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قراءة كتاب The Love Affairs of Great Musicians, Volume 2

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‏اللغة: English
The Love Affairs of Great Musicians, Volume 2

The Love Affairs of Great Musicians, Volume 2

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 8

have had a heart thrilled with mighty passion for womankind; surely he must have lived a life of strange devotion.

But how often, how often we must warn ourselves against judging the creator from his creations, the artist from his art. In his letter to Liszt, announcing his intention to write this very opera, Wagner said:

"As I have never in life felt the real bliss of love, I must erect a monument to the most beautiful of my dreams, in which, from beginning to end that love shall be thoroughly satiated. I have in my head 'Tristan and Isolde,' the simplest, but fullest, musical conception. With 'the black flag,' which waves at the end, I shall then cover myself—to die."

The truth was that Wagner, as so many another creative genius, spent his love chiefly upon the beings that he begot within his own heart. Every genius is more or less a Pygmalion, and his own imagination is the Aphrodite that gives life to the Galateas that he carves. I have shown by this time that certain musicians have been most excellent lovers, and there would be documents enough to prove Wagner another, but we know it for a fact that his one great passion was for his art. There is not recorded anywhere, I think, another such idolater of ideals as Richard Wagner. To his theory of the perfect marriage of music and poetry, he sacrificed everything,—his heart's blood, his sensitiveness to criticisms, his extraordinary fondness for luxuries, his sense of pride, and to these he added human sacrifice,—his wife, his friends, and any one who stood in his way. He made himself a pauper, and begged and borrowed every penny he could scrape from every friend who could be hypnotised into supporting his creeds. As a result, after years of humiliation such as few men ever did, or ever cared to, endure, after a battle against the highest and the lowest intellects, he attained a point of glory which hardly another artist in the world's history ever reached. He reached such a pinnacle that critics were not lacking who said that he often threatened to give Art a more important place in the State than Religion.

Nothing but the most complete success, and nothing but the most beneficial revolution could justify such a creed or such a life as Wagner's. Both were eminently justified. He reaped a superb reward, but he earned every mite of it. When his days of power and of glory came, however, he spent them with another woman than the one who had gone through all his struggles with him; had suffered all that he suffered, without any aid from hope, without any belief in his personality or his creeds, supported only on the courage and the dog-like fidelity of a German Hausfrau to her Mann.

Wagner was as plainly destined for war as any Richard the Third, born with hair and teeth. For he was born in the midst of the Napoleonic wars at Leipzig, in 1813, and the dead bodies on the battle-field were so many that they raised a pestilence, which carried off Wagner's father when the child was six months old; and also threatened the life of his elder brother and of the babe himself. His life was one long truceless war. He once said to Edouard Schuré: "The only time I ever went to sea, I barely escaped shipwreck. Should I go to America, I am sure the Atlantic would receive me with a cyclone."

Wagner's first love was his mother. In fact, Praeger, his Boswell, said: "I verily believe that he never loved any one else so deeply as his liebes Mütterchen." She must have been a woman of winning manners, for, though she had seven children, the oldest fourteen, she got another husband before her first one was a year in his grave; the second was an actor. Wagner was so fond of his mother that through his life he never could see a Christmas tree alight without tears.

There were other loves that busied his heart. He was remarkably fond of animals, particularly of dogs. He suffered keenly when his parrot Papo died; he wrote his friend Uhlig: "Ah, if I could say to you what has died for me in this devoted creature! It matters nothing to me whether I am laughed at for this." His dog Peps died in his arms, and he wrote Praeger: "I cried incessantly, and since then have felt bitter pain and sorrow for the dear friend of the past thirteen years, who has walked and worked with me." One of Wagner's last plans was to write a book to be called "A History of My Dogs." Anecdotes galore there are of his humanity to dogs and cats and other members of our larger family.

Wagner had also a famous passion for gorgeous colours; his music shows this. He liked fine stuffs peculiarly, and even in his pauperdom wore silk next to his skin. When fortune found him, he made a veritable rainbow of himself with his dressing-gowns, and even with many-coloured trousers. His stomach was not so fond of luxury, and he was not addicted to wine or beer, and for long periods drank neither at all. He injured his health by eating too fast, though this was not, as in Händel's case, from gluttony, but from absent-minded interest in his work. Yet there is something strangely human and captivating in the story that, when he was eight years old, he traded off a volume of Schiller's poems for a cream puff.

Wagner's career shows a curious growth away from his early ideas. He was at first an artistic disciple of Meyerbeer, and not only drew operatic inspirations from him, but was saved from starving by Meyerbeer's money and by his letters of introduction; later he came to abhor Meyerbeer's operas, and to despise the man himself and his ways. Wagner earned himself numberless powerful enemies by his fierce hatred for the Jewish race, and by his ferocious attack in an article called "Judaism in Music." Yet his first flirtation was with a Jewess, and it was not his fault that he did not marry her. She lived in Leipzig, and was a friend of his sister. She had the highly racial name of Leah David, and was a personification of Jewish beauty, with her eyes and hair of jet and her Oriental features. It has been remarked that all of Wagner's heroes and heroines fall in love at first sight.

He began it. His first view of Leah plunged him into a frenzy. "Love me, love my dog," was an easy task for Wagner, and he was glad of the privilege of caressing Leah's poodle, and of mauling her piano. He never could fondle a piano without making it howl. Now Leah had a cousin, a Dutchman and a pianist. Wagner criticised his execution, and was invited to do better. The man hardly lived who played the piano worse than Wagner, and the result of the duel was a foregone defeat. The last chapter of this romance may be quoted from Praeger:

"Wagner lost his temper. Stung in his tenderest feelings before the Hebrew maiden, with the headlong impetuosity of an unthinking youth, he replied in such violent, rude language, that a dead silence fell upon the guests. Then Wagner rushed out of the room, sought his cap, took leave of Iago, and vowed vengeance. He waited two days, upon which, having received no communication, he returned to the scene of the quarrel. To his indignation, he was refused admittance. The next morning he received a note in the handwriting of the young Jewess. He opened it feverishly. It was a death-blow. Fraulein Leah was shortly going to be married to the hated young Dutchman, Herr Meyers, and henceforth she and Richard were to be strangers. 'It was my first love sorrow, and I thought I should never forget it, but after all,' said Wagner, with his wonted audacity, 'I think I cared more for the dog than for the Jewess.'"

Wagner entered the university at Leipzig and for a time went the pace of student dissipations; he has described them in his "Lebenserinnerungen." He took an early disgust, however, for these forms of amusement and was thereafter a man, whose chief vices were working and dreaming.

One of his early creeds was free love; and though he gave up this theory, his works as a whole are by no means an argument for domesticity. In fact they are so devout a pleading for the superiority of passion over all other inspirations, that it is