Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/383

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.


WAGNER.

of the ancient state itself. An attempt is then made to discover the principles of a new social organisation that might bring about a condition of things in which proper relations between art and public life might be expected to revive.

This pamphlet was followed by an elaborate treatise, 'Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft' (The Artwork of the Future), which occupied him for several months. The first edition (1850) begins with a dedicatory letter to Ludwig Feuerbach (since cancelled), in which the author returns enthusiastic thanks for the instruction afforded by that philosopher's works. 1 Unfortunately Wagner was tempted to adopt Feuerbach's terminology, and to use it in a sense of his own. The result is bewildering, and the book, though rich in matter, warm in style, and well worth reading, is in every respect, difficult. The main argument, as far as art is concerned, might be sketched as follows : Poetry, mimetics, and music were united in the drama of the Greeks ; the drama disappeared with the downfall of the Athenian State ; the union of the arts was dis- solved, each had an existence of its own, and at times sank to the level of a mere pastime. At- tempts made during the renaissance, and since, to reunite the arts, were more or less abortive, though the technique and the width of range of most of the arts increased. In our day each 'separate branch of art' has reached its limits of growth, and cannot overstep them without in- curring the risk of becoming incomprehensible, fantastic, absurd. At this point each art demands to be joined to a sister art poetry to music, mimetics to both ; each will be ready to forego egotistical pretensions for the sake of an ' artistic whole,' and the musical drama may become for future generations what the drama of Greece was to the Greeks.

Wagner's next work, ' Opera and Drama ' (his principal critical and theoretical production) contains little of the revolutionary and pseudo- philosophical ferment. It was originally issued in three parts : I. containing a quasi-historical criticism of the opera ; 2. a survey of the spoken drama; 3. an attempt to unite the results ob- tained, and to construct the theory of the musical drama. To us who have witnessed the Nibelungen and Tristan, the entire book is easy reading; even the third and concluding part is readily intelligible and of very great interest. A generation ago, however, the case was different ; especially with regard to the third, and in the author's eyes the most important part, which con- sists, in the main, of abstract statements about the new departure in art, the relation of verse to music, the function of the orchestra, etc. Wagner could not illustrate and support his assertions by concrete examples; he thus laid himself open to misunderstanding, and was misun- derstood indeed ! Part the Second abounds in acute observations on the elements of the drama- tist's art, with copious references to Shakespeare,

> Wagner came across a copy of Feuerbach's Das Wesen der fieltgion'ln the writer's library: 'Soldi contuses Zeug liesst slch Hicht in jttngeren Jahren 1st an-und-auf-regend ich babe laug daran gezehrt ; jetzt (1877) war mirs aber unverdaulich.'

��WAGNEE.

��367

��Schiller, and Goethe. It seems to have attracted the attention of students of literature here and there, but on the whole it fell flat. The First part, however, caused a disturbance in the musical world such as had not occurred since the paper war between the Gluckists and Piccinists. It is sufficiently evident now that it was not the propositions seriously put forward, nor the bril- liant literary powers displayed, that attracted attention. People were, or pretended to be, scan- dalised by the references to living composers, the biting satire, the fierce attack on Meyerbeer, etc. But Wagner's name was henceforth in every- body's mouth.

The course of musical history has already in so large a measure confirmed and endorsed Wagner's opinions regarding the opera, that a short resume will answer the present purpose. The thesis of ' Oper und Drama ' is as follows : In the opera the means of expression (music} have been taken for the sole aim and end, while the true aim (the drama} has been neglected for the sake of particular musical forms. The dramatic cantata of Italy is the root of the opera. The scenic arrangements and the action formed the pretext for the singing of arias, i.e. people's songs artisti- cally arranged. The composer's task consisted in writing arias of the accepted type to suit his subject or to suit this or that vocalist. When the ballet was added to the conglomerate of airs, it was the composer's business to reproduce the popular dance-forms. The airs were strung toge- ther by means of recitatives, mostly conventional. The ballet tunes were simply placed side by side. Gluck's reform in the main consisted in his ener- getic efforts to place his music in more direct rapport with the action. He modified the melody in accordance with the inflections and accents of the language employed. He put a stop to the exhibition of mere vocal dexterity, and forced his singers to become the spokesmen of his dra- matic intentions. But as regards the form of his musical pieces (and this is the cardinal point) he left the opera as he found it. The entire work remains a congeries of recitatives, arias, cho- ruses, dance-tunes, just as before. Gluck's libret- tists furnished words for airs, etc., in which the action was not lost sight of; but it was considered to be of secondary importance. Gluck's great successors, Meliul, Cherubini, Spontini, cultivated the dramatic musical ensemble, and thus got rid of the incessant monologue which the arias of the elder opera had necessitated. This was an im- portant step forward, and in essential matters the development of the opera is therewith at an end. For, although Mozart produced richer and more beautiful music than Gluck, there can be no doubt that the factors of Mozart's opera are essentially those of Gluck's. Subsequently, in the hands of Weber and Spohr, Rossini, Bellini, Auber, Meyerbeer, etc., the history of the opera is the history of the transformation of ' operatic melody.'

Subject and form in the spoken drama are investigated in the Second Part. With regard to subject Wagner traces two distinct factors;

�� �