. Most of Mendelssohn's compositions have had their day; but Schumann is still a force in modern music and will long remain so.
Brahms, the musical Browning, is, musically speaking, a son of Schumann and a grandson of Beethoven. While even Brahms did not escape the influence of Wagner, nor that of the romanticists Schubert and Chopin, still, in his essence, he represents reaction against modern romanticism and an atavistic return to the spirit of Beethoven. He has been, for decades, the idol of Wagner's enemies; yet, in truth, there was no occasion for opposing these two men, since they worked in entirely different fields. Brahms wrote no operas, while Wagner wrote little but operas. The real antagonist of Brahms is Liszt, who also worked only for the concert hall and who represents poetic or pictorial music (programme music), while Brahms stands for absolute music, or music per se, without any poetic affiliations.
While Schubert in his youth also came under the influence of his great contemporary, Beethoven, he soon emancipated himself completely from him, even in the symphony, in which, as Schumann pointed out, he opened up "an entirely new world" of melody, color, and emotion. His orchestration is more varied, euphonious, and enchanting than Beethoven's, and in this direction he did for the symphony what Weber did for the opera. By using the brass instruments pianissimo, for color instead of for loudness, he opened a path in which later masters, including Wagner, eagerly followed him. Schubert was also the first composer who revealed the exquisite beauty and the great emotional power of the freest modulation from key to key. His poetic impromptus for piano became the model for Mendelssohn's "Songs without Words," and the multitudinous forms of modern short pieces, while his melodious, dainty, graceful valses were the forerunners of the exquisite dance-music which subsequently made Vienna famous, and which reached its climax in Johann Strauss the younger, universally known as "the waltz king."
In all these respects, Schubert was epoch-making; and if the beautiful details he suggested to his successors up to the present day could be taken out of their works there would be some surprising blanks. Especially also is this true in the realm of lyric song, for, as everybody knows, he practically created the art song as we know and love it. The greatest of his immediate successors, Schumann and Franz, cheerfully admitted that they could never have written such songs as they gave the world but for Schubert, and the same confession might be made by the latest of the great songwriters, Grieg, Richard Strauss, and our American MacDowell. Schubert's best songs have never been equalled. They belong in the realm of modern music quite as much as Wagner's music-dramas and Liszt's symphonic poems.
Chopin is another composer who, although he died in 1849 (Schubert died in 1828), is as modern as the masters just named. He was as boldly original as Schubert, and as great a magician in the art of arousing deep emotion by means of novel, unexpected modulations. As an originator of new harmonic progressions he has had only three equals,—Bach, Schubert, and Wagner. Harmonies as ultra-modern as those of Wagner's "Parsifal" may be found in some of the mazurkas of Chopin. He was, as Rubinstein called him, "the soul of the pianoforte." No one before or after him knew how to make that instrument speak so eloquently. By ingeniously scattering the notes of a chord over the keyboard while holding down the pedal, he practically gave the player three or four hands, and greatly enlarged the harmonic and coloristic possibilities of the pianoforte. Liszt, Rubinstein, Paderewski, and others have gone farther still in the same direction, but he showed the way, and most of his pieces are as delightful and as modern now as they were on the day when they were written. He wrote a few sonatas, but the majority of his works are short pieces such as are characteristic of the modern romantic school.
Before Chopin modernized pianoforte music the world's greatest composers had been Italians, Germans, and Frenchmen. Chopin's father was a Frenchman, but his mother was a native of Poland, and he was born in that country. While his music has the French qualities of elegance and clearness (which every one admires in the works of Gounod, Bizet, Massenet, and other Parisian masters), in its essence it is Polish—a fact of special significance, for from this time on other nations than the three mentioned—especially the Slavic and Scandinavian—begin to play a prominent role in music. In this brief sketch only the greatest names can be considered,—such names as Rubinstein, Tschaikowsky, Dvorak, Grieg.
Rubinstein was not only one of the greatest pianists, but one of the most spontaneous and fertile melodists of all times. His frequently careless workmanship and his foolish, savage hostility to the dominant Wagner movement prevented him from enjoying the fruits of his rare genius. He felt that, had it not been for the all-absorbing Wagner, he himself might have been as popular as Mendelssohn. Although a Russian, there is little local color in his music, for the enchanting exotic melodic intervals in his "Persian" songs are Oriental in general, rather than Russian in particular. Similar exotic intervals may be found in the "Aida" of Verdi, a pure Italian. Rubinstein, like Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer, was a Hebrew. His day will yet come, for his Dramatic and Ocean symphonies are among the grandest orchestral works in existence.
His countryman, Tschaikowsky, also was neglected during his lifetime; but since his death he has become, especially in London, almost as popular as Wagner; and deservedly so, for he was a genius of the highest type, less in his songs and pianoforte works than in his symphonies and symphonic poems, which include some of the most inspired pages in modern music. In some of his compositions there is a barbaric splendor which proclaims the Russian and delights those who like exotic novelty in music. Like all the Russians, Tschaikowsky was strongly influenced by Liszt; indeed, it may be said that in Russia Liszt was more potent in shaping the course of modern music than even Wagner.
Another Slavic composer, the Bohemian Dvorak, is of special interest to Americans not only because he is one of the greatest of modern orchestral writers (a colorist of rare charm), but because he presided for several years over Mrs. Thurber's National Conservatory of Music in New York, and there wrote that truly melodious and deeply emotional work, "From the New World," which has become almost as popular as Tschaikowsky's "Pathetique." His Bohemian rhythms have a unique charm.
Among the Scandinavian composers the greatest, by far, is Grieg, one of the most original melodists and harmonists of all times. His songs, in particular, are destined to immortality; they are among the very best written since Schubert. Of his pianoforte and chamber music, too, it can be said that everything is new, free from commonplace, and ultra-modern. He has written mostly short pieces, and for that reason has had to wait (like Chopin in his day) a long time for full recognition of his genius, the critics not having yet got over the foolish habit of measuring art-works with a yardstick. Like Chopin, moreover, Grieg has had the ill-fortune of having his most original and individual traits accredited to his nation and described as "national peculiarities." His music does contain such peculiarities; but it is necessary to distinguish between what is Norwegian and what is Griegian. Grieg's little pieces and songs are big with genius.
The Hungarian Liszt is another immortal master who, beside the fruits of his individual genius, contributed to the current of modern music some of those exotic national traits which distinguish it from that of earlier epochs when it was almost exclusively Italian, French, and German. His fifteen Hungarian rhapsodies constitute, however, only a small part of the invaluable legacy he has left the world. He was the most many-sided of all musicians,—the greatest of all pianists, and one of the best composers of oratorios, songs, orchestral, and pianoforte works,—everything, in short, except operas and chamber music. He was also the greatest of teachers and (with the exception of Wagner) the greatest of conductors; as such, he carried out both his own and Wagner's new and revolutionary principles of interpretation, which have gradually made the orchestral conductor a personage of even greater importance, in concert hall and opera-house, than the prima donna, travelling, like her, from city to city, to delight lovers of music.
One might have expected that the prince of pianists, being at the same time a composer, would do for the pianoforte what Bach had done for choral and organ music, Beethoven for the symphony, Schubert for the art song, and Wagner for the opera. But he could not, for Chopin had anticipated him. In only one direction was it possible to go beyond Chopin,—in that of making the piano capable of reproducing orchestral effects. This, Liszt achieved in his own works and his transcriptions. But, after all, the grandest pianoforte, while delightful as such, is but a poor substitute for an orchestra. Hence it was natural that Liszt should give up the pianoforte as his specialty and devote himself particularly to the orchestra.
In this domain he was destined to achieve reforms similar to those of Wagner in the opera. The "classical" symphony, like the old-fashioned opera, consists of detached numbers, or movements, that have no organic connection with one another. For the detached numbers of the opera Wagner substituted his "continuous melody;" and he provided an organic connection of all the parts by means of the "leading motives" or characteristic melodies and chords which recur whenever the situation calls for them. In the same spirit Liszt transformed the symphony into the symphonic poem, which is continuous and has a leading motive uniting all its parts.
There is another aspect to the symphonic poem, in which Liszt deviated from Wagner. In Wagner's operas there is plenty of descriptive or pictorial music, but no program music, properly speaking; for even in such things as the Ride of the Valkyries, or the Magic Fire Scene, the music does not depend on a programme, but is explained by the scenery. In programme music, on the other hand, the scene or the poetic idea is simply explained in the programme, or else merely hinted at in the title of the piece. Crude attempts in this direction were made centuries ago, but programme music as an important branch of music is a modern phenomenon. Beethoven encouraged it by his "Pastoral Symphony," and the French Berlioz did some very remarkable things in this line in his dramatic symphonies; but it remained for Liszt to hit the nail on the head in his symphonic poems. The French Saint-Saens followed him, rather than his countryman Berlioz; so did Tschaikowsky, Dvorak, and most modern composers, up to Richard Strauss, whose symphonic poems are the most widely discussed, praised, and abused compositions of our time.
To the great names contained in the preceding paragraphs another must be added,—that of an Italian. By an odd coincidence, Verdi was born in the same year as Wagner, 1813. But what is far more remarkable is that at the close of their careers, so different otherwise, these two great composers met again—in their music, Verdi as a Wagnerian convert. Up to his fifty-eighth year Verdi had written two dozen operas, all made up of strings of arias in the old-fashioned way,—superb arias, many of them, especially in "Il Trovatore" and "Aida," but still arias. Then he rested from his labors sixteen years; and when he appeared on the stage again, with his "Otello" and "Falstaff," he had adopted Wagner's maxims that arias are out of place in a music-drama; that "the play's the thing," and that the music should follow the text word for word.
Surely, this was the most remarkable of Wagner's triumphs and conquests. He who had been denounced for decades as being unable to write properly for the voice was actually taken up as a model by the greatest composer of Italy, the land of song. Moreover, all the young composers of Italy have turned their backs on the traditions of Italian opera. The chief ambition of Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Puccini, and all the others has been to be called "the Italian Wagner;" and their operas are much more like Wagner's than like Rossini's and Donizetti's, being free from arias and the vocal embroideries that formerly were the essence of Italian opera. The same is true of the operas written in recent decades in France, Germany, and other countries. Massenet, Saint-Saens, Humperdinck, Goldmark, Richard Strauss, Paderewski, and all the others have followed in Wagner's footsteps.
Such, briefly told, is the story of Richard Wagner and Modern Music. The "music of the future" has become the music of the present. What the future will bring no one can tell. Croakers say, as they have always said, that the race of giants has died out. But who knew, fifty years ago, that Wagner and Liszt, or even their predecessors, Chopin and Schumann, and the song specialist, Robert Franz, were giants? We know it now, and future generations will know whether we have giants among us. Things of beauty that will be a joy forever have been created by men of genius now living in Europe; such men as the Norwegian Grieg, the Bohemian Dvorak, the French Saint-Saens and Massenet, the Hungarian Goldmark, the German Humperdinck and Richard Strauss, the Polish Paderewski. England has more good composers and listeners than it ever had before; and the same is true of America. We have no school of opera yet, but the best operettas of Victor Herbert and De Koven deserve mention by the side of those of the French. Offenbach, Lecocq, and Audran, the Viennese Strauss, Suppe, and Milloecker, the English Sullivan. The orchestral compositions of our John K. Paine are masterworks, and the songs and pianoforte pieces of MacDowell are equal to anything produced in Europe since Chopin and Franz. We have several other men of great promise, and altogether the outlook for America, as well as for Europe, is bright.
The books, pamphlets, and newspaper articles on Wagner would fill a library. He has been more written about than any writers except Shakspere, Goethe, and Dante. He was also fond of writing about himself. His autobiography (extending only to 1865) has not yet been given to the public; but there are many autobiographic pages in the ten volumes of his literary works, which have been Englished by Ellis. Of great value are Wagner's letters to Liszt and to other friends. These were utilized for the first time in "Wagner and His Works," the most elaborate biography in the English language, by the author of the foregoing article. Shorter American and English books on Wagner have been written by Kobbe, Krehbiel, Henderson, Hueffer, Newman, &c. Of French writers Lavignac, Jullien, Mendes, Servieres, Schure, may be mentioned. Of great value are Kufferath's monographs on the Wagner operas and Liszt's analyses. In Germany the standard work of reference is the third edition of Glasenopp, in six volumes, four of which are now (1902) in print. Other German writers are Porges, Wolzogen, Pohl, Nohl, Tappert, Chamberlain, &c. The best histories of Modern Music in general are Langhaus's larger work and Riemann's "Geschichte der Musik seit Beethoven." The best general work for reference is "Great Composers and Their Works," edited by Professor Paine of Harvard. References to about 10,000 articles on Wagner may be found in Oesterlein's "Katalog Einer Richard Wagner Bibliothek," 3 vols.
BY G. MERCER ADAM.
What John Ruskin has done in a prosaic, commercial, and Philistine age, in teaching the world to love and study the Beautiful, in opening to it the hidden mysteries and delights of art, and in inciting the passion for taking pleasure in and even possessing embodiments of it, that age owes to the great prose-poet and enthusiastic author of "Modern Painters." Neither before nor since his day has literature known such a passionate and luminous exponent of Nature's beauties, such an inculcator in men's minds of the art of observing her ways and methods, or one who has given the world such deep insight into what constitutes the true and the beautiful in art. For these things, and for opening new worlds of instruction and delight to his age in the realm of art, heightened by the charm of his marvellous prose, we can readily pardon Ruskin for his weaknesses and perverseness,—for his dogmatisms, his fervors, and ecstasies, his exaggerations of praise and blame, and even for the missionary propagation of his often unsound economic gospel, valuable though it may be in illustrating and enforcing morality in its aesthetic aspect. Despite his enemies, and all that the critics have said contradicting his theories, Ruskin was a surprise and a revelation to his time. In not a little of all that he said and did, it is true, we cannot concur; nor can we fail to see the errors he fell into through his want of reserve and his headlong haste to say and do the things he said and did; nevertheless, he was a great and inspiring teacher in things that appeal to our sense of the beautiful, and earnest in his zeal to raise men's intellectual and moral standard of life. Like most enthusiasts and geniuses, he had, now and then, his hours of reaction, waywardness, and gloom; but there was much that was noble and ennobling in the man, as well as rich and fructifying in his thought. Even in his social and moral exhortations, tinctured as they are with medievalism, and however much we may here again disagree with him, he had much that was uplifting and inspiring to say to his time,—a time that had great need of his apostolic counsellings and his fervent inculcations of morality, industry, religion, and humanity.
Throughout Mr. Ruskin's works—and they are amazingly manifold—a strong and intense purpose runs, given to the highest and noblest ends; and though their author at times wearies his reader by his diffuseness and his digressions, and to some is almost fanatical in his reverence for art, he is ever imaginative and eloquent, and has created for us a new, instructive, and uniquely fresh and thoughtful body of art-literature. The truth of infinite value he teaches is "realism,"—the doctrine that all truth and beauty are to be attained by a reverent and faithful study of nature, and not, as a reviewer expresses it, "by substituting vague forms, bred by imagination on the mists of feeling, in place of definite, substantial reality. The thorough acceptance of this doctrine would remould our life; and he who teaches its application, even to any single department of human activity, and with such power as Mr. Ruskin's, is a prophet for his generation." In all his various labors and aims, Mr. Ruskin set before himself a high, if somewhat quixotic, ideal of life, and with great earnestness did much, not only for the elevation of his fellow-men, but for the development of sound artistic taste and the enriching and spiritualizing of life by seeking to surround it at all times with the true and the beautiful, and with the old-time virtues of purity, manliness, and courage.
Among the "Beacon Lights" of the age there can be no question that Ruskin is worthy of an exalted place, since few men of our modern time, rich as it is in eminent thinkers and writers, has done more than he to illumine the many subjects with which he has so fascinatingly dealt,—and that not only in art and its cult of the Beautiful, but in ethics, education, and political economy. The energies, activities, and impulses he constantly put forth, as well as the high principles that ever guided him in his earnest endeavor to improve the intellectual and moral condition of his kind, mark his era as a great artistic epoch in the onward and upward progress of the race. By stimulus, suggestion, and inspiration he has powerfully influenced his time, though manifestly not a little of the seed he abundantly and hopefully scattered has fallen upon barren ground. Nevertheless, where the seed has fallen and germinated, the yield has been large: "his spirit has passed far wider than he ever knew or conceived; and his words, flung to the winds, have borne fruit a hundredfold in lands that he never thought of or designed to reach." With what pride and gratitude should not the age regard him and his memory,—one who has quickened the sensibilities of men in looking upon nature; opened our dull eyes to its manifold beauties; made plain to the average intelligence what Art is and stands for; implanted in our souls worship of the beautiful; shown working-men how to use their tools in the highest interests of their craft, and taught maidens what and how to read as well as how and in what spirit to sew and cook. The world too often acknowledges its true teachers and prophets only when it begins to build them some belated tomb. "This, at any rate," gratefully exclaims Frederic Harrison, "we will not suffer to be done to John Ruskin."