At the close of the general rehearsal, "the participating artists unanimously declared that they had never received from the stage such an impression of lofty sublimity." "Parsifal produces such an enormous effect that I can not conceive any one will leave the theatre unsatisfied or with hostile thoughts," E. Heckel wrote; and Liszt affirmed that nothing could be said about this wonderful work: "Yes, indeed, it silences all who have been profoundly touched by it. Its sanctified pendulum swings from the lofty to the most sublime." Of the first act it had already been said: "We here meet with a harmony of the musico-dramatic and religious church style which alone enables us to experience in succession the most terrible, heartrending sorrow and again that most sanctified devotion which the feeling of a certainty of salvation alone rouses in us."
The German Crown-Prince attended the performance of August 29th, the last one. "I find no words to voice the impression I have received," he said to the committee of the patron society which escorted him. "It transcends everything that I had expected, it is magnificent. I am deeply touched, and I perceive that the work can not be given in the modern theatre." And, finally, "I do not feel as though I am in a theatre, it is so sublime."
A Frenchman wrote: "The work that actually created a furious storm of applause is of the calmest character that can be conceived; always powerful, it leaves the all-controlling sensation of loftiness and purity." "The union of decoration, poetry, music and dramatic representation in a wonderfully beautiful picture, that with impressive eloquence points to the new testament—a picture full of peace and mild, conciliatory harmony, is something entirely new in the dramatic world," is said of the opening of the third act.
And in simple but candid truth the decisive importance of the cause called forth the following: "Parsifal furnishes sufficient evidence that the stage is not only not unworthy to portray the grandest and holiest treasures of man and his divine worship, but that it is precisely the medium which is capable in the highest degree of awakening these feelings of devotion and presenting the impressive ceremony of divine worship. If the hearer is not prompted to devotion by it, then certainly no church ceremony can rouse such a feeling in him. The stage, that to the multitude is at all times merely a place of amusement, and upon which at best are usually represented only the serious phases of human life, of guilt and atonement, but which is deemed unworthy of portraying the innermost life of man and his intercourse with his God, this stage has been consecrated to its highest mission by 'Parsifal.'"
The building also, which Semper's art-genius, with the highest end in view had constructed, is worthy of this mission. It has no ornament in the style of our modern theatres. Nowhere do we behold gold or dazzling colors; nowhere brilliancy of light or splendor of any kind. The seats rise amphitheatrically and are symmetrically enclosed by a row of boxes. To the right and left rise mighty Corinthian columns, which invest the house with the character of a temple. The orchestra, like the choir of the Catholic cloisters, is invisible and everything unpleasant and disturbing about ordinary theaters is removed. Everything is arranged for a solemn, festive effect. "That is no longer the theatre, it is divine worship," was the final verdict accordingly. "Baireuth" is the temple of the Holy Grail.
At length we come to the principal theme, and with it to the climax of this historical sketch of such a mighty and all-important artistic lifework, to "Parsifal" itself. The mere mention of its contents attests its importance for the present and the future. Wagner's "Parsifal," in an important sense, can be termed our national drama. Such a work like AEschylus' "Persian" and Sophocles' Oedipus-trilogy, should recall to the consciousness of a world-historical people the period in which it stands in the world's history, and thereby make clear the mission it has to fulfil.
That we Germans have begun again to make world-history in a political sense, since the last generation, is evidenced by the great action of the time which seems for the present to have settled the politics of Europe and extended its influence upon the world at large. Beyond the domain of politics however the real movers of the world are the ideas which animate humanity and of which politics are but a sign of life possessing subordinate influence. In this movement of the mind we Germans are, without question, much older than a mere generation, as indeed Wagner's poetic material everywhere confirms. The one work in which Kaulbach's genius triumphed, the "Battle of the Huns," gained for him a world-wide fame, more by the plastic idea revealed in the perpetual struggle of the spirits than by its artistic execution. We stand to-day before, or rather in, a like mighty contest. Two moral religious sentiments struggle against each other for life and death in invisible as well as visible conflict. To which shall be the victory?
In the year 1850 Wagner wrote a pamphlet of weighty import. It reveals an expression of the utmost moment, though it has been heeded least by those whom it concerns as much as life and death; or, rather, it has not been understood at all, because these natures are more attracted by the trivial. Its most impressive confirmation is to-day furnished by art, above all else by actual representations on the boards that typify the world. "Parsifal" also is such a symbol, and in so large a world-historical and even metaphysical sense, that by it the stage has become a place dedicated to the proclamation of highest truth and morality. We have seen the grotesque anti-Semitic movement and the lamentable persecution of the Jews. What could inflict more injury to our higher nature, to our real culture? And yet in this lies concealed a deep instinct of a purely moral nature. It does not, however, concern merely that people whom the course of events has cast among other nations, still much less the individual man, who, without choice or intention, has been born among, and therefore forms a part of them. It involves the secret of the world-historical problems that struggle so long with each other until the right one triumphs. To these problems, with his incomparable depth of soul, the whole life and work of our artist is devoted as long as he breathes and lives, moved by the holiest feeling for his nation, for the time—yes, for mankind, in whose service he as real "poet and prophet" stands with every fibre of his nature and works with every beat of his heart.
That unnoticed, misunderstood expression at the close of the paper by "K. Freigedank," in 1850, was this: "One more Jew we must name, who appeared among us as a writer, namely, Boerne. He stepped out of his individual position as Jew, seeking deliverance among us. He did not find it, and must have become conscious that he would only find it in our own transformation also into genuine men. To return in common with us to a purer humanity, however, signifies, for the Jew, above all else, that he shall cease to be a Jew. Boerne had fulfilled this. But it was precisely Boerne who taught us how this deliverance cannot be achieved in cool comfort and listless ease; but that it involves for them, as for us, toil, distress, anxiety, and abundance of pain and sorrow. Strive for this by self-abandonment and the regenerating work of salvation, and then we are united and without difference! But, remember that your deliverance depends upon the deliverance of Ahasrer—his destruction!"
No other people has received those cast out by all the world with such sacredly pure, humane feeling as the Germans. Will they then at last find their deliverance among us from the curse of homelessness, their new existence by absorption into a larger, richer, deeper whole? It is this question which animates and moves Wagner; but by no means in the sense of a casual and shifting quarrel among different races or even religious parties. On the contrary, he feels that this question is a life-question of the time, approaching its final solution. It is not the Jews, however, but the Jewish spirit, that represents the antagonist—that spirit which at first, after the birth of Christianity, and aided by the filth of Roman civilization, with its inherent evil germs, this people devoted to a world-historic power of evil; and which, even in its most brilliant revelation, in Spinoza, as has been most clearly demonstrated from his own works by Schopenhauer, seeks only its own advantage, to which it sacrifices the whole, but does not recognize the whole to which it must lovingly sacrifice itself.
Such concrete, actual historical developments Wagner regards not as a hindrance, but as the external support of his art-work. For a poetic composition requires some connection with a time or space to make perceptible to the senses its view of the advancing development of the mind of humanity. So it is that Kleist's "Arminius-battle" does not in the least refer to the ancient Romans, but to the degenerate race, the mixture of tiger and ape, as Voltaire has called them, and in this symbol of art he strengthened the determination of his people until in the battles of nations it conquered. Wagner even transfers the scene of this conflict into those distant centuries in which the struggle between Christians and Infidels was very fierce, while that between Jews and Occidentals had not yet even in existence. Like the real artist, he also uses only individual phases of the present time, which, it is quite true, bear but too close a relation to the character of that Arabian world that once engaged in conflict with Christianity for the world's control, and thus proves that this question, least of all is a passing "Question of time and controversy," but is one of the ever-present questions of humanity which has again come to the front in a specially vivid and urgent form. His inborn feeling for the purely human, which we have seen displayed with such touching warmth in all his doings, and that has created for us the genuine human forms of a "Flying Dutchman," "Tannhaeuser," "Lohengrin," and "Siegfried" is true to itself this time, indeed this time more than ever. He anticipates the struggling aspiration. He sees the form already appear on the surface, and only seeks a pure human sympathy to show the true and full solution which denies to neither of the disputing parties the God-given right of existence.
Klingsor, the sorcerer, representative of everything hostile to the Holy Grail and its knights, summons Kundry, the maid, subject to his witchcraft—in other words to that evil moral law which the individual alone is unable to resist—and reproachfully says:
Shame! that with the brood of knights, Thou should'st like a beast be maintained!
The German class-pride which regarded the Jew as a body servant is strongly enough characterized and our own ancient injustice still more sharply expressed in his words:
"Thus may the whole body of knights In deadly conflict each other destroy."
Thus Wagner reveals still more clearly than in the "Flying Dutchman" with his "fabulous homesickness" an absolute trait and the inner view of that sentiment which here longs for salvation, to be mortal with the mortals. At the sight of the nobler qualities and real human dignity which Kundry for the first time in her life sees in the person of Parsifal, who has been born again through the recognition of the truth, she breaks down completely and with the only word that she now knows, "serve! serve!" she throws all evil selfishness away. For the first time it is now fully disclosed how deeply after all, and with what intensity those of alien race and religion serve the ideas, not so much of our own similarly narrow contracted race-life, but those ideas which have transformed us from a mere nation to an historical part of humanity that guards the world's eternal treasure in this Holy Grail, as its last and grandest possession.
How fully is Goethe's saying "the power that ever seeks the evil and yet produces good" realized. Kundry is the messenger of the same Holy Grail against which her lord and master conducts the fatal war. To all distant lands it is she that brings the higher element of culture, the purer humanity which she gets from the Grail and its life. Though the peculiar portraiture of Kundry is drawn from his own experience of the present, the poet has gone still further and pictured that omnipresent spirit of evil which can never by simple participation in the sorrows of others gain knowledge of the perpetual sorrow of the world. Klingsor summons from the chaotic, primeval foundation of the world, where good and evil still lie commingled, the blind instinct of nature, as that wonderful element in the world's history which must everywhere be at once servant of the devil and messenger of grace, with the all-comprehensive words:
"Thy master calls thee, nameless one; Primeval devil! rose of hell! Herodias thou wast and what more? Gundryggia there, Kundry here!"
It is the feminine Ahasrer, present in all ages and spheres, in our time revealing its tangible form in the ruling spirit of Judaism. As her sinful nature at last is overcome by Parsifal's purity, and she humbly approaches him to receive the baptism that is awarded to every one who believes and acts in the spirit of pure humanity, he proclaims, when he has withstood her temptation and thereby has regained from Klingsor the holy lance of the Grail, the impending catastrophe by tracing with the lance the sign of the cross and saying:
"With this sign thy spell I banish! Even as it heals the wound Which with it thou hast dealt— So may thy delusive splendor in grief and ruin fall."
When in the last century, Roman Catholicism had become sensual and worldly through Jesuitism, and Protestantism had put on either the straight-jacket of orthodoxy or had been diluted with rationalism, there came to the surface, outside of the religious sects, secret societies, such as the Freemasons. In their well-meant but flat humanitarian idealism, those strangers to our race and religion, the hitherto despised Jews, also took active part and what "delusive splendor" have they not since then provided for themselves in literature and art and general ways of life? A single actual resurrection of that sign in which we Germans alone have attained world-culture and world-importance has "in grief and ruin destroyed" all this, and we hope in truth that we are now approaching a new epoch of our spiritual as well as moral existence. Just as, out of the first awakening of a pure human feeling such as Christianity brought us, there rose in contrast to priesthood a work like the "Magic Flute," child-like, artless but devoutly pure and full of feeling, so now there resounds like the mighty watchword of this full national resurrection, Wagner's "Parsifal."
Let us see how the poem itself has done this and what it signifies.
According to the legend of the Holy Grail, already artistically resurrected by the master in "Lohengrin," the chalice from which Christ had drank with His disciples at the last supper, and in which His blood had been received at the cross, had been brought into the western world by a host of angels at a time of most serious danger to the pure gospel of Christianity. King Titurel had erected for it the temple and castle of Monsalvat in the north of Spain, where knights of absolute purity of mind guard it and receive spiritual as well as bodily nourishment from its miraculous powers. This sanctuary can only be found by the pure. The king keeps the holy lance, which had opened the Savior's wound, and with it holds in check the hostile heathen. Klingsor, the sorcerer, on the southern decline of the mountain, rules the latter. He had likewise once been seized with remorse for his sins, his "pain of untamed longings and the most terrible pressure of hellish desires," and had mutilated himself and then seeking deliverance had wandered to the Holy Grail. Amfortas however, Titurel's son, now king of the Grail, perceived his impurity and sternly turned away the evil sorcerer, who only seeks release for worldly gain.
Angered thereat, the latter now contrives through the agency of Kundry, who appears in the highest and most bewitching beauty, encircling the king himself with the snares of passion, to obtain power over him and to wrest from him the lance with which he wounds him. This wound will burn until the holy lance shall be regained. This then is the supreme deed to be accomplished. The Grail itself at one time has proclaimed during the keenest pangs of the suffering king, that it shall be regained by him who, deficient in worldly knowledge, shall from pure sympathy with his terrible sufferings recognize the sufferings of humanity and through such blissful faith bring to it new redemption. The body of humanity, which Christianity had called into new life, had been invaded by a consuming poison and only so far as by the full unconsciousness of innocence, its genius itself was re-awakened, was it possible to again expel the poison.
In the forest of the castle old Gurnemanz and two shield-bearers lie slumbering at early dawn. The solemn morning-call of the Grail is heard and they all rise to pray and then await the sick king who is to take a soothing bath in the near lake. All medicinal herbs have proved useless. Kundry shortly after suddenly appears in savage, strange attire and proffers balm from Arabia. The king is carried forward. We listen to his lamentations. He thanks Kundry, who, however, roughly declines all thanks. The shield-bearers show indignation at this but are reprimanded by Gurnemanz who says: "She serves the Grail and her zeal with which she now helps us and herself at the same time is in atonement for former sins." When she is missing too long, a misfortune surely is in store for the knights. She preserves for them by the opposing forces of her nature the true and good in their consciousness and purpose. With that he tells them Klingsor has established on the other side of the mountain, toward the land of the Arabian infidels, a magic garden with seductively beautiful women to menace them by enticing the knights there and ruining them. In the attempt to destroy this harbor of sin the king had carried away the wound and lost the lance which, according to the revelation of the Grail, only "the simple fool knowing by compassion" could recover.
Suddenly cries of lamentation resound in the sacred forest. A wild swan slowly descends and dies. Shield-bearers bring forward a handsome youth whose harmless, innocent demeanor inspires involuntary interest. He is recognized by the arrows he carries as the murderer of the bird which had been flying over the lake and which had seemed to the king, about to take his bath, as a happy omen. Gurnemanz upbraids him for this deed of cruelty. The swan is doubly sacred to the Grail. It is a swan also that conducts Lohengrin to the relief of innocence! "I did not know," Parsifal replies. The universal lamentation however touches his heart and he breaks his bow and arrows. He knows not whence he came, knows neither father nor name. The only thing he knows is that he had a mother named "Sad-heart." "In forest and wild meadows we were at home." Gurnemanz perceives however by his manner and appearance that he is of noble race, and Kundry, who has seen and heard everything in her constant wanderings confirms the impression.
"Thus he was the born king Who had the aspect of a lordly youth,"
says Chiron to Faust of the young Herakles. As his father had been slain in battle, the mother had brought him up in the wilderness a stranger to arms—foolish deed—mad woman! Parsifal relates that he had followed "glittering men" and after the manner of the vigorous primitive peoples, had led the wild life of nature, following only natural instincts. Gurnemanz reproaches him for running away from his mother and when Kundry states that she is dead, Parsifal furiously seizes her by the throat. It is the first feeling for a being other than himself, his first sorrow. Again Gurnemanz upbraids him for his renewed violence but remembering the prophecy and the finding of the secret passage to the castle, he believes that there may be nobler qualities in him. For this reason he speaks to him of the Grail, which, now that the king has left the bath, is to provide them anew with nourishment. Upon secret paths they reach the castle of the Grail which only he of pure mind can find. The knights solemnly assemble in a hall with a lofty dome. Beyond Amfortas' couch of pain, the voice of Titurel is heard as from a vaulted niche, admonishing them to uncover the Grail. Thus the dead genii of the world admonish the living to expect life! Amfortas however cries out in grievous agony that he, the most unholy of them all, should perform the holiest act, that in an unsanctified time the sanctuary should be seen. The knights however refer him to the promised deliverance and so begins the solemn unveiling for the distribution of the last love-feast of the Savior, whose cup is then drawn forth, resplendent in fiery purple. Parsifal stands stupefied before this consecration of the human although he also made a violent movement toward his heart when the king gave forth his passionate cry of anguish. But the torments of guilt which produce such sorrows he has not yet comprehended. Gurnemanz therefore angrily ejects him through a narrow side-door of the temple to resume his ways to his wild boyish deeds. He had first to experience the torments of passion and deliverance from the same in his own person.
The second act takes us to Klingsor's magic castle. Klingsor sees the fool advance, joyous and childish, and summons Kundry, the guilty one, who rests in the dead lethargy of destiny, and in sorrow and anger only follows his command. She longs no more for life, but seeks deliverance in the eternal sleep. She has laughed at the bleeding head of John, laughed when she beheld the Savior bleeding at the cross, and is now condemned to laugh forever and to ensnare all in her net of passion: "Whoever can resist thee, will release thee," says Klingsor, the father of evil. "Make thy trial upon the boy." The youth approaches. The fallen knights seek to hinder his progress, but he easily vanquishes them all, and stands victorious upon the battlement of the castle, gazing in childish astonishment at all this unknown silent splendor below. Soon, however, the scene becomes animated. The ravishing enchantresses appear in garments of flowers, and each seeks to win the handsome youth for herself. He remains, however, toward them what he is—a fool. Suddenly he hears a voice. He stands astonished, for he heard the name with which in times long past his mother had called her hearts-blood; it is the one thing he knows. The beauties disappear. The voice takes on form. It is Kundry, no longer of repulsive, savage appearance, but as a "lightly draped woman of superb beauty." She explains to him his name:
"Thee, foolish innocent, I called Fal parsi— Thee, innocent fool, Parsifal!"
She tells him of his mother's love, of his mother's death. What he, a giddy fool, has thus far done in life, suddenly overwhelms him as well as the thought that despair at his loss has even killed his mother. He sinks deeply wounded at the feet of the seductive woman; it is the first soul-despair in his life. She, however, with diabolic persuasiveness, avails herself of this to overcome his manly heart by her only way, the painful, longing sensation for his mother, and offers him the consolation which love gives, "as a blessing, the mother's last greeting, the first kiss of love." At this he rises quickly in great alarm and presses his hands against his heart. "Amfortas! the wound burns in my heart!" The miracle of knowledge has happened to him, and in a moment has changed his whole nature. It is regeneration by grace, recognized from the earliest time as the sense of all religion. He now experiences the trembling of guilty desires that burn within our breasts, and understands also the mystery of salvation which he can now obtain for the unhappy King of the Grail. Out of the depths of his soul he hears the supplications of the Grail:
"Redeem me, save me From hands defiled by sin!"
The evil demon of voluptuousness displays all its charms. Astonishment gives way more and more to passion for this pure one, but he sinks into deep and deeper reverie until a second long, burning kiss suddenly and completely awakens him. Then, having gained "world-knowledge," he sees into the deep abyss of this being full of guilt and penitence, and impetuously repulses the temptress. She herself, however, is now overpowered by the passion which she has sought by all the means of temptation to instil into the innocent youth, and fancies she sees in him again the Savior whom she had once laughed at. She tells him with heartrending truth her inextinguishable suffering, her eternal sorrow, her lamentation full of the laughter of derision, the whole wide emptiness of her misery, and implores him to be merciful, and let her weep for a single hour upon his pure bosom—for a single hour to be his. But the answer comes like the voice of an avenging God, terribly stern and annihilating:
"To all eternity thou wouldst be damned with me, If for one hour I should forget my mission."
At last she seeks, like the serpent in Paradise, to allure him with the promise that in her arms he will attain to godhood. He remains, however, true to himself. Roused now to furious rage, she curses him. He shall never find Amfortas, but shall wander aimlessly. Klingsor then appears, and puts his power to the utmost trial by brandishing his sacred lance, but Parsifal's pure faith banishes the false charm. The lance remains suspended above his head. Kundry sinks down crying aloud. The magic garden is turned to a desert. Parsifal calls out:
"Thou knowest where alone thou canst find me again."
That true womanly love roused for the first time in her will also show this desolate heart the path to eternal love. And Parsifal had finally shown her, the pitiable one, the only thing he could—pity!
The last act takes us once more into the domain of the sacred Grail which Parsifal since then has been longingly seeking. Gurnemanz, now grown to an old man, lives as a hermit near a forest spring. From out the hedges he hears a groan. "So mournful a tone comes not from the beast," he says, familiar as he is with the lamenting sounds of sinful humanity. It is Kundry, whom he carries completely benumbed out of the thicket. This fierce and fearful woman had not been seen nor thought of for a long time. Her wildness now however lies only in the accustomed serpent-like appearance, otherwise she gives forth but that one cry "to serve! to serve!" Whoever has not comprehended the highest and most actual elements of our life when they assert themselves, is condemned to silence. Only by silent acts and conduct can she attest the growing inner participation in the higher and nobler human deeds. She enters the hut close by and busies herself. When she returns with the water pitcher she perceives a knight, clad in sombre armor, who approaches with hesitating steps and drooping head. Gurnemanz greets him kindly but admonishes him to lay aside his weapons in the sacred domain and above all on this the most sacred of days—Good Friday. With that he recognizes him. It is Parsifal, now a mature and serious man. "In paths of error and of suffering have I come," he says. He is at once saluted by Gurnemanz who recognizes the sacred lance as "master" for now he can hope to bring relief to the suffering king of the Grail whose laments Parsifal had once listened to without being moved to action. He learns through the faithful old man of the supreme distress and gradual disappearance of the holy knights. Amfortas has refused to uncover the life-preserving Grail and prefers to die rather than linger in pain and anguish, and thus the strength of the knights has died away. Titurel is already dead, a "man like others," and Gurnemanz has hidden himself in solitude in this corner of the forest. Parsifal is overcome with grief. He, he alone has caused all this. He has for so long a time not perceived the path to final salvation. Kundry now washes his feet "to take from him the dust of his long wanderings," while Gurnemanz refreshes his brow and asks him to accompany him to the Grail which Amfortas is to uncover to-day for the consecration of the dead Titurel. Kundry then anoints his feet and Gurnemanz his head that he may yet to-day be saluted as king and he himself performs his first act as Savior by baptizing Kundry out of the sacred forest spring. Now for the first time can she shed tears. Thereby even the fields and meadows appear as if sprinkled with sacred dew, for according to the ancient legend, nature also celebrates on Good Friday the redemption which mankind gained by Christ's love-sacrifice and which changes the sinner's tears of remorse to tears of joy.
In the castle of the Grail the knights are conducting Titurel's funeral. Amfortas, who in his sufferings longs for death as the one act of mercy, falls into a furious frenzy of despair when the knights urge him to uncover the Grail which alone gives life, so that they all retreat in terror. Then at the last moment Parsifal appears and touches the wound with the lance that alone can close it. He praises the sufferings of Amfortas that have given to him, the timorous fool, "Compassion's supreme strength and purest wisdom's power" and assumes the king's functions. The Grail glows resplendent. Titurel rises in his coffin and bestows blessing from the dome. A white dove descends upon Parsifal's head as he swings the Grail. Kundry with her eyes turned toward him sinks dying to the ground while Amfortas and Gurnemanz do him homage as king and a chorus from above sings:
"Miracle of Supreme blessing, Redemption to the Redeemer!"
The holy Grail, the symbol of the Savior, has at last been rescued from hands defiled by guilt—has been redeemed.
Such is the short sketch of the grand as well as profoundly significant dramatic action of the artist's last work! It is easy to see that the figures and actions are but a parable. They symbolize the ideas and periods of human development. Nay more, the phases and powers of human nature are here disclosed to view. It is the inner history of the world which ever repeats itself and by which mankind is always rejuvenated. The pure and restored genius of the nation arises anew to its real nature. Its lance heals the wound which we have received at the hands of the other—the evil and foreign genius. It is this pure genius which all, even the dead and the dying, hail as King, and do homage to new deeds of blessing. Next to religion itself, it was art which more than all else constantly brought to the consciousness of humanity the ideals which originated with the former, and here art even entered literally into the service of divine truth. The lance, which signifies the mastery over the spirits, was wrested from the dominating powers. Serious harm indeed and spiritual starvation have followed as the consequence of our falling in every sphere of life under the control of the elements that frivolously play with our supreme ideals. Art, which springs from the purest genius of mankind, seems destined now to be the first to regain the lance and heal the wasting wound. For is not religion divided into warring factions and science into special cliques, jealous of each other? The church does not prevail in the struggle against the evil powers here or elsewhere, and has long ceased to satisfy the mind. The increasing tendency to pursue special studies creates indifference for such supreme ethical questions. It is art alone that has gained new strength from within itself. We have seen it in portraying this one mighty artist, in the irresistible force, in the longing and hoping, in the indestructible, faithful affection for his people, which must dominate all who have retained the feeling for the purely human. Should not art then be destined to awaken, among the cultured at least, a vivid renewal of the consciousness of the sublime for which we are fitted and in whose slumbering embrace we are held? Eternal truth ever selects its own means and ways to reveal itself anew to mankind. "The ways of the Lord are marvelous!" It aims only at the accomplishment of its object. It has at heart only our ever wandering and suffering race. Those who judged without prejudice tell us that this "Parsifal" appeared to them as a mode of divine worship, and that the festival-play-house was not only no longer a theatre, but that even all evil demons had been banished from this edifice, and all good ones summoned within its walls. Would that this were so, and that we could hope in the future that the painful and severe trials of the artist's long life, which gave to this genius also "compassion's supreme strength and purest wisdom's power," would be blessed with abundant fruit, with the full measure of consummation of his own hopes, and the goal so ardently struggled for attained, for his as well as for our own welfare.
However this may be, and whatever the future may have in store for us, this "Parsifal" is a call to the nation grander than any one has uttered before. It was foreordained, and could only be accomplished by an art which is the most unmixed product of that culture originating with Christianity; more, it is a product of the religious emotions of humanity itself. Just as our master said of Beethoven's grand art, that it had rescued the human soul from deep degradation, so no artist after him has presented this supreme and purest spirit of our nation as sanctified and strengthened by Christianity, purer and clearer than he who had already confessed in early years that he could not understand the spirit of music otherwise than as love! With "Parsifal" he has created for us a new period of development, which is to lead us deeper into our own hearts and to a purer humanity, and thereby give us possibly the strength to overcome everything false and foreign which has found its way into our life, and elevate us to a sense of the real object and goal of life.
Richard Wagner, more than any other contemporary, as we conceive, has re-awakened in the sphere of the intellectual life of his German people its inborn feeling for the grand and profound, for the pure and the sublime—in one word, for the ideal. May we who follow prove this in life by gratefully welcoming this grand deed! Then Lohengrin, who sought the wife that believed in him, need not again return to his dreary solitude. He will be forever relieved of his longing for union with the heart of his people. Then too it can be said of him, this genius who throughout a long life "in paths of error and of suffering came" as of all who live their life in love for the whole: "Redemption to the Redeemer."
* * * * *
The biography of Dr. Nohl closes at this point. What remains to be told is shrouded in sadness. It is but a record of suffering and death. In the autumn of 1882, the great master went to Italy, where his fame had already preceded him, and where in the very home of Italian opera his works had been given with great success, to seek rest and improvement of health. He made his home at the Palazzo Vendramin in Venice, where he was joined by Liszt and other friends. With the help of an orchestra and chorus, he was rehearsing some of his earlier works and was also engaged in remodeling his symphony. His restless energy was manifest even in these days of recreation. The Neue Freie Presse states that he was composing a new musical drama, called "Die Buesser," based upon a Brahminical legend and having for its motive the doctrine of the transmigration of souls. Filippo Filippi, the Italian critic, also says that he was engaged upon a new opera, with a Grecian subject, in which "it would undoubtedly have been shown that his genius, turning from the misty fables of the Germans to the bright and serene poetry of ancient Greece, would have drawn nearer to our musical life and feeling, which is clear and characteristically melodious." Whatever may have been his tasks it was destined they should not be achieved. "Parsifal" was his swan song. It was during the representation of this opera that his asthmatic trouble grew so intense as to necessitate his departure for Italy and regular medical treatment. During the week preceding his death he was in excellent spirits, and greatly enjoyed the carnival with his family and friends. On the 12th of February he even visited his banker and drew sufficient money to cover the expenses of a projected trip into southern Italy, with his son, Siegfried. On the morning of the 13th he devoted his time as usual to composition and playing. He did not emerge from his room until 2 o'clock when he complained of feeling very fatigued and unwell. At 3 o'clock he went to dinner with the family, but just as they were assembled at table and the soup was being served he suddenly sprang up, cried out "Mir ist sehr schlecht," (I feel very badly) and fell back dead from an attack of heart disease.
The remains were conveyed along the Grand Canal, amid the most impressive pageantry of grief, to the railroad station, and thence transported by a special funeral train to Baireuth. The public obsequies were very simple and impressive, consisting only of the performance of the colossal funeral march from "Siegfried," speeches by friends and a funeral song by the Liederkranz of Baireuth, after which the cortege moved to the tolling of bells to the grave which at his request was prepared behind his favorite villa "Wahnfried," which had been the scene of his great labors. The Lutheran funeral service was pronounced and the body of the great master was laid to its final rest.
The news of his death was received by Angelo Neumann, the director of the Richard Wagner Theatre, on the 14th, at Aachen, just as a performance of the "Rheingold" was about to commence. The director addressed the audience as follows:
"Not only the German people, the German nation, the whole world mourns to-day by the coffin of one of its greatest sons. All in this assembly share our grief and pain. But nevertheless we alone can fully measure the fearful loss which the Richard Wagner Theatre has met with through this event. The love and care of the master for this institution can find no better expression than in a letter, written by his own hand, received by me this evening, which closes with these words:
'May all the blessings of Heaven follow you! My best greetings, which I beg you to distribute according to desert. 'Sincerely yours, 'RICHARD WAGNER. 'VENICE, PALAZZO VENDRAMIN, February 11, 1883.'
"Now we are orphaned—in the Master everything is as if dead for us! I can only add, we shall never cease to labor according to the wishes and the spirit of this great composer; never shall we forget the teachings which we were so happy as to receive from his lips and pen."
A correspondent, writing from Leipzig at the time of his death, contributes some interesting information as to his method of composition and the literary treasures he had left behind him. He says:
"Richard Wagner composed, like all great musicians, in his brain, and not, as is often imagined, at the piano. It is a delight to examine a manuscript composition from his hand—to see how complete and well-rounded, how ripe and finished everything sprung from his head. Changes are very rarely found in such a manuscript; even in the boldest harmonies and most difficult combinations, not a slip of the pen occurs. In the entire score of 'Tannhaeuser,' which Wagner wrote out himself from beginning to end in chemical ink, not one correction is to be found. One note followed the other with easy rapidity. It was his habit to write the musical sketch in pencil—in Baireuth, music-paper was to be found in every corner of 'Wahnfried,' on which while wandering about the house during sleepless nights, musing and planning, he made brief jottings, often merely a new idea in instrumentation. The rest was in his head; the vocal parts were added to the score without hesitation, and never needed correction. For the orchestra he employed three staves, one of which was reserved for special notes, as, for instance, when a particular instrument was to enter. From these sketches the vocal parts could be written out immediately, although the instrumentation was by no means finished. Such sketches were carefully collected by Frau Cosima, who tried for a time to fix the notes permanently by drawing the pen through them. This task was, however, soon abandoned. In its stead she grasped the idea of making a collection of Wagner's manuscripts, to be deposited in 'Wahnfried.' For many years she has conducted an extended correspondence for the purpose of obtaining, for love or money, the scattered treasures, and has, in a great measure—principally through the use of the latter persuasive—succeeded.
"Wagner had written his memoirs, which are not only finished, but already printed. The entire edition consists of only three copies, one of which was in the possession of the author, the second an heirloom of Seigfried's, and the third in the hands of Franz Liszt. This autobiography fills four volumes, and was printed at Basel, every proof-sheet being jealously destroyed, so that there are actually but three copies in existence. To the nine volumes of his works already published (Leipzig, E. W. Fritzsch, 1871-'73) will be added a tenth, containing brief essays and sketches of a philosophical character, and (it is to be hoped) the four volumes of the autobiography."
After a life of strife such as few men have to encounter; of hatred more intense and love more devoted than usually falls to the fate of humanity; of restless energy, indomitable courage, passionate devotion to the loftiest standards of art and unquestioning allegiance to the "God that dwelt within his breast," he rests quietly under the trees of Villa "Wahnfried." He lived to see his work accomplished, his mission fulfilled, his victory won and his fame blown about the world despite the malice of enemies and cabals of critics. As the outcome of his stormy life we have music clothed in a new body, animated with a new spirit. He has lifted art out of its vulgarity and grossness. The future will prize him as we to-day prize his great predecessor—Beethoven.
G. P. U.
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Minor changes have been made to regularize punctuation and to correct typesetters' errors; otherwise, every effort has been made to remain true to the author's words and intent.