Wagner eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 86 pages of information about Wagner.
never have enough, for he spent it faster than he gained it—­spent it on himself, needy artists, on any object which suggested itself to him.  However, the creative artist in him had the victory.  The notion of a second Rienzi was abandoned and Tannhaeuser commenced.  He had come across the legend of an illicit passion and its punishment somewhere, and he set to work on the book of words.  Of course he sentimentalized the story—­it was a trick he was always given to, especially during these, his younger, years—­and, of course, he made a woman sacrifice herself for a man.  In the older form of the tale Tannhaeuser lived goodness knows how long with Venus; then he forsook her, and she vowed to take vengeance on him.  He returned to his friends, and entered for a competition in minstrelsy.  While in the middle of his song, which would have gained him the prize, Venus visited him with sudden madness, and throwing away all cant about pure platonic love, he chanted the praise of foul carnal lust and the joy of living with the Goddess of Love in the heart of the hills.  Coming to himself, he went on a pilgrimage to Rome, and asked and was refused the Pope’s forgiveness.  Then he returned to Venus, and so the story ends with the eternal damnation of Tannhaeuser, just as the ancient legend of the Flying Dutchman ends with the eternal damnation of Vanderdecken.

It need hardly be said that this did not satisfy Wagner.  He did not like to see people eternally damned; drab, hopeless tragedy was not for him.  In nearly every opera we find peace and hope at the close, or even ecstasy in death, as in the Dusk of the Gods (Goetterdaemmerung) and Tristan.  So he promptly made use of Elisabeth in TANNHAeUSER, though, as we shall see, the redeeming act is not so sharply defined as in the Dutchman.  In the first scene Tannhaeuser is sleeping in the arms of Venus, while bacchanals indulge in riotous dances.  Tannhaeuser suddenly starts from sleep:  he has dreamed of his home as it was before his fall—­of the village chime, the birds, the flowers, the sweet air; and he asks permission to return from this hot, steaming cave of vice to the fair clean earth.  Venus in vain plays upon him with all her arts and wiles; he sings his magnificent song in praise of her and her beauty, but insists that he must go, and ends with a frenzied appeal to the Virgin.  In a moment the illusion is broken:  Venus, her luxurious cavern, her nymphs and satyrs, all disappear.  There is a minute’s blackness, then the light returns, and Tannhaeuser is lying in the roadside before a cross.  The sky is blue and the trees and grass are green, and a shepherd-boy is carolling a fresh, merry spring song.  Tannhaeuser remains with his face to earth while a band of pilgrims passes on its way to Rome.  Then his old companions come up, recognise him, tell him Elisabeth has patiently awaited his return, and so induce him to go with them.

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Wagner from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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