Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" Part 3

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All, or nearly all, our foremost English poets of recent times have been products of that system of public school and university education which is justly the pride of modern English upper-cla.s.s life.

Admirable in many ways as this system is, it is essentially one of artificial forcing. The routine is rigidly prescribed by fas.h.i.+on, and is so devised as entirely to exclude all intimate fellows.h.i.+p with the common people. Nature and reality have no part in English scholastic life; "good form" and "sound scholars.h.i.+p" count for more than the heart of man. That such a system fosters character and produces first-rate men of action and rulers is undeniable, but it is fatal to poetry, and the poetry which we produce is what might be expected--refined, highly polished, but artificial and wanting in sincerity. It bears the same relation to true poetry that etiquette and polished manners do to truth and nature. To realize the difference between the poetry of the school and the poetry of nature compare the faultless English and elegant sweetness of the Idylls of the King with the vigorous and expressive, but often ungrammatical, prose of Mallory, or compare Virgil with Homer, Horace with Sappho, a chorale by Mendelssohn with a chorale by Bach. Or compare a modern refrain dragged in for no other reason than because the poet has felt that the form requires a refrain of some kind and has tried to find one that is suitable--compare such a refrain by Morris or Rossetti with

In the spring time, The only pretty ring time When birds do sing, Hey ding a ding ding.

sung in the very joy of its heart by a childlike and poetic soul. Both are poetry: but one is poetry of the drawing-room, the other of the fields and forests; one is pretence, the other reality; the latter is hardly poetry at all, and cannot be criticized logically; it is rather human feeling finding its natural expression in verse of greater or less perfection according to the skill of the versifier, but always truthful, never posing, using no sophistic formulas, meaning just what it says.

These preliminary remarks were necessary because I am sure that it is to the narrow notions of cla.s.sical elegance prevailing in England, and to the want of sympathy with nature and the children of nature, that so many fail to understand Wagner. German art, at least all that was produced before the Franco-German war, is redolent of nature. When reading a volume of typically German songs such as _des Knaben Wunderhorn_ (whether they are technically genuine _Volkslieder_ or not, is of no consequence) one feels as if one were walking through a German forest. Even in the art which is necessarily confined within a room the artist's mind seems to be wandering outside, and the portrait-painter will admit through some open window or crevice a breeze from field and forest beyond. In the same spirit the musicians, and particularly the most German of all, Bach, Haydn, Schubert, Beethoven, delight in the rhythms of the popular dance. Of all modern composers Wagner was the most _volksthumlich_; the roots of his art are in the _Volks-Sage_, the _Volkslied_, and the dance, and the ma.s.ses have always been true to him. He makes it his boast that while intellectuals were raging and warning men not to heed his siren-tones, the public in Germany, France, Italy, England, wherever the performance was tolerably adequate, paid no heed, but invariably met him with the warmest enthusiasm.

Jakob Grimm, in his essay on the _Meistergesang_, ill.u.s.trates the deep and pensive innocence of the _Volkslied_ by the story of the infant Krishna, into whose mouth his mother looked and beheld within him the measureless glories of heaven and earth while the child continued its unconscious, careless play. "Such," he continues, "is the completeness (Ganzheit) of Nature as compared with the halfness (Halbheit) of human effort."

The condition for the growth of truly popular art is that society shall present a coherent whole, the upper and lower cla.s.ses united in a bond of common sympathy with a feeling of brotherhood between them.

English society was not always so divided as we see it now. We possess a wealth of popular song which has come down to us from mediaeval times, a heritage n.o.bler than that of any other nation; But can it be said that our national life is in the smallest degree inspired by these songs? They have indeed latterly become a fas.h.i.+on; we collect them, arrange them with pianoforte accompaniments, listen to them at concerts. It is a mere fas.h.i.+onable craze, like that for "the simple life," and differs in no whit from that ridiculed by Wagner in the Italian opera, and in Meyerbeer, as an attempt to extract the perfume from the wild flower that we may have it conveniently to put upon our pocket handkerchiefs and carry about with us, to enjoy the sweets of nature and care nothing for the soul. To know the _Volkslied_ we must descend from our fine palaces, and know it in the place where it grows, and become one with them who brought it forth. We must live their life, must learn so see what they see, to love what they love, if we would understand their language.

Precisely parallel is the art in which the English genius specially delighted, architecture. n.o.ble and simple, learned and lewd, severed by the Conquest, were united in the church, and our cathedrals are in the truest sense the creations of the people. Like the _Volkslieder_, like the great epics and the Icelandic Sagas, these works are anonymous.

No one knows, and no one seems to have cared, who made them. They were built for the glory of G.o.d, not for that of man.

In about the twelfth century in Germany the whole community was one body, scarcely differentiated into cla.s.ses as regards their Intellectual life. There were masters and servants, n.o.blemen and plebeians, as now, but they followed the same ends, received the same education, and shared the same amus.e.m.e.nts. The _Volk_ was the entire community, from the prince on the throne to the village child.

Literary education was confined to the clerical orders. The word "ballad," which is, or was, the English equivalent of _Volkslied_, signifies a dance, and at this early period the bond between dance and song was still intact; the song was danced, and the dance sung to, as it is to this day in the Shetland and Faroe islands, and in parts of Norway and elsewhere. The ballad was a popular composition, in the sense just described, but this does not mean that ballads grew up of themselves, as wild flowers. Each owed its origin to some poet, who composed music and words together. But the people who sang it cared little for the personality of the poet; so long as his song was a good one it was received and sung, but he was forgotten. Nor did they show much respect for his text or tune; they trimmed both as they pleased, cut away what they did not like, added and altered, changed names, turned sense into nonsense, or less often nonsense into sense, moved by their sweet will alone. It can be seen going on now in Germany among students and foresters, and in all places where they sing. In a society where men are free to follow their own natural bent, their minds uncorrupted by books, the public taste is generally not only healthy, but often very dainty and critical. They will find at least what they like themselves, and have no need to consult any one else. Thus the _Volkslied_ was the creation as it was the property of the people in just the same sense as were our mediaeval churches. The fact that the authors are not recognizable is vital for this kind of art.

The recreations of the people at this time were "_Sagen, Singen, Tanzen_," story-telling, singing, dancing, in which all joined, high and low together; no others were known. At the close of the twelfth century, a great change began to take place in German song, partly through the influence of foreign troubadours, but far more owing to changes in social conditions. The reviving interest in letters is indicated by the founding of universities in Italy and France, by the publication of cyclopedias and other educational treatises. There arises a cultured cla.s.s outside the Church. When the n.o.bleman received a scholastic education, and consequently could form a literary circle of his own, he began to look down upon the ignorant rustic and popular poetry was affected accordingly. The Courts attracted a special cla.s.s of professional singers, the _Minnesingers_, and it was natural that the more talented among the people should be no longer content to blossom unknown, but should seek engagement at the Courts where they were honoured and paid. Thus the _Volk_ was drained of its talent; the poet becomes famous, art loses its native innocence and becomes more like what we see it now, where the name of the poet is of more consideration than the pleasure to be derived from the poem.

The Court poets of the thirteenth century do not here concern us for their own sake. Their song was short-lived and eventually withered under the degenerate _Meistersingers_. But their work was not lost.

With the decline of chivalry and the disappearance of Court life as a thing apart the _Volkslied_ began once more to flower. From the fourteenth century to the sixteenth song was universal, and it is from this time that the ballads of our collections are mostly gathered. But now its character has changed; the short period of fas.h.i.+onable prosperity has not failed to leave its mark. Words, music, and dance are no longer bound together in such close alliance. The first to part company from the rest to begin an independent existence is always the text, which becomes literary poetry for silent perusal or recitation.

Song is then no longer poetry set to music, but rather music accompanied by verse. Instead of the two being co-ordinate, music is now first, and the words are only its vehicle. The change was very gradual, but the _Volkslied_ in its latest and most complete development is practically an instrumental composition, retaining, however, its bond with the past on the one hand through the words, on the other through the _canto fermo_ in the tenor, the familiar ancient tune round which the counterpoint was woven in a kind of canonical imitation, first (fifteenth century) in three parts then (sixteenth) in four, but always with the _canto fermo_ in rhythmic contrast to the rest of the composition. It has been pointed out by Liliencron[17] that what appears at first sight to be rhythmic chaos in the polyphonic _Volkslied_ is really a highly artistic and effective device for bringing the _canto fermo_--the ancient tune--into prominence; whilst the other voices are generally in _tempus imperfectum_ or square time, the tenor is in some other contrasting rhythm. The standard of musical education must have been exceedingly high at this period in Germany, since we hear of these difficult compositions being sung, not only at concerts and festivals, but in private circles as a common recreation. Indeed, as Sir H. Parry has observed,[18] the practice of combining several tunes is by no means so uncommon among people dest.i.tute of all musical training as might be expected. At the present day in Germany, a girl of the lower cla.s.ses may often be heard singing at her work while her companion adds an extempore part with considerable skill.

[Footnote 17: _Deutsches Leben im Volkslied_. Introd., p. xxix.]

[Footnote 18: _Art of Music_, pp. 99 seq. For an account of the musical culture in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries see the Introduction to Dr. Naylor's _Shakespeare and Music_, a most interesting and useful little work.]

The divorce between music and words became complete when songs were arranged in transcriptions for various instruments. For now the orchestra and the _Kapellmeister_ have come into being and the further development of music is instrumental. With the invention of printing and the influence of the Italian Renaissance with its humanistic and pseudo-cla.s.sical ideals the dissolution is completed.

Poems are no longer sung but only read, while instrumental music follows its own paths alone.

In the Middle Ages instrumental music can scarcely be said to have existed as an art. Musical instruments--"giterne and ribible"--were known and played upon. "Fiddlers, players, cobblers, and other debauched persons" tramped the country and appeared at festivals in company with jugglers and mountebanks. Towards the beginning of the sixteenth century, private orchestras were maintained by the n.o.ble and the wealthy. Still the instrumental band held at best but a secondary place beside the vocal choir. "Harping," says the ancient bard, "ken I none, for song is chefe of myn-strelse." The music which it played differed in no essential respect from that intended for singing; indeed the part-song was often arranged without alteration for instruments, and so instrumental technique grew out of vocal technique, but--and this is important--retaining important rhythmic characteristics from the dance. Exactly as all stone architecture--Gothic, Cla.s.sic, Saracenic--bears the features of its wooden parent, so does our modern instrumental music reproduce the physiognomy of its origin, uniting the flowing cantilene of the voice with the marked rhythm of the dance, and we may notice in any modern instrumental composition how the two are contrasted together, now the one feature predominating, now the other.

There remains yet another current in the stream of musical development of at least equal importance with the growth of dance and song. I cannot here enter fully into the history of ecclesiastical music. We are only concerned with the influence exerted by Dutch and Italian composers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries upon the development of later German music.

While pope and prelate cared only for the outer logical sh.e.l.l of Christian doctrine, which they could use as a weapon in their struggle for power, art laid hold upon its vital essence. Those politicians who are in the habit of sneering at Wagner's steadfast belief in the saving power of art for human society would do well to cast a glance at the course of each development of the Christian ideal, the political and the artistic respectively. In the Middle Ages the one showed itself in councils like those of Nicea and Ephesus, in political popes like Gregory VII. and Innocent III., in Isidorian decretals, excommunications, interdicts, tortures, indulgences; the other in our mediaeval cathedrals, in the poetry of a Dante, the paintings of a Giotto and a Raphael, the sculpture of a Michael Angelo, the music of a Palestrina, and our politician might then ask himself which he thought had been the more beneficial as a social force. There still remain as our meagre heritage from these times of "faith," on the one hand the orthodoxy of the Nicene Creed, on the other certain festivals and celebrations in the cathedral of a small Bavarian town, little known, scarcely noticed, but still in the full glory of their pristine mediaeval beauty.

No one who has not attended the celebrations in the cathedral of Regensburg can fully measure what has been lost for mankind through the domination of human rationalism in the place of religious devotion. Here alone in Europe all who will may yet hear the great masters of the sixteenth century rightly performed with the ancient ritual, and Gregorian chant that belongs to it, without pretence, without pomp or pageant, with the single purpose of serving G.o.d worthily in that true spirit of mediaeval sincerity and purity which our historians are apt to pa.s.s over unnoticed in their rancorous eagerness to proclaim the sins of the Church. The compositions of Palestrina and his compeers represent music in its highest form as pure song in its most perfect consummation, attaining as song an elevation which has never even been distantly approached since. "The centuries have no power over the Palestrina style," says its historian; "it can neither fade nor die." Truly does Wagner say we shall never believe the vocal school which followed it to have been the legitimate daughter of that wondrous mother.

The predominant feature of this music is harmony, brought forth by the union, not of sounds, but of melodies--different and contrasting melodies united in harmony, that is the characteristic of the polyphonic school, and the rhythm is marked, not by accents, but by changes of the chords. It is a rhythm of quant.i.ty alone, not of accent and quant.i.ty combined, as in the song and the dance and in modern music. Thus, although dancing was by no means excluded from the church in early times--its trace still remains in the name choir [Greek: choros] for that part of the church where the dancing was performed[19]--its most characteristic element, accent, came to be banished from the music of the church as something foreign to the character of religious wors.h.i.+p. But the loss was amply repaid by the wealth and richness which the harmonic structure was able to acquire, and which was rendered intelligible by that fine and expressive method of handling the separate voices which we know as counterpoint. This is not without some interest for us, because, widely as Wagner's harmonies differ from those of Palestrina, we shall find that they too can often only be understood through the progression of the voices.

The same is true of Bach's harmonies. Harmony was generated by polyphony, and not _vice versa_; that is, men first tried fitting melodies together, not chords, and when they had learned to do this skilfully, so that they sounded well together, harmony came into being. It does not follow that the music was unrhythmic because it was unaccented, and because in writing it was not divided into bars. No music can be intelligible without rhythm. The rhythmic pulsations are there; they are distinctly felt by the hearer in the performance, and in modern editions the barring is always introduced; but it is less crude, less obvious, through not being enforced by strong accents.

[Footnote 19: Menil, _Histoire de la Danse_, where an interesting account of church dancing in the Middle Ages will be found.]

We have already seen how the _Volkslied_ became fertilized by the polyphony of church-music. At the same time the music of the ma.s.s itself received an important impulse from the _Volkslied_. The employment of well-known popular song-melodies as _canti fermi_ in sacred contrapuntal compositions had a very beneficial effect upon those works, inasmuch as it introduced a bit of fresh popular life into music just at the moment when it was in danger of degenerating into pedantry and triviality.[20] Possibly the secularization of church music went too far, and at the Council of Trent the proposal was very seriously considered whether the music of the church should not be restricted to the traditional Gregorian chant, which had never been popular and never will be, because priests cannot ordinarily be found to sing it properly. The point at issue in this celebrated discussion really was whether in polyphonic song the words could be made intelligible,[21] for if not the music would become a mere decorative feature, and the ma.s.s itself unmeaning. Precisely as in the Wagner controversy of three centuries later, the question was whether art was a diversion only to be enjoyed for the sake of the pleasure which it afforded, or whether it had a serious didactic purpose founded on a reality. It is impossible not to be struck with the similarity of the issues involved with those of the Wagner struggle.

In both the question was raised whether music could be justified in detaching itself from its basis--in the one case religious, in the other dramatic--and a.s.sert an absolute existence for itself. Still closer is the resemblance when we consider the dramatic character of the Roman ritual, with its sublime conceptions of Real Presence and Transubstantiation. The ritual during Holy Week, for example, is the story of the Pa.s.sion, partly narrated, partly in a sort of idealized representation. When the solemn moment of the Crucifixion is reached on Good Friday, when the officiating priests advance in turn to adoration while the Cross itself lifts its voice in "Reproaches" to the mult.i.tude with Palestrina's music, who does not feel the dramatic directness of the representation?

Popule meus, quid feci tibi? aut in quo contristavi te? responde mihi.

_Chor_. [Greek: agios ho theos, agios hischuros, agios 'athanatos.]

Quia eduxi te de terra Aegypti: parasti crucem Salvatori tuo.

_Chor_. Sanctus deus, sanctus fortis, sanctus et immortalis.

Miserere n.o.bis.

--The chorus answering each "Reproach" alternately in the Greek of the Eastern Church and the Latin of the Western Church. Such music as this has quite a different character from that of our concert-rooms; it is music which means something.

[Footnote 20: Ambros., Gesch., ii. p. 286.]

[Footnote 21: Ambros., Gesch., iv, pp. 14 seq.]

The problem was definitely settled for the church by the music of Palestrina. But he did not change the course of history, and with his death in the same year (1594) as that of his great contemporary Orlando La.s.so, his work came to an end. His influence had indeed been profound, and he left as his disciples and successors men of gifts scarcely inferior to his own; but the fas.h.i.+on had changed; Italian humanism and the sway of the Press destroyed wors.h.i.+p, destroyed spontaneity, and by the year 1600 the pure vocal style and the _Volkslied_ had both pa.s.sed away.

Our results so far can be very shortly summed up. Modern music has three main elements, which were fed from three sources:

Rhythm -- Cantilene -- Polyphony.

| | | The dance _Volkslied_ Church music.

It has been my endeavour in the preceding to show how these three intermingled with and reacted upon one another. The outcome of all three has been modern German orchestral music; for the distinctive music of modern Germany up to Beethoven is orchestral. In saying this, I have not forgotten the great German song-composers, but even their work is insignificant beside that of the instrumentalists, and has been so affected both in design and in technique by instrumental music as in a great degree to lose its vocal character. The choruses of Handel and Bach are almost entirely instrumental in character.

The change which came over artistic expression from about 1600 on implied a deeper and more vital change in the conception of art itself. Till then men had believed the things they told in their art.

Byzantine saints, Cynewulf's Scriptural legends, German _Heldenerzahlungen_, Icelandic _Sagas_, down to the saints and angels of the pre-Raphaelites, all represented realities to the poet; he would have felt no interest in telling of things which he did not believe to be true. But henceforward we have art for its own sake; the truthfulness of the subject-matter is of no account; the sole canon of art is beauty of form; its purpose not instruction but pleasure.

I know no episode in the history of art that is more instructive than the birth of the Italian opera. It was typically a product of the Renaissance, but it came at the very end of that movement, when the freshness of its early vigour was past, when learning had declined into pedantry, and its graceful art was lost in _barocco_.

The period of Italian history known as the Renaissance is important because it brought forth a greater number of geniuses of the highest rank than ever existed together in any country before or since, except perhaps in the great time of Athens. But in itself it was a falsehood.

It was an attempt to revive former _Italian_ greatness, forgetting that the greatness of Italy had been exclusively military and political, whereas the modern movement was literary and artistic.

It committed the blunder of confusing together under the term "cla.s.sic" two very different forms of culture, the Greek and the Roman, very much as we now group Hindus, Moslems, and Chinamen together as "Orientals." All that was really great in art was Greek, but they were content to receive it through the tradition of the most inartistic nation that ever lived. Far indeed were the Renaissance humanists from the n.o.ble simplicity of h.e.l.lenic art.

The Renaissance movement in Italy was not only, like the German Reformation, anticlerical; it was atheist and immoral, at least in its later degenerate period, and it is likely that the representatives of the latest modernism who met and aired their views in the Florentine salons at the end of the sixteenth century, were inspired as much by hatred of religion, or by what is called love of freedom, as by enthusiasm for art. Hitherto the Renaissance had taken little notice of music. It was a barbarian art; how could Florentine exquisites, disciples of Machiavelli, men of the vein of Lorenzo di Medici, Leo X., and Balda.s.sari Castiglione be expected to occupy themselves with the art of men bearing such names as Okeghem or Obrecht? Popes and Cardinals, however, had shown themselves much better connoisseurs of art than the humanists, and had brought these barbarians to Italy, had given them high appointments and become their pupils. The fact that the antipathy of the humanists to music was extended to that of their own great countrymen, to Palestrina, Vittoria, Suriano, cannot be entirely accounted for by their dislike of everything clerical, still less by want of taste. The cause lay far deeper. It was the transition from the old order to the new, from mediaeval faith to modern rationalism, from art to science.

Art and science both contemplate Nature, and seek to turn her gifts to account to better and enn.o.ble human life. Art accepts the beautiful objects of Nature as they are, without questioning. The artist says: "Let me lead you by the hand; I have seen something new and beautiful; here it is; try to see it too, with my help, that we may both enjoy it together." But he uses no compulsion; with those who turn a deaf ear to him he is powerless. Science on the other hand tries to compel belief by irresistible processes of logic; the scientist's axiom is that if the premises be true the conclusion _must_ follow, and he pours scorn upon all who refuse a.s.sent to his interpretations, denouncing them as ignorant, superst.i.tious, if not wilfully blind and perverse. Mystery, according to the ancients the beginning of philosophy, has no place in science; what cannot be explained is superst.i.tious and must be rejected as false. The source of art, as of religion, must be sought not in the ineffable, incomprehensible phenomena of nature, but in the human mind, in reason, to which all art must conform.

This was the spirit in which the founders of the _nuove musiche_ sought to carry out their reforms; their intolerance rivals that of Lucretius or Haeckel. It is impossible to suppose that men of their highly-cultured aesthetic sense were deaf to the purely musical beauty of polyphony. They were trained in its school, and had employed it themselves most skilfully in their madrigals. It was the _mystery_ of the ma.s.s and of its attendant music which they detested.

Another consideration must be added. Hand in hand with this rationalizing tendency, indeed only another phase of the same phenomenon, is the striving for self-a.s.sertion of the individual, which is the mark of all progress towards higher civilization. The contrapuntal ma.s.s or motet expressed the commonwealth of the Church, where the individual disappears, absorbed in the community. The _nuove musiche_ sought to emanc.i.p.ate the individual, and allow him to express his own independent existence. Thus the progress of the modern musical drama presents an exact parallel to that of the Greek drama, from before Thespis onwards, except that here the change from lyric to dramatic representation was slower, because, there being no preconceived plan or model for the reformers to work by, the development was gradual and natural instead of violent.

The year 1600 marks with considerable accuracy the transition from the old order to the new. The two greatest masters of the old school had recently died, and with them their work expired. At the wedding of Henri IV. of France with Maria de' Medici in Florence, in that year, was performed the opera _Euridice_, the joint work of Caccini and Peri, which is the starting-point of the new music.

The details of the invention of the _nuove musiche_, the ideas which brought it forth, how these were nursed in the salons of Florentine n.o.blemen, especially in that of Bardi Conte Vernio, are all well known. They did not proceed in the first instance from musicians, but from scholars, who, having read in the course of their studies about Grecian (or Roman--it was all the same to them) dramatic music, determined to add to the other accomplishments of the new order that of reviving the ancient drama with its music. They were vehement in their denunciations of the barbarous inst.i.tutions of counterpoint and loudly called for a return to the only true principles of music as taught by the ancients. With this end in view they drew into their circle the most gifted musicians whom they could find, and expounded to willing and zealous ears the principles of music as embodied in the rules of Plato and Aristotle, omitting, however, to state where they found them in the works of those philosophers. The first result was the opera, or operas (for there seem to have been two, one by Caccini and one by Peri, welded into one) _Euridice_ performed at the royal wedding. It was followed by other similar works and the series has continued in unbroken course for three centuries, through Monteverde, Carissimi, A. Scarlatti, down to our own time. The physiognomy of the early operas of the cla.s.sic revival is still distinctly traceable in Rossini, Donizetti, and the early Verdi, after whom its career was suddenly cut short almost in the height of its fame by the publication of the first part of Wagner's _Oper und Drama_ in 1851.

From the very beginning the Italian opera was what it is now, frivolous, insincere, imbecile. Its sole function was, and always has been, to help idlers of the upper cla.s.ses to while away their evenings. The absurd notion of a Platonic music was rivalled by the absurdity of the composition. The inane dialogue was made up of interminable recitative, in the midst of which an occasional chorus--introduced in conformity with supposed cla.s.sical practice--must have come as a most refres.h.i.+ng relief; for choruses they could write. It was dramatic in so far that it was provided with all the paraphernalia of the stage and that the singers walked about as they sang. Possibly, too, the performers had some initiation into modern methods of operatic acting, and would raise one arm at the word _cielo_, two arms at certain other words, etc.; but it would be hard to detect any living dramatic idea in those mythological heroes and heroines, Dafnes, Amors, Tirsis, Ariannas dressed up as stage shepherds and shepherdesses. The only _raison d'etre_ of the music in the minds of the fas.h.i.+onable audience was--then as now--to provide a stimulus for conversation and flirting, or a pleasant diversion in the intervals of their business transactions.

But it is easy to ridicule the follies and failures of men who were striving after an ideal. More profitable to us it will be to trace what substantiality their dream of dramatic revival really possessed, and if we strip it of the false garment of cla.s.sicity in which it masqueraded, and of its self-a.s.serting intolerance, there is no question that, whatever the results of the efforts of these reformers, their intention was admirable. They themselves, the composers, were deeply in earnest; their objects were not what they supposed, but they were entirely worthy, and though we may wonder at their failure to appreciate the entrancing beauty of polyphonic music, we must admit even here that their objections were not without some force. To realize this we must transfer ourselves in imagination to their conditions and endeavour to consider the problems from their standpoint, remembering how they were impelled by the irresistible law of progress, the a.s.sertion of individualism, and by the desire for dramatic treatment.

The main objection brought by the reformers against polyphony was that the elaborate imitative treatment of the voices made the words unintelligible. We may remember that exactly the same objection had already been raised at the Council of Trent by clericals themselves.

Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" Part 3

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