The definitive form of musical drama appears very early with Richard Wagner. Born in Leipzig in 1813, provided with an outstanding intellectual education, exiled from Germany in 1848, received in Triebschen by the Wesendoncks, Mathilde Wesendonck becomes very early the composer’s inspiress : the poem then assumes its proper literary worth; the music blends with the movement of the word and of the action like the swell accompanying the wave. Since everything must be heard by reason of the laws which govern the progress of speech, articulated diction is imperative for the singers at the risk of producing the famous “Bayreuth bark” much deplored by Wagner himself. Each scene develops in superb harmony recalling the polyphonic structures of Bach, the instrumentation is invested with a suppleness, a shine, a splendour so far unheard.
The orchestra, from simply accompanying the singing, comes to the fore, it now comments on the sung word and penetrates deep inside the beings. Guiding threads, called “leitmotifs”, (leitmotiv) direct us into the badly lit depths of the most troubled sentiments which the poet-musician explores in our company.
No doubt that in this evolution characteristic of Wagner’s genius, Mathilde Wesendock played a decisive part, she who had placed Rienzi in a discussion with the actress Minna Planer, before the master, among the productions unworthy of him ; which led Wagner to write to Liszt (4 March 1854) ; “My way of conceiving of the relation between the spoken verse and music has been entirely modified ... I am, now, at a stage of development which has caused me to change directions completely.” It is therefore under these conditions that Wagner will write his Tristan und Isolde, an opera whose prodigious finale unfolds in the well-known “transfiguration”. (On this subject see our book Tristan et Iseut / Tristan & Isolt - Moscow IMA Press 1994 -Tristan und Isolde / ADG-Paris).
This esthetic principle, as important as that of the means of indirect poetic expression and that of the synthesis of the arts and techniques, will be adopted, in the wake of Baudelaire (Essai sur Wagner), by the Symbolists.
Following Baudelaire, Mallarmé will have the most decisive influence in the Wagner affair and to the end, he will remain a fervent advocator of the wagnerian music. During the time of intellectual freedom as granted by Janson de Sailly, the “miserable faraway lycée” (fifteen minutes from his house by local train, to which five minutes on foot have to be added) and the other establishments where he served for and against the inspectorate general, the badly informed families and a difficult state of health (“For thirty years, without fail, he accomplished this heavy task”, his daughter Geneviève notes with bitterness), Stéphane Mallarmé will assiduously frequent the Lamoureux or Pasdeloup concerts, collaborate with Verlaine at “La Revue Wagnérienne”, acclaim the noble attitude of Nerval, Banville, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Catulle Mendès, Judith Gautier, who went on the pilgrimage to Bayreuth, speak about Garnier’s Opera which was due to be inaugurated on 5 January 1875, insisting that a French composer should be chosen for that occasion, failing which, he adds, “only one thing could be done : definitely take Tannhäuser and by an extraordinary display of glory avenge him for the insult formerly done in the name of France by about a hundred louts”, and the Poet adds, courageous but objective “an even more impossible solution, since the arms, since Alsace, since the blood !”
Concerning the theory of an esoteric interpretation of Wagner, dear to the occultist Symbolists, Mallarmé will keep prudently silent, but he accepts the one of the synthesis of the arts and their techniques and the one of correspondences. He will even go as far as adding that the renaissance of the theatre will come from dancing, dumb par excellence but directed by the poet whose poem will be written out between the dancer’s steps, thus realizing the synthesis of poetry and of music with the plastic vision. (Prélude à l’ après-midi d’ un Faune / Mallarmé / Debussy.)
Mallarmé will also recognize having used the “little” synthesis concerning the technical means of poetic expression, given that verse and prose, for example, have to fuse into one artistic whole “by subtle and infinite transitions” since Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard. (One throw of the dice will never abolish chance.) In addition he will often compose in the manner of Wagner, intertwining, as he intertwined his life, several themes not easy to distinguish. Was he not in other fields a literary critic, a music critic or even a railway critic : the station Saint-Lazare is “the most spiritual and the most parisian of all”, recommending also to visit the rocks of Pen’March or the cliffs of Etretat with the “Trains des Tempêtes” (Tempest Trains), in memory of the times when he himself spent his summer holidays near Brest, Boulogne or Dieppe from where he returned to London via Newhaven, or other holidays in the Limagne or in order to please Méry Laurent, a more or less blue Angel, he put on the local costume which d’Urfé’s contemporaries would have found more to their taste than did Geneviève, the poet’s own daughter : “For shame, that’s not nice !”
In fact, music would perhaps have corresponded better to Mallarmé’s ambitions than language since the Poet writes in Divagations : “Music joins the verse in order to form, since Wagner, poetry” and also “each soul is a melody which has to be re-attached.” The typographical arrangement of Un coup de dés... (One throw of the die...) approaches that of musical scores. Will not Mallarmé, translator of Edgar Allan Poe, on his personal ride to the Eldorado, put on the livery of Marasquin, of Miss Satin or of Madame de Ponty, recommending to his female readers to choose a corset at Bon Marché; Head-Taster for Brébant for gastronomy or that of Marliani, Interior- Decorator, prince of the salons; fine needlework which also helped him to acquire a modest sailing boat hardly comparable, of course, to the Thetis (or should one say The Flying Dutchman ?) which, in July 1839, took Wagner from Norway to Boulogne... It was certainly necessary to “feed the furnaces of the Great Work” !...
Final analogy Wagner/ Mallarmé in this dialogue “animus/ anima” : the women. Their names will be Schoeder-Devrient, Minna Planer, Mathilde Maier, Jessie Laussot, Cosima Liszt, Judith Gautier, Marie, Méry Laurent or Berthe Morisot whose fiery look in Manet’s canvas evokes the immortal Carmen of his neighbour Bizet, in Bougival; these inspiresses or muses surrounded by a pleiad of beaux esprits or artists without whom nothing would have been possible : Renoir, Degas, Monet, von Lenbach or others ; all at the same time and individually , all things considered and at the end of the quest, Kundry, Elsa, Elisabeth, or Isolde...
Here begins another story.
Claude d’Esplas (Les Merlufleaux)
Letter from Claude Monet to Caillebotte (Musée d’Orsay : Les Rochers de Belle Isle)
“I am in a land of superb savagery, a heap of terrible rocks and a sea of unlikely colours, anyhow I am very much taken by it, although I am finding it difficult, for I was used to painting the Channel and I had my routine necessarily, but the Ocean is quite another thing.” (1886)
Cf : Tristan et Iseut / Tristan & Isolt - Moscow IMA Press 1994 - Tristan und Isolde / ADG-Paris / Übersetzung : Dagmar Coward Kuschke - Tübingen
Translation : Dagmar Coward Kuschke (Tübingen)