Such a passage as bars 5 to 8 in the first movement of Beethoven's 8th symphony is as unintelligible from the point of view of Wagnerian opera as the opening of the Rheingold is unintelligible from the point of view of symphony.
The modern Wagnerian conductor is apt to complain that Beethoven, in his four-bar phrase, drowns a melody which lies in the weakest register of the clarinet by a crowd of superfluous notes in oboes, horns and flutes.
Joncieres, however, adhered to the recognized forms of the French opera and did not model his works according to the later developments of the Wagnerian "music drama."
For all his Wagnerian impatience, his progress was no struggle from out of a squalid environment; on the contrary, one of his latest discoveries was the greatness of his master Haydn.
Not until the third act does the great Wagner arbitrate in the struggle between amateurishness and theatricality in the music, though at all points his epoch-making stagecraft asserts itself with a force that tempts us to treat the whole work as if it were on the Wagnerian plane of Tannhauser's account of his pilgrimage in the third act.
But the history of mid-19thcentury music is unintelligible until we face the fact that, when the anti-Wagnerian storm was already at its height, Wagner was still fighting for the recognition of music which was most definite just where it realized with ultra-Meyerbeerian brilliance all that Wagner had already begun to detest.
The orchestration is already almost classically Wagnerian; though there remains an excessive amount of tremolo, besides a few lapses into comic violence, as in the yelpings which accompany Ortrud's rage in the night-scene in the second act.
More than a modicum of rusticity is needed as a protection to a man who attempts such colossal reforms. This necessity had its consequences in the disquieting inequalities of Wagner's early work, and the undeniable egotism that embittered his fiery nature throughout his life; while the cut-and-dried system of culture of later Wagnerian discipleship has revenged him in a specially sacerdotal type of tradition, which makes progress even in the study of his works impossible except through revolt.
Most of his reforms have since been intelligently carried out as normal principles in more arts than one; but, shocking as the statement may seem to loth-century orthodoxy, Wagnerian harmony is a universe as yet unexplored, except by the few composers who are so independent of its bewildering effect on the generation that grew up with it, that they can use Wagner's resources as discreetly as he used them himself.
There is far more of truly Wagnerian harmony to be found before his time than since.
It was so early recognized as characteristic of Chopin that a magnificent example may be seen at the end of Schumann's little tone-portrait of him in the Carnaval: a very advanced Wagnerian passage on another principle constitutes the bulk of the development in the first movement of Beethoven's sonata Les Adieux; while even in the " Golden Age " of music, and within the limits of pure diatonic concord, the unexpectedness of many of Palestrina's chords is hardly less Wagnerian than the perfect smoothness of the melodic lines which combine to produce them.
Wagnerian harmony is, then, neither a side-issue nor a progress per saltum, but a leading current in the stream of musical evolution.
The present influence of Wagnerian harmony is, then, somewhat indefinite, since the most important real phenomena of later music indicate a revolt both from it and from earlier classical methods.
The brilliant success of Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel, in which Wagnerian technique is applied to the diatonic style of nursery songs with a humorous accuracy undreamed of by Wagner's imitators, points a moral which would have charmed Wagner himself; but until the revival of some rudiments of musical common sense becomes widespread, there is little prospect of the influence of Wagner's harmonic style being productive of anything better than nonsense.
Krehbiel, Studies in the Wagnerian Drama (1891); Jessie L.