Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/372

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



��added to these. The conditions of the contract have not been made public; the results, however, proved disastrous. Issued at high prices, and by publishers whose business relations were not very extensive, the editions did not sell well, and Wagner became liable for a considerable sum. His professional duties, too, began to grow irksome. He had gradually drifted into the positiom of an agitator and a party leader. The more gifted among his musical colleagues admired and liked him, but to the majority his excitable temperament was antipathetic ; and his rest- less activity was found inconvenient. No one disputed his personal ascendancy, yet he was made to feel the effects of jealousy and ill-will. The preajj did its best to confuse matters, and to spread damaging gossip. The accredited critic at Dresden, Reissiger's friend J. Schladebach, was the champion of existing usages, which he chose to call classical traditions. A person of some educa- tion and an experienced writer, Schladebach can- not be accused of having treated Wagner unfairly, as journalism goes. At first he was inclined to be rather patronising ; in course of time he took care to minimise whatever might tell in Wagner's favour and to accentuate everything that looked like a departure from the beaten tracks. Unfor- tunately he was the principal Dresden corre- spondent of the musical and literary journals of Leipzig, Berlin, etc. Thus the effect of his reports was more detrimental to Wagner's pros- pects than perhaps he intended it to be. Mana- gers of theatres and German musicians generally took their cue from the journals, and in the end Wagner came to be regarded as an eccentric and unruly personage difficult to deal with. The libretti and scores he submitted were hardly glanced at ; in sundry cases indeed the parcels were returned unopened 1

Except the performance of Gluck's Iphigenia in Aulis, 1 arranged by Wagner, and of Bee- thoven's Choral Symphony, which was repeated at the Pensionsconcert, there was nothing remarkable in the musical doings of 1847. Wagner led a more retired life than hereto- fore, and worked steadily at Lohengrin. On the 28th August the introduction was written, and the instrumentation of the entire work com- pleted during the winter and early spring. He knew that he had made a considerable step in advance since Tannhauser, but he was also con- scious of having moved still further away from the standards of contemporary taste. It is enough to state that whilst he was writing Lohengrin, the repertoire at Dresden consisted in a large measure of Donizetti. A letter written early in 1847 exhibits an almost apologetic tone: 'I am inclined rather to doubt my powers than to overrate them, and I must look upon my present undertakings as experiments towards deter- mining whether or not the opera is possible.' The management at Dresden did not care for such experiments, and indefinitely put off the

i For details concerning Wagner's reading of the overture, and for a description of his arrangement ' of the entire opera, see Qe9 Bchrift. T. 143. and Ulasenapp.p. 226.


production of Lohengrin ; so that the finale to the first act, which was performed on the sooth anniversary of the Kapelle, Sept. a a, 1848, was all he heard of the work.

At Berlin Tannhauser had been refused as ' too epic,' whatever that may mean. After six years' delay preparations were begun there for Rienzi, and the King of Prussia's birthday, Oct. 5, 1847, was fixed for the first performance. When Wagner arrived to superintend rehearsals he was received in a singularly lukewarm man- ner; personal attacks and injurious insinua- tions appeared in the local journals, and it soon became evident that Rienzi was foredoomed. The management discovered that political catch- words, ' liberty,' ' fraternity,' and the like, could be culled from the libretto ; another opera was chosen for the royal fete, and Rienzi postponed till October 26, when the court did not attend, and 'General-Musikdirector Meyerbeer thought fit to leave town.' A large miscellaneous au- dience applauded vigorously, but the success proved ephemeral and Wagner's hopes of better- ing his pecuniary position were disappointed.

In 1848 the universal distress and political discontent told upon musical matters at Dresden as it did elsewhere. The repertoire showed signs of rapid deterioration. Flotow's 'Martha* attracted the public. With the exception of three subscription concerts given by the orches- tra, at the first of which, in January, Wagner conducted Bach's 8-part motet 'Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied,' nothing of interest was performed. Towards the end of March, when the instrumentation of Lohengrin was finished, his restless mind had already begun to brood upon new subjects. Sketches for ' Jesus von Nazareth * a tentative effort in the direction of Parsifal were laid aside, as he failed to find a satis- factory mode of treating the subject. For the last time the conflicting claims of History and of Legend presented themselves Friedrich der Rothbart on the one side, and Siegfried on the other. The former subject would have been particularly opportune at a time when the name of the great emperor was in everybody's mouth; but Wagner's historical studies regarding Bar- barossa had no other result than a curious essay ( treating of that vague borderland which separates historical fact from mythical tradition, entitled Die Wibelungen, Weltgeschichte aus der Sage. It was written in 1848, and printed in i85O. 3 To students for whom the growth of a great man's mind is almost as interesting as the ultimate result, this essay presents many points of in* terest; to others it cannot be attractive, except as evidence of Wagner's peculiar earnestness of purpose and his delight in hard work.

He decided to dramatise the myths of the Nibelungen, and made his first grip at the sub- ject in a prose version (1848) 'Der Nibelungen- Mythus als Entwurf zu einem Drama.' 8 This was immediately followed by * Siegfried's Tod,'* in three acts and a prologue (autumn, 1848), written in alliterative verse, and subsequently

��a Ges. Schrift. 11.

��t Ibid.


�� �