RICHARD WAGNER
(1813-1883)

By Kathrine Lois Scobey and Olive Brown Horne

(Die Walküre.) (Sword Motif.)

Music.

 

EARLY LIFE OF WAGNER

Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig, in 1813. He was the youngest of a family of nine children. His father died when Richard was only a baby. Mrs. Wagner was left with a large family of little children to care for. Her eldest son was a lad of but fourteen years of age.

After her husband's death, Mrs. Wagner received a small pension from the government. She was a thrifty little woman and made the best use of every penny of her small income. It was not sufficient, however, to feed and clothe her large family of boys and girls.

Portrait of Richard Wagner.

RICHARD WAGNER

An old friend of the father came to her aid. He helped the Wagner children in many ways. In 1815 he became their stepfather. Shortly afterward they moved to Dresden. The children's new father was an actor, and he had been appointed to a position in the Royal Theater in that city. In afew years the four eldest brothers and sisters became actors also.

The boy, Richard, heard nothing talked about so much as music and the theater. When he was allowed to go to the theater he clapped his hands for joy. When his mother thought it best that he should stay at home, he was sometimes naughty. He would stand in a corner and cry.

Richard was a delicate child and on this account was greatly petted. Up to the time that he was nine years old, he had no lessons either at school or at home. He spent his time with his stepfather. The two good friends took many long rambles into the woods. On these little trips Richard took a sketch-book and pencil. His father tried to teach the boy to draw, but soon made up his mind that Richard would never become an artist.

At that time almost every family in Germany had a piano. There was one in the Wagner household. Richard's mother managed to give her little daughters music lessons, but Richard had none. He was not even taught his notes. He sometimes fingered and thumbed the keyboard as every boy likes to do. The bits of music that he could play he had learned by ear.

He heard his sisters practicing their music lessons.He liked one piece that they played better than any other. It was a wedding song. He heard it played so often, that he could hum it to himself. One day, when alone, he went to the piano and tried to play it. The first time he was not pleased with his efforts; but the second time he could play it perfectly. His mother, overhearing, stopped her work to listen.

Richard's stepfather was ill at this time. When his wife told him how well the boy had played the wedding song, he was delighted. Richard was asked to play it again. He did so, and his father said, "Can it be that the child has a talent for music?"

Soon after the stepfather died. As Richard grew to manhood his father's words came back to him again and again. It was six years, however, before he began really to work at music.

In 1822 it was decided that Richard should attend a boy's school in Dresden. For some time his uncle had been helping the lad with his lessons. He was to enter a school that he might have more studies.

School opened on the 22d of December. The Wagner children were all busy preparing for the Christmas tree. The three days before Christmas were always such happy days in this German home. Richard did not wish to begin school until after the holidays; so he coaxed and pleaded to stay at home.His wise mother would not give her consent, for she did not wish him to miss even a day at school. But he begged that he might just help trim the tree, and was allowed to rise at dawn to do his share.

Richard Wagner always spoke very tenderly of his mother. He called her his "dear little mother." In after years he said to a friend: "I can not see a lighted Christmas tree without thinking of my mother. I can not keep the tears back when I remember how she toiled to give her children pleasure."

At school, Greek was Richard's favorite study. He liked history and geography also. He was a patient worker, and never gave up a point before he had mastered it. For five years he remained at the school in Dresden, working so well that he became a favorite with his teachers. During these years he had a few piano lessons, but made little progress.

In 1827 Richard's mother moved to Leipzig, and for three years the boy attended school there. Later he entered the university in that city.

When Richard was about fifteen years old, he listened to some of Beethoven's music for the first time. The boy thought the symphonies of that great composer were the most beautiful that he had ever heard. They ran through his mind all the day, and he dreamed of them at night. He thought Beethoventhe greatest composer in the world. He longed to be like him. Richard now decided how his life should be spent; he, too, would be a musician.

Then for the first time young Wagner worked at his music in earnest. He had an excellent teacher who encouraged the boy to do his best. The lad soon began to write music. Beethoven, the great composer, was his daily study. He knew much of the master's music by heart. The Ninth Symphony was his especial favorite.

(Siegfried) Siegfried's Horn Call.

Music.

WAGNER AND HIS WORK

The early years of Wagner's manhood were spent in different cities of Germany. Sometimes he was leader of a chorus. Sometimes he was composing operas. At all times he had a hard struggle to support himself. His compositions were not popular, for no one had ever written such music before, and the people could not understand it.

Siegfried slaying the dragon with a sword.

K. Dielitz
SIEGFRIED AND THE DRAGON

It was while Wagner was managing an opera company in a small German town that he was married. He and his wife soon went to the easternpart of Germany, but did not remain there long. They were heavily in debt. Wagner was paid little for his work and had no idea how to save his earnings.

Stories reached his ears of the large sums of money which composers received for their work in Paris. He resolved to go to France. In Paris he met with disappointments and failures. He had wished to have one of his operas sung there, feeling sure that the French people would admire his music after hearing it. But the Paris opera company would not even consent to sing it.

Then Wagner tried to obtain some position as a musician. He was willing to take the poorest appointment and do the hardest work, but he failed. For many months the Wagners, sad and lonely, lived in Paris.

After three weary years in France, Wagner returned to his native country. How happy he was to see the land of the Rhine! He said to his wife, "Is it not good to be in the Fatherland again?"

When he lived in Paris, he wrote an opera and sent it to Dresden. It was accepted and the opera company of that city sent for Wagner to come to take charge of the music. This took place in 1842. Three years before, he had left Germany because thepeople did not care for his music. Now, they were glad and proud to welcome him on his return from France.

After several weeks, all was ready for the first performance of Wagner's opera. The theater was crowded. The singers who took part had said much in praise of the music, and every one was anxious to hear it. They were not disappointed. Indeed, they all praised it highly, and Wagner became the hero of the hour.

Not long after this, another of Wagner's operas was sung in Dresden. It is called The Flying Dutchman. It was so well liked that every one in the city was glad to honor the composer. That made Wagner very happy. His life was filled with joy, for he was doing the work that he loved. How different were these days from those spent in Paris—those days of hunger and poverty! Now that all was sunshine and happiness, Wagner's life in France seemed like a bad dream.

Tannhäuser, one of Wagner's greatest operas, was written in Dresden. Sung for the first time in 1845, it was even better liked than his first two operas. After it had been given, people stopped the composer on the streets to give him words of praise.

The best loved of all Wagner's works is Lohengrin.Not only in Europe is this opera known and loved, but in America as well.

In 1848 Wagner was obliged to leave the country on account of political troubles. Switzerland became his home. The beautiful scenery there afforded the composer much pleasure. The snow-capped Alps could be seen all about, and in many places clear mountain lakes reflected the blue skies above.

Wagner lived in Switzerland about ten years. In that time he composed several operas. He wrote not only the music for these operas, but the words as well. The words alone form beautiful poems. Four of the operas written in Switzerland tell the old fairy story of the gold hidden at the bottom of the Rhine. Indeed, the first one of them is called The Rhinegold. Richard Wagner put the legend into poetry and then composed exquisite music to fit the words.

While Wagner was in Switzerland, the German people were learning to love his music more and more. You remember that Lohengrin was written just before he left Germany. At that time it had not been sung.

A group of 16 people, including Franz Liszt at the piano and Richard Wagner, gathered in a room.

G. Papperitz
RICHARD WAGNER AT BAYREUTH

Franz Liszt, a friend of Wagner's, became greatly interested in Lohengrin. Under his direction it was sung in a small town. All who heard it liked thebeautiful story and still more beautiful music. Soon nearly every one in Germany had heard Lohengrin, the beautiful opera of the Swan Knight.

Wagner, far from home, was cheered by the news that his opera was well liked. He longed to hear it himself. He said: "Nearly every German has heard Lohengrin. Soon I shall be the only one who has not heard it."

After many years Wagner returned to the Fatherland. He and the king of Bavaria became great friends. The king had heard Lohengrin sung many times. It was his favorite opera. It is said that he used to dress himself in armor like Lohengrin's and sail about the lake in a swan boat for hours at a time.

The king thought the theaters in Germany were not well built. He thought that a special opera house should be erected in which Wagner's operas could be given. Plans were made and a model opera house was built.

Many people throughout Germany became interested in Wagner's opera house, as it was called. The money that they gave, with the sum given by the king, paid for the building. The building, which Wagner himself planned, is still used, and Wagner's operas are still sung there.

The last opera that Wagner composed is called Parsifal. Many think it is finer even than The Rhinegold and Lohengrin. Like Lohengrin it tells a story of the Holy Grail.

In 1870 Wagner was married for the second time. The last years of his life were spent in Venice, with his wife and children. Theirs was a bright and happy home, for the gentle Wagner was a kind and loving father. All the people of Venice loved him. In a short time all the poor and needy of the city knew the great-hearted man, for he was ever ready to help those in trouble.

Wagner's unselfish life and sweet character won him many friends. At his death people on both sides of the Atlantic mourned for him.

The great composer died in Venice, and his body was taken to Germany for burial. At every station on the way to Germany, fresh flowers were scattered on the casket. The king sent a beautiful wreath, on which were words meaning, To the Deathless One.

(The Rhinegold.) (Motif.)

Music.

LOHENGRIN

The Holy Grail

An old, old story of the cup from which Christ drank has come down to us through the ages. This cup was called the Holy Grail. At Christ's death an angel bore the cup away. It was taken to a far-off castle, where it was hidden from the sight of men.

The knights of the castle guarded the Grail well, for it was a sacred treasure. When, once a year the Holy Grail was unveiled, a white dove flew down from heaven and hovered over it. Only the pure in heart could see the cup. Throughout the year the knights performed righteous deeds that they might be worthy to look upon the Grail.

The knights of the castle were brave men and true, and they fought for none but those who battled for the right. Victory was theirs, and they conquered through the power of the Truth.

The Coming of the Knight

In the tenth century Henry was king of the Germans. Once each year the king visited all of his provinces. It was the custom for the peopleto ask him to settle any disputes that had arisen during the past year.

On one of these visits, so the story goes, the king found the people of one province in great trouble. As they had no ruler, the king sent forth a messenger to tell the people to meet him the next day on the bank of the river.

The day dawned bright and clear. The king took his seat on the throne which had been placed for him in the shade of the great Oak of Justice.

At his command a nobleman approached the throne. It was Frederic,—a tall man, with black hair and eyes. He wore always a scowl upon his face, and an angry light gleamed from beneath his heavy brows.

Near him stood Ortrud, his wife. She wore a rich robe of crimson velvet. The proud woman watched the movements of all about her, and not a word that was spoken escaped her.

"I am happy, O King, that you have come to help us in our trouble," said Frederic. "Hear the truth. When our good duke lay dying, he intrusted his children, a boy and a girl, to my care. Well did I love and guard them, looking to the time when the boy should become ruler of the province.

"One day, the girl, Elsa, took her brother by the hand. Laughing and singing, the two went forth into the woods together. Elsa returned alone, saying that her brother was lost in the wood. Her eyes were red with weeping, and her voice trembled when she spoke. To all my questions she only replied, 'I know not where he is.'

"I spoke sharply to the maid. Pale and shuddering, she turned from me. Then did I know that Elsa had taken her brother's life, so that she herself might one day become ruler of the province."

The king listened in silence to Frederic's story. He was sad and troubled. He could not believe that the young princess had been guilty of so great a crime. He resolved to question the maid himself; so a messenger was sent for her in haste.

The crowd of people who had assembled waited in silence for their princess. Soon many voices were heard to whisper: "See, she comes! Our own princess! Now we shall know the truth!"

As she approached, the crowd parted to make room for Elsa and her ladies. The soft robes of the maidens were of palest blue. The young princess was dressed in pure white. Her long bright hair gleaming like gold in the sunlight, fell softly about her shoulders. As they drew near the throne, thepeople stood apart, and Elsa knelt before the king alone. Gently he questioned her. The girl's blue eyes were filled with tears as she answered, "My poor brother! My poor brother!"

"Fear nothing, Elsa. Tell me all," spoke the king. His voice was so kind and his manner so gentle that the young princess knew she could trust him as a true friend.

She said: "When I have missed my brother, I have often gone alone to pray. One day as I was praying, I fell asleep. I had a beautiful dream. In the midst of shining clouds, I saw a knight in gleaming armor. A golden horn hung at his side, and he leaned upon his sword. In a sweet voice he spoke words of cheer to me. Then I awoke. My heart was filled with joy, for I thought, 'He will defend me. He will prove that I have done no wrong.'"

So clear was Elsa's tone that all the people believed her words. Then up spoke Duke Frederic. "I know the maid is guilty," he said. "Let any one who thinks her innocent stand forth and fight with me. And may God help the right!"

The king said, "Elsa, are you willing to trust to this knight of your dream? Will he come, think you, and defend you against Frederic?"

"Yes," whispered the maiden, "he will come, for he has promised."

At the king's command the trumpeter blew a long, clear blast from his horn. Then he called in a loud voice, "Let him stand forth who in the right of Heaven comes here to fight for Elsa."

There was a long silence; but no answer came to the summons. Again and yet again the trumpeter repeated his call. A hush fell upon the waiting people. Elsa and her ladies dropped upon their knees and prayed for the help which had been promised.

Suddenly there was a cry from the water's edge: "Look! A boat! A swan! They draw near! In the boat stands a knight. How his armor gleams in the sunshine!"

At these words Elsa rose from her knees and looked toward the shore. She saw the knight spring from the boat. Ortrud, too, saw him. She saw his shining silver armor and the golden horn hanging at his side. She saw his bright yellow hair and the long blue coat that fell from his shoulders.

Elsa looking up to heaven. Knight stepping out of a boat, as crowd looks on.

Theodore Pixis
ARRIVAL OF LOHENGRIN

All this she saw and remained as cold and proud as before. Then she caught a glimpse of the swan's soft white feathers and the golden chain that formedhis harness. At this sight she trembled and grew pale.

Turning to the swan, the knight sang a beautiful song as he sent it away. "Farewell, my faithful swan!" he sang.

While the swan sailed slowly down the river the knight advanced to the king's throne. "I have come, O King," he said, "to do battle for the Princess Elsa." Then did Elsa and all the people mark his noble bearing. Never before had they seen a knight so strong and fearless.

"Elsa," said the knight, "will you be my wife if I win from the Duke Frederic?"

"Yes," she answered.

"Then promise me three things. Never ask my name, my race, nor whence I came."

Elsa was about to speak, but the knight begged her to think again before she promised. "I promise," said the maiden.

Then the battle took place. With a few swift strokes the swan knight defeated the duke. However, in his kindness of heart, he spared Frederic's life. Then a great shout rose from the people. "The Princess Elsa is innocent," they cried. "Our good princess has done no wrong!"

Before Ortrud married Duke Frederic, she hadlived in a castle in a dark wood. People said that she could use magic. Indeed, some said that she could change people into whatever shape she chose.

It was into the same dark wood, in which Ortrud had lived, that Elsa and her brother had gone, laughing and singing. And it was from the same dark wood that Elsa had returned alone. However, Ortrud had gone to the wood before the young princess and her brother. Had any one noticed, when she returned, late that afternoon, he would have seen an evil light in her dark eyes, and a cruel smile upon her lips.

(Lohengrin.) (Wedding Song.)

Music: Faithful and true, we lead thee forth.

The day after the battle was the day set for the wedding of Elsa and the swan knight. Many people had gathered to see the beautiful princess walk from the palace to the church. First came Elsa's ladies, two by two. Their long trailing gowns were rich and costly. They formed an aisle and waited for the princess to pass through.

Very fair and happy the princess looked as she came slowly down the palace steps. When thepeople saw her, a glad cry of welcome arose. In her soft bridal robe and with her fair hair floating about her, she looked as beautiful as an angel.

At the door of the church Elsa was met by the knight, who was to lead her to the altar. As they moved slowly through the church, the wedding march was heard from the great organ.

When the marriage was over, the day was spent in feasting and merrymaking. It was not until twilight that Elsa and the knight were alone. By an open window they sat, talking in low tones. After some time Elsa grew sad and silent. She heeded not the words of the knight. She forgot the promise she had made and begged he would at least tell her his name.

"My name sounds so sweet from your lips," she said. "May I never have the pleasure of speaking yours?"

"Ah, Elsa," said the knight, sorrowfully, "speak not of this. Let us talk of other things."

"It is because you do not trust me, that you will not tell me," she said. "You think your secret would not be safe with me."

In vain the knight tried to soothe the troubled princess. He begged her to remember her promise, but she would not listen to his pleading.

Ortrud kneeling at Elsa's doorstep and Elsa welcoming her, as maidservants look on.

Theodore Pixis
ORTRUD AND ELSA

"What is your name?" she cried.

"Ask me not."

"Where is your home?"

"I can not tell thee."

"From what race do you come?"

The words had scarcely passed her lips when she was aware that the Duke Frederic had entered the room. Seeing the evil light in his eyes, she thrust the knight's sword into his hand, saying, "Oh, do not let him slay you!"

With a quick movement the knight turned upon his enemy, who soon lay dead at his feet. To the men who came with Frederic he said, "Carry the duke's body to the king."

He lifted the half-fainting Elsa to the couch. Kissing her upon the forehead, he said, "Alas! we shall be happy no more." As he left the room, he turned at the door, saying, in a low, sad tone, "To-morrow, before the king, I will tell you all that you ask."

Departure of the Knight

The next day the king was again seated on his throne under the Oak of Justice. It had been whispered that the stranger knight would make known to all, his name, his home, and his race.A great crowd had gathered to hear the knight speak.

Silence fell upon them as the dead body of the duke was borne before the king. Soon Elsa followed; her step was slow; her face was sad and pale. Her eyes no longer shone with happiness. The hearts of all who saw her were filled with pity.

Presently the knight appeared. He wore the same shining armor that he had worn on the day of his arrival. The golden horn still hung at his side; the long blue cloak fell from his shoulders.

Pointing to the dead body of Frederic, he said, "Yesterday, at eventide, this man tried to take my life. I slew him to save myself. I pray thee, O King, tell me if I did wrong." Before the king could speak, the people answered for him, "The knight has done no wrong."

Elsa holding onto the knight, who is about to leave.

Theodore Pixis
LOHENGRIN'S FAREWELL

Speaking slowly and in sad tones, the knight continued his story. "Already the Princess Elsa has broken the promise she made to me. Because she has asked my name, my home, and my race, I can dwell no longer among you. I come of a race of noble knights. Proud am I of my home, for it is the castle to which the Holy Grail was borne by angels long ago. Neither have I cause to be ashamedof my name. I am Lohengrin, son of that pure knight who guards the Holy Grail.

"Many times my brother knights have gone on errands of love and mercy. The power of the Holy Grail guards them in all they do. On such an errand was I bent when I came to defend the maid Elsa."

Looking up through their tears, the people saw the swan floating toward them. Lohengrin, too, saw the swan approaching, and went to Elsa's side. Filled with love and tenderness was his voice as he spoke to her. "Oh, Elsa," he said, "hadst thou been true to thy promise, in one short year I might have told thee all. In one short year would thy brother have been returned to thee. Now, when he comes back to thee and I am far away, give him this ring, this sword, and this horn."

So filled with sorrow was Elsa that she could speak no word to Lohengrin. As the knight made his way to the river bank, all faces were turned toward him in sorrow—all, save one. Ortrud, who had been standing in the shadow of the great oak, came forward. With a wicked smile she said, in a loud voice, "Yon snowy bird was once a boy, the brother of the Princess Elsa. I changed him to his present form."

As soon as Lohengrin heard these words, he sankupon his knees. Long he remained at prayer. As he knelt, a pure white dove floated down from heaven and hovered over his head.

Rising from his knees, Lohengrin loosed the golden chain from the neck of the swan. As he did so, the swan vanished from sight, and a fair youth in shining armor appeared in its place.

The people recognized the youth as Elsa's brother and thanked God for the power of the Holy Grail which had brought their prince again to them.

At the sight of the young prince, Ortrud sank lifeless to the ground.

Rejoicing that Elsa and her brother were together once more, Lohengrin sprang into the boat. The dove, catching the golden chain in its tiny beak, guided the boat down the river, and the knight was seen no more.