The late Siegfried Wagner, inheritor of Bayreuth, was born to Richard Wagner and Cosima in 1869. Wagner, then at the height of his artistic powers, was deeply involved in the tangled skein of his last and consummative love affair and the completion of his opera “Siegfried.” Cosima, as Wagner wrote a friend,’ had “defied every disapprobation and taken upon her-self every condemnation. She has borne to me a wonderfully beautiful and vigorous boy, whom I could boldly call `Siegfried’; he is now growing, together with my work, and gives me a new long life which has at last attained a meaning.” In 1870, after Cosima had secured her divorce from von Bulow and become Wagner’s wife, the composer wrote his friend Prager that his house was full of children, those of his wife by her former marriage, and of his joy in his own son, “whom I dare to call Siegfried Richard Wagner. Now think what I must feel, that this at last has fallen to my share. I am fifty-seven. years old.” ‘his was the year of the composition of the “Siegfried Idyll.”
If Cosima, as a lately published biography shows, suffered bitter hours of remorse for her abandonment of von Bulow (“The serpent lies hidden in paradise, it lurks in my heart, while all around is happiness, so _ radiant and beautiful. Let us praydestiny is deepest sorrow and supreme happiness”) ; if she prayed, as her diary would indicate, that all the agonies she had suffered or caused were justified by her devotion to Wagner, the “Siegfried Idyll” must almost have affected her as a sign of pardon.
It was arranged that the performance should be a complete surprise to Cosima. She was born on a Christmas Day. The “Idyll” was completed in November of 187o. Wagner handed the score to Hans Richter, the conductor, early in December. Richter copied the music and rehearsed the orchestra, at Zurich, and when the time came took part in the performance. Early in the morning of Christmas, 187o, the musicians assembled, tuned instruments in the kitchen and quietly mounted the narrow stairs. There they grouped themselves, Wagner at their head and out of sight of the ‘cello and double-bass players, who formed the lowest rank.
At precisely seven-thirty in the morning the performance began. Cosima, in the diary she left her children, says: “I can give you no idea, my children, about this day, nor about my feelings. I shall only tell you quite barely what happened: As I awoke, my ear caught a sound, which swelled fuller and fuller; no longer could I imagine myself to be dreaming: music was sounding, and such music! When it died away, Richard came into my room with the children and offered me the score of the symphonic birthday poem. I was in tears, but so were all the rest of the house-hold. Richard had arranged his orchestra on the stair-case, and thus was our Triebschen consecrated forever.”
In the early morning Wagner heard Cosima’s servant, Vreneli, the good angel of the house, cry, “Ein sohn ist da.” Siegfried was born while the rising sun turned into a blaze of the color of the orange wall-paper outside Cosima’s room, a bird sang, and chiming bells sounded over the Lake of Lucerne. When Wagner heard the same bird later at sunset, he called it Siegfried’s bird. On the title-page of his manuscript he wrote, “Triebschen Idyll [Triebschen was later changed to Siegfried], with Fidi’s bird-song and orange sunrise, as symphonic birthday greeting from Richard to Cosima.”
Wagner wrote a dedication to his wife. All the themes in this composition except one come from the opera “Siegfried.” The added theme is the folksong “Schlaf, mein Kind.” The first theme, which has like-wise the character of a lullaby, is from the scene of Brunnhilde’s awakening in the third act. Later a flute plays the motive of Briinnhilde’s slumber, first heard in “Die Walkure.” One of the most salient motives of the score, often repeated, is a descending phrase of two notes, answered by triplet pulsations of the wind instruments. This also comes from the love scene in “Siegfried.” After considerable development of these ideas, Siegfried’s horn-call, the call of the hero who knew not fear, is heard. The song of the bird in the forest scene is added by flute and clarinet. After pro-longed trills of the instruments comes a ,last phrase from the opera, the song of Siegfried, “Ein herrlich Gewassertragt wogt vor mir.” The “Idyll” is a free rhapsody on these themes, and there is no better ex-ample of the flexibility and emotional import of Wagner’s music than the way in which they are treated, which is entirely different from anything in the opera from which they come.