True to tradition, we humble poverty-stricken students had to fight hard for the chance of seeing those performances. It is true that in theory there existed cheap tickets for the Promenade which, in Vienna, as in Linz, used to be our aim; but we never got one, not even through the Conservatory. So we had to pay the full price – two crowns – a lot of money, when one thinks that Adolf, after having paid his rent, was left with fifteen crowns for the whole month. And although we paid full price, we had to fight hard to get these tickets, the sale of which started only one hour before the performance began.
Having finally secured the ticket, there started a rush towards the Promenade, which fortunately was not far from the box office. It was below the Imperial box and one could hear excellently. Women were not admitted to the Promenade, which pleased Adolf hugely, but on the other hand it had the disadvantage of being split up into two halves by a bronze railing, one for civilians, one for the military. These young lieutenants who, according to my friend, came to the Opera less for the sake of the music than for social reasons, paid only ten hellers for their tickets, while we poor students were fleeced twenty times that amount. This always made Adolf very wild. Looking at these elegant lieutenants who, ceaselessly yawning, could hardly wait for the interval to display themselves in the foyer as though they had just come out of their box, he said that among the visitors to the Promenade, artistic understanding varied in inverse proportion to the price of the tickets. Moreover the military half of the Promenade was never full, while in the civilian half students, young employees and artisans trod on each others' toes.
One disadvantage was that the Promenade was usually the haunt of the claque, and this often spoilt our pleasure. The usual procedure was very simple: a singer who wanted to be applauded at a certain point would hire a claque for the evening. Its leader would buy their tickets for his men and, in addition, pay them a sum of money. There existed professional claqueurs who "worked" at a fixed rate. So it would often happen that, at a most unsuitable moment, roars of applause would break out around us. This made us boil with indignation. I remember once, during Tannhäuser, that we silenced a group of claqueurs by our hissing. One of them, who continued to shout "Bravo" although the orchestra was still playing, was punched in the side by Adolf. On leaving the theatre, we found the leader of the claque waiting for us with a policeman. Adolf was interrogated on the spot and defended himself so brilliantly that the policeman let him go, but he was in time to catch up with the claqueur in question in the street and give him a sound box on the ears.
As nobody was admitted to the Promenade in hat and coat, we left them behind when we went to the Opera, to save the cloakroom fee. To be sure, it was often bitterly cold, coming out of the overheated theatre into the night. But what did that matter after Lohengrin or Tristan?
What was most annoying for us was that we had to be home by ten o'clock at the latest if we wanted to save the Sperrsechserl (the tip for the concierge). It took us, according to Adolf's precise calculations, at least fifteen minutes to walk home from the Opera, and so we had to leave there at a quarter to ten. The consequence was, that Adolf never succeeded in hearing the end of those operas which finished later and I had to play for him on the piano what he had missed.
Richard Wagner's music dreams were still the object of our undivided love and enthusiasm. For Adolf, nothing could compete with the great mystical world that the Master conjured up for us. Thus, for instance, when I wanted to see some magnificent Verdi production in the Hof Opera, he would bully me until I gave up my Verdi and went with him to the People's Opera in Währing, where they were doing Wagner. He preferred a mediocre Wagner performance a hundred times to a first-class Verdi. I thought differently, but what was the use? I had to yield, as usual, for when it was a question of a Wagner performance, Adolf would tolerate no opposition. No doubt he had heard a much better performance of he work in question-I do not remember whether it was Lohengrin or Tristan – at the Hof Opera. But this was not the point at issue. Listening to Wagner meant to him, not a simple visit to the theatre, but the opportunity of being transported into that extraordinary state which Wagner's music produced in him, that trance, that escape into a mystical dream world which he needed in order to endure the tensions of his turbulent nature.
The standard of the cast and orchestra at the People's Opera was remarkably high and much superior to anything we had been accustomed to in Linz. Another advantage was that one could get a cheap seat there without having to line up at the box office. What displeased us was the cold, modernistic style of the building, and the dull, unimaginative inside of the theatre, which was matched by the lack of glamour in its productions. Adolf used to call this theatre the Soup Kitchen.
Our theatregoing in Linz
had given us the grounding for the full enjoyment in Vienna of the immortal
Master's work. We were thoroughly familiar with his operas, without having
been spoilt, and consequently the Hof Opera and even the more modest theatre
in Währing seemed to create anew for us Richard Wagner's world.
Of course, we knew by heart Lohengrin, Adolf's favourite
opera-I believe he saw it ten times during our time together in Vienna-and the same is true of the Meistersinger. Just as other people quote their Goethe or Schiller, we would quote Wagner, preferably the Meistersinger. We know, of course, that Wagner intended to immortalise his friend Franz Liszt in the figure of Hans Sachs, and to attack his bitter enemy Hanslick, in the person of Beckmesser. Adolf often quoted from the third scene of the second act.
"And still I don't succeed.
I feel it and yet I cannot understand it.
I can't retain it, nor forget it,
And if I grasp it, I cannot measure it."
In this, my friend saw the unique, eternal formula with which Richard Wagner castigated the want of comprehension of his contemporaries and which, so to speak, applied to his own fate; for his father, his family, his teachers, although they certainly had "felt" that there was something outstanding about him, for the love of God could not understand it. And when people had, at long last, grasped what he wanted, they still remained incapable of "measuring" the extent of his will. These lines were for him a daily exhortation, a never failing comfort which helped him in his dark hours.
We studied, with libretto and score, those works of Wagner that we had not seen in Linz. So Wagnerian Vienna found us well prepared and, naturally enough, we entered at once the ranks of his worshipers, and wherever we could we acclaimed the work of the Master of Bayreuth with fervent enthusiasm.
What had been for us the height of artistic experience in Linz was reduced to the level of poor, well-intentioned provincial performances after we had seen the perfect Wagner interpretations by Gustav Mahler at the Vienna Hof Opera. But Adolf would not have been Adolf if he had contented himself with regretful memories. He loved Linz, which he always thought of as his home town, although both his parents were dead and there was only one human being left there to whom he was passionately devoted, Stefanie, who still did not know what she meant to the pale youth who had stood and waited for her day after day at the Schmiedtoreck. The cultural life of Linz had to be brought to a level commensurate with that of Vienna: with savage determination Adolf set to work.
On leaving Linz, he had put great hopes in the Theatre Building Society, of which he had become an enthusiastic member. But these worthies who had got together to give Linz a new, dignified theatre apparently were making no headway. Nothing was ever heard of it and Adolf's impatience grew. So he started working on his own. He took pleasure in applying to his own home town that style of monumental architecture that he had become familiar with in Imperial Vienna.
He had already removed from the central area of the town the railway station with its ugly workshops, smoke-stained sheds and cumbersome railway tracks and transferred it to the outskirts. This enabled him to enlarge the Park and add a Zoo, a Palm House and, of course, an illuminated fountain. It was in the centre of this well-tended park that the new Linz Opera House should be erected, smaller in size than the Vienna Hof Opera, but its equal in technical equipment. The old theatre was to become a Playhouse and was to be put under the same direction as the Opera.
In this way my friend got over the deplorable conditions of his home town and all the greater was the enjoyment that he derived from Vienna's artistic attractions.
We saw almost all Richard Wagner's works. The Flying Dutchman, Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, Tristan and Isolde, Die Meistersinger have remained unforgettable to me, as has The Ring, and even Parsifal.
Occasionally, of course, Adolf saw other operas as well, but they never meant as much to him as Wagner's. In Linz we had already seen a surprisingly good Figaro, which had filled Adolf with delight. I still remember him saying, on our way home, that the Linz theatre should in future concentrate on operas which, like Figaro, were within their scope. A production of The Magic Flute, on the other hand, was a complete failure, and Weber's Freischütz was so bad that Adolf never wanted to see it again. But in Vienna, of course, every thing was different. We saw perfect performances, not only of the Mozart operas, but also of Beethoven's Fidelio. Italian opera never attracted Adolf, although Italian composers like Donizetti, Rossini, Bellini and especially Verdi, as well as Puccini, who was then still very modern, were highly appreciated in Vienna and played to full houses.
The Verdi operas we saw together were The Masked Ball, 11 Trovatore, Rigoletto and La Traviata, but Aïda was the only one which he liked at all. For him, the plots of Italian operas laid too much emphasis upon theatrical effect. He objected to trickery, knavery and deception as the basic elements of a dramatic situation. He said to me once, "What would these Italians do if they had no daggers?" He found Verdi's music too unpretentious, relying too much on melody. How rich and varied by comparison was Wagner's range! One day when we heard an organ grinder playing La donna e mobile, Adolf said, "There's your Verdi!" When I replied that no composer was safe from such profanation of his works, he barked at me furiously, "Can you imagine Lohengrin's narration on a barrel organ?"
Neither Gounod, whose Faust he regarded as vulgar, nor Tchaikovsky, nor Smetana met with his approval. No doubt he was handicapped here by his obsession with German mythology. He rejected my contention that music should appeal to all races and nations. For him nothing counted but German ways, German feeling and German thought. He accepted none but the German masters. How often did he tell me that he was proud to belong to a people who had produced such masters.
When he listened to Wagner's music he was a changed man; his violence left him, he became quiet, yielding and tractable. His gaze lost its restlessness; his own destiny, however heavily it may have weighed upon him, became unimportant. He no longer felt lonely and outlawed, and misjudged by society. He was intoxicated and bewitched. Willingly he let himself be carried away into that mystical universe which was more real to him than the actual workaday world. From the stale, musty prison of his back room, he was transported into the blissful regions of Germanic antiquity, that ideal world which was the lofty goal for all his endeavours.
Thirty years later, when he met me again in Linz, his friend whom he had last seen as a student of the Vienna Conservatory, he was convinced that I had become an important conductor; but when I appeared before him as a humble municipal employee, Hitler, then Reichs Chancellor, said to me, "So you have become a pen-pusher? But you are an artist. We'll talk about it." With these words, he was probably alluding to the possibility of my assuming the direction of an orchestra.
I declined, gratefully. I no longer felt up to the task. When he realised that he could not help his friend with this generous offer, he recalled our common experiences in the Linz Theatre and in the Vienna Hof Opera, which had elevated our friendship from the commonplace to the sacred sphere of his own world, and invited me to come to Bayreuth.
I should never have thought that those outstanding artistic experiences of my Vienna student days could still be surpassed. And yet this was the case. For what I experienced in Bayreuth as the guest of the friend of my youth was the culmination of everything that Richard Wagner had ever meant in my life.