The main cause of Wagner's unique position in the history of opera lies in the fact that he was not only a composer, but also a dramatic poet, and was thus enabled to carry out successfully the theory which he gradually developed.
Author: Richard Wagner
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
The main cause of Wagner's unique position in the history of opera lies in the fact that he was not only a composer, but also a dramatic poet, and was thus enabled to carry out successfully the theory which he gradually developed. No graver mistake can be made than to look upon Wagner solely as a great musician. His originality of expression is as marked in the librettos of his works as in their music. His sense of color, of rhythm, of dramatic effect, no less than his insight into all the phenomena of human character, was wonderfully exact. A man of such many-sided genius was the only one who could achieve the emancipation of the musical drama from the old "grand" opera. Had it not been for Wagner's personal ability to realize in every detail his performances, he would never have been more than a visionary. His striking musical originality would have attracted attention, but as a musician alone he would, in all probability, have failed to revolutionize the operatic world in the epoch-making manner in which he has done so. As long as the musical and dramatic elements of an operatic work are elaborated by different individuals, one will always be found to lean upon or to be sacrificed to the other. It would be difficult to point to any other musician, with the single exception, perhaps, of Beethoven, whose career exhibits such continued growth. Much as Wagner in his early days was inspired by the romantic fire of a Spontini (of which this master's La Vestale and Fernando Cortex give proof), much as he delighted in his own Rienzi, because it seemed to him to be the happy combination of the explosive materials of an heroic drama with all the pomp and circumstance of French "grand" opera, yet he was severe enough in his self-criticism to recognize the fact that he never could reach artistic independence on those lines. So in spite of the success obtained by Rienzi he abandoned this style of composition, and turned to new ways in The Flying Dutchman. In this drama we first meet with so-called "leading motives" (Leitmotiven), which are short but pregnant musical phrases, intended to portray the various personages of the action, the different passions which animate them or the sentiments they express. It is specially due to the use of these leading motives that Wagner's music is so wonderfully impressive, because by combining them or varying them in the most admirable manner, they become true plastic images of the figures of the drama in all their manifold relations towards each other. It is through the thematic character of Wagner's music that the drama obtains its intense force and clearness. Liszt has aptly remarked: "He makes the orchestra reflect; in his hands it reveals to us the soul, the passions, the sentiments, the slightest emotions of his personages; with him the orchestra becomes the echo, the fine veil through which he lets us perceive all the vibrations of their hearts; one might say that they palpitatein this medium, and across its sonorous and diaphanous walls we are alive to the most impetuous as well as to the slightest emotions..."..