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Siegfried: Page 615
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Siegfried: Act Three, Scene One - Below Bruennhilde's rocky peak: The Wanderer (Wotan), and Erda

 It is a remarkable aspect of Wagner’s composition of the Ring’s music that he stopped composing it for twelve years, from 1857 and 1869. In 1857 he completed the music for the second act of Siegfried, but he would not return to composition, picking up where he left off at the third act of Siegfried, until five years after King Ludwig II of Bavaria had undertaken to finance his work. During this twelve year period Wagner completed the libretto texts, and the music, of two other great music-dramas, Tristan and Isolde, and The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, both of which, it turns out, are systematically and conceptually linked with the plot of The Ring of the Nibelung (this proposition will be examined in detail in my two chapters covering these respective music-dramas). As can well be imagined, Wagner’s fluency in writing music for his music-dramas advanced hugely while writing the music for these two smaller (though nonetheless very large) music-dramas, so that when he returned to composing the Ring he undertook this task with even greater sophistication than he had before.

There are those who argue that his employment of musical motifs had by this time grown much more independent of the immediate passages of libretto text with which they are associated, and it is widely believed that in many cases his employment of specific motifs and their variants is often inspired solely by musical rather than dramatic considerations. I would argue that in many such alleged cases the commentators have not sufficiently grasped the conceptual context in which certain motifs appear, nor the full range of conceptual association acquired by motifs by virtue of all their recurrences in the course of the drama, to make such a judgment. We will examine several such instances in the course of our assessment of the last act of Siegfried and the entirety of Twilight of the Gods, whose music was composed after this hiatus.

Wagner wrote a particularly intriguing description of the import of S.3.1, for he tells how he felt a “dark, sublime and awesome dread” upon embarking on the composition of its music, for here, he says, we are at the “nub of the great world-tragedy.” The world, he says, is on the brink of destruction, yet Wotan seeks to insure that the world is reborn:

“If I wanted to tell you more about Siegfried today, I should have to speak of a dark, sublime and awesome dread with which I enter the realm of my third act. We come here, like the Hellenes at the reeking crevice at Delphi, to the nub of the great world tragedy: the world is on the brink of destruction; the god [Wotan] seeks to ensure that the world is reborn, for he himself is the world’s will to become. Everything here is instinct with sublime terror, and can be spoken of only in riddles.” [747W-{2/24/69}Letter to King Ludwig II of Bavaria: SLRW, p. 740]

[S.3.1: A]

Deryck Cooke’s justifiably famous taped lecture on Wagner’s development of the motif families in the Ring contains a particularly impressive description of the prelude to S.3, for here, he says, Wagner arranges and combines no less than 9 distinct motifs within a short span of time, to capture the very essence of the dramatic situation in which Wotan has found himself. Wotan, still disguised

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