WAGNER'S LATER WORKS
The attempt to divide the life and work of a composer into fixed periods is generally an elusive and unsatisfactory experiment, but to this rule the case of Wagner is an exception. His musical career falls naturally into two distinct divisions, and the works of these two periods differ so materially in scope and execution that the veriest tyro in musical matters cannot fail to grasp their divergencies. In the years which elapsed between the composition of 'Lohengrin' and 'Das Rheingold,' Wagner's theories upon the proper treatment of lyrical drama developed in a surprising manner. Throughout his earlier works the guiding theme is used with increasing frequency, it is true, so that in 'Lohengrin' its employment adds materially to the poetical interest of the score; but in 'Das Rheingold' we are in a different world. Here the guiding theme is the pivot upon which the entire work turns. The occasional use of some characteristic musical phrase to illustrate the recurrence of a special personality or phase of thought has given way to a deliberate system in which not only each of the characters in the drama, but also their thoughts, feelings, and aspirations are represented by a distinct musical equivalent. These guiding themes are by no means the mere labels that hostile critics of Wagner would have us believe. They are subject, as much as the characters and sentiments which they represent, to organic change and development. By this means every incident in the progress of the drama, the growth of each sentiment or passion, the play of thought and feeling, all find a close equivalent in the texture of the music, and the connection between music and drama is advanced to an intimacy which certainly could not be realised by any other means.
The difference in style between 'Lohengrin' and 'Das Rheingold' is so very marked that it is only natural to look for some explanation of the sudden change other than the natural development of the composer's genius. Wagner's social position at this point in his career may have reacted to a certain extent upon his music. An exile from his country, his works tabooed in every theatre, he might well be pardoned if he felt that all chance of a career as a popular composer was over for him, and decided for the future to write for himself alone. This may explain the complete renunciation of the past which appears in 'Das Rheingold,' the total severance from the Italian tradition which lingers in the pages of 'Lohengrin,' and the brilliant unfolding of a new scheme of lyric drama planned upon a scale of unexampled magnificence and elaboration.
Intimately as Wagner's theory of the proper scope of music drama is connected with the system of guiding themes which he elaborated, it need hardly be said that he was very far from being the first to recognise the importance of their use in music. There are several instances of guiding themes in Bach. Beethoven, too, and even Grétry used them occasionally with admirable effect. But before Wagner's day they had been employed with caution, not to say timidity. He was the first to realise their full poetic possibility.
'Das Rheingold,' the first work in which Wagner put his matured musical equipment to the proof, is the first division of a gigantic tetralogy, 'Der Ring des Nibelungen,' The composition of this mighty work extended over a long period of years. It was often interrupted, and as often recommenced. In its completed form it was performed for the first time at the opening of the Festspielhaus at Bayreuth in 1876, but the first two divisions of the work, 'Das Rheingold' and 'Die Walküre,' had already been given at Munich, in 1869 and 1870 respectively. It will be most convenient in this place to treat 'Der Ring des Nibelungen' as a complete work, although 'Tristan und Isolde' and 'Die Meistersinger' were written and performed before 'Siegfried' and 'Götterdämmerung.'
Wagner took the main incidents of his drama from the old Norse sagas, principally from the two Eddas, but in many minor points his tale varies from that of the original authorities. Nevertheless he grasped the spirit of the myth so fully, that his version of the Nibelung story yields in harmony and beauty to that of none of his predecessors. There is one point about the Norse mythology which is of the utmost importance to the proper comprehension of 'Der Ring des Nibelungen.' The gods of Teutonic legend are not immortal. In the Edda the death of the gods is often mentioned, and distinct reference is made to their inevitable downfall. Behind Valhalla towers the gigantic figure of Fate, whose reign is eternal. The gods rule for a limited time, subject to its decrees. This ever-
The opening scene of 'Das Rheingold' is in the depths of the Rhine. There, upon the summit of a rock, lies the mysterious treasure of the Rhine, the Rhine-
'Das Rheingold' is conspicuous among the later works of Wagner for its brevity and concentration. Although it embraces four scenes, the music is continuous throughout, and the whole makes but one act. Wagner's aim seems to have been to set forth in a series of brilliant pictures the medium in which his mighty drama was to unfold itself. Human interest of course there is none, but the supernatural machinery is complete. The denizens of the world are grouped in four divisions—the gods in heaven, the giants on the earth, the dwarfs beneath, and the water-
Before the opening of 'Die Walküre,' the next work of the series, much has happened. Wotan has begotten the nine Valkyries (Walküren, or choosers of the slain), whose mission is to bring up dead heroes from the battle-
The scene of the next act is laid in a wild, mountainous region. Wotan has summoned his favourite daughter, the Valkyrie Brünnhilde, and directs her to protect Siegmund in the fight with Hunding which is soon to take place. Brünnhilde departs with her wild Valkyrie cry, and Fricka appears in a car drawn by two rams. She is the protectress of marriage rites, and come to complain of Siegmund's unlawful act in carrying off Sieglinde. A long altercation ensues between the pair. In the end Fricka is triumphant. She extorts an oath from Wotan that he will not protect Siegmund, and departs satisfied. Brünnhilde again appears, and another interminable scene follows between her and Wotan. The father of the gods is weighed down by the sense of approaching annihilation. He now realises that the consequences of his lawless lust of power are beginning to work his ruin. He tells Brünnhilde the whole story ot his schemes to avert destruction by the help of Siegmund and the Valkyries, ending by commanding her, under dreadful penalties, to leave the Volsung hero to his fate. Siegmund and Sieglinde now appear, flying from the vengeful Hunding. Sieglinde's strength is almost spent, and she sinks exhausted in a death-
The third act shows a rocky mountain-
With 'Die Walküre' the human interest of 'Der Ring des Nibelungen' begins, and with it Wagner rises to greater heights than he could hope to reach in 'Das Rheingold.' In picturesque force and variety 'Die Walküre' does not yield to its predecessors, while the passion and beauty of the immortal tale of the Volsungs lifts it dramatically into a different world. 'Die Walküre' is the most generally popular of the four works which make up Wagner's great tetralogy, for the inordinate length of some of the scenes in the second act is amply atoned for by the immortal beauties of the first and third. Twenty years ago Wagner's enemies used to make capital out of the incestuous union of Siegmund and Sieglinde, but it is difficult to believe in the sincerity of their virtuous indignation. No sane person would conceivably attempt to judge the personages of the Edda by a modern code of ethics; nor could any one with even a smattering of the details of Greek mythology affect to regard such a union as extraordinary, given the environment in which the characters of Wagner's drama move. It may be noted in passing that 'Die Walküre' is the latest of Wagner's works in which the traces of his earlier manner are still perceptible. For the most part, as in all his later works, the score is one vast many-
With 'Siegfried' the drama advances another stage. Many years have elapsed since the tragic close of 'Die Walküre.' Sieglinde dragged herself to the forest, and there died in giving birth to a son, Siegfried, who has been brought up by the dwarf Mime in the hope that when grown to manhood the boy may slay the dragon and win for him the Nibelung treasure. The drama opens in Mime's hut in the depths of the forest. The dwarf is engaged in forging a sword for Siegfried, complaining the while that the ungrateful boy always dashes the swords which he makes to pieces upon the anvil as though they were toys. Siegfried now comes in, blithe and boisterous, and treats Mime's new sword like its predecessors, blaming the unfortunate smith for his incompetence. Mime reproaches Siegfried for his ingratitude, reminding him of the care with which he nursed him in childish days. Siegfried cannot believe that Mime is his father, and in a fit of passion forces the dwarf to tell him the real story of his birth. Mime at length reluctantly produces the fragments of Siegmund's sword, and Siegfried, bidding him forge it anew, rushes out once more into the forest. The dwarf is settling down to his task, when his solitude is disturbed by the advent of a mysterious stranger. It is Wotan, disguised as a wanderer, who has visited the earth to watch over the offspring of his Volsung son, and to see how events are shaping themselves with regard to the Nibelung treasure. The scene between him and Mime is exceedingly long, and, though of the highest musical interest and beauty, does very little to advance the plot. The god and the dwarf ask each other a series of riddles, each staking his head upon the result. Mime breaks down at the question, 'Who is to forge the sword Nothung anew?' Wotan tells him the answer, 'He who knows not fear,' and departs with the contemptuous reminder that the dwarf has forfeited his head to the fearless hero. Siegfried now returns, and is very angry when he finds that Mime has not yet forged the sword. The frightened dwarf confesses that the task is beyond his powers, and finding that Siegfried does not know what fear is, tells him to forge his sword for himself. Siegfried then proceeds to business. He files the pieces to dust and melts them in a melting-
The next act shows a glen in the gloomy forest close to Fafner's lair. Alberich is watching in the darkness, in the vain hope of finding an opportunity of recovering his lost treasure. Wotan appears, and taunts him with his impotence, telling him meanwhile of Siegfried's speedy arrival. Mime and Siegfried soon appear. The dwarf tries to excite the feeling of fear in Siegfried's bosom by a blood-
The third act represents a wild landscape at the foot of Brünnhilde's rock. Wotan once more summons Erda, and bids her prophesy concerning the doom of the gods. She knows nothing of the future, and Wotan professes himself resigned to hand over his sovereignty to the youthful Siegfried, who shall deliver the world from Alberich's curse. Erda sinks once more into her cavern, and Siegfried appears, led by the faithful bird. Wotan attempts to bar his passage, but Siegfried will brook no interference, and he shivers Wotan's spear (the emblem of the older rule of the gods) with a blow of his sword. Gaily singing, he passes up through the fire, and finds Brünnhilde asleep upon her rock. Love teaches him the fear which he could not learn from Fafner. He awakens the sleeper, and would clasp her in his arms, but Brünnhilde, who fell asleep a goddess, knows not that she has awaked a woman. She flies from him, but his passion melts her, and, her godhead slipping from her, she yields to his embrace.
'Siegfried,' as has been happily observed, is the scherzo of the great Nibelung symphony. After the sin and sorrow of 'Die Walküre' the change to the free life of the forest and the boyish innocence of the youthful hero is doubly refreshing. 'Siegfried' is steeped in the spirit of youth. There breathes through it the freshness of the early world. Wagner loved it best of his works. He called it 'the most beautiful of my life's dreams.' Though less stirring in incident than 'Die Walküre,' it is certainly more sustained in power. It is singularly free from those lapses into musical aridity which occasionally mar the beauty of the earlier work. If the poem from time to time sinks to an inferior level, the music is instinct with so much resource and beauty that there can be no question of dulness. In 'Siegfried,' in fact, Wagner's genius reaches its zenith. In power, picturesqueness, and command of orchestral colour and resource, he never surpassed such scenes as the opening of the third act, or Siegfried's scaling of Brünnhilde's rock. It is worth while remarking that an interval of twelve years elapsed between the composition of the second and third acts of 'Siegfried.' In 1857, although 'Der Ring des Nibelungen' was well advanced towards completion, Wagner's courage give way. The possibility of seeing his great work performed seemed so terribly remote, that he decided for the time being to abandon it and begin on a work of more practicable dimensions. In 1869 King Ludwig of Bavaria induced him to return to the attack, and with what delight he did so may easily be imagined. At first sight it seems strange that there should be such complete harmony between the parts of the work, which were written at such different times. The explanation of course lies in the firm fabric of guiding themes, which is the sure foundation upon which the score of 'Siegfried' is built. Had Wagner trusted merely to the casual inspiration of the moment, it is possible that the new work would have harmonised but ill with the old; as it was, he had but to gather up the broken threads of his unfinished work to find himself once more under the same inspiration as before. His theory still held good; his materials were the same; he had but to work under the same conditions to produce work of the same quality as before.
In 'Götterdämmerung' we leave the cool forest once more for the haunts of men, and exchange the sinless purity of youth for envy, malice, and all uncharitableness. The prologue takes us once more to the summit of Brünnhilde's rock. There, in the dim grey of early dawn, sit the three Norns, unravelling from their thread of gold the secrets of the present, past, and future. As the morning dawns the thread snaps, and they hurry away. In the broadening light of day Siegfried and Brünnhilde appear. The Valkyrie has enriched her husband from her store of hidden wisdom, and now sends him forth in quest of new adventures. She gives him her shield and Grane, her horse, and he in turn gives her his ring, as a pledge of his love and constancy. He hastens down the side of the mountain, and the note of his horn sounds fainter and fainter as he takes his way across the Rhine.
The first act shows the hall of the castle of the Gibichungs near the Rhine. Here dwell Gunther and his sister Gutrune, and their half-
The second act begins with the appearance of Alberich, who comes to incite his son Hagen to further efforts to regain the ring. Siegfried appears, and announces the speedy arrival of Gunther and Brünnhilde. Hagen thereupon collects the vassals, and tells them the news of their lord's approaching marriage, which is received with unbounded delight. Brünnhilde's horror and amazement at finding Siegfried in the hall of the Gibichungs, wedded to Gutrune and with the ring so lately torn from her upon his finger, are profound. She accuses him of treachery, declaring that she is his real wife. Siegfried, for whom the past is a blank, protests his innocence, declaring that he has dealt righteously with Gunther and not laid hands upon his wife. Brünnhilde, however, convinces Gunther of Siegfried's deceit, and together with Hagen they agree upon his destruction.
The scene of the third act is laid in a forest on the banks of the Rhine. The three Rhine-
At the castle Gutrune is anxiously waiting for news of her husband. Hagen tells her that he has been slain by a boar. The corpse is brought in and set down in the middle of the hall, amidst the wild lamentations of the widowed Gutrune. Hagen claims the ring, and stabs Gunther, who tries to prevent his taking it; but as he grasps at it, Siegfried's hand is raised threateningly, and Hagen sinks back abashed. Brünnhilde now comes in, sorrowful but calm. She understands the whole story of Siegfried's unwitting treachery, and has pardoned him in his death. She thrusts the weeping Gutrune aside, claiming for herself the sole right of a wife's tears. The vassals build a funeral pyre, and place the body of Siegfried upon it. Brünnhilde takes the ring from his finger, and with her own hand fires the wood. She then leaps upon her horse Grane, and with one bound rides into the towering flames. The Rhine, which has overflowed its banks, now invades the hall. Hagen dashes into the flood in search of the ring, but the Rhine-
'Götterdämmerung' is prevented by its portentous length from ever becoming popular to the same extent as Wagner's other works, but it contains some of the noblest music he ever wrote. The final scene, for sublimity of conception and grandeur of execution, remains unequalled in the whole series of his writings. It fitly gathers together the many threads of that vast fabric, 'Der Ring des Nibelungen.' Saint Saëns says of it that 'from the elevation of the last act of "Götterdämmerung," the whole work appears, in its almost supernatural grandeur, like the chain of the Alps seen from the summit of Mont Blanc.'
The literature of 'Der Ring des Nibelungen' is already very large, and not a year passes without some addition to the long catalogue of works dealing with Wagner's mighty drama. Readers desirous of studying the tetralogy more closely, whether from its literary, ethical, or musical side, must refer to one or more of the many handbooks devoted to its elucidation for criticism on a more elaborate scale than is possible within the narrow limits of such a work as the present.
It has already been related how Wagner broke off, when midway through 'Der Ring des Nibelungen,' and devoted himself to the composition of a work of more conventional dimensions. The latter was 'Tristan und Isolde.' Produced as it was in 1865, four years before 'Das Rheingold,' it was the first of Wagner's later works actually to see the light. Round its devoted head, therefore, the war of controversy raged more fiercely than in the case of any of Wagner's subsequent works. Those days are long past, and 'Tristan' is now universally accepted as a work of supreme musical loveliness, although the lack of exciting incident in the story must always prevent the profanum vulgus from sharing the musician's rapture over the deathless beauties of the score.
Isolde, the daughter of the King of Ireland, is sought in marriage by Marke, the King of Cornwall, and Tristan, his nephew, has been sent to bring the princess to England. Before the beginning of the drama Tristan had slain Morold, Isolde's lover, and sent his head to Ireland in place of the tribute due from Cornwall. He himself had been wounded in the fight, and when washed by the tide upon the shores of Ireland, had been tended by Isolde. To conceal his identity he assumed the name of Tantris, but Isolde had recognised him by a notch in his sword, which corresponded with a splinter which she had found imbedded in Morold's head. Finding the murderer of her lover in her power, her first impulse had been to slay him, but as she lifted the sword she found that love had conquered hate, and she let Tristan depart unscathed. When he returned as the ambassador of his uncle, her love changed to indignation that he who had won her heart should dare to woo her for another. The scene of the first act is laid on board the vessel which is conveying her to Cornwall. She vows never to become the bride of Marke, and opening a casket of magic vials, bids Brangäne, her attendant, pour one which contains a deadly poison into a goblet. Then she summons Tristan from his place at the helm, and bids him share the draught with her. Tristan gladly obeys, for he loves Isolde passionately, and prefers death to a life of hopeless yearning. But Brangäne has substituted a love philtre for the poison, and the lovers, instead of the pangs of death, feel themselves over-
The second act is practically one vast love duet. Isolde is waiting in the castle garden, listening to the distant horns of the King's hunting-
In the last act Tristan is lying wounded and unconscious in his castle in Brittany, tended by Kurwenal, his faithful squire. He is roused by the news of Isolde's approach, and as her ship comes in sight he rises from his couch and in wild delirium tears the bandages from his wounds. Isolde rushes in in time to receive his parting sigh. As she bends over his lifeless body, another ship is seen approaching. It is the King, come not to chide but to pardon. Kurwenal, however, does not know this, and defends his master's castle with the last drop of his blood, dying at last at Tristan's feet, while Isolde chants her death-
'Tristan und Isolde' is the 'Romeo and Juliet' of music. Never has the poetry and tragedy of love been set to music of such resistless beauty. But love, though the guiding theme of the work, is not the only passion that reigns in its pages. The haughty splendour of Isolde's injured pride in the first act, the beautiful devotion of the faithful Kurwenal, and the blank despair of the dying Tristan, in the third, are depicted with a magical touch.
Some years ago it was the fashion, among the more uncompromising adherents of Wagner, to speak of 'Tristan und Isolde' as the completest exposition of their master's theories, because the chorus took practically no share in the development of the drama. Many musicians, on the other hand, have felt Wagner's wilful avoidance of the possibilities of choral effect to detract seriously from the musical interest of the opera, and for that reason have found 'Tristan und Isolde' less satisfying as a work of art than 'Parsifal' or 'Die Meistersinger,' in which the chorus takes its proper place. It is scarcely necessary to point out that, opera being in the first instance founded upon pure convention, there is nothing more illogical in the judicious employment of the chorus than in the substitution of song for speech, which is the essence of the art-
Wagner's one comic opera was born under a lucky star. Most of his operas had to wait many years for production, but the kindly care of Ludwig of Bavaria secured the performance of 'Die Meistersinger' a few months after the last note had been written. Unlike many of his other masterpieces, too, 'Die Meistersinger' (1868) was a success from the first. There were critics, it is true, who thought the opera 'a monstrous caterwauling,' but it had not to wait long for general appreciation, and performances in Berlin, Vienna, and Dresden soon followed the initial one at Munich.
The scene of 'Die Meistersinger' is laid in sixteenth-
The scene of the second act is laid at a delightfully picturesque street-
In the third act we find Sachs alone in his room, reading an ancient tome, and brooding over the follies of mankind. David interrupts him with congratulations on his birthday, and sings a choral in his honour. Walther now appears, full of a wonderful dream he has had. Sachs makes him sing it, and writes down the words on a piece of paper. After they have gone out, Beckmesser creeps in, very lame and sore after his cudgelling. He finds the paper and appropriates it. Sachs comes in and discovers the theft, but tells Beckmesser he may keep the poem. The latter is overjoyed at getting hold of a new song, as he supposes, by Sachs, and hurries off to learn it in time for the contest. Eva now comes in under the pretence of something being amiss with one of her shoes, and, while Sachs is setting it right, Walther sings her the last verse of his dream-
Although it contains comic and even farcical scenes, 'Die Meistersinger' is in fact not so much a comedy as a satire, with a vein of wise and tender sentiment running through it. It has also to a certain extent the interest of autobiography. It is not difficult to read in the story of Walther's struggles against the prejudice and pedantry of the Mastersingers a suggestion of Wagner's own life-
'Parsifal,' Wagner's last and in the opinion of many his greatest work, was produced in 1882 at the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth. The name by which the composer designated his work, Bühnenweihfestspiel which may be translated 'Sacred Festival Drama,' sufficiently indicates its solemn import, and indeed both in subject and treatment it stands remote from ordinary theatrical standards. The subject of 'Parsifal' is drawn from the legends of the Holy Grail, which had already furnished Wagner with the tale of 'Lohengrin.' Titurel, the earthly keeper of the Holy Grail, has built the castle of Monsalvat, and there established a community of stainless knights to guard the sacred chalice, who in their office are miraculously sustained by its life-
The first scene opens in a cool woodland glade near the castle of Monsalvat, where Gurnemanz, one of the knights, and two young esquires of the Grail are sleeping. Their earnest converse is interrupted by Kundry, who flies in with a healing medicine for the wounded King, which she has brought from Arabia. This strange woman is that Herodias who laughed at our Saviour upon the Cross, and thenceforth was condemned to wander through the world under a curse of laughter, praying only for the gift of tears to release her weary soul. Klingsor has gained a magic power over her, and, to use the language of modern theosophy, can summon her astral shape at will to be the queen of his enchanted garden, leaving her body stark and lifeless; but when not in his power she serves the ministers of the Grail in a wild, petulant, yet not wholly unloving manner. Gurnemanz tells the young esquires the story of the Grail, and together they repeat the prophecy which promises relief to their suffering King:—
Wise through pity,
The sinless fool.
Look thou for him
Whom I have chosen.
Their words are interrupted by loud cries from without, and several knights and esquires rush in, dragging with them Parsifal, who has slain one of the sacred swans with his bow and arrow. Gurnemanz protects Parsifal from their violence, and seeing that the youth, who has lived all his life in the woods, is as innocent as a child, leads him up to the castle of the Grail, in the hope that he may turn out to be the sinless fool of the prophecy. In the vast hall of the Grail the knights assemble, and fulfil the mystic rites of the love-
In the second act we are in Klingsor's magic castle. The sorcerer, knowing of the approach of Parsifal, summons Kundry to her task, and with many sighs she has to submit to her master. Parsifal vanquishes the knights who guard the castle, and enters the enchanted garden, a wilderness of tropical flowers, vast in size and garish in colour. There he is saluted by troops of lovely maidens, who play around him until dismissed by a voice sounding from a network of flowers hard by. Parsifal turns and sees Kundry, now a woman of exquisite loveliness, advancing towards him. She tells him of his dead mother, and drawing him towards her, presses upon his lips the first kiss of love. The touch of defilement wakens him to a sense of human frailty. The wounded Amfortas's cry becomes plain to him. He starts to his feet, throbbing with compassion for a world of sin. No thought of sensual pleasure moves him. He puts Kundry from him, and her endearments move him but to pity and horror. Kundry in her discomfiture cries to Klingsor. He appears on the castle steps, brandishing the sacred spear. He hurls it at Parsifal, but it stops in the air over the boy's head. He seizes it and with it makes the sacred sign of the Cross. With a crash the enchanted garden and castle fall into ruin. The ground is strewn with withered flowers, among which Kundry lies prostrate, and all that a moment before was bright with exotic beauty now lies a bare and desert waste.
Many years have passed before the third act opens. Evil days have fallen upon the brotherhood of the Grail. Amfortas, in his craving for the release of death, has ceased to uncover the Grail. Robbed of their miraculous nourishment, the knights are sunk in dejection. Titurel is dead, and Gurnemanz dwells in a little hermitage in a remote part of the Grail domain. There one morning he finds the body of Kundry cold and stiff. He chafes her to life once more, and is surprised to see in her face and gestures a new and strange humility. A warrior now approaches clad in black armour. It is Parsifal returned at length after long and weary wanderings. Gurnemanz recognises the spear which he carries, and salutes its bearer as the new guardian of the Grail. He pours water from the sacred spring upon Parsifal's head, saluting him in token of anointment, while Kundry washes his feet and wipes them with her hair. The first act of Parsifal in his new office is to baptize the regenerate Kundry, redeemed at length by love from her perpetual curse. Bowing her head upon the earth, she weeps tears of repentant joy. The three now proceed to the temple, where the knights are gathered for Titurel's burial. Amfortas still obstinately refuses to uncover the Grail, and calls upon the knights to slay him. Parsifal heals his wound with a touch of the sacred spear, and taking his place, unveils the sacred chalice, and kneels before it in silent prayer. Once more a sacred glow illumines the Grail, and while Parsifal gently waves the mystic cup from side to side, in token of benediction alike to the pardoned Amfortas and the ransomed Kundry, a snowy dove flies down from above, and hovers over his anointed head.
It would be in vain to attempt to treat, within the restricted limits of these pages, of the manifold beauties of 'Parsifal,' musical, poetical, and scenical. Many books have already been devoted to it alone, and to these the reader must be referred for a subtler analysis of this extraordinary work. It is difficult to compare 'Parsifal' with any of Wagner's previous works. By reason of its subject it stands apart, and performed as it is at Bayreuth and there, save for sacrilegious New York, alone, with the utmost splendour of mounting, interpreted by artists devoted heart and soul to its cause, and listened to by an audience of the elect assembled from the four corners of the earth, 'Parsifal,' so to speak, is as yet surrounded by a halo of almost unearthly splendour. It is difficult to apply to it the ordinary canons of criticism. One thing however, may safely be said, that it stands alone among works written for theatrical performance by reason of its absolute modernity coupled with a mystic fervour such as music has not known since the days of Palestrina.
Of Wagner's work as a whole it is as yet too early to speak with certainty. The beauty of his works, and the value of the system upon which they are founded, must still be to a certain extent a matter of individual taste. One thing, at any rate, may safely be said: he has altered the whole course of modern opera. It is inconceivable that a work should now be written without traces more or less important of the musical system founded and developed by Richard Wagner.