Programme Music in the Last Four Centuries: A Contribution to the History of Musical Expression

By Frederick Niecks | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III.

SIXTH PERIOD CONTINUED.
WAGNER.

Many a reader will be surprised to find Wagner in this company. Did he not condemn programme music, and denounce the insufficiency of instrumental music of the absolute kind? No doubt he did. But what decides a man's position? Is it what he says, or what he does? However, even apart from this question, and confining ourselves to what Wagner said, the case is by no means so simple as most people think. If it is difficult to present Berlioz's views on programme music in his own words, it is still more difficult to present Wagner's. But for a different reason. Berlioz wrote too little on the subject, Wagner too much. It is, however, the quality rather than the quantity that gives trouble. The various circumstances in which he expressed his opinion affected his voice, which at one time was trenchant, at another equivocal, and at a third somewhat conciliatory.

RICHARD WAGNER, born in 1813, received a good general education at the Dresden Kreuzschule, Leipzig Nicolaischule (both secondary schools), and Leipzig University. Although he was early attracted by and occupied himself with music, he had no training in the art until 1830, when he went through a half-year's course of harmony and counterpoint under Weinlig. The lessons he got in 1827 from Gottlieb Müller hardly count: they gave satisfaction neither to master nor pupil. Among the compositions written before his

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