Wagner died suddenly at Venice February 13, 1883, and a few days later was buried in the garden of Villa Wahnfried, Bayreuth. For a really great composer he had quite a long life, and he lived it out strenuously; and if he struggled and suffered during a great portion of it, at any rate his last years brought him peace, undisturbed by the old nightmare dread of poverty.
His activity manifested itself in three forms: the reforms he effected in the theatre and the concert-room, his own music dramas, and the prose writings, in which he both advocated the reforms and argued for his theories. The prose, I have said, is of very small account now, and, with the exception of the essays mentioned earlier, his essays and articles have only a curious interest. His theatrical reforms consisted in making the artistes sing intelligently and with care, and in demanding realistic scenery. Intelligence and pains—these are the two new elements he introduced into the theatre; and if most operatic performances to-day are not absolutely ridiculous, we owe this miraculous change to Wagner alone. The notion that anything, however slovenly and stupid, is good enough for opera was dissipated by him alone. A book of an interesting gossipy sort might be compiled to show the difference between opera representations before Bayreuth and those of a post-Bayreuth date, but there is no space for any such excursions here. At the risk of turning this sketch into something like an analytical programme, I have concentrated my attention on his operas, and have tried to show how the later Wagner—the Wagner of the Ring, the Mastersingers, and of Tristan—grew out of the earlier Wagner, who composed as everyone else did at the time. He created a new form of art, and no serious composer will ever dream of going back to the ancient form of Gluck, Mozart and Weber. From the historical point of view, it is the creation of this new form that gives him his importance. He did for opera what George Stevenson did for vehicular traffic. The music drama has driven out Italian opera as completely and irrevocably as the steam-engine drove out the stage-coach. As far as his choice of subjects, there is no reason on earth why he should be followed. The myth suited him because he happened to be the Wagner he was, but there are a hundred reasons why present-day composers should leave the myth alone. The myth gave him opportunities to display his passion, keen sympathy with picturesque nature, tremendous sense of a remote past that never existed; but other composers have other mental and artistic qualities, and for them there are fresh fields to be explored. No one need trouble about the myth unless he is prepared to show us something finer than anything in Wagner.