A+ a-
Wagnerheim Logo
Wagnerheim Bookmark System
The Ring of the Nibelung
Go back a page
96
Go forward a page

experienced the Ring, libretto in hand, following the entire narrative, words and music, from beginning to end, with a few bathroom and sandwich and ice-tea breaks along the way. I must have sat, including breaks, for 24 hours. It was the signal event of my entire life, the most fully alive I have ever been, one of those privileged moments when one floats and loses touch with the ground, a complete loss of self in another’s dream-work. One experiences the world with not only the five, abnormally heightened senses, but with a sixth sense, a sort of clairvoyance, after a traumatic occasion of this magnitude. This was the closest approximation to a numinous experience I have had in my entire life, a secular version of what is otherwise described as a divine revelation.

From that day to the present I’ve tried to grasp the meaning of this experience for me, and hopefully for others. The book you are reading is the culmination of 38 years of unremitting labor to get “inside” Wagner’s creations in such a way that I can make objective sense of them, but also come to terms with the subjective impression they made on me and make on others. The following is my account of the high-points of this quest for knowledge.

My initial impression of the Ring, after several run-throughs with libretto in hand, was that it had the most remarkable, powerful dramatic coherence, from beginning to end. Was this due, as Michael Tanner suggested [Tanner: P. 182], solely to the Ring’s well known musical unity, merely a product of Wagner’s continual employment and development of a fairly small number of identifiable musical motifs (most being members of specific motif families) throughout the entire drama? Or was the Ring, as I believed, just as dramatically and conceptually coherent as it was musically coherent, capable of being grasped within one single unified interpretation, from beginning to end? I felt instinctively that the musical coherence was the product, not the cause, of the dramatic and philosophic coherence. Therefore I undertook a deep, systematic reading of the Ring libretto, to determine to what extent a global interpretation, one level of meaning, could be applied to the Ring’s entire text in fine detail. My method involved writing out and striving to solve all the philosophical problems raised by the libretto and its associated music at each point. In the event I found my own logic so harmonious with Wagner’s that I had the repeated good fortune to discern that Wagner regularly solves all the problems he raises within the context of the Ring, once one properly construes his allegorical logic.

 From the beginning, however, the fact that Wagner’s Ring is so heavily indebted to Norse and German mythology and legend as the primary source for its dramatic situations and characters (including their names), seemed an insurmountable objection to any kind of allegorical reading based on a modern sensibility. I long feared this might be the case until I read Deryck Cooke’s I Saw the World End in the late 70’s. He taught me how remarkably creative Wagner was not only in selecting only those things in his sources which he could manipulate for his own purposes, but furthermore how artfully Wagner rearranged all this material until it had become, in effect, something new. Cooke added that wherever Wagner needed to say something not found in his sources, he merely invented it to fill in the gaps, and he did this so skillfully that it would be difficult to distinguish - without prior knowledge of the sources - the dramatic incidents Wagner invented, from those he found in his source material. [Cooke: P. 74-131] Furthermore, I learned on my own that though most of the Ring’s dramatic situations and characters Wagner derived from various Teutonic sources, a significant number were based upon situations and characters drawn from both Greek mythology and the Bible. In other words, Wagner had found such a rich treasury of material in his sources that he could manipulate it to take on any allegorical significance he

Go back a page
96
Go forward a page
© 2011 Paul Heise. All rights reserved. Website by Mindvision.