Then take, again, the set forms. Wagner eliminated the double bars and full stops, even as Beethoven had done, to an extent, in the “Heroic” Symphony, where theme leads into theme without a break; but his music is full of form, and also of forms, and the more he wrote the more careless he became about keeping up an appearance of continuity when vital continuity there was none. Wagner’s forms were vaster than those of his predecessors; but for all that they are there.
Wagner’s essays are worth reading by those who have the time and the physical and mental strength, if only because they reveal a man thinking on wrong lines while he is doing on right ones; but they are terribly long-winded, and many weary pages are devoted to demonstrations of the obvious or the actually fallacious. Mr. W. Ashton Ellis has given many years of a valuable life to translating them into something which is not English and not German. For the ordinary music-lover I believe the above summary will be sufficient to enable him to understand Wagner’s aims at this period, and we shall presently see how far he was able to attain them, and to what extent they refused to be, and could not be, attained. The most valuable of his writings are those on conducting and on Beethoven. The latter has some bumptious and comical allusions to “world conquerors,” the Germans suffering badly at the time from an attack of swelled head, subsequent to their defeat of the unhappy, unprepared French.
At Zurich Wagner was occupied with a multiplicity of other pamphlets, with conducting concerts, with his librettos, and so on. Hans von Buelow came to him as a pupil, and proved a devoted friend, afterwards letting him take his wife, Cosima, of whom he, Buelow, it is true, stood in no particular need. Wagner had sent the score of Lohengrin to Liszt, and it was produced at Weimar in 1850. It presently went from opera-house to opera-house, and everywhere triumphed, so that a few years later Wagner could complain that he was probably the only German who had not heard it. In 1853 he published the words of The Nibelung’s Ring, which aroused the premature ire of those who did not know how he intended to treat it musically.
I may here say that my ear is not sufficiently attuned nor my mind accustomed to the subtleties of German for me to offer any judgment on the prosody of Wagner’s librettos. So far as I can understand them, they are uncouth enough. On the other hand, dramatically they are admirably constructed; and when we compare the words with the completed musical setting we can see how the drama was, so to speak, always latent; the words are as an invisible writing, on which the music is poured like a liquid, and out starts the drama, unmistakable and irresistible.