Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/382

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366

��WAGNER.

��remain unsolved. Regarding the state of music and the theatre in Germany, those who have access to the facts can account for a large part of his excitement and irritation. One has but to remember that from his eighteenth year onwards his life was mixed up with that most equivocal institution the German Opern- theater. As a professional conductor, and subse- quently as the recipient of tantiemes (percentage on the receipts) for a long time his sole source of income he could not afford to break the con- nection. Here the idealist, the passionate poet, there the opera and the operetta. How could the most disastrous misunderstandings fail to arise ? The composer of 'Tristan' confronted by the Intendant of some Hof theater, fresh from a per- formance of Herr v. Flotow's ' Martha ' ! A comic picture, but unfortunately a typical one, implying untold suffering on Wagner's part. Moreover he, the most irritable of men, im- patient and fretting in his false position, was for years the object of personal attacks in the press, the ' best abused ' man in Europe, the object of wilful misrepresentation and calumny 'it was like having to walk against the wind with sand and grit and foul odours blowing in one's face.' 1

All his life long Wagner was a great reader. 'Whatever is worth reading is worth re-reading,' he said. Thus, though never a systematic stu- dent, or even a good linguist (which as regards Greek he greatly regretted), 2 he nevertheless became thoroughly familiar with all he cared for, and his range was a very wide one. He retained whatever touched him sympathetically, and could depend upon his memory. The classics he habitually read in translations. With Shake- speare (in German of course) he was as familiar as with Beethoven. To hear him read an act or a scene was a delight never to be forgotten. The effect, to use his own words about Shakespeare, was that of 'an improvisation of the highest poetical value.' When in particularly good spirits, he would take up a comic scene and render it with the exuberant merriment of a child. A list of the principal books in the extensive and very choice library at Bayreuth would give a fair idea of his literary tastes, for he kept nothing by him that was not in some way connected with his intellectual existence. The handiest shelves held Sanscrit, Greek, and Roman classics; Italian writers, from Dante to Leopardi; Spanish, Eng- lish, French dramatists ; philosophers from Plato to Kant and Schopenhauer. A remarkably com- plete collection of French and German mediaeval poems and stories, Norse Sagas, etc., together with the labours of German and French philo- logists in those departments, occupied a con- spicuous position; history and fiction old and new were well represented; translations of Scott, Carlyle, etc., etc.

In a Dictionary of Music it would be out of place to speak of Wagner's power as a poet or as

i Consult Herr Tappert'i 'Bin Wagner Lexikoo-WOrterbuch der CnhOflichkeit.' etc. (Leipzig 1877) for an astonishing record of the length such things can go to In Germany.

  • See Brief an Fr. Nietzsche, Ges. Schrlften, voL 9.

��WAGNER.

a writer on matters foreign to music. All that can be done is to point out the leading features of his practice and theory as a musical dramatist. We may begin with his theoretical productions, premising merely that in his case, as in that of other men who have had new things to say, and found new ways of saying them, Practice goes before Theory ; artistic instincts lead the way, and criticism acts in support and defence.

II. Broadly stated, Wagner's aim is Reform of the, Opera from thestandpoint of Beethoven 1 smusic.

Can the modern spirit produce a theatre that shall stand in relation to modern culture as the theatre of Athens stood to the culture of Greece? This is the central question, the multifaced problem he set himself to solve. Whether he touches upon minor points connected with it; speaks of the mode of performance of a play or an opera; proposes measures of reform in the organisation of existing theatres ; discusses the growth of operatic music up to Mozart and Weber, or of instrumental music up to Bee- thoven ; treats of the efforts of Schiller and Goethe to discover an ideal form for their dra- matic poems : whether he sweeps round the problem in wide circles, comparing modern, social, and religious institutions with ancient, and seeking free breathing space for his artistic ideals, he arrives at results tending in the same direction his final answer is in the affirmative. Starting from the vantage of symphonic music, he asserts that we may hope to rise to the level of Greek tragedy : our theatre can be made to embody our ideal of life. From the Opera at its best a Drama can be evolved that shall express the vast issues and complex relations of modern life and thought, as the Greek stage expressed the life and thought of Greece.

The theatre is the centre of popular culture. For good or for evil it exerts the chief influence from it the arts, as far as they affect the people, take their cue. Practically its power is unlimited. But who wields this power ? for what ends, and for whom is it wielded! Wagner's experience in Germany and in Paris furnished an answer. He had found corruption in every direction. In front of the scenes, the stolid Gennan Philistine, or the bored Parisian roue clamouring for novelty, athirst for excitement; behind the scenes, con- fusion and anarchy, sham enthusiasm, labour without aim or faith the pretence, art ; the true end, money. Looking from the German stage to the German public, from the public to the nation, the case appeared hopeless, unless some violent change should upset the social fabric. A hasty, and as it proved, mistaken diagnosis of the political situation in Germany in 1849 led Wagner to become a revolutionnaire for art's sake. Leaving the politics of the day to take care of themselves, he endeavoured to set forth his artistic ideals. In ' Die Kunst und die Revolution 1 (Art and Revolution) he points to the theatre of ^Eschylus and Sophocles, searches for the causes of its decline, and finds them identical with the causes that led to the decline

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