The Etude
Name the Composer . Etude Magazine Covers . Etude Magazine Ads & Images . Selected Etude Magazine Stories . About . Donate .


Old Fogy Redivivus

ON A VACATION TRIP TO EUROPE-THE “OLD FOGY” ATTENDS THE BAYREUTH FESTIVAL.
 
Bayreuth, August 5, 1899.
 
Before I went to Bayreuth I had always believed that some magic spell rested upon the Franconian hills like a musical benison ; some mystery of art, atmosphere and individuality evoked by the place, the tradition, the people. How sadly I was disappointed I propose to tell you, prefacing all by remarking that in Philadelphia, dear old, dusty Philadelphia, situated near the confluence of the Delaware and Schuylkill, I have listened to better representations of the “Ring” and “Die Meistersinger.”
 
It is just thirty years since I last visited Germany. Before the Franco-Prussian war there was an air of sweetness, homeliness, an old-fashioned peace in the land. The swaggering conqueror, the arrogant Berliner type of all that is unpleasant, modern and insolent now overruns Germany. The ingenuousness, the naïve quality that made dear the art of the Fatherland has disappeared. In its place is smartness, flippancy, cynicism, unbelief, and the critical faculty developed to the pathological point. I thought of Schubert and sighed in the presence of all this wit, and savage humor. Bayreuth is full of doctrinaires. They eagerly dispute Wagner’s meanings and my venerable notions of the Ring were not only sneered at, but, to be quite frank with you, dissipated into thin, metaphysical smoke.
 
In 1869 I fancied Reinecke a decent composer, Schopenhauer remarkable, if somewhat bitter in his philosophic attitude towards life. Reinecke is now a mere ghost of a ghost, a respectable memory of Leipzig, whilst Schopenhauer has been brutally elbowed out of his niche by his former follower, Nietzsche. In every café, in every summer-garden I sought I found groups of young men talking heatedly about Nietzsche, and the Over-Man, the Uebermensch, to be quite German. I had, in the innocence of my Wissahickon soul, supposed Schopenhauer Wagner’s favorite philosopher. Mustering up my best German, somewhat worn from disuse, I gave speech to my views, after the manner of a garrulous old man who hates to be put on the shelf before he is quite disabled.
 
Ach! but I caught it, ach ! but I was pulverized and left speechless by these devotees of the Hammer-philosopher, Nietzsche. I was told that Wagner was a fairly good musician, although no inventor of themes. He had evolved no new melodies but his knowledge of harmony, above all his constructive power, were his best recommendations. As for his abilities as a dramatic poet; absurd ! His metaphysics were green with age, his theories as to the syntheses of the arts silly and impracticable, while his Schopenhauerism, pessimism, and the rest sheer dead weights that were slowly but none the less surely strangling his music. When I asked how this change of heart came about, how all that I had supposed that went to the making of the Bayreuth theories was exploded moonshine, I was curtly reminded of Nietzsche.
 
Nietzsche again, always this confounded Nietzsche, who, mad as a hatter at Naumburg, yet contrives to hypnotize the younger generation with his crazy doctrines of force, of the great Blond Barbarian, of the Will to Destroy—infinitely more vicious than the Will to Live—and the inherent immorality of Wagner’s music. I came to Bayreuth to criticise ; I go away praying, praying for the mental salvation of his new expounders, praying that this poisonous nonsense will not reach us in America. But it will.
 
The charm of this little city is the high price charged for everything. A stranger is “spotted” at once and he is the prey of the townspeople. Beer, carriages, food, pictures, music, busts, books, rooms, nothing is cheap. I’ve been all over, saw Wagner’s tomb, looked at the outside of Wahnfried and the inside of the theater. I have seen Siegfried Wagner—who can’t conduct one- quarter as well as our own Walter Damrosch—walking up and down the streets a tin demi-god, a reduced octavo edition of his father bound in cheap calf. Worse still, I have heard the young man try to conduct, try to hold that mighty Bayreuth orchestra in leash, and with painful results. Not one firm, clanging chord could he extort; all were more or less arpeggioed, and as for climax —there was none.
 
I have sat in Sammett’s garden, which was once Angermann’s, famous for its company, kings, composers, poets, wits, and critics, all mingling there in discordant harmony. Now it is overrun by Cook’s tourists in bicycle costumes, irreverent, chattering, idle, and foolish. Even Wagner has grown gray and the Ring sounded antique to me, so strong were the disturbing influences of my environment
 
The bad singing by ancient Teutons—for the most part—was to blame for this. Certainly when Walhall had succumbed to the flames and the primordial Ash-Tree sunk in the lapping waters of the treacherous Rhine, I felt that the end of the universe was at hand and it was with a sob I saw outside in the soft, summer-sky riding gallantly in the blue, the full moon. It was the only young thing in the world at that moment, this burnt-out servant planet of ours, and I gazed at it long and fondly for it recalled the romance of my student years, my love of Schumann’s poetic music and other illusions of a vanished past. In a word I had again surrendered to the sentimental spell of Germany, Germany by night, and with my heart full I descended from the terrace, walked slowly down the arbored avenue to Sammett’s garden and there sat mused and—smoked my Yankee pipe. I realize that I am indeed an old man ready for that shelf the youngsters provide for the superannuated and those who disagree with them.
 
I had all but forgotten the performances. They were, as I declared at the outset, far from perfect, far from satisfactory. The Ring was depressing. Rosa Sucher who visited us some years ago was a flabby Sieglinde. The Siegmund, Herr Burgstalles, a lanky, awkward young fellow from over the hills somewhere. He was sad. Ernst Kraus an old acquaintance, was a familiar Siegfried. Demeter Popovici you remember with Damrosch, also Hans Breuer. Van Rooy’s Wotan was supreme. It was the one pleasant memory of Bayreuth, that and the moon. Gadski was not an ideal Eva in Meistersinger while Demuth was an excellent Hans Sachs. The Brunhilde was Ellen Gulbranson, a Scandinavian. She was a heroic icicle that Wagner himself could not melt. Schumann Heink as Magdalene in Meistersinger was simply grotesque. Van Rooy’s Walther I missed. Hans Richter conducted my favorite of the Wagner music dramas, the touching and pathetic Nuremberg romance, and to my surprise went asleep over the tempi. He has the technique of the conductor but the elbow-grease was missing. He too is old, but better one aged Richter than a caveful of spry Siegfried Wagners !
 
I shan’t bother you any more as to details. Bayreuth is not the exalted place my imagination pictured it. It is full of ghosts,—the very trees on the terrace whisper the names of Liszt and Wagner—but Madame Cosima is running the establishment for all there is in it financially —excuse my slang—and so Bayreuth is deteriorating. I saw her, Liszt’s daughter, von Bülow, and Wagner’s wife—or rather widow—and her gaunt frame, strong if angular features gave me the sight of another ghost from the past. Ghosts, ghosts, the world is getting old and weary and astride of it just now is the pessimist Nietzsche, who, disguised as a herculean boy is deceiving his worshippers with the belief that he is young and a preacher of the joyful doctrines of youth. Be not deceived, he is but another veiled prophet. His mask is that of a grinning skeleton, his words are bitter with death and deceit.
 
I stopped over at Nuremberg and at a chamber concert heard Schubert’s quintet for piano and strings “Die Forelle”—and although I am no trout fisher, the sweet, boyish loquacity, the pure music made my heart glad and I wept. Yours in Senescence,
 
 
 
 
 
A player’s soul must be in his finger-tips. With these he can chop wood—or sing.—Rubinstein.
 

<< Acoustics as Part of a Musical Education     Questions and Answers >>

Monthly Archives

The Publisher of The Etude Will Supply Anything In Music