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A Soirée at Richard Wagner's

By Richard Faltin

(From the German by ADELE VON GILSA HERRMANN)

BAYREUTH, AUGUST 27. 1876. 

And now let me relate to you the events of Thursday: I had been invited to Wagner’s soirèe; there I made the acquaintance of the Master, Madame Cosima and Liszt and heard the incomparable pianist play.

Thursday morning I finally carried into effect my long intended plan to pay my respects to Liszt and Wagner at Wahnfried. I dressed with great care and went thither, but was not received, as is the case almost without exception. So I left my cards and went away rather discouraged, as I confidently expected to meet Liszt and ask him for an introduction to Wagner. I then called on Riedel, Langhans and others, and went to a restaurant to breakfast, where I met very agreeable company. After breakfast we walked to the “Siegesturm” and enjoyed the charming view of hills and dales, and at the same time arranged for a little trip of recreation to Koburg.

When, at eight o’clock in the evening, I returned to my hotel I found a card which had been left for me, an invitation from Mrs. F. Ritter, Wagner’s niece, to call upon the Master. A reception had been arranged for the evening and she wished to present me. I hastened to get ready as fast as I could—it was very lucky that I had my silk hat and dress coat with me—and drove there in a pouring-down rain. When I learned from the servant that Mrs. Ritter had not yet arrived, I took courage and made my way through the crowd of visitors, men and women, directly to Wagner. I introduced myself to him and told him whence I came, and added that I never could have forgiven myself if, after a stay of three weeks at Bayreuth, I had not made at least one attempt to meet him personally.

“I am, indeed, glad to see you, my dear sir,” said he, and now the conversation started in full vigor.

Wagner was so cordial that my enthusiasm became still greater; I esteem him far more now than I did when I was not personally acquainted with him. When I described to him, as eloquently as I could, the overpowering impression his music made upon me, he said, with an inimitable, roguish expression: “Well, now, one does as well as he can.”

Very happy and interested he seemed to be that I would hear all three performances of the “Ring.” “That is right, that is right, Mr. Faltin; the most of them come and leave again without making an attempt to get better acquainted with Bayreuth.”

When I told him that we had made some effort to perform scenes from his operas in Helsingfors, he answered with a significant gesture: “Ah, better come to Bayreuth. It pleases me though, very much, that the people up there are fond of my music.”

When the Ritters arrived I was formally introduced to Madam Cosima, who did the honors of the house with finished grace and was extremely gracious. There must have been over one hundred persons present, all high-born, of genius and birth, a very select company in fact.

After an hour’s conversation busy hands opened the colossal Steinway-grand, and Wagner, while standing, played in a humorous setting the first four measures of the first theme of Beethoven’s F Major Symphony, No. 8. After this quasi-invitation Saint-Saëns, from Paris, took possession of the piano, resolved Beethoven’s dissonance, and in thematic order preluded over to his own “Danse Macabre,” which he then played in an excellent, orchestrally effective way.

After that we supped standing. I only partook of a very small portion of reed-bird pie and drank with it a glass of Rhine wine; I had no time and thoughts for eating and drinking; it was too interesting to behold all these distinguished artistic personalities moving about in such a natural manner. Wagner did his utmost as host.

Suddenly Liszt interrupted the animated conversation. The Countesses Schleinitz and Usedom led him toward the piano. He did not seem to resist at all, but rather wished to go. With daring I forced my way through Liszt’s encircling clouds of tulle, gauze and other transparent fineries near by the instrument, so that I stood directly by his side. The Duke of Meiningen did the same, also Niemann, the hero-tenor. A breathless silence followed.

Without a prelude he began—now, I truly ought to cease writing and only add various dashes and notes of admiration, such divine pleasure cannot be described. Softly, mysteriously it sounded, then more and more visible the outlines became; a mighty crescendo led the astonished listeners into a high- spirited Hungarian Tempo di Marcia (E minor, 2/4 measure). And now it sparkled under his hands like fire works, there was no end to musical surprises. His intellectual face glowed, the eyes flashed, how magnificent he was at this moment. Then the sounds became fainter and melancholy. A second theme of a milder character poured out its loveliness over the listening guests. Again resounded the march, with variations, and a second melodious theme emerged, and once more returned, piu stretto, the opening theme, carried by means of brilliant passages in double octaves played with youthful strength, to a thundering climax, so that one’s heart trembled.

Quickly he stood up, a moment of silence followed, then the charmed guests gave vent to their feelings.

Ah, that one cannot hold fast such a pleasure, as, for instance, a beautiful painting! Certainly such sounds will never vanish from the inner ear; beautiful as the reality, remains also the recollection, but, alas, in diminished power.

After a pause, Liszt allowed himself to be led to the piano once more, he played one of the most exquisite of the “Soirée de Vienne,” but altogether differently than the notes suggest; like the first piece, it gave the impression of a free improvisation; one thought not of notes, piano and technic, but willingly followed the sweet enchantment.

Liszt’s technic is infallible; the gods seem to have shed a perpetual youth over him. The Master rises, even to this day, far above his younger followers.

I introduced myself to Liszt and pressed his hands. He thanked me for the morning visit and excused himself that he felt it necessary to live somewhat retired, his head was confused with the excitement due to the festival time, the large number of letters which had to be answered; all in all it was beyond his strength. “He was somewhat a sort of a chamberlain to Wagner,” he added smilingly.

The man is bewitchingly charming. I can now easily imagine how it happened that in his zenith he simply made the world frantic. With my heart full of thankfulness for all I had heard, and satisfied to the highest degree that I had been brought personally near to the very greatest in the realm of music, I left the hospitable home of the Master.

 

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You are reading A Soirée at Richard Wagner's from the July, 1906 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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