I am writing this to relieve my mind. It is not malice alone which makes me praise Bizet at the expense of Wagner in this essay. Amid a good deal of jesting I wish to make one point clear which does not admit of levity. To turn my back on Wagner was for me a piece of fate, to get to like anything else whatever afterwards was for me a triumph. Nobody, perhaps, had ever been more dangerously involved in Wagnerism, nobody had defended himself more obstinately against it, nobody had ever been so overjoyed at ridding himself of it. A long history!—Shall I give it a name?—If I were a moralist, who knows what I might not call it! Perhaps a piece of self–mastery.—But the philosopher does not like the moralist, neither does he like high–falutin' words…
What is the first and last thing that a philosopher demands of himself? To overcome his age in himself, to become
"timeless." With what then does the philosopher have the greatest fight? With all that in him which makes him the child of his time. Very well then! I am just as much a child of my age as Wagner—i.e., I am a decadent. The only difference is that I recognised the fact, that I struggled against it. The philosopher in me struggled against it.
My greatest preoccupation hitherto has been the problem of decadence, and I had reasons for this. "Good and evil"
form only a playful subdivision of this problem. If one has trained one’s eye to detect the symptoms of decline, one also understands morality,—one understands what lies concealed beneath its holiest names and tables of values: e.g., impoverished life, the will to nonentity, great exhaustion. Morality denies life… In order to undertake such a mission I was obliged to exercise self–discipline:—I had to side against all that was morbid in myself including Wagner, including Schopenhauer, including the whole of modern humanity.—A profound estrangement, coldness and soberness towards all that belongs to my age, all that was contemporary: and as the highest wish, Zarathustra’s eye, an eye which surveys the whole phenomenon—mankind—from an enormous distance,—which looks down upon it.—For such a goal—what sacrifice would not have been worth while? What "self–mastery"! What "self–denial"!
The greatest event of my life took the form of a recovery. Wagner belongs only to my diseases.
Not that I wish to appear ungrateful to this disease. If in this essay I support the proposition that Wagner is harmful, I none the less wish to point out unto whom, in spite of all, he is indispensable—to the philosopher. Anyone else may perhaps be able to get on without Wagner: but the philosopher is not free to pass him by. The philosopher must be the evil conscience of his age,—but to this end he must be possessed of its best knowledge. And what better guide, or more thoroughly efficient revealer of the soul, could be found for the labyrinth of the modern spirit than Wagner? Through Wagner modernity speaks her most intimate language: it conceals neither its good nor its evil: it has thrown off all shame.
And, conversely, one has almost calculated the whole of the value of modernity once one is clear concerning what is good and evil in Wagner. I can perfectly well understand a musician of to–day who says: "I hate Wagner but I can endure no other music." But I should also understand a philosopher who said, "Wagner is modernity in concentrated form."
There is no help for it, we must first be Wagnerites…
Yesterday—would you believe it?—I heard Bizet’s masterpiece for the twentieth time. Once more I attended with the same gentle reverence; once again I did not run away. This triumph over my impatience surprises me. How such a work completes one! Through it one almost becomes a "masterpiece" oneself—And, as a matter of fact, each time I heard Carmen it seemed to me that I was more of a philosopher, a better philosopher than at other times: I became so forbearing, so happy, so Indian, so settled… To sit for five hours: the first step to holiness!—May I be allowed to say that Bizet’s orchestration is the only one that I can endure now? That other orchestration which is all the rage at present—the Wagnerian—is brutal, artificial and "unsophisticated" withal, hence its appeal to all the three senses of the modern soul at once. How terribly Wagnerian orchestration affects me! I call it the Sirocco. A disagreeable sweat breaks out all over me. All my fine weather vanishes.
Bizet’s music seems to me perfect. It comes forward lightly, gracefully, stylishly. It is lovable, it does not sweat. "All that is good is easy, everything divine runs with light feet": this is the first principle of my æsthetics. This music is wicked, refined, fatalistic, and withal remains popular,—it possesses the refinement of a race, not of an individual. It is rich. It is definite. It builds, organises, completes, and in this sense it stands as a contrast to the polypus in music, to "endless melody". Have more painful, more tragic accents ever been heard on the stage before? And how are they obtained?
Without grimaces! Without counterfeiting of any kind! Free from the lie of the grand style!—In short: this music assumes that the listener is intelligent even as a musician,—thereby it is the opposite of Wagner, who, apart from everything else, was in any case the most ill–mannered genius on earth (Wagner takes us as if… , he repeats a thing so often that we become desperate,—that we ultimately believe it).
And once more: I become a better man when Bizet speaks to me. Also a better musician, a better listener. Is it in any way possible to listen better?—I even burrow behind this music with my ears. I hear its very cause. I seem to assist at its birth. I tremble before the dangers which this daring music runs, I am enraptured over those happy accidents for which even Bizet himself may not be responsible.—And, strange to say, at bottom I do not give it a thought, or am not aware how much thought I really do give it. For quite other ideas are running through my head the while… Has any one ever observed that music emancipates the spirit? gives wings to thought? and that the more one becomes a musician the more one is also a philosopher? The grey sky of abstraction seems thrilled by flashes of lightning; the light is strong enough to reveal all the details of things; to enable one to grapple with problems; and the world is surveyed as if from a mountain top—With this I have defined philosophical pathos—And unexpectedly answers drop into my lap, a small hailstorm of ice and wisdom, of problems solved. Where am I? Bizet makes me productive. Everything that is good makes me productive. I have gratitude for nothing else, nor have I any other touchstone for testing what is good.
Bizet’s work also saves; Wagner is not the only "Saviour." With it one bids farewell to the damp north and to all the fog of the Wagnerian ideal. Even the action in itself delivers us from these things. From Merimée it has this logic even in passion, from him it has the direct line, inexorable necessity, but what it has above all else is that which belongs to sub–
tropical zones—that dryness of atmosphere, that limpidezza of the air. Here in every respect the climate is altered. Here another kind of sensuality, another kind of sensitiveness and another kind of cheerfulness make their appeal. This music is gay, but not in a French or German way. Its gaiety is African; fate hangs over it, its happiness is short, sudden, without reprieve. I envy Bizet for having had the courage of this sensitiveness, which hitherto in the cultured music of Europe has found no means of expression,—of this southern, tawny, sunburnt sensitiveness… What a joy the golden afternoon of its happiness is to us! When we look out, with this music in our minds, we wonder whether we have ever seen the sea so calm. And how soothing is this Moorish dancing! How, for once, even our insatiability gets sated by its lascivious melancholy!—And finally love, love translated back into Nature! Not the love of a "cultured girl!"—no Senta–
sentimentality.[ 7 ]
But love as fate, as a fatality, cynical, innocent, cruel,—and precisely in this way Nature! The love whose means is war, whose very essence is the mortal hatred between the sexes!—I know no case in which the tragic irony, which constitutes the kernel of love, is expressed with such severity, or in so terrible a formula, as in the last cry of Don José with which the work ends:
"Yes, it is I who have killed her, I—my adored Carmen!"
—Such a conception of love (the only one worthy of a philosopher) is rare: it distinguishes one work of art from among a thousand others. For, as a rule, artists are no better than the rest of the world, they are even worse—they misunderstand love. Even Wagner misunderstood it. They imagine that they are selfless in it because they appear to be seeking the advantage of another creature often to their own disadvantage. But in return they want to possess the other creature… Even God is no exception to this rule, he is very far from thinking "What does it matter to thee whether I love thee or not?"—He becomes terrible if he is not loved in return "L’amour—and with this principle one carries one’s point against Gods and men—est de tous les sentiments le plus égoiste, et par conséquent, lorsqu’il est blessé, le moins généreux" (B. Constant).
Perhaps you are beginning to perceive how very much this music improves me?—Il faut méditerraniser la musique. and I have my reasons for this principle ("Beyond Good and Evil," pp. 216 et seq.) The return to Nature, health, good spirits, youth, virtue!—And yet I was one of the most corrupted Wagnerites… I was able to take Wagner seriously. Oh, this old magician! what tricks has he not played upon us! The first thing his art places in our hands is a magnifying glass: we look through it, and we no longer trust our own eyes—Everything grows bigger, even Wagner grows bigger… What a clever rattlesnake. Throughout his life he rattled "resignation,""loyalty," and "purity" about our ears, and he retired from the corrupt world with a song of praise to chastity!—And we believed it all…
—But you will not listen to me? You prefer even the problem of Wagner to that of Bizet? But neither do I underrate it; it has its charm. The problem of salvation is even a venerable problem. Wagner pondered over nothing so deeply as over salvation: his opera is the opera of salvation. Someone always wants to be saved in his operas,—now it is a youth; anon it is a maid,—this is his problem—And how lavishly he varies his leitmotif! What rare and melancholy modulations! If it were not for Wagner, who would teach us that innocence has a preference for saving interesting sinners? (the case in
"Tannhauser"). Or that even the eternal Jew gets saved and settled down when he marries? (the case in the "Flying Dutchman"). Or that corrupted old females prefer to be saved by chaste young men? (the case of Kundry). Or that young hysterics like to be saved by their doctor? (the case in "Lohengrin"). Or that beautiful girls most love to be saved by a knight who also happens to be a Wagnerite? (the case in the "Mastersingers"). Or that even married women also like to be saved by a knight? (the case of Isolde). Or that the venerable Almighty, after having compromised himself morally in all manner of ways, is at last delivered by a free spirit and an immoralist? (the case in the "Ring"). Admire, more especially this last piece of wisdom! Do you understand it? I—take good care not to understand it… That it is possible to draw yet other lessons from the works above mentioned,—I am much more ready to prove than to dispute. That one may be driven by a Wagnerian ballet to desperation—and to virtue! (once again the case in "Tannhauser"). That not going to bed at the right time may be followed by the worst consequences (once again the case of "Lohengrin").—That one can never be too sure of the spouse one actually marries (for the third time, the case of "Lohengrin"). "Tristan and Isolde"
glorifies the perfect husband who, in a certain case, can ask only one question: "But why have ye not told me this before? Nothing could be simpler than that!" Reply:
"That I cannot tell thee. And what thou askest, That wilt thou never learn."
"Lohengrin" contains a solemn ban upon all investigation and questioning. In this way Wagner stood for the Christian concept, "Thou must and shalt believe". It is a crime against the highest and the holiest to be scientific… The "Flying Dutchman" preaches the sublime doctrine that woman can moor the most erratic soul, or to put it into Wagnerian terms
"save" him. Here we venture to ask a question. Supposing that this were actually true, would it therefore be desirable?—
What becomes of the "eternal Jew" whom a woman adores and enchains? He simply ceases from being eternal, he marries,—that is to say, he concerns us no longer.—Transferred into the realm of reality, the danger for the artist and for the genius—and these are of course the "eternal Jews"—resides in woman: adoring women are their ruin. Scarcely any one has sufficient character not to be corrupted—"saved" when he finds himself treated as a God—he then immediately condescends to woman.—Man is a coward in the face of all that is eternally feminine, and this the girls know.—In many cases of woman’s love, and perhaps precisely in the most famous ones, the love is no more than a refined form of parasitism, a making one’s nest in another’s soul and sometimes even in another’s flesh—Ah! and how constantly at the cost of the host!
We know the fate of Goethe in old–maidish moralin–corroded Germany. He was always offensive to Germans, he found honest admirers only among Jewesses. Schiller, "noble" Schiller, who cried flowery words into their ears,—he was a man after their own heart. What did they reproach Goethe with?—with the Mount of Venus, and with having composed certain Venetian epigrams. Even Klopstock preached him a moral sermon; there was a time when Herder was fond of using the word "Priapus" when he spoke of Goethe. Even "Wilhelm Meister" seemed to be only a symptom of decline, of a moral "going to the dogs". The "Menagerie of tame cattle," the worthlessness of the hero in this book, revolted Niebuhr, who finally bursts out in a plaint which Biterolf [ 8 ]
might well have sung: "nothing so easily makes a painful impression a s when a great mind despoils itself of its wings and strives for virtuosity in something greatly inferior, while it renounces more lofty aims." But the most indignant of all was the cultured woman—all smaller courts in Germany, every kind of "Puritanism" made the sign of the cross at the sight of Goethe, at the thought of the "unclean spirit" in Goethe.—
This history was what Wagner set to music. He saves Goethe, that goes without saying; but he does so in such a clever way that he also takes the side of the cultured woman. Goethe gets saved: a prayer saves him, a cultured woman draws him out of the mire.
—As to what Goethe would have thought of Wagner?—Goethe once set himself the question, "what danger hangs over all romanticists—the fate of romanticists?"—His answer was: "To choke over the rumination of moral and religious absurdities." In short: Parsifal… The philosopher writes thereto an epilogue: Holiness—the only remaining higher value still seen by the mob or by woman, the horizon of the ideal for all those who are naturally short–sighted. To philosophers, however, this horizon, like every other, is a mere misunderstanding, a sort of slamming of the door in the face of the real beginning of their world,—their danger, their ideal, their desideratum… In more polite language: La philosophie ne suffit pas au grand nombre. Il lui faut la sainteté…
I shall once more relate the history of the "Ring". This is its proper place. It is also the history of a salvation except that in this case it is Wagner himself who is saved—Half his lifetime Wagner believed in the Revolution as only a Frenchman could have believed in it. He sought it in the runic inscriptions of myths, he thought he had found a typical revolutionary in Siegfried.—"Whence arises all the evil in this world?" Wagner asked himself. From "old contracts": he replied, as all revolutionary ideologists have done. In plain English: from customs, laws, morals, institutions, from all those things upon which the ancient world and ancient society rests. "How can one get rid of the evil in this world? How can one get rid of ancient society?" Only by declaring war against "contracts" (traditions, morality). This Siegfried does. He starts early at the game, very early—his origin itself is already a declaration of war against morality—he is the result of adultery, of incest… Not the saga, but Wagner himself is the inventor of this radical feature, in this matter he corrected the saga…
Siegfried continues as he began: he follows only his first impulse, he flings all tradition, all respect, all fear to the winds.
Whatever displeases him he strikes down. He tilts irreverently at old god–heads. His principal undertaking, however, is to emancipate woman,—"to deliver Brunnhilda."… Siegfried and Brunnhilda, the sacrament of free love, the dawn of the golden age, the twilight of the Gods of old morality—evil is got rid of… For a long while Wagner’s ship sailed happily along this course. There can be no doubt that along it Wagner sought his highest goal.—What happened? A misfortune.
The ship dashed on to a reef; Wagner had run aground. The reef was Schopenhauer’s philosophy; Wagner had stuck fast on a contrary view of the world. What had he set to music? Optimism? Wagner was ashamed. It was moreover an optimism for which Schopenhauer had devised an evil expression,—unscrupulous optimism. He was more than ever ashamed. He reflected for some time; his position seemed desperate… At last a path of escape seemed gradually to open before him—what if the reef on which he had been wrecked could be interpreted as a goal, as the ulterior motive, as the actual purpose of his journey? To be wrecked here, this was also a goal:—Bene navigavi cum naufragium feci…
and he translated the "Ring" into Schopenhauerian language. Everything goes wrong, everything goes to wrack and ruin, the new world is just as bad as the old one:—Nonentity, the Indian Circe beckons… Brunnhilda, who according to the old plan had to retire with a song in honour of free love, consoling the world with the hope of a socialistic Utopia in which "all will be well"; now gets something else to do. She must first study Schopenhauer. She must first versify the fourth book of
"The World as Will and Idea."Wagner was saved… Joking apart, this was a salvation. The service which Wagner owes to Schopenhauer is incalculable. It was the philosopher of decadence who allowed the artist of decadence to find himself.—
The artist of decadence. That is the word. And here I begin to be serious. I could not think of looking on approvingly while this décadent spoils our health—and music into the bargain. Is Wagner a man at all? Is he not rather a disease?
Everything he touches he contaminates. He has made music sick.
A typical décadent who thinks himself necessary with his corrupted taste, who arrogates to himself a higher taste, who tries to establish his depravity as a law, as progress, as a fulfilment.
And no one guards against it. His powers of seduction attain monstrous proportions, holy incense hangs around him, the misunderstanding concerning him is called the Gospel,—and he has certainly not converted only the poor in spirit to his cause!
I should like to open the window a little:—Air! More air!—
The fact that people in Germany deceive themselves concerning Wagner does not surprise me. The reverse would surprise me. The Germans have modelled a Wagner for themselves, whom they can honour: never yet have they been psychologists; they are thankful that they misunderstand. But that people should also deceive themselves concerning Wagner in Paris! Where people are scarcely anything else than psychologists. And in Saint Petersburg! Where things are divined, which even Paris has no idea of. How intimately related must Wagner be to the entire decadence of Europe for her not to have felt that he was decadent! He belongs to it, he is its protagonist, its greatest name… We bring honour on ourselves by elevating him to the clouds—For the mere fact that no one guards against him is in itself already a sign of decadence. Instinct is weakened, what ought to be eschewed now attracts. People actually kiss that which plunges them more quickly into the abyss.—Is there any need for an example? One has only to think of the régime which anæmic, or gouty, or diabetic people prescribe for themselves. The definition of a vegetarian: a creature who has need of a corroborating diet. To recognise what is harmful as harmful, to be able to deny oneself what is harmful, is a sign of youth, of vitality. That which is harmful lures the exhausted: cabbage lures the vegetarian. Illness itself can be a stimulus to life but one must be healthy enough for such a stimulus!—Wagner increases exhaustion—therefore he attracts the weak and exhausted to him. Oh, the rattlesnake joy of the old Master precisely because he always saw "the little children"
coming unto him!
I place this point of view first and foremost: Wagner’s art is diseased. The problems he sets on the stage are all concerned with hysteria; the convulsiveness of his emotions, his over–excited sensitiveness, his taste which demands ever sharper condimentation, his erraticness which he togged out to look like principles, and, last but not least, his choice of heroes and heroines, considered as physiological types (—a hospital ward!—): the whole represents a morbid picture; of this there can be no doubt. Wagner est une névrose. Maybe, that nothing is better known to–day, or in any case the subject of greater study, than the Protean character of degeneration which has disguised itself here, both as an art and as an artist. In Wagner our medical men and physiologists have a most interesting case, or at least a very complete one. Owing to the very fact that nothing is more modern than this thorough morbidness, this dilatoriness and excessive irritability of the nervous machinery, Wagner is the modern artist par excellence, the Cagliostro of modernity.
All that the world most needs to–day, is combined in the most seductive manner in his art,—the three great stimulants of exhausted people: brutality, artificiality and innocence (idiocy).
Wagner is a great corrupter of music. With it, he found the means of stimulating tired nerves,—and in this way he made music ill. In the art of spurring exhausted creatures back into activity, and of recalling half–corpses to life, the inventiveness he shows is of no mean order. He is the master of hypnotic trickery, and he fells the strongest like bullocks. Wagner’s success—his success with nerves, and therefore with women—converted the whole world of ambitious musicians into disciples of his secret art. And not only the ambitious, but also the shrewd… Only with morbid music can money be made to–day; our big theatres live on Wagner.
—Once more I will venture to indulge in a little levity. Let us suppose that Wagner’s success could become flesh and blood and assume a human form; that, dressed up as a good–natured musical savant, it could move among budding artists. How do you think it would then be likely to express itself?—
My friends, it would say, let us exchange a word or two in private. It is easier to compose bad music than good music.
But what, if apart from this it were also more profitable, more effective, more convincing, more exalting, more secure, more Wagnerian? … Pulchrum est paucorum hominum. Bad enough in all conscience! We understand Latin, and perhaps we also understand which side our bread is buttered. Beauty has its drawbacks: we know that. Wherefore beauty then? Why not rather aim at size, at the sublime, the gigantic, that which moves the masses?—And to repeat, it is easier to be titanic than to be beautiful; we know that…
We know the masses, we know the theatre. The best of those who assemble there,—German youths, horned Siegfrieds and other Wagnerites, require the sublime, the profound, and the overwhelming. This much still lies within our power. And as for the others who assemble there,—the cultured crétins, the blasé pigmies, the eternally feminine, the gastrically happy, in short the people—they also require the sublime, the profound, the overwhelming. All these people argue in the same way. "He who overthrows us is strong; he who elevates us is godly; he who makes us wonder vaguely is profound."—Let us make up our mind then, my friends in music: we do want to overthrow them, we do want to elevate them, we do want to make them wonder vaguely. This much still lies within our powers.
In regard to the process of making them wonder: it is here that our notion of "style" finds its starting–point. Above all, no thoughts! Nothing is more compromising than a thought! But the state of mind which precedes thought, the labour of the thought still unborn, the promise of future thought, the world as it was before God created it—a recrudescence of chaos… Chaos makes people wonder…
In the words of the master: infinity but without melody.
In the second place, with regard to the overthrowing,—this belongs at least in part, to physiology. Let us, in the first place, examine the instruments. A few of them would convince even our intestines (—they throw open doors, as Handel would say), others becharm our very marrow. The colour of the melody is all–important here, the melody itself is of no importance. Let us be precise about this point. To what other purpose should we spend our strength? Let us be characteristic in tone even to the point of foolishness! If by means of tones we allow plenty of scope for guessing, this will be put to the credit of our intellects. Let us irritate nerves, let us strike them dead: let us handle thunder and lightning,—
that is what overthrows…
But what overthrows best, is passion.—We must try and be clear concerning this question of passion. Nothing is cheaper than passion! All the virtues of counterpoint may be dispensed with, there is no need to have learnt anything,—
but passion is always within our reach! Beauty is difficult: let us beware of beauty!… And also of melody! However much in earnest we may otherwise be about the ideal, let us slander, my friends, let us slander,—let us slander melody!
Nothing is more dangerous than a beautiful melody! Nothing is more certain to ruin taste! My friends, if people again set about loving beautiful melodies, we are lost!…
First principle: melody is immoral. Proof: "Palestrina". Application: "Parsifal." The absence of melody is in itself sanctifying…
And this is the definition of passion. Passion—or the acrobatic feats of ugliness on the tight–rope of enharmonic—My friends, let us dare to be ugly! Wagner dared it! Let us heave the mud of the most repulsive harmonies undauntedly before us. We must not even spare our hands! Only thus, shall we become natural…
And now a last word of advice. Perhaps it covers everything—Let us be idealists!—If not the cleverest, it is at least the wisest thing we can do. In order to elevate men we ourselves must be exalted. Let us wander in the clouds, let us harangue eternity, let us be careful to group great symbols all around us! Sursum! Bumbum!—there is no better advice.
The "heaving breast" shall be our argument, "beautiful feelings" our advocates. Virtue still carries its point against counterpoint. "How could he who improves us, help being better than we?" man has ever thought thus. Let us therefore improve mankind!—in this way we shall become good (in this way we shall even become "classics"—Schiller became a
"classic"). The straining after the base excitement of the senses, after so–called beauty, shattered the nerves of the Italians: let us remain German! Even Mozart’s relation to music—Wagner spoke this word of comfort to us—was at bottom frivolous…
Never let us acknowledge that music "may be a recreation," that it may "enliven," that it may "give pleasure."Never let us give pleasure!—we shall be lost if people once again think of music hedonistically… That belongs to the bad eighteenth century… On the other hand, nothing would be more advisable (between ourselves) than a dose of—cant, sit venia verbo. This imparts dignity.—And let us take care to select the precise moment when it would be fitting to have black looks, to sigh openly, to sigh devoutly, to flaunt grand Christian sympathy before their eyes. "Man is corrupt who will save him? what will save him?" Do not let us reply. We must be on our guard. We must control our ambition, which would bid us found new religions. But no one must doubt that it is we who save him, that in our music alone salvation is to be found… (See Wagner’s essay, "Religion and Art.")
Enough! Enough! I fear that, beneath all my merry jests, you are beginning to recognise the sinister truth only too clearly
—the picture of the decline of art, of the decline of the artist. The latter, which is a decline of character, might perhaps be defined provisionally in the following manner: the musician is now becoming an actor, his art is developing ever more and more into a talent for telling lies. In a certain chapter of my principal work which bears the title "Concerning the Physiology of Art,"[ 9 I ]
shall have an opportunity of showing more thoroughly how this transformation of art as a whole into histrionics is just as much a sign of physiological degeneration (or more precisely a form of hysteria), as any other individual corruption, and infirmity peculiar to the art which Wagner inaugurated: for instance the restlessness of its optics, which makes it necessary to change one’s attitude to it every second. They understand nothing of Wagner who see in him but a sport of nature, an arbitrary mood, a chapter of accidents. He was not the "defective,""ill–
fated,""contradictory" genius that people have declared him to be. Wagner was something complete, he was a typical décadent, in whom every sign of "free will" was lacking, in whom every feature was necessary. If there is anything at all of interest in Wagner, it is the consistency with which a critical physiological condition may convert itself, step by step, conclusion after conclusion, into a method, a form of procedure, a reform of all principles, a crisis in taste.
At this point I shall only stop to consider the question of style. How is decadence in literature characterised? By the fact that in it life no longer animates the whole. Words become predominant and leap right out of the sentence to which they belong, the sentences themselves trespass beyond their bounds, and obscure the sense of the whole page, and the page in its turn gains in vigour at the cost of the whole,—the whole is no longer a whole. But this is the formula for every decadent style: there is always anarchy among the atoms, disaggregation of the will,—in moral terms: "freedom of the individual,"—extended into a political theory "equal rights for all." Life, equal vitality, all the vibration and exuberance of life, driven back into the smallest structure, and the remainder left almost lifeless. Everywhere paralysis, distress, and numbness, or hostility and chaos both striking one with ever increasing force the higher the forms of organisation are into which one ascends. The whole no longer lives at all: it is composed, reckoned up, artificial, a fictitious thing.
In Wagner’s case the first thing we notice is an hallucination, not of tones, but of attitudes. Only after he has the latter does he begin to seek the semiotics of tone for them. If we wish to admire him, we should observe him at work here: how he separates and distinguishes, how he arrives at small unities, and how he galvanises them, accentuates them, and brings them into pre–eminence. But in this way he exhausts his strength the rest is worthless. How paltry, awkward, and amateurish is his manner of "developing," his attempt at combining incompatible parts. His manner in this respect reminds one of two people who even in other ways are not unlike him in style—the brothers Goncourt; one almost feels compassion for so much impotence. That Wagner disguised his inability to create organic forms, under the cloak of a principle, that he should have constructed a "dramatic style" out of what we should call the total inability to create any style whatsoever, is quite in keeping with that daring habit, which stuck to him throughout his life, of setting up a principle wherever capacity failed him. (In this respect he was very different from old Kant, who rejoiced in another form of daring, i.e.: whenever a principle failed him, he endowed man with a "capacity" which took its place…) Once more let it be said that Wagner is really only worthy of admiration and love by virtue of his inventiveness in small things, in his elaboration of details,—here one is quite justified in proclaiming him a master of the first rank, as our greatest musical miniaturist who compresses an infinity of meaning and sweetness into the smallest space. His wealth of colour, of chiaroscuro, of the mystery of a dying light, so pampers our senses that afterwards almost every other musician strikes us as being too robust. If people would believe me, they would not form the highest idea of Wagner from that which pleases them in him to–day. All that was only devised for convincing the masses, and people like ourselves recoil from it just as one would recoil from too garish a fresco. What concern have we with the irritating brutality of the overture to the "Tannhauser"? Or with the Walkyrie Circus? Whatever has become popular in Wagner’s art, including that which has become so outside the theatre, is in bad taste and spoils taste. The "Tannhauser" March seems to me to savour of the Philistine; the overture to the "Flying Dutchman" is much ado about nothing; the prelude to "Lohengrin" was the first, only too insidious, only too successful example of how one can hypnotise with music (—I dislike all music which aspires to nothing higher than to convince the nerves). But apart from the Wagner who paints frescoes and practises magnetism, there is yet another Wagner who hoards small treasures: our greatest melancholic in music, full of side glances, loving speeches, and words of comfort, in which no one ever forestalled him,—the tone–master of melancholy and drowsy happiness… A lexicon of Wagner’s most intimate phrases—a host of short fragments of from five to fifteen bars each, of music which nobody knows… Wagner had the virtue of décadents,—pity…
—"Very good! But how can this décadent spoil one’s taste if perchance one is not a musician, if perchance one is not oneself a décadent?"—Conversely! How can one help it! Just you try it!—You know not what Wagner is: quite a great actor! Does a more profound, a more ponderous influence exist on the stage? Just look at these youthlets,—all benumbed, pale, breathless! They are Wagnerites: they know nothing about music,—and yet Wagner gets the mastery of them. Wagner’s art presses with the weight of a hundred atmospheres: do but submit, there is nothing else to do…
Wagner the actor is a tyrant, his pathos flings all taste, all resistance, to the winds.
—Who else has this persuasive power in his attitudes, who else sees attitudes so clearly before anything else! This holding–of–its–breath in Wagnerian pathos, this disinclination to have done with an intense feeling, this terrifying habit of dwelling on a situation in which every instant almost chokes one.——
Was Wagner a musician at all? In any case he was something else to a much greater degree—that is to say, an incomparable histrio, the greatest mime, the most astounding theatrical genius that the Germans have ever had, our scenic artist par excellence. He belongs to some other sphere than the history of music, with whose really great and genuine figure he must not be confounded. Wagner and Beethoven—this is blasphemy—and above all it does not do justice even to Wagner… As a musician he was no more than what he was as a man, he became a musician, he became a poet, because the tyrant in him, his actor’s genius, drove him to be both. Nothing is known concerning Wagner, so long as his dominating instinct has not been divined.
Wagner was not instinctively a musician. And this he proved by the way in which he abandoned all laws and rules, or, in more precise terms, all style in music, in order to make what he wanted with it, i.e., a rhetorical medium for the stage, a medium of expression, a means of accentuating an attitude, a vehicle of suggestion and of the psychologically picturesque. In this department Wagner may well stand as an inventor and an innovator of the first order—he increased the powers of speech of music to an incalculable degree—he is the Victor Hugo of music as language, provided always we allow that under certain circumstances music may be something which is not music, but speech—instrument—ancilla dramaturgica. Wagner’s music, not in the tender care of theatrical taste, which is very tolerant, is simply bad music, perhaps the worst that has ever been composed. When a musician can no longer count up to three, he becomes
"dramatic," he becomes "Wagnerian"…
Wagner almost discovered the magic which can be wrought even now by means of music which is both incoherent and elementary. His consciousness of this attains to huge proportions, as does also his instinct to dispense entirely with higher law and style. The elementary factors—sound, movement, colour, in short, the whole sensuousness of music—
suffice. Wagner never calculates as a musician with a musician’s conscience, all he strains after is effect, nothing more than effect. And he knows what he has to make an effect upon!—In this he is as unhesitating as Schiller was, as any theatrical man must be; he has also the latter’s contempt for the world which he brings to its knees before him. A man is an actor when he is ahead of mankind in his possession of this one view, that everything which has to strike people as true, must not be true. This rule was formulated by Talma: it contains the whole psychology of the actor, it also contains
—and this we need not doubt—all his morality. Wagner’s music is never true.
—But it is supposed to be so: and thus everything is as it should be. As long as we are young, and Wagnerites into the bargain, we regard Wagner as rich, even as the model of a prodigal giver, even as a great landlord in the realm of sound.
We admire him in very much the same way as young Frenchmen admire Victor Hugo—that is to say, for his "royal liberality." Later on we admire the one as well as the other for the opposite reason: as masters and paragons in economy, as prudent amphitryons. Nobody can equal them in the art of providing a princely board with such a modest outlay.—The Wagnerite, with his credulous stomach, is even sated with the fare which his master conjures up before him. But we others who, in books as in music, desire above all to find substance, and who are scarcely satisfied with the mere representation of a banquet, are much worse off. In plain English, Wagner does not give us enough to masticate.
His recitative—very little meat, more bones, and plenty of broth—I christened "alla genovese": I had no intention of flattering the Genoese with this remark, but rather the older recitativo, the recitativo secco. And as to Wagnerian leitmotif, I fear I lack the necessary culinary understanding for it. If hard pressed, I might say that I regard it perhaps as an ideal toothpick, as an opportunity of ridding one’s self of what remains of one’s meal. Wagner’s "arias" are still left over. But now I shall hold my tongue.
Even in his general sketch of the action, Wagner is above all an actor. The first thing that occurs to him is a scene which is certain to produce a strong effect, a real actio,[ 1 0
th a basso–relievo of attitudes; an overwhelming scene, this he
now proceeds to elaborate more deeply, and out of it he draws his characters. The whole of what remains to be done follows of itself, fully in keeping with a technical economy which has no reason to be subtle. It is not Corneille’s public that Wagner has to consider, it is merely the nineteenth century. Concerning the "actual requirements of the stage"
Wagner would have about the same opinion as any other actor of to–day, a series of powerful scenes, each stronger than the one that preceded it,—and, in between, all kinds of clever nonsense. His first concern is to guarantee the effect of his work; he begins with the third act, he approves his work according to the quality of its final effect. Guided by this sort of understanding of the stage, there is not much danger of one’s creating a drama unawares. Drama demands inexorable logic: but what did Wagner care about logic? Again I say, it was not Corneille’s public that he had to consider; but merely Germans! Everybody knows the technical difficulties before which the dramatist often has to summon all his strength and frequently to sweat his blood: the difficulty of making the plot seem necessary and the unravelment as well, so that both are conceivable only in a certain way, and so that each may give the impression of freedom (the principle of the smallest expenditure of energy). Now the very last thing that Wagner does is to sweat blood over the plot; and on this and the unravelment he certainly spends the smallest possible amount of energy. Let anybody put one of Wagner’s
"plots" under the microscope, and I wager that he will be forced to laugh. Nothing is more enlivening than the dilemma in
"Tristan," unless it be that in the "Mastersingers." Wagner is no dramatist; let nobody be deceived on this point. All he did was to love the word "drama"—he always loved fine words. Nevertheless, in his writings the word "drama" is merely a misunderstanding (—and a piece of shrewdness: Wagner always affected superiority in regard to the word "opera"—), just as the word "spirit" is a misunderstanding in the New Testament.—He was not enough of a psychologist for drama; he instinctively avoided a psychological plot—but how?—by always putting idiosyncrasy in its place… Very modern—eh?
Very Parisian! very decadent!… Incidentally, the plots that Wagner knows how to unravel with the help of dramatic inventions, are of quite another kind. For example, let us suppose that Wagner requires a female voice. A whole act without a woman’s voice would be impossible! But in this particular instance not one of the heroines happens to be free.
What does Wagner do? He emancipates the oldest woman on earth, Erda. "Step up, aged grandmamma! You have got to sing!" And Erda sings. Wagner’s end has been achieved. Thereupon he immediately dismisses the old lady. "Why on earth did you come? Off with you! Kindly go to sleep again!" In short, a scene full of mythological awe, before which the Wagnerite wonders all kinds of things…
—"But the substance of Wagner’s texts! their mythical substance, their eternal substance"—Question: how is this substance, this eternal substance tested? The chemical analyst replies: Translate Wagner into the real, into the modern,
—let us be even more cruel, and say into the bourgeois! And what will then become of him?—Between ourselves, I have tried the experiment. Nothing is more entertaining, nothing more worthy of being recommended to a picnic–party, than to discuss Wagner dressed in a more modern garb: for instance Parsifal, as a candidate in divinity, with a public–school education (—the latter, quite indispensable for pure foolishness). What surprises await one! Would you believe it, that Wagner’s heroines one and all, once they have been divested of the heroic husks, are almost indistinguishable from Mdme. Bovary!—just as one can conceive conversely, of Flaubert’s being well able to transform all his heroines into Scandinavian or Carthaginian women, and then to offer them to Wagner in this mythologised form as a libretto. Indeed, generally speaking, Wagner does not seem to have become interested in any other problems than those which engross the little Parisian decadents of to–day. Always five paces away from the hospital! All very modern problems, all problems which are at home in big cities! do not doubt it!… Have you noticed (it is in keeping with this association of ideas) that Wagner’s heroines never have any children?—They cannot have them… The despair with which Wagner tackled the problem of arranging in some way for Siegfried’s birth, betrays how modern his feelings on this point actually were.—
Siegfried "emancipated woman"—but not with any hope of offspring.—And now here is a fact which leaves us speechless: Parsifal is Lohengrin’s father! How ever did he do it?—Ought one at this juncture to remember that "chastity works miracles"?…
Wagnerus dixit princeps in castitate auctoritas.
And now just a word en passant concerning Wagner’s writings: they are among other things a school of shrewdness.
The system of procedures of which Wagner disposes, might be applied to a hundred other cases,—he that hath ears to hear let him hear. Perhaps I may lay claim to some public acknowledgment, if I put three of the most valuable of these procedures into a precise form.
Everything that Wagner cannot do is bad.
Wagner could do much more than he does; but his strong principles prevent him.
Everything that Wagner can do, no one will ever be able to do after him, no one has ever done before him, and no one must ever do after him. Wagner is godly.
These three propositions are the quintessence of Wagner’s writings;—the rest is merely—"literature".
—Not every kind of music hitherto has been in need of literature; and it were well, to try and discover the actual reason of this. Is it perhaps that Wagner’s music is too difficult to understand? Or did he fear precisely the reverse—that it was too easy,—that people might not understand it with sufficient difficulty?—As a matter of fact, his whole life long, he did nothing but repeat one proposition: that his music did not mean music alone! But something more! Something immeasurably more!… "Not music alone"—no musician would speak in this way. I repeat, Wagner could not create things as a whole; he had no choice, he was obliged to create things in bits, with "motives," attitudes, formulæ, duplications, and hundreds of repetitions, he remained a rhetorician in music,—and that is why he was at bottom forced to press "this means" into the foreground. "Music can never be anything else than a means": this was his theory, but above all it was the only practice that lay open to him. No musician however thinks in this way.—Wagner was in need of literature, in order to persuade the whole world to take his music seriously, profoundly, "because it meant an infinity of things", all his life he was the commentator of the "Idea."—What does Elsa stand for? But without a doubt, Elsa is "the unconscious mind of the people" (—"when I realised this, I naturally became a thorough revolutionist"—).
Do not let us forget that, when Hegel and Schelling were misleading the minds of Germany, Wagner was still young: that he guessed, or rather fully grasped, that the only thing which Germans take seriously is—"the idea,"—that is to say, something obscure, uncertain, wonderful; that among Germans lucidity is an objection, logic a refutation. Schopenhauer rigorously pointed out the dishonesty of Hegel’s and Schelling’s age,—rigorously, but also unjustly, for he himself, the pessimistic old counterfeiter, was in no way more "honest" than his more famous contemporaries. But let us leave morality out of the question, Hegel is a matter of taste… And not only of German but of European taste!… A taste which Wagner understood!—which he felt equal to! which he has immortalised!—All he did was to apply it to music—he invented a style for himself, which might mean an "infinity of things,"—he was Hegel’s heir… Music as "Idea."—
And how well Wagner was understood!—The same kind of man who used to gush over Hegel, now gushes over Wagner, in his school they even write Hegelian.[ 1 1
ut he who understood Wagner best, was the German youthlet.
The two words "infinity" and "meaning" were sufficient for this: at their sound the youthlet immediately began to feel exceptionally happy. Wagner did not conquer these boys with music, but with the "idea":—it is the enigmatical vagueness of his art, its game of hide–and–seek amid a hundred symbols, its polychromy in ideals, which leads and lures the lads. It is Wagner’s genius for forming clouds, his sweeps and swoops through the air, his ubiquity and nullibiety—precisely the same qualities with which Hegel led and lured in his time!—Moreover in the presence of Wagner’s multifariousness, plenitude and arbitrariness, they seem to themselves justified—"saved". Tremulously they listen while the great symbols in his art seem to make themselves heard from out the misty distance, with a gentle roll of thunder, and they are not at all displeased if at times it gets a little grey, gruesome and cold. Are they not one and all, like Wagner himself, on quite intimate terms with bad weather, with German weather! Wotan is their God, but Wotan is the God of bad weather…
They are right, how could these German youths—in their present condition,—miss what we others, we halcyonians, miss in Wagner? i.e.: la gaya scienza; light feet, wit, fire, grave, grand logic, stellar dancing, wanton intellectuality, the vibrating light of the South, the calm sea—perfection…
—I have mentioned the sphere to which Wagner belongs—certainly not to the history of music. What, however, does he mean historically?—The rise of the actor in music: a momentous event which not only leads me to think but also to fear.
In a word: "Wagner and Liszt." Never yet have the "uprightness" and "genuineness" of musicians been put to such a dangerous test. It is glaringly obvious: great success, mob success is no longer the achievement of the genuine,—in order to get it a man must be an actor!—Victor Hugo and Richard Wagner—they both prove one and the same thing: that in declining civilisations, wherever the mob is allowed to decide, genuineness becomes superfluous, prejudicial, unfavourable. The actor, alone, can still kindle great enthusiasm.—And thus it is his golden age which is now dawning,—
his and that of all those who are in any way related to him. With drums and fifes, Wagner marches at the head of all artists in declamation, in display and virtuosity. He began by convincing the conductors of orchestras, the scene–shifters and stage–singers, not to forget the orchestra:—he "delivered" them from monotony… The movement that Wagner created has spread even to the land of knowledge: whole sciences pertaining to music are rising slowly, out of centuries of scholasticism. As an example of what I mean, let me point more particularly to Riemann’s services to rhythmics; he was the first who called attention to the leading idea in punctuation—even for music (unfortunately he did so with a bad word; he called it "phrasing").—All these people, and I say it with gratitude, are the best, the most respectable among Wagner’s admirers—they have a perfect right to honour Wagner. The same instinct unites them with one another; in him they recognise their highest type, and since he has inflamed them with his own ardour they feel themselves transformed into power, even into great power. In this quarter, if anywhere, Wagner’s influence has really been beneficent. Never before has there been so much thinking, willing, and industry in this sphere. Wagner endowed all these artists with a new conscience: what they now exact and obtain from themselves, they had never exacted before Wagner’s time—before then they had been too modest. Another spirit prevails on the stage since Wagner rules there the most difficult things are expected, blame is severe, praise very scarce,—the good and the excellent have become the rule. Taste is no longer necessary, nor even is a good voice. Wagner is sung only with ruined voices: this has a more "dramatic" effect. Even talent is out of the question. Expressiveness at all costs, which is what the Wagnerian ideal—the ideal of decadence—
demands, is hardly compatible with talent. All that is required for this is virtue—that is to say, training, automatism, "self–
denial". Neither taste, voices, nor gifts, Wagner’s stage requires but one thing: Germans!… The definition of a German: an obedient man with long legs… There is a deep significance in the fact that the rise of Wagner should have coincided with the rise of the "Empire": both phenomena are a proof of one and the same thing—obedience and long legs.—Never have people been more obedient, never have they been so well ordered about. The conductors of Wagnerian orchestras, more particularly, are worthy of an age, which posterity will one day call, with timid awe, the classical age of war.
Wagner understood how to command; in this respect, too, he was a great teacher. He commanded as a man who had exercised an inexorable will over himself—as one who had practised lifelong discipline: Wagner was, perhaps, the greatest example of self–violence in the whole of the history of art (—even Alfieri, who in other respects is his next–of–
kin, is outdone by him. The note of a Torinese).
This view, that our actors have become more worthy of respect than heretofore, does not imply that I believe them to have become less dangerous… But who is in any doubt as to what I want,—as to what the three requisitions are concerning which my wrath and my care and love of art, have made me open my mouth on this occasion?
That the stage should not become master of the arts.
That the actor should not become the corrupter of the genuine.
That music should not become an art of lying.
The gravity of these last words allows me at this point to introduce a few sentences out of an unprinted essay which will at least leave no doubt as to my earnestness in regard to this question. The title of this essay is: "What Wagner has cost us."
One pays dearly for having been a follower of Wagner. Even to–day a vague feeling that this is so, still prevails. Even Wagner’s success, his triumph, did not uproot this feeling thoroughly. But formerly it was strong, it was terrible, it was a gloomy hate throughout almost three–quarters of Wagner’s life. The resistance which he met with among us Germans cannot be too highly valued or too highly honoured. People guarded themselves against him as against an illness,—not with arguments—it is impossible to refute an illness,—but with obstruction, with mistrust, with repugnance, with loathing, with sombre earnestness, as though he were a great rampant danger. The æsthetes gave themselves away when out of three schools of German philosophy they waged an absurd war against Wagner’s principles with "ifs" and "fors"—what did he care about principles, even his own!—The Germans themselves had enough instinctive good sense to dispense with every "if" and "for" in this matter. An instinct is weakened when it becomes conscious: for by becoming conscious it makes itself feeble. If there were any signs that in spite of the universal character of European decadence there was still a modicum of health, still an instinctive premonition of what is harmful and dangerous, residing in the German soul, then it would be precisely this blunt resistance to Wagner which I should least like to see underrated. It does us honour, it gives us some reason to hope: France no longer has such an amount of health at her disposal. The Germans, these loiterers par excellence, as history shows, are to–day the most backward among the civilised nations of Europe; this has its advantages,—for they are thus relatively the youngest.
One pays dearly for having been a follower of Wagner. It is only quite recently that the Germans have overcome a sort of dread of him,—the desire to be rid of him occurred to them again and again.[ 1 2
oes anybody remember a very
curious occurrence in which, quite unexpectedly towards the end, this old feeling once more manifested itself? It happened at Wagner’s funeral. The first Wagner Society, the one in Munich, laid a wreath on his grave with this inscription, which immediately became famous: "Salvation to the Saviour!" Everybody admired the lofty inspiration which had dictated this inscription, as also the taste which seemed to be the privilege of the followers of Wagner. Many also, however (it was singular enough), made this slight alteration in it: "Salvation from the Saviour"—People began to breathe again—
One pays dearly for having been a follower of Wagner. Let us try to estimate the influence of this worship upon culture.
Whom did this movement press to the front? What did it make ever more and more pre–eminent?—In the first place the layman’s arrogance, the arrogance of the art–maniac. Now these people are organising societies, they wish to make their taste prevail, they even wish to pose as judges in rebus musicis et musicantibus. Secondly: an ever increasing indifference towards severe, noble and conscientious schooling in the service of art, and in its place the belief in genius, or in plain English, cheeky dilettantism (—the formula for this is to be found in the Mastersingers). Thirdly, and this is the worst of all: Theatrocracy—, the craziness of a belief in the pre–eminence of the theatre, in the right of the theatre to rule supreme over the arts, over Art in general… But this should be shouted into the face of Wagnerites a hundred times over: that the theatre is something lower than art, something secondary, something coarsened, above all something suitably distorted and falsified for the mob. In this respect Wagner altered nothing: Bayreuth is grand Opera—and not even good opera… The stage is a form of Demolatry in the realm of taste, the stage is an insurrection of the mob, a plébiscite against good taste… The case of Wagner proves this fact: he captivated the masses—he depraved taste, he even perverted our taste for opera!—
One pays dearly for having been a follower of Wagner. What has Wagner–worship made out of spirit? Does Wagner liberate the spirit? To him belong that ambiguity and equivocation and all other qualities which can convince the uncertain without making them conscious of why they have been convinced. In this sense Wagner is a seducer on a grand scale. There is nothing exhausted, nothing effete, nothing dangerous to life, nothing that slanders the world in the realm of spirit, which has not secretly found shelter in his art, he conceals the blackest obscurantism in the luminous orbs of the ideal. He flatters every nihilistic (Buddhistic) instinct and togs it out in music; he flatters every form of Christianity, every religious expression of decadence. He that hath ears to hear let him hear: everything that has ever grown out of the soil of impoverished life, the whole counterfeit coinage of the transcendental and of a Beyond found its most sublime advocate in Wagner’s art, not in formulæ (Wagner is too clever to use formulæ), but in the persuasion of the senses which in their turn makes the spirit weary and morbid. Music in the form of Circe… in this respect his last work is his greatest masterpiece. In the art of seduction "Parsifal" will for ever maintain its rank as a stroke of genius… I admire this work. I would fain have composed it myself. Wagner was never better inspired than towards the end. The subtlety with which beauty and disease are united here, reaches such a height, that it casts so to speak a shadow upon all Wagner’s earlier achievements: it seems too bright, too healthy. Do ye understand this? Health and brightness acting like a shadow? Almost like an objection?… To this extent are we already pure fools… Never was there a greater Master in heavy hieratic perfumes—Never on earth has there been such a connoisseur of paltry infinities, of all that thrills, of extravagant excesses, of all the feminism from out the vocabulary of happiness! My friends, do but drink the philtres of this art! Nowhere will ye find a more pleasant method of enervating your spirit, of forgetting your manliness in the shade of a rosebush… Ah, this old magician, mightiest of Klingsors; how he wages war against us with his art, against us free spirits! How he appeals to every form of cowardice of the modern soul with his charming girlish notes! There never was such a mortal hatred of knowledge! One must be a very cynic in order to resist seduction here. One must be able to bite in order to resist worshipping at this shrine. Very well, old seducer! The cynic cautions you—cave canem…
One pays dearly for having been a follower of Wagner. I contemplate the youthlets who have long been exposed to his infection. The first relatively innocuous effect of it is the corruption of their taste. Wagner acts like chronic recourse to the bottle. He stultifies, he befouls the stomach. His specific effect: degeneration of the feeling for rhythm. What the Wagnerite calls rhythmical is what I call, to use a Greek metaphor, "stirring a swamp." Much more dangerous than all this, however, is the corruption of ideas. The youthlet becomes a moon–calf, an "idealist". He stands above science, and in this respect he has reached the master’s heights. On the other hand, he assumes the airs of a philosopher, he writes for the Bayreuth Journal; he solves all problems in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Master. But the most ghastly thing of all is the deterioration of the nerves. Let any one wander through a large city at night, in all directions he will hear people doing violence to instruments with solemn rage and fury, a wild uproar breaks out at intervals. What is happening? It is the disciples of Wagner in the act of worshipping him… Bayreuth is another word for a Hydro. A typical telegram from Bayreuth would read bereits bereut (I already repent). Wagner is bad for young men; he is fatal for women. What medically speaking is a female Wagnerite? It seems to me that a doctor could not be too serious in putting this alternative of conscience to young women; either one thing or the other. But they have already made their choice.
You cannot serve two Masters when one of these is Wagner. Wagner redeemed woman; and in return woman built Bayreuth for him. Every sacrifice, every surrender: there was nothing that they were not prepared to give him. Woman impoverishes herself in favour of the Master, she becomes quite touching, she stands naked before him. The female Wagnerite, the most attractive equivocality that exists to–day: she is the incarnation of Wagner’s cause: his cause triumphs with her as its symbol… Ah, this old robber! He robs our young men: he even robs our women as well, and drags them to his cell… Ah, this old Minotaur! What has he not already cost us? Every year processions of the finest young men and maidens are led into his labyrinth that he may swallow them up, every year the whole of Europe cries out
"Away to Crete! Away to Crete!"…
It seems to me that my letter is open to some misunderstanding. On certain faces I see the expression of gratitude; I even hear modest but merry laughter. I prefer to be understood here as in other things. But since a certain animal, the worm of Empire, the famous Rhinoxera, has become lodged in the vineyards of the German spirit, nobody any longer understands a word I say. The Kreus–Zeitung has brought this home to me, not to speak of the Litterarisches Centralblatt. I have given the Germans the deepest books that they have ever possessed—a sufficient reason for their not having understood a word of them… If in this essay I declare war against Wagner—and incidentally against a certain form of German taste, if I seem to use strong language about the cretinism of Bayreuth, it must not be supposed that I am in the least anxious to glorify any other musician. Other musicians are not to be considered by the side of Wagner.
Things are generally bad. Decay is universal. Disease lies at the very root of things. If Wagner’s name represents the ruin of music, just as Bernini’s stands for the ruin of sculpture, he is not on that account its cause. All he did was to accelerate the fall,—though we are quite prepared to admit that he did it in a way which makes one recoil with horror from this almost instantaneous decline and fall to the depths. He possessed the ingenuousness of decadence: this constituted his superiority. He believed in it. He did not halt before any of its logical consequences. The others hesitated
—that is their distinction. They have no other. What is common to both Wagner and "the others" consists in this: the decline of all organising power, the abuse of traditional means, without the capacity or the aim that would justify this. The counterfeit imitation of grand forms, for which nobody nowadays is strong, proud, self–reliant and healthy enough, excessive vitality in small details; passion at all costs; refinement as an expression of impoverished life, ever more nerves in the place of muscle. I know only one musician who to–day would be able to compose an overture as an organic whole: and nobody else knows him.[ 1 3
e who is famous now, does not write better music than Wagner, but only less characteristic, less definite music:—less definite, because half measures, even in decadence, cannot stand by the side of completeness. But Wagner was complete, Wagner represented thorough corruption, Wagner has had the courage, the will, and the conviction for corruption. What does Johannes Brahms matter?… It was his good fortune to be misunderstood by Germany; he was taken to be an antagonist of Wagner—people required an antagonist!—But he did not write necessary music, above all he wrote too much music!—When one is not rich one should at least have enough pride to be poor!… The sympathy which here and there was meted out to Brahms, apart from party interests and party misunderstandings, was for a long time a riddle to me, until one day through an accident, almost, I discovered that he affected a particular type of man. He has the melancholy of impotence. His creations are not the result of plenitude, he thirsts after abundance. Apart from what he plagiarises, from what he borrows from ancient or exotically modern styles—
he is a master in the art of copying,—there remains as his most individual quality a longing… And this is what the dissatisfied of all kinds, and all those who yearn, divine in him. He is much too little of a personality, too little of a central figure… The "impersonal," those who are not self–centred, love him for this. He is especially the musician of a species of dissatisfied women. Fifty steps further on, and we find the female Wagnerite—just as we find Wagner himself fifty paces ahead of Brahms.—The female Wagnerite is a more definite, a more interesting, and above all, a more attractive type.
Brahms is touching so long as he dreams or mourns over himself in private—in this respect he is modern;—he becomes cold, we no longer feel at one with him when he poses as the child of the classics… People like to call Brahms Beethoven’s heir: I know of no more cautious euphemism—All that which to–day makes a claim to being the grand style in music is on precisely that account either false to us or false to itself. This alternative is suspicious enough: in itself it contains a casuistic question concerning the value of the two cases. The instinct of the majority protests against the alternative; "false to us"—they do not wish to be cheated;—and I myself would certainly always prefer this type to the other ("False to itself"). This is my taste.—Expressed more clearly for the sake of the "poor in spirit" it amounts to this: Brahms or Wagner… Brahms is not an actor.—A very great part of other musicians may be summed up in the concept Brahms—I do not wish to say anything about the clever apes of Wagner, as for instance Goldmark: when one has "The Queen of Sheba" to one’s name, one belongs to a menagerie,—one ought to put oneself on show.—Nowadays all things that can be done well and even with a master hand are small. In this department alone is honesty still possible. Nothing, however, can cure music as a whole of its chief fault, of its fate, which is to be the expression of general physiological contradiction,—which is, in fact, to be modern.
The best instruction, the most conscientious schooling, the most thorough familiarity, yea, and even isolation, with the Old Masters,—all this only acts as a palliative, or, more strictly speaking, has but an illusory effect, because the first condition of the right thing is no longer in our bodies; whether this first condition be the strong race of a Handel or the overflowing animal spirits of a Rossini. Not everyone has the right to every teacher: and this holds good of whole epochs.
—In itself it is not impossible that there are still remains of stronger natures, typical unadapted men, somewhere in Europe: from this quarter the advent of a somewhat belated form of beauty and perfection, even in music, might still be hoped for. But the most that we can expect to see are exceptional cases. From the rule, that corruption is paramount, that corruption is a fatality,—not even a God can save music.