The Bayreuth Music Festival
(Байрейтское музыкальное торжество)
Article for the journal Russian Register (1876).
At the end of this summer, in August, a music festival is going to take place which is surely fated to become a milestone marking one of the most interesting epochs in the history of art. The famous, so long- and eagerly-awaited opera trilogy  by Wagner will, under the general title of Der Ring des Nibelungen, finally be performed in a theatre specially built for it in the Bavarian city of Bayreuth.
This colossal work by the most renowned of all living composers is—irrespective of the degree of success which falls to its lot this summer—without any doubt an exceptionally remarkable phenomenon, which in some way or other is bound to leave behind a blazing trail in history. If one takes into account the fact that Wagner, both in his fatherland and in the rest of the civilized world, is the focus on which the music-loving public's attention is most intensely concentrated; if one recalls the way in which he has created a huge swarm of enthusiastic admirers who idolize him to the very uttermost, and yet how at the same time there are also quite a few people who refuse to credit him not just with genius but even simply with ordinary musical gifts, then one can readily imagine the uproar and excitement and the countless quarrels that will arise in the European press on the occasion of this performance of the celebrated maestro's gigantic work.
I assume that it will not be without interest for readers of the Russian Register to be able to follow all the vicissitudes associated with both the preparations for the Bayreuth Music Festival and with the actual performance of this gigantic opera. The author of these lines has already secured for himself a seat at the forthcoming festival, and he intends to communicate, on the pages of this newspaper, both the impressions which are in store for him and also the details of everything that happens in Bayreuth this coming August. However, in order to make it fully clear to the reader what the significance of Wagner's creation is, and so that subsequently I do not have to return to the circumstances which accompanied the realization of this bold artistic venture, I would like to relate, in what remains of this brief sketch, the history of how the Bayreuth Theatre came to be—that is the opera-house which will acquaint the music world with the most tremendous and most complicated work of music ever written. In the following sketch I will introduce my readers to the content of the opera's text, and then, in August, I shall be sharing my impressions directly from Bayreuth itself.
In 1862 , Wagner published (in the 6th volume of the complete edition of his literary works) the text for his planned opera trilogy, which he entitled thus: The Nibelung's Ring, a theatre festival play for three days and a preliminary evening (Der Ring des Nibelungen, ein Bühnenfestspiel für drei Tage und einen Vorabend). This trilogy with a prologue, which encompasses the entire cycle of legends about the Nibelung's Ring, was divided by Wagner into four separate operas, of which the first (i.e. the prologue) is named Das Rheingold, the second Die Walküre, the third Siegfried, and the fourth Götterdämmerung. In the afterword to this splendidly fashioned literary work, which by then he had already partly set to music, Wagner explains to the reader that he had given up all hope of living to see the realization of his cherished dream, i.e. the performance of his trilogy on the stage.
Indeed, Wagner's plan was so immeasurably great, its realization posed such seemingly insurmountable complications, required such an exceptional convergence of musical forces in order to perform this opera of unprecedented dimensions, as well as such huge financial resources, that the artist's mood of despair as he parted with the illusion of ever attaining this distant and difficult goal was readily understood by everyone. One mustn't forget that Wagner then was not at all in a financially secure situation, that his fame was far from being as firmly consolidated as it is today, and that he did not have sufficient grounds to expect any active encouragement and interest in his projects on the part of the public. Despairing of the possibility of ever fulfilling his task and achieving the desired end, Wagner felt the need to distract himself from these bleak moods of hopelessness by undertaking a new work. Thus he set about writing a great comic popular opera: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
It was around this time that Wagner made the acquaintance of the young King of Bavaria , who, as soon as he came to the throne, showed himself to be a zealous patron of the national arts. King Ludwig summoned Wagner to Munich, promised him moral and material support in all his projects, and ensured that the composer was shielded from all the cares and worries of life so that he could work on the extensive score of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. This opera was soon completed and successfully premièred in Munich, and after that it entered the repertoire of all the other major opera-houses in Germany. Encouraged by King Ludwig's active patronage and by the success of his last opera, Wagner turned his attention again to Der Ring des Nibelungen and resumed his work on it with fresh zeal, as well as beginning the preparations for an eventual staging of his trilogy.
Several friends soon came to the aid of Wagner, who was looking for means to carry out his vast plans . The wife of the Prussian minister von Schleinitz and the pianist Carl Tausig  (who died five years ago), both of whom were fervent admirers of the composer, came up with a very ingenious idea for securing the sum of 300,000 thaler which Wagner needed in order to build a provisional theatre with all the necessary fittings and facilities: they wanted to set up a joint-stock company, with each share-holder contributing 300 thaler. Death prevented Tausig from becoming the founder of such a company, but his idea did not die with him. In Mannheim several admirers of Wagner's music, taking up Tausig's proposal, came together to form an association which they called the "Richard Wagner Society" (Richard-Wagners-Verein). The example of Mannheim was soon copied elsewhere, first of all in Vienna, then in various other German cities, and finally even beyond the borders of the composer's fatherland: thus in Pest, Brussels, London, and New York similar Societies were set up one after the other. By the beginning of 1871 Wagner's hopes seemed so near to being realized that he started to look for a city in which he could best achieve his purpose of building his own theatre.
Wagner's choice fell on Bayreuth, a small town situated in delightful surroundings which had once been the seat of the court of the Margrave of Bayreuth, and which suited all the requirements of our composer. The municipal authorities of Bayreuth showed genuine sympathy for Wagner's project and presented him with the necessary plot of land for the new building. An architect was found who devoted himself heart and soul to the project, and already on the 22nd of May, 1872, the foundation stone of the planned theatre was solemnly laid. In connection with this ceremony a festival concert was held at which Wagner conducted Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, followed by a banquet during which the hero of the festivities made a speech, warmly thanking the friends of his art for their active and energetic support. Last year, in 1875, the Bayreuth Theatre was finally complete, and in the course of that summer Wagner was able to start with the rehearsals.
A special feature in the design of the Bayreuth Theatre is that the numerically huge orchestra will be invisible. Proceeding from the assumption that the all too real technical set-up of an orchestra undermines the ideal impression produced on an audience by the stage illusion, Wagner came to the conclusion that in an opera-house the orchestra pit should be housed in a recess between the stage and the auditorium. The seats for the spectators are arranged in the form of a semi-circular amphitheatre sloping gently upwards. There will be no boxes at all. The auditorium will not have any lighting. Wagner does not want his spectator to be distracted from the stage by anything whatsoever: rather, it should seem to the spectator that while he is listening to the music nothing else exists in the world apart from him and the stage.
The trilogy together with the prologue will be staged in its entirety three times, so that overall there will be twelve performances. Everyone who has paid 300 thaler to buy a full share has the right to attend all twelve performances. Those who have bought a one-third share for 100 thaler have the right to listen once to each of the four operas. For those who are interested, I am pleased to report that the management of the Festival Theatre still has a small number of available seats for sale, and those who would like to avail themselves of this opportunity are requested to write to the following address: T. Feustel, Banker. Bayreuth. Kingdom of Bavaria.
Two months ago, I informed readers of the Russian Register about the circumstances under which Wagner's plan for constructing a theatre to stage his colossal tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen was conceived and carried out. Sticking to the same format, I shall now try to give an outline of the content of each of the four operas which make up this tetralogy, although I must warn my readers from the outset that my brief account will be very dry and that in all likelihood it will completely forfeit that enchantingly poetic spirit with which Wagner, in whom we find musical gifts of the first order combined with a powerful literary talent, reworked this complicated Germano-Scandinavian legend.
1) Three different kinds of beings are fighting one another for domination of the world: gods, giants, and dwarves. In the radiant world of the gods it is Wotan, their ruler, who reigns supreme. He is joined in wedlock to the goddess Fricka, whose sister Freia guards those apples of which the gods must partake in order to preserve their eternal youth. The cunning Loge is only a demigod: he is constantly on the look-out for difficulties and obstacles from which he alone can extricate the gods who are under Wotan's command. The giants live on the surface of the earth amongst rocks and mountains. Their strength is immense, but their vengefulness in contrast is weak. Where they are unable to gain the upper hand through physical force, the giants will always give way. Completely opposite to them in size and character are the dwarves (or Nibelungs), who inhabit the depths of the earth where they extract and stockpile various metals. They are small and weak, but ever so active and crafty. These three tribes are eternally at odds with one another, and, now by force, now by cunning, each one seeks to subjugate the others.
The action of Das Rheingold, the first part of the tetralogy, begins early in the morning and takes the spectator into the deep waters of the Rhine where the river's three daughters, the Rhinemaidens, are playing, frolicking, and chasing one another from rock to rock. Alberich, the king of the dwarves, emerges from out of the earth and beckons to them. The frightened maidens rush towards the rock which holds the golden treasure that, according to their father's instructions, they are supposed to guard from the money-grubbing dwarves. Alberich tries in vain to grab hold of one of the maidens. A ray of light from the dawn which is breaking over the water falls on the gold. The Rhinemaidens make fun of the dwarf and explain to him the significance of the treasure they are guarding: he who manages to fashion a ring out of the Rhinegold will become the ruler of the world, but in order to obtain this treasure he must first renounce love. With a curse on love, Alberich suddenly snatches the treasure away and disappears into the depths of the Rhine. In vain do the Rhinemaidens pursue him—the depths of the river are plunged into impenetrable darkness.
Like the king of the dwarves, the ruler of the gods is also keen to increase his power. He promises to give the giants Fafner and Fasolt his sister-in-law Freia as a reward if they build a royal palace for him in the expanse of the heavens. The palace is constructed in just one night. No sooner has Wotan awakened in the morning than he sees on the other bank of the Rhine this magically resplendent building. Immediately afterwards the giants appear to collect their promised reward. They know what the gods will lose and what they themselves will win if Freia, who is the guarantor of the gods' eternal youth, is torn away from them.
Wotan would like to trick the rather short-sighted giants. Loge, the spirit of cunning, comes to his aid. Everywhere, says Loge, the beauty of woman is regarded as a most valuable possession. However, there is one man alone who has forsaken the pleasures of love: Alberich, who has only just robbed the Rhinemaidens of their gold. The giants are filled with envy at the perfidious king of the dwarves when they find out that he who comes to own a ring fashioned from the Rhinegold will become ruler of the world. Wotan asks Loge how such a ring is to be fashioned.
"Only he who, like Alberich, has renounced love will succeed in this", is Loge's reply. Wotan decides to snatch the Rhinegold from the dwarf's clutches. The giants, too, are determined to have it and say that they are willing to give up Freia if only they can get their hands on the gold. They seize Freia by force and bear her off, announcing that they will return her to Wotan and his entourage of gods if come evening the Rhinegold is in their possession. As soon as Freia has been carried off, the daylight darkens. The gods suddenly begin to look pale and withered as their former strength abandons them. Having lost Freia, the gods have lost not only their power but also their very vitality. Wotan, accompanied by the cunning Loge, descends to the earth's surface in order to obtain the Rhinegold and, by then surrendering it to the giants as their ransom, to regain his youth.
Under the Rhine, in the depths of the earth is the realm of Alberich. Having stolen from the Rhinemaidens the treasure entrusted to them and renounced love, he intends to become the sole master of the world with the Ring that he has fashioned from the stolen gold. Alberich has just ordered his brother, the skilful Mime, to forge a helmet for him. Mime senses that this Helmet has a magic power and so is reluctant to give it to his brother. But Alberich takes the Helmet by force, puts it on, utters a spell, and immediately becomes invisible. He warns his brother that henceforth he will make his presence known to him by means of whiplashes. Then he goes off to give instructions to the dwarves who are labouring for him.
Wotan and Loge arrive and find out from Mime about the magic Helmet. Alberich returns, driving before him a horde of dwarves, notices the strangers, forces his brother by cracking his whip at him to join the ranks of the dwarves, takes off the Ring, and with a commanding gesture of his arm orders the multitude of dwarves to get back to work immediately. The dwarves rush off in various directions.
"What do you want?" Alberich asks the two wanderers. Wotan points to the piles of gold and asks Alberich what he needs all that for in this realm of eternal darkness. "So that," the dwarf replies, "I can subject to my power everything that exists in the radiant expanses on the surface of the earth." Loge cunningly leads on Alberich, asking him whether he considers the magic Ring to be something that can never be taken away from him, whereupon Alberich reveals the secret power of his magic Helmet. Loge expresses doubts as to whether this Helmet really has the power to transform its wearer. Alberich immediately changes himself into a gigantic dragon. Egging the dwarf on, Loge tells him that by turning himself into an animal of such huge proportions he has rendered himself even more exposed to danger than before. So Alberich changes himself into a toad. That was precisely what the two gods had been waiting for.
Wotan promptly puts his foot on the toad. Loge seizes the Helmet and Alberich returns to human shape. They bind him and take him off as their prisoner. In exchange for his freedom, they tell him, he must hand over all the countless treasures in his possession. Alberich raises the Ring to his lips, thereby ordering the dwarves underground to bring the treasures up. He hopes that he will at least be able to keep his Ring, but Wotan demands that, too. Alberich refuses to part with it, since, as he says, the Ring is worth more to him than his life. Wotan tears it from the dwarf's finger. Then, after he has finally been untied, Alberich curses the Ring so that it will bring death on all who shall possess it, and disappears.
The giants appear again, bringing in Freia, who is the source of light and youth for the gods. The gold lies ready for them. The giants begin to pile the gold trinkets on Freia, insisting that only if there is enough gold there to cover her completely will they consider the ransom to have been paid. The gods are infuriated by the giants' disgraceful treatment of Freia. The god of thunder wants to crush the giants, but Wotan stops him. Now Freia is almost completely covered by the mound of gold, but Fafner says that locks of her hair are still visible at the top. Fasolt, whose love has been kindled by Freia's beauty, goes up to the heap of precious metal and tries to get another glimpse of the radiant goddess. His brother demands that Wotan hand over the Ring in order to fill that small gap.
Wotan, however, refuses to part with this symbol of his almightiness. The giants angrily drag Freia out of the gold pile and make as if to go, taking her away forever from the gods. In vain do the latter try to placate the giants. Then Erda, a dark-haired beautiful goddess, emerges out of the depths of the earth in which she is still immersed up to her waist and says to Wotan: "Do as the giants ask you, beware the Ring that has been cursed by Alberich—it will be your downfall!" "Who are you?" asks Wotan. "I know all that was, all that is, and all that will be," Erda replies and vanishes.
Wotan relents and throws the Ring into the gold heap. Freia is freed and joyfully rushes to embrace the other gods. The Ring is now in the giants' possession, but the curse laid on it by the dwarf is already starting to have effect. While sharing out the golden booty, the giants begin to quarrel, and in the ensuing fight Fasolt is struck dead by Fafner. The gods are horrified. Wotan, deeply troubled, decides to descend into the depths of the earth again in order to seek out Erda and discover what the future holds in store, so that he can deflect from himself and his entourage of gods any evil blows of Fate. Fricka, his wife, tries to distract him from his bleak thoughts and points out to him the magnificent palace on the other bank of the Rhine. Donner, the god of thunder, and Froh, the god of light, create a rainbow bridge stretching across the valley to the palace, and the gods make their way across it towards their new home, which towers resplendently in the sunset glow. Loge can see that the end of the gods is fast approaching. He follows them reluctantly, having half a mind to turn himself into the sizzling flame that he used to be so as to destroy and burn down the gods' magic palace. From the depths of the Rhine below, the cries and laments of the Rhinemaidens are heard.
At this point the first music drama comes to a close, its action having taken place over a time-span stretching from sunrise to sunset.
The second music drama is called Die Walküre. Wotan goes underground to seek out the wise goddess Erda. He seduces her with the spells of love, and Erda bears him nine daughters, who are supposed to help him in his efforts to avert the downfall of the gods. These demigoddesses are called Valkyries, and their task is to select heroes who have fallen in battle and to bring them on their mighty horses to Valhalla (the gods' residence). These heroes awaken to new life there and make up an élite army for the defence of Wotan and the gods subordinated to him.
Erda warns Wotan about Alberich's evil designs. For if the latter should again come into possession of the Nibelung's Ring, then even the armed force of heroes mustered by the Valkyries would be unable to help, since, thanks to the power of the Ring, they would all automatically be at the disposal of the king of the dwarves. But how is Wotan to prevent the coveted Ring from falling into Alberich's hands again?
The Ring now belongs to Fafner according to a contract which Wotan, the supreme guardian of contractual bonds and obligations, cannot break. Fafner has in the meanwhile assumed the form of a dragon and lies in a state of lazy slumber in front of his treasure, guarding it but not actually making use of it. What Wotan needs is a hero, who, without any intervention on the part of the gods, will on his own initiative slay the dragon and take possession of the Ring.
Thus Wotan, under the name of 'Wälse', descends to earth and lives in wedlock with a mortal woman, the fruit of their union being the twins Siegmund and Sieglinde. The king of the gods takes Siegmund with him to search for adventures: they encounter enemies and persecutors everywhere. During their absence Siegmund's mother is murdered, his sister is carried off, and their house is sacked and set fire to. Wälse hides as a fugitive in the woods together with his son. They live there for a long time, assuming outwardly the form of savage wolves and steadfastly defending themselves against their persecutors.
Wälse's daughter is to become the wife of a man whom she does not love. On the day of her wedding-feast Sieglinde is sitting sadly next to her abhorred husband. An old wanderer appears. He only has one eye but the light which radiates from it is so powerful that it instils fear in everyone. This wanderer plunges a sword deep into the trunk of the ash tree around which Sieglinde's husband had constructed their hut. "This sword," the wanderer says, "will belong to him who is able to withdraw it from the trunk of the ash tree." This nobody manages to do. Sieglinde then recognizes in the wanderer her father. Now she feels reassured because she knows that she will belong to the man who has enough strength to pull forth the sword from the mighty tree.
Siegmund in the meanwhile has lost his father's track. He leaves the forest and tries to make contact with people, but no one is prepared to grant the fugitive shelter and hospitality. He carries off a girl who was also to have been married to someone she didn't love, and kills her brothers. But other kinsmen of hers manage to overpower and disarm him, and he is forced to flee again. It is at this point that the action of the tetralogy's second part begins.
Exhausted like a wild animal pursued by hunters, Siegmund finally finds refuge late in the evening in the forest hut of Hunding, Sieglinde's husband. Hunding is away because, as a kinsman of the girl seduced by Siegmund, he had also set out in pursuit of the enemy of his race. Sieglinde, not really knowing why, feels strongly attracted to the stranger and refreshes him with food and drink, as well as with soothing words. Siegmund finds out that she does not love her husband and his sympathy for her grows into a passionate longing for her love. Hunding returns and realizes that this man is the enemy whom he must kill to avenge his kinsfolk, but he postpones their combat until the next morning.
Hunding orders Sieglinde to retire to her bedroom and then follows her. Siegmund lapses into a sullen brooding. Unarmed as he is, how is he to fight his enemy? His father had once told him that he would find a sword when he most needed it. But where is this sword?
Sieglinde, who had drugged her husband with a special potion, comes out again and reveals to Siegmund the secret of the sword. She recognizes in this stranger the man whom her father Wälse had told her about on the day of her wedding-feast. Siegmund joyfully embraces her as the wife intended for him by destiny. The back door suddenly flies open, and a wondrous spring night wafts its moonlight and fragrance into the chamber. Siegmund tears out the coveted sword from the tree-trunk, and brother and sister embrace again with passionate ecstasy.
The following day, Siegmund and Hunding, whose honour has now been doubly offended, are due to meet in combat. Wotan orders the Valkyrie Brünnhilde to support his son in this fight and ensure his victory. Among the nine daughters which Wotan had fathered by the goddess Erda, Brünnhilde is his favourite. She has inherited the wisdom of her mother, and Wotan often listens to her advice and confides to her his thoughts about the fortunes of the gods and mankind. Now she is to carry out her father's command and make sure that Siegmund wins.
Fricka, however, as Wotan's wife and the goddess of marriage, insists on the contrary that Siegmund must be the one who is killed in this combat. His guilt is large, for he had not only seduced someone else's wife but his own sister at that. Fricka herself had suffered greatly because of her husband's infidelity, and she is therefore determined to punish relentlessly any breach of trust between spouses. She puts such pressure on Wotan with her powers of persuasion that he begins to hesitate… and finally he consents and gives Brünnhilde new orders: Siegmund is to fall in this combat! Brünnhilde, who is able to read her father's heart, would, in her affection for him, prefer to obey the first command instead, but Wotan threatens her with a cruel punishment if she dares to oppose his will.
Meanwhile Sieglinde in the arms of her beloved Siegmund is increasingly beset by fear that her loathsome husband could return any minute. When she hears Hunding's horn sounding his imminent approach, she faints. At this moment Brünnhilde appears and announces to Siegmund that he will be killed in battle and that she will take him to Valhalla with her. He asks whether he will meet Sieglinde in Valhalla, but the Valkyrie say that Sieglinde cannot go with him there.
Then Siegmund, full of disdain, rejects Valhalla. Rather than yield his beloved to anyone else, he will kill her himself. He draws his sword in order to kill Sieglinde and then himself. Brünnhilde, profoundly moved, decides to follow Wotan's first instructions and promises Siegmund that he will triumph against Hunding. The latter appears and challenges Siegmund to fight. Inspired by the Valkyrie's voice, Siegmund hurls himself at his enemy and is about to strike him down when suddenly Wotan appears, enveloped in the red glow of a cloud, and parries Siegmund's sword with his spear. The sword shatters into pieces, and Wotan's now defenceless son perishes under the blows of his enemy. Sieglinde falls unconscious on her beloved's lifeless body. Brünnhilde lifts her on to her horse and gallops away with her to hide from her father's wrath.
In the meantime Wotan sadly contemplates his son's corpse. One glance from his eye is enough to make Hunding fall dead. Then suddenly Wotan remembers the disobedience of his daughter Brünnhilde and rushes after her. Brünnhilde, fearful of the consequences of her father's fury, has managed to reach the Valkyries' mountain and implores her sisters, the Valkyries, to protect Sieglinde. At first Sieglinde says that she would rather die, but when she finds out that she is bearing in her womb the fruit of her love for Siegmund, she too begs the Valkyries to save her.
The king of the gods is fast approaching, in a fierce storm. Brünnhilde orders Sieglinde to go to the forests, to a place near a cavern in which a dragon lies slumbering, for Wotan's wrath cannot reach her there. She also gives her the fragments of Siegmund's sword, telling her that she must preserve them carefully for her unborn son, who is to be called Siegfried.
The furious Wotan appears. The Valkyries beg him to spare their sister. He refuses to give way. His sentence is as follows: Brünnhilde, cast out forever from the family of the gods to which she had previously belonged, will become the wife of the man who finds and awakens her. Brünnhilde asks her father to encircle the mountain with fire, so that she shall not be an easy prize for anyone to claim just like that. She can foresee that only the future hero Siegfried will be able to overcome all obstacles and penetrate the sea of fire, and it is his wife she wishes to become.
Wotan consents to her request. He causes her to sink into profound sleep, describes a circle of fire around the mountain, and, after covering the Valkyrie with her shield, disappears through the flames. This is how the second music drama ends.
Now comes Siegfried, the third music drama. Sieglinde has managed to reach the forest where the dragon Fafner lives, and spends the rest of her life there. Towards the end of her days the hiding-place of the unfortunate woman is found by the dwarf Mime, Alberich's brother, who is constantly looking out for an opportunity to rob Fafner of the Ring and Helmet which he is guarding. After her death Mime takes her orphaned child Siegfried to live with him. He does not love his foster-son, but he knows about his future strength and hopes to use him to get hold of the coveted treasure. The boy grows into a young man of extraordinary strength. Mime once forged a powerful sword for him, but Siegfried simply broke it in two like a toy. It is at this moment that the action of Siegfried begins.
Mime has made a new sword for Siegfried, but once again the strong steel just falls apart in this young giant's mighty hands. Siegfried is furious, and Mime scolds him for his ingratitude. To this Siegfried replies by expressing all the hatred he feels towards his foster-father. "I can't be the son of a monstrosity like you," says Siegfried; "Tell me who my parents were!" Mime tries to avoid giving a direct answer, but Siegfried grabs him by the throat. The terrified dwarf tells him about Sieglinde, and as for his father, all he can say is that he was killed in battle before Siegfried was born. To prove that he is speaking the truth, he shows him the fragments of the sword which Brünnhilde had given to Sieglinde.
Siegfried senses the power of this sword and orders Mime to forge the fragments together that very day, so that he can go away properly armed to seek out new lands, and never return to see the repulsive dwarf again. Siegfried goes out. Mime sets about this difficult task. Wotan enters—ever since his separation from Brünnhilde he has been yearning for his beloved daughter and taken to wandering about the world. Mime finds out from him that Siegmund's sword can only be mended by one who has never known fear. Wotan also tells the dwarf that his head will be lopped off by the 'fearless' one. Mime is paralysed with terror.
Siegfried returns to collect his sword, and Mime suddenly remembers, to his horror, that he had never taught his foster-child what 'fear' means. He wants to put right this omission quickly and for this purpose tells Siegfried about the ghastly dragon, Fafner. However, instead of being frightened, Siegfried yearns to set eyes on this monster and demands that Mime guide him there once he has finished repairing the broken sword.
Mime starts making excuses, pleading that forging this sword is beyond his skill. And so Siegfried himself sets to work on it: he melts the fragments down into a homogenous metallic mass from which he then casts a whole new sword for himself. Terrified by the thought of his impending death, Mime decides to resort to a treacherous trick. He brews a sleeping-potion for his foster-child, which he intends to offer Siegfried after the latter's fight and victory over the dragon. Once the young warrior is fast asleep, the dwarf will then easily murder him with his own weapon. He is convinced that his cunningly worked out scheme will succeed and already sees himself as the owner of the Ring and as the king of the dwarves who will now be able to order his detested brother about. In the meanwhile Siegfried strikes the anvil with his newly fashioned sword in order to test its strength, and the anvil is split in two. The horrified Mime throws himself on the ground.
Night has closed in. Alberich is keeping watch as usual outside Fafner's lair, eagerly awaiting the monster's death so that the treasure it is guarding will fall into his hands. Wotan appears and warns Alberich of impending danger. Meanwhile the darkness of night has given way to the morning dawn again, and Mime and Siegfried walk up to the dragon's lair. Mime hides in the forest. In expectation of the imminent battle, Siegfried sits there musing for a while, but is awakened from his thoughts by the song of a bird. In vain he tries to imitate the bird's warbling on a reed. Angrily, he throws away the reed, takes out a silver horn which his foster-father had once given him, and sounds a long call.
This call rouses the dragon. On seeing the monster emerge from its cave, Siegfried asks it to teach him what fear is. In response to this, Fafner tries to seize the bold youth, but Siegfried plunges his sword straight into the dragon's heart. Before dying, Fafner warns Siegfried of approaching danger. As Siegfried pulls out his sword from the dragon's belly, some drops of blood fall onto his hand. This blood burns like fire, and in order to suck it off Siegfried puts his hand to his mouth. As soon as his tongue has tasted the dragon's blood, he is able to understand the bird-song which he had previously been trying to imitate in vain. The voice of a wood-bird reveals to him the significance of the Ring and Helmet which the dragon had left behind in the cave. Siegfried goes into the cave to look for the hoard of treasure.
Alberich and Mime meanwhile are quarrelling over who will get the treasure. Siegfried comes out, with the Ring and Helmet. Again he hears the bird's voice. This time it warns the youth of the cunning Mime's treachery. Thanks to the magic power of the dragon's blood, Siegfried is now able to hear what the dwarf actually thinks, not what he intends to say. Mime approaches with his potion, thinking that he will now entrap Siegfried, but against his will he reveals his evil thoughts. In revenge Siegfried strikes him down with one blow of his sword, much to the delight of Alberich who had been watching them nearby.
The sun is high in the sky. Siegfried sinks down to rest under the shade of a linden-tree. A sense of melancholy solitude overcomes him. Again the little bird's voice calls to him. It tells him of a wondrous maiden who is lying in profound sleep on the Valkyries' fire-encircled mountain. Siegfried joyfully leaps up and makes his way to this enchanting maiden.
Wotan tries to stop Siegfried and shows him the spear with which he broke Siegfried's sword previously, when his father had wielded it. The youth who knows no fear, however, shatters Wotan's spear at one blow. Wotan knows that the hour of the gods' downfall is near. He does not feel the strength in him to avert his own fall, and returns to Valhalla. There, at his command, the great ash-tree, the symbol of the world ruled by the gods, is felled and its branches arranged in the form of a gigantic pyre around Valhalla. Wotan gathers the gods and heroes around him, mounts his throne, and sinks into sombre silence. He is prepared to resign himself to his downfall if the Ring which Siegfried has won is returned to the Rhinemaidens. To find out when and if this will happen, he sends two ravens from Valhalla.
Siegfried meanwhile overcomes all the obstacles and reaches the rock near the summit of the mountain. He awakens Brünnhilde, vanquishes her proud heart with his manly beauty, and discovers the ecstasy of love in the Valkyrie's embraces.
The last music drama is entitled Götterdämmerung.
Siegried and Brünnhilde, who have now finally found one another, are the only ones who can redeem the gods and the world from the Ring's curse. At night, by the rock where Siegfried and his bride are still nestling in the embraces of love, the three Norns, the eldest daughters of Erda, are weaving the golden rope of Fate, from which they are able to read the future fortunes of the world. They are bewildered by the prophecy that Valhalla, the gods' palace, will crumble in flames. When the question of Alberich's curse is raised, the rope breaks. That signals the end of the Norns' powers of clairvoyance, and they swiftly descend in terror to their mother Erda.
After dawn has broken, Siegfried, to whom Brünnhilde has imparted all her knowledge, must set out in quest of further heroic adventures. He has found out from his bride more than he is able to retain in his memory, but one thing he is quite certain of: that he will never forget his Brünnhilde. Before parting, Siegfried gives her the Ring. She does not recognize its terrible power and sees in it only a pledge of Siegfried's fidelity. In exchange for the Ring, Brünnhilde gives him her horse, which, like her, had also been lying asleep on the rock.
Siegfried first of all journeys down the Rhine and reaches the court of the Gibichungs, a small kingdom on the banks of the river. There, Gunther, the son of Gibich, sits enthroned. In Gunther's court is also his half-brother Hagen. The two share the same mother, Grimhild, who once allowed herself to be seduced by the golden treasures of Alberich and became the victim of his lust. Hagen was brought up by Alberich, who has placed all his hopes on him. Wotan in contrast believes that only Siegfried can save him and the gods.
Hagen, who has received from his father the gift of magic, is a strong and mighty warrior, but also morose and cruel. He is determined to take the Ring away from Siegfried, and for this it is necessary that the latter should betray his beloved wife Brünnhilde. Gutrune, Gunther's sister, had heard about Siegfried's heroic deeds and had fallen in love with him without ever having set eyes on him. Now that he is at their court, Gutrune, following Hagen's suggestion, gives him a magic potion which Hagen had previously brewed for her. Siegfried drinks it and immediately forgets Brünnhilde altogether. He now wishes only to marry Gutrune. In return for a promise of Gutrune's hand, Gunther asks Siegfried to help him conquer Brünnhilde. Even the mention of this name does not awaken any memories in Siegfried, and he accepts all of Gunther's terms.
Siegfried and Gunther swear a solemn oath of blood-brotherhood. Then they set off in a boat on the Rhine, to make their way to the Valkyries' mountain. Hagen, who had not taken part in the ceremony, stays behind on the river-bank.
In the glow of the setting sun, Brünnhilde is fondly contemplating the Ring which her beloved Siegfried had left her. One of the Valkyries appears and begs her in Wotan's name to return the Ring to the Rhinemaidens, so that the curse on the gods and the world can be allayed. Brünnhilde, blinded by love and oblivious of everything that she knew before, refuses to part with this token of Siegfried's love.
After the Valkyrie has left, Siegfried appears before Brünnhilde in the form of Gunther, which he has been able to assume thanks to the magic Helmet. Brünnhilde, who is no longer a Valkyrie but a mere defenceless woman, struggles in vain against the bold intruder, who eventually wrenches the Ring from her finger. Siegfried forces Brünnhilde to share her bed with him during the night, but places his sword between them, in compliance with his oath of blood-brotherhood.
The scene now changes to the banks of the Rhine. Hagen, with a shield in his hand and armed with a spear, is dozing outside the hall. Alberich comes to him and asks his son to swear to do everything in his power to obtain the Nibelung's Ring for him. Hagen swears that he will obtain it for himself. Alberich goes. It starts to dawn, and Siegfried arrives. After having wrenched the Ring from Brünnhilde, he had brought her to the boat, and, without her noticing this, had exchanged with the real Gunther his place next to her in bed. Then, assuming his true form again, he had used the Helmet's magic power to sail swiftly down the Rhine.
Together with Hagen and Gutrune, he prepares a reception for the royal couple and organizes the festivities for the expected double wedding. The boat draws up. Gunther leads his wife into his palace, to the joyful cries of his vassals and warriors. At the same time, Siegfried comes from the hall with his bride. Brünnhilde sees him and is overcome by bewilderment and anguish. She notices that Siegfried fails to recognize her. Siegfried points her to Gunther as her true husband and defender. She sees the Ring on Siegfried's hand and wonders aloud how it could have come into his possession, given that it was Gunther who had taken it from her. Gunther is puzzled and cannot answer. Then Siegfried remembers that he obtained it when he killed the dragon. Hagen intervenes, and, addressing Brünnhilde, says: "Brünnhilde, do you recognize this ring? If it is the one which you gave to Gunther, then Siegfried must have won it by guile, and he shall pay for this!"
Brünnhilde is furious. She wants to take merciless revenge on Siegfried, whom she considers to be a deceiver, since it is not to Gunther, but to him that she is joined in wedlock. Siegfried, still under the influence of the magic potion, denies this and says that his sword separated them during their night on the mountain. Brünnhilde cannot understand him. Siegfried, who remains indifferent to Brünnhilde's reproaches, tenderly embraces his Gutrune and proceeds with her to the wedding altar. All follow him, except for Brünnhilde, Gunther, and Hagen.
Hagen proposes to kill Siegfried. Brünnhilde, thirsting for a terrible revenge, now regrets that she had used her magic to ward Siegfried's body from harm. Only his back had she left unguarded by this spell, because the fearless Siegfried would never flee from an enemy. From this involuntary confession, Hagen is delighted to discover that Siegfried is not invulnerable.
Gunther refuses to break the oath of blood-brotherhood. Hagen holds out to him the prospect of winning the Ring and thereby tremendous power if he will agree to Siegfried's death. Gunther gives way to his exhortations. It is determined that Siegfried shall be killed during a hunting party the next day.
The next day, Siegfried, riding in pursuit of a chamois, reaches the rocky shore of the Rhine. The Rhinemaidens swim towards him and promise him a successful hunt if he will give his Ring to them. Siegfried refuses. The Rhinemaidens prophesy that his death is not far off if he does not part with his Ring, but even this has no effect on the youth who knows no fear.
The other huntsmen catch up with Siegfried, and they decide to refresh themselves with a meal. Siegfried tells them about the Rhinemaidens' prophecy, although he refers to them as 'water birds'. Hagen asks him if it is true that he can understand the language of birds. Siegfried recalls the little soothsaying bird in the dragon's forest which had done him such a great service. He also tells his comrades about Mime, Fafner, and his fight with the latter.
Unnoticed by Siegfried, Hagen pours into his horn the juice of a herb which has the property of reviving one's memory of what has been forgotten. Siegfried drinks and continues his account, recalling the Valkyries' mountain encircled by fire, Brünnhilde, and the joys of love which he had experienced with her. Gunther is astonished and bewildered: had his beloved also been Siegfried's spouse? Two ravens fly over as Siegfried is telling his story. "Do you also know what these ravens portend?" Hagen asks. Siegfried turns round quickly to watch them. Hagen plunges his spear into Siegfried's back.
Gunther, who now realizes that Siegfried had not broken their oath, rushes into his arms, but it is too late: the hero tries in vain to strike back at his enemy Hagen, and collapses. As he lies dying, he recollects his love for Brünnhilde. Gunther's vassals lift up the hero's body and convey it homeward.
Night closes in, and the moon-light is reflected in the waves of the Rhine. Gutrune falls upon Siegfried's body and weeps. Hagen and Gunther fight over who is to possess the Ring, and the latter is eventually struck down by his brother. Hagen wants to take the Ring off Siegfried's hand, but suddenly the hand raises itself menacingly. Hagen is terrified. Brünnhilde enters. She now understands her mistake and realizes that Siegfried had betrayed her unwittingly. Succumbing to her grief, Brünnhilde wants to give her beloved the honour of a great funeral: a huge pyre shall incinerate Siegried's body together with hers as his faithful, loving wife.
The Ring, however, shall return to its rightful owners, the Rhinemaidens, once it has been purified of its curse in the fire which will consume her and Siegfried. Brünnhilde draws the Ring from his finger, places it on her own, lights the pyre, and, mounting her Valkyrie's horse, rides up to the top of the pyre which is already burning fiercely. Suddenly the fire dies down, quenched by the waves of the overflowing Rhine. The Rhinemaidens appear. Hagen tries to prevent them from getting at the Ring, but two of them seize him and drag him away beneath the waters. The third picks up the Ring. A dawn-like glow of fire appears in the sky: it is a reflection of the flames which are now consuming the gods' palace, Valhalla, together with all its splendour.
Thus ends the tetralogy about the Nibelung's Ring.
Bayreuth, a small Bavarian town which lies in the valley of the Red Main river and is surrounded on all sides by picturesque, densely wooded hills, produces a very agreeable impression on the traveller. The streets are regular and wide, the squares adorned by beautiful fountains, and the houses are high, with an elegant architecture that often draws one's attention, even though Bayreuth does not at all have that medieval atmosphere which certain provincial cities in Germany, such as Nuremberg for example, are endowed with as a result of their completely Gothic cityscape.
At the end of the twelfth century Bayreuth belonged to the Dukes of Lorraine. In 1248, the city passed by hereditary succession to Margrave Friedrich of Nuremberg. In 1603, Christian of Brandenburg moved his residence to Bayreuth and spent a considerable sum of money on embellishing and developing his city. In 1769, the line of the margrave's family was extinguished, and Bayreuth was annexed by Prussia. In 1806, the city was occupied by the French and given to Bavaria by Napoleon.
There are two castles in Bayreuth: an old castle and a new one. The New Castle is surrounded by a beautiful park. A number of bronze statues have been set up in the squares of this little town, including a monument to the writer Jean Paul Richter (1763–1825) . The most impressive building in Bayreuth is the theatre, which was built in 1743 and has a remarkable interior, designed in Renaissance style and lavishly decorated with gold.
To the east of Bayreuth, about an hour's walk from the inner town, is the Eremitage castle, which was built in the middle of the last century and cost its owners, the Margraves Wilhelm and Friedrich, three million florins. Frederick the Great stayed at this homely retreat on many occasions, and it was here too that his sister, the Margravine Wilhelmine, wrote her famous memoirs . Another pleasure castle outside the town is called Fantasie and is surrounded by a huge and exceptionally picturesque park, which also attracts many tourists.
At present, though, it is Wagner's theatre, located on a rather high hill beyond the town limits, which draws the exclusive attention of the foreigners who come to Bayreuth. In my first article on Der Ring des Nibelungen, I have outlined the history of the origins of this huge building, which is 48 m high and can easily accommodate two thousand spectators. The theatre was constructed according to a design by the architect Brückwald , and, to be honest, it is striking not so much for any beauty of shape as for its colossal dimensions. It looks more like a huge fair-booth, which has been hastily rigged up for some industrial exhibition, than a theatre supposed to accommodate lots of people who have come from all four corners of the globe in search of aesthetic delights. In that harmonic union of all the arts which Wagner aspires to, architecture has been allotted a far too modest place. Although I am not an expert in architecture, I shall nevertheless venture to remark that, even with due regard to the practical requirements of Wagner's conception, it would have been possible also to take the architectonic conditions into account. For I do not think that the innovations devised by Wagner meant that the architect Brückwald had no choice but to give precedence to convenience and expediency over beauty when designing this building.
The seating for the audience is arranged as in the ancient amphitheatres, with the tiers of seats gradually rising one after the other up to the very top, where there is a special row for crowned heads of state. There are no boxes in the theatre. Above the royal gallery there are also several free seats for those citizens of Bayreuth who worked on a voluntary basis to help this tremendous enterprise come about.
The orchestra, as I have already pointed out, is invisible: it is housed in a recess between the stage and the amphitheatre. The stage engineer Brandt  is responsible for all the machinery: he is a famous expert in his field and also Chief Stage Mechanic at the Darmstadt Court Theatre. The stage decorations and sets were painted by the Brückner brothers  from Coburg, on the basis of sketches by the Viennese painter Hoffmann . The splendid gas lighting was installed by the Frankfurt-based firm Staudt, and the costumes were designed by Professor Doepler  from Berlin, who in Germany is regarded as an artist of genius in this field.
Another of the main sights in Bayreuth is the house Wagner built in 1874. Surrounded by a luxuriant garden, it is a square-shaped building and has the following inscription on its façade: "Hier, wo mein Wähnen Frieden fand, Wahnfried sei dieses Haus von mir benannt" [Here where my delusions have found peace, let this place be named Wahnfried]
Immediately above the inscription there is a fresco by the painter Krausse from Dresden which shows Wotan in the guise of a Wanderer (as in Siegfried), with his two ravens. He looks as if he were about to tell his mysterious story to the two figures to his right and left. One of these figures is Greek Tragedy, the other is Music. Beneath the latter is the figure of the young Siegfried looking up to it as an embodiment of the art of the future.
The house was built according to Richard Wagner's own specifications by the architect Wölfel . In the basement we find the servants' quarters, as well as the kitchen and the stoves for heating the house. Above that are the reception rooms, the dining-room, and a high hall which is illuminated through some skylights in the ceiling. On the top floor are the family's living quarters. Wagner's study—indeed, like the rest of the house for that matter—is furnished extremely sumptuously. In front of the house there is a statue of King Ludwig of Bavaria.
I arrived at Bayreuth on the 12th of August, the day before the première of the first part of the tetralogy. The town presented an extraordinarily lively sight. The locals and foreigners, who had literally come here from all four corners of the globe, were all rushing to the railway station, to attend the reception for Emperor Wilhelm . I happened to be watching this reception from the window of a house nearby. Before my eyes there flashed by several glittering uniforms, followed by a procession of musicians from Wagner's theatre led by their conductor Hans Richter ; then came the tall, slender figure of Abbé Liszt, with that wonderful, characteristic grey head which had fascinated me so many times on those widely-distributed photographs of him, and, finally, sitting in a smart carriage, a hale and hearty little old man with an aquiline nose and fine, mocking lips—the distinctive traits of the initiator of this whole cosmopolitan artistic festival: Richard Wagner.
The orchestra burst into a flourish, deafening hurrah cries resounded from the assembled crowds, and the special train rolled slowly into the station. The imperial guest mounted the carriage that had been waiting for him, and drove off to the castle, with people cheering heartily everywhere on the way. The cheers for Wagner were almost as boisterous when he drove through the dense multitude, following the Emperor in his own carriage . What an overwhelming surge of proud feelings must have swelled the breast of this little man, now that he had finally triumphed over all obstacles and had achieved, by the sheer force of his will and talent, the realization of his bold ideals!…
I decided to go for a stroll around the small town. All the streets were filled with bustling crowds of tourists who all seemed to have a restless expression on their faces, as if they were looking for something. Within half an hour or so this look of preoccupation on everybody's face was no longer a mystery to me and had without any doubt appeared in my own countenance too. All these people hastily scurrying about the streets of the town were seeking a way to satisfy the strongest of all needs for any living creature—a need which even the thirst for aesthetic delights cannot suppress. They were looking for food.
The small town had managed to squeeze together and make room for all the visitors requiring accommodation, but it was unable to feed them all. Consequently, on the very day of my arrival there, I learnt by experience what it means to struggle for a piece of bread. As there are very few hotels in Bayreuth, most of the visitors had taken lodgings in private houses. The hotel restaurants open to the public simply couldn't cope with this multitude of hungry people. Each slice of bread, each mug of beer has to be taken by force, by means of incredible exertions and tricks, all requiring a patience of steel. And even if you are lucky and manage to get a place at a restaurant table, the coveted dish that is finally brought to you by the waiter looks as if it had been worked upon previously by several other forks and knives. The most chaotic uproar reigns in these restaurants. Everybody is shouting all at once. The exhausted waiters pay not the slightest attention to your legitimate demands. Indeed, it is a question of pure chance which dish you are finally served—if any at all.
Next to the theatre, a huge marquee tent has been set up to house a provisional restaurant which promises a good meal at two o'clock for all comers. However, negotiating your way through this maelstrom of starving humanity and actually getting something to eat requires real heroism and unflinching courage. I have dwelt so long on this matter deliberately, so as to show my readers what the most pronounced feature of the music-lovers who had gathered in Bayreuth consisted of. For the whole duration of the first series of performances of Wagner's tetralogy, the predominating interest for everyone turned exclusively upon food, by far surpassing in importance any artistic interests as such. People talked much more about beefsteaks, cutlets, and fried potatoes than about Wagner's music.
I have already mentioned that visitors from all civilized nations of the world had converged on Bayreuth. Indeed, on my very first day there I had the chance to see a whole throng of famous representatives of the music world of Europe and America. I should, though, make a certain reservation here. The weightiest musical authorities, the first-rate celebrities were conspicuous by their complete absence. Verdi, Gounod, Thomas , Brahms, Anton Rubinstein, Raff , Joachim , Bülow—none of them had come to Bayreuth.
As for very famous virtuosi, with the exception of Liszt, who is attached to Wagner by the closest family ties and a friendship of many years' standing, I could only really point to our N. G. Rubinstein. Apart from him, the only other Russian musicians I saw there were Messrs Cui, Laroche, and Famintsyn , as well as two professors from our Conservatory: Mr Klindworth, who, as is well known, has produced pianoforte arrangements of all four operas which make up Wagner's tetralogy , and Mme Walseck , a singing teacher who enjoys great esteem in Moscow.
The first performance of Das Rheingold took place, as announced, on Sunday, the 1st of August, at 7 o'clock in the evening. It was given without an intermission and lasted for two and a half hours. The three subsequent operas—Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung—included two half-hour intervals each and went on from 4 to 10 o'clock. Because the singer Betz  was indisposed, the performance of Siegfried had to be postponed from Tuesday to Wednesday, and so, instead of four days, the first series of the cycle took up five days. Around three o'clock in the afternoon the motley crowd of artists and music-lovers who had come to Bayreuth would start moving in the direction of the theatre, which, as I explained above, is quite some way from the town centre. This was probably the most arduous part of the day, even for those lucky few who had managed to have some lunch. Along the way there is no protection from the scorching afternoon sun, and to make things worse it is an uphill path.
While waiting for the doors to open, everyone in the crowd either goes off to look for some shaded spot nearby or tries to get a mug of beer at one of the two marquee restaurants outside the theatre. Here old acquaintances are renewed and new ones made; from all quarters you can hear complaints about unappeased hunger, as well as conversations about the forthcoming performance or about yesterday's one. At four o'clock sharp a loud fanfare is sounded, and the whole crowd rushes into the theatre. Within five minutes everyone is seated. The fanfare is repeated again, the conversational hum dies down spontaneously, the gaslights illuminating the auditorium suddenly go out, the whole theatre is plunged into total darkness, and from the depths of the hidden orchestra pit below there swell up the beautiful sounds of the prelude. The curtain rises, and the performance begins.
Each act lasts one and a half hours. The first interval is quite agonizing because when you walk out of the theatre it is very difficult to find a shaded spot: the sun is still high in the sky. The second interval, in contrast, constitutes one of the best parts of the day. The sun is now already at the horizon, the fresh coolness of the evening greets you outside, and the wooded hills around you, together with the quaint little town in the distance, make for a very refreshing sight. At 10 o'clock the performance ends, and then the fiercest imaginable struggle for existence ensues, that is the struggle for a place at a dinner table in the theatre's restaurant.
Those who have suffered defeat rush back into town, but there an even more terrible disappointment awaits them. In the hotel restaurants all the tables are full. Thank God if you manage to procure a piece of cold meat and a bottle of wine or beer. I met one lady, the wife of a very high-ranking figure in Russia, who did not once have lunch during her whole stay in Bayreuth—coffee was her only source of nourishment.
My readers, who may perhaps be thinking that I have spoken far too much about Bayreuth and everyday life here, are no doubt expecting that I shall now finally address the most essential question, that is provide an assessment of the merits of Wagner's great creation and discuss the musical delights which I have experienced here. If that is so, then I must beg my readers' pardon and promise that at some point later on (albeit in a rather distant future) I will undertake a detailed analysis of Der Ring des Nibelungen. Over the last winter I had indeed tried to familiarize myself, even if somewhat superficially, with this massive work, and, naïve as I am, I had assumed that it would be sufficient to hear it once in a proper stage performance for me to get to grips with the work and acquire a firm notion of it. I was deeply mistaken.
Wagner's tetralogy is such a colossal work in terms of its gigantic proportions, it is so complicated in its musical facture, so finely and profoundly thought through and fashioned, that a great deal of time is necessary to study it, and, above all, one has to listen to it more than once. As everyone knows, it is only after listening to a musical work several times that its merits and faults become fully clear to you. It is often so that what you didn't pay sufficient attention to the first time round suddenly strikes you and produces an unexpectedly enchanting effect when the work is performed a second time. And, vice versa, some episode which captivated you to start with, and which you regarded as the most successful part of the work, pales before the new gems you discover in the music after studying it further. However, even that is not enough: after one has acquainted oneself sufficiently with new music by listening to it several times, it is necessary to allow one's immediate impressions to settle, as it were, to sit down with the score and study it closely, and to compare what is on the page with what you have heard—only then can one attempt to formulate well-founded and reliable judgements. I shall certainly try to do all this at some point, but for the time being I would just like to share with my readers a few general observations regarding both the music as such and its presentation on the stage.
First of all, I should say that anyone who believes in art as a civilizing force, anyone who is devoted to art irrespective of any utilitarian purposes it may serve, must experience a most agreeable feeling in Bayreuth at the sight of this tremendous artistic enterprise which has finally attained the desired goal and, by virtue of its vast dimensions and the degree of interest it has awakened, acquired epoch-making significance in the history of art. At the sight of this huge building, erected on the foundations of that need for aesthetic pleasure which has always been intrinsic to mankind at all stages of its development; at the sight of this multitude of people from all social strata, who have come together in this little corner of Europe solely in the name of art, so equally dear to all of them; at the sight of this whole unprecedented feast of music and drama, how ridiculous and lamentable those preachers of tendentious art seemed all of a sudden—those preachers who, in their blindness, consider our century to be that of the utter decline of pure art! 
The Bayreuth Festival is a lesson for those inveterate enemies of art who treat the latter with arrogant disdain and proclaim that it is unfitting for civilized people to occupy themselves with anything else other than what is of direct, practical use. In the sense of contributing to the material prosperity of mankind, the Bayreuth Festival, of course, is of no consequence whatsoever, but in the sense of a quest for the realization of artistic ideals it surely is fated, in some way or other, to acquire a tremendous historical significance. As to whether Wagner is right to go so far in the service of his idea, or whether he has overstepped the limits defining the balance of aesthetic factors which ensure that a work of art is durable and lasting; whether or not art will now take Wagner's achievement as its starting-point and proceed along the same path, or whether Der Ring des Nibelungen marks in fact a point of inflexion after which only a reaction in the opposite direction is possible—those are as yet open questions. What is, however, certain at any rate is that something has taken place in Bayreuth which will occupy the thoughts even of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The principles which Wagner adheres to consistently in the music of the Ring are as follows:
Since opera, in his view, is nothing other than drama accompanied by music, and since the characters in a drama are supposed to speak rather than sing, Wagner irrevocably banishes from opera all rounded and self-contained musical forms, i.e. he does away with arias, ensembles, and even choruses, which he uses episodically and very moderately only in the last part of his tetralogy. That is, he banishes that conventional element of opera which to us had not seemed offensive or false merely because routine had made us quite insensitive to it.
Since in the moments of passionate intensity to which people living in a social community are subject nobody would think of striking up a song, arias are to be rejected; and since as a rule two people do not speak to one another at the same time, but rather one will let the other speak out first, there can be no duets either. Similarly, since people in a crowd do not generally all utter the same words together at the same time, a chorus must also be out of the question, and so on and so forth.
Wagner, by apparently forgetting in this context that the truth of life and the truth of art are two quite different truths, is in effect striving after rationality. In order to reconcile these demands of truth with the requirements of music, Wagner exclusively recognizes the form of the recitative. All his music—and it is a music which is profoundly conceived, always interesting, often splendid and exciting, though at times also a bit dryish and unintelligible, a music which is astonishingly rich from the technical point of view and equipped with an instrumentation of unprecedented beauty—all his music, I emphasize, is entrusted exclusively to the orchestra. The characters sing mainly just completely colourless successions of tones which are tailored to the symphony being performed by the invisible orchestra.
There are almost no deviations from this system in Der Ring des Nibelungen. Where they do occur, there is a quite strong justification for them. Thus, for example, in Act I of the third part of the tetralogy Siegfried sings two songs. The point is that, thanks to the fact that in real life a blacksmith forging a sword might very well be singing a song, the audience gets to hear two magnificent rounded vocal numbers, which in their own way are probably unique in the whole work. Each character is provided with a special brief motif which belongs to him or her alone, and which recurs whenever that character appears onstage or is mentioned by someone else. The constant recurrence of these motifs forces Wagner, if he is to avoid monotony, to present these motifs in a new form each time, whereby he reveals an astonishing richness of harmonic and polyphonic techniques.
This richness, however, is far too lavish: by constantly straining the listener's attention, the latter eventually feels exhausted by it, and towards the end of the opera (especially in Götterdämmerung) this exhaustion reaches a point where the music ceases to be experienced as a harmonic combination of notes and becomes instead like a tedious rumble. Is this what art is supposed to achieve?
If I, a musician by profession, was overcome by a sensation of spiritual and physical fatigue close to utter exhaustion, imagine how worn out the non-specialists in the audience must have ended up feeling! True, the latter is far more preoccupied with the wonders taking place on the stage than with the musicians sweating their guts out in the concealed orchestra pit and the singers straining themselves to breaking-point, but surely one must assume that Wagner wrote his music so that people would actually listen to it, rather than just paying no heed to it as if it were something secondary or collateral.
Indeed, one cannot avoid reflecting on how Der Ring des Nibelungen as a spectacle generates a certain musical immorality, to put it that way. The professional musician looks for musical beauties in this work, and he certainly does find them—albeit in excess, rather than in due proportion. It is like Demyan's Fish-soup  applied to music, that is a dish which very soon leaves you with a feeling of satiety. Be that as it may, the musician judges the music on the basis of musical impressions, whereas the non-musician has plenty to admire in the decorations, the great fires, the various transformations, the appearance of dwarves and dragons on the stage, swimming maidens, etc. Since the non-specialist is quite incapable, so I am fully convinced, of obtaining any musical pleasure from this storm of sounds, though at the same time he takes delight in the magnificent scenery, the upshot is that he confuses the latter with musical impressions proper and tries to persuade both himself and others that he has fully grasped the magic of Wagner's music.
I made the acquaintance of a Russian merchant's son who assured me that in music no one else existed for him apart from Wagner. "But do you really know all the other music there is?" I asked him. It turned out that my dear fellow-countryman did not have the slightest clue about music as such. But then, you see, he is fortunate to be personally acquainted with the famous maestro himself, he attends his evening-parties, he has been kindly received by the composer's wife, and so it is quite natural that, feeling immensely flattered by this acquaintance, he regards it as his duty to reject everything that Wagner himself will not recognize. Unfortunately, there are very many such Wagnerians, and this is indeed a most saddening phenomenon.
Of course, Wagner has a huge number of enthusiastic and utterly sincere admirers amongst professional musicians. The point is that the latter have attained this conscious enthusiasm by means of studying his works, and if there is anything at all that could serve as a moral support for Wagner in his striving after his ideal, then that is surely the ardent devotion of these people. However, it would be interesting to know if he is able to tell them apart from the legion of false Wagnerians and especially Wagnériennes, who are as ignorant as they are intolerant of opinions that differ from theirs.
I repeat: in Bayreuth I had the opportunity to meet lots of outstanding artists, who are unconditionally devoted to Wagner's music, and whose sincerity I have no reason to doubt. Rather, I am willing to grant that it is my own fault that I have not yet come to appreciate fully this music, and that, once I have got down to studying it diligently, I too may eventually join the wide circle of genuine admirers of Wagner's music. At present all I can say in full honesty is that Der Ring des Nibelungen produced an overwhelming impression on me not so much by virtue of its musical beauties, which are perhaps strewn far too liberally in the pages of its score, as, rather, by virtue of its length, its gigantic proportions.
This gigantic opera really does require gigantic talents, too, for its performance. In order to sing a role like that of Wotan or Siegfried, one must actually be a titan, and since no such titanic singers were to be found anywhere, no one in the cast, maybe apart from the Viennese soprano Materna  in the role of Brünnhilde, was equal to his or her task. By the way, this applies only to the roles of the gods and giants. For the roles of the dwarves, which do not require such extraordinary vocal power, or the Rhinemaidens—indeed, almost all of the minor roles for that matter were performed admirably. A particularly fine performance was that of Mime, both as a singer and as an actor . The orchestra was beyond all praise, and one cannot fail to be amazed by the perfection of its playing when one thinks about the score's incredibly complicated instrumentation. The men's chorus, which appears episodically in the final opera, was so outstanding that, despite being numerically so small, it almost managed to drown the orchestra.
And so, by way of conclusion, I should like to say something about the overall impression which this performance of Der Ring des Nibelungen has left me with. Firstly, it has left me with a vague recollection of many strikingly beautiful musical features, especially of a symphonic kind, which is very strange, given that Wagner least of all intended to write operas in a symphonic style. Secondly, it has left me with respectful admiration for the author's tremendous talent and his incredibly rich technique. Thirdly, it has left me with misgivings as to whether Wagner's view of opera is correct. Fourthly, it has left me greatly exhausted, but at the same time it has also left me with the wish to continue my study of this most complicated work of music ever written.
Even if Der Ring des Nibelungen seems boring in places; even if there is a lot in it which remains unclear and incomprehensible when listening to it for the first time; even if Wagner's harmony is sometimes marred by excessive intricacy and refinement; even if Wagner's theory is mistaken; even if there is quite a large dose of aimless quixotry  behind this theory; even if his huge work is condemned to rest in eternal sleep in the deserted vault of the Bayreuth Festival Theatre, leaving nothing else behind other than legendary memories of a gigantic endeavour which for a while became the focus of the whole world's attention—even if that were to happen, it is still the case that Der Ring des Nibelungen will always constitute one of the most significant phenomena in the history of art. Whatever one thinks of Wagner's titanic work as such, nobody can deny the greatness of the task he has carried out or the strength of his spirit, which impelled him to complete what he had once begun and to realize one of the most tremendous artistic projects ever conceived by the human mind.
After the final chord of the closing scene in the last opera of the cycle had died away, the audience called for Wagner. He walked onstage and made a small speech, which concluded with the following words: "You have seen what we can do—now it's up to you to want. And if you want, then we shall have an art!" .
I shall leave it up to the reader to interpret these words as he or she pleases. All I would like to observe is that they caused a certain bewilderment amongst the audience. For a few moments there was complete silence. Only then did the cheering start again, but far less enthusiastically than was the case when Wagner was being called onstage. I think that the members of the Parlement of Paris behaved exactly like that when Louis XIV uttered his famous words to them: "L'état c'est moi". At first they marvelled in silence at the greatness of the task undertaken by him, but then they remembered that he was the King, and shouted: "Vive le roi!"
English text copyright © 2009 Luis Sundkvist
This page was last updated on 12 February 2013