The Master Singers
Across the wide sea, amid the green hop fields of southern Germany, is
the old, old city of Nuremberg. Shut off from the busy world outside by
its great wall of stone, it has stood unchanged through all the passing
centuries. There are the same narrow, crooked streets leading to the
public squares, where quaintly carved stone fountains stand. There are
the same many gabled, lofty houses, with oriole windows that open
outward. There are latticed doorways with plaster figures that beckon
and bless and welcome. And the gray castle, the grass-grown moat, the
dark, pillared church, all tell stories of the days of long ago.
In those days men dreamed dreams and sang songs as they sat on the bench
or in the market place. The cobbler at his last, the baker before the
oven, the silversmith by the fire, even the little apprentice, watching
and learning, looked out upon a fair world and found it good. So while
hands were busy, thoughts roved far and wide, and fancy wove many a song
to sing by the fireside on wintry nights.
But not only by the fireside were those songs sung in the days when
Nuremberg was young. The good people there prized the Art of Song too
highly for that alone.
"Though a man's lot be humble," they said, "his thoughts may be rich in
fancy; he may have a song to sing." So they formed a guild devoted to
the cultivation of poetry and music, and the members of this guild were
called Master Singers. Every man who wished to enter the guild was
obliged to write some verses,--according to the rules of the guild; and
to compose appropriate music for those verses,--according to the rules
of the guild; and, finally, to sing them both together,--according to
the rules of the guild. Then if the masters approved of his performance,
he became one of the Master Singers of Nuremberg. And great was the
honor conferred upon him when he reached this high estate! Many had
tried, but few had been chosen. Indeed, the entire guild was composed of
but twelve members. These were, for the most part, worthy men, devoted
to their trades and to music. And each one had a boy apprenticed to him,
to whom he taught cobbling or soap-making or baking or tailoring by day,
and the Art of Song by night.
Among the Master Singers of Nuremberg none is better remembered than
Hans Sachs. He was a cobbler by trade and a poet by nature, and his
songs and verses have outlived his boots by many a year. It is of his
part in a song festival of the Master Singers hundreds of years ago that
our story has to tell.
It began on the day before the feast of St. John in St. Catherine's
Church, which was really not the proper place for a love affair to begin
at all. But what did Eva Pogner or Sir Walter von Stolzing care for
that? The only thing that mattered to them was the joyous Springtime
which had stolen in through the open chancel window and had warmed their
hearts toward everything in the world,--but most of all toward each
Sir Walter stood leaning against a great stone pillar at the back of the
church. He wore a blue velvet suit, his hat had a long white plume, and
he was as handsome a young knight as one could ever wish to see.
Pretty Eva sat in the last pew with her maid Magdalena by her side. Her
head was bent, and her eyes were upon her prayer book, as befitted a
modest maiden. Still she saw Sir Walter very plainly. In fact, somehow,
she caught every message that his dark eyes sent across the church. And
her cheeks turned rosy, and her heart grew warmer than ever the
Springtime had made it. Indeed, those glances so confused her that she
lost her place in the hymn book. Magdalena noticed it and nudged her
mistress sharply. So Eva sent one glance back to the fascinating young
knight, just a little frightened one; and then she joined in the closing
hymn. But when she lifted up her joyous young voice and made it ring
high above all the rest, Sir Walter stared harder than ever.
The young knight had loved this light-hearted maiden since he had first
seen her in her father's house. And his only wish was to win her for his
bride. But how? Suppose she were already promised to some one else!
While these mingled thoughts of joy and doubt possessed him, a ray of
sunshine crept into the dark church. It lingered on Eva's head, making a
halo of her golden hair. A moment later he saw two eyes, mirroring some
of the sky's own blue, dart him a shy glance. And he heard a voice so
sweet that he was sure the angels themselves stood still to listen. Come
what might, thought he, he would speak to her that very day.
The service was over. One by one the people filed slowly between the
dark pillars, and out of the church, into the bright sunshine. Only Eva
and Magdalena lingered, smiling and chatting with friends and neighbors
as they walked slowly along. As they approached the pillar behind which
Sir Walter stood, he stepped forward. The long, white plume of his hat
swept the floor as he bowed in greeting.
"One word, my fair maid, I entreat," he began.
Strange to say, the moment Eva heard his voice she discovered that she
had forgotten her handkerchief. Perhaps it was in the pew. Magdalena
must return for it.
Then, with the maid safely out of hearing, Eva turned her mischievous
face to Sir Walter. She was ready to listen, so he spoke. Did Eva look
upon him with favor? Might he hope? Scarcely were the words out of his
mouth, when Magdalena was back again, handkerchief in hand.
"Come, Eva," she said; "it is growing late."
But Eva was in no hurry, with this gallant cavalier close at hand.
Perhaps he wished to tell her a beautiful story. Had Magdalena seen her
scarfpin? It was gone. Was it there on the floor?
"Good Lena, go back and find it," said the artful Eva.
And Lena went back, grumbling, and searched here, there, and everywhere.
Meanwhile Sir Walter improved his opportunity. The words hurried to his
lips. He begged Eva to tell him whether light and happiness, or gloom
and doubt, were to be his portion.
The answering words were trembling on Eva's lips ready to be spoken. But
there stood the ubiquitous Magdalena again, with the scarfpin!
"We must go home," she said. "Come. Here's your kerchief and your pin.
But where's my prayer book? Oh, alackaday! I've left it in the pew!"
Back she bustled once more.
These interruptions served to make Sir Walter more impatient than ever.
Would he never be able to make love in peace? He took a long breath,
leaned forward, and whispered eagerly: "May I hope? Or are you promised
to some one else?"
And for answer, while Eva hid her eyes for fear they would tell of her
love too soon, there was Magdalena again!
"Yes, Sir Walter," said Magdalena, and she curtsied low, wishing to be
most polite to this handsome young man.
"Yes, Sir Walter," she repeated. "Our Eva is betrothed."
Betrothed? Sir Walter was stunned into silence; misery spread itself
like a black cloud over his face. Nor did the reply please Miss Eva,
either. She quickly interrupted, saying:
"But no one knows who the bridegroom will be. No, not until to-morrow."
Sir Walter knit his brows. That was amazing! Was it a puzzle? What did
Eva and Magdalena hastened to explain. After all, it was very simple.
Out in the meadows near Nuremberg a song festival was to be held
to-morrow. It was to be a great singing match. And Eva's father had
promised part of his fortune, and his daughter besides, to the singer
who should win the prize. Eva herself was to crown the victor with a
wreath of laurel. "But," they continued, "he must be a Master Singer. No
one may even try for the prize who is not a member of the guild."
"Are you not a Master Singer, Sir Walter?" inquired Eva, timidly, and
it was plain that she wished with all her heart to hear him say yes.
Poor Sir Walter! Until that moment he had never heard of the Master
Singers. As for the song contest, he never even knew that there was to
be such a thing. What was to be done? Could no one help? Walter was in
despair, and Eva, who by this time knew the man she wished to marry, was
on the verge of tears.
A shaft of light streamed across the church. The door was opened, then
closed with a bang. A youth ran in hastily. He noticed no one. He wore a
businesslike air, as he hurried this way and that. He was David,
apprentice to Hans Sachs, the shoemaker.
From the expression on Magdalena's face when she saw David, it was easy
to see how matters stood! Her heart was affected, too, and David was the
cause. She looked at him admiringly a moment, then gave a little cough.
David started. He hastened toward her, smiling and holding out his
hands. Ah! it was his own true love, Lena! But she must not detain him.
He was busy. There was to be a trial meeting.
"A trial meeting!" exclaimed Magdalena, joyfully. "Just the thing!" Now
the handsome knight would have a chance. She beamed happily upon David.
"You must explain everything to him!" she cried, and whispered the
But Mr. David was stubborn. He had no time. There was the platform to be
set, the curtains to be hung, the chairs and the benches to be arranged.
And it was late.
"David, dear David," coaxed Lena, with her face close to his, "if you'll
help Sir Walter to become a Master Singer, I'll bring you a basket full
of the best things you ever ate."
And before David had time to refuse, the clever Lena had seized Eva's
hand and had hurried with her from the church.
Scarcely were they gone, than with a great shouting the jolly
apprentices danced into the church. They hopped and skipped about,
joking and laughing, as they made ready for the meeting. They pulled one
another's hair, they played leapfrog over the chairs, they pushed, they
shoved, but they worked, too, and in a twinkling the church was
transformed into a meeting place. There stood the marker's platform, for
all the world like a great box, with black curtains on all four sides.
To the right of it were the benches for the masters, and in plain view
of all was the great chair for the candidate.
Sir Walter had, all unconsciously, seated himself in the great chair.
His eyes stared moodily ahead. He heard nothing, saw nothing, of all the
fun about him. He was buried in deepest gloom. He had promised Eva that
he would become a poet, a singer, for her sake, and he wished to do so,
but where and how was he to begin? Her father would not allow her to
marry any one but a Master Singer. How could he become a Master Singer
in one day?
While these thoughts passed through the young knight's mind, young David
stood watching. Suddenly he shouted:
Walter gave a jump.
"Eh, what?" he stuttered.
"Begin the song," said David. "That's what the marker says, and then you
must sing up. Don't you know that?"
Sir Walter shook his head. He knew nothing.
"He's a stupid fellow for all his fine clothes," thought David. Then he
"Don't you know that the marker is the man who sits in the curtained box
and marks the mistakes?"
No. Sir Walter did not know that.
"Don't you know that the singer may have seven mistakes, seven,--and no
Sir Walter did not know that, either.
"Well, well! And you want to become a Master Singer in one day. I've
studied for years and years with Hans Sachs, my master, and I'm not a
Master Singer yet. You have a lot to learn," and David gave a great sigh
and scratched his head with his forefinger. Then, like the kind-hearted
fellow that he was, but with half a thought fixed upon Lena's cakes, he
began to explain. He explained the rules for high tones and low tones,
for standing and sitting, for breathing and ending, for grace notes and
middle notes, for rhyming and tuning; and the more he explained, the
more perplexed poor Sir Walter became. His spirits dropped, dropped,
down to his very boots. Indeed, his discouragement was so great that I
fear he would have been much inclined to run away if at that moment the
Master Singers had not come in.
Veit Pogner, the rich silversmith, came first. And tagging behind him,
talking excitedly, and gesticulating while he talked, was the Marker of
the guild, the town clerk, Sixtus Beckmesser. The rest came after. But
their voices could not be heard. The town clerk was so busy telling
Master Pogner that he hoped to win his daughter on the morrow, and that
he would serenade her that very night, that no one else had a chance to
Imagine a short man, a fat man, a man with thin, crooked legs, a mincing
gait, a head too bald, a face too red; in short, a clown of a man. That
was Sixtus Beckmesser. Then think of two squinting eyes fastened upon
Master Pogner's money. That was the secret of the town clerk's love for
pretty Eva. He was as different from Sir Walter as night is from day, as
sorrow is from joy, as falsehood is from truth. But he was determined to
win in the song contest. And he had many powers, good and evil, to help
him, as you shall see.
Sir Walter stepped forward, and Veit Pogner greeted him kindly. Surely
so handsome a knight should be favored. Hans Sachs came forward, also.
And all agreed that Sir Walter should be given an opportunity. Only
Beckmesser snarled with rage, for the young knight was a formidable
"Ha! ha!" croaked he to himself. "Just wait. Let him try to sing! I'll
show him what singing is."
Sir Walter was bidden to seat himself in the candidate's chair. And,
with a smile that was far from friendly, Sixtus Beckmesser, slate and
chalk in hand, entered the Marker's box and pulled the curtains together
Then in a harsh tone he called out:--
Walter mused a moment and then began his song. The words, the music,
flowed forth unbidden from his full heart. He sang of the Springtime
which came into the sleeping forest, and, with thousands of heavenly
voices, awakened the birds, the bees, the flowers. He sang of murmuring
brooks, of rustling leaves, and of winter all forlorn, lurking in the
woodlands, loath to depart.
And as he sang, groans of discouragement came from within the Marker's
box. There was the sound of chalk scratches, once, twice, and again.
Walter hesitated a moment. Then he went on. He sang of the awakening of
the woods to life, to happiness. His voice rose high in joyous refrain.
But a loud groan came from the Marker's box. Another scratch--another.
Walter took a long breath. He did not care. With thoughts of his fair
Eva in mind, he sang on. He sang of love, which, like Springtime in the
woodland, had awakened his heart. He sang of the thrill of life it
brought, the happiness, the all-surpassing joy.
Suddenly the curtains were roughly pushed apart, and Beckmesser rushed
out, slate in hand. It was covered on both sides with marks!
"Can no one stop him?" he cried as he jumped frantically about. "The
slate is full," and he laughed exultingly.
The Masters joined in the laughter, for, it was true, Sir Walter had
sung according to no rule of the guild. Only Hans Sachs and Veit Pogner,
realizing the beauty and poetry of the song, tried to argue for the
young knight. But their opinions were overruled. The Master Singers
decreed that Sir Walter had lost his chance. He must be silent and sing
no more. Sixtus Beckmesser remained triumphant, and Walter left the
church while the Masters pronounced the decree,--
"Outdone and outsung."
The day of toil was over. Twilight came, and then the cool and quiet
evening. A bright moon rode on high. It peeped in and out, between the
gables, behind the church spire, and promised fair weather for the
"Midsummer Day, Midsummer Day,
And the song festival so gay,--"
sang the jolly 'prentice boys, as they appeared at their masters' house
doors to close the shutters for the night.
David stood on the little grass plot before his master's cottage, also.
But he was not in so merry a mood. He was a serious young man with a
sweetheart of his own, and he had no time for frivolity or nonsense. Let
silly boys caper as they wished. So he pulled down the shutters and
never noticed Magdalena, who had slipped out of Veit Pogner's great
house across the street and was hastening toward him. The boys snickered
and beckoned to one another in great glee. A well-laden basket was on
Magdalena's arm, and even her voice had an inviting sound.
"David, dear, turn around!" she called. David hastened eagerly to her
side. The boys, too, with broad grins overspreading their faces, crept
forward on tiptoes to listen.
"See, David," they heard Lena say, "here's something nice for you. Take
a peep inside. Doesn't that make your mouth water? But tell me first,
what of Sir Walter?"
"There's nothing much to tell," answered David, quite unconcerned. "He
was outsung and outdone!"
"Outsung and outdone!" gasped Magdalena. "Take your hands off of my
basket. No, sir! None of my goodies for you!" and she flounced off,
murmuring: "What's to be done? Oh, what's to be done?"
David stared after her. He was dumfounded. But the boys jeered and
pointed their fingers at him. They had heard it all. Laughing and
singing, they formed a ring, and capered about David, who became very
angry, and struck out blindly right and left. But the more he raved and
raged, the more they teased and tormented, until, all of a sudden, a
tall figure stood before them. It was Hans Sachs, the cobbler. Annoyance
was written all over his good-humored face. His honest blue eyes sent
out sparks of anger. The boys hung their heads.
"What does this mean?" he cried. "To bed! To bed!" The apprentices stole
"And you"--he continued, taking the crest-fallen David by the ear, "put
the new shoes on the lasts and get into the house. No song to-night,
sir!" They entered the workshop.
All was still on the narrow street for a little while. Eva and her
father sauntered homeward from their evening walk. They lingered for a
few moments beneath the linden tree before the door, enjoying the
evening air. Then they entered the house for supper. Lights glimmered in
the windows. A dog barked in the distance. Peace pervaded the quiet
Hans Sachs appeared again at his workshop door. He flung it open and
peered down the street, then he looked up at the sky. The gentle evening
breeze fanned his cheeks. How refreshing it was! How pleasant it would
be to work out of doors to-night! And, calling David, he ordered him to
place his bench, his stool, the light, the tools outside, beneath the
"You will not work in this light, Master?" queried David.
"Be quiet," retorted Hans Sachs, shortly. "Go to bed!"
"Sleep well, Master."
"Good night," answered Hans Sachs, as he sat down by the bench and took
up his tools. But he did not work. The silvery moonlight cast a glamor
over the town. It softened the outlines of all that he looked upon and
made them vague, uncertain, beautiful. The evening breeze wafted down
the sweet scent of the elder blossoms, and a delicious languor overcame
him. The soul of the poet arose in the body of the cobbler, and, as if
under a spell, he sat motionless, oblivious to shoes, lasts, tools,
everything. The Song of Spring that the young knight had sung that
afternoon began to haunt him. Faintly, elusively, it came to his mind,
like the distant echo of a melody heard in a dream. Musing upon Sir
Walter, who, like the birds in the woodland, had sung the song his heart
had told him to sing, he did not see Eva trip lightly from her father's
house. She paused before him. Hans Sachs looked up. The sweet girl,
swaying back and forth like a bird on a bough, looked more like a happy
thought than a physical reality.
Eva broke the silence shyly.
"Good evening, Master," she said. "Still working?"
Instantly Hans Sachs' face wore a genial smile of welcome.
"Ah, little Eva," he answered, "you have come to speak about those new
shoes for to-morrow, I'll be bound."
Now, as you no doubt have already guessed, artful Miss Eva had come for
no such purpose at all. To tell the truth, she had feared to ask her
father aught concerning the trial meeting of the Master Singers that
afternoon. For she knew it would be far easier to wheedle the story from
her old friend Hans Sachs.
With a fine affectation of unconcern she began her questioning. But
little did she know Hans Sachs. He, as it happened, was quite clever
enough to divine her plan. He suspected that she must have some hidden
reason for this sudden interest in the trial meeting. At least, he
thought, it would do no harm to find out. So he spoke harshly of Sir
Walter, and pretended that he had sung abominably at the trial meeting.
Indeed, the Masters were quite right in rejecting him! And all the time
he watched Eva's expression and laughed, oh, how he laughed, in his
Eva flushed crimson. She flew into a temper.
"A nice lot of Masters, indeed!" She flung the words at Hans Sachs.
"Little do they know of fine singing, or you either, for that matter."
Then she rushed angrily away, and crossed the street to her own home.
Hans Sachs smiled tenderly. He nodded his head wisely as he gazed after
"Ah!" he said to himself, "that's just what I thought! That's just what
And still shaking his head, he gathered up his tools and entered the
workshop. He closed the door behind him; that is, he nearly closed the
door,--nearly, not entirely, which was most fortunate, as you shall see.
Not long afterward Sir Walter von Stolzing came hastening down the
street. His face was full of sorrow. All his hopes of winning Eva were
gone. He would see her once more, and then bid her farewell forever.
Eva saw him coming. Running toward him, she greeted him gladly and led
him to the garden seat, beneath the shade of the linden tree. And there
the young knight told her of his failure. As he spoke of the
narrow-minded Masters who had spurned his song, his voice grew bitter.
"Ah," he continued, "all hope is gone unless you will marry me
to-night." Eva assented eagerly. And so, in excited whispers, just loud
enough for Hans Sachs to hear, the two lovers planned to run away.
Losing no time, Eva ran into the house and donned Magdalena's cloak.
Then, bidding the maid seat herself by the window in her stead, she
hurried to join Sir Walter.
Just as the two lovers made ready under cover of the darkness to dive
down the narrow street, clever Hans Sachs threw his workshop door wide
open, and the broad stream of bright light from his lamp flooded their
path. Eva and Sir Walter fell back. They could not pass that way. The
cobbler would be sure to see them. They looked in the opposite
direction. No. There was the watchman, and skulking in his wake was
still another figure. Who could that be? He was coming that way. Oh,
this would never do. In despair the lovers rushed back to the friendly
shadows beneath the linden tree.
Meanwhile Hans Sachs, who had no objection to their marriage, but who
felt a great distaste for elopements, had brought out his tools, and had
seated himself at his workbench once more. He, too, spied a strange
figure slinking down the street toward Pogner's house. Well he knew
those thin legs, that fat body, the too bald head, the too red face. It
was Beckmesser, the town clerk, the Marker of the guild. He had come to
serenade the fair Eva. He would show her what fine singing was. And he
looked up at her window expectantly, as he tuned his lute.
At the same moment Hans Sachs, chuckling softly to himself, broke out
in a loud song accompanied by an outrageous hammering upon a pair of
shoes. His big voice rang out so lustily that it completely drowned the
tinkle, tinkle of the town clerk's lute. Beckmesser became frantic with
rage. Suppose Miss Eva should hear! Suppose she should think he was
singing in that atrocious manner. A slim chance he would have to win her
to-morrow! He gazed at the closed shutters Then he ran to Hans Sachs,
scolding and pleading with him to be silent. What did Master Beckmesser
want? And Master Sachs was most indignant. Those were his shoes that he
was working upon. A man must keep at his trade. And the jolly cobbler
went on hammering and singing as loudly as before.
The panic of Master Beckmesser increased. He paced angrily to and fro.
He put his fingers to his ears. And if Hans Sachs had not been so big
and strong, it is not hard to imagine what he would have done next.
At last when the window in Pogner's house opened wide and revealed a
maiden seated there, Hans Sachs ceased. He had a plan. He consented to
listen to Beckmesser's serenade if he might be permitted to mark each
error by tapping on his lapstone. For there were shoes to be finished,
and that was the only way.
The plan did not please Beckmesser at all, but, since he had no choice,
he was forced to agree. So, by way of beginning, he strummed a prelude
on his lute, and looked for favor at the figure in the window. But
before he had time to get his breath Hans Sachs had struck the shoe a
mighty blow and had shouted,--
Beckmesser started. Then he began to sing. But a sorry performance it
was. The nervousness, the anger, the malice, had entered his voice and
had made it harsh and squeaky by turns. He sang a line. It was out of
tune. Down went the hammer. He scowled and began another line. It did
not rhyme. The hammer fell again. And so, becoming more and more
enraged, Beckmesser sang more and more falsely, so that Hans Sachs was
kept busy beating a veritable tattoo upon his lapstone. Beckmesser
squeaked, he bawled, he howled, and all the time Hans Sachs hammered and
hammered, until both shoes were done.
This howling and hammering awakened the people in the houses all about.
Shutters were pushed back, windows were opened, nightcaps appeared and
sleepy voices ordered them to be silent.
David, hearing the tumult, peered out. When he saw a strange man before
the window serenading a lady whom he at once perceived to be his Lena,
he rushed out, cudgel in hand. He fell upon the unfortunate musician,
who yelled so loudly that the whole neighborhood was aroused. The
apprentices rushed out and fell upon David, and the Masters rushed out
and fell upon the apprentices, and before any one knew what it was all
about, everybody was hitting everybody else. The clamor and commotion
grew and grew apace. People came running from all sides, and joined in
the general hubbub and confusion.
Only Hans Sachs kept a cool head. Seeing that Eva and her knight were
about to make use of the excitement to run away, he intercepted them.
First he pushed Eva into her father's house. Then, grasping Walter by
the arm, he thrust him into his own workshop and, following him, closed
The street fight continued. Suddenly the sound of the watchman's horn
was heard in the distance. The crowd was seized with a panic of fear. As
if by magic, it dispersed. The people suddenly disappeared into the
houses, down the alleys, behind doors, anywhere. The lights were
extinguished. All was still.
When the sleepy watchman came to that street, he rubbed his eyes, stared
about him in surprise, and then shook his head. Could he have been
dreaming? He thought that he had heard a noise. Holding his torch aloft,
he blew his horn and cried out:
"To my words, ye people, hearken:
All your houses straight way darken!
'Tis ten o'clock, all fires put out!
Let naught of evil lurk about.
Praised be the Lord!"
Then he went his way. And the moon shone down upon the peaceful streets
Midsummer Day dawned. Long before the town was awake, while Sir Walter
still slumbered in an inner room of the cottage, Hans Sachs sat in the
great armchair by the open window. The morning sunshine fell upon his
head as he bent over the thick and musty volume he held in his hands.
But who shall say he was reading as he turned the time-worn leaves over
and over? His mind wandered far afield,--to the early days of his
beloved Nuremberg, to the trades, to himself, the humble cause of last
night's brawl. And the thought of the two young lovers came to him. He
would like so much to help them, if he could only find a way. So
absorbed was he that he scarcely noticed the youth David who came to
offer him the basket of goodies, which Magdalena had given him as a
token of forgiveness.
And so the moments passed. Hans Sachs resumed his reading, until at
length the chamber door was opened and Sir Walter stood upon the
threshold. Bidding his host good morning, he walked slowly toward him.
"Ah, good morning, Sir Knight," replied Hans Sachs, forgetful of the
great book, which slid to the floor as he arose. "I hope you rested
"Thank you. The sleep that I had was restful," answered Sir Walter, in a
dreamy and preoccupied tone. Then he exclaimed rapturously,--
"But I had a most beautiful dream!"
"A dream?" Hans Sachs was all attention. "Tell it to me!"
"I dare not. I fear it will fade away," said Sir Walter.
"Nay. It is of such dreams that poetry is made,"--and the eyes of the
cobbler gleamed with an inner radiance. "Poems are but dreams made
Thus urged and encouraged, the young knight sang the story of his dream.
And Hans Sachs was moved by the rare beauty of the poetry and music.
Hastily procuring pen and ink, he bade Sir Walter sing it over again
while he transcribed the words to paper. Then, as the song continued,
the kind-hearted master added bits of advice in a low tone. He showed
the young knight how he could keep the words and melody as beautiful as
his dream, and still obey the rules of correct singing. Charging him
not to forget the tune, Hans Sachs insisted that Sir Walter array
himself in his richest garments and accompany him to the Song Festival.
"For," concluded he, "something may happen. Who can tell?" And so the
two men entered the inner room together.
Hans Sachs was right. Something did happen, and very soon, too. Scarcely
was that door closed than the one leading to the street was cautiously
pushed open. And a too bald head, a too red face, and two squinting,
crafty eyes peeped in. Then, assured that no one was about, a wretched
figure limped after. It was Beckmesser, the town clerk, but a sore and
aching Beckmesser; a Beckmesser who could neither sit, nor stand,--a
miserable Beckmesser, whose disposition had not been at all improved by
the cudgeling that he had received. Slowly and painfully he came
forward. And since there was no one at hand, he shook his fist and
scowled savagely at the bright sunshine and the soft air.
As he hopped and limped about the room, he came, by chance, to the table
whereon lay the paper upon which Hans Sachs had written. He took it up,
inquisitively sniffing, as he ran his eye over it. What was this? A
trial song, and a love song at that? And, hearing the chamber door open,
he, then and there, stuck the paper into his pocket. How Hans Sachs
smiled when he saw what the crafty creature had been about!
"Very well, Master Beckmesser," said he. "Since you've already pocketed
the song, and since I do not wish you to be known as a thief, I gladly
give it to you."
"And you'll never tell any one that you composed it?" squeaked
"No, I'll never tell any one that I composed it," and Hans Sachs turned
away to hide his laughter, for he knew full well that no Master
Beckmesser could learn and sing that song that day.
But the miserable Beckmesser was beside himself with joy. Such a song,
composed by a master like Hans Sachs and sung by a singer like Sixtus
Beckmesser, could not fail to win the prize! Rubbing his hands with
glee, he hobbled and stumbled from the room.
The time for the Song Festival came at last. The worthy people of
Nuremberg,--the bakers, the cobblers, the tailors, the tinkers, with
their wives and their sweethearts, all clad in the brightest of holiday
clothes, journeyed to the open meadow at some distance behind the town.
And there a scene of jollity and merriment awaited them. Gayly decorated
boats sailed to and fro, bringing more burghers from near and far. Under
tents of colored bunting merry people were eating and drinking. Flags
flew, bands played; there was dancing and singing, laughter and joy. And
the 'prentices in all the glory of floating ribbons and many-colored
flowers ran this way and that, ordering the tradespeople to the benches
one moment and dancing with the prettiest girls the next.
Suddenly a shout was heard: "The Master Singers! The Master Singers!"
And a hush fell over the company, as the 'prentices marched solemnly
forward and cleared the way. The standard bearer came first, and
following him, Veit Pogner, leading the fair Eva by the hand. She was
richly dressed, and looked radiant as the morning itself. Attending her
were other splendidly gowned maidens, among whom was the one that David
thought the most lovely of all. Then came the Master Singers. And when
the people saw their beloved Hans Sachs among the rest, they shouted and
waved their hats in loyal greeting.
The Master Singers took their seats on the platform, a place of honor in
their midst having been assigned to Eva and her maidens. Several
'prentices ran forward and heaped up a little mound of turf, which they
beat solid and then strewed with flowers. The time for the prize
singing was at hand.
"Unmarried masters, forward to win!
Friend Beckmesser, it is time. Begin!"
The 'prentices conducted Beckmesser to the mound. He put up one aching
leg, then the other. He stood wavering uncertainly a moment, then
"The thing is rickety," he snarled. "Make it secure."
The boys set hastily to work, slyly snickering, while they beat the turf
with their spades. And the people near at hand giggled and whispered:
"What a lover!"--"I wouldn't care for him if I were the lady."--"He's
too fat."--"Look at his red face."--"Where's his hair?"
With the help of the 'prentices Beckmesser again hobbled up on the
mound. Striving to set his feet securely, he looked right and left. Then
he made a grand bow.
The standard bearer called out,--
And he began. He sang such a song as Nuremberg had never heard before
and hoped never to hear again. Mixed with the tune of the new song was
the miserable serenade he had sung the night before. As for the new
words that he had tried to learn, they were gone completely. His mind
was blank. So he ducked his head and took a peep at the paper, and
instead of the words,
"Morning was gleaming with roseate light,
The air was filled
With scent distilled,"--
"Yawning and steaming with roseate light,
My hair was filled
With scent distilled,"--
and much more besides that was far worse. The people muttered to each
other. They could not understand what it was all about. The Masters
stared in perplexity. Finally, as the singer became more and more
confused, and sang a jumble of ridiculous and meaningless words, they
all burst into a loud peal of laughter.
The sound of laughter stung Beckmesser to fury. He stumbled angrily from
the mound and, shaking his fist at Hans Sachs, declared that if the song
was poor, it was not his fault. Hans Sachs was to blame. He had written
it. Then he threw the paper on the platform and, rushing madly through
the crowd, disappeared.
The people were in confusion, the Masters were amazed. They all turned
to Hans Sachs for an explanation. He picked up the paper, smoothed it
out, handed it to the Masters, and said:
"No, the song is not mine. I could not hope to compose anything so
Beautiful? The Masters were incredulous. Hans Sachs must be joking. But
he went on.
"Yes, beautiful. Master Beckmesser has sung it incorrectly. The one who
wrote it could render it in a manner that would prove its beauty beyond
a doubt." Raising his voice, he called:
"Let the one who can sing the song step forward."
And to the great surprise of all, Sir Walter von Stolzing, clad in
glittering knightly apparel, came from the crowd. He bowed courteously
to the Masters, and won the hearts of all by his noble looks and his
manly bearing. He stepped lightly upon the mound, mused a moment, and
then began his song of the dream. And, as before, the words, the music,
gushed forth from his full heart. He put all his love, all his yearning,
into the melody he sang. His voice swelled upward like the rising tide.
And when it reached the full, the rapture of it touched the hearts of
all who listened. The song was finished. A hush fell upon the Masters
and people alike. But only for a moment; soon a glad shout arose:
"Master Singer! Master Singer!"
And Sir Walter von Stolzing knew that the victory was his.
They led him to the fair Eva and placed her hand in his. While the
people waved and sang, she placed a wreath of laurel upon his head. It
was his beautiful dream coming true. Then the Masters hung a chain of
gold around his neck, which showed that he was a member of the guild.
Sir Walter thought of the treatment that he had received the day before
at the trial meeting, and he was about to refuse. But Hans Sachs arose
and spoke gravely of the reverence due to the Art of Song. And Walter
forgot his bitterness, and thought only of his love and future happiness
with Eva by his side.
And so with the people singing,
"Hail, all hail
Nuremberg's beloved Hans Sachs,"
Midsummer Day and the Song Festival came to an end.
Next: Lohengrin The Knight Of The Swan
Previous: Haensel And Gretel