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The Ring of the Nibelung
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mature music-dramas, the hero and heroine, particularly Siegfried and Bruennhilde, are metaphors for the poet-dramatist, and music, respectively. Therefore their loving union is Wagner’s metaphor for his revolutionary music-drama, in which the poetic drama and music serve each other in an organic (i.e., loving) way unknown, according to Wagner, to traditional opera, in which vocal music is usually the main affair and the staged drama and libretto merely provide a pretext for beautiful song. Nattiez noticed that this metaphor - the loving union of hero and heroine as Wagner’s image of the relationship of drama to music - was implicit in the theoretical works and prose scenarios Wagner wrote between 1848 and 1853, while he was also writing the Ring libretto, but is made quite explicit by Cosima Wagner, Wagner’s second (and last) wife, in a passage from her diaries:

“We speak also about my last conversation with Herr Levi. He does not seem to fully understand ‘Parsifal,’ and I tell him that R.’s article theoretically bears almost the same relationship to the poem as his words on music (the loving woman) and on drama (the man) in ‘Opera and Drama’ bear to Bruennhilde and Siegfried."[933W-{8/2/78} CD Vol. II; p. 128]

In this one subject in which our hypotheses overlap, however, my interpretation differed from Nattiez’s in one very crucial respect. Nattiez read Siegfried’s betrayal of Bruennhilde in Twilight of the Gods, his courtship of the false muse, the coquette Gutrune, and subjection to the will of Hagen (in Nattiez’s reading a half-Jewish impresario of sorts, who lures Siegfried into betraying his true art for a false one), as the music-dramatist’s betrayal of his true genius (expressed solely in revolutionary Wagnerian music-drama) for the sake of a retro art-form, Parisian grand opera, as instanced in Siegfried’s performance of a song narrating the story of his life, at Hagen’s behest, in Twilight of the Gods, Act Three, Scene Two. [Nattiez: P. 87-88]. But Nattiez didn’t take into account the fact that the whole purpose of Siegfried’s song is to narrate the authentic story of his life as the music-dramatist, and in particular to explain how he came to understand the meaning of bird-song, which is a metaphor for Wagner’s own concept that as both author and composer of his music-dramas he had insight into the creative unconscious (i.e., Bruennhilde) that was unique. No, Siegfried’s narrative of the story of his life, which culminates in his death, is actually Wagner’s play-within-the-play, a miniature version of the entire Ring. And what Siegfried betrays in his performance of his greatest work, the direct consequence of his having given his muse Bruennhilde away to Gunther, is the secret of his own unconscious artistic inspiration, by sharing it with his audience, through his musical motifs. We’ll leave that for later, since it is one of the key insights my study is intended to justify.

I had somewhat similar experiences with the writings of perhaps a dozen other Wagner experts, i.e., the occasional earth-shaking insight, and frequently a failure to follow up the implications of that insight. Believing that my independent research could complement their own, I began to mail portions of my unpublished manuscripts to the pundits for their review, and occasionally received promising reviews, but more often than not I was told, in so many words, that Wagner could not possibly have conceived his artworks in the way that I had described. This was one of the primary reasons I made a methodical study of the entire body of Wagner’s writings and recorded remarks, which culminated in the completion of a comprehensive chronological anthology of over one thousand passages from this material as evidence for (and sometimes against) my interpretation.

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