Bearskin





(DER BAeRENHAeUTER).



In three acts by SIEGFRIED WAGNER.





In the beginning of the year 1899 a great sensation thrilled through

the musical world; Siegfried Wagner had written his first musical

drama. Some call him the small son of a great father; others consider

him to be the true heir of his father's greatness; I, for my part think

that the truth, as usual, lies between these two extremes.



The drama was first performed in January 1899 on the Munich Stage, and

a few days later Leipzig followed suit. The effect the work produced

was much greater than the opponents of the young composer thought

possible, and no doubt the "Baerenhaeuter" will soon appear on all stages

of importance, including that of Bayreuth, whose fanatical adherents

have noised abroad young Siegfried's fame perhaps too loudly and too

early for his advantage. That his work shows talent nobody will deny

after having heard this drama, which is however not free from imitation

of the works of greater masters. The manner of instrumentation, the

musical declamation are his father's, but the orchestration is much

simpler, and, unlike his father, he produces his greatest and best

effects by means of simple melodies, but he fails when he seeks to

become pathetic or dramatic. Like most modern composers he has written

his libretto himself, and he has chosen a most original subject from

one of Grimm's old fairy tales. The story is well told though at

rather too great a length, and both libretto and music are very

effective, full of action, fascinating the hearer and heightening his

interest from act to act. In the second act, especially in the

dialogues between Luise and Hans Kraft, are sufficient proofs of

Siegfried's genius, and the conclusion is truly grand.



The scene is laid in Bavaria, in the country around Bayreuth, during

the time of the Thirty Years war.



The first act takes place in a village in the Hummelgau. The soldiers

are first returning after a long period of war to their native village,

and are received enthusiastically by the inhabitants. Hans Kraft, the

hero of the drama, looks in vain for his old mother and at last learns

that sorrow and anxiety about her absent son have caused her death

three years ago; she is already forgotten, and so is her son, who find

himself alone and forsaken. He is rudely repulsed by the peasants who

will not even give him a night's lodging in their cottages. Full of

wrath and despair he turns into the forest where he is accosted by a

wild looking being who laughs at his impotent rage and offers his help.

Hans, perceiving the cloven hoof and the horns, at once recognizes the

Devil in this queer fellow, and is at first unwilling to follow his

advice; but the Devil is artful and insinuating, and at last Hans is

induced to make an agreement with him by which he engages himself as

Stoker in the infernal regions; he has to keep the fire burning

under the caldron in which poor lost souls are being roasted. When he

has served the devil for one year Hans will be free to go wherever he

likes. In the next scene Hans has already arrived at his new

quarters--hell--and, after having explained to Hans his new duties, the

Devil leaves him. Hans now begins to stir the fire, but is soon

arrested by a wailing voice which he recognizes as that of the old

sergeant who so often tormented him on earth, and who now vainly

entreats him to let him escape.



While Hans is gaily feeding the flames, a Stranger enters; his name is

Peter the doorkeeper, (of course St. Peter,) who skilfully entices him

to play at dice. He proposes that Hans should stake some years of his

own life. Hans refuses to do so. The Stranger next proposes that Hans

should stake the salvation of his soul, but without success. At last

it is agreed that Hans shall win ten Florins if he throws the highest

cast, and the Stranger shall win two souls out of the caldron if he

wins. They play, and Hans loses time after time, and at last stakes

all the souls in the caldron--and loses. St. Peter has delivered all

the poor souls from the pains of hell and Hallelujas are heard from the

heights above. Hans, who had at first thrown himself upon the Stranger

to bind him, is held back by a superior power, a glory shines about St.

Peter's head and Hans falls back struck with awe. The glory dies away

and the Stranger resuming his former manner thanks Hans for his

good deed in delivering the lost souls, and, as a reward he warns him

not to put himself again in the power of the Devil, and kindly advises

him to bear with patience and courage the punishment that will surely

fall upon him for his foolish, thoughtless compact with the evil one.

Bidding Hans remember that he has a friend who will not forget him, the

Stranger departs.



The punishment is not long delayed, for the Devil returning in a rage

takes vengeance upon Hans for his disobedience by covering him with

black soot that cannot be washed off, and hanging a bearskin round him.

To supply his needs the Devil gives him a magic scrip from which he can

always take money. The only way in which he may be released from this

hideous disguise is through the faithful love of a woman who will love

him in spite of his repulsive appearance. Hans in vain rebels against

this cruel sentence, the Devil reminds him of his contract. He gives

Hans a ring and tells him that if he finds a maiden who truly loves him

he is to split the ring in two and giving her one half he is to go away

and leave her for three years. At the end of that time he may come

back and claim her, and if the gold of the ring is pure and bright, it

will be a proof that she is true to him and Hans will then be free. In

that case the Devil promises to fulfil any three wishes that Hans may

name. These arrangements made, Hans is at last flung out of hell and

back to earth a pitiful object of loathing and ridicule.







The second act is laid in a village inn near Kulmbach. The assembled

peasants are all talking of the Devil whom they declare they have seen

in person. While they are talking a rap is heard at the door, and Hans

stands outside clad in his bearskin, asking for food and shelter. In

their terror they all refuse to let him in believing him to be the

devil himself, until the Burgomaster suggests that the man in this

hideous disguise should be made to show his feet. When this is done

and the peasants see that the stranger has no cloven hoof but human

feet they are satisfied that all is right. While they are still

deliberating Hans breaks open the window and springs into the room.

The peasants eye him with amazed curiosity, and the host at first

refuses to give a night's lodging to such a suspicious looking object,

but a piece of gold out of Hans' never empty sack makes him change his

mind. He sets the bar maid on to sound the queer fellow and she draws

from Hans that he is a relation of the Emperor of Marocco, and other

nonsense, which makes all think he is insane but harmless. Presently

the Burgomaster falls asleep but is rudely awakened by the host who

reminds him of a debt of 60 Florins which he had promised to pay. The

Burgomaster not being able to pay a quarrel takes place, which is ended

by Hans paying down the money himself and sending the innkeeper to bed.

Left alone with the bewildered Burgomaster, Hans questions him about

his family and circumstances and learns that the good man has

three daughters whom he anxiously wishes to see married. Hans, without

more ado, offers himself as a suitor for one of them, in the hope that

this is an opportunity for his deliverance from his unhappy plight by

the true love of a woman. The Burgomaster accepts his offer, believing

Hans to be some grandee under a spell, or bewitched and supposing that

when he claims his bride he will be restored to his proper form. Hans

however assures him the lady will have to accept him as he is, unkempt

and unwashed. After wishing the Burgomaster good night, Hans retires

to his chamber, leaving his knapsack in the outer room. The innkeeper

on the watch, waits till all is still and comes noiselessly in to steal

the money from the sack. He puts in his hand and draws out--not

gold--but scorpions, mice, frogs and other vermin which fly about and

torment him till at his cries Hans comes to the rescue and the goblin

creatures disappear.



In the next scene it is early morning; the servants come in and adorn

the inn with boughs of birch as is the custom at the festival of

Whitsuntide.



The Burgomaster appears with his three daughters; he first presents to

Hans his eldest, Line, but when she sees him she turns away in horror

at the appearance of the suitor, and calling the second sister Gunda

both mock the poor fellow, and laughing turn homewards. The youngest

girl, Luise, her father's favourite, not knowing what was going

on, comes in to look for her father, and seeing Hans standing there in

tears, at once checks the laughter that was provoked by his droll

appearance, and moved to pity asks what ails him. At first he is

unwilling to answer, but, when she presses him to speak, he shows her

the ring and tells her that if she were willing to wear it for three

years, always thinking kindly of him, the gold would remain bright, and

at the end of that time the bann would be taken off him. Luise

promises never to forget him, and though Hans hesitates to give her the

ring, fearing the trial will be too heavy for the sweet child to whom

his heart goes out in love, she draws the ring from him, passes a

ribbon through it and hangs it round her neck.



In the meanwhile, the peasants, led by the revengeful innkeeper, make

an attack upon Hans and try to take away his sack. Hans relates how

the innkeeper tried to rob him, and forces him to show the 60 Florins

the latter had received for the Burgomaster's debt. In rage the

innkeeper throws the pieces on the ground; a flame leaps up from the

spot. This convinces the peasants that Hans is in league with the

Devil; they are about to kill him when Luise calls for aid and her

courage so astonishes the assailants that they let Hans go.



The third act takes place three years later.



Hans is discovered lying in a dense forest fast asleep. The Devil has

summoned a number of his little imps who are busily engaged in washing,

combing and dressing the sleeper. Satan is in a very bad temper,

but he does not give up his battle for a soul with Heaven yet, and

intends to make a last effort to get Hans into his clutches. The lad's

hand, on which is the fateful ring, hangs close to the water of the

brook near which he lies, and Satan calls the water nymphs to take it

from him. But at this moment Hans wakes and his first thought is for

the ring which he looks at with rapture, seeing that its gold shines

undimmed. The Devil, (who appears not to be such a bad fellow after

all,) greets him in a friendly manner, and Hans, delighted to find

himself free from the spell, requires at once the fulfilment of the

three wishes the devil has promised to grant. His first wish, to

become what he was before, is already fulfilled. His second wish, to

keep the sack, but free from magic gold and charm, is also granted.

His third wish is, that for the future the Devil will let him alone and

never cross his path again. This also the Devil agrees to and

mockingly bestows upon him the bearskin into the bargain. Hans now

recognises it as the skin of a bear he had once killed himself. Hans'

one thought now is for his betrothed bride. On his way to her St.

Peter appears to him once more. He tells that the Plassenburg is about

to be stormed, and urges him to save it from the enemy.



The next scene opens again in the hero's native village. A crowd of

people is assembled before the Burgomaster's house; they are looking

towards the Plassenburg which they fear is already in the enemy's

hand. No sound is heard from the fortress; its defenders seem to be in

deep sleep. Suddenly the trumpets sound and in breathless anxiety men

and women watch the battle that now begins.



At last a man comes running up in hot haste shouting that victory is

theirs. He relates how that believing Wallenstein to be far away all

the garrison went to sleep when they were suddenly awakened by a loud

knocking, and the cry "the Friedlander is at the gates!"



The commander Kuensberg sprang out, and at his side, fighting like a

lion, a stranger in whom they presently recognized their fellow

soldier, Hans Kraft, who had served in the same army years ago; to him

they now owe the victory. Everybody begins to praise the deliverer and

to ask where he is, for he had gone away and had not been heard of

again.



The Burgomaster advances to greet the victors accompanied by his two

elder daughters, but Luise cannot be induced to leave home. Alone she

thinks sadly of the man to whom all this time she has remained faithful

and who fails to come and let her know if he is free from the terrible

spell. While she is praying that her lover's sorrows may be ended,

Hans comes up, and seeing the maiden so sad he greets her shyly and

begs her to bandage a wound he received in the fight. While she brings

some linen and fills a cup with water for the thirsty soldier Hans lets

his half of the split ring fall into the cup; she recognizes it,

then Hans makes himself known and with tears of joy, he folds her to

his heart. Thus they are found by the peasants who enthusiastically

greet Hans and tell Luise that her lover is Hans Kraft who has saved

them all. The Burgomaster of course rejoices in his darling's

happiness, while the sisters are mad with envy. Hans now bestows the

famous sack upon the innkeeper who recoils from the present with

terror; and the peasants at last recognizing in the hero poor Bearskin,

whom they almost killed in their frenzy, humbly beg his pardon and

express their grateful thanks. Hans declines all honours that are

offered him and thanks God for his lovely bride who has been sent as

his good angel. All join in praise to God for his goodness to the

happy couple.





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