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How Many Charms Hath Music, Would You Say?
by [?]

The argument of the late Herr Wagner was that grand opera–the music drama, as he called it–included, and therefore did away with the necessity for–all other arts. Music in all its branches, of course, it provides: so much I will concede to the late Herr Wagner. There are times, I confess, when my musical yearnings might shock the late Herr Wagner–times when I feel unequal to following three distinct themes at one and the same instant.

“Listen,” whispers the Wagnerian enthusiast to me, “the cornet has now the Brunnhilda motive.” It seems to me, in my then state of depravity, as if the cornet had even more than this the matter with him.

“The second violins,” continues the Wagnerian enthusiast, “are carrying on the Wotan theme.” That they are carrying on goes without saying: the players’ faces are streaming with perspiration.

“The brass,” explains my friend–his object is to cultivate my ear– “is accompanying the singers.” I should have said drowning them. There are occasions when I can rave about Wagner with the best of them. High class moods come to all of us. The difference between the really high-class man and us commonplace, workaday men is the difference between, say, the eagle and the barnyard chicken. I am the barnyard chicken. I have my wings. There are ecstatic moments when I feel I want to spurn the sordid earth and soar into the realms of art. I do fly a little, but my body is heavy, and I only get as far as the fence. After a while I find it lonesome on the fence, and I hop down again among my fellows.

Listening to Wagner, during such temporary Philistinic mood, my sense of fair play is outraged. A lone, lorn woman stands upon the stage trying to make herself heard. She has to do this sort of thing for her living; maybe an invalid mother, younger brothers and sisters are dependent upon her. One hundred and forty men, all armed with powerful instruments, well-organised, and most of them looking well- fed, combine to make it impossible for a single note of that poor woman’s voice to be heard above their din. I see her standing there, opening and shutting her mouth, getting redder and redder in the face. She is singing, one feels sure of it; one could hear her if only those one hundred and forty men would ease up for a minute. She makes one mighty, supreme effort; above the banging of the drums, the blare of the trumpets, the shrieking of the strings, that last despairing note is distinctly heard.

She has won, but the victory has cost her dear. She sinks down fainting on the stage and is carried off by supers. Chivalrous indignation has made it difficult for me to keep my seat watching the unequal contest. My instinct was to leap the barrier, hurl the bald- headed chief of her enemies from his high chair, and lay about me with the trombone or the clarionet–whichever might have come the easier to my snatch.

“You cowardly lot of bullies,” I have wanted to cry, “are you not ashamed of yourselves? A hundred and forty of you against one, and that one a still beautiful and, comparatively speaking, young lady. Be quiet for a minute–can’t you? Give the poor girl a chance.”

A lady of my acquaintance says that sitting out a Wagnerian opera seems to her like listening to a singer accompanied by four orchestras playing different tunes at the same time. As I have said, there are times when Wagner carries me along with him, when I exult in the crash and whirl of his contending harmonies. But, alas! there are those other moods–those after dinner moods–when my desire is for something distinctly resembling a tune. Still, there are other composers of grand opera besides Wagner. I grant to the late Herr Wagner, that, in so far as music is concerned, opera can supply us with all we can need.