Wagner, Richard Wilhelm
The real Wagner may be said to begin with Der Fliegende Hollander, a music drama in distinction to opera of the old type. The last seven operas are all music dramas; "serious dramatic stories, which are of great interest in themselves, and are not merely threads, on which to string brilliant jewels of song." Wagner, in going to original sources for his subjects, made a change from the hackneyed opera themes, and put on the German stage German myth and legend. That he was not the originator of the "leit-motif," the characterizing musical phrase, is shown by a glance back at the operas of predecessors. It was frequently made use of by Weber and is found in Mozart; but, says Edward Dickinson, " Wagner was the first to make the leading motive the whole basis of his musical structure, not introduced at random, but united to word and action." " Endless melody " is another phrase frequently employed in description of Wagner's later style, the composer in his aim of true dramatic expression discarding the old operatic divisions into solos, duets and choruses, and giving in place an unbroken stream of melody.
Musicians generally agree that Die Meistersinger and Tristan are Wagner's greatest works; the former classed by the composer as comedy, but the serious meaning of the opera not lost in the inimitably humorous scenes, and the whole wonderfully rich in melody; the latter a love tragedy. Hadow declares Tristan in intensity of passion and charm of melodic phrase unrivaled in the whole record of opera; Finck assigns to Tristan this place: "It forms with Romeo and Juliet, and Goethe's Faust part of the world's great trilogy of love tragedies." Tannhauser, from the standpoint of its poetry most highly regarded, belongs in its music to his earlier more conventional style. Lohengrin, which has proved the most popular of all operas, was from the first recognized by Liszt as a magnificent work of art. Of the four dramas forming Der Ring des Nibelungen, Siegfried is the finest and strongest. Concerning Parsifal great diversity of opinion exists, as Dickinson writes: '* Some look upon it as an act of worship, and the purest modern portrayal of the essential principle in Christianity; to others it is morbid and sensual, corrupt in its conception and degrading in its effect. Musically there is a slight falling off in Parsifal compared with its predecessors; there is less spontaneity, less impression of endless resource in development of themes. Its panoramas are the most beautiful in the history of the modern stage, and to them the overpowering effect of the work is largely due." Wagner stands forth as a great poet as well as a master musician, as a born dramatist, unrivaled stage-manager, wonderful drill-master and conductor, a leader in the art of orchestration and a " supreme musical scenepainter."