Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/365

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WAGNER.

serpente, Fiaba teatrale in tre atti,' with a characteristic change in the denouement. In Gozzi's play a fairy is ready to forgo her immortality for a mortal lover, but she can do so only under certain conditions. The lover shall not disown her, no matter how unworthy she may happen to appear. The fairy is turned into a snake, which the lover courageously kisses. Wagner alters this : the fairy is not changed into a snake, but into a stone, and she is disenchanted by the power of music. ' Beethoven, Weber, and Marschner were my models. The ensemble pieces contained a good deal that seemed satisfactory, and the finale of the second act especially promised to be effective.' Excerpts were tried at Wurzburg in 1834. O n his return to Leipzig Wagner offered the opera to Ringelhardt, the director of the theatre, who accepted but never performed it. The autograph score is now in the possession of the King of Bavaria.

In the spring of 1834 Wilhelmine Schroeder- Devrient appeared at Leipzig. Her performances both as actress and as singer gave a powerful impulse to Wagner's talents. Her rare gifts appear to have suggested to him that intimate union of music with the drama which he after- wards achieved. During six important years (1843-48 and 49), when she was engaged as prin- cipal singer and he as Kapellmeister at Dresden, he was in almost daily communication with her. As late as 1872 he stated that her example had constantly been before him: 'whenever I con- ceived a character I saw her* In 1834 s ^ e sang the part of Komeo in Bellini's 'Mon- tecchi e Capuletti.' The young enthusiast for Beethoven perceived the weakness of Bellini's music clearly enough, yet the impression Mme. Devrient made upon him was powerful and artistic. The Leipzig theatre next brought out Auber's 4 La Muette de Portici' (Masaniello). To his astonishment Wagner found that the striking scenes and rapid action of this opera proved effective and entertaining from beginning to end, even without the aid of a great artist like Mme. Devrient. This set him thinking. He was ambitious, and longed for an immediate and palpable success ; could he not take hints from Bellini and Auber, and endeavour to com- bine the merits of their work ? Heroic music in Beethoven's manner was the true ideal; but it seemed doubtful whether anything ap- proaching it could be attained in connection with the stage. The cases before him showed that effective music can certainly be produced on different lines and on a lower level; the desi- derata, as far as he then saw them, were, to con- trive a play with rapid and animated action ; to compose music that would not be difficult to sing and would be likely to catch the ear of the public. His sole attempt in such a direc- tion ' Das Liebesverbot,' an opera in two acts after Shakespeare's ' Measure for Measure ' (the part of Isabella intended for Mme. Devrient) has not had a fair chance before the footlights. He sketched the libretto during the summer holidays, and worked at the score in 1835 an(i 3*>.

��WAGNER.

��349

��Details of the plot and the rather licentious tendency of the whole are described in his Ges. Schriften, vol. i. The music is curiously unlike his former models ; and it is easy to trace the in- fluence of 'La Muette,' and even of 'H Pirata* and 'Nonna.'

In the autumn of 1834 Wagner undertook the duties of Musikdirector at the Magdeburg thea- tre. The troupe of actors and singers, mostly young people, was not a bad one; they liked him, and the curious life behind and before the scenes afforded interest and amusement. At concerts under his direction the overture to * Die Feen ' and a new overture to Apel's play ' Colum- bus ' (1835) were performed ; he wrote music for the celebration of New Year's Day 1835, songs ta a fantastic farce ' Der Berggeist,' etc., and came to be liked by the public as well as the artists. In the summer of 1835 he went on a tour to find new singers, and was promised 'a benefit per- formance ' as a set-off against expenses. During this tour he again met Mme. Schroeder-Devrient when she appeared at Nurnberg as Fidelio, and as Emmeline in Weigl's ' Schweizerfamilie.' The theatre at Magdeburg was supported by a small subvention from the Court of Saxony , arid managed by a committee. But in spite of such assist- ance and supervision the worthy Director, Herr Bethmann, was ever on the brink of bankruptcy. He had a habit of disappearing when pay-day came round, and the troupe was in a bad plight during the spring season of 1836. 'We meant to close,' writes Wagner, 'towards the end of April with my opera, and I worked hard to get score and parts finished in good time. But as early as March the leading members threatened to leave ; for my sake they agreed to remain till the end of the month and to study my work. This, however, was not an easy task. No Sing spiel? but music after the manner of La Muette ! Herr Bethmann represented that he would be put to sundry expenses for stage properties, etc., and claimed the first night for Ms benefit. I was to profit by the second/ There were twelve days left, and the preparations went on inces- santly; rehearsals at the theatre, rehearsals at every private lodging ; all Magdeburg excited ; yet no man knew his part, and the ensembles were hopeless. At the general rehearsal Wagner's conducting, gesticulating and prompting, kept things together somehow. Not so at the per- formance (March 29, 1836) a crowded house,, and utter chaos. The repetition for the com- poser's benefit was duly announced, but col- lapsed ere the curtain could rise few people in the auditorium, and a free fight behind the scenes! 3

Wagner had many debts and no means to pay. He repaired to Leipzig, hoping that the long connection of members of his family with the theatre there would smooth the way for 'Das Liebesverbot.' He was advised to offer the part of Marianne to the daughter of the director ; but

l See SINGSPIEL, vol. 111. p. 616.

a For a droll account of the performance, see 'Bericht fiber ine- erste Opernauffuhrung.' Gei. Schriften, vol. 1.

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