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The Ring of the Nibelung
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of almost any motif in any possible dramatic context, so an interpreter must be very careful not to overreach in drawing conclusions from the recurrence of specific motifs in surprising dramatic contexts.

Therefore we can only approach motival interpretation humbly with the full battery of knowledge at our disposal, taking into account not only the complete dramatic profile of each motif, but also all the other clues which Wagner and his mentor Feuerbach have given us. In order to propose a plausible interpretation of motival conundrums we must at least discern a logical, dramatically persuasive conceptual theme underlying the multiple recurrences - the history of dramatic associations - of any given motif, i.e., the allegorical logic underlying its “dramatic profile.”

It is well-known that not only do Wagner’s employment of a comparatively small number of easily remembered musical motifs lend a remarkable feeling of unity and dramatic coherence to the Ring, but also, ever since the demonstrations provided by Deryck Cooke in his famous guide to the musical motifs of the Ring, recorded as a lecture, became available in the late 70’s, it has been known that a large number of the musical motifs fall under different families, whose motifs are kin by virtue of certain common musical features. Furthermore, Cooke demonstrated that in many instances motifs give birth to other motifs by virtue either of a gradual process of musical transformation from one form to another, or at any rate in being the musical basis for a motif which is heard later. Dr. Dunning has incorporated most of Cooke’s insights into Dunning’s own guide to the Ring’s motifs, and has added other discoveries of his own, some of which offer improvements on Cooke’s work. Following the example of both Deryck Cooke and Dr. Allen Dunning, I have also attempted to delineate the musical genealogy of each motif, and/or outline its musical relationship with other kindred motifs, wherever this can enhance understanding. The genealogy for each motif can be found after each motif’s description in the briefer guide you are currently reading, and prior to the dramatic context provided in the more elaborate motif guide found in Appendix I. Unless otherwise indicated, nearly all the information provided in this guide regarding motifs’ transformations and genealogical relations are based on Cooke’s study. Dunning provided most of the remaining insights on this subject.

Here is my list of symbols employed within both Allen Dunning’s list of motifs which follows, and also within the body of the text of The Wound that Will Never Heal wherever libretto text is reproduced, or where Wagner’s musical motifs are under discussion:

  • # -- stands for specific ‘music’ or a specific ‘motif.’ It is always followed by either a description of the music in question, and/or the number assigned by Dunning which identifies a motif.

  • #: -- indicates that the following passage in the poetic text is sung to, and/or accompanied in the orchestra by, the specified music or motif. An example: “Woglinde: (#4:) Weia! Waga! Welter, you wave, swirl Round the cradle (:#4)!”

  • :# -- indicates that the specified music, or motif, to which the previous text was sung, or which accompanied it in the orchestra, has now ended. (see example above)

  • #? -- stands for music whose motival identity, if any, has not yet been ascertained

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