I have granted myself some small relief. It is not merely pure malice when I praise Bizet in this essay at the expense of Wagner. Interspersed with many jokes, I bring up a matter that is no joke. To turn my back on Wagner was for me a fate; to like anything at all again after that, a triumph. Perhaps nobody was more dangerously bound up with Wagnerizing, nobody tried harder to resist it, nobody was happier to be rid of it. A long story!— You want a word for it?— If I were a moralist, who knows what I might call it! Perhaps self-overcoming.— But the philosopher has no love for moralists ... neither does he love pretty words ....
What does a philosopher demand of himself first and last? To overcome his time in himself, to become "timeless." With what must he therefore engage in the hardest combat? With whatever marks him as the child of his time. Well, then! I am, no less than Wagner, a child of this time, that is, a décadent: but I comprehended this, I resisted it. The philosopher in me resisted.
Nothing has preoccupied me more profoundly than the problem of décadence,—I had reasons. "Good and evil" is merely a variation of that problem. Once one has developed a keen eye for the symptoms of decline, one understands morality too,—one understands what is hiding under its most sacred names and value formulas: impoverished life, the will to the end, the great weariness. Morality negates life ... For such a task I required a special self-discipline:—to take sides against everything sick in me, including Wagner, including Schopenhauer, including all modern "humaneness."— A profound estrangement, cold, sobering up, against everything that is of this time, everything timely: and most desirable of all, the eye of Zarathustra, an eye that beholds the whole fact of man at a tremendous distance,—below ... For such a goal—what sacrifice would not be fitting? what "self-overcoming"! what "self-denial"!
My greatest experience was a recovery. Wagner is merely one of my sicknesses.
Not that I wish to be ungrateful to this sickness. When in this essay I assert the proposition that Wagner is harmful, I wish no less to assert for whom he is nevertheless indispensable—for the philosopher. Others may be able to get along without Wagner; but the philosopher is not free to do without Wagner. He has to be the bad conscience of his time,—for that he needs to understand it best. But confronted with the labyrinth of the modern soul, where could he find a guide more initiated, a more eloquent prophet of the soul, than Wagner? Through Wagner modernity speaks most intimately: concealing neither its good nor its evil, having forgotten all sense of shame. And conversely: one has almost completed an account of the value of what is modern once one has gained clarity about what is good and evil in Wagner.— I understand perfectly when a musician says today: "I hate Wagner, but I can no longer endure any other music." But I would also understand a philosopher who would declare: "Wagner sums up modernity. There is no way out, one must first become a Wagnerian ..."
Yesterday I heard—would you believe it?—Bizet's masterpiece, for the twentieth time. Again I stayed there with tender devotion, again I did not run away. This triumph over my impatience surprises me. How such a work makes one perfect! One becomes a "masterpiece" oneself.— And really, every time I heard Carmen I seemed to myself more of a philosopher, a better philosopher, than I generally consider myself: so patient do I become, so happy, so Indian, so settled ... To sit five hours: the first stage of holiness!— May I say that the tone of Bizet's orchestra is almost the only one I can still endure? That other orchestral tone which is now fashion, the Wagnerian, brutal, artificial, and "innocent" at the same time and thus it speaks all at once to the three senses of the modern soul,—how detrimental to me is this Wagnerian orchestral tone! I call it scirocco. I break out into a disagreeable sweat. My good weather is gone. [In his annotations to Bizet's score, Nietzsche described the music as "a breeze from Epicurus' garden." See "Nietzsche's Marginal Glosses to Georges Bizet's Carmen." In: Friedrich Nietzsche in Words and Pictures. Appendix 2: Chronology of Nietzsche's Music. The Nietzsche Channel, 2012: 121-145 (127).]
This music seems perfect to me. It approaches lightly, supplely, politely. It is pleasant, it does not sweat. "What is good is light, whatever is divine moves on tender feet": first principle of my aesthetics. This music is evil, subtle, fatalistic: at the same time it remains popular—its subtlety belongs to a race, not to an individual. It is rich. It is precise. It builds, organizes, finishes: thus it constitutes the opposite of the polyp in music, the "infinite melody." Have more painful tragic accents ever been heard on the stage? And how they are achieved! Without grimaces! Without counterfeit! Without the lie of the great style!— Finally: this music treats the listener as intelligent, even as a musician,—who is also, because of this, the counterpart of Wagner, who was, whatever else he was, at any rate the most impolite genius in the world (Wagner treats us as if— —, he says something so often, till one despairs, till one believes it).
And once more: I become a better human being when this Bizet speaks to me. Also a better musician, a better listener. Is it even possible to listen better?— I actually bury my ears under this music to hear its causes. It seems to me I experience its genesis—I tremble before dangers that accompany some risk, I am delighted by strokes of good fortune of which Bizet is innocent.— And how odd! deep down I don't think of it, or don't know how much I think about it. For entirely different thoughts are meanwhile running through my head ... Has it been noticed that music liberates the spirit? gives wings to thought? that one becomes more of a philosopher the more one becomes a musician?— The gray sky of abstraction rent as if by lightning; the light strong enough for the filigree of things; the great problems near enough to grasp; the world surveyed as from a mountain.— I have just defined the pathos of philosophy.— And unexpectedly answers drop into my lap, a little hail of ice and wisdom, of solved problems ... Where am I?— Bizet makes me fertile. Whatever is good makes me fertile. I have no other gratitude, nor do I have any other proof for what is good. —
This work, too, redeems; Wagner is not the only "redeemer." With this work one takes leave of the damp north, of all the steam of the Wagnerian ideal. Even the plot spells redemption from that. From Mérimée it still has the logic in passion, the shortest line, the harsh necessity; above all, it has what goes with the torrid zone, the dryness of the air, the limpidezza [limpidity, clarity] in the air. Here, in every respect, the climate is changed. Another sensuality, another sensibility speaks here, another cheerfulness. This music is cheerful; but not from a French or German cheerfulness. Its cheerfulness is African; fate hangs over it, its happiness is brief, sudden, without pardon. I envy Bizet for having had the courage for this sensibility which had hitherto had no language in the cultivated music of Europe,—for this more southern, browner, more burnt sensibility ... How the yellow afternoons of its happiness do us good! During it, we look into the distance: did we ever find the sea smoother?— And how soothingly the Moorish dance speaks to us! How even our insatiability for once gets to know satiety in this lascivious melancholy!— Finally love, love translated back into nature! Not the love of a "higher virgin"! No Senta-sentimentality! [Senta: the heroine of Wagner's Flying Dutchman] But love as fatum, as fatality, cynical, innocent, cruel—and precisely in this a piece of nature! That love which is war in its means, and at bottom the deadly hatred of the sexes!— I know no case where the tragic joke that constitutes the essence of love is expressed so strictly, turned into so terrifying a formula, as in Don José's last cry, which concludes the work:
"— Such a conception of love (the only one worthy of a philosopher—) is rare: it raises a work of art above thousands. For on the average, artists do what all the world does, even worse—they misunderstand love. Wagner, too, misunderstood it. They believe one becomes selfless in love because one desires the advantage of another person, often against one's own advantage. But in return for that they want to possess the other person ... Even God does not constitute an exception at this point. He is far from thinking, "What is it to you if I love you?"—he becomes terrible when one does not love him in return. L'amour—this saying remains true among gods and men—est de tous les sentiments le plus égoïste, et par conséquent, lorsqu'il est blessé, le moins généreux. (B. Constant.) [Love is of all sentiments the most egoistic, and, as a consequence, when it is wounded, the least generous. From Benjamin Constant's Adolphe, Chapter 6: "Je voulus réveiller sa générosité, comme si l'amour n'était pas de tous les sentiments le plus égoïste, et, par conséquent, lorsqu'il est blessé, le moins généreux." (I tried to appeal to her generosity, as if, of all the emotions, love were not the most egoistic and, consequently, when it is wounded, the least generous.)]
You begin to see how much this music improves me?— Il faut méditerraniser la musique [music should be Mediterraneanized]: I have reasons for this formula (Beyond Good and Evil, p. 220 [§255]). The return to nature, health, cheerfulness, youth, virtue!— And yet I was one of the most corrupted Wagnerians ... I was capable of taking Wagner seriously ... Ah this old magician! how much he imposed upon us! The first thing his art offers us is a magnifying glass: one looks through it, one does not trust one's own eyes—everything looks big, even Wagner ... What a clever rattlesnake! It has filled our whole life with its rattling about "devotion," about "loyalty," about "purity," with its praise of chastity it withdrew from the corrupted world!— And we believed it in all these things ...
— But you do not hear me? You, too, prefer Wagner's problem to Bizet's? I, too, do not underestimate it, it has it's peculiar magic. The problem of redemption is certainly a venerable problem. There is nothing about which Wagner has thought more deeply than redemption: his opera is the opera of redemption. Somebody or other always wants to be redeemed in his work: one moment a young man, the next a young woman—this is his problem.— And how richly he varies his leitmotif! What rare, what profound modulations [Ausweichungen]! Who if not Wagner would teach us that innocence has a preference for redeeming interesting sinners? (The case in Tannhäuser.) Or that even the eternal Jew is redeemed, settles down, when he marries? (The case in the Flying Dutchman.) Or that old corrupted females prefer to be redeemed by chaste young men? (The case of Kundry.) Or that beautiful maidens love best to be redeemed by a knight who is a Wagnerian? (The case in the Meistersinger.) Or that even married women like to be redeemed by a knight? (The case of Isolde.) Or that "the old God," after having compromised himself morally in every respect, is at last redeemed by a free spirit and immoralist? (The case in the "Ring.") Admire especially this last profundity! Do you understand it? I—guard against understanding it ... That it is possible to draw yet other lessons from the works above mentioned, I am much more ready to prove than to dispute. That one may be driven by a Wagnerian ballet to desperation—and to virtue! (Once again the case in Tannhäuser.) That not going to bed at the right time may be followed by the worst consequences (once again the case of Lohengrin). That one can never be too sure of the spouse one actually marries (for the third time, the case of Lohengrin).— Tristan and Isolde glorifies the perfect husband who, in a certain case, can ask only one question: "But why have you not told me this before? Nothing could be simpler than that!" Answer:
Lohengrin contains a solemn ban upon all investigation and questioning. In this way Wagner stood for the Christian concept, "Thou must and shalt believe." It is a crime against the highest and the holiest to be scientific ... The Flying Dutchman preaches the sublime doctrine that woman makes even the most restless man stable [das Weib auch den Unstätesten festmacht], to put it in Wagnerian terms, "redeems." Here we venture to ask a question. Supposing that this were true, would it therefore be desirable?— What becomes of the "eternal Jew" whom a female adores and makes stable [festmacht]? He merely ceases to be eternal; he marries, he concerns us no longer.— Translated into reality: the danger for the artist, for the genius—and these are of course the "eternal Jews"—resides in the female: adoring females are their ruin. Scarcely anyone has sufficient character not to be corrupted—"redeemed" when he finds himself treated as a God:—he then immediately condescends to the female.— Man is cowardly in the face of all that is eternally feminine: the little women know that.— In many cases of woman's love, and perhaps precisely in the most famous ones, love is no more than a refined form of parasitism, a making one's nest in another's soul, sometimes even in another's flesh—oh! how constantly at the expense of the "host"! — —
We know the fate of Goethe in old-maidish moraline-corroded Germany. He was always offensive to Germans, he found honest admirers only among Jewesses. Schiller, "noble" Schiller, who cried grand words into their ears—he was after their own heart. What did they reproach Goethe with? With the "Mount of Venus"; and with having composed Venetian epigrams. Even Klopstock preached him a moral sermon; there was a time when Herder was fond of using the word "Priapus" when he spoke of Goethe. Even Wilhelm Meister was only considered as a symptom of decline, as a moral "going to the dogs." The "menagerie of tame cattle," the "worthlessness" of the hero in this book revolted, for example, Niebuhr: who finally burst out in a lament which Biterolf might well have sung: "Nothing so easily makes a painful impression as when a great mind deprives itself of its wings and strives for its virtuosity in something greatly inferior, while it renounces the higher" ... But the most indignant of all was the higher maiden: all small courts, all kinds of "Wartburgs" in Germany made the sign of the cross at the sight of Goethe, at the "unclean spirit" in Goethe.— This history was what Wagner set to music. He redeems Goethe, that goes without saying; but he does so in such a clever way that he also takes the side of the higher maiden. Goethe gets redeemed:—a prayer redeems him, a higher maiden draws him upward ...
— What Goethe might have thought of Wagner?— Goethe once asked himself what danger threatened all romantics: the fatality of romanticism. His answer was: "suffocating of the rumination of moral and religious absurdities." [Goethe, Letter to Karl Friedrich Zelter, Oct. 20, 1831: "Friedrich Schlegel finally suffocated from his rumination of ethical and religious absurdities which he would have liked to spread during the course of his uncomfortable life, wherefore he fled into Catholicism."] In brief: Parsifal— — The philosopher adds an epilogue to this. Holiness—perhaps the last thing the people and women still get to see of higher values, the horizon of the ideal for all who are by nature myopic. But among philosophers this is, like every horizon, a mere case of lack of understanding, a sort of shutting the gate at the point where their world only begins—their danger, their ideal, their desirability ... To say it more politely: la philosophie ne suffit pas au grand nombre. Il lui faut la sainteté.— [Philosophy is not suited for the masses. What they need is holiness. From Ernst Renan's Histoire des origines du Christianisme. Livre premier. Vie de Jésus. Paris: Michel Lévy fréres: 1867, 467-468: "Par notre extrême délicatesse dans l'emploi des moyens de conviction, par notre sincérité absolue et notre amour désintéressé de l'idée pure, nous avons fondé, nous tous qui avons voué notre vie à la science, un nouvel idéal de moralité. Mais les appréciations de l'histoire générale ne doivent pas se renfermer dans des considérations de mérite personnel. Marc-Aurèle et ses nobles maîtres ont été sans action durable sur le monde. Marc-Aurèle laisse après lui des livres délicieux, un fils exécrable, un monde qui s'en va. Jésus reste pour l'humanité un principe inépuisable de renaissances morales. La philosophie ne suffit pas au grand nombre. Il lui faut la sainteté. Un Apollonis de Tyane, avec sa légende miraculous, devait avoir plus de succès qu'un Socrate, avec sa froide raison. 'Socrate,' disait-on, laisse les hommes sur la terre, Apollonius les transporte au ciel; Socrate n'est qu'un sage, Apollonius est un dieu.' La religion, jusqu'à nos jours, n'a pas existé sans une part d'ascétime, de piété, de merveilleux. Quand on voulet, après les Antonins, faire une religion de la philosphie, il fallut transformer les philosophes en saints, écrire la 'Vie édifiante' de Pythagore et de Plotin, leur prêter une légende, des vertus d'abstinence et de contemplation, des pouvoirs surnaturels, sans lesquels on ne trouvait près du siècle ni créance ni autorité." (By our extreme delicacy in the use of means of conviction, by our absolute sincerity and our disinterested love of the pure idea, we have founded—all we who have devoted our lives to science—a new ideal of morality. But the judgment of general history ought not to be restricted to considerations of personal merit. Marcus Aurelius and his noble teachers have had no permanent influence on the world. Marcus Aurelius left behind him delightful books, an execrable son, and a decaying nation. Jesus remains an inexhaustible principle of moral regeneration for humanity. Philosophy is not suited for the masses. What they need is holiness. An Apollonius of Tyana, with his miraculous legend, is necessarily more successful than a Socrates with his cold reason. 'Socrates,' it was said, 'leaves men on the earth, Apollonius transports them to heaven; Socrates is but a sage, Apollonius is a god.' [Philostratus, Life of Apollonius, i. 2, vii. 11, viii. 8, Unspius, Lives of the Sophists, 454, 500.] Religion, so far, has not existed without a share of asceticism, of piety, of the marvelous. When it was wished, after the Antonines, to make a religion of philosophy, it was requisite to transform the philosophers into saints, to write the 'edifying life' of Pythagoras or Plotinus, to attribute to them a legend, virtues of abstinence and contemplation, supernatural powers, without which neither credence nor authority were found in that age.) Cf. Nachlass, November 1887—März 1888 11 .]
— I shall relate the story of the "Ring." It belongs here. It, too, is a story of redemption: only this time it is Wagner who is redeemed.— Half his life, Wagner believed in the Revolution as much as ever a Frenchman believed in it. He searched for it in the runic writing of myth, he believed that in Siegfried he had found the typical revolutionary.— "Whence comes all misfortune in the world?" Wagner asked himself. From "old contracts," he answered, like all revolutionary ideologists. In plain language: from customs, laws, moralities, institutions, from everything on which the old world, the old society rests. "How can one rid the world of misfortune? How can one abolish the old society?" Only by declaring war against "contracts" (tradition, morality). This is what Siegfried does. He starts early, very early: his very genesis is a declaration of war against morality—he comes into this world through adultery, through incest ... It is not the saga but Wagner who invented this radical trait; at this point he revised the saga ... Siegfried continues as he has begun: he merely follows his first impulse, he overthrows everything traditional, all reverence, all fear. Whatever displeases him he stabs to death. Without the least respect, he tackles old deities. But his main enterprise aims to emancipate woman—"to redeem Brunhilde" ... Siegfried and Brunhilde; the sacrament of free love; the rise of the golden age; the twilight of the gods for the old morality—all ill has been abolished ... For a long time, Wagner's ship followed this course merrily. No doubt, this was where Wagner sought his highest goal.— What happened? A misfortune. The ship struck a reef; Wagner was stuck. The reef was Schopenhauer's philosophy; Wagner was stranded on a contrary world view. What had he transposed into music? Optimism. Wagner was ashamed. Even an optimism for which Schopenhauer had coined an evil epithet—infamous [Ruchlos] optimism. He was ashamed a second time. He reflected for a long while, his situation seemed desperate ... Finally, a way out dawned on him: the reef on which he was shipwrecked, what if he interpreted it as the goal, as the secret intent, as the true significance of his voyage? To be shipwrecked here—that was a goal, too. Bene navigavi, cum naufragium feci ["When I suffer shipwreck, I have navigated well." Cf. Zeno the Stoic in Diogenes Laertius' Lives of the Famous Philosophers. Quoted in Schopenhauer's Parerga und Paralipomena, 1, 216: "Belief in a special providence, or else in a supernatural guidance of the events in an individual's life, has at all times been universally popular, and even with thinkers who are averse to all superstition it is occasionally found firm and unshaken and entirely unconnected with any definite dogmas. Opposed to it in the first place is the fact that, like all belief in a God, it has sprung not really from knowledge, but from the will; thus it is primarily the offspring of our miserable state. The data for this, which might have been furnished merely by knowledge, could perhaps be traced to the fact that chance which plays us a hundred cruel and maliciously contrived tricks, does sometimes turn out particularly favourable to us, or indirectly ministers to our great benefit. In all such cases, we recognize therein the hand of providence and this most clearly when it has led us to a fortunate destiny against our own insight and even in ways that we abominate. We then say tune bene navigavi, cuni naufragium feci, and the contrast between choice and guidance becomes unmistakably clear, but at the same time in favour of the latter. For this reason, when we meet with misfortunes, we console ourselves with that short maxim that is often proved true 'who knows it may be some good?' This has really sprung from the view that, although chance rules the world, error is nevertheless its co-regent, since we are as much subject to the one as to the other. Perhaps the very thing that now seems to us a misfortune is a blessing. Thus we shun the blows of one world-tyrant and rush to the other in that we turn from chance and appeal to error. Apart from this, however, to attribute to pure evident chance a purpose or intention is an idea of unparalleled audacity. Yet I believe that everyone has had at least once in his life a vivid conception of it. It is found among all races and in all faiths, although it is most marked among the Mohammedans. It is an idea that can be the absurdest or profoundest according as it is understood. Nevertheless, striking as the instances may at times be whereby it could be supported, there is always the standing objection to them that it would be the greatest marvel if chance never watched over our affairs as well as, or even better than, our understanding and insight could have done. Without exception everything that happens takes place with strict necessity and this is a truth to be understood a priori and consequently to be regarded as irrefutable; here I will call it demonstrable fatalism." Trans. by Eric F. J. Payne, Parerga and Paralipomena, Vol. I, "Transcendent Speculation on the Apparent Deliberateness in the Fate of the Individual," 202 (Oxford Press: Oct. 2001).] ... So he translated the "Ring" into Schopenhauerian terms. Everything goes wrong, everything perishes, the new world is as bad as the old:—the nothing, the Indian Circe beckons ... Brunhilde was initially supposed to take her farewell with a song in honor of free love, putting off the world with the hope for a socialist utopia in which "all turns out well," but now gets something else to do. She has to study Schopenhauer first; she has to transpose the fourth book of "The World as Will and Representation" into verse. Wagner was redeemed ... In all seriousness, this was a redemption. The benefit Schopenhauer conferred on Wagner is immeasurable. Only the philosopher of décadence gave to the artist of décadence himself — —
To the artist of décadence—there we have the crucial words. And here my seriousness begins. I am far from looking on guilelessly while this décadent corrupts our health—and music as well! Is Wagner a human being at all? Isn't he rather a sickness? He makes sick whatever he touches,—he has made music sick —
A typical décadent who has a sense of necessity in his corrupted taste, who claims it as a higher taste, who knows how to get his corruption accepted as law, as progress, as fulfillment.
And he is not resisted. His seductive force increases tremendously, smoke clouds of incense surround him, the misunderstandings about him are called "gospel"—he has not by any means converted only the poor in spirit!
I feel the urge to open the windows a little. Air! More air! — —
That people in Germany should deceive themselves about Wagner does not surprise me. The opposite would surprise me. The Germans have constructed a Wagner for themselves whom they can revere: they have never been psychologists, their gratitude consists in misunderstanding. But that people in Paris, too, deceive themselves about Wagner! though there they are hardly anything anymore except psychologists. And in St. Petersburg! where they guess things that aren't guessed even in Paris. How closely related Wagner must be to the whole of European décadence to avoid being experienced by them as a décadent! He belongs to it: he is its protagonist, its greatest name ... One honors oneself when raising him to the clouds.— For that one does not resist him, this itself is a sign of décadence. The instincts are weakened. What one ought to shun is found attractive. One puts to one's lips what drives one yet faster into the abyss.— Is an example desired? One only need observe the régime [regimen] that those suffering from anemia or gout or diabetes prescribe for themselves. Definition of a vegetarian: one who requires a corroborant diet. To sense that what is harmful is harmful, to be able to forbid oneself something harmful, is a sign of youth and vitality. The exhausted are attracted by what is harmful: the vegetarian by vegetables. Sickness itself can be a stimulant to life: only one has to be healthy enough for this stimulant!— Wagner increases exhaustion: that is why he attracts the weak and exhausted. Oh the rattlesnake-happiness of the old master when he always saw precisely "the little children" coming unto him! —
I place this point of view at the outset: Wagner's art is sick. The problems he presents on the stage—all of them problems of hysterics—, the convulsive nature of his affects, his overexcited sensibility, his taste that required even stronger spices, his instability which he dressed up as principles, not least of all the choices of his heroes and heroines, consider them as psychological types (—a pathological gallery!—): all of this taken together represents a profile of sickness that permits no further doubt. Wagner est une névrose. [Wagner is a neurosis. Cf. Henri Joly, Psychologie des grands hommes. Paris: Hachette, 1883, XII: "La formule d’un éminent aliéniste: 'le génie est une névrose' date déjà d’une époque relativement éloignée" (The formula of an eminent alienist: 'genius is a neurosis' dates back to a relatively remote era.) The "eminent alienist" referred to by Joly is Jacques-Joseph Moreau (1804–1884), author of La psychologie morbide dans ses rapports avec la philosophie de l’histoire ou de l’influence des névropathies sur le dynamisme intellectuel. Paris: Masson, 1859. See page 464: "Le génie, c'est-à-dire la plus haute expression, le nec plus ultra de l'activité intellectuelle, qu'une névrose? Pourquoi non? On peut très-bien, ce nous semble, accepter cette définition, en n'attachant pas au mot névrose un sens aussi absolu que lorsqu'il s'agit de modalités différentes des organes nerveux, en en faisant simplement le synonyme d'exaltation (nous ne disons pas trouble, perturbation) des facultés intellectuelles." (The genius, i.e., the highest expression, the nec plus ultra of intellectual activity, a neurosis? Why not? One may very well, it seems to us, accept this definition while not attaching meaning to the word neurosis in an absolute sense in the case of different nerve organs by simply making it synonymous with exaltation (we do not say disorder, disturbance) of the intellectual faculties.)); 75.] Perhaps nothing is better known today, at least nothing has been better studied than the Protean character of degenerescence [Degenerescenz] that here conceals itself in the chrysalis of art and artist. Our physicians and physiologists confront their most interesting case in Wagner, at least a very complete case. Precisely because nothing is more modern than this total sickness, this lateness and overexcitement of the nervous mechanism [Maschinerie], Wagner is the modern artist par excellence, the Cagliostro of modernity. In his art all that the modern world requires most urgently is mixed in the most seductive manner,—the three great stimulantia of the exhausted, the brutal, the artificial and the innocent (idiotic).
Wagner represents a great corruption of music. He has guessed that it is a means to excite weary nerves,—and with that he has made music sick. His inventiveness is not inconsiderable in the art of goading again those who are weariest, calling back into life those who are half-dead. He is a master of hypnotic tricks, he manages to throw down the strongest like bulls. Wagner's success—his success with nerves and consequently with women—has turned the whole world of ambitious musicians into disciples of his secret art. And not only the ambitious, the clever, too ... Only sick music makes money today; our big theaters subsist on Wagner.
— Once more I will venture to indulge in a little levity. Let us suppose that Wagner's success could become flesh and blood and assume a human form; that, dressed up as a good-natured musical savant, it could move among budding artists. How do you think it would then be likely to express itself? —
My friends, it would say, let us exchange a word or two in private. It is easier to compose bad music than good music. Yet, what if it were more profitable, too? more effective, more persuasive, more inspiring, more reliable? more Wagnerian? ... Pulchrum est paucorum hominum. [Pulchrum est paucorum hominum: "Beauty is for the few." Cf. Horace, Satires, 1, 9, 44: "paucorum hominum et mentis bene sanae" (He's a man of sound mind and few friends). See also Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, 2, Preface to the First Edition: "wie man denn, frägt der entrüstete Leser, zu Ende kommen solle, wenn man mit einem Buche so umständlich zu Werke gehen müßte? Da ich gegen solche Vorwürfe nicht das Mindeste vorzubringen habe, hoffe ich nur auf einigen Dank bei diesen Lesern dafür, daß ich sie bei Zeiten gewarnt habe, damit sie keine Stunde verlieren mit einem Buche, dessen Durchlesung ohne Erfüllung der gemachten Forderungen nicht fruchten könnte und daher ganz zu unterlassen ist, zumal da auch sonst gar Vieles zu wetten, daß es ihnen nicht zusagen kann, daß es vielmehr immer nur paucorum hominum sehn wird und daher gelassen und bescheiden auf die Wenigen warten muß, deren ungewöhnliche Denkungsart es genießbar fände." (How are we to reach the end, asks the indignant reader, if we must set to work on a book with so much trouble and detail? As I have not the least thing to say in reply to such reproaches, I hope only for some gratitude from such readers for having warned them in time, so that they may not waste an hour on a book which it would be useless for them to read unless they complied with the demands I make, and which is therefore to be left alone, especially as on other grounds one could wager a great deal that it can say nothing to them, but on the contrary will always be only paucorum hominum, and must therefore wait in calm and modesty for the few whose unusual mode of thought might find it readable.) The phrase is also the title of aphorism 118 in Mixed Opinions and Maxims: "Pulchrum est paucorum hominum. — History and experience tell us that the monstrosity which secretly rouses the imagination and bears it beyond actuality and the everyday is older and of more abundant growth than the beautiful and the cult of beauty in art—and that if the sense for the beautiful grows dim it at once breaks exuberantly out again. It seems that the great majority of men have greater need of it than they do of the beautiful: no doubt because it contains a stronger narcotic."] Bad enough! We understand Latin, perhaps we also understand our own advantage. Beauty has its drawbacks [Das Schöne hat seinen Haken]: we know that. Wherefore beauty then? Why not rather the large-scale, the sublime, the gigantic, that which moves masses?— And once more: it is easier to be gigantic than to be beautiful; we know that ...
We know the masses, we know the theater. The best of those who sit there, German youths, horned Siegfrieds and other Wagnerians, require the sublime, the profound, and the overwhelming. That much we are capable of. And as for the others who sit there, the culture-cretins, the petty snobs, the eternally feminine, those with a happy digestion, in short the people—they also require the sublime, the profound, the overwhelming. They all have the same logic. "Whoever stuns us is strong; whoever elevates us is divine; whoever makes us wonder vaguely [wer uns ahnen macht] is profound."— Let us make up our mind then, my friends in music: we do want to stun them, we do want to elevate them, we do want to make them wonder vaguely [wir wollen sie ahnen machen]. That much we are capable of.
In regard to the process of making them wonder [Was das Ahnen-machen betrifft]: it is here that our notion of "style" finds its starting point. Above all, no thoughts! Nothing is more compromising than a thought! But the state of mind which precedes thought, the labor of the thought still unborn, the promise of future thought, the world as it was before God created it—a recrudescence of chaos ... Chaos makes people wonder [Das Chaos macht ahnen]...
In the words of the master: infinity but without melody.
In the second place, with regard to the overthrowing, this belongs at least in part to physiology. Let us, in the first place, examine the instruments. A few of them would convince even our intestines (—they throw open doors, as Handel would say), others becharm our very marrow. The color of the melody is all-important here; what sounds is of no importance. Let us be precise about this point! To what other purpose should we spend our strength? Let us be characteristic in tone even to the point of foolishness! If by means of tones we allow plenty of scope for guessing, this will be put to the credit of our intellects! Let us irritate nerves, let us strike them dead, let us handle thunder and lightning—that is what overthrows ...
But what overthrows best is passion.— We must try and be clear concerning this question of passion. Nothing is cheaper than passion! All the virtues of counterpoint may be dispensed with, there is no need to have learnt anything—but passion is always within our reach! Beauty is difficult: let us beware of beauty! ... And also of melody! Let us slander, my friends, let us slander, however much in earnest we may otherwise be about the ideal, let us slander melody! Nothing is more dangerous than a beautiful melody! Nothing is more certain to ruin taste! My friends, if people again set about loving beautiful melodies, we are lost! ...
Principle: melody is immoral. Proof: Palestrina. Application: Parsifal. The absence of melody is in itself sanctifying ...
And this is the definition of passion. Passion—or the acrobatic feats of ugliness on the tightrope of enharmonic.— My friends, let us dare to be ugly! Wagner dared it! Let us heave the mud of the most repulsive harmonies undauntedly before us! We must not even spare our hands! Only thus will we become natural ...
A last word of advice! Perhaps it covers everything—Let us be idealists!— If not the cleverest, it is at least the wisest thing we can do. In order to elevate men we ourselves must be exalted. Let us wander in the clouds, let us harangue eternity, let us be careful to group great symbols all around us! Sursum! Bumbum!—there is no better advice. The "heaving breast" shall be our argument, "beautiful feelings" our advocates. Virtue still carries its point against counterpoint. "How could he who improves us, help being better than we?" man has ever thought thus. Let us therefore improve mankind!—in this way we shall become good (in this way we shall even become "classics":—Schiller became a "classic"). The straining after the base excitement of the senses, after so-called beauty, shattered the nerves of the Italians: let us remain Germans! Even Mozart's relation to music—Wagner spoke this word of comfort to us!—was at bottom frivolous ... Never let us acknowledge that music "may be a recreation"; that it may "enliven"; that it may "give pleasure." Never let us give pleasure!—we shall be lost if people once again think of music hedonistically ... That belongs to the bad eighteenth century ... On the other hand, nothing would be more advisable (between ourselves) than a dose of—cant, sit venia verbo. This imparts dignity.— And let us take care to select the precise moment when it would be fitting to have black looks, to sigh openly, to sigh like a Christian, to flaunt grand Christian sympathy before their eyes. "Man is corrupt: who will redeem him? what will redeem him?" Do not let us reply. We must be on our guard. We must control our ambition, which would bid us found new religions. But no one must doubt that it is we who redeem him, that in our music alone redeems ... (See Wagner's essay, "Religion and Art.")
Enough! Enough! I fear that, beneath all my merry jests, you are beginning to recognize the sinister truth only too clearly—the picture of the decline of art, of the decline of the artist. The latter, which is a decline of character, might perhaps be defined provisionally in the following manner: the musician is now becoming an actor, his art is developing ever more and more into a talent for telling lies. I shall have the opportunity (in a chapter of my principal work which bears the title "Concerning the Physiology of Art") of showing more thoroughly how this transformation of art as a whole into histrionics is just as much a sign of physiological degenerescence (or more precisely a form of hysteria), as any other individual corruption, and infirmity peculiar to the art which Wagner inaugurated: for example the restlessness of its optics, which makes it necessary to change one's attitude to it every second. They understand nothing of Wagner who see in him but a sport of nature, an arbitrary mood, a chapter of accidents. He was not the "defective," "ill-fated," "contradictory" genius that people have declared him to be. Wagner was something complete, he was a typical décadent, in whom every sign of "free will" was lacking, in whom every feature was necessary. If there is anything at all of interest in Wagner, it is the consistency with which a critical physiological condition may convert itself, step by step, conclusion after conclusion, into a method, a form of procedure, a reform of all principles, a crisis in taste.
For the present I merely dwell on the question of style.— What is the sign of every literary décadence? That life no longer dwells in the whole. The word becomes sovereign and leaps out of the sentence, the sentence reaches out and obscures the meaning of the page, the page gains life at the expense of the whole—the whole is no longer a whole. But this is the simile of every style of décadence: every time, the anarchy of atoms, disintegration of the will, "freedom of the individual," to use moral terms,—expanded into a political theory, "equal rights for all." Life, equal vitality, the vibration and exuberance of life pushed back into the smallest forms, the rest poor in life. Everywhere paralysis, arduousness, torpidity or hostility and chaos: both more and more obvious the higher one ascends in forms of organization. The whole no longer lives at all: it is composite, calculated, artificial, an artifact. —
Wagner begins from a hallucination: not of sounds but of gestures. Then he seeks the semiotics of sounds for them. If one would admire him, one should watch him at work at this point: how he separates, how he gains small units, how he animates these, severs them, makes them visible. But this exhausts his strength: the rest is no good. How paltry, awkward, and amateurish is his manner of "developing," his attempt at combining incompatible parts! His manner in this respect reminds one of two people who even in other ways are not unlike him in style, the brothers Goncourt: one almost feels compassion for so much impotence. That Wagner disguised as a principle his incapacity for giving organic form, that he establishes a "dramatic style" where we merely establish his incapacity for any style whatever, this is in line with a bold habit that accompanied Wagner through his whole life: he posits a principle where he lacks a capacity (—very different in this respect, incidentally, from the old Kant who preferred a different boldness: wherever he lacked a principle he posited a special human "capacity" [ein "Vermögen" dafür im Menschen anzusetzen] ...). Once more: Wagner is admirable and gracious only in the invention of what is smallest, in spinning out the details,—here one is entirely justified in proclaiming him a master of the first rank, as our greatest miniaturist in music who crowds into the smallest space an infinity of sense and sweetness. His wealth of colors, of half shadows, of the secrecies of dying light spoils one to such an extent that afterward almost all other musicians seem too robust.— If one would believe me one should have to derive the highest conception of Wagner not from what is liked about him today. That has been invented to persuade the masses, from that we recoil as from all too impudent fresco. Of what concern to us is the agaçant [provocative] brutality of the Tannhäuser Overture. Or the circus of Walküre? Whatever of Wagner's music has become popular also apart from the theater shows dubious taste and corrupts taste. The Tannhäuser March I suspect of bonhommerie [Biedermännerei]; the overture of The Flying Dutchman is noise about nothing; the Lohengrin Prelude furnished the first example, only too insidious, only too successful, how one hypnotizes with music (—I do not like whatever music has no ambition beyond persuasion of the nerves). But quite apart from the magnétiseur [hypnotist] and fresco-painter Wagner, there is another Wagner who lays aside small gems: our greatest melancholiac in music, full of glances, tendernesses and comforting words in which nobody has anticipated him, the master in tones of a lugubrious and drowsy happiness ... A lexicon of Wagner's most intimate words, all of them short things of five to fifteen measures, all of it music nobody knows ... Wagner has the virtue of décadents, pity — — —
— "Very good! But how can this décadent spoil one's taste if perchance one is not a musician, if perchance one is not oneself a décadent?"— Conversely! How can one help it! Just you try it!— You know not what Wagner is: quite a great actor! Does a more profound, a more ponderous influence exist on the stage? Just look at these youths—all benumbed, pale, breathless! They are Wagnerians: they know nothing about music—and yet Wagner gets the mastery of them. Wagner's art presses with the weight of a hundred atmospheres: do but submit, there is nothing else to do .... Wagner the actor is a tyrant, his pathos flings all taste, all resistance, to the winds.— Who else has this persuasive power in his attitudes so clearly before anything else! This holding-of-its-breath in Wagnerian pathos, this disinclination to have done with an intense feeling, this terrifying habit of dwelling on a situation in which every instant almost chokes one! — —
Was Wagner a musician at all? In any case he was something else to a much greater degree—that is to say, an incomparable histrio, the greatest mime, the most astounding theatrical genius that the Germans have ever had, our scenic artist par excellence. He belongs to some other sphere than the history of music, with whose really great and genuine figure he must not be confounded. Wagner and Beethoven—this is blasphemy—and above all it does not do justice even to Wagner .... As a musician he was no more than what he was as a man: he became a musician, he became a poet, because the tyrant in him, his actor's genius, drove him to be both. Nothing is known concerning Wagner, so long as his dominating instinct has not been divined.
Wagner was not instinctively a musician. And this he proved by the way in which he abandoned all laws and rules, or, in more precise terms, all style in music, in order to make what he wanted with it, i.e., a rhetorical medium for the stage, a medium of expression, a means of accentuating an attitude, a vehicle of suggestion and of the psychologically picturesque. In this department Wagner may well stand as an inventor and an innovator of the first order—he increased the powers of speech of music to an incalculable degree—: he is the Victor Hugo of music as language, provided always we allow that under certain circumstances music may be something which is not music, but speech—instrument—ancilla dramaturgica [handmaiden of drama]. Wagner's music, not in the tender care of theatrical taste, which is very tolerant, is simply bad music, perhaps the worst that has ever been composed. When a musician can no longer count up to three, he becomes "dramatic," he becomes "Wagnerian" ...
Wagner almost discovered the magic which can be wrought even now by means of music which is both incoherent and elementary. His consciousness of this attains to huge proportions, as does also his instinct to dispense entirely with higher law and style. The elementary factors—sound, movement, color, in short, the whole sensuousness of music—suffice. Wagner never calculates as a musician with a musician's conscience: all he strains after is effect, nothing more than effect. And he knows what he has to make an effect upon!— In this he is as unhesitating as Schiller was, as any theatrical man must be; he has also the latter's contempt for the world which he brings to its knees before him. A man is an actor when he is ahead of mankind in his possession of this one view, that everything which has to strike people as true, must not be true. This rule was formulated by Talma: it contains the whole psychology of the actor, it also contains—and this we need not doubt—all his morality. Wagner's music is never true.
— But it is supposed to be so: and thus everything is as it should be.—
As long as we are young, and Wagnerians into the
bargain, we regard Wagner as rich, even as the model of a
prodigal giver, even as a great landlord in the realm of
sound. We admire him in very much the same way as young
Frenchmen admire Victor Hugo—that is to say, for his
"royal liberality." Later on we admire the one
as well as the other for the opposite reason: as masters
and paragons in economy, as prudent hosts. Nobody
can equal them in the art of providing a princely board
with such a modest outlay.— The Wagnerian, with his
credulous stomach, is even sated with the fare which his
master conjures up before him. We others who, in books as
in music, desire above all to find substance, and
who are scarcely satisfied with the mere
"representation" of a banquet, are much worse
off. In plain language: Wagner does not give us enough to
masticate. His recitativo—very little meat,
more bones, and plenty of broth—I christened "alla
genovese": I had no intention of flattering the
Genoese with this remark, but rather the older recitativo,
the recitativo secco. And as to Wagnerian
leitmotif, I fear I lack the necessary culinary
understanding for it. If hard pressed, I might say that I
regard it perhaps as an ideal toothpick, as an
opportunity of ridding oneself of what remains of
one's meal. Wagner's "arias" are
still left over.— And now I shall hold my tongue.
Even in his general sketch of the action, Wagner is above all an actor. The first thing that occurs to him is a scene which is certain to produce a strong effect, a real actio [Note] with a basso-relievo of attitudes; an overwhelming scene, this he now proceeds to elaborate more deeply, and out of it he draws his characters. The whole of what remains to be done follows of itself, fully in keeping with a technical economy which has no reason to be subtle. It is not Corneille's public that Wagner has to consider, it is merely the nineteenth century. Concerning the "actual requirements of the stage" Wagner would have about the same opinion as any other actor of today, a series of powerful scenes, each stronger than the one that preceded it—and, in between, all kinds of clever nonsense. His first concern is to guarantee the effect of his work; he begins with the third act, he approves his work according to the quality of its final effect. Guided by this sort of understanding of the stage, there is not much danger of one's creating a drama unawares. Drama demands inexorable logic: but what did Wagner care about logic? Again I say, it was not Corneille's public that he had to consider; but merely Germans! Everybody knows the technical difficulties before which the dramatist often has to summon all his strength and frequently to sweat his blood: the difficulty of making the plot seem necessary and the unravelment as well, so that both are conceivable only in a certain way, and so that each may give the impression of freedom (the principle of the smallest expenditure of energy). Now the very last thing that Wagner does is to sweat blood over the plot; and on this and the unravelment he certainly spends the smallest possible amount of energy. Let anybody put one of Wagner's "plots" under the microscope, and I wager that he will be forced to laugh. Nothing is more enlivening than the dilemma in "Tristan," unless it be that in the "Mastersingers." Wagner is no dramatist; let nobody be deceived on this point. All he did was to love the word "drama"—he always loved fine words. Nevertheless, in his writings the word "drama" is merely a misunderstanding (—and a piece of shrewdness: Wagner always affected superiority in regard to the word "opera"—), just as the word "spirit" is a misunderstanding in the New Testament.— He was not enough of a psychologist for drama; he instinctively avoided a psychological plot—but how?—by always putting idiosyncrasy in its place ... Very modern, eh? Very Parisian! very décadent! ... Incidentally, the plots that Wagner knows how to unravel with the help of dramatic inventions, are of quite another kind. For example, let us suppose that Wagner requires a female voice. A whole act without a woman's voice would be impossible! But in this particular instance not one of the heroines happens to be free. What does Wagner do? He emancipates the oldest woman on earth, Erda. "Step up, aged grandmamma! You have got to sing!" And Erda sings. Wagner's end has been achieved. Thereupon he immediately dismisses the old lady. "Why on earth did you come? Off with you! Kindly go to sleep again!" In short, a scene full of mythological awe, before which the Wagnerian wonders all kinds of things ...
— "But the substance of Wagner's texts! their mythical substance, their eternal substance!"— Question: how is this substance, this eternal substance tested?— The chemical analyst replies: translate Wagner into the real, into the modern—let us be even more cruel! into the bourgeois! With that, what becomes of Wagner?— Between ourselves, I have tried the experiment. Nothing is more entertaining, nothing more worthy of being recommended to a picnic-party, than to discuss Wagner dressed in a more modern garb: for instance Parsifal, as a candidate in divinity, with a public-school education (—the latter, quite indispensable for pure foolishness). What surprises await one! Would you believe it, that Wagner's heroines one and all, once they have been divested of the heroic husks, are almost indistinguishable from Madame Bovary!—just as one can conceive conversely, of Flaubert's being well able to transform all his heroines into Scandinavian or Carthaginian women, and then to offer them to Wagner in this mythologized form as a libretto. Indeed, generally speaking, Wagner does not seem to have become interested in any other problems than those which engross the little Parisian décadents of today. Always five paces away from the hospital! All very modern problems which are at home in big cities! do not doubt it! ... Have you noticed (it is in keeping with this association of ideas) that Wagner's heroines never have any children?— They cannot have them ... The despair with which Wagner tackled the problem of arranging in some way for Siegfried's birth, betrays how modern his feelings on this point actually were.— Siegfried "emancipated woman"—but not with any hope of offspring.— And now here is a fact which leaves us speechless: Parsifal is Lohengrin's father! How ever did he do it?— Ought one at this juncture to remember that "chastity works miracles"? ...
Wagnerus dixit princeps in castitate auctoritas. [Said by Wagner, the foremost authority on chastity.]
Note. It was a real disaster for aesthetics when the word drama got to be translated by "action." Wagner is not the only culprit here, the whole world does the same—even the philologist who ought to know better. What ancient drama had in view was grand pathetic scenes—it even excluded action (or placed it before the piece or behind the scenes). The word drama is of Doric origin, and according to the usage of the Dorian language it meant "event," "history"—both words in a hieratic sense. The oldest drama represented local legends, "sacred history," upon which the foundation of the cult rested (—thus it was not "action," but fatality: δράν [dran] in Doric has nothing to do with action).
And now just a word about Wagner's writings: they are among other things a school of shrewdness. The system of procedures of which Wagner dispose, might be applied to a hundred other cases—he that has ears to hear let him hear. Perhaps I may lay claim to some public acknowledgment, if I put three of the most valuable of these procedures into a precise form.
These three propositions are the quintessence of Wagner's literature; the rest is—"literature."
— Not every kind of music hitherto has been in need of literature; and it were well, to try and discover the actual reason of this. Is it perhaps that Wagner's music is too difficult to understand? Or did he fear precisely the reverse—that it was too easy—that people might not understand it with sufficient difficulty?— As a matter of fact, his whole life long, he did nothing but repeat one proposition: that his music did not mean music alone! But something more! Something immeasurably more! ... "Not music alone—no musician would speak in this way. I repeat, Wagner could not create things as a whole; he had no choice, he was obliged to create things in bits, with "motives," attitudes, formulae, duplications, and hundreds of repetitions, he remained a rhetorician in music—and that is why he was at bottom forced to press "this means" into the foreground. "Music can never be anything else than a means": this was his theory, but above all it was the only practice that lay open to him. [Cf. Richard Wagner, "Oper und Drama." In: Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen. Bd. 3. Leipzig: Fritzsch, 1872: 282. Cf. Schopenhauer's criticism, in Arthur Schopenhauer's sämmtliche Werke. Hrsg. von Julius Frauenstädt. Bd. 2, 1: Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung. Erster Band. Vier Bücher, nebst einem Anhange, der die Kritik der Kantischen Philosophie enthält. Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1873: 309. "Hieraus entspringt es, daß unsere Phantasie so leicht durch sie erregt wird und nun versucht, jene ganz unmittelbar zu uns redende, unsichtbare und doch so lebhaft bewegte Geisterwelt zu gestalten und sie mit Fleisch und Bein zu bekleiden, also dieselbe in einem analogen Beispiel zu verkörpern. Dies ist der Ursprung des Gesanges mit Worten und endlich der Oper,—deren Text eben deshalb diese untergeordnete Stellung nie verlassen sollte, um sich zur Hauptsache und die Musik zum bloßen Mittel ihres Ausdrucks zu machen, als welches ein großer Mißgriff und eine arge Verkehrtheit ist. Denn überall drückt die Musik nur die Quintessenz des Lebens und seiner Vorgänge aus, nie diese selbst, deren Unterschiede daher auf jene nicht allemal einfließen." (Hence it arises that our imagination is so easily stirred by music, and tries to shape that invisible, yet vividly aroused, spirit-world that speaks to us directly, to clothe it with flesh and bone, and thus to embody it in an analagous example. This is the origin of the song with words, and finally of the opera. For this reason they should never forsake that suboridinate position in order to make themselves the chief thing, and the music a mere means of expressing the song, since this is a great misconception and an utter absurdity. Everywhere music expresses only the quintessence of life and of its events, never these themselves, and therefore their differences do not always influence it. — Trans. by Eric F. J. Payne, The World as Will and Representation, Vol. I, §52. New York: Dover, 1958: 261.)] No musician however thinks in this way.— Wagner was in need of literature, in order to persuade the whole world to take his music seriously, profoundly, "because it meant an infinity of things," all his life he was the commentator of the "Idea."— What does Elsa stand for? But without doubt, Elsa is "the unconscious mind of the people" (—"when I realized this, I naturally became a thorough revolutionist"—).
Do not forget that, when Hegel and Schelling were misleading the minds of Germany, Wagner was still young: that he guessed, or rather fully grasped, that the only thing which Germans take seriously is—"the idea"—that is to say, something obscure, uncertain, wonderful; that among Germans lucidity is an objection, logic a refutation. Schopenhauer rigorously pointed out the dishonesty of Hegel's and Schelling's age—rigorously, but also unjustly, for he himself, the pessimistic old counterfeiter, was in no way more "honest" than his more famous contemporaries. But let us leave morality out of the question, Hegel is a matter of taste .... And not only of German but of European taste! ... A taste which Wagner understood!—which he felt equal to! which he has immortalized!— All he did was to apply it to music—he invented a style for himself, which might mean an "infinity of things"—he was Hegel's heir .... Music as "Idea." —
And how well Wagner was understood!— The same kind of man who used to gush over Hegel, now gushes over Wagner, in his school they even write Hegelian [i.e., obscurely]. Above all, German youths understand him. The two words "infinite" and "meaning" were really sufficient: they induced a state of incomparable well-being in them. It was not with his music that Wagner conquered young men, it was with the "idea":—it is the enigmatic character of his art, its playing hide-and-seek behind a hundred symbols, its polychromy of the ideal that leads and lures these youths to Wagner; it is Wagner's genius for shaping clouds, his whirling, hurling, and twirling through the air, his everywhere and nowhere, the very same means by which Hegel formerly seduced and lured them!— In the midst of Wagner's multiplicity, abundance, and arbitrariness they feel as if justified in their own eyes—"redeemed"—. Trembling, they hear how the great symbols approach from foggy distances to resound in his art with muted thunder; they are not impatient when at times things are gray, gruesome, and cold. After all, they are, without exception, like Wagner himself, related to such bad weather, German weather! Wotan is their god: but Wotan is the god of bad weather ... They are quite right, these German youths, considering what they are like: how could they miss what we others, we halcyons, miss in Wagner—la gaya scienza [the joyful science]; light feet; wit, fire, grace; the great logic; the dance of the stars; the exuberant spirituality; the southern shivers of light; the smooth sea—perfection ...
— I have explained where Wagner belongs—not in the history of music. What does he signify nevertheless in that history? The emergence of the actor in music: a capital event that invites thought, perhaps also fear. In a formula: "Wagner and Liszt."— Never yet has the integrity of musicians, their "authenticity," been put to the test so dangerously. One can grasp it with one's very hands: great success, success with the masses no longer sides with those who are authentic,—one has to be an actor to achieve that!— Victor Hugo and Richard Wagner—they both prove one and the same thing: that in declining civilizations, wherever the mob is allowed to decide, genuineness becomes superfluous, prejudicial, unfavorable. The actor, alone, can still kindle great enthusiasm.— And thus it is his golden age which is now dawning—his and that of all those who are in any way related to him. With drums and fifes, Wagner marches at the head of all artists in declamation, in display and virtuosity. He began by convincing the conductors of orchestras, the scene-shifters and stage-singers, not to forget the orchestra:—he "redeemed" them from monotony .... The movement that Wagner created has spread even to the land of knowledge: whole sciences pertaining to music are rising slowly, out of centuries of scholasticism. As an example of what I mean, let me point more particularly to Riemann's [Hugo Riemann (1849-1919): music theoretician] services to rhythmic; he was the first who called attention to the leading idea in punctuation—even for music (unfortunately he did so with a bad word; he called it "phrasing"). All these people, and I say it with gratitude, are the best, the most respectable among Wagner's admirers—they have a perfect right to honor Wagner. The same instinct unites them with one another; in him they recognize their highest type, and since he has inflamed them with his own ardor they feel themselves transformed into power, even into great power. In this quarter, if anywhere, Wagner's influence has really been beneficial. Never before has there been so much thinking, willing, and industry in this sphere. Wagner endowed all these artists with a new conscience: what they now exact and obtain from themselves, they had never extracted before Wagner's time—before then they had been too modest. Another spirit prevails on the stage since Wagner rules there: the most difficult things are expected, blame is severe, praise very scarce—the good and the excellent have become the rule. Taste is no longer necessary, nor even is a good voice. Wagner is sung only with ruined voices: this has a more "dramatic" effect. Even talent is out of the question. Expressiveness at all costs, which is what the Wagnerian ideal—the ideal of décadence—demands, is hardly compatible with talent. All that is required for this is virtue—that is to say, training, automatism, "self-denial." Neither taste, voices, nor gifts: Wagner's stage requires one thing only—Teutons! ... Definition of the Teuton: obedience and long legs ... It is full of profound significance that the arrival of Wagner coincides in time with the arrival of the "Reich": both actualities prove the very same thing: obedience and long legs.— Never has obedience been better, never has commanding. Wagnerian conductors in particular are worthy of an age that posterity will call one day, with awed respect, the classical age of war. Wagner understood how to command; in this, too, he was the great teacher. He commanded as the inexorable will to himself, as lifelong self-discipline: Wagner who furnishes perhaps the greatest example of self-violation in the history of art (—even Alfieri, who in other respects is his next-of-kin, is outdone by him. The note of a Torinese).
The insight that our actors are more deserving of admiration than ever does not imply that they are any less dangerous ... But who could still doubt what I want,—what are the three demands for which my wrath, my concern, my love of art has this time opened my mouth?
— The seriousness of the last words permits me to publish at this point a few sentences from an as yet unprinted essay, at least they should leave no room for doubt about my seriousness in this matter. This essay bears the title: The Price We Are Paying for Wagner.
One pays heavily for being one of Wagner's disciples. Even today a vague feeling that this is so, still prevails. Even Wagner's success, his triumph, did not uproot this feeling thoroughly. But formerly it was strong, it was terrible, it was a gloomy hate—throughout almost three-quarters of Wagner's life. The resistance he encountered among us Germans cannot be esteemed too highly or honored too much. He was resisted like a sickness,—not with reasons—one does not refute a sickness—, but with inhibition, mistrust, vexation, disgust, with a gloomy seriousness, as if he represented some great creeping danger. Our honored aestheticians have compromised themselves when, coming from three schools of German philosophy, they waged an absurd war against Wagner's principles with "if" and "for"—as if he cared about principles, even his own!— The Germans themselves had reason enough in their instincts to rule out any "if" and "for." An instinct is weakened when it rationalizes itself: for by rationalizing itself it weakens itself. If there are any signs that, in spite of the total character of European décadence, the German character still possesses some degree of health, some instinctive sense for what is harmful and dangerous, this dim resistance to Wagner is the sign I should like least to see underestimated. It does us honor, it even permits a hope: France would no longer have that much health. The Germans, the delayers par excellence in history, are today the most retarded civilized nation in Europe: this has its advantages,—by the same token they are relatively the youngest.
One pays heavily for being one of Wagner's disciples. It is only quite recently that the Germans have overcome a sort of dread of him—the desire to be rid of him occurred to them again and again [Note].— Does anybody remember a very curious occurrence in which, quite unexpectedly towards the end, this old feeling once more manifested itself? It happened at Wagner's funeral. The first Wagner Society, the one in Munich, laid a wreath on his grave with this inscription, which immediately became famous: "Redemption to the Redeemer!" [The last words of Parsifal.] Everybody admired the lofty inspiration which had dictated this inscription, as also the taste which seemed to be the privilege of the disciples of Wagner; many also (it was singular enough!) made this slight correction: "Redemption from the redeemer!"— People began to breathe again. —
One pays heavily for being one of Wagner's disciples. Let us try to estimate the influence of this worship upon culture. Whom did this movement press to the front? What did it make ever more and more preeminent?— In the first place the layman's arrogance, the arrogance of the idiots of art. Now these people are organizing societies, they wish to make their taste prevail, they even wish to pose as judges in rebus musicis et musicantibus [in matters of music and musicians]. Secondly: an ever increasing indifference towards severe, noble and conscientious schooling in the services of art, and in its place the belief in genius, or in plain language, cheeky dilettantism (—the formula for this is to be found in the Mastersingers). Thirdly, and this is the worst of all: theatrocracy—, the craziness of a belief in the preeminence of the theater, in the right of the theater to rule supreme over the arts, over art in general .... But this should be shouted into the face of Wagnerians a hundred times over: that the theater is something lower than art, something secondary, something coarsened, above all something suitably distorted and falsified for the mob. In this respect Wagner altered nothing: Bayreuth is grand opera—and not even good opera .... The stage is a form of Demolatry in the realm of taste, the stage is an insurrection of the mob, a plebiscite against good taste ... The case of Wagner proves this fact: he captivated the masses—he depraved taste, he even perverted our taste for opera! —
One pays heavily for being one of Wagner's disciples. What does it do to the spirit? does Wagner liberate the spirit?— He is distinguished by every ambiguity, every double sense, everything quite generally that persuades those who are uncertain without making them aware of what they have been persuaded. Thus Wagner is a seducer on a large scale. There is nothing weary, nothing decrepit, nothing fatal and hostile to life in matters of the spirit that his art does not secretly safeguard—it is the blackest obscurantism that he conceals in the ideal's shrouds of light. He flatters every nihilistic (—Buddhistic) instinct and disguises it in music, he flatters everything Christian, every religious expression of décadence. Open your ears: everything that ever grew on the soil of impoverished life, all of the counterfeiting of transcendence and beyond, has found its most sublime advocate in Wagner's art—not by means of formulas: Wagner is too shrewd for formulas—but by means of a persuasion of sensuousness which in turn makes the spirit weary and worn-out. Music as Circe ... His last work is in this respect his greatest masterpiece. In the art of seduction, Parsifal will always retain its rank, as the stroke of genius in seduction ... I admire this work, I wish I had produced it myself; failing that, I understand it ... Wagner never had better inspirations than in the end. Here the subtlety in his alliance of beauty and sickness goes so far that, as it were, it casts a shadow over Wagner's earlier art:—which now seems too bright, too healthy. Do you understand this? Health, brightness having the effect of a shadow? almost of an objection? ... To such an extent have we become pure fools [allusion to Wagner's Parsifal] ... Never was there a greater master in dim hieratic aromas,—never was there a man equally expert in all small infinities, all that trembles and is effusive, all the feminisms from the idioticon [glossary] of happiness!— Just drink, my friends, the philters of this art! Nowhere will you find a more agreeable way of enervating your spirit, of forgetting your manhood under a rosebush ... Ah this old magician! This Klingsor [magician in Parsifal] of all Klingsors! How he thus wages war against us! us, the free spirits! How he indulges every cowardice of the modern soul with the tones of magic maidens!— Never before has there been such a deadly hatred for knowledge!— One has to be a cynic in order not to be seduced here, one has to be able to bite in order not to worship here. Well then, you old seducer! The cynic warns you—cave canem [Beware of the dog] ...
One pays heavily for being one of Wagner's disciples. I observe the youths who have long been exposed to his infection. The first relatively innocuous effect of it is the corruption of their taste. Wagner acts like chronic recourse to the bottle. He stultifies, he befouls the stomach. His specific effect: degeneration of the feeling for rhythm. What the Wagnerian calls rhythmical is what I call, to use a Greek metaphor, "stirring a swamp." Much more dangerous than all this, however, is the corruption of ideas. The youth becomes a mooncalf, an "idealist." He stands above science, and in this respect he has reached the master's heights. On the other hand, he assumes the airs of a philosopher, he writes for the Bayreuth Journal; he solves all problems in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Master. But the most ghastly thing of all is the deterioration of the nerves. Let anyone wander through a large city at night, in all directions he will hear people doing violence to instruments with solemn rage and fury, a wild uproar breaks out at intervals. What is happening? It is the disciples of Wagner in the act of worshipping him .... Bayreuth is another word for a Hydro. A typical telegram from Bayreuth would read: bereits bereut [I already repent].— Wagner is bad for young men; he is fatal for women. What medically speaking is a female Wagnerian? It seems to me that a doctor could not be too serious in putting this alternative of conscience to young women: either one thing or the other. But they have already made their choice. You cannot serve two masters when one of them is Wagner. Wagner redeemed woman; and in return woman built Bayreuth for him. Every sacrifice, every surrender: there was nothing they were not prepared to give him. Woman impoverishes herself in favor of the master, she becomes quite touching, she stands naked before him. The female Wagnerian, the most attractive equivocality that exists today: she is the incarnation of Wagner's cause: his cause triumphs with her as its symbol .... Ah, this old robber! He robs our young men: he even robs our women as well, and drags them to his cell .... Ah, this old Minotaur! What has he not already cost us? Every year processions of the finest young men and maidens are led into his labyrinth that he may swallow them up, every year the whole of Europe cries out "Away to Crete? Away to Crete!" [Chorus of "La belle Hélène" by Jacques Offenbach.] ...
Note.— Was Wagner German at all? There are reasons enough for putting this question. It is difficult to find a single German trait in his character. Great learner that he was, he naturally imitated a great deal that was German—but that is all. His very soul contradicts everything which hitherto has been regarded as German, not to mention German musicians!— His father was an actor by the name of Geyer. A Geyer almost means an eagle ... That which has been popularized hitherto as "Wagner's life" is fable convenue [a convenient fable], if not something worse. I confess my doubts on any point which is vouched for by Wagner alone. He was not proud enough to be able to suffer the truth about himself. Nobody had less pride than he; like Victor Hugo he remained true to himself even in his biography—he remained an actor.
— My letter, it seems, is open to a misunderstanding. On certain faces the lines of gratitude appear; I even hear a modest jubilation. I should prefer to be understood in this matter, as in many others.— But since a new animal plays havoc in the vineyards of the German spirit, the Reich-worm, the famous Rhinoxera [Rhinepest], not a word I write is understood anymore. Even the Kreuzzeitung [right-wing newspaper, the Neue preußische Zeitung] testifies to that, not to speak of the Literarisches Centralblatt.— I have given the Germans the most profound books they have—reason enough for the Germans not to understand a single word ... When in this essay I declare war upon Wagner—and incidentally upon a German "taste"—when I use harsh words against the cretinism of Bayreuth, the last thing I want to do is start a celebration for any other musicians. Other musicians don't count compared to Wagner. Things are bad generally. Decay is universal. The sickness goes deep. If Wagner nevertheless gives his name to the ruin of music, as Bernini did to the ruin of sculpture, he is certainly not its cause. He merely accelerated its tempo,—to be sure, in such a manner that one stands horrified before this almost sudden downward motion, abyss-ward. He had the naïveté of décadence: this was his superiority. He believed in it, he did not stop before any of the logical implications of décadence. The others hesitate—that is what differentiates them. Nothing else! ... What Wagner has in common with "the others"—I'll enumerate it: the decline of the power to organize; the misuse of traditional means, without the capacity to furnish any justification, any for-the-sake-of; the counterfeiting in the imitation of big forms for which nobody today is strong, proud, self-assured, healthy enough; excessive liveliness in the smallest parts; emotion at any price; subtlety as the expression of impoverished life; more and more nerves in place of flesh.— I know only one musician who today would be able to compose an overture as an organic whole: and nobody else know him ... He who is famous now, does not write better music than Wagner, but only less characteristic, less definite music:—less definite, because half measures, even in décadence , cannot stand by the side of completeness. But Wagner was complete; but Wagner represented thorough corruption; but Wagner has had the courage, the will, and the conviction for corruption. What does Johannes Brahms matter! ... It was his good fortune to be misunderstood by Germany: he was taken to be an antagonist of Wagner—people required an antagonist!— But he did not write necessary music, above all he wrote too much music!— When one is not rich one should at least have enough pride to be poor! ... The sympathy which here and there was meted out to Brahms, apart from party interests and party misunderstandings, was for a long time a riddle to me: until one day through an accident, almost, I discovered that he affected a particular type of man. He has the melancholy of impotence; his creations are not the result of plenitude, he thirsts after abundance. Apart from what he plagiarizes, from what he borrows from ancient or exotically modern styles—he is a master in the art of copying—there remains as his most individual quality a longing ... And this is what the dissatisfied of all kinds, and all those who yearn, divine in him. He is much too little of a personality, too little of a central figure ... The "impersonal," those who are not self-centered, love him for this. He is especially the musician of a species of dissatisfied women. Fifty steps further on, and we find the female Wagnerian—just as we find Wagner himself fifty paces ahead of Brahms.— The female Wagnerian is a more definite, a more interesting, and above all, a more attractive type. Brahms is touching so long as he dreams or mourns over himself in private—in this respect he is "modern"—; he becomes cold, we no longer feel at one with him when he poses as the child of the classics .... People like to call Brahms Beethoven's heir: I know of no more cautious euphemism.— All that which today makes a claim to being the grand style in music is on precisely that account either false to us or false to itself. This alternative is suspicious enough: in itself it contains a casuistic question concerning the value of the two cases. The instinct of the majority protests against the alternative; "false to us"—they do not wish to be cheated—; and I myself would certainly always prefer this type to the other ("false to itself). This is my taste.— Expressed more clearly for the sake of the "poor in spirit" it amounts to this: Brahms or Wagner ... Brahms is not an actor.— A very great part of other musicians may be summed up in the concept Brahms—I do not wish to say anything about the clever apes of Wagner, as for instance Goldmark: when one has "The Queen of Sheba" to one's name, one belongs to a menagerie—one ought to put oneself on show.— Nowadays all things that can be done well and even with a master hand are small. In this department alone is honesty still possible..— Nothing, however, can cure music in what counts, from what counts, from the fatality of being an expression of the physiological contradiction,—of being modern. The best instruction, the most conscientious training, intimacy in principle, even isolation in the company of the old masters—all this remains merely palliative, to speak more precisely, illusory, for one no longer has the presupposition in one's body: whether this be the strong race of a Handel or whether it be the overflowing animality of a Rossini.— Not everybody has a right to every teacher: that applies to whole ages.— To be sure, the possibility cannot be excluded that somewhere in Europe there are still rests of stronger generations, of typically untimely human beings: if so, one could still hope for a belated beauty and perfection in music, too, from that quarter. What we can still experience at best are exceptions. From the rule that corruption is on top, that corruption is fatalistic, no god can save music. —
— Let us recover our breath in the end by getting away for a moment from the narrow world to which every question about the worth of persons condemns the spirit. A philosopher feels the need to wash his hands after having dealt so long with "The Case of Wagner."— I offer my conception of what is modern.— In its measure of strength every age also possesses a measure for what virtues are permitted and forbidden to it. Either it has the virtues of ascending life: then it will resist from the profoundest depths the virtues of declining life. Or it itself represents declining life,—then it also requires the virtues of decline, then it hates everything that justifies itself solely out of abundance, out of the overflowing riches of strength. Aesthetics is tied indissolubly to these biological presuppositions: there is an aesthetics of décadence , there is a classical aesthetics,—the "beautiful in itself" is a figment of the imagination, like all of idealism.— In the narrower sphere of so-called moral values one cannot find a greater contrast than that between a master morality and the morality of Christian value concepts: the latter developed on soil that was morbid through and through (—the Gospels present us with precisely the same physiological types that Dostoevsky's novels describe), master morality ("Roman," "pagan," "classical," "Renaissance") is, conversely, the sign language of what has turned out well, of ascending life, of the will to power as the principle of life. Master morality affirms as instinctively as Christian morality negates ("God," "beyond," "self-denial" all of them negations). The former gives to things out of its own abundance—it transfigures, it beautifies the world and makes it more rational—, the latter impoverishes, pales and makes uglier the value of things, it negates the world. "World" is a Christian term of abuse.— These opposite forms in the optics of value are both necessary: they are ways of seeing, immune to reasons and refutations. One cannot refute Christianity; one cannot refute a disease of the eye. That pessimism was fought like a philosophy, was the height of scholarly idiocy. The concepts "true" and "untrue" have, as it seems to me, no meaning in optics.— What alone should be resisted is that falseness, that deceitfulness of instinct which refuses to experience these opposites as opposites—as Wagner, for example, refused, being no mean master of such falsehoods. To make eyes at master morality, at noble morality (—Icelandic saga is almost its most important document—) while mouthing the counterdoctrine, that of the "gospel of the lowly," of the need for redemption! ... I admire, incidentally, the modesty of the Christians who go to Bayreuth. I myself would not be able to endure certain words out of the mouth of a Wagner. There are concepts which do not belong in Bayreuth ... What? Christianity adjusted for female Wagnerians, perhaps by female Wagnerians—for, in his latter days Wagner was thoroughly feminini generis—? Again I say, the Christians of today are too modest for me ... If Wagner were a Christian, then Liszt was perhaps a father of the Church!— The need of redemption, the quintessence of all Christian needs, has nothing in common with such clowns: it is the most straightforward expression of décadence, it is the most convincing and most painful affirmation of décadence in sublime symbols and practices. The Christian wishes to be rid of himself. Le moi est toujours haïssable. [The ego is always hateful. An allusion to Blaise Pascal, Pensées, fragments et lettres: publiés pour la première fois conformément aux manuscrits originaux en grande partie inédite von Prosper Faugère. Paris: Andrieux, 1844: 197. "Le moi est haïssable. Vous, Miton, le couvrez; vous ne l'ôtez pas pour cela: vous êtes donc toujours haïssable." (The ego is hateful. You, Miton [Damien Mitton: a worldly gambler and friend of Pascal], cover it up; but that does not mean that you take it away: thus, you are always hateful.) Cf. Mixed Opinions and Maxims, 385: "Anti-theses.— The most senile thing ever thought about man is contained in the celebrated saying 'the ego is hateful'; the most childish in that even more celebrated 'love thy neighbor as thyself.'— In the former knowledge of human nature has ceased, in the latter it has not yet even begun." Cf. Dawn, 79 and 11-05-1888 letter to Malwida von Meysenbug ("Just wait a little while, esteemed friend! I shall yet furnish you the proof that 'Nietzsche est toujours haissable.'").]— Noble morality, master morality, conversely, is rooted in a triumphant Yes said to oneself,—it is self-affirmation, self-glorification of life, it also requires sublime symbols and practices, but only "because its heart is too full." All of beautiful, all of great art belongs here: the essence of both is gratitude. On the other hand, one cannot dissociate from it an instinctive aversion against décadents, scorn for their symbolism, even horror: such feelings almost prove it. Noble Romans experienced Christianity as foeda superstitio [abominable superstition]: I recall how the last German of noble taste, how Goethe* experienced the cross. One looks in vain for more valuable, more necessary opposites ... [Note.]
Epigrammen, 67 / Venetian Epigrams, 67.
— But such falseness as that of Bayreuth is no exception today. We are all familiar with the unaesthetic concept of the Christian Junker. Such innocence among opposites, such a "good conscience" in a lie is actually modern par excellence, it almost defines modernity. Biologically, modern man represents a contradiction of values, he sits between two chairs, he says Yes and No in the same breath. Is it any wonder that precisely in our times falsehood itself has become flesh and even genius? that Wagner "dwelled among us"? It was not without reason that I called Wagner the Cagliostro of modernity ... But all of us have, unconsciously, involuntarily in our bodies values, words, formulas, moralities of opposite descent,—we are, physiologically considered, false ... A diagnosis of the modern soul—where would it begin? With a resolute incision into this instinctive contradiction, with the isolation of its opposite values, with the vivisection of the most instructive case.— The case of Wagner is for the philosopher a windfall,—this essay is inspired, as you hear, by gratitude ...
Note. The opposition between "noble morality" and "Christian morality" was first explained in my "Genealogy of Morality": perhaps there is no more decisive turning point in the history of our understanding of religion and morality. This book, my touchstone for what belongs to me, has the good fortune of being accessible only to the most high-minded and severe spirits: the rest lack ears for it. One must have one's passion in things where nobody else today has it ...