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The Music of the Future

The success of Wagner has been so prodigious that to his dazzled
disciples it seems that the age of what he called "absolute"
music must be at an end, and the musical future destined to be
an exclusively Wagnerian one inaugurated at Bayreuth. All great
geniuses produce this illusion. Wagner did not begin a movement:
he consummated it. He was the summit of the nineteenth century
school of dramatic music in the same sense as Mozart was the
summit (the word is Gounod's) of the eighteenth century school.
And those who attempt to carry on his Bayreuth tradition will
assuredly share the fate of the forgotten purveyors of
second-hand Mozart a hundred years ago. As to the expected
supersession of absolute music, it is sufficient to point to the
fact that Germany produced two absolute musicians of the first
class during Wagner's lifetime: one, the greatly gifted Goetz,
who died young; the other, Brahms, whose absolute musical
endowment was as extraordinary as his thought was commonplace.
Wagner had for him the contempt of the original thinker for the
man of second-hand ideas, and of the strenuously dramatic
musician for mere brute musical faculty; but though his contempt
was perhaps deserved by the Triumphlieds, and Schicksalslieds,
and Elegies and Requiems in which Brahms took his brains so
seriously, nobody can listen to Brahms' natural utterance of the
richest absolute music, especially in his chamber compositions,
without rejoicing in his amazing gift. A reaction to absolute
music, starting partly from Brahms, and partly from such revivals
of medieval music as those of De Lange in Holland and Mr. Arnold
Dolmetsch in England, is both likely and promising; whereas there
is no more hope in attempts to out-Wagner Wagner in music drama
than there was in the old attempts--or for the matter of that,
the new ones--to make Handel the starting point of a great school
of oratorio.

George Bernard Shaw