Part 8 (last part): Millington on "Lohengrin"

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Part 8 (last part): Millington on "Lohengrin"

Postby alberich00 » Sat Feb 09, 2013 3:44 pm

Dear discussion forum members/visitors:

This is part 8, the final part, of my review of Millington's chapter on "Lohengrin" from his (2012) "The Sorcerer of Bayreuth," and of his essay "Asking the Right Question," published online by the Seattle Opera in 2005 (and in my current revision of my review of Millington's papers on "Lohengrin" also taking into consideration his paper "Elsa, Lohengrin and the Tell-Tale Halo," published by the Houston Grand Opera on the occasion of their production of "Lohengrin" in October and November of 1992)

(17) [BM]
“It was through Elsa, Wagner claimed in his essay ‘A Communication to my Friends’, that he first ‘learned to understand the purely human element of love.” [from Chapter 7 “Swansong to Traditional Opera: ‘Lohengrin’,” in Millington’s “The Sorceror of Bayreuth,” pages 63-64]

[PH] I have little to add here except to say that nowhere in Millington's recent accounts of "Lohengrin" does he indicate that he has yet grasped two of the main points of my 5/95 "How Elsa showed Wagner the way to Siegfried." These are: (1) that Elsa taught Wagner that the loving relationship of hero with heroine (Siegfried with Bruennhilde, Tristan with Isolde, Walther with Eva, and Parsifal potentially with Kundry) was to be his metaphor for the relationship of the artist-hero with his own unconscious artistic inspiration (embodied by the heroine as the hero's muse; and a concept paralleled by Jean-Jacques Nattiez's commentary in his "Wagner Androgyne" from 1990, in which he showed how Wagner's metaphor in his theoretical works of the early 1850's, that the male is to be identified with drama and the word, and the female with music, and how we can grasp the relationship between Wagner's heroes and heroines in his music dramas in this light, and broached by him in a paper he presented in 1983 at "Wagner in Retrospect, A Centennial Reappraisal," a symposium sponsored in 11/83 by the Univ. of Illinois in Chicago. I attended this conference and distributed my own first detailed stab at presenting my reappraisal of Wagner's legacy, my demonstration of the conceptual unity of his mature music-dramas entitled "The Doctrine of the Ring," to well over a dozen scholars there, including Nattiez), and (2) that this conceptual and emotional understanding effectively gave birth to what was revolutionary in his subsequent music-dramas. There are hints of the proposition that Elsa's breach of Lohengrin's insistence on unquestioning faith has something to do with Wagner's transformation into a revolutionary music-dramatist in Millington, but, at least in Millington's three papers under consideration, it is not developed, and very little is offered with respect to the question how Elsa's revolutionary refusal to grant Lohengrin absolute faith influenced the plots and characterization in Wagner's subsequent music-dramas.

(18) [BM]
“It is Lohengrin, ensnared and compromised as he is, whose demands initiate the tragedy.” [from Millington’s “Asking the Right Question,” Seattle Opera 2005]

[PH] As my 5/95 "How Elsa showed Wagner the way to Siegfried" made clear, Lohengrin's vulnerability is that of religious faith as understood by Feuerbach, that its censorship of knowledge is its Achilles Heel, for Feuerbach wrote at length of religious faith's dependence on suppressing man's natural desire to inquire why, what, wherefore. Wagner acknowledged that art, his art, had to entirely divorce itself from any direct connection with or dependence on any specific religious faith, in order to free itself from this vulnerability. Wagner found a very clear statement of this thesis in Feuerbach's "The Essence of Religion," and frequently paraphrased it. It is a key to all of his artworks from "Tannhaeuser" (perhaps even "The Flying Dutchman") onward, a point I made in detail in my 5/95 paper.

“Of course, the world of appearances, Mother Nature, might expose the hypocrisy of Lohengrin’s oath-breaking [i.e., the Grail knight’s oath of chastity and/or celibacy]. Speaking of ‘Lohengrin,’ Wagner said: ‘The symbolic meaning of the tale I can best sum up as follows: contact between a metaphysical phenomenon and human nature, and the impossibility that such contact will last. The moral would be: the good Lord would do better to spare us His revelations since He is not permitted to annul the laws of nature: nature – in this case human nature – is bound to take her revenge and destroy the revelation. This seems to me to be the meaning of most of those wonderful legends which are not the work of priests.’ (Letter to Hermann Franck of 30 May 1846: SB II, 511-512)

Wagner seems to confirm my thesis that Ortrud represents Mother Nature’s truth (‘the laws of nature’) or ‘Noth,’ which has a special, jealous relationship with Elsa (nature – in this case human nature’).” [from Heise’s “How Elsa Showed Wagner the way to Siegfried,” page 82]

[PH] Here Wagner paraphrased Feuerbach, who offered a variety of descriptions of what I have called man's existential dilemma, or unhealing wound, which is that man's very nature, the nature of the human mind, causes him automatically to reify his gifts of symbolic abstraction and generalization and to call them God, and to regard them as not only automomous from nature and its laws and limits, but somehow prior to and even the precondition for nature, when in fact the opposite is the case. This, as I made clear in my 5/95 paper, and more recently in its ultimate product, the much lengthier "The Wound That Will Never Heal," my study of the "Ring," published here online at, is the ultimate cause of the tragedy in "Lohengrin," and actually is the centerpiece of the plot of the "Ring," which is that, over time, it was inevitable that historical, collective man (represented in the "Ring" by Wotan, who represents Feuerbach's secular understanding of God, i.e., collective, historical humanity, wandering through time and space over the course of history and gradually accumulating a hoard of knowledge of himself and his world) would eventually overthrow, through his gradual advancement in knowledge of nature and of himself, the belief in transcendent gods and ideals, which were unconsciously, involuntarily (think here of Wagner's description of Elsa as Lohengrin's unconscious mind) dreamed into existence as man's earliest myths-and-religions.

[PH] Readers will note that Millington cited in his essays on "Lohengrin" Wagner's remark which I previously cited (see above), that the symbolic meaning of "Lohengrin" is the tragedy which ensues after contact between a metaphysical phenomenon and human nature, that that contact can't last. Of course, this is just a cryptic restatement of Feuerbach's thesis that man himself is destined in the course of history to overthrow, through his advancement in knowledge of himself and his mother, Nature, the illusion that there is a transcendent, supernatural realm of being.

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