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Wagner and Goethe

PostPosted: Tue Mar 12, 2013 12:54 pm
by sgubonius
I would like to introduce, as my first contribution, the fascinating topic of the links between Goethe and Wagner.
It is well known that Wagner was a great reader of Goethe and that he came close to composing a Faust-Symphonie in the fourties that is now an ouverture.
I will only give some clues, hoping in further discussion:

- The role of the "Ewig Weibliche" is central in most Wagnerian operas, especially the earlier ones. Wagner himself died while writing an essay on this subject.
- The evolution of Wotan in the Ring is very close to the one of Faust: both make a "contract" to obtain power and live the consequences of this, always hearing the refrain of "Entbehren" (renounciation) in their ears. The mocking role of Loge is also very close to the behaviour of Mephistopheles.
- Both had the idea of mixing different worlds in a Gesamtkunstwerk and their characters often represent this union.

And that is everything for the time being!

Re: Wagner and Goethe

PostPosted: Tue Mar 12, 2013 1:38 pm
by alberich00
Dear Alberto:

This is my first stab at putting my two cents into this topic.

I've long been struck by a certain correspondence, in mood, and to a degree in situation, between Faust when Part 2 opens with his waking up (if memory serves, because it's been a long time since I read it) on an embankment, feeling restored after his terrible treatment of Gretchen, and Tannhaeuser's waking to the sound of the Shepherd's flute, as he has now forgotten his sojourn in the Venusburg and feels a restoration of new life. As you may know, I regard his sojourn with Venus in the Venusberg as Wagner's metaphor for the artist-hero's unconscious artistic inspiration, figuratively speaking, his sexual union with his muse of inspiration, who holds for him dangerous knowledge which, so long as it remains unconscious, can inspire him to create redemptive art (redemption from the terrible knowledge he confronted in his unconscious mind), but, if it becomes conscious, can destroy him. This terrible rise from unconsciousness to consciousness is what occurs when Tannhaeuser, as if under a spell, exposes his former visit to the Venusberg in his contest song (for Elizabeth's hand). Wagner repeated this trope in Siegfried's and Tristan's giving their own true muse of unconscious artistic inspiration (and therefore her forbidden secrets) away to their audience, figuratively, in giving their muse-lover away to Gunther and Marke.

There may well be a parallel to Wagner's concept that the artist-hero confronts some unbearable horror in the depths of his unconscious in Goethe's bit about Faust's journey to the Mothers. And note, Tristan, Siegfried, and Parsifal all, in one way or another, conflate the mother who died giving them birth (or in Parsifal's case died through his neglect) with their muse-lover (or, in Parsifal's case, his potential lover Kundry).

Re: Wagner and Goethe

PostPosted: Tue Mar 12, 2013 1:43 pm
by alberich00
Dear Alberto:

Oops! I forgot to add that, within the bizarre world of my interpretation of Wagner's operas/music-dramas, there is an underlying concept behind the Shepherd's flute in "Tannhaeuser," the "alte Weise" in "Tristan," and the Woodbird's tune in "Siegfried." In each case, it seems to me, music is the link between the waking day of consciousness, and the unbearable, forbidden knowledge which remains in the unconscious. Music, as it were, is the nectar the art-genius draws from his subliminal confrontation with this terrible knowledge, granting us, and himself, redemption from it.

Re: Wagner and Goethe

PostPosted: Thu Mar 14, 2013 10:39 pm
by sgubonius
I love your last remark on the usage of "scene music" in Wagner. It is significant. Very different, for example, from the usage by Verdi.
For the issue of the unconscious, Goethe is probably not the most relevant author, although Faust II is a sort of Jungian "collective unconsciousness" where all sort of mythological and historical element join in a dreamlike allegoria that, in my opinion, is matched only by Joyce's late works (Ulysses and Finnegans' Wake). However, as Goethe was indeed a full spinozian, i would rather believe that for him consciousness was the solution. In the end, Faust meets the "Sorge", which blinds him but grants him a "much clearer [internal] view" in the tradition, from the Greek prophets up to King Lear. And in Wagner of course the moment of the "becoming conscious of..." is quite important ("Amfortas, die Wunde", "Alles weiss ich" + "Meine Erbe nun nehm ich zu eigen", Tannhauser's cry "Elizabeth!", etc).

That equilibrium between the illuminative coscience of the uncoscious and the disruptive one is very problematic.