THE overture begins with the motiv of the curse hanging over the Dutchman. It is several bars longs and is rhythmical rather than melodious, moving exclusively on the tonic and dominant. Here, too, by the union of horns and bassoons, unassuageable grief speaks. A tremolo of the violins high up on the tonic and dominant also depicts the agitated waters and carries us away to the open sea. From the sixth bar, this tremolo is strengthened by an up and down movement on the violins and ‘cellos representing the waves. The long-drawn tones of the wind instruments swell on to billowy mounds that develop into giants, and covered with foam heave their crests like mountain tops of white sand. Now the storm rages ; the wind moans and howls. The original motiv returns, accompanied by chromatic scales. Soon we hear separate signals and calls of distress that die away in the distance. This first picture then closes with decrescendo, and comes again in the second Act, when Senta relates the unhappy lot of the Captain.
Next comes a tender melodious phrase. We hear the angel of mercy bringing hope to the damned. Senta will sing it in her ballad in the second Act to the words, ” The spectral man may yet find redemption.” The horns now utter tones of complaint like the last sighs of a departing sorrow. The trombones play a descending passage which returns in the first Act when the ghost-ship first reefs her red sails. The original motiv now returns and shows us the gloomy hero himself speaking to us for the first time. Leaning against the mast, he coldly gazes at the billowy wake of his ship. The strong east winds are his confidants. To them he complains, as once the Titan bewailed his loss to the Oceanides who surrounded him. Chained to his ship as to a floating Caucasus, this new Prometheus in plaintive monologue sings the melody that forms the culminating point of the great aria in the third scene of the first Act. The first violins, flutes, and oboes declaim the despairing passage, ” Wie oft . . . mein Grab, es schloss sich nicht ? ” a part of the Dutchman’s soliloquy when he first comes ashore. Then the tempest becomes more violent. The roaring of the angry waves redoubles. The outbursts of the storm and of the sorrow-burdened soul are in shrill conflict, and confused cries and voices arise from the sea. The thunder rolls with mighty force, like a dread menace, lightning flashes like the thought of Death. The hail also beats and hisses. The waves rise and fall like leviathans in combat. The Dutchman is unmoved amid the shattering of ironwork and the cracking of worm-eaten timbers, and gazes with a melancholy smile at the devastating storm, the image of his inmost torments. He knows that his ship is the eternal plaything of the Satanic powers, and can-not be harmed. After seventy bars of grandiose fortissimo, we hear the approach of one of those rhythms with which sailors accompany their toil. It recurs in the first Act, when the trader casts anchor. It is followed by a sharply marked joyous strain from the sailors. Occasionally we hear an echo of the Senta-motiv, as if it were trying to escape from this mad tumult. The battle of the surges continues while the Senta-motiv strays hither and thither, like an angel of light, with wings bruised by the buffeting winds, till at last, exhausted, it sinks down on a ledge of rock which the invulnerable keel of the ship grazes. The damnation motiv returns with full intensity. The ship is un-hurt, and sails ever onward in majesty and ghostly gloom. Suddenly a loud explosion, as of the mighty impact of a wave, drives the ship abruptly forward and holds it fast on the rock. Silence follows. Fear and stupefaction is over all.
Now like a thousand arrows, the violins storm in seven parts. The melody of the ballad glimmers and approaches like a brilliant meteor, bringing a new rhythm with it, the same that accompanies Senta’s words, ” I am she, that shall save thee” (” Ich sei’s . . . erreichen “), and again in the apotheosis at the close. The tempo in which it first appears gives it the character of a call of infinite compassion and mercy, but later a heroic and glowing rhythm transforms it into a kind of triumphant battle flourish.
AcT I. The storm still continues in the orchestra, and is visible on the stage as the curtain rises, showing the steep rocks of the Norwegian coast. It is night, and the sea is heaving violently. A merchantman is tossing in the waves. At last it finds anchorage. In his stage directions, the composer orders the waves to be ” tower high.” Only the flashes of the lightning allow us to see the sailors, who are working to the rhythmical strains. Daland, the captain, comes ashore to get his bearings, and finds that the storm has driven him seven miles beyond his port. Now the wind drops, and he orders his weary men to rest, also seeking it himself; and leaves the watch to a young pilot. The latter tries to keep himself awake by singing in praise of the south wind that carries the ship back to home and sweetheart. Sleepiness interrupts the song now and then, and as the wind abates the orchestra moderates and allows the tenor voice to stand out more distinctly. When he pauses, a boisterous wave again strikes the ship and awakens him anew to his song. The effective heaving, on the violins and ‘cellos especially, continues till the appearance of the captain in the third scene. During a lull in the storm, the pilot finally falls sound asleep. Then the tempest in-creases again, and the plaintive, fatal melody sounds out of the thick clouds. Black, with blood-red sails, the ghost-ship comes into view. Swiftly it approaches amid more violent gusts of wind, vivid flashes of lightning, and rolls of thunder. It strikes the shore with a tremendous crash.
On deck are seen black-clothed sailors with long white beards. They cast anchor in gloomy silence. Paler than the others, the captain stands motionless against the mast. Then he slowly steps ashore and gazes sadly about him. From the orchestra surges up the damnation motiv which seems to shroud him. He leans against a rock, and in a hollow voice, fraught with the sorrow of centuries, he sings that the seven years’ term is again over and the sea casts him ashore. Between each sentence, a great wave rises in the orchestra, threatening an endless succession of terms. With blazing wrath he rebels, and cries ” Ha stolzer Ocean !” but soon he resumes his calm defiance. He will never find release on land. Sardonically he says he will remain true to the ocean. Then a gust of wind comes from the orchestra, and the waves swell while he utters his proud complaint in the melodious Arioso agitato that has already appeared in the overture. The memory of suffering forces its way into the foreground. He tells how often he has vainly sought death on the rocks and courting the sword of the pirate. His anger arises, and he rebels against his lot, and then is silent and gazes boldly into the dark heavens. The 6/8 time changes to 4/4 and, to a tremolo of ‘cellos and contra basses, the violins play their deepest notes. From time to time are added bassoons and clarinets and a flourish of kettledrums, and for several bars the trombones are associated with them in a deep register. The Dutchman is questioning the angel of the Almighty why fruitless hope was given to him when word was brought how to gain release. He has been foolish to try to escape his doom. Only one hope remains : let endless destruction be his lot !
The rhythm of this cry is extraordinarily effective. It is answered from the interior of the ship by sepulchral voices, as of the damned, full of secret reproach for their own ruin. The crew respond ” Ewg’e Vernichtung, nimm uns auf.” Between the two cries, the damnation motiv again sounds. The plaintive monotony with which the expressive tonality of C-flat persistently returns after the most daring modulations denotes the ever-recurring suffering. In the vocal pauses, the music accentuates unspeakable anguish.
Daland, awakened by the first beams of the sun, notices the ship that has arrived during the night. He hails it through his speaking trumpet, but without reply. Then he sees the Dutchman meditatively leaning against the rock, and goes towards him, asking whence he comes. The vocal pause between question and answer is filled by the orchestra with a striking harmony. ” I come from afar ! ” the Dutchman replies in deep dejection. ” Would you drive me from anchorage ? ” Daland welcomes him, rather, and tells of his own mishap,. and asks, ” What damage have you suffered ? Sorrowfully the Dutchman answers that his ship is safe. He cannot tell how many seas he has roved, and his heart longs only for the shore, but he never finds his native land. Daland is amazed. A baleful star must be following him ! He would gladly help the Dutchman ; what does his ship contain ?
Starting with the words, ” Driven from course by storm and wicked wind,” there begins a singular cantilena of forty bars, accompanied by a figure on a single sustained chord of the violins and ‘cello, supported by long sustained notes of the clarinets, horns, oboes, violas, and double basses. This sort of psalmody, or Song of Lamentation, conventional in its character, coming after the previous wild outbursts of passionate grief, produces the impression that the sufferers have become paralysed by their anguish. These forty bars bear some resemblance to the heavings of a dead sea where the waves meet as though too tired for movement.
The Dutchman begs Daland’s hospitality, promising large rewards. He orders him to fetch a chest out of the ship; Daland opens it. It displays gold, pearls, and precious stones, on which Daland gazes with covetous eyes. In his delight, he asks who could possibly pay for such precious things. The Dutchman replies that it is a mere trifle to what he possesses ; the Norwegian shall have all he sees, if he will give him shelter ! ” How shall I understand that ? ” asks Daland. ” Hast thou a daughter ? ” “Yes, indeed, a good, true child.” “Let her be my wife.” ” What ? my child your wife ! ” cries Daland, whose eyes are feasting more and more on the gold.
Then the Dutchman tells of his loneliness, and that if the other will help him, he will give him all his treasures.
Daland cannot resist the gold. He is disposed to be angry with himself for hesitating for a moment to close with such good fortune. It is like a dream. (” Fast furcht ‘ich . . . schlage ich ein.”)
Here Wagner keeps down the suggestion of the trades-man in the father’s expression of affection ; we see Daland as he is, an egotist who has had reproach and contempt poured upon him a thousand times for his greed, but who remains the avaricious dealer. Still, there is a streak of dignity in the man, because his love for his daughter is real.
Wohl Fremdling . . . in Gluck.”)
The Dutchman replies in tones strange and uncanny, “Dem rater . . . gatten sein.”
The word Fidelity, ” Treue,” uttered in this scene so often as to have become insipid, sounds on our ears here like a funeral bell, ” Du giebst . . . weib,” replies Daland, in tones in part suggesting paternal affection, in part the merchant’s caution pricing the goods.
“Thou givest her to me ? ” again demands the strange wooer.
” Yes, I feel for your troubles,” replies the Norwegian ; awkward rustic as he is, he knows how to varnish this sale of his child with a surface of better motive. He tells the truth when he says that the Dutchman is just the son-in-law he has wanted. So he settles with the Dutchman that the moment the wind is favourable they will land at Daland’s home.
The merchant now gives way to his delight, and thanks the tempest which drove him out of his course at so auspicious a moment ; he congratulates himself on getting such a desirable son-in-law. The unhappy captain, on the other hand, is oppressed by grief. What impels him to the temptation ? It can only be foolish Hope lurking at the bottom of Pandora’s box.
The storm has now all but passed. The wind springs up ; both ships set out. Daland’s goes first to show the way. While the sailors are raising the anchors, they sing again those characteristic, long-sustained notes which they had voiced at landing in the first scene : ” Hobo ! Hallo ! Hallo!” and then repeat, in chorus, the whole song of the young pilot in honour of the south wind which fills full the white sails.
In the refrain, there are some suggestions of the measures of the dance which are to celebrate the return in the third Act.
The other verses are still heard upon the merchant’s vessel, as it loses itself in the distance. But on the black ship with the red sails, which is handled with astonishing skill and quickness, not a sound is heard. In a silence as of death, it follows on the other’s course.
AcT II. The second Act is preceded by an intermezzo. The orchestra takes hold of the song of the pilot, and then, repeating the ” Chorus of farewell,” we see the worthy Daland sailing away, delighted with the precious chest, which the Dutchman had brought to his ship; and with bringing a husband home for his daughter ! We follow him till he reaches the harbour, when we are quickly trans-ported to Senta’s presence, and hear the whir of the spinning-wheels and some notes of the refrain which the maidens are singing.
A chamber, wainscotted in Scandinavian fashion, adorned with models of corvettes, cutters, schooners, and coloured copper-plate engravings of marine scenes, shows us a group of young women at the spinning-wheel.
They sing a charming song with obbligato accompaniment of the spinning-wheels. Senta takes no part in it. Sunk in melancholy reflection, her hands rest idly in her lap.
Her nurse, Mary, interrupts the chorus ; but the young girls go on with their singing. The whirring of the wheels joins in with the steady trilling of the violins, to which the second violins add charming rhythms; and this goes on till the singers become impatient with Senta, who takes no notice of her companions, but keeps her eyes fixed with a steady gaze on one of those illuminated pictures which are to be found in almost all seamen’s houses, commemorating some ballad or popular legend. It represents the Dutch captain as tradition has preserved him.
Mary scolds her a little. “How can she always be busying herself with that unhappy picture ? ” says the nurse. The girls all join in, and make fun of Senta’s being so taken up with the picture, and tell her to be careful, or her betrothed, the forester Erik, will be dreadfully jealous. All this upsets Senta, who dislikes being woke out of her dreamy abstraction, and she asks her nurse to sing the ballad about the Dutch captain. But the old woman refuses with horror, and says with awful solemnity, ” Let the Flying Dutchman alone, let him alone ; ” at which words the orchestra plainly sounds the motiv of the Dutch-man’s curse.
” How often have I heard you repeat it ! ” replies Senta ; and she sings the ballad herself. The girls are curious, and very willing to be interrupted in their work. So they flock round Senta to hear the song, which everybody knows, but which Senta sings so beautifully.
The song begins with its refrain, which is the motiv of the curse, an exact repetition of the first bars of the overture (” lo-ho hoe ! ” etc.).
The girls join in the last lines, ” Pray Heaven that soon some woman plight him faith inviolably kept ! ” But Senta goes on with increased energy, telling of his trying every seven years to find a faithful woman and never succeeding.
Her agitation increases, until she falls back in her chair exhausted. The girls have become agitated in sympathy, and are now in a very serious mood. They fold their hands as in prayer, and sing the last words of the ballad in chorus, pianissimo, “Where is she, that woman who is to be faithful until death ? ” No sooner have they said this, than Senta starts out of her fainting condition, and with the phrase we know so well in the peroration of the overture, heightened now in rhythm, ” The pale man can then only be released,” she cries ; ” let me be the one to save ; me whom the Angel of God points out, I will be the faithful saving one ! ” And she turns to the picture with out-stretched arms, as if it were a living thing, and casts her-self wildly upon it.
At this passionate outburst, all recoil in horror. The fancy is too dreadfully like reality.
At the same moment, Erik, Senta’s betrothed, announces the arrival of the ship.
This news turns their thoughts, and they are all de-lighted. The girls hurry to meet the men, among whom is many a sweetheart, many a brother. But Mary holds them back, and tells them that they must first prepare the festive meal for the home-comers.
The girls sulk a little at this, and their ill-humour vents itself in a little lively chorus; it is not so subtle as the spinning-wheel song, but it is marked by girlish spirit and merriment.
When the girls have gone, Erik keeps Senta back, and tells her of the impatience with which he looks forward to the happy moment of their union, and entreats her to ask her father to hasten and settle that day. His address to Senta is full of that anxious tenderness which tries to convince itself that love is returned but is not certain of it.
It is clear at once that Erik has for some time felt Senta’s love to be something too equable, too unimpassioned ; it cannot have really filled her soul. He sees that she prefers solitude to being with him, that she regards his love as something given to her by him rather than some-thing which they mutually share. Senta at first makes evasive answer, and, as he becomes more pressing, she is less and less willing and accuses him of suspecting her. Erik, like all awkward lovers, says unjust things, and at last loses his temper. He accuses her of being too much taken up with that ballad, singing it so often ; that she is always staring at the picture of the Flying Dutchman ; and that she is altogether too sorry fo that damned captain.
Erik has now injured her in all her most secretly felt sympathies. She finds herself unable to endure his reproaches quietly, and takes an attitude of opposition which passes into one of ill-will to him. She asks him with a sort of hauteur, ” Am I not then to compassionate the lot of that most wretched one ? ”
” Does not my suffering touch you any more? ” Erik asks with astonishing simplicity.
” O ! boast not your sufferings, what can they possibly be?”
Senta then takes him to the portrait, and gives him the full benefit of a comparison between his humble self and the great accursed one.
What can your sufferings be ? ” asks Senta gloomily. ” Can you feel the agony with which he looks down on me, or how the eternal loss of his peace goes like a dagger through my heart ? ” She lays her hand on that heart as though it were bursting. But Erik exclaims, ” ‘Woe, woe! Miserable dream ! Satan has thee in his toils.”
Yes, he has had a dream ! Senta, exhausted with agitation, sinks back into a chair. She closes her eyes that she may the better see the man who is always in her imagination. Her head is carelessly thrown back, her arms hang by her side, all strength seems gone from her. She seems to be falling into sleep, yet to understand every word uttered. Her sleep becomes that of the clairvoyant. She accompanies all he says with appropriate gestures, and now strikes in with speech. The accursed ship and captain are now no mere creatures of her fancy. She sees them, hears them, feels their movements, and is sure that they are approaching; in her ecstasy she sees her father with the pale man, just as Erik has told of them ; he dreamed that the two were coming, that she hastened towards them, and sank to the ground before the Dutchman, who raised and embraced her passionately. This in dialogue between Erik and the sleeper. ” And then ? ” she asks with glowing cheeks and a happy smile. ” And then,” replies the horror-stricken Erik, ” I saw you flee from us on the sea !”
As he utters these words, Senta rises ; her eyes are fixed, wide open; the glowing cheeks become deathly pale. She stretches forth her hand and exclaims in deep tones : ” He seeks me! I must see him! His doom must be mine!”
Erik is terrified ; he wrings his hands and sobs : ” Horror of horrors ! Ha, all is clear to me ! It is all over with her ! My dream was true ! ” and dashes wildly from the room.
Senta is alone. She turns, opens wide her arms, and goes up to the picture with infinite affection in her looks, while the orchestra gives in subdued tones the motiv of the curse, and she sings, mezza voce, the refrain of the ballad : ” Ah, unhappy mariner, when wilt thou find her ? ” While she is thus sunk in contemplation of the portrait, the door opens and the captain stands there as though in a frame. His face is identical with that of the picture.
Senta hears the door open, turns, and sees him ; she utters an awful cry. Then she stands petrified, and gazes with terror in her eyes, but firmness and determination too. This being, appearing so suddenly, is he whom she has to follow, if need be to her death ?
So she stands there like a creature almost turned to stone. All voice seems to have died out of her; while the motiv of the curse is solemnly sounded by the orchestra.
Daland is astonished at his daughter’s fixed stare, and asks her why she stands there without coming to him. She embraces him, but still keeps her eyes fixed on the stranger, searching his countenance anxiously. To her question, ” Who is he ? ” Daland answers that he is an exile condemned to wander far from his home, possessed of illimitable wealth, and now hoping to make a new home with them.
Will that bore you or vex you ? ” he adds with a little touch of sarcasm. Senta, whose gaze sinks deeper and deeper into the eyes of the stranger, bows her head with a gentle sweetness. Daland can hardly conceal his satisfaction, and turns to his wealthy guest to enjoy the admiration his daughter so plainly causes, and which, as the father thinks, clinches the bargain between them. ” Don’t deny it, she adorns her sex ! ” he says to the wooer, who now also bends his head in serious assent. The couple before him seem little willing to utter a word, so Daland tries to bring them nearer to each other by all sorts of little speeches and noddings and winkings. And he formally announces to his daughter that he has promised this noble exile her hand. She makes no reply, except by a gesture signifying consent ; she shows by her manner that her heart tells her that the ruin which she was willing to incur was to be brought to her, was brought by her father’s own hand. The father shows her some cases of jewels; she will not turn her head to vouchsafe them a single glance. As the pair persist in silence, Daland says slyly that he supposes he is not wanted, and that it would be better to leave them together. But before he goes, he turns to his guest to whisper, “Trust me! She is beautiful, but as true as beautiful ! ”
The long duo between Senta and her pale lover is the culminating point of the work.
The Dutchman lays his hand on his forehead to collect his crowding thoughts. Senta’s penetrating eyes show that what she does she fully understands. Still, is this woman real after all ? As he clasps his hand to his forehead, the hat with the black feather falls from his head, the hat with the agrafe that always calls to mind the mysterious carbuncle which, according to legend, the Prince of Darkness always wears when he takes the form of a knight for a visit to the earth.
This gesture is the first real sign of life he gives. Up to this moment he has stood rigid, like a being summoned from the grave. Now it seems as though he were becoming human, he moves ; his eyes had seemed coals of fire under the broad brim of his hat, not so now ; his pale temples are covered with locks of rich brown hair. But Senta remains standing with her eyes fixed upon him ; and from the orchestra ascends the motiv of the curse. Two bassoons give the notes, three strokes of the drum mark its close.
They exchange no words, but both speak in low tones to themselves of their astonishment and anxiety at this unexpected, incredible realization of their presentiments. The Dutchman says that the girl’s image speaks like the dream of times long past. Can it be love he feels for her ? Ah, no ! it is the despairing longing to be restored, saved, healed. Will it be through her ? Yet he feels that love is rising in him, love and admiration. But the old fear comes lest this be only one more disappointment. Senta, on the other hand, whose gaze never leaves him, is thinking of the many tears she has wept for him,, the many fervent prayers she has put up to God that she may be chosen for his salvation.
The colouring of the instrumentation is very temperate here. It seems as though the orchestra were unwilling to do anything to qualify the impression produced by the two noble forms on the stage. All that we hear is a restless pulsation of the horns, like the beating of two hearts. The phrases are broad, long breathed. There are few examples in all music of melodies so lengthy, or of such majesty.
At last the Dutchman approaches Senta and asks if she wills what her father has promised; whether she will be his salvation and end his sufferings. He knows that she knows the whole truth. The dumb searching of her merciful eyes has shown him from the first that this is no simple, artless girl, but a being of highest stamp. Therefore he addresses her at once in terms befitting that superiority.
With feminine tenderness and nobility, Senta avoids all open mention of the great mystery of his life. ” Whoever thou art ; whate’er thy ruin ; however great that ruin ; whatsoever the lot assigned to me ; I shall ever be obedient to my father.”
At these words, spoken as though she was taking an inviolable vow upon herself, the horns speak as though Senta’s heart were doubling its beats at this moment decisive of life and death. She hides the glowing of her quick, nascent love under the cloak of obedience to her father. The Dutchman exclaims, ” How ! so immediately, so unconditionally ! Does compassion for me pierce thee so ? ” Senta replies : “Ah, what sufferings thine ! Oh, if I could but bring thee comfort ! ” The unhappy man hears, and understands. And he speaks not of love, but kneels, and greets her as a messenger of Heaven, and both sing together that if he ever is to be saved, it can only be through her.
But he is too great to accept such a gift, to earn his peace and salvation at such cost, to ruin such a soul. The Dutchman rises, and singing that song of lament which he had already sung to the morning breezes, his only confidants, and which he had repeated when he landed, he now portrays the terrors of the cruel fate to which she, in all the bloom of her youth, would be subject if united to him. He tries to hold her back from sharing so heavy a burden. She knows what woman’s sacred duties are, she tells him, and bids him take comfort ; he may well let the decree of fate be passed upon a woman who knows how to defy it ; her heart is pure, she knows what fidelity commands, and will bring to the man to whom she consecrates herself faithfulness even unto death.
The lines in which she so reassures him are given in declamatory melody at once powerful and tender. The accompanying wind instruments leave all the impress of courage and love upon the words. Only twice do the first violins break into her answer with a figure borrowed from the melopoeia of the Dutchman ; this, though short, and in the same as the earlier key, is shifted abruptly to the major from minor, so that it suggests a ray of joy coming into those eyes which had so long ceased to have any fire in them. And now the two voices join in a duo full of agitated passion. Senta exclaims, ” Here let him find a home, here let his ship rest in harbour ! ” After this outburst of devotion, follows a prayer that Heaven may support her. She is lowly now, a true handmaiden of the Lord. She cries, “Almighty one, let that which exalts me be Fidelity, Truth, and only Truth ! ” At love and devotion so lavish, new life streams through the Dutchman’s veins. The sense of gratitude almost overturns his brain; he presses Senta convulsively to his heart. The blood comes back into his hollow cheeks; into the half-dead glance comes new life. Each loves and is loved. Stern fate has no more terrors for them. They are made happy.
AcT III. The introduction begins with the final motiv of the duo. Then comes that cry of Senta’s which preceded her prayer, “What mighty force is this that springs up in me? ” and the corresponding utterance of the Dutchman, ” Thou star of woe, pale shalt thou grow ! ” Then comes the motiv of that passage of the ballad, ” Ah, pale mariner, couldst thou but find her ! ” Then we come to the song of the mariners when the trading-ship sets out for home in the first Act. The measures of this song are strong and merry, and bring to mind all the joys which now are to be realized.
The scene shows the harbour. The Dutchman’s ship is at anchor beside Daland’s, which is dressed as for a festival with streamers. Like garlands of flowers of light, lamps hang among the masts and yards, and seem to be a web of light woven into the rigging of the ship. The crew are dancing and carousing on shore.
The scene is all laughter and noisy enjoyment. The song is the motiv we know already in the overture, where it contrasts with another that represents the awful desolation and ruin of the supernatural ship. The latter is dark and silent, as though shrouded by some impenetrable veil of horror. Its ropes are all black, its sails deep red, standing out from a background of dark clouds. It is a strange contrast with the festive appearance of the Norwegian. There is an atmosphere of terror about it. But the gay seamen do not seem to mind it at all. The feast goes on with increasing merriment, and all grow more jovial in their cups. Women arrive with baskets filled with good things to eat and drink. Then desperate flirtations occur all over the stage.
The. girls, who have been with Senta and who have already heard of her betrothal, have thought that the companions of her captain lover ought to have some refreshments. But they don’t see any of the strangers among the Norwegian sailors, so they go up to the quay and call to them to come. But not a living soul is to be seen on board. Daland’s sailors make merry over it ; they tell the girls that they are silly creatures to spend their precious cookery on those surly fellows who like their sleep below better than the girls’ company. The girls call them again. Then all listen for some reply. This silent listening is admirably indicated by a pianissimo breathing of three deep horns on a chord of a minor key quite remote from the preceding, C-major. Dead silence as before ! The noisy, merry crowd on the stage feels it, but won’t admit it, and jokes even more boisterously. The girls sing to the sleepers, ” How is this, sailors ? Sleepy things, are you all in bed there already, can’t you come and make merry like the others ? ” They laugh, but it is forced laughter; there is more fear than fun in it. The women pluck up their spirits, and call in ironic tones to the sleepy fellows to come up. The men now join them in the mocking invitation, making all sorts of humorous remarks.
But, ever since that uncanny chord in the minor sounded, the merry strains of the sailors seem to be trembling with something as far as possible from hilarity. The men are becoming agitated. Again the men and women stop their cries, and all listen intently. After a dead silence again, there sounds a prolonged minor chord like the earlier one, preceded by a chord of the diminished seventh of F-minor. The men and women are now curious indeed, and not a little frightened, though they try to conceal their terror, and call loudly again to the dumb ship. Again for a third time come a pause and silence, and a third simple chord, prolonged, pianissimo, on bassoons and horns, preceded by the chord of the diminished seventh of C-minor.
They are all now so upset that they leave the quay and go back to their drinking. A cup or two soon restores their merriment and courage. All the baskets are emptied. The dance, drinking, and feasting go on more merrily than ever. However, after a while, the women leave, and the men sing their first song again. The orchestra now accompanies it in a different manner. The strings give us pearly shakes in the lower parts ; flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon, sounding the upper part. At the moment when that tremolo and shaking of the violins has reached its highest point, ascending chromatically, there is seen waving on the forecastle of the Dutchman a gloomy, black-blue flame, as though hell-fire itself were coming up from the hold. The chromatic current of the orchestra dashes itself suddenly upon the motiv of the curse in a gloomy chord of B-minor that sounds like the death of all joy. Now the crew of the Dutchman suddenly spring up out of the gloom their ship is wrapped in, and gather round the mast, filling the air with their wild savage song : ” Ioho ho Iohoho the storm drives to land. In sail ! out anchor! Into bay ! Black Captain, to shore, to shore ! Seven years gone ! Woo the blonde girl, may she be true! Merry now, bridegroom, storm is the bridal music. Ocean dances at the bridals. Ha ! Ha ! It whistles, the storm ! Art there again, Captain ? Where’s the bride, the bride, the bride ? Away to sea ! Not lucky in love, Captain ! Howl, rage, tempest ! Canst not split our sails. They ‘re the Devil’s own sails ! Won’t split to all eternity ! ”
The music here is already of the Satanic-Bacchanalian order : hoarse cries, yelling laughter, wild curses, devilish merriment, whistlings of scorn. The modulations are as wild as possible, and six piccolos are employed, the high tones of which strike upon the ear like a flight of arrows from the hands of gnomes; and the noise of the storm is rendered by blasts of the wind instruments strengthened by blows on tamtams. It is all as though there were present a horde of invisible monsters of metal dashing their iron heads together in applauding delight. Daland’s own crew have been singing on, and do not seem to notice the tremendous noise of the Dutchman, which, however, seems to come nearer and nearer to them. However, they soon become aware of the scornful refrain. They are much startled, and ask themselves whether this is an illusion of their half-tipsy senses, or witchcraft, or evil spirits. However, they think the best way to get those horrible ghastly echoings and mockings out of their ears is to go back to the wine, and sing again ; but each time they are overtopped by the hellish, ” Huissa, johoho, johoho ! ” of the Dutchmen, till at last a crescendo and fortissimo of really devilish power reduces them entirely to silence. After this strange competition, the supernatural chorus goes on alone in scornful triumph until the swollen stream of the savage singing dashes down in a cataract of hellish laughter, ” Ha, ha, ha,” prolonged until the paralyzed Norwegians cross themselves, and flee from the terrible place, when the laughter suddenly ceases.
The very air is still. The black singers have disappeared. Not a sound anywhere; it is like the deathly quiet of the churchyard in the night hours.
This curse-laden, dithyrambic song is enhanced by bringing into it (with the horns, the drums accompaning as bass) the motiv of the curse. After these instruments, together with the bassoon, have made suggestion of Senta’s words, ” Ah, pale mariner, when wilt thou find her ? ” we fancy that the piece is going to end in simple unison. But that uncanny minor chord which had sounded three times to the terror of all, returns here again, and is prolonged during the deep silence that follows.
Now Senta appears. She is clad in the pretty costume of Norwegian brides. Erik, poor tiresome Erik, comes there, thinking it a good opportunity to load her with his reproachful tendernesses.
The Captain comes in while this conversation is going on ; he is struck by it and remains in the background listening. In vain does Senta tell Erik that she cannot listen to him any longer. In a beautifully impressive cavatina, he reminds her of all the signs of her preference for him, mute but full of promise. He forces her in some sort to share his present tortures. The Dutchman learns that Senta has loved already. He is violently agitated by the thought that the day may come when she may shed tears for the loss of this soft, peaceful love, and repent her quick surrender to him, and at last break her oath of fidelity, and so be eternally lost.
With the swift resolve of a great nature, he hurries up to her, bids her farewell, and dashes to his ship, crying, ” To sea, to sea ! Farewell, forever ! Thy fidelity cannot be ! My salvation cannot be ! Farewell, I will not be thy ruin ! ” The sailors appear upon the deck and repeat, “To sea, to sea ! ” and their Captain adds, “Bid farewell to the shore for all eternity ! ” Senta hurries after him, clings to his arm, and holds him back, reproaching him for doubting her fidelity. But he answers in frenzy, ” I doubt of thee ! I doubt of God ! To sea, to sea, there is no faith on earth ! ”
Erik sees his betrothed, so cold to him, now turned into a creature of utter indomitable passion. He can only imagine it to be the work of the powers of darkness.
Uttering loud cries, he dashes out for help, so that Senta may be freed, forcibly, if need be, from these toils of hell.
The moment is decisive; the Dutchman sees Senta exposed to the greatest dangers ; his own salvation he can never expect through any other woman. But he will not leave this beloved woman without telling her all that concerns him. So he cries out in loud tones, ” Learn what fate it is I ward from thee; I stand condemned to the most horrible of fates ; tenfold death were better. A woman alone can save me, a woman consecrating herself to me till death. Thou hast promised me thy faith ; but not yet vowed it before the Eternal. This saves thee. For know, unhappy one, what awaits the women who have broken their fidelity to me. Eternal damnation is their lot ! Countless are the victims who have come under this sentence through me. But thou shalt be saved. Farewell ! and thou, my soul’s salvation, farewell forever ! ” Senta wrings her hands in despair; she cries out to him that she knows him; she knows the duty she has vowed to fulfil, she is determined to save him.
Now, Daland, Mary, and the whole horrified crowd come in with Erik. “No,” cries the Dutchman ; ” thou knowest me not, dost not dream who I am. Ask the sea in all the zones of earth, ask the mariner that traverses all oceans ; he knows the ship, the terror of all pious souls ; they call me the Flying Dutchman ! ”
The music of the phrase here comes very near to being the motiv of the curse. His crew take up the strain immediately, in gloomy tones, ” Fohoho, johoho ! ”
Now the Dutchman succeeds in tearing himself loose from Senta. He places her in her father’s arms, springs on board in violent agitation, and the ship puts off. Senta struggles, frees herself, dashes up to a jutting point of the rocks, and cries to her beloved : ” Sing praise to thine Angel and his Decree. Here behold me, faithful to Death ! ” and so plunges into the waves.
At the same moment, the doomed ship is seen to sink in the waves. A few minutes after, we see the sky of Heaven opening with wonderful light, opening wide to the zenith. We see Senta and the man she has saved borne up by the clouds, crowned with a glorious halo; they are at the very centre of a mass of the Northern Lights. At the same time, the orchestra takes up the motiv of the ballad, in D-major. It is transformed ; expiation and victory have come, and the pain of the melody is turned into the strain of devotion, while the melody remains the same motiv, just as in the peroration of the overture.