Stories of the Wagner Opera
by H. A. Guerber
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Brangeane vainly tries to make her believe that Tristan has shown his appreciation by wooing her for the king rather than for himself, and when Ysolde murmurs against a loveless marriage, she shows her the magic potion intrusted to her care, which will insure her becoming a loving and beloved wife.

The sight of the medicine chest in which it is secreted unfortunately reminds Ysolde that she too knows the secret of brewing draughts of all kinds, so she prepares a deadly potion, trying all the while to make Brangeane believe that it is a perfectly harmless drug, which will merely make her forget the unhappy past.

While she is thus occupied, Kurvenal suddenly appears to announce that they are about to land, and to bid her prepare to meet the king, who has seen their coming and is wending his way down to the shore to bid her welcome. Ysolde haughtily replies that she will not stir a step until Tristan proffers an apology for his rude behaviour and obeys her summons. After conferring together for a few moments, Tristan and Kurvenal agree that it will be wiser to appease the irate beauty by yielding to her wishes, than to have an esclandre, and Tristan prepares to appear before her. Ysolde, in the mean while, has passionately flung herself into Brangeane's arms, fondly bidding her farewell, and telling her to have the magic draught she has prepared all ready to give to Tristan, with whom she means to drink atonement.

While Brangeane, who mistrusts her young mistress, is still pleading with her to forget the past, Tristan respectfully approaches the princess, and when she haughtily reproves him for slighting her commands, he informs her, with much dignity, that he deemed it his duty to keep his distance:—

'Good breeding taught, Where I was upbrought, That he who brings The bride to her lord Should stay afar from his trust.'

Ysolde retorts, that, as he is such a rigid observer of etiquette, it would best behoove him to remember that as yet he has not even proffered the usual atonement for shedding the blood of her kin, and that his life is therefore at her disposal. Tristan, seeing she is bent upon revenge, haughtily hands her his sword, telling her that, since Morold was so dear to her, she had better avenge him. Under pretext that King Mark might resent such treatment of his nephew and ambassador, Ysolde refuses to take advantage of his defencelessness, and declares she will consider herself satisfied if he will only pledge her in the usual cup of atonement, which she motions to Brangeane to bring.

The bewildered handmaiden hastily pours a drug into the cup. This she tremblingly brings to her mistress, who, hearing the vessel grate on the pebbly shore, tells Tristan his loathsome task will soon be over, and that he will soon be able to relinquish her to the care of his uncle.

Tristan, suspecting that the contents of the cup are poisonous, nevertheless calmly takes it from her hand and puts it to his lips. But ere he has drunk half the potion, Ysolde snatches it from his grasp and greedily drains the rest. Instead of the ice-cold chill of death which they both expected, Tristan and Ysolde suddenly feel the electric tingle of love rushing madly through all their veins, and, forgetting all else, fall into each other's arms, exchanging passionate vows of undying love.

Brangeane, the only witness of this scene, views with terror the effect of her subterfuge, for, fearing lest her mistress should injure Tristan or herself, she had hastily substituted the love potion intrusted to her care for the poison Ysolde had prepared. While the lovers, clasped in each other's arms, unite in a duet of passionate love, the vessel is made fast to the shore, where the royal bridegroom is waiting, and it is only when Brangeane throws the royal mantle over Ysolde's shoulders, and when Kurvenal bids them step ashore, that the lovers suddenly realise that their brief dream of love is over.

The sudden revulsion from great joy to overwhelming despair proves too much for Ysolde's delicate frame, and she sinks fainting to the deck, just as King Mark appears and the curtain falls upon the first act.

Several days are supposed to have elapsed, when the second act begins. Ysolde after her fainting fit has been conveyed to the king's palace, where she is to dwell alone until her marriage takes place, and where she forgets everything except the passion which she feels for Tristan, who now shares all her feelings. In a hurried private interview the lovers have arranged a code of signals, and it is agreed that as soon as the light in Ysolde's window is extinguished her lover will join her as speedily as possible.

It is a beautiful summer night, and the last echoes of the hunting horn are dying away on the evening breeze, when Ysolde turns to Brangeane, and impatiently bids her put out the light. The terrified nurse refuses to do so, and implores Ysolde not to summon her lover, declaring that she is sure that Melot, one of the king's courtiers, noted her pallor and Tristan's strange embarrassment. In vain she adds that she knows his suspicions have been aroused, and that he is keeping close watch over them both to denounce them should they do anything amiss. Ysolde refuses to believe her.

The princess is so happy that she makes fun of her attendant's forebodings, and, after praising the tender passion she feels, she again bids her put out the light. As Brangeane will not obey this command, Ysolde, too much in love to wait any longer, finally extinguishes the light with her own hand, and bids her nurse go up in the watch-tower and keep a sharp lookout.

Ysolde then hastens to the open door, and gazes anxiously out into the twilighted forest, frantically waving her veil to hasten the coming of her lover, and runs to meet and embrace him when at last he appears.

Blissful in each other's company, Tristan and Ysolde now forget all else, while they exchange passionate vows and declarations of love, bewailing the length of the days which keep them apart, and the shortness of the nights during which they can see each other. In a passionate duet of mutual love and admiration, they also rejoice that, instead of dying together, as Ysolde had planned, they are still able to live and love.

Brangeane, posted in the watch-tower above, repeatedly warns them that they had better part, but her wise advice proves useless, and it is only when she utters a loud cry of alarm that Tristan and Ysolde start apart. Simultaneously almost with Brangeane's cry, Kurvenal rushes upon the scene with drawn sword, imploring his master to fly; but ere this advice can be followed King Mark and the traitor Melot appear, closely followed by all the royal hunting party. Ysolde, overcome with shame at being thus detected with her lover, sinks fainting to the ground, while Tristan, wishing to shield her as much as possible from the scornful glances of these men, stands in front of her with his mantle outspread. He, too, is overwhelmed with shame, and silently bows his head when his uncle bitterly reproves him for betraying him, and robbing him of the bride he had already learned to love. Even the sentence of banishment pronounced upon him seems none too severe, and Tristan, almost broken-hearted at the sight of his uncle's grief, sadly turns to ask Ysolde whether she will share his lot. Shame and discovery have in no wise diminished her affection for him, and when she promises to follow him even to the end of the earth he cannot restrain his joy, and notwithstanding the king's presence he passionately clasps her in his arms:

'Wherever Tristan's home may be, That will Ysolde share with thee: That she may follow And to thee hold, The way now shown to Ysold'!'

Melot, enraged at this sight, rushes upon Tristan with drawn sword, and wounds him so sorely that he falls back unconscious in Kurvenal's arms, while Ysolde, clinging to him, faints away as the curtain falls on the second act.

The third act is played in Tristan's ancestral home in Brittany, whither he has been conveyed by Kurvenal, who vainly tries to nurse his wounded master back to health and strength. The sick man is lying under a great linden tree, in death-like lethargy, while Kurvenal anxiously watches for the vessel which he trusts will bring Ysolde from Cornwall. She alone can cure his master's grievous wound, and her presence only can woo him back from the grave into which he seems rapidly sinking.

From time to time Kurvenal interrupts his sad watch beside the pallid sleeper to call to a shepherd piping on the hillside, and to inquire of him whether he descries any signs of the coming sail. Slowly and feebly Tristan at last opens his eyes, gazes dreamily at his attendant and surroundings, and wonderingly inquires how he came thither. Kurvenal gently tells him that he bore him away from Cornwall while wounded and unconscious, and brought him home to recover his health amid the peaceful scenes of his happy youth; but Tristan sadly declares that life has lost all its charms since he has parted from Ysolde. In a sudden return of delirium the wounded hero then fancies he is again in the forest, watching for the light to go out, until Kurvenal tells him that Ysolde will soon be here, as he has sent a ship to Cornwall to bring her safely over the seas.

These tidings fill Tristan's heart with such rapture that he embraces Kurvenal, thanking him brokenly for his lifelong devotion, and bidding him climb up into the watch-tower that he may catch the first glimpse of the coming sail. While Kurvenal is hesitating whether he shall obey this order and leave his helpless patient alone, the shepherd joyfully announces the appearance of the ship. Kurvenal, ascending the tower, reports to his master how it rounds the point, steers past the dangerous rocks, touches the shore, and permits Ysolde to land.

Tristan has feverishly listened to all these reports, and bids Kurvenal hasten down to bring Ysolde to him; then, left alone, he bursts forth into rapturous praise of the happy day which brings his beloved to him once more, and of the deep love which has called him back from the gates of the tomb. His impatience to see Ysolde soon gets the better of his weakness, however, and he struggles to rise from his couch, although the exertion causes his wounds to bleed afresh. Painfully he staggers half across the stage to meet Ysolde, who appears only in time to hear his last passionate utterance of her beloved name, and to catch his dying form in her arms. She does not realise that he has breathed his last, however, and gently tries to woo him back to life, and make him open his eyes. But when all her efforts have failed, and she finds his heart no longer beats beneath her hand, she reproaches him tenderly for leaving her thus alone, and sinks unconscious upon his breast. Kurvenal, standing beside the lovers, speechless with grief, is roused to sudden action by the shepherd's hurried announcement that a second ship has arrived, and that King Mark, Melot, and all his train, are about to appear. Frenzied with grief, and thinking that they have come once more to injure his master, Kurvenal seizes his sword, and, springing to the gate, fights desperately until he has slain Melot, and falls mortally wounded at Tristan's feet.

While the fight is taking place, King Mark and Brangeane, standing without the castle wall, vainly call to him to stay his hand, as they have come with friendly intentions only, and now that he can resist them no longer they all come rushing in. They are horror-struck at the sight of Tristan and Ysolde, both apparently dead; but Brangeane, having discovered that her mistress has only swooned, soon restores her to consciousness. King Mark hastens to assure Ysolde that she and Tristan are both forgiven; for Brangeane having penitently revealed to him the secret of the love potion which she administered, he realises that they could not but yield to its might. Ysolde, however, pays no heed to his words, but, gazing fixedly at Tristan, she mournfully extols his charms and love, until her heart breaks with grief, and she too sinks lifeless to the ground. No restoratives can now avail to recall the life which has flown forever, and King Mark blesses the corpses of the lovers, and of the faithful servant who has expired at their feet, as the curtain falls.


When Richard Wagner was only sixteen years of age he read with great enthusiasm one of Hoffmann's novels entitled 'Saengerkrieg,' giving a romantic account of the ancient musical contests at the Wartburg in Bavaria. The impression made upon him by this account was first utilised in his opera of 'Tannhaeuser,' when his attention was attracted also to the picturesque possibilities of the guilds formed by the burghers.

It was not until 1845, however, that he made definite use of this material, and began the sketch for his only comic opera. The first outline was drawn during a sojourn in the Bohemian mountains, when he felt in an unusually light and festive mood. But the work was soon set aside, and was not resumed until 1862, when it was finished in Paris. The score was then begun, and written almost entirely at Biberich on the Rhine, and Wagner himself conducted the overture for the first time at a concert in Leipzig.

This fragment was very well received and there was an 'enthusiastic demand for a repetition, in which the members of the orchestra took part as much as the audience.' The opera itself, however, was first performed under Von Buelow, in 1868, at Munich. The best singers of the day took the principal parts, and the result of their united efforts was 'a perfect performance; the best that had hitherto been given of any work of the master.'

The opera, at first intended as a comical pendant to 'Tannhaeuser,' is, as we have already stated, Wagner's first and only attempt to write in the comic vein, and the text is full of witty and cutting allusions to the thick-headed critics (at whose hands Wagner had suffered so sorely), who sweepingly condemn everything that does not conform to their fixed standard. During all the Middle Ages, and more especially in the middle of the thirteenth century, the quaint old city of Nuremberg was the seat of one of the most noted musical guilds, or German training schools for poets and musicians. The members of this fraternity were all burghers, instead of knights like the Minnesingers, and held different ranks according to their degree of proficiency. They were therefore called singers when they had mastered a certain number of tunes; poets when they could compose verses to a given air; and Master Singers when they could write both words and music on an appointed theme. The musical by-laws of this guild were called 'Tabulatur,' and every candidate was forced to pass an examination, seven mistakes being the maximum allowed by the chief examiner, who bore the title of Marker.

The opera opens in the interior of St. Catharine's church in Nuremberg, where a closing hymn in honour of St. John is being sung. Eva Pogner and her maid, Magdalena, have been present at the service, and are still standing in their pew. But, in spite of her handmaiden's energetic signs and nudges, the young lady pays but little heed to the closing hymn, and turns all her attention upon a handsome young knight, Walther von Stolzenfels, who, as the last note dies away, presses eagerly forward and enters into conversation with her.

To secure a few moments' private interview Eva sends her maid back to the pew, first for her forgotten kerchief, next for a pin which she has lost, and lastly for her prayer-book. During these temporary absences the deeply enamoured youth implores Eva to tell him whether she is still free, and whether her heart and hand are still at her own disposal. Before the agitated girl can answer, the servant comes up, and, overhearing the question, declares that her mistress's hand has already been promised,—a statement which Eva modifies by adding that her future bridegroom is yet to be chosen. As these contradictory answers greatly puzzle Walther, she hurriedly explains that her father, the wealthiest burgher of the town, wishing to show his veneration for music, has promised his fortune and her hand to a Master Singer, the preference being given to the one who will win the prize on the morrow. The only proviso made is that the girl may remain free if the bridegroom does not win her approval, and Eva timidly confesses that she will either marry Walther or remain single all her life. Magdalena, who has been carrying on a lively flirtation of her own with David, the sexton, now suddenly hurries her young mistress off, bidding the knight apply to David if he would learn any more concerning the musical test about to take place, and in the same breath she promises her lover some choice dainties if he will only do all in his power to enlighten and favour her mistress's suitor.

'Let David supply all The facts of the trial.— David, my dear, just heed what I say! You must induce Sir Walther to stay. The larder I'll sweep, The best for you keep; To-morrow rewards shall fall faster If this young knight is made Master.'

Walther, who has just passionately declared to Eva that he knows he could become both poet and musician for her sweet sake, since her father has vowed never to allow her to marry any but a Master, now listens attentively to David's exposition of the school's rules and regulations. In the mean while the apprentices come filing in, prepare the benches and chairs, arrange the Marker's curtained box, and gayly chaff each other as they join in an impromptu dance.

They only subside when Pogner, Eva's father, enters with Beckmesser, an old widower, the Marker of the guild, who flatters himself he can easily win the prize on the morrow, and would fain make Pogner promise that the victor should receive the maiden's hand without her consent being asked. He fears lest the capricious fair one may yet refuse to marry him, and decides to make sure of her by singing a serenade under her window that very night. But when he sees the handsome young candidate step forward and receive the support of Pogner, (who has already made his acquaintance, and who evidently is inclined to favour him,) the widower looks very glum indeed, and vindictively resolves to prevent his entrance into the guild by fair means or by foul.

Hans Sachs, the poet shoemaker of Nuremberg, and all the other members of the guild, having now appeared, Beckmesser calls the roll, and Pogner repeats his offer to give his fortune and daughter to the winner of the prize on the morrow, and charges the guild to select their candidates for the contest. Of course the very first thing to be done is to examine the new candidate. Walther, when questioned concerning his teachers and method, boldly declares he has learned his art from nature alone, chooses love as his theme for a trial song, and bursts forth into an impassioned and beautiful strain. But as his words and music are strictly original, and therefore cannot be judged by the usual canons, Beckmesser savagely marks down mistake after mistake, and brusquely interrupts the song to declare the singer is 'outsung and outdone.' In proof of this assertion he exhibits his slate, which is covered with bad marks. Hans Sachs, the only member present who has understood the beauty of this original lay, vainly tries to interfere in Walther's behalf, but his efforts only call forth a rude attack on Beckmesser's part, who advises him to reserve his opinions, stick to his last, and finish the pair of shoes which he has promised him for the morrow. Walther is finally allowed to finish his song, but the prejudiced and intolerant citizens of Nuremberg utterly refuse to receive him in their guild, and he rushes out of the hall in despair, for he has lost his best chance to win the hand of his lady love by competing for the prize on the morrow. His departure is a signal for a tumultuous breaking up of the meeting, the apprentices dancing as before, as soon as their masters have departed.

The second act represents one of the tortuous alleys and a long straight street of the quaint old city of Nuremberg. On one side is Hans Sachs's modest shoemaker's shop, on the other the entrance to Pogner's stately dwelling. It is evening, and David, the shoemaker's apprentice, is leisurely putting up the shutters, when his attention is suddenly attracted by Magdalena, who appears with a basket of dainties. She however refuses to give them to him until he tells her the result of the musical examination. When she hears that Walther has failed and has been refused admittance to the guild, she pettishly snatches the basket from his grasp and flounces off in great displeasure. The other apprentices, who in the mean while have slyly drawn near, now make unmerciful fun of David, who stands stupidly in the middle of the street gazing regretfully after her.

This rough play is soon ended by the appearance of Hans Sachs. He orders all the apprentices to bed, and, by a judicious application of his strap, drives David into the house. Quiet has just been restored once more, when Pogner and Eva come sauntering down the street, returning from their customary evening walk, and sit down side by side on the bench in front of their door.

Here Pogner tries to sound his daughter's feelings, and to discover whether she has any preference among the morrow's candidates, reiterating his decision, however, that he will never allow her to marry any one except a man who has publicly won the title of Master Singer. As he cannot ascertain his daughter's feelings, he soon enters the house, while Eva lingers outside watching for Walther's promised visit. She is soon joined by Magdalena, who sorrowfully tells her that Walther has been rejected; but, as she can give no details about the examination, Eva timidly approaches Hans Sachs's window hoping to learn more from him. The cobbler is sitting at work near his window, singing a song of his own composition, and the maiden soon enters into a bantering conversation with her old friend.

In answer to Hans Sachs's questions, she soon confides to him that she cannot endure Beckmesser, and to flatter him into a good humour she archly suggests that, as he too is a widower, he ought to compete for her hand. Hans Sachs, who is far too shrewd not to see through her girlish fencing, now resolves to discover whether she is as indifferent to the young knight, and in order to do so he drops a few careless and contemptuous remarks about him, which drive the young lady away in a very bad temper.

Smiling maliciously at the success of his ruse, the cobbler cheerfully continues his work, while Eva rejoins Magdalena, who informs her that Beckmesser has signified his intention to serenade her that very night. Eva cares naught for the widower's music, and, only intent upon securing a private interview with the handsome young knight, refuses to re-enter the house; so Magdalena leaves her to answer Pogner's call.

A few moments later Walther himself comes slowly down the street; but, in spite of Eva's rapturous welcome, he remains plunged in melancholy, for he has forfeited all hope of winning her on the morrow. The sound of the watchman's horn drives the young people apart, and while Eva vanishes into the house, Walther hides under the shadow of the great linden tree in front of Sachs's house.

His presence has been detected by the shoemaker, who makes no sign, and when the night watchman has gone by, singing the hour and admonishing all good people to go to bed, he perceives a female form glide softly out of the house and join the knight. This female is Eva, who has exchanged garments with Magdalena, and has prevailed upon her to pose at her window during the serenade, while she tries to comfort her beloved.

Crouching in the shade, the lovers now plan to elope that very night, but Hans Sachs overhears their conversation, and when they are about to leave their hiding-place and depart, he flings open his shutter so that a broad beam of light streams across the old street. It makes such a brilliant illumination that it is impossible for any one to pass unseen. This ruse, which proves such a hindrance to the lovers, is equally distasteful to Beckmesser, who has come down the street and has taken his stand near them to tune his lute and begin his serenade. Before he can utter the first note, Hans Sachs, having become aware of his presence also, and maliciously anxious to defeat his plans, lustily entones a noisy ditty about Adam and Eve, hammering his shoes to beat time.

Beckmesser, who has seen Eva's window open, and longs to make himself heard, steps up to the shoemaker's window. In answer to his testy questions why he is at his bench at such an hour, Hans Sachs good-humouredly replies that he must work late to finish the shoes about which he has been twitted in public. At his wit's end to silence the shoemaker and sing his serenade, Beckmesser artfully pretends that he would like to have Sachs's opinion of the song he intends to sing on the morrow, and proposes to let him hear it then. After a little demur the shoemaker consents, upon condition that he may give a tap with his hammer every time he hears a mistake, and thus carry on the double office of marker and of cobbler.

Beckmesser is, however, so angry and agitated that his song is utterly spoiled, and he makes so many mistakes that the cobbler's hammer keeps up an incessant clatter. These irritating sounds make the singer more nervous still, and he sings so loudly and so badly that he rouses the whole neighbourhood, and heads pop out of every window to bid him be still.

David also ventures to peer forth, and, seeing that the serenade is directed to Magdalena, whom he recognises at the window above, his jealous anger knows no bounds. He springs out of the window, and begins belabouring his unlucky rival with a stout cudgel. The Nuremberg apprentices, who are divided up into numerous rival guilds, and who are always quarrelling, seize this occasion to bandy words, which soon result in bringing them all out into the street, where a free fight takes place between the rival factions of journeymen and apprentices.

Magdalena, seeing her beloved David in peril screams aloud, until Pogner, deceived by her apparel, pulls her into the room and closes the window, declaring he must go and see that all is safe. Sachs, who has closed his shutter at the first sounds of the fight, steals out into the street, approaches the young lovers, and, pretending to take Eva for Magdalena, he thrusts her quickly into Pogner's house, and drags Walther into his own dwelling just as the sound of the approaching night watch is heard. As if by magic the brawlers suddenly disappear, the windows close, the lights are extinguished, and as the watchman turns the corner the street has resumed its wonted peaceful aspect.

The third act opens on the morrow, in Hans Sachs's shop, where the cobbler is absorbed in reading and oblivious of the presence of his apprentice David, who comes sneaking in with a basket which he has just received from Magdalena. Taking advantage of his master's absorption, David examines the ribbons, flowers, cakes, and sausages with which it is stocked, starting guiltily at his master's every movement, and finally seeking to disarm the anger he must feel at the evening's brawl by offering him the gifts he has just received.

Hans Sachs, however, good-naturedly refuses to receive them, and after making his apprentice sing the song for the day he dismisses him to don his festive attire, for he has decided to take him with him to the festival. Left alone, Sachs soliloquises on the follies of mankind, until Walther appears. In reply to his host's polite inquiry how he spent the night, Walther declares he has been visited by a wonderful dream, which he goes on to relate. At the very first words the cobbler discovers that it is part of a beautiful song, conforming to all the Master Singers' rigid rules, and he hastily jots down the words, bidding the young knight be careful to retain the tune.

As they both leave the room to don their festive apparel, Beckmesser comes limping in. He soon discovers the verses on the bench, and pockets them, intending to substitute them for his own in the coming contest. Sachs, coming in, denies all intention of taking part in the day's programme, and when Beckmesser jealously asks why he has been inditing a love song if he does not intend to sue for Eva's hand, he discovers the larceny. He, however, good-naturedly allows Beckmesser to retain the copy of verses, and even promises him that he will never claim the authorship of the song, a promise which Beckmesser intends to make use of so as to pass it off as his own.

Triumphant now and sure of victory, Beckmesser departs as Eva enters in bridal attire. She is of course devoured by curiosity to know what has become of her lover, but, as excuse for her presence, she petulantly complains that her shoe pinches. Kneeling in front of her, Sachs investigates the matter, greatly puzzled at first by her confused and contradictory statements and by her senseless replies to his questions. He is turning his back to the inner door, through which Walther has also entered the shop, but, soon becoming aware of the cause of her perturbation, he deftly draws the shoe from her foot, and going to his last pretends to be very busy over it, while he is in reality listening intently to discover whether Eva's presence will inspire Walther with the third and last verse of his song. His expectations are not disappointed, for the knight, approaching the maiden softly, declares his love in a beautiful song.

As the last notes die away, the cobbler joyfully exclaims that Walther has composed a Master Song, calls Eva and David (who has just entered) as witnesses that he composed it, foretells that, if Walther will only yield to his guidance he will yet enable him to win the prize, and, patting Eva in a truly paternal fashion, he bids her be happy, for she will yet be able to marry the man she loves. David, who has been made journeyman so that he can bear witness for Walther, greets the happy Magdalena with the tidings that they no longer need delay, but can marry immediately.

After the four happy young people and Hans Sachs have given vent to their rapture in a beautiful quintette, they adjourn to the meadow outside of the town, where the musical contest is to take place. The peasants and apprentices are merrily dancing on the green, and cease their mirthful gyrations only when the Master Singers appear. Hans Sachs addresses the crowd, reads the conditions of the test, proclaims what the prize shall be, and concludes by inviting Beckmesser to come forth and begin his song. The young people assembled hail this elderly candidate with veiled scorn, and Beckmesser, painfully clambering to the eminence where the candidates are requested to stand, hesitatingly begins his lay. The words, with which he has had no time to become familiar, are entirely unadapted to his tune, so he draws them out, clips them, loses the thread of the verses, and fails in every sense.

In his chagrin at having made himself ridiculous, and in anger because his colleagues declare the words of his song have no sense, he suddenly turns upon Hans Sachs, and, hoping to humiliate him publicly, accuses him of having written the song. Hans Sachs, of course, disowns the authorship, but stoutly declares the song is a masterpiece, and that he is sure every one present will agree with him if they hear it properly rendered to its appropriate tune. As he is a general favourite among his townsmen, he soon prevails upon them to listen to the author and composer and decide whether he or Beckmesser is at fault.

Walther then springs lightly up the turfy throne, and, inspired by love, he sings with all his heart. The beautiful words, married to an equally beautiful strain, win for him the unanimous plaudits of the crowd, who hail him as victor, while the blushing Eva places the laurel crown upon his head. Pogner, openly delighted with the favourable turn of affairs, gives him the badge of the guild, and heartily promises him the hand of his only daughter. As for Hans Sachs, having publicly proved that his judgment was not at fault, and that he had been keen enough to detect genius even when it revealed itself in a new form, he is heartily cheered by all the Nurembergers, who are prouder than ever of the cobbler poet who has brought about a happy marriage:—

'Hail Sachs! Hans Sachs! Hail Nuremberg's darling Sachs!'


It was in 1848, after the completion of Tannhaeuser, that Wagner looked about for a subject for a new opera. Then 'for the last time the conflicting claims of History and Legend presented themselves.' He had studied the story of Barbarossa, intending to make use of it, but discarded it in favour of the Nibelungen Myths, which he decided to dramatise.[1] His first effort was an alliterative poem entitled 'The Death of Siegfried,' which, however, was soon set aside, a part of it only being incorporated in 'The Twilight [or Dusk] of the Gods.'

Wagner was then dwelling in Dresden, and planning the organisation of a national theatre; but the political troubles of 1849, which resulted in his banishment, soon defeated all these hopes. After a short sojourn in Paris, Wagner took up his abode in Zurich, where he became a naturalised citizen, and where he first turned all his attention to the principal work of his life,—'The Nibelungen Ring.' In connection with this work Wagner himself wrote: 'When I tried to dramatise the most important moment of the mythos of the Nibelungen in Siegfried's Tod, I found it necessary to indicate a vast number of antecedent facts, so as to put the main incidents in the proper light. But I could only narrate these subordinate matters, whereas I felt it imperative that they should be embodied in the action. Thus I came to write Siegfried. But here again the same difficulty troubled me. Finally I wrote "Die Walkuere" and "Das Rheingold," and thus contrived to incorporate all that was needful to make the action tell its own tale.' The completed poem was privately printed in 1853, and published 'as a literary product' ten years later, when the author was in his fiftieth year.

As for the score, it was begun in 1853, and Wagner says: 'During a sleepless night at an inn at Spezzia, the music of "Das Rheingold" occurred to me; straightway I turned homeward and set to work.' Such was the energy with which he laboured that the complete score of the Rheingold was finished in 1854. Two years later the music to the Walkyrie was all done, and Siegfried begun. But pecuniary difficulties now forced the master to undertake more immediately remunerative work, and, 'tired of heaping one silent score upon another,' he undertook and finished 'Tristan and Ysolde.' He then thought he would never be able to finish his grand work, and wrote: 'I can hardly expect to find leisure to complete the music, and I have dismissed all hope that I may live to see it performed.'

Fortunately for him, however, Ludwig II. of Bavaria had heard 'Lohengrin' when only sixteen, and, a passionate lover of music and art, he had become an enthusiastic admirer of the great composer. One of the very first acts of his reign was, therefore, to despatch his own private secretary to Wagner with the message, 'Come here and finish your work.'

As this message was backed by a small pension which would enable the musician to keep the wolf from the door, he hopefully went to Munich. But, in spite of the sovereign's continued favour, Wagner found so many enemies that the sojourn there became very unpleasant. It was then that the architect Semper made the first plans for a theatre, in which the king intended that 'The Nibelungen Ring' should be played, as he had formally commissioned Wagner to complete the work.

Driven away from his native land once more by the bitterness of his enemies, Wagner, who still enjoyed Ludwig's entire favour, withdrew in 1865 to Triebschen, where the 'Ring' progressed steadily. It was there, in 1869, that he completed the Siegfried score, and began that of 'The Twilight of the Gods,' which was finished only some time later. As the King's plan for building a national theatre for the representation of 'The Nibelungen Ring' had to be abandoned, the scheme was taken up by the municipality of the little town of Bayreuth. Wagner was cordially invited to take up his residence there, and settled in his new home in 1872, when he was already sixty years of age.

Thanks to munificent private subscriptions secured in great part by the Wagner societies in various parts of the world, the long planned theatre was finally begun. It was finished in 1876, and the entire 'Nibelungen Ring' was performed there in the month of August, the very best singers of the day taking all the principal parts, which they rendered to the best of their abilities. The result was a magnificent performance, a musical triumph; but as the venture was not a financial success, the performances were not repeated in the following summer. Several new ventures, however, were made, and another Wagner festival has just taken place, of which the real result is yet unknown, although the attendance was very large, the audience being composed of people from all parts of the world. Thus Wagner completed and rendered the series of operas, which include plays 'for three days and a fore evening,' whence the series is generally called a 'trilogy,' although it is really composed of four whole operas.

Away down in the translucent depths of the Rhine, three beautiful nymphs, Woglinde, Wellgunde, and Flosshilde, daughters of the river-god, dart in and out among the jagged rocks. They have been stationed there to guard the Rhinegold, the priceless treasure of the deep, whence comes all the warm golden light which illumines the utmost recesses of their dark and damp abode.

The nymphs suddenly pause in their merry game, for the wily dwarf Alberich has emerged from one of the sombre chasms. He is a Nibelung, a spirit of night and darkness, and slowly gropes his way to one of the upper ridges, whence he can see the graceful forms of the nymphs, watch their merry evolutions, and overhear them repeatedly admonish each other to keep watch over the gleaming treasure, which their father, the Rhinegod, has intrusted to their keeping, warning them that just such a dark and misshapen creature as the dwarf would try to wrest it from their grasp:—

'Guard the gold! Father said That such was the foe.'

But all Alberich's senses are fascinated by the water-nymphs' beauty, and he soon falls madly in love with them, and makes almost superhuman efforts to overtake the mocking fair. Hotly he pursues them from ridge to ridge, yielding to the blandishments of one after another, and is beside himself with rage as they deftly escape from his clasp just as he fancies he has at last caught them. The fair nymphs, who know they have nothing to fear from so infatuated a lover, swim hither and thither, tantalising him by their nearness, and lure him up and down the rocky river-bed.

They have just exhausted his patience, and driven him wild with impotent rage, when the green waters are suddenly illumined by the phosphorescent glow of the Rhinegold, the treasure whose presence they hail with a rapturous outburst of song, and whose secret power they extol:—

'The realm of the world By him shall be won Who from the Rhinegold Hath wrought the ring Imparting measureless power.'[2]

The dwarf, attracted by the brilliant light, hears their words at first without paying any attention to them; but when they repeat that he who is willing to forego love can fashion a ring from this gold which will make him master of all the world, he starts with surprise. Fascinated at last by the glow of the treasure, and forgetting all thoughts of love in greed, he suddenly grasps the carelessly guarded gold and plunges with it down into the depths, leaving the three nymphs to bewail its loss in utter darkness.

Little by little the gloom lightens, however, and instead of the river bed the scene represents the green valley through which the Rhine is flowing. In the gray dawn one can descry the high hills on either side, and as the light increases Wotan and Fricka, the principal deities of Northern mythology, are seen lying on the flowery slopes.

As they gently awaken from their peaceful slumbers, the morning mists entirely disappear, revealing in the background the fairy-like beauty of a wondrous palace which has just been completed for their abode. This sight startles Fricka, for she knows that the assembled gods have promised that Fasolt and Fafnir, the gigantic builders, should have sun and moon and the fair Freya as fee. To lose the bright luminaries of the world were bad enough, but Fricka's dismay is still greater at the prospect of parting forever with the fair goddess of beauty and youth. In her sorrow she bitterly regrets that the promise has been made and rendered inviolable by being inscribed on her husband's spear, and reproves him for the joy he shows in viewing the completion of his future abode:—

'In delight thou revel'st When I am alarmed? Thou 'rt glad of the fortress, For Freya I fear. Bethink thee, thou thoughtless god, Of the guerdon now to be given! The castle is finished, And forfeit the pledge. Forgettest thou what is engaged?'

Thus suddenly brought to his senses, Wotan, king of the Northern gods, protests that he never really intended to part with the beauty, light, and sweetness of life, and seeks to excuse himself by urging that Loge, the god of fire and the arch-deceiver, overpersuaded him by promising to find some way of escape from the fatal bargain:—

'He whom I hearkened to swore To find a safety for Freya; On him my hope have I set.'

They are still discussing the matter, and eagerly wondering why Loge does not appear, when Freya comes rushing wildly upon the stage, with fear-blanched face and trembling limbs, breathlessly imploring the father of the gods to save her from the two huge giants in close pursuit. In her terror she also summons her devoted brothers, Donner and Fro. But, in spite of the strength of these potent gods of the sunshine and thunder, the giants boldly advance, boasting aloud of their achievement, and demanding the fulfilment of the stipulated contract.

The gods are almost at their wits' end with anxiety, when Loge, god of fire, appears. They loudly clamour to him to keep his word and release them from the consequences of their rash bargain. In reply to this summons, Loge declares he has wandered everywhere in search of something more precious than youth and love, and that he has utterly failed to find it. No one, he says, is ready to relinquish these blessed gifts,—no one except Alberich, who has bartered love for the gleaming treasure which he has just stolen from the Rhine nymphs. Loge concludes his speech by delivering to Wotan an imploring message from the defrauded maidens, who summon him to avenge their wrongs and help them to recover the stolen gold. The description of the gleaming treasure, of the power of the ring which Alberich has fashioned out of it, and especially of the immense hoard which he has amassed by the unlimited sway which the ring enables him to wield over all the underground folk, has so greatly fascinated the giants, that, after a few moments' consultation, they step forward, offering to relinquish all claim to the previously promised reward, providing the hoard is theirs ere nightfall. This said, they bear the shrieking and reluctant Freya away as a hostage, and vanish in the distance.

As they depart, the light suddenly grows wan and dim. The goddess who has just departed is the dispenser of the golden apples of perennial youth according to Wagner, and, as she vanishes, the gods, deprived of the substance which keeps them ever young, suddenly lose all their vigour and bloom, and grow visibly old and gray, to their openly expressed dismay:—

'Without the apples, Old and hoar— Hoarse and helpless— Worth not a dread to the world, The dying gods must grow.'

This sudden change, especially in his beloved wife Fricka, determines Wotan to secure the gold at any price, and he bids Loge lead the way to Alberich's realm, following him bravely down through a deep cleft in the rock, whence rises a dense mist, which soon blots the whole scene from view.

In the mean while, the dwarf Alberich has conveyed the gleaming Rhinegold to his underground dwelling, where, mindful of the nymphs' words, he has forced his brother and slave, the smith Mime, to fashion a ring. No sooner has Alberich put on this trinket than he finds himself endowed with unlimited power, which he uses to oppress all his race, and to pile up a mighty hoard, for the greed of gold has now filled all his thoughts. Fearful lest any one should wrest the precious ring from him, he next directs Mime to make a helmet of gold, the magic tarn-helm, which will render the wearer invisible. Mime is at work at his underground forge, and has just finished the helmet which he intends to appropriate to his own use to escape thraldom, when Alberich suddenly appears, snatches it from his trembling hand, and, placing it upon his head, becomes invisible to all. The malicious dwarf misuses this power to torture Mime with his whip, and rushes off to lash the dwarfs in the rear of the cave as Wotan and Loge suddenly appear. Of course their first impulse is to inquire the cause of Mime's writhing and bitter cries, and from him they hear how Alberich has become lord of the Nibelungs by the might of his ring and magic helmet. In corroboration of this statement, the gods soon behold a long train of dwarfs toiling across the cave, bending beneath their burdens of gold and precious stones, and driven incessantly onward by Alberich's whip, which he plies with merciless vigour. He is visible now, for he has hung the magic helmet to his belt; but he no sooner becomes aware of the gods' presence than he strides up to them, and haughtily demands their name and business. Disarmed a little by Wotan's answer, that they have heard of his new might and have come to ascertain whether the accounts were true, Alberich boasts of his power to compel all to bow before his will, and says he can even change his form, thanks to his magic helmet. At Loge's urgent request, the dwarf then gives them an exhibition of his power by changing himself first into a huge loathsome dragon, and next into a repulsive toad. While in this shape he is made captive by the gods, deprived of his tarn-helm, and compelled to surrender his hoard as the price of his liberty. Before departing, Wotan even wrests from his grasp the golden ring, to which he desperately clings, for he knows that as long as it remains in his possession he will have the power to collect more gold. In his rage at being deprived of it, Alberich hurls his curse after the gods, declaring the ring will ever bring death and destruction to the possessor:—

'As by curse I found it first, A curse rest on the ring! Gave its gold To me measureless might, Now deal its wonder Death where it is worn!'

This curse uttered, he disappears, and while mist invades the place the scene changes, and Loge and Wotan stand once more on the grassy slopes, where Fricka, Donner, and Fro hasten to welcome them, and to inquire concerning the success of their enterprise. Almost at the same moment, the giants Fasolt and Fafnir also appear, leading Freya, whom Fricka would fain embrace, but who is withheld from her longing arms. The grim giants vow that no one shall even touch their fair captive until they have received a pile of gold as high as their staffs, which they drive into the ground, and wide enough to screen the goddess entirely. Thus admonished, Loge and Fro pile up the gleaming treasure, which is surmounted by the glittering helmet, whose power the giants do not know. Freya is entirely hidden, and only a chink remains through which the giants can catch a glimpse of her golden hair. They insist upon having this chink closed up ere they will relinquish Freya, so Wotan is forced to give up the magic ring. But he draws it from his finger only when Erda, the shadowy earth goddess, half rises out of the ground to command the sacrifice of the treasure which Alberich stole from the Rhine maidens.

As the stipulated ransom has all been paid, the giants release Freya. She joyfully embraces her kin, and under her caresses they recover all their former youth and bloom. In the mean while the giants produce their bags, but soon begin quarrelling together about the division of the hoard, and appeal to the gods to decide their dispute. The gods are all too busy to pay any heed to this request, all except the malicious Loge, who slyly advises Fafnir to seize the ring and pay no heed to the rest. As the ring is accursed, Fafnir remorselessly slays his brother to obtain it; then, packing up all the treasure in his great bag, he triumphantly departs. To disperse the shadow hovering over Wotan's brow ever since he has been obliged to sacrifice the ring, Thor now beats the rocks with his magic hammer, and conjures a brief storm. The long roll of thunder soon dies away, and when the fitful play of the lightning is ended Thor shows the assembled gods a glittering rainbow bridge of quivering, changing hues, which stretches from the valley where they are standing to the beautiful portals of the wondrous palace Walhalla, the home of the gods!

Fascinated by this sight, Wotan invites the gods to follow him over its lightly swung arch, and as they trip over the rainbow bridge, the lament of the Rhine-maidens mourning their treasure falls in slow, pitiful cadences upon their ears:—

'Rhinegold! Purest gold! O would that thy light Waved in the waters below! Unfailing faith Is found in the deep, While above, in delight, Faintness and falsehood abide!'

[1] See the author's 'Myths of Northern Lands' and 'Legends of the Rhine.'

[2] All the quotations in the 'Ring' have been taken either from Dippold's or Forman's admirable translations.


Wotan—made secretly uneasy by Erda's dark prediction that

'Nothing that is ends not; A day of gloom Dawns for the gods;— Be ruled and waive from the ring'—

relinquishes the ring which he had wrested from Alberich, as has been seen. His restlessness however daily increases, until at last he penetrates in disguise into the dark underground world and woos the fair earth goddess. So successfully does he plead his cause, that she receives him as her spouse and bears him eight lovely daughters. She also reveals to him the secrets of the future, when Walhalla's strong walls shall fall, and the gods shall perish, because they have resorted to fraud and lent a willing ear to Loge, prince of evil.

Notwithstanding this fatal prediction Wotan remains undismayed. Instead of yielding passively to whatever fate may befall him, he resolves to prepare for a future conflict, and to defend Walhalla against every foe. As the gods are few in number, he soon decides to summon mortals to his abode, and in order to have men trained to every hardship and accustomed to war, he flings his spear over the world, and kindles unending strife between all the nations. His eight daughters, the Walkyries, are next deputed to ride down to earth every day and bear away the bravest among the slain. These warriors are entertained at his table with heavenly mead, and encouraged to keep up their strength and skill by cutting and hewing each other, their wounds healing magically as soon as made.

But, in spite of these preparations, Wotan is not yet satisfied. He still remembers the all-powerful ring which he has given to the giants, and which is still in the keeping of Fafnir. In case this ring again falls into the hands of the revengeful Alberich, he knows the gods cannot hope to escape from his wrath. He himself cannot snatch back a gift once given, so he decides to beget a son, who will unconsciously be his emissary, and who will, moreover, oppose the offspring which Erda has predicted that Alberich will raise merely to help him avenge his wrongs. Disguised as a mortal named Waelse, or Volsung, Wotan takes up his abode upon earth, and marries a mortal woman, who bears him twin children, Siegmund and Sieglinde. These children are still very young when Hunding, a hunter and lover of strife, comes upon their hut in the woods, and burns it to the ground, after slaying the elder woman and carrying off the younger as his captive.

On their return from the forest, Waelse and Siegmund behold with dismay the destruction of their dwelling, and vow constant warfare against their foes. This vow they faithfully keep until Siegmund grows up and his father suddenly and mysteriously disappears, leaving behind him nothing but the wolf-skin garment to which he owes his name.

Hunding, in the mean while, has carried Sieglinde off to his dwelling, which is built around the stem of a mighty oak, and when she attains a marriageable age he compels her to become his wife, although she very reluctantly submits to his wish. The opening scene of this opera represents Hunding's hall,—in the midst of which stands the mighty oak whose branches overshadow the whole house,—which is dimly illumined by the fire burning on the hearth. Suddenly the door is flung wide open, and a stranger rushes in. He is dusty and dishevelled, and examines the apartment with a wild glance. When he has ascertained that it is quite empty, he comes in, closes the door behind him, and sinks exhausted in front of the fire, where he soon falls asleep. A moment later Sieglinde, Hunding's forced wife, appears. When she sees a stranger in front of the fire, instead of her expected lord and master, she starts back in sudden fear. But, reassured by the motionless attitude of the stranger, she soon draws near, and, bending over him, discovers that he has fallen asleep:—

'His heart still heaves, Though his lids be lowered, Warlike and manful I deem him Though wearied down he sunk.'

As she has only a very dim recollection of her past, she fails to recognise her brother in the sleeper. He soon stirs uneasily, and, wakening, tries to utter a few words, which his parched lips almost refuse to articulate, until she compassionately gives him a drink.

Gazing at Sieglinde as if fascinated by some celestial vision, Siegmund, in answer to her questions, informs her that he is an unhappy wight, whose footsteps misfortune constantly dogs. He then goes on to inform her that even now he has escaped from his enemies with nothing but his life, and makes a movement to leave her for fear lest he should bring ill-luck upon her too. Sieglinde, however, implores him to remain and await the return of her husband. Almost as she speaks Hunding enters the house, and, allowing her to divest him of his weapons, seems dumbly to inquire the reason of the stranger's presence at his hearth.

Sieglinde rapidly explains how she found him faint and weary before the fire, and Hunding, mindful of the laws of hospitality, bids the stranger welcome, and invites him to partake of the food which Sieglinde now sets before them. As Siegmund takes his place at the rude board, Hunding first becomes aware of the strange resemblance he bears to his wife, and after commenting upon it sotto voce, he inquires his guest's name and antecedents. Siegmund then mournfully relates his happy youth, the tragic loss of his mother and sister, his roaming life with his father, and the latter's mysterious disappearance. Only then does Hunding recognize in him the foe whom he has long been seeking to slay.

Unconscious of all this, Siegmund goes on to relate how on that very day he had fought single-handed against countless foes to defend a helpless maiden, running away only when his weapons had failed him and the maiden had been slain at his feet. Sieglinde listens breathless to the story of his sad life and of his brave defence of helpless virtue, while Hunding suddenly declares that, were it not that the sacred rights of hospitality restrained him, he would then and there slay the man who had made so many of his kinsmen bite the dust. He however contents himself with making an appointment for a hostile encounter early on the morrow, promising to supply Siegmund with a good sword, since he has no weapons of his own:—

'My doors ward thee, Woelfing, to-day; Till the dawn shelter they show; A flawless sword Will befit thee at sunrise, By day be ready for fight, And pay thy debt for the dead.'

Then Hunding angrily withdraws with his wife, taking his weapons with him, and muttering dark threats, which fill his guest's heart with nameless fear. Left alone, Siegmund bitterly mourns his lack of weapons, for he fears lest he may be treacherously attacked by his foe, and in his sorrow he reproaches his father, who had repeatedly told him that he would find a sword ready to his hand in case of direst need.

'A sword,—so promised my father— In sorest need I should find— Weaponless falling In the house of the foe, Here in pledge To his wrath I am held.'

While he is brooding thus over his misfortunes, the flames on the hearth flicker and burn brighter. Suddenly their light glints upon the hilt of a sword driven deep in the bole of the mighty oak, and, reassured by the thought that he has a weapon within reach, Siegmund disposes himself to sleep.

The night wears on. The fire flickers and dies out. The deep silence is broken only by Siegmund's peaceful breathing, when the door noiselessly opens, and Sieglinde, all dressed in white, steals into the room. She glides up to the sleeping guest and gently rouses him, bidding him escape while her husband is still sound asleep under the influence of an opiate which she has secretly administered:—

'It is I; behold what I say! In heedless sleep is Hunding, I set him a drink for his dreams, The night for thy safety thou needest.'

Leading him to the oak, she then points out the sword, telling him it was driven into the very heart of the tree by a one-eyed stranger. He had come into the hall on her wedding day, and had declared that none but the mortal for whom the gods intended the weapon would ever be able to pull it out. She then goes on to describe how many strong men have tried to withdraw it, and warmly declares it must have been intended for him who had so generously striven to protect a helpless maiden. Her tender solicitude fills the poor outcast's famished heart with such love and joy that he clasps her to his breast, and, the door swinging noiselessly open to admit a flood of silvery moonbeams, they join in the marvellous duet known as the 'Spring Song.'

As they gaze enraptured upon each other, they too perceive the strong resemblance which has so struck Hunding, but still fail to recognize each other as near of kin. To save Sieglinde from her distasteful compulsory marriage, Siegmund now consents to fly, providing she will accompany him, vowing to protect her till death with the sword which he easily draws from the oak, and which he declares he knows his father must have placed there, as he recognizes him in the description which Sieglinde had given of the stranger:—

'Siegmund the Volsung, Seest thou beside thee! For bridal gift He brings thee this sword. He woos with the blade The blissfullest wife. From the house of the foe He hies with thee. Forth from here Follow him far, Hence to the laughing House of the Spring, Where Nothung the sword defends thee, Where Siegmund infolds thee in love!'

This passionate appeal entirely sweeps away Sieglinde's last scruples; she yields rapturously to his wooing, and they steal away softly, hand in hand, to go and seek their happiness out in the wide world. Hunding, upon awaking on the morrow, discovers the treachery of his guest and the desertion of his wife. Almost beside himself with fury, he prepares to overtake and punish the guilty pair.

As a fight is now imminent between Siegmund, his mortal son, and Hunding, Wotan, who is up on a rocky mountain overlooking the earth, summons Brunhilde the Walkyrie to his side, bidding her saddle her steed and so direct the battle that Siegmund may remain victor and Hunding only fall. Chanting her Walkyrie war-cry, Brunhilde departs, laughingly calling out to Wotan that he had best be prepared for a call from his wife, who is hastening toward him as fast as her rams can draw her brazen chariot. Brunhilde has scarcely passed out of sight when Fricka comes upon the scene. After upbraiding Wotan for forsaking her to woo the goddess Erda and a mortal maiden, she says that, as father of the gods and ruler of the world, he is bound to uphold religion and morality. She then dwells angrily upon the immorality of the just consummated union between Siegmund and Sieglinde, who are brother and sister, and finally forces her husband, much against his will, to promise he will revoke his decree, give the victory to the injured husband, Hunding, and punish Siegmund, the seducer, by immediate death.

Wotan therefore summons Brunhilde once more, and sadly bids her to shield Hunding in the coming fight. Brunhilde, who realizes that the second command has been dictated by Fricka, implores him to confide his troubles to her. She then hears with dismay an account of the way in which Wotan has been beguiled into wrongdoing by Loge, of his attempts to gather an army large enough to oppose to his foes when the last day should come, and of his long cherished hope that Siegmund would recover the fatal ring which he feared would again fall into the revengeful Alberich's hands. Finally, however, Wotan repeats his order to her to befriend Hunding, and Brunhilde, awed by his despair, slowly departs to fulfil his commands.

The god has just vanished amid the mutterings of thunder, expressive of his wrath if any one dare to disobey his behests, when Siegmund and Sieglinde suddenly appear upon the mountain side. They are fleeing from Hunding, and Sieglinde, who has discovered when too late that Siegmund is her brother, is so torn by remorse, love, and fear that she soon sinks fainting to the ground. Siegmund, alarmed, bends over her, but, having ascertained that she has only fainted, makes no effort to revive her, deeming it better that she should remain unconscious during the encounter which must soon take place, for the horn of the pursuing Hunding is already heard in the distance.

Siegmund has just pressed a tender kiss upon Sieglinde's fair forehead, when Brunhilde, the Walkyrie, suddenly appears before him, and solemnly warns him of his coming defeat and death. He proudly tells her of his matchless sword, but she informs him that his reliance upon it is quite misplaced, for it will be wrenched from his grasp when his need is greatest. Then she tries to comfort him by describing the glory which awaits him in Walhalla, whither she will convey him after death.

Siegmund eagerly questions her, but, learning that Sieglinde can never be admitted within its shining portals, passionately declares he cannot leave her. He next proposes to kill her and himself, so that they may be together in Hela's dark abode, for he will accept no joys which she cannot share:—

'Then greet for me Valhall, Greet for me Wotan; Hail unto Waelse, And all the heroes! Greet, too, the graceful Warlike mist-maidens: For now I follow thee not.'

Brunhilde's heart is so touched by his love for and utter devotion to Sieglinde, and she is so anxious at the same time to fulfil Wotan's real wish, in defiance of his orders, that she finally allows compassion to get the better of her reason, and impulsively promises Siegmund that she will protect him in the coming fray. At the same moment Hunding's horn is heard, and Brunhilde disappears, while the scene darkens with the rapid approach of a thunderstorm. Such is the darkness that Siegmund, who has sprung down the path in his eagerness to meet his foe, misses his way, while Sieglinde slowly rouses from her swoon, muttering of the days of her happy childhood when she dwelt with her family in the great wood. Suddenly, the lightning flashes, and Hunding and Siegmund, meeting upon a ridge, begin fighting, in spite of Sieglinde's frantic cries.

As the struggle begins, Brunhilde, true to her promise, hovers over the combatants, holding her shield over Siegmund and warding off every dangerous blow, while Sieglinde gazes in speechless terror upon the combatants.

But in the very midst of the fray, when Siegmund is about to pierce Hunding's heart with his glittering sword, Wotan suddenly appears, and, extending his sacred spear to parry the blow, he shivers the sword Nothung to pieces. Hunding basely takes advantage of this accident to slay his defenceless foe, while Brunhilde, fearing Wotan's wrath and Hunding's cruelty, catches up the fainting Sieglinde and bears her rapidly away upon her fleet-footed steed.

After gazing for a moment in speechless sorrow at his lifeless favourite, Wotan turns a wrathful glance upon the treacherous Hunding, who, unable to endure the divine accusation of his unflinching gaze, falls lifeless to the ground. Then the god mounts his steed, and rides off on the wings of the storm in pursuit of the disobedient Walkyrie, whom he is obliged to punish severely for his oath's sake.

The next scene represents an elevated plateau, the trysting spot of the eight Walkyries, on Hindarfiall, or Walkuerenfels, whither they all come hastening, bearing the bodies of the slain across their fleet steeds. Brunhilde appears last of all, carrying Sieglinde. She breathlessly pours out the story of the day's adventures, and implores her sisters to devise some means of hiding Sieglinde, and to protect her from Wotan's dreaded wrath:—

'The raging hunter Behind me who rides, He nears, he nears from the North! Save me, sisters! Ward this woman.'

The sound of the tempest has been growing louder and louder while she is speaking, and as she ends her narrative Sieglinde recovers consciousness, but only to upbraid her for having saved her life. She wildly proposes suicide, until Brunhilde bids her live for the sake of Siegmund's son whom she will bring into the world, and tells her to treasure the fragments of the sword Nothung, which she had carried away. Sieglinde, anxious now to live for her child's sake, hides the broken fragments in her bosom, and, in obedience to Brunhilde's advice, speeds into the dense forest where Fafnir has his lair, and where Wotan will never venture lest the curse of the ring should fall upon him.

'Save for thy son The broken sword! Where his father fell On the field I found it. Who welds it anew And waves it again, His name he gains from me now— "Siegfried" the hero be hailed.'

The noise of the storm and rushing wind has become greater and greater, the Walkyries have anxiously been noting Wotan's approach. As Sieglinde vanishes in the dim recesses of the primeval forest, the wrathful god comes striding upon the stage in search of Brunhilde, who cowers tremblingly behind her sisters. After a scathing rebuke to the Walkyries, who would fain shelter a culprit from his all-seeing eye, Wotan bids Brunhilde step forth. Solemnly he then pronounces her sentence, declaring she shall serve him as Walkyrie no longer, but shall be banished to earth, where she will have to live as a mere mortal, and, marrying, to know naught beyond the joys and sorrows of other women:—

'Heard you not how Her fate I have fixed? Far from your side Shall the faithless sister be sundered; Her horse no more In your midst through the breezes shall haste her; Her flower of maidenhood Will falter and fade; A husband will win Her womanly heart, She meekly will bend To the mastering man The hearth she'll heed, as she spins, And to laughers is left for their sport.'

Brunhilde, hearing this terrible decree, which degrades her from the rank of a goddess to that of a mere mortal, sinks to her knees and utters a great cry of despair. This is echoed by the Walkyries, who, however, depart at Wotan's command, leaving their unhappy sister alone with him.

Passionately now Brunhilde pleads with her father, declaring she had meant to serve him best by disobeying his commands, and imploring him not to banish her forever from his beloved presence. But, although Wotan still loves her dearly, he cannot revoke his decree, and repeats to her that he will leave her on the mountain, bound in the fetters of sleep, a prey to the first man who comes to awaken her and claim her as his bride.

All Brunhilde's tears and passionate pleadings only wring from him a promise that she will be hedged in by a barrier of living flames, so that none but the very bravest among men can ever come near her to claim her as his own.

Wotan, holding his beloved daughter in a close embrace, then gently seals her eyes in slumber with tender kisses, lays her softly down upon the green mound, and draws down the visor of her helmet. Then, after covering her with her shield to protect her from all harm, he begins a powerful incantation, summoning Loge to surround her with an impassable barrier of flames. As this incantation proceeds, small flickering tongues of fire start forth on every side; they soon rise higher and higher, roaring and crackling until, as Wotan disappears, they form a fiery barrier all around the sleeping Walkyrie:—

'Loge, hear! Hitherward listen! As I found thee at first— In arrowy flame As thereafter thou fleddest— In fluttering fire; As I dealt with thee once, I wield thee to-day! Arise, billowing blaze, And fold in thy fire the rock! Loge! Loge! Aloft! Who fears the spike Of my spear to face, He will pierce not the planted fire.'


Sieglinde, having dragged herself into the depths of the great untrodden forest, dwelt there in utter solitude until the time came for her son Siegfried to come into the world. Sick and alone, the poor woman went about in search of aid, and finally came to Mime's cavern, where, after giving birth to her child and intrusting him to the care of the dwarf, she gently breathed her last.

Here, in the grand old forest, young Siegfried grew up to manhood, knowing nothing of his parentage except the lie which Mime, the wily dwarf, chose to tell him, that he was his own son. Strong, fearless, and unruly, the youth soon felt the utmost contempt for the cringing dwarf, and, instead of bending over the anvil and swinging the heavy hammer, he preferred to range the forest, hunting the wild beasts, climbing the tallest trees, and scaling the steepest rocks.

As the opera opens, the curtain rises upon a sooty cave, where the dwarf Mime is alone at work, hammering a sword upon his anvil and complaining bitterly of the strength and violence of young Siegfried, who shatters every weapon he makes. In spite of repeated disappointments, however, Mime the Nibelung works on. His sole aim is to weld a sword which in the bold youth's hands will avail to slay his enemy, the giant Fafnir, the owner of the ring and magic helm, and the possessor of all the mighty hoard.

While busy in his forge, Mime tells how the giant fled with his treasure far away from the haunts of men, concealed his gold in the Neidhole, a grewsome den. There, thanks to the magic helmet, he has assumed the loathsome shape of a great dragon, whose fiery breath and lashing tail none dares to encounter.

As Mime finishes the sword he has been fashioning, Siegfried, singing his merry hunting song, dashes into the cave, holding a bear in leash. After some rough play, which nearly drives the unhappy Mime mad with terror, Siegfried sets the beast free, grasps the sword, and with one single blow shatters it to pieces on the anvil, to Mime's great chagrin. Another weapon has failed to satisfy his needs, and the youth, after harshly upbraiding the unhappy smith, throws himself sullenly down in front of the fire. Mime then cringingly approaches him with servile offers of food and drink, continually vaunting his love and devotion. These protests of simulated affection greatly disgust Siegfried, who is well aware of the fact that they are nothing but the merest pretence.

In his anger against this constant deceit, he finally resorts to violence to wring the truth from Mime, who, with many interruptions and many attempts to resume his old whining tone, finally reveals to him the secret of his birth and the name of his mother. He also tells him all he gleaned about his father, who fell in battle, and, in proof of the veracity of his words, produces the fragments of Siegmund's sword, which the dying Sieglinde had left for her son:—

'Lo! what thy mother had left me! For my pains and worry together She gave me this poor reward. See! a broken sword, Brandished, she said, by thy father, When foiled in the last of his fights.'

Siegfried, who has listened to all this tale with breathless attention, interrupting the dwarf only to silence his recurring attempts at self-praise, now declares he will fare forth into the wild world as soon as Mime has welded together the precious fragments of the sword. In the mean while, finding the dwarf's hated presence too unbearable, he rushes out and vanishes in the green forest depths. Left alone once more, Mime wistfully gazes after him, thinking how he may detain the youth until the dragon has been slain. At last he slowly begins to hammer the fragments of the sword, which will not yield to his skill and resume their former shape.

While the dwarf Mime is abandoning himself to moody despair, Wotan has been walking through the forest. He is disguised as a Wanderer, according to his wont, and suddenly enters Mime's cave. The dwarf starts up in alarm at the sight of a stranger, but after asking him who he may be, and learning that he prides himself upon his wisdom, he bids him begone. Wotan, however, who has come hither to ascertain whether there is any prospect of discovering anything new, now proposes a contest of wit, in which the loser's head shall be at the winner's disposal. Mime reluctantly assents, and begins by asking a question concerning the dwarfs and their treasures. This Wotan answers by describing the Nibelungs' gold, and the power wielded by Alberich as long as he was owner of the magic ring.

Mime's second inquiry is relative to the inhabitants of earth, and Wotan describes the great stature of the giants, who, however, were no match for the dwarfs, until they obtained possession not only of the ring, but also of the great hoard over which Fafnir now broods in the guise of a dragon.

Then Mime questions him concerning the gods, but only to be told that Wotan, the most powerful of them all, holds an invincible spear upon whose shaft are engraved powerful runes. In speaking thus the disguised god strikes the ground with his spear, and a long roll of thunder falls upon the terrified Mime's ear.

The three questions have been asked and successfully answered, and it is now Mime's turn to submit to an interrogatory, from which he evidently shrinks, but to which he must yield. Wotan now proceeds to ask him which race, beloved by Wotan, is yet visited by his wrath, which sword is the most invincible of weapons, and who will weld its broken pieces together. Mime triumphantly answers the first two questions by naming the Volsung race and Siegmund's blade, Nothung; but as he has failed to weld the sword anew, and has no idea who will be able to achieve the feat, he is forced to acknowledge himself beaten by the third.

Scorning to take any advantage of so puny a rival, Wotan refuses to take the forfeited head, and departs, after telling the Nibelung that the sword can only be restored to its pristine glory by the hand of a man who knows no fear, and that the same man will claim it as his lawful prize and dispose of Mime's head:—

'Hark thou forfeited dwarf; None but he Who never feared, Nothung forges anew. Henceforth beware! Thy wily head Is forfeit to him Whose heart is free from fear.'

When Siegfried returns and finds the fire low, the dwarf idle, and the sword unfinished, he angrily demands an explanation. Mime then reveals to him that none but a fearless man can ever accomplish the task. As Siegfried does not even know the meaning of the word, Mime graphically describes all the various phases of terror to enlighten him.

Siegfried listens to his explanations, but when they have come to an end and he has ascertained that such a feeling has never been harboured in his breast, he springs up and seizes the pieces of the broken sword. He files them to dust, melts the metal on the fire, which he blows into an intense glow, and after moulding tempers the sword. While hammering lustily Siegfried gaily sings the Song of the Sword. The blade, when finished, flashes in his hand like a streak of lightning, and possesses so keen an edge that he cleaves the huge anvil in two with a single stroke.

While Siegfried is thus busily employed, Mime, dreading the man who knows no fear, and to whom he has been told his head was forfeit, concocts a poisonous draught. This he intends to administer to the young hero as soon as the frightful dragon is slain, for he has artfully incited the youth to go forth and attack the monster, in hope of learning the peculiar sensation of fear, which he has never yet known.

In another cave, in the depths of the selfsame dense forest, is Alberich the dwarf, Mime's brother and former master. He mounts guard night and day over the Neidhole, where Fafnir, the giant dragon, gloats over his gold. It is night and the darkness is so great that the entrance to the Neidhole only dimly appears. The storm wind rises and sweeps through the woods, rustling all the forest leaves. It subsides however almost as soon as it has risen, and Wotan, still disguised as a Wanderer, appears in the moonlight, to the great alarm of the wily dwarf. A moment's examination suffices to enable him to recognise his quondam foe, whom he maliciously taunts with the loss of the ring, for well he knows the god cannot take back what he has once given away.

Wotan, however, seems in no wise inclined to resent this taunting speech, but warns Alberich of the approach of Mime, accompanied by a youth who knows no fear, and whose keen blade will slay the monster. He adds that the youth will appropriate the hoard, ere he rouses Fafnir to foretell the enemy's coming. Then he disappears with the usual accompaniment of rushing winds and rumbling thunder.

The warning which Alberich would fain disbelieve is verified, as soon as the morning breaks, by the appearance of Siegfried and Mime. The latter is acting as guide, and eagerly points out the mighty dragon's lair. But even then the youth still refuses to tremble, and when Mime describes Fafnir's fiery breath, coiling tail, and impenetrable hide, he good-naturedly declares he will save his most telling blow until the monster's side is exposed, and he can plunge Nothung deep into his gigantic breast.

Thus forewarned against the dragon's various modes of attack, Siegfried advances boldly, while Mime prudently retires to a place of safety. He is closely watched by Alberich, who crouches unseen in his cave. Siegfried seats himself on the bank to wait for the dragon's awakening, and beguiles the time by trying to imitate the songs of the birds, which he would fain understand quite clearly. As all his efforts result in failure, Siegfried soon casts aside the reed with which he had tried to reproduce their liquid notes, and, winding his horn, boldly summons Fafnir to come forth and encounter him in single fight.

This challenge immediately brings forth the frightful dragon. To Siegfried's surprise he can still talk like a man. After a few of the usual amenities, the fight begins. Mindful of his boast, Siegfried skilfully parries every blow, evades the fiery breath, lashing tail, and dangerous claws, and, biding his time, thrusts his sword up to the very hilt in the giant's heart.

With his dying breath, the monster tells the youth of the curse which accompanies his hoard, and, rolling over, dies in terrible convulsions. The young hero, seeing the monster is dead, withdraws his sword from the wound; but as he does so a drop of the fiery blood falls upon his naked hand. The intolerable smarting sensation it produces causes him to put it to his lips to allay the pain. No sooner has he done so than he suddenly becomes aware that a miracle has happened, for he can understand the songs of all the forest birds.

Listening wonderingly, Siegfried soon hears a bird overhead warning him to possess himself of the tarn-helmet and magic ring, and proclaiming that the treasure of the Nibelungs is now his own. He immediately thanks the bird for its advice, and vanishes into the gaping Neidhole in search of the promised treasures:—

'Hi! Siegfried shall have now The Nibelungs' hoard, For here in the hole It awaits his hand! Let him not turn from the tarn-helm, It leads to tasks of delight; But finds he a ring for his finger, The world he will rule with his will.'

Alberich and Mime, who have been trembling with fear as long as the conflict raged, now timidly venture out of their respective hiding places. Then only they become aware of each other's intention to hasten into the cave and appropriate the treasure, and begin a violent quarrel. It is brought to a speedy close, however, by the reappearance of Siegfried wearing the glittering helmet, armour, and magic ring.

The mere appearance of this martial young figure causes both dwarfs to slink back to their hiding places, while the birds resume their song. They warn Siegfried to distrust Mime, who is even then approaching with the poisonous draught. This the dwarf urges upon him with such persistency that Siegfried, disgusted with his fawning hypocrisy, finally draws his sword and kills him with one blow:—

'Taste of my sword, Sickening talker! Meed for hate Nothung makes; Work for which he was mended.'

Then, while Alberich is laughing in malicious glee over the downfall of his rival, Siegfried flings his body into the Neidhole, and rolls the dragon's carcass in front of the opening to protect the gold. He next pauses again to listen to the bird in the lime tree, which sings of a lovely maiden surrounded by flames, who can be won as bride only by the man who knows no fear:—

'Ha! Siegfried has slain The slanderous dwarf. O, would that the fairest Wife he might find! On lofty heights she sleeps, A fire embraces her hall; If he strides through the blaze, And wakens the bride, Brunhilde he wins to wife.'

This new quest sounds so alluring to Siegfried, that he immediately sets out upon it, following the road which the Wanderer has previously taken. The latter has gone on to the very foot of the mountain, upon which the flickering flames which surrounded Brunhilde are burning brightly. There he pauses to conjure the goddess Erda to appear and reveal future events. Slowly and reluctantly the Earth goddess arises from her prolonged sleep. Her face is pallid as the newly fallen snow, her head crowned with glittering icicles, and her form enveloped in a great white winding-sheet. In answer to the god's inquiries about the future, she bids him question the Norns and Brunhilde. After a few obscure prophecies he allows her to sink down into her grave once more, for he now knows that one of the Volsung race has won the magic ring, and is even now on his way up the mountain to awaken Brunhilde.

In corroboration of these words, Siegfried appears a few moments after the prophetess or Wala has again sunk into rest. Challenged by Wotan the Wanderer, he declares he is on the way to rouse the sleeping maiden. In answer to a few questions, he rapidly adds that he has slain Mime and the dragon, has tasted its blood, and brandishes aloft the glittering sword which has done him good service and which he has welded himself.

Wotan, wishing to test his courage, and at the same time to fulfil his promise to Brunhilde that none should attempt to pass the flames except the one who feared not even his magic spear, now declares that he has slain his father, Siegmund. Siegfried, the avenger, boldly draws his gleaming sword, which, instead of shattering as once before against the divine spear, cuts it to pieces. In the same instant the Wanderer disappears, amid thunder and lightning. Siegfried, looking about him to find Brunhilde, becomes aware of the flickering flames of a great fire, which rise higher and higher as he rushes joyfully into their very midst, blowing his horn and singing his merry hunting lay.

The flames, which now invade the whole stage, soon flicker and die out, and, as the scene becomes visible once more, Brunhilde is seen fast asleep upon a grassy mound. Siegfried comes, and, after commenting upon the drowsing steed, draws nearer still. Then he perceives the sleeping figure in armour, and bends solicitously over it. Gently he removes the shield and helmet, cuts open the armour, and starts back in surprise when he sees a flood of bright golden hair fall rippling all around the fair form of a sleeping woman:—

'No man it is! Hallowed rapture Thrills through my heart; Fiery anguish Enfolds my eyes. My senses wander And waver. Whom shall I summon Hither to help me? Mother! Mother! Be mindful of me.'

His head suddenly sinks down upon her bosom, but, as her immobility continues, he experiences for the first time a faint sensation of fear. This is born of his love for her, and, in a frantic endeavour to recall her to life, he bends down and kisses her passionately. At the magic touch of his lips, Brunhilde opens her eyes, and, overjoyed at the sight of the rising sun, greets it with a burst of rapturous song ere she turns to thank her deliverer. The first glimpse of the hero in his glittering mail is enough to fill her heart with love, and recognizing in him Siegfried, the hero whose coming she herself has foretold, she welcomes him with joy. Siegfried then relates how he found her, how he delivered her from the fetters of sleep, and, impetuously declaring his passion, claims her love in return.

The scene between the young lovers, the personifications of the Sun and of Spring, is one of indescribable passion and beauty, and when they have joined in a duet of unalterable love, Brunhilde no longer regrets past glories, but declares the world well lost for the love she has won.

'Away Walhall's Lightening world! In dust with thy seeming, Towers lie down! Farewell greatness And gift of the gods! End in bliss Thou unwithering breed! You, Norns, unravel The rope of runes! Darken upwards Dusk of the gods! Night of annulment, Near in thy cloud!— I stand in sight Of Siegfried's star; For me he was And for me he will be, Ever and always, One and all Lighting love And laughing death.'

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