A Book of Operas
Henry Edward Krehbiel

Part 3 out of 5

ballet is a fairy waltz, a filmy musical fabric, seemingly woven
of moonbeams and dewy cobwebs, over a pedal-point on the muted
violoncellos, ending with drum taps and harmonics from the harp--one
of the daintiest and most original orchestral effects imaginable.
So dainty is the device, indeed, that one would think that nothing
could come between it and the ears of the transported listeners
without ruining the ethereal creation. But M. Gunsbourg's fancy has
accomplished the miraculous. Out of the river bank he constructs a
floral bower rich as the magical garden of Klingsor. Sylphs circle
around the sleeper and throw themselves into graceful attitudes
while the song is sounding. Then to the music of the elfin waltz,
others enter who have, seemingly, cast off the gross weight which
holds mortals in contact with the earth. With robes a-flutter like
wings, they dart upwards and remain suspended in mid-air at will or
float in and out of the transporting picture. To Faust is also
presented a vision of Marguerite.

The next five scenes in Berlioz's score are connected by M.
Gunsbourg and forced to act in sequence for the sake of the stage
set, in which a picture of Marguerite's chamber is presented in the
conventional fashion made necessary by the exigency of showing an
exterior and interior at the same time, as in the last act of
"Rigoletto." For a reason at which I cannot even guess, M. Gunsbourg
goes farther and transforms the chamber of Marguerite into a sort of
semi-enclosed arbor, and places a lantern in her hand instead of
the lamp, so that she may enter in safety from the street. In this
street there walk soldiers, followed by students, singing their
songs. Through them Faust finds his way and into the trellised
enclosure. The strains of the songs are heard at the last blended
in a single harmony. Marguerite enters through the street with her
lantern and sings the romance of the King of Thule, which Berlioz
calls a Chanson Gothique, one of the most original of his creations
and, like the song in the next scene, "L'amour l'ardente flamme,"
which takes the place of Goethe's "Meine Ruh' ist hin," is
steeped in a mood of mystical tenderness quite beyond description.
Méphistophétès summons will-o'-the-wisps to aid in the bewilderment
of the troubled mind of Marguerite. Here realism sadly disturbs the
scene as Berlioz asks that the fancy shall create it. The customary
dancing lights of the stage are supplemented with electrical effects
which are beautiful, if not new. They do not mar if they do not help
the grotesque minuet. But when M. Gunsbourg materializes the ghostly
flames and presents them as a mob of hopping figures, he throws
douches of cold water on the imagination of the listeners. Later he
spoils enjoyment of the music utterly by making it the accompaniment
of some utterly irrelevant pantomime by Marguerite, who goes into
the street and is seen writhing between the conflicting emotions of
love and duty, symbolized by a vision of Faust and the glowing of a
cross on the façade of a church. To learn the meaning of this, one
must go to the libretto, where he may read that it is all a dream
dreamed by Marguerite after she had fallen asleep in her arm-chair.
But we see her awake, not asleep, and it is all foolish and
disturbing stuff put in to fill time and connect two of Berlioz's
scenes. Marguerite returns to the room which she had left only in
her dream, Faust discovers himself, and there follows the inevitable
love-duet which Méphistophétès changes into a trio when he enters to
urge Faust to depart. Meanwhile, Marguerite's neighbors gather in
the street and warn Dame Martha of the misdeeds of Marguerite. The
next scene seems to have been devised only to give an environment to
Berlioz's paraphrase of Goethe's immortal song at the spinning-wheel.
From the distance is heard the fading song of the students and the
last echo of drums and trumpets sounding the retreat. Marguerite
rushes to the window, and, overcome, rather unaccountably, with
remorse and grief, falls in a swoon.

The last scene. A mountain gorge, a rock in the foreground
surmounted by a cross. Faust's soliloquy, "Nature, immense,
impénétrable et fière," was inspired by Goethe's exalted invocation
to nature. Faust signs the compact, Méphistophétès summons the
infernal steeds, Vortex and Giaour, and the ride to hell begins.
Women and children at the foot of the cross supplicate the prayers
of Mary, Magdalen, and Margaret. The cross disappears in a fearful
crash of sound, the supplicants flee, and a moving panorama shows
the visions which are supposed to meet the gaze of the riders--birds
of night, dangling skeletons, a hideous and bestial phantasmagoria
at the end of which Faust is delivered to the flames. The picture
changes, and above the roofs of the sleeping town appears a vision
of angels welcoming Marguerite.



In music the saying that "familiarity breeds contempt," is true only
of compositions of a low order. In the case of compositions of the
highest order, familiarity generally breeds ever growing admiration.
In this category new compositions are slowly received; they make
their way to popular appreciation only by repeated performances.
It is true that the people like best the songs as well as the
symphonies which they know best; but even this rule has its
exceptions. It is possible to grow indifferent to even high
excellence because of constant association with it. Especially
is this true when the form--that is, the manner of expression--has
grown antiquated; then, not expecting to find the kind of quality to
which our tastes are inclined, we do not look for it, and though it
may be present, it frequently passes unnoticed. The meritorious old
is, therefore, just as much subject to non-appreciation as the
meritorious new. Let me cite an instance.

Once upon a time duty called me to the two opera-houses of New
York on the same evening. At the first I listened to some of the
hot-blooded music of an Italian composer of the so-called school
of verismo. Thence I went to the second. Verdi's "Traviata" was
performing. I entered the room just as the orchestra began the
prelude to the last act. As one can see without observing, so one
can hear without listening--a wise provision which nature has made
for the critic, and a kind one; I had heard that music so often
during a generation of time devoted to musical journalism that I had
long since quit listening to it. But now my jaded faculties were
arrested by a new quality in the prelude. I had always admired the
composer of "Rigoletto," "Il Trovatore," and "Traviata," and I loved
and revered the author of "Aïda," "Otello," and "Falstaff." I had
toddled along breathlessly in the trail made by his seven-league
boots during the last thirty-five years of his career; but as I
listened I found myself wondering that I had not noticed before that
his modernity had begun before I had commenced to realize even what
maternity meant--more than half a century ago, for "La Traviata" was
composed in 1853. The quivering atmosphere of Violetta's sick-room
seemed almost visible as the pathetic bit of hymnlike music rose
upward from the divided viols of the orchestra like a cloud of
incense which gathered itself together and floated along with the
pathetic song of the solo violin. The work of palliating the
character of the courtesan had begun, and on it went with
each recurrence of the sad, sweet phrase as it punctuated the
conversation between Violetta and her maid, until memory of her
moral grossness was swallowed up in pity for her suffering.
Conventional song-forms returned when poet and composer gave voice
to the dying woman's lament for the happiness that was past and her
agony of fear when she felt the touch of Death's icy hand; but where
is melody more truthfully eloquent than in "Addio, del passato," and
"Gran Dio! morir so giovane"? Is it within the power of instruments,
no matter how great their number, or harmony with all the poignancy
which it has acquired through the ingenious use of dissonance, or
of broken phrase floating on an instrumental flood, to be more
dramatically expressive than are these songs? Yet they are, in
a way, uncompromisingly formal, architectural, strophic, and
conventionally Verdian in their repetition of rhythmical motives
and their melodic formularies. This introduction to the third act
recalls the introduction to the first, which also begins with the
hymnlike phrase, and sets the key-note of pathos which is sounded
at every dramatic climax, though pages of hurdy-gurdy tune and
unmeaning music intervene. Recall "Ah, fors' è lui che l'anima,"
with its passionate second section, "A quell' amor," and that most
moving song of resignation, "Dite all' giovine." These things
outweigh a thousand times the glittering tinsel of the opera and
give "Traviata" a merited place, not only beside the later creations
of the composer, but among those latter-day works which we call
lyric dramas to distinguish them from those which we still call
operas, with commiserating emphasis on the word.

That evening I realized the appositeness of Dr. von Bülow's remark
to Mascagni when the world seemed inclined to hail that young man
as the continuator of Verdi's operatic evangel: "I have found your
successor in your predecessor, Verdi," but it did not seem necessary
to think of "Otello" and "Falstaff" in connection with the
utterance; "La Traviata" alone justifies it. Also it was made plain
what Verdi meant, when after the first performance of his opera,
and its monumental fiasco, he reproached his singers with want of
understanding of his music. The story of that fiasco and the origin
of the opera deserve a place here. "La Traviata," as all the world
knows, is based upon the book and drama, "La Dame aux Camélias," by
the younger Dumas, known to Americans and Englishmen as "Camille."
The original book appeared in 1848, the play in 1852. Verdi
witnessed a performance of the play when it was new. He was writing
"Il Trovatore" at the time, but the drama took so strong a hold upon
him that he made up his mind at once to turn it into an opera. As
was his custom, he drafted a plan of the work, and this he sent
to Piave, who for a long time had been his librettist in ordinary.
Francesco Maria Piave was little more than a hack-writer of verse,
but he knew how to put Verdi's ideas into practicable shape, and
he deserves to be remembered with kindly interest as the great
composer's collaborator in the creation of "I due Foscari,"
"Ernani," "Macbetto," "Il Corsaro," "Stiffclio," "Simon Boccanegra,"
"Aroldo" (a version of "Stiffelio"), and "La Forza del Destino."
His artistic relations with Verdi lasted from 1844 to 1862, but the
friendship of the men endured till the distressful end of Piave's
life, which came in 1876. He was born three years earlier than Verdi
(in 1810), in Durano, of which town his father had been the last
podesta under the Venetian republic. He went mad some years
before he died, and thenceforward lived off Verdi's bounty, the
warm-hearted composer not only giving him a pension, but also caring
for his daughter after his death. In 1853 Verdi's creative genius
was at flood-tide. Four months was the time which he usually devoted
to the composition of an opera, but he wrote "La Traviata" within
four weeks, and much of the music was composed concurrently with
that of "Il Trovatore." This is proved by the autograph, owned
by his publishers, the Ricordis, and there is evidence of the
association in fraternity of phrase in some of the uninteresting
pages of the score. (See "Morrò! la mia memoria" for instance, and
the dance measures with their trills.) "Il Trovatore" was produced
at Rome on January 19, 1853, and "La Traviata" on March 6 of the
same year at the Fenice Theatre in Venice. "Il Trovatore" was
stupendously successful; "La Traviata" made a woful failure. Verdi
seems to have been fully cognizant of the causes which worked
together to produce the fiasco, though he was disinclined at the
time to discuss them. Immediately after the first representation
he wrote to Muzio: "'La Traviata' last night a failure. Was the
fault mine or the singers'? Time will tell." To Vincenzo Luccardi,
sculptor, professor at the Academy of San Luca in Rome, one of his
most intimate friends, he wrote after, the second performance: "The
success was a fiasco--a complete fiasco! I do not know whose fault
it was; it is best not to talk about it. I shall tell you nothing
about the music, and permit me to say nothing about the performers."
Plainly, he did not hold the singers guiltless. Varesi, the
barytone, who was intrusted with the part of the elder Germont,
had been disaffected, because he thought it beneath his dignity.
Nevertheless, he went to the composer and offered his condolences
at the fiasco. Verdi wanted none of his sympathy. "Condole with
yourself and your companions who have not understood my music," was
his somewhat ungracious rejoinder. No doubt the singers felt some
embarrassment in the presence of music which to them seemed new and
strange in a degree which we cannot appreciate now. Abramo Basevi,
an Italian critic, who wrote a book of studies on Verdi's operas,
following the fashion set by Lenz in his book on Beethoven, divides
the operas which he had written up to the critic's time into
examples of three styles, the early operas marking his first manner
and "Luisa Miller" the beginning of his second. In "La Traviata" he
says Verdi discovered a third manner, resembling in some things
the style of French oéera comique. "This style of music," he says,
"although it has not been tried on the stage in Italy, is, however,
not unknown in private circles. In these latter years we have
seen Luigi Gordigiani and Fabio Campana making themselves known
principally in this style of music, called da camera. Verdi, with
his 'Traviata,' has transported this chamber-music on to the stage,
to which the subject he has chosen still lends itself, and with
happy success. We meet with more simplicity in this work than in the
others of the same composer, especially as regards the orchestra,
where the quartet of stringed instruments is almost always
predominant; the parlanti occupy a great part of the score; we meet
with several of those airs which repeat under the form of verses;
and, finally, the principal vocal subjects are for the most part
developed in short binary and ternary movements, and have not, in
general, the extension which the Italian style demands." Campana
and Gordigiani were prolific composers of romanzas and canzonettas
of a popular type. Their works are drawing-room music, very
innocuous, very sentimental, very insignificant, and very far from
the conception of chamber-music generally prevalent now. How they
could have been thought to have influenced so virile a composer as
Verdi, it is difficult to see. But musical critics enjoy a wide
latitude of observation. In all likelihood there was nothing more in
Dr. Basevi's mind than the strophic structure of "Di Provenza," the
song style of some of the other arias to which attention has been
called and the circumstance that these, the most striking numbers
in the score, mark the points of deepest feeling. In this respect,
indeed, there is some relationship between "La Traviata" and "Der
Freischütz"--though this is an observation which will probably
appear as far-fetched to some of my critics as Dr. Basevi's does
to me.

There were other reasons of a more obvious and external nature for
the failure of "La Traviata" on its first production. Lodovico
Graziani, the tenor, who filled the rôle of Alfredo, was hoarse, and
could not do justice to the music; Signora Salvini-Donatelli, the
Violetta of the occasion, was afflicted with an amplitude of person
which destroyed the illusion of the death scene and turned its
pathos into absurdity. The spectacle of a lady of mature years and
more than generous integumental upholstery dying of consumption was
more than the Venetian sense of humor could endure with equanimity.
The opera ended with shrieks of laughter instead of the lachrymal
flood which the music and the dramatic situation called for. This
spirit of irreverence had been promoted, moreover, by the fact that
the people of the play wore conventional modern clothes. The lure
of realism was not strong in the lyric theatres half a century ago,
when laces and frills, top-boots and plumed hats, helped to confine
the fancy to the realm of idealism in which it was believed opera
ought to move. The first result of the fiasco was a revision of the
costumes and stage furniture, by which simple expedient Mr. Dumas's
Marguerite Gauthier was changed from a courtesan of the time of
Louis Philippe to one of the period of Louis XIV. It is an amusing
illustration of how the whirligig of time brings its revenges that
the spirit of verismo, masquerading as a desire for historical
accuracy, has restored the period of the Dumas book,--that is,
restored it in name, but not in fact,--with the result, in New York
and London at least, of making the dress of the opera more absurd
than ever. Violetta, exercising the right which was conquered by
the prima donna generations ago, appears always garbed in the very
latest style, whether she be wearing one of her two ball dresses or
her simple afternoon gown. For aught that I know, the latest fad in
woman's dress may also be hidden in the dainty folds of the robe
de chambre in which she dies. The elder Germont has for two years
appeared before the New York public as a well-to-do country
gentleman of Provence might have appeared sixty years ago, but his
son has thrown all sartorial scruples to the wind, and wears the
white waistcoat and swallowtail of to-day.

The Venetians were allowed a year to get over the effects of the
first representations of "La Traviata," and then the opera was
brought forward again with the new costumes. Now it succeeded and
set out upon the conquest of the world. It reached London on May 24,
St. Petersburg on November 1, New York on December 3, and Paris on
December 6--all in the same year, 1856. The first Violetta in New
York was Mme. Anna La Grange, the first Alfredo Signor Brignoli, and
the first Germont père Signor Amodio. There had been a destructive
competition between Max Maretzek's Italian company at the Academy of
Music and a German company at Niblo's Garden. The regular Italian
season had come to an end with a quarrel between Maretzek and the
directors of the Academy. The troupe prepared to embark for Havana,
but before doing so gave a brief season under the style of the La
Grange Opera Company, and brought forward the new opera on December
3, three days before the Parisians were privileged to hear it. The
musical critic of the Tribune at the time was Mr. W. H. Fry, who was
not only a writer on political and musical subjects, but a composer,
who wrote an opera, "Leonora," in which Mme. La Grange sang at the
Academy about a year and a half later. His review of the first
performance of "La Traviata," which appeared in the Tribune of
December 5, 1856, is worth reading for more reasons than one:--

The plot of "La Traviata" we have already given to our readers. It
is simply "Camille." The first scene affords us some waltzing music,
appropriate in its place, on which a (musical) dialogue takes place.
The waltz is not specially good, nor is there any masterly
outworking of detail. A fair drinking song is afforded, which
pleased, but was not encored. A pretty duet by Mme. de la Grange and
Signor Brignoli may be noticed also in this act; and the final air,
by Madame de la Grange, "Ah! fors' e lui che l'anima," contained a
brilliant, florid close which brought down the house, and the
curtain had to be reraised to admit of a repetition. Act II admits
of more intensified music than Act I. A brief air by Alfred
(Brignoli) is followed by an air by Germont (Amodio), and by a duet,
Violetta (La Grange) and Germont. The duet is well worked up and is
rousing, passionate music. Verdi's mastery of dramatic accent--of
the modern school of declamation--is here evident. Some dramatic
work, the orchestra leading, follows--bringing an air by Germont,
"Di Provenza il mar." This is a 2-4 travesty of a waltz known as
Weber's Last Waltz (which, however, Weber never wrote); and is too
uniform in the length of its notes to have dramatic breadth or
eloquence. A good hit is the sudden exit of Alfred thereupon, not
stopping to make an andiamo duet as is so often done. The next scene
introduces us to a masquerade where are choruses of quasi-gypsies,
matadors, and picadors,--sufficiently characteristic. The scene
after the card-playing, which is so fine in the play, is inefficient
in music. Act III in the book (though it was made Act IV on this
occasion by subdividing the second) reveals the sick-room of
Traviata. A sweet air, minor and major by turns, with some hautboy
wailing, paints the sufferer's sorrows. A duet by the lovers,
"Parigi, O cara," is especially original in its peroration. The
closing trio has due culmination and anguish, though we would have
preferred a quiet ending to a hectic shriek and a doubly loud force
in the orchestra.

Goldsmith's rule in "The Vicar" for criticising a painting was
always to say that "the picture would have been better if the
painter had taken more pains." Perhaps the same might be said about
"La Traviata"; but whether it would have pleased the public more is
another question. Some of the airs certainly would bear substitution
by others in the author's happier vein. The opera was well received.
Three times the singers were called before the curtain. The piece
was well put on the stage. Madame La Grange never looked so well.
Her toilet was charming.

The principal incidents of Dumas's play are reproduced with general
fidelity in the opera. In the first act there are scenes of gayety
in the house of Violetta--dancing, feasting, and love-making. Among
the devotees of the courtesan is Alfredo Germont, a young man of
respectable Provençal family. He joins in the merriment, singing a
drinking song with Violetta, but his devotion to her is unlike that
of his companions. He loves her sincerely, passionately, and his
protestations awaken in her sensations never felt before. For
a moment, she indulges in a day-dream of honest affection, but
banishes it with the reflection that the only life for which she is
fitted is one devoted to the pleasures of the moment, the mad revels
rounding out each day, and asking no care of the moment. But at the
last the voice of Alfredo floats in at the window, burdening the air
and her heart with an echo of the longing to which she had given
expression in her brief moment of thoughtfulness. She yields to
Alfredo's solicitations and a strangely new emotion, and abandons
her dissolute life to live with him alone.

In the second act the pair are found housed in a country villa
not far from Paris. From the maid Alfredo learns that Violetta
has sold her property in the city--house, horses, carriages, and
all--in order to meet the expenses of the rural establishment.
Conscience-smitten, he hurries to Paris to prevent the sacrifice,
but in his absence Violetta is called upon to make a much greater.
Giorgio Germont, the father of her lover, visits her, and, by
appealing to her love for his son and picturing the ruin which is
threatening him and the barrier which his illicit association with
her is placing in the way of the happy marriage of his sister,
persuades her to give him up. She abandons home and lover, and
returns to her old life in the gay city, making a favored companion
of the Baron Duphol. In Paris, at a masked ball in the house of
Flora, one of her associates, Alfredo finds her again, overwhelms
her with reproaches, and ends a scene of excitement by denouncing
her publicly and throwing his gambling gains at her feet.

Baron Duphol challenges Alfredo to fight a duel. The baron is
wounded. The elder Germont sends intelligence of Alfredo's safety
to Violetta, and informs her that he has told his son of the great
sacrifice which she had made for love of him. Violetta dies in the
arms of her lover, who had hurried to her on learning the truth,
only to find her suffering the last agonies of disease.

In the preface to his novel, Dumas says that the principal incidents
of the story are true. It has also been said that Dickens was
familiar with them, and at one time purposed to make a novel on the
subject; but this statement scarcely seems credible. Such a novel
would have been un-English in spirit and not at all in harmony with
the ideals of the author of "David Copperfield" and "Dombey and
Son." Play and opera at the time of their first production raised
questions of taste and morals which have remained open ever since.
Whether the anathema periodically pronounced against them by private
and official censorship helps or hinders the growth of such works
in popularity, there is no need of discussing here. There can
scarcely be a doubt, however, but that many theatrical managers
of to-day would hail with pleasure and expectation of profit such
a controversy over one of their new productions as greeted "La
Traviata" in London. The Lord Chamberlain had refused to sanction
the English adaptations of "La Dame aux Camélias," and when the
opera was brought forward (performance being allowed because it
was sung in a foreign language), pulpit and press thundered in
denunciation of it. Mr. Lumley, the manager of Her Majesty's
Theatre, came to the defence of the work in a letter to the Times,
but it was more his purpose to encourage popular excitement and
irritate curiosity than to shield the opera from condemnation. He
had every reason to be satisfied with the outcome. "La Traviata" had
made a complete fiasco, on its production in Italy, where no one
dreamed of objecting to the subject-matter of its story; in London
there was a loud outcry against the "foul and hideous horrors of the
book," and the critics found little to praise in the music; yet the
opera scored a tremendous popular success, and helped to rescue Her
Majesty's from impending ruin.



Two erroneous impressions concerning Verdi's "Aïda" may as well as
not be corrected at the beginning of a study of that opera: it was
not written to celebrate the completion of the Suez Canal, nor to
open the Italian Opera-house at Cairo, though the completion of
the canal and the inauguration of the theatre were practically
contemporaneous with the conception of the plan which gave the world
one of Verdi's finest and also most popular operas. It is more
difficult to recall a season in any of the great lyric theatres of
the world within the last thirty-five years in which "Aïda" was not
given than to enumerate a score of productions with particularly
fine singers and imposing mise en scène. With it Verdi ought to
have won a large measure of gratitude from singers and impresarios
as well as the fortune which it brought him; for though, like all
really fine works, it rewards effort and money bestowed upon it with
corresponding and proportionate generosity, it does not depend for
its effectiveness on extraordinary vocal outfit or scenic apparel.
Fairly well sung and acted and respectably dressed, it always wins
the sympathies and warms the enthusiasm of an audience the world
over. It is seldom thought of as a conventional opera, and yet it
is full of conventionalities which do not obtrude themselves simply
because there is so much that is individual about its music and its
pictures--particularly its pictures. Save for the features of its
score which differentiate it from the music of Verdi's other operas
and the works of his predecessors and contemporaries, "Aïda" is a
companion of all the operas for which Meyerbeer set a model when
he wrote his works for the Académie Nationale in Paris--the great
pageant operas like "Le Prophète," "Lohengrin," and Goldmark's
"Queen of Sheba." With the last it shares one element which brings
it into relationship also with a number of much younger and less
significant works--operas like Mascagni's "Iris," Puccini's "Madama
Butterfly," and Giordano's "Siberia." In the score of "Aïda" there
is a slight infusion of that local color which is lavishly employed
in decorating its externals. The pomp and pageantry of the drama are
Egyptian and ancient; the play's natural and artificial environment
is Egyptian and ancient; two bits of its music are Oriental,
possibly Egyptian, and not impossibly ancient. But in everything
else "Aïda" is an Italian opera. The story plays in ancient Egypt,
and its inventor was an archaeologist deeply versed in Egyptian
antiquities, but I have yet to hear that Mariette Bey, who wrote the
scenario of the drama, ever claimed an historical foundation for
it or pretended that anything in its story was characteristically
Egyptian. Circumstances wholly fortuitous give a strong tinge of
antiquity and nationalism to the last scene; but, if the ancient
Egyptians were more addicted than any other people to burying
malefactors alive, the fact is not of record; and the picture as we
have it in the opera was not conceived by Mariette Bey, but by Verdi
while working hand in hand with the original author of the libretto,
which, though designed for an Italian performance, was first written
in French prose.

The Italian Theatre in Cairo was built by the khedive, Ismaïl Pacha,
and opened in November, 1869. It is extremely likely that the
thought of the advantage which would accrue to the house, could it
be opened with a new piece by the greatest of living Italian opera
composers, had entered the mind of the khedive or his advisers; but
it does not seem to have occurred to them in time to insure such a
work for the opening. Nevertheless, long before the inauguration of
the theatre a letter was sent to Verdi asking him if he would write
an opera on an Egyptian subject, and if so, on what terms. The
opportunity was a rare one, and appealed to the composer, who had
written "Les Vêpres Siciliennes" and "Don Carlos" for Paris, "La
Forza del Destino" for St. Petersburg, and had not honored an
Italian stage with a new work for ten years. But the suggestion that
he state his terms embarrassed him. So he wrote to his friend Muzio
and asked him what to do. Muzio had acquired much more worldly
wisdom than ever came to the share of the great genius, and he
replied sententiously: "Demand 4000 pounds sterling for your score.
If they ask you to go and mount the piece and direct the rehearsals,
fix the sum at 6000 pounds."

Verdi followed his friend's advice, and the khedive accepted the
terms. At first the opera people in Cairo thought they wanted only
the score which carried with it the right of performance, but soon
they concluded that they wanted also the presence of the composer,
and made him, in vain, munificent offers of money, distinctions,
and titles. His real reason for not going to prepare the opera and
direct the first performance was a dread of the voyage. To a friend
he wrote that he feared that if he went to Cairo they would make a
mummy of him. Under the terms of the agreement the khedive sent him
50,000 francs at once, and deposited the balance of 50,000 francs in
a bank, to be paid over to the composer on delivery of the score.

The story of "Aïda" came from Mariette Bey, who was then director
of the Egyptian Museum at Boulak. Auguste Édouard Mariette was a
Frenchman who, while an attaché of the Louvre, in 1850, had gone on
a scientific expedition to Egypt for the French government and had
discovered the temple of Serapis at Memphis. It was an "enormous
structure of granite and alabaster, containing within its enclosure
the sarcophagi of the bulls of Apis, from the nineteenth dynasty to
the time of the Roman supremacy." After his return to Paris, he was
appointed in 1855 assistant conservator of the Egyptian Museum in
the Louvre, and after some further years of service, he went to
Egypt again, where he received the title of Bey and an appointment
as director of the museum at Boulak. Bayard Taylor visited him in
1851 and 1874, and wrote an account of his explorations and the
marvellous collection of antiquities which he had in his care.

Mariette wrote the plot of "Aïda," which was sent to Verdi, and at
once excited his liveliest interest. Camille du Locle, who had had
a hand in making the books of "Les Vêpres Siciliennes" and "Don
Carlos" (and who is also the librettist of Reyer's "Salammbô"), went
to Verdi's home in Italy, and under the eye of the composer wrote
out the drama in French prose. It was he who gave the world the
information that the idea of the double scene in the last act was
conceived by Verdi, who, he says, "took a large share in the work."
The drama, thus completed, was translated into Italian verse by
Antonio Ghislanzoni, who, at the time, was editor of the Gazetta
Musicale, a journal published in Milan. In his early life
Ghislanzoni was a barytone singer. He was a devoted friend and
admirer of Verdi's, to whom he paid a glowing tribute in his book
entitled "Reminiscenze Artistiche." He died some fifteen or sixteen
years ago, and some of his last verses were translations of
Tennyson's poems.

The khedive expected to hear his opera by the end of 1870, but there
came an extraordinary disturbance of the plan, the cause being
nothing less than the war between France and Germany. The scenery
and costumes, which had been made after designs by French artists,
were shut up in Paris. At length, on December 24, 1871, the opera
had its first performance at Cairo. Considering the sensation which
the work created, it seems strange that it remained the exclusive
possession of Cairo and a few Italian cities so long as it did, but
a personal equation stood in the way of a performance at the Grand
Opéra, where it properly belonged. The conduct of the conductor and
musicians at the production of "Les Vêpres Siciliennes" had angered
Verdi; and when M. Halanzier, the director of the Académie
Nationale, asked for the opera in 1873, his request was refused.
Thus it happened that the Théâtre Italien secured the right of first
performance in Paris. It was brought out there on April 22, 1876,
and had sixty-eight representations within three years. The original
King in the French performance was Édouard de Reszke. It was not
until March 22, 1880, that "Aïda" reached the Grand Opéra. M.
Vaucorbeil, the successor of Halanzier, visited Verdi at his home
and succeeded in persuading him not only to give the performing
rights to the national institution, but also to assist in its
production. Maurel was the Amonasro of the occasion. The composer
was greatly fêted, and at a dinner given in his honor by President
Grévy was made a Grand Officer of the National Order of the Legion
of Honor.

The opening scene of the opera is laid at Memphis, a fact which
justifies the utmost grandeur in the stage furniture, and is
explained by Mariette's interest in that place. It was he who helped
moderns to realize the ancient magnificence of the city described by
Diodorus. It was the first capital of the united kingdom of upper
and lower Egypt, the chief seat of religion and learning, the site
of the temples of Ptah, Isis, Serapis, Phra, and the sacred bull
Apis. Mariette here, on his first visit to Egypt, unearthed an
entire avenue of sphinxes leading to the Serapeum, over four
thousand statues, reliefs, and inscriptions, eight gigantic
sculptures, and many other evidences of a supremely great city.
He chose his scenes with a view to an exhibition of the ancient
grandeur. In a hall of the Royal Palace, flanked by a colonnade with
statues and flowering shrubs, and commanding a view of the city's
palaces and temples and the pyramids, Radames, an Egyptian soldier,
and Ramfis, a high priest, discuss a report that the Ethiopians are
in revolt in the valley of the Nile, and that Thebes is threatened.
The high priest has consulted Isis, and the goddess has designated
who shall be the leader of Egypt's army against the rebels. An
inspiring thought comes into the mind of Radames. What if he should
be the leader singled out to crush the rebellion, and be received in
triumph on his return? A consummation devoutly to be wished, not for
his own glory alone, but for the sake of his love, Aïda, whose
beauty he sings in a romance ("Celeste Aïda") of exquisite
loveliness and exaltation. Amneris, the daughter of the King of
Egypt (Mariette gives him no name, and so avoids possible historical
complications), enters. She is in love with Radames, and eager to
know what it is that has so illumined his visage with joy. He tells
her of his ambition, but hesitates when she asks him if no gentler
dream had tenanted his heart. Aïda approaches, and the perturbation
of her lover is observed by Amneris, who affects love for her slave
(for such Aïda is), welcomes her as a sister, and bids her tell the
cause of her grief. Aïda is the daughter of Ethiopia's king; but she
would have the princess believe that her tears are caused by anxiety
for Egypt's safety. The King appears with Ramfis and a royal
retinue, and learns from a messenger that the Ethiopians have
invaded Egypt and, under their king, Amonasro, are marching on
Thebes. The King announces that Isis has chosen Radames to be
the leader of Egypt's hosts. Amneris places the royal banner in
his eager hand, and to the sounds of a patriotic march he is led
away to the temple of Ptah (the Egyptian Vulcan), there to receive
his consecrated armor and arms. "Return a victor!" shout the hosts,
and Aïda, carried away by her love, joins in the cry; but, left
alone, she reproaches herself for impiousness in uttering words
which imply a wish for the destruction of her country, her father,
and her kinsmen. (Scena: "Ritorna vincitor.") Yet could she wish for
the defeat and the death of the man she loves? She prays the gods to
pity her sufferings ("Numi, pieta"). Before a colossal figure of the
god in the temple of Ptah, while the sacred fires rise upward from
the tripods, and priestesses move through the figures of the sacred
dance or chant a hymn to the Creator, Preserver, Giver, of Life and
Light, the consecrated sword is placed in the hands of Radames.

It is in this scene that the local color is not confined to
externals alone, but infuses the music as well. Very skilfully Verdi
makes use of two melodies which are saturated with the languorous
spirit of the East. The first is the invocation of Ptah, chanted by
an invisible priestess to the accompaniment of a harp:--

[Musical excerpt--"Possente, possente Ftha, del mondo spirito animator
ah! noi t'in vo chiamo."]

The second is the melody of the sacred dance:--

[Musical excerpt]

The tunes are said to be veritable Oriental strains which some
antiquary (perhaps Mariette himself) put into the hands of Verdi.
The fact that their characteristic elements were nowhere else
employed by the composer, though he had numerous opportunities
for doing so, would seem to indicate that Verdi was chary about
venturing far into the territory of musical nationalism. Perhaps
he felt that his powers were limited in this direction, or that he
might better trust to native expression of the mood into which the
book had wrought him. The limitation of local color in his music is
not mentioned as a defect in the opera, for it is replaced at the
supreme moments, especially that at the opening of the third act,
with qualities far more entrancing than were likely to have come
from the use of popular idioms. Yet, the two Oriental melodies
having been mentioned, it is well to look at their structure to
discover the source of their singular charm. There is no mystery as
to the cause in the minds of students of folk-song. The tunes are
evolved from a scale so prevalent among peoples of Eastern origin
that it has come to be called the Oriental scale. Its distinguishing
characteristic is an interval, which contains three semitones:--

[Musical excerpt]

The interval occurring twice in this scale is enclosed in brackets.
Its characteristic effect is most obvious when the scale is
played downward. A beautiful instance of its artistic use is in
Rubinstein's song "Der Asra." The ancient synagogal songs of the
Jews are full of it, and it is one of the distinguishing marks of
the folk-songs of Hungary (the other being rhythmical), as witness
the "Rakoczy March." In some of the Eastern songs it occurs once,
in some twice (as in the case of the melodies printed above), and
there are instances of a triple use in the folk-songs of the modern

Act II. News of the success of the Egyptian expedition against the
Ethiopians has reached Amneris, whose slaves attire her for the
scene of Radames's triumph. The slaves sing of Egypt's victory and
of love, the princess of her longing, and Moorish slaves dance
before her to dispel her melancholy. Aïda comes, weighed down by
grief. Amneris lavishes words of sympathy upon her, and succeeds in
making her betray her love for Radames by saying that he had been
killed in battle. Then she confesses the falsehood and proclaims her
own passion and purpose to crush her rival, who shall appear at the
triumph of Radames as her slave. Aïda's pride rebels for the moment,
and she almost betrays her own exalted station as the daughter of a
king. As a slave she accompanies the princess to the entrance gate
of Thebes, where the King, the priests, and a vast concourse of
people are to welcome Radames and witness his triumphal entry.
Radames, with his troops and a horde of Ethiopian prisoners, comes
into the city in a gorgeous pageant. The procession is headed by two
groups of trumpeters, who play a march melody, the stirring effect
of which is greatly enhanced by the characteristic tone quality of
the long, straight instruments which they use:--

[Musical excerpt]

A word about these trumpets. In shape, they recall antique
instruments, and the brilliancy of their tone is due partly to the
calibre of their straight tubes and partly to the fact that nearly
all the tones used are open--that is, natural harmonics of the
fundamental tones of the tubes. There is an anachronism in the
circumstance that they are provided with valves (which were not
invented until some thousands of years after the period of the
drama), but only one of the valves is used. The first trumpets are
in the key of A-flat and the second B-natural, a peculiarly stirring
effect being produced by the sudden shifting of the key of the march
when the second group of trumpeters enters on the scene.

The King greets Radames with an embrace, bids him receive the wreath
of victory from the hands of his daughter and ask whatever boon
he will as a reward for his services. He asks, first, that the
prisoners be brought before the King. Among them Aïda recognizes
her father, who is disguised as an officer of the Ethiopian army.
The two are in each other's arms in a moment, but only long enough
for Amonasro to caution his daughter not to betray him. He bravely
confesses that he had fought for king and country, and pleads for
clemency for the prisoners. They join in the petition, as does
Aïda, and though the priests warn and protest, Radames asks the
boon of their lives and freedom, and the King grants it. Also,
without the asking, he bestows the hand of his daughter upon the
victorious general, who receives the undesired honor with

Transporting beauty rests upon the scene which opens the third act.
The moon shines brightly on the rippling surface of the Nile and
illumines a temple of Isis, perched amongst the tropical foliage
which crowns a rocky height. The silvery sheen is spread also over
the music, which arises from the orchestra like a light mist
burdened with sweet odors. Amneris enters the temple to ask the
blessing of the goddess upon her marriage, and the pious canticle
of the servitors within floats out on the windless air. A tone of
tender pathos breathes through the music which comes with Aïda,
who is to hold secret converse with her lover. Will he come? And if
so, will he speak a cruel farewell and doom her to death within the
waters of the river? A vision of her native land, its azure skies,
verdant vales, perfumed breezes, rises before her. Shall she never
see them more? Her father comes upon her. He knows of her passion
for Radames, but also of her love for home and kindred. He puts
added hues into the picture with which her heavy fancy had dallied,
and then beclouds it all with an account of homes and temples
profaned, maidens ravished, grandsires, mothers, children, slain by
the oppressor. Will she aid in the deliverance? She can by learning
from her lover by which path the Egyptians will against the
Ethiopians, who are still in the field, though their king is taken.
That she will not do. But Amonasro breaks down her resolution.
Hers will be the responsibility for torrents of blood, the
destruction of cities, the devastation of her country. No longer his
daughter she, but a slave of the Pharaohs! Her lover comes. She
affects to repulse him because of his betrothal to Amneris, but he
protests his fidelity and discloses his plan. The Ethiopians are in
revolt again. Again he will defeat them, and, returning again in
triumph, he will tell the King of his love for her and thereafter
live in the walks of peace. But Aïda tells him that the vengeance of
Amneris will pursue her, and urges him to fly with her. Reluctantly
he consents, and she, with apparent innocence, asks by which path
they shall escape the soldiery. Through the gorge of Napata; 'twill
be unpeopled till to-morrow, for it has been chosen as the route by
which the Egyptian advance shall be made. Exulting, Amonasro rushes
from his place of concealment. At the gorge of Napata will he place
his troops--he the King of Ethiopia! Radames has betrayed his
country. Amneris comes out of the temple, and Amonasro is about
to poignard her when Radames throws himself between. To the high
priest, Ramfis, he yields himself and his sword. Amonasro drags
Aïda away with him.

We reach the last act of the drama. Radames is to be tried for
treason in having betrayed a secret of war to his country's enemy.
Amneris fain would save him were he to renounce Aïda and accept her
love. She offers on such terms to intercede for him with her father,
the king. From her Radames learns that Aïda escaped the guards who
slew her father. He is resolute to die rather than prove faithless
to her, and is led away to the subterranean trial chamber. Amneris,
crouched without, hears the accusing voices of the priests and the
awful silence which follows each accusation; for Radames refuses to
answer the charges. The priests pronounce sentence:--Burial alive!
Amneris hurls curses after them, but they depart, muttering, "Death
to the traitor!"

Radames is immured in a vault beneath the temple of Vulcan, whose
sacred priestesses move in solemn steps above, while he gropes in
the darkness below. Never again shall light greet his eyes, nor
sight of Aïda. A groan. A phantom rises before him, and Aïda is at
his side. She had foreseen the doom of her lover, and entered the
tomb before him to die in his arms. Together they say their farewell
to the vale of tears, and their streaming eyes have a prevision of
heaven. Above in the temple a figure, shrouded in black, kneels
upon the stone which seals the vault and implores Isis to cease her
resentment and give her adored one peace. It is Amneris.



A description of Carl Maria von Weber's opera, "Der Freischütz,"
ought to begin with a study of the overture, since that marvellous
composition has lived on and on in the concert-rooms of the world
without loss of popularity for nearly a century, while the opera
which it introduces has periodically come and gone according to
popular whim or the artistic convictions or caprices of managers in
all the countries which cultivate opera, except Germany. Why Germany
forms an exception to the rule will find an explanation when the
character of the opera and its history come under investigation.
The overture, notwithstanding its extraordinary charm, is only an
exalted example of the pot-pourri class of introductions (though
in the classic sonata form), which composers were in the habit of
writing when this opera came into existence, and which is still
imitated in an ignoble way by composers of ephemeral operettas. It
is constructed on a conventional model, and its thematic material is
drawn from the music of the opera; but, like the prelude to Wagner's
lyric comedy, "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg," it presents the
contents of the play in the form of what many years after its
composition came to be called a symphonic poem, and illustrates the
ideal which was in Gluck's mind when, in the preface to "Alceste,"
he said, "I imagined that the overture ought to prepare the audience
for the action of the piece, and serve as a kind of argument to it."
The atmosphere of the opera is that which pervades the sylvan life
of Germany--its actualities and its mysteries, the two elements
having equal potency. Into the peacefulness of the woods the French
horns ("Forest horns," the Germans call them) usher us at once with
the hymn which they sing after a few introductory measures.

[Musical excerpt]

But no sooner do we yield to the caress of this mood than there
enters the supernatural element which invests the tragical portion
of the story. Ominous drum beats under a dissonant tremolo of the
strings and deep tones of the clarinets, a plangent declamatory
phrase of the violoncellos:--

[Musical excerpt]

tell us of the emotions of the hero when he feels himself deserted
by Heaven; the agitated principal subject of the main body of the
overture (Molto vivace):--

[Musical excerpt]

proclaims his terror at the thought that he has fallen into the
power of the Evil One, while the jubilant second theme:--

[Musical excerpt]

gives voice to the happiness of the heroine and the triumph of love
and virtue which is the outcome of the drama.

The first glimpse of the opera reveals an open space in a forest and
in it an inn and a target-shooting range. Max, a young assistant to
the Chief Forester of a Bohemian principality, is seated at a table
with a mug of beer before him, his face and attitude the picture of
despondency. Hard by, huntsmen and others are grouped around Kilian,
a young peasant who fires the last shot in a contest of marksmanship
as the scene is disclosed. He hits off the last remaining star on
the target, and is noisily acclaimed as Schützenkönig (King of the
Marksmen), and celebrated in a lusty song by the spectators, who
decorate the victor, and forming a procession bearing the trophies
of the match, march around the glade. As they pass Max they point
their fingers and jeer at him. Kilian joins in the sport until Max's
fuming ill-humor can brook the humiliation no longer; he leaps up,
seizes the lapel of Kilian's coat, and draws his hunting-knife. A
deadly quarrel seems imminent, but is averted by the coming of Cuno,
Chief Forester, and Caspar, who, like Max, is one of his assistants.
To the reproaches of Cuno, who sees the mob surging around Max,
Kilian explains that there was no ill-will in the mockery of him,
the crowd only following an old custom which permitted the people to
make sport of a contestant who failed to hit the target, and thus
forfeited the right to make trial for the kingship. Cuno is amazed
that a mere peasant should have defeated one of his foresters, and
that one the affianced lover of his daughter, Agathe, and who, as
his son-in-law, would inherit his office, provided he could prove
his fitness for it by a trial shot on the wedding day. That day had
been set for the morrow. How the custom of thus providing for the
successorship originated, Cuno now relates in answer to the
questions of one of the party. His great-grandfather, also bearer of
the name Cuno, had been one of the rangers of the prince who ruled
the dominion in his day. Once upon a time, in the course of a hunt,
the dogs started a stag who bounded toward the party with a man tied
to his back. It was thus that poachers were sometimes punished. The
Prince's pity was stirred, and he promised that whoever should shoot
the stag without harming the man should receive the office of Chief
Forester, to be hereditary in the family, and the tenancy of a
hunting lodge near by. Cuno, moved more by pity than hope of reward,
attempted the feat and succeeded. The Prince kept his promise, but
on a suggestion that the old hunter may have used a charmed bullet,
he made the hereditary succession contingent upon the success of a
trial shot. Before telling the tale, Cuno had warned Max to have a
care, for should he fail in the trial shot on the morrow, his
consent to the marriage between him and Agathe would be withdrawn.
Max had suspected that his ill luck for a month past, during which
time he had brought home not a single trophy of bird or beast, was
due to some malign influence, the cause of which he was unable to
fathom. He sings of the prowess and joys that once were his (Aria:
"Durch die Wälder, durch die Auen"), but falls into a moody dread at
the thought that Heaven has forsaken him and given him over to the
powers of darkness. It is here that the sinister music, mentioned in
the outline of the overture, enters the drama. It accompanies the
appearance of Samiel (the Wild Huntsman, or Black Hunter,--in short,
the Devil), and we have thus in Von Weber's opera a pre-Wagnerian
example of the Leitmotif of the Wagnerian commentators. Caspar
returns to the scene, which all the other personages have left to
join in a dance, and finds his associate in the depths of despair.
He plies Max with wine, and, affecting sympathy with him in his
misfortunes, gradually insinuates that there is a means of insuring
success on the morrow. Max remains sceptical until Caspar hands
him his rifle and bids him shoot at an eagle flying overhead. The
bird is plainly out of rifle range, a mere black dot against the
twilight sky; but Max, scarcely aiming, touches the trigger and an
eagle of gigantic size comes hurtling through the air and falls at
his feet. Max is convinced that there is a sure way to win his
bride on the morrow. He asks Caspar if he has more bullets like the
one just spent. No; that was the hunter's last; but more might be
obtained, provided the effort be made that very night. The moment
was propitious. It was the second of three days in which the sun was
in the constellation of the Archer; at midnight there would occur an
eclipse of the moon. What a fortunate coincidence that all the omens
should be fair at so momentous a juncture of Max's affairs! The fear
of losing his bride overcomes Max's scruples; he agrees to meet the
tempter in the Wolf's Glen, a spot of evil repute, at midnight, and
at least witness the casting of more of the charmed bullets.

At the moment when Max's shot brought down the eagle, a portrait of
the original Cuno fell from the wall of the cottage occupied by his
descendant; and when the second act begins, we see Aennchen, a
cousin of Agathe's, putting it back in its place. Aennchen is
inclined to be playful and roguish, and serves as a pretty foil to
the sentimental Agathe. She playfully scolds the nail which she is
hammering into the wall again for so rudely dropping the old ranger
to the floor, and seeks to dispel the melancholy which has obsessed
her cousin by singing songs about the bad companionship of the blues
and the humors of courtship. She succeeds, in a measure, and Agathe
confesses that she had felt a premonition of danger ever since a
pious Hermit, to whom she had gone for counsel in the course of the
day, had warned her of the imminency of a calamity which he could
not describe. The prediction seemed to have been fulfilled in the
falling of the picture, which had slightly hurt her, but might
easily have killed her. Aennchen urges her to go to bed, but she
refuses, saying she shall not retire for sleep until Max has come.
Agathe sings the scena which has clung to our concert-rooms as
persistently as the overture. The slow portion of the aria ("Leise,
leise, fromme Weise"), like the horn music at the beginning of the
overture, has found its way into the Protestant hymn-books of
England and America, and its Allegro furnishes forth the jubilant
music of the instrumental introduction to the opera. Berlioz in his
book "A Travers Chants" writes in a fine burst of enthusiasm of this
scena: "It is impossible for any listener to fail to hear the sighs
of the orchestra during the prayer of the virtuous maiden who awaits
the coming of her affianced lover; or the strange hum in which the
alert ear imagines it hears the rustling of the tree-tops. It even
seems as if the darkness grew deeper and colder at that magical
modulation to C major. What a sympathetic shudder comes over one at
the cry: ''Tis he! 'tis he!' No, no. It must be confessed, there
is no other aria as beautiful as this. No master, whether German,
Italian, or French, was ever able to delineate, as is done here in
a single scene, holy prayer, melancholy, disquiet, pensiveness, the
slumber of nature, the mysterious harmony of the starry skies, the
torture of expectation, hope, uncertainty, joy, frenzy, delight,
love delirious! And what an orchestra to accompany these noble song
melodies! What inventiveness! What ingenious discoveries! What
treasures of sudden inspiration! These flutes in the depths; this
quartet of violins; these passages in sixths between violas and
'cellos; this crescendo bursting into refulgence at the close; these
pauses during which the passions seem to be gathering themselves
together in order to launch their forces anew with greater
vehemence! No, this piece has not its fellow! Here is an art that
is divine! This is poetry; this is love itself!"

Max comes at last, but he is preoccupied, and his words and acts do
little to reassure Agathe. She wants to know what luck he had at
the shooting-match, and he replies that he did not participate in
the target-shooting, but had nevertheless been marvellously lucky,
pointing to the eagle's feather in his hat as proof. At the same
moment he notices the blood upon his sweetheart's hair, and her
explanation of the falling of the portrait of her ancestor just as
the clock struck seven greatly disturbs him. Agathe, too, lapses
into gloomy brooding; she has fears for the morrow, and the thought
of the monstrous eagle terrifies her. And now Max, scarcely come,
announces that he must go; he had shot, he says, a stag deep in the
woods near the Wolf's Glen, indeed, and must bring it in lest the
peasants steal it. In a trio Aennchen recalls the uncanny nature of
the spot, Agathe warns against the sin of tempting Providence and
begs him to stay; but Max protests his fearlessness and the call of
duty, and hurries away to meet Caspar, at the appointed time in the
appointed place. We see him again in the Wolf's Glen, but Caspar is
there before him. The glen lies deep in the mountains. A cascade
tumbles down the side of a mighty crag on the one hand; on the other
sits a monstrous owl on the branch of a blasted tree, blinking
evilly. A path leads steeply down to a great cave. The moon throws
a lurid light on the scene and shows us Caspar in his shirt-sleeves
preparing for his infernal work. He arranges black stones in
a circle around a skull. His tools lie beside him: a ladle,
bullet-mould, and eagle's-wing fan. The high voices of an invisible
chorus utter the cry of the owl, which the orchestra mixes with
gruesome sounds, while bass voices monotonously chant:--

Poisoned dew the moon hath shed,
Spider's web is dyed with red;
Ere to-morrow's sun hath died
Death will wed another bride.
Ere the moon her course has run
Deeds of darkness will be done. {1}

On the last stroke of a distant bell which rings midnight, Caspar
thrusts his hunting-knife into the skull, raises it on high, turns
around three times, and summons his familiar:--

By th' enchanter's skull, oh, hear,
Samiel, Samiel, appear!

The demon answers in person, and the reason of Caspar's temptation
of Max is made plain. He has sold himself to the devil for the
charmed bullets, the last of which had brought down the eagle, and
the time for the delivery of his soul is to come on the morrow. He
asks a respite on the promise to deliver another victim into the
demon's hands,--his companion Max. What, asks the Black Huntsman,
is the proffered victim's desire? The magical bullets.

Sechse treffen,
Sieben äffen!

warns Samiel, and Caspar suggests that the seventh bullet be
directed to the heart of the bride; her death would drive both lover
and father to despair. But Samiel says that as yet he has no power
over the maiden; he will claim his victim on the morrow, Max or him
who is already his bondsman. Caspar prepares for the moulding. The
skull disappears, and in its place rises a small furnace in which
fagots are aglow. Ghostly birds, perched on the trees round about in
the unhallowed spot, fan the fire with their wings. Max appears on a
crag on one side of the glen and gazes down. The sights and sounds
below affright him; but he summons up his courage and descends part
way. Suddenly his steps are arrested by a vision of his dead mother,
who appears on the opposite side of the gulch and raises her hand
warningly. Caspar mutters a prayer for help to the fiend and bids
Max look again. Now the figure is that of Agathe, who seems about to
throw herself into the mountain torrent. The sight nerves him and he
hurries down. The moon enters into an eclipse, and Caspar begins his
infernal work after cautioning Max not to enter the circle nor utter
a word, no matter what he sees or who comes to join them. Into the
melting-pot Caspar now puts the ingredients of the charm: some lead,
bits of broken glass from a church window, a bit of mercury, three
bullets that have already hit their mark, the right eye of a
lapwing, the left of a lynx; then speaks the conjuration formula:--

Thou who roamst at midnight hour,
Samiel, Samiel, thy pow'r!
Spirit dread, be near this night
And complete the mystic rite.
By the shade of murderer's dead,
Do thou bless the charmed lead.
Seven the number we revere;
Samiel, Samiel, appear!

The contents of the ladle commence to hiss and burn with a greenish
flame; a cloud obscures the moon wholly, and the scene is lighted
only by the fire under the melting-pot, the owl's eyes, and the
phosphorescent glow of the decaying oaks. As he casts the bullets,
Caspar calls out their number, which the echoes repeat. Strange
phenomena accompany each moulding; night-birds come flying from the
dark woods and gather around the fire; a black boar crashes through
the bushes and rushes through the glen; a hurricane hurtles through
the trees, breaking their tops and scattering the sparks from the
furnace; four fiery wheels roll by; the Wild Hunt dashes through the
air; thunder, lightning, and hail fill the air, flames dart from the
earth, and meteors fall from the sky; at the last the Black Hunter
himself appears and grasps at Max's hand; the forester crosses
himself and falls to the earth, where Caspar already lies stretched
out unconscious. Samiel disappears, and the tempest abates. Max
raises himself convulsively and finds his companion still lying on
the ground face downward.

At the beginning of the third act the wedding day has dawned. It
finds Agathe kneeling in prayer robed for the wedding. She sings
a cavatina ("Und ob die Wolken sie verhülle") which proclaims
her trust in Providence. Aennchen twits her for having wept; but
"bride's tears and morning rain--neither does for long remain."
Agathe has been tortured by a dream, and Aennehen volunteers to
interpret it. The bride had dreamt that she had been transformed
into a white dove and was flying from tree to tree when Max
discharged his gun at her. She fell stricken, but immediately
afterward was her own proper self again and saw a monstrous black
bird of prey wallowing in its blood. Aennchen explains all as
reflexes of the incidents of the previous night--the work on the
white bridal dress, the terrible black feather on Max's hat; and
merrily tells a ghostly tale of a nocturnal visitor to her sainted
aunt which turned out to be the watch-dog. Enter the bridesmaids
with their song:--

[Musical excerpt--"Wir winden dir den Jungfernkranz mit
veilchenblauer Seide"]

Nearly three generations of Germans have sung this song; it has
accompanied them literally from the cradle to the grave. When Ludwig
Geyer, Richard Wagner's stepfather, lay dying, the lad, then seven
years old, was told to play the little piece in a room adjoining the
sick chamber. The dying man had been concerned about the future of
his stepson. He listened. "What if he should have talent for music?"
Long years after the mother told this story, and the son, when
he became famous as a composer, repeated it in one of his
autobiographical writings, and told with what awe his childish eyes
had looked on the composer as he passed by the door on the way to
and from the theatre.

Evil omens pursue Agathe even on her bridal morn. The bridesmaids
are still singing to her when Aennchen brings a box which she thinks
contains the bridal wreath. All fall back in dismay when out comes a
funeral wreath of black. Even Aennchen's high spirits are checked
for a moment; but she finds an explanation. Old Cuno has tumbled
from the wall a second time; but she herself assumes the blame: the
nail was rusty and she not an adept with the hammer. The action now
hastens to its close. Prince Ottokar, with his retainers, is present
at the festival at which Max is to justify Cuno's choice of him as a
son-in-law. The choice meets with the Prince's approval. The moment
approaches for the trial shot, and Max stands looking at the last of
his charmed bullets, which seems to weigh with ominous heaviness in
his hand. He had taken four of the seven and Caspar three. Of the
four he had spent three in unnecessary shots; but he hopes that
Caspar has kept his. Of course Caspar has done nothing of the kind.
It is suggested that Max shoot at once, not awaiting the arrival of
his betrothed, lest the sight of her make him nervous. The Prince
points to a white dove as the mark, and Max lifts his gun. At the
moment Agathe rushes forward, crying, "Do not shoot; I am the dove!"
The bird flies toward a tree which Caspar, impatient for the coming
of his purposed victim, had climbed. Max follows it with his gun and
pulls the trigger. Agathe and Caspar both fall to the ground. The
holy man of the woods raises Agathe, who is unhurt; but Caspar dies
with curses for everything upon his lips. The devil has cared for
his own and claimed his forfeit. Ottokar orders his corpse thrown
amongst the carrion in the Wolf's Glen and turns to Max for an
explanation. He confesses his wrong and is ordered out of the
Prince's dominion; but on the intercession of Cuno, Agathe, and the
Hermit the sentence is commuted to a year of probation, at the end
of which time he shall marry his love. But the traditional trial
shot is abolished.

* * *

Though there are a dozen different points of view from which Weber's
opera "Der Freischütz" is of fascinating interest, it is almost
impossible for any one except a German to understand fully what the
opera means now to the people from whose loins the composer sprung,
and quite impossible to realize what it meant to them at the time of
its production. "Der Freischütz" is spoken of in all the handbooks
as a "national" opera. There are others to which the term might
correctly and appropriately be applied--German, French, Italian,
Bohemian, Hungarian, Russian; but there never was an opera, and
there is no likelihood that there ever will be one, so intimately
bound up with the loves, feelings, sentiments, emotions,
superstitions, social customs, and racial characteristics of a
people as this is with the loves, feelings, sentiments, emotions,
superstitions, social customs, and racial characteristics of the
Germans. In all its elements as well as in its history it is
inextricably intertwined with the fibres of German nationality. It
could not have been written at another time than it was; it could
not have been written by any other composer living at that time;
it could not have been conceived by any artist not saturated with
Germanism. It is possible to argue one's self into a belief of
these things, but only the German can feel them. Yet there is no
investigator of comparative mythology and religion who ought not to
go to the story of the opera to find an illustration of one of the
pervasive laws of his science; there is no folklorist who ought not
to be drawn to its subject; no student of politics and sociology who
cannot find valuable teachings in its history; no critic who can
afford to ignore its significance in connection with the evolution
of musical styles and schools; no biographer who can fail to observe
the kinship which the opera establishes between the first operatic
romanticist and him who brought the romantic movement to its
culmination; that is, between Carl Maria von Weber and Richard
Wagner. It is even a fair subject for the study of the scientific
psychologist, for, though the story of the opera is generally
supposed to be a fanciful structure reared on a legendary
foundation, it was a veritable happening which gave it currency a
century ago and brought it to the notice of the composer; and this
happening may have an explanation in some of the psychical phenomena
to which modern science is again directing attention, such as
hypnotism, animal magnetism, and the like.

I am here not at all fanciful. Some thirty years ago I came across
a pamphlet published by Dr. J. G. Th. Grässe, a Saxon Court
Councillor, in which he traced the origin of the story at the base
of "Der Freischütz" to a confession made in open court in a Bohemian
town in 1710. Grässe found the story in a book entitled "Monathliche
Unterredungen aus dem Reich der Geister," published in Leipsic in
1730, the author of which stated that he had drawn the following
statement of facts from judicial records: In 1710 in a town in
Bohemia, George Schmid, a clerk, eighteen years old, who was a
passionate lover of target-shooting, was persuaded by a hunter to
join in an enterprise for moulding charmed bullets on July 30, the
same being St. Abdon's Day. The hunter promised to aid the young
man in casting sixty-three bullets, of which sixty were to hit
infallibly and three to miss just as certainly. The two men provided
themselves with coals, moulds, etc., and betook themselves at
nightfall to a cross-roads. There the hunter drew a circle with his
knife and placed mysterious characters, the meaning of which his
companion did not know, around the edge. This done, he told the
clerk to step within the ring, take off his clothing, and make
denial of God and the Holy Trinity. The bullets, said the hunter,
must all be cast between eleven o'clock and midnight, or the clerk
would fall into the clutches of the devil. At eleven o'clock the
dead coals began to glow of their own accord, and the two men began
the moulding, although all manner of ghostly apparitions tried to
hinder them. At last there came a horseman in black, who demanded
the bullets which had been cast. The hunter refused to yield them
up, and in revenge the horseman threw something into the fire which
sent out so noisome an odor that the two venturesome men fell half
dead within the circle. The hunter escaped, and, as it turned out
subsequently, betook himself to the Salzkammergut, near Salzburg;
but the clerk was found lying at the crossroads and carried into
town. There he made a complete confession in court, and because he
had had intercourse with the Evil One, doubtless, was condemned to
be burned to death. In consideration of his youth, however, the
sentence was commuted to imprisonment at hard labor for six years.

In the legend of the Wild Huntsman, who under the name of Samiel
purchases the souls of men with his magic bullets, the folklorist
and student of the evolution of religions sees one of many evidences
of ancient mythology perverted to bring it into the service of
Christianity. Originally the Wild Huntsman was Odin (or Wotan). The
missionaries to the Germans, finding it difficult to root out belief
in the ancient deities, gave their attributes to saints in a few
cases, but for the greater part transformed them into creatures of
evil. It was thus that Frau Holle (or Holda) became a wicked Venus,
as we shall see in the next chapter. The little spotted beetle which
English and American children call ladybug or lady-bird (that is,
the bug or bird of our Lady), the Germans Marienkäferchen, and the
French La bête du bon Dieu, was sacred to Holda; and though the name
of the Virgin Mary was bestowed upon it in the long ago, it still
remains a love oracle, as the little ones know who bid it--

Fly to the East,
And fly to the West,
And fly to the one that I love best!

It was the noise of Wotan's hunting train which the ancient Germans
heard when the storms of winter howled and whistled through the deep
woods of the Northland; but in time it came to be the noise of the
Wild Hunt. In Thuringia the rout headed by Frau Holda and the Wild
Huntsman issues in the Yuletide from the cave in the Horselberg,
which is the scene of Tannhäuser's adventure with Venus in Wagner's
opera, and Holda is the mother of many of the uncanny creatures
which strike terror to the souls of the unlucky huntsmen who chance
to espy them.

From the story drawn from the records of the Bohemian law court, it
is plain that to make a compact with the Wild Huntsman was a much
more gruesome and ceremonious proceeding than that which took place
between Faust and the Evil One in the operas of Gounod and Boito.
In both these instances a scratch of the pen sufficed, and the
deliberations which preceded the agreement were conducted in a
decorous and businesslike manner. But to invoke Samiel and obtain
his gifts was a body, mind, and nerve-racking business. In some
particulars the details differed a little from those testified to by
the Bohemian clerk. In the first place, the Devil's customer had to
repair to a crossroads of a Friday between midnight and one o'clock
when the moon was in an eclipse and the sun in Sagittarius. If in
such a place and at such a time he drew a circle around himself with
his hunting-spear and called "Samiel!" three times, that worthy
would appear, and a bargain might be driven with him for his wares,
which consisted of seven magical bullets ("free bullets," they were
called), which were then cast under the eye of the Evil One and
received his "blessing." The course of six of them rested with the
"free shooter," but the seventh belonged to Samiel, who might direct
it wheresoever he wished. The price of these bullets was the soul of
the man who moulded them, at the end of three years; but it was the
privilege of the bondsman to purchase a respite before the
expiration of the period by delivering another soul into the
clutches of the demon.

Weber used all these details in his opera, and added to them the
fantastic terrors of the Wild Hunt and the Wolf's Glen. Of this
favored abode of the Evil One, Wagner gave a vivid description in an
essay on "Der Freischütz" which he wrote for the Gazette musicale in
May, 1841, when the opera was preparing, under the hand of Berlioz,
for representation at the Grand Opéra in Paris. Wagner's purpose in
writing the essay was to acquaint the Parisians with the contents
and spirit of the piece, make them understand its naïve Teutonism,
and also to save it from the maltreatment and mutilation which he
knew it would have to suffer if it were to be made to conform to
the conventions of the Académie. He wanted to preserve the spoken
dialogue and keep out the regulation ballet, for the sake of which
he had to make changes in his "Tannhäuser" twenty years later. He
failed in both efforts, and afterward wrote an account of the
performance for a German newspaper, which is one of the best
specimens of the feuilleton style which his sojourn in Paris
provoked. There was no need of telling his countrymen what the
Wolf's Glen was, for it had been the most familiar of all scenes in
the lyric theatres of Germany for a score of years, but for the
Parisians he pictured the place in which Weber's hero meets Samiel
very graphically indeed:--

"In the heart of the Bohemian Forest, old as the world, lies the
Wolf's Glen. Its legend lingered till the Thirty Years' War, which
destroyed the last traces of German grandeur; but now, like many
another boding memory, it has died out from the folk. Even at that
time most men only knew the gulch by hearsay. They would relate how
some gamekeeper, straying on indeterminable paths through wild,
untrodden thickets, scarce knowing how, had come to the brink of the
Wolf's Gulch. Returning, he had told of gruesome sights he had there
seen, at which the hearer crossed himself and prayed the saints to
shield him from ever wandering to that region. Even on his approach
the keeper had heard an eerie sound; though the wind was still, a
muffled moaning filled the branches of the ancient pines, which
bowed their dark heads to and fro unbidden. Arrived at the verge,
he had looked down into an abyss whose depths his eye could never
plumb. Jagged reefs of rock stood high in shape of human limbs and
terribly distorted faces. Beside them heaps of pitch-black stones in
form of giant toads and lizards; they moved and crept and rolled
in heavy ragged masses; but under them the ground could no more be
distinguished. From thence foul vapors rose incessantly and spread
a pestilential stench around. Here and there they would divide and
range themselves in ranks that took the form of human beings with
faces all convulsed. Upon a rotting tree-trunk in the midst of all
these horrors sat an enormous owl, torpid in its daytime roost;
behind it a frowning cavern, guarded by two monsters direly blent of
snake and toad and lizard. These, with all the other seeming life
the chasm harbored, lay in deathlike slumber, and any movement
visible was that of one plunged in deep dreams; so that the forester
had dismal fears of what this odious crew might wake into at

"But still more horrible than what he saw, was what he heard. A
storm that stirred nothing, and whose gusts he himself could not
feel, howled over the glen, paused suddenly, as if listening to
itself, and then broke out again with added fury. Atrocious cries
thronged from the pit; then a flock of countless birds of prey
ascended from its bowels, spread like a pitch-black pall across the
gulf, and fell back again into night. The screeches sounded to the
huntsman like the groans of souls condemned, and tore his heart with
anguish never felt before. Never had he heard such cries, compared
to which the croak of ravens was as the song of nightingales. And
now again deep silence; all motion ceased; only in the depths there
seemed a sluggish writhing, and the owl flapped its wings as though
in a dream. The most undaunted huntsman, the best acquainted with
the wood's nocturnal terrors, fled like a timid roe in speechless
agony, and, heedless where his footsteps bore him, ran breathless to
the nearest hut, the nearest cabin, to meet some human soul to whom
to tell his horrible adventure, yet ne'er could find words in which
to frame it." {2}

So much for the folklore and mythology of "Der Freischütz," the
element which makes it not only a national but also the chiefest of
romantic operas. We are grown careless in our use of musical terms,
or else it would not be necessary to devote words to an explanation
of what is meant by romantic in this case. We hear a great deal
about romanticism as contradistinguished from classicism, but it
is seldom that we have the line of demarcation between the two
tendencies or schools drawn for us. Classical composers, I am
inclined to think, are composers of the first rank who have
developed music to its highest perfection on its formal side in
obedience to long and widely accepted laws, preferring aesthetic
beauty over emotional content, or, at any rate, refusing to
sacrifice form to characteristic expression. Romantic composers
would then be those who have sought their ideals in other directions
and striven to give them expression irrespective of the restrictions
and limitations of form--composers who, in short, prefer content
to manner. In the sense of these definitions, Weber's opera is a
classic work, for in it the old forms which Wagner's influence
destroyed are preserved. Nevertheless, "Der Freischütz" is romantic
in a very particular sense, and it is in this romanticism that its
political significance to which I have referred lies. It is romantic
in subject and the source of its inspiration. This source is the
same to which the creators of the romantic school of literature
went for its subjects--the fantastical stories of chivalry and
knighthood, of which the principal elements were the marvellous
and supernatural. The literary romanticists did a great deal to
encourage patriotism among the Germans in the beginning of the
nineteenth century by disclosing to the German people the wealth
of their legendary lore and the beauty of their folk-songs. The
circumstances which established the artistic kinship between Von
Weber and Wagner, to which I have alluded, was a direct fruit of
this patriotism. In 1813 Von Weber went to Prague to organize a
German opera. A part of the following summer he spent in Berlin.
Prussia was leading Europe in the effort to throw off the yoke of
Bonaparte, and the youths of the Prussian capital, especially the
students, were drunken with the wine of Körner's "Lyre and Sword."
While returning to Prague Von Weber stopped for a while at the
castle Gräfen-Tonna, where he composed some of Körner's poems, among
them "Lützow's wilde Jagd" and the "Schwertlied." These songs were
soon in everybody's mouth and acted like sparks flung into the
powder-magazine of national feeling. Naturally they reacted upon the
composer himself, and under their influence and the spirit which
they did so much to foster Weber's Germanism developed from an
emotion into a religion. He worked with redoubled zeal in behalf of
German opera at Prague, and when he was called to be Court Music
Director in Dresden in 1817, he entered upon his duties as if
consecrated to a holy task. He had found the conditions more
favorable to German opera in the Bohemian capital than in the Saxon.
In Prague he had sloth and indifference to overcome; in Dresden the
obstacles were hatred of Prussia, the tastes of a court and people
long accustomed to Italian traditions, and the intrigues of his
colleagues in the Italian opera and the church. What I wrote some
eighteen years ago {3} of Weber's labors in Dresden may serve again
to make plain how the militant Germanism of the composer achieved
its great triumph.

The Italian régime was maintained in Dresden through the efforts of
the conductor of the Italian opera, Morlacchi; the concert master,
Poledro; the church composer, Schubert, and Count von Einsiedel,
Cabinet Minister. The efforts of these men placed innumerable
obstacles in Weber's path, and their influence heaped humiliations
upon him. Confidence alone in the ultimate success of his efforts to
regenerate the lyric drama sustained him in his trials. Against the
merely sensuous charm of suave melody and lovely singing he opposed
truthfulness of feeling and conscientious endeavor for the
attainment of a perfect ensemble. Here his powers of organization,
trained by his experiences in Prague, his perfect knowledge of the
stage, imbibed with his mother's milk, and his unquenchable zeal,
gave him amazing puissance. Thoroughness was his watchword. He put
aside the old custom of conducting while seated at the pianoforte,
and appeared before his players with a bâton. He was an inspiration,
not a figurehead. His mind and his emotions dominated theirs, and
were published in the performance. He raised the standard of the
chorus, stimulated the actors, inspected the stage furnishings and
costumes, and stamped harmony of feeling, harmony of understanding,
and harmony of effort upon the first work undertaken--a performance
of Méhul's "Joseph in Egypt." Nor did he confine his educational
efforts to the people of the theatre. He continued in Dresden the
plan first put into practice by him in Prague of printing articles
about new operas in the newspapers to stimulate public appreciation
of their characteristics and beauties. For a while the work of
organization checked his creative energies, but when his duties
touching new music for court or church functions gave him the
opportunity, he wrote with undiminished energy.

In 1810 Apel's "Gespensterbuch" had fallen into his hands and he had
marked the story of "Der Freischütz" for treatment. His mind
reverted to it again in the spring of 1817. Friedrich Kind agreed to
write the book, and placed it complete in his hands on March 1, nine
days after he had undertaken the commission. Weber's enthusiasm was
great, but circumstances prevented him from devoting much time to
the composition of the opera. He wrote the first of its music in
July, 1817, but did not complete it till May 13, 1820. It was in his
mind during all this period, however, and would doubtless have been
finished much earlier had he received an order to write an opera
from the Saxon court. In this expectation he was disappointed, and
the honor of having encouraged the production of the most national
opera ever written went to Berlin, where the patriotism which had
been warmed by Weber's setting of Körner's songs was still ablaze,
and where Count Brühl's plans were discussing to bring him to the
Prussian capital as Capellmeister. The opera was given on June 18,
1821, under circumstances that produced intense excitement in the
minds of Weber's friends. The sympathies of the musical areopagus of
Berlin were not with Weber or his work--neither before nor after the
first performance; but Weber spoke to the popular heart, and its
quick, responsive throb lifted him at once to the crest of the wave
which soon deluged all Germany. The overture had to be repeated to
still the applause that followed its first performance, and when the
curtain fell on the last scene, a new chapter in German art had been
opened. {4}


{1} Natalia Macfarren's translation.

{2} "Richard Wagner's Prose Works," translated by William Ashton
Ellis, Vol. VII, p. 169.

{3} "Famous Composers and their Works," Vol. I, p. 396.

{4} As I write it is nearly eighty-five years since "Der Freischütz"
was first heard in New York. The place was the Park Theatre and
the date March 2, 1825. The opera was only four years old at the
time, and, in conformity with the custom of the period, the
representation, which was in English, no doubt was a very different
affair from that to which the public has become accustomed since.
But it is interesting to know that there is at least one opera in
the Metropolitan list which antedates the first Italian performance
ever given in America. Even at that early day the scene in the
Wolf's Glen created a sensation. The world over "Der Freischütz" is
looked upon as peculiarly the property of the Germans, but a German
performance of it was not heard in New York till 1856, when the
opera was brought out under the direction of Carl Bergmann, at the
old Broadway Theatre.



Nothing could have demonstrated more perfectly the righteousness of
Wagner's claim to the title of poet than his acceptance of the Greek
theory that a people's legends and myths are the fittest subjects
for dramatic treatment, unless it be the manner in which he has
reshaped his material in order to infuse it with that deep ethical
principle to which reference has several times been made. In "The
Flying Dutchman," "The Nibelung's Ring," and "Tannhäuser" the idea
is practically his creation. In the last of these dramas it is
evolved out of the simple episode in the parent-legend of the death
of Lisaura, whose heart broke when her knight went to kiss the Queen
of Love and Beauty. The dissolute knight of the old story Wagner in
turn metamorphoses into a type of manhood "in its passionate desires
and ideal aspirations"--the Faust of Goethe. All the magnificent
energy of our ideal man is brought forward in the poet's conception,
but it is an energy which is shattered in its fluctuation between
sensual delights and ideal aspirations, respectively typified in the
Venus and Elizabeth of the play. Here is the contradiction against
which he was shattered as the heroes of Greek tragedy were shattered
on the rock of implacable Fate. But the transcendent beauty of the
modern drama is lent by the ethical idea of salvation through the
love of pure woman--a salvation touching which no one can be in
doubt when Tannhäuser sinks lifeless beside the bier of the atoning
saint, and Venus's cries of woe are swallowed up by the pious
canticle of the returning pilgrims. {1}

It will be necessary in the expositions of the lyric dramas of
Wagner, which I shall attempt in these chapters, to choose only such
material as will serve directly to help to an understanding of them
as they move by the senses in the theatre, leaving the reader to
consult the commentaries, which are plentiful, for deeper study of
the composer's methods and philosophical purposes. Such study is not
to be despised; but, unless it be wisely conducted, it is likely to
be a hindrance rather than a help to enjoyment. It is a too common
error of musical amateurs to devote their attention to the forms and
names of the phrases out of which Wagner constructs his musical
fabric, especially that of his later dramas. This tendency has been
humored, even in the case of the earlier operas, by pedants, who
have given names to the themes which the composer used, though he
had not yet begun to apply the system of symbolization which marks
his works beginning with "Tristan und Isolde." It has been done with
"Tannhäuser," though it is, to all intents and purposes, an opera of
the conventional type, and not what is called a "music-drama." The
reminiscent use of themes is much older than Wagner. It is well to
familiarize one's self with the characteristic elements of a score,
but, as I have urged in the book quoted above, if we confine our
study of Wagner to the forms of the musical motives and the names
which have arbitrarily been given to them, we shall at the last have
enriched our minds with a thematic catalogue, and nothing else. It
is better to know nothing about these names, and content ourselves
with simple, sensuous enjoyment, than to spend our time at the
theatre answering the baldest of all the riddles of Wagner's
orchestra: "What am I playing now?" In the studies of Wagner's works
I shall point to some of the most significant phrases in the music
in connection with significant occurrences in the play, but I shall
seldom, if ever, analyze the motival construction in the style of
the Wolzogen handbooks.

* * *

There are texts in the prefatory excerpt for a discussion of
"Tannhäuser" from all the points of view which might make such a
discussion interesting and profitable. There is no doubt in my mind
that it is the poet-composer's noblest tragedy and, from a literary
point of view, his most artistic. It is laid out on such a broad,
simple, and symmetrical plan that its dramatic contents can be set
forth in a few paragraphs, and we can easily forego a detailed
description of its scenes. A knightly minstrel, who has taken part
in one of the tournaments of song which tradition says used to be
held at the court of the Landgrave of Thuringia in the early part of
the thirteenth century, has, by his song and bearing, won the heart
of Elizabeth, niece of the Landgrave. Unmindful of his great good
fortune, he has found his way to the court held by the Goddess of
Love within the hollow of the Hörselberg, which lies across the
valley and over against the Wartburg. Dame Venus herself becomes
enamoured of the knight, who calls himself Tannhäuser, and for a
year and a day he remains at her side and in her arms. At length,
mind and senses surfeited, a longing seizes him for the world which
he has abandoned, for the refreshing sights and sounds of earth,
and even for its pains. Dame Venus seeks to detain him, but he is
resolute to leave her and her realm. Like a true knight, however, he
promises to sing her praises wherever he may go; but when she offers
to welcome him again if he should weary and sicken of the world and
seek redemption from its hypocrisies, he replies that for him
redemption rests only in the Virgin Mary. The invocation breaks the
bonds of enchantment which have held him. The scenes of allurement
which have so long surrounded him melt away, and he finds himself in
an attitude of prayer in a blooming valley below the Wartburg. It
is spring, and a shepherd lad, seated on a rock, trolls a lay to
spring's goddess. A troop of pilgrims passing by on their way to
Rome suggest by their canticle the need of absolution from the
burden of sin which rests upon him, but before he can join them, the
Landgrave and a hunting party come upon him. He is recognized by his
erstwhile companions in song, and consents to return to the castle
on being told by one of the minstrels, Wolfram von Esehenbach, that
his song had vanquished not only them, but the heart of the saintly
Elizabeth as well.

In the Wartburg Tannhäuser meets the maiden whose heart he has won
just after she has apostrophized the walls which had echoed his
voice; and from him she learns the meaning of the strange emotion
which fills her in his presence. Again minstrels gather before a
company of great nobles for a contest in the Hall of Song. Love is
to be the theme, and the hand of Elizabeth the reward of the victor.
Spiritual love is hymned by Tannhäuser's companions. Wolfram von
Eschenbach likens it to a pure fountain from which only high and
sacred feelings can flow. Tannhäuser questions the right of those
who have not experienced the passion as he has felt it to define the
nature of love. Goaded by the taunts and threats of rude Biterolf,
he bursts forth in a praise of Venus. The assembly is in commotion.
Swords are drawn. Sacrilege must be punished. Death confronts the
impiously daring minstrel. But Elizabeth, whose heart has been
mortally pierced by his words, interposes to save him. She has been
stricken, but what is that to his danger of everlasting damnation?
Would they rob his soul of its eternal welfare? The knight,
indifferent to a score of swords, is crushed by such unselfish
devotion, and humbly accepts the Landgrave's clemency, which spares
his life that he may join a younger band of pilgrims and seek
absolution at Rome. He goes to the Holy City, mortifying his flesh
at every step, and humbles himself in self-abasement and accusation
before the Pope; but only to hear from the hard lips of the Keeper
of the Keys that for such sin as his there is as little hope of
deliverance as for the rebudding of the papal staff.

The elder pilgrims return in the fall of the year, and Elizabeth
eagerly seeks among them for the face of the knight whose soul and
body she had tried to save. He is not among them. Gently she puts
aside the proffered help of Wolfram, whose unselfish love is ever
with her, climbs the hill to the castle, and dies. Famished and
footsore, Tannhäuser staggers after the band of pilgrims who
have returned to their homes with sins forgiven. His greeting of
Wolfram is harsh, but the good minstrel's sympathy constrains him to
tell the story of his vain pilgrimage. Salvation forfeited, naught
is left for him but to seek surcease of suffering in the arms of
Venus. Again he sees her grotto streaming with roseate light and
hears her alluring voice. He rushes forward toward the scene of
enchantment, but Wolfram utters again the name of her who is now
pleading for him before the judgment seat, of God Himself; and he
reels back. A funeral cortège descends from the castle. With an
agonized cry: "Holy Elizabeth, pray for me!" Tannhäuser sinks
lifeless beside the bier just as the band of younger pilgrims comes
from Rome bearing the crozier of the Pope clothed in fresh verdure.
They hymn the miracle of redemption.

* * *

Wagner has himself told us what fancies he is willing shall flit
through the minds of listeners to the overture to his opera. It was
performed at a concert under his direction while he was a political
refugee at Zurich, and for the programme of the concert he wrote a
synopsis of its musical and poetical contents which I shall give
here in the translation made by William Ashton Ellis, but with the
beginnings of the themes which are referred to reproduced in musical

To begin with, the orchestra leads before us the pilgrims' chant

[Musical excerpt]

it draws near, then swells into a mighty outpour and passes,
finally, away. Evenfall; last echo of the chant. As night breaks,
magic sights and sounds appear, the whirlings of a fearsomely
voluptuous dance are seen:--

[Musical excerpt]

These are the Venusberg's seductive spells that show themselves at
dead of night to those whose breasts are fired by daring of the
senses. Attracted by the tempting show, a shapely human form draws
nigh; 'tis Tannhäuser, love's minstrel. He sounds his jubilant song
of love

[Musical excerpt]

in joyous challenge, as though to force the wanton witchery to do
his bidding. Wild cries of riot answer him; the rosy cloud grows
denser round him; entrancing perfumes hem him in and steal away his
senses. In the most seductive of half-lights his wonder-seeing eye
beholds a female form indicible; he hears a voice that sweetly
murmurs out the siren call, which promises contentment of the
darer's wildest wishes:--

[Musical excerpt]

Venus herself it is, this woman who appears to him. Then the heart
and senses burn within him; a fierce, devouring passion fires the
blood in all his veins; with irresistible constraint it thrusts him
nearer; before the goddess's self he steps with that canticle of
love triumphant, and now he sings it in ecstatic praise of her. As
though at wizard spell of his, the wonders of the Venusberg unroll
their brightest fill before him; tumultuous shouts and savage cries
of joy mount up on every hand; in drunken glee bacchantes drive
their raging dance and drag Tanhäuser to the warm caresses of love's
goddess, who throws her glowing arms around the mortal, drowned with
bliss, and bears him where no step dare tread, to the realm of

A scurry, like the sound of the wild hunt, and speedily the storm
is laid. Merely a wanton whir still pulses in the breeze, a wave
of weird voluptuousness, like the sensuous breath of unblest love,
still soughs above the spot where impious charms had shed their
raptures and over which the night now broods once more. But dawn
begins to break; already from afar is heard again the pilgrims'
chant. As this chant draws closer and closer, as the day drives
farther back the night, that whir and soughing of the air--which had
erewhile sounded like the eerie cry of souls condemned--now rises to
ever gladder waves, so that when the sun ascends at last in splendor
and the pilgrims' chant proclaims in ecstasy to all the world, to
all that live and move thereon, salvation won, this wave itself
swells out the tidings of sublimest joy. 'Tis the carol of the
Venusberg itself redeemed from curse of impiousness, this cry we
hear amid the hymn of God. So wells and leaps each pulse of life in
chorus of redemption, and both dissevered elements, both soul and
senses, God and nature, unite in the atoning kiss of hallowed love.

This description of the poetical contents of the overture to
"Tannhäuser" applies to the ordinary form of the introduction to
the opera which was used (and still is in many cases) until Wagner
revised the opera for performance in Paris in 1861. The traditions
of French opera called for a ballet in the third act. Wagner was
willing to yield to the desire for a ballet, but he could not place
it where the habits of the opera-going public demanded it. Instead,
he remodelled the overture and, sacrificing the coda which brought
back a return of the canticle of the pilgrims, he lengthened the
middle portion to fit an extended choreographic scene, and with it
led into the opera without a break. The neglect to provide a ballet
in the usual place led to a tremendous disturbance in which the
Jockey Club took the lead. Wagner's purpose in the extended portion
of the overture now called the "Bacchanale" may be read in his
stage-directions for the scene.

The scene represents the interior of the Venusberg (Hörselberg), in
the neighborhood of Eisenach. A large cave seems to extend to an
invisible distance at a turn to the right. From a cleft through
which the pale light of day penetrates, a green waterfall tumbles
foaming over rocks the entire length of the cave. From the basin
which receives the water, a brook flows toward the background, where
it spreads out into a lake, in which naiads are seen bathing and on
the banks of which sirens are reclining. On both sides of the grotto
are rocky projections of irregular form, overgrown with singular,
coral-like trophical plants. Before an opening extending upward on
the left, from which a rosy twilight enters, Venus lies upon a rich
couch; before her, his head upon her lap, his harp by his side, half
kneeling, reclines Tannhäuser. Surrounding the couch in fascinating
embrace are the Three Graces; beside and behind the couch
innumerable sleeping amorettes, in attitudes of wild disorder, like
children who had fallen asleep wearied with the exertions of a
struggle. The entire foreground is illumined by a magical, ruddy
light shining upward from below, through which the emerald green
of the waterfall, with its white foam, penetrates. The distant
background, with the shores of the lake, seems transfigured by a
sort of moonlight. When the curtain rises, youths, reclining on the
rocky projections, answering the beckonings of the nymphs, hurry
down to them; beside the basin of the waterfall the nymphs have
begun the dance designed to lure the youths to them. They pair off;
flight and chase enliven the dance.

From the distant background a procession of bacchantes approach,
rushing through the rows of the loving couples and stimulating them
to wilder pleasures. With gestures of enthusiastic intoxication they
tempt the lovers to growing recklessness. Satyrs and fauns have
appeared from the cleft of the rocks and, dancing the while, force
their way between the bacchantes and lovers, increasing the disorder
by chasing the nymphs. The tumult reaches its height, whereupon the
Graces rise in horror and seek to put a stop to the wild conduct
of the dancing rout and drive the mad roisterers from the scene.
Fearful that they themselves might be drawn into the whirlpool, they
turn to the sleeping amorettes and drive them aloft. They flutter
about, then gather into ranks on high, filling the upper spaces
of the cave, whence they send down a hail of arrows upon the wild
revellers. These, wounded by the arrows, filled with a mighty
love-longing, cease their dance and sink down exhausted. The Graces
capture the wounded and seek, while separating the intoxicated ones
into pairs, to scatter them in the background. Then, still pursued
by the flying amorettes, the bacchantes, fauns, satyrs, nymphs, and
youths depart in various directions. A rosy mist, growing more and
more dense, sinks down, hiding first the amorettes and then the
entire background, so that finally only Venus, Tannhäuser, and
the Graces remain visible. The Graces now turn their faces to the
foreground; gracefully intertwined, they approach Venus, seemingly
informing her of the victory they have won over the mad passions of
her subjects.

The dense mist in the background is dissipated, and a tableau, a
cloud picture, shows the rape of Europa, who, sitting on the back of
a bull decorated with flowers and led by tritons and nereids, sails
across the blue lake.

Song of the Sirens:--

[Musical excerpt]

The rosy mist shuts down, the picture disappears, and the Graces
suggest by an ingratiating dance the secret significance that it
was an achievement of love. Again the mists move about. In the pale
moonlight Leda is discovered reclining by the side of the forest
lake; the swan swims toward her and caressingly lays his head upon
her breast. Gradually this picture also disappears and, the mist
blown away, discloses the grotto deserted and silent. The Graces
courtesy mischievously to Venus and slowly leave the grotto of love.
Deepest silence. (The duet between Venus and Tannhäuser begins.)

The work which Wagner accomplished in behalf of the legend of
Tannhäuser is fairly comparable with the tales which have been woven
around the figure of King Arthur. The stories of the Knights of the
Round Table are in the mouths of all English-speaking peoples
because of the "Idylls of the King"; the legend of Tannhäuser was
saved from becoming the exclusive property of German literary
students by Wagner's opera. Like many folk-tales, the story touches
historical circumstance in part, and for the rest reaches far into
the shadowy realm of legendary lore. The historical element is
compassed by the fact that the principal human characters involved
in it once had existence. There was a Landgrave Hermann of Thuringia
whose court was held in the Wartburg--that noble castle which in a
later century gave shelter to Martin Luther while he endowed the
German people with a reformed religion, their version of the Bible
and a literary language. The minstrel knights, which in the opera
meet in a contest of song, also belong to history. Wolfram von
Eschenbach wrote the version of the Quest of the Holy Grail which
inspired Wagner's "Parsifal" and which is morally the most exalted
epical form which that legend ever received. His companions also
existed. Tannhäuser is not an invention, though it is to Wagner
alone that we owe his association with the famous contest of
minstrelsy which is the middle picture in Wagner's drama. Of the
veritable Tannhäuser, we know extremely little. He was a knight and
minstrel at the court of Duke Frederick II of Austria in the first
decades of the thirteenth century, who, it is said, led a dissolute
life, squandered his fortune, and wrecked his health, but did timely
penance at the end and failed not of the consolations of Holy
Church. After he had lost his estate near Vienna he found protection
with Otto II of Bavaria, who was Stadtholder of Austria from A.D.
1246 till his death in 1253. He sang the praises of Otto's
son-in-law, Conrad IV, who was father of Conradin, the last heir of
the Hohenstaufens. Tannhäuser was therefore a Ghibelline, as was
plainly the folk-poet who made him the hero of the ballad which
tells of his adventure with Venus. Tannhäuser's extant poems, when
not in praise of princes, are gay in character, with the exception
of a penitential hymn--a circumstance which may have had some weight
with the ballad-makers. There is a picture labelled with his name in
a famous collection of minnesongs called the Manessian Manuscript,
which shows him with the Crusaders' cross upon his cloak. This may
be looked upon as evidence that he took part in one of the crusades,
probably that of A.D. 1228. There is no evidence that the contest of
minstrelsy at the Wartburg ever took place. It seems to have been
an invention of mediaeval poets. The Manessian Manuscript is
embellished with a picture of the principal personages connected
with the story. They are Landgrave Hermann, the Landgravine Sophia,
Wolfram von Eschenbach, Reinmar der Alte, Heinrich von Rispach,
Biterolf, Heinrich von Ofterdingen, and Klingesor. The subject
discussed by the minstrels was scholastic, and Ofterdingen, to save
his life, sought help of Klingesor, who was a magician and the
reputed nephew of Virgilius of Naples; and the Landgravine threw her
cloak around him when he was hardest pressed. This incident, its
ethical significance marvellously enhanced, is the culmination of
Wagner's second act. Instead of the historical Sophia, however, we
have in the opera Hermann's niece, Elizabeth, a creation of the
poet's, though modelled apparently after the sainted Elizabeth of
Hungary, who, however, had scarcely opened her eyes upon the world
in the Wartburg at the date ascribed to the contest, i.e. A.D. 1206.
Wagner has given the rôle played by Heinrich von Ofterdingen (also
Effterdingen) to Tannhäuser apparently on the strength of an essay
which appeared about the time that he took up the study of the
mediaeval legends of Germany, which identified the two men.
Ofterdingen himself is now thought to be a creation of some poet's
fancy; but the large part devoted to his adventure in the old poem
which tells of the contest of minstrelsy led the mediaeval poets to
attribute many great literary deeds to him, one of them nothing less
than the authorship of the "Nibelungenlied."

Wagner seems to have been under the impression that there was an old
book of folk-tales (a so-called Volksbuch) devoted to the story of
Tannhäuser and his adventure with Dame Venus. This is a mistake. The
legend came down to modern times by way of popular ballads. One of
these, which was printed by Uhland, consists largely of the dialogue
between Tannhäuser and his enslaver, as does also the carnival play
which Hans Sachs wrote on the subject. The writer of the ballad was
so energetic an enemy of the Papal power that he condemns Urban IV
to eternal torment because of his severe judgment of the penitent

Do was er widrumb in den berg
und het sein lieb erkoren,
des muoss der vierde babst Urban
auch ewig sein verloren.

A ballad which was sung in one Swiss district as late as the third
decade of the nineteenth century gives the story of the knight and
his temptress in fuller detail, though it knows as little of the
episode of Elizabeth's love as it does of the tournament of song. In
this ballad Tannhäuser (or "Tanhuser") is a goodly knight who goes
out into the forest to seek adventures, or "see wonders." He finds
a party of maidens engaged in a bewildering dance, and tarries to
enjoy the spectacle. Frau Frene, or, as we would write it now, Freya
(the Norse Venus whose memory we perpetuate in our Friday), seeks to
persuade him to remain with her, promising to give him her youngest
daughter to wife. The knight remains, but will not mate with the
maiden, for he has seen the devil lurking in her brown eyes and
learned that once in her toils he will be lost forever. Lying under
Frau Frene's fig tree, at length, he dreams that he must quit his
sinful life. He tears himself loose from the enchantment and
journeys to Rome, where he falls at the feet of the Pope and asks
absolution. The Pope holds in his hand a staff so dry that it has
split. "Your sins are as little likely to be forgiven as this staff
is to green," is his harsh judgment. Tannhäuser kneels before the
altar, extends his arms, and asks mercy of Christ; then leaves the
church in despair and is lost to view. On the third day after this
the Pope's staff is found to be covered with fresh leaves. He sends
out messengers to find Tannhäuser, but he has returned to Frau
Frene. Then comes the moral of the tale expressed with a naïve
forcefulness to which a translation cannot do justice:--

Drum soil kein Pfaff, kein Kardinal,
Kein Sünder nie verdammen;
Der Sünder mag sein so gross er will,
Kann Gottes Gnad erlangen.

Two other sources supplied Wagner with material for as many
effective scenes in his drama. From E. T. A. Hofmann's "Der Kampf
der Sänger" he got the second scene of the first act, the hunt and
the gathering in the valley below Wartburg; from Ludwig Tieck's "Der
getreue Eckhart und der Tannhäuser" the narrative of the minstrel's
pilgrimage to Rome.

Students of comparative mythology and folklore will have no
difficulty in seeing in the legend of Tannhäuser one of the many
tales of the association during a period of enchantment of men and
elves. Parallels between the theatre and apparatus of these tales
extend back into remote antiquity. The grotto of Venus, in which
Tannhäuser steeps himself with sensuality, is but a German variant
of the Garden of Delight, in which the heroes of antiquity met their
fair enslavers. It is Ogygia, the Delightful Island, where Ulysses
met Calypso. It is that Avalon in which King Arthur was healed of
his wounds by his fairy sister Morgain. The crozier which bursts
into green in token of Tannhäuser's forgiveness has prototypes
in the lances which, when planted in the ground by Charlemagne's
warriors, were transformed overnight into a leafy forest; in the
javelins of Polydore, of which Virgil tells us in the "AEneid"; in
the staff of St. Christopher, which grew into a tree after he had
carried the Christ Child across the river; in the staff which put on
leaves in the hands of Joseph, wherefore the Virgin Mary gave him
her hand in marriage; in the rod of Aaron, which, when laid up among
others in the tabernacle, "brought forth buds and bloomed blossoms
and yielded almonds."

There are many parallels in classic story and folklore of the
incident of Tannhäuser's sojourn with Venus. I mention but a few.
There are the episodes of Ulysses and Calypso, Ulysses and Circe,
Numa and Egeria, Rinaldo and Armida, Prince Ahmed and Peri Banou.
Less familiar are the folk-tales which Mr. Baring-Gould has
collected of Helgi's life with the troll Ingibjorg, a Norse story;
of James Soideman of Serraade, "who was kept by the spirits in a
mountain during the space of seven years, and at length came out,
but lived afterwards in great distress and fear lest they should
again take him away"; of the young Swede lured away by an elfin
woman from the side of his bride into a mountain, where he abode
with the siren forty years and thought it but an hour.

There are many Caves of Venus in Europe, but none around which
there clusters such a wealth of legend as around the grotto in the
Hörselberg. Nineteen years ago the writer of this book visited the
scene and explored the cave. He found it a decidedly commonplace
hole in the ground, but was richly rewarded by the results of
the literary explorations to which the visit led him. Before
Christianity came to reconstruct the folk-tales of the Thuringian
peasants, the Hörselberg was the home of Dame Holda, or Holle, and
the horde of weird creatures which used to go tearing through the
German forests on a wild rout in the Yuletide. Dame Holle, like many
another character in Teutonic mythology, was a benignant creature,
whose blessing brought forth fruitfulness to fields and vineyards,
before the Christian priests metamorphosed her into a thing wholly
of evil. She was the mother of all the fays and fairies that
followed in the train of the Wild Huntsman, and though she appeared
at times as a seductive siren and tempted men to their destruction,
she appeared oftener as an old woman who rewarded acts of kindness
with endless generosity. It was she who had in keeping the souls of
unborn children, and babes who died before they could be christened
were carried by her to the Jordan and baptized in its waters.
Even after priestly sermons had transformed her into a beauteous
she-devil, she still kept up her residence in the cave, which now,
in turn, took on a new character. Venturesome persons who got near
its mouth, either purposely or by accident, told of strange noises
which issued from it, like the rushing of many waters or the voice
of a subterranean storm. The priests supplied explanation and
etymology to fit the new state of things. The noise was the
lamentation of souls in the fires of purgatory, to which place of
torment the cave was an opening. This was said to account for
the old German name of the mountain--"Hör-Seel-Berg"--that is,
"Hear-Souls-Mountain." To this Latin writers added another, viz.
"Mons Horrisonus"--"the Mountain of Horrible Sounds." The forbidding
appearance of the exterior--in which some fantastic writers avowed
they saw a resemblance to a coffin--was no check on the fancy of
the mediaeval storyteller, however, who pictured the interior of
the mountain as a marvellous palace, and filled it with glittering
jewels and treasures incalculable. The story of Tannhäuser's sojourn
within this magical cavern is only one of many, nor do they all end
like that of the minstrel knight. Undeterred by the awful tales told
by monks and priests, poets and romancers sang the glories and the
pleasures of the cave as well as its gruesome punishments. From them
we know many things concerning the appearance of the interior, the
cave's inhabitants, and their merrymakings. I cannot resist the
temptation to retell one of these old tales.

Adelbert, Knight of Thuringia, was one of those who experienced
the delights of the Cave of Venus, yet, unlike Tannhäuser in the
original legend, was saved at the last. He met Faithful Eckhart at
the mouth of the cave, who warned him not to enter, but entrancing
music sounded within and he was powerless to resist. He entered.
Three maidens came forward to meet him. They were airily clad,
flowers were twisted in their brown locks, and they waved branches
before them as they smiled and beckoned and sang a song of spring's
awakening. What could Sir Adelbert do but follow when they glanced
coyly over their white shoulders and led the way through a narrow
passage into a garden surrounded with rose-bushes in bloom, and
filled with golden-haired maidens, lovelier than the flowers, who
wandered about hand in hand and sang with sirens' voices? In the
middle of the rose-hedged garden stood a red gate, which bore in
bold letters this legend:--


The gate-keeper was the fairest of the maidens, and her fingers
were busy weaving a garland of roses, but she stopped her work long


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