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The Ring of the Nibelung
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However, Donington never construed Wotan or the gods specifically as a symbol for man’s religious impulse, nor did he ever describe Siegfried as Wagner’s metaphor for an artist.

I must state emphatically that in spite of the fact that my own engagement with the Ring as an allegory began with a close reading of Donington’s Jungian study, which gave me many fruitful ideas for further development, my own Ring study is not a Jungian interpretation. Rather, I have drawn insight from Donington’s Jungian interpretation, among many other sources equally important, such as the work of the French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, and others too numerous to name.

I must not neglect my debt to Claude Levi-Strauss, whose works I studied as an undergraduate and graduate student in anthropology. His writings introduced me to several key concepts which have greatly influenced my understanding of Wagner. One of the most beneficial is his constant emphasis on what I might describe as the foundational trauma represented by mankind’s evolutionary transition from the state of nature (preconscious animal instinct) to culture, which produced a series of perhaps irresolvable contradictions. It is the underlying purpose of myth to resolve these. Another seminal Levi-Straussian observation was that Wagner was the founder of Levi-Strauss’s enterprise, the structural analysis of myths, and that the conceptual structures of myths are reproduced in music. [Levi-Strauss: The Raw and the Cooked: p. 15] A close reading of my book will leave the reader in no doubt just how deeply Levi-Strauss’s following tribute to Wagner has influenced my own outlook: “Before taking the place of religion, the fine arts were in religion, as the forms of contemporary music were already in the myths before contemporary music came into being. It was doubtless with Wagner that music first became conscious of the evolutionary process causing it to take over the structures of myth … .” [Levi-Strauss: The Naked Man: p. 653-654] Finally, Levi-Strauss’s elaboration of Vladimir Propp’s idea that there is a sort of archetypal folktale (or myth) which lies behind the actual folktales (or myths) recorded in the field, in reference to which one can grasp details in specific folktales (or myths) which otherwise would be incomprehensible, was partly what prompted my decision to treat Wagner’s four mature music-dramas as if they are one, single, unified work of art. I leave it to the reader to determine just how fruitful this method has proved to be.

The musicologist Deryck Cooke made the most ambitious effort yet to comprehend the entire Ring, libretto text and music, within one interpretation. He passed away prematurely while still completing the second of four projected parts, on The Valkyrie. One of his greatest contributions to Wagner scholarship is his unprecedented analysis of the evolution of, and family relationships among, Wagner’s musical motifs. Deryck Cooke demonstrated that Wagner’s Ring has a musical coherence and unity on a mass scale which is unique in the history of Western music (and of course entirely unique in drama, since Wagner was the only great dramatist who was also a great composer). Cooke began well but was unable to follow up many fine insights into the genealogical relationships among the motifs, by describing their dramatic significance, because the frame of reference within which he tried to describe the Ring text and tease out its allegorical elements was too narrow and inflexible. Aside from a few helpful observations, he simply could not construe the more far-reaching allegorical significance of his great insights into the evolution of, and mutual relations among, the musical motifs, and he missed dozens of clues to Wagner’s allegorical logic in the libretto text.

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