Thoughts on "Mastersingers" from Wintersturmer

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

Moderators: Justin Jeffrey, alberich00

Thoughts on "Mastersingers" from Wintersturmer

Postby alberich00 » Thu Dec 18, 2014 9:41 am

Dear Denizens of Wagnerheim:

Wintersturmer has kindly given me permission to post his following emails to me re the recent MET HD simulcast of "Mastersingers," since I thought his remarks are well worthy of the subject and could generate an interesting discussion.

> Greetings to the denizens of Wagnerheim,
>
> I’d like to share a few thoughts upon my attending the Met broadcast of Meistersinger yesterday. This was my first run through the entire performance, so I’ll be needing several more sessions to better comprehend the motifs, their development and the full symbolism of the characters. While my preference is for the meatier music dramas, my enjoyment of Meistersinger was greatly enhanced by Alberich00’s discussion of the common themes of the music dramas and how they reflect Wagner’s evolution of ideas . Meistersinger is basically just another step on this continuum of linked works.
>
> Musically, the piece stands apart from the music dramas in that it is intentionally pervaded with “old forms,” especially the richer counterpoint and use of canonic forms. Act I opens with a Protestant chorale, while the signing in of the Meistersingers is accompanied by a short violin passage that is repeated in ascending fashion that is reminiscent of the works of Bach. In Act II, the blessing of Walter’s song by Sachs is accompanied by a few measures of Luther’s Ein fest’ Burg. The more pervasive influence of “die Alte werk” is the Meistersinger motif itself, which is inspired from the fugal subject of Bach’s toccata and fugue in C major (BWV 547) for organ. Wagner borrows also another technique from BWV 547 to wind up the overture and bring order to the jumble of interweaving and competing “voices.” Bach imposes order towards the conclusion of the fugue by a strong entry of the “Meistersinger” subject in the pedal, but not before a short build up by ascending snippets of the subject by the higher voices on the organ. Wagner essentially uses a similar device to bring order to the sprightly middle section of competing animated passages on flutes and oboes by building up with a repeated ascending excerpt of the Meistersinger theme before it is powerfully introduced in full by the Wagner tuben. Sometimes, I wonder if Walter’s mention of a brook in his poem might not be an allusion to Bach (which is the German word for brook).
>
> Thematically, I could find several parallels with characters of the music dramas. Sachs bears some semblance to Wotan, as a member of the old order that is ossifying beyond relevance by immutable rules. Sachs recognizes this and sees in Walter the hero that will renew and revive the art by challenging its conventions and foster the undeniable need for evolution. To this end, he even sacrifices himself by giving up his soul mate and adopted daughter of sorts, Eva Pogner to be Walter’s muse of subconscious inspiration, as Wotan gives up Brunhilde to Siegfried. Walter bears some similarities to Siegfried and Parsifal, being an unschooled, guileless fool and therefore unbound by artificial conventions. Sachs essentially sees that his time has passed and gives his benediction to Walter to inherit the “world’s treasure,” as Wotan announces to Erda in Siegfried, Act III. Just as Siegfried learns from the woodbird the means to communicate what cannot be said with words, Walter in Act I states that he draws his inspiration from birdsong, essentially the elemental Nature force. Beckmesser has both Mime and Alberich elements in him. Like Alberich, the muse of unconscious inspiration (Eva/Rheinmaidens) is inaccessible by his obsessive self-consciousness. Like Mime the smith who can’t create something new out of the fragments of Nothung, Beckmesser makes a total dog’s breakfast out of Walter’s song by his inability to read or comprehend “what cannot be said in words” and what was created freely. He remains fearful of departing from the old musical conventions and rules (the runes on the spear), as enforced by his chalk marks of demerit. Likewise, the hapless David is too preoccupied and distracted by the many rules and modes to let his inspiration flow freely, which Sachs contemptuously rewards with “the shaving strap mode” (could this be barely disguised self-contempt for his being tied down by the rules of his own making, just as Wotan despises Mime?). Where Meistersinger differs significantly from the Ring is that in the end, Sachs pulls Walter back from a complete rejection of the Old Order, while Siegfried pursues his iconoclastic mission to the full.
>
> Such are my first impressions…some are probably a bit off the mark and will surely evolve as I delve more deeply in this work.
>
> Yours,
> Wintersturmer
>
> PS. The old Schenk set certainly had its charms, and I for one would find it hard to image Meistersinger being successfully staged a la Kupfer’s “Grunge Ring” with toxic waste dumps, or the flailing of Lepage’s “Machine.” That being said, the techniques of the set are really looking a bit dated and could benefit from a reinterpretation that is a bit more challenging or at least psychologically engaging without detracting from the intended comedy. Either an updated traditional set, or an impressionistic one, just no weirdo regie theatre productions with storm troopers wearing diapers. Sometimes I get the impression that such producers are envious of Wagner’s talents and can only assert themselves by trying to sabotage his works
>
> PPS. I was rather surprised by the lack of publicity for Meistersinger: we only got the an email of its occurrence and date the week before, despite being on the Met mailing list. Could this be blow back from the appalling nonsense over “Death of Klinghoffer” being anti-Semitic and Gelb being accused of being a “self-hating Jew?” Alex Ross wrote an interesting piece in the New Yorker on Klinghoffer that puts all this chest beating and picketing into perspective.
alberich00
Site Admin
 
Posts: 396
Joined: Tue Apr 19, 2011 11:03 am

Re: Thoughts on "Mastersingers" from Wintersturmer

Postby alberich00 » Thu Dec 18, 2014 9:47 am

Further thoughts from Wintersturmer re "Mastersingers":

> greetings,
>
> Here are few more thoughts on Meistersinger after a few days' brewing: Wagner makes much use of bird song allusions for spontaneous, unconscious inspiration. For example, Walther could have cited the minnesinger Wolfram von Eschenbach as a source, but the bird allusion in Walther von der Vogelweide was probably irresistible. There is a passage that occurs repeatedly in both Beckmesser's and Walther's songs: a sequence of three notes that repeats in a descending manner. With Beckmesser, the sequence forms the major basis of his inept songs, while Walther uses it merely as a ornament. Musically, I consider the varied treatment of this little passage by these characters as the equivalent of Mime's limping and plaintive version of the bold motif of Siegfried's Mission in his Starling Song (compared to the fully-forged Walther's Prize Song). I find that this cascade of three-note segments also bears a close semblance to a similar cascade in Siegfried: it first occurs in a deep, menacing version in the prelude to act I (immediately followed by a portion of the Ring motif), but then attaches itself to birds: firstly in the brief passage in Act I when Siegfried talks of various animals' need for love, then in Act II as one of the thrills of the Woodbird. The final version arises in the finale of Act III when Siegfried and Brunhilde sing of the downfall of the gods (just before the "laughing death" sequence). Until now, I've always been a bit perplexed as to the source of the ascending passage that immediately follows this "heroic" cascade. It's actually an inverted version of Siegfried's Mission, so the joining of these two passages represents musically the union of the Muse and her instrument.
>
> As usual, I'm always open to other interpretations. If nothing else, I'm grateful for your Ring interpretation for allowing me to see Meistersinger as something more than mere comic relief or as a somewhat cloying fairy tale set to music. Now I have to set myself thinking about Walther's references to Parnassus and Paradise...
>
> regards,
> Wintersturmer
alberich00
Site Admin
 
Posts: 396
Joined: Tue Apr 19, 2011 11:03 am

Re: Thoughts on "Mastersingers" from Wintersturmer

Postby alberich00 » Thu Dec 18, 2014 1:16 pm

My response to Wintersturmer's thoughts on "Mastersingers:

I had the good fortune to see the HD simulcast. I won't go into any detailed review: suffice it to say that in the simulcast the singers of all the lead roles were different from those in the same roles in the MET dvd of this same production recorded some years ago. Though there were aspects of these performances that I liked, overall I felt the older, dvd version was somewhat livelier, with the exception that the Beckmesser in the more recent simulcast version had alot to recommend him. The Eva in this newer version seemed only to have one expression in her eyes, namely, a deer caught in headlights, but I heard some beautiful things in her voice. I thought the Sachs was good, but I preferred James Morris in this role, in spite of his seeming to be in somewhat poor voice in the earlier dvd of this identical production.

Wintersturmer's observations about the family resemblances between the characters of Wagner's mature music-dramas are on target. I wanted to add that one of my favorite resemblances, one I think generally missed (or at any rate I've never read of it anywhere outside my own observations), is that between Wotan's confession to Bruennhilde in V.2.2, and Sachs's confession to Eva while he's singing his cobbling song in order to disorient Beckmesser in his attempt to sing his own wooing song, in M.2. I won't repeat any of it here, but those who have read my online book on the "Ring" at this website will note, as Wintersturmer did, that I have a great deal more to say about the arcana of the metaphorical relationship of "Mastersingers" to the "Ring" and Wagner's other music-dramas.

One very amusing and interesting aspect of Wagner's use of birdsong as a metaphor for authentically unconsciously inspired art (as opposed to consciously calculated manipulation for some end ulterior to the production of authentic art) is that it isn't a simple identification of birdsong with naive genius, but rather, a symbol for music as man's artificial attempt to restore what was lost to us by our acquisition of reflective consciousness, i.e., an artificial attempt to restore the naive. Therefore it's sentimental, in Schiller's sense, I suppose. But there's more to it: the human unconscious has to restrain and repress the reflective thoughtfulness which would otherwise interfere with the genius's supposed naivety and inspiration. Wotan, and also Sachs, are now too conscious, but they communicate the cause of their too-great-thoughtfulness to a heroine, Bruennhilde/Eva, in order to suppress their consciousness in favor of the naive heroic genius, the hero who is to wed the muse of inspiration, Bruennhilde/Eva.

I've written elsewhere about the Parnassus/Paradise conjunction, but I can't now recall whether I went into it within the confines of my online "Ring" book here at this site. At any rate, it seems to me that Parnassus and its laurel is the reward for the poet, while a supernatural paradise is the reward proffered by many of the great religions. Since "Mastersingers" sets up a highly sophisticated comparison between Christianity and secular art (Walther's song baptised, Walther as the savior of the old Mosaic Law of fear - the Mastersingers' rules - through its transfiguration into the New Testament Law of love, i.e., into Walther's new rules acquired by inspiration, it goes without saying that the union of both the artistic reward and the spiritual reward in the final Mastersong symbolically suggests that in Walther's new inspired art modern secular man finds his hope of redemption (or something like that).

For those who enjoy looking for anti-Semitisms in Wagner's operas and music-dramas, I also contribute from my past writings on this subject the following potentially intriguing observations. Note the rather awkward line in Beckmesser's wooing song in Act II, in which he says something like, 'I don't think of dying, but only of wooing' (I can't recall the exact line, and my "Mastersinger's" libretto is still in storage in some box or other). Well, this is no throwaway line, because in Wagner's metaphorical imagination the authentically unconsciously inspired artistic genius has to die in order to be reborn, figuratively, in his confrontation, while unconscious, with the source of all that man fears, that thing from which man needs redemption. The artist-hero must confront this dragon of fear and in effect be consumed by it first, before he can wake from his dream of inspiration, effectively reborn, in order to produce that work of art in which we can forget the source of our fear. Well, needless to say anti-Semites of a Christian bent are liable to say that the Jews aren't willing to die in order to be reborn, i.e., to become Christian. Note Wagner's wandering Jews who can't die, can't obtain redemption. I suppose then it could be said that Wagner, in a sense, is transposing this old Christian critique of Judaism into the realm of art, but in truth, as employed by Wagner in "Mastersingers," this critique applies to any art-philistine who tries to imitate the authentically inspired masters of art without the benefit of true inspiration, whether this philistine be Jew, Gentile, or "The Other."

Another point of note is that critics often accuse Wagner of being too nasty to Beckmesser, presumably because he is supposed to be one of Wagner's stereotypical representations of a Jew. However, if one reads closely what Sachs says of Beckmesser after he has purloined Walther's mastersong in Act III, Sachs suggests that Beckmesser, like everybody else, has momentarily lost his way, but will ultimately return to common sense (I'm sorry I have to write this from a faulty memory, but I don't have the libretto in front of me). In other words, Sachs, though critical of Beckmesser's character, ultimately lets him off the hook as merely suffering from a fault that we all share, and that from time to time manifests itself in all of us. It is Beckmesser who engineers his hopefully only temporary banishment from the goodwill of the audience in the meadow, not Sachs, Walther, or the people who merely respond to what they hear and see as most of us would. It is not any kind of definitive and final indictment of Beckmesser.
alberich00
Site Admin
 
Posts: 396
Joined: Tue Apr 19, 2011 11:03 am

Re: Thoughts on "Mastersingers" from Wintersturmer

Postby maggiebeer » Sun Dec 21, 2014 3:02 pm

I just wanted to thank you both for these posts. I am going to see a screening of 'Mastersingers' from the New York Met on January 4th in Saumur. I am not exactly certain if it's an HD Simulcast. I have seen the opera before, but almost 40 years ago in Bayreuth, but only probably because a cousin of mine lives there. I have a recording of the opera (Knapperbusch) also, but I do not have the grasp of detail which you both have. I will read through these again before I go. Maggie.
maggiebeer
 
Posts: 2
Joined: Tue Jun 28, 2011 8:10 am

Re: Thoughts on "Mastersingers" from Wintersturmer

Postby alberich00 » Wed Dec 24, 2014 6:55 am

Greetings,

Here’s a brief thought on the concluding passage of Walter’s Prize Song (the “morning bliss song”) when he announced that he has achieved his goal with the unification of Parnassus and Paradise. Mount Parnassus is, of course, the Greek mountain on which reside the muses of poetry and inspiration (the Montparnasse district in Paris in which students and artists recite poetry in the streets is a direct reference to Greek mythology). “Paradise” refers to the self-delusion of a perfect place inhabited by perfect beings (gods): i.e., the religious impulse created by the conscious mind to act as a balm (such as occurs in Parsifal) for the harshness of reality. Could this be akin to saying that the “need of the gods” has been met by the rejuvenation of the religious impulse by its transformation into the artistic impulse through unconscious inspiration…the realization of Wotan’s “Great Idea” by the artist-hero Walther? If this is so, then Meistersinger represents a temporary reprieve before it ultimately all goes bad in Gotterdammerung.

Wintersturmer
alberich00
Site Admin
 
Posts: 396
Joined: Tue Apr 19, 2011 11:03 am

Re: Thoughts on "Mastersingers" from Wintersturmer

Postby alberich00 » Wed Dec 24, 2014 7:08 am

Hi, folks:

Wintersturmer's observation above corresponds with my view exactly. In the full schema of Wagner's late works (the music-dramas: i.e., the "Ring," "Tristan," "Mastersingers," and "Parsifal"), the plot of "Mastersingers" matches, in chronological order, the elopement of Siegmund and Sieglinde (but without their tragic demise), and the glorious union of Siegfried and Bruennhilde, Wagner's representation of Siegfried's unconscious artistic inspiration by his muse Bruennhilde. In the "Mastersingers" this unconscious inspiration, represented by sexual union, is matched by Walther's dream in which Eva inspires him to write his mastersong. However, since the plot of the "Ring" is a more complete representation of Wagner's master-myth, than "Mastersingers" (which represents a successfully completed act of unconscious artistic inspiration, followed by a successful performance of a redemptive work of art before a public), the "Ring" does nor provide us with a successful outcome of Siegfried's and Bruennhilde's act of inspiration (sexual union, which produces a child known as a masterwork of art), which Wagner saves for "Mastersingers," but moves on instead to the final work of art, Wagner's metaphorical representation of a performance of the "Ring" itself (Siegfried's narrative for the Gibichungs of how he came to understand the voices of the Woodbirds), which culminates in Siegfried's unwitting, involuntary, and tragic exposure of the secret of his unconscious artistic inspiration (just as in "Tannhaeuser" and "Tristan"), which ends in tragedy. Walther remains successful because he, unlike Siegfried, Tristan, and Parsifal, never becomes "conscious" of the unconscious source of his inspiration, i.e., never renders up the secret of his unconscious inspiration, his muse, to the public, his audience.

By the way, Maggie Beer, you are in the enviable position of being able to have a fresh, new experience of "Mastersingers," an experience which I, having experienced it so many times, can no longer have. For instance, my foundational experience was my listen-through, with libretto in hand, to the whole of the "Ring of the Nibelung" when I was 18, in one sitting. Though I am always on the edge of my seat, in a state of great excitement, when I experience the whole "Ring" in these latter years, nothing will ever compare to that first experience, like first love.
alberich00
Site Admin
 
Posts: 396
Joined: Tue Apr 19, 2011 11:03 am


Return to General Discussion

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest

cron