Thursday, January 18, 2007

Old Fogy On Wagner

James Huneker was one of the finest American arts critics of the late 19th and early 20th century, well-known in his day, but mostly forgotten in ours. Do yourself the favor of reading the passage quoted below on Wagner for a taste of Huneker's rapier wit, taken from Project Gutenberg's public domain copy of 'Old Fogy, originally published in 1906.


With genuine joy I sit once more in my old arm-chair and watch the brawling Wissahickon Creek, its banks draped with snow, while overhead the sky seems so friendly and blue. I am at Dussek Villa, I am at home; and I reproach myself for having been such a fool as ever to wander from it. Being a fussy but conscientious old bachelor, I scold myself when I am in the wrong, thus making up for the clattering tongue of an active wife. As I once related to you, I recently went to New York, and there encountered sundry adventures, not all of them of a diverting nature. One you know, and it reeks in my memory with stale cigars, witless talk, and all the other monotonous symbols of Bohemia. Ah, that blessed Bohemia, whose coast no man ever explored except gentle Will Shakespeare! It is no-man's-land; never was and never will be. Its misty, alluring signals have shipwrecked many an artistic mariner, and--but pshaw! I'm too old to moralize this way. Only young people moralize. It is their prerogative. When they live, when they fathom good and evil and their mysteries, charity will check their tongues, so I shall say no more of Bohemia. What I saw of it further convinced me of its undesirability, of its inutility.

And now to my tale, now to finish forever the story of my experiences in Gotham! I declaimed violently against Tchaikovsky to my acquaintances of the hour, because my dislike to him is deep rooted; but I had still to encounter another modern musician, who sent me home with a headache, with nerves all jangling, a stomach soured, and my whole esthetic system topsy-turveyed and sorely wrenched. I heard for the first time Richard Wagner's _Die Walküre_, and I've been sick ever since.

I felt, with Louis Ehlert, that another such a performance would release my feeble spirit from its fleshly vestment and send it soaring to the angels, for surely all my sins would be wiped out, expiated, by the severe penance endured.

Not feeling quite myself the day after my experiences with the music journalists, I strolled up Broadway, and, passing the opera-house, inspected the _menu_ for the evening. I read, "_Die Walküre_, with a grand cast," and I fell to wondering what the word _Walküre_ meant. I have an old-fashioned acquaintance with German, but never read a line or heard a word of Wagner's. Oh, yes; I forget the overture to _Rienzi_, which always struck me as noisy and quite in Meyerbeer's most vicious manner. But the Richard Wagner, the later Wagner, I read so much about in the newspapers, I knew nothing of. I do now. I wish I didn't.

Read the rest of the passage here, and the whole of 'Old Fogy; here.

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