contexts in the course of the drama offers us what I call the “dramatic profile” of the motif.
An excellent example of a motif’s entire dramatic profile was provided by J.K. Holman in his WAGNER’S RING A Listener’s Companion and Concordance, where he reproduced 43 instances in the course of the Ring drama in which we hear the “Woman’s Worth Motif” (#37 in Dunning’s Guide to the Ring motifs, and identified there as the “Loveless Motif”) [Holman: p. 393-396] Since it would be impossible within the covers of a book to reproduce all 178 motifs’ dramatic profiles (this can, however, be accomplished on one’s computer), my detailed verbal description of each motif attempts to convey something of the richness of resonance any given motif has acquired during its entire history of recurrences within the drama.
However, given the many dramatic contexts with which any given motif is associated in the Ring, and therefore the multiple and often ambiguous conceptual associations which a motif accrues in the course of its life within the drama, to elucidate a definitive “meaning” for each occurrence of a motif within the context of the libretto is in most cases impossible. This problem was also demonstrated by Holman with respect to the difficulty of determining what the “Woman’s Worth Motif,” #37, means. [Holman: P. 393-396] Though there are quite numerous instances in which motifs make unremarkable recurrences, i.e., in which one is not surprised to hear them in their current dramatic context (such as when we see - or hear a verbal reference to - an object or person with which the motif has been previously associated, and hear this motif as well), there are comparatively few instances in which motifs recur which are unambiguously logical, yet dramatically brilliant in their effect. A classic instance of such a well motivated, yet dramatically moving and surprising employment of a motif, is the well known recurrence of the first segment of the Valhalla Motif (#20a) in The Valkyrie, Act One, Scene Two, as Siegmund recalls how he lost his father Woelf (Wotan in disguise) in the forest, finding only his wolf-skin. Its poignancy arises partly from the audience’s awareness of something of which Siegmund is wholly ignorant, that Siegmund’s father Woelf (or Waelse) is the god Wotan in disguise.
Most of my interpretations of the recurrence of specific motifs within specific dramatic contexts are therefore speculative, educated guesses. There are after all a number of well-known instances in which the dramatic or conceptual motivation behind Wagner’s employment of a specific motif in a certain dramatic context remains a mystery subject to endless debate. A famous instance is Wagner’s employment of Motif #18 (the so-called “Renunciation of Love Motif”), which is first heard in The Rhinegold Scene One as the Rhinedaughter Woglinde tells the Nibelung dwarf Alberich that only one who is prepared to renounce love can forge a ring from the Rhinegold which will grant him limitless power, in a surprising dramatic context later. The confusion arises from the fact that in The Valkyrie, Act One, Scene Three, as Siegmund, preparing to pull the sword Nothung out of Hunding’s house-tree, heroically embraces the love of his sister (and soon to be bride) Sieglinde, and therefore embraces the obligations of love, he sings #18. Therefore the so-called “Renunciation of Love Motif” in V.1.3 is employed as a motif representing Siegmund’s need for love. I have provided original and logically motivated explanations for each such instance in the Ring. However, this limitation – that many recurrences of motifs within certain dramatic contexts are so resonant with a variety of possible meanings that definitive elucidation is impossible - must be taken into account by any serious reader of this study. Experiment will show that any complex interpretation of this daunting masterpiece can probably supply a plausible rationale for the recurrence