Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science.  Die fröhliche Wissenschaft.

First published in 1882.

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Art and Nature.

The Greeks (or at least the Athenians) liked to hear good talking: indeed they had an eager inclination for it, which distinguished them more than anything else from non Greeks.  And so they required good talking even from passion on the stage, and submitted to the unnaturalness of dramatic verse with delight : in nature, passion is so sparing of words!  so dumb and confused!  Or if it finds words, so embarrassed and irrational and a shame to itself!  We have now, all of us, thanks to the Greeks, accustomed ourselves to this unnaturalness on the stage, as we endure that other unnaturalness, the singing passion, and willingly endure it, thanks to the Italians.  It has become a necessity to us, which we cannot satisfy out of the resources of actuality, to hear men talk well and in full detail in the most trying situations : it enraptures us at present when the tragic hero still finds words, reasons, eloquent gestures, and on the whole a bright spirituality, where life approaches the abysses, and where the actual man mostly loses his head, and certainly his fine language.  This kind of deviation from nature is perhaps the most agreeable repast for man's pride : he loves art generally on account of it, as the expression of high, heroic unnaturalness and convention.  One rightly objects to the dramatic poet when he does not transform every thing into reason and speech, but always retains a remnant of silence: just as one is dissatisfied with an operatic musician who cannot find a melody for the highest emotion, but only an emotional, "natural" stammering and crying.  Here nature has to be contradicted!  Here the common charm of illusion has to give place to a higher charm!  The Greeks go far, far in this direction frightfully far!  As they constructed the stage as narrow as possible and dispensed with all the effect of deep backgrounds, as they made pantomime and easy motion impossible to the actor, and transformed him into a solemn, stiff, masked bogey, so they have also deprived passion itself of its deep background, and have dictated to it a law of fine talk ; indeed, they have really done everything to avoid inspiring pity and terror : they did not want pity and terror.  With due deference, with the highest deference to Aristotle!  but he certainly did not hit the nail, to say nothing of the head of the nail, when he spoke about the final aim of Greek tragedy!  Let us but look at the Grecian tragic poets with respect to what most excited their diligence, their inventiveness, and their emulation, certainly it was not the intention of subjugating the spectators by emotion!  The Athenian went to thetheatre to hear fine talking!  And fine talking was arrived at by Sophocles!  pardon me this heresy!  It is very different with serious opera : all its masters make it their business to prevent their characters being understood.  An occasional word picked up may come to the assistance of the inattentive listener ; but on the whole the situation must be self explanatory, the talking is of no account!  So they all think, and so they have all made fun of the words.  Perhaps they have only lacked courage to express fully their extreme contempt for words : a little additional insolence in Rossini, and he would have allowed la la la la to be sung throughout and that would have made good rational sense!  The characters of the opera are not meant to be believed in, not in their words but in their tones!  That is the difference, that is the fine unnaturalness on account of which people go to the opera!  Even the recitativo secco is not really intended to be heard as words and text : this kind of half music is meant rather in the first place to give the musical ear a little repose (the repose from melody, as from the sublimest, and on that account the most straining enjoyment of this art), but very soon something different results, namely, an increasing impatience, an increasing resistance, a new longing for whole music, for melody.  How is it with the art of Richard Wagner as seen from this standpoint?  Different perhaps?  It would often seem to me as if one needed to have learned by heart both the words and the music of his creations before the performances ; for without that it seemed to me one may hear neither the words nor even the music.  
 

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