A brighter future seemed to open when, notwithstanding the doubts of his friends of the ultimate success of his "monstrous undertaking," the knowledge of which began to spread, the German artists generally accepted his invitation to spend a Wagner week in Zurich, and parts of his masterly works were performed with such effect that "the amiable maestro stood buried in flowers." For the overture to the "Flying Dutchman," as well as for the prelude to "Lohengrin," he composed an explanatory introduction.
In the autumn of the same year he was in Italy, and, lying sleepless in a hotel at La Speccia, he found for the first time those plastic "nature-motives" which in the Nibelungen-trilogy with constantly increasing individuality are made the exponents of the passions and the characters which give expression to them. He immediately returned to his dreary, involuntary home to proceed with the completion of his colossal work, which was to engage his attention for many years. A visit from Liszt, in October, led to a profounder understanding of Beethoven's last sonatas, so that their language was fully identified with his own. "Rheingold" and the "Walkuere" were soon finished.
His fame meanwhile grew steadily. He received an invitation for the concerts of the Philharmonic society in London, for which Beethoven had written the Ninth Symphony and designed the Tenth, which, according to his Sketches, was to show what all great poetic minds longed for—the union of the tragic spirit of the Greeks with the religious of the modern world. It was the same high goal that Wagner touched in the "Nibelungenring" and attained in "Parcival." The English at that time were even less disposed to appreciate his efforts than the Germans, and the Jewish spirit of their church inclined them to look with suspicion upon the "Jew Persecutor." He also found at first some difficulties in the rushing style of execution, which was a tradition from Mendelssohn, who was idolized in England. His untiring energy, however, prevailed everywhere where art was at stake, and the last of the eight concerts, in which Mozart's C Major Symphony and Beethoven's Eighth were given, and the "Tannhaeuser Overture," was encored, brought him, in a storm of applause, compensation for the unworthy calumniations of the press, notably, of the Times. Notwithstanding all this, he could not be induced to re-visit London till twenty years later. The invitations from America he declined at once.
His art-susceptibility at that time was very keen and active. He remarked to a German admirer, in the autumn of 1856, that two new subjects occupied his mind during the Nibelungen-work, which he could with difficulty repress. The one was "Tristan," with which Gottfried's brilliant epic had already made him familiar in composing the "Walkuere," and the other, probably, was "Parcival," whose Good Friday enchantment had impressed him many years before. In October Liszt visited him again, and heard the "Walkuere" on the piano. A musical journal in Leipzig was emboldened to speak of a forthcoming event that would agitate the whole musical world. With what joyous cheerfulness he composed "Siegfried," and his Anvil-song is shown in a letter about Liszt's symphonic poems, which appeared in the following spring. Accident and irresistible impulse, however, led immediately to the completion of "Tristan and Isolde."
The seeming hopelessness of success in his endeavors at times discouraged him. "When I thus laid down one score after the other, never again to take them up, I seemed to myself like a sleep-walker who is unconscious of his actions," he states. And yet he had to seek the "daylight" of the German opera, from which he had fled with his Nibelungen, if he would remain familiar with the active life of his art. He proposed therefore to arrange the much simpler Tristan material within the compass of ordinary stage representation. Curiously enough he received just then an offer to compose an opera for the excellent Italian troupe in Rio Janeiro. He thought, however, of Strasbourg, and it was only through Edward Devrient, who visited him in the summer of 1857, that he destined the work for Carlsruhe where Grand Duke Frederick and his wife, Princess Louisa of Prussia, displayed a growing interest in art. It was also the home of an excellent singer, Ludwig Schnorr from Carolsfeld, of whom Tichatschek had already informed him and who was to be the first to assume the role of Tristan.
"Tristan" belongs, like "Siegfried" and "Parcival," to the circle of the sun-heroes of the primeval myth. He also is forced to use deception and is compelled to deliver his own bride to his friend, then to discern his danger and voluntarily disappear. Thus Wagner remained within his poetic sphere. But while in "Siegfried" the Nibelungen-myth in its historic relations had to be maintained and only the sudden destruction of the hero through the vengeance of the woman who sacrifices herself with him, could be used in "Tristan," on the other hand the main subject lies in the torture of love. The two lovers become conscious of their mutual love through the drinking of the love-potion that dooms them to death. It is a death preferred to life without each other. What in "Siegfried" is but a moment of decisive vehemence appears here in psychological action of endless variety, wherein Wagner has woven the whole tragic nature of our existence, which he had learned from the great philosopher Schopenhauer, to esteem as a "blessing." There was however in this similarity, and at the same time difference, a peculiar charm which invested the work. It is supplementary to the Nibelungen-material which in reality embraces human life in all its relations.
It is wonderful how readily he found the means to unfold before our eyes the revelation which involved the death of the two lovers. Commissioned by his uncle, King Marke, Tristan has conquered the tributary Celts and slain their leader, Morold, in battle. Isolde, the betrothed of the latter, to whose care the wounded Tristan is consigned, is completely captivated when at last her eyes meet his, but unconscious of this he wooes the beautiful woman for the "wearied King" and conducts her to him. Inwardly aroused by this and the death of her former lover, she plans to kill him and while yet on the vessel offers him the cup of poison in retaliation for the slain Morold. Here Brangaene appears and secretly changes the draught so that these two who imagine they had drunk a coming death in which all love should pass away, in this fancied final moment became conscious of life, and confess to each other that love with which they cannot part. It is therefore not the drink in itself but the certainty that death will ensue, which relieves them from constraint. The act of drinking betokens only the moment of consciousness and confession. Nevertheless they cannot live, now that King Marke has discovered their love. Tristan raises himself from the couch where he lies suffering from the wound inflicted by the King's "friend" and tearing open the wound with his own hand, embraces the approaching Isolde, who is now in death united with him forever.
While composing the work, which the prospect of speedy representation hastened forward rapidly, and which he hoped would secure for him a temporary return to his fatherland, an agreeable sensation of complete unrestraint seized him. With utter abandon he could reach the very depths of those soul-emotions which are the very essence of music, and fearlessly shape from them the external form as well. Now he could apply the strictest rules. He even felt, in the midst of his work, that he surpassed his own system. The impressive second act was projected in Venice, where he spent the winter of 1858-59, owing to ill-health. Thence he removed to Lucerne.
From his native land new rays of hope meanwhile penetrated his retirement. Not only Carlsruhe but Vienna and Weimar now grew interested. He ardently longed to strengthen himself, by hearing his own music. "I dread to remain much longer, perhaps, the only German who has not heard my 'Lohengrin,'" he writes to Berlioz, in 1859. He begged permission to return, and sought the intervention of the grand-duke of Baden, as otherwise he would have to go to Paris. The grand-duke took all possible steps to help him, but it was of no avail. His efforts failed, he says, because of the obstinate opposition of the King of Saxony, but it was probably due more to the dislike the unhappy minister, von Beust, himself an amateur composer, entertained for the author-composer. Wagner, therefore, in the autumn of 1859, again went to hated Paris, where he could, at least occasionally, hear good music.
He found in Paris a few really devoted friends of his art as well as of himself, who promised to make his stay home-like in this respect at least. They were Villot, Champfleury, Baudelaire, the young physician Gasperini, and Ollivier, Liszt's son-in-law. The press, however, commenced at once its vicious and corrupt practices against the "musical Marat." Wagner replied with actions. He invited German singers and in three concerts performed selections from his compositions. The beau monde of Paris attended, and the applause was universal, especially after the Lohengrin Bridal-Chorus. The critics however remained indifferent and even malicious. At this juncture, at the solicitation of some members of the German legation, particularly the young princess Metternich, Napoleon gave the order for the performance of "Tannhaeuser," in the Grand Opera-house, much to Wagner's surprise. It must have caused a curious mixture of joy and anxiety in the artist's breast. Standing on the soil of France, he, for the first time, was destined to conquer his fatherland, but on a spot which belonged to the "Grand Opera," and where all the inartistic qualities were fostered that he endeavored to supplant. As his native land was closed to him, he went to work with his usual earnestness, and, as though it were a reward for his faithfulness, there came during the preparations the long-desired amnesty, with the exclusion, however, of Saxony.
In the summer of 1860 he availed himself of his regained liberty to make an excursion to the Rhine and then returned to the rehearsals. Niemann, cast in an heroic mould, had been secured for the title-role. For the instruction of the public he wrote the letter about the "Music of the Future" adopting the current witty expression, which appeared as preface to a translation of his four completed lyric works, exclusive of the Nibelungen-Ring. With admirable clearness he disclosed the purpose of his work. The press on the other hand made use of every agency at its disposal to prejudice Paris from the start against the work. To aggravate matters, Wagner would not consent to introduce in the second act the customary ballet which always formed the chief attraction for the Jockey-club, whose members belonged to the highest society. He simply gave to the scene in the Venusberg greater animation and color. It was for this reason that the press and this club, the malicious Semitic and unintelligent Gallic elements, the former unfortunately of German origin, united in the effort to make the work a failure when presented in the spring of 1861. The history of art discloses nothing more discreditable. The gentlemen of the Jockey-club with their dog-whistles in spite of the protests of the audience succeeded in making the performances impossible and the press declared the work merited such a fate! Wagner withdrew it after the third performance and thereby incurred a heavy debt which it required years of privation to liquidate. At the same time as far as he personally was concerned the occurrence gave rise to a feeling of joyous exaltation. The affair caused considerable excitement and brought him, as he says, "into very important relations with the most estimable and amiable elements of the French mind," and he discovered that his ideal, being purely human, found followers everywhere. The performances themselves could not have pleased him. "May all their insufficiencies remain covered with the dust of those three battle-evenings," he wrote shortly after to Germany.
He realized afresh that for the present his native land alone was the place for a worthy presentation of his music and the enthusiasm which he witnessed at a performance of "Lohengrin" in Vienna, then the German imperial city, convinced him that the insult which had just been offered to the German spirit was keenly felt. Vienna as well as Carlsruhe now requested "Tristan," but the request was not conceded. At a musicians' union which met in Weimar in August, 1861, under Liszt's leadership, Wagner found that the better part of the German artists had also measurably been converted to his views. These experiences and the hope that with a humorous theme selected from German life he might finally obtain possession of the domestic stage and speak heart to heart to his dearly loved people and remind them that even their every day life ought to be transfused with the spirit of the ideal, prompted him to resurrect his "Mastersingers of Nuremberg." It was in foreign Paris that he wrote, in the winter of 1862, the prize song of German life and art which enchants every true German heart. This was the last work he created in a foreign land and in a certain sense he freed himself with it from the sad recollections of a banishment endured for more than ten years to reappear now "sound and serene" before his nation. That this would finally come to pass had always been his last star of hope. "To the Pleiades and to Bootes" Beethoven had likewise marked in his copy of the Odyssey.
We close therefore this chapter of banishment and dire misfortunes with the prospect of a brighter future by communicating the plan of the text of that work as he had already framed it in 1845.
"I conceived Hans Sachs to be the last appearance of the artistic spirit of the people" he says, "and placed him in opposition to the narrow-minded citizens from whom the Mastersingers were chosen. To their ridiculous pedantry, I gave personal expression in the Marker whose duty it was to pay attention to the mistakes of the singers, especially of those who were candidates for admission to the guild." Whenever a certain number of errors had been committed the singer had to step down and was declared unworthy of the distinction he sought. The eldest member of the guild now offered the hand of his young daughter to that master who should win the prize at the public song-festival.
The Marker, who already is a suitor, finds a rival in the person of a young nobleman who, inspired by heroic tales and the minnesingers' deeds, leaves his ruined ancestral castle to learn the art of the mastersingers in Nuremberg. He announces himself for admission prompted mainly by his sudden and growing love for the prize-maiden who can only be gained by a "master." At the examination he sings an inspired song which however gives constant offense to the Marker, so much so, that before he is half through he has exhausted the limit of errors. Sachs, who is pleased with the young nobleman, for his own welfare frustrates the desperate attempt to elope with the maiden. In doing this he finds at the same time an opportunity to greatly vex the Marker. The latter, who to humiliate Sachs had upbraided him because of a pair of shoes which were not yet ready, posts himself at night before the window of the maiden and sings his song as a test, for it is important to gain her vote upon which rests the final decision when the prize is bestowed. Sachs, whose workshop lies opposite the house for which the serenade is intended, when the Marker opens, begins to sing loudly also because as he declares to the irate serenader, this is necessary for him, if he would remain awake while at work so late, and that the work is urgent none knows better than he who had so harshly rebuked him for tardiness. At last he promises to desist, on condition however that he be permitted to indicate the errors which, after his own feeling, he may find in the song, by striking with the hammer upon the last. The Marker sings, Sachs repeatedly and vigorously strikes the last, and the Marker jumps up angrily but is met with the question whether he is through with the song. "Far from it," he cries. Sachs now laughingly hands him his shoes and declares that the strokes of disapproval sufficed to complete them. With the rest of the song, which in desperation he sings without stopping, he lamentably fails before the female form at the window who shakes her head violently in disapproval, and, to add to his own misfortune, he receives a thrashing at the hands of the apprentices and journeymen whom the noise has roused from slumber. The following day, deeply dejected, he asks Sachs for one of his own songs. Sachs gives him one of the young nobleman's poems, pretending not to know whence it came. He cautions him to observe the melody to which it must be sung. The vain Marker, however, believes himself perfectly secure in this, and now sings the poem before the public master and peoples-court to a melody which completely disfigures it, so that he fails again, and this time decisively. Rendered furious, he accuses Sachs of deceit in that he gave him an abominable poem. Sachs declares the poem to be quite good, but that it must be sung according to the proper melody. It is now determined that whoever knows this melody shall be the victor. The young nobleman sings it and secures the bride. The admission into the guild however he declines. Thereupon Hans Sachs humorously defends the mastersingers and closes with the rhyme:
"The Holy Roman Empire may depart, Yet will remain our Holy German art."
A few years later the German empire arose to new glory and blessing, and yet a lustrum, and with the rise of Baireuth, came the German art.
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.
O, thus descendest thou at last to me, Fulfilment, fairest daughter of the Gods. Goethe.
The pressure of circumstances, as well as the natural desire, to break ground for himself and his new creations, induced him for a time to give concerts with selections from them. He met with marked success before the unprejudiced hearers of Vienna, Prague, St. Petersburg, and Moscow. His visit to Russia especially yielded him a handsome sum, with which he returned to Vienna to await the representation of "Tristan," but owing to the physical inability of Ander, the work finally had to be laid aside. Wagner felt also that intelligence as well as good-will for the cause were lacking; even the Isolde-Dustman did not at heart believe in it. "To speak frankly, I had enough of it and thought no more about it," he tells us.
During this time he published the Nibelungen-poem, and in April, 1863, wrote the celebrated preface which eventually led to the consummation of his desires. He had with Semper conceived the design of a theatre which after the Grecian style should confine the attention of the entire audience to the stage, by its amphitheatric form, thus rendering impossible the mutual staring of the public or at least making it less likely to occur. Because of the oft repeated experience of the deeper effect of music when heard unseen, the orchestra was to be placed so low that no spectator could see the movements of the performers, while at the same time it would result in the more complete harmony of sound from the many and various instruments. In such a place, consecrated to art alone and not to pleasure of the eye, the "stage-festival-play" was to be produced. But would it be possible for lovers of art to provide the means, or was there perhaps a prince willing to spend for this purpose only as much as the maintenance for a short period of his imperfect Opera-house cost him? "In the beginning was the deed," he says with Faust, and adds sadly enough in a postscript: "I no longer expect to live to see the representation of my stage-festival-play, and can barely hope to find sufficient leisure and desire to complete the musical composition."
He next thought that the court Opera-house in process of erection in Vienna might be utilized by limiting the number of performances and securing a careful representation of the style of the works produced. Had not Joseph II. recognized the theatre as "contributing to the refinement of manners and of taste"? He even offered to prepare specially for Vienna a more condensed work, the "Meistersingers." The reply was, however, that the name of Wagner had for the present received sufficient consideration, and that it was time to give a hearing to some other composer. "This other name was Jacques Offenbach," adds Wagner. It needs no comment.
Again followed concerts, first in Prague, where "Tristan" was requested, then in Carlsruhe, where he had long been forgotten, although the prince's own love for art had not been extinguished. The Carlsruhe and Mannheim orchestras acknowledged that they now first fully realized that they were artists. A negotiation for permanent settlement at the grand-ducal court failed, owing to the opposition of the courtiers. Wagner had demanded a court-carriage! Frederick the Great has said, it is true, that geniuses rank with sovereigns; but then this was too much, too much! Then too, he had, O horror! spent the beautiful ducats which the grand-duke had presented him, in entertaining of an evening the musicians who had executed the work. Where would such pretensions, such extravagance lead? The same courtiers, however, did not consider it robbery for many years shamefully to abridge the income of their noble prince until they finally stood disgraced themselves and escaped punishment only through the inexhaustible kindness of their monarch.
In Loewenberg, in Breslau, and again in Vienna, everywhere Wagner met with abundant success. But what of the real goal? "The public met him with enthusiasm wherever he showed himself, but on the other hand the leading critics remained cold or hostile and the directors of the theatres closed their doors to him," his biographer, Glasenapp, says truthfully enough. Of the Nibelungen-poem also no notice had been taken except in a very narrow circle. Here and there a copy of the little volume, bound in red and gold, could be found, but the owner was sure to belong to the school of Liszt or Wagner. "How could the poetic work of an opera-composer bear serious consideration in contrast with the elaborate literary productions of professional poets?" Wagner says with justice. He felt himself rejected everywhere, and just where alone he desired admission.
"For me there shone no star that did not pale, No cheering hope of which I was not reft; To the world's whim, changing with every gale, And all its vain caprices, I was left; To nobler art my aspirations soared, Yet I must sink them to the common horde.
"He that our heads had crowned with laurels green, By priestly staff whose verdure had decayed, Robbed me of Hope's sweet solaces, and e'en The last delusive comfort caused to fade; Yet thus was nourished in my soul serene An inward trust, by which my faith was stayed; And if to this trust I prove ever true The withered staff shall blossom forth anew.
"What deep in my own heart I did discern, Dwelt also, silent, in another's breast; And that which in his eager soul did burn, Within my youthful heart peaceful did rest; And as he half unconsciously did yearn For all the Spring-time joys that were in quest, The Spring's delightsomeness our souls shall nourish, And newer verdure round our faiths shall flourish."
On his seventeenth birthday, the 25th of August, 1861, the grandson of that King Louis of Bavaria who was the first among the princes of Germany to again take an active interest in the plastic arts, witnessed a performance of "Lohengrin," the first play that he had seen. Full of enthusiasm, he inquired for the other works of this master. Wagner's writings convinced him, who now had on his desk only the busts of Beethoven and Wagner, that the one seemed likely to meet the same fate that the other had in fact encountered—to sink into the grave before the attainment of his goal and of his fame. His silent vow was to reach out his hand to this "one" as soon as he should be king. Two years later, the "Ring of the Nibelungen" appeared in print. In it was the question: "Will this prince be found?" In the following spring the author of the work was in dire distress in Vienna. The silver rubles had rapidly disappeared. How could such common treasures be heeded by him who had at his disposal the Holy Grail? But inexorably approached the danger of loss of personal liberty. He had to fly. A friend had provided him a refuge on his estate in Switzerland. On the way there he remained a few days in Stuttgart. Of a sudden the friend's door-bell is rung, but Wagner's presence is denied. The stranger urges pressing business, and on inquiry informs the master of the house—who was none other than Carl Eckert, subsequently Hofkapellmeister at Berlin—that he comes in the name of the King of Bavaria! Louis II. by the sudden death of Maximilian II. had been called to the throne in March, 1864, and one of his first acts was the invitation extended to the artist, so enthusiastically admired.
"Now all has been won, my most daring hopes surpassed. He places all his means at my disposal," with these words he sank upon his friend's breast. In a short time he was in Munich.
"He has poured out his wealth upon me as from a horn of plenty," was the expression he used immediately after the first audience. "What shall I now tell you? The most inconceivable and yet the only thing I need has attained its full realization. In the year of the first representation of my 'Tannhaeuser,' a queen gave birth to the good genius of my life, who was destined to bring me out of deepest want into the highest happiness. He has been sent to me from heaven. Through him I am, and comprehend myself," he wrote, a few months later, after he had settled down in Munich, to a lady friend.
King Louis was a youth of true kingly form. In his beautiful eye there was at the same time a quiet enthusiasm. His keen understanding was accompanied by a lively imagination and a true soul, so that nature had endowed him with the three principal mental powers in noble proportions. His disposition is indicated by the words: "You are a Protestant? That is right. Always liberal." And after the style of youthful inexperience: "You likewise do not like women? They are so tedious." His soul and mind were open to the joyous reception of all ideal emotions. This was indeed a youthful king, as only such an artist could have wished, and permanently attracted. "To the Kingly Friend," is the title of the dedication of the "Walkuere," in the summer of 1864.
"O gracious king! protector of my life! Thou fountain of all goodness, all delight; Now, at the goal of my adventurous strife, The words that shall express thy grace aright I seek in vain, although the world is rife With speech and printed book; and day and night I still must seek for words to utter free The gratitude my heart doth bear to thee."
Thereupon follow the three verses quoted above, and it comes to a close:
"So poor am I, I keep but only this— The faith which thou hast given unto me; It is the power by which to heights of bliss My soul is lifted in proud ecstacy; But partly is it mine, and I shall miss Wholly its power, if thou ungracious be; My gifts are all from thee, and I will praise Thy royal faith that knows no change of days."
Of the latter there was to be no lack, although it was put to a severe test, and thus the artist reached at last the goal of his effort, referred to above, where he stands to-day, the artistic savior of his nation and his time.
As the main thing, the completion of the Nibelungen-Ring was taken in hand. In the meantime, however, a model exhibition of the new art-style was to be given, with "Tristan." For this purpose Schnorr was invited, at that time residing in Dresden. Wagner says, when he first met him at Carlsruhe, in 1862: "While the sight of the swan-knight, approaching in his little boat, gave me the somewhat odd impression of the appearance of a young Hercules (Schnorr suffered from obesity), yet his manner at once conveyed to me the distinct charm of the mythical hero sent by the gods, whose identity we do not study but whom we instinctively recognize. This instantaneous effect which touches the inmost heart, can only be compared to magic. I remember to have been similarly impressed in early youth by the great actress, Schroeder-Devrient, which shaped the course of my life, and since then not again so strongly as by Schnorr in Lohengrin." He had found in him a genuine singer, musician, and actor, possessing above all unbounded capacity for tragic roles.
He was put to the test at first in "Tannhaeuser," and in this new role he also produced an entirely new impression, of which the Munich public, led by Franz Lachner, in the worn-out tracks of the latter-day classics, had its first experience. Then followed the rehearsals for "Tristan," which Schnorr had already fully mastered, with the exception of a single passage, "Out of Laughter and Weeping, Joys and Wounds," the terrible love-curse in the third act. By his wonderful power of expression, the master had "made this clear to him." At the rehearsal of this act, Wagner staggered to his feet, profoundly moved, and embracing his wonderful friend, said softly that he could not express his joy over his now realized ideal, and Schnorr's dark eye flashed responsive pleasure. Buelow, who, as concert-master to the king, now resided in Munich, likewise conducted with wonderful precision the orchestra which Wagner himself had thoroughly rehearsed, and so the invitation was issued to this "art-festival" wherever Wagner's art had conquered hearts. It was to show how far the problem of original and genuine musico-dramatic art had been solved, and whether the people were ready for it and prepared to share in its grandest and noblest triumphs.
The public rehearsal was festive in its character. The whole musical press of Germany and some of the foreign critics were present. Wagner was called after every act. Unfortunately, the representation proper was delayed for nearly four weeks through the sickness of Frau Garrigues-Schnorr, who took the role of Isolde, so that the Munich people were after all the principal attendants. The applause was nevertheless enthusiastic, and the success of the memorable "art-festival" of June 10, 1865, admission to which was not to be had for money, but by invitation of Wagner and his royal friend, was an accomplished fact, notwithstanding the work had been by no means fully comprehended, for this required time. Unfortunately, the noble artist died a short time after, in Dresden, from the effects of a cold, to which the utter disregard of the theatre managers in Munich had exposed him in the scene where he had to lie wounded on a couch. Wagner was deeply affected. He conceived he had lost the solid stone work of his edifice, and would now have to resort to mere bricks. It is certain he never found a Siegfried as great as this Tristan.
Another contingency temporarily interfered with the undertaking of the two friends, and that was the opposition of the Munich public, which resulted in Wagner's permanent withdrawal from the city. To this public a person was indeed strange who made such unusual artistic demands, while the personal character and habits of Wagner at that time were probably nowhere more strange than in Bavaria, which had obtained its education at the hands of the Jesuit priests. It is true, the good qualities, such as simplicity of manners and habits of life, had remained, but the intellectual horizon had become a comparatively narrow one, and, what was worse, the clerical and aristocratic Bavarian party feared it would lose its power if a man like Wagner were to remain permanently about the king. George Herwegh has described comically enough the Witches-Sabbath, which that party, in 1865, with the aid of other hostile factions, enacted, and which forced Wagner once more into foreign lands.
Munich, accustomed to simplicity, took exception to the rich style in which Wagner furnished the villa presented by the king, and to the expansion of the civil-list for the construction of the theatre, which was to cost seven million marks, though it would have made Munich a festival-place for all Germany, and cultivated society the world over. The press from day to day printed some fresh calumny. It even assailed the private character of the artist after a fashion that provoked him to a very effective public defense. Even very sensible people became possessed, in an unaccountable manner, with the prevalent idea that Wagner was destroying Bavaria's prosperity. A not unknown author of oriental poetry, said ignorantly enough, that it was well such a tramp was finally to be driven off the street; and a college professor, who, it is true, had a son, a self-composer in Beethoven's meaning of the word, and who could therefore have performed all that Wagner did, added to this the brutal, insolent assertion, "the fellow deserves to be hanged." At last they prevailed upon the king, to whom this had been foolsplay, to listen at least to what unprejudiced men would tell him of public opinion in Bavaria. To the minister and the police-superintendent were added an esteemed ultra montane government counselor, an arch bishop and others who were reputed to be unprejudiced. His reply, "I will show to my dear people that I value their confidence and love above everything," proves that they finally succeeded in misleading even the greatest impartiality. The king himself requested the artist to leave Munich for some time and gave him an annuity of 15,000 marks. When this had been done, a public declaration of the principal party in Bavaria showed that the so-called "displeasure of the people" about political machinations and the like had been empty talk. Political, social, and artistic intrigues and base envy alone had given birth to this ghost.
This happened near the close of the year 1865. Wagner again turned to Switzerland. The king's affection for him had only been increased by these occurrences. He even visited his friend in his voluntary exile, who in turn had no more ardent desire than to meet such love with deeds, and calmly prepared himself again for new work. His longing for Munich had forever vanished. It is true, some of the nobler citizens sought to wipe out the disgrace with which the city had covered itself, by sending a silver wreath to Wagner on his birthday in 1866. The rejection of Semper's splendid design for the theatre by the civil-list led his thoughts anew to the wide German fatherland, and he at once returned to the Meistersingers, in the hope that by this more intelligible work the public would finally turn to him, and that then the great German people would assist in the erection of a festival-building for a national art-work and thus realize his grand ideal. We know to-day that he succeeded in uniting them in this great work.
The next important step in that direction was the representation of the "Meistersinger" in Munich in 1868. In the course of time Wagner dominated the stage in a manner which had not been witnessed since "Lohengrin."
It has been truthfully said that there was something more surprising than the highly poetic "Tristan," namely, the artist himself, who so shortly after could create a picture of such manifold coloring as the "Meistersinger." But with equal truth the same observer of Wagner says that whoever is astounded at this achievement has but little understood the one essential point in the nature and life of all really great Germans. "He does not know on what soil alone that many-sided humor displayed by Luther, Beethoven, and Wagner can grow, which other nations do not at all comprehend, and which even the Germans of to-day seem to have lost; that mixture, pure as gold, of simplicity, deep, loving insight, mental reflection and rollicking humor which Wagner has poured out like a delightful draught for all those who have keenly suffered in life, and who turn to him, as it were, with the smile of the convalescent." Another German, Sebastian Bach, might have been named whom Wagner resembles most in that universal dominating quality of mind which is even visible in the half-ironical, laughing eye of the simple Thuringian chorister, and brings home to us the truth of Faust's words, "creating delights for the gods to enjoy." He played at that time many of Bach's compositions, such as the "Well Tempered Clavicord," with his young assistant, Hans Richter, who had been recommended to him from Vienna as a copyist. What cared he for all this wild whirl of silly fancies and boorish conceit, so long as he, a genuine Prometheus, could create something new after the grandest models! In speaking of "Tannhaeuser" he tells us how supremely happy he was when occupied with the delightful work of real creation. "Before I undertake to write a verse or sketch a scene, I am already filled with the musical spirit of my creation," he writes in the year 1864. "All the characteristic motives are in my brain, so that when the text is done and the scenes arranged, the opera itself is completed, and the detailed musical treatment becomes rather a thoughtful and quiet after-work which the moment of actual composition has already preceded." The humor which at times prompted even the aged Beethoven to spring over tables and benches, frequently seized upon our master in such strange fashion that in the midst of company he would suddenly stand upon his head in a corner of the room for some time.
His friends observed with pleasure his rapturous happiness in the certainty of reaching the goal, even though it should bring him to the grave during this period of the "Meistersinger" composition. He lived in the most quiet retirement upon a small and beautiful estate in Triebscheu, near Lucerne, where Frau von Buelow, with her children, provided for his domestic comfort. His own wife had unexpectedly died a short time before. During her last years she had lived separately from the "fiery wheel" whose mad flight she could no longer grasp nor endure, but by no means in that poverty which the abominably slanderous press of Munich and elsewhere had accused him of inflicting upon her. On the contrary, she lived in circumstances fully corresponding to her husband's means.
In October, 1867, after the lapse of 22 years, the "Meistersinger" was at last completed. He now strove to secure as far as possible a model representation. It was of course to take place in Munich, where "Tristan" had already given the orchestra at least a sure tradition of style. The event was destined to win for him the very heart of the nation. If the general culture of the last generation by its shallow optimism and stale humanitarianism blunted the feeling for the tragic, as Wagner for the first time had deeply expressed it, yet of one quality we were never deprived, it ever remained undisturbed, and that was our German good-nature, from the depths of which humor springs. At a casual meeting in Kuxhasen, during a friendly contest in the expression of emotions by gestures of the face, even the great Kean could not rival the greater Devrient in one thing, and had to yield to him the victory, and that was the tearful smile which springs from real compassion with the sorrows of humanity. It was with this "German good-nature" that Wagner this time conquered the nations. It was Beethoven who had again quickened the flow from this deepest source of blessing in life which Shakespeare had been the first to fully open. By it, Wagner's soul has ever kept its warmth and spirit. Who that was present does not think with joyous emotion of those Munich May-days of 1868?
His pamphlet, "German Art and German Politics," had directed the attention of the narrower circle of Wagner's friends at least to the great fact that the artificial French civilization which had prevailed during the last generation could be banished by a real intellectual culture, and that in this work the highest form of art, the stage-festival-play, would take a prominent and important part. A masterly performance of Lohengrin in the spring of 1868, in honor of the Crown-Prince of Prussia, was a striking illustration of this, especially to Munich circles. It may also have influenced the mood of the performers in whose hands the ultimate realization of an object after all rests. "Even in after years Wagner confessed he had never felt greater satisfaction in his experiences with an opera company than at the first representation of the 'Meistersinger.'" The performers also speak of the persuasive grace and the fresh, animating cheerfulness with which the master, an example for all in his restless activity, moved among them and gave to each individual his constant directions. This remark of his biographer tells everything.
The rehearsals were this time even more artistically satisfactory to all the participants than those of "Tristan." This art-work was easier of comprehension owing to its more familiar subject and natural tone. At the director's desk stood Buelow—"a fine head with clear cut features, bold arched forehead and large eyes." Opposite to him on the stage stood Wagner, likewise a very active form of medium height. "All his features bear the impress of an unsubdued will which underlies his whole nature," says a Frenchman. "It shows itself everywhere—in the broad and prominent forehead, in the excessive curve of the strong chin, in the thin and compressed lips, up to the strong eyebrows, which disclose the long excitements of a life of suffering; it is the man of battle, whom we know by his life, the man of thought, who, never content with the past, looks constantly to the future." Closely attending, he accompanied every tone with a fitting gesture for the performer. Only when Mallinger sang the role of the goldsmith's little daughter, Eva, he paused and listened approvingly with a smiling face. It was clear that, like Prometheus among his lifeless forms, he animated them with the breath of the soul and roused them into life. Beckmesser, the Marker, by his drastic presentation alone expressed the full measure of furious wrath over the shoemaker's mockery of his beautiful singing. Such a display of art was new to all. The Court-Kapellmeister Esser of Vienna, admitted that for the first time he knew what dramatic, as compared with Kapellmeister-music, was; and the excellent clarinet-player Baermann, who had personally known Weber, felt himself in a new world, of which he said that one who did not know how to appreciate it was not worthy of it and that those who did not understand it were served rightly in being debarred from this enjoyment.
At the close of the rehearsals, Wagner expressed his great pleasure to all the performers; only the artist could again elevate art, and in contrast with the foreign style, hitherto cultivated, they would create our own distinctive art. The performance itself was intended to show to what height and dignity the drama could be elevated when earnest zeal and true loyalty are enlisted in its service. It was a touching proof of enthusiastic gratitude for the noble results to which he had led them, when they all gathered around him to press his hand or kiss his arms and shoulders. It was the first time that poet and artist were reunited and in harmony. A hopeful moment for our art! The enthusiasm lasted fully half of that fragrant summer night.
Such were the hopes realized by the happy impression the performance itself made upon everyone. The harmony of action, word, music, and scenery had hitherto never been consciously felt to such a degree. The rejoicing was general. The Sunday-afternoon service, so devout and home-like, the busy apprentices, the worthy masters, the "young Siegfried" Walther von Stolzing, the thoughtful, noble burgher form of Hans Sachs, and finally, lovely little Eva, no wonder it all produced supreme ecstasy. Wagner, sitting in the imperial box at the side of the king, cared not for the tumultous applause of those who had so grievously wronged him, but gave himself up to the enjoyment of this moment of the highest happiness, which perhaps was best reflected in the eyes of his noble friend. Finally, however, when the demand became too imperious, the king himself probably urged Wagner to go forward, and from the royal box he made his acknowledgment, too deeply stirred and agitated to utter a word. For the welfare of the nation and the time, we see here realized in its wide significance the vision of Schiller:
"Thus, King and Singer shall together be Upon the mountains of humanity."
The friend of the cause will find a correct account of all these ever memorable occurrences in the "Musical Sketchbook—An Exposition of the State of the Opera at the present Time," of 1869, concerning which the master wrote to the author: "You will readily believe that much, indeed the most, of what you have written, has greatly affected and deeply touched me, and I shall therefore say nothing about your work itself except to express for all this my great and intense pleasure!"
The criticisms of different persons presented a many-colored picture of which an amusing sketch will also be found in the book referred to. How many Beckmessers came to light there! The most concise and worthiest expression of the prevalent feeling of final victory for the cause is found in the verses of Ernst Dohm, with which we close this grand chapter, the morning greeting of noble deeds:
No mistakes, no faults were found. No,—but purely, lovely singing, Captivating every heart, Honor to the master bringing, Glorifying German art— Did the Mastersong resound.
Soon, as standard bearers strong, From the strand of Isar, we Will go forth with Mastersong Through United Germany.
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.
"In the beginning was the deed."—GOETHE.
"As artist and man, I am now approaching a new world," Wagner had already written in 1851.
The Vienna Thersites, with his coarse and confused wits, whom the real irony of his time had termed "the most renowned musical critic of the age," had the hardihood to write for the principal newspaper of Austria as late as the spring of 1872: "Wagner is lucky in everything. He begins by raging against all monarchs, and a generous King meets him with enthusiastic love. Then he writes a pasquinade against the Jews, and musical Jewry pays him homage all the more by purchasing the Baireuth certificates. He proves that all our Hofkapellmeisters are mere artisans, and behold, they organize Wagner-clubs and recruit troops for Baireuth. Opera-singers and theatre directors, whose performances Wagner most cruelly condemns, follow his footsteps wherever he appears and are delighted if he salutes them. He brands our conservatories as being spoiled and neglected institutes, and the scholars of the Vienna conservatory form in line before Richard Wagner and make a subscription to present the master with a token of esteem."
Ah, yes; but this "luck" was the result of his close search for what was true and real.
This moral dignity, which asks for nothing but the truth, gradually drew toward Wagner many estimable friends, among them, through the "Meistersinger" performance in Munich, that simple citizen who organized in Mannheim the first of those Wagner-clubs that called into existence for us the high castle of art and the ideal—"Baireuth."
With that work Wagner had made the last hopeful attempt to improve the domestic stage. The experiences gained in this effort disclosed to him with distinct clearness the radically inartistic and un-German qualities of the theatre, which outwardly and inwardly, morally as well as spiritually, exerted an equally pernicious influence. But while completely alienating himself from it and planning only to "rear with considerate haste his gigantic edifice of four divisions," and thus obtain a stage free from all commercial interests, consecrated only to the ideal of the nation and the human mind, he yet felt impelled once more to withdraw with firm hand the veil from the actual social and art conditions of the nation, and wrote "Judaism in Music."
A simple pamphlet has rarely set all circles of society in such commotion as did this. It was like the awakening conscience of the nation, only that its mental stupor prevented the immediate comprehension of the new and deeply conciliatory spirit which here presented itself, at once to heal and to save. It was a national deed clearly to disclose this unseemly shopkeeper's spirit which attempts to drag to the mercantile level even the highest concerns of humanity. At the same time there came to some a conception of how deep and great, how overwhelming this German spirit must be, that it not only forces such aliens into its yoke, but, as in the case of Heine and Mendelssohn, often produces in them profoundly affecting tones of longing for participation in its sublime nature. Wagner's feeling at this, the most confused uproar which has been heard in the present time, could only have been like that of Goethe, namely, that all these stupid talkers have no idea how impregnable the fortress is in which he lives who is ever earnest about himself and his cause. He was unconcerned, knowing that he should have the privilege of performing his "Ring of the Nibelungen" far from all these distorted forms and figures of the prevailing art. Of this, his noble friend had given positive assurance; and for himself it became an unavoidable necessity, since in 1869 and 1870 Munich had performed, without his consent and contrary to his wishes, "Rheingold" and "Walkuere," by which it had only been shown anew how little the prevalent opera routine was in consonance with his object.
In the meantime came the war of 1870. That of 1866 had destroyed the rotten German "Bund," but now the most daring hopes revived in German breasts, for there stood the people in arms, like Lohengrin, everywhere repelling injustice and violence.
I dared to bury many a smart Which long and deeply grieved my heart.
With these words Wagner greeted his king on the latter's birth day in 1870, and with clear-sighted boldness he said to himself, "The morning of mankind is dawning." The work, however, which was to glorify and render effective this first full Siegfried-deed of the Germans since the days of the Reformation, and revive the moral energy of the nation, was completed in June of the same year, 1870, with the "Goetterdaemmerung."
He now strove to strengthen himself anew and permanently. For the first time in his life he fully secured the purely human happiness which preserves our powers. He married the divorced Frau Cosima von Buelow, a daughter of Liszt. "This man, so completely controlled by his demon, should always have had at his side a high-minded, appreciative woman, a wife that would have understood the war that was constantly waged within him," is the judgment passed on Wagner's first wife by one of her friends. He had now found this woman, and in a way that proved on every hand a blessing. Her incomparably unselfish, self-sacrificing first husband himself declared afterwards that this was the only proper solution. Siegfried was the name given to the fruit of this union. The "Siegfried Idyl" of 1871 is dedicated to the boy's happy childhood in the beautiful surroundings of Lucerne.
In this year, the centennial anniversary of Beethoven's birth, he also told his nation what it possessed in him, its most manly son. He represents, as he says in that Jubilee pamphlet, the spirit so much feared beyond the mountains as well as on the other side of the Rhine. He regained for us the innocence of the soul. What is now wanting is, that out of this pure spirit-nature, as it is illustrated in his music, there shall arise a true culture in contrast with the foreign civilization, which resembles the time of the Roman emperors? These tones utter anew a world-saving prophesy, and shall we not then appropriate them fully and forever? The "thought of Baireuth" now obtained more definite form. A number of friends of the cause were to make it real and wrest German art from the Venusberg of the common theatre.
The work of the Wagner-clubs now began, which, with the aid of the Baireuth Board of Managers, under the direction of the indefatigable banker Fustel, has led to the goal at last. Liszt's Scholar, Tausig, and his friend, Frau von Schleinitz, in Berlin, organized the society of "Patrons," each member of which was to contribute one hundred thalers toward a fund of three hundred thousand. By the publication of his writings, Wagner himself introduced the cause that was to show that in his art also he sought that life by which the ideal nature of the nation exists. His noble-minded king had, in November of 1870, uttered the words of deliverance to the other German princes, which finally gave us again a dignified and honorable existence as a nation, by creating the German empire. Could German art then remain in the background? Our artist was now all activity—a wonderfully joyous and stirring activity. To the "German army before Paris," he who had always thought and labored for his nation's glory, sang, in January, 1871, the song of triumphant joy of the German armies' deeds:
The Emperor comes: let justice now in peace have sway.
At that time, also, he composed, at the suggestion of Dr. Abrahams, owner of the "Peters edition," in Leipzig, the Kaiser March, which closes with the following people's song:
God save the Emperor, William, the King! Shield of all Germans, freedom's defense! The highest crown Graces thine head with renown! Peace, won with glory, be thy recompense! As foliage new upon the oak-tree grows, Through thee the German Empire new-born rose; Hail to its ancient banners which we Did carry, which guided thee When conquering bravely the Gallic foes! Defying enemies, protecting friends, The welfare of the nations Germany defends.
Shortly afterward he expresses more clearly the meaning of the festival-plays that are to be representations in a nobler and original German style, and he, the lonely wanderer, who hitherto has heard but the croakings in the bogs of theatrical criticism, accompanied the pamphlet with an essay on the "Mission of the Opera," with which he at the same time introduces himself as a member of the Berlin Academy.
In the spring of 1871, he went to Baireuth, the ancient residence of the Margraves, which contained one of the largest theatres. The building was arranged for the wants of the court and not fully adapted to his purposes, but the simple and true-hearted inhabitants of the place had attracted him. Besides this, the pleasant, quiet little city was situated in the "Kingdom of Grace" and, what likewise seemed of importance, in the geographical centre of Germany. A short stay subsequently in the capital of the new empire revealed his goal at once with stronger consciousness and purpose both for himself and his friends. At a celebration held there in his honor he said that the German mind bears the same relation to music as to religion. It demands the truth and not beautiful form alone. As the Reformation had laid the foundations of the religion of the Germans deeper and stronger by freeing Christianity from Roman bonds, so music must retain its German characteristics of profoundness and sublimity. During the same time the building of the theatre after Semper's designs was planned with the building inspector, Neumann.
The sudden death of Tausig which occurred at this time seemed a heavy loss to all. Wagner has erected for him an inspiring and touching monument in verse. Other friends however came forward all the more actively, particularly from Mannheim, with its music-dealer, Emil Heckel, who had asked him what those without means could do for the great cause and then at once commenced to organize the "Richard Wagner-Verein." The example was immediately followed by Vienna and the other German cities. The project was so far advanced that negotiations with Baireuth could now be opened. The city was found willing enough to provide a building site. Applications of other cities having in view their material interests could therefore be ignored. Wagner then in order to clearly state the definite purpose to be accomplished, published the "Report to the German Wagner-Verein," which reveals to us so deeply the soul-processes that were connected with the completion of his stage-festival-play. "I have now to my intense pleasure only to unite the propitious elements under the same banner which floats so auspiciously over the resurrected German empire, and at once I can build up my structure out of the constituent parts of a real German culture; nay more, I need only to unveil the prepared edifice, so long unrecognized, by withdrawing from it the false drapery which will soon like a perforated veil disappear in the air." Thus he closes with joyous hope. And now the necessary steps were taken in Baireuth. The city donated the building site. The laying of the corner-stone of the temporary building was to be celebrated May 22, 1872, with Beethoven's Ninth symphony. Wagner took up his permanent residence in Baireuth. The King had sent his secretary to meet him while en-route through Augsburg and to assure him that whatever the outcome might be he would be responsible for any deficit.
A paragraph in the prospectus of the Mannheim society had held out the prospect of concerts under the master's own direction. This led to a number of journeys that gave him an opportunity to make the acquaintance of his "friends" and especially of the artistic "forces" of Germany. The first journey, as was proper, was to Mannheim "where men are at home." They had there, as he said, strengthened his faith in the realization of his plans and demonstrated that the artist's real ground was in the heart of the nation! Thus he interpreted the meaning of the celebration there. Vienna also heard classical music, as well as his own, under the direction of his magical baton. It happened that at "Wotan's Departure," and "the Banishment of the fire-god, Loge," in the "Walkuere," a tremendous thunder-storm broke forth. "When the Greeks contemplated a great work, they called upon Zeus to send them a flash of lightning as an omen. May all of us who have united to found a home for German art interpret this lightning also as favorable to our work, and as a sign of approval from above," he said amidst indescribable sensation, and then touched upon the Baireuth festival, and the Ninth symphony, in which the German soul appears so deep and rich in meaning. What a world of thoughts, what germs of future forms lie concealed in this symphony! He himself stands upon this great work, and from this vantage strives to advance further. During this period the ill-omened raven, Professor Hanslick, uttered his silly words about Wagner's "luck." But the victory was this time with the right.
In Baireuth meanwhile all was being prepared for the celebration. The Riedel and the Rebling singing-societies constituted the nucleus of the chorus while the orchestra was formed of musicians from all parts of Germany, Wilhelmi at their head. There the master for the first time was really among "his artists." "We give no concert, we make music for ourselves and desire simply to show the world how Beethoven is performed—the devil take him who criticises us," he said to them with humorous seriousness. The laying of the corner-stone on the beautiful hill overlooking the city, where the edifice stands to-day, took place May 22, 1872, to the strains of the "Huldigungs March," composed for his King in 1864. "Blessing upon thee, my stone, stand long and firm!" were the words with which Wagner himself gave the first three blows with the hammer. The King had sent a telegram: "From my inmost soul, I convey to you, my dearest friend, on this day so important for all Germany, my warmest and sincerest congratulations. May the great undertaking prosper and be blessed! I am to-day more than ever united with you in spirit." Wagner himself had written the verse:
Here I enclose a mystery; For centuries it here may rest. So long as here preserved it be, It shall to all be manifest.
Both telegram and verse with the Mannheim and Bayreuth documents lie beneath the stone. Wagner returned with his friends to the city in a deeply earnest mood. On this his sixtieth birthday his eyes for the first time beheld the goal of his life!
At the celebration, which then took place in the Opera-house, he addressed the following words to his friends and patrons: "It is the nature of the German mind to build from within. The eternal God actually dwells therein before the temple is erected to His glory. The stone has already been placed which is to bear the proud edifice, whenever the German people for their own honor shall desire to enter into possession with you. Thus then may it be consecrated through your love, your good wishes and the deep obligation which I bear to you, all of you who have encouraged, helped and given to me! May it be consecrated by the German spirit which away over the centuries sends forth its youthful morning-greeting to you."
The performance of the symphony of that artist, to whom Wagner himself attributes religious consecration according to eye-witnesses, gave to this festival, also "the character of a sacred celebration," as had once been true of the great Beethoven academy in November, 1814. At the evening celebration, however, Wagner recalled again the large-heartedness of his King, and said that to this was due what they had experienced to-day, but that its influence reached far beyond civil and state affairs. It guaranteed the ultimate possession of a high intellectual culture, and was the stepping-stone to the grandest that a nation can achieve. Would the time soon come which shall fitly name this King, as it already recognized him, a "Louis the German" in a far nobler sense than his great ancestor? "Certainly no fear of the always existing majority of the vulgar and the coarse is to prevent us from confessing that the greatest, weightiest and most important revelation which the world can show is not the world-conqueror but he who has overcome the world:" thus teaches the philosopher, and we shall soon perceive that this was also true of Wagner and his royal friend.
The fame of this celebration, which had so deeply stirred everyone present, resounded through all countries, appealed to all true German hearts. And yet, how many remained even now indifferent and incredulous! The "nation," as such, did not respond to the call. It did not, or would not, understand it, uttered by a man who had told us so many unwelcome truths to our face. It still lay paralyzed in foreign and unworthy bondage, and was, besides, for the time too much engrossed with the affairs of the empire, whose novelty had not yet worn off.
"From morn till eve, in toil and anguish, Not easily gained it was."
These words of Wotan, about his castle Walhalla, were only to be too fully realized by our master. His "friends" alone gave him comfort, and their number he saw constantly increase from out of the midst of the people whose leaders in art-matters they were more and more destined to become. The public interest was kept alive and stirred afresh with concerts and discourses. The Old did not rest. The struggle constantly broke out anew, and for the time it remained in the possession of the ring that symbolizes mastery. The dragon was still unconquered. As the "people" in Germany are not particularly wealthy, slow progress was made with the contributions from the multiplying Wagner-clubs, and yet millions were needed even for this temporary edifice with its complete stage apparatus. It required all the love of his friends, especially of that rarest of all friends, to dispel at times his deep anger when he was compelled to see how mediocrity, even actual vulgarity, again and again held captive the minds of his people to whom he had such high and noble things to offer. "In the end I must accept the money of the Jews in order to build a theatre for the Germans," he said, in the spring of 1873, to Liszt, when during that period of wild stock-speculations, some Vienna bankers had offered him three millions of marks for the erection of his building. He could not well have been humiliated more deeply before his own people, but he was raised still higher in the consciousness of his mission. Truly, this love also came "out of laughter and tears, joys and sorrows," for the mighty host of his enemies now put forth every effort to make his work appear ridiculous and in that way kill it. A pamphlet, by a physician, declared him "mentally diseased by illusions of greatness." Even a Breughel could not paint the raging of the distorted figures which at that time convulsed the world of culture, not alone of Germany. It was really an inhuman and superhuman struggle around this ring of the Nibelung!
Nevertheless, in August of the same year (1873), the festival could be undertaken in Baireuth. "Designed in reliance upon the German soul, and completed to the glory of its august benefactor," is printed on the score of the Nibelungen Ring, which now began to appear. The space for the "stage-festival-play" was at least under roof. But with that, the means obtained so far were exhausted, and only "vigorous assistance" on the part of his King prevented complete cessation of work. Wagner himself was soon compelled again to take up his wanderer's staff. He sought this time (1874-1875), with the lately completed "Goetterdaemmerung," to sound through the nation the effective call to awaken, and in doing so met with many decided encouragements. "From the bottom of my heart I thank the splendid Vienna public which to-day has brought me an important step nearer the realization of my life-mission." This was the theme which fortunately he had then only to vary in Pesth and in Berlin.
The preliminary rehearsals now began, and what Munich had witnessed in 1868 repeated itself ten times over in Baireuth during this summer of 1875. For weeks there was the same untiring industry, but also the same, nay increasing, enthusiasm. "Of this marvelous work I recently heard more than twenty rehearsals. It over-tops and dominates our entire art-period as does Mont Blanc the other mountains," wrote Liszt. The master frankly conceded that it was due to the "unhesitating zeal of the associate artists as well as to the splendid success of their performances" that he could now positively invite the patrons and Wagner for the next summer. "Through your kind participation may an artistic deed be brought to light, such as none of the dignitaries of to-day but only the free union of those really called could present to the world," he says. And:
"From such marvelous deed the hero's fame arose,"
sings Hagen of Siegfried.
The rehearsals during the summer of 1876 so increased the enthusiastic devotion of the artists to the work, that many felt they had really now only become such. Others, however, like Niemann as Siegmund, Hill as Alberich, and Schlosser as Mime, showed already in fact what heroic deeds in the art of representation were presented. The fetters of the maidenly bride were indeed broken that she might live. "We have overcome the first. We must yet consummate a true hero-deed in a short time," Wagner said, when at the first close of the Cycle silent emotion had given place to a perfect storm of enthusiasm, but, he exultantly added: "If we shall carry it out as I now clearly see that it will be done, we may well say that we have performed something grand." The little anticipated humor in "Siegfried" developed itself in such a way under the leadership of Hans Richter, who was more and more inspired by the master, that one seemed indeed to hear "the laughter of the universe in one stupendous outbreak." That was the fruit of the "tempestuous sobbing" with which young Siegfried himself had once listened to the Ninth symphony. It was indeed a new soul-foundation for his nation and his time! Wagner himself calls an enthusiasm of this kind a power that could conduct all human affairs to certain prosperity and upon which states could be built. The patriotic enthusiasm of 1870 sprang from the same source and it has brought us the "empire" as that of 1876 gave us the "art."
The general rehearsal on the seventh of August was attended by the King. He had stopped at a sub-station, once the favorite resort of Jean Paul, and at the station-master's house the two great and constant friends silently embraced, giving vent to their feelings in tears. From that date to the thirteenth of August, 1876, the ever memorable day of the re-creation of German art, came the hosts of friends and patrons, from great princes to the humble German musicians. "Baireuth is Germany" is the acclamation of an Englishman on witnessing the spectacle. The head of the realm, Emperor William, was there himself welcomed by the festival-giver and hailed with acclamation by the thousands from far and near. The Grand-duke Constantine and the Emperor of Brazil were likewise present.
Of the effect we shall at this time say nothing for lack of space to tell all; but, to convey at least a conception of the event which riveted minds and held hearts spell-bound until the last note had passed away, while at the same time a whole new world dawned upon our souls—we present a short account of the work as pithily drawn by Wagner's gifted friend and patron, Prof. Nietzsche, in Basle.
"In the Ring of the Nibelungen," he says, "the tragic hero is a god (Wotan), who covets power and who, by following every path to obtain it, binds himself with contracts, loses his liberty and is at last engulfed in the curse which rests upon power. He becomes conscious of his loss of liberty, because he no longer has the means to gain possession of the golden ring, the essence or symbol of all earthly power, and at the same time of greatest danger for himself as long as it remains in the hands of his enemies. The fear of the end and the 'twilight' of all the gods comes over him and likewise despair, as he realizes that he can not strive against this end, but must quietly see it approach. He stands in need of the free, fearless man, who without his advice and aid, even battling against divine order, from within himself accomplishes the deed which is denied to the gods. He does not discover him, and just as a new hope awakens he must yield to the destiny that binds him. Through his hand the dearest must be destroyed, the purest sympathy punished with his distress.
"Then at last he loathes the power that enslaves and brings forth evil. His will is broken, and he desires the end which threatens from afar. And now what he had but just desired occurs. The free, fearless man appears. He is created supernaturally, and they who gave birth to him pay the penalty of a union contrary to nature. They are destroyed, but Siegfried lives.
"In the sight of his splendid growth and development the loathing vanishes from the soul of Wotan. He follows the hero's fate with the eye of the most fatherly love and anxiety. How Siegfried forges the sword, kills the dragon, secures the ring, escapes the most crafty intrigues, and awakens Brunhilde; how the curse that rests upon the ring does not spare even him, the innocent one, but comes nearer and nearer; how he, faithful in faithlessness, wounds out of love the most beloved, and is surrounded by the shadows and mists of guilt, but at last emerges as clear as the sun and sinks, illuminating the heavens with his fiery splendor and purifying the world from the curse—all this the god, whose governing spear has been broken in the struggle with the freest and who has lost his power to him, holds full of joy at his own defeat, fully participating in the joy and sorrow of his conqueror. His eye rests with the brightness of a painful serenity upon all that has passed. 'He has become free in Love, free from himself.'"
These are the profound contents of a work that reveals to us the tragic nature of the world!
At the close of the Cycle, there arose in the enthusiastic assemblage a demand to see at such a great and grand moment the noble artist whose eyes had rested for so many years upon the spirit of his great nation "with the brightness of a painful serenity." He could not evade the persistent, stormy demand, and had to appear. His features bore an expression that seemed to show a whole life lived again, an entire world embraced anew, as he came forward and uttered the significant yet simple words: "To your own kindness and the ceaseless efforts of my associates, our artists, you owe this accomplishment. What I have yet to say to you can be put into a few words, into an axiom. You have seen now what we can do. It remains for you to will! And if you will, then we have a German art!"
Yes, indeed we have such an art—a "Baireuth."
O, done is the deathless deed; On mountain-top the mighty castle! Splendidly shines the structure new. As in dreams I did dream it, As my will did wish it, Strong and serene it stands to the view— Mighty manor new!
We have a German art! But have we also by this time a German spirit that sways the nation's life? Have we come to detest mere might which we have hitherto worshipped and that yet "bears within its lap evil and thralldom?" Has the "free, fearless man," the Siegfried, been born to us who out of himself creates the right and with the sword he forges manfully slays the dragon that gnaws at the vitals of our being and thus rescues the slumbering bride? This question has been hurled into our life and history by the "Ring of the Nibelungen." It will be heard as long as the question remains unsolved. If, according to Wagner's conception, Beethoven wrote the history of the world in music, then he himself has furnished a world-history in art-deeds! Such is the meaning of this Baireuth with its Nibelungen Ring of 1876.
Let us see now what the life and work of this artist, for nigh unto seventy years, further and finally imports to us. He also was guided by Goethe's fervent prayer:
"O, lofty Spirit, suffer me The end of my life's-work to see!"
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."
"Dawn then now, thou day of Gods!"—Wagner.
"If you but will it, we shall have a German art." It is true we had a German music, a German literature, a German art of painting, each of high excellence, but they were not that union of German art which floated before Wagner's mind in his "combined art-work" and which found its first adequate interpretation in the performances of the Nibelungen Ring. His object was now to make it permanent and to this end he sought the means.
Accordingly on January 1, 1877, the invitation to form "a society of patrons for the culture and maintenance of the stage-festival-plays of Baireuth" was issued. At the same time the "Baireuther Blaetter," which subsequently were made available to the general public, were issued in order to more fully and constantly elucidate the aim and object of the cause. Wagner had declined to acquiesce in a demand for a subsidy from the Reichstag, although King Louis had agreed to support such a measure before the Bundesrath. "There are no Germans; at least they are no longer a nation. Whoever still thinks so and relies upon their national pride makes a fool of himself," he said bitterly enough to a friend. As far as the ideal is concerned he was certainly right in regard to the Reichstag as well as the people. "He who can clear such paths is a genius, a prophet, and in Germany, a martyr as well!" are the words of one of those who at one time had contemptuously spoken of this "Baireuth" as a "speculation." And yet Wagner had to accept an invitation to give concerts in London to cover the expenses of this same "Baireuth." By the distinguished reception the artist met there, the consideration shown for his art, the spread of his earlier works over the whole of Europe, he felt that foreign lands had understood him, the German. It must have been very bitter for him to feel that the Germans as a nation knew him not. Among the multitude of the educated, faith was still wanting. They courted foreign gods. If it had not been so would it have required seven, fully seven years, to obtain the moderate sum needed even to think of resuming the work, and in the end a contribution of three hundred thousand marks from His Majesty the King to bring it to completion? How slow was the progress of the society of patrons! People who, during the era of speculation had accumulated wealth rapidly, thought in these years of decreasing prosperity of something else than joining such an undertaking, and declared that they had to economize. And yet the annual dues were but 15 marks! Very singular was the answer of some whose rank or learning gave them prominence. They said that it was not even known whether the project had any real standing and they might therefore disgrace themselves by lending their names. Yes, when the bad Wagnerians dared to attack the tottering Mendelssohn-Schuman instrumental mechanics, Germans as well as others were induced to withdraw from the society which it had cost them so much struggle to join. Councilors of State and educators did not even respond to the invitations of the society's branches which were now gradually organized in a large number of cities.
It was generally known that a new work was soon to issue from Wagner's brain and soon everywhere from the Rhine to the Danube, from rock to sea, could be heard the Nibelungen! Wagner had, against his innermost conviction, consented to permit the use of the work by the larger theatres in the supposition that such personal experience of the "prodigious deed" would open heart and hand for a still grander one, the permanent establishment of a distinctive German art. Vienna came first. However excellent the performance of a few, for instance, Scaria as Wotan, Materna as Brunnhilde and the orchestra under Hans Richter, there was lacking the ensemble! The sensation of something extraordinary, of grandeur and solemnity, that in Baireuth had elevated the soul to the eternal heights of humanity, was not there. It was often as when daylight enters a theatre; the sublime illusion of such a tragic representation was wanting, and Wagner knew that in this art it is the very bread of life. "The art-work also, like everything transitory, is only a parable, but a parable of the ever-present eternal," he said, in taking leave of his friends and patrons in Baireuth and his purpose now was deeply to impress the minds of his contemporaries with this "ever-present eternal" and thus make it permanently effective. The Holy Grail had first to give forth its last wonder!
Once more he diverts his attention from "outward politics," as he called the intercourse with the theatres, and collects his thoughts for a new deed. This was "Parsifal." With this work, performed for the first time, July 26, 1882, and then repeated thirteen times, he believed he might close his life-long labors, and assuredly he has securely crowned them. It seems indeed as if this has finally and forever broken the obstinate ban that so long separated him and his art from his people. The success of the Nibelungen Ring had been called in question, but that of "Parsifal" is beyond doubt, as sufficiently demonstrated by the attendance of cultured people from everywhere for so many weeks! "They came from all parts of the world; as of old in Babel, you can hear speech in every tongue," said a participant in the festival. With the final slaying of the dragon, there fell also into the hero's hand the treasure, inasmuch as the large attendance left a surplus of many thousand marks, thus assuring the continuation of the festival-plays.
To be sure, the Nibelungen Ring had largely contributed to this success. At first performed in Leipzig, then by the same troupe in Berlin, it had met with a really unprecedented reception. Since the storm of 1813, since the years of 1848-49, the feeling of a distinctive nationality has not been so effectually roused, and this time it no longer stood solely upon the ground of patriotism and politics, but there where we seek our highest—the "ever-present eternal." England was likewise roused in 1882, with performances of the "Nibelungen Ring," and still more with "Tristan," to a consciousness of an eternal humanity in this art, such as had not been experienced there since Beethoven's Ninth symphony, and this enthusiasm of our manly and serious brethren sped like the fire's glare, illuminating the common fatherland from whence they had themselves once carried that feeling for the tragic which produced their Shakespeare. Everywhere was the stir of spring-time, sudden awakening, as from death-like slumber or a disturbing dream. "Dawn then now, thou day of gods!"
We will next give some accounts of the representations.
"'Victory! Victory!' is the word which is making the rounds of the world from Baireuth, in these days. Wagner's latest creation which brings the circle of his works in a beautiful climax to a dignified close, has achieved a success such as the most intimate adherents of the master could not well desire fuller or grander. The name of a 'German Olympia,' which had been given facetiously to the capital of Upper Franconia, it really now merited," was said by a London correspondent.