The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Henry Pleasants; Hugo Wolf | Go to book overview

55. Mischief with the Red Pencil

May 31, 1885

Tristan und Isolde

Herr Vogl's Tristan was from beginning to end a masterly accomplishment. But the art of the actor has not yet reached the point where it can make good the ravages of the red pencil, however earnestly conductors may try to persuade themselves of the contrary. I am speaking here of conductors of the better sort. The worse among them cut from pure egotism, without regard for singer or work.

I tend even to believe that cutting constitutes an essential element in conductorial gratification. Judging by the most exquisitely outrageous cuts, this gratification would seem to be of a diabolical order. To cut an especially important motif, indispensable for the understanding of the drama, is a tasty bonus for upright, worthy conductors. Young aspirants from now on, in order that their qualifications may be firmly established, should be tested for their cutting rather than their conducting. In which case, let them betray no embarrassment, shame, or pangs of conscience. By God, no! It would go badly for them even if they were all geniuses. Just wield the red pencil boldly and nimbly. All else will take care of itself.

Among the American Indians, he enjoys the greatest esteem who can display the greatest number of scalps. Among conductors, certainly, he is regarded most highly by his colleagues who is the greatest butcher of scores, who can boast of shaving with his red pencil not only the scalp, but the whole head and feet of the drama. ( How characteristic, come to think of it, the term "red pencil"; if applied to the nobler parts, the pencil reddens itself in the heart's blood of the score.) Indians content themselves with the scalp, and are savages. Conductors butcher their victims, and are usually civilized, even aspiring to be artists. Artists!

Herr Vogl, in any case, could not work miracles. The ingenious cut, of which the conductor must have been more than a little proud, required the singer to behave as artlessly as possible, for which, of course, not Herr Vogl but solely the conductor was to blame. The cut begins after Tristan's question, "müht euch die?"[Does that trouble you?] and ends three measures before the words "War Morold dir so wert?" [Did Morold mean so much to you?] Etc. The passage, "müht euch die?" sounds like quiet mockery coming hard upon Isolde's cry of "Rache für Morold!" [Revenge for Morold!].1

-150-

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