Wagner eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 71 pages of information about Wagner.

He was now, indeed, in a pretty pickle.  At Dresden he had an assured livelihood and time to write operas; and, despite his former experience of hunger and want, he threw away his position for the sake of an idea.  He afterwards was wont to complain that he only wished to be kept alive in reasonable comfort, and he would in return present the world with masterpieces.  Yet he was not content when he was, for a comparatively slight return in daily labour, kept comfortably alive.  But, after all, what appears at first to have been an act of madness turned out anything but disastrous in the long-run.  It is true that without the generous help of Liszt, Wesendonek and others he could not have lived as he did in Zurich, and, as it was, constant apprehensions of approaching poverty harassed him.  The old fear of an empty belly which got into his very blood and bones in the Riga—­Paris period now began to show itself in those appealing letters written to his friends when there appears to have been no necessity whatever.  He had exaggerated hopes and exaggerated fears.  The hopes were realized—­as well as anything can be realized in this imperfect world—­at Bayreuth; the fears found expression in the begging letters of which advantage was taken by every mean and cowardly spirit without the intelligence to understand his real greatness.  Mendelssohn, we are reminded, wrote no such letters; but Mendelssohn, it may be remarked, was always rich, and has no such record of charitable deeds as stands to Wagner’s credit.  The nearest parallel to the case of Wagner is that of Beethoven in his old age.  He, although perfectly well off, scared himself almost to death with his dread of poverty.  Wagner’s letters written about this time are well worth reading.  There is no need to discuss them; they should be read and carefully weighed.  Nor do I propose to spend any great space on the prose writings of the period.  They are full of theories which were no sooner formulated than they had to be discarded in practice.  At a time when Wagner was quite thoroughly misunderstood, the notion—­perhaps naturally—­became prevalent that he was simply completing a work commenced by Gluck.  Now, no two men ever had more widely different aims than Wagner and Gluck.  True, both wrote for the theatre, both employed singers and orchestra; and there the likenesses terminate.  Gluck never sought to change the musical forms in use in opera.  He retained the old recitatives, airs, concerted numbers, and choruses; not Handel himself clung more firmly to the old forms and formalities than Gluck did in Orpheus and Iphigenia.  He sought, in the first place, to substitute worthy and dignified subjects for the ancient frivolities which had inspired composers since opera became popular; he wanted those subjects treated in a sufficiently dignified way, and, above all, in a reasonable way; he resolved that his music should be worthy of the drama.  No concessions were to be made to the prima donna or vain tenor: 

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Wagner from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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