My answer to John Deathridge's 2 questions

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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My answer to John Deathridge's 2 questions

Post by alberich00 » Tue Jul 02, 2019 9:46 am

Dear member and visitors to the discussion forum:

[IMPORTANT NOTE TO READERS OF THE FOLLOWING: The original "Ring" Motif list you find at, posted since 2011, includes 177 musical motifs. This motif list was created by Dr. Allen Dunning with a foundation in Deryck Cooke's famous lecture on the motifs' families and genealogical interrelations (though Dunning corrected Cooke in a few instances). However, for my revised version of my online "Ring" book I've eliminated 3-4 of Dunning's motifs but added many more. My motif list now includes 193 motifs. Therefore, in my following answers to John Deathridge's questions the numeration of motifs is based on my new list, and not on the original one posted at The motif #'s of my new list of 193 therefore don't correspond to the older list of 177's numbers, except in a very few instances (by default).]

On 6/5/2019 eminent Wagner scholar John Deathridge emailed me two questions, one concerning the appropriateness of assigning names to the musical motifs of Wagner's "Ring," and the other concerning the question of what Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy owes to Wagner, and specifically to his "Ring," especially regarding the notion of the will to power and its relationship to Nietzsche's master-slave distinction. On 6/7/2019 I emailed him the following answers, slightly edited here so as not to replicate in detail the contents of his private email to me:

"I'd have preferred to relinquish the fairly standard names given to the Ring's motifs altogether (including of course Wolzogen's) except for the fact that I needed to insure that readers could connect my new list of motifs with their own prior experience as easily as possible, at least with respect to the more established motifs with which they're familiar. You might find it interesting to look at how I've handled this problem in my extensive motif guide at In most instances, I replace names with more detailed descriptions, though I also preserve the old standard names so readers can match what they know to what I present. The so-called "Welt-Erbe Motif" is my H15ab, which is in transition from its origin in purely Rhinedaughter music into the definitive "Ring Motif" which, as Cooke noted, is introduced near the end of R.1. So there's a direct line of genealogical motival succession from joyous Rhinedaughter singing to H15ab (World-Inheritance) to H17ab (Ring) to H18abcde (the first two segments of the five segment Valhalla Motif), sort of like the evolution of a porpoise (the Rhinedaughters) back into a land-based mammal through speciation under environmental stress.

Here's where Cooke noted the "Welt-Erbe Motif" is introduced:

'Wellgunde: (H15ab) He shall inherit the world for himself, whoever forges the ring from the Rhinegold that will grant him limitless power.'

As you suggest, this is a much more suitable name for H15ab than for H143 (introduced in S.3.1 as Wotan is informing Erda that Siegfried and Bruennhilde are his true heirs), since Wellgunde introduces H15ab with the concept that forging a ring from the Rhinegold will grant one inheritance of the world through acquisition of limitless power in R.1. In my interpretation, the entirety of R.1 is RW's metaphor for the transition from preconscious animal instinct/feeling (The Rhinedaughters) to man's power of thought (Alberich's forging of his ring of power, his/man's unique identity). Alberich's renunciation of love in order to obtain world-power is in my interpretation a description of man's Fall in scientific terms, i.e., through man's acquisition of the power of symbolic thought (Alberich's Ring), the culmination of a long process of natural evolution which granted man a power over his fellow men and his environment unknown to other animals, man lost the preconscious innocence of his animal ancestors and relatives. In this sense, man inherits the world through his power of thought. He was no longer guided, as his fellow animals were, purely by instinct/feeling. RW identifies this lost innocence, this preconscious feeling, with love, and according to RW, first in religious faith (Wotan and the gods), then in the secular morality of self-sacrifice (Siegmund and Sieglinde) which stems from our religious heritage (Wotan brings up Siegmund in the wilderness), and later in secular art (Siegfried and his muse Bruennhilde), man seeks to restore lost innocence. This is partly what Loge means when he sarcastically tries to console the Rhinedaughters by suggesting that they can find the light lost with their stolen Rhinegold restored by the gods' glory.

I know that RW often mocked some of the names given to his motifs by his admirers, but I can't recall the details of his attitude towards Wolzogen in this respect. (...) It's sort of like trying to condense a wave of meaning into a single point. As you suggest, H94, popularly called the Redemption Through Love Motif, isn't properly called a redemption motif, though Porges seems to have personally regarded it as a motif standing for redemption from fate and from fear. I don't know to what extent he got this notion from RW. In my interpretation Bruennhilde's celebration of what for her seems to be hope of living eternally with Siegfried in mightiest love, as spoken by her in her final words during the finale of Twilight as she's preparing to ride into his funeral pyre, is actually RW's metaphor for the fact that their love will live on figuratively so long as the Ring is performed into the future. There's a bittersweet redemption in that. But they've both already betrayed their love for each other, and not because of an external influence either, but due to the logic of who and what they represent in history. Hagen's two potions (they are only one potion allegorically, since they both serve the same end) represent something inherent to Siegfried's nature.

This matters because we really need to free ourselves from a ton of received wisdom about RW which has become a stumbling block to understanding, including the severe impoverishment of meaning inherent in naming of motifs by Wolzogen or anyone else, to fully grasp the sophistication and subtlety and full scope of his accomplishment. And of course my ulterior motive (pun intended) is that I need Wagnerians to expand their imaginations to grasp the allegorical reading I'm presenting in my prospective book (and presented online since 2011 in its earlier iteration at


It's been ages since I read Nietzsche's books (though I've read all of them) and the collected notes edited by his sister and called The Will to Power, so I can't specifically recall what he said about master and slave morality in The Will to Power or his other books. I'll just proceed, then, to the best of my memory. I've long strongly believed that Nietzsche's concept that the will-to-power underlies all human endeavor, even that underlying the subversion of master-morality by the envy and pessimism and world-renunciation which stems from slave morality, originates not only in Schopenhauer's concept of the Will, but more specifically in RW's identification of the human mind (Alberich's Ring), and the knowledge the human mind acquires (Alberich's hoard of treasure obtained in the earth and Wotan's hoard of knowledge obtained both in the earth and on the earth), with power.

And of course RW's hero Siegfried seems in some ways a model for Nietzsche's self-celebrating and world-affirming overman capable of willing the eternal return (Nietzsche's antidote to the pessimism inherent in the Buddhist concept of escape from rebirth), since Siegfried seems to be driven by life instincts unimpeded by the crippling effect of reflective consciousness which so paralyzes Wotan, creating his own values where Wotan is in retreat from his own values.

But as I've noted, Siegfried's fearless heroism is an artifact of the circumstance that Wotan repressed his crippling self-knowledge of his own true identity and fate into his unconscious mind, his daughter Bruennhilde, who knows this for Siegfried in order that Siegfried will be protected from consciousness of it. As Dostoevsky said, consciousness is a disease. This stems from Elsa's offer to help protect Lohengrin from the "Noth" she fears he would suffer if knowledge of his true identity and origin became public (translation: if it became conscious, even for him), if only he'll share his forbidden knowledge with her. Feuerbach noted that the secret of religion is God's origin in Nature (this of course is the secret hidden in Lohengrin's alleged origin as a knight of the Holy Grail, which Ortrud in effect passes on to Elsa, Ortrud being a nascent Erda), which the faithful can't afford to contemplate and unwittingly hide from themselves. Feuerbach also noted that while we've scarcely penetrated the mysteries of Nature in our scientific quest for knowledge, the so-called mysteries of religion are easily solved because we ourselves unconsciously and involuntarily and unwittingly invented them during the springtime of human existence on earth, after we'd evolved from the animals and attained symbolic language.

The difference between Elsa and Bruennhilde is that, while Elsa only offered that Lohengrin should share his forbidden self-knowledge with her in order that she could help him protect its secret from disclosure, Bruennhilde will take sole possession of Wotan's self-knowledge during his confession to her so he can escape from himself and transform himself into Siegfried, who is Wotan minus consciousness of his true identity. And this, it turns out, is the allegorical basis for Wagner's transition from a creator of traditional romantic German operas (Lohengrin), in which according to RW music and words still had only a mechanical relationship to each other, to the creator of revolutionary music-dramas (the Ring), in which words and music united in loving union, because Wotan, unlike Lohengrin, agreed to share the unspoken secret of his divine "Noth" with Bruennhilde. Bruennhilde is figuratively the womb from which RW's redemptive music/musical-motifs is sublimated out of Wotan's confession (God's word, Wotan's seed, the tragic drama which needs redemption). Note Wotan confessed to Bruennhilde that what he told her would remain forever unspoken in words. But it could be safely spoken in music.

By the way, re the question of how much Nietzsche's mature philosophic writings were influenced by RW in general and his Ring in particular, Dr. Thomas Seung, Emeritus, formerly Jesse H. Jones Professor of Liberal Arts, Professor of Philosophy, Government, and Law, along with Dr. John Weinstock of the Germanic Studies Dept., invited me a thousand years ago to the Univ. of Texas, Austin, to present two lectures about my allegorical interpretations of RW's works, to the Philosophy, German, and Music departments. Staying with Dr. Weinstock at his ranch was a hoot! Dr. Seung's book entitled Goethe, Nietzsche, and Wagner: Their Spinozan Epics of Love and Power, was published in 2006, and it cited my unpublished research. I mention him because he considered Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra to have been written in direct response to RW's Ring. He has an extensive Wikipedia profile. It's possible a copy of his book can still be obtained at

Feuerbach noted that egoism (the source of man's will to power) is behind all human endeavor, even religious man's pessimistic quest to deny his body and the objective world in favor of an imaginary realm of the spirit which religious man takes to be truer than the objective world. Wagner highlights the egoism or will to power at the bottom of both Alberich's world-affirmation (Alberich sins only against himself, while he notes Wotan sins against all that was, is, or will be, i.e., against Mother-Nature/Erda and her laws of change) and Wotan's world-renunciation in favor of the illusory paradise called Valhalla, by transforming the Ring Motif into the first two segments of the Valhalla Motif. And as I've noted, it's logical to assume that according to Nietzsche even the inspired secular artist (in this case Siegfried) expresses the will to power by striving to re-create the entire world in his own image, as a value-creator. This is what Nietzsche admired about RW. But it's also why Siegfried displays his formerly latent brutality to Bruennhilde while he's abducting her in disguise. The difference between Wotan/Siegfried and Alberich/Hagen is that Wotan/Siegfried, as metaphors for religion/art, are subjective, and Alberich/ Hagen, as affirmers of the real world, are objective, and therefore adherents of real, not imaginary, power.

RW seems to be making the point that we all express the will to power even in cases which seem to stand against it. As Feuerbach put it, we can't transcend ourselves, can't transcend our natural origins and animal egoism: gravity pulls us back down to earth no matter how high our imagination and ideals fly. The entire Ring records man's epic but futile quest to transcend the reality that gave him and his ambitions and illusions birth. What Wotan loathes in his own nature is his inability to transcend his inherent egoism, whereas Feuerbach noted that everything both good and bad in human life stems from egoism. This is why RW agreed with Feuerbach that religious man's great sin was to figuratively murder his mother, Nature, by renouncing the objective world in order to reinvent the world subjectively and imaginatively in accordance with his desires and fears, as in religion: this may explain why Siegfried, Tristan, and Parsifal all to one degree or another hold themselves responsible for their mother's death (the first two by virtue of being born of their mothers' deaths, the latter through neglect). It also explains what Alberich is accusing Wotan of when he says Wotan will be sinning against all that was, is, and will be (Erda's knowledge of the real world) if he coopts Alberich's Ring power to sustain the gods.

Parsifal redeems himself from this age-old sin of matricide only after he restores the mother who died due to his neglect (Herzeleide being a figure for Mother Nature), figuratively, in the Good Friday scene. All of Wagner's mature period heroes have inherited Wotan's sin of pessimism, his sin against all that was, is, and will be. Both Siegfried and Tristan pay the price for this sin, but only Parsifal atones for it. This is why Parsifal's muse of art, Kundry, must die, since inspired art has perpetuated religion's original sin of figurative matricide. However, Walther, Wagner's metaphor for the artist-hero in the golden age before the bitter truth of secular art's culpability in this sin became conscious, manages to create/produce a redemptive work of art. But the hidden source of Walther's unconscious artistic inspiration (his dream which he interprets) by his muse Eva is Sachs's secret confession to Eva in his Act II cobbling song (which the artist-hero Walther doesn't grasp, but his muse Eva does), which Wagner modeled on Wotan's confession of his unspoken secret to Bruennhilde, Siegfried's muse. It's Eva in Paradise who shared with man God's forbidden knowledge, causing our exile from paradise, for which sin, according to Sachs, Eva must atone by inspiring Walther's redemptive mastersong, which makes the Folk feel as if paradise has been restored.

A little side note here on the subject of Nietzsche's concept of resentment in relation to slave morality: admirers of Shaw's The Perfect Wagnerite follow Shaw in construing Alberich's oppressed Nibelungs as RW's metaphor for the wage-slave factory workers of 19th Century Europe, so it's easy to see how someone might conflate the so-called Jewish slave-morality behind the subversion of Rome's will-to-power by Christianity (that product of Judaism, Greek philosophy, and Zoroastrianism), with Marx's notion that the wage-slave proletariat of industrialized Europe would inevitably overthrow their capitalist masters, the modern plutocrats allegedly represented by Alberich, and the two together would overthrow the old monarchies (the Valhallan gods?). This all becomes very confused because anti-Semites generally argue that the Jews as a people or race or as adherents of a religion have nefarious intentions towards the Christian/European world, but not towards themselves, so this would make nonsense of Alberich (the alleged stereotype of a grasping, greedy, capitalist Jew) oppressing his own people.

I believe my interpretation solves this problem. First, I don't see the Nibelungs as working class proles, but as RW's image of Fallen (i.e., conscious) man's position in general. All men are either masters or slaves, and in both cases are guided by egoism, sadism or enjoyment of mastery in the case of Alberich, and craven fear in the case of his oppressed fellow Nibelungs. What Wotan (religious belief) and Loge (man's gift of artistic self-delusion which is necessary for religious belief to be invented and sustained) offer the Nibelungs (oppressed humanity) is a more exalted idea of who they are. This is what Wotan's liberation of them from Alberich's sway means. Alberich, after Wotan and Loge co-opt his Ring and its power, is seemingly in the position of the slave in relation to the master Wotan and the gods whom he envies and wishes to overthrow, just as previously his fellow Nibelungs stood in relation to him. But unlike Wotan, who is divided against himself (the war within himself between man's drive towards objective truth, or science, and man's desire for consoling illusions, as found in religion and art and morality), Alberich has the courage of his convictions and never loathes or abhors himself. In my interpretation Alberich represents the objective, scientific world-view which embraces the world as it really is (which is why, unlike Wotan, Alberich doesn't sin against Erda's world, all that was, is, and will be), but which, during the earliest phase in the evolution of human culture, is latent, only a potential of societies which during their earliest history are under the sway of that self-delusion known as religious belief, or faith. Alberich is world-affirming, and will-to-power-affirming, but since the earliest societies were handicapped by religious belief, it took a long time for this objective, world-affirming standpoint to emancipate itself and give birth to modern science-based secularism (Hagen). Fafner, who in the second half of the Ring comes to represent Wotan's (religious man's) fear of the objective truth (which according to Feuerbach is the basis for religious faith), for untold ages prohibits man's access to the sources of Alberich's power (Ring, Tarnhelm, Hoard), which is why Alberich patiently awaits his chance to regain possession of his Ring of power at Neidhoehle. He wakes while Fafner sleeps. Alberich knows that great, objective power sits inert under all that religious faith taboos, i.e., under its prohibition on freedom of inquiry.

So you can see why this is confusing if one tries to match the characters and events of the Ring with Nietzsche's categories. Though Alberich is in the position of the powerless slave in relation to Wotan throughout most of the Ring, it's Wotan and his fellow gods and proxies who pessimistically renounce the objective world (in which alone the Ring's full power can be exploited) in favor of the illusory consolations represented by Valhalla and by Wotan's futile hope to redeem Valhalla. These are the illusory consolations which Nietzsche came to despise as cowardice, and of which he accused RW of being the ultimate exemplar and champion, especially with respect to RW's alleged self-betrayal in Parsifal. Alberich (his Ring Curse) is pre-destined to victory over the gods since according to the laws of history according to Feuerbach, man inevitably, over time, replaces divine explanations for the world with Nature, just as modern science has done. Siegfried the artist-hero has unwittingly and involuntarily fallen heir to Wotan's original religious sin against all that was, is, and will be, i.e., his denial of the objective, real world. And Alberich designed his Ring Curse to punish those who perpetuate Wotan's original sin. The Ring Curse is the curse of conscious mind, that man is both predisposed to metaphysical self-delusion by virtue of the symbolic nature of man's mind, which automatically explains the world by involuntarily and unconsciously inventing the gods at the beginning of human history (the subject of Rhinegold), but is also predestined by virtue of the power of his mind to acquire that knowledge over the course of history which will overthrow his consoling illusions. I believe these remarks also address several of your following questions.


You make an extremely important point here. An entire lifetime could be devoted to studying how and why Nietzsche falsified the record about his intellectual debt to RW. Anyone who has ever read Feuerbach's four key books which heavily influenced RW (see Appendix II at learns two things: one, that RW's Ring, and also Tannhaeuser, Lohengrin, Tristan, Mastersingers, and even Parsifal, are far more heavily influenced by Feuerbach's materialist philosophy than previously guessed; and two, that Nietzsche, so far as I know, scarcely credited Feuerbach as an influence. Contra Nietzsche, Parsifal isn't a religious work but is instead Wagner's ultimate critique of religion and of the formerly unconsciously inspired art that has perpetuated man's age-old but futile religious longing for transcendence. Parsifal's age-old muse of inspiration Kundry dies in the end, relieved of the burden of having helped Parsifal in his former incarnations murder his mother by replacing her with that surrogate for the truth (surrogate for his Mother, Nature) known as inspired art. Klingsor's Magic Garden and its flower-maidens are RW's late image of his own art, which he'd for some time come to regard as a cowardly evasion of the bitter truth about the world, which had to be cast away in order to restore the objective world, Mother-Nature, to her rights. By realizing that he himself has been the unwitting, foolish cause of Amfortas's un-healing wound (man's futile bid for redemption from reality), Parsifal renounces any further involvement in perpetuating man's religious sin against our Mother Nature. In this way Parsifal redeems himself and, retroactively, all of RW's prior heroes and heroines of complicity in Wotan's original crime against Nature.


I'm not sure if I can answer this last question but I can offer the following thoughts. I have to wonder to what extent RW ever discussed Feuerbach's influence on the Ring with Nietzsche. It's a fact that though Feuerbach's materialism heavily influenced RW's conception of his Ring and is its underlying assumption, its black hole, nonetheless RW's sympathies were with Wotan and his progeny, all of whom in their different ways strive to transcend the egoism at the bottom of human nature. Wotan's self-loathing stems from the fact that the inevitability of Alberich's victory over the gods (which Erda, Mother Nature, his daughter Bruennhilde's mom, taught him, granting him fearful foresight of the inevitable doom of the gods) has persuaded him (at least unconsciously, as expressed to his unconscious mind Bruennhilde) that his most profound and sublime beliefs and ideals are illusory, and that Alberich's quest to reduce all human life to a contest of the stronger or smarter with the weaker and dumber, as abhorrent as this is, is the bitter truth about which Wotan has been trying to lie to himself. That's why he tells Bruennhilde he's given up on his hopes, and is preparing to make Alberich's as-yet-unborn son (Hagen) his heir. But in RW's metaphysics of art, the only way to preserve the dignity of man which had been religious belief's raison d'etre, was for the artist to preserve as feeling what religious belief had formerly presented as thought. So Bruennhilde figuratively giving birth to the artist-hero Siegfried is Wotan's temporary way out, his escape hatch from the nihilism of his view that if his religious beliefs are merely illusory, then there's no point in living. The inspired secular art Bruennhilde will inspire Siegfried to create gives a new lease on life to Wotan's hope of redemption from the bitter truth which Alberich's victory would force all humans to acknowledge. That is, until Hagen, with Siegfried's unwitting help, exposes Siegfried as merely Wotan's product, just as Wotan came to regard his son Siegmund as merely his product, and not a free hero of redemption, in the face of his despairing recognition of the necessity of Alberich's victory.

So, as you seem to suggest, RW could have it both ways in the Ring's climax. He could in one stroke grant Alberich's Ring Curse its inevitable victory over both the gods and their proxies Bruennhilde and the Waelsungs, but at the same time celebrate his art's power to help us forget what we most fear and abhor. We see the Ring restored to the Rhine, presumably so it and its curse can be dissolved, but the same forces which forged it can rise again, just as the evolution of conscious mind is inevitable. Climaxing the Ring with music rather than words is a sort of figurative dissolving of the Ring of human consciousness and its Curse in the Rhine in any case."
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