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ClassicsOnline Home » WAGNER, R.: Fliegende Hollander (Der)
Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883)
Richard Wagner inspired in his contemporaries extremes of reaction. For some his music seemed as misguided and repulsive as his anti-Semitism, while others were overwhelmed by the size of his ambition and achievement, to which everything had to be sacrificed. Wagner's career was in many ways thoroughly discreditable. He betrayed friends and patrons, accumulated debts with abandon, and seemed, in pursuit of his aims, an unprincipled opportunist. Nevertheless, whatever his defects of character, he exercised a hypnotic influence over his immediate followers, while his creation of a new form of music-drama, in which the arts were combined, and the magnitude of his conception continue to fascinate.
Wagner was born in Leipzig in 1813, probably the son of the actor and painter Ludwig Geyer rather than of his mother's husband, the police actuary Carl Friedrich Wagner. It was Geyer who superintended the boy's upbringing after the death of Carl Friedrich Wagner six months after the birth of his supposed son. Schooling was in Dresden and then again in Leipzig, where Wagner attended the university, before embarking in 1833 on a musical career, at first as chorus-master at the opera in Wurzburg, where he wrote his first opera Die Feen. In 1834 he was again in Leipzig, where he wrote Das Liebesverbot, an opera based on Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. There followed a period with a travelling theatre company, in alleged pursuit of the actress-singer Minna Planer, who became his wife in 1836. He took engagements at the Konigstadt Theatre in Berlin and in Konigsberg and then in Riga, from where he made his escape to avoid his creditors, taking ship to Eng) and, en route for Paris. It was allegedly during the course of this sea-crossing, when the Thetis had to shelter from a storm in a Norwegian fjord, that the idea of The Flying Dutchman came to Wagner, who certainly recalled1he echo of the sailors' voices from the fjord rocks in the opening of the opera.
From London Wagner continued his journey to Paris, where he had some hope of success. His ambitions there, however, were not realised, and he was forced to make a living as best he could by hack journalism and as an arranger. At the same time he worked on an opera he had started while he was in Riga, Rienzi, based on Edward Bulwer-Lytton's novel of that name, and simultaneously on The Frying Dutchman. For both of these works he wrote both text and music, a practice that, he continued to follow. Penury in Paris was brought to an end in 1842 through the good offices of Meyerbeer, who persuaded the Dresden Court Opera to stage Rienzi. The work won immediate success, perhaps partly for political reasons. The Flying Dutchman followed, with rather less obvious acclaim, in January 1843, and in the same year Wagner accepted the welcome appointment of second Kapellmeister at the Court Opera. In Dresden he had the first ideas for his great tetralogy The Ring and completed Tannhauser, which was staged at the Court Opera, and Lohengrin, subsequently staged by Liszt in Weimar.
In 1848, with revolution in the air, Wagner began work on the poem concerning the death of the hero Siegfried, a text that was to serve as the basis for the fourth opera in the The Ring cycle, Gotterdammerung. In 1849, however, he was forced to leave Dresden in haste. His creditors had, in any case, made his stay there uneasy, but he was now implicated in the rising against the monarchy, and escaped to Switzerland, leaving his wife behind. His subsequent career is well known, his stay in Switzerland marked by the betrayal of his benefactor, with whose wife he had an affair, of which there are echoes in the opera Tristan and Isolde, and his later marriage, after the death of Minna, to the wife of one of his close supporters, an illegitimate daughter of Franz Liszt, Cosima von Bulow. His music dramas broke new ground, partly through the very size of the conception, not merely grandiose, but now with a profundity of implication and in an extended harmonic language that suggested new ways towards what he and his friends called the Music of the Future. His work won him fervent admirers and among these was the young King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who fell under his spell and was able to offer very practical support, not only in Munich, but also in the establishment of the Wagner Festspielhaus in Bayreuth. There Wagner was able to establish his own operatic kingdom, realizing his revolutionary ideas of music-drama and investing the art of opera with a significance and weight that it had not generally possessed before. The Ring tetralogy was first performed there in 1876.
In July, 1882, the last of Wagner's operas, Parsifal, was staged at Bayreuth at the end of July, running for sixteen performances under the direction of Hermann Levi from the Court Opera in Munich. In September the composer travelled again to Italy, where an easier way of life seemed likely to be of benefit to his health. He died in Venice in February, 1883, after a severe heart attack and was later buried I in the garden of his house in Bayreuth. His legacy to the world was an enduring body of stage works and a festival centred on them, as well as continued conflict between those fascinated by his achievement and those appalled by aspects of his character and his writing.
The Flying Dutchman
The Flying Dutchman has its literary source in the seventh chapter of Heine's Aus den Memoiren des Herren von Schnabelowopski, used by at least one earlier composer to provide the libretto of an opera. The story of the phantom ship and its haunted master appealed even more to Wagner after his own experiences at sea, sailing to England in 1839. Sheltering in a Norwegian fjord, he was reminded of Heine's story, resulting in the composition of the libretto and music of the new opera, completed in Paris in 1841. There were revisions of the orchestration in 1846 and 1852, and in 1860 changes in the ending of the Overture and in the ending of the opera, where this is repeated. The principles of composition used by Wagner involve the use of leading motifs, Leit-Motiven, each identified with some character, feeling, event or idea in the drama. These motifs are interwoven to form the texture of the opera. Wagner hoped to do away with the formal divisions of number opera, recitative, aria, duet and trio, and eventually did so. Elements of earlier practice still exist in The Flying Dutchman and it has been plausibly suggested that these relate in particular to the practical everyday world of Daland and Erik, while the mysterious world of the Dutchman and Senta largely avoids earlier compositional conventions.
 The Overture to The Flying Dutchman, with its story of the legendary haunted
Dutchman, condemned for his blasphemy to sail the seas in his ghostly ship until redeemed by true love, sets the scene of what the composer described as a storm-swept ballad. Leit-motifs, themes or fragments of themes, appear and re-appear, dominated by the horn-call associated with the Dutchman and the rushing strings of the sea and wind'. Another theme that appears in the Overture is associated with Senta, the girl who loves the Dutchman and dies for him, as he sails away in apparent disappointment at what he believes to be her betrayal. Her ultimate sacrifice, when she leaps into the sea to her death, brings him final redemption.
 No.1. Introduction. The scene is a Norwegian fjord, its steep cliffs rising on each side. The sky is dark and a storm is blowing. Daland's ship has taken shelter, the anchor is cast and his sailors are busy seeing to the sails and hawsers. Daland has stepped ashore and from a rocky promontory takes his bearings. The shouts of the sailors echo from the fjord cliffs, while fragments of the theme associated with the sailors mingles with the rushing scales of the storm motif. Daland descends, satisfied that they are now only seven miles from port (Kein Zweifel! Sieben Meilen fort). The helmsman shouts to him that they have found firm anchorage. Daland has seen his own house and hopes soon to hold his daughter Senta in his arms, if it were not for the storm, but those who put their trust in the wind, trust the mercy of Satan. The storm abates, and he tells the sailors to rest below, leaving the helmsman on watch and going to his own cabin.
 The helmsman, left alone on deck, makes his rounds and then settles himself again at the helm. He yawns, then shakes himself, anxious to keep awake. He sings a simple sailor's song of the girl he has left behind and who awaits his return (Mit Gewitter und Sturm). A great wave shakes the ship and the helmsman stands, looking to see if any damage has been done. He then resumes his place and his song, how he has thought of his girl when far away and now brings her presents from far Moorish lands. He still struggles to keep awake, but eventually gives in. The sea grows rougher, the sky darkens and the storm threatens again, the rush of the wind heard in the orchestra. In the distance The Flying Dutchman appears, with its blood-red sails and black masts, the Dutchman motif heard from the French horns and bassoons. It gradually draws near the Norwegian ship, and with a terrifying sound anchors by the side of the Norwegians. The helmsman rouses himself, but seeing all is well with the ship softly resumes his song, before falling asleep again. The ghostly crew of The Flying Dutchman take in the sails, and the Dutchman, dressed in black, in Spanish fashion, steps ashore.
 No.2. Aria. The appointed time has come (Die Frist ist um), the Dutchman sings, since seven years have now passed, as he slowly takes step after step on dry land again. Yet soon he will have to be at sea once more, in weary sadness condemned to sail for ever. The music becomes more agitated as the Dutchman laments his weary fate, condemned to live, never to find the release of death, as he would wish.
 The Dutchman continues in calmer tones (Dich frage ich), seeking a sign from the angel of God that his torment may come to an end. Angrily he rejects the idea, an idle hope. Yet one chance remains for him, the day of judgement, when the dead rise and he can find oblivion. He ends his bitter plaint, and stands stock-still, then steps again on board, while the crew, from below, echo his words.
 No.3. Scene, Duet and Chorus. Daland comes out of his cabin, sees how the wind blows and then notices the strange ship alongside. He calls the helmsman (He! Holla! Steuermann!), reproaching him for his carelessness. The latter, half asleep, begins his song again, and then, pulling himself together, hails the strange ship (Wer da?). There is a long pause, as the sound echoes from the cliff walls. Daland and the helmsman continue to hail the other ship. The Dutchman raises his head and in reply tells Daland that he has come from afar, a Dutchman, and his ship is sound.
 He goes on to explain that he has sailed in search of his homeland, without success (Durch Sturm und bosen Wind verschlagen): he accepts with gladness Daland's invitation to rest at his house and will reward him with the riches that The Flying Dutchman carries. He gives a sign to the watch on ship and two sailors carry ashore a chest of treasure, full of pearls and costly jewels, to Daland's amazement. The Dutchman will give Daland everything, if he will give him a home, his daughter to wife.
 Daland is surprised and delighted at the suggestion (Wie? Hor'ich recht? Meine Tochter sein Weib?). Daland and the Dutchman continue their own trains of thought, the former eager to seize this chance, and the latter seeing now some hope of redemption. Daland gives his consent to the match, promising the Dutchman the hand of his daughter and telling him that they will soon be home with the next fair wind.
 Now the Dutchman has hope of redemption (Wenn aus der Qualen Schreckgewalten), while Daland is happy with the lucky chance that has brought the Dutchman to these shores.
 The helmsman shouts, welcoming the wind that will take them home (Sudwind! Sudwind!). The sky has grown brighter, and the sailors wave their caps for joy. Daland assures the Dutchman that they will soon be home, and boarding his ship bids his crew be about their business.
 The Norwegian sailors now sing the helmsman's song (Mit Gewitter und Sturm).
As the Dutchman prepares also to set sail, the curtain falls.
 Introduction. No.4. Scene, Song and Ballade. A brief introduction leads to the second act. The scene is set in a large room in Daland's house. On the wall are sea-pictures and charts, and on the back wall a portrait of a pale man with a black beard, dressed in black, in Spanish fashion. Mary and the girls are sitting by the chimney-piece spinning. Senta, in a grandfather-chair, is leaning back, dreamily contemplating the picture on the back wall. The girls sing a spinning-song (Summ und brumm). Mary urges the girls to work, and reproaches Senta, wasting her young life with a picture. Senta feels pity for the man in the portrait, to the mockery of the other girls, whom she bids be quiet. They resume their spinning-song, but Senta is tired of it and asks Mary to sing them a ballad. Mary refuses and carries on spinning, while the others pause in their work, to listen to Senta, who will sing the ballad herself.
 Ballade. Senta opens her song with the motif of the Dutchman (Johohoe! Johohohoe!), singing of the ship with blood-red sails and black masts, captained by a pale man, who can find no redemption, until he meets one who will love him truly unto death. At the end of the first verse Senta turns again to the picture, the girls listen and Mary pauses in her spinning. The girls join in the second verse, echoing the refrain, the wish that the pale man might find release in a true wife. Senta continues her song with greater feeling, telling how every seven years the man may land, to seek redemption, but only meets with falsehood and betrayal.
 Senta sinks back in her chair, while the girls express their wish for mercy for the haunted man (Ach! Wo weilt sie?). Suddenly Senta rises again from her seat, certain that she will be the one to bring redemption. Mary and the girls are alarmed and gather round her.
 Erik, a huntsman, has overheard this outburst and now comes in, demanding whether Senta will destroy him (Senta! Senta! Willst du mich verderben?). The girls seek Erik's help with Senta, and Mary declares that the portrait will be taken down as soon as Daland comes home. At this Senta seems to come to herself again, pleased to hear that her father will soon be home, as Erik now assures her. Mary fusses about, preparing for Daland's return, while the girls are equally excited: the men will be home with empty stomachs, and they must set to work to welcome them again. Mary bustles out, urging the girls to their several duties.
 No.5. Duet. Senta is about to follow them, but Erik holds her back (Bleib, Senta!), asking her to stay for a moment. He declares his love again, but is anxious that Daland will bring Senta a husband, as he has wanted. Senta tells him to be quiet and let her prepare to welcome her father. She asks why Erik doubts her, but he tells her that Daland is eager for riches, looking for a rich husband for her, and he is worried about Senta's fascination with the portrait. She takes his hand and leads him in front of the picture, trying to make him share her pity for the man portrayed there.
 Erik, though, is aghast. Her words confirm a dream he has had (Auf hohem Felsen lag ich). Senta seems almost in a trance, as Erik tells his dream. He lay on a high promontory dreaming, while the sound of the waves breaking below came to him: a strange ship sailed near to land, with two men, one Daland and the other with pale mien, the seafarer of the picture. Erik saw Senta come from the house to greet her father, only to fall at the feet of the other man. The two kissed, and then Erik saw them disappearing over the water. Senta rouses herself, now inspired again with certainty that that the Dutchman has sought her out, while Erik is horror-struck that his dream may come true. She takes the picture from the wall and holds it to her breast, hoping that the poor seafarer may find salvation in the true love of a woman.
 No.6. Finale: Aria, Duet and Terzetto. The door opens and there stand Daland and the Dutchman. Senta's glance goes from the picture to the latter. She lets out a cry and stands rooted to the spot, without moving her eyes from the Dutchman. Daland stands by the door, seeming to wait for Senta to come to him. The Dutchman steps forward and then stops. Daland holds his arms out to Senta, who does not respond, even when the gesture is repeated. He shakes his head in wonder and now approaches Senta, asking why she does not greet him as usual (Mein Kind, du siehst mich auf der Schwelle). As Daland draws near, she seizes his hand, anxious to know who the stranger may be.
 Aria. Daland bids her welcome the stranger (Mogstdu, mein Kind, den fremden Mann willkommen) and tells how their guest has wandered far and wide and won much treasure. Turning to the Dutchman, he asks whether he has exaggerated the virtues of his daughter. He tells Senta that the stranger is to be her husband, to be married the next day, showing her something of the treasure the Dutchman has brought. Senta continues to gaze at the Dutchman, who returns her gaze, apparently unaware of Daland's words. The latter tells the Dutchman that Senta is as faithful as she is beautiful, and leaves the couple alone. Alone they remain motionless, gazing one at the other.
 Duet. The Dutchman now seems to see in Senta an image that he had long known (Wie aus der Ferne langst vergang'ner Zeiten): this is the girl of whom he had dreamed. Senta wonders if she is dreaming, for this is the man whose fate she had long pitied. Still rapt in each other's gaze, they stand, then move nearer.
 The Dutchman asks Senta if she is willing to obey her father (Wirstdudes Vaters Wahl nicht schelten?), telling her, as he draws nearer, that she can bring him peace. She declares her sympathy and pity for his sufferings, to his wonderment, an angel bringing him hope at last. They sink into each other's arms, as Senta declares her faithfulness, welcomed by the Dutchman as balsam to his wounds. In Senta he will find a sure haven.
 Terzetto. Daland interrupts them with an apology (Verzeiht! Mein Volk halt drauBen sich nicht mehr). Now they must celebrate their homecoming. Senta declares again her faithfulness to her future husband, who expresses his own joy in redemption, while Daland has his own reasons for satisfaction. They go out, as the curtain falls.
Introduction. The music that introduces Act III includes motifs associated with the sailors and with the girls' spinning-song, introduced by Senta's motif of redemption.
 No.7 Scene and Chorus. The scene is now an inlet, with Daland's house in the foreground and the two ships lying side by side. It is a clear night and the Norwegian ship is lit up, the sailors making merry on deck. The Dutchman's ship is in eerie contrast, in unnatural darkness and with the stillness of death about it. The Norwegian sailors, however, are happy, singing to celebrate their return (Steuermann, laB die Wacht!) and then dancing, as the girls come from the house, carrying baskets of food and drink. They call to the Dutchman's ship, but there is no answer to their invitations.
 The sea around the ghostly ship begins to move and wind stirs the hawsers, and a blue light seems to glow around the vessel, seeming to bring the hitherto unseen crew to life. They sing the Dutchman motif (Johohoe! Johohohoe!), ominously suggesting that soon they must to sea again, as redemption of true love will again have eluded their captain. The Norwegian sailors are frightened at what they see, with the sea and growing storm turbulent round the strange ship, but calm about their own, and seek to dispel this ghostly apparition by their own song, sung ever louder. The mournful song of the ghostly crew predominates, and the Norwegian sailors fall silent, the sign of the cross only bringing a peal of spectral laughter.
 No.8 Finale. Senta hurries from the house, followed by Erik in the greatest agitation, appalled by what has happened (Was muBt' ich horen?). Senta bids him not ask, for she can give no answer. Erik declares her bewitched, how otherwise could she break his heart, but Senta has now a higher loyalty and duty, although she once pledged her faith to him, Erik declares.
 Cavatina. Erik reminds Senta of their past happiness together (Wills! jenes Tags du nicht mehr dich entsinnen?), seeking an assurance again of her love, which he claims she once gave him.
 The Dutchman has witnessed the scene and now thinks himself yet again betrayed (Verloren! Ach, verloren!). He bids Senta farewell, as she throws herself in his path, for he will not destroy her happiness, while Erik, who has drawn back, observes the scene in horror. The Dutchman gives a sign to his men with his bo'sun's pipe, commanding sails up and anchor away, a farewell now for ever to land and salvation. Senta pleads her faithfulness, urging the Dutchman to stay, as Erik looks on with increasing dismay.
 From his ship the Dutchman declares his fate (Erfahre das Geschick), damned for ever, unless he can be redeemed by the love of a faithful woman, true to him till death. Erik calls to the house and ship for help, but for Senta the identity of the Dutchman and his fate have long been known (Wohl kenn ich dich). Daland, the girls from the house, with Mary, and the sailors from the ship hurry in answer to Erik's shouts. The Dutchman now tells Senta she does not know him (Du kennst mich nicht), revealing himself now openly as the Flying Dutchman. There are flashes of lightning as his ship sets sail, in a moment at sea. Senta rushes towards the departing ship, but is held back by Daland, Erik and Mary. The ghostly crew are heard again, and Senta, breaking away from those that hold her, runs to the height of a rocky headland, again pledging her faith to the Dutchman, as she casts herself into the sea. At the same moment the ghostly ship sinks with all its crew, the sea closing over it. In the red glow of the rising sun there appears over the sea the images of Senta and the Dutchman, in each other's arms, striving upwards from the sea, as the sound of the redemption motif is heard.
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WAGNER, R.: Fliegende Hollander (Der)