Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/385

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


WAGNER.

an equally perfect balance exists between Palestrina's choir and Palestrina's counterpoint ; and I find a similar correspondence between Chopin's piano and some of his Etudes and Preludes. I do not care for the ' Ladies'-Chopin,' there is too much of the Parisian salon in that ; but he has given us many things which are above the salon.

Schumann's peculiar treatment of the pianoforte grates on my ear : there is too much blur ; you cannot produce his pieces unless it be mit dbligatem pedal. What a relief to hear a sonata of Beethoven's ! In early days I thought more would come of Schumann. His Zeitschrift was brilliant, and his pianoforte works showed great originality. There was much ferment, but also much real power, and many bits are quite unique and perfect. I think highly, too, of many of his songs, though they are not as great as Schubert's. He took pains with his declamation no small merit a generation ago. Later on I saw a good deal of him at Dresden; but then already his head was tired, his powers on the wane. He consulted me about the text to 'Genoveva,' which he was arranging from Tieck's and Hebbel's plays, yet he would not take my advice he seemed to fear some trick.

Mendelssohn's overture, 'The Hebrides,* was a prime favourite of Wagner's, and he often asked for it at the piano. 1

Mendelssohn was a landscape-painter of the first order, and the ' Hebriden ' Overture is his masterpiece. Wonderful imagination and delicate feeling are here presented with consummate art. Note the extraordi- nary beauty of the passage where the oboes rise above the other instruments with a plaintive wail like sea- winds over the seas. ' Meeresstille und gltlckliche Fahrt ' also is beautiful ; and I am very fond of the first movement of the Scotch Symphony. No one can blame a composer for using national melodies when he treats them so artistically as Mendelssohn has done in the Scherzo of this Symphony. TTia second themes, his slow movements generally, where the human element comes in, are weaker. As regards the overture to ' A Midsummer Night's Dream,' it must be taken into ac- count that he wrote it at seventeen ; and how finished the form is already ! etc.

Schubert has produced model songs, but that is no reason for us to accept his pianoforte sonatas or his ensemble pieces as really solid work, no more than we need accept Weber's songs, his Pianoforte Quartet, or the Trio with a flute, because of his wonderful operas. Schumann's enthusiasm for Schubert's trios and the like was a mystery to Mendelssohn. I remember Mendels- sohn speakingto me of the note of Viennese bonhommie (btlrgerliche Behabigkeit) which runs through those things of Schubert's. Curiously enough Liszt still likes to play Schubert. I cannot account for it; that Divertissement a la Hongroise verges on triviality, no matter how it is played.

I am not a learned musician ; I never had occasion to pursue antiquarian researches ; and periods of transition did not interest me much. I went straight from Pales- trina to Bach, from Bach to Gluck and Mozart or, if you choose, along the same path backwards. It suited me personally to rest content with the acquaintance of the principal men, the heroes and their main works. For aught I know this may have had its drawbacks any way, my mind has never been stuffed with 'music in general.' Being no learned person I have not been able to write to order. Unless the subject absorbs me completely I cannot produce twenty bars worth listen- ing to.

The latter part of this was said after a performance of the 'Centennial, Philadelphia, march' at the Albert Hall (1877), and that march was the case in point.

In instrumental music I am a Reactionnaire, a con- servative. I dislike everything that requires a verbal explanation beyond the actual sounds. For instance, the middle of Berlioz's touching scene d'amour in his 4 Borneo and Juliet ' is meant by him to reproduce in musical phrases the lines about the lark and the nightingale in Shakspeare's balcony-scene, but it does nothing of the sort it is not intelligible as l Herr v. Wolzogen (Erinneruneen an Richard Wagner) gives a capital resumt? of his sayings on such occasions. VOL. IV. FT. 3.

��WAGNER.

��369

��music. Berlioz added to, altered, and spoilt his work. This so-called Symphonie dramatique of Berlioz's as it now stands is neither fish nor flesh strictly speaking it is no symphony at all. There is no unity of matter, no unity of style. The choral recitatives, the songs and other vocal pieces have little to do with the instrumental move- ments. The operatic finale, Pere Laurent especially, is a failure. Yet there are beautiful things right and left. The convoi fune-bre is very touching, and a masterly piece. So, by the way, is the offertoire of the Requiem. The opening theme of the scbne d'amour is heavenly ; the garden scene and fete at the Capulets' enormously clever: indeed Berlioz was diabolically clever (verflucht pfiffig). I made a minute study of his instrumentation as early as 1840, at Paris, and have often taken up his scores since. I profited greatly, both as regards what to do and what to leave undone.

'Whenever a composer of instrumental music loses touch of tonality he is lost.' To illustrate this (Bayreuther Blatter, i879), 2 Wagner quotes a dozen bars from Lohengrin, Scene 2, bars 9 to 12, and then eight bars, 'mit zuchtigem Gebah- ren' to 'Er soil mein Streiter sein,' as an example of very far-fetched modulation, which in conjunction with the dramatic situation is readily intelligible, whereas in a work of pure instrumental music it might appear as a blemish.

When occasion offered I could venture to depict strange, and even terrible things in music, because the action rendered such things comprehensible : but music apart from the drama cannot risk this, for fear of becom- ing grotesque. I am afraid my scores will be of little use to composers of instrumental music ; they cannot bear condensation, still less dilution ; they are likely to prove misleading, and had better be left alone. I would say to young people, who wish to write for the stage, Do not, as long as you are young, attempt dramas write ' Singspiele.' 8

It has already been said that Wagner looks at the drama from the standpoint of Beethoven's music. Bearing this in mind it is easy to see where and how he would apply his lever to lift and upset the opera, and what his ideal of a musical drama would be. In early days the choice of subject troubled him much. Eventually he decided that mythical and legendary matter was better for music than historical ; because the emotional elements of a mythical story are always of a simple nature and can be readily detached from any side issue ; and because it is only the heart of a gtory, its emotional essence, that is suggestive to a musician. The mythical subject chosen (say the story of Volsungs and Nib- lungs, or Tristan and Isolde), the first and hardest thing to do is to condense the story, disentangle its threads and weave them up anew. None but those who are familiar with the sources of Wag- ner's dramas can have any idea of the amount of work and wisdom that goes to the fusing and welding of the materials. When this formidable preliminary task is finished, the dramatis personse stand forth clearly, and the playwright's task begins. In planning acts and scenes, Wagner never for a moment loses sight of the stage ; the actual performance is always present to his mind. No walking gentlemen shall explain matters in general, nothing shall be done in the background, and subsequently accounted for across the foot- lights. Whatever happens during the progress of the play shall be intelligible then and there.

��a Ges. Schrlften, vol. x. p. 248. > [See SiNGSPiEL ill, 616.]

��Bb

�� �