Wagner eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 86 pages of information about Wagner.

In the Dutchman, I have said, we have the North Sea for a background, in Tannhaeuser the sultry, scented cave of Venus.  In Lohengrin it is the broad, shining river, flowing ceaselessly from far-away lands to the distant sea, and on it the swan floats—­the swan which throughout is used as the symbol of the river.  In the first act it gives the pervading atmosphere and colour; in the third it recurs with amazing effect in the midst of one of Elsa’s paroxysms.  Here is the simple phrase by which such magic is wrought: 

[Illustration:  Some bars of music]

No changes are made in this theme.  It occurs again and again, without wearying the ear; it keeps the atmosphere charged with mystery and suggestions of that far-away land where it is always dawn.  It is the calm, refreshing, gently-rippling river; the cool, placid water sliding through many countries, with the swan as symbol and token of all that is strange and beautiful where it has its source.  It is less a theme capable of purely musical development to form pattern after pattern of entrancing beauty, like the Grail or Montsalvat theme, than the equivalent in music of tender colour.  It never sings out from the orchestra without carrying the imagination for a moment from the scene before one’s eyes to the fernem Land.  It blends the actual with the dream, and imbues all the drama with a delicious romantic mysticism.  I dwell on it because without this prevailing colour and atmosphere the story of Lohengrin is a plain prosaic fairy-tale to amuse children.  Further, in the most important musical theme in the opera it is there also—­the Montsalvat theme: 

[Illustration:  Some bars of music]

The characteristic chords in the second bar cannot escape notice.  This motive, one of the sweetest Wagner invented, is long, and less of the nature of a leit-motif—­as I have explained the leit-motif—­than a passage like the Venus music in Tannhaeuser.  Just as Senta’s ballad of the Flying Dutchman is the germ of that opera, so this is the germ of Lohengrin.  It is worked out at great length when Lohengrin’s narrative arrives, and he declares his name, parentage, and country.  The Swan or River theme can scarcely be called a leit-motif in the elementary meaning of the phrase.  For a fair example of this we must go to the passage used by Lohengrin when he warns Elsa that she must ask no questions: 

[Illustration:  Some bars of music]

This is never developed at all.  It recurs only when Elsa’s pertinacious inquisitiveness threatens to rupture their somewhat hastily arranged alliance.  Then it sounds out sinister, menacing, and the effect, both dramatic and musical, is overwhelming.  Another example is the phrase representing Lohengrin simply as a heroic knight.  Save in the finale of the first act, no great use is made of it.

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Wagner from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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