The Wagnerian Romances Part 3

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"Yes, now, as long as love need not be renounced, it will be easy to obtain it," says simple Froh.

"Easy as mocking--child's-play!" sneers Loge.

"Then do you tell us, how?..." Wotan's fine majestic simplicity has no false pride.

The Serpent gleefully replies, "By theft! What a thief stole, you steal from the thief! Could anything be easier? Only, Alberich is on his guard, you will have to proceed craftily if you would overreach the robber... in order to return their treasure to the Rhine-daughters, who earnestly entreat you."

"The Rhine-daughters?" chafes Wotan. "What do you trouble me with them?"

And the G.o.ddess of Wisdom,--more sympathetic on the whole in this exhibition of weakness than in her hard justice later--exposing the core of her feminine being, breaks in: "I wish to hear nothing whatever of that watery brood. Many a man, greatly to my vexation, have they lured under while he was bathing, with promises of love."

The giants have been listening and have taken counsel together.

Fafner now approaches Wotan. "Hear, Wotan.... Keep Freia.... We have fixed upon a lesser reward. We will take in her stead the Nibelung's gold."

Wotan comes near losing his temper. "What I do not own, I shall bestow upon you shameless louts?"

Fafner expresses a perfect confidence in Wotan's equipment for obtaining the gold.

"For you I shall go to this trouble?" rails the irritated G.o.d, "For you I shall circ.u.mvent this enemy? Out of all measure impudent and rapacious my grat.i.tude has made you clowns!..."

Fasolt who has only half-heartedly accepted his brother's decision in favor of the gold, stays to hear no more, but seizes Freia. With a warning that she shall be regarded as a hostage till evening, but that if when they return the Rhinegold is not on the spot as her ransom, they will keep her forever, the giants hurry her off.

Her cry for help rings back. Her brothers, in the act of rus.h.i.+ng to the rescue, look at Wotan for his sanction. No encouragement is to be gathered from his face. He stands motionless, steeped in perplexity, in conflict with himself.

Loge has now a few moments' pure enjoyment in safely tormenting his superiors. He stands, with his fresh, ingenuous air, on a point overlooking the valley, and describes the giants' progress, as does the music, too. "Not happy is Freia, hanging on the back of the rough ones as they wade through the Rhine...." Her dejected kindred wince.

The heavy footsteps die away. Loge returning his attention to the G.o.ds, voices his amazement at the sight which meets him: "Am I deceived by a mist? Am I misled by a dream? How wan and fearful and faded you do look! The glow is dead in your cheeks, the lightening quenched in your glances. Froh, it is still early morning! Donner, you are dropping your hammer! What ails Fricka? Is it chagrin to see the greyness of age creeping over Wotan?" Sounds of woe burst from all, save Wotan, who with his eyes on the ground still stands absorbed in gloomy musing.

The solution of the puzzle suddenly, as he feigns, flashes upon Loge: This is the result of Freia's leaving them! They had not yet that morning tasted her apples. Now, of necessity, those golden apples of youth in her garden, which she alone could cultivate, will decay and drop. "Myself," he says, "I shall be less inconvenienced than you, because she was ever grudging to me of the exquisite fruit, for I am only half of as good lineage as you, Resplendent Ones. On the other hand, you depended wholly upon the rejuvenating apples; the giants knew that and are plainly practising against your lives. Now bethink yourselves how to provide against this.

Without the apples, old and grey, a mock to the whole world, the dynasty of the G.o.ds must peris.h.!.+"

With sudden resolution, Wotan starts from his dark study. "Up, Loge!

Down with me to Nibelheim! I will conquer the gold!"

"The Rhine-daughters, then," speaks wicked Loge, "may look to have their prayer granted?"

Wotan harshly silences him. "Be still, chatterer!... Freia the good, Freia must be ransomed!"

Loge drops the subject and offers his services as guide. "Shall we descend through the Rhine?"

The Rhine, with its infesting nymphs?...

"Not through the Rhine!" says Wotan.

"Then through the sulphur-cleft slip down with me!" And Loge vanishes down a cleft in the rock, through which Wotan, after bidding his family wait for him where they are until evening, follows.

Thick vapour pours forth from the sulphur-cleft, dimming and shortly blotting out the scene. We are travelling downward into the earth.

A dull red glow gradually tinges the vapour. Sounds of diminutive hammers upon anvils become distinct. The orchestra takes up their suggestion and turns it into a simple monotonous strongly rhythmical air--never long silent in this scene--which comes to mean for us the little toiling Nibelungs, the cunning smiths. A great rocky subterranean cave running off on every side into rough shafts, is at last clearly visible, lighted by the ruddy reflection of forge-fires.

This is where Alberich reigns and by the power of the ring compels his enslaved brothers to labour for him. Renouncing love has not been good for the disposition of Alberich. It is not only the insatiable l.u.s.t of gold and power now darkening the soul-face of the earlier fairly gentle-natured Nibelung, it is a savage gloating cruelty, bespeaking one unnaturally loveless; it is a sanguinary hatred, too, of all who still can love, of love itself, a thirst and determination to see it completely done away with in the world, exterminated--a sort of fallen angel's sin against the Holy Ghost.

A state, beneath the incessant excitement of slave-driving and treasure-ama.s.sing, of inexpressible unhappiness, lightened by moments of huge exaltation in the sense of his new power.

We find him, when the cavern glimmers into sight, brutally handling his crumb of a gnome brother. Mime, like Alberich, wins some part of our heart on first acquaintance, which he later ceases to deserve; but in the case of Mime I think it is never wholly withdrawn, even when he is shown to be an unmitigated wretch; he is, to begin with, so little, and he has a funny, fetching twist or quaver in his voice, indicated by the notes themselves of his rather mean little sing-song melodies. Alberich's nominal reason for indulging his present pa.s.sion for hurting--he is haling Mime by the ear--is that the latter is overslow with certain piece of work which, with minute instructions, he has been ordered to do. Mime, under pressure, produces the article, which he had in truth been trying to keep for his own, suspecting in it some mysterious value. It is the _Tarnhelm_, a curious cap of linked metal. Its uncanny character is confided to us even before we see it at work, by the motif which first appears with its appearance: a motif preparing for some unearthly manifestation the mind p.r.i.c.ked to disquieted attention by the weirdness of the air. Alberich places it upon his head, utters a brief incantation, and disappears from sight. A column of vapour stands in his place.

"Do you see me?" asks Alberich's disembodied voice. Mime looks around, astonished. "Where are you? I see you not!" "Then feel me!" cries the power-drunken tyrant, and Mime winces and cowers under blows from an unseen scourge, while Alberich's voice laughs.

Out of measure exhilarated by his successful new device for ensuring diligence and inspiring fear, he storms out of hearing with the terrible words, "Nibelungs all, bow to Alberich!... He can now be everywhere at once, keeping watch over you. Rest and leisure are done and over with for you! For him you must labour.... His conquered slaves are you forever!" The moment of his overtaking the Nibelungs is indicated by their sudden distant outcry.

Mime has been left crouching and whimpering on the rocky floor.

Thus Wotan and Loge find him.

Loge is in all the following scene Wotan's very active vizier, furnis.h.i.+ng the invention and carrying out the stratagems. Wotan, except to the eye, takes the background and has little to say; but as the blue of his mantle and the fresh chaplet on his locks strike the eye refres.h.i.+ngly in the fire-reddened cave, so his voice, with echoes in it of the n.o.ble upper world, comes like gusts of sweet air.

Loge sets the cowering dwarf on his feet and by artful questions gets the whole story from him of the ring and the Nibelungs' woe.

About the Tarnhelm, too, Mime tells Loge. At the recollection of the stripes he has suffered, he rubs his back howling. The G.o.ds laugh. That gives Mime the idea that these strangers must be of the great. He is in his turn questioning them, when he hears Alberich's bullying voice approaching. He runs. .h.i.ther and thither in terror and calls to the strangers to look to themselves, Alberich is coming!

Wotan quietly seats himself on a stone to await him.

Alberich enters driving before him with his scourge a whole army of little huddling, hurrying Nibelungs, groaning under the weight of great pieces of gold and silver smithwork, which, while he threatens and urges them, they heap in a duskily glimmering mound. In the fancy that they are not obeying fast or humbly enough, he takes the magic ring from his finger, kisses and lifts it commandingly over them, whereupon with cries of dismay they scramble away, scattering down the shafts, in feverish haste to be digging and delving.

Heavy groans are in the music when it refers to the oppression of the Nibelungs; groans so tragic and seriously presented that they bring up the thought of other oppressions and killing labours than those of the Nibelungs. The music which later depicts the ama.s.sing of riches, indicates such horror of strain, such fatigue, such hopeless weariness of heart and soul, that the hearer must think with sharpened sympathy of all that part of humanity which represents the shoulder placed against the wheel.

Alberich turns an angry eye upon the intruders: "What do you want?"

It is then most especially that the calm notes of Wotan fall healingly upon the sense: They have heard tales of novel events in Nibelheim, of mighty wonders worked there by Alberich, and are come from curiosity to witness these.

After this simple introduction from the greater personage, his light-foot, volatile, graceful minister takes Alberich in hand and practising confidently upon his intoxicated conceit of power, his pride in the cleverness which had contrived ring and wis.h.i.+ng-cap, uses him like a puppet of which all the strings should be in his hand.

Alberich recognises in Loge an old enemy. Loge's reply to Alberich's, "I know you well enough, you and your kind!" is perhaps, with its cheerful dancing flicker, his prettiest bit of self-description.

"You know me, childish elf? Then, say, who am I, that you should be surly? In the cold hollow where you lay s.h.i.+vering, how would you have had light and cheering warmth, if Loge had never laughed for you?..."

But Alberich seems to remember too many reasons for distrusting him. "I can now, however," he boasts, "defy you all!" and he calls to their notice the heaped riches,--the _Hort_.

"But," remarks Wotan, "of what use is all that wealth in cheerless Nibelheim, where there is nothing to buy?"

"Nibelheim," replies Alberich, "is good to furnish treasures and to keep them safe. But when they form a sufficient heap, I shall use them to make myself master of the world!"

"And how, my good fellow, shall you accomplish this?"

Alberich has apprehended in this guest one of the immortals,--which, taken into consideration a speech suggestive every time it resounds of calm heights and stately circ.u.mstances, is not strange. Alberich hates him, hates them all. This is his exposition of his plan: "You who, lapped in balmy airs, live, laugh, and love up there, with a golden fist I shall catch you all! Even as I renounced love, all that lives shall renounce it! Ensnared and netted in gold, you shall care for gold only! You immortal revellers, cradling yourselves on blissful heights in exquisite pastimes, you despise the black elf! Have a care!... For when you men have come to be the servants of my power, your sweetly adorned women, who would despise the dwarf's love, since he cannot hope for love, shall be forced to serve his pleasure. Ha ha! Do you hear? Have a care, have a care, I say, of the army of the night, when the riches of the Nibelungs once climb into the light!"

Wotan, whose Olympian self-sufficiency is usually untroubled by what any mean other-person may say, at this cannot contain himself, but starting to his feet cries out a command for the blasphemous fool's annihilation! Before Alberich, however, has caught the words--his deafness perhaps it is which saves his life--Loge has called Wotan back to his reason. Practising on Alberich's not completely outlived simplicity, he by the ruse of feigning himself very stupid and greatly impressed by his cleverness, now induces him to show off for their greater amazement the power of the Tarnhelm, which it appears has not only the trick of making the wearer at will invisible, but of lending him whatever shape he may choose. Later we find that it has also the power to transport the wearer at pleasure to the ends of the earth in a moment of time.

To put Loge's incredulity to shame, Alberich, Tarnhelm on head, turns himself into a dragon, drawing its c.u.mbersome length across the stage to a fearsome tune which gives all of its uncouthness, and never fails to call forth laughter, like the giants' tread. As a further exhibition of his power, after full measure of flattery in Loge's pretended fright, he at the prompting of the same changes himself into a toad, which has but time for a hop or two, before Wotan places his calm foot upon it. Loge s.n.a.t.c.hes the Tarnhelm off its head and Alberich is seen in his own person writhing under Wotan. Loge binds him fast, and the G.o.ds, with their struggling prey between them, hurry off through the pa.s.s by which they came.

Then reoccurs, but reversed, the transformation between Nibelheim and the upper world. The region of the st.i.thies is pa.s.sed, the little hammers are heard. At last Wotan and Loge with Alberich reappear through the sulphur-cleft.

"Look, beloved," says Loge to the unhappy captive, "there lies the world which you think of conquering for your own. Tell me now, what little corner in it do you intend as a kennel for me?" And he dances around him, snapping his fingers to the prettiest, heartlessly merry fire-music.

Alberich replies with raving insult. Wotan's cool voice reminds him of the vanity of this and calls him to the consideration of his ransom. When Alberich, after a time, grumblingly inquires what they will have, he says, largely and frankly, "The treasure, your s.h.i.+ning gold."

The Wagnerian Romances Part 3

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The Wagnerian Romances Part 3 summary

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