THE popularity that the music of Richard Wagner has attained to in the United States during the last decade will be a unique problem for the future historian who attempts to tell just how it came about and why. Ten years ago Wagner was a joke who shared eminence in the comic prints with Dr. Mary Walker and "Beautiful Snow." To-day he is the one new vital dramatic note in operatic music that has set the pitch for the composers of all nations. The influence of Wagner on his art is the greatest and most immediate in the records of music. He has bred a new breed of opera singers; he has played the very deuce with all the traditions of grand opera; he has compelled not only his own countrymen but the composers of France, Russia, Great Britain, Italy and even Spain to adopt the Wagnerian mode to some positive degree. And in this country, which is remarkable for listeners to, rather than creators of music, he has finally outranked Verdi in popularity. Who shall explain it?
Ibsen, for all that he is sequestered, local, specialized, has had something of the same influence over modern dramatists. Your Pinero is Ibsen diluted. Your George Bernard  Shaw is Ibsen Irished. But Ibsen is only an ingredient, whereas the poet-composer of Bayreuth is the final flavor, the absolute mould and the idiom. He has given to dramatic music a new idiom, and those who ridiculed it at first now employ it in the best of their own efforts. Without Wagner there would have been no "Aida," and certainly no "Otello." Without Wagner there would have been no "Cavalleria Rusticana," no "I Pagliacci," no "La Boheme" and "Manon Lescaut." So much for modern Italy. Without Wagner there would be no modern music in France. Long they denied him even a decent hearing, so great was the force of politics and prejudice. But there are Wagner societies in Paris to-day. "Sieguard," reckoned a masterpiece by the greatest of Paris critics, is merely Wagner in French capsules. In Great Britain it is the same. Stanford's Irish opera, "Shamus O'Brien," is thoroughly Wagnerian in treatment. The United States have yet to produce an opera worth talking about, but the vocal and orchestral compositions of MacDowell, Damrosch and Mrs. Beale show the Wagnerian influence, just as the vivid compositions of Tschaikowsky show it, in spite of the fierce Russian rhythm. The influence of Bach has long been credited as the greatest ever exercised over music by one man, but the influence of Wagner is even greater. He has not only created, evolved, unheard-of schemes in tone color; given the various instruments of the orchestra definite tonal and dramatic values; made the musical phrase illuminate, explain, magnify the poetic phrase and increase the tension of the action, but he has destroyed nearly all of the old cant conventions and brought the operatic stage within the reason of the auditor who demands of theatrical presentations a sane illusion. First we ridiculed him, then we despised him and then we tolerated him; but now we have popularized him, made him indeed the God of music.
Wagner used to spell ruin for an American grand opera season. Now it is almost suicide on the part of the impresario to plan a repertory that does not include his works. Ten years ago the greatest singers of the world would not sing the softest note in "Tannhauser"; it would ruin their voices. Shown the part of Elizabeth in "Tanhauser," Adelina Patti said: "Yes, very nice—for a cornet." At the close of the nineteenth century the great singers are the Wagner singers. Patti is all but a memory. Melba is limited. Indeed, it is only the marvelous canary art of Melba that can galvanize the old-fashioned Italian opera into any semblance of life.
But Wagner is dead. Weaker men will follow along his pathway, but who shall take up the work where he left off? The world needs a new composer.