Life of Wagner - Biographies of Musicians
by Louis Nohl
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"Who better than the poet can guide?"




LIFE OF MOZART, From the German of Dr. LOUIS NOHL. With Portrait. Price $1.25.


LIFE OF BEETHOVEN, From the German of Dr. LOUIS NOHL. With Portrait. Price $1.25.


LIFE OF HAYDN, From the German of Dr. LOUIS NOHL. With Portrait. Price $1.25.


LIFE OF WAGNER, From the German of Dr. LOUIS NOHL. With Portrait. Price $1.25.




The masters of music, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, advanced this art beyond the limits of their predecessors by identifying themselves more closely with the development of active life itself. By their creative power they invested the life of the nation and mankind with profounder thought, culminating at last in the most sublime of our possessions—religion. No artist has followed in their course with more determined energy than Richard Wagner, as well he might, for with equal intellectual capacity, the foundation of his education was broader and deeper than that of the classic masters; while on the other hand the development of our national character during his long active career, became more vigorous and diversified as the ideas of the poets and thinkers were more and more realized and reflected in our life. Wagner's development was as harmonious as that of the three classic masters, and all his struggles, however violent at times, only cleared his way to that high goal where we stand with him to-day and behold the free unfolding of all our powers. This goal is the entire combination of all the phases of art into one great work: the music-drama, in which is mirrored every form of human existence up to the highest ideal life. As this music-drama rests historically upon the opera it is but natural that the second triumvirate of German music should be composed of the founder of German opera, C. M. von Weber, the reformer of the old opera, Christoph Wilibald Gluck, and Richard Wagner. To trace therefore the development of the youngest of these masters, will lead us to consider theirs as well, and in doing this the knowledge of what he is will disclose itself to us.


Just as this volume is going to press the announcement comes from Germany that the prize offered by the Prague Concordia for the best essay on "Wagner's Influence upon the National Art" has been adjudged to Louis Nohl, an honor which will lend additional interest to this little volume.




His Birth—The Father's Death—His Mother Remarries—Removal to Dresden—Theatre and Music—At School—Translation of Homer—Through Poetry to Music—Returning to Leipzig—Beethoven's Symphonies—Resolution to be a Musician—Conceals this Resolution—Composes Music and Poetry—His Family distrusts his Talent—"Romantic" Influences—Studies of Thoroughbass—Overture in B major—Theodor Weinlig—Full Understanding of Mozart—Beethoven's Influence—The Genius of German Art—Preparatory Studies ended 9-22



In Vienna—His Symphony Performed—Modern Ideas—"The Fairies"—"Das Liebesverbot"—Becomes Kapellmeister—Mina Planer—Hard Times—Experiences and Studies—"Rienzi"—Paris—First Disappointments—A Faust Overture—Revival of the German Genius—Struggle for Existence—"The Flying Dutchman"—Historical Studies—Returning to Germany 22-44



Success and Recognition—Hofkapellmeister to the Saxon Court—New Clouds—"Tannhaeuser" Misunderstood—The Myths of "The Flying Dutchman" and "Tannhaeuser"—Aversion to Meyerbeer—The Religious Element—"Lohengrin"—The Idea of "Lohengrin"—Wagner's Revolutionary Sympathies—The Revolution of 1848—The Poetic Part of "Siegfried's Death"—The Revolt in Dresden—Flight from Dresden—"Siegfried Words." 45-72



Visit to Liszt—Flight to Foreign Lands—Three Pamphlets—"Lohengrin" Performed—Wagner's Musical Ideas Expressed in Words—Resumption of the Nibelungen Poem—The Idea of the Poem—Its Religious Element—The First Music-Drama—In Zurich—New Art Ideas—Increasing Fame—"Tristan and Isolde"—Analysis of this Work—In Paris Again—The Amnesty—Tannhaeuser at the "Grand Opera"—"Lohengrin" in Vienna—Resurrection of the "Mastersingers of Nuremberg"—Final Return to Germany 73-105



Successful Concerts—Plans for a New Theatre—Offenbach's Music Preferred—Concerts Again—New Hindrances and Disappointments—King Louis of Bavaria—Rescue and Hope—New Life—Schnorr—"Tannhaeuser" Reproduced—Great Performance of "Tristan"—Enthusiastic Applause—Death of Schnorr—Opposition of the Munich Public—Unfair Attacks upon Wagner—He goes to Switzerland—The "Meistersinger"—The Rehearsals—The Successful Performance—Criticisms 106-131



A Vienna Critic—"Judaism in Music"—The War of 1870—Wagner's Second Wife—"The Thought of Baireuth"—Wagner-Clubs—The "Kaiser March"—Baireuth—Increasing Progress—Concerts—The Corner-Stone of the New Theatre—The Inaugural Celebration—Lukewarmness of the Nation—The Preliminary Rehearsals—The Summer of 1876—Increasing Devotion of the Artists—The General Rehearsal—The Guests—The Memorable Event—Its Importance—A World-History in Art-Deeds 132-158



A German Art—Efforts to maintain the Acquired Results—Concerts in London—Recognition Abroad and Lukewarmness at Home—The "Nibelungen" in Vienna—"Parsifal"—Increasing Popularity of Wagner's Music—Judgments—Accounts of the "Parsifal" Representations—The Theatre Building—"Parsifal," a National Drama—Its Significance and Idea—Anti-Semiticism—The Jewish Spirit—Wagner's Standpoint—Synopsis of "Parsifal"—The Legend of the Holy Grail—Its Symbolic Importance—Art in the Service of Religion—Beethoven and Wagner—"Redemption to the Redeemer." 159-197






His Birth—The Father's Death—His Mother Remarries—Removal to Dresden—Theatre and Music—At School—Translation of Homer—Through Poetry to Music—Returning to Leipzig—Beethoven's Symphonies—Resolution to be a Musician—Conceals this Resolution—Composes Music and Poetry—His Family Distrusts his Talent—"Romantic" Influences—Studies of Thoroughbass—Overture in B major—Theodor Weinlig—Full Understanding of Mozart—Beethoven's Influence—The Genius of German Art—Preparatory Studies ended.

"I resolved to be a musician."—Wagner.

Richard Wilhelm Wagner was born in Leipzig, May 22, 1813. His father at that time was superintendent of police—a post which, owing to the constant movement of troops during the French war, was one of special importance. He soon fell a victim to an epidemic which broke out among the troops passing through. The mother, a woman of a very refined and spiritual nature, then married the highly gifted actor, Ludwig Geyer, who had been an intimate friend of the family, and removed with him to Dresden, where he held a position at the court theatre and was highly esteemed. There Wagner spent his childhood and early youth. Besides the great patriotic uprising of the German people, artistic impressions were the first to stir his soul. His father had taken an active interest in the amateur theatricals of the Leipzig of his day, and now the family virtually identified themselves with the practical side of the art. His brother Albert and sister Rosalie subsequently joined the theatre, and two other sisters diligently devoted themselves to the piano. Richard himself satisfied his childish tendency by playing comedy in his own room and his piano-playing was confined to the repetition of melodies which he had heard. His step-father, during the sickness which also overtook him, heard Richard play two melodies, the "Ueb' immer Treu und Redlichkeit" and the "Jungfernkranz" from "Der Freischuetz," which was just becoming known at that time. The boy heard him say to his mother in an undertone: "Can it be that he has a talent for music?" He had destined him to be an artist, being himself as good a portrait painter as he was actor. He died, however, before the boy had reached his seventh year, bequeathing to him only the information imparted to his mother, that he "would have made something out of him." Wagner in the first sketch of his life, (1842) relates that for a long time he dwelt upon this utterance of his step-father; and that it impelled him to aspire to greatness.

His inclinations however did not at first turn to music. He was rather disposed to study and was sent to the celebrated Kreuzschule. Music was only cultivated indifferently. A private teacher was engaged to give him piano lessons, but, as in drawing, he was averse to the technicalities of the art, and preferred to play by ear, and in this way mastered the overture to "Der Freischuetz." His teacher upon hearing this expressed the opinion that nothing would become of him. It is true, he could not in this way acquire fingering and scales, but he gained a peculiar intonation arising from his own deep feeling, that has been rarely possessed by any other artist. He was very partial to the overture to "The Magic Flute," but "Don Juan" made no impression on him.

All this, however, was only of secondary importance. The study of Greek, Latin, mythology, and ancient history so completely captivated the active mind of the boy, that his teacher advised him seriously to devote himself to philological studies. As he had played music by imitation so he now tried to imitate poetry. A poem, dedicated to a dead schoolmate, even won a prize, although considerable fustian had to be eliminated. His richness of imagination and feeling displayed itself in early youth. In his eleventh year he would be a poet! A Saxon poet, Apel, imitated the Greek tragedies, why should he not do the same? He had already translated the first twelve books of Homer's "Odyssey," and had made a metrical version of Romeo's monologue, after having, simply to understand Shakspeare, thoroughly acquired a knowledge of English. Thus at an early age he mastered the language which "thinks and meditates for us," and Shakspeare became his favorite model. A grand tragedy based on the themes of Hamlet and King Lear was immediately undertaken, and although in its progress he killed off forty-two of the dramatis personae and was compelled in the denouement, for want of characters to let their ghosts reappear, we can not but regard it as a proof of the superabundance of his inborn power.

One advantage was secured by this absurd attempt at poetry: it led him to music, and in its intense earnestness he first learned to appreciate the seriousness of art, which until then had appeared to him of such small importance in contrast with his other studies, that he regarded "Don Juan" for instance as silly, because of its Italian text and "painted acting," as disgusting. At this time he had grown familiar with "Der Freischuetz," and whenever he saw Weber pass his house, he looked up to him with reverential awe. The patriotic songs sung in those early days of resurrected Germany appealed to his sensitive nature. They fascinated him and filled his earnest soul with enthusiasm. "Grander than emperor or king, is it to stand there and rule!" he said to himself, as he saw Weber enchant and sway the souls of his auditors with his "Freischuetz" melodies. He now returned with the family to Leipzig. Did he, while at work on his grand tragedy, occupying him fully two years, neglect his studies? In the Nicolai school, where he now attended, he was put back one class, and this so disheartened him, that he lost all interest in his studies. Besides, now for the first time, the actual spirit of music illumined his intellectual horizon. In the Gewandhaus concerts he heard Beethoven's symphonies. "Their impression on me was very powerful," he says, speaking of his deep agitation, though only in his fifteenth year, and it was still further intensified when he was informed that the great master had died the year previous, in pitiful seclusion from all the world. "I knew not what I really was intended for," he puts in the mouth of a young musician in his story, "A Pilgrimage to Beethoven," written many years after. "I only remember, that I heard a symphony of Beethoven one evening. After that I fell sick with a fever, and when I recovered, I was a musician." He grew lazy and negligent in school, having only his tragedy at heart, but the music of Beethoven induced him to devote himself passionately to the art. Indeed while listening to the Egmont music, it so affected him that he would not for all the world, "launch" his tragedy without such music. He had perfect confidence that he could compose it, but nevertheless thought it advisable to acquaint himself with some of the rules of the art. To accomplish this at once, he borrowed for a week, an easy system of thoroughbass. The study did not seem to bear fruit as quickly as he had expected, but its difficulties allured his energetic and active mind. "I resolved to be a musician," he said. Two strong forces of modern society, general education and music, thus in early youth made an impression upon his nature. Music conquered, but in a form which includes the other, in the presentation of the poetic idea as it first found its full expression in Beethoven's symphonies. Let us now see how this somewhat arbitrary and selfwilled temperament urged the stormy young soul on to the real path of his development.

The family discovered his "grand tragedy." They were much grieved, for it disclosed the neglect of his school studies. Under the circumstances he concealed his consciousness of his inner call to music, secretly continuing, however, his efforts at composition. It is noticeable that the impulse to adapt poetry never forsook him, but it was made subordinate to the musical faculty. In fact the former was brought into requisition only to gratify the latter, so completely did musical composition control him. Beethoven's Pastoral symphony prompted him at one time to write a shepherd play, which owed its dramatic construction on the other hand to Goethe's vaudeville, "A Lover's Humor," to which he wrote the music and the verses at the same time, so that the action and movement of the play grew out of the making of the verses and the music. He was likewise prompted to compose in the prevailing forms of music, and produced a sonata, a string quartet, and an aria.

These works may not have had faults as far as form is concerned, but very likely they were without any intrinsic value. His mind was still engrossed with other things than the real poesy of music. Notwithstanding this, under cover of such performances as these, he believed he could announce himself to the family as a musician. They regarded such efforts at composition however as a mere transitory passion, which would disappear like others especially so as he was not proficient on even one instrument, and could not therefore assume to do the work of a practical musician with any degree of assurance. At this time a strange and confused impression was made upon the young mind, which had already absorbed so much of importance. The so called "romantic writers" who then reigned supreme, particularly the mystic Hoffmann, who was both poet and musician, and who wrote the most beautiful poetic arrangements of the works of Gluck, Mozart, and Beethoven, along with the absurdest notions of music, tended to completely disturb his poetic ideas and mode of expression in music. This youth of scarce sixteen was in danger of losing his wits. "I had visions both waking and sleeping, in which the key note, third and quint appeared bodily and demonstrated their importance to me, but whatever I wrote on the subject was full of nonsense," he says himself.

It was high time to overcome and settle these disturbing elements. His imperfect understanding of the science of music, which had given rise to these fancies and apparitions, now gave place to its real nature, its fixed rules and laws. The skilled musician, Mueller, who subsequently became organist at Altenburg, taught him to evolve from those strange forms of an overwrought imagination the simple musical intervals and accords, thus giving his ideas a secure foundation even in these musical inspirations and fantasies. Corresponding success however, had not yet been attained in the practical groundwork of the art. The impetuous young fellow and enthusiast continued inattentive and careless in this study. His intellectual nature was too restless and aggressive to be brought back easily to the study of dry technical rules, and yet its progress was not far-reaching enough, for even in art their acquisition is essential.

One of the grand overtures for orchestra which he chose to write at that time instead of giving himself to the study of music as an independent language, he called himself the "culmination of his absurdities." And yet in this composition, in B major, there was something, which, when it was performed at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, commanded the attention of so thorough a musician as Heinrich Dorn, then a friend of Wagner, and who became later Oberhofkapellmeister at Berlin. This was the poetic idea which Wagner by the aid of his mental culture was enabled to produce in music, and which gives to a composition its inner and organic completeness. Dorn could thus sincerely console the young author with the hope of future success for his composition, which, instead of a favorable reception, met only with indignation and derision.

The revolution which broke out in France in July, 1830, greatly excited him as it did others and he even contemplated writing a political overture. The fantastic ideas prevalent at that time among the students at the university, which in the meantime he had entered to complete his general education, and fit himself thoroughly for the vocation of a musician, tended still further to divert his mind from the serious task before him. At this juncture, both for his own welfare and that of art, a kind Providence sent him a man, who, sternly yet kindly, as the storm subsided, directed the awakening impulse for order and system in his musical studies. This was Theodore Weinlig, who had been cantor at the Thomasschule in Leipzig, since 1823 and was therefore, so to speak, bred in the spirit and genius of the great Sebastian Bach. He possessed that attribute of a good teacher which leads the scholar imperceptibly into the very heart of his study. In less than a year the young scholar had mastered the most difficult problems of counterpoint, and was dismissed by his teacher as perfectly competent in his art. How highly Wagner esteemed him is shown by the fact that his "Liebesmahl der Apostel," his only work in the nature of an oratorio, is dedicated to "Frau Charlotte Weinlig, the widow of my never-to-be-forgotten teacher." During this time he also composed a sonata and a polonaise, both of which were free from bombast and simple and natural in their musical form. More important than all, Wagner now began to understand Mozart and learned to admire him. He was at last on the path which subsequently was to lead him, even nearer than Beethoven came, to that mighty cantor of Leipzig, who by his art has disclosed for all time the depths of our inner life and sanctified them.

For the present it was Beethoven, whose art unfolded itself before him, and now that his own knowledge was firmly grounded, aided him to become a composer. "I doubt whether there has ever been a young musician more familiar with Beethoven's works than was Wagner, then eighteen years of age," says Dorn of this period. Wagner himself says in his "Deutscher Musiker in Paris:" "I knew no greater pleasure than that of throwing myself so completely into the depths of this genius that I imagined I had become a part of him." He copied the master's overtures and the Ninth symphony, the latter causing him to sob violently, but at the same time rousing his highest enthusiasm. He now also fully comprehended Mozart, especially his Jupiter symphony. "In the genius of our fatherland, pure in feeling and chaste in inspiration, he saw the sacred heritage wherewith the German, under any skies and whatever language he might speak, would be certain to preserve the innate grandeur of his race," is his opinion of Mozart expressed in Paris a few years afterward. "I strove for clearness and power," he says of this period of his youth, and an overture and a symphony soon demonstrated that he had really grasped the models. After twenty years of personal activity in this high school of art, he succeeded in thoroughly understanding the great Sebastian Bach, and reared on this solid foundation-stone of music the majestic edifice of German art, which embraces all the capabilities and ideals of the soul, and created at last a national drama, complete in every sense.

The school period was passed. He now entered active life with firm and secure step, armed only with his knowledge and his power of will. In his struggles and disappointments the former was to be put to the test and the latter to be strengthened. We shall meet with him again, when by the exercise of these two powers he has gained his first permanent victories.




In Vienna—His Symphony Performed—Modern Ideas—"The Fairies,"—"Das Liebesverbot"—Becomes Kapellmeister—Mina Planer—Hard Times—Experiences and Studies—"Rienzi"—Paris—First Disappointments—A Faust Overture—Revival of the German Genius—Struggle for Existence—"The Flying Dutchman"—Historical Studies—Returning to Germany.

The God who in my breast resides, He cannot change external forces.—Goethe.

Beethoven's life has acquainted us with the pre-eminence of Vienna as a musical centre. In the summer of 1832 Wagner visited the city, but found himself greatly disappointed as he heard on all sides nothing but "Zampa," and the potpourris of Strauss. He was not to see the imperial city again until late in life and as the master, crowned with fame. In music and the opera Paris had the precedence. The Conservatory in Prague however performed his symphony, though right here he was destined to feel that the reign of his beloved Beethoven had but scarcely begun.

In the succeeding winter the same symphony was performed in Leipzig. "There is a resistless and audacious energy in the thoughts, a stormy bold progression, and yet withal a maidenly artlessness in the expression of the main motives that lead me to hope for much from the composer;" so wrote Laube, with whom Wagner had shortly before become acquainted. Here again we recognize the stormy, restless activity of the time, which thenceforth did not cease, and brought about the unity of the nation and of art. The ideas which prevailed among the students' clubs, the theories of St. Simon and would-be reformers generally had captivated the young artist's mind. In the "Young Europe," Laube advocated the liberal thoughts of the new century, the intoxication of love, and all the pleasures of material life. Wagner's head was full of them and Heine's writings and the sensual "Ardinghello" of Heinse helped to intensify them.

For a time however his better nature retained the mastery. Beethoven and Weber remained his good genii. In 1833 he composed an opera, "The Fairies," modelled after their works, the text of which displayed the earnest tendency of his nature. A fairy falls in love with a mortal but can acquire human life only on condition that her lover shall not lose faith and desert her, however wicked and cruel she may appear. She transforms herself into a stone from which condition the yearning songs of her lover release her. It is a characteristic feature of Wagner's ideal conception of love that the lover then is admitted to the perpetual joys of the fairy world, as a reward for his faith in the object of his love. The work was never performed. Bellini, Adam, and their associates controlled the stage in Germany, and he was greatly disappointed. That grand artiste, Schroeder-Devrient, who afterwards was to become so essential to Wagner, had achieved unusual success in these light operas, especially in the role of Romeo. He observed this and comparing the sparkling music of these French and Italians with the German Kapellmeister-music which was then coming into vogue, it seemed indeed tedious and tormenting. Why should not he then, this youth of twenty-one, ready for any deed and every pleasure, earnestly longing for success, enter upon the same course? Beethoven appeared to him as the keystone of a great epoch to be followed by something new and different. The fruit of this restless seething struggle was "Das Liebesverbot oder die Novize von Palermo," his first opera which reached a performance.

The material was taken from Shakspeare's "Measure for Measure," not however without making its earnestness conform to the ideas of "Young Europe," and leaving the victory to sensualism. Isabella, the novice, begs of the puritanical governor her brother's life, who has forfeited it through some love affair. The governor agrees to grant the pardon, on condition that she shall yield to his desires. A carnival occurs, and, as in "Masaniello," a young man who loves the maiden, incites a revolution, exposes the governor, and receives Isabella's hand. The spirit which pervades this tempestuous carnival pleasure is sufficiently characterized by a verse in the only chorus-number, which has appeared in print from this opera: "Who does not rejoice in our pleasure plunge the knife into his breast!"

There were, it will be observed, two radically different possibilities of development. The "sacred fervor of his sensitive soul," which he had nourished with the German instrumental music, had encountered the tendency to sensualism, and, as we find so often in Wagner's works, these two elements of our nature were powerfully portrayed, with the victory ever remaining to the judicious and serious conception of life. Struggles and sorrows of various kinds were to bring this "sacred earnestness" again into the foreground, to remain there forever afterward.

In the autumn of 1834, during which this text had been written, Wagner accepted the position of Kapellmeister at the Magdeburg theatre and thus entered the field of practical activity. The position suited him and he soon proved himself an able director, especially for the stage. His skill in music, composed for the passing moment, soon gained for him the desired success and induced him to compose the music to the "Liebesverbot." "It often gave me a childish pleasure to rehearse these light, fashionable operas, and to stand at the director's desk and let the thing loose to the right and left," he tells us. He did not seek in the least to avoid the French style but on the contrary felt confident, that an actress like Schroeder-Devrient could even in such frivolous music invest his Isabella with dignity and value. With such expectations in art and life before him, he took unhesitatingly the serious step of engaging himself to Mina Planer, a beautiful actress at the Magdeburg theatre, who unfortunately however was never destined to appreciate his nobler aspirations.

In the spring of 1836, before the dissolution of the Magdeburg troupe, an overhasty presentation of his opera was given, the only one that ever took place. It was said of it by one: "There is much in it, and it is very pleasing. There is that music and melody, which we so rarely find in our distinctive German operas." He had himself for some time completely neglected "The Fairies." The score of both operas is in the possession of King Louis of Bavaria. They were to be followed by one destined to survive—"Rienzi."

He had sought in vain to secure a performance of the "Liebesverbot," first in Leipzig, then in Berlin. In the latter city he saw one of Spontini's operas performed and for the first time fully recognized the meagre resources of the native stage, particularly in scenic presentation. How Paris must have aroused his longing where Spontini had introduced the opera upon a grander scale and with stronger ensemble! The financial difficulties however, which followed the dissolution of the Magdeburg theatre and the failure of his compositions forced him to continue his connection still longer with the German stage, wretched as it was. He next went to Koenigsberg. The position there was not sufficiently remunerative to protect him from want, now that he was married. One purpose he kept constantly in view, namely, to perform some splendid work of art and with it free himself from his embarrassing position. In every interesting romance he sought the material for a grand opera. Among others, he selected Koenig's "Hohe Braut," rapidly arranged the scenes and sent the manuscript to Scribe in Paris, whose endorsement was considered essential, and whose "Huguenots" had just helped to make Meyerbeer one of the stars of the day. Nothing came of it however. Of what importance in this direction was Germany at that time? The Koenigsberg troupe was also soon dissolved. "Some men are at once decisive in their character and their works, while others have first to fight their way through a chaos of passions. It is true however that the latter class obtain greater results," it is said in one account of this short episode. He was soon to accomplish such an achievement. In the city of Koenigsberg, the old seat of the Prussian kings, he had won a friend for life who, as will subsequently appear, proved of service to him. The general character of life in Prussia also greatly contributed to strengthen in him that independent bearing of which Spontini's imperious splendor had given him a hint, and which subsequently was to invest his own art with so much importance in the world's history.

During a visit to Dresden in 1837 he came across Bulwer's "Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes," in which he became deeply interested, the more so that the hero had been in his mind for some time. The necessities of subsistence now drove him across the borders to Riga. His Leipzig friend Dorn was there, and Karl Holtei had just organized a new theatre. He was made director of music and his wife appeared in the leading feminine roles. Splendid material was at hand and Wagner went zealously to work. He was obliged however to produce here also the works of Adam, Auber, and Bellini, which gave him a still deeper insight into the degradation of the modern stage, with its frivolous comedy, of which he had a perfect horror. About this time he became familiar with the legend of the "Flying Dutchman," as Heine relates it, with the new version that love can release the Ahasuerus of the sea. The "fabulous home sickness," of which Heine speaks, found an echo in his own soul and excited it the more. He studied moreover Mehul's "Joseph in Egypt" and under the influence of the grave and noble music of this imitator of the great Gluck, he felt himself "elevated and purified." Even Bellini's "Norma," under the influence of such impressions, gained a nobler tone and more dignified form than is really inherent in the music. "Norma" was at that time even given for his benefit! He now took up the "Rienzi" material in earnest and projected a plan for the work which required the largest stage for its execution. The lyric element of the romance, the messengers of peace, the battle hymns, and the passion of love had already charmed his purely musical sense. It was however by a solid work for the theatre, of which the main feature should not be simply "beautiful verses and fine rhymes" but rather strength of action and stirring scenes, aided by all available means for producing effect through scenery and the ballet, that he hoped to win success at the Paris grand opera. In the fall of 1838 he began the composition.

The first two acts had scarcely been completed when Paris stood clearly before the poet-composer's eyes. Meanwhile the contract with Holtei drew to a close, but there were difficulties in the way that could not easily be removed. He had contracted many debts and without proof of their liquidation no one could at that time leave Russia. Flight was determined upon. His friend from Koenigsberg, an old and rich lumber merchant, in whose house he had spent many a social evening, took his wife in a carriage over the border, passing her as his own, while Wagner escaped in some other way. At Pillau they went on board a sailing vessel, their first destination being London. Now began the real lifework of Wagner, which was not to cease until he, who had struggled with poverty and sorrow, was to see emperors and kings as guests in his art-temple at Baireuth.

The long sea voyage of twenty-five days, full of mishaps, had a very important bearing upon his art. The stormy sea along the Norwegian coast and the stories of the sailors who never doubled the existence of the "Flying Dutchman," gave life and definite form to the legend. He remained but a short time in London, seeing the city and its two houses of Parliament, and then went to Boulogne-sur-Mer. He remained there four weeks, for Meyerbeer was there taking sea baths, and his Parisian introductions were of the highest importance. The composer of the "Huguenots" immediately recognized the talent of the younger artist, and particularly praised the text to "Rienzi," which Scribe was soon to imitate for him in his weak production of "The Prophet." At the same time he pointed out the obstacles to success in the great city which it would be extremely difficult for one to overcome without means or connections. Wagner however relied on his good star and departed for that city which he conceived to be the only one that could open the way to the stage of the world for a dramatic composer. The result of the visit to Paris was an abundance of disappointments, but it added largely to his experience, increased his strength, nay more, even gave rise to his first great work.

Meyerbeer recommended him to the director of the Renaissance Theatre and besides acquainted him with artists of note. An introduction to the Grand Opera however was out of the question for one who was an utter stranger. Through Heinrich Laube, then in Paris, he made the acquaintance of Heine, who was much surprised that a young musician with his wife and a large Newfoundland dog should come to Paris, where everything, however meritorious, must conquer its position. Wagner himself has described these experiences in Lewald's "Europa," under the title of "Parisian Fatalities of Germans." His first object was to win some immediate success and he accordingly offered to the above named director the "Liebesverbot," which apparently was well suited to French taste. Unfortunately this theatre went into bankruptcy, so all his efforts were fruitless. He now sought to make himself known through lyrics set to music and wrote several, such as Heine's "Grenadiers," but a favorite amateur balladist, Loisa Puget, reigned supreme in the Paris salons, and neither he nor Berlioz could obtain a hearing. His means were constantly diminishing and a terrible bitterness filled his soul against the splendid Paris salons and theatre world, whose interior appeared so hollow.

It happened one day that he heard the Ninth symphony at a performance of the Conservatory, whose concerts were always splendidly and carefully executed, and, as before, it stirred his inmost soul. Once more his genius came to his rescue. He felt intuitively—what we now know with historical certainty—that this work was born of the same spirit which bore Faust, and thus in him also this "ever restless spirit seeking for something new" was called into being and activity. The overture to Faust, in reality the prelude of a Faust symphony, tells us in tones of mighty resolve that his power to do and to will still lived, and would not yield till it had performed its part. This was toward the close of the year 1840.

"The God, who in my breast resides, Can deeply stir the inner sources; Though all my energies he guides, He cannot change external forces. Thus by the burden of my days oppressed, Death is desired, and life a thing unblest."

With such a confession he regained strength to battle against Parisian superficiality, which even in the sacred sphere of art seemed to seek only for outward success and to admire whatever fashion dictated. His criticisms on the condition of life and art in Paris are very severe. Even the noble Berlioz does not escape censure from the artist's stand-point, while Liszt, who resided there at the time, he had not yet learned to appreciate. But again the saving genius of his art, German music, rose resplendent, and she it was who recalled him to his own self and to art.

He now entirely gave up the "Liebesverbot," as he felt that he could not respect himself unless he did so. He thought of his native land. A heroic patriotism seized him, although tinged with a political bearing, for he did not forget the Bundestag and its resistance to every movement for liberty, and yet withal he beheld the coming grandeur of his fatherland. Now he himself first fully comprehended Rienzi's words about his noble bride, whom he saw dishonored and defiled, and a deep anger awakened in him those mighty exhorting accents which his enthusiasm had already intoned in Rienzi's first speech to the nobility and the people, and which had not been heard in Germany since Schiller's days. As Rienzi resolved not to rest until his proud Roma was crowned as queen of the world, so now there flashed through him also the conviction, as he has so beautifully said in speaking of Beethoven's music, that the genius of Germany was destined to rescue the mind of man from its deep degradation. In the merely superficial culture, which the Semitic-Gallic spirit had impressed upon the period, and with which it held all Europe as in a net of iron, he saw only utter frivolity. The great revolution had brought about many political and social reforms but the liberation of the soul, like that accomplished by the Reformation, it had not effected. There was a material condition and mental tendency which he afterward, not without reason, compared with the times of the Roman emperors. Heine and his associates formed the literary centre, but even more effective in its influence was Meyerbeer's grand opera. The imperious sway of fashion had usurped the place of real culture and the problem was therefore again to elevate culture with his art to its proper sphere. He became more and more conscious of a mission which went far beyond the realm of mere art-work. Even in this foreign land, which had treated him so coldly and with such hostile egoism, he was to find the ways and means to carry out his mission and to create for us actual human beings instead of phantoms. In his "Parisian Fatalities," Wagner said of the Germans in Paris that they learned anew to appreciate their mother tongue and to strengthen their patriotic feeling. "Rienzi" was an illustration of this patriotic sentiment. He now resolved to produce this composition for Dresden and the thought gave him fresh zeal for work. Elsewhere, he says of the Germans: "As much as they generally dread the return to their native land, they yet pine away from it with homesickness." Longing for home! Had he not once before beheld a being wasting away in the constant longing for the eternal home and yet destined never to find rest? The "Flying Dutchman" recurred to his imagination and to the outward form of the ever-wandering seaman was added the human heart, constantly longing for love and faithfulness. After having come to an understanding with Heine, he rapidly arranged the material of this Wandering Jew of the sea. A fortunate circumstance, the return of Meyerbeer to Paris, even gave promise that the work might secure a hearing at the grand opera.

That he might be at rest while engaged on this work he earned his daily bread by arranging popular operas for cornet-a-piston. He submitted to this deep humiliation for he was conscious of the prize to be obtained by "serving." A partial compensation in thus working for hire he found in the permission given him by the sympathetic music publisher, Schlesinger, to write for his Gazette Musicale to which he contributed many brilliant articles. In these he could at least do in words what he was not allowed to do otherwise. He could disclose the splendor of German music, and never before has anyone written of Mozart, Weber, and Beethoven with keener appreciation or profounder thought. Of the last named he proposed to write a comprehensive biography and entered into correspondence with a publisher in Germany.[A] He confronted the formal culture of the Latin races with the character of the German mind, as it were the head of the Medusa, and the consciousness of his mission kept up his spirits under the most trying circumstances. With Paris as an art centre he had done. Like Mozart's "Idomeneo" to the Opera Seria, "Rienzi" was his last tribute to the Grand Opera. They have forever extinguished the genre in style by exhausting its capabilities.

[Footnote A: The letter appears in the book entitled "Mosaics," published in Leipzig, 1881.]

In the meantime "Rienzi" had been accepted at Dresden, and he now hoped through Meyerbeer's influence to see it also accepted by the Grand Opera. The director, however, had been so well pleased with the "Flying Dutchman" that he wished to appropriate the poem for himself, or rather for another composer. In order therefore not to lose everything, Wagner sold the copyright for Paris for 500 francs and it soon after appeared as "Vaisseau Phantome." It naturally followed that for the present his most urgent task was to complete the work for himself and in his own way. The performance of the "Freischuetz" had increased his ambition and his other experiences had completely disgusted him with the modern Babylon. The romance—for such it was—was soon finished. He had allowed a beautiful myth simply to tell its own story and had avoided all the nonsense of the opera with its finales, duets, and ballets, wishing simply to reveal to his countrymen once more the divine attributes of the soul. But now that the romance was to be set to music he feared that his art might have deserted him, so long had it remained unused. However the work progressed rapidly enough. He had in his mind as the main motive of the work, Senta's ballad, and around it clustered at once the whole musical arrangement of the material. The Sailor's Chorus and the Spinning Song were popular melodies, for the "Freischuetz" continually kept them humming in his ears. In seven weeks the work was completed, with the exception of the overture, which every day's pressing wants retarded for a few weeks longer.

Leipzig and Munich promptly declined the work with which he had proposed to salute his fatherland once more. The latter city declared that the opera was not adapted to Germany! Through Meyerbeer's influence it was then accepted in Berlin. Thus hated Paris led to the production of two works in which he touched strings that find their fullest response only in a German's heart. The prospect of returning to his fatherland delighted him. What could be more natural than that his mind strove to study more and more closely the spirit and development of his fatherland, in order to raise other and better monuments to it? He renewed his studies in German history, although solely for the purpose of finding suitable material for operas. At first, Manfred and the brilliant era of the Hohenstauffens attracted him. But this historic world at once and utterly disappeared when he beheld that figure in which the spirit of the Ghibellines attained in human form its highest development and greatest beauty—Tannhaeuser! His previous readings in German literature had made him familiar with the story, but he now for the first time understood it. The simple popular tale stirred him to such a degree that his whole soul was filled with the image of its hero. It revealed the path to the historic depths of our folk-lore to which Beethoven's and Weber's music had long since given him the clues. The story had some connection with the "Saengerkrieg auf Wartburg," and in this contest, he saw at once the possibility of fully revealing the qualities of his hero, who raises the first German protest against the pretended culture and sham morality of the Latin world. The old poem of this "Saengerkrieg," is further connected with the legend of Lohengrin. Thus it was that in foreign Paris he was destined to gain at once and permanently a realization of the native qualities of our common nature, which, from primeval times, the German spirit has put into these legends.

After a stay of more than three years abroad, he left Paris, April 7, 1842. "For the first time I saw the Rhine; with tears in my eyes, I, a poor artist, swore to be ever loyal to my German fatherland," he says. Have we not seen that this "poor artist" with the might of his magic wand has created a world of new life, and what is far more, has aroused the genius of his people, aye, the very soul of mankind, and has led his epoch and his nation to the achievement of new and permanent intellectual results?

We now come to his first efforts towards the accomplishment of such results. They were to cost hard labor, anxiety, struggles, and pain of every kind indeed, but they were done and they stand to-day.




Success and Recognition—Hofkapellmeister to the Saxon Court—New Clouds—"Tannhaeuser" Misunderstood—The Myths of "The Flying Dutchman" and "Tannhaeuser"—Aversion to Meyerbeer—The Religious Element—"Lohengrin"—The Idea of "Lohengrin"—Wagner's Revolutionary Sympathies—The Revolution of 1848—The Poetic Part of "Siegfried's Death"—The Revolt in Dresden—Flight from Dresden—"Siegfried Words."

"Give me a place to stand."—Archimedes.

In an enthusiastic account of the first presentation of the "Flying Dutchman" in Riga, May, 1843, it is said: "The 'Flying Dutchman' is a signal of hope that we shall soon be rescued from this wild wandering in the strange seas of foreign music and shall find once more our blessed home." In a similar strain, the Illustrierte Zeitung said: "It is the duty of all who really cherish native art to announce to the fatherland the appearance of a man of such promise as Wagner." Indeed Wagner himself says that the success of the work was an important indication that we need but write "as our native sense suggests." That he himself perceived a new era of the highest and purest outpouring of a new spirit is shown in the composition of this year (1843), the "Liebesmahl der Apostel," wherein he quotes from the Bible: "Be of good cheer for I am near you and My spirit is with you." A chorus of forty male voices exultingly proclaimed this promise from the high church choir loft in Dresden, on the occasion of the Maennergesangvereins-Fest.

"Rienzi" was performed in October 1842, and the "Flying Dutchman" January 2, 1843, both meeting with an enthusiastic reception. Wagner himself had conducted the rehearsals and secured the support of newly won friends and such eminent artists as Schroeder-Devrient and Tichatschek. His success gained for him the distinction of Hofkapellmeister to the Saxon Court. The position once held by Weber was now his. The objects which he had sought to accomplish seemed within reach and he heartily entered into the brilliant art life of the city, the more so as hitherto he had not enjoyed it though possessing the desire and knowledge to do so. Although "Rienzi" retained a certain degree of popularity, the "Flying Dutchman" however had not really been understood, and the more it was heard, the less was it appreciated. How could it be otherwise amid such a public as then existed in Germany? In the upper and middle classes French novels were the favorite literature, while the stage was controlled by French and Italian operas. With all their superficiality they combined perfection in the art of singing, but failed to awaken any sense of the intrinsic worth of our own nature. There were but few of sufficiently delicate feeling to perceive in this composition the continuation of the noble aims of Mozart, Beethoven, and Weber. Wagner himself while in Dresden was destined to continue the struggle against all that was foreign as these three masters had done before him. "Professional musicians admitted my poetic talent, poets conceded that I possessed musical capacity," is the way he characterizes the prevailing misunderstanding of his endeavors and his works, which required a generation to overcome.

He constantly sought to direct public attention to the grander and nobler compositions, such as Gluck's "Armide" and "Iphigenia in Aulis," Weber's "Euryanthe" and "Freischuetz," Marschner's "Hans Heiling," Spohr's "Jessonda," and other grand works for concerts, like Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony" and Bach's "Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied," all of which were performed in a masterly manner, while such compositions as Spontini's "Vestalin" he at least helped to display in the best light. He was also very active in having Weber's remains brought from London. He not only composed a funeral march, for the obsequies, upon motives from "Euryanthe," which was very powerful in effect, but he also has reminded posterity of what it possesses in this the youngest German master of the musical stage. "No musician, more thoroughly German than thou, has ever lived," he said at the grave. "See, now the Briton does thee justice, the Frenchman admires thee, but the German alone can love thee. Thou art his, a beautiful day in his life, a warm drop of his blood, a part of his heart." Thus at times he succeeded in arousing the public. But on the whole, his ideas were not accepted, and it retained its accustomed views and continued in the old pleasures. Wagner began again to feel more and more his isolated position. The complete misunderstanding of Tannhaeuser, which he began to write when he first arrived in Dresden, and the refusals of the work by other cities, Berlin among them, declaring it "too epic," rendered this sense of isolation complete. The recurrence of such experiences as these showed him how far his art was still removed from its ideal and his contemporaries from the comprehension of their own resources. He realized the fact that his own improved circumstances had deceived him, and that in truth the same superficiality of life and degradation of the stage prevailed everywhere. The course of events during the next generation but proved the truth of this. Whatever of merit was produced met with hostility, as in the case of our artist. The growing perception of these facts led him gradually to revolt against the art-circumstances of his time, and as he became convinced that the condition of art was but the result of the social and political, indeed of the existing mental condition of the people, he at last broke out into open revolution against the entire system. This very agitation of soul, however, became the source of his artistic creations, wherein he attempted to disclose grander ideals and nobler art, and they form therefore, as in the case of every real artist, his own genuine biography. In tracing the origin of his works, we follow the inner current of his life.

Thus far we have availed ourselves of the biographical notes which Wagner, prior to the representation of the "Flying Dutchman," gave to his friend Heinrich Laube for publication in the "Zeitung fuer die elegante Welt." We are now guided further by one of the most stirring spiritual revelations in existence, his "Communication to my Friends," in the year 1851, in that banishment to which his noblest endeavors had brought him, written with his heart's blood, as a preface to the publication of the three opera poems, namely, "Flying Dutchman," "Tannhaeuser" and "Lohengrin." It is the consummation of his artistic as well as human development out of which grew his highest creations.

We must recur to the "Flying Dutchman," whose real name was "Hel Laender," the guide of the deadship, or the fallen sun-bark, which, according to the Teutonic legend, conveyed the heroes to Hel, the region of perpetual night. We shall confine ourselves however to the later version of the middle ages, the only one with which Wagner was familiar. "The form of the 'Flying Dutchman' is the mythic poem of the people; a primeval trait of humanity is expressed in it with heartrending force," Wagner says to those who in spite of Goethe's "Faust" had formed no conception of the vitality, and poetic treasures that lay concealed in the myth. In its general significance the motive is to be considered as the longing for rest from the storms of life. The Greeks symbolized this in Odysseus, who, during his wanderings at sea, longed for his native land, his wife, and home—"On this earth are all my pleasures rooted." Christianity, which recognizes only a spiritual home, reversed this conception in the person of the "Wandering Jew." For this wanderer, condemned eternally to live over again a life, without purpose and without pleasure, and of which he has long since grown weary, there is no deliverance on earth. Nothing remains to him but the longing for death. Toward the close of the middle ages, after the human mind had been satiated with the supernatural, and the revival of vital activity impelled men to new enterprises, this longing disclosed itself most boldly and successfully in the history of the efforts to discover new worlds. An "impetuous desire to perform manly deeds" seized mankind as the earth-encircling, boundless ocean came into view, no longer the closely encircled inland sea of the Greeks. The longing of Odysseus, which in the "Wandering Jew" has grown into longing for death, now aims at a new life, not yet revealed, but distinctly perceived in the prospective. It is the form of the "Flying Dutchman," in which both expressions of the human soul are joined in a new and strange union, such as the spirit of the people alone can produce. He had sworn to sail past a cape in spite of wind and waves, and for that is condemned by a demon, the spirit of these elements, to sail on the ocean through all eternity. He can gratify the longing which he feels, through a woman, who will sacrifice herself for his love, but to the Jew it was denied. He seeks this woman therefore that he may pass away forever. There is this difference however: She is no longer Penelope caring for her home, but woman in general, the loving soul of mankind, which the world has lost in its eager strife to conquer new worlds, and which can only be regained when this strife shall cease and yield to a new activity, truer to human nature.

"From the swamps and floods of my life often emerged the 'Flying Dutchman,' and ever with irresistible attraction. It was the first popular poem which took deep hold of my heart," says Wagner. At this point his career began as a poet, and he ceased to write opera-texts. It is true there was still much that was indecisive and confused in the experiment, but the leading features are pictured verbally with remarkable clearness, and the music invests them with a sense and distinctness of convincing force as an inseparable whole, such as had not been previously known in opera. It may be said that with the "Flying Dutchman" a new operatic era began, or rather the attainment of its dimly conceived destiny as a musical drama. It also expresses the mental activity of the time and the longing for a new world, which was to redeem mankind and secure for us an existence worthy of ourselves. It still appears to us as the native land, encircling us with its intimate associations, and yet there also appears in it the longing for a return to our own individual identity, in which alone we can find the traces of our higher humanity, which a narrowing and degrading foreign influence had banished. Goethe's "Faust," Byron's "Manfred," and Heine's "Ratcliff," all give utterance to the same feeling, with more or less beauty and power; but the blissful repose of deliverance really secured, they could not express with the perfection displayed by Wagner. He was not only secure in this advantage, but he was able to pursue it with increasing energy, so as to push away to a great distance the obstacles which burdened the time.

We perceive the same characteristic in "Tannhaeuser," which, it seems, even at that time had impressed itself upon him with great force. This legend also had its origin in the myths of nature. The Sun-god sinks at eve on Klingsor's mountain castle in the arms of the beautiful Orgeluse, queen of the night, from whose embraces the longing for light drives him again at dawn. We must, however, also here confine ourselves to the particular mediaeval form of the legend, as Wagner himself relates it.

The old Teutonic goddess, Holda, whose annual circuit enriched the fields, met the same fate after the introduction of Christianity, as Wotan, that of having her kindly influence suspected and described as malignant. She was relegated to the heart of the mountains, as her appearance was supposed to indicate disaster. At a later period, her name disappeared in that of the heathen Venus, to which all conceptions of a being that entices to evil pleasures could be more easily attached. One such mountain region was the Hoerselberg (Orgelusa Mountain), in Thuringia, where Venus maintained a luxurious, sensual court. Jubilant melodies were heard there, which led him, whose blood ran riot, unwittingly into the mountain. A beautiful old song, however, tells us that the noble knight, Tannhaeuser, mythically the same as Heinrich von Ofterdingen, remained there a whole year, and then was seized with the recollection of the life on earth, and made a pilgrimage to Rome to obtain indulgence for his sins. It reads thus:

"The Pope had a stick white and dry, Cut from the branches so bare; Thy sins shall all be forgiven, When on it green leaves appear."

Tannhaeuser wanders again into the mountain. But the good sense of the people knew what was just:

"To bring consolation to man, The priest is commissioned of Heaven; The penitent, sorrowing heart Hath all its sins forgiven."

The condemnation of the penitent is the curse of the old church, for according to the true doctrine of the Gospels, as accepted and faithfully treasured by the German people after long struggles, it is not deeds but faith that secures salvation. So in the progress of the legend leaves sprout from the dry stick, for "high above the universe is God and his mercy is no mockery."

Wagner gives to the loving Elizabeth the knowledge of this eternal mercy and from a simple child-like being she ascends to the heights of martyrdom. Not until one human soul had gained the strength to die for his redemption is the vehemence of his own nature broken, and he finds relief in death, thus verifying the essence of religion and rejecting forever false church-doctrine.

"A consuming glowing excitement kept my blood and nerves in a state of feverish agitation," Wagner says, speaking of the first presentation of this "Tannhaeuser." His fortunate change of circumstances, contact with a luxurious court, and the expectation of material success had fostered a desire for pleasure that led him in a direction counter to his real nature. There was no other way to satisfy this craving except by following as an artist the reigning fashion and the general striving after success. "If I were to condense all that is pernicious and wearisome in the making of opera-music, I should call it Meyerbeer," he says, "inasmuch as it ignores the wants of the soul and seeks to gratify the eye and ear alone." After all, was it the mere gratification of the senses that he really longed for? His aspirations grew in the natural soil of those life-feelings which dictate that religion and morality shall not destroy natural impulses, but sanctify them. Before his soul stood a pure, chaste, maidenly image of unapproachable and intangible holiness and loveliness. In his own words, his nature passionately and ardently embraced the outward forms of this conception whose essence was the love of all that is noble and pure. No other artist ever possessed a deeper sense of the need of our time. With this protest against the violence done our purely human nature, he places us again on a solid footing and symbolizes in art the highest accomplishment of religion—regeneration by knowledge. It is to this that we owe the regeneration of our national life. The religious element of our nature has preserved us and made us a great nation.

He confesses he had been so intensely engrossed in composing "Tannhaeuser," that the nearer he approached the end, the more the idea possessed him that sudden death would prevent its completion. As he wrote the last note it seemed to him as though his life had been in danger till then. The "Flying Dutchman" was a protest against the purposeless wanderings of the human mind in every external department of knowledge, while "Tannhaeuser" was a bold historical protest against all that would subject the hidden sense of truth in our nature to violent interpretation and arbitrary dogmas. From this time forth his sphere became the purely human, and in this too he shows us by his powerful art that which is indispensable and eternal in human existence joined with the complete realization of the only natural way to develop all our qualities. We have come to "Lohengrin," conceived in 1847, and completed in its instrumental parts in March, 1848. It was in truth "his child of pain."

After the completion of "Tannhaeuser," his native sense of humor prompted him to design a satirical play on the "Saengerkrieg auf Wartburg," namely the "Meistersinger von Nuernberg," of which, more further on. The painful experience of being misunderstood in all his earnest efforts as a man and as an artist, his failure to make the assistance he longed to give acceptable, drove him back with passionate vehemence into a serious frame of mind, in which condition he could well understand the Lohengrin material. Hitherto, in the mystic twilight of its mediaeval presence, it had inspired him with some degree of suspicion, but he now recognized in it a romance, wherein was embodied the longing desires of pure human nature, and the imperative necessity of love, as well as its artistic meaning.

The fundamental trait of this legend, as in "Tannhaeuser" and in the flight of Odysseus from the embraces of sensualism, had already appeared in the Greek myth of Zeus and Semele. Like the God from the cloudy Olympian realms, so Lohengrin from the boundless ether to which Christian imagination had assigned Olympus, descends to the human female in the natural longing of love. There was an old tradition in the legends of the people who dwelt near the sea, to the effect that on its blue surface an unknown man of indescribable grace and beauty approaches, whose resistless charms win every heart. He disappears again, retreating with the waves, whenever it is sought to discover who he is. So also in the Scheldt region once appeared a handsome hero, drawn by a swan. He rescued a persecuted, innocent maiden, and married her, but when she asked him who he was and whence he came, he was compelled to forsake her. How does our poet interpret the legend?

Lohengrin, the son of Parcival, the royal guardian of the Holy Grail, who represents the ideal in humanity, although he was probably originally identical with the German Sun-god, who longs to rest in the arms of night—this Lohengrin seeks the wife that believes in him, who will not ask who he is and whence he came, but will love him as he is, and simply as he appears to her. He sought the wife, to whom he need not declare himself, need not justify himself, but who will love him without question. Like Zeus, he had to conceal his divine nature, for only in this way could he know that he was really loved, and not simply admired, which was all he longed for when he descended from his ethereal heights to the warm earth below. He longs to be human, to experience the warm feelings of humanity, and gain a loving heart; with these longings he descended from his blissful, lonely heights, when he heard the cry of this heart for help in the midst of mankind. The halo of his higher nature, however, betrays him. He can not but appear as miraculous. The staring of the vulgar and the rancor of the envious cloud the heart of the loving Elsa. Doubts and jealousy show that he has not been understood but simply adored, and this draws from him the confession of his divinity, after which he returns, his purpose unaccomplished, to his solitude.

We must bear in mind how highly our poet even at that time prized this artistic wealth. To Goethe, art was "like good deeds;" Schiller hoped with its aid to unify the nation, and Wagner, especially after the discovery of such grand art-material as those myths contained, regarded it as the real fountain of health for the nation and the time. We shall soon observe that at last his art embraced our highest ideals in religion as well. Such an art, however, exists only in the heart which believes in it, and we have seen how antagonistic was the spirit of the time, particularly to this artist, who had emerged from the blissful solitude of his own creative mind and sought the sympathy of the warm human heart. He justly felt that the theme was a tragic symbol of the time, and he was therefore enabled to present Lohengrin as an entirely new artistic conception, something no poet had previously succeeded in accomplishing.

More than this he discloses to us that which his Elsa imparted to him—the nature of the feminine heart. "I could not help justifying her in the outbreak at last of jealousy and at that moment for the first time I fully comprehended the purely human nature of love," he says. "This woman, who by passion is brought from the heights of rapturous adoration back to her real nature and reveals it in her ruin, this magnificent woman, from whom Lohengrin disappeared because his peculiar nature prevented him from understanding her, I had now discovered." The effect of this was to clarify his vision, as we shall likewise learn. The lost arrow that he sent after this valuable treasure had been his Lohengrin, which he had to sacrifice in order to discover the track of the "true womanly" which Goethe was the first to long for ardently, and which music had revealed as it were the sound of a bell in the dark forest. This alone can explain why the masculine egoism, even in so noble a form as our idealism had hitherto assumed, was forced to yield to its influence. But this Elsa was only the unconscious spirit of the people and the perception of this must of necessity have made him, as he says, "a thorough revolutionist." He felt that this spirit of the people was restrained by wrong conceptions of morality and false ideals. He heard its lamentations, and verily, if ever a genius served his people, then did the genius of Wagner avail him as the worker of "good deeds." He prophetically indicated at that time what subsequently became an exquisite reality. "Only a good deed can help here," he writes after the completion of "Lohengrin." "A gifted and inspired man must with good fortune attain to power and influence who can elevate his inmost convictions to the dignity of law. For it is possible after all, if chance will have it so that a king will permit a competent man to have his way as well as an incompetent one. The public can only be educated through facts. So long as an immense majority is carried away by the mezza-voce of a virtuoso, its needs are readily discerned and satisfied."

It is now our duty to record how he arrived at this remarkably independent action of the artist; we follow his notes, as they furnish the clearest testimony. Their stirring recital is touching enough for any one who can look upon the nation in the light of the history of mankind, to which has been assigned its own peculiar ideal problems.

In the meantime the revolution of 1848 had broken out. Although never really much inclined toward politics, Wagner had foreseen its necessity; but as soon as he came in contact with its various elements, he recognized only too clearly that none of the warring factions had the least conception of his own aims. Notwithstanding this, he perfected a plan for the reorganization of the stage by which alone under the circumstances the nation and the time could be strongly impressed again with the ideal in thought and art. The political rostrum showed soon enough how blunt were its arrows. And what of the Catholic syllabus and Protestant "Culturkampf" as well? Dead children born of dead mothers! Most of all it was important to create anew for that stage the ideals which would serve to elevate the time. Even while at work on "Lohengrin," which always made him feel as if he were on an oasis in a desert waste and for which he gathered strength from the performance of the Ninth symphony in Dresden, Siegfried and Friedrich der Rothbart appeared to him. Each contained the elements which lie nearest the heart. Each was a type and model of our distinct characteristics. He recognized at once however that Friedrich I. (Barbarossa) was only the historical regeneration of Siegfried, and that the latter was in reality the youthful handsome hero to form the object and centre of a work of art and to convey to us in its fullness and beauty the purely human idea as Wagner conceived it. How he found and interpreted this Siegfried, he has told us in the pamphlet, "The Wibelungen, History from Legend" which appeared in 1850.

The delight produced by the discovery of this "actor of reality, this man in the fullness of highest and boundless power and most indisputable loveliness" revealed to him by his Elsa, only intensified for the present at least the feeling that in his best efforts and his knowledge he stood sadly alone. His longing was intense, the more so that in this actual life he could accomplish his purpose as Faust says:

"The God, who in my breast resides, He can not change external forces."

This longing grew until it seemed as if self-annihilation alone could bring relief, and then appeared to him the image of Him whose death brought salvation to mankind. He conceived the idea of picturing a human "Jesus of Nazareth," to represent the universal rejection, in all its malignity and rancor, to which Jesus fell a victim. The reflection, however, that he certainly could not secure a representation of his work under existing circumstances, and the additional fact that after the Revolution, which seemed bound to destroy every favorable condition, such a declaration of internal struggle would have counted for nothing, induced him to leave the plan unexecuted. Besides, in this year (1848), he had already finished "Siegfried's Death," in its poetic form, and had even sketched some of the musical thoughts connecting with that new world, to which he had looked forward with such buoyant hope. At last came also the complete rupture with the world that surrounded him, even while he was devoting the best endeavors of his life to it. Wagner himself informs us of the clear insight he had gained into the nature of the political movement. Either the old state of things must remain intact or the new must sweep it entirely away. He recognized the approach of the catastrophe which was certain to engulf every one who was in earnest and unselfish enough to desire a change of the deplorable conditions so generally felt. The ancient spirit of a decayed past had outlived itself and openly and insolently offered defiance to the existing and ruling conditions. Knowing well the unavoidable decision which he would have to form, he ceased all productive activity. Every stroke of the pen appeared ridiculous, inasmuch as he could no longer deceive himself in regard to his prospects. He spent these May-days of 1849 in the open air, basking in the sunshine of the awakening spring and casting away all egoistic desires.

At this time the revolt in Dresden occurred, which, as a sort of forlorn hope, he thought might be the beginning of a general uprising in Germany. "After what has been said, who could be so blind as not to see that I had now no choice but to turn my back upon a world, to which no ties of sympathy bound me," he says, thus clearly indicating his active participation in the May-revolt. It was not long before the Prussians appeared, who had only waited the signal from Dresden. With many others Wagner had to take to flight. A long, sad banishment followed, but out of its necessities and privations rose the full man and artist who restored to his nation its ideals, or rather first established the ideal in its perfection. How this conception came to him is disclosed in the last words he uttered about the men and circumstances which combined to wickedly conceal it. It is as bold as it is inspiring, and it is only the deepest solicitude for our most sacred treasures that could give utterance to such words. It reads:

"There is nothing with which to compare the sensation of pleasure I experienced after the first painful impressions had been overcome, when I felt myself free, free from a world of tormenting, ever unsatisfied desires, free from conditions in which my aspirations had been my sole absorbing nourishment. When I, persecuted and proscribed, was no longer bound by any considerations to resort to a deception of any kind; when I had given up every hope and desire, and with unconstrained candor could say openly and plainly that I, the artist, hated from the bottom of my heart this hypocritical world which pretended to be interested in art and culture; when I could say to it that not one drop of artist's blood flowed in all its veins, that it had not one spark of manly culture or manly beauty,—then for the first time in my life I felt myself completely free, happy, and joyous, although I sometimes did not know where to conceal myself the next day that I might still breathe the free air of heaven."

These are words such as a Siegfried might have spoken. From this time on he did not rest until the Siegfried-deed was done and the sword was thrust into the dragon's heart.

The preparations for it were conducted with untiring energy and great wisdom. The works of art which he had already forged were the sword. The true and noble art, which had begun with Goethe, was now introduced in the various European centres of culture "with considerate speed," and finally inspired in Germany, the very centre of this culture and art, an understanding of their real elements. In the modest Zurich where the banishment began, in London—Paris had rejected it—in Petersburg, in Vienna, in Munich, and at last also in Berlin, which at that time did not appear to have "one drop of artist's blood in all its veins" the world's attention was aroused anew by actual representations, though often only in parts, to the fact, that the latter-day art of the last generation had removed us a great distance from our ideals. And finally he succeeded, at first in Munich, subsequently in Baireuth, in securing for the art of the stage a proper representation, and with it an awakening of the age to a correct perception of art as expressive of the ideal which stimulates the whole world. The thrust which pierced the heart of the dragon of the modern theatres was his "Parsifal," and the Siegfried, who dealt the blow, gained with his art the slumbering bride, the re-awakening heart of the nation and mankind.

Who is there to-day who will doubt that Faust denial of the curse and the prophetic presentment of a new world? Is it not true that the governing powers of the present time have seized upon the ideas in politics and society, which were the kernel of the movement of 1848 and 1849? Whenever they shall understand the mental strivings of the nation, as well as the political and military, then art and religion will gain the dignity and the right to which they are entitled. The revolt of Wagner was the revolt of the better soul of the nation which had been estranged from itself. Thirty years of deeds have shown that his word was the truth. We now come to their recital.




Visit to Liszt—Flight to Foreign Lands—Three Pamphlets—"Lohengrin" Performed—Wagner's Musical Ideas Expressed in Words—Resumption of the Nibelungen Poem—The Idea of the Poem—Its Religious Element—The First Music-Drama—In Zurich—New Art Ideas—Increasing Fame—"Tristan and Isolde"—Analysis of this Work—In Paris Again—The Amnesty—Tannhaeuser at the "Grand Opera"—"Lohengrin" in Vienna—Resurrection of the "Mastersingers of Nuremberg"—Final Return to Germany.

Seeking with all the soul the Grecian land.—Goethe.

The first impression following his sudden change of fate appeared in Wagner's own world as a good omen. "What I felt as I conceived this music, he felt when he conducted it; what I intended to say as I wrote it, he said as he interpreted it," he says of the Tannhaeuser rehearsal under Liszt's direction in Weimar, where he had gone for a few days for the sake of this "rarest of friends," who had already of his own accord given "Rienzi" and "Tannhaeuser" in the small Thuringian court-residence to which the Wartburg belongs.

His stay was cut short however, and disguised as a waggoner he left the city. Unfortunately the only place which he could reach in safety was Paris, and from this city he also speedily fled as from a dismal spectre whose disgusting features were again recognized. And yet he was destined to return to it, to retrieve his fortunes, with a possible success as an opera-composer, but also to be permanently convinced that this "modern Babylon," where others had conquered the world with their art-substitutes, was in absolute contrast with that which he sought and needed for his labors. But of Weimar he exclaimed:

"How wonderful! By the love of this rarest of friends, in the time when I was homeless, I secured the long desired and true home for my art, which I had hitherto sought in vain elsewhere. When I was doomed to wander in foreign lands, he who had wandered so much, retired permanently to a small town and there provided me a home."

Liszt had given up entirely his career as a performer, and acted mainly as Hofkapellmeister at the grand-ducal court in Weimar. Wagner made his acquaintance "in the terrible Parisian past," but did not then understand him. Liszt, however, lovingly watched his progress like an elder brother, and drew the misunderstood genius to his great heart. "Everywhere and always he cared for me. Ever prompt and decisive where aid was required, with a cordial response to all my wishes, and devoted love for me, he was to me what I had never found before, and with that intensity whose fullness we only comprehend when it actually embraces us in all its vastness."

Among the inspiring mountains of Switzerland he wrote a protest against the pretense of the momentary victors of the revolution, that they were the protectors of art. His pamphlet, "Art and the Revolution," disclosed the real nature of this so called art in the unsettled political and social condition of the time, and energetically rejected as art anything which under any guise sought to speculate upon the public. The "Art-Work of the Future" was a more extended paper which described the deadly influence of modern fashion upon art itself and the egoistic dismemberment of it into distinct branches, and revealed the art of the future as embracing all human art-capacities.

This misunderstood assertion gave rise to the term, "music of the future," first used by a would-be professor, L. Bischoff in Cologne, and immediately repeated everywhere by the thoughtless multitude. In the first pamphlet he assailed the governments which only sought their own particular advantage. In the second, likewise misunderstood, he irritated all the artists. His fiercest indignation was expended upon the born arch-enemies of our art and culture in the same year, 1850, when he published "Judaism in Music," under the name of "Freigedank." "What the heroes of the fine arts have wrested in the course of two thousand unhappy years of strenuous and persistent efforts, from the demon hostile to art, the Jew to-day converts into drafts on art-merchandise. Who would imagine that this great work has been cemented with the sweat and toil of genius for two thousand years," he exclaims in the exasperation of his soul at these flippant time-servers who dominated in the concert-hall and on the stage. Naturally the legion of their followers did not become his friends. They controlled the press, and it is due to this, that his most important writings are known even to-day only by his friends.

About this time he wrote the poetry to "Wiland der Schmied." It was in Paris he showed the Germans how dire necessity contrives the wings with which to escape from bondage and regain sweet liberty. Under the peculiar constraint which work, foreign to his nature, imposed upon him and which made him sick in body and soul, his eyes one day fell upon the score of "Lohengrin." Two words to Liszt and the reply determined him upon its performance. It occurred, August 28, 1850. It was in fact a fresh protest against a false art-world and in 1870, when the German people stood arrayed in arms against our foreign enemy everyone exclaimed in astonishment, "Lohengrin!" This selection for the celebration of Goethe's birthday was worthy of his memory, for Wagner, as great a poet as he was musician, had invested the work with every charm of tragic beauty, both in the text and poetical construction as well as in the ingenious design of its dramatic situations. The work marks a notable era in the history of German music.

Wagner now fully explained in his book, "Opera and Drama," published in 1861, the object of his art-revolution. The opera hitherto, as he said, was not even the germ, how much less the fruit of the art-work he purposed. On the contrary, the methods hitherto applied must be completely changed. Music must be made the essential and highest method of expression of poetry and the drama; but not the principal theme to which words and situations are subordinated. In this he unfolded all his artistic experience and claimed that whoever failed to understand him now, did so because he was determined not to understand. This can be found more fully treated in the "Allgemeine Musikgeschichte." To his real friends he presented in the autumn of the same year that "Communication" which reveals to us his manhood and is a biography of the soul without parallel.

The high purpose, perceivable from afar, whither his endeavors tended, appears in the real work of our artist taken up again at last. The noble and affectionate regard of the family of the rich merchant Wesendonck, in Zurich, provided him with a pleasant place of rest and needed support. The performance of "Lohengrin" was a summons to new deeds. He resumed the Nibelungen poem, and we shall see its powerful influence upon the national spirit and national art.

"Man receives his first impressions from surrounding nature, and in it no effect is so strong as that of light." Thus he begins in the "Wibelungen" of 1850. The day, the sun, appears as the very condition of life. Praise and adoration are bestowed upon it in contrast with the dark night which breeds terror. Thus light becomes the cause of all existence, Father, God. The day-break appears as the victory of light, and naturally there grow out of it at last moral impressions. This influence of nature is the foundation of all conceptions of divinity, the division into distinct religions depending upon the character of different tribes. The tribal tradition of the Franks, as the noblest type of the Germans, has the advantage of a steady development from its ancient origin into historic life. It likewise shows us in the far distant past the individual God of light as he slays the monster of the chaotic night—Siegfried's struggle with the dragon.

But as the day surrenders to the night and summer is followed by winter, so Siegfried finally is conquered and the god is changed into mortal man. Now that he has fallen, he kindles in the human heart a deeper sympathy. As the victim of a struggle that enriches us, he arouses the moral sense of vengeance against the murderer. The primeval struggle in nature is therefore continued by ourselves and its success is seen in the vicissitudes of human life through the ages, moving on from life to death, from joy to grief, and thus in perpetual rejuvenescence clearly discloses the character of man as well as of nature. The embodiment of this constant motion, the active life itself, however, ultimately finds in Wotan (Zeus) as the father of light, its distinct form. Although Zeus reigned supreme as the father of all the gods, yet his origin is due to the advanced knowledge of man while the God of light, Siegfried, is natural and so to speak born with him.

"The most important part of this tribal legend of the Franks is the treasure which Siegfried obtains and which henceforth bears his attributes as opposed to those of the primeval myth. The Scandinavians, for instance, have preserved a Nifelheim as the abode of the black demigods in contrast to the demigods of light. These Niflungars, children of night and of death, search the interior of the earth, discover its hidden treasures and invest them with new life by forging them into weapons and ornaments. The Nibelungs, whom we also find as the Myrmidons accompanying Achilles, the Siegfried of the Greeks—are now with their treasure elevated by the Franks to a moral importance. When Siegfried slew the Nibelungen dragon he gained its treasure. The possession of it increases his power immeasurably inasmuch as he now commands the Nibelungs, but it is at the same time the cause of his death, for the heir of the dragon seeks to regain the treasure and treacherously slays him as night does the day and draws him into the dark realm of death. Siegfried is transformed into a Nibelung! Although the acquisition of the treasure dooms it to death, still each new generation inevitably strives to obtain it. The treasure represents the embodiment of worldly power. It is the earth with all its glory as we see it at dawn, our own sunny property after the night has been driven away which had spread its dragon wings like a horrid spectre over the rich treasures of the world.

"The treasure itself, which the Nibelungs have gathered, is the metal found in the bowels of the earth which enables us to improve the earth, and to fashion weapons and golden crowns, the means of power and its symbols. The divine hero Siegfried, who first obtained it and thus became a Nibelung, left to his race the claim to the treasure. To revenge the slain hero and regain the treasure is the aim of the whole race of the Nibelung-Franks, and by it they are recognized in history as well as in legend."

Accordingly we find the noblest hero of the "Wibelungen," Friedrich Barbarossa, of the Hohenstauffen race ruling in the mountain, surrounded by Wotan's ravens. It is possible that the Franks were the ruling tribe even in the Indo-germanic home; at all events they laid claim to the mastery of the world as soon as they appear in history. Of this impulse or desire Charlemagne must have been conscious when he gathered the old tribal songs which contained the religious ideas of the race. Upon it Napoleon based his claim to the realm of Charlemagne. Is it not even possible that the Hohenzollerns were influenced by the recollection of this Germanic past when they endeavored to regain their old tribal seat in the Hohenstauffen land?

Here we close the intimate connection of the Nibelungen legend with our history. Temporal power, however, is not the highest destiny of a civilizing people. That our ancestors were conscious of this is shown in the fact that the treasure, or gold, and its power, was transformed into the Holy Grail. Worldly aims gave place to spiritual desires. With this interpretation of the Nibelungen myth, Wagner acknowledged the grand and eternal truth that this life is tragic throughout, and that the will which would mould a world to accord with one's desires can finally lead to no greater satisfaction than to break itself in a noble death. This latter truth, which even the ancient Orient saw clearly when in its history the Lord himself breaks the self-will of Jacob in a dream, moves as a deep consciousness through the Germanic myths, and induced the Germans to accept not only the higher faith developed from such a basis to which alone they owe the preservation of their impetuous activity, but also tended to give this Christian truth itself a wider and deeper significance. In their myths they had already indicated that the possession of this world is not the only thing to be desired. They have the world-devastation, Muspilli, the "Twilight of the Gods." It is this conquering of the world through the victory of self which Wagner conveys as the highest interpretation of our national myths. As Brunhilde approaches the funeral pyre to sacrifice to the beloved dead, Siegfried, the life—the only tie which still binds her to this earth—she says:

"If, like a breath, the gods disappear, Without a pilot the world I leave. To the world I will give now my holiest wisdom: Not goods, nor gold, nor god-like pomp, Not house, nor lands, nor lordly state, Not wicked plottings of crafty men, Not base deceits of cunning law,— But, blest in joy and sorrow let only love exist."

Such was the "Ring of the Nibelungen" which Wagner created out of the vast collection of German legends and not merely out of the distinctively national Nibelungen epic. The completion of "Siegfried's death," now the "Goetterdaemmerung," led to Siegfried's "Schwertschmiedung," (Sword-wielding); "Drachenkampf," (Dragon-struggle) and "Brautgewinnung," (Bride-winning) and further investigation of the subject led him in the "Walkuere" to picture Brunhilde's guilt and punishment, and finally in the "Rheingold" a psychological foundation for the whole. The work took this mental shape as early as 1851. Two years later, the poem, for which he had chosen the alliterative style of the Edda as the only suitable form, was given to his friends, and in 1863 to the world. From that time his sole ambition was to bring this first all-comprehensive German national drama into life by having it performed as a distinct festival-play far from the everyday theatre. Nearly twenty years elapsed between this and the realization of the idea. But why take note of time when great and grand things are to be accomplished?

The following decade brought with it many changes to Wagner, without however at any time diverting his mind from the purpose of his life, which constantly became clearer. Every opportunity was improved to direct attention and approach nearer to it. The death of Spontini gave occasion to a memorial tribute, closing with the words: "Let us bow reverently before the grave of the creator of the 'Vestalin,' 'Cortez,' and 'Olympia.'" He sought with operas and concerts to develop the limited musical resources of Zurich, where he had taken up his permanent residence, because he had always met with a most cordial personal reception there. In this he was aided by scholars who came to him from Germany, most prominent among whom was Hans von Buelow, who had been in Weimar with Liszt, and had become enthusiastic over "Lohengrin." Wagner overcame his own repugnance to the operas of Meyerbeer and his associates, which he hoped his "Lohengrin" was destined to obliterate, and directed their performance. To do the same for his own works, the requisite strength was lacking. "Some of us are old, others are young. Let the older one think not of himself, but let him love the younger for the sake of the inheritance which he places in his heart to cherish anew, for the day will come when the same shall be proclaimed for the welfare of humanity the world over," are the closing words of his "Opera and Drama." He found consolation and compensation in performing the symphonies of Beethoven, for two of which he prepared a special program; but as he desired to have the real motives of his work understood by the hospitable little city, he wrote a pamphlet, "A Theatre in Zurich," wherein he advocated the establishment and maintenance of a theatre by the citizens themselves, as the Greeks had done. It was another evidence of his firm conviction that the stage had a high mission in the culture of our time. He even lectured on the subject of dramatic music, and recited the poem of "Siegfried's Death," which made a profound impression.

Very soon thereafter appeared the remarkable "Letter to Liszt in Regard to the Goethe Memorial," wherein he confidently asserted that painter as well as sculptor would decline to compete with the poet acting in harmony with the musician, and that they would with reverential awe bow before an art-work in comparison with which their own productions would seem but lifeless fragments. For such an art-work there should therefore be prepared a suitable place rather than continue contributions to the support of the individual arts, which the former would invigorate and elevate anew. We see to-day that the plastic arts also strike out in new paths. Liszt and Wagner have inspired their epoch and the sculptor Zumbusch in Vienna has given us their busts. In a similar strain he challenged musical criticism and thereupon began with the gradual spread of "Tannhaeuser," and soon also of "Lohengrin," those seemingly endless disputes which, however, at the same time increased the strength of some younger men, among whom were Uhlig, Pohl, Cornelius, Raff and Ambros. These practical performances, as little as they presented an artistic ensemble, yet tended to arouse and shape talents that Wagner could avail himself of later for his own higher purposes. Among them were Milde and his wife, Ander, Schnorr, Formes, Niemann and Beck. Wagner's niece Johanna, was already familiar with his method from her Dresden experience. He endeavored in a pamphlet discussing the way to perform "Tannhaeuser" to rescue it from banishment and familiarize the artists with its merits but they remained deaf or hostile. He became absorbed the more in his Nibelungen-poem, leaving to his good genius his deliverance from external isolation. And yet the latter became a source of pleasure when, in the manner of von Eschenbach's Parcival, who also presented the sorrows and deeds of the mythical sun-hero, familiar to him since 1845, he undertook to portray the forest-solitude in which his young Siegfried grew up and gained all the miraculous power of nature, above all, that inner confidence which banishes fear from the human breast.

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