A Visit To Richard Wagner - And A Special Gift. 1852

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday, 31 October 2014 | 7:11:00 pm


"Mendelssohn, was a gentleman of refinement and high degree; a man of culture and polished manner; a courtier who was always at home in evening dress. As was the man, so is his music, full of elegance, grace, finish, and refinement, but carried without variance to such a degree that at times one longs for brawn and muscle. Yet it is music that is always exquisite, fairy-like, and fine in character. Richard Wagner, 1852

"Wagner stopped walking a moment, and looked about the room as if searching for something. Then he rushed to a corner, and seizing a walking-stick, raised it as if it were a baton.
"Here is Beethoven," he exclaimed, "the working-man in his shirt-sleeves, with his great herculean breast bared to the elements." Richard Wagner 1852



William Mason (Boston, January 24, 1829 – New York City, July 14, 1908) was an American composer and pianist.  Son of Lowell Mason, a leading figure in American church music. His younger brother, Henry Mason, was a co-founder of the piano manufacturers Mason and Hamlin.



After a successful debut at the Boston Academy of Music, William went to Europe in 1849; there he was the first American piano student of Franz Liszt and Ignaz Moscheles. Mason was the leader of a chamber ensemble based in New York that introduced many works of Robert Schumann and other famous Europeans to Americans during the Civil War era and beyond, at a time when classical music still had little specifically American identity. He published numerous pedagogical works for the piano student but is remembered above all for his Chopinesque compositions for piano.

More intriguingly to us, he was introduced to Richard Wagner, by Wagner's brother Albert in 1852. This visit was detailed in Mason's memoirs, Memories of a Musical Life, published in 1900. Wagner's comparison of Mendelssohn and and Beethoven is interesting - especially considering Judaism In Music published only a few years early. Of equal interest is the gift that Wagner left Mason with,


From  Memories of a Musical Life:
William Mason

A VISIT TO WAGNER.

MY parents joined me in Leipsic in January, 1852, and in the spring of that year we planned a tour which was to take us to Switzerland in June.

In Leipsic I made the acquaintance of a man named Albert Wagner, meeting him quite frequently at the restaurant where I took my meals. While I was planning the tour, I chanced to mention it to him, and when he heard that I was going to Zürich, he said: "My brother, Richard Wagner, lives there. I will give you a letter of introduction to him." This was the first intimation I had that Albert was a brother of the composer. I suppose he had not thought it worth while to tell me. Richard was still under a political cloud in Saxony, and was compelled to live in exile on account of the part he had taken in the revolution of 1848; nor was his reputation as a composer then so general that Albert would have thought his kinship much to boast of.

We reached Zürich on June 5, 1852, and, the next morning, armed with the letter, I made my way to Wagner's chalet, which was situated on a hill in the suburbs. It was then about ten o'clock in the morning.

When I asked the maid who opened the door if Herr Wagner was at home and to be seen, she answered, as I had feared she would, that he was busily at work in his study, and could not be disturbed. I handed her my letter of introduction, and asked her to give it to Herr Wagner, and to say to him that I was expecting to remain in Zürich three or four days, and would call again, hoping to be fortunate enough to find him disengaged.

Just as I was turning to leave, I heard a voice at the head of the stairs call out, "Wer ist da?" I told the maid to deliver my letter immediately. As soon as Wagner had glanced through it, he exclaimed, "Kommen Sie herauf! Kommen Sie herauf!"

At that time Wagner was known, and that not widely, only as the composer of "Rienzi," "The Flying Dutchman," "Tannhäuser," and "Lohengrin." I had heard only "The Flying Dutchman," but considered it a most beautiful work, and was eager to meet the composer.

Wagner's first words, as I met him on the landing at the head of the stairs, were: "You've come just at the right time. I've been working away at something, and I'm stuck. I'm in a state of nervous irritation, and it is absolutely impossible for me to go on. So I'm glad you've come."

I remember perfectly my first impression of him. He looked to me much more like an American than a German. After asking about his brother, he began questioning me in a lively way about his friends in Leipsic, about the concerts and opera there, and the works that had been given. He also asked most kindly after my own affairs—what I was doing, with whom I had studied, how long I intended to remain, what my plans were for the future, and most particularly about musical matters in America. In some way Beethoven was mentioned. After that the conversation became a monologue with me as a listener, for Wagner began to talk so fluently and enthusiastically about Beethoven that I was quite content to keep silent and to avoid interrupting his eloquent oration.

WAGNER ON MENDELSSOHN AND BEETHOVEN



AS he warmed up to the subject, he began to draw comparisons between Beethoven and Mendelssohn. "Mendelssohn," he said, "was a gentleman of refinement and high degree; a man of culture and polished manner; a courtier who was always at home in evening dress. As was the man, so is his music, full of elegance, grace, finish, and refinement, but carried without variance to such a degree that at times one longs for brawn and muscle. Yet it is music that is always exquisite, fairy-like, and fine in character. In Beethoven we get the man of brawn and muscle. He was too inspired to pay much attention to conventionalities. He went right to the pith of what he had to say, and said it in a robust, decisive, manly, yet tender way, brushing aside the methods and amenities of conventionalism, and striking at once at the substance of what he wished to express. Notwithstanding its robustness, his music is at times inexpressibly tender; but it is a manly tenderness, and carries with it an idea of underlying and sustaining strength. Some years ago, when I was kapellmeister in Dresden, I had a remarkable experience, which illustrates the invigorating and refreshing power of Beethoven's music. It was at one of the series of afternoon concerts of classic music given at the theater. The day was hot and muggy, and everybody seemed to be in a state of lassitude and incapacity for mental or physical effort. On glancing at the program, I noticed that by some chance all of the pieces I had selected were in the minor mode—first, Mendelssohn's exquisite 'A Minor Symphony,' music in dress-suit and white kid gloves, spotless and comme il faut; then an overture by Cherubini; and finally Beethoven's 'Symphony No. 5, in C Minor.'" At this point Wagner rose from his chair, and began walking about the room. "Everybody," he continued, "was listless and languid, and the atmosphere seemed damp and spiritless. The orchestra labored wearily through the symphony and overture, while the audience became more and more apathetic. It seemed impossible to arouse either players or listeners, and I thought seriously of dismissing both after the overture. I was very reluctant to subject Beethoven's wonderfully beautiful music to such a crucial test, but after a moment's reflection I appreciated the fact that here was an opportunity for proving the strength and virility of it, and I said to myself, 'I will have courage, and stick to my program.'"

Wagner stopped walking a moment, and looked about the room as if searching for something. Then he rushed to a corner, and seizing a walking-stick, raised it as if it were a baton.

"Here is Beethoven," he exclaimed, "the working-man in his shirt-sleeves, with his great herculean breast bared to the elements."

He straightened himself up, and, giving the stick a swing, brought it down with an abrupt "Ta-ta-ta-tum!"—the opening measure of Beethoven's "C Minor Symphony"

The whole scene was graphically portrayed. Then throwing himself into a chair, he said: "The effect was electrical on orchestra and audience. There was no more apathy. The air was cleared as by a passing thunder-shower. There was the test."

"When Wagner spoke of Mendelssohn, his tone of voice indicated the gentle refinement of the courtier and his music. When he mentioned Beethoven, his manner was animated and full of enthusiasm.

Wagner's enthusiasm, his openness in taking me at once into his musical confidence, fascinated me, and gave me an insight into the wonderful vitality and energy of the man. He was planning a tramp through the Tyrol, about a week later, with a professor from the Zürich University. "Come along with us," he said. "Alle guten Dinge sind drei" ("All good things are three"). However, I did not feel at liberty to leave my parents to continue their trip alone, as I was acting as interpreter for them. Of course Wagner was not then what he afterward became in the eyes of the world. I now know what I missed.

A WAGNER AUTOGRAPH

The Autograph given to Mason by Wagner

BUT I did not leave Wagner's house without what many musicians, to whom I have shown it, consider one of the most interesting musical autographs ever penned. It is autographic from beginning to end, even to the lines of the staff; for when I asked Wagner for his autograph, he drew them himself on a sheet of blank paper, and then wrote what is evidently the germ of the dragon motive in "The Ring of the Nibelung." It is dated June 5, 1852, and it is particularly interesting that he should have written this motive at that time. From his correspondence with Liszt, it is clear that he had not yet finished the poem of the "Walküre," and had not yet begun the score of the cycle. He wrote the books of the "Ring" backward, but in the composition of the cycle he began with the "Rheingold," in the autumn of the year in which I met him. The dragon motive occurs in the "Rheingold," but in quite a different form. He began the "Walküre" in June, 1854, two years later, completing it in 1856. In the meantime, in the autumn of 1854, he also began the music of "Siegfried," and it is in the first act of this music drama, written more than two years after I had met him, that we find the dragon motive exactly as it is written in my autograph, except that it is transposed a tone lower, and that the length of the notes is changed, though their relative value is the same, dotted halves being substituted for quarters.

Added significance and value are given to the autograph by the lines which Wagner wrote under it, and which are signed and dated: "Wenn Sie so etwas ähnliches einmal von mir hören sollten, so denken Sie an mich!" ("If you ever hear anything of mine like this, then think of me.") Even this was characteristic of the man. "Siegfried" was not heard until nearly a quarter of a century after he had written a passage from it in my autograph-book—but it was heard.

 To read William Mason's  memoirs complete visit here. To Download as a Kindle book Click here