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of several ; and this, I suppose, might as I
human action, and therefore its standing fairly include the baby-hushing that mo- as fine art ? thers do so rhythmically all the world Here it is perhaps more than likely over as it surely does the “ Yo! heave that some who may have admitted see0!” of the sailors' songs. And what ing steps 1, 2, and 3, and the need for else? Human emotion? That is too ascending them, will, when confronted capricious, and changes every instant on by step 4, say, “But we don't see that.” the whim of the individual. Human pas- Are they willing to see it, I wonder? sion ? That is both explosive and capri- Turning again to a sister art for an illuscious, as well as individual. The talk tration, I expand that school maxim of of human intercourse ? That varies with the painters, “Paint what you see on every fleeting phase of individual feel- close and honest scrutiny, and not what ing.
you would like to see.” If any students I have tried hard to think this point or painters are color-blind, or astigmatic, out fairly and thoroughly, and I ear- or otherwise incapable of seeing truly, nestly hope that some better equipped that is a personal limitation entitling
be induced to take it up in them to pity, and to that extent relieving the same spirit ; for the longer and hard- them from condemnation. But if any reer I think about it, the more am I con- fuse honest scrutiny, and insist on paintvinced that, except under the conditions ing what they would like to see, whether just specified, the visible action of human they really see it or not, such persons life naturally rebels against the bonds of are ruled by and have the courage of rhythm instead of submitting to them ; their propensities, not their convictions; and that this natural antagonism is per- and this, translated into those esoteric manent and irreconcilable, because, as a terms so dear to the claimants, would rule, the working of human volition is probably be written, “ They have a great not rhythmic, but the reverse, being al- deal of temperament." ways more or less spasmodic.
I think this applies equally to those There could be cited abundant in- musicians who, on reaching step 4, stop, stances in support of this all-important and decline to ascend the logical stairpostulate ; so let us go on to see where case any farther, seeking progress sidewe stand after taking these consecutive ways instead of upward ; but they will steps, first placing them in close sequence, doubtless be confirmed in their doings on that their relations may be clearly per- being told that they are in this matter in ceived.
the same category with Richard Wagner, (1.) We have seen that dramatic ac- for that is precisely what he did. tion, in order to be really artistic, must Let us look at some of the conspicube true to natural hunian action.
ous facts in the career of this genius (for (2.) We have seen that music does that he surely was), with all possible sidenot and cannot escape from the bonds of lights let in on them; and one of the rhythm.
brightest, I think, shines from his par(3.) We have seen that, with very few entage and the principles of heredity. exceptions, natural human action does Wagner came of a theatrical family ; not and cannot submit to the bonds of he was born and bred in a theatrical at. rhythm.
mosphere and environment; his childish (4.) Now what follows by logical ne- amusements were theatrical ; he began cessity concerning dramatic action and his career in a theatre ; he married an music? Can we escape the conclusion actress ; his aims and ambitions were that if dramatic action joins itself to early centred entirely on theatrical sucmusic, it must lose its truth to natural cess; and in short, love of the theatrical,
which was doubtless transmitted to him was keen enough and bold enough and intensified, according to the admitted earnest enough in detecting and denounprinciple of heredity, soon became the cing these particular absurdities, but why dominating propensity and passion of his did he stop here? Why did he shut his life, - placing the theatrician before and eyes to those still remaining ? Only be
, above the musician in him, obscuring his cause he was possessed of that theatric artistic judgment and insight, clouding devil which continually blinded his artishis reasoning powers, and leading him tic sight. And what did his methods of
, into undignified and unfortunate displays cure really accomplish? They added of vanity, and into serious lapses from greatly to the literary value of the opera that nobility of personal life and deport- libretto and to the desirable continuity of ment that should have grown from his the action; but, unfortunately, they made great gifts, and probably would have done so many more words to be set to music so had he not been possessed of the the- because of these coherent and consequent atric devil from his childhood. His let- and well-developed plots, and made the ters to his tailors, ordering and designing music itself so much longer, because that to the smallest detail the numerous bro- too could not now jump into suitability caded silk and embroidered velvet dress- to dramatic changes, but must be approing - gowns he wore when composing priately and continuously developed into (could anything be more theatrical !) al- it, that the resulting performances also most equal in number and in anxious im- developed themselves into sittings of four portunity his letters to Liszt and other and five and even six hours. Now, this admirers, begging them for money to is practically beyond the limits of physilive on.
The joyous enthusiasm and cal endurance, and is as bad an artistic pride with which he devoted himself for blunder as painting a picture with a part months at a time to every item of stage of it beyond the limits of physical vision. costuming and stage carpentry seemed But the theatre was to Wagner the main almost to exceed his satisfaction in writ- purpose and business of his life, and he ing his music.
would not see that to his audiences it Among his earlier achievements was a could be only an episode, meant for rekeen perception of the absurdities of the creation. (And may it never be more, then popular and accepted opera libretto for that way national decadence lies.) as literature; and as he was conscious Nor would he condescend to see the next of possessing a very prolific imagination upward step in the logical staircase and a copious command of language, he had started so bravely to ascend. But confidently undertook the task of produ- I think there is ample evidence that he cing for himself operatic poems of real soon became conscious of the remaining literary value, and having coherent and absurdities, even though his theatrical deconsequent plots, with situations properly mon never allowed him to acknowledge led up to and down from, and states of them; for very soon he positively asmind sufficiently explained and account- serts publicly, in print and at length, that ed for. He also perceived the absurdity the only proper field for opera or musicof chopping up the action of an opera drama is to be found, not in actual huinto a series of short musical pieces, man life, not even in historical human scenas, arias, ariettas, and the like, with life, but in myth and legend ; not in the a complete cadence at the end of each, and natural, but in the supernatural. And a fresh musical start at the beginning of thenceforth he deals only with mythic the next; and so he wrote his music with
gods, demigods, heroes, valkyrs, Rhineno cadence or stop at all from the begin- maidens, and such. His indwelling thening to the end of each entire act. He'atric devil makes him hold to the marriage of music to visible action, but his him to try? He has already changed his artistic consciousness is not totally de- action, and that will not do. Manifestly, praved, for it feels the still remaining and nothing remains but to change the music, inherent absurdities of even his amended if he can, by robbing it of that root of work, and in order to forestall the fur- his theatrical trouble, its rhythm. And ther attacks of the criticism he has him- if it can be shown that Wagner did try to self started he drops human action and eliminate rhythm from his music, I think makes his entire dramatis personæ su- this is evidence enough that he was conperhuman, in order that nothing they do scious of his artistic failure in joining or say may be judged by human stan- rhythmic music to dramatic action, and dards, and so found absurd; fondly hop- was doing his best to avoid step 4 by ing thus to get rid of the humanities that turning aside to lose, if he could, the one so trouble him. But he forgets, or else of the spirits of music that was most hatehis theatric devil will not let him see, ful to his theatric demon. that, since he and his audiences are but Now comes the question, did Wagner mortals, he can only express, and they try to rid his music of rhythm ? Even can only receive, his fine superhumanities the claimants will scarcely dare to deny in terms of the human. In spite of his his having done so, since it would be so calling his characters gods and goddesses easy to cover pages with proofs and inand other fine names, we still see only stances of it, taken by pages from his remarkably queer men and women, and scores, where they are thick as leaves in so the absurdities really remain, after all. Vallombrosa. And it was not only in
Wagner, of course, would not admit his scores that he strove for this. One of this, but loudly announced that he had the last and strongest links in the chain at last produced a perfect art form for of evidence is the fact that when Wagner the music-drama, and in this very many built his own theatre at Baireuth, not satclaimants now clamorously agree with isfied with smothering audible rhythm him. Nevertheless, I think there is am- out of his music as much as he dared, he ple evidence that he soon came to still went the further length of covering entireanother consciousness of failure and of ly from the audience the visible rhythm still remaining absurdities. Let us re- of baton and bow, without which his perview the position he now held.
formances were impossible, by hiding his After climbing part way up the logi- orchestra and its conductor behind a great cal staircase, he finds that unconquerable screen or shield, lest the eyes of the listheatric devil of his confronted by the teners should remind their ears that there problem (insoluble, as we know, but he was such a thing as rhythm to make the did n't think so) of bringing into artis- action of his characters ridiculous. tic union two antagonistic elements, - For in very truth Wagner's patent dramatized human action and rhythmic improved operatic action remains absurd music. This reminds one somewhat of and ridiculous in many of the old and the juvenile days when one was ques- acknowledged points, in spite of his lifetioned about the consequences of an ir- long labors in the service of the demon resistible force meeting an immovable of the theatre. I do not refer to such pitibody. He first tries to escape step 4 by ful puerilities as the dragon in Siegfried, changing the action, and he takes super and that wonderful wood - bird which, human in place of human ; but this does when Siegfried tastes the magic blood, not do all he wants, because the result instantly learns to speak German, but to remains anthropomorphic, so to speak. the most serious histrionic efforts of the Now, if he is conscious of failure and ablest Wagnerian artists, trained by the wants to try again, what is there left for master himself. They still stride and ges
ture on the accented beats — when they ing of Isolde in the garden scene, when, can find them; they still perilously sus- after extinguishing the torch, she watches pend the action while they hold high in silence, but in great excitement, for notes; the mirrors they hold up to na- Tristan's coming, waves her scarf, and ture still have surfaces warped by the generally deports herself in a way to waves of sound, and of course still re- convey her feelings very fully to the flect distorted images.
audience without saying anything; the A few years ago, Dion Boucicault, that orchestra meanwhile accompanying her past master in dramatic art, wrote for The pantomime deliciously. Why she should North American Review a most trenchant be silent just here I never could quite and pungent paper on operatic acting in understand, since before this she has not general, and on Wagnerian acting in par- been backward about shouting her emoticular; the paper being pointed mainly tions under all circumstances; but she is at the claimants of high artistic value silent until Tristan appears, and devotes for Wagnerian acting. I wish that every
herself to “business ” with such success reader of this could and would read that, that, as I said, the scene is naïvely quotor that Boucicault's paper might be again ed in refutation ; the writer not perceivpresented to that great grand jury, the ing that his quotation comes back like a public; for it is an indictment that has boomerang and smites himself, since, on never yet been quashed, and some day the his own showing, this acting can be good public may find a true bill on it. After and is good because there is no singing many keen thrusts, he boldly challenges at all. Therefore what he praises is only the claimants to place the best Wagnerian pantomime, not opera. acting they can find side by side, as act- Since I have begun citing authorities, ing, with any standard good performance I cannot resist the temptation to quote of modern spoken drama, and asserts that Wagner against himself concerning sung not even the most clamorous claimant can acting.” In his discussion of The Purfeel any doubt about the verdict, or as pose of the Opera, he frankly admits that to the Wagnerian kind of acting being the very best dramatic singers are somelaughed off the stage if applied to spoken times forced to spoken words in the midst words. Boucicault, however, concerned of sung acting, in order to produce realhimself only with judging the facts, and ity of impression ; and he gives the indid not follow with a study of their causes. stance of Madame Schroeder Devrient, Two replies appeared in consecutive num- whom he greatly admired, and who made bers of the magazine, but neither did they a fine point in Fidelio
Another step, reach the real root of the matter. The and — thou art — DEAD!”the last words first objected to the attack on the ground being most dramatically and forcibly that Boucicault's reasoning would deprive spoken instead of sung, with an almost us of all song; but that was manifestly startling effect of reality on the hearers. unfair, since it is plain that he dealt not (Madame Calvé does the same thing for with the marriage of words and music the same purpose in Carmen, speaking which makes song, but with that mar- instead of singing the supreme words, riage of worded music and dramatic ac- “Non, je ne t'aime plus.") And yet in tion which makes opera. The second another place, when his devil had evireply was much stronger than the first, dently downed his logic again, he says but never reached the underlying truth that a poor singer can produce effects of the case, and the writer soon under that are impossible in the best spoken mined his own position completely by drama. So, indeed, he can, but only beciting, with highest praise and as a tri- cause of the intrinsic difference in kind umphant example in refutation, the act between them, which is here so radical
as utterly to invalidate the comparison in had to sing, it was all heard and judged degree, and to the detriment of spoken simply as music, and was found wanting. drama, which Wagner meant.
It was felt to be dreary and depressBut we have sufficiently disposed of ing.
. Wagnerian music-drama acting. It can- Here are two arts, each of them, when not reach the best development of act- alone, entitled to rank as fine art. Here ing.
is a union of the two in which the best And now a few words concerning Wag- in both is killed, and neither can possinerian music-drama music. Wagner him- bly reach its highest development and
. self placed music in the subordinate po- achievement. Am I to be told that this sition, in this amazing marriage, and a killing union can claim rank for itself as recent inquiry among living English com- fine art? I trow not, at this stage in the posers of the first ability resulted in a world's progress. Here it is interesting published opinion that the permanent art to note that there have always been some form of what is now known as music- celebrated musicians — these being also drama is not to be music with drama always among the noblest — who have added, as might be supposed from the gone, perhaps unconsciously, up that loginame, but drama with music added. Is cal staircase to the top; some without any not this enough to make true lovers of stop at step 4, like Bach, Mendelssohn, true music indignant ? For it has been Brahms, and others who never wrote shown that this unnatural union must opera at all, though, like Mendelssohn, bring dramatic action down far below its they may have thought of it; and others best; and since it is now also asserted who paused at step 4, and perhaps turned that in this union music is always to be aside for a time before going up, like thrust below even this degraded drama, Beethoven, who wrote only Fidelio, and how does the beloved Muse fare in the then went higher. These men all, sooner marriage ? There are many rhythmic or later, attained true artistic insight, gems of Wagner's genius that have and placed the truth above the theatre. brought delight to listening thousands Wagner never did. He was conscious and will live forever. There are many of the truth, but his love of the theatre and many dreary pages in the works he would not let him admit it. He saw thought his best which, as music, have step 4, and knew that it led upward to no coherence and give no pleasure. I a truer art life; but he gloried so in the remember well that, some years ago, theatrical that I do not believe he ever Theodore Thomas, with his superb or- thought of mounting that step, though, as chestra, gave a concert rendering of the we have seen, he struggled hard to get Good Friday music from Parsifal, the around it. Since that was impossible, vocal parts being sung by Scaria and he lived and worked below it, under the Winckelmann. It was triumphantly an- dominion of the demon of the theatre and nounced as a grand treat to music lovers, of other propensities all his life. and nothing could have been finer tech- In the occasional periods of decadence nically. But when the music that was that come to the arts of color and of written to go with the slow wandering form, efforts are sure to be made at unitof Parsifal and Gurnemanz among the ing painting and sculpture by coloring flowers was given with only the orchestra statues ; and a slight tint of delicate filling the stage, and with two stout and color on some sculpture seems sometimes rather elderly gentlemen, in black dress so beautifully suggestive as to add value suits and white chokers, standing stock to the form, just as a slight hint of drastill at the footlights, and now and then matic action in the singing of some songs singing the few scattered phrases they is suggestive as to the spirit of the music,