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Die Meistersinger Overture Analysis Essay

Music with Ease > Operas of Richard Wagner > Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Wagner) - Synopsis

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - Synopsis
(English title: The Mastersingers of Nuremberg)
An Opera by Richard Wagner

Opera in three acts, words and music by Richard Wagner. Produced, Munich, June 21, 1868, under direction of Hans von Bülow. London, Drury Lane, May 30, 1882, under Hans Richter; Covent Garden, July 13, 1889, in Italian; Manchester, in English, by the Carl Rosa Company, April 16, 1896. New York, Metropolitan Opera House, January 4, 1886, with Fischer (Hans Sachs), Seidl-Kraus (Eva), Marianne Brandt (Magdalena), Stritt (Walther), Kemlitz (Beckmesser); Conductor, Seidl. Sachs has also been sung by Edouard de Reszke, Van Rooy, and Whitehill; Walther by Jean de Reszke; Eva by Eames, Gadski, and Hempel; Beckmesser by Goritz; Magdalena by Schumann-Heink and Homer.


HANS SACHS, Cobbler ………….….….….….….…. Bass
VEIT POGNER, Goldsmith ………….….….….….…. Bass
KUNZ VOGELGESANG, Furrier ………….….….…. Tenor
CONRAD NACHTIGALL, Buckle-Maker ………….…. Bass
SIXTUS BECKMESSER, Town Clerk ………….….…. Bass
FRITZ KOTHNER, Baker ………….….….….….….…. Bass
BALTHAZAR ZORN, Pewterer ...................….….….…. Tenor
ULRICH EISLINGER, Grocer ………….….….….….…. Tenor
AUGUST MOSER, Tailor …………….….….….….…. Tenor
HERMANN ORTEL, Soap-boiler ………….….….….… Bass
HANS SCHWARZ, Stocking-Weaver ………….….…. Bass
HANS FOLZ, Coppersmith ………….….….….….….…. Bass

Other Characters:
WALTHER VON STOLZING, a young Franconian knight….. Tenor
DAVID, apprentice to HANS SACHS……………………….. Tenor
A NIGHT WATCHMAN…………………………………….... Bass
EVA, daughter of POGNER…………………………………. Soprano
MAGDALENA, EVA’S nurse………………………………... Mezzo-Soprano
Burghers of the Guilds, Journeymen, ‘Prentices, Girls, and Populace.

Time: Middle of the Sixteenth Century.
Place: Nuremburg.

Eugen Gura in the role of Hans Sachs in Wagner's opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Wagner’s music-dramas are all unmistakably Wagner, yet they are wonderfully varied. The style of the music in each adapts itself plastically to the character of the story. can one, for instance, imagine the music of "Tristan" wedded to the story of "The Mastersingers," or vice versa? A tragic passion, inflamed by the arts of sorcery inspired the former. The latter is a thoroughly human tale set to thoroughly human music. Indeed, while "Tristan" and "The Ring of the Nibelung" are tragic, and "Parsifal" is deeply religious, "The Mastersingers" is a comic work, even bordering in one scene on farce. Like Shakespeare, Wagner was equally at home in tragedy and comedy.

Walthur von Stolzing is in love with Eva. Her father having promised her to the singer to whom at the coming midsummer festival the Mastersingers shall adjudge the prize, it becomes necessary for Walther to seek admission to their art union. He is, however, rejected, his song violating the rules to which the Mastersingers slavishly adhere. Beckmesser is also instrumental in securing Walther’s rejection. The town clerk is the "marker" of the union. His duty is to mark all violations of the rules against a candidate. Beckmesser, being a suitor for Eva’s hand, naturally makes the most of every chance to put down a mark against Walther.

Sachs alone among the Mastersingers has recognized the beauty of Walther’s song. Its very freedom from rule and rote charms him, and he discovers in the young knight’s untrammeled genius the power which, if properly directed, will lead art from the beaten path of tradition toward a new and loftier ideal.

After Walther’s failure before the Mastersingers the impetuous young knight persuades Eva to elope with him. But at night as they are preparing to escape, Beckmesser comes upon the scene to serenade Eva. Sachs, whose house is opposite Pogner’s, has meanwhile brought his work bench out into the street and insists on "marking" what he considers Beckmesser’s mistakes by bringing his hammer down upon his last with a resounding whack. The louder Beckmesser sings the louder Sachs whacks. Finally the neighbours are aroused. David, who is in love with Magdalena and thinks Beckmesser is serenading her, falls upon him with a cudgel. The whole neighbourhood turns out and a general melée ensues, during which Sachs separates Eva and Walther and draws the latter into his home.

The following morning Walther sings to Sachs a song which has come to him in a dream, Sachs transcribing the words and passing friendly criticism upon them and the music. The midsummer festival is to take place that afternoon, and through a ruse Sachs manages to get Walther’s poem into Beckmesser’s possession, who thinking the words are by the popular cobbler-poet, feels sure he will be the chosen master. Eva, coming into the workshop to have her shoes fitted, finds Walther, and the lovers depart with Sachs, David, and Magdalena for the festival. Here Beckmesser, as Sachs had anticipated, makes a wretched failure, as he has utterly missed the spirit of the poem, and Walther, being called upon by Sachs to reveal its beauty in music, sings his prize song, winning at once the approbation of the Mastersingers and the populace. He is received into their art union and at the same time wins Eva as his bride.

The chorus in Act I of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg as performed in 1960 at the Leipzig Opernhaus. (Source: Bundesarchiv.)

The Mastersingers were of burgher extraction. They flourished in Germany, chiefly in the imperial cities, during the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries. They did much to generate and preserve a love of art among the middle classes. Their musical competitions were judged according to a code of rules which distinguished by particular names thirty-two faults to be avoided. Scriptural or devotional subjects were usually selected and the judges or Merker (markers) were, in Nuremburg, four in number, the first comparing the words with the Biblical text, the second criticizing the prosody, the third the rhymes, and the fourth the tune. He who had the fewest marks against him received the prize.

Hans Sachs, the most famous of the Mastersingers, born November 5, 1494, died January, 1576, in Nuremburg, is said to have been the author of some six thousand poems. He was a cobbler by trade --

Hans Sachs was a shoe-
Maker and poet too.

A monument was erected to him in the city of his birth in 1874.

"The Mastersingers" is a simple, human love story, simply told, with many touches of humour to enliven it, and its interest enhanced by highly picturesque, historical surroundings. As a drama it conveys also a perfect picture of the life and customs of Nuremburg of the time in which the story plays. Wagner must have made careful historical researches, but his book lore is not thrust upon us. The work is so spontaneous that the method and manner of its art are lost sight of in admiration of the result. Hans Sachs himself could not have left a more faithful portrait of life in Nuremburg in the middle of the sixteenth century.

"The Mastersingers" has a peculiarly Wagnerian interest. It is Wagner’s protest against the narrow-minded critics and the prejudiced public who so long refused him recognition. Edward Hanslick, the bitterest of Wagner’s critics, regarded the libretto as a personal insult to himself. Being present by invitation at a private reading of the libretto, which Wagner gave in Vienna, Hanslick rose abruptly and left after the first act. Walther von Stolzing is the incarnation of new aspirations in art; the champion of a new art ideal, and continually chafing under the restraints imposed by traditional rules and methods. Hans Sachs is a conservative. But, while preserving what is best in art traditions, he is able to recognize the beautiful in what is new. He represents enlightened public opinion. Beckmesser and the other Mastersingers are the embodiment of rank prejudice-the critics. Walther’s triumph is also Wagner’s. Few of Wagner’s dramatic creations equal in life-like interest the character of Sachs. It is drawn with a strong, firm hand, and filled in with many delicate touches.

The Vorspiel (Preface) gives a complete musical epitome of the story. It is full of life and action -- pompous impassioned, and jocose in turn, and without a suggestion of the over-wrought or morbid. Its sentiment and its fun are purely human. In its technical construction it has long been recognized as a masterpiece.

In the sense that it precedes the rise of the curtain, this orchestral composition is a Vorspiel, or prelude. As a work, however, it is a full-fledged overture, rich in thematic material. These themes are Leading Motives heard many times, and in wonderful variety in the three acts of "The Mastersigners."

The pompous Motive of the Mastersingers opens the Vorspiel. This theme gives capital musical expression to the characteristics of these dignitaries; eminently worthy but self-sufficient citizens who are slow to receive new impressions and do not take kindly to innovations. Our term of old fogy describes them imperfectly, as it does not allow for their many excellent qualities. They are slow to act, but if they are once aroused their ponderous influence bears down all opposition. At first an obstacle to genuine reform, they are in the end the force which pushes it to success. Thus there is in the Motive of the Mastersingers a certain ponderous dignity which well emphasizes the idea of conservative power.

In great contrast to this is the Lyric Motive, which seems to express the striving after a poetic ideal untrammeled by old-fashioned restrictions, such as the rules of the Mastersingers impose.

But, the sturdy conservative forces are still unwilling to be persuaded of the worth of this new ideal. Hence the Lyric Motive is suddenly checked by the sonorous measures of the Mastersingers’ March.

In this the majesty of law and order finds expression. It is followed by a phrase of noble breadth and beauty, obviously developed from portions of the Motive of the Mastersingers, and so typical of the goodwill which should exist among the members of a fraternity that it may be called the Motive of the Art Brotherhood.

It reaches an eloquent climax in the Motive of the Ideal.

Opposed, however, to this guild of conservative masters is the restless spirit of progress. Hence, though stately the strains of the Mastersingers’ March and of the Guild Motive, soon yield to a theme full of emotional energy and much like the Lyric Motive. Walther is the champion of this new ideal -- not, however, from a purely artistic impulse, but rather through his love for Eva. Being ignorant of the rules and rote of the Mastersingers he sings, when he presents himself for admission to the fraternity, measures which soar untrammeled into realms of beauty beyond the imagination of the masters. But it was his love for Eva which impelled him to seek admission to the brotherhood, and love inspired his song. He is therefore a reformer only by accident; it is not his love of art, but his passion for Eva, which really brings about through his prize song a great musical reform. This is one of Wagner’s finest dramatic touches -- the love story is the mainspring of the action, the moral is pointed only incidentally. Hence all the motives in which the restless striving after a new ideal, or the struggles of a new art form to break through the barriers of conservative prejudice, find expression, are so many love motives, Eva being the incarnation of Walther’s ideal. Therefore the motive which breaks in upon the Mastersingers’ March and Guild Motive with such emotional energy expresses Walther’s desire to possess Eva, more than his yearning for a new ideal in art. So I call it the Motive of Longing.

A portion of "Walther’s Prize Song," like a swiftly

whispered declaration of love, leads to a variation of one of the most beautiful themes of the work-the Motive of Spring.

And now Wagner has a fling at the old fogyism which was so long as obstacle to his success. He holds the masters up to ridicule in a delightfully humorous passage which parodies the Mastersingers’ and Art Brothrhood motives, while the Spring Motive vainly strives to assert itself. In the bass, the following quotation is the Motive of Ridicule, the treble being a variant of the Art Brotherhood Motive.

When it is considered that the opposition Wagner encountered from prejudiced critics, not to mention a prejudiced public, was the bane of his career, it seems wonderful that he should have been content to protest against it with this pleasant raillery instead of with bitter invective. The passage is followed by the Motive of the Mastersingers, which in turn leads to an imposing combination of phrases. We hear the portion of the Prize Song, already quoted -- the Motive of the Mastersigners as bass -- and in the middle voices portions of the Mastersingers’ March; a little later the Motive of the Art Brotherhood and the Motive of Ridicule are added, this grand massing of orchestral forces reaching a powerful climax, with the Motive of the Ideal, while the Motive of the Mastersingers brings the Vorspiel to a fitting close. In this noble passage, in which the "Prize Song" soars above the various themes typical of the masters, the new ideal seems to be borne to its triumph upon the shoulders of the conservative forces which, won over at last, have espoused its cause with all their sturdy energy.

This concluding passage in the Vorspiel thus brings out with great eloquence the inner significance of "Die Meistersinger." In whatever the great author and composer of this work wrote for the stage, there always was an ethical meaning back of the words and music. Thus we draw our conclusion of the meaning of "Die Meistersinger" story from the wonderful combination of leading motives in the peroration of its Vorspiel.

In his fine book, The Orchestra and Orchestral Music, W. J. Henderson relates this anecdote:

A professional musician was engaged in a discussion of Wagner in the corridor of the Metropolitan Opera House, while inside the orchestra was playing the ‘Meistersinger’ overture.

It is a pity, Said this wise man, in a condescending manner, ‘but Wagner knows absolutely nothing about counterpoint.’

At that instant the orchestra was singing five different melodies at once; and, as Anton Seidl was the conductor, they were all audible.

In a rare book by J. C. Wagenseil, printed in Nuremburg in 1697, are given four "Prize Master Tones." Two of these Wagner has reproduced in modern garb, the former in the Mastersingers’ March, the latter in the Motive of the Art Brotherhood.

Act I. The scene of this act is laid in the Church of St. Catherine, Nuremburg. The congregation is singing the final chorale of the service. Among the worshippers are Eva and her maid, Magdalena. Walther stands aside, and, by means of nods and gestures, communicates with Eva. This mimic conversation is expressively accompanied by interludes between the verses of the chorale, interludes expressively based on the Lyric, Spring, and Prize Song motives, and contrasting charmingly with the strains of the chorale.

The service over, the Motive of Spring, with an impetuous upward rush, seems to express the lovers’ joy that the restraint is removed, and the Lyric Motive resounds exultingly as the congregation departs, leaving Eva, Magdalena, and Walther behind.

Eva, in order to gain a few words with Walther, sends Magdalena back to the pew to look for a kerchief and hymn-book, she has purposely left there. Magdalena urges Eva to return home, but just then David appears in the background and begins putting things to rights for the meeting of the Mastersingers. Magdalena is therefore only too glad to linger. The Mastersinger and Guild motives, which naturally accompany David’s activity, contrast soberly with the ardent phrases of the lovers. Magdalena explains to Walther that Eva is already affianced, though she herself does not know to whom. Her father wishes her to marry the singer to whom at the coming contest the Mastersingers shall award the prize; and, while she shall be at liberty to decline him, she may marry none but a master. Eva exclaims: "I will choose no one but my knight!" Very pretty and gay is the theme heard when David joins the group -- the Apprentice Motive.

How capitally this motive expresses the light-heartedness of gay young people, in this case the youthful apprentices, among whom David was as gay and buoyant as any. Every melodious phrase -- every motive -- employed by Wagner appears to express exactly the character, circumstance, thing, or feeling, to which he applies it. The opening episodes of "Die Meistersinger" have a charm all their own.

The scene closes with a beautiful little terzet, after Magdalena has ordered David, under penalty of her displeasure, to instruct the knight in the art rules of the Mastersingers.

When the ‘prentices enter, they proceed to erect the marker’s platform, but stop at times to annoy the somewhat self-sufficient David, while he is endeavouring to instruct Walther in the rules of the Mastersingers. The merry Apprentice Motive runs through the scene and brings it to a close as the ‘prentices sing and dance around the marker’s box, suddenly, however, breaking off, for the Mastersingers appear.

There is a roll-call and then the fine passage for bass voice, in which Pogner offers Eva’s hand in marriage to the winner of the coming song contest -- with the proviso that Eva adds her consent. The passage is known on concert programmes as "Pogner’s Address."

Walther is introduced by Pogner. The Knight Motive:

Beckmesser, jealous, and determined that Walther shall fail, enters the marker’s box.

Kothner now begins reading off the rules of singing established by the masters, which is a capital take-off on old-fashioned forms of composition and never fails to raise a hearty laugh if delivered with considerable pomposity and unction. Unwillingly enough Walther takes his seat in the candidate’s chair. Beckmesser shouts from the marker’s box: "Now begin!" After a brilliant chord, followed by a superb ascending run on the violins, Walther, in ringing tones, enforced by a broad and noble chord, repeats Beckmesser’s words. But such a change has come over the music that it seems as if that upward rushing run had swept away all restraint of ancient rule and rote, just as the spring wind whirling through the forest tears up the spread of dry, dead leaves, thus giving air and sun to the yearning mosses and flowers. In Walther’s song the Spring Motive forms an ever-surging, swelling accompaniment, finally joining in the vocal melody and bearing it higher and higher to an impassioned climax. In his song, however, Walther, is interrupted by the scatching made by Beckmesser as he chalks the singer’s violation of the rules on the slate, and Walther, who is singing of love and spring, changes his theme to winter, which, lingering behind a thorny hedge is plotting how it can mar the joy of the vernal season. The knight then rises from the chair and sings a second stanza with defiant enthusiasm. As he concludes it Beckmesser tears open the curtains which concealed him in the marker’s box, and exhibits his board completely covered with chalk marks. Walther protests, but the masters, with the exception of Sachs and Pogner, refuse to listen further, and deride his singing. We have here the Motive of Derision.

Sachs protests that, while he found the knight’s art method new, he did not find it formless. The Sachs Motive is here introduced.

The Sachs Motive betoken the genial nature of this sturdy, yet gentle man -- the master spirit of the drama. He combines the force of a conservative character with the tolerance of a progressive one, and is thus the incarnation of the idea which Wagner is working out in this drama, in which the union of a proper degree of conservative caution with progressive energy produces a new ideal in art. To Sach’s innuendo that Beckmessers’ marking hardly could be considered just, as he is a candidate for Eva’s hand, Beckmesser, by way of reply, chides Sachs for having delayed so long in finishing a pair of shoes for him, and as Sachs makes a humorously apologetic answer, the Cobbler Motive is heard.

The sturdy burgher calls to Walther to finish his song in spite of the masters. And now a finale of masterful construction begins. In short, excited phrases the masters chaff and deride Walther. His song, however, soars above all the hubbub. The a’prentices see their opportunity in the confusion, and joining hands they dance around the marker’s box, singing as they do so. We now have combined with astounding skill Walther’s song, the a’prentices’ chorus, and the exclamations of the masters. The latter finally shout their verdict: "Rejected and outsung!" The knight, with a proud gesture of contempt, leaves the church. The a’prentices put the seats and benches back in their proper places, and in doing so greatly obstruct the masters as they crowd toward the doors. Sachs, who has lingered behind, gazes thoughfully at the singer’s empty chair, then, with a humorous gesture of discouragement, turns away.

Act II. The scene of this act represents a street in Nuremberg crossing the stage and intersected in the middle by a narrow, winding alley. There are thus two corner houses -- on the right corner of the alley Pogner’s, on the left Sach’s. Before the former is a linden-tree, before the latter an elder. It is a lovely summer evening.

The opening scene is a merry one. David and the a’prentices are closing shop. After a brisk introduction based on the Midsummer Festival Motive the ‘prentices quiz David on his love affair with Magdalena. The latter appears with a basket of dainties for her lover, but on learning that the knight has been rejected, she snatches the basket away from David and hurries back to the house. The ‘prentices now mockingly congratulate David on his successful wooing. David loses his temper and shows fight, but Sachs, coming upon the scene, sends the ‘prentices on their way and then enters his workshop with David. The music of this episode, especially the ‘prentices’ chorus, is bright and graceful.

Pogner and Eva, returning from an evening stroll, now come down the alley. Before retiring into the house the father questions the daughter as to her feelings concerning the duty she is to perform at the Mastersinging on the morrow. Her replies are discreetly evasive. The music beautifully reflects the affectionate relations between Pogner and Eva. When Pogner, his daughter seated beside him under the linden-tree, speaks of the morrow’s festival and Eva’s part in it in awarding the prize to the master of her choice before the assembled burghers of Nuremburg, the stately Nuremburg Motive is ushered in.

Magdalena appears at the door and signals to Eva. The latter persuades her father that it is too cool to remain outdoors and, as they enter the house, Eva learns from Magdalena of Walther’s failure before the masters. Magdalena advises her to seek counsel with Sachs after supper.

The Cobbler Motive shows us Sachs and David in the former's workshop. When the master has dismissed his ‘prentice till morning, he yields to his poetic love of the balmy midsummer night and, laying down his work, leans over the half-door of his shop as if lost in reverie. The Cobbler Motive dies away to pianissimo, and then there is wafted from over the orchestra like the sweet scent of the blooming elder the Spring Motive, while tender notes on the horn blossom beneath a nebulous veil of tremolo violins into memories of Walther’s song. Its measures run through Sach’s head until, angered at the stupid conservatism of his associates, he resumes his work to the brusque measures of the Cobbler’s Motive. As his ill humour yields again to the beauties of the night, this motive yields once more to that of spring, which with reminiscences of Walther’s first song before the masters, imbues this masterful monologue with poetic beauty of the highest order. The last words in praise of Walther ("The bird who sang to-day," etc.), are sung to a broad and expressive melody.

Eva now comes out into the street and, shyly approaching the shop, stands at the door unnoticed by Sachs until she speaks to him. The theme which pervades this scene seems to breathe forth the very spirit of lovely maidenhood which springs from the union of romantic aspirations, feminine reserve, and rare physical graces. It is the Eva Motive, which, with the delicate touch of a master, Wagner so varies that it follows the many subtle dramatic suggestions of the scene. The Eva Motive, in its original form, is as follows:

When at Eva’s first words Sachs looks up, there is this elegant variation of the Eva Motive:

Then the scene being now fully ushered in, we have the Eva Motive itself. Eva leads the talk up to the morrow’s festival, and when Sachs mentions Beckmesser as her chief wooer, roguishly hints, with evident reference to Sachs himself, that she might prefer a hearty widower to a bachelor of such disagreeable characteristics as the marker. There are sufficient indications that the sturdy master is not indifferent to Eva’s charms, but, whole-souled, genuine friend that he is, his one idea is to further the love affair between his fair neighbour and Walther. The music of this passage is very suggestive. The melodic leading of the upper voice in the accompaniment, when Eva asks: "Could not a widower hope to win me?" is identical with a variation of the Isolde Motive in "Tristan and Isolde," while the Eva Motive, shyly pianissimo, seems to indicate the artfulness of Eva’s question. The reminiscence from "Tristan" can hardly be regarded as accidental, for Sachs afterwards boast that he does not care to share the fate of poor King Marke. Eva now endeavours to glean particulars of Walther’s experience in the morning, and we have the Motive of Envy, the Knight Motive, and the Motive of Ridicule. Eva does not appreciate the fine satire in Sach’s severe strictures on Walther’s singing -- he re-echoes not his own views, but those of the others masters, for whom, not for the knights, his strictures are really intended -- and she leaves him in anger. This shows Sachs which way the wind blows, and he forthwith resolves to do all in his power to bring Eva’s and Walther’s love affair to a successful conclusion. While Eva is engaged with Magdalena, who has come out to call her, he busies himself in closing the upper half of his shop door so far that only a gleam of light is visible, he himself being completely hidden. Eva learns from Magdalena of Beckmesser’s intended serenade, and it is agreed that the maid shall personate Eva at the window.

Steps are heard coming down the alley. Eva recognizes Walther and flies to his arms, Magdalena discreetly hurrying into the house. The ensuing ardent scene between Eva and Walther brings familiar motives. The knight’s excitement is comically broken in upon by the Night Watchman’s cow-horn, and, as Eva her hand soothingly upon his arm and counsels that they retreat within the shadow of the linden-three, there steals over the orchestra, like the fragrance of the summer night, a delicate variant of the Eva Motive -- the Summer Night Motive.

Eva vanishes into the house to prepare to elope with Walther. The Night Watchman now goes up the stage intoning a mediaeval chant. Coming in the midst of the beautiful modern music of "The Mastersingers," its effect is most quaint.

As Eva reappears and she and the knight are about to make their escape, Sachs, to prevent this precipitate and foolish step, throws open his shutters and allows his lamp to shed a streak of brilliant light across the street.

The lovers hesitate; and now Beckmesser sneaks in after the Night Watchman and, leaning against Sach’s house, begins to tune his lute, the peculiar twang of which, contrasted with the rich orchestration, sounds irresistibly ridiculous.

Meanwhile, Eva and Walther have once more retreated into the shade of the linden-tree, and Sachs, who has placed his work bench in front of his door, begins hammering at the last and intones a song which is one of the rough diamonds of musical invention, for it is purposely brusque and rough, just such a song as a hearty, happy artisan might sing over his work. It is aptly introduced by the Cobbler Motive. Beckmesser, greatly disturbed lest his serenade be ruined, entreats Sachs to cease singing. The latter agrees, but with the proviso that he shall "mark" each of Beckmesser’s mistakes with a hammer stroke. As if to bring out as sharply as possible the ridiculous character of the serenade, the orchestra breathes forth once more the summer night’s music before Beckmesser begins his song, and this is set to a parody of the Lyric Motive. Wagner, with keen satire, seems to want to show how a beautiful melody may become absurd through old-fogy methods. Beckmesser has hardly begun before Sach’s hammer comes down on the last with a resounding whack, which makes the town clerk fairly jump with anger. He resume, but soon is rudely interrupted again by a blow of Sach’s hammer. The whacks come faster and faster. Beckmesser, in order to make himself heard above them, sings louder and louder. Some of the neighbours are awakened by the noise and coming to their windows bid Beckmesser hold his peace. David, stung by jealousy as he sees Magdalena listening to the serenade, leaps from his room and falls upon the town clerk with a cudgel. The neighbours, male and female, run out into the street and a general melée ensues, the masters, who hurry upon the scene, seeking to restore quiet, while the ‘prentices vent their high spirits by doing all in their power to add to the hubbub. All is now noise and disorder, pandemonium seeming to have been let loose upon the dignified old town.

Musically this tumult finds expression in a fugue whose chief theme is the Cudgel Motive.

From beneath the hubbub of voices -- those of the ‘prentices and journeymen, delighted to take part in the shindy, of the women who are terrified at it, and of the masters who strive to stop it, is heard the theme of Beckmesser’s song, the real cause of the row This is another of those many instances in which Wagner vividly expresses in his music the significance of what transpires on the stage.

Sachs finally succeeds in shoving the ‘prentices and journeymen out of the way. The street is cleared, but not before the cobbler-poet has pushed Eva, who was about to elope with Walther, into her father’s arms and drawn Walther after him into his shop.

The street is quiet. And now, the rumpus subsided and all concerned in it gone, the Night Watchman appears, rubs his eyes and chants his mediaeval call. The street is flooded with moonlight. The Watchman with his clumsy halberd lunges at his own shadow, then goes up the alley.

We have had hubbub, we have had humour, and now we have a musical ending elvish, roguish, and yet exquisite in sentiment. The effect is produced by the Cudgel Motive played with the utmost delicacy on the flute, while the theme of Beckmesser’s serenade merrily runs after itself on clarinet and bassoon, and the muted violins softly breathe the Midsummer Festival Motive.

Act III. During this act the tender strain in Sach’s sturdy character is brought out in bold relief. Hence the prelude develops what may be called three Sachs themes, two of them expressive of his twofold nature as poet and cobbler, the third standing for the love which his fellow-burghers bear him.

The prelude opens with the Wahn Motive or Motive of Poetic Illusion. This reflects the deep thought and poetic aspirations of Sachs the poet. It is followed by the theme of the beautiful chorus, sung later in the act, in praise of Sachs: "Awake! Draws nigh the break of day." This theme, among the three heard in the prelude, points to Sach’s popularity. The third consists of portions of the cobbler’s song in the second act. This prelude has long been considered one of Wagner’s masterpieces. The themes are treated with the utmost delicacy, so that we recognize through them both the tender, poetic side of Sach’s nature and his good-humoured brusqueness. The Motive of Poetic Illusion is deeply reflective, and it might be preferable to name it the Motive of Poetic Thought, were it not that it is better to preserve the significance of the term Wahn Motive, which there is ample reason to believe originated with Wagner himself. The prelude is, in fact, a subtle analysis of character expressed in music.

How peaceful the scene on which the curtain rises. Sachs is sitting in an arm-chair in his sunny workshop, reading in a large folio. The Illusion Motive has not yet died away in the prelude, so that it seems to reflect the thoughts awakened in Sachs by what he is reading. David, dressed for the festival, enters just as the prelude ends. There is a scene full of charming bonhomie between Sachs and his ‘prentice, which is followed, when the latter has withdrawn, by Sach’s monologue: "Wahn! Wahn! Ueberall Wahn!" (Illusion, everywhere illusion.)

While the Illusion Motive seems to weave a poetic atmosphere about him, Sachs buried in thought, rests his head upon his arm over the folio. The Illusion Motive is followed by the Spring Motive, which in turn yields to the Nuremburg Motive as Sachs sings the praises of the stately old town. At his reference to the tumult of the night before there are in the score corresponding allusions to the music of that episode. "A glowworm could not find its mate," he sings, referring to Walther and Eva. The Midsummer Festival, Lyric, and Nuremburg motives in union foreshadow the triumph of true art through love on Nuremburg soil, and thus bring the monologue to a stately conclusion.

Walther now enters from the chamber, which opens upon a gallery, and, descending into the workshop, is heartily greeted by Sachs with the Sachs Motive, which dominates the immediately ensuing scene. Very beautiful is the theme in which Sachs protest against Walther’s derision of the masters; for they are, in spite of their many old-fogyish notions, the conservators of much that is true and beautiful in art.

Walther tells Sachs of a song which came to him in a dream during the night, and sings two stanzas of this "Prize Song," Sachs making friendly critical comments as he writes down the words. The Nuremburg Motive in sonorous and festive instrumentation closes this melodious episode.

When Sachs and Walther have retired Beckmesser is seen peeping into the shop. Observing that it is empty he enter hastily. He is ridiculously overdressed for the approaching festival, limps, and occasionally rubs his muscles as if he were still stiff and sore from his drubbing. By chance his glance falls on the manuscript of the "Prize Song" in Sach’s handwriting on the table, when he breaks forth in wrathful exclamations, thinking now that he has in the popular master a rival for Eva’s hand. Hearing the chamber door opening he hastily grabs the manuscript and thrusts it into his pocket. Sachs enters. Observing that the manuscript is no longer on the table, he realizes that Beckmesser has stolen it, and conceives the idea of allowing him to keep it, knowing that the marker will fail most wretchedly in attempting to give musical expression to Walther’s inspiration.

The scene places Sachs in a new light. A fascinating trait of his character is the dash of scapegrace with which it is seasoned. Hence, when he thinks of allowing Beckmesser to use the poem the Sachs Motive takes on a somewhat facetious, roguish grace. There now ensues a charming dialogue between Sachs and Eva, who enters when Beckmesser has departed. This is accompanied by a transformation of the Eva Motive, which now reflects her shyness and hesitancy in taking Sachs into her confidence.

With it is joined the Cobbler Motive when Eva places her foot upon the stool while Sachs tries on the shoes she is to wear at the festival. When, with a cry of joy, she recognizes her lover as he appears upon the gallery, and remains motionless, gazing upon him as if spellbound, the lovely Summer Night Motive enhances the beauty of the tableau. While Sachs cobbles and chats away, pretending not to observe the lovers, the Motive of Maidenly Reserve passes through many modulations until there is heard a phrase from "Tristan and Isolde" (the Isolde Motive), an allusion which is explained below. The Lyric Motive introduces the third stanza of Walther’s "Prize Song," with which he now greets Eva, while she, overcome with joy at seeing her lover, sinks upon Sach’s breast. The Illusion Motive rhapsodizes the praises of the generous cobbler-poet, who seeks relief from his emotions in bantering remarks, until Eva glorifies him in a noble burst of love and gratitude in a melody derived from the Isolde Motive.

It is after this that Sachs, alluding to his own love of Eva, exclaims that he will have none of King Marker’s triste experience; and the use of the King Marke Motive at this point shows that the previous echoes of the Isolde Motive were premeditated rather than accidental.

Magdalena and David now enter, and Sachs gives to Walther’s "Prize Song" its musical baptism, utilizing chiefly the first and second lines of the chorale which opens the first act. David then kneels down and, according to the custom of the day, receives from Sachs a box on the ear in token that he is advanced from ‘prentice to journeyman. Then follows the beautiful quintet, in which the "Prize Song," as a thematic germ, puts forth its loveliest blossoms. This is but one of many instances in which Wagner proved that when the dramatic situation called for it he could conceive and develop a melody of most exquisite fibre.

After the quintet the orchestra resumes the Nuremburg Motive and all depart for the festival. The stage is now shut off by a curtain behind which the scene is changed from Sach’s workshop to the meadow on the banks of the Pegnitz, near Nuremburg. After a tumultuous orchestral interlude which portrays by means of motives already familiar, with the addition of the fanfare of the town musicians, the noise and bustle incidental to preparations for a great festival, the curtain rises upon a lively scene. Boats decked out in flags and bunting and full of festively clad members of the various guilds and their wives and children are constantly arriving. To the right is a platform decorated with the flags of the guilds which have already gathered. People are making merry under tents and awnings where refreshments are served. The ‘prentices are having a jolly time of it heralding and marshalling the guilds who disperse and mingle with the merrymakers after the standard bearers have planted their banners near the platform.

Soon after the curtain rises the cobblers arrive, and as they march down the meadow, conducted by the ‘prentices, they sing in honour of St. Cripin, their patron saint, a chorus, based on the Cobbler Motive, to which a melody in popular style is added. The town watchmen, with trumpets and drums, the town pipers, lute makers, etc. and then the journeymen, with comical sounding toy instruments, march past, and are succeeded by the tailors, who sing a humorous chorus, telling how Nuremburg was saved from its ancient enemies by a tailor, who sewed a goatskin around him and pranced around on the town walls, to the terror of the hostile army, which took him for the devil. The bleating of a goat is capitally imitated in this chorus.

With the last chord of the tailors’ chorus the bakers strike up their song and are greeted in turn by cobblers and tailors with their respective refrains. A boatful of young peasant girls in gay costumes now arrives, and the ‘prentices make a rush for the bank. A charming dance in waltz time is struck up. The ‘prentices with the girls dance down toward the journeymen, but as soon as these try to get hold of the girls, the ‘prentices veer off with them in another direction. This veering should be timed to fall at the beginning of those periods of the dance to which Wagner has given, instead of eight, measures, seven and nine, in order by this irregularity to emphasize the ruse of the ‘prentices.

The dance is interrupted by the arrival of the masters, the ‘prentices falling in to receive, the others making room for the procession. The Mastersingers advance to the stately strains of the Mastersinger Motive, which, when Kothner appears bearing their standard with the figure of King David playing on his harp, goes over into the sturdy measures of the Mastersingers’ March. Sachs rises and advances. At sight of him the populace intone the noblest of all choruses: "Awake! Draws nigh the break of day," the words of which are a poem by the real Hans Sachs.

At its conclusion the populace break into shouts in praise of Sachs, who modestly yet most feelingly gives them thanks. When Beckmesser is led to the little mound of turf upon which the singer is obliged to stand, we have the humorous variation of the Mastersinger Motive from the Prelude. Beckmesser’s attempt to sing Walther’s poem ends, as Sachs had anticipated, in utter failure. The town clerk’s effort is received with jeers. Before he rushes away, infuriated but utterly discomfited, he proclaims that Sachs is the author of the song they have derided. The cobbler-poet declares to the people that it is not by him; that it is a beautiful poem if sung to the proper melody and that he will show them the author of the poem, who will in song disclose its beauties. He then introduces Walther. The knight easily succeeds in winning over people and masters, who repeat the closing melody of his "Prize Song" in token of their joyous appreciation of his new and wondrous art. Pogner advances to decorate Walther with the insignia of the Mastersingers’ Guild.

In more ways than one the "Prize Song" is a mainstay of "Die Meistersinger." It has been heard in the previous scene of the third act, not only when Walther rehearses it for Sachs, but also in the quintet. Moreover, versions of it occur in the overture and indeed, throughout the work, adding greatly to the romantic sentiment of the score. For "Die Meistersinger" is a comedy of romance.

In measures easily recognized from the Prelude, to which the Nuremburg Motive is added, Sachs now praises the masters and explains their noble purpose as conservators of art. Eva takes the wreath with which Walther has been crowned, and with it crowns Sachs, who has meanwhile decorated the knight with the insignia. Pogner kneels, as if in homage, before Sachs, the masters point to the cobbler as to their chief, and Walther and Eva remain on either side of him, leaning gratefully upon his shoulders. The chorus repeats Sach’s final admonition to the closing measures of the Prelude.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (German:[diː ˈmaɪ̯stɐˌzɪŋɐ fɔn ˈnʏʁnbɛʁk]; "The Master-Singers of Nuremberg") is a music drama (or opera) in three acts, written and composed by Richard Wagner. It is among the longest operas commonly performed, usually taking around four and a half hours. It was first performed at the Königliches Hof- und National-Theater, today the home of the Bavarian State Opera, in Munich, on 21 June 1868. The conductor at the premiere was Hans von Bülow.

The story is set in Nuremberg in the mid-16th century. At the time, Nuremberg was a free imperial city and one of the centers of the Renaissance in Northern Europe. The story revolves around the city's guild of Meistersinger (Master Singers), an association of amateur poets and musicians who were primarily master craftsmen of various trades. The master singers had developed a craftsmanlike approach to music-making, with an intricate system of rules for composing and performing songs. The work draws much of its atmosphere from its depiction of the Nuremberg of the era and the traditions of the master-singer guild. One of the main characters, the cobbler-poet Hans Sachs, is based on a historical figure, Hans Sachs (1494–1576), the most famous of the master-singers.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg occupies a unique place in Wagner's oeuvre. It is the only comedy among his mature operas (he had come to reject his early Das Liebesverbot), and is also unusual among his works in being set in a historically well-defined time and place rather than in a mythical or legendary setting. It is the only mature Wagner opera based on an entirely original story, devised by Wagner himself, and in which no supernatural or magical powers or events are in evidence. It incorporates many of the operatic conventions that Wagner had railed against in his essays on the theory of opera: rhymed verse, arias, choruses, a quintet, and even a ballet.

Composition history[edit]

Wagner's autobiography Mein Leben (My Life) described the genesis of Die Meistersinger.[1]Taking the waters at Marienbad in 1845 he began reading Georg Gottfried Gervinus' Geschichte der deutschen Dichtung (History of German Poetry). This work included chapters on mastersong and on Hans Sachs.

I had formed a particularly vivid picture of Hans Sachs and the mastersingers of Nuremberg. I was especially intrigued by the institution of the Marker and his function in rating master-songs ... I conceived during a walk a comic scene in which the popular artisan-poet, by hammering upon his cobbler's last, gives the Marker, who is obliged by circumstances to sing in his presence, his come-uppance for previous pedantic misdeeds during official singing contests, by inflicting upon him a lesson of his own.[2]

Gervinus' book also mentions a poem by the real-life Hans Sachs on the subject of Protestant reformer Martin Luther, called Die Wittenbergisch Nachtigall (The Wittenberg Nightingale). The opening lines for this poem, addressing the Reformation, were later used by Wagner in act 3 scene 5 when the crowd acclaims Sachs: Wacht auf, es nahet gen den Tag; ich hör' singen im grünen Hag ein wonnigliche Nachtigall. (Awake, the dawn is drawing near; I hear, singing in the green grove, a blissful nightingale)

In addition to this, Wagner added a scene drawn from his own life, in which a case of mistaken identity led to a near-riot: this was to be the basis for the finale of act 2.

Out of this situation evolved an uproar, which through the shouting and clamour and an inexplicable growth in the number of participants in the struggle soon assumed a truly demoniacal character. It looked to me as if the whole town would break out into a riot...Then suddenly I heard a heavy thump, and as if by magic the whole crowd dispersed in every direction...One of the regular patrons had felled one of the noisiest rioters ... And it was the effect of this which had scattered everybody so suddenly.[2]

This first draft of the story was dated "Marienbad 16 July 1845". Wagner later said, in Eine Mitteilung an meine Freunde (1851) (A Communication to my Friends) [3] that Meistersinger was to be a comic opera to follow a tragic opera, i.e. Tannhäuser. Just as the Athenians had followed a tragedy with a comic satyr play, so Wagner would follow Tannhäuser with Meistersinger: the link being that both operas included song-contests.

Influence of Schopenhauer[edit]

In 1854, Wagner first read Schopenhauer, and was struck by the philosopher's theories on aesthetics.[4] In this philosophy, art is a means for escaping from the sufferings of the world, and music is the highest of the arts since it is the only one not involved in representation of the world (i.e. it is abstract). It is for this reason that music can communicate emotion without the need for words. In his earlier essay Oper und Drama (Opera and Drama) (1850–1)[5] Wagner had derided staples of operatic construction: arias, choruses, duets, trios, recitatives, etc. As a result of reading Schopenhauer's ideas about the role of music, Wagner re-evaluated his prescription for opera, and included many of these elements in Die Meistersinger.

Although Die Meistersinger is a comedy, it also elucidates Wagner's ideas on the place of music in society, on renunciation of Wille (Will), and on the solace that music can bring in a world full of Wahn (delusion, folly, self-deception). It is Wahn which causes the riot in act 2 — a sequence of events arising from a case of mistaken identity, which can be seen as a form of self-delusion. Commentators have observed that in his famous Act 3 monologue Wahn, Wahn, überall Wahn (Madness! Madness!, Everywhere madness!), Sachs paraphrases Schopenhauer's description of the way that Wahn drives a person to behave in ways that are self-destructive:[6]

in Flucht geschlagen, wähnt er zu jagen; hört nicht sein eigen Schmerzgekreisch,
wenn er sich wühlt ins eig'ne Fleisch, wähnt Lust sich zu erzeigen!

driven into flight he believes he is hunting, and does not hear his own cry of pain:
when he tears into his own flesh, he imagines he is giving himself pleasure!

Following the completion of Tristan und Isolde, Wagner resumed work on Die Meistersinger in 1861 with a quite different philosophical outlook from that which he held when he developed his first draft. The character of Hans Sachs became one of the most Schopenhauerian of Wagner's creations. Wagner scholar Lucy Beckett[7] has noted the remarkable similarity between Wagner's Sachs and Schopenhauer's description of the noble man:

We always picture a very noble character to ourselves as having a certain trace of silent sadness... It is a consciousness that has resulted from knowledge of the vanity of all achievements and of the suffering of all life, not merely of one's own. (Schopenhauer: Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung – The World as Will and Representation)

The other distinctive manifestation of Sachs's character – his calm renunciation of the prospect of becoming a suitor for Eva's love – is also deeply Schopenhauerian.[8] Sachs here denies the Will in its supposedly most insistent form, that of sexual love. Wagner marks this moment with a direct musical and textual reference to Tristan und Isolde: Mein Kind, von Tristan und Isolde kenn' ich ein traurig Stück. Hans Sachs war klug und wollte nichts von Herrn Markes Glück. ("My child, I know a sad tale of Tristan and Isolde. Hans Sachs was clever and did not want anything of King Marke's lot.")

Completion and premiere[edit]

Having completed the scenario, Wagner began writing the libretto in 1862, and followed this by composing the overture. The overture was publicly performed in Leipzig on 2 November 1862, conducted by the composer.[9] Composition of act 1 was begun in spring of 1863 in the Viennese suburb of Penzing, but the opera in its entirety was not finished until October 1867, when Wagner was living at Tribschen near Lucerne. These years were some of Wagner's most difficult: the 1861 Paris production of Tannhäuser was a fiasco, Wagner gave up hope of completing Der Ring des Nibelungen, the 1864 Vienna production of Tristan und Isolde was abandoned after 77 rehearsals, and finally in 1866 Wagner's first wife, Minna died. Cosima Wagner was later to write: "When future generations seek refreshment in this unique work, may they spare a thought for the tears from which the smiles arose."

The premiere was given at the Königliches Hof- und National-Theater, Munich, on June 21, 1868. The production was sponsored by Ludwig II of Bavaria and the conductor was Hans von Bülow. Franz Strauss, the father of the composer Richard Strauss played the French horn at the premiere, despite his often-expressed dislike of Wagner, who was present at many of the rehearsals. Wagner's frequent interruptions and digressions made rehearsals a very long-winded affair. After one 5 hour rehearsal, Franz Strauss led a strike by the orchestra, saying that he could not play any more. Despite these problems, the premiere was a triumph, and the opera was hailed as one of Wagner's most successful works. At the end of the first performance, the audience called for Wagner, who appeared at the front of the Royal box, which he had been sharing with King Ludwig. Wagner bowed to the crowd, breaking court protocol, which dictated that only the monarch could address an audience from the box.[10]


RoleVoice typePremiere cast, 21 June 1868
(Conductor: Hans von Bülow)
Eva, Pogner's daughtersopranoMathilde Mallinger
Magdalena, Eva's nursemezzo-sopranoSophie Dietz
Walther von Stolzing, a young knight from FranconiaheldentenorFranz Nachbaur
David, Sachs's apprenticetenorMax Schlosser
Hans Sachs, cobbler, mastersingerbass-baritoneFranz Betz
Veit Pogner, goldsmith, mastersingerbassKaspar Bausewein
Sixtus Beckmesser, town clerk, mastersingerbaritoneGustav Hölzel
Fritz Kothner, baker, mastersingerbaritoneKarl Fischer
Kunz Vogelgesang, furrier, mastersingertenorKarl Samuel Heinrich
Konrad Nachtigall, tinsmith, mastersingerbassEduard Sigl
Hermann Ortel, soapmaker, mastersingerbassFranz Thoms
Balthasar Zorn, pewterer, mastersingertenorBartholomäus Weixlstorfer
Augustin Moser, tailor, mastersingertenorMichael Pöppl
Ulrich Eisslinger, grocer, mastersingertenorEduard Hoppe
Hans Foltz, coppersmith, mastersingerbassLudwig Hayn
Hans Schwarz, stocking weaver, mastersingerbassLeopold Grasser
A Nightwatchmanbass-baritoneFerdinand Lang
Citizens of all guilds and their wives, journeymen, apprentices, young women, people of Nuremberg


Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is scored for the following instruments:

  • piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons
  • 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba
  • timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, glockenspiel
  • harp
  • 1st and 2nd violins, violas, violoncellos, and double basses



Nuremberg, towards the middle of the sixteenth century.

Act 1[edit]

Prelude (Vorspiel), one of Wagner’s most familiar pieces of music.

Scene 1: Interior of Katharinenkirche (St. Catherine's Church)[notes 1] in Nuremberg, St John's Eve or Midsummer's Eve, June 23

After the prelude, a church service is just ending with a singing of Da zu dir der Heiland kam (When the Saviour came to thee), an impressive pastiche of a Lutheran chorale, as Walther von Stolzing, a young knight from Franconia, addresses Eva Pogner, whom he had met earlier, and asks her if she is engaged to anyone. Eva and Walther have fallen in love at first sight, but she informs him that her father, the goldsmith and mastersinger Veit Pogner, has arranged to give her hand in marriage to the winner of the guild's song contest on St. John's Day (Midsummer's Day), tomorrow. Eva's maid, Magdalena, gets David, Hans Sachs's apprentice, to tell Walther about the mastersingers' art. The hope is for Walther to qualify as a mastersinger during the guild meeting, traditionally held in the church after Mass, and thus earn a place in the song contest despite his utter ignorance of the master-guild's rules and conventions.

Scene 2

As the other apprentices set up the church for the meeting, David warns Walther that it is not easy to become a mastersinger; it takes many years of learning and practice. David gives a confusing lecture on the mastersingers' rules for composing and singing. (Many of the tunes he describes were real master-tunes from the period.) Walther is confused by the complicated rules, but is determined to try for a place in the guild anyway.

Scene 3

The first mastersingers file into the church, including Eva's wealthy father Veit Pogner and the town clerk Beckmesser. Beckmesser, a clever technical singer who was expecting to win the contest without opposition, is distressed to see that Walther is Pogner's guest and intends to enter the contest. Meanwhile, Pogner introduces Walther to the other mastersingers as they arrive. Fritz Kothner the baker, serving as chairman of this meeting, calls the roll. Pogner, addressing the assembly, announces his offer of his daughter's hand for the winner of the song contest. When Hans Sachs argues that Eva ought to have a say in the matter, Pogner agrees that Eva may refuse the winner of the contest, but she must still marry a mastersinger. Another suggestion by Sachs, that the townspeople, rather than the masters, should be called upon to judge the winner of the contest, is squelched by the other masters. Pogner formally introduces Walther as a candidate for admission into the masterguild. Questioned by Kothner about his background, Walther states that his teacher in poetry was Walther von der Vogelweide whose works he studied in his own private library in Franconia, and his teachers in music were the birds and nature itself. Reluctantly the masters agree to admit him, provided he can perform a master-song of his own composition. Walther chooses love as the topic for his song and therefore is to be judged by Beckmesser alone, the "Marker" of the guild for worldly matters. At the signal to begin (Fanget an!), Walther launches into a novel free-form tune (So rief der Lenz in den Wald), breaking all the mastersingers' rules, and his song is constantly interrupted by the scratch of Beckmesser's chalk on his chalkboard, maliciously noting one violation after another. When Beckmesser has completely covered the slate with symbols of Walther's errors, he interrupts the song and argues that there is no point in finishing it. Sachs tries to convince the masters to let Walther continue, but Beckmesser sarcastically tells Sachs to stop trying to set policy and instead, to finish making his (Beckmesser's) new shoes, which are overdue. Raising his voice over the masters' argument, Walther finishes his song, but the masters reject him and he rushes out of the church.

Act 2[edit]

Scene 1: Evening in a Nuremberg street, at the corner between Pogner's house and Hans Sachs's house, opposite. A lime tree stands outside Pogner's house, an elder outside Sachs's. The apprentices are closing the shutters

David informs Magdalena of Walther's failure. In her disappointment, Magdalena leaves without giving David the food she had brought for him. This arouses the derision of the other apprentices, and David is about to turn on them when Sachs arrives and hustles his apprentice into the workshop.

Scene 2

Pogner arrives with Eva, engaging in a roundabout conversation: Eva is hesitant to ask about the outcome of Walther's application, and Pogner has private doubts about whether it was wise to offer his daughter's hand in marriage for the song contest. As they enter their house, Magdalena appears and tells Eva about the rumours of Walther's failure. Eva decides to ask Sachs about the matter.

Scene 3

As twilight falls, Hans Sachs takes a seat in front of his house, to work on a new pair of shoes for Beckmesser. He muses on Walther's song, which has made a deep impression on him. ("Was duftet doch der Flieder", often called "the Fliedermonolog")

Scene 4

Eva approaches Sachs, and they discuss tomorrow's song contest. Eva is unenthusiastic about Beckmesser, who appears to be the only eligible contestant. She hints that she would not mind if Sachs, a widower, were to win the contest. Though touched, Sachs protests that he would be too old a husband for her. Upon further prompting, Sachs describes Walther's failure at the guild meeting. This causes Eva to storm off angrily, confirming Sachs's suspicion that she has fallen in love with Walther. Eva is intercepted by Magdalena, who informs her that Beckmesser is coming to serenade her. Eva, determined to search for Walther, tells Magdalena to pose as her (Eva) at the bedroom window.

Scene 5

Just as Eva is about to leave, Walther appears. He tells her that he has been rejected by the mastersingers, and the two prepare to elope. However, Sachs has overheard their plans. As they are passing by, he illuminates the street with his lantern, forcing them to hide in the shadow of Pogner's house. Walther makes up his mind to confront Sachs, but is interrupted by the arrival of Beckmesser.

Scene 6

As Eva and Walther retreat further into the shadows, Beckmesser begins his serenade. Sachs interrupts him by launching into a full-bellied cobbling song, and hammering the soles of the half-made shoes. Annoyed, Beckmesser tells Sachs to stop, but the cobbler replies that he has to finish tempering the soles of the shoes, whose lateness Beckmesser had publicly complained about in Act 1. Sachs offers a compromise: he will be quiet and let Beckmesser sing, but he (Sachs) will be Beckmesser's "marker", and mark each of Beckmesser's musical/poetical errors by striking one of the soles with his hammer. Beckmesser, who has spotted someone at Eva's window (Magdalena in disguise), has no time to argue. He tries to sing his serenade, but he makes so many mistakes (his tune repeatedly places accents on the wrong syllables of the words) that from the repeated knocks Sachs finishes the shoes. David wakes up and sees Beckmesser apparently serenading Magdalena. He attacks Beckmesser in a fit of jealous rage. The entire neighborhood is awakened by the noise. The other apprentices rush into the fray, and the situation degenerates into a full-blown riot. In the confusion, Walther tries to escape with Eva, but Sachs pushes Eva into her home and drags Walther into his own workshop. Quiet is restored as abruptly as it was broken. A lone figure walks through the street – the nightwatchman, calling out the hour.

Act 3, Scenes 1–4[edit]

Prelude (Vorspiel), a meditative orchestral introduction using music from two key episodes to be heard in Act 3: Sachs's Scene 1 monologue "Wahn! Wahn!" and the "Wittenburg Nightingale" quasi-chorale sung by the townspeople to greet Sachs in Scene 5.

Scene 1: Sachs's workshop

As morning dawns, Sachs is reading a large book. Lost in thought, he does not respond as David returns from delivering Beckmesser's shoes. David finally manages to attract his master's attention, and they discuss the upcoming festivities – it is St. John's day, Hans Sachs's name day. David recites his verses for Sachs, and leaves to prepare for the festival. Alone, Sachs ponders last night's riot. "Madness! Madness! Everywhere madness!" (Wahn! Wahn! Überall Wahn!) His attempt to prevent an elopement had ended in shocking violence. Nevertheless, he is resolved to make madness work for him today.

Scene 2

Sachs gives Walther an interactive lesson on the history and philosophy of music and mastersinging, and teaches him to moderate his singing according to the spirit (if not the strict letter) of the masters' rules. Walther demonstrates his understanding by composing two sections of a new Prize Song in a more acceptable style than his previous effort from act 1. Sachs writes down the new verses as Walther sings them. A final section remains to be composed, but Walther postpones the task. The two men leave the room to dress for the festival.

Scene 3

Beckmesser, still sore from his drubbing the night before, enters the workshop. He spots the verses of the Prize Song, written in Sachs's handwriting, and infers that Sachs is secretly planning to enter the contest for Eva's hand. The cobbler re-enters the room and Beckmesser confronts him with the verses and asks if he wrote them. Sachs confirms that the handwriting is his, but does not clarify that he was not the author but merely served as scribe. However, he goes on to say that he has no intention of wooing Eva or entering the contest, and he presents the manuscript to Beckmesser as a gift. He promises never to claim the song for his own, and warns Beckmesser that it is a very difficult song to interpret and sing. Beckmesser, his confidence restored by the prospect of using verses written by the famous Hans Sachs, ignores the warning and rushes off to prepare for the song contest. Sachs smiles at Beckmesser's foolishness but expresses hope that Beckmesser will learn to be better in the future.

Scene 4

Eva arrives at the workshop. She is looking for Walther, but pretends to have complaints about a shoe that Sachs made for her. Sachs realizes that the shoe is a perfect fit, but pretends to set about altering the stitching. As he works, he tells Eva that he has just heard a beautiful song, lacking only an ending. Eva cries out as Walther enters the room, splendidly attired for the festival, and sings the third and final section of the Prize Song. The couple are overwhelmed with gratitude for Sachs, and Eva asks Sachs to forgive her for having manipulated his feelings. The cobbler brushes them off with bantering complaints about his lot as a shoemaker, poet, and widower. At last, however, he admits to Eva that, despite his feelings for her, he is resolved to avoid the fate of King Marke (a reference to the subject of another Wagner opera, Tristan und Isolde, in which an old man tries to marry a much-younger woman), thus conferring his blessing upon the lovers. David and Magdalena appear. Sachs announces to the group that a new master-song has been born, which, following the rules of the mastersingers, is to be baptized. As an apprentice cannot serve as a witness for the baptism, he promotes David to the rank of journeyman with the traditional cuff on the ear (and by this also "promoting" him as a groom and Magdalena as a bride). He then christens the Prize Song the Morning Dream Song (Selige Morgentraumdeut-Weise). After celebrating their good fortune with an extended quintet (Selig, wie die Sonne meines Glückes lacht) — musically capping the first four scenes of Act III — the group departs for the festival.

Act 3, Scene 5[edit]

Almost an act in itself, this scene occupies about 45 minutes of the two hours of Act III and is separated from the preceding four scenes by a Verwandlungsmusik, a transforming Interlude. Meadow on the Pegnitz River. It is the Feast of St. John.

Various guilds enter boasting of their contributions to Nürnberg’s success as a city. Wagner depicts three: the Cobblers, whose chorus, Sankt Krispin, lobet ihn!, uses the signature cry streck! streck! streck!; the Tailors, who sing the chorus Als Nürnberg belagert war with the goat cry meck! meck! meck!; and the Bakers, who cut the tailors off with Hungersnot! Hungersnot!, or Famine, famine!, and its beck! beck! beck!, or bake, bake, bake!

This sequence leads into the well-known Tanz der Lehrbuben, or Dance of the Apprentices. The mastersingers themselves then arrive grandly in a section usually referred to as the “Procession of the Masters.” The crowd sings the praises of Hans Sachs, the most beloved and famous of the mastersingers. Here Wagner provides a rousing chorus, Wach’ auf, es nahet gen den Tag, using words written by the historical Sachs himself and musically relates it to the “Wittenberg Nightingale.”

The prize contest begins. Beckmesser attempts to sing the verses that he had obtained from Sachs. However, he garbles the words (Morgen ich leuchte) and fails to fit them to an appropriate melody, and ends up singing so clumsily that the crowd laughs him off. Before storming off in anger, he yells that the song was not even his: Hans Sachs tricked him into singing it. The crowd is confused. How could the great Hans Sachs have written such a bad song? Sachs tells them that the song is not his own, and also that it is in fact a beautiful song which the masters will love when they hear it sung correctly. To prove this, he calls a witness: Walther. The people are so curious about the song (correctly worded as Morgenlich leuchtend im rosigen Schein) that they allow Walther to sing it, and everyone is won over in spite of its novelty.

They declare Walther the winner, and the mastersingers want to make him a member of their guild on the spot. At first Walther is tempted to reject their offer, but Sachs intervenes once more and explains that art, even ground-breaking, contrary art like Walther’s, can only exist within a cultural tradition, which tradition the art sustains and improves. Walther is convinced; he agrees to join. Pogner places the symbolic master-hood medal around his neck, Eva takes his hand, and the people sing once more the praises of Hans Sachs, the beloved mastersinger of Nuremberg.

Interpretation of the character and role of Beckmesser[edit]

The Wagner scholar Barry Millington has advanced the idea that Beckmesser represents a Jewish stereotype, whose humiliation by the Aryan Walther is an onstage representation of Wagner's antisemitism.[11] Millington argued in his 1991 "Nuremberg Trial: Is There Anti-Semitism in Die Meistersinger?" that common antisemitic stereotypes prevalent in 19th-century Germany were a part of the "ideological fabric" of Die Meistersinger and that Beckmesser embodied these unmistakable antisemitic characteristics.[12] Millington's article spurred significant debate among Wagner scholars including Charles Rosen,[13]Hans Rudolph Vaget,[14]Paul Lawrence Rose,[15] and Karl A. Zaenker.[16]

In a 2009 interview Katharina Wagner, the composer's great-granddaughter and co-director of the Bayreuth Festival, was asked whether she believed Wagner relied on Jewish stereotypes in his operas. Her response was, "With Beckmesser he probably did."[17]

Scholars Dieter Borchmeyer, Udo Bermbach (de) and Hermann Danuser (de) support the thesis that with the character of Beckmesser, Wagner did not intend to allude to Jewish stereotypes, but rather to criticize (academic) pedantism in general. They point out similarities to the figure of Malvolio in Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night.[18]

Although the score calls for Beckmesser to rush off in a huff after his self-defeating attempt to sing Walther's song, in some productions he remains and listens to Walther's correct rendition of his song, and shakes hands with Sachs after the final monologue.[19]

A related view holds that Beckmesser was designed to parody the renowned critic Eduard Hanslick, who valorized the music of Brahms and held Wagner's music in low regard. We know that the original name of the Beckmesser character was "Veit Hanslich," and we know that Wagner invited Hanslick to his initial reading of the libretto, though whether then character still had the "Hanslich" name when Hanslick heard it is unclear.[20] This second interpretation of Beckmesser may dovetail with the antisemitism interpretation above, as Wagner attacked Hanslick as 'of gracefully concealed Jewish origin' in his revised edition of his essay Jewishness in Music.


Die Meistersinger was enthusiastically received at its premiere in 1868, and was judged to be Wagner's most immediately appealing work. Eduard Hanslick wrote in Die Neue Freie Presse after the premiere: "Dazzling scenes of colour and splendour, ensembles full of life and character unfold before the spectator's eyes, hardly allowing him the leisure to weigh how much and how little of these effects is of musical origin."

Within a year of the premiere the opera was performed across Germany at Dresden, Dessau, Karlsruhe, Mannheim, Weimar, Hanover and Vienna with Berlin following in 1870.[21] It was one of the most popular and prominent German operas during the Unification of Germany in 1871, and in spite of the opera's overall warning against cultural self-centeredness, Die Meistersinger became a potent symbol of patriotic German art. Hans Sachs's final warning at the end of act 3 on the need to preserve German art from foreign threats was a rallying point for German nationalism, particularly during the Franco-Prussian War.[citation needed]

Beware! Evil tricks threaten us; if the German people and kingdom should one day decay, under a false, foreign1 rule, soon no prince would understand his people; and foreign mists with foreign vanities they would plant in our German land; what is German and true none would know, if it did not live in the honour of German masters. Therefore I say to you: honour your German masters, then you will conjure up good spirits! And if you favour their endeavours, even if the Holy Roman Empire should dissolve in mist, for us there would yet remain holy German Art!

Hans Sachs's final speech from act 3 of Die Meistersinger

1 The word translated here as "foreign" ("welsch") is a catch-all term denoting "French and/or Italian." Wagner here referred to the court of Frederick the Great, where French rather than German was spoken.

At the reopening of the Bayreuth Festival in 1924 following its closure during World War IDie Meistersinger was performed. The audience rose to its feet during Hans Sachs's final oration, and sang "Deutschland über Alles" after the opera had finished.[22]

Die Meistersinger was frequently used as part of Nazi propaganda. On 21 March 1933, the founding of the Third Reich was celebrated with a performance of the opera in the presence of Hitler.[23] The prelude to act 3 is played over shots of old Nuremberg at the beginning of Triumph of the Will, the 1935 film by Leni Riefenstahl depicting the Nazi party congress of 1934. During World War II, Die Meistersinger was the only opera presented at the Bayreuth festivals of 1943–1944.

The association of Die Meistersinger with Nazism led to one of the most controversial stage productions of the work. The first Bayreuth production of Die Meistersinger following World War II occurred in 1956, when Wieland Wagner, the composer's grandson, attempted to distance the work from German nationalism by presenting it in almost abstract terms, by removing any reference to Nuremberg from the scenery. The production was dubbed Die Meistersinger ohne Nürnberg (The Mastersingers without Nuremberg).[24]


Main article: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg discography




  1. ^Warrack, John (ed.) (1994). Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg (Cambridge Opera Handbooks). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-44895-6. 
  2. ^ abWagner, Richard, tr. Andrew Gray (1992)
  3. ^"A Communication to my Friends"
  4. ^Schopenhauer's aesthetics
  5. ^Opera and Drama
  6. ^Magee, Bryan (2002). The Tristan Chord. Owl Books, New York. ISBN 0-8050-7189-X. (UK title: Wagner and Philosophy, Penguin Books Ltd, ISBN 0-14-029519-4)
  7. ^Warrack, John (ed) (1994) Chapter 4
  8. ^Magee, Bryan (2002). The Tristan Chord. Chapter 14
  9. ^Richard Sternfeld, preface to the complete vocal and orchestral score, Dover Publications, 1976
  10. ^Gregor-Dellin, Martin (1983) Richard Wagner: his life, his work, his Century. William Collins, ISBN 0-00-216669-0 page 376
  11. ^Millington, Barry (Ed.) (1992). The Wagner Compendium: A Guide to Wagner's Life and Music. Thames and Hudson Ltd., London. ISBN 0-02-871359-1 p. 304.
  12. ^Millington, Barry. "Wagner Washed Whiter." The Musical Times, Vol. 137, No. 1846 (December 1996), pp. 5–8.
  13. ^"Wagner's Anti-Semitism", The New York Review of Books
  14. ^Vaget, Hans Rudolf. "Wagner, Anti-Semitism, and Mr. Rose: Merkwürd'ger Fall!", The German Quarterly, Vol. 66, No. 2 (Spring 1993). pp. 222–236.
  15. ^Rose, Paul Lawrence. "The Wagner Problem in the History of German antisemitism." The German Quarterly. Vol 68. No. 3 (Summer 1995). pp. 304–305.
  16. ^Zaenker, Karl A. "The Bedeviled Beckmesser: Another Look at Anti-Semitic Stereotypes in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg". German Studies Review. Vol 22. No. 1 (February 1999). pp. 1–20.
  17. ^Tenenbom, Tuvia. "Hallo, Herr Hitler!", Die Zeit, August 13, 2009.
  18. ^Bermbach, Udo (et al.) (2007). Wagnerspectrum: Schwerpunkt Wagner und das Komische (in German). Königshausen & Neumann. ISBN 978-3-8260-3714-6. 
  19. ^Australian Opera, 1990, conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras, manufactured by Public Media Homevision. Also in John Dew's production at Darmstadt (2008) and Gothenburg (2010).
  20. ^https://books.google.com/books?id=EB9DeJkserYC&pg=PA171&lpg=PA171&dq=Veit+Hanslich&source=bl&ots=JGJDAtRUwY&sig=U9q8YtWVnv8ErtnoeT_fUYbz94s&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjGwej6oMvWAhXBKCYKHaf0BTQQ6AEIMzAC#v=onepage&q=Veit%20Hanslich&f=false
  21. ^Carnegy (1994) pp. 137–138.
  22. ^Carnegy (1994) p. 140.
  23. ^Carnegy (1994) p. 141.
  24. ^Wagner Operas – Productions – Die Meistersinger, 1956 Bayreuth


  • Carnegy, Patrick (1994). "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg". Cambridge Opera Handbooks (in German). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-44895-6. 
  • Melitz, Leo, The Opera Goer's Complete Guide, 1921 version.
  • Rayner, Robert M.: Wagner and 'Die Meistersinger', Oxford University Press, New York, 1940. An account of the origins, creation and meaning of the opera.
  • Wagner, Richard (1992). Mein Leben (My Life tr. Andrew Gray). Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80481-6. 
  • Warrack, John (1994) Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Cambridge Opera Handbooks), Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-521-44895-6
  • Lee, Patrick (2014). "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg and St Catherine's Church". Retrieved 13 December 2014. 

External links[edit]

  1. ^St Catherine's was destroyed in 1945 during World War II (Lee 2014)

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