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- Correspondence of Wagner and Liszt, Volume 2 - 1/57 -



The German musical genius Richard Wagner (1811-1883) could be considered to be one of the ideological fathers of early 20th century German nationalism. He was well-suited for this role. Highly intelligent, sophisticated, complex, capable of imagining whole systems of humanistic philosophy, and with an intense need to communicate his ideas, he created great operas which, in addition to their artistic merits, served the peculiar role of promoting a jingoistic, chauvenistic kind of Germanism. There are things in his operas that only a German can fully understand, especially if he would like to see his country closed off to outsiders. It is unlikely, however, that Wagner expected these ideas to achieve any popularity. Time and again he rails against philistines, irrational people and politicians in his letters. With great exasperation and often depression he expressed little hope that his country would ever emerge out of its "philistinism" and embrace "rational" ideas such as he propagated. Add to this the great difficulties he had in getting his works performed, and one might assume that he felt himself to be composing, most of the time, to audiences of bricks. Yes, his great, intensely beloved friend Liszt believed in, fully understood, and greatly appreciated Wagner's works, but Liszt was just one in a million, and even he, as Wagner suggested, associated with a base coterie incapable of assimilating Wagnerian messages. Considering the sorry state of music and intellectualism in Wagner's time and setting, he surely would have been surprised if his operas and his ideas achieved any wide currency. That he continued to work with intense energy to develop his ideas, to fix them into musical form and to propagate them, while knowing that probably no sizeable population would ever likely take note of them, and while believing that his existence as an underappreciated, rational individual in an irrational world was absurd and futile, is a testimony to the enormous will-power of this "ubermensch."




Yesterday (Saturday, January 7th) first performance of "Lohengrin" at Leipzig. The public, very numerous in spite of double prices, displayed much sympathy and admiration for this wonderful work. The first act went tolerably well as far as the artists were concerned. Rietz conducted in a precise and decent manner, and the ENSEMBLES had been carefully studied. The second and third acts, however, suffered much from the faults and shortcomings of both chorus and principals. Further performances will, no doubt, show an improvement, although the Leipzig theatre does certainly not possess the proper singers and scenic artists. The flagging in the second act, which I previously took the liberty of pointing out to you, was felt very much on this occasion, and the public seemed painfully and unmistakably tired. The tempi of the choruses seemed to me considerably too fast, and there was more than one break-down in this scene. Altogether, without self-conceit, I may say that the Leipzig performance is inferior to ours, as you will probably hear from other quarters. On the other hand the Leipzig public is in many respects superior to ours, and I feel convinced that the external success of yesterday's performance will prove very considerable indeed. The grand success of this work can no longer be denied; of that we should be glad, and the rest will follow sooner or later. The actors, Rietz and Wirsing, were called after the first act, and after the last the representatives of the principal parts had to appear again. T., who had come from Paris for this performance, was very dissatisfied with it. I toned him down, not thinking it advisable to impair the chief thing by detailed criticism. Before all, let it be stated that "Lohengrin" is the grandest work of art which we possess so far, and that the Leipzig theatre by performing it has done credit to itself.

If you have to write to Leipzig show yourself, to please me, friendly and appreciative of their goodwill, and of the success which cannot be denied. The only remark you might make concerns the quick tempo of the choruses in Act II., Scene iii., and of the "Lohengrin" passage in the third act

[Here, Liszt illustrates with a 4-bar musical score example where the words, "Ath----mest Du nicht die su--ssen Dufte" are sung.]

as compared with YOUR METRONOMIC INDICATION. This is the more necessary as the chorus practically broke down, and these passages failed to produce their due effect.

On the next birthday of the Grand Duchess (April 8th) "Lohengrin" will be given here, with Gotze (at present professor of singing at the Leipzig Conservatoire, late first tenor of this theatre) and Frau Fastlinger, and about the middle of May Tichatschek will sing the part here twice. Zigesar has also asked X. to sing Ortrud, and has offered her as well as Tichatschek very decent terms, but her answer is somewhat vague and undecided: "Unless I have to go to England at that time," etc.

Tichatschek is again behaving splendidly on this occasion, and I thank you for the few friendly lines you have written to him, for he really deserves it by his warm friendship for you and your works. He came to Leipzig together with Krebs, and during the entr'acte we met at the buffet, when he told me that you had written to him, which I was very glad to hear. The Hartels have sent you three hundred thalers for the nine pieces from "Lohengrin."

Farewell, and let me soon hear from you.



January 8th, 1854.



The "Rhinegold" is done, but I also am done for. Latterly I had intentionally dulled my feeling by means of work, and avoided every opportunity of writing to you before its completion. Today is the first forenoon when no pretext prevents me any longer from letting the long-nourished and pent-up grief break forth. Let it break forth, then. I can restrain it no longer.

In addition to your very kindly notice of the Leipzig "Lohengrin," I also received that of the "Deutsche Allgemeine"

Zeitung, and discover in it the scornful punishment inflicted upon me for the crime I committed against my being and my inmost conscience when, two years ago, I became unfaithful to my rightful determination and consented to the performance of my operas. Alas! how pure and consistent with myself was I when I thought only of you and Weimar, ignored all other theatres, and entirely relinquished the hope of any further success.

Well, that is over now. I have abandoned my purpose, my pride has vanished, and I am reduced to humbly bending my neck under the yoke of Jews and Philistines.

But the infamous part is that by betraying the noblest thing in my possession I have not even secured the prize which was to be the equivalent. I remain, after all, the beggar I was before.

Dearest Franz, none of my latter years has passed without bringing me at least once to the verge of the resolution to put an end to my life. Everything seems so waste, so lost! Dearest friend, art with me, after all, is a pure stop-gap, nothing else, a stop-gap in the literal sense of the word. I have to stop the gap by its means in order to live at all. It is therefore with genuine despair that I always resume art; if I am to do this, if I am to dive into the waves of artistic fancy in order to find contentment in a world of imagination, my fancy should at least be buoyed up, my imagination supported. I cannot live like a dog; I cannot sleep on straw and drink bad whisky. I must be coaxed in one way or another if my mind is to accomplish the terribly difficult task of creating a non-existing world. Well, when I resumed the plan of the "Nibelungen" and its actual execution, many things had to co-operate in order to produce in me the necessary, luxurious art-mood. I had to adopt a better style of life than before; the success of "Tannhauser," which I had surrendered solely in this hope, was to assist me. I made my domestic arrangements on a new scale; I wasted (good Lord, wasted!) money on one or the other requirement of luxury. Your visit in the summer, your example, everything, tempted me to a forcibly cheerful deception, or rather desire of deception, as to my circumstances. My income seemed to me an infallible thing. But after my return from Paris my situation again became precarious; the expected orders for my operas, and especially for "Lohengrin," did not come in; and as the year approaches its close I realise that I shall want much, very much, money in order to live in my nest a little longer. I begin to feel anxious. I write to you about the sale of my rights to the Hartels; that comes to nothing. I write to Berlin to my theatrical agent there. He gives me hopes of a good purchaser, whom I refer to the first performance of "Lohengrin" at Leipzig. Well, this has taken place, and now my agent writes that after such a success he has found it impossible to induce the purchaser to conclude the bargain, willing as he had previously been.

Confess that this is something like a situation. And all this torture, and trouble, and care about a life which I hate, which I curse! And, in addition to this, I appear ridiculous before my visitors, and taste the delightful sensation of having surrendered the noblest work of my life so far to the predetermined stupidity of our theatrical mob and to the laughter of the Philistine.

Lord, how must I appear to myself? I wish that at least I had the satisfaction that some one knew how I appear to myself.

Correspondence of Wagner and Liszt, Volume 2 - 1/57

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