IN Lohengrin each Act has its prelude, or Vorspiel. The prelude to the first Act is constructed entirely upon the motiv of The Grail. It begins on high notes of the violins in eight-part harmony, and the four solo violins are used in such combination with the first, second, and third flutes and the first and second oboes as to produce enchanting harmony. Then the eight violins, three flutes, two oboes, one cor anglais, two clarinets, one bass clarinet, and strings unite to describe the mysteries of Montsalvat. The Grail bursts forth on the trumpets, trombones, and bass tuba, and after a tremendous crescendo, fades away, like a vision, upon the muted violins.
ACT I. The curtain rises on the banks of the Scheldt, near Antwerp, which winds through the landscape. Beneath a large oak sits Henry the Fowler, the Emperor of Germany (bass), surrounded by his Saxon knights. Opposite are Frederick von Telramund, a Brabançon count (baritone), and Ortrude, his wife (mezzo-soprano), with the people of Brabant. The Herald-at-Arms (bass) and his four trumpeters sound The King’s Call, demanding the allegiance of the Brabançon people (Hôrt ! Grafen, Edle, Freie von Brabant). They take the oath of fealty. The King, rising, explains the condition of Germany to his subjects (” Gott grass’ euch, liebe Manner von Brabant”). It distressed him to learn, on his arrival, of the civil dissensions in this province, and he asks Telramund to explain why Brabant is without a prince and what is the trouble. Telramund informs him the Duke of Brabant left a daughter, Elsa, and a son, Godfrey. Of the latter’s education he had charge. To his great distress, Godfrey disappeared mysteriously when walking one day with his sister; he was so shocked at the murder Elsa must have committed, that he rejected her hand and married Ortrude. He is a relative of the Duke and now he is his heir. Ortrude is also of noble birth. He accuses Elsa of fratricide. The people try to defend her, but Telramund has another accusation ; Elsa has a secret love, and she desires to be ruler of Brabant in order to cherish her lover openly. The King orders Elsa to be brought before him. May Heaven give him wisdom to deal with this case !
The Herald gives his call, and as Elsa (soprano) timidly enters with her women, the Elsa motiv appears on the wood-wind. The Grail is with it. To Henry’s questions she makes no reply, but gestures show her resignation, and she softly speaks of her “dear brother.” Her manner excites general curiosity, and when the King asks for an explanation, Elsa, in a trance-like state, speaks of a certain day, when, in her sorrow, she offered a prayer. She fell asleep, and dreamed of a knight in shining armour. Heaven sent him to protect her, and in her hour of need he will appear (” Einsam in trüben Tagen ” ). The Elsa motiv re-appears, somewhat changed, however, and The Grail; and during her narrative, the bold, musical theme descriptive of Lohengrin is announced on the flutes, oboe, and cor anglais to the accompaniment of harp and strings tremolo. We also hear for the first time a motiv that belongs to Lohengrin, Glory.
Henry cannot believe Elsa guilty ; but, as Telramund persists in his calumny, the King proposes The judgment of God, which motiv is heard on the trombones and bass tuba, followed by that of Elsa on the wood-wind.
He asks Elsa to name her champion. Already under his protection, she will await that mysterious knight ! She will reward him with her hand, and share her crown with him ! The King orders the combat to be proclaimed, and the Herald and his trumpeters sound a call at the four cardinal points.
No one answers. As Telramund taunts Elsa, the bass clarinet utters a significant phrase, a variation of The judgment of God. The Herald gives a second call. The judgment of God is heard in its original form, and the clarinets utter the phrase that we heard on the bass clarinet alone. There is no response. Elsa kneels in prayer (” Du trugest zu ihm meine Klage “). This prayer ends with a memory of the Elsa motiv. Immediately the trumpets announce with great majesty and splendour the motive Lohengrin and Glory. At this moment a boat comes down the river drawn by a swan. In it stands a knight in silver armour. The astonished people hail his arrival. The King keeps his seat ; Elsa looks upon the stranger with charmed gaze ; and Telramund and Ortrude manifest astonishment and malevolence. As the Knight debarks, we hear the Grail on the strings. He bids his Swan an affectionate farewell (” Nun set bedankt, mein lieber Schwan “). To his words, “Leb’ wohl, Leb’ wohl, mein lieber Schwan,” the Harmony of the Swan is given out by the two oboes, clarinet, and cor anglais. Lohengrin instructs it to return to the distant country from which they came, and gazes after it as the bird sails up the river. Then he salutes the King, and announces that he has come to be Elsa’s champion. Turning to Elsa, he asks her if she will entrust him with this task. Roused from her ecstasy, Elsa throws herself at his feet, replying that she has already done so ; then he asks if she will become his wife after he has proved her innocence. There is one favour he craves, one condition he makes ; she must never ask, nor seek to know, his name. Again the Grail is heard, and The Mystery of the Name. This melancholy and impressive motiv he announces himself on the words, “Nie sollst du mich befragen.” He repeats this twice, the last time in a higher key. He embraces Elsa, and, proclaiming her innocence, places her under the King’s protection. Then he calls Telramund to the combat. The latter is agitated, and his adherents suggest that he withdraws; but Telramund answers the challenge. Henry appoints witnesses, and the Herald proclaims the laws of the combat. Here The judgment of God is conspicuous. The King offers a prayer, “Mein Herr und Gott, nun ruf’ ich dich, which is followed by a quintette with chorus. The combat takes place according to ceremony. At each thrust, The judgement of God sounds from the orchestra, treated in canon, and, as Lohengrin strikes his adversary, the Lohengrin motiv is again heard on the trumpets and trombones. Telramund’s life is spared by Lohengrin, who receives the happy Elsa. The latter hails his victory in an enthusiastic phrase, ” O find’ ich Jubelweisen,” taken up by the’ chorus and developed with the motiv of Glory. This finale is elaborate. The people crowd around the victor; Telramund crawls away in mortification ; Ortrude utters imprecations upon Lohengrin ; and the Saxons and Brabançons carry off Lohengrin upon his own shield and Elsa upon King Henry’s, while the people manifest delight. Once more, as the curtain falls, reminiscences of the Lohengrin motiv rise from the orchestra.
ACT II. A trill on the kettle-drums opens the prelude and continues while a new motiv, Ortrude’s Dark Plots, a phrase of ten bars, appears on the violoncello. Eleven bars later a second motiv, also associated with Ortrude, The Doubt, appears on the violoncello and the bassoon. The Mystery of the Name is softly murmured by the wood-wind to the accompaniment of the stuffed horn.
The curtain rises upon the inner court of the Palace at Antwerp. The men’s quarters in the Palace at the back, with the lighted windows ; to the left, the women’s quarters, with a balcony; also the porch of the cathedral; further back, the town-gate.
Telramund and Ortrude, miserably clad, are sitting on the steps of the church. Festive music is heard from the Palace. The Dark Plots murmur from the orchestra. Telramund upbraids Ortrude for having led him into disgrace ; Ortrude has made him forfeit honour. Would that he had a weapon to strike her dead ! Ortrude invented that story of Elsa’s crime in the forest ; she made him reject the heiress of Brabant ; she pretended that, as the last of the Radbod line, she had a claim to the throne of Brabant !
Ortrude wonders why Telramund did not use such magnificent scorn as this upon the knight; he might have been vanquished ! Still, it is not too late, for if Telramund will permit her to do so, she will use her occult power ! If Elsa’s curiosity should be aroused regarding the origin of the mysterious stranger, if they could only make her doubt and break her vow, the spell would be broken ! The Dark Plots, The Doubt, and The Mystery of the Name are significantly mingled in the orchestra. Then, too, they might accuse the hero of sorcery ; he would have to reveal himself ! Now, if Telramund had only wounded him ever so slightly, the charm would have ceased ! This revives Telramund’s spirits, and he joins his wife in a terrible vow of imprecation, ” Der Rache Werk,” sung in octaves.
Thus they seal their pact. Telramund will aid Ortrude in her Dark Plots !
Elsa appears upon the balcony. She sings a melody expressive of her happiness (” Euch Luften, die mein Klagen “). Darkness prevents her from seeing the baleful figures on the steps. Ortrude approaches, and humbly enlists Elsa’s sympathy, and to such an extent that Elsa promises to be-friend her. In order to talk more intimately to her, Elsa leaves the balcony.
Ortrude offers a prayer to her pagan gods, Wotan and Freïa ; but when Elsa re-enters, she again becomes humble. Elsa promises that she will gain her lover’s sympathy for Ortrude, and Ortrude shall be one of her bridal train.
Ortrude is so grateful that she will give Elsa a valuable hint. She had better not trust this mysterious lover; may he not depart as he came ? To The Dark Plots and The Doubt, the orchestra adds The Mystery of the Name, played on the cor anglais and the basset-horn.
Elsa is disturbed ; but she will not doubt her lover. Ortrude accompanies her into the Palace, and Telramund, from his hiding-place, utters maledictions.
Day breaks. Trumpet-calls answer each other from tower to tower. Telramund hides; the porter opens the gate ; servants go to the fountain to draw water ; four trumpeters sound The King’s Call ; and people move about. All the activity of the day begins. The Herald-at-Arms sounds The King’s Call, and proclaims Telramund banished ; any one affording him protection shall suffer the same fate ! Another flourish of trumpets, and he proclaims that the strange Knight has declined the title of Duke of Brabant for that of Protector, and desires that his new subjects prepare for the King’s expeditions. He will lead them. The people approve (chorus : ” Hoch der ersehnte Mann”), but four jealous knights show signs of dissatisfaction. Telramund joins them, and craftily details his new scheme for a combat. The Herald announces that the Knight’s marriage will take place this morning. As the people sing their delight, four Pages enter to clear the way for Elsa.
The bridal procession approaches. The wood-wind utters delicate phrases, and all through this bridal music the first violin sings a beautiful and impressive melody, while the people attest their good wishes (” Gesegnet soil sie schreiten”).
Elsa is gorgeously arrayed ; hardly less so is Ortrude, who follows. Just as Elsa is about to enter the church, Ortrude suddenly bars the way, and asserts her claim to precedence.
Who is this Knight ? Why does he not reveal his origin, his home, his country ? He must have grave reasons for keeping this secret, if he forbids his bride to demand it !
The men now clear the way for the King, who issues from the Palace with Lohengrin and his train. We hear The King’s Call, followed immediately by the Lohengrin motiv. King Henry asks the reason of the trouble, and Elsa begs Lohengrin to protect her from Ortrude. Lohengrin drives the latter away.
The procession forms again and is about to enter the church when Telramund presents to the King his accusation of sorcery against Lohengrin; he demands the name of the Knight who has robbed him of honour. At these words The judgment of God rises from the orchestra.
All await Lohengrin’s reply.
The only one to whom he will make answer is Elsa ; if she asks it, he will reveal his origin !
Elsa is disturbed, but she will not seek to penetrate the mystery; the King and the Brabançon nobles are satisfied; but Telramund and Ortrude, standing aside, watch Elsa, noting with interest that the poison has taken effect.
Telramund, stealthily creeping to Elsa, suggests that she will accept his aid if she wishes to keep her Knight forever. He will be near her nuptial chamber; she need only call to him. Lohengrin, divining the dark schemes of Telramund, sends him off. Once more he asks Elsa if she trusts in him, and if she desires to question him. The Mystery of the Name is breathed out upon the flute and clarinet. Elsa assures him that she has perfect confidence in him.
The organ peals from the church, the people sing praises to the bridal pair and enter the portals, and Elsa, frightened by Ortrude’s menacing glance, presses closer to her Knight for protection. The Doubt, The Mystery of the Name, and The Dark Plots are the chief motive in this scene; and, as King Henry enters the church with Lohengrin and Elsa, The King’s Call reappears. Just before the curtain falls, The Grail and The Mystery of the Name remind us that upon this secret and its revelation the whole tragedy unfolds.
ACT III. The Wedding-March opens the prelude to Act HI, and, as the curtain rises upon the bridal chamber, the bridal procession, singing an epithalamium, Treulich gefuhrt, escorts Elsa and Lohengrin. The King presents the bride to her husband, Elsa’s women remove her long mantle ; and pages, Lohengrin’s cloak. The people de-part with a song that dies away in the distance.
Left alone with Lohengrin, Elsa falls into his arms. Lohengrin leads her to the couch on the right, and they sing their duet, Das Süsse Lied verhallt. She had seen him in a dream before he came to her ; he was led by Love to her side. Lohengrin passionately speaks Elsa’s name. Alas ! she cannot utter his for she does not know it !
Lohengrin pretends not to hear her, and leads her to the window to enjoy the sweetness of the night. Elsa, how ever, is insistent (The Doubt and The Mystery of the Name). Lohengrin tells her she need not fear; his home is one of grandeur; his rank more exalted than the King’s; but he still is unwilling to satisfy her. His words increase Elsa’s curiosity. Now she fancies she see the Swan (the flutes and clarinets softly sigh the motiv of The Swan), coming for her husband. Must he go ? We have heard The Doubt constantly throughout this scene. Elsa can trust him no longer. She must know his name. She puts the question boldly now, and The Mystery of the Name bursts from the orchestra.
Lohengrin tries to check her. Instantly Telramund and the four Brabançon conspirators enter suddenly with menacing swords. Elsa rushes for Lohengrin’s, and, taking it from her, he kills Telramund instantly. The four conspirators fall at his feet and Elsa faints in his arms. Lohengrin orders the nobles to bear Telramund to the King, and, summoning Elsa’s women, bids them array their mistress, as Telramund’s body is borne off. The judgment of God reminds us of the combat and of eternal justice; a bell tolls, and, as Lohengrin announces to the astonished people that he will reveal his origin before the King, for Elsa has desired it, The Mystery of the Name is heard again, followed by The Grail. The curtain falls.
A flourish of trumpets is heard ; and the curtain rises. Again we are on the banks of the Scheldt : precisely the same landscape as in Act I.
A martial procession hails the entrance of King Henry, who thanks the Brabançon nobles for their expressions of loyalty. In astonishment, they see a bier advancing; it is the body of Telramund. The frightened Elsa follows, and The Mystery of the Name from the orchestra, gloomy and sad, joined to The Doubt and followed by the motiv of Elsa, reminds us of all that has happened.
Now Lohengrin appears alone and sad. He wears his silver armour. Naturally enough, the Lohengrin motiv accompanies him. The King welcomes him cordially, but the Knight courteously regrets that he cannot lead his army ; he has come to justify his slaying of Telramund ; and reveals the plot of the latter. The King freely pardons the Knight’s act of self-defence. ‘With greater distress, the Knight announces that his wife, under the evil influence of his enemies, has broken her vow. She has asked the fatal question. Here he sings as he did in Act I, when he charged her not to ask The Mystery of the Name, but now to the words, ” Nun hat sie ihren theurn Schwur gebrochen.” He will reveal his origin, but it will cost Elsa and himself all their happiness ! To the breath-less audience he describes the beauties and wonders of Montsalvat, where knights of pure and gentle nature guard the Holy Grail (The Grail), the mystic virtues of which are renewed yearly by a dove from the celestial regions.
The guardian of the Holy Grail must not reveal his secret to mankind ; if so, he will lose the supernatural power bestowed upon him. He is one of the Knights of the Grail; his father, Parsifal, is their first priest-king ; his own name is Lohengrin. Now the orchestra calls out his motiv in the boldest tone, and then wails forth The judgment of God as the awed people grieve.
Lohengrin takes the grief-stricken Elsa in his arms to bid her farewell. She tries to keep him, and the King and his subjects add their entreaties to hers. Lohengrin must return to Montsalvat. He makes a prophecy. Owing to King Henry’s nobility and purity, Germany shall not be invaded by barbarians.
The people nearest the river are excited. They announce the Swan (The Swan), and now the boat that brought Lohengrin returns ; it is empty. Lohengrin addresses the Swan in words that are not understood by the people; he wishes he could see it freed from the spell that holds it !
Lohengrin turns to Elsa. He had hoped to restore Godfrey; if he should ever return she must give him, in the name of Lohengrin, this horn, to protect him in danger; this sword, an invincible weapon ; and this ring, from the champion of the defenceless. He kisses Elsa, who faints, and walks towards his boat. Ortrude suddenly appears. In great delight, she tells Elsa that the Swan is Godfrey ; if Lohengrin had remained, he would have had power to deliver the brother transformed thus by her own sorcery !
As he is about to step into his boat, Lohengrin overhears this. Kneeling, he offers a prayer. The dove of the Grail appears (The Grail is uttered by the orchestra, softly but with great solemnity ). Lohengrin removes the chain binding the Swan, which dives into the river. Instantly, Godfrey, the young Duke of Brabant, steps upon the bank and runs to Elsa, who is momentarily overjoyed ; but again she faints in the arms of her women, for Lohengrin is now in his boat, which the dove is bearing away. The motive of The Grail, Lohengrin, and Glory are heard from the orchestra with breadth and emphasis; and now that he has departed, the Lohengrin motiv is sorrowfully repeated in the minor. Ortrude slinks off to die in impotent rage ; the people gather around their young ruler ; and the orchestra plays The Grail, as the curtain falls.