The Master-singers Of Nueremberg
In three acts by WAGNER.
This opera carries us back to the middle of the 16th century and the
persons whom we meet are all historical.
Amongst the tradesmen, whose rhyme-making has made them famous, Hans
Sachs, the shoemaker is the most conspicuous.
The music is highly original, though not precisely melodious and is
beautifully adapted to its characteristically national subject.
In the first act we see St. Catharine's church in Nueremberg, where
Divine Service is being celebrated, in preparation for St. John's Day.
Eva, the lovely daughter of Master Pogner the jeweller, sees the young
knight Walter Stolzing, who has fallen in love with Eva, and who has
sold his castle in Franconia to become a citizen of Nueremberg. She
tells him that her hand is promised to the winner of the prize for a
master-song, to be sung on the following morning.
We are now called to witness one of those ancient customs still
sometimes practiced in old German towns. The master-singers appear,
and the apprentices prepare everything needful for them. Walter asks
one of them, called David, an apprentice of Sachs, what he will have to
do in order to compete for the prize. He has not learnt poetry as a
profession like those worthy workmen, and David vainly tries to
initiate him into their old-fashioned rhyming. Walter leaves him,
determined to win the prize after his own fashion.
Pogner appears with Beckmesser the clerk, whom he wishes to have as
son-in-law. Beckmesser is so infatuated that he does not doubt of his
success. Meanwhile Walter comes up to them, entreating them to
admit him into their corporation as a master-singer.
Pogner consents, but Beckmesser grumbles, not at all liking to have a
nobleman among them.--When all are assembled, Pogner declares his
intention of giving his daughter to the winner of the master-song on
the day of St John's festival, and all applaud his resolution. Eva
herself may refuse him, but never is she to wed another than a crowned
master-singer. Sachs, who loves Eva as his own child, seeks to change
her father's resolution, at the same time proposing to let the people
choose in the matter of the prize, but he is silenced by his
colleagues. They now want to know where Walter has learnt the art of
poetry and song, and as he designates Walter von der Vogelweide and the
birds of the forest, they shrug their shoulders.
He begins at once to give a proof of his art, praising Spring in a song
thrilling with melody. Beckmesser interrupts him; he has marked the
rhymes on the black tablet, but they are new and unintelligible to this
dry verse-maker, and he will not let them pass. The others share his
opinion; only Hans Sachs differs from them, remarking that Walter's
song, though new and not after the old use and wont rules of Nueremberg,
is justified all the same, and so Walter is allowed to finish it, which
he does with a bold mockery of the vain poets, comparing them to crows,
oversounding a singing-bird. Sachs alone feels that Walter is a true
In the second act David the apprentice tells Magdalene, Eva's nurse,
that the new singer did not succeed, at which she is honestly grieved,
preferring the gallant younker for her mistress, to the old and
ridiculous clerk. The old maid loves David; she provides him with food
and sweets and many are the railleries which he has to suffer from his
companions in consequence.
The evening coming on we see Sachs in his open work-shop; Eva, his
darling, is in confidential talk with him. She is anxious about
to-morrow, and rather than wed Beckmesser she would marry Sachs, whom
she loves and honors as a father. Sachs is a widower, but he rightly
sees through her schemes and resolves to help the lovers.
It has now grown quite dark, and Walter comes to see Eva, but they have
not sat long together, when the sounds of a lute are heard.
It is Beckmesser trying to serenade Eva, but Sachs interrupts him by
singing himself and thus excites Beckmesser's wrath and despair. At
last a window opens, and Beckmesser, taking Magdalene for Eva addresses
her in louder and louder tones, Sachs all the time beating the measure
on a shoe. The neighboring windows open, there is a general alarm, and
David, seeing Magdalene at the window apparently listening to
Beckmesser, steals behind this unfortunate minstrel and begins to slap
him. In the uproar which now follows, Walter vainly tries to escape
from his refuge under the lime-tree, but Sachs comes to his rescue, and
takes him into his own work-shop, while he pushes Eva unseen into
her father's house, the door of which has just been opened by Pogner.
In the third act we find Sachs in his room. Walter enters, thanking
him heartily for the night's shelter. Sachs kindly shows him the rules
of poetry, encouraging him to try his luck once more. Walter begins
and quite charms Sachs with his love-song. After they have left the
room, Beckmesser enters, and reading the poetry, which Sachs wrote
down, violently charges the shoemaker with wooing Eva himself. Sachs
denies it and allows Beckmesser to keep the paper. The latter who has
vainly ransacked his brains for a new song, is full of joy, hoping to
win the prize with it.
When he is gone, Eva slips in to fetch her shoes, and she sees Walter
stepping out of his dormitory in brilliant armor. He has found a third
stanza to his song; which he at once produces.--They all proceed to the
place where the festival is to be held and Beckmesser in the first to
try his fortunes, which he does by singing the stolen song. He sadly
muddles both melody and words, and being laughed at, he charges Sachs
with treachery, but Sachs quietly denies the authorship, pushing
forward Walter, who now sings his stanzas, inspired by love and poetry.
No need to say that he wins the hearer's hearts as he has won those of
Eva and Sachs, and that Pogner does not deny him his beloved daughter's
Next: The Master-thief