At this point the reader must be asked to bear in mind that the operatic companies with which Wagner was connected in these early days—until he left Riga in 1839 and set sail for Paris via London—were unlike anything in existence to-day. Dickens in Nicholas Nickleby and Thackeray in Pendennis gave us pictures of the old stock theatrical companies, with all their good-fellowship, jealous rivalries, lack of romance and understanding of the dramatic art, and abundance of dirt. One has only to read Wagner's accounts of the enterprises at Wuerzburg, Magdeburg, Koenigsberg, and even at Riga, or to glance at his letters of the period, to see that these concerns differed in no essential from the companies ruled over by Mr. Crummles and Miss Costigan's manager. Life went on in an utterly careless way: the rehearsal for the day over, the company met in cafes or beer-gardens and stayed there until it was time to move, in view of the evening performance; any one who had a shilling spent it, while those who had no shillings accepted their friends' hospitality and hoped for the good time coming. Ladies quarrelled and then kissed; gentlemen threatened to kill each other in honourable duel and sank their differences deep in lager; one member left, another joined, some members seemed to go on for ever; the great times were always coming and never came. There was a company of this sort, the head being one Bethmann, that wintered at Magdeburg and in the spring and summer months played at Lauchstaedt and Ruedelstadt; and Wagner got the position of conductor—the first real position he had yet held, for the Wuerzburg office, after all, was a very small affair. He now went out to conquer the world for himself; he became nominally self-dependent, though neither now nor in the future was he really so. He did the usual round with his troop, arriving at Magdeburg in October; and arriving there, he tells us, he at once plunged into a life of frivolity. This may be true, but we must again note the stupendous industry which enabled him to finish Das Liebesverbot in so short a time. The most important event in Richard's life about this time was his engagement to Minna Planer. She is said to have been a handsome young woman; and, as impecuniosity is everlastingly an incentive to marriage, of course he married her. In the meantime he thoroughly enjoyed directing all the rubbish of the day, the season ended and he returned to Leipzig.
The next season barely began before Bethmann, according to custom, went bankrupt; the company disbanded, and Richard was left with a young wife and nothing to live on. An engagement at Koenigsberg proved no better; but at last the conductorship of the opera at Riga was offered to him, so off he went eagerly, never dreaming, we may suppose, of the extraordinary adventures that lay before him. Here in outward peace he was to remain until 1839, rehearsing and directing operas; but here also he was inspired with the first idea that showed he had grown into the Richard Wagner we all know. He toiled away at the theatre, nearly driving the singers crazy with the ceaseless work he demanded from them; and to his family, when they had news from him or of him, it must have seemed as though he had already one foot on the ladder and it was only a matter of time for him to climb to the dizzy height of Hofkapellmeister of one of the larger opera-houses. No one, however, who had only known Richard prior to this period could realize how rapidly the new environment was to form and ripen his character.
He was now about twenty-three years of age and a master of his trade. He had written two operas and saw little likelihood of either being played—for his advantage, at least. He had composed some instrumental things, but he knew that the theatre and not the concert-room was his vocation. He must have reflected that even writers of successful operas had died in poverty, either utterly abject, as Mozart died, or comparative, as Weber died. On the other hand Rossini had made a fortune and Meyerbeer was making one. What then? Well, Wagner wanted neither to die poor nor to die at all: all his life he claimed from the world luxuries as a right. He felt his powers at least equal to Rossini's and far superior to Meyerbeer's (though at this time he ranked Meyerbeer high). His artistic conscience was not so sensitive as it afterwards became: he actually liked the sparkling French and Italian stuff which was so popular. So, then, he would challenge Meyerbeer on his own ground! And as all the musical fashions had to come from Paris he would go to Paris and make a bid for fortune. Such must have been the process of reasoning which led Wagner to take his first great step in life.
For the present it is sufficient to say that out of Bulwer Lytton's novel Rienzi he took material to weave a libretto that would afford opportunities for a great spectacular opera; and set to work and wrote two acts of the music. Finally he took ship from Pillau to London, bringing with him his wife and dog, with the intention of reaching Paris ultimately. And on that journey I must leave him for the present, pausing a little to consider the music he had composed up to this time (not including the incomplete Rienzi).
With the exception of Die Feen, nothing composed by Wagner prior to Rienzi calls for serious attention, nor would receive any attention whatever were not the author's name Wagner. He himself did not distress his soul about the fate of his early works: he knew too well their value; but when a Wagner cult came into existence these things of small importance were acclaimed, one by one as they came to light, as things of, at any rate, the highest promise. Not even that can justly be claimed for them. Die Feen has a certain atmosphere and a set artistic purpose which may, in the light of his subsequent achievements, be taken as an indication, a small hint, that the subsequent achievements were possible. So much, but not more, may be conceded. Das Liebesverbot is known to me only from descriptions and brief quotations, but these suffice to show that here is not the true Wagner. Of the orchestral music—the overtures and the symphonies—I have heard oftenest and studied most closely the C major Symphony. Let us take it first.
Already I have referred to the absence of what, in the popular acceptation of the word, might be called the "romantic" element in Wagner's daily life during this period, and the symphony supports my suggested explanation. In the letters, in accounts written by Dorn and others, we find fire, enthusiasm, even a good deal of blatherskite and wild vapouring, but scarcely a hint of "poetry," of the special poetical sense, of the poet's outlook on life: and in his music he was chiefly occupied in mastering the technical side of the craft, assimilating, and at the same time emancipating himself from, the lessons with Weinlig, and, absorbed in the task, simply letting romance, poetry, imagination, fancy and the rest go hang; his practical outward life was devoted to talking what he thought was politics and drinking lager.
Though the symphony is worth looking at because it shows how far Wagner had then got, the general interest in it has for thirty years been its history. It has led to a deal of unnecessarily acrimonious and barren dispute. Wagner's disagreeable diatribes aimed subsequently at the Jews were, and are, in part attributed to Mendelssohn's behaviour regarding it. It was sent to Mendelssohn; and that industrious gentleman never referred to the subject. Wherefore we are asked two things—to contemn the Jew and accept the symphony as a manifestation of tremendous genius. Possibly Mendelssohn never clapped eyes on the symphony. Had he done so, one would have expected him to pay Wagner a superficial, insincere compliment about the score, and imply that something might be done, etc. We have Richard's written word for it that Mendelssohn never referred to Wagner's work. All the same, what I believe may have been the case, and what Wagner most certainly would not have believed to be the case, is that Mendelssohn saw it, and saw nothing in it, and put it on one side, and totally forgot it. The symphony was lost for long years; but some one discovered the parts somewhere, and a score was made, and at the very end of his life Wagner directed a private performance of it. He dismissed it with a humorously disparaging remark, and we need have heard no more about it, had not sundry gentlemen who refuse to accept any Wagner save the inspired prophet of their own imaginings insisted on having it performed in public.
I have, I say, heard it fairly often and beg to testify that it is a miracle of dullness. The themes are not good of their sort, the sort being, as he said, the sort that are useful for contrapuntal working. That working is coldly mechanical, and is not distinguished either by lightness or by sureness of touch. A dozen of Mendelssohn's pupils could have done as well or better. In the andante their is neither grace nor feeling: the music does not flow spontaneously, but is got along by a clockwork tick-tick rhythm. The best stuff is in the finale. Here we find at least sturdiness if not much character.
This criticism of his boyish work is not a disparagement of Wagner: one might as well, indeed, disparage Shakespeare, or Beethoven, or the sun and all the stars in heaven. The symphony tells us, as plainly as words could tell, two things. First, that as far as craftsmanship is concerned he fell between two stools: had his aim been lower, it would have been also less confused, and the result would have turned out better. That is, had he thought only of composing a well-constructed symphony, with skilful, easy-running counterpoint, he might have produced a more obviously clever if more superficial work. That aim was missed by the fact that the Wagner who knew Beethoven by heart was not at all content to achieve mere cleverness: he, too, wanted to write a great symphony. But that ambition also was vague and robbed of its force by his instinctive struggle to acquire a thorough technique. So he showed himself neither a great poet-composer nor a contrapuntal adept. The second fact so plainly stated in the symphony is that he had not discovered what was to be the real driving force of his invention throughout his creative career—the inspiration of a dramatic or pictorial (not poetic) idea. The poetic idea is the inspiration of the composer of pure, "absolute," music—the poetic idea which is interpenetrated by the musical idea, the musical idea that is interpenetrated by the poetic idea, the two being one and indivisible. As this book proceeds the reader will see how, before Wagner could shape fine music at all, he needed the pictorial-dramatic-musical idea (if so cumbrous a phrase may be allowed). From the very first he never succeeded in the attempt to compose pure music of notable quality. As years went on he tried again and again, but only such things as the Kaisermarsch, the Huldigungsmarsch and the Siegfried Idyll are of any value, and these, we may note, were meant to be played in a quasi-theatrical environment. Immense crowds, flags, waving banners, uniforms, flashing swords, snorting chargers and so on set Wagner to work on the first as surely as the picture of the Hall of Song suggested the march in Tannhaeuser; the same is the case with the second; the Siegfried Idyll, of course, was written for performance at the bedroom door or window of Madame Cosima on that lady's birthday. A distinct picture was in the composer's mind's-eye; and besides, the themes came out of an opera already composed.
Die Feen—The Fairies—is based on a version of the child's tale of Beauty and the Beast, Gozzi's La Donna Serpente. In Gozzi's form a lady is changed to a serpent: the handsome and valiant prince comes along and all ends well. Wagner had not then dreamed of the Nibelung's Ring with its menagerie of nymphs who could sing under water, giants, dwarfs, bears, frogs, crocodiles, "wurms," dragons and birds with the gift of articulate speech; and he would have nothing to do with the serpent. The lady must be changed into a stone. Further, Wagner had now got hold of the notion that haunted him for the rest of his life—a notion he exploited for all it was worth, and a good deal more—the notion that woman's function on the globe is to "redeem" man. So the prince changes the lady back from a stone to a woman, and then, like Goldsmith's dog, to gain some private ends, goes mad. The lady is equal to the occasion: she promptly redeems him—that is, cures him—and all ends well.
Here, at worst, we have the picture, or series of pictures, demanded by Wagner's genius; here also is a dramatic idea of sorts. His imagination immediately flamed. The music is not like that of the symphony, dry and barren wood: on the contrary, it contains many passages of rare beauty and feeling. There is little of the fairy-like in it. To Wagner's criticism of Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream overture, that here we had not fairies but gnats, one might retort that in his own opera we have not fairies but baby elephants at play. But throughout there is a quality almost or quite new in music, a feeling for light, a strange, uncanny light. It is worth noticing this, because it is just this sense of all-pervading light which marks off Lohengrin from all preceding operas. The hint came, it goes without saying, from Weber; but there is a vast difference between the unearthly light of Weber and the fresh sweetness of Lohengrin, and here, in his first boyish exploit, we find Wagner trying to utilise in his own way Weber's hint.
For a boy of twenty the opera is wonderfully well planned. Whether, had it been written by Marschner, we should take the trouble to look at it twice is a question I contentedly leave others to solve. But, as it is by Wagner, we do take the trouble to look at it many times, and the main thing we learn is that from the beginning the composer could write his best music for the theatre, while for the concert-room he could only grind out sluggish counterpoint. In addition we may see that it is a work of much nobler artistic aim than Rienzi. Preposterous as is the idea of a woman sacrificing herself to "save" a man, it is an idea, and it stirred the depths of young Wagner's emotional nature. In Rienzi, as we shall see in a later chapter, there is no idea of any sort; that opera did not spring from his heart, nor, properly speaking, from his head, but simply and wholly from a hungry desire for fame and fortune.
The clumsiness of the music is due to several causes. He modelled it, he says, upon three composers, Beethoven, Spontini and Marschner—the second and third being by far the more potent influences. Now, gracefulness is not a characteristic of either of them. Then we must consider that Wagner was not yet one-tenth fully grown, and it is the hobbledehoy who is so heavy on his feet, not the athlete with all his muscles completely trained: Wagner needed years of training before he gained the sure, light touch of Lohengrin and the Mastersingers. His very deadly earnestness over the "lesson" of his opera and his desire to express his feeling accurately and logically led to his overweighting small melodies with ponderous harmonies. The orchestration of the day was heavy. The art of Mozart had been forgotten; Weber scored cumbrously—as was inevitable; Spontini and Marschner scored cumbrously also, partly because they could not help it, partly because they wanted to fill the theatre with sound. Wagner naturally followed them. But it may be noted that the orchestration of The Fairies is not so widely different from that of the Faust overture composed a short while afterwards. A sense of the contrasts to be obtained by alternating word-wind and strings is peculiarly his. Mozart and Beethoven had alternated them, but on the simple plan adopted in their violin sonatas: in those sonatas the violin is given a passage and the piano accompanies, then the same passage is given to the piano and the violin accompanies; in all the symphonies of Mozart, and the earlier ones of Beethoven, virtually the same plan is followed, strings and wind standing for violin and piano. Wagner from the first discarded this mechanical notion; wind and strings are played off against one another, but there are none of these mechanical alternations, one holding the bat while the other has the ball. On the whole The Fairies is very beautifully scored.
The late Sir Charles Halle, probably retailing a story he had heard, relates in his reminiscences that when Heine heard of a young German musician coming from Russia to Paris to try his luck with an empty pocket, a half-finished opera and a few introductions from Meyerbeer—amongst them one to a bankrupt theatre—he clasped his hands and raised his eyes to heaven, in silent adoration before such unbounded and naive self-confidence; and probably he had not then learnt the whole truth of the matter. The journey from Riga, via the Russian frontier into Germany, and thence by Pillau, the Baltic, the North Sea, London, the Channel and Boulogne, is surely the maddest, most fantastic dream ever turned into a reality. That he turned the dream into a reality shows how completely Wagner's character was now formed: in no essential does the Wagner who built Bayreuth in the 'seventies differ from the Wagner of '39. He had unshakable tenacity of purpose and perfect faith in his own genius; he was absolutely sure he could accomplish the impossible; he took the wildest risks. As a creative artist his development had just begun; but the qualities which were in after years to enable him to force his creations on an indifferent world were all there, ripe and strong.
The problem of getting away from Russia was by no means simple, but may be passed over in a few words. Wagner's income in Riga had not been large—300 roubles—and it had been mostly swallowed up by his German creditors; and even in the town he managed to owe money. ("Was ever poet so trusted?" asked Dr. Johnson, referring to Goldsmith). Had he given notice of his intended departure his Riga creditors could have stopped him; so when the company returned to Riga after their annual summer series of representations in Mittau Wagner did not return. He made what is, I believe, called a "bee-line" for the frontier, met there a friend, one Moeller, who helped him to dodge the sentries and patrols, and in a few days reached Arnau. Very little later, in July 1839, he, Minna and Robber the dog took ship at Pillau and set sail for England. The date is one of the most memorable in the lives of the musicians—quite as worthy of remembrance as the day on which Haydn boarded the packet at Calais. Haydn's powers had been ripened in the sunshine of Mozart's genius, but it is doubtful whether, save for England, the twelve great symphonies would have been written; Wagner's powers were beginning to ripen, but it is hardly doubtful that the Dutchman would never have been written but for the voyage to England.
If he could have afforded it he probably would have travelled to Paris by land. But travelling by land was quite out of the question; money was then, as ever, scarce with Richard, and he realized that the longest way round was the shortest—nay, the only—way there. He had over three weeks of life on the ocean wave, and did not like it and had no reason to like it. Uproarious storms raged unceasingly; the ship was driven amongst the Norwegian crags for shelter; and the gloom of these black, forbidding sea-precipices and fiords took possession of his soul, mixing and giving pictorial shape to the weird old legend of the phantom sailor doomed for ever to wander on the grey seas. Glasenapp points out in an admirable passage that Sandwike, where Daland goes ashore, is the name of the place where Wagner's ship put in and he and the crew were regaled by a lonely miller with rum. There is no rum in the Dutchman, but the atmosphere, terror and mystery of the seas and rocky fiords of Norway are all there; and it was these that inspired the Dutchman. He knew the tale in Heine's form of it, and had thought of adapting it; but it was the sea gave the idea birth in his imagination: without the sea the Dutchman is inconceivable. The Dutchman, the whole of the Ring and the Mastersingers of Nuremberg are all operas in which the scenic environment is the inspiration. Depend upon it, ere the ship had freed the Sound, and got into the comparative safety of the open North Sea, the Dutchman legend had formed itself in his mind ready for dramatic treatment.
Ultimately—to be precise, three and a half weeks after getting on board—the family reached London, all three spent with sea-sickness and want of food. They needed and took a rest, first staying near the Tower and then in Soho. There is nothing to relate of Wagner's experiences during his first London visit, save the episode of his lost dog. The late Mr. Dannreuther got the story wrong and has since been faithfully followed by biographers in saying the dog was away several days, and on his return was hugged nearly to death by his master; but in My Life Wagner says the animal was lost for only a few hours. But as he was intensely fond of animals all his life—he always had two or three about him—the incident must have impressed him. Anyhow, when he next came to London, fifteen years after, he mentioned it to Mr. Dannreuther, and also pointed out to him where he had lived and the points of interest he had seen. But nothing of the slightest significance occurred, and soon he started for Paris by way of Boulogne. When he reached Boulogne he stayed there a month for the sake of the sweet company of Meyerbeer—which seems not a little funny to-day.
Wagner was only twenty-six years of age; like a rustic who has suddenly been carried out of the dullness and darkness of his village into some tawdry cafe of the town, and is dazzled and mistakes the gilt wood for solid gold, so had Wagner been filled with admiration by Meyerbeer's brilliant shoddy. It must be admitted that for sheer theatricalism that gentleman beat any composer who preceded him. Bellini's, Auber's and Spontini's scores are thin compared with his; even Auber's grandest ensembles lack his sham magnificence. Wagner's artistic conscience had not ripened to the point at which conscience is an absolute, unfailing, unerring touchstone. He had been impressed with Meyerbeer's showiness and superficial sparkle: it had not yet occurred to him to test the music with the touchstone of truth. It is not at all hard for me to believe that he had at this time a sincere admiration for the Jewish autocrat of the opera world. He was passing through that stage: he had not yet passed through it; in scheming Rienzi he had started, so to speak, with an immense rush to follow Meyerbeer, and for some time the momentum acquired in that first rush kept him going. When disillusionment came—well, we shall see.
He was an obscure German kapellmeister, and had never been conductor in a theatre which did not suffer bankruptcy or where something worse did not occur. Meyerbeer had certainly never heard his name, and Wagner was aware of his: he had heard of Meyerbeer's name, and even if he had not admired the musician he cannot at that period have been insensible to the man's supremacy in the opera trade. And when we add to this latter fact, the other fact, that he did admire the musician, it is easy to understand the feelings with which he approached this emperor of the barren Sahara of opera. To the emperor he got an introduction—whether or not in the way Praeger relates is not worth inquiring into—and the emperor received him not merely with courtesy, but with what appears to have been something a great deal warmer than courtesy. He hearkened to the two finished acts of Rienzi, and beginning with an expression of admiration for the beautiful clear handwriting, presently grew interested in the music and ended by commending it heartily. Wagner departed for Paris with the autocrat's letters in his pocket and, as I have said, little money, but a breast packed with glorious hopes. The most successful opera-composer of the day had declared that he would succeed, and guaranteed his belief by giving him those precious introductions. One was to the direction of the Grand opera, one to Joly, director of the Renaissance Theatre, another to Schlesinger, the publisher, another again to Habeneck, the director of the Conservatoire. Of these the letter to Habeneck proved useful to Wagner from the artistic point of view; that to Schlesinger useful pecuniarily. The others were useless, and were never meant to be of any service. Had Meyerbeer told Wagner to go back to Germany it is just possible Wagner might have gone. Instead, Meyerbeer sent him into a cul de sac—to starve, or get out as he best could. In the whole history of the art of the world no more cruel swindle was ever played on an obscure artist by a man occupying a brilliant position.
For, figuratively, Wagner had not been in Paris twenty minutes before he discovered that to be presented by the omnipotent Meyerbeer meant nothing—absolutely nothing. Every one received him with the greatest politeness; every one appeared to promise great things; no one did anything. At the opera he had not the remotest chance, of course, being young, unknown, a German, and without social influence. The Renaissance speedily shut its doors, being bankrupt. Through Habeneck he learnt to understand the Ninth Symphony even better than he had understood it before; for the Conservatoire orchestra had rehearsed it until, almost unconsciously, they discovered the real melody, or what Wagner calls the melos. This is a question I shall go into later when dealing with Wagner's own conducting; for the present it suffices to mention the bare fact, as we can trace directly to these performances—or, rather, rehearsals—the Faust overture which Wagner soon afterwards composed. Habeneck gave a performance of his Columbus overture; and in no other way was the acquaintance of any value. So, as his little money was speedily gone, he had to live for a while on what his relatives and friends could give him, and afterwards by what he could earn by writing for Schlesinger's Gazette Musicale. This is what Meyerbeer's introductions were worth.
However, he found and made friends, some, though not all, as poor as himself. Laube, his crony of earlier years, was there and introduced him to Friedrich Pecht, a student of painting, and to Heine. This last was very suspicious of Wagner at first, because he did not believe Meyerbeer would exert himself on behalf of any one possessing the slightest ability. It is obvious that he soon discovered that he was both right and wrong. Wagner had ability, and Meyerbeer, far from helping him, had ingeniously dug a trap to keep a possible rival quiet. Wagner made the acquaintance of Berlioz, and promptly uttered the criticism he adhered to always—one that I humbly subscribe to—that Berlioz, with all his imagination, energy and wealth of orchestral resource, had no sense of beauty. Berlioz, he remarked, lived in Paris "with nothing but a troop of devotees around him, shallow persons without a spark of judgment, who greet him as the founder of a brand-new musical system, and completely turn his head." To a certain degree this judgment came home to roost in Wagner's later years in Bayreuth; but he was saved by the fact that, being a great musician, he also drew genuine musicians to him. If Bayreuth was crowded by strange beings of low intelligence who bowed low before Richard and found the weirdest meanings in his simplest melodies, and who now write lengthy books about Richard's son Siegfried, yet we must remember that the men who carried the news of Richard's true greatness through Europe were Liszt, Buelow, Tausig, Jensen, Cornelius and many smaller men—smaller men, but real musicians. Now, it was long since pointed out that amongst his entourage Berlioz had no one possessing an understanding of the art of music. Literary men and painters were there in abundance: that is, they called on him; and because his musical ideas or ideas for music seemed so vast they assumed that his musicianship must be vast also; but those whose judgment would have been trustworthy, and whose help worth having, stayed away altogether; and when the celebrated personages had paid their call and gone their several ways he was left to the flattery of a pack of incompetent fools. This is not to exaggerate—it is simply to explain the loneliness and sad tragedy of the end of Berlioz's life. He must in his heart have known the bitter truth. One friend of Wagner's must not be omitted—Lehrs. From him Wagner obtained what is called the middle high-German Saengerkrieg, from which he extracted ere returning to Germany the whole world of Tannhaeuser and Lohengrin; and this we must consider later. We may note that his youngest sister Caecilie, Geyer's only child, had married Avenarius, who resided in Paris for a time as agent for Brockhaus, the Leipzig publisher.
The whole story of this first visit to Paris is sordid, squalid, miserable to a degree; and I don't know that we can be surprised. When Wagner sailed from Pillau he had not had a single work of any importance performed. Nay, more, he had not written a work of any importance. Die Feen had never been given; Das Liebesverbot had been given—under ridiculous circumstances and with the most disastrous results; his symphony had been played, but by this time score and parts had probably disappeared. Mendelssohn had received them in Leipzig and never once referred to them. Anyhow, none of these things were striking enough to have attracted much attention even in Germany; and they certainly would have excited no interest in busy, bustling Paris—the home of the Rossini and Meyerbeer opera, of quadrilles, vaudevilles and the rest. But for the happy, or rather unhappy, chance of meeting Meyerbeer in Boulogne, he would have entered the city without a line to any one of position. His money, as I have just said, gave out almost at once, and thenceforth he had to keep the wolf from the door by slaving at any odd jobs which would bring in a few pence. On more than one occasion he was reduced, literally, to his last penny. With marvellous resiliency of spirits he managed not only to pull through, but to complete Rienzi, then to write one great opera and begin planning two very great ones. We have accounts—mostly written long after the event—of merry meetings and suppers; but against them we must set the dozens of despairing letters and scribbled notes in which he complains of his luck and his lot. Yet, I say, how can we feel surprise? Why, he could not even play the piano well enough to give an opera-director any fair notion of his music; and perhaps that is just as well, so far as Paris was concerned, for the taste of the day was such that the better his compositions were understood the less they were liked. Halle remarks that when he talked of his operatic dreams at this time he was commonly regarded as being a little, or more than a little, "off his head."
It became evident at the outset that all hopes anent the opera must fall to the ground. He met Scribe, the omnipotent libretto-monger of the day, and of course nothing came of it. The spectacle of Rienzi was on far too large a scale for the work to be possible at the Renaissance, so, much against the grain, he offered Antenor Joly Das Liebesverbot. He waited two months for a decided refusal or a qualified acceptance, but heard nothing. At last a word from Meyerbeer seemed to have settled the matter. One Dumersau, who translated the words into French, was very enthusiastic about the music and made Joly enthusiastic too; everything looked bright for the moment, and Wagner moved from the slum where he had been living to an abode a little less slum-like, in the Rue du Helder. On the day he moved the Renaissance went bankrupt again. I say again, because Joly became bankrupt punctually every three months—a fact which explains Meyerbeer's readiness to help him in that quarter. In desperation he seized the chance of earning a little money by writing the music for a vaudeville production, La Descente de la Courtille; but here again his luck was out: a more practised hand took the job from him. He composed what he considered simple songs adapted to the Parisian taste, and they were found too complicated and difficult to sing. To earn mere bread he arranged the more popular numbers of popular operas for all sorts of instruments and combinations of instruments, and in one of his notes we find him bewailing the sad truth that even this work was coming to an end for a time. However, he wrote on for Schlesinger's Gazette Musicale; for Lewald's Europa (German) and the Dresden Abendzeitung—though the work for the second two did not commence till later on. This toil perhaps brought him bread: it did nothing more; Minna had to pawn her trifles of jewellery; there seemed not a ray of hope gleaming on the horizon. The performance of his old Columbus overture did him a precious deal of good—especially as at the second performance—at a German concert arranged by Schlesinger—the brass were so frightfully out of tune that people could not make out what it was the composer would be at. It is needless to tell the ten times told miserable tale in further detail at this time of day; and I will now confine myself to the few facts that bear upon the fuller life that soon was to open before him.
A new opera-house had been a-building in Dresden, a royal court theatre; and a chance in Paris being denied to Rienzi, Wagner, staggering along under the burden of his crushing woes, thought perhaps his grand spectacular work would be the very thing to suit the Dresdeners about the time of the opening. True, there remained three acts to compose and orchestrate—but what was that to a Richard Wagner! Only one other composer has achieved such astounding feats. Mozart, amidst multitudinous worries, sat down and wrote his three glorious symphonies "as easily as most men write a letter." Wagner was born to achieve the impossible: he had already done it in getting to Paris at all; and now, as a sheer speculation, on the very off-chance of a Saxon court theatre accepting a work by a Saxon composer, harassed by creditors, despondent under repeated disappointments, drudging hours a day at hack-labour, he went to work and composed and instrumentated the last three acts of the most brilliant opera that had been written up to that date—1841. On February 15 of that year he began; on November 19 he ruled the last double-bar and wrote finis. That done, he dispatched the complete score and a copy of the words to Dresden, with a letter to von Luettichau, the intendant. Again the delays seemed interminable; his letters, especially those to Fischer and Heine, are packed with inquiries about the fate of his opera—he could get no answer at all for a long while, and after it was definitely accepted the usual troubles occurred through the whims and caprices of singers. Even his idol and divinity, Schroeder-Devrient, great artist though she was on the stage, played the very prima donna—which is about as bad a thing as can be said of any woman—off the stage so far as Rienzi was concerned. Being a prima donna first and an artist afterwards, she thought nothing of dashing Wagner's hopes by expressing a desire to appear in some other opera before Rienzi; and as the delay meant a prolongation of the actual misery and possible starvation at Paris we can picture Wagner's impotent rage and despair.
On October 14, 1841, we find him writing to Heine:
"... Herr von Luettichau has definitely consented to my opera being put on the stage after Reissiger's. That is all very good; but how many questions does not this answer suggest! For instance: does the general management propose to place my work upon the stage with the outlay indispensable to a brilliant effect? On this point W——writes me: 'The general management will leave nothing undone to equip your opera in a suitable manner.' You will understand how terribly terse this seems to me! I am not greatly surprised at receiving no letter from Reissiger since last March: he has worked for me—that is the best and most honourable answer; besides, it would be foolish on my part to expect that Reissiger, now that his own opera must be fairly engrossing his attention, should be much occupied about me. But what alarms me is the absolute silence of our Devrient! I think I have already written a dozen letters to her: I am not exactly surprised at her sending me no single line in answer, because one knows how terrible a thing letter-writing is to many people. But that she has never even indirectly sent me a word, nor let me have a hint, makes me downright uneasy. Good heavens! So much depends upon her—it would really be a mere humanity on her part if she, perhaps through her lady's-maid, had sent me a message to this effect: 'Make your mind easy! I am taking an interest in your affair!'—certainly everything which I have learnt here and there about her behaviour with regard to me gives me every reason to feel comfortable; for instance, she is said to have declared some while ago in Leipzig that she hoped my opera would be brought out in Dresden. This token would have fully quieted me, if it had only come directly to my ears or eyes: hearsay, however, is far too uncertain a thing.
"A month ago I likewise wrote to her, and earnestly begged her to let me have only a line with the name of the lady-singer whom she would like to be cast for the part of Irene, so that I might make a formal list to propose to the management. No answer! Oh, my best Herr Heine, if your kindness would only allow you a few words in which to make me acquainted with the intentions of the adored Devrient! Does she really wish to sing in my opera?—that is the question.
"Good heavens! only to know how all this stands! I have written to Herr Tichatschek, and commended myself to his amiability: shall I be able to count on this gentleman?"
Again, on January 4 of the following year:
"Should it really come to this, that my opera must be laid aside for the whole winter, I should indeed be inconsolable; and he or she who might be to blame for this delay would have incurred a grave responsibility—perhaps for causing me untold sufferings. I cannot write to Madame Devrient; for that I am much too excited, and I know too well that my letters make no impression upon her. But if I have not yet worn out your friendly feeling toward me, and if I can be assured that you rely upon my fullest gratitude, I earnestly beg of you to go to Madame Devrient. Tell her of my astonishment at the news that it is she who hinders my opera from at length appearing; and that I am in the highest degree disturbed to learn that she by no means feels that pleasure in and sympathy for my work which so many flattering assurances had led me to believe. Give her an inkling of the misery she would prepare for me, if (as I have now good reason to fear) a performance of Rienzi could not after all take place this year! But what am I saying? Though you may be the most approved friend of Madame Devrient, even you will not have much influence over her. Therefore, I do not know at all what I should say, what I must do, or what advise! My one great hope I place in you, most valued friend! I have written to Herr von Luettichau, and herewith turn to Reissiger. If Devrient cannot give up her Armida, if she cannot afford me the sacrifice of a whim, then all my welfare rests only on the promptness with which this opera is brought out, and my own is taken up. I therefore fervently pray Reissiger to hurry: and you—I beseech you—do the same with Devrient. By punctuality and diligence everything can still be set right for me; for the chief thing is—only that my opera should come out before Easter (that is to say, in the first half of March). I am truly quite exhausted! Alas! I meet with so little that is encouraging, that it would really be of untold import to me if, at least in Dresden, things should go according to my wish!"
These excerpts afford some notion of the struggles and disappointments of this time—struggles that were to be repeated when, more than twenty years later, Tristan and the Mastersingers were produced in Munich. More need not be quoted, for the story is always the same—delays caused by intrigues and the whims and caprice of singers, and the indifference of inartistic directors.
It should be said that Meyerbeer seems, for the only time, really to have helped Wagner in getting Rienzi accepted, for a letter of his to von Luettichau recommending the opera, has been preserved; wherefore let us gladly acknowledge this deed, which was a good, if a very small, one. He again paid a visit to Paris, and this time gave Wagner a word of introduction to Pillet, who had assumed the post of director of the Opera. Owing to this introduction the Flying Dutchman was written. Wagner sketched a scenario and let Pillet have it. The customary procrastination set in, and at last Pillet flatly told Wagner he could not produce an opera by him: he was young, a German, and so on and so on; and in a word he liked the scenario and had determined to have it set by one Dietsch—which is not a very French-sounding name. He offered Wagner twenty pounds for it, and if the offer was not accepted—well, Wagner might do what he chose. Wagner took it.
He completed his libretto, took lodgings at Meudon, then a lovely suburb of Paris, hired a piano and sat down to compose his Dutchman. He gives a graphic account of his tremors whilst awaiting the piano: he feared that during the degrading struggle for bread the power of composing might have deserted him. The instrument arrived, he sat down, and shouting for joy, struck out the sailors' chorus. In seven weeks the draft was complete—it is dated September 13, 1841. Want of funds compelled him to leave Meudon and resume his treadmill toil—this time in the Rue Jacob in Paris; but he began to score his opera in the autumn and by the end of the year it was entirely finished. He sent it to the Berlin Opera, and at once began to cast round for another subject. He had demonstrated to his own complete satisfaction that grand historical themes were the only useful material for a thoroughly "up-to-date" (date 1842—seventy years ago) composer; and while doing what may be called foraging work he had hit upon the story of The Saracen Young Woman. We may presume that this appealed to him in a mood of reaction after the intensely personal quality of the Dutchman. That mood sent him back in the direction of Rienzi. About the Dutchman he never had the slightest illusion. He knew it to be so far ahead of the time that nothing in the way of a popular success was to be hoped for it. On the other hand, he had perfect faith—a faith justified by the subsequent event—in Rienzi; and since the Wagner of 1842 was by no means the Wagner of 1862, or even of 1852, since also he had been half-starved for a couple of years and money seemed to him a highly desirable thing, he naturally, inevitably, was drawn towards a subject which promised as well, from the box-office point of view, as Rienzi.
However, there is—or was in Wagner's case—a divinity that shapes our ends. Much as he hungered after comforts, luxuries and the flesh-pots of Egypt, the daemon within his breast was too strong for him. He had planned a new work, more or less on the lines of Rienzi, and perhaps some lucky or unlucky accident might have sent him the inspiration to start with the music. But just at this juncture Lehrs' copy of the Saengerkrieg attracted his attention: the complete drama of Tannhaeuser, and the first vague notion of Lohengrin, flashed upon him. As he said, and as I have repeated, a new world was opened before his amazed eyes. The Saracen Young Woman and the rest all went to the wall; and when on April 7, 1842, he set out for Dresden he had different plans altogether in his head. Before he could start Schlesinger advanced the money for more cornet-a-piston arrangements of opera-airs, and he had to take the scores of those operas amongst his luggage.
As yet I have said nothing about his acquaintance with Liszt. It began at this time, and of course was destined to have wonderful results, but for the moment it was of no importance. Wagner was an unknown composer; Liszt was a world-famous pianist. Wagner, moreover, had written only Rienzi and the Dutchman, and was unable even to play them on the piano. He probably made only the slightest impression on Liszt. The incident is worth noticing in this chapter, because, though this Paris episode seems to be nothing but a series of disasters, it is an instance of the good that came of it. Wagner undoubtedly learnt a lot about the stage; he got to know Liszt; he had the world of Tannhaeuser and Lohengrin opened out to him. When he went off to Dresden and touched German soil once more he swore he would never again leave his fatherland. But he had learnt what his fatherland was quite unable to teach him. His friends said his character changed entirely during this period. Undoubtedly it did change: the Wagner who had aimed only at worldly, commercial success, changed into Wagner the artist whose sincerity carried him through all troubles to the crowning triumph—and discomfiture—of Bayreuth. I have referred before to the fact of the old momentum keeping him going in a certain direction even after he knew that direction to be a wrong one; and the same thing was to occur again, as we shall see in a moment. After writing the Dutchman he actually deliberated as to the wisdom of doing another Rienzi. The claims of his stomach were, naturally after a two years of semi-starvation, very strong, and another Rienzi might have meant easily earned bread-and-butter. But the Paris change was fundamental; and even if he had tried to do another Rienzi he could not possibly have done it. Without his knowing it, the artist in him had triumphed over the merely commercial composer.
'RIENZI' AND 'THE FLYING DUTCHMAN'
Were Rienzi an opera of the highest artistic importance, I suppose I should have read ere now Bulwer Lytton's novel of that name. As it is, I must confess my utter inability to wade through that pretentious and dreary achievement. And it does not matter. Skimming over the novel, I have gathered enough of the plot to see that Wagner took only the plot and nothing else from Lytton. What else he could have taken I cannot guess, unless it was a copious stream of high-falutin', and at this period Wagner's own resources of the sort were ample. What he wanted was a plot that would afford him an opportunity of planning a spectacular opera on the largest possible scale, and this he found in Lytton.
Two claims, or rather, a claim and a counter-claim, have been, and constantly are, made with regard to Rienzi. The first is that it was inspired by Meyerbeer and a copy of one of his works—which one I do not know; the counter-claim is that Meyerbeer had no part in the business, and that on the contrary he learnt more from Wagner than Wagner could possibly have learnt from him. Now the notion, I take it, of composing a grand work for the Paris stage was suggested by Meyerbeer's stupendous success—of that, indeed, I cannot admit there is the faintest shadow of a doubt. Starting from Paris, where they were concocted together with Scribe, Meyerbeer's operas went the round of the opera-houses of Europe, and save in one or two quarters Meyerbeer lorded it over the opera-houses of Europe. It may be true enough that some of his mighty works had not been played at Riga—it may even be true that Wagner had not seen the scores. But that I feel less sure about; and, anyhow, if he had not seen them he was bound to have heard of them. The talk of musical Europe was not likely to be unknown to a man who both read and wrote in the musical papers. As soon as Wagner conceived the idea he wrote to Scribe concerning it; and, as we know, Scribe quite naturally left his communication unanswered. We find, then, that this, not more than this, though certainly not less, is the extent of Wagner's indebtedness to Meyerbeer: that Meyerbeer, by writing clap-trap for a large stage, with showy, tawdry effects, had gained enormous popularity and corresponding wealth, and thus unconsciously had thrown out a hint that budded and blossomed into Rienzi. How little beyond this bare hint Wagner got from Meyerbeer we shall see when we examine the music. A word must be said about the counter-claim. In his age Wagner at Bayreuth, although he had fine musicians as his friends, had round him many gentry who told him—greatly daring, to his face—not only that he owed no artistic debt to any one, but that, on the whole, most other composers owed him a good deal. One can excuse the weary old man, sorely battered in life's battles, lapping up a little of this sweet flattery; but it is hard to forgive the stupidity that still makes the great composer appear ridiculous thirty years after his death. This legend of Meyerbeer borrowing or thieving from Wagner is sheer rubbish; in all Wagner's music there is not a bar which could have been of use to Meyerbeer. The most rowdy tunes in Rienzi he could easily equal: anything ever so remotely approaching the beautiful he did not want. What! was he to run the chance of failure by writing, or copying, one really expressive measure?
It needed the cruel disillusionment of the Paris days, it needed also the time needful for Wagner's normal growth, before he was driven to see that the music-drama, or something that ultimately evolved itself into the music-drama, was the form that he needed for his deepest utterances. Rienzi is old-fashioned opera, barefaced, blatant and unashamed. Wagner wanted effective airs, duets, trios, choruses and marches; and no libretto-monger ever went to work in a more deliberate, matter-of-fact and business-like way to provide opportunities for these. Both in Die Feen and in Das Liebesverbot his purpose had been more definitely, more disinterestedly, artistic. Now he set to work to manufacture for the Paris market. The subject was eminently suitable. The personage Rienzi was intended for a great, heroic figure and the music written for a brilliant tenor. The indispensable love-element was provided by Irene, a soprano (though it can well be sung by a mezzo), and Adriano, son of a patrician, a mezzo-soprano (almost a contralto part)—which would be amazing did we not know Wagner's aim. A woman-man carries us back to the days of Handel and Gluck, and shows how little sincere Wagner was at the time, how absorbingly bent he was on tickling the ears of the Parisians. The villains of the piece, Colonna and Orsini, with their patrician followers, are true stage-villains of melodrama in some situations—proud, determined, unsparing; but in other situations they whine in a very un-patrician-like way for mercy. In truth, Wagner was determined to give all the singers a chance of showing off their voices and their skill in every kind of music—heroic or noisy, pathetic or whining, brave and obstreperous or feebly tender. A few minutes' consideration of the story as Wagner lays it before us, and the music he sets to it, will show that every character in the opera is an unhuman chameleon. It is not worth while spending the reader's time on an exhaustive analysis. We shall have enough to do of that kind of thing when we come to the beginning of Wagner's riper work, the Dutchman: time and space would only be wasted if we examined Rienzi very closely.
The curtain rises on a street in Rome; it is night, and in the foreground Rienzi's house can be discerned. Orsini and his companions run up a ladder to a window, enter, and come out carrying Irene, Rienzi's sister. She screams for help quite in the Donna Anna manner; Colonna and his companions come in and fall to blows—why, is not too clear—with Orsini and his men. Adriano, Colonna's son, rescues Irene. Crowds of the common people rush in, wildly asking one another what the row is about; Raimondo, the pope's legate, comes on, and in the name of holy mother church begs for peace; Rienzi, waked by this time, sees what has occurred, and in a speech—uttered mainly in the driest of dry recitative—taunts the patricians with their bad conduct and their reckless readiness to break all the vows they have made. The nobles announce their intention of going elsewhere to fight out their quarrel to the bitter end, and they go. Rienzi beseeches the crowd to wait their time, and he will lead them to destroy their oppressors. They quietly disperse; Rienzi, Adriano and Irene have a scene; Rienzi recognises in his sister's rescuer the son of his brother's murderer, Adriano, and the latter, who has fallen in love with Irene, promises to take Rienzi's part, and the three sing a trio as cold, undramatic and commonplace as anything in Donizetti. There are two passages in it which possess life: a variant of a theme from Euryanthe, and a theme distinctly suggestive of the Wagner of Tristan. Then Rienzi goes off, ostensibly to prepare for battle, but in reality to leave the scene clear for Adriano and Irene to sing a rather maudlin love-duet. A trumpet-call is heard; people rush in from all sides; Rienzi addresses them; and after choruses, partly double-choruses, all go off to fight the patricians. There is plenty of bustle; there is tremendous vigour; and the scene affords chances for the stage manager to manipulate big crowds effectively. But we must remember that the thing had been quite as well done by Auber in Masaniello: even the energy is not the true Wagnerian energy divine: it does not show itself through the stuff of the music, but in the common rumty-tumpty rhythms of the day, often offensively vulgar, and in the noisy instrumentation. Any one can write for a big chorus and orchestra, with plenty of trumpets and drums: to fill the music itself with energy is a task that Wagner could not cope with as yet.
So far the characters have been consistent. In the second act they all show signs of weakness. Messengers of peace enter: Rienzi has conquered and freed the people from an unbearable yoke; he is congratulated by the messengers who have wandered through the country—a pilgrimage that in the fourteenth century might well have occupied them for years—and everywhere peace prevails. The music here has a certain charm and freshness, but no more can be said for it. Wagner wanted a contrast to the imposing displays of the first act, so he simply put in this unnecessary scene. The patricians enter and whine, begging for mercy; Rienzi, now Tribune, joins the senators; and Colonna, Orsini and the rest begin to plot his death. Adriano, amongst them unnoticed at first, expostulates—begs them not to stain their hands and souls with the blood of the vanquisher who has treated them so magnanimously. They scorn him as a deserter of his own class; they leave, and he swears to save "Irenens Bruder." He has become sentimentalist; but some of the music of the scene has strength. Then the people conveniently flock in; ambassadors come from all corners of the earth to acknowledge Rienzi; Adriano warns him that mischief is breeding, and Rienzi calmly smiles; there is a most elaborate ballet, occupying many pages of the score and full of trumpery tunes; Orsini stabs Rienzi, and all the patricians are seized by the guards; Rienzi shows himself unhurt, being protected by a breastplate; the conspirators are condemned to die and are led away. Then Adriano and Irene plead for Colonna; at first Rienzi is obdurate; then he, too, turns weakling and promises pardon. He pleads for his enemies with the people; in spite of two citizens who see nothing but danger, he prevails, and the act ends with another huge chorus. There is much very Italian stuff in the music; but on the whole this scene is the strongest in the opera. Of the real Wagner there is still small sign.
He had completed these two acts when he set out for Paris. Once he realized how poor were the prospects of getting his work played there, his ardour for bigness and noise seems to have cooled. There are no more double choruses; everything is planned on a smaller scale. The three remaining acts in their present form (for he afterwards shortened the opera) can be, and often are, compressed into two, or even one. They can be described in a few words. The people begin to distrust Rienzi; the patricians recommence plotting; Rienzi leads the people to victory against them, and Colonna, with the others, is killed. Adriano again wobbles and swears vengeance; the capitol is set on fire with Rienzi and Irene inside; at the last moment Adriano repents and rushes in to die with them; the building falls with a crash, destroying the three; and as the curtain falls the patricians—such as are left—seeing the people leaderless, fall upon and scatter them. There are pages on pages that one can scarcely believe came from Wagner's pen; in terrific theatrical situations the most trivial Italian tunes are poured out in copious profusion. The war hymn is sheer rowdyism; the great broad melody which forms part of the prayer, and on which the introduction of the overture is based, stands out from a weltering sea of orchestral bangs, noises and screams and skirls of the strings. But there are numberless chances for fine voices to be heard; and at that time of day these were even more prized than they are to-day. The sparkle, the fireworks, the sheer noise of the choruses, carried every one away. In Dresden Wagner became the man of the hour. He had aimed at a success of this sort, and he attained it, though by no means so quickly as he had expected, nor in the quarter where a success would have been profitable.
It is not needful to say much more about the music. It shows a variety of influences; it shows also that Wagner, before he was thirty, was, as I have already said, a perfect master of the tricks of the trade. In huge imposing effects he out-Meyerbeered Meyerbeer, out-Spontinied Spontini. If his tunes have not the superficial gracefulness of Bellini it is because Wagner, in spite of himself, was driven by his daemon to aim at expressiveness, and, as in the Dutchman a very short time afterwards, fell between two stools. His tunes lack the fluency of the Italians because he did, in a half-hearted way, want to utter genuine feeling; they are not finely, accurately and logically expressive as they are in Tannhaeuser and Lohengrin, because the Italian influence, and the necessity of writing to please the gallery, perpetually held him back. The contours of the melodies are dictated from outside, consciously copied from alien models: in the later works they are shaped by the inner force of his own mind, and though the Weber idiom is prevalent, he used it unconsciously, as children in learning to speak acquire the accent of the elders about them or the dialect of the neighbourhood in which they are reared. I say the tunes lack external grace, and I might go further: all the themes, all the passages that follow (rather than grow out of) the themes, are characterized by a certain clumsiness. This followed, as night the day, from the attempt to copy and to be original at the same time. He could not obey his instinct and write directly and simply: he must needs warp and twist the obvious, and disguise, even from himself, its essential commonplaceness. A remarkable instance is his use of the Dresden Amen in Rienzi as compared with his use of it in Tannhaeuser. In the latter it is plain, diatonic and immensely—in the best sense—effective; in Rienzi, in spite of the vigour of its presentation, the effect is weakened by the way in which it is bent away to a chromatic something which is neither frankly Italian nor honestly German. Again, he composed with an audience in his mind's eye that could only take in one melody or theme at a time. The melody might be in an upper part, a middle, or in the bass. In one or another it always is, and the rest of the musical tissue is only accompaniment. Hence a heaviness, a lumbering motion of the harmonies, which is irritating to our ears now that we are accustomed to webs he spun in later days when music no longer consisted to him of top parts and bottom parts, but of a broad stream of parts, all of equal importance, and all flowing along together, preserving each its individuality, and each individual blending with the others to produce the total effect. In Rienzi the bass often remains the same for bars together, while in an upper part a florid tune flourishes its tail, so to speak, for the public amusement. An ugly trick he indulged in at this time was giving to the voice the notes of the instrumental bass—a remnant of the eighteenth-century way of writing for the bass voice.
Artistically Rienzi was a sin. Remembering that Die Feen had been written years before, it is useless to contend that Wagner did not know he was aiming at something lower than the best he could produce. He never again fell away from his highest and truest self, though he was sorely tempted.
The simple, terrible old legend of the Flying Dutchman had in it no elements of drama. The irascible mariner of ancient times, vainly struggling to round Cape Horn (or some other cape) against a head wind, swore in his wrath that he would succeed if he tried until the Day of Judgment; a lightning flash in the sky proclaimed that he was taken at his word; thenceforward his ship sailed the seas without stopping; it never could reach any port, and release would only come at the last day. The crew died and their ghosts worked the vessel; the vessel rotted and the ghostly crew continued to work a phantom ship; only Vanderdecken, the skipper, seems to have lived on in the flesh. Other ships passed through the phantom as though it was a cloud; and the living crews shuddered, and cursed the dead. Before this thing of terror and mystery could form a part of any drama, adventures had to be invented and grafted on to it. As with the legend of the Wandering Jew, this was done in a hundred, perhaps a thousand, instances; and never had a good piece of work been the result. Whether Heine did or did not himself devise the form in which the legend is used in his reminiscences of Herr von Schnabalewopski it is not worth troubling to find out. It is enough that in Heine, Wagner found the story more or less as he employed it. It is an odd compound—odd at this time of day at least—of the hard old superstition with soft German sentimentality of the Romantic period. A good Angel, thinking the Dutchman's fate too hard, interceded for him; and though his sentence could not be wholly remitted, a bargain was struck. Once in seven years Vanderdecken could land and spend a certain time ashore. If during this interval of peace he could find a maiden who would love him faithfully to death, he would be released: his wanderings would be o'er, and death would swallow him up. How the maiden's fidelity could be tested does not appear.
Wagner would have it that with the Dutchman he ceased to be a mere stringer of opera verses and became the full poet. The work does not support that view; nor is the construction of the plot one whit better than a hundred others put together by hacks before he was born. Each act is crammed with conventional tricks out of the hack's common stock; in each scene, from the very first, characters come on or go off, not because it is inherent in the action that they should do so, but because without such helps the librettist, or "poet," could not have got along. The curtain rises on a rocky Norwegian fiord where a sailing-vessel has found shelter from a storm that is raging on the open sea. Daland, the skipper, has gone ashore to survey the land and to find out, if he can, whither his ship has been driven. He recognizes the spot: it is Sandwike, and the tempest has blown him "sieben Meilen" out of his course. However, he is glad enough to be safe; and seeing signs of better weather goes into his cabin to wait, leaving a watchman on guard. This is the first specimen of the old stage-craft; Daland had to be got rid of, so, instead of attending to any damage the waves may have caused the ship, he goes quietly downstairs to take a snooze. The watchman tries to keep himself awake by singing. But it is no use. The librettist is inexorable: the stage is wanted for some one else; and the watchman's song merely acts as a soporific, and at last the poor fellow snores. In the distance appears the ship of the Flying Dutchman—"blutroth die Segel, schwarz der Mast"—she nears rapidly, enters the fiord and casts anchor hard by Daland's boat, and Vanderdecken comes ashore. It is the seventh year, and he has the usual short respite in which to seek the maid who will redeem him. He has a long soliloquy; then, in the nick of time, Daland awakes, comes on deck, unjustly reproaches the watchman for dozing, hails the Dutchman, and joins him on the rocks for a chat. They soon grow friendly and strike a bargain. Daland is to take the stranger home with him, and if his daughter Senta proves satisfactory, Vanderdecken is to have her as his bride in return for infinite treasure out of the hold of the strange vessel. Daland has been shown a sample, and is overjoyed with his bargain: a distinguished-looking husband for his daughter and the husband's wealth for himself. The wind changes to a favourable one; Daland sets out first, leaving the Dutchman to follow in a boat which we may well believe goes faster, for it is driven by the devil and carries a private hurricane wherever it goes. The convenient veering of the wind need not be taken as forced on the stage manager by the librettist, for Daland foretells it at the very beginning of the act.
I do not wish to treat so noble a work as the Flying Dutchman with any irreverence; but if it is worth understanding Wagner's art, and the slow processes of its transition from the baldness and ultra-conventionality of Rienzi to the richness and simplicity and directness of Tristan, we must realize clearly that in its present stage the craftsmanship was little in advance of Scribe's. In some respects he was very far in advance of Scribe. The whole thing springs from and swings round a central idea, the idea of the lonely outcast doomed to sail a stormy sea for ever without even the prospect of hell as a refuge, always seeking one to redeem him and free him from his torments, and at last finding her. But Wagner had not yet evolved or invented the technique which would enable him to present his idea in the theatre without resorting to those crude conventionalities which seemed harmless and even reasonable enough at the time, though now they compel us to smile. He could no more have constructed the framework of the Dutchman without shoving on and pulling off his puppets as seemed desirable than he could have written the music without using the set forms, airs, duets, etc., of a type of opera which, in intention, he had already gone far beyond. The conventionality shows itself in one rather surprising way. Throughout the opera it is made plain that the whole world knows the Dutchman story: mariners shiver when they think of meeting him; children are scared when they are told of him. Yet when the very ship described in the "old ballad," sung in the second act, sails into the fiord with its blood-red sails and black masts, no one evinces the faintest astonishment. Daland has the Dutchman's picture at home; he sees the ship before his eyes; but in a matter-of-fact manner he asks him who he is. Daland's sailors are called on deck to set sail, and pay no attention to so weird a craft.
In the next act we have a room in Daland's house. A number of girls are spinning; Senta alone is idle, absorbed in a portrait that hangs on the wall—that of Vanderdecken. From earliest girlhood she has heard his tale and brooded over it; and self-sacrifice being her hobby, she has evidently worked herself up into a morbid state of mind and resolved to "redeem" the unfortunate man should the opportunity occur. This is honest work, not Scribe make-believe. Cases in which men and women have wrought themselves into an exalted mood and planned and achieved deeds, great or small, noble or ignoble, but always more or less mad, are common enough in history to justify a dramatist in taking a specimen as one of the persons of his drama. Besides, Senta, from the moment she is seen, stands out as the principal figure. The Dutchman is there to give character and atmosphere to the piece, but dramatically he is nothing more than Senta's opportunity personified. The girls spin on; a kind of forewoman, Mary, upbraids Senta with idling and staring at the picture and dreaming away her life—for the girl is quite open about her sympathy with the accursed seafaring man. She wants Mary to sing the Flying Dutchman ballad; Mary curtly refuses; "Then," rejoins Senta, for all the world like a leading lady in a melodrama giving the cue for the band to begin the royalty-song, "I'll sing it myself"; and, despite protests, she does. It recounts, of course, the story of the Dutchman prior to his meeting with Daland. At the end she announces her intention of saving him; and while the women are expostulating, Eric rushes in to add his voice to theirs. He tells them Daland's ship is in sight; and all save he and Senta scurry off to make preparations. Eric wishes to marry her, and pleads his cause; she asks him what his griefs are compared with those of the doomed man whose picture hangs on the wall. He (rightly) thinks her semi-demented, and tells a dream he had: of the Dutchman entering, of Senta at once giving herself to him, and then sailing away. His story has a result precisely contrary to what he intended and hoped: her ecstasy becomes more violent than ever; he (the Dutchman) seeks her and she will share his grief with him. Eric rushes off in despair and horror; Senta subsides; she prays that the Dutchman may be able to find her—and her father and Vanderdecken enter.
She stands mazed, not greeting her father nor uttering a word, gazing at the stranger. Now Daland, I have already remarked, has noticed no resemblance between this man and the picture, and he cannot understand his daughter's silence. Finally she salutes him and asks about Vanderdecken; and Daland, in haste, discloses his plan. Neither Vanderdecken nor Senta speaks; so, with a stroke of the old-fashioned opera trickery, Wagner makes Daland feel himself de trop and go away. Vanderdecken at once begins his story, and the pair sing a duet, which I will deal with shortly; for the moment I need only remind the reader that Senta's mind was made up in advance. When the Dutchman, almost warningly, reminds her that it is nothing less than a life's devotion he demands, she proudly answers, "Whoever you are, whatever the curse on you, I will share your life and your doom." The librettist now having need of his services for the finale, Daland enters, and the act winds up with a showy trio.
No further comment is needed on this act: in structure, like the first, it is only old-fashioned opera. It is in the third act that the inherent weakness of the story for operatic purposes shows with almost disastrous results. Only the sheer force of the music averts a complete breakdown. The problem was to show Senta literally faithful unto death. Evidently it was impossible for Vanderdecken to claim and carry off his bride forthwith. Had that been possible the work might have terminated with a short scene to form the real finale of the second act. But Vanderdecken had asked for a wife, and Daland would not have dreamed of letting his daughter go until the proper ceremony had taken place. Besides, Wagner was writing an opera with the very practical view of a performance in the theatre; and in those days of lengthy operas (Rienzi at first played five and a half hours) the public would have grumbled if they did not get enough for their money. No manager would have looked at a work no longer than the first and second acts of the Dutchman. The final scene could not be made very lengthy; so the composer determined to pad out the act with pure irrelevant music, and the librettist had to find him words. In a piano score now before me the essential part of the act, the scene in which Senta redeems the Dutchman, occupies twenty-four pages; and these are preceded by fifty pages of choruses of sailors, maidens and ghosts. Allowing for the larger space occupied by choruses on the printed page, we are half-way through the act before serious business begins. It must be owned that Wagner has done his work superbly, even making use of it to a certain extent. Girls bring provisions and drinks for Daland's crew, and there is a lot of chorus and counter-chorus and dancing. Then both men and girls call upon the Dutch crew. There is no response. The ship lies wrapt in gloom; and, half afraid, the girls and Daland's men taunt them with being dead. But suddenly the hour arrives for the Dutchman to sail. With perfect calm all around, a hurricane shakes her sails and shrieks and pipes in the rigging, and the waters roar and foam; the crew come to life and call for their captain in a series of unearthly choruses. Daland's men, horror-struck, make the sign of the cross; the spectres give a "taunting laugh" and subside; once again all is peace, and the sinister vessel lies there, the air seeming to thicken and grow blacker about her.
The women have gone off; the sailors occupy themselves with eating and drinking; and Senta, pursued by Eric, comes on. He has heard of the intended marriage, and begs passionately that she shall not sacrifice herself, ending with a cavatina—a cavatina by Richard Wagner!—in vain. But Vanderdecken has heard all from the wings—another bit of old-fashioned stage trickery, like the "asides"—and resolves that Senta shall not sacrifice herself. "For ever lost," he cries, realizing that he is renouncing his last chance. Senta declares her determination to follow him—she will redeem him whether he wishes it or not; in a regular set trio she, he and Eric thrash the matter out; she is not to be shaken; Eric gives a despairing cry which brings on the women folk and the sailors. The Dutchman says farewell, pipes up his spectral crew, who heave the anchor, and he goes on board. As the ship moves off Senta throws herself into the water; the ship falls to pieces; the sun rises, and in its beams the "glorified forms" of the pair are seen mounting the skies. Senta has had her way: she has worked out her destiny and "saved" the wanderer. The curtain falls.
This is the first of the genuine Wagner dramas, the first, therefore, from which the Wagnerians have drawn, or into which they have read, "lessons." As we get on I shall try to show that no moral can be tacked on to any of Wagner's works. But supposing that he did wish to teach us something in the Dutchman, what on earth can it be? Not, surely, that one should not swear rash oaths in a temper? We have all done that and needed no redeemer. There is no touch of essential veracity in the old legend, a bit of puerile medieval fantasy; there is no sort of proportion between the trivial offence and the appalling punishment; even in an age which thought to oppose the will of the Almighty the rankest blasphemy it can never have been considered eternally just that a righteous and merciful Creator should deal out such a punishment. Besides, in the ancient legend, as in Wagner's book, the Almighty has little to do with the matter: it is the foul fiend who snaps up Vanderdecken in his momentary lapse. Again, after the first act Vanderdecken is second to Senta. Even the belated attempt to show him heroic in his determination to sail off alone to his doom has no dramatic point; it has no bearing on his salvation, for nothing happens until Senta jumps into the sea, and we feel sure nothing would have happened if she had not jumped. That lesson, at any rate—a childish, inept, inane, insane one at best—is not set forth in the Dutchman. The only other possible one is that self-sacrifice is a worthy and beautiful thing in itself. In itself, I say, for Senta's self-sacrifice is purely a fad: she knows nothing of Vanderdecken save a rumour shaped into a primitive ballad. Such self-sacrifice is not worthy, not beautiful; but, on the contrary, a very ugly and detestable form of lunacy. In truth, not only is there no lesson in the Dutchman, but the whole idea is so absurd that only the power of the music enables us to swallow it at all. The condition on which the Dutchman can be saved is purely arbitrary; what difference ought it to make to him that some one, for the sake of an idea, sacrifices herself? The "good angel" who proposed it must have been temporarily out of her senses, and the Creator when he agreed must have been nodding. And the whole business is smeared over with German mawkish sentimentality—this business, I mean, of Senta loving the Dutchman. Had he seen and loved her, and resolutely sailed off without her, and found his salvation in that, there would be some semblance of reason; but the fumbling attempt to make something of the man at the last moment is futile, and we are left with nothing but sentimental sickliness, nauseating and revolting. In a word, then, we must take the Dutchman libretto as it is, unreasonable, false: only a series of occasions for writing some fine music. That it is nothing more than such a series I have endeavoured to establish at all this length; because if it is worth understanding Wagner at all, and if we wish to understand him, we must realise the point he started from in his half-conscious groping after the opera form which he only found in its full perfection in his Tristan period.
In the music the head and shoulders of the real Wagner emerge boldly from the ruck of commonplace which constitutes the bulk of the operatic music of the time. How any one could have failed to see the strength and beauty of much of the Dutchman is one of those things almost impossible to understand to-day. Of the tawdry vulgarity, the blatant clamour, of Rienzi there is not a hint. The opera is by no means all on the highest level, but a good third of it is, and there are pages which Richard never afterwards surpassed. A dozen passages are prophetic of the Wagner of Tristan and the Ring. Let me begin by quoting a few of these. The phrase (a, page 118) immediately suggests Tristan, as it screams higher and higher with ever-increasing intensity of passion; a variant of it (b) is charged with the same feeling, and is used in the same way. The feeling is not the same as in Tristan; both are used when Eric makes his last despairing appeals to Senta. But look at (c). Compare it with one of the themes (d) expressive of Wotan's anguish, and then recollect that (c) is used when Vanderdecken, in veiled speech, tells Daland of his woes. When Vanderdecken is yearning for Senta's love, and trembling lest by telling the truth he should frighten her, we get (e), afterwards developed with such poignant effect in the first and last acts of Tristan. Vanderdecken enters with Daland, and Senta, almost stunned, sets eyes on him for the first time. The musical phrase is (f), which, simplified and more direct in its appeal, was to be used when Siegmund and Sieglinda first gaze on one another. Then the passage (g) is one which the reader will find mentioned in my chapter on Tristan (p. 263) as standing for quite a multitude of things in the Ring. A curious case is the little phrase (h) which occurs in the middle of the watchman's song. Of no significance here, of what tremendous import it is in the first act of Tristan.
None of these phrases or passages is developed with the power and resource characteristic of Wagner's later work; but it is astonishing that after the baldness and noise of Rienzi he should have gone straight on to invent such music at all. He was still groping his way, and had to trust to the conventional framework of opera construction to a large extent; that is, each act is divided into set numbers, even when the numbers are based on music which has been heard before and to which, therefore, a definite meaning has become attached. He could not yet trust himself in an open sea of music, as he did in Tristan; rather, we have a chain of lakes, the music sometimes overflowing out of one into another. The marvellous continual development of themes with intricate interweavings and incessant transmogrifications—all this was part of the technique of the Tristan period. Neither in the Dutchman nor in Tannhaeuser nor in Lohengrin is there any sign of it. Of what may be called leitmotivs there are only three, the Dutchman (i) and Senta (j), while a portion of the second (k) may be regarded as a third, for it is used by itself, independently. One little group of notes (l) I have seen described as a leitmotiv; and if it is one, I should like to know what it stands for. As can be seen, it is a bit of the Senta theme (fourth bar of j); and in the overture a long connecting passage is built on it. But it also forms part of the chorus of sailors in the first act, part of the watchman's song in a varied form, part of another sailors' chorus (m); it is the very backbone of the spinning chorus; and lastly, a large portion of the spectral sailors' chorus is made up of it. I have no explanation to offer—unless it be that Wagner, bent on suggesting the sea throughout the opera, felt that this phrase helped him to sustain the atmosphere. The sea, indeed, throughout the Dutchman, is the background, foreground, the whole environment of the drama; in this wild legend which came out of the sea, every action is related to the sea, and one might say that the sea's voice is echoed in every one's speech. The sea music, therefore, based on Senta's ballad—apart from the leitmotivs which that contains—is of the very first importance. The easiest way to get a firm grasp of the Dutchman is to analyse this ballad. Then in passing rapidly over the score afterwards we shall see at a glance the structure of the whole, and how the new thematic matter is either welded into this sea music or stodgily interpolated. The song is too long to be transcribed here; but every reader must have in his possession a copy at this time of day. There are ten bars of introduction: in the eleventh, to the Dutchman theme, Senta sings the "Yo-ho-ho"; at the fifteenth, with a glorious swing and rush she dashes into the ballad—
"Traft ihr das Schiff im Meere an, Blutroth die Segel, schwarz der Mast? Auf hohem Bord der bleiche Mann, Des Schilfes Herr, wacht ohne Rast."
This consists of eight bars—a four-bar section repeated. Then we get the storm music, four bars of which I quote (n), and this is freely employed throughout the opera. The storm subsides, and at bar thirty-nine Senta sings to her own theme—
"Doch kann dem bleichen Manne Erloesung einstens noch werden, Faend' er ein Weib, das bis in den Tod getreu ihm auf Erden."
leading into the second part (k) to the words—
"Ach! Wann wirst du, bleicher Seemann, sie finden? Betet zum Himmel dass bald Ein Weib Treue ihm halt'!"
The three themes are of very unequal power. The first is one of the landmarks in musical history; neither Wagner himself nor any of the other great masters ever hit upon a more gigantic theme, terrible in its direct force at its announcement, still more terrible as it is used in the overture and later in the drama. The second, Senta, is a piece of sloppy German sentimentality: this is not a heroine who will (rightly or wrongly) sacrifice herself for an idea, but a hausfrau who will always have her husband's supper ready and his slippers laid to warm on the stove shelf. It is significant that Senta herself in her moment of highest exaltation does not refer to it: Wagner often calculated wrong, but he never felt wrong. The third, the grief and anguish of the condemned sailor, and pity for him, is one of the most wonderful things in music; for blent with its pathos is the feeling of a remoter time, the feeling that it all happened in ages that are past, the feeling for "old, unhappy, far-off things, and battles long ago." This sense of the past, the historic sense—call it what you will—was thus strong in Wagner at this early period, and it grew even stronger later on, finding its most passionate expression in Tristan and its loveliest expression in the Mastersingers. The faculty to shape pregnant musical themes is the stamp of the great master. The early men are supposed to have "taken church melodies" and worked them up into masses: what they did was to take meaningless strings of notes, bare suggestions, and give them form and meaning by means of rhythm (for only boobies talk of the old church music not possessing rhythm). The later composers sometimes followed the same procedure—which is equivalent to a sculptor "taking" a block of marble and hewing out a statue; but more and more they trusted to their own imaginations. In either case the "mighty line" results; and there is not a great composition in the world which has not great themes; and, vice versa, when the themes are trivial the work evolved from them is invariably trivial. I see modern works full of cleverness and colour: I do not waste much time on them; there cannot be anything in them, and they will not survive. Along with some weak motives—or, to be more accurate, motives which are musically weak but dramatically a help—Wagner has a huge list of tremendous ones, each a landmark. However, this by way of digression.
Music evolved from this ballad forms, as I have said, the structural outline of the opera. The overture is almost entirely shaped out of it, being one of that sort which is supposed to foreshadow the opera, to tell the tale in music before we see it enacted on the stage. From the Dutchman onward Wagner nearly always constructed his introductions—whether to whole operas or to single acts or even scenes—on this plan, largely discarding the purely architectural forms. Here, for example, we have at the outset the blind fury of the tempest, taken and developed from (n), with the Dutchman theme. The storm reaches its height, and there is a brief lull, and Vanderdecken seems to dream of a possible redeemer; the elements immediately rage again, with the wind screaming fiercely through sails and ropes, and waves crashing against the ship's sides; he yearns for rest (k), seems to implore the Almighty to send the Day of Judgment; and at length the Senta motive enters triumphantly, and with the redemption of the wanderer the thing ends. That, one can see, is the chain of incidents Wagner has translated into tones, or illustrated with tones; but as a prelude to the opera, it is the atmosphere of the sea that counts: the roar of the billows, the "hui!" of the wind, the dashing and plunging. When the curtain rises the storm goes on while Daland's men, with their hoarse "Yo-ho-ho," add even more colour. The motion of the sea is kept up, partly with fresh musical material, until at last it all but ceases; the watchman sings his song of the soft south wind and falls asleep. Then the sky darkens, the Flying Dutchman comes in, and the storm music rages once more. It is woven into Vanderdecken's magnificent scena (surely the greatest opera scena written up to the year 1842); and then disappears. In its place we get pages of (for Wagner) wearisome twaddle. The reason is obvious. For the purpose of explaining the subsequent movement of the drama there is a lot of conversation which Weber, in the Singspiel, would have left to be spoken, and Mozart would have set to dry recitative. Wagner was determined that his music should flow on; but the inspiration of the sea was gone, and he could only fill up with uninspired stuff. He had not yet mastered his new musico-dramatic art; indeed, I much doubt whether he realized its possibilities. In his Tristan days he knew how to avoid explanations on the stage; nothing in Tristan needs explanation; in the Mastersingers and the Ring his resources—his inventiveness and technical mastery of music—were unbounded, and an intractable incident he simply smothered in splendid music. Here, the bargaining of Daland and Vanderdecken is a very intractable incident, and in trying to make the best of it he made the worst. That is, he would have saved us an appalling longueur had he given us two minutes of frank recitative in place of twenty minutes of make-believe music—music in the very finest kapellmeister style of the period. Even the passage quoted (c) is made nothing of. There are one or two fine dramatic touches, as, for instance, when Daland asks if his ship is any the worse: "Mein Schiff ist fest, es leidet keinen Schaden," with its bitter double meaning; but on the whole things are very dreary and dispiriting until the south wind blows up and stirs the composer's imagination. The sweet wind carries off the mariners to their home; the water ripples and plashes gently; and to the last bar of the act all is peace and beauty. The music has not, perhaps, the point of, say, the quieter bits of Mendelssohn's Hebrides, but it runs delicately along, and it more than serves.
The figure (l), which has been so prominent in the overture and sailors' choruses, is equally noticeable in the next act. The spinning chorus, in fact, may be said to grow out of it. There is no break between the two acts (Wagner's first intention was to go straight on, making the Dutchman an opera in one long act); the introduction to the second is a continuation of the conclusion of the first. The figure is repeated several times in a long diminuendo, changing the key from B flat to A major, so we never cease to feel the presence of the eternal sea. Inside the skipper's old-world house one is conscious that the waves are plashing not far from the walls, and that the air is salt and fresh there. There is a pervading dreamy atmosphere: again we are carried away into far-off times; the scene has the unreality of a dream, a dream of the sea. Mlle. Senta quickly shatters that illusion with her passion and living young blood; but in memory one always has this cottage, where women pass the days in singing, where there are no clocks, and time can only be measured by the waves as they break on the shore. The maiden's spinning song is small scale music; nothing ambitious is wanted, and nothing ambitious is attempted. As a bit of music it is infinitely superior to the clumsy wooden bridal chorus in Lohengrin; the touch is light, the melodies fresh and dainty, and the subdued hum of the wheels and the bustle are suggested throughout without becoming monotonous. Not for a musical, but for a purely theatrical, reason we get a snatch of (k); Senta is not spinning; she is engaged in staring at the picture. After much chattering she sings the ballad, and at the end declaims her intention of saving the Dutchman to the music which is employed when she actually accomplishes that feat. When Eric rushes in, the orchestra has the usual operatic storm-in-a-teacup sort of stuff; the chattering chorus of women getting ready for Daland's reception is neither here nor there; Eric's expostulations are insignificant, and the air he sings—with interruptions on the part of Senta—is by no means equal to the better parts of the opera. Here Wagner has again been faced by the difficulty he met in the first act: a prosaic scene had to be set to poetic music, and the task was beyond him. Eric is one of the most frightfully conventional personages in opera; he bores and exasperates one to madness. He warbles away in the approved Italian tenor fashion while one's enthusiasm is growing cold and one's interest waning. His dream, however, in which he sees Senta meet the Dutchman, embrace him and sail away with him, has a genuine ring. The atmosphere is strange, almost nightmareish, with the Dutchman theme sounding up at intervals, dreamlike. With the exception of the mere mention of this motive in the score, the music is new, is not evolved out of previous passages; but when Eric has finished we hear the Senta theme, both sections. The Dutchman and Daland enter, and we hear (f) three times in all; but there is no development of it. Daland's air is entirely fresh matter; as is the opening of the big duet between the Dutchman and Senta.
We are now approaching the supreme moment of the drama. The Dutchman's recitative-like beginning—declamation of the same type, and with the same accent, as some recitative in the song-tournament in Tannhaeuser—is noble in the highest degree; we have a recurrence of the dream-atmosphere at Senta's words, "Versank ich jetzt in wunderbares Traeumen?"—for though her fanaticism is all too real, when her opportunity comes she is for the moment incredulous. It hardly does to consider the moral aspect of the play at this juncture. Vanderdecken is merely a greedy, selfish skipper who, having got into some trouble, is anxious that a pure young maiden should throw away her life that he may be comfortable. Not any casuistry or splitting of hairs can alter the plain fact—
"Wirst du des Vaters Wahl nicht schelten? Was er versprach, wie?—duerft' es gelten?"
However, he has the honesty to warn her of her probable fate. She rises to the occasion. She may be as mad as a hatter, but in the music she is given to "Der du auch sei'st," her lunacy becomes sublimity. Up to the moment of writing this white-hot glowing passage Wagner had never reached the sublime: now for a few minutes he sustains it. Again the breath of the sea is brought in when the Dutchman a second time warns her, and the sea music roars as a sinister accompaniment. Senta only becomes the more exalted. "Wohl kenn' ich Weibes heil'ge Pflichten," she sings to music which is absolutely the finest page in the opera. The pure white flame of a deathless devotion is here. I doubt whether Wagner ever again in his life had such an ethereal moment: it is sheer fervour and sweetness, unmixed with the hot human passion of Tristan or the smoky philosophies of the Ring. To wish Senta had a reasonable cause for her ecstasy of self-immolation is, of course, to wish the Dutchman were not the Dutchman. In truth, we must take the scenes as they come without inquiring too curiously; the storm music which goes with the wanderer, and the moments of glorious splendour that come to the redeeming woman, are things worth living to have written and worth living to hear.
The music of the last act I shall pass quickly over. The seamen's and women's choruses are not particularly striking; the spectral choruses certainly are. The sea music is here turned into something unearthly, frightful; these damned souls have no hope of being saved, and in their misery they scoff and mock and laugh hideously. More new musical matter, some of it of a very fine quality, is introduced when Eric again appeals to Senta; and the figure (a) is developed with stupendous effect. In the final scene, when the Dutchman goes off, Senta can say nothing more after her declarations in the second—nothing, that is, of any musical value; and Wagner has wisely confined her to recitative.
The Flying Dutchman, then, has many weaknesses. The libretto is a manufacture, not, like Tristan, a growth. Much of the music does not rise above the level of Spontini or Marschner; there are wearisome pages, there are heavy chords repeated again and again with violin figurations on top, there are lines of the verse repeated to fit in with the conventional melodies in four-bar lengths. It was only a few years before that Wagner, at Riga, had written enthusiastically about Bellini and his melody, a type of melody he felt to be fresh and expressive compared with the dry-as-dust mixture of Viennese melody (i.e. the Haydn and Mozart type) and stodgy German counterpoint which formed the bulk of Marschner's and Spontini's music; and here we see him in the very deed of trying his hand at it. Very often the result, it must be admitted, is lamentable. There was no Italian suppleness and grace in Wagner's nature: when he was in deadly earnest, and striving to express himself without thinking of models, he wrote gorgeous stuff; when the inspiration waned, or when he deluded himself with the belief that what he supposed to be Bellini-like tunes really expressed the feeling of the moment, then he gave us pages as dry and dreary as Spontini and Marschner at their worst. Besides those I have already mentioned there are in the love duet—if it can be called a love duet—mere figurations over bar on bar on leaden-footed, heavy chords; and these figurations are not true melody. These tunes in regular four-bar lengths are melody of an amorphous sort; only when they were tightened up, made truer, more pregnant—in a word, when they were so shaped as to stand really and truly for the thought and feeling in the composer—did they become the beautiful things we find in Lohengrin, foretelling the sublime things we find in Tristan. Eric's tunes are as colourless as Donizetti's. All this we may joyfully admit, knowing how much there is to be said on the other side, and seeing in the Dutchman only a foretaste of Wagner's greatest work. A really great work it assuredly is. We have the magnificent sea-music, and, in spite of outer incoherences, the smell and atmosphere of the sea maintained to the last bar of the opera. In his music at least Vanderdecken is a deeply tragic figure. There is the ballad, by very far the finest in music; there is Senta's declaration of faith. Whenever it was possible for the composer to be inspired he instantly responded. Had he not lived to write another note his memory would live by the Dutchman. It is an enormous leap from Rienzi. There brilliancy is attained by huge choruses and vigorous orchestration and rhythms that continually verge on the vulgar. In the Dutchman it is the stuff and texture of the music that make the effect. Play Rienzi on a piano, and you have nothing; play the Dutchman, and you have immediately the roar of the sea, the Dutchman's loneliness and sadness, Senta's exaltation. I have spoken of Wagner having finished his apprenticeship when he went to Magdeburg, and in a sense he had; but perhaps in the fuller sense he finished it only with the Dutchman. He made mistakes, and thanks largely to them, so mastered his own personal art that he was prepared to take another and a vaster leap—from the Dutchman to Tannhaeuser. He cast the slough of the old Italian opera form.