Baroque opera laid the ground for all music drama that was to follow it, contended Leo Schrade at his fourth Norton lecture last night. The aim of all opera from then on was, he said, the declamation of human passion.
As in previous lectures, Schrade called such music dramas only close forms of tragedy; he claimed that baroque opera consisted only of "tragic situations" and that Wagner did not depart from this practice.
Schrade also used fate as the criterion for determining the character of the tragedy which a musical drama conveys. Baroque opera, he said, held "not providence, not moira, but man himself" as the source of fate, for man lived, in their view, "under the sway of the demon of his passion."
Schrade attacked Wagner for claiming to be the agent of fate and thereby "forsaking all that music as an art had ever been." He condemned Wagner for changing myth to fit his artistic purposes. The composer "even presumed to be a maker of myth" and turned his music dramas from the "true course of the sagas." Bayrouth was in his view a farce, and was not the semblance of Greek theatre.
Schrade claimed that the conventional happy ending of Baroque opera did not mean that it was not tragedy. The plot, he said, was a secondary, forgotten matter; it was the "labyrinth of passions" given by the music that made the drama tragedy. Yet the limitations which contemporary culture placed on librettos made such opera only "a diverse drama with tragic episodes protruding." Baroque opera gave in the end "a blissfulness at least congenial to the awful intelligence of tragedy."
This style set the "basic potential of dramatic expression in music" which all later composers accepted, Schrade claimed. He called Gluck's attempts to reform this style "fruitless discussion," and said that in Wagner's music dramas "unbridled passion still remained the basis." If Mozart did not write a "full-blown" tragedy in Don Glovanni, the opera at least "betokened the features of tragedy" because "no sharp bound can be set where comedy ends and tragedy begins."