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The Ring of the Nibelung
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He made one fundamental error in interpretation which was bound to have a dire effect upon his entire enterprise. He stated categorically that in the Ring meaning lies ultimately in the music, not the dramatic text or action: “All that really matters is that the ultimate meaning of a Wagner ‘drama’ is achieved through the music, as Wagner himself was perfectly well aware.” [Cooke: P. 65] The example he chose to illustrate this illustrates just the opposite. In The Valkyrie, Act Two, Scene Two, Wotan has just been convinced, against his will, that he must follow his wife Fricka’s advice that he support her protegee Hunding’s intent to kill Wotan’s beloved son Siegmund for breaking the divine prohibition of adultery, to insure that the gods’ rule will be respected. When his daughter Bruennhilde asks him what ails him, he explodes in a semi-coherent tirade (which I reproduce here in Cooke’s version, plus musical motifs numbered according to my consultant Allen Dunning’s list):

“(#82; #51) Oh divinity’s disgrace!

(#82; #51) Oh shameful wrong!

(#79) God’s distress [“goetternoth”]!

(#79) God’s distress!

(#40) Unending wrath!

(#40) Eternal grief!

(#37) I am the unhappiest of all beings!”

Cooke notes that Wotan’s verbiage is purely emotional and expresses no concepts:

“… even Wagner’s original [German text] is no more than a generalized indication of thought and feeling, conveying nothing in itself as to the essential nature of Wotan’s self-disgust, rage, and despair, or the wider implications of them. If this passage of the text were offered at such a crucial moment in a poetic drama, we should rightly regard it as so much empty mouthing; we should expect a more masterly use of language, peculiar to the character concerned, expressing his state of mind and feeling in a much more complex way, and setting up all kinds of resonances backwards and forwards throughout the drama.

In fact, we are offered just such an experience by this brief passage, which is one of the most supreme moments in The Valkyrie, but the language used to provide it is the language of music. … the resonances backwards and forwards are set up by the development and transformation of previous musical ideas, in the orchestra and in the voice.” [Cooke: P. 66-67]

Cooke then goes on to describe the origins, within the context of the Ring drama, of the five motifs in play during Wotan’s explosion of despair. But he has gotten this entirely wrong. The reason these five motifs have so much resonance, aside from their purely musical expressive power, is their former association with passages of libretto text and dramatic incidents in which poetic drama is clearly the source of the motifs’ accumulated resonances. Wagner’s motifs are messengers of Wagner’s thoughts as expressed by his characters and their dramatic situations. The ultimate source of “meaning” remains the poetic text of the drama, even where that meaning is carried by identifiable musical motifs with which it has been associated in the course of the drama.

One other, very different example of an opportunity Cooke missed will illustrate how I have been able to employ partial insights from prior pioneers in Wagner studies and draw immense benefit from them to develop my coherent account of Wagner’s narrative, leaving the burden of their

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