It is unnecessary for me to describe in further detail an opera which is so well known, and can be followed at a first hearing very much more easily than Tannhaeuser. While there is a great deal of recitative, there are also many numbers merely joined together in the Tannhaeuser manner. Such numbers as the Prayer and Finale of the first act, Elsa’s Song and the Processional March in the second, the Wedding Chorus in the last, are simply placed there; they do not grow out of themes, as they would have grown had the opera been written when Wagner was ten years older. The love duet which takes place after the marriage is a series of his most generously inspired melodies. There are enough beautiful and passionate tunes there to make the fortune of half a dozen Italian operas.
After Lohengrin the composer wrote nothing more for some years, though we may be sure he was eternally planning. He was intensely interested in politics. Revolution was in the air, and Wagner had to have his say on that as on every other topic. He made speeches and published pamphlets; and just as his musical schemes seemed wild to such contemporaries as the late Charles Halle, so his ideas of social regeneration must have seemed Utopian to the point of sheer lunacy to the very comrades with whom he was acting. The explosion came; barricades were thrown up in the Dresden streets, and Wagner sought to bring about a quiet ending to the crisis by appealing to the Imperial soldiers to join with, and not to fight against, their own countrymen. Whether he actually shouldered a musket or not it is hard to say. This much is certain, however: that Wagner did take part in the rising, and that a warrant was issued for his arrest. The fiasco resulted in a great gain to music, and, as far as Wagner was concerned, there was no political loss. Had the insurgents by some unthinkable chance succeeded, he would soon have been on worse terms with them than ever he was with Kings and Imperial personages. They tried revolt because they wished to alter all the conditions under which men lived. Wagner, too, wanted to alter the conditions of life, but mainly with a view of carrying out his operatic reforms. Look where we will in his writings, we see that to be the secret of all his incursions into practical politics. Passionate—a bursting volcano of elemental energy—he was always a man of one idea at a time, and that idea always involved Richard Wagner playing an important role, for he was one of the most splendid egoists to be met in history.