The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Hugo Wolf; Henry Pleasants | Go to book overview

62. A Dream
From the Diary of a Chinaman

November 8, 1885

I would not wish to be the Intendant of a court opera house.1 Not now -- nor ever! It's a galling occupation, a Sisyphean job, a burden calling for the mighty shoulders of an Atlas. I can talk about it, because I speak from experience. For one entire night I was the central figure of this story. I was Intendant of the court theater in a large city of my native land -- whether it was Peking or Tonking or Nanking or some other city of the Heavenly Empire with a name ending melodiously in "king" I truly cannot remember. Suffice it to say that I was Intendant, and I knew that it was I because the image reflected in my mirror after the unhappy day of my entry upon this dreadful office confirmed it.

I was somewhat astonished at first by the changes taking place in my outward appearance. How, I exclaimed aloud, is it possible that in so short a time vexations, anger, troubles, cares and disillusionments could affect me so horribly? This complexion, alternating between the most luscious sea green and the loveliest brimstone; this bald pate with its dirty-white wisp of hair waving in the breeze like a parlementaire's flag of truce; these sunken eyes, this lifeless expression, these revolting wrinkles, these pendulous ears, this crooked back -- my God, what an appalling sight! But to this imposing visible aspect was added, I soon had to note, to my horror, a similar frame of mind. This curious external and internal transformation dated, as I recall it now, from shortly after the memorable address I delivered, announcing, so to speak, the program for the great concert I proposed to conduct in discharging the responsibilities of the high office to which I had been called.

Ah, well, it was a sorry concert. I may say that the difficult score from which I had to conduct was familiar to me. I made improvements, introduced cuts where they seemed called for (and there were many), added some music of my own where I found additional measures necessary, changed text and music in short. I began to institute a pretty thorough reform of that superficial, frivolous score.

But of what account was my industry, my enthusiasm? No one understood me. I decided then to sack the entire company. With personnel freshly engaged, a new spirit would enter the desecrated temple of art, heretofore a temple of moneychangers. Fees were to be distributed more justly. Leading

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