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quotations, we may look a little more closely at the results of his method as here displayed. An important feature in the relation of the music to the drama, not yet touched upon, we may give in the words of Mr. Hüffer, who appears to be, or to have constituted himself, the prophet of Wagner in England:
· For every important idea or passionate impulse of his characters, Wagner introduces a certain striking harmonious or melodious combination, as the musical complement of their dramatic force. Whenever in the course of the drama this impulse comes into action, we hear at once its corresponding motive, either sung by the voice or played by the orchestra, and in manifold variations, according to circumstances.' This idea of labelling a character with a special phrase is of course not new; it has been suggested by Mozart and carried further by Weber and others; but Wagner first has applied it as a ruling principle pervading a whole work. However such a system may aid in giving unity and completeness to the musical expression of the drama, it is at once open to question whether this arbitrary selection of phrases to represent certain ideas is not a mechanical and prosaic, rather than an imaginative and emotional use of music. The main subject of the legend of Tristan' probably is, certainly ought to be, best known to modern English readers by Matthew Arnold's beautiful version of it in his early poem · Tristram and Iseult'; a work of far higher poetic tone and tendency than the Laureate's bizarre treatment of the legend. After a prelude in which the leading motivo of the work is prominent, in the manner we are familiar with in the 'Lohengrin prelude, Wagner's drama opens, like Arnold's poem, on board the ship in which Tristan is conveying King Mark's bride to Cornwall; the scene opening (musically) with an unaccompanied song of a young sailor, who starts off with a phrase containing such ' intervals' as no sailor in this world ever sung except in a Wagner opera. The serious action of the drama is set in motion by an imperious message from Queen Isolde to Tristan, which excites the contempt of his squire Kurwenal, whose braggart song in contempt of her and in praise of his lord, taken up by the crew, is the only approach to a ' tune' in the work; and the giving of the enchanted cup arises in the end out of no “courtesy, but is administered and partaken by Isolde, apparently, under the impression that it is a · Todes-trank,' in a fit of injured pride at her own treatment by Tristan and of desperation as to her future lot. Their long word-fencing is interrupted at intervals by the shouts of the crew raising or lowering the sails, a sort of “yo-heave-yo!' put into a musical
form little different from what one might actually hear, and which illustrates how completely the old tradition of the operachorus has been thrown over. At last the fatal draught is drunk; during a pause filled only by a troubled murmur from the tremolo of the basses in the orchestra, with broken snatches of the first motivo of the overture, the two gaze on each other, and almost at the inoment when they realise their new madness and fall into each other's arms, the land is reached, the cheers that greet King Mark are heard, and the curtain falls eventually upon the shouts of · Cornwall, hail!' the tumultuous jubilation of the full orchestra, the clangour of trumpets on the stage, and the vain endeavours of their astonished attendants to rouse the dazed and enchanted lovers to the comprehension of their position. The second act opens on the warm bright summer night in the palace gardens, before the chambers of Isolde, who issues thence with her attendant Brangäne to await her lover. The suspense is long drawn out; at last, after an interlude of some length, the entry of Tristan is led up to with that tumultuous rush and crescendo of the band which Wagner makes so effective in securing a climax, and the two, after hurried and broken ejaculations in which the line separating singing from ordinary speech is as nearly crossed as possible, run through the whole gamut of passion in a scene compared with which even what has been termed the * everlasting duet'in · Lohengrin’ must hide its diminished head. At length the storm of passion subsides, and after a passage of intense pathos at the words “() sink' hernieder,
Nacht der Liebe,' the anticlimax is reached, and · Tristan ‘und Isolde, versinken wie in gänzliche Entrücktheit, in der ‘sie, Haupt an Haupt, auf die Blumenbank zurückgelehnt, 'verweilen ; '* while over them is heard from the battlements the song of Brangäne
• Einsam wachend in der Nacht,
Wem der Traum der Liebe lacht'-the singer invisible, her voice sustained by a soft arpeggio accompaniment. The introduction of this interlude of Bran
So runs the stage direction. The peculiar stolidity which the German mind seems able to bring to bear on the treatment of such a subject is rather calculated to excite a smile than any more serious comment. Still, we are inclined to think that no English audience would ever witness the above scene, or the wedding-chamber scene in 'Lohengrin,' without an uneasy half-suspicion that the veil had been somewhat too rashly withdrawn from the sanctities of passion and of affection respectively.
VOL. CXLIII. NO. CCXCI.
gäne, warning the dreamers that the night is waning, is a masterly stroke of dramatic effect. But the lovers are roused at last only to hate the day, to desire death, to dream of some state in which even their own identity is merged and lost in an eternal sea of passion
"Wie sie fassen, wie sie lassen,
Endlos höchste Liebes-Lust!' and here, just as the musical expression has risen to a delirious whirl in which all form and restraint seem to be lost, enter King Mark and Melot (the traditional · betrayer' of all drama), and the castle folk in hunting array, and the act ends eventually with Tristan sinking down wounded in an affray with Melot. In the third act we are at Tristan's castle in Brittany, where he slumbers wearily while the faithful Kurwenal and a countryman look anxiously for the ship that is to bring Isolde. The mental and physical struggle of the hero between hope and remembrance, weakness and longing, are portrayed in a scene too long for description here, till the ship arrives with the dramatic effect which Wagner knows how to impart to thene nomatis
sorte on such an incident, and Isolde rushes breathless in, only to see her knight expire in her arms. Hard upon the catastrophe comes the cry of ein zweites Schiffl'on which Mark and Melot are discerned. The latter meets with the usual fate of the betrayer (in drama) at the hands of Kurwenal; and after King Mark has expressed his sorrow at the general untoward course of events, the work concludes, not with the traditional chorussinging, but with the swan-song of Isolde, the final strife
nd Entsimo, and the orchestral
sungest childish in poetryand le place with the alitanguage of
between love and death; and as she imagines her re-union, she knows not how, with the soul of him who is all to her-
• In dem wogenden Schwall,
Höchste Lust!' her accents grow weaker, and with the last broken wail she sinks on the body of Tristan, while the orchestral movement dies away to a faint pianissimo, and the curtain slowly falls on Grosse Rührung und Entrücktheit unter den Umstehenden.'
As Herr Wagner claims to be a poet as well as a musician, and the composition of his drama is an essential part of his work, we have quoted these passages, in justice to himself, from the original text. The libretto of an opera has seldom much claim to literary merit; but of all the doggrel we ever met with “to be said or sung' on the stage, Herr Wagner's verses appear to us to be the worst. Childish jingle and tasteless alliteration take the place of rhythm and poetry; and whatever he may have done with the art of Mozart and Beethoven, he has certainly prostituted the language of Schiller and Goethe. But it would be cruel to judge such trash by any known literary standard.
Yet the mere perusal of the work shows a certain power and intensity in the general treatment of the legend, so wild and exciting in itself, so full in one sense of human interest. We cannot but remark in particular the genius for dramatic effect displayed in the manner in which Wagner opens each act; how he gives the local colour and feeling of the surroundings; on the ship---in the palace gardens on the summer night-in the castle where the horn of the Breton herdsman heard outside gives the first indication that we are on new ground; and the art with which he excites the expectation of the spectator by one device after another, while withholding the climax of the scene. Yet when we regard the work from a musical point of view, we are full of misgivings. Points there are which at once assert themselves, no doubt : such as the prelude and scenic music of the second act; the ecstatic rush of the violins in a phrase which becomes a prominent feature of the great scene between the lovers, entering first at the words, 'O
Wonne der Seele ;' the short low “Ha!' upon a high note, amid the dead silence of everything else, with which Isolde recognises that her lover is dead; the opening and close of the final dirge ; and others which have been and might be adduced. But without repeating what we have already said as to the place of rhythm in music, the vocal portions seem for the most part to be written with an absolute and determir.ed ignoring of the fact that certain intervals are more natural to the voice and the ear than others. Even the sailor and the herdsman cannot be allowed to sing and pipe naturally; they sing and pipe in Wagnerian intervals. Wagner speaks in one place, and speaks eloquently, of the wonderful power of music - which, by means of the firm precision of melodic expression, * lifts even the least gifted singer so high above the level of his
personal performances.' But even the most gifted singer will look in vain for this ' precision of melody,' except in a few isolated sentences. The voice is dragged through such tortuous and unnatural paths that the really free expression of feeling on the part of the singer seems often almost incompatible with the strain on the ear, and the attention necessary to keep in correct relation with the labyrinth of orchestral accompaniments, in regard to which the singer is, as before observed, only an instrument among the other instruments. Without forgetting the stricture which Gluck passed upon those who judged of his operas apart from their effect on the stage, we cannot but think that the uncertainty and confusion of tonal relation in the vocal melodies, as well as in the harmonic construction of the orchestral part, implies not merely an indifference to scientific method (which is debateable ground), but an ignoring of the physical basis of music, which rests on demonstrable facts, and by which its ästhetic form must necessarily, within certain limits, be determined. That Wagner, in his attempt to give to musical drama the unrestrained freedom of spoken drama, has overstepped these limits, must, we think, be the ultimate conclusion based on such a work as · Tristan.' Nor do we believe that the brilliant and powerful points in the work can ever, with any but a very partial audience, adequately atone for the tedium inseparable from a method which allows so little relief and contrast of manner and effect, and which, discarding the resources of amplification and extension of musical form, and emphasising every detail of the words, keeps the musical expression, so to speak, at a white heat throughout, and never allows the listener a moment's repose. Nevertheless, we are of opinion that an adequate performance of · Tris* tan und Isolde ought to be given in London at an early date, and this unique experiment in musical drama be subjected to a fair test.
Of the gigantic combination of four operas on the largest scale, which is to be represented at Baireuth in August, under