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and limitless billows, by the unfathomable speech which leads us to the edge of the Infinite and lets us for moments gaze into that.'
Before we proceed to discuss the extent of Wagner's influence on the subsequent history of the stage it may be well to consider a form which, at most, fell but indirectly within its range. During the mid-century romantic opera was running an undistinguished course, often deft and picturesque, but of very little importance. To compare Goethe's 'Faust' with Gounod's is to understand why music is sometimes treated disrespectfully by men of letters. But a seed of Weber's sowing was wafted to remote lands, and in course of time grew up and bore fruit. The older Russian composers were passionate adherents of Weber; the younger learned from him the lesson of a folk-opera, based on national legend, and saturated with national melody. Such an opera is · Boris Godunov,' by that great and wayward genius, Moussorgsky. In the first act an entire scene is built from a peasants' hymn;* and almost every subsequent melody is either gathered from the folk-songs or a close imitation of their manner. Borodin's Prince Igor,' too, is saturated with national idiom, employed on a weaker theme than Moussorgsky's, but with greater musical ability. In more recent times Bruneau has used folk-songs for his charming opera · Le Rêve' with special appropriateness to a simple story of French country life. But the finest example of all is Georges Bizet, whose
Carmen, produced in 1875, shows to what splendid purpose a romantic play can be adorned with national colour and national rhythm. It does not rival the Wagnerian 'dramas, though many critics, Nietzsche included, have declared that it surpasses them; but it holds an honourable place by the side of Der
Wagner's influence may be traced back at least as early as Boito's · Mefistofele’ (1868), which in its turn profoundly affected the later works of his friend and collaborator, Verdi. As might be expected, the musician
* Praise to thee, O God, in the heavens.' It is this tune which Beethoven used in the second Rasumovsky quartet. Moussorgsky employs it for a chorus of welcome to the Tsar,
preponderates; but in Aïda' the change of ideal is evident, and in 'Otello' and Falstaff' it is almost
• ' complete. There is some interest in observing that among the followers of the new music' Italy led the way.
• How Wagner seems to have stricken these Italians, complains Meredith's Victor Radnor; and he adds, with the sigh of all musical conservatism, 'I held out against Wagner as long as I could.'
But among all who carried on the Wagnerian tradition by far the most momentous is Richard Strauss. His •Guntram' first revealed the dramatist on whom the mantle of Wagner has fallen ; his two light comedies carry it off with something of a rakish air, as though they had studied their pose from Don Juan ; in ‘Salome' and
1 • Elektra' he sets himself to carry to their furthest conclusion those principles of unflinching dramatic expression' which Oper und Drama'had upheld.
In discussing Salome' we must begin by conceding the assumption that the subject of a drama may be taken, and even rehandled, from Holy Writ, an assumption which is difficult to traverse in face of such names as Racine and Alfieri. If this be granted, the next point to consider is whether the treatment is worthy of the theme; whether it convinces us as we are convinced by • .
Saul' and 'Athalie.' The plot is undeniably dramatic. An Eastern princess is fascinated-half shudder, half desire-by one of her father's captives. She approaches him, is repulsed, turns to hatred, and demands his life as a penalty. Her father, who regards his prisoner with an uneasy superstitious awe, is forced to a reluctant assent, sees her gloating over her victim in horrible triumph, and at breaking-point of revulsion orders his guards to crush her under their shields.
It is a subject for a great tragedy; but to make the tragedy great two things would seem to be requisite. It must be swift of movement, since it passes over places on which it is not good to dwell; it must never mar its tragic intensity by commonness of phrase, still less by risking that fatal step which lies beyond the confines of the sublime. In neither of these respects does Strauss' • Salome' rise to the height of its purpose. It is sometimes trivial; it is almost always slow in action. The love-scene is unduly prolonged by an indefensible attempt
to show the same change of feeling three times consecutively. The scene with Herod is unduly prolonged ; we grow weary of the catalogue of treasures and the reiterated phrases in which they are successively refused. Worst of all, the closing tirade, which on all grounds alike of good taste, right feeling, and dramatic propriety should have been cut to the quick, is spread out through page after page of hysteric passion enforced by every device of stress and emphasis that the composer has at his command.*
The probable explanation is that in Oscar Wilde's play, from which, with a few cuts, the book' of Strauss' opera is faithfully translated, the treatment of the theme is artificial. The style is not Wilde's own; it is borrowed from Flaubert and Maeterlinck and the Song of Solomon. The speeches are deliberate exercises in the beautiful or the fantastic or the macabre; and in lashing them with this music of violence and passion Strauss has attempted an impossible task. There are some passages of fine stirring declamation, notably in the part assigned to Jochanaan; there are a few moments of languorous beauty, a few touches of psychological subtlety ; yet the chief impression which is left on us at the end is one of strain and distaste.
But in. Elektra 'Strauss has come to his full strength. The whole drama is in its kind a masterpiece, grim, forcible, vivid, full of vehement contrasts, yet possessing organic unity, holding from first to last the attention of the spectator enthralled. Every phrase is instinct with meaning ; every action is swift and inevitable; throughout the whole stormy course we are carried on a torrent which we are powerless to resist. The character of Elektra is a wonderful study of revenge, inspired by loyalty, embittered by suffering and despair, poisoned at the last to sheer madness. Across her path come, one by one, the sombre figures of her life's tragedyChrysothemis, weak and selfish, born to fail in the hour
* • With his keen sense of the theatre, Wilde would never have contrived the long speech of Salome at the end of a drama intended for the stage' (Mr Robert Ross in the preface to Wilde's 'Salome'). Mr Ross adds some very pertinent remarks about critics who, having objected to the incident of horror' in the drama, witnessed with uncontrolled delight the same incident on the music-hall stage.
of need ; Clytemnestra, livid with long nights of sleepless terror, hung with amulets that have lost their efficacy, driven to seek aid even from the victim that she has persecuted; Orestes the avenger, welcomed with all the pent-up joy of a love that has had no outlet, a love which after its moment of pure passion grows lurid with the fire of a baleful purpose; last of all, Aegisthus, the maiden-faced, paying in helpless agony the long debt of treachery and murder. Among all these Elektra pursues her undeviating way. Her great lament for Agamemnon contains already a presage of the day of vengeance to
She is wholly in Clytemnestra's power, yet she meets her with taunts and defiance. News comes that Orestes is dead; when disbelief seems no longer possible, she turns to Chrysothemis— Sister, then you and I.' Chrysothemis shrinks back—Alone then.' When Orestes makes himself known, the revulsion of feeling is too great to bear; the chord snaps, and as she waits quivering at the door you know that the madness is upon her. It shows in the fierce cry, 'Strike once again’; it shows in the terrible irony with which she greets Aegisthus ; it nerves her for the sacrificial dance, as of some wild priestess dancing before the altar of the avenging gods; and at the height of her triumph she falls dead.
In Strauss' music, as in von Hoffmansthal's play, the tension is never for an instant relaxed ; indeed, all the different arts are here so fused together that it may seem idle to consider any one of them in isolation. But a few words may be said about the musical texture, partly because it has been somewhat misjudged by critics of repute, partly because it may serve, for our time, as one answer to the central problem of the music-drama. Strauss has been charged with sacrificing the art to which before all others he owes allegiance, with writing music which is not musically intelligible, which is a mere jargon of disorganised sounds, in itself unmeaning and incoherent. Surely, it is urged, no plea of dramatic expression can justify the entire dislocation of the laws of musical style.
The answer is that there is no dislocation; the laws of style are fully wide enough to include all that Strauss has here accomplished. We are not children to be frightened by dissonances ; 'everything depends, as
Mr Newman says, 'on whether they can be resolved into a higher harmony,' whether they fit their context, whether they prove part of an intelligible sentence. And it may be submitted that in this music the sentences are always deeply significant. No doubt there are some puzzling passages; the cry with which Elektra recognises her brother is in a new idiom ; it uses words with
1 which we are unfamiliar. But they serve their own purpose, they convey their own meaning; and, if they are at present super grammaticam,' the business of grammar is to overtake them. It ought to be stimulated by the discovery of chords which even Macfarren could not have attributed to the dominant thirteenth. Some are neologisms of which we cannot yet see the ancestry or derivation; it depends upon Strauss whether they take their place in the accepted vocabulary of the art. Others ---among them one which has been most in dispute-are the lineal descendants of the harmonies of Mozart and Beethoven, and but claim for their own generation the liberty that has been won by their forefathers. In any case discords are unimportant; it is the texture that matters; and this web is of a master's weaving.
We have travelled far enough from Parsifal' from the vision of the Grail and the choiring voices of adoration; and to the heights of Parsifal 'Strauss has not yet attained. But his drama is the direct continuation of Wagner, not only in technique-that is obvious enough
- but in its main conception of tragedy. In Elektra,' as in “The Ring,' the central idea is conflict, the clash of wills, the crown of victory. Siegfried overcomes the very gods, and his death is an apotheosis. Elektra, shattered at the moment of her triumph, achieves it nevertheless by her single-hearted overmastering force of purpose ; her hatred is the shadow of her love and her death the price of her triumph.
This is the drama of a strong, vigorous, conquering race, a race which sets the highest value on human will and impulse, which is great in attack, great in enterprise, sweeping away all obstacles, bearing down all opposition. Its exact antithesis would be an art which is reserved and reticent, which expresses itself in faint colours and halftones, which looks upon emphasis as a danger and upon exaggeration as a crime. In such a drama character