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Part 1: Review: Berthold Hoeckner on "Lohengrin" 8/94

PostPosted: Mon Apr 22, 2013 12:23 pm
by alberich00

I have written this highly detailed review of Dr. Hoeckner’s chapter on “Lohengrin” from his dissertation, submitted towards his PhD at Cornell Univ. in 8/94, because a comparison of his 8/94 paper with my article “How Elsa showed Wagner the way to Siegfried” (first submitted for potential publication to Stewart Spencer, Editor of WAGNER, in 8/93) illustrates an astonishing example of convergent conceptual evolution in Wagner studies, since our two papers were written entirely independently of each other. I certainly knew nothing of Dr. Hoeckner prior to googling “Elsa Richard Wagner” in 2009 and discovering online his article in the 7/97 issue of the Cambridge Opera Journal, “Elsa’s Scream or The Origin of the Music Drama,” which was based on the “Lohengrin” chapter from his 8/94 dissertation. Similarly, I have no reason to believe he had ever heard of me.

Though his paper contains many original insights which are not found in my paper, and my paper similarly contains much of note that is not found in his paper, nonetheless the correspondence of a number of our key insights is extremely intriguing, and suggests that there may well be something objectively truthful in our findings. In other words, what are the odds that the two of us would more or less concurrently, but entirely independently, come up with such a wealth of shared original insights into “Lohengrin,” unless these shared insights actually say something true of “Lohengrin”?

My notion that Elsa’s asking Lohengrin the question about his name and origin he’d forbidden is a key to grasping what distinguishes Wagner’s traditional romantic operas from his revolutionary music-dramas, and a key to grasping the allegorical logic of his music-dramas, goes back a long way in my life, to the age of 19 when, in 1972, I first typed up 64 pages of notes I had been writing in preparation for serious independent research, a manuscript I titled “Thoughts and Necessities.” It was never formally copyrighted but I did make one copy and give it to someone very dear to me, whose name shall remain anonymous unless she is still among the living and wishes to make the forbidden knowledge of her identity known. I was amazed to discover recently, when looking over this earliest manuscript of my original thoughts, the following cryptic and rather ungrammatical opening sentence from “Thoughts and Necessities”:

“Is it possible that the Lohengrin theme, truths once revealed destroy mystery, thus destroying art and man, is a symbol for just that.”

Sometime in 1991 Andrew Gray [PH: Andrew Gray, who translated Wagner’s “Mein Leben” - “My Life” - from German into English for Cambridge Univ. Press (published in 1983 for the Wagner Centennial), and who was my consultant for Wagner’s German language texts, and informal editorial advisor, from 1983 until his death in the summer of 2001] wrote to Barry Millington on my behalf, forwarding to him extracts from a rather large body of notes on Wagner’s operas and music-dramas which I’d copied so that Andrew could preserve and disseminate them in the event of my being unable, for whatever reason, to work them up as publishable papers and books. Barry Millington wrote back to say (quite reasonably) that he couldn’t make much of them in their current form. I wrote back to suggest he pick one from a list of potential subjects from my original research so I could produce from it a readable/publishable paper. In the meantime, Harry Wagner (Editor of ‘Wagner Notes’ for the Wagner Society of New York - NYC), suggested I write Stewart Spencer to offer him an article based on my research. The following extracts are culled from my correspondence with Millington and Spencer.

So here, by way of providing readers the context for my submission of my essay “How Elsa showed Wagner the way to Siegfried” to Millington and Spencer in 8/93, are a few extracts from a letter of introduction I wrote on 11/22/91 to Barry Millington, and also from a letter of introduction I wrote on 11/22/91 (this letter specifically offers a brief description of my original take on Elsa’s disobedience to Lohengrin’s injunction not to inquire about his name or origin, and its significance for Wagner’s “Ring”) to Stewart Spencer, Editor of WAGNER, the scholarly journal of The Wagner Society (London), in which I proposed that he look over some of my ideas for writing original papers on Wagner, drawn from my independent research, so that he could pick one for possible publication in WAGNER:

[The following paragraph is from my letter to Barry Millington dated 11/22/91]

“P.S. Just a hint about the conceptual significance of my new interpretation of Wagner’s operas: it is often said, correctly, that the RING’s text was written largely under the influence of Feuerbach’s world-affirmation, and that parts of the RING text were altered in accordance with, and the later operas written under the influence of, Schopenhauer’s world-denial. I believe I am able to show in extraordinary detail that RHINEGOLD is an allegorical representation of the manner in which the material world, “is” (approximately Feuerbach’s world-affirmation), generated man and his capacity to posit the other world, “ought” (approximately Schopenhauer’s world-denial), and the RING and subsequent operas show what happens if this knowledge becomes conscious for mankind, or remains unconscious. The significance of this: the underlying, or hidden agenda of the mature operas remains generally consistent with a Feuerbachian, or even Nietzschean world-view.”

[The following material is from my 11/22/91 letter of introduction to Stewart Spencer]

“It might be useful to briefly delineate the history and scope of my research. In the early 70’s I was intrigued by a number of logically related details from the RING’s text, particularly in RHINEGOLD and Wotan’s Confession from VALKYRIE, that seemed to have been overlooked by the scholarly world. I was sufficiently excited by several further discoveries along these lines that I took a major risk and withdrew from anthropology graduate school to pursue this inquiry independently (at the time there was no graduate program known to me that would have provided sufficient flexibility, and the questions I’d raised demanded immediate and comprehensive attention). In the late 70’s I felt the need to conduct my inquiry with more formality and rigor, and therefore did a line by line conceptual analysis of the RING and the other mature operas (TRIS, MASTERS, PARS), to determine to what degree my insights were consistent with the entire body of text from the librettos. I was startled by the results. Not only was my interpretation comprehensively consistent with little contradictory residue, but a whole series of apparent contradictions and paradoxes well known to Wagner scholars seemed to have been resolved. In the early 80’s I made efforts to apprise the scholarly Wagnerian world of my findings, with few positive results, except that Andrew Gray offered his services to help gain attention for my work … , and William Webster, of the German Studies Dept. at Stanford Univ., wrote a rather positive review of one of my monographs. (…)
From the late 80’s up till now [11/22/91] my efforts have been two-pronged. On the one hand, I expanded my line by line interpretation to also include the three earlier repertory operas (DUTCH, TANN, LOHEN), again with extraordinary results, and cross-referenced all of my material. At the present time, this material consists of about 1,500 typed pages of notes, which I hope to reduce to cryptic form, edit, and convert into a publishable, more succinct, and readable book in several years. On the other hand, because a significant number of Wagner scholars (including, for instance, Michael Tanner, Bryan Magee, and Robert Donington), and also lay Wagnerians, suggested I might be imputing my own ideas to Wagner arbitrarily, I decided the time had come to pull the rug out from under this accusation by creating a chronological … anthology of all material from Wagner’s letters, prose works, autobiography, and Cosima’s Diaries, which has relevance for interpreting the operas, including material which supports my thesis. I now have over 1,000 passages, from the 1840’s through 1883, many of which seem never to have drawn much scholarly attention, which collectively lend striking credence even to those claims considered most outlandish by my critics.
When my book is complete, it will be in the following form: A. The heart of the book will be commentary, passage by passage, on the texts of the mature operas from RHINEGOLD through PARSIFAL. B. The first supplement will be a similar consideration of the texts of the earlier repertory operas, which will show how the conceptual structure which I’m imputing to the mature operas evolved. C. The second supplement will consist of selected passages from my chronological anthology (plus my commentary), including not only material supporting my thesis but that which could be construed as contradicting it. All of the above material will be cross-referenced. So far as I know, when complete this book should be the most comprehensive conceptual consideration of Wagner’s life’s work to date.
Now, before closing, a brief word about the import of my research. The essence of my interpretation of the RING is that it is an allegory about the birth and development of both scientific (Alberich/Hagen) and religious/moral thought (Wotan), i.e., of man’s consciousness of “is” and “ought”. The RING depicts how religion (Wotan/Fricka) failed in the face of scientific thought (Alberich) to sustain man’s illusion of transcendent value (what Wagner calls immortal love, or Freia), and how the artist (Siegfried plus his creative unconscious, Bruennhilde) inherited the role of religion. The artist also failed to sustain man’s ‘ideal’ because he (i.e., Wagner himself, specifically in the RING) betrayed the ‘real’ source of his inspiration to consciousness (Hagen). I have been able to show how the relations of all of Wagner’s mature opera heroes to their heroine-lovers are based on Wotan’s relations with Erda. I have also been able to explain how Wagner gained the inspiration for his new conception of the relation of hero to heroine, and thus of the redemption by love, from a reconsideration of Elsa’s offer to share with Lohengrin consciousness of his true identity (his Achilles heel). Wagner learned from this that the heroine (in actuality, his own subconscious mind, the creative unconscious) might succeed in redeeming love (feeling) from consciousness (thought, doubt) by not simply sharing this knowledge with the hero, but exclusively holding the hero’s knowledge of his true identity for him, so he need not be conscious of it and thus vulnerable.
Anyway, these are just a few of the hundreds of insights in my work I’d like to make public. Please contact me if you feel I could make a worthwhile contribution to your journal. (…)”

In the event, after various negotiations and efforts at working up and editing my material, in 8/93 I mailed copies of my first version of “How Elsa showed Wagner the way to Siegfried” to both Millington and Spencer. Millington wrote a one page review (which I still possess), and Spencer wrote to me on 10/12/93 to say that though he was dubious my paper would be appropriate for WAGNER, nonetheless he’d re-worked my paper into a form suitable for publication in WAGNER, which he mailed to me to obtain my corrections and to suggest I undertake considerable editing. He also said:

“I have now looked at your article in more detail, in addition to showing it to three other readers, whose opinion I felt I should consult before going further.

One of the readers (who has doctoral degrees in philosophy and music) found the piece ‘almost unreadable’ and accuses you of ‘fancifully inventing many of the problems’ that you then attempt to solve. A second reader (with a doctorate in Wagner [PH: Was Spencer being flip, or merely made an inadvertent mistake?]) dutifully summarized the argument and concluded that the piece had made him rethink the opera. The third reader (with a degree in music) announced that he thought you were on to something, then rang up this morning to say that he’d had another look at the essay and could no longer see any merit in it.”

If any or all of these anonymous reviewers would like to make the forbidden knowledge of their true identity and origin known, I would love to share in their secret and promise, like Elsa, to keep their secret in silence if they so desire. I hold no resentment towards the negative reviewers, but would certainly like to learn if, now that some of the most important implications of my 8/93 paper have been published online here at, they might reconsider their verdict.

In this same letter Spencer suggested that I should answer 66 questions (which presumably drew upon not only Spencer’s doubts but those of his anonymous reviewers) before he could consider publishing my paper. I did, according to Spencer, answer them cogently, but because my answer came to 93 pages, he suggested that that proved WAGNER was too small a venue in which to present my hypotheses about “Lohengrin,” and that I ought instead to write a book about it. In the meantime, one of Andrew Gray’s friends from Washington, DC, the Copy Editor Chad Taylor, met me, looked over my paper, offered to help me edit it according to Spencer’s requirements, and Chad’s letter to Spencer suggesting he reconsider crossed in the mail with Spencer’s rejection letter. However, having received Chad’s letter and the new and improved version of “How Elsa showed Wagner the way to Siegfried,” Spencer relented and published this final revision in the 5/95 issue of WAGNER.

So, in sum, my paper “How Elsa showed Wagner the way to Siegfried” was first submitted for review to Stewart Spencer (Editor of WAGNER, the scholarly journal – no longer in print – of The Wagner Society – London) and Barry Millington in 8/93. I got the 8/93 version copyrighted by the Library of Congress on 1/14/94. My final revision, which was published by Stewart Spencer in the 5/95 issue of WAGNER, can be found in the discussion forum in three parts.

However, the extracts from my paper which are quoted in the following review of Hoeckner’s chapter are all taken from the original unrevised version which I submitted for review to Stewart Spencer and Barry Millington in 8/93. The reason for this is that I wish tentatively to claim priority with respect to certain insights in my paper which correspond fairly closely to some insights which Berthold Hoeckner included in his chapter on “Lohengrin” from his Dissertation at Cornell Univ., submitted for completion of his PhD in Musicology, in 8/94. I state this, of course, with the proviso that if Dr. Hoeckner can demonstrate that any or all of these ideas were copyrighted by him at a date prior to my 8/93 paper, I will concede priority to him, unless I can locate copyrights of my own from an even earlier date. Of course, a number of the ideas I presented in my 8/93 paper were self-published by me in earlier essays which I copyrighted at the Library of Congress, so if Dr. Hoeckner can show he published any or all of these corresponding ideas at an earlier date than 8/93, I will have to dig deeper among my copyrighted papers to ascertain just how early I can stake a claim to any given insight which is in question. This may seem to some readers a trivial exercise, but for me it is of the utmost importance that, if I can rightfully claim chronological priority with respect to the earliest recorded proposal of certain insights which I consider the key to grasping the allegorical logic of Wagner’s operas and music-dramas, I should do so publicly, not least because I am seeking financial aid to pursue further research, and this aid ought to be offered based on the merits.

The following quotations identified as [BH] come from Chapter 3, “Elsa’s Scream or The Origin of the Music Drama” in Dr. Berthold Hoeckner’s Dissertation (Cornell Univ. 8/94) “Music as a Metaphor of Metaphysics: Tropes of Transcendence in 19th-Century Music from Schumann to Mahler.” [PH] identifies Paul Heise. Keep in mind that I have only reproduced those extracts from Hoeckner’s brilliant paper which either present ideas which correspond with ideas I presented in my 8/93 paper, or which I find worthy of comment in their own right. I have omitted many pages which Hoeckner devoted to a fascinating musicological analysis of “Lohengrin” which are eminently worthy of note, but which I am not competent to discuss since I don’t read music and have no training in musicology.

One other point of importance before proceeding is that readers will, of necessity, find a certain amount of redundancy in this review. This is due to the fact that I wished, insofar as possible, to preserve intact all or most of the original paragraphs in which the ideas in question were presented, in order to preserve their conceptual context so I wouldn’t be accused of taking items out of context. For instance, the passages I excerpted from Hoeckner’s chapter are presented in the same order in which they appeared there. However, because the order of presentation of my corresponding ideas doesn’t correspond with the order in which he presented them, and often, the paragraphs I’ve chosen to compare from our respective papers often contain other material which doesn’t correspond, the job of collating our respective papers was difficult, and on occasion I’ve had to reproduce more than once passages from my paper at different points in my discussion of his paper.

Also, whenever I am quoting from my 8/93 paper I use quotation marks. In any instance in which a passage is preceded by [PH], identifying myself as the author, which is not bracketed in quotation marks (keep in mind, however, that sometimes the opening and closing quotation marks embrace several paragraphs), this is my current commentary comparing our two papers.


[BH] [P. 205] “In 1879 Wagner wrote three articles for the ‘Bayreuther Blaetter,’ of which the third is a short essay entitled ‘On the Application of Music to the Drama.’ Wagner discusses, once again, the distinction between symphonic and dramatic music – a distinction he had been preoccupied with all his life. (…) [P. 206] … he concludes his theoretical oeuvre with a discussion of Elsa’s dream from ‘Lohengrin,’ a striking gesture since ‘Lohengrin’ was completed before his main writings. Wagner had always cautioned against reading it as an application of ‘Opera and Drama.’ This return to ‘Lohengrin’ is important in three respects."

[PH] Hoeckner elucidated passages from Wagner’s late essay in which Wagner explained how music written for the drama can take liberties which would never be tolerable in a piece of absolute music, and which would in fact be incomprehensible within such a non-dramatic context. This is a key reason, by the way, that those who favor Wagner’s music at the expense of the drama for which it was written tend only to discuss Wagner’s so-called “bleeding chunks,” i.e., those preludes, overtures, and purely symphonic music for scene changes in which drama temporarily takes a back-seat.


[#] [BH] [P. 206] “First, the discussion of Elsa’s dream is a rare instance where Wagner discusses his own music in light of his theory. Recently, Jean-Jacques Nattiez has made a grand effort to read Wagner’s musical and theoretical works as ‘interlocking texts’ from the perspective of androgyny. Nattiez’s image of ‘interlocking texts’ is useful, because Wagner ended ‘On the Application of Music to Drama’ not only by referring back to ‘Opera and Drama,’ but also by explicitly discussing with Elsa’s dream as an example of the ‘creation,’ ‘use,’ and ‘transformation’ of a motif. Perhaps he thereby implied that his idea of [P. 207] the leitmotif grew to a larger extent out of ‘Lohengrin’ than he had been willing to admit previously.”

[PH] When I attended the centennial symposium sponsored by the Univ. of Illinois in Chicago entitled: “Wagner in Retrospect: A Centennial Reappraisal,” in 11/83, I was first introduced to Nattiez and his thesis that Wagner’s metaphor of androgyny (that drama is masculine and music is feminine, and their figurative sexual union produces the music-drama) from his theoretical writings of the early 1850’s, has a bearing on how we should interpret the heroes and heroines of Wagner’s music-dramas, when he presented his paper “The ‘Ring’ as a Metaphorical History of Music.” I had just copyrighted (Library of Congress, 11/83) my first major effort to demonstrate the conceptual unity of Wagner’s “Ring” in particular, and his revolutionary music-dramas in general, in my 124 page essay “The Doctrine of the Ring,” copies of which I gave to a large proportion of the speakers at this symposium, including Nattiez. My essay presented the idea, similar to Nattiez’s primary thesis in a number of respects, that in Wagner’s mature music-dramas the hero is Wagner’s metaphor for the artist-hero, the music-dramatist, and the heroine represents the music-dramatist’s unconscious mind and muse of inspiration, and that their union produces the revolutionary music-drama. Perhaps it is not so surprising after all that two Wagner scholars working independently of each other [i.e., Paul Heise and Berthold Hoeckner], but who were equally fascinated by Nattiez’s original contributions, should produce almost simultaneously interpretations of “Lohengrin” which share numerous insights.