Richard Wagner - Composer of Operas
by John F. Runciman
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Eva steals out from her father's door, and at once the dramatic motive of the action deepens. We have had up to now the joy and beauty of the night, the aroma of the trees, and all the warmth of Sachs' artist's heart as he dwells on Walther's song of spring: now the human element comes in and is reflected in the music. Eva wants to know whether there is any hope for Walther or any chance of help from Sachs, and she tries to find out without fully disclosing the secret of her love. Her wistful longing is expressed in two perfect melodies, one new, the other shaped from a fragment of Walther's first song; these two are gone over again and again, always varied and growing more intense in expressiveness, until Eva's secret is no secret from the audience, though Sachs himself is supposed not to be at first quite sure about it. When he satisfies himself the orchestra at once sings the phrase (d), and its full significance is brought out. The real Hans Sachs, we are told, when getting on in years wooed and won quite a young girl, and the union turned out satisfactorily. That, obviously, was too tame a matter to be set forth in a long opera—every one would have yawned before the finish of the first Act; and, as it has been pointed out, the main change made from the original sketch of the libretto to the libretto of the actual opera lies in this: that Wagner created a soul for his Sachs. Sachs loves Eva, too, with a blending of benevolent fatherly affection and sexual love; but for the haphazard appearance of Walther he would certainly have gained her for his wife; for she would have infinitely preferred him to Beckmesser, a pedant, a bad artist, and, to speak colloquially, a mean and disastrous cad. In the trial scene he has already half divined Walther's object, and the theme (d) in its application hints not only at his longing to grasp "the new" in Walther's song, but also his longing to possess Eva, with a sting of bitterness as he resolves to renounce her in favour of the younger suitor. Towards the end of the opera, when Sachs brings the young pair together he says (to music quoted from Tristan) he would not play the part of King Mark and thus invite his Isolda to find a Tristan. I ask the reader to compare this phrase with one form of the first love-theme in Tristan (g). The essential notes are the same; but as a melody is made to sound another and different thing by varying the harmonies, there is in the Sachs phrase a touch of sadness, nearly hopelessness, but no hint of it in the Tristan form. The true meaning is not obvious when it first occurs: Sachs seems simply to be the appreciator of true art and to be standing up for the true artist Walther against the barren pedant Beckmesser.

And I beg leave here to make a digression. I have spoken of Wagner's obsession by the notion that he could by his union of drama, music, pictorial art, etc., make his work clear enough to be understood at a first performance: in his letters he referred to a plan for giving the Ring only once and then burning the theatre and the score—he did not add the composer and the artists. Unfortunately this view has been taken as a tenable one by good critics, and it has been argued seriously that such a phrase as (d) is meaningless, because its significance becomes apparent only in the second act. No great work of art can be seen at one glance—least of all Wagner's. If a painter puts before us a picture, say, of Perseus and Andromeda, we know at any rate what it is about; and there is no difficulty in understanding a Madonna. But, with the exception of the Dutchman, Wagner reshaped all his subjects so that, for instance, an acquaintance with the Nibelung legends is rather a hindrance than a help to a swift understanding of the Ring. At first his King Mark is a puzzle to those who know the Arthurian legends; and in the same way, if the Sachs of history is confounded with Wagner's Sachs, we are at once utterly at sea. But a knowledge of Wagner's Sachs can scarcely be acquired from the words alone: more is told us in the music than in the words; and before we can grasp the drama as well as Wagner's use of phrases we must hear the opera many, many times. I deny that this is an illegitimate mode of appeal to an audience; I deny that the indispensability of knowing an opera thoroughly before you judge it is to imply that it is less than a very great work of art; I affirm that the nobler, profounder, more beautiful a work of art, the more necessary it is to be able to look at every passage with a full consciousness of all that is to come after, as well as of what has gone before. Wagner himself was compact of contradictions, and so, while trying to create his operas in such fashion that a single performance would suffice to reveal their splendour, he took the precaution to write detailed explanations which might serve the same purpose as many previous performances; and he also wrote explanations of Beethoven's symphonies.

Throughout this long scene the tender stream of melody flows on, never lapsing into anything approaching prettiness or feebleness, flooding us with an overwhelming sense of a far-away past, while full utterance is found for Eva's anxiety, then her despair, and her wish, timidly spoken, to give herself to Sachs rather than to be won by Beckmesser. A scene of such length, constructed on such a plan, could have been carried through by no other composer than Wagner—the sweetness, variety and dramatic strength and truth are Wagner at his ripest and best. After Eva's heart has been opened to us he takes up (d), and though Sachs is a little grumpy—the effort to resign Eva inevitably though insensibly showing itself—we learn all about him and share his secret, too, in a very short while. Then Magdalena calls Eva and tells her Beckmesser intends to serenade her, and goes in to take her place at the window; and then comes the only love-duet in the opera. Walther appears; and Eva chants a melody that is surely first cousin to one of the greatest in Euryanthe. As we get on we find it harder to give any adequate idea of the enchantment of the thing. The gentle evening wind makes its voice heard, low, soft; and Walther, scorning the masters who compose and sing only by rule—and, by the way, what would Wagner have done in the days when a musician had to play and sing before he could be understood or ever heard as a composer?—works himself up to a state of tumultuous indignation; then a strange noise is heard in the distance, the watchman's cow-horn. A minute's silence, and next one of the sweetest melodies in all music—expressive of the love of Walther and Eva, but also full of that feeling for the remote past; then the entrance of the watchman, with his warning to the folk to look after their lights and fires: it is ten o'clock (late hours) in our city, and disaster must be kept off at all costs. Sachs has heard the talk between Eva and Walther and determined to ward off disaster in one shape at any rate: he places a light so that they cannot get away without being seen; they are furious, desperate, but that loveliest of melodies flows on until Beckmesser comes in to perform his serenade. From this point Wagner, without ever ceasing to be the consummate artist or allowing the old-world atmosphere to weaken its hold on our senses, lets himself go like a schoolboy out for a holiday. He begins his splendid song, a parable: Eve was well enough off in the Garden of Eden, but when she took a wrong step the Lord sent a shoemaker to save her. The words are in the very spirit of the Middle Ages: a materialistic, naive, literal handling of spiritual things; but the most devout of believers can find no cause of offence. The song opens, as I have mentioned, in the rhythm (4-4 instead of 3-4) of the Sword scene, the harmonies being practically the same. The tune is one of Wagner's finest: indeed, if we did not know what he could do, if we could not hear the opera once in a while, we should refuse to believe that such dignity and beauty of utterance could be kept up alongside of the grave old cobbler's humorous bedevilment. Beckmesser wants to serenade Eva—mistaking Magdalena at the window in Eva's dress for that lady; Sachs insists on finishing Beckmesser's new shoes for the contest of the morrow, and revenges himself for the insult inflicted upon Walther in the morning by striking one blow for every mistake. Before this is arranged there is a long altercation, and as the heat of the men's temper dies down that sweet love melody of the old world creeps in again; but then the farce commences. Beckmesser's song is almost outrageous caricature; the parody of the academics of Wagner's day who made no mistakes from the academic point of view, and yet could write nothing that sounded right, is excruciatingly funny; then David, under the impression that the chief of the academics is serenading Magdalena, comes out, goes in to fetch a stick, comes out again armed, and sets to work with it upon Beckmesser; the good burghers have been annoyed by Beckmesser's caterwauling and Sachs' hammering; out they come to keep their streets in order; and the tumult begins in serious earnest. Every one hits at every one else, as Irishmen hit, it is said, at Donnybrook Fair; Beckmesser is sadly injured; Sachs kicks David indoors, Eva and Magdalena are got in to Pogner's; Sachs gets Walther in with him also; the row dies down. No one save Sachs and David knows how it started; no one knows why it ends. It is—allowing for the lapse of four centuries—rather like a cab accident in London or any other great city: ladies in night attire look out of windows, and, seeing their husbands engaged in deadly warfare, in the very spirit of Miss Miggs begin to empty pails of cold water over the combatants indiscriminately. Apparently this cools the ardour of everybody. One by one the crowd makes for shelter; the watchman's horn is heard a few streets away; and when he arrives with his lantern and stick a few minutes later the alley and platz are deserted. The moon shines out on the lovely scene; the old man chants his call—it is eleven of the night; all the world should be in bed; all the lights and fires should be out; he goes off, leaving us the wondrous picture of old Nuremberg sleeping in the heart of old Germany; and the curtain slowly falls. A very ineffective "curtain" it was in the eyes of most opera-goers in the 'sixties, and is in the eyes of the ordinary play-goer of to-day; but, for all that, one of the most superb to be found in the whole of the dramatic works of the world.

It is, I have just said, difficult to analyse the music of such a scene as this, and only one or two points may be noted now. I have referred again to the consummate mastery of technique manifested throughout the opera, and here there is no falling off from this mastery. Throughout we have that atmosphere of bygone generations, and also a combination, curious when looked into, of homeliness with nobility. Sachs' song is merrily trolled out, but underneath its joviality we feel the greatness of the man—a man so great in character that no suits of shining armour, no heralds and no waving banners are needed to make him impressive: he remains, even while he works at his last and sings a sort of club-dinner song, the simple cobbler-poet, great by reason of his sincerity and his artist-soul. The street scrimmage is the most realistic thing of the sort ever attempted, not to say achieved. It is customary to describe the music as a fugue, and, if that is so, no more unfugue-like fugue was ever penned. It begins with a parody of a fugue, the answer being announced before the subject—that is, what purports to be the answer occurs a fifth instead of a fourth below; then what purports to be the subject is re-announced one tone above its first statement, and answered, as before, a fifth below. Then the melody of Beckmesser's grotesque is brought in and treated contrapuntally, with what theorists call free imitation in the accompaniment. Fugue, real or tonal, there is none.


This midsummer night's orgy over, we next have midsummer day. The curtain rises; the early morning sun shines through the windows of Sachs' house; Sachs sits there, a book on his knees, but dreaming, not reading. But before the rising of the curtain there is a prelude to tell us of his musings. When we know the opera this piece is easy enough to follow. He thinks over the events of the past night, and passes through thought into dream, getting clean away from earth into a serener air—and coming slowly back to earth again. Structurally this piece is on the same plan as others of the preludes—that of the third act of Tannhaeuser, for example. It is nonsense to say the piece is meaningless because it cannot be fully grasped at a first hearing: I have already spoken of the fallacy involved in that contention—the fallacy that a work of art should be completely comprehensible at a first hearing. It is equally nonsensical to decry the "literary" method of composition: that method was the method of at least two others of the great composers, Haydn and Beethoven, who "worked to a story." In fact, all these unreasonable reasoners who tell us these fine incontrovertible pieces of absurdity place themselves on the same level as the pundits who pointed out that because Wagner used the piano when composing, therefore he could not compose—forgetting Haydn's explicit statement that he always composed at the piano; forgetting how Mozart spent hours and days at the piano in doing the creative work of a new opera; forgetting that Beethoven used the piano even when he could no longer hear it (see Schindler's or Ries' account of the composition of the "Appassionata" sonata). As a mere piece of music, a succession of tones and combinations of tones, the rare quality of this prelude cannot but be felt; and though we may not at once grasp its full significance, no one can miss the sequence of the emotions expressed—the grave reflection of the opening, the hymn-like succeeding passage, the gradual mounting of the music into a beauteous, calm morning air, some realm of ecstatic peace far above the clouds, the gradual return to the mood of the opening. When we do know what it is all about the expression of the different stages of feeling is felt to be more precise—that is all.

The prelude prepares for Sachs' monologue, a profound thing, and one moreover entirely new—had Shakespeare been a musician he might have done something like it. Then David the Irresponsible enters, and we get some more of Wagner's exquisite fooling; next we have Walther with his "dream," out of which the Prize-song is made. This is a long scene—perhaps a little too long—for Wagner seems to have been determined that if the audience did not feel the beauty of his melody it should not be for want of hearing it often enough. As Walther sings Sachs takes it down in tablature, calling out to him what sections are next required. Sachs then declares that this is indeed a master-song, and will win Walther the prize he so much desires; he and Walther go off to attire themselves for the contest, and Beckmesser limps in. In dumb show he describes his aches and pains and shows how he is thinking of his thrashing of the night before; and what he does not say the orchestra says very plainly for him. There is far too much of it—for English tastes, at any rate—before he is alarmed by discovering the still wet manuscript in Sachs' handwriting. He snatches it up and conceals it; Sachs comes back dressed for the great ceremony, and there is a row—Beckmesser querulous, bitterly angry and suspicious, on the one hand, Sachs quietly scornful on the other. Let me point out that this scene is another example of Wagner's stage craftsmanship at its best. There is nothing conventional in the way Sachs and Walther are got off to give Beckmesser his chance: what more natural than that they should go to prepare themselves? Nor is the finding of the manuscript one of those things that give people who don't like opera cause to blaspheme: Sachs simply left it on the table to dry until he returned for it. Compare this scene with that in Verdi's Falstaff, where that fat hero, hiding behind a screen, must be supposed not to hear an elaborate ensemble number sung by the other characters—an instance which one might presume to be intended to make the "aside" so ridiculous that no one would ever dare to use it again. Wagner, for the time, at any rate, had ceased to make demands on the credulity of his audiences or their meek acceptance of a preposterous convention. The business is kept up too long, as I have just confessed; and this is perhaps explained by Wagner's evident desire to make fun of the men who for years had called him a charlatan, a bad musician, and generally done their best to prevent him earning his living. Still, it is a small blot on a big opera. The music for such incidents cannot be of the highest beauty; here we have one of the cases of a tour de force. But even its inferiority is made to serve a purpose; it serves as a foil for that which accompanies the entry of Eva and her conversation with Sachs. Beckmesser has gone away joyfully with the manuscript, fully believing he has got possession of a song by Sachs—who has told him he can do what he likes with it—and revealing the fact that, despite all his boasting, in his heart he knows the cobbler to be immeasurably his superior. In music hardly to be matched for sensuous beauty Eva's trembling perturbation and hopes and fears are exquisitely suggested; then with the arrival of Walther, and also of Magdalena and David, we get a little more fooling, followed by one of Wagner's loveliest and most amazing feats, the quintet. If only for one reason it is amazing. Only a few years before the notes were set down, and certainly only a year or two before the thing was planned in the libretto, he had vehemently declared, in essays and letters, that never again would he compose anything in the operatic style: he was for ever done with opera; henceforth music-drama alone would occupy him. And lo! here, at the very first opportunity, we find him not merely writing a grand opera finale to his first act—which he could justify; a rough-and-tumble finale to his second act—which he could justify; but a set concerto piece in the middle of his third act—which according to his own theories at any rate, he could not justify! He might well avow that when he came to compose Tristan he discovered he had gone far beyond his theories. The justification for the quintet is its beauty and the fact that it finds expression for the feeling of the moment. All the same, I have heard it encored more than once; and an encore in the middle of the act of a Wagner music-drama, or even music-comedy, is almost inconceivable.


The two pairs, Walther and Eva, and David and Magdalena, having been joined together, and David having been freed from his 'prentice servitude by a hearty box on the ear, the quintet having been sung and (as just remarked) sometimes encored, Wagner gathers himself together for a gigantic scene as characteristic of his genius as anything he conceived: no one, indeed, but Wagner could have done or would have thought of attempting such a scene. He has shown us the masters of Nuremberg in conclave, the apprentices romping and joking, the crowd in the street losing its head; and how he gives us a picture of the town on a fete-day, with the trade-guilds marching to the singing-contest. The tailors, the shoemakers, the bakers and the butchers all file past, chanting the merits of their various callings, finally gathering on the meadow outside the town to await the arrival of the chief burghers. It is a picture, not a dramatic scene, and to judge only from the text might suggest the Rienzi way of planning things. It is not, however, a spectacle in the sense in which we apply that word to some of the Rienzi scenes; there is nothing pompous about it, no recourse is made to gorgeous costumes. The artisans march past in their holiday clothes, each guild bearing its banner; the banners wave in the bright sunlight, and there is plenty of colour as well as of bustle and gaiety; but all is homely in style—there is not a noble person in the crowd—and the thing is carried through by the vividly imagined music, the energy and sparkle of it, the positive splendour of the orchestration. The various guild-choruses are full of humour, the many ridiculous things being saved from lapsing into mere horseplay and nonsense by the endless series of beautiful tunes. This part of the business ends with a waltz which shows that Wagner might, had he chosen, have been the finest writer of dance-music in Europe, and driven the Strausses and the rest from the field.

The signal is given of the masters' approach, and as Sachs comes on the whole crowd presses to greet him with a setting of his own song to Martin Luther. The transition from the jollity of the dancing to the solemnity, nay, sublimity, of this chorus is managed with perfect deftness: there is no incongruity. It is this song that passed through Sachs' brain when we found him absorbed in meditation at the beginning of the act. The poem—written by the historical Sachs—is itself beautiful, and Wagner has made it immortal; only he at his ripest and best could combine in an opera-chorus such strength with such sweetness, combine the directness of a part-song with the free play of parts, with never a touch of formalism. It must be held to be one of the most superb things in an opera which is as nearly perfect as ever opera is likely to be.

This over, we are gradually prepared for the ridiculous and preposterous again. Beckmesser is to make his bid for Eva's hand with what he supposes to be a song by Sachs; and to an accompaniment of music which, lively and graceful enough, is purposely of no very distinctive character. The preparations are made. By the time he mounts the heap of turf to address his audience we are ready for him. Of course he makes a fine ass of himself. He has not had time to memorise the poem of the song, and with extravagant fun Wagner makes him change the poetical and serious words into words of most ludicrous significance. Walther's melody he has not got hold of at all, and in a state of intense nervousness tries to fit the words to the burlesque tune of his previous night's serenade. The accents all fall in the wrong place; and as he stumbles miserably along the crowd begins to titter. Wagner of course was parodying and satirising the pedants of his own day, especially the composers of psalms who could not set a straightforward Bible sentence without making nonsense of it. Readers acquainted with the ordinary musical setting of a portion of the Church of England service, or the average organist's anthem, will know what I mean: the average organist seems to consider it a point of artistry, if not indeed of honour, to accentuate the words so as to leave the meaning as little intelligible as possible; and in many cases—I have some before me now—he contrives to make them nonsensical. It was this sort of thing, perpetrated by the very men who denied him any musical gift, that Wagner held up to derision in Beckmesser's song. The tittering swells into a roar, and at last Beckmesser, cursing Sachs for a deceiver and false friend, flies. With that, fooling ends. To music of a rare sweet gravity Sachs invites the "volk" to hearken to the song when given by the man who composed it. Walther steps up and sings; as he goes on the people again make themselves heard, but to praise, not to deride; towards the finish their voices form a choral accompaniment, and we have the counterpart to the finale of the first act. Walther wins the day and Eva; and, slightly against his will, he is made a Master. There is an address from Sachs, in which he exhorts Walther and all present not to despise art, but to honour it as being (for this is what his speech amounts to) the heart's blood of national life. Preachments are not usually stimulating, but this one is mercifully brief, and is accompanied by fine, melodious strains. With its contrapuntal weaving it leads to the final chorus, and also it puts Sachs back again into the position from which the importance of Walther's song has thrust him: it is a last reminder that the opera is a glorification of song, and that the masters have a sacred trust—to guard song pedantry and commercialism. The work closes with a grand chorus made up of familiar music, a glorious blaze and riot of orchestral and choral colour.


The second section of this chapter contains what I have to say by way of summing up. Let me repeat that the Mastersingers is notable for the endless flow of beautiful melodies, neither broken and scrappy nor, on the other hand, approaching monotony: there is infinite variety combined with magnificent breadth; for the nobility hidden under homeliness—a characteristic most marked in Sachs' music; for miraculous colouring now pitched in a low and tender key, now blazing as in the last finale; for the picture of Nuremberg in the old time, and for the vigour and fun with which the old life is depicted. It is Wagner's one cheerful opera, and from some points of view, perhaps, his most perfect; nowhere else did he try to keep on a high and even level of pure song for so long; it does not strain our nerves, and will bear hearing perhaps more frequently than anything else he wrote.



In resuming Wagner's biography we may conveniently take it up after the completion of Tristan in August, 1859. I summarised the events leading up to his beginning on the Mastersingers; but it is necessary to go over some of the ground in a little more detail to show in what a terrible plight Wagner had been landed when King Ludwig II of Bavaria sent for him. He was bankrupt financially, in health and in hope. Like the nose of his boyish hero, everything turned to dust the moment he touched it. Concerts in Paris nearly brought utter ruin—would have brought utter ruin had not a woman friend and admirer come to the rescue. He gained no money by his concert tour until, as he said, he got to St. Petersburg, and there the amount cannot have been stupendous. He laboured with brain, heart and hand to give the world masterpieces; the world responded by not responding at all—by taking absolutely no notice. In Paris he made many valuable friends, but they were useless to him for the realisation of his projects. They might help him from moment to moment, and did help him to remain alive and to avert calamities: a secure and peaceful living they could not guarantee him: they could not assist him in getting his works properly performed, or performed at all. I have already discussed the mistaken policy, on his part, of writing so much about himself, and the futility of his German friends taking up the pen on his behalf. The friends meant well, and there was nothing else they could do; but at the time their efforts resulted in nothing. He published the words of the Mastersingers and of the Ring, and the consequence was only that a professor publicly implored him not to set such a monstrosity as the second to music. It is hard to say who did him the greatest amount of harm—his French friends, his German friends, or his enemies on either side of wherever the frontier was in those far-off days. Whatever was done for him, whatever he did for himself, whatever was done against him, it seemed all one: he walked steadily on into the thickest of grimy fogs. By romping over Europe like any itinerant conductor of this day, he might earn an uncertain livelihood: as for any prospect of getting on with his Mastersingers, his Ring and a score of other plans bubbling in his head, that was a receding prospect indeed: every year, every month, made the prospect still more remote. His music was either misunderstood or disliked: certainly the man's writings and the writings of his friends resulted in him being disliked. When he settled in Vienna after the triumphs of his earlier operas he speedily discovered this sad truth, but did not discover the reason why. His life had been a long tragedy, and with this collapse of his Vienna hopes he seemed to touch the lowest depths.

So he got away from Vienna, and one day had a visitor. This gentleman said, in effect, that King Ludwig II had just ascended the throne, and would be glad of a call. Instantly the grimy fog cleared away; all was splendid sunshine: in that sunshine Richard was henceforth to bask and the fruits of his genius were to ripen. He went to Munich, and there were prompt results. In 1865 Tristan was (at last) produced; he was enabled to make a new start on the Mastersingers, which was eventually produced in Munich in 1868. But in Munich, as elsewhere, the inevitable occurred. Wagner suddenly became the "favourite," quite as in mediaeval times, of a not very popular king, one of a line noted for mental and moral deficiency; and, without consulting any of the powers that had ruled for a long time in Bavaria, in his mad enthusiasm he set about "reforming" everything. Apparently he wanted within twenty-four hours to set up a Saxon Utopia in the midst of a people who hated the Saxons. He wanted to establish a new opera-house, where perfect artists were to give perfect performances for audiences that did not pretend to be perfect. As such performances could not possibly pay, the audiences, besides putting down the price of admittance, had, as taxpayers, to make good the deficits. King Ludwig was supposed to do it; but where on earth was Ludwig's money to come from if not out of the taxpayers' pockets? Then there was to be founded a genuine school of music—an excellent scheme, but one, again, which could not possibly be profitable, or for some time earn enough to cover its expenses. Who was to pay?—of course King Ludwig: that is, the taxpayers. And Wagner was not only known (with absolute certainty) to wish to divert from the pockets of "placemen" funds they had learnt to consider their perquisites, with a view of turning Munich into a musical paradise on earth: it seemed to many that he was gaining such an ascendancy over the feeble mind and will of the king that shortly he would be dictator of the country. That view was not well-founded: Wagner, dreamer though he was, had a strong practical vein in his character: if he saw that one of his dreams could be realised he realised it at the first opportunity; if he saw it could not be realised he explained it in an article and left others to make the first effort at realisation. The man who created Bayreuth was not the man to imagine altogether vainly that he could, per favour of a king, whom he must have known to be utterly weak, turn some millions of citizens and villagers into an Utopian nation of art-lovers and so on. But hatred surrounded him everywhere; the machinery of the state came early to a standstill, and, finally, the king had to ask him to withdraw for a longer or shorter while.

This is the plain truth of an affair concerning which there has been an immense amount of lying on both sides. The scandals about the personal relations of the king and Wagner I leave to the vampires; as for the gentry who will have it that Wagner was "persecuted" out of Munich by Jews, Christians, journalists and bank-managers, I leave them to anybody who likes to take them up. That Wagner had to quit Munich was a sad thing in his life—a very sorrow's crown of sorrow; and it was a bad thing for German music. It put back the clock many years. But, sad though it was for Wagner, in the long run it proved good for him. He would have composed little more in such a city—a city so misgoverned and misguided as Munich: his days would have been filled with bitterness, his nerves would have been quickly shattered by intrigues. He was now amply provided for; a villa—the celebrated "Triebschen"—was taken for him on the shores of Lucerne, and here he settled and remained for some years. Here he finished the Ring and planned Bayreuth.

Another thing which contributed to his unpopularity was his relations with his own and another man's wife. Hans von Buelow, his pupil, had married Liszt's daughter Cosima: that lady became infatuated with Wagner, and Wagner with her, and they virtually eloped together. Minna's cause was eagerly taken up by musicians, operatic people generally, and journalists, though none of them cared a rap about Minna. The most scandalous stories were circulated, and Wagner came to be thought not only a charlatan cadger living on the State funds, but one who used those funds to satisfy his carnal and other appetites. His silk dressing-gowns, his gorgeous apartments, his sybarite feastings, were the common talk of the newspapers: while he was slaving, as the saying goes, twenty-six hours out of twenty-four, the common fancy was taught to picture him as taking his ease in unheard-of luxury.

These matters have nearly all been indirectly dealt with already, and as we come to review the situation, this is what we find. Minna was an impossible wife for such a man: she never could understand why he could not have remained quietly at his post in Dresden, indifferent to good or bad opera representations, and unambitious concerning the proper artistic production of his own works. When calamity followed calamity, to her all the trouble seemed due to Richard's pig-headedness; and she would at once have grown cheerful and good-natured had he burned his finished and unfinished scores and written "something popular." She was, I say, impossible. Cosima, for her part, found Buelow impossible. A splendid character in many ways, he was as wayward and quarrelsome a man as has lived. So Richard and Minna drifted apart, and Buelow and Cosima drifted apart, and in the end Richard and Cosima drifted together. The censures that still are passed at times on their conduct are hypocritical and grotesque. The people who pass them are usually people who think that the Ten Commandments were made only to be observed by the poorer classes, or by other people, not themselves, and are willing enough to excuse offences against the marriage laws when they are committed by folks of exalted social position. The whole truth about the Richard-Cosima affair will evidently never be known; no one has told; three of the four concerned have passed away; and those writers to-day who pretend to know most are precisely those whom I suspect of knowing least.

The charge of living in luxurious surroundings is well enough founded—Wagner undoubtedly did love them: he said so himself. What did the luxury amount to? A few carpets, chairs, a silk dressing-gown, and sufficient to eat and drink! He certainly worked hard enough for them and had a right to them. It is odd to think that most of those who brought these charges against him themselves grasped at as much luxury as they could get: had King Ludwig spent his money on them there would have been no objections raised, and doubtless they would have given us Rings and Mastersingers. This must be the judgment of every sane person.

However, Wagner settled peacefully at Triebschen, and remained there until the Bayreuth idea took solid and visible shape. He completed the Mastersingers and Siegfried, and made progress with the Dusk of the Gods. When Minna died in 1868 he immediately married Cosima. The idea of what ultimately became Bayreuth took shape. Bayreuth was first thought of for a very prosaic reason. The town theatre at that time possessed the largest stage in Germany, and in many respects was far ahead of every other German theatre, and this drew the attention of Wagner and his friends to the spot. Various causes combined to make the idea of giving the first performances of the Ring in this theatre an utter impracticability, and Wagner reverted to his old pet idea of building a theatre for himself. An eminent architect, Gottfried Semper, cheerfully helped at planning a building which should unite the utmost artistic usefulness with the smallest possible expense. The house is long out-of-date, but in the 'seventies it seemed a marvel. The seats were so arranged that every one commanded, theoretically, the same view of the stage; the stage was fitted with the most modern machinery, lights and so on. The orchestra was sunk, so that the movements of the conductor and his fiddlers should not distract the attention of the audience; the auditorium was darkened, so that everything happening on the stage could be seen with the greatest possible clearness. When the good burghers of a decaying mediaeval town found what was going to happen to them they rejoiced, for they foresaw invasions of millions of aliens who would not hurt them but would pay out handsomely, and renew the days of the town's prosperity. Sites were granted free of cost, both for Wagner's own house—Villa Wahnfried—and the Festival Theatre. When the foundation of the latter was laid, brass bands and processions took an important part in the proceedings.

From the very start the enterprise was looked on as a commercial one. Wagner's house was built, but work at the theatre had soon to be stopped for want of money. Numerous Wagner societies were started to raise it; concerts innumerable were given with the same object; the composer himself laboured incessantly; and eventually it was possible to resume building. But the very means, or some of the means, adopted to raise money aroused fierce antagonism amongst the musicians who did not believe in Wagner, or had been attacked by him and his disciples, and put into their hands a weapon of counter-attack. "Begging" was a term freely employed; and a thousand newspapers were found willing—nay, anxious—to insinuate or to state boldly that the money was badly needed to enable the composer to live on a sumptuous scale. When, in the summer of 1876, the first cycle of the Ring was given, no artistic undertaking could have made a worse start. People did not know what they were asked to see and to hear; they did know that all these scandalous rumours had been flying about for years, that the "entertainment" was not ordinary opera, that the opening of Bayreuth was to mark the beginning of a millennium—a new moral, religious, political and goodness knows what sort of era. Bayreuth from the first had attracted a very disagreeable set of persons, men whom fathers would not allow to speak to their daughters—or to their sons. Wagner himself had invited ridicule by claiming that his theatre was not to be a mere opera-house, but, as he told Sir Charles Halle, the centre of the intellectual and artistic world. "A noble ambition!" scornfully replied the pianist. In a word, nothing was done to conciliate; everything was done to create resentment and opposition. King Ludwig's unpopularity must not be forgotten. Not Bavarians only, but all the German-speaking peoples, knew Bavarian national finances to be in a deplorable, desperate condition, and it seemed to them scandalous that State funds should be used—as, rightly or wrongly, was thought—for Ludwig's own gross, unspeakable pleasures. While the Germans were thus alienated, Wagner immediately after 1871 had stirred up the wrath of the French by speaking of the German army as the "world-conquerors"; he had angered the English musicians by the many remarks concerning them uttered by or attributed to him after his exploits with the Philharmonic society. He had written against the Jews, and though their finest musicians were with him, the bulk were against him.

That the performances were in many respects admirable, indeed without any precedent, we are bound to believe. The artists, great and little, had toiled for months to attain perfection. Most of the orchestra, headed by Wilhelmj, had slaved without payment that there might be no deficiencies in their department. The stage machinery, crude though it seems to us nowadays when we read of it, was on all sides reckoned marvellous. Interminable rehearsals had been held, Wagner supervising them all. In the end, even the anti-Wagnerites who went to curse, admitted that unheard-of results had been achieved: they would not give in about the music, which remained, in their crass ears, "without form or melody"; and we may therefore the more readily accept their testimony as to Wagner's supremacy as a musical director. The late Mr. Joseph Bennett's reports—and he was till his last breath a violent anti-Wagnerite—are typical: they may be read in the files of the Daily Telegraph, and are well worth reading. But, alas! when those heartless people called accountants came to add up their mysterious sums and to put figures on the credit side and on the debit side, they proved incontestably that an appalling deficit was the most obvious result of the whole proceedings; and if Wagner had any doubts, the steady inflowing tide of bills to be met must have finally convinced him. To pay the deficit, dresses and scenery had to be sold; and for a time, at any rate, it was clear the theatre could not open again. Wagner, in his old age, had to commence once again giving concerts, in London amongst other places, to raise funds. Ludwig had done much, and dared go no further. A huge subscription was arranged, and a large amount of money had been collected, when help came from somewhere, whereupon the subscriptions were returned. The detractors and slanderers who had shouted that all the money asked for in the name of Bayreuth was really destined to pay for Wagner's and King Ludwig's own private amusements received, if a vulgar phrase is allowable, a violent blow in their noisy mouths. Wagner paid no further heed to them, but went on working out his plans. The old dream referred to in his letters to Uhlig had been realised; he had his ideal theatre, he had given ideal performances, and he reckoned he had given the Germans an art. And now let us see what that art was.




In the case of few artists is there an account of the creation of their works worth serious consideration. In the colloquial as well as the true sense of the word they are apt to be imaginative, and such a story as Edgar Allen Poe's of the composition of the Raven is not so much imaginative as imaginary. The creative artist is usually the last man in the world to give a veracious history of the genesis of his creations, for the simple reason that he does not know, and, during the later process of trying to find out, for his own private satisfaction, he is given to invent theories—or, let us say, hypotheses—which eventually he may come to believe pure fact. In music the act of creation is often done in a hypnotic state. Goethe mentions that his earlier songs were written in a state of clairvoyance. Many much more recent poets seem to have achieved their hugest popular successes whilst in a comatose state. Some, who also managed to secure a success with the public, apparently conceived and executed their mighty works in a state of hallucination—having somehow got the idea into their heads that they were poets. Handel, Mozart and Beethoven are three musicians who are known—if history may be at all believed—to have composed in a hypnotic state: Handel would sit for hours, unconscious of what went on around him; Mozart could not be trusted with a knife at dinner—when he had a dinner; Beethoven would pour cold water over his hands until the tenants beneath raised violent objections. No such tales are related of Bach, of Haydn, of Gluck, of Weber, nor of Wagner. If ever a man knew precisely what he had been doing, even if he was not self-conscious at the moment of doing it, that man was Wagner. He stands apart, therefore; apart from some of the greatest composers. His case, I take it, is analogous to that of a man who cannot remember a friend's address and thinks of it that night in a dream: how he chances to dream he cannot tell, but he knows what he has dreamt, and when.

It is worth insisting on this, partly because it is eminently characteristic of Wagner, partly because it enables us now to trace with some certainty the growth of the Nibelung's Ring, both drama and music, from its birth to its final execution. The history of the building-up of the drama, like the drama itself, is a mightily complicated and entangled matter. Some of it had to be related earlier in this book to account, so to say, for the way in which Wagner filled up his days; but it will be convenient to summarise it here. Let us begin with a few dates—

1848. Had studied the Nibelungen saga and sketched the plan of the whole gigantic work much as it now stands.

1850-51. Discusses Siegfried's Death in letters to Uhlig and Liszt. Begins the poem in another form, which he abandons.

1852. Writes the poem for the work practically in its final form; privately printed the following year.

1853. Begins Rhinegold.

1854. Completes Rhinegold. Begins the Valkyrie, and sketches Siegfried at the same time.

1856. Completes Valkyrie. Begins composition of Siegfried. Completes first and begins second act of Siegfried, and interrupts it to start work on Tristan.

1859. Tristan completed.

1867. Mastersingers completed. Composition of Siegfried resumed. Siegfried completed. Dusk of the Gods begun. Dusk of the Gods completed.

1876. The Ring given at Bayreuth.

Wagner was thus occupied with the _Ring_ for fully twenty-five years. The _Rhinegold_ followed _Lohengrin_, but there was a gap of five years between them, mainly devoted to literary work (1848-53); and during that period his whole style in music underwent a vast change. In one respect the change is not so marked as that between the _Rhine_gold_ and the _Valkyrie_; in the first there is little of the passion, strength, grip and breadth of the others. While composing the _Rhinegold_ his powers were developing at a prodigious rate, and had the _Rhinegold_ been a better subject for the purpose they might have reached maturity while writing it. But there is no human element in it, and without that Wagner could not get on. We have already seen that he abandoned the idea of the _Mastersingers_ for years—until, in fact, he had created a soul for Sachs: then he went ahead and gave us a series of magnificent pictures of old Nuremberg. In the same way, though he wrote some fine music in the _Rhinegold_, in richness, splendour of colouring, it does not compare with the _Valkyrie_, where he is chiefly concerned with two human beings and a being who must be called only a demi-goddess, half-goddess and half-human. He could not compose unless he had the double inspiration, the human soul and the pictorial environment. If I had to select three of Wagner's works to live with I should take the _Valkyrie_, _Tristan_ and the _Mastersingers_. In them we find inspiration and craftmanship in absolute proportion; in the later dramas of the _Ring_ we shall see how craftsmanship outran inspiration—sometimes with results that can only be called deplorable. This matter must be reserved for discussion until we deal with the operas separately.

The labyrinthine libretto owes its defects not to the many years it took to write—for when once Wagner set to work it was done in a single breath—but to the nature of the subject and the very German way in which a German composer inevitably felt impelled to treat that subject. In Chapter X, p. 193 and onward, the reader will recollect certain letters: I beg him, before going further, to turn back to these and mark with care Wagner's own story of the growth of this gigantic opera. The letter on p. 227 is most characteristic of a German. Siegfried's Death did not explain enough, so an explanation had to be offered; that explanation needed explaining, so a second explanation was made; this left matters in as unsatisfactory a state as ever, so, finally, the first opera of the four, the Rhinegold, was written—and with that Wagner mercifully stopped. He had set himself a task simply appalling in the demands it must needs make on his time and creative energy; moreover, he had set himself a task just as hard in the demands it made on his stage-craft. The four dramas could not but overlap, and they do overlap to such an extent that in the very near future "cuts" will be made freely to eliminate repetitions which have even now grown a weariness to the flesh. The poem—or, more properly, the four opera-books—must now be summarised, and I will endeavour to avoid imitation of Wagner by not going over the same ground twice, or more than twice.


The central figure of the Ring, considered as a whole, is Wotan. He is absolute lord of earth and heaven as long as his luck lasts. The luck lasts no longer than is determined, not by the hours, but by some mysterious something, some unfathomable mystery of a power, behind the hours. When the hour strikes, his stately home in the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll, shall be consumed in flames; Wotan and the minor gods shall perish; a new start shall be made in the world. Now, this idea of the old saga is clearly enough a way of stating, in the guise of a story, a simple historical fact, that with the coming of the White Christ the old deities were driven out. There is no drama inherent in it: for the drama Wagner went to the explanatory story of how the denouement came about, of the causes which brought it about, which, with the self-contradictoriness of most of those primitive attempts to account for the mystery of the world, were not causes at all, but only incidents by the way, since the catastrophe had been arranged for since the beginning of time. The main cause (in this sense) is Wotan's lust for power, and Wagner reads it thus: since to hold and exercise this power compels Wotan to do things which are a violence to his best nature, to thrust love from him, he voluntarily abdicates and calmly awaits the end. He first makes several struggles to keep the power while shifting its responsibilities, and these form the subject of three of the four dramas.

The power is symbolised by the gold of the Rhine; this gold, made into a Ring—the Nibelung's Ring—gives absolute power to its possessor. It is accursed; the curse being what I have just mentioned—that the power cannot be exercised without its possessor doing violence to his nature, thereby destroying that nature. Wotan thinks if an absolutely free agent, a hero owing nothing to any one, bound by no conditions, could gain this Ring, his power might be preserved: he might defy even Fate, since no conditions were attached to the possession of it. He makes the initial mistake when he determines to raise up such a hero: the hero's act is as much Wotan's as if Wotan had himself committed it.

After this description of the main dramatic motive of the Ring, those—if there are any now alive—who are unfamiliar with the work may have no desire to see it, whilst those who know it may imagine that I am purposely misrepresenting it. I beg both classes of readers to be patient. If this were the whole Ring it would indeed be a barren, bleak and desolate affair. This is nothing more than the frame which contains the dramas which make the Ring the great work it is—the dramas with their wealth of passion and colour, their hundred varied emotions and scenes of love and tragedy. Before proceeding to deal with them separately, let me again mention one point. There is the flat contradiction between the Wotan who knows that when the moment arrives his reign must automatically end, and the Wotan who hopes to go on reigning by getting possession of the Ring through the agency of a fearless hero who has struck no bargain with the powers who are stronger than the gods. That contradiction is inherent in the saga, and had Wagner been able to eliminate it—as he tried by diving through the saga and to the myth behind—the very essence and atmosphere of the drama would have been eliminated also. The idea of predetermined destiny colours that drama throughout; the whole thing might be the old Scandinavian way of stating a problem older than Scandinavia, that of free-will and predestination.


The curtain rises, and we are in the depths of the Rhine; water-nymphs sport about; Alberich, an evil being of the river, tries in vain to catch them. The water grows brighter with the rising of the sun, and the Rhinegold is seen to glow on the summit of a high rock. Defeated in his attempts to capture a nymph, Alberich scales the rock, seizes the gold and makes off with it. The silly creatures have told him that their innocent toy, shaped into a ring, would confer upon its possessor power to rule the whole world, on condition that he surrendered love; and love being something Alberich is incapable of understanding, though he is amorous enough, he willingly pays the price for the sake of the power—that is, the power costs him nothing. The light-giving gold being raped, darkness falls on the river.

The next scene is on a plateau; beyond it lies the valley of the Rhine; further off is a mountain; light mists hover over the summit; and, as they clear away in the early morning sunshine, a gorgeous castle, Valhalla, gradually becomes visible. Wotan and Fricka his wife lie in slumber. Fricka wakes first, and is startled, not to say horrified, by the apparition. The Giants, Fasolt and Fafner, have built the castle, and the promised payment is Freia, Fricka's sister, whose apples all gods and goddesses must eat every day, else they will fade and perish. Fricka tries to awaken Wotan: in his dreams he talks of endless, omnipotent power, and of his castle, to be peopled by heroes to fight for him against the brute forces of the earth. When he is aroused he gazes at the building in deepest joy: now his ambition will be gratified. In vain Fricka expostulates, repeating (in homely phrase), "What about Freia?" Wotan smiles a superior smile: he has arranged that matter, and all will be well.

This is the beginning of Wotan's tragedy, the huge drama of which the others constitute the working out. From this scene to the end we are to see Wotan gradually forced into a corner. He has to learn by slow degrees that you cannot have anything without paying the price. It is in vain he argues with Fricka. She stands for law—inexorable law. She seems a disagreeable woman, and it would be much more pleasant for everybody concerned if she could be induced to hold her tongue and let things take their course. So is what we call the law of gravitation a disagreeable thing; all the same, we know that if we fall off a house-roof we shall break our necks. In the Scandinavian cosmogony Wotan holds sway only by treaties, bargains struck with the powers that only sustain him so long as he sticks to his word, and are capable of thrusting him down if he breaks his word. Even omnipotence may be bought too dearly, and Wotan is not destined to taste the sweets of even a quarter of an hour's omnipotence. In vain he tries to evade responsibility, to get something for nothing; and his tragedy is consummated when in Siegfried he realises that omnipotence can never be his. Then he renounces it.

This is by way of being a digression; but, for a clear understanding of this main drama of the Ring, it is absolutely necessary that we should see the source of Wotan's troubles, and here it is: that Fricka will not allow him, figuratively, to jump off a house-top without breaking his neck. What she tells him swiftly proves true. Freia flies in, pursued by the Giants, who demand to be paid. "You rule by treaties alone," they say. Wotan looks anxiously round for Loge, the treacherous god of fire and lies. He has promised to find something that the Giants will accept instead of Freia; and when he enters he confesses to failure—there is nothing, in the estimation of an earth-born creature, that is equal to a woman. But he tells of the theft of the gold; the Giants listen greedily, and they agree to take it, if Wotan can get it, instead of Freia. Wotan has a double motive: he does not want all the gold, or, indeed, any of it, save the Ring shaped by the Nibelung; that he determines to grasp, else the Nibelung will become his master. He has trusted to lies and trickery, and has been swindled; but so overpowering is his thirst for universal rule that he again trusts himself to Loge. The Giants hold Freia as a hostage; presently all the gods begin to lapse into a comatose state—they have not eaten of her apples that day—and in desperation Loge and Wotan set out for the Nibelung's abode. The Nibelungs are the slaves and sons of toil; they labour incessantly for Alberich; him only does Wotan fear: he must get the Ring from them at all costs. The pair descend into the Nibelung's cave. The Ring is already forged, and the Tarnhelm—the cap of invisibility—is made which enables him to render himself invisible or to change himself into any animal he wishes. By a trick Wotan gets Alberich into his power, carries him to the upper earth, and only lets him go free after he has surrendered Tarnhelm, Ring and all the hoard of gold. Then the turn of the Giants comes. The pile of gold they demand must hide Freia from sight; and in the end she can still be seen, and Wotan must sacrifice the one thing precious to him, the Ring. That is accursed, and no sooner have Fafner and Fasolt got it than they quarrel; Fafner kills Fasolt, and goes off with all to change himself into a dragon and to hide himself in a cavern with his treasure. Wotan, in his extremity, has summoned Erda, the wisdom of the earth, and she has counselled him to give up the Ring, and it is with horror that he sees how wise she was. But his ambition is boundless; he cannot give up the idea of reigning supreme; and when things seem at their worst he has a sudden inspiration—that, already mentioned, of raising up a hero who will freely take the Ring from Fafner, and, by letting Wotan have it, free of treaties, enable him to reign supreme. The thought is told us only in the music, and in the music only in the light of the later operas of the series. Then the gods cross a rainbow bridge, somewhat hastily thrown up by Donner, the god of storms, and enter Valhalla; and underneath the dreary wail of the Rhinemaidens is heard as they lament their loss. With this the Rhinegold closes.


Now let us consider the music of the Rhinegold.

Already the discrepancy of styles has been referred to. The Rhinegold, coming between Lohengrin and Tristan, suffers from an odd sort of pettiness of phrase—a pettiness which in all probability we should not feel if we did not judge it by Tristan. The wide sweep of the tide of music that we find in the Valkyrie is absent; there is a tendency to shorten the measures, a hesitation between boldly going on, as in his later manner, and the symmetrical four-bar measures of Tannhaeuser and Lohengrin. The opening of the second scene is in structure that of a Handel opera air: we have the ritornello, and presently the same music is repeated as the accompaniment of Wotan's salute to his castle. This smallness of design, it must be remembered, is only comparative: compared with anything of the sort done before, the design is big and broad. The Wagner of the Valkyrie, of Tristan and of the Mastersingers, has not acquired full mastery of his new art; there are still plenty of full closes, and, though words are not repeated, the effect at times would hardly be more conventional if they were.

But in all the music we have the first-fruits of Wagner's walks amongst the Swiss mountains. When he sent the book of the Ring to Schopenhauer, that crotchety critic wrote in it that it seemed mainly concerned with clouds; and truly it very largely is. The Rhinegold ends with a storm, the flash of lightning and the roar of thunder; in each Act of the Valkyrie there is a storm; the Third Act of Siegfried opens with a storm; there is one storm in the Dusk of the Gods. Wind screaming through the pines, the plash of rain, the driving of thunder-clouds—these are the pictorial inspiration of the Ring as surely as old Nuremberg is the pictorial inspiration of the Mastersingers. These Scandinavian gods are the divinities of river and wood and mountain, and Wagner made full use of them. The Ring is far too lengthy, and the main drama is apt to get forgotten; the repetitions, due to Wagner's desire not to let it be forgotten, are wearisome. But one thing can never be forgotten—the sense of the open air, the freshness of nature, the loveliness and health of the green earth: that sense keeps the gigantic, overgrown thing sweet and an endless delight.

The opening is as sublime in its simplicity as the first bars of the Lohengrin prelude. As the curtain rises on the depths of the Rhine, "greenish twilight, lighter above, darker below," the lowest E flat booms softly out (it has to be done by an organ pedal-pipe), the deep voice of the river as it rolls massively on its course towards the sea; and the effect is overwhelming. A theme then makes its appearance in its first vague form, a theme which in one shape or another Wagner uses throughout the four operas for the elemental beings—here, the water nymphs, afterwards Erda. The mass of tone swells out; the music becomes more active; and at last the voices of the Rhinemaidens are heard. The whole of this is one of Wagner's most delightful things. It is another illustration of his rule that a composer should never leave a key as long as he can say what he wants while staying in it; for some hundreds of bars there is no change, and then only a slight one. With the entry of Alberich modulations begin. Here we have the wonderful inventive Wagner: that figure, in the inner part of the musical tissue, would alone stamp him as a great composer: the composer who could invent such a theme could not possibly be a small composer. The mock-coaxing of the nymphs might be a parody of the Venusberg scene in Tannhaeuser; and later on there occurs a passage that might be a parody on parts of Tristan. When Alberich steals the gold we get that degenerate form of the Valhalla theme repeated again and again, and the full effect of the device is only felt when, with the change of scene, we hear the passage in all its nobility and splendour. Wotan's greeting to his new castle is rather grandiose than really fine: one feels the theatrical baritone; one feels also that the quality of homeliness which makes Sachs a great character is sadly lacking. In the Valkyrie this unpretentiousness, so to speak, is always present, and the music gains proportionately in impressiveness. Wotan's opening phrase, grand and sweeping though it is, somehow evokes a vision of an Italian opera baritone expanding his chest, with arms extended in the direction of the more expensive seats: this is neither the mighty Wotan of the Valkyrie, nor even of the underground scene in this opera.

Nor is the vocal writing, in another respect, that of the greatest Wagner. I have already spoken of the perfect fusion of vocal and orchestral parts which we find in Tristan and the Mastersingers. To that perfection Wagner had not attained when he began the Ring; and much of this first speech of Wotan consists of notes written simply to fit in with the Valhalla theme. That theme shows traces of its descent from the Alberich motive—the greed for power—in that it does not bear real development, but only variation; it is, in fact, not a musical subject in the sense in which, say, the Tristan subjects are musical subjects, but is, properly speaking, a figure. But shaped to a stately rhythm and richly harmonised, and moreover gorgeously orchestrated, it glitters with sufficient magnificence. Fricka's remonstrances are at first querulous, but with the passage beginning "Um des Gatten Treue besorgt" we get one of Wagner's matchless bits of lovely melody. The entry of Freia, flying from the Giants, is theatrically effective, and here we find for the first time the phrase, already alluded to in the chapter on Tristan, which throughout the Ring is made to serve so many purposes. In this scene I still feel the halting between the Lohengrin style and later, the indecision—nay, the uncertainty—in the handling of the musical material. There are no regular four-bar measures and full closes as in the earlier work; but a great deal is nothing more than dry recitative disguised. The first scene of the Rhinegold is purely symphonic: even if Alberich's spasmodic, jerky exclamations seem to be written in to fit the nature of this being, his whole mode of speech—harsh, unmusical—renders the fact less glaring; and the tide of music flows steadily on, reaching climax upon climax, until the final crash when he disappears with the gold. Wagner did not find it possible to get this continuity when he came to set to music the arguments amongst Wotan, Fricka and Freia: there are short cantilenas, but they are constantly broken by recitative.

With the entry of the Giants the music makes, so to say, a fresh start. The old themes are welded to or interwoven with new material, and a perfect symphonic whole results, one that can be listened to with delight without stage accessories. I do not mean that music intended for the theatre should stand the test of playing away from the theatre, but that here Wagner, while writing strictly and immensely effective theatre music, has got such a grip of his art that he can combine the two things, dramatic truth, and symphonic beauty and cohesion. The flood sweeps on, undisturbed in its flow by the entry of the other deities, or by the introduction of themes full of significance in the light of their after development. But another fact must not go unnoticed. There is in the Rhinegold little of the spring freshness of the Valkyrie. The melody associated with Freia's apples is supremely beautiful; but it is a mere short phrase, several times repeated, and the mass of music in which it is embedded smells more of the study and the lamp than of the mountains and the woods. The Froh theme, too, is a trifle flat: it does not effervesce or sparkle: the "dewy splendour" of the Valkyrie music is not on it. This is not to be hypercritical: it is to compare, as one must, a great achievement with an achievement in all respects very much, immeasurably, greater. Had we only the Rhinegold, with all its plentiful lack of inspiration and its theatricality, it would rank very high; but Wagner himself in the Valkyrie set the standard by which inevitably it must be judged.

When Wotan and Loge descend to the Nibelung's cave to steal the treasure Wagner frankly lets himself loose. Here we have the hobgoblins of the Teutonic imagination and the rude, boisterous, humorous Wotan of the Scandinavian imagination—the Odin who tried to drink the sea dry and laughed to find he could not. As the once-celebrated Sir Augustus Harris declared, "This is pantomime." Perhaps the scene is unduly protracted, but the music goes on merrily enough. The renewed altercation with the Giants calls for little remark. When, however, the Giants demand the Ring and Wotan calls up Erda, the wisdom of the earth, a passage occurs which, though more or less of an irrelevant interpolation, gives Wagner a chance of putting forth his strength. Erda rises to most mysterious music, counsels Wotan to surrender the Ring, and sinks down again to her sleep; and one forgets the irrelevancy in the thrill of this vision of the Mother Earth, the spirit that sleeps amongst the everlasting hills. Finally the composer gets his great chance, and shows that, like Handel and his own Donner, he "could strike like a thunderbolt." The gods are all disheartened; mists have gathered; Donner—our old friend Thor—raises his hammer and smashes something; there is a flash of lightning and a peal of thunder; the mists and clouds clear away; and we see there the rainbow bridge over which the gods wend on their way to Valhalla. We have Wagner the sublime pictorial musician. The Rainbow motive is perhaps not very graphic in itself, but it serves as a basis for a delicious passage—evening calm and sunset after storm—comparable only with a parallel passage in Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. The storm itself is Wagner in the plenitude of his power. It is short: it is not "worked up": in a few strokes, brief and telling as Donner's own hammer-strokes, the whole thing is done. Then the Valhalla music, glorified by a gorgeous accompaniment, is heard again, only interrupted by the wail of the Rhinemaidens below, sorrowing for the loss of their pretty, harmless toy. Wotan hears the cry, and passes on to feast in his castle. Grim care goes with him; but he has the consoling idea of the free hero and the irresistible sword. So ends the Rhinegold—Fricka content to have both Wotan and Freia; the other gods not much concerned about anything; Wotan full of apprehensions and also of determination—determination to rule without paying the price of rulership.


I have attempted nothing more than a broad and rough description of the Rhinegold. The opera was planned as a prelude, and suffers from the defects of the plan, as well as from the fact that it was written before Wagner's new method was ripe. He wrote to Liszt that the music came up "like wild," or, as an irreverent critic once observed, like mould on a pot of jam; and the second description is truer than the speaker thought. The Rhinegold has aged faster than any other of the great works. Alongside of the sublime we find the petty; after phrases as sweet and fresh as raindrops on young spring leaves we find stodgy, "made," music; the atmosphere is not preserved. But gigantic possibilities are opened out. The Rhine music is afterwards used to splendid ends; the Spear motive, which makes its first appearance in rather a trivial form—it might be a quotation from Weber or Spohr—becomes later one of the crowning glories of the Ring; the Fire music—the Loge theme—comes out at once in its full magnificence. It is fair criticism to say that had Wagner written the opera again after finishing the Valkyrie he might have wrought up his material into a perfect work of art. A mere mortal, even the greatest mortal, could hardly be expected to attempt the task, and the Rhinegold is a little less than perfect. Moreover, it is superfluous. We can follow the Valkyrie, Siegfried and the Dusk of the Gods quite well without it. Still, it is a part of Wagner's scheme, and for many a long year will be enjoyed for its power and beauty, a power and beauty that seem small only in comparison with the greater operas.




The Rhinegold suffers from a plethora of undeveloped themes, some of which are treated at length as the Ring proceeds. Of all announced only two remain unchanged, the Valhalla and the Fire themes. The first, I have just remarked, is not susceptible of development, and is only slightly varied throughout the Ring; the second does not demand development, but is varied much as Beethoven varied his melodies in his last pianoforte sonatas. The most important of those that are metamorphosed is the Spear motive. The Spear is the symbol at once of Wotan's sovereignty and of his bondage. On its shaft, the world ash-tree stem, are graven the mystic laws by virtue of which he rules; did he break these laws his power would be gone from him. The essence of the laws lies in the sanctity of compacts, and so we first hear its representative theme when the Giants come to claim Freia as payment for the building of the Burg: it makes its appearance quietly, unobtrusively, almost apologetically, and might be, as I have said, a fragment from Spohr or Weber. Its treatment in a simple snatch of two-part canon, one part following the other at half-a-bar's distance, seems like a mild gibe at those who only live for and by conventions. When it reappears in the Second Act of the Valkyrie it is altogether a different thing: here we have Wotan the ruler determined at all costs to rule and using to the full the power the Spear confers on him. Like many of the greatest musical subjects, it is simple beyond the daring of the minor composers, merely an unbroken scale descending in heavy, emphatic steps to the lower octaves: it is authority personified, will that brooks no opposition. This motive, the Valhalla motive and the fire motive are the principal ones carried into the Valkyrie from the Rhinegold; and an immense amount of new musical matter is introduced. We see no more of the inferior deities: we hear the stroke of Donner's hammer in a storm Lied, and Loge appears as consuming flame in the last act; but, excepting Wotan, only Fricka is seen again in human shape. The stage is now occupied by human beings, raised up, it is true, by Wotan himself, and by some other mysterious beings, also raised up by Wotan, one of whom, the Valkyrie, Bruennhilda, is condemned in the final scene to become human.

Two dramas, the huge encircling tragedy of Wotan in conflict with his wife Fricka, the goddess of laws and covenants, especially the covenant of marriage, and the subsidiary tragedy of Siegmund and Sieglinda, are combined in perfect proportions in the Valkyrie. The story at first sounds a little complicated; but the reader, bearing in mind what has already been said of Wotan's Master-idea, can have no difficulty whatever in following it. The Master-idea, we know, is to raise up a hero who, acting freely, independent of and ever defying the gods, will wrest the Ring from Fafner. Wotan, then, has descended from his Valhalla, and, taking an earthly wife, begotten two children, Siegmund and Sieglinda, who know themselves to be of the tribe of the Volsungs. These he deserts. Sieglinda is taken captive and made the loveless wife of Hunding; Siegmund, alone in the world, wanders hither and thither, meeting ill-luck everywhere—ill-luck prepared by his father. At last, in attempting to rescue a maiden from some raiders, he is forced to fly. As he runs through the depths of an unknown forest a storm breaks upon him, and he takes shelter, utterly exhausted, in the house of Hunding. At this point the curtain rises.

The scene is the inside of Hunding's dwelling, built round a great ash-tree; on the right the fire burns on the hearth. The steady roar of the storm outside is heard, broken by shocks as the wind buffets the trees and the house and by the plashing of the rain. The room is empty; presently the door is roughly dashed open from outside and Siegmund staggers in. "Whatever this house may be, I must rest here," he says, and throws himself on the hearth. (We must bear in mind that the hearth was sacred: if my enemy took refuge on mine I might starve him out, but so long as he stayed there I might not hurt him.) Sieglinda enters; the two do not recognise one another; he calls for water; she brings him mead. Presently they fall to talking; and it is seen that the inevitable must happen. Hunding enters abruptly; they sit down to supper; Siegmund discloses his identity, so far as he knows it—all but his name; Hunding recognises the very man he has been chasing, and gives him shelter for the night, but warns him that in the morning he, without a weapon, must fight. He calls for his night-draught, sends Sieglinda into the sleeping-room, and follows her. She glances repeatedly from Siegmund to a spot on the ash-trunk; but he does not take her meaning.

There follows a strange and beautiful scene. Siegmund lies down to rest; the fire glimmers fitfully, then blazes up, revealing at the point on the trunk at which Sieglinda had gazed a shining sword-hilt, the blade embedded in the trunk. Still Siegmund does not understand, and the fire dies down; he is beginning to slumber when Sieglinda enters and calls him. He starts up; she has put a sleeping-powder in Hunding's cup, and they are safe; and thus begins the greatest love-duet, next to the Tristan, in the world. Sieglinda tells how when she, full of grief, was wedded to Hunding, a grey old man, with one eye, clad in a blue cloak, came in uninvited, drove the sword Nothung into the ash-tree, and said that it should belong to the hero strong enough to draw it out. From all parts warriors came, but none could move it. Sieglinda feels that the appointed man has come; Siegmund grasps the weapon and triumphantly pulls it out. Then they reveal their names, and recognise one another as brother and sister, and the Act ends.

This is the first step towards Wotan's discomfiture. The significance of the Sword theme in the Rhinegold at the moment when he has the Master-idea will now be apparent. The sword was so endowed by Wotan that only a fearless hero could use it; therefore, when Siegmund draws it from the wood, Wotan, watching from Valhalla, knows he has succeeded in raising up the hero he needed. Siegmund had been tested by all manner of misfortune; no harder life could have been his; Wotan had never aided him, but thrown disasters in his path; and had he failed or succumbed Wotan's device would have failed. But freely, independently, with no help from the god, he had come through all, and now his own strength enabled him to take the sword to—to what?—to work Wotan's will! That is, in creating Siegmund, even in testing him, in preparing for him a weapon that none could stand against, Wotan, far from successfully accomplishing his purpose, was accomplishing his ruin. Disillusionment comes swiftly. The first deed of his hero is to break two of the most sacred laws of heaven—laws binding on Wotan until he gets the Ring—for he carries off another man's wife, who is, moreover, his own sister. The punishment for that is matter for the next Act. At the end of the first we have seen that Wotan's Master-idea is a delusion. He might as well go and kill Fafner himself and take the Ring as breed a hero to do it for him with the aid of a magic sword. If he did so it would be by virtue of the power conferred on him by the runes on the Spear; and by those runes—those laws—Siegmund must be, and is, promptly judged and punished.


Before the rising of the curtain we have the first and one of the greatest of the ear-pictures of the Valkyrie. There is no preamble; at once the strings begin in repeated quavers to sustain (virtually) a long D, while the basses start off with a figure many times repeated—a figure which is simply a bold variant of the bass figure in Schubert's Erl-king. So, for that matter, is the long D. Schubert drew a fine picture of storm in black wood; but he was limited by the form he wrote in and the instruments he wrote for. The energy, superhuman energy, of the thing is amazing: the storm throbs in the forest: one feels the pulse of the storm-god; the sforzando shocks and shrieks add to the terrific wildness of the scene. Pitilessly, ever higher and higher, the wind shrieks, always to that beating bass, until, amid the clatter and screaming, we hear Donner, exulting in his mad strength and swinging his mighty hammer as he rides. The lightning crackles vividly in the orchestra, the thunder rolls, crashes and growls, and the thunder-god can almost be heard betaking himself off to continue his riot afar. Then a labouring, panting and struggling phrase—scarcely a theme—is heard as the storm slightly lulls; the curtain rises and we see Hunding's dwelling, and Siegmund bursts in.

The music of the earlier portion of the first scene is not of the same intrinsic quality, nor need it be. We have the setting before our eyes, and the stupendous power of what has just been heard leaves in our minds a vivid impression of what is going on out of doors. Sieglinda comes in, surprised to find a stranger there at all, especially on so wild a night; Siegmund asks for water; she brings it; finding he is likely to fetch trouble on her head, he is for going. But there is sympathy between them, and various Volsung motives and phrases of the rarest beauty and expressiveness tell us why; and she tells him to wait. "Hunding I will await here," says Siegmund. It is in this scene that a passage occurs like one which I have referred to in the chapter on the Dutchman—the phrase is marked (f) on p. 118. The Dutchman phrase is longer and at the same time less poignant; here it is brief and extraordinarily expressive; there it is not developed, nor, after some repetitions, heard again; here it is made the most of musically and appears so late as in the Dusk of the Gods. But the situations are analogous. Senta gazes, rapt, on Vanderdecken; Sieglinda and Siegmund look on one another and passion begins to dawn. This is worth noting as showing that Wagner used the leitmotiv spontaneously, so to speak, and not always as the result of deliberate calculation. Like all the other composers, he had his mannerisms: having invented a melody to find utterance for a feeling or set of feelings, when similar feelings had to be expressed again it was natural to him to use again the first melody, or something very like it. No composer, not even Beethoven, was more resolutely bent on writing truthful music; and having once found the music to express certain shades of feeling, he was like a writer who, having said something as well as he can say it, prefers repeating himself to trying to achieve a superficial appearance of variety. Wagner, I think, repeated himself quite unconsciously very often: when the repetition is conscious of course we have at once the genuine leitmotiv; but it is the maddest of errors to see in every resemblance between phrases the deliberate employment of the leitmotiv.

The pair have drunk mead together and stand looking at one another; the storm has died away; and from the orchestra come passages of wondrous delicacy, tenderness and freshness, scored by a perfect master. Suddenly the clanking of a horse's hoofs is heard; "Hunding!" exclaims Sieglinda; the door is again thrown open and the black, ferocious barbarian stalks in. His theme is, figuratively, as black, gloomy, sinister and forbidding as himself; and the heavy, sullen tones of the battery of tubas which announces it intensify its effectiveness a hundredfold. Hunding is no villain of the piece, but a simple, surly chief of a tribe of savage fighters, and Wagner's music exactly describes him. Save for Siegmund's recital of his woes, the remainder of the scene remains sullen and gloomy; Siegmund, however, has some touching passages, and notably a phrase of unearthly strangeness when he tells how he came back to his hut and found his father gone, only a wolf-skin lying there; and a bit of the Valhalla motive in the orchestra thrills one with its suggestiveness. One is carried into the dimmest recess of a forest where man has never been, far back in a period so old that it is ridiculous to call it ancient. Throughout the music is in Wagner's grandest manner; the vocal writing is perfect; and though there are plenty of theatrical strokes, they are done in a nobler way than the mere opera way of Tannhaeuser and Lohengrin. In a word, the music is big: the breadth and sweep are enormous: the greatest Wagner has arrived, the Wagner who has gone far beyond the hesitations and littlenesses even of the Rhinegold. Hunding is characterised more clearly and with more decisive strokes than Hagen in the last opera of the Ring, partly because there is more genuine inspiration in the Valkyrie, partly, perhaps, because Hunding is a much simpler personage.

That strange scene where Siegmund lies on the hearth again, and, realising his desperate situation, calls on his father the Volsung for aid, is musically and dramatically splendid in its colour and force. As he thinks of Sieglinda a feeling of spring again comes into the music; thus is strengthened the beautiful music she is given; then comes the avowal of love, and the flying open of the door. Outside, the trees are seen in the moonlight, the dripping green leaves glistening; and Siegmund sings a spring-song never to be beaten for freshness (though, as I have pointed out, not equal in musical significance to Walther's song in the Mastersingers); there comes the magnificent scene of the plucking out of the Sword; the recognition of the two as brother and sister; and the final impassioned outburst which ends the scene as with a blaze of fire.

This Act will ever be accounted one of Wagner's most magnificent and fully inspired. The superb vocal writing, the beauty and sheer strength of the orchestral parts, the gorgeous colouring, and the human passion blent with the sense of the green yet fiery spring, all go to make up a thing unique in opera. A tide of life rushes through it all; and the man's technical accomplishment was so fine and complete that he found immediate incisive expression for every shade of emotion, or complex blend of emotions, and every sensation. The jealous, savage ferocity of Hunding is there; Siegmund's and Sieglinda's despair, hope and final burst of ecstatic joy; and at the same time we seem to smell the fresh, wet earth and leaves and to see the sparkling moonlight.


The Second Act opens in a wild and rocky place amongst the mountains. Siegmund and Sieglinda have fled; Hunding is in hot pursuit; and now Wotan stands, the mighty war-god, brandishing his spear, and calling his daughter Bruennhilda, the Valkyrie, to favour and aid Siegmund. She joyfully assents and goes off, and Wotan exults. He persists in deceiving himself: Bruennhilda, his own daughter, was created to execute his purposes: the Runes make him accountable for her actions, just as he is now for Siegmund's and in the later operas for Siegfried's. As in the Rhinegold, Fricka instantly bids him remember what and how he is. As the goddess of covenants, laws, she wants vengeance wreaked on Siegmund and Sieglinda: they have broken the most sacred of all covenants in the eyes of a woman, the marriage covenant. Vainly Wotan pleads that the Valkyrie works unaided: she presses him, until at last he swears a sacred oath on his spear that Siegmund shall die. Bruennhilda comes in, whooping her war-call, but her voice drops at the sight of Fricka. Fricka, who thoroughly despises all the Valkyrie maidens as being born out of true wedlock, tells her to take her orders from Wotan, and goes off triumphant. Wotan, deeply despondent, terrifies Bruennhilda with his grief; she casts down her spear and shield and kneels before him, imploring him to tell the cause.

Then follows a scene that is, and always will be, a stumbling-block: Wotan seeks to explain his position in quasi-Schopenhauerian terminology and at immense length. We know all about it: it has been explained amply in the Rhinegold and in the scene we have just witnessed, and now he must needs go over the ground again—with dreary and soporific effect. Bruennhilda, as love incarnate, pleads for the man and woman whose only crime in her eyes is that they love (for laws are things pure love cannot understand). Wotan cannot but be obdurate; he pronounces sentence on Siegmund and goes off in a storming rage. Sadly Bruennhilda, comprehending nothing of the compulsion Wotan is subject to—for how should love know aught of greed for power?—picks up her weapons ("How heavy they have grown!" she says) and prepares to warn Siegmund he must die. (No warrior could look upon a Valkyrie save in the hour of his death; therefore no living being had ever seen one.) As sounds of the approaching steps of panting people are heard she retires amongst the rocks; Siegmund and Sieglinda stagger in, the woman fainting. She has sinned and is overwhelmed with terror; he cannot comfort her; she faints, then sleeps—the Valkyrie having thrown a spell on her. Siegmund bends over her; slowly Bruennhilda advances and calls, "Siegmund! I come to call thee hence"; he raises his head, sees her, and knows his fate. This is the final crushing blow; the Volsung had always deserted him; but he had found the magic sword and thought the promised help would not fail him in his worst need. (Truly the gods treat us as toys to be broken at pleasure!) He refuses to go, and speaks blasphemy of the high gods; Bruennhilda is horrified: here she is going to take him to Valhalla to feast on delights for ever—and he scorns her. He ridicules Valhalla and Wotan and the serving-maidens: he wonders who the Valkyrie is, so beautiful and cold and stern. The scene is one of the fullest dramatic intensity: at last Siegmund asks whether, if he goes to Valhalla, he will find his wife there. "Siegmund will see Sieglinda no more," is the answer: Siegmund for the moment is crushed, but again rebels, and takes his sword to kill first Sieglinda and then himself. Bruennhilda is overcome with admiration: this, at any rate, this love she can understand; she tells him to prepare to fight Hunding and she will help him.

The next scene is unmatched, even in Wagner, for its terror and the swiftness with which the climax comes on. Clouds gather; Hunding's horn is heard and his voice; Siegmund leaves Sieglinda and goes off cheerfully and confidently to meet his foe. Thicker gather the clouds; thunder peals and lightnings flash; the antagonists are heard calling as they seek each other in the darkness; Sieglinda speaks in her dreams; as she awakes, Hunding and Siegmund are seen in the dim light high up amongst the rocks; Bruennhilda encourages Siegmund, guarding him with her spear; he is about to strike Hunding down; there is an angry red glare, and Wotan shatters the sword with his spear; Hunding runs his spear through Siegmund; Sieglinda shrieks and falls insensible to the ground. Slowly the red light fades; "Go, tell Fricka I have sent you," Wotan says bitterly, and at his nod Hunding falls dead; Bruennhilda has run round, picked up the shards of the Sword, and, gathering Sieglinda in her arms, rushed away. There is a moment of suspense; the tragedy is accomplished; and now Wotan must punish Bruennhilda for disobeying his commands; and amidst thunders and lightnings, in flaming wrath, he rides off, and the curtain falls.

The drama of Siegmund and Sieglinda is ended; the second inner drama, that of Wotan and Bruennhilda, is begun. Love, the best part of Wotan's nature, has risen against him in his endeavour to rule; she cannot prevent him destroying the creatures he has made, but she can defy him. That sort of rule would be intolerable, so love shall be put away from him and he will still rule. And, love being discarded, there is no reason why he should not still get the Ring, by fair or foul means, and reign—loveless indeed, but in no fear of Fafner or the Nibelung, black Alberich.


As a musical structure the Second Act divides more easily and clearly than the first into sections: the sections, indeed, are boldly defined. First there is a prelude formed of the scene in which Wotan, rejoicing in the coming combat, directs Bruennhilda to see to it that Hunding is slain; and this is followed by what may be regarded as the main first movement—the dispute between Wotan and Fricka, terminating in his taking the oath; then comes his monologue, addressed, of course, to Bruennhilda ("In talking to thee it is with myself I seem to speak," to transcribe approximately what he says); Bruennhilda's warning to Siegmund follows, and then the finale, the catastrophic climax with Siegmund's death.

The prelude opens with the same fiery impetuosity as that to the First Act. It is largely made up of what in the guide-books used to be called the "Flight motive"—as though a serious composer would or could invent a motive of Running away!—and as the opening bar may be taken as a variation of the Sword theme, and the thing ends with what we learn to be a tune associated with the Valkyries, a really fertile and picturesque mind may see in it a musical account of Siegmund flying with the Sword and pursued, for good or evil, by the Valkyrie. What we really feel in it is the harshness of the opening discords, the agitation, the power, all forming a fitting prelude to what we see when the curtain rises, the barren rocks, and Wotan, exultant, calling Bruennhilda. His phrases have, indeed, a glorious vigour, as have Bruennhilda's in her answer. Her war-whoop plays an important part in the Third Act. Fricka's music is royally imperious at first: such declamation had never been thought of in the world before; but there is rare beauty of an austere kind—the beauty of holiness—afterwards, as she momentarily drops her dignity and pleads her cause. She gains the day and departs, and after Wotan's tedious meditation comes the most magnificent music of all. We hear the Fate theme—a strange phrase that seems to question destiny without ever getting an answer—and a subject taken bodily from Mendelssohn and made into a new thing filled with a curious blending of wistful and tender pity, mystery and power. It gives us a glimpse into the very heart of Bruennhilda, obeying her father because she must, and revolting against the task. Siegmund's declamation is a fine example of Wagner's finest vocal writing at this period—the style which I have referred to as something between recitative and true song. That is, it remains metrical without the slightest tendency to fall into regular four-bar measure, or any other regular measure; yet it decidedly is not recitative. But as the prevailing mood becomes more exalted, so does the music become more lyrical, and the ending of the dialogue, when Bruennhilda's emotion swamps every other consideration than rescuing the lovers, is sheer song. The orchestral part is symphonic throughout, with a few dramatic pauses. One of the most wonderful of these is at Bruennhilda's reply: "Siegmund will see Sieglinda no more." There is no wailing, no sadness, in the accompaniment—only simple chords; and the simple voice-phrase, evidently intended to be half-spoken, makes an effect of overwhelming pathos. Of a different order is Siegmund's refusal to go to Valhalla: it verges on the melodramatic, and the emotion expressed justifies the means. It may be remarked that though the instrumental writing is symphonic, there is none of the contrapuntal intricacy of Tristan: the pictorial requirement warranted a freer use of chords in the accompanying parts, both—if a paradoxical phrase may be pardoned—for the abstract colour of the chords and for the instrumental tone colour which the use of chords permitted. Wagner never ceases to make us feel that the drama passes amidst the wild mountains and woods: the drama is poignant enough in all conscience, and the scenery is an aid to it. We have the purely pictorial Wagner with the gathering storm—the voices calling amongst the clouds. The sinister growling of the approaching thunder is heard, and, still more sinister, the harsh notes of Hunding's horn; the orchestra rages louder and louder, Sieglinda mutters in her dream, the Valkyrie's call is heard encouraging Siegmund, the crash as the Sword is splintered, and then an awful silence. The action has been long delayed, but the catastrophe arrives with appalling swiftness at the end, and the music is equal to the opportunity. It is not wholly theatre music: that passage in the bass, galloping up and down the scale against a tremolando accompaniment, is in itself fine music; even Hunding's rough cow-horn makes a musical effect. When Wotan's fury breaks forth and he rides off in godlike wrath—even here the music is glorious, taken simply as music. Had all the Ring been done with the superb mastery of this and the preceding Act, we should have an art creation to be set above every other art achievement in the world—above anything done by AEschylus, Sophocles and Shakespeare.

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