Siegfried: Act Three, Scene Two - Below Bruennhilde's rocky peak: The Wanderer (Wotan) and Siegfried
Siegfried now happens upon the scene of Wotan’s recent interview with Erda, following his fluttering Woodbird up the slopes to reach the peak where Bruennhilde sleeps. It was Thomas Mann who said of this confrontation between the old God and the new hero who supplants him that it is of the highest poetry: “It has always seemed to me absurd to question Wagner’s poetic gifts. What could be more poetically beautiful or profound than Wotan’s relationship to Siegfried, the fatherly-mocking and condescending attachment of the god to the boy who will destroy him, the loving abdication of the old power in favour of the eternally youthful? The composer has the poet to thank for the marvellous sounds he finds here.” [Mann: P. 190]
By this point in Wagner’s application of his musical motifs to word and action, he has attained such a degree of subtlety that each moment now seems so saturated with meaningfulness, that it is becoming increasingly difficult to account for the intensity of the vivid moods Wagner calls up in terms of cross referencing of specific motifs. This is not to say that in this advanced stage of his career that Wagner’s application of his musical motifs to the drama merely serves musical rather than poetic purposes, and that his music is increasingly autonomous from the drama, as some aver, but rather, that his application of motifs to the drama is so natural and fluent, drawing now upon so much material, that its capacity for cross-referencing the libretto text is increasingly more subtle and nuanced, and therefore more difficult to parse in detail. The associative power of Wagner’s capacity for motival cross-referencing seems near infinite. Wagner can call up instantly subliminal reminiscences and premonitions not only of numerous events and characters in the Ring, sparked by concerns of the present moment, but actually manipulate this ever more refined material in such a way that something new and profound is constantly being said about the past, present, and future, something which we find it difficult to articulate. The entire Ring plot now lives a second, ghostly life in motival development alongside the actual events dramatized on stage, an alternative existence which nonetheless constantly gives us what Wagner calls the essence of what is presented to us on the stage.
Wotan, initially in a jocular mood, confronts Siegfried on his way and stops him to interrogate him, with the sole purpose, evidently, of insuring that Siegfried can’t trace his history and his personal motives back to Wotan himself. Wotan also wishes to insure that Siegfried is truly the fearless, free and independent hero he’d dreamed of. As Siegfried approaches we hear a #15 Variant reminding us that Siegfried is protected from the Ring curse, protected from suffering the anguish of consciousness, by the sleeping Bruennhilde, his surrogate Rhine:
(The Wanderer has moved close up to the cave and he now leans back against it, his face upturned towards the stage: #15 vari [possibly a premonition of music which will be heard in T.2.5 when Bruennhilde complains to Hagen and Gunther that she, who now contemplates Siegfried’s death,