A Musical Fantasy
by Kate Douglas Wiggin
A spoof on Wagnerian opera and music critics, the
text of a spurious lecture on the "lost" Wagner opera, Bluebeard. Wiggin
seizes upon the form of the performance lecture as one which has traditionally
reached "large audiences, mostly of ladies, through whom in course of
time a certain amount of information percolated and reached the husbands
- the somewhat circuitous, but only possible method by which aesthetic
knowledge can be conveyed to the American male."
To my friend Walter Damrosch
Master of the art form so irreverently treated in these pages.
Kate Douglas Wiggin
More than a dozen years ago musical scholars
and critics began to
illuminate the musical darkness of New York with lecture-recitals
explanatory of the more abstruse German operas. Previous to this era
no one had ever thought, for instance, of unfolding the story, or the
"Leit motive" (if there happened to be any!), in "The
Bohemian Girl," "Maritana," or "Martha." These
and many other delightful but thoroughly third-class works unfolded
themselves as they went along, to the entire satisfaction of a public
so unbelievably care-free, happy, thoughtless, childlike, uninstructed,
that it hardly seems as if they could have been our ancestors.
Wagner changed all this at a single blow.
One could no longer leave one's brains with one's hat in the coat-room
when the "Nibelungen Ring"appeared! Learned critics, pitifully
comprehending the fathomless ignorance of the people, began to give
lectures on the "Ring" to large audiences, mostly of ladies,
through whom in course of time a certain amount of information percolated
and reached the husbands--the somewhat circuitous, but only possible
method by which aesthetic knowledge can be conveyed to the American
male. Women are hopeless idealists! It is not enough for them that their
brothers or husbands should pay for the seats at the opera and
accompany them there, clad in irreproachable evening dress. Not at all!
They wish them to sit erect, keep awake, and look intelligent, and it
is but just to say that many of them succeed in doing so. The art-form
known as the lecture-recital, then, has succeeded in forcibly educating
so large a section of the public that immense audiences gather at the
Metropolitan Opera House, one-half of them at least, in a state of such
chastened susceptibility and erudition that the Tetralogy of Wagner
has no terrors for them.
The next move was in behalf of the more
cryptic, symbolic, hectic, toxic works of the ultra-modern French school,
which have been so brilliantly illuminated by their protagonists that
thousands of women in the larger cities recognize a master's voice whenever
one of his themes is played upon the Victrola.
I shall offer my practically priceless
manuscript of "Bluebeard" for
production in French at the Metropolitan, and in English at the Century
Opera House; meantime Mr. Hammerstein is so impressed with its originality,
audacity, and tragic power that he is laying the corner-stone for a
magnificent new building and will open and close it with "Bluebeard"
in German, if no unforeseen legal complications should prevent.
It is in preparation for all this activity
that I issue this brief but
epoch-making little work.
KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN. NEW YORK, February,
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Bluebeard (baritone). Man
of enormous wealth but dubious morals. Pioneer of the trial-marriage
Fatima (singing actress).
Innocent, romantic, frivolous blonde type, rich in personal charm, weak
in logic and a poor judge of men.
Sister Anne (soprano). Impulsive,
magnetic, ambitious, highly
The Mother (contralto). Impecunious,
mercenary widow, determined to settle her daughters in life without
any regard to eugenic principles.
Mustapha (robust tenor).
Elder brother; the one who has the fat acting part since he rescues
Fatima and slays Bluebeard.
Other Brothers (falsettos).
Of no account save to show the size of the family to which Fatima belongs
and her mother's sound convictions on the subject of race suicide. The
other brothers have nothing to do except to slay sheep (by accident)
when attempting to destroy Bluebeard's tiger and elephant.
The Tiger (throaty baritone).
The Elephant & The Dragon (basses).
Introduced simply as corroborative detail.
Chorus of Bluebeard's Vassals (baritones
Chorus of Headless Wives (sopranos
Chorus of Sheep (tenors).
WE are proceeding on the supposition that
this music-drama of "Bluebeard" is a posthumous work of Richard
Wagner. It is said (our authority being a late number of the musical
and Court Journal, Die Fliegende Bla'tter) that a housemaid,
while tidying one of the rooms in a villa formerly occupied by the Wagner
family in summer, perceived an enormous halo shining persistently over
a certain bedstead standing against the wall, the said halo absolutely
refusing to remove itself when attacked with a feather- duster. The
housemaid thought at first that it was simply an effect of the sunlight,
but observed subsequently that the halo was just as large, fine yellow,
opaque, and circular on dark days as on bright ones; consequently,
on a certain morning when it was so huge and glaring as to be positively
offensive to the eye, inasmuch as it did not hang over a Holy Family,
but over an ordinary and somewhat uncomfortable article of furniture,
she adopted the courageous feminine expedient of looking underneath
the bed, where she found this priceless legacy of the master reposing
in a hat-box in which it had lain for nearly half a century, unsuspected,
If this incident is true it is exquisitely
pretty and touching; if not, it
is highly absurd and ridiculous, but the same may be said of many
hypothetical historical incidents. At all events, the financial
arrangements which followed upon the discovery of the MS. and the price
demanded for it by the Wagnerian housemaid convinces me absolutely of
To me it is not strange that Wagner should
choose to immortalize the story of Bluebeard, for the interesting and
inspiring myth has been used in all ages and in all countries. It differs
slightly in the various versions. In some, the shade of the villain's
beard is robin's-egg and in others indigo; in some the fatal key is
blood-stained instead of broken; while in the matter of wives the myth
varies according to the customs of the locality where it appears: In
monogamous countries the number of ladies slain is generally six, but
in bigamous and polygamous countries the interesting victims mount (they
were always hung high, you remember) to the number of one hundred and
I ought, perhaps, to confess to you that
there are critics who still deny the authenticity of this work, although
they concede that it is full of Wagner's spirit and influence and may
have been produced by some ardent follower or pupil; one steeped to
the eyebrows in mythologic lore and capable of hurling titanic tonal
eccentricities against the uncomprehending ear-drum of the dull and
ignorant herd. There are those, too, who think that some disciple of
Richard II.,--Strauss, not Wagner,--had a hand in the orchestration,
simply because his "Sinfonia Domestica" occupies itself with
the same sweet history of the inglenook which is the basis of the Bluebeard
libretto. Strauss's symphony is worked out along more tranquil lines,
sure, but it is only the history of a single day of married life and
arbitrarily chosen by the composer. It is conceivable that there may
have been other days!
The incredulous ones urge that Wagner would
never have been drawn to the Bluebeard myth as a foundation for a libretto;
but for myself I regard its selection as a probable reaction, violent,
no doubt, from the composition of Parsifal. In Parsifal the central
themes and the unavoidable conclusion are derived from outgrown beliefs
that have long since ceased to influence the heart of mankind. Parsifal
is medieval, mystic, rapt, devout. Its ideals are those of celibacy
and asceticism, the products of an age whose theories and practices
as regards sex-relationships can have no echo in modern civilization.
What more natural than that Wagner should fling himself, for mental
and emotional relief, into a story throbbing with human love and marriage?
Neither would some calm domestic drama serve, some story
of the nursery or hearth-stone, dealing with the relations of one fond
husband and father, one doting mother and child. As a contrast to the
asceticism and celibacy of Parsifal we have in Bluebeard rampant and
tropical polygamy; fervent, untiring connubialism. The ardent and susceptible
Solomon might have been a more dignified hero, one would think; but,
although he could furnish wives enough to properly fill the stage, his
domestic life was not nearly as varied, as thrilling, and as upset as
Bluebeard's, whose story makes a well-nigh invincible appeal to manager,
artists, and subscribers alike; and, for that matter, is as likely to
be popular with box-holders as with the gallery-gods.
This master work enunciates the world law
that Woman (symbolized by Fatima, Seventh Wife, singing actress) is
determined to marry once at any cost; and that Man (symbolized by Bluebeard,
baritone) is determined, if he marries at all, to marry as thoroughly
and as often as possible. It holds up to scorn the marriage of ambition
and convenience on the one hand, but on the other, pursues with wrath
and vengeance the law-breaker, the indiscriminate love-winner, the wife-collector
and wife-slayer; and, although women still have a strange and persistent
fancy for marriage, they might sometimes
avoid it if they realized that a violent death were the price.
We must first study the musical construction
of the overture with which the music-drama opens, as it is well known
that Wagner in his Preludes prepares the spectator's mind for the impressions
that are to follow. Several of the leading motives appear in this Vorspiel and must be appreciated to be understood. First we have the "Blaubart
motiv" (Bluebeard Motive). This is a theme whose giant march
gives us in rhythmic thunders the terrible power of the hero.
The "Blaubart motiv" should be
constantly kept in mind, as it is a clue to much of the later action,
being introduced whenever Bluebeard budges an inch from his doorstep.
We do not hear in it the majestic grandeur of the Wotan or Walsungen
motifs, and why? Simply because it was not intended to illustrate godlike
power, but brute force.
Now if this were all, we had no more to
say; but listen!
What does this portend--this entrance of
another theme, written for the treble clef, played with the right hand,
but mysteriously interwoven with the bass? What but that Bluebeard is
not to be the sole personage in this music-drama; and we judge the stranger
to be a female on account of the overwhelming circumstantial evidence
Bluebeard, when first introduced--you remember
the movement, one of somber grandeur leading upward to vague desire
was alone and lonely. Certainly the first, probably the second. If his
mood were that of settled despair, typical of a widower determined never
to marry again no matter what the provocation, the last note of the
phrase would have been projected downward; but, as you must have
perceived, the melody terminates in a tone of something like hope. There
is no assurance in it--do not misunderstand me; there is no particular
lady projected in the musical text--that would have been indelicate,
for we do not know at the moment precisely the date when Bluebeard hung
up his last wife; but there is a groping discontent. At the opening
of the drama we have not been informed whether Bluebeard has ever been
married at all or only a few times, but we
feel that he craves companionship, and we know when we hear this "Immer-wieder-heirathen Motiv" (Always About to Marry
Again Motive) that he secures it. The sex created expressly to furnish
companionship will go on doing so, even if it has to be hung up in the
Look again at the second theme, the "Immer-wieder-heirathen
Motiv" (Always About to Marry Again Motive). Do you note a
mysterious reflection of the first theme in it? Certainly; it would
be evident even to a chattering opera-party of the highest social circles.
But why is this, asks the sordid American business man, who goes to
the music-drama absolutely unfitted in mind and body to solve its great
psychological questions. Not because Wagner could not have evolved a
dozen Leit-Motive for every measure, but for a more exquisitely
refined and subtle reason. The wife is often found to be more or less
a reflection of her husband, especially in Germany, therefore an entirely
new and original motive would have been out
of place. It is this extraordinary insight into the human mind which
brings us to the feet of the master in reverential awe; and it detracts
nothing from his fame that his themes descriptive of average femininity
would have been quite different had he written them for the women of
this epoch. The world moves rapidly. This motive slips with a series
of imperceptible musical glides into the "Siebente-Frau Motiv"
(Seventh Wife Motive): Bluebeard enters well in advance; Fatima, contrapuntally
obedient, coming in a little behind.
This Fatima, or Seventh Wife Motive seems
to be written in a curiously low key if we conceive it to be the index
to the character of a soprano heroine; but let us look further. What
are the two principal personages in the music-drama to be to each other?
If _enemies_, the phrase would have
been written thus: [separation of 5 octaves]
If _acquaintances_, thus: [separation
of 3 octaves]
If _friends_, thus: [separation
of 1 octave]
If _lovers_, thus: [separation of
less than one octave]
the ardent and tropical treble note leaving
its own proper sphere and
nestling cozily down in the bass staff. But the hero and heroine of
music-drama were husband and wife; therefore the phrases are intertwined
sufficiently for propriety, but not too closely for pleasure. We might
also say, considering Fatima's probable fate, that we cannot wonder
that she sings in a low key; and the exceedingly involved contrapuntal
complications in which the motive terminates hint perhaps at Wagner's
opinion on the momentous question,"Is marriage a failure?"
Next we have the "Bruder Hoch zu
Ross Motiv" (Brothers on a High Horse Motive), announced by
sparkling Tetrazzini chromatics, always at sixes and sevens, darting
and dashing, centaur-like, in semi-demi-quavers, like horses' manes
and tails mounting skyward, whinnyingly. Fatima's brothers have come
to make a wedding visit to their beloved sister, whom they believe happily
united to a nobleman of high degree. They have also come because in
a music-drama action is demanded and choruses are desirable; being noisy,
impressive, popular, comparatively cheap, and the participants less
temperamental in character than soloists, therefore more easily
[Bruder Hoch zu Ross Motiv] (with
If you miss some of the wonderful sinuosity,
some of the musical curvatures of the similar "Horses in a Hurry
Motive" in "Die Walku're," I can only suggest that the
Brothers' mounts were not as the fleet steeds of the gods. Fatima's
people were living in genteel poverty, and the family horses were doubtless
some-what emaciated; therefore the musical realist could not in honesty
depict them other than in an angular rather than curved movement.
The overture next takes up the arrival
of the Brothers, who, as the music plainly assures us, dismount, feed
their steeds, perform a simple toilette at the stable-yard pump, and
then come suddenly upon Bluebeard, whose frenzy for disposing of fresh
wives is as sudden and as all-absorbing as his desire to annex them.
At the moment of the Brothers' opportune arrival Bluebeard is on the
point of severing Fatima's relations with the world. The Brothers advance.
A cloud of dust envelops them; they rush forward, dealing telling blows,
and the frantic bleating of fleeing sheep is heard in a wild double-tonguing
of the united brass instruments, very effective, especially in the open
air, though a little trying to nervous ladies in the front rows of an
opera-house. This is the celebrated "Kilkennische Katzen Motiv"
(Motive of Mortal Combat). It is a syncopated movement, and when given
at the piano, is to be played furiously, first with one hand and then
with the other, till the performer is quite weary.
[Kilkennische Katzen Motiv] (ad
infinitum, until one is deceased)
We find all through these measures most
peculiar phrases, introduced by half-formed musical rhythms, which are
a presentiment of the mental unrest and nervous prostration of Fatima,
who does not know whether Bluebeard will kill the Brothers or the Brothers
will kill Bluebeard. She has never been an opera-goer and does not realize
that there are inexorable laws in these matters and that the villain
always dies; that he agrees in his contract to die, no matter how healthy
he may be, no matter how much he dislikes it nor how slight the provocation.
However, this scene is made notable by the famous "Suspense Motive,"
one hundred and seven-teen bars of doubt given by the big brasses and
There is much in this sort of programme
music that is not easily
intelligible to a young man who, having purchased an admission ticket,
is wandering from back to back of one opera-box after another; but when
fully comprehended, these special phrases are replete with emotion and
insight. Several motives are so dexterously woven into one gush of melody
that they cannot be disentangled by any ordinary method, and have to
be wrenched apart by the enthusiast, who employs, when milder means
fail, a sort of intellectual dynamite to extricate the meaning from
the score. With the aid of this lecture, which is better than an ear-trumpet
and a magnifying-glass, we can, however, trace a "Schwert Motiv " (Sword Motive), showing the weapons used in the combat; the "Glu'ckseligkeit
Motiv" (Felicity Motive), well named, for we must remember
that Fatima is
witnessing the duel from the castle window, her heart beating high at
the prospect of widowhood; and, toward the end, the famous "Ausgespielt Motiv" (Motive of Spent Strength and Spilled
The "Ausgespielt Motiv"
is written in four flats, but as a matter of fact
only one person is flat, viz.: Blue-beard, who has just been slain by
Mustapha. The other three flats must refer to the sheep accidentally
hit by the younger brothers, who aim for Bluebeard, but miss him, being
Why does the union of these motive,
"Bruder Hoch zu Ross" (Brothers on a High Horse), "Kilkennische
Katzen" (Mortal Combat), "Schwert" (Sword),
"Glu'ckseligkeit" (Felicity of Fatima), and "Ausgespielt"
(Spent Strength and Spilled Blood), when blended in one majestically
discordant whole, produce upon us a feeling of profound grief mingled
with hysterical mirth?
And why do the measures grow more and more
sad as they melt into the touching "Blut auf dem Mond Motiv"
[Blut auf dem Mond Motiv] (slowly
and with infinite pathos)
Simply because in a mortal combat somebody
is invariably wounded and sometimes killed. Wagner sang of human life
as it is, not as it might, could, would, or should be. From the "Blut
auf dem Mond Motiv" (Blood-on-the-Moon Motive) we glide at
once into a dirge, the "Leichen," or Corpse, Motive,
one of those superb funeral marches with which we are familiar in the
other music-dramas of Wagner; for the master, though not an Irishman,
is never so happy as on these funeral occasions.
If any brainless and bigoted box-holder
should ask why the "Blaubart Motiv" is repeated in
this funeral march, I ask him in return how he expects otherwise to
know who is killed? Will he take the trouble to reflect that these are
the motives of the Vorspiel, and that the curtain has not yet
risen on the music-drama?
But why, he asks, do we hear an undercurrent
of mirth pulsating joyously through the prevailing sadness of this "Leichen
Motiv," or funeral march? Simply because we cannot be expected
to feel the same unmixed grief at the death of a wife-murderer as at
the death of a wife-preserver! Ah, where shall we find again so subtle
a reading of the throbbing heart of humanity!
The "Schwert Motiv" mingles
again with the haunting strains of the half-sad, half-glad "Leichen
Motiv," until the Vorspiel ends abruptly with a single
note of ineffable meaning, thus:
[Tod und Ho'lle Motiv] (off the
keyboard to the left)
This is very interesting to the student,
and means much, if it means
any-thing. The sword of the elder brother, Mustapha, has gone through
Bluebeard, if not the swords of the other Brothers. This, you say, might
not have been necessarily fatal, since those hardy ruffians of a bygone
age were proof against many a stab; but in this case the sword of the
heroic Mustapha was accompanied by the killing "Schwert Motiv,"
consequently the villain is dead.
But what has become of him? We have the
one clue only, which will be known by all students in future as the
"Tod und Ho'lle Motiv," just given above: Bluebeard
has gone where we will not follow him unless we are obliged. Is this
asserting too much? Alas, it is only too evident. If it had been Wagner's
intention to refer to the glorious immortality of a godlike hero, we
should have had the exquisite strains of a heavenly harp, thus:
or the whir of angels' wings, thus:
[trills off the right-hand end of the keyboard]
And a final significant note, thus:
[a good 1 « inches above the treble
staff] (Stretch the keyboard a little
if necessary and play a half, if there is not room for a whole note.)
whose piercing sweetness and dizzy altitude
would have symbolized Heaven, or at least Walhalla.
Alas, it is all too plain. We have this:
[1 inch below the bass staff]
enough in itself to show his whereabouts;
and as if that were not enough, this:
[Verdammungs Motiv] (Allegro frantico.)
[2 dissonances, « and 1 inches below the bass staff]
to show that he is uncomfortable!
It will be interesting for the student
to note the difference between the "Verdammungs Motiv"
of "Bluebeard" and the" Damnation Motive" of Wagner's
earlier opera, "Tannha'user."
Both are strong, tragic, and powerful,
but the sins of Bluebeard are gross and those of Tannha'user subtle;
consequently the peril of each is foreshadowed in its own way, it being
very clear that Bluebeard's fate is final, while Tannha'user, as we
know, is saved by the spiritual influence of Elizabeth, a very different
lady indeed from the frivolous and mercenary Fatima.
The plot of this music-drama itself is
made beautifully clear by this Vorspiel and lecture-recital, so that even a mother and child
matine'e can follow the tone-pictures without difficulty; but the libretto,
which is a remarkable specimen of Wagner's alliterative verse, only
helps the more to rivet attention and compel admiration. I have given
you an idea of the brief overture, and the opera itself opens with a
somber recitative, descriptive or symbolic of the Dark Ages of Juvenile
"The Dark Ages of Juvenile Literature
do not afford a chronicle of greater atrocity!
"Than that furnished by a very glum,
grim, gruesome, gory, but
connubially-minded gentleman, whose ugly blue beard was a perfect
"He also had an unfortunate predilection
for leading unattached ladies to the altar, constantly marrying wives,
six wives, successively one after another, on a regular railroad of
"But, finding them in toto,
all very so-so, determined to turn each one of them into a good woman
by cutting off her head!
"As a punishment for the most unmitigatedly
determined and persevering female curiosity!"
(With naivete') "But to our tale!"
The "tale" introduces the lovely,
luckless Fatima, sitting at her cottage window, dreaming the dreams
of girl-hood. She has received Bluebeard's message of love, and is awaiting
his coming as the hero of her heart's romance. This "Traum"
theme is almost precisely like the "Guileless Fool Motive"
of "Parsifal," and the application to Fatima is unmistakable.
"Within sight of his castle, a short
"An impecunious old lady lived, two marriageable and impecunious
"Whom Bluebeard had seen and at love's highest pitch
"Sent to say he would marry, he didn't care which!
"Sent to say he would marry, he didn't care which!"
We now have Bluebeard's triumphal journey
toward Fatima's cottage, from whence he is to bring her as his bride.
If this brutal bigamist had any preference it was for Anne, Fatima's
younger sister, but he knew that it was only a matter of a few weeks
anyway, so there is not the slightest hint in the music of anything
but the tempered joy with which the accustomed bridegroom approaches
the familiar altar.
We have the "Blaubart Motiv"
again here, and we must not be disturbed to find it heralded thus:
(noisily and fussily: Repeated deep notes)
We find the same thing later on. This is
merely an introductory phrase, the "Losgehenlassen Motiv"
(See Me Getting Ready to Go Motive). Here we note Wagner's sublime regard
for truth and realism. Does Bluebeard go--does anybody go--without getting
ready to go? Certainly not; yet they have gone for years when-ever they
liked, in the shiftless operas of the Italian school, without the least
preparation. They would even come back before they went, if it were
any more pleasing, pictorial, or melodious. It took a heroic genius
like that of Wagner to return to the simple, eternal truth of things.
We have a striking example here of Wagner's power of modifying and
inverting a motive, carrying it from key to key, giving it forwards
backwards, upside down and other-end-to, according to the feeling he
wishes it to express, whether it be love, rage, desire, impatience,
ardor, or what not. The "Losgehenlassen Motiv" is simplicity
itself when it first appears in C major (see motive). But Bluebeard's
exits are many --partly because his entrances are so numerous--and for
every exit this motive conveys a new meaning. Blue-beard is always getting
ready to go, but with what different purposes in mind! He goes for pastime
and for passion; he goes for wooing and for wantoning; for marriage
and for murder. He goes in D sharp with pomp, pride, and power, and
we can distinguish the tread of his servants' feet, the clatter of arms,
and the hurrying together of his escort and retinue. He goes again in
B flat minor, stealthily and unattended, the orchestra giving the motive
with muted violins and subdued brass. We seem to hear naught but the
soft pad-pad of his felt bedroom slippers on the marble steps, and we
murmur to one another: "What does he propose to do now?
We have next the "Dragon," "Elephant,"
and "Tiger" motive: the "Dragon Motive" being
intentionally reminiscent of the one in "Siegfried."
There is not in the entire range of modern
music anything more impressive than this splendid journey of a barbaric
prince toward his chosen victim. No stage picture could be more dazzling
than the one brought before the mind's eye in the majestic, munificent
measures that herald the pageant:
"And true to his message the lover
With cymbals and horns and a big Indian drum!
The measures that follow these describe
the tiger swinging on behind the triumphal cab. This is a delicious
whimsicality, and the music is as gay and sportive as anything in "Die
"And an elephant, huge, to his cab...
How the character of Bluebeard stands out
in these passages--Bluebeard, morbid, erotic, megalophonous megalomaniac,
with his grandiose air and outlandish accoutrements!
It seems odd that rumors of his matrimonial
past had not reached Fatima, for the libretto tells us (authorized opera-house
edition, not the one sold on the sidewalk) that his castle was only
an hour's ride distant. In any event, one would think the sight of the
lover's approach, with lions and elephants in attendance and a tiger
hanging on behind the chariot, might have shown Fatima that, although
Bluebeard might be admirable as an advance agent for a menagerie, he
would hardly be a pleasant fireside companion. However, it was the old
story! Moved by love, ambition, poverty, ennui, or what not, Fatima
lost her head, as all Bluebeard's previous wives had done,
both before and after marriage, and left the humble home of her childhood
for the unknown castle. Simple chords give us this information thus:
(Semplice, piano for the Humble Home; Agitato,
fortissimo for the Unknown Castle.)
Then comes the "Liebesgruss Motiv"
(Love's Greeting Motive). No single instrument can give this exquisite
theme. The whole symphony of human nature seems to rise and spread its
wings in a glorious harmony of pairs and twos of a kind melting in passionate
octaves and triplets. The groping, ardent, distracted, thwarted, but
ever protesting bass, set against a coquettish, evasive, yet timidly
yielding treble; the occasional introduction of a mysterious minor in
the midst of a well-authenticated major, gives us an intimation that
wooing is not an exact science.
Next come the "Hochzeitsreise und
Flitter Wochen Motive" (The Bridal Tour and Honeymoon motives).
Here are harp glissandos; here are voices soaring, voices roaring,
voices darting, voices floating, weaving an audible embroidery of sound.
They make up the most exquisitely tender scene of the opera, and arc
especially interesting to us in America, since they are built upon one
of our national songs. This can only be regarded as a flattering recognition
of our support of German opera in this country.
"Midst the treasures of his palaces,
dee-lighted to roam,
"Sister Anne with fair Fatima explored
their new home!
"Home! Home! Sweet, sweet Home! "There's no place like home when a maid's too poor to roam!"
It is later on in this act that we have
the celebrated "Hope Motive," a
marvelous series of tone-pictures so novel and sensational that many
box- holders are expected to drop in at ten-thirty for the excitement
of this one brief scene. The motive wanders from key to key, hoping
that in the end it will hit off the right one. Fatima is hoping to find
her ideal in Bluebeard. Sister Anne is hoping to get a handsomer husband
than Fatima's; Blue-beard is hoping that Sister Anne will be his eighth
spouse, and hoping that there will be room to hang her in the hidden
chamber, in which his deceased wives are already pressed for room. All
this is reflected in the voices of the singers, together with many other
emotions. They hope that they will be able to come in just enough after
or enough before, the usual time of entrance, to rivet the conductor's
attention; that they will be preserved from falling into one another's
parts; that they will not be drowned by the orchestra; that they will
be able to mount the dizzying heights of a precipitous chromatic scale
and manage an unrehearsed descent in fifths on the half-notes--something
that always causes intense joy in an uneducated audience, especially
when it is unsuccessful.
This scene runs the gamut of human emotion.
The universe is mirrored in it. First, one of the themes which we have
noted, and then another, is sounded, bringing to the bearer's mind all
the crucial moments of Bluebeard's strange, perverted, wife-pursuing
life, as well as all the aspirations and disappointments of Fatima's
ambitious but checkered career. All the while that this complicated
web of motives is being woven out of unresolved dissonances, the thirty
first violins keep on playing the same three notes in ever-precipitated
rhythms. This is radical, audacious, and effective. The notes are G
flat, A sharp, and B natural, and the world reels as we hear them. Everything
is ours in this scene--orchestration, vocalization, dramatization, characterization,
gesticulation, auditory inflammation, cacophonation, demoralization,
There is an abrupt change of key after
the "Honeymoon Motive" from sweetest major to a piercing minor.
This is exquisitely sincere and symbolic, though it is a point too delicate
to be perceived save by musicians who have married but have not been
able to hang up their wives. The libretto goes on to say:
"The honeymoon passed when a letter
"Upon urgent affairs called Lord Bluebeard away--
"To inspection, sweet love, all my castle I leave,
"But remember with this key be on the qui vive!
"It is not a natural key--think of that!
"My sword's in the key of one sharp, and that's flat!
"(Then he half drew his blade, and it was sharp and flat.)"
From this point the music-drama hastens
tragically to a close. We have Bluebeard's sudden (and feigned) journey,
introduced by a pompous march of great originality:
MARCH (Pomposo. Decrescendo.....sempre
p pp ppp)
Then we have the fatal curiosity of Fatima
and her sister Anne. We must extenuate here, nor aught set down in malice,
remembering that Wagner knew only the women of his own day, before the
sex was uplifted and purified by the vote, and he naturally depicted
them with the man-engendered vices that were then a part of their unhappy
heritage. This "Neugierde Motiv" (Curiosity Motive)
is made up of agitated, sharply accentuated sixteenth notes played with
incredible vivacity and culminating in a terrifying orchestral crash
where entrance is made into the hidden chamber, with its famous tableau
so eloquent of the polygamous instinct of man; an instinct
only kept in subjection by the most stringent laws and the most militant
"But Fatima said, 'To the keyhole
"There can be no harm just in one little peep!
"We are women--besides, there are none to behold us!
"If he wished us to leave it, he shouldn't have told us!'"
It is these inexcusable lines which have
caused the Feminist party to
boycott (and perhaps rightly) any opera-house in which this drama is
given, urging that they contain an insult which can be wiped out only
with blood or ballots. I sympathize with this feeling, yet, as I said
before, there are extenuating circumstances. Wagner was born a hundred
years ago. In his time the hand of woman, though white, was flabby and
inert from years of darning, patching, stirring the pot, buttoning and
unbuttoning, feeding and spanking man's perennial progeny. He had no
conception how that frail hand would be steadied and strengthened by
dropping the ballot into the box; how
curiosity, vanity, parasitic coquetry, lack of logic, overweening interest
in millinery and inability to balance a check-book--how these weaknesses
would vanish under the inspiring influences of municipal politics; therefore
I feel disposed to forgive him, and to attribute to him, not absolute
and deliberate insult, so much as a kind of patronizing persiflage.
In this case, however, feminists will say that the great Wagner undoubtedly
and regrettably overreached himself.
Here is just a hint of the theme; a paltry,
Curiosity conquer'd, the Key was applied,
And with thunder most awful the door opened wide.
Now comes the much discussed "Chorus
of Headless Wives," which is a distinct prophecy of Debussy. You
have noted in late musical criticisms allusions to the "ghosts
of themes" used in "Pelleas and Melisande,"-- "Sound-wraiths
wandering in air." Here we have the same thing and employed with
exquisite appropriateness. The ladies hanging in the secret chamber
are mere bodies, their heads being decidedly off stage. When the door
is opened the wives begin to sing a la' Debussy, the ghostly
effect being secured by the fact that it is not, of course, the present
bodies, but the absent heads that are supposed to be singing.
The melodic wraiths float from the key of G flat--I use "key"
in the old-fashioned sense, for the word, like the thing itself, is
fast disappearing--through one and four sharps back to two and three
flats, employing all signatures but that of C major. Six sets of severed
vocal organs meandering in space would hardly
use the natural key!
Then we have the opening of the mysterious
door; the unexpected return of Bluebeard; the hysterics of the ill-fated
sisters, with plenty of shrieking and swooning motives; and then the
celebrated "Hammelfleisch" or "Mutton" motive,
where Sister Anne, from her post in the high tower, observes for a long
time nothing but sheep.
"But, alas! Sister Anne, only saw
a few sheep, then, nothing!"
Now there is the thrilling and opportune
arrival of the Brothers on their high horses; the mortal combat; the
death of the villain by the "Schwert Motiv"; the joyous funeral march; and then
the superb duet between Mustapha, the eldest brother, and Fatima, the
ill-fated heroine. We get astonishing color contrasts in the last scene,
as each character is allotted a different set of instruments as accompaniment.
Bluebeard has six sackbuts, a trumpet, a viol d'amore, and a
Chinese temple gong; Fatima, three lutes, an arch-lute, and a pianola;
Mustapha a bass-drum and a harpsichord; and Sister Anne a pair of virginals.
(An exquisite touch, this!) To Bluebeard's servants are allotted barrel-organs,
accordions, jews'-harps, mandolins, bagpipes, and triangles. All this
gives a tonal splendor that simply beggars description.
When the combat is over and Bluebeard's
immense body is prone and lifeless in the dust, Wagner suddenly leaves
tragedy and gives us a melodious duet between the brother and sister
on the theme: "What can equal a brother's love?" This duet
and finale unite to form a masterpiece; a deserved rebuke to
any cynic who may consider that Wagner could not adopt the enervating
methods of the Italian school if he desired. His cadenzas here are miracles
of compressed technique, and, although the melody is conventional, the
music itself is never for a moment simple or intelligible.
--Suggested arrangement of orchestra
for presentation of Bluebeard--
Fatima, singing actress (whose part here
is written almost entirely in
appoggiaturas), and Mustapha, baritone, hold the stage; the one who
draws the largest salary occupying the center and the other standing
wherever he can find room. Mustapha, taking care to descend as low in
his scale as Fatima ascends high in hers, and vying with her in exceeding
the speed-limit, sings "Oh ra-ha-ha-hap-ture!" several times,
varied by "What can e-he-he-he-qual a brother's love?" Then,
using the same words, they sing as much as possible in unison to the
end of the scene, which closes with a fantasy of capricious arabesques
and a series of trills on notes seldom heard from any but the high-est-priced
Ah! What joy!.....What rap---ture! What
can e---qual a brother's love?
Oh joy!........Oh joy!.........Oh, joy!........
(Cadenza according to the skill of the performer.)
Whether Wagner followed the Italian school
in this case in sarcasm, or because he believed it was fitting, considering
the subject, can never be known (though we remember that he was at one
time a great admirer of Bellini); but the result is a melodious and
restful ending to a tragedy which, were it carried to the end in unbroken
gloom, mystery, and carnage, would be too terrible and too vast for
human endurance and human comprehension. Yet let us be just! The libretto
is full of barbaric brutalities; it is replete with blood and carnage;
but, although Bluebeard was emphatically not a nice person, and his
vices cannot be condoned, and although Fatima was wrong in marrying
for an establishment and most culpable in yielding to her curiosity,
still, virtue triumphs in the end. The story, as a whole, is fairly
murmurous with morality, sending young men and women to their homes
impressed with the risks and snares involved in bigamy and polygamy,
and giving them an added sense of the security and
gravity of the marriage tie when sparingly used.
Wiggin, Kate Douglas. Bluebeard:
A Musical Fantasy. New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1914.