“A Wagner Matinee” by Willa Cather takes place at the end of the nineteenth century. The point of view of the story is first person with Clark Hamilton as the narrator. Everything is seen from his perspective.
Important relationships become the primary focus of the story. The nephew and his aunt---Clark and his Aunt Georgiana---have a long history together. However, it has been years since they have seen each other. Clark and his aunt have changed significantly. The author treats the relationship between the two people is treated with beauty and dignity.
The aunt had been a musician and music teacher. She married and moved to Nebraska. Her life revolved around her family and the farm. Her love of music seemingly had lost its importance.
When he is told that the aunt is coming to Boston, Clark feels trepidation because of the long time that has passed. He loves his aunt because she helped to raise him and she introduced him to music.
Clark decides to treat his aunt to a Wagner concert because she probably has not been able to hear this kind of music since she moved to Nebraska. Initially, the two people are uncomfortable. She is worried about the farm activities; he is surprised at how much she has aged and how different she acts. He is successful, however, in persuading her to attend a matinee performance of Wagner's music.
When the pair attends the concert, Aunt Georgiana’s shabby dress clearly shows that she does not belong in the fashionable world of the women who attend the music concert. The reader experiences the concert as though he is sitting beside the aunt and nephew. Aunt Georgiana,as described by Clark who deeply loves her, becomes a pathetic figure. Her hand “stretched and twisted into mere tentacles…the palms swollen, the finger knotted.”
Clark experiences the concert by observing his aunt’s reactions to the concert. At first, he feels that it has been too long; she does not seem to respond. However, as he watches her, Clark understands that Georgiana is overwhelmed by her realization that she has lost something important to her---her music.
The concert for the nephew and aunt becomes a renewal of lost emotions. The aunt goes back in time to her love of music and the depth of its impact on the heart. Her reprisal of this passion takes the breath from her body. She grips the sleeve of her nephew and holds on as she absorbs the beauty of the notes. When she shows little reaction to one aspect of the concert and sits silently listening, Clark observes his aunt.
Her eyes were closed, but the tears were glistening on her cheeks, and I think in a moment more they were in my eyes as well. It never really dies, the soul? It withers to the outward eye only, like that strange moss which can lie on a dusty shelf half a century and yet, if placed in water, grows green again. My aunt wept gently throughout the development of the melody.
When she hears the new song by Wagner, the aunt’s face trembles and with each new melody she is carried into the progress of the song.
At the end of the concert, the aunt does not want to leave. She remembers this wonderful world that has been lost to her. Clark returns to the world of the aunt and understands her frustration. Finally, Clark comprehends the impact the Wagner’s matinee has made on both of them.