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Robert Pelletier queries Motif #145

PostPosted: Tue Apr 30, 2013 9:35 am
by alberich00
Dear Members of, visitors to, the discussion forum:

Robert Pelletier sent me the following interesting email query about the provenance and motival links of "Ring" Motif #145. As he hasn't yet joined the discussion forum, but intends to, I asked his permission to copy and paste our recent discussion about this question, and others, into the discussion forum. Here's a transcript of Robert's original query:

dear sir,

...just a quick note to extend my gratitude for work and this website, which has greatly helped me elucidate the jungle of motifs and the underlying message of the Ring. I had previously gotten some help from Bernard Shaw's Perfect Wagnerite, but he tended to dwell on an interpretation based on social/class conflict (as did Chereau's "centennial" Ring at Bayreuth), with little/no attention to the psychological message. After a while, that rather one-dimensional interpretation fails and get tangled up in its conceits. Your quotes from Wagner and Feuerbach are most illuminating. Your commentary on the interrelationship with the other music dramas (T&I, Meistersinger, Parsifal) are also invaluable.

I had a question regarding the development of a motif in Siegfried...actually, I'm wondering if it's a figment of my imagination or if there actually is a link. The final version appears as 145 in the "laughing death" sequence in Act III when Siegfried and Brunhilde launch into their "duet": it's a sort of stepwise descending phrase that jumps up at every second note. Am I correct in interpreting this as a slowed down version of the first segment of the woodbird song (128) in the forest murmurs sequence: i.e. the woodbird anouncing the eventual union of Siegfried and Brunhilde? I also think that this phrase appears even earlier towards the end of the prelude to Act II in a sinister, slowed down minor version that terminates into the Ring motif, to be immediately followed by loud renditions of the Curse and the Power of the Ring (I believe this minor version, speeded up a bit, also occurs immediately after Siegfried slays Mime, while Alberich laughs).

Have you seen the Met's Parsifal? An interesting production, with more emphasis on the Buddhist influences that other past productions (Parsifal even adopts the lotus position at one point in Act III), while the Christianity is played down. A particularly interesting passage was towards the end of Act III as Kundry prepares to join Parsifal and Gurnemanz in their journey to the Grail Castle. She removes her necklaces (among which is a Christian cross and Muslim prayer beads)...a symbolic casting aside of the failed balms of religion (like Amfortas' multiple failed balms) in favor of compassion.

Robert Pelletier

Re: Robert Pelletier queries Motif #145

PostPosted: Tue Apr 30, 2013 9:39 am
by alberich00
My initial answer to Robert's query, emailed to him on the run, was the following:

I'll start by saying that two prior hypotheses are that #145 stems either from the basic love motif #64 (I'm not so sure), or, more mysteriously, from the motif of Siegfried's contempt for Mime (I'm having a mental block on the # and will have to look it up). If the latter thesis is correct, so far as I know only my interpretation of the "Ring" can make sense of it. Suffice it to say that Siegfried's contempt for Mime has something to do with the contempt of a fearless man for a man who embodies craven self-interest, and of course the Woodbird's Song has much to do with Siegfried's fearlessness (in fact it's quoted directly as Siegfried is telling Bruennhilde in S.3.3 that thanks to her he's forgotten the fear she taught him.

Re: Robert Pelletier queries Motif #145

PostPosted: Tue Apr 30, 2013 9:42 am
by alberich00
I offered a more detailed response a bit later:

Dear Robert:

It appears my online research paid off. I googled your name, along with Caroline Kehne, and came up, indeed, with your cultural magazine and Plattsburg, NY. It must get mighty cold up there in the winter. Even Annapolis, MD, which is almost subtropical in comparison at least to upstate NY, is too cold for me. That's why, until the recession of 08 killed me, I lived a life of glory in a suburb of St. Petersburg, FL, for about 12 years. Lucky for mom I was forced to move back home: of course, given her age and health problems, and the death 2 years ago of my brother, who was living with her, I would have had to move home to watch out for her anyway.

I just refreshed my memory in Allen Dunning's spectacular illustrated list of motifs in my website, and the Motif of Siegfried's contempt for Mime is #104. Through a few alterations in speed and accent, that motif seems almost identical to the heavier #145, i.e., the downward stepwise part, not the ornament at the end. If this is a legitimate link, the explanation could be the following (of course you'll find this problem discussed in detail in the chapters on "Siegfried"): I have noted in my interpretation that Mime represents what I might call the prosaic, craven aspect of Wotan's character, the real, if you will, while Siegfried represents the ideal "self" for which Wotan longs. Siegfried's abhorrence of Mime is actually Wotan's self-loathing as expressed to Bruennhilde in his V.2.2 confession. Mime is the embodiment of self-interested fear, while Siegfried is fearless. Siegfried is fearless because Wotan (who is reborn in Siegfried minus his consciousness of his true identity, knowledge of which Bruennhilde holds for Siegfried) confessed all that he loathed about himself, including his fear of the end, to Bruennhilde, and thereby repressed this self-knowledge, leaving his second-self Siegfried free from all that Wotan loathes in his own nature (i.e., free from Wotan's Mime-nature, if you will). So, when Siegfried runs the gauntlet of all that Wotan fears and abhors in the course of "Siegfried," Siegfried experiences fear for the first time only because he is about to wake Bruennhilde, who holds that self-knowledge (Wotan's confession) which was so fearful and abhorrent to Wotan that he couldn't bear to speak it aloud (i.e., to become conscious of it). In other words, Siegfried has a premonition of all that Wotan taught Bruennhilde about her mother Erda's prophecy of the inevitable end of the gods, the primary source of Wotan's fear.
So, when, thanks to Bruennhilde's loving and redemptive union with him, Siegfried unlearns the fear Bruennhilde taught him, we not only hear the Woodbird's tune (I'll explain why later), but ultimately launch into #145. If I'm correct in assuming that #145 (at least the opening stepwise portion) is a variant of #104, the meaning could be that Siegfried has ultimately overcome Wotan's Mime-nature, has triumphed over it, by forgetting the fear that Bruennhilde had taught him.

A little curious clue: note that the Woodbird tells Siegfried expressly what use can be made of the Tarnhelm and Ring, by way of persuading him to enter Fafner's cave to retrieve these items, but upon emerging from the cave Siegfried says to himself that he doesn't know their use, but took them simply because the Woodbird told him to do so. Wagner is making the point that what the Woodbird teaches Siegfried, he teaches him unconsciously, subliminally. Similarly, Bruennhilde represents Siegfried's (and Wotan's) unconscious mind, and Bruennhilde (reminding us of the Woodbird, who taught Siegfried something he then forgot) teaches Siegfried fear, and Siegfried, thanks to her redemptive love, then forgets it.
And of course the Woodbird is Wagner's symbol for the special music of his music-dramas, and likewise, Bruennhilde, Siegfried's unconscious mind, is a symbol for the language of the unconscious mind, music.

Whoops! I better stop here or I'll be re-writing the whole book!

Your friend from Wagnerheim,


PS. We really ought to place this discussion in the discussion forum. Sign up if you're interested: once you do whatever you have to do there to sign up, I'll get that automatic email and click on the link to make you a member.

Re: Robert Pelletier queries Motif #145

PostPosted: Tue Apr 30, 2013 9:47 am
by alberich00
Reply from Robert Pelletier to Paul Heise, with further motival queries:

Greetings and salutations,

Many thanks for the reply, We share the inability to read music and aged parents: I'm also completely occupied with the care of my 94-year-old dad.

From what I've been able to piece together of the helpful musical notations that accompany the MP3 leitmotifs, I've noticed that Wagner sometimes adds ornaments to some basic motifs (example: the first statement of the sword motif during the short prelude of Walkure Act II) that sometimes makes them hard to recognize at first encounter. I may be wrong, but that descending stepwise motif 145, if one eliminates the alternating rising notes, does bear some resemblance to the Ring motif. I'll have to ponder over the significance of this if I'm correct: if so, it might have a similar function as The Spear motif transforming into Wotan's Frustrated Will by the checking of the downward motion by the little upward curlicue. In fact, I also suspect that the open bars of the Storm in Act I of Walkure (which Cooke places as a voice of nature with its falling and rising cadence) is in fact (if you slow it down) the Spear motif and its opposition (just like the rising Nature motif and the falling Twilight of the Gods motif combine to become the Need of the Gods): these few bars essentially tell us what the entire ensuing drama will revolve over the thwarting of Wotan's Will and "the old time religion" that he represents.

Another motif that I find fascinating is the short pulsating "power of the gods" and its various apparitions throughout the drama. A particular stroke of genius during the climax of Gotterdammerung is the juxtaposition of the Valhalla motif and the Power motif as the citadel is being consumed: on the last statement of the Valhalla motif, the power motif has disappeared, signifying that the power of the gods is no more. It's then followed by the Siegfried motif. Cooke says that this is a final tribute to the dead hero, but I'd suggest that it's merely stating that Siegfried and the old-time gods are ultimately one and the same and destined to the same oblivion, as its immediately followed by the final entry of the Twilight motif, then the "Redemption" motif that closes the drama.

Re: Robert Pelletier queries Motif #145

PostPosted: Tue Apr 30, 2013 9:59 am
by alberich00
Paul Heise's response to Robert Pelletier:

If memory serves, I believe Cooke did state that the storm motif owes something to Wotan's Spear Motif #21, but also, I think, to the second segment of Donner's motif. I haven't reviewed this material for ages and don't trust my memory either, so I'll have to look this up to check.

I do have serious doubts about any relationship between #145 and the Ring Motif #19. At any rate, I don't hear any link.

It's strange to say, but the so-called "Power of the Gods Motif" in "Twilight" is continuously associated with their decline and end. I'm very interested in this motif and would like to hear what other members of the discussion forum think about its provenance and musical relationships.

I'm certain you're right that in the end Siegfried and the Gods are to be construed as one and the same. Why else does the gods' twilight have to wait until Siegfried has betrayed Bruennhilde!: Bruennhilde, after all, figuratively foresaw the twilight of the gods in the finale of "Siegfried."

I have strong suspicions that the so-called "Redemption Motif" #93 doesn't deserve that name. Whatever it means, I think it means something else. I know it's wrong to try to pin down a motif's meaning in words (though in a strange sense, the entire libretto of the "Ring" does indeed represent a verbal/dramatic parallel to its music), but there are times when I feel the motif's closing out of the "Ring" cycle in "Twilight," if I was to put it into words, means something like a wistful and regretful and resigned: "Look what happened to this hope, folks!"

Re: Robert Pelletier queries Motif #145

PostPosted: Tue Apr 30, 2013 10:07 am
by alberich00
Further response of Paul Heise to Robert Pelletier re #145's provenance:

But your Woodbird suggestion interests me and I'm going to listen again to see if I hear what you mean. Well, I did listen to the two Woodbird motifs in Allen Dunning's motif list, and I'll listen again. But dramatically, it would make sense for a Woodbird tune to wrap up the opera, for the reason you mention below, and also because it's message is so central to Siegfried's finding himself in general.

You know, it's very, very intriguing that the Woodbird tells Siegfried (subliminally) to take possession of the Hoard, Tarnhelm, and Ring, firstly because Siegfried leaves the Hoard behind (it would have been awkward for the hero to be carrying it around anyway), but also, Siegfried later tells Hagen and Gunther how little it means to him. But then, why does the Woodbird suggest he take the Tarnhelm and Ring, which are part of the Hoard? Why doesn't Siegfried despise them because of this? Also, it's clear that Sieglinde (on the assumption that she is the voice of the Woodbird, as Wagner himself suggested a couple of times) would have been glad to warn Siegfried about Mime, and most obviously to suggest Siegfried win Bruennhilde (since Sieglinde herself suggested they would be getting together in V.3.1), but Sieglinde knew nothing about the Tarnhelm or Ring. My reading is that the voice of the Woodbird (and recall, Siegfried confuses Bruennhilde with his mother Sieglinde, and Bruennhilde knew Sieglinde was pregnant with Siegfried when Sieglinde herself did not, and also names Siegfried) actually represents music, a product of Bruennhilde's feeling by virtue of having become the repository for Wotan's confession. It's Wotan who wants Siegfried to take possession, of his own free will, without conscious prompting, of the Ring especially, but also perhaps of the Tarnhelm as an agency of the Ring.