The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Hugo Wolf; Henry Pleasants | Go to book overview

22. Sucher as Leonore, Vogl
as Tannhäuser
Opera Etiquette

June 15, 1884

Fidelio -- with Frau Sucher and Herr Vogl as guest artists. Two loquacious neighbors ruined the overture for me by their inconsiderate behavior. They were of that infamous category of public nuisance ( Kapellmeister Kreisler1 called them people with the souls of servants) that chatter during the performance, rattle their fans, let their gaze wander absently, greet their friends, wave to acquaintances, noisily lift and lower their folding seats, snap their opera glass cases open and shut, beat time with their feet, drum with their fingers, and commit more similar mischief. One of these creatures, during the playing of the great Leonore Overture, uttered to her companion (how characteristic of such miserable people!) the following remarkable words: "Look at this audience! So quiet and attentive. You'd think they were in a concert hall!"

I was dumbfounded by this shameless naiveté. There we have it! The perfectly natural and obviously appropriate deportment of a civilized audience -- a situation where not even a cannibal would be other than attentive and still as a mouse the minute the first strains of the overture resound through the hall -- regarded as curious and abnormal! Is what we hear in an opera house any less music than what is played in a concert hall? Does the quality of music depend upon the nature of the place in which it is listened to? Has anyone ever heard such hair-raising nonsense? Is the music of Mozart, Wagner, Gluck not music at all because it is produced in a theater? Are the absolute musical compositions of these masters there only to transport the bored, dirty, heedless creatures, fluttering from loge to parterre and from parterre to logc, on the golden surface of blossoming tone? An ignominious office even for the prudish muse of our symphony composers, riding the pack donkey or the camel. But to see the true, pure and unique muse of our dramatic composers, Gluck, Mozart, Weber, Marschner and Wagner, sacrificed to the cold scorn and the contemptuous stupidity of those people who betray themselves as inferiors in the theater and concert hall could turn a dove into a tiger from anger and pain. What is one to make of my estimable neighbor's clever words? That one goes to the theater to hear music? Good heavens, no. Anything but

-61-

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