Benjamin Korstvedt: Paradoxes of Bildung in Die Meistersinge

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Benjamin Korstvedt: Paradoxes of Bildung in Die Meistersinge

Post by alberich00 » Sun Sep 08, 2013 12:17 pm

Paul Heise's review of "Paradoxes of Bildung in 'Die Meistersinger'," a talk presented by Benjamin Korstvedt (Clark Univ., MA) at the Wagner Worldwide 2013 bicentennial symposium sponsored by the Univ. of South Carolina in the winter of 2013:

There is a libidinal Bildung in "Mastersingers." There is a value in both knowing, and not knowing, social protocal. Walther must learn both how to sing a song that will win Eva's hand, and Bourgeois norms. His song is equated with the norms of marriage and romance.

Walther's spring song [PH: his audition song] is an example of untutored creativity plus untrammeled desire. He breaks both social and musical rules. Sachs responds in his Flieder monologue in praise of Walther's inspiration. This unnameable impulse is spring's command. But Wahn (self-delusion) is also involved, i.e., Schopenhauer's will and Freud's libido. Irrational force is a mainspring of the drama.

The diminished 4th transcends the motif system.

PH needs to check the following against the original video, as something is missing:

Dahlhaus, Mann, and the magic of illusion.

Claude Levi-Strauss's structural analysis of myth. [PH: Levi-Strauss famously stated that Wagner's employment of musical motifs to reveal otherwise hidden aspects of the drama made him the founder of the structural analysis of myths].

There is Walther's musical glance during the opening chorale, when he exchanges looks with Eva. It conveys a sort of pre-social instinct. The Bourgeois sublimate their libido. These forces are powerful and dangerous.

Re Walther's crafting of his prize-winning song, his Mastersong, Sachs tells Walther that the mark of a Master, a Mastersong writer/composer, is that in the autumn and winter of life the song preserves a memory of spring and joys long past. Walther accordingly tempers his song and decreases his use of the dangerous diminished 4th. Appoggiaturas mask the diminished 4th. The words of Walther's Mastersong are aligned with propriety.

Walther notices the judge Kothner dropping the lyric sheet upon which he is following Walther's song (so overcome is Kothner), so Walther feels free to improvise. [PH: This wonderful dramatic stroke of Wagner's is missing from most productions, probably because directors can't find any subtle way to insure audiences will even notice, and also because they might not notice that Walther is now departing from his original tune. A solution could perhaps be found in dvd and televised versions, in which the camera could deliberately focus on Kothner, and he could drop the sheet in such a way to insure they got the point; this is one among many examples in which cinema/tv can enhance Wagnerian music-drama]

Walther apostrophises Eva in chaste terms. His ardor for her is now properly expressed. His art appears to be natural yet sublimated. Sachs accepts the new situation, and Eva gives up her old relationship with Sachs for her lover Walther. Beckmesser, on the other hand, tries to fake it.

The diminished 4th evidently plays a role in Sachs's and Eva's scene of flirtation. Wagner also employs it in the music expressing Sachs's resignation of Eva.
Even Beckmesser employs it. Wagner weaves diminished 4ths into this score in a huge myriad of ways.


Question: What about the distinction: submotivic vs. motivic?

PH: I'm not clear on whether the following is Korstvedt's answer or not:

There are other examples in Wagner. Siegmund never succeeds in socializing his feelings, in his spring song. [PH: In my study of the "Ring" I've noted a certain correspondence between Siegmund's and Sieglinde's running away from Hunding's home, and Walther's and Eva's attempted elopement. Of course, Siegmund and Sieglinde succeed in bearing fruit through their illicit love, while in "Mastersingers' Sachs, who plays a role parallel to Wotan here, pre-empts this elopement to insure that Siegmund and Sieglinde will enter into a legitimate marriage, accepted by society, a marriage which figuratively gives birth to the Mastersong, which is baptized by John-the-Baptist Sachs, as John the Baptist baptized Christ.]

Question: Are the 4ths in general an Ur-Motif?

Answer: In the virtual birth of opera, Monteverdi's "Orfeo," Orfeo's lament begins with a diminished 4th. But I don't think it's a subspecies of the perfect 4th.

Question: Thomas Grey: The diminished 4th may be normalized as a perfect 4th, which fits Walther's dramatic movement [PH: his trajectory?].

PH failed to record Korstvedt's answer to Grey's question.

Question: The diminished 4th and augmented 5th seem to be linked with the concept of Wahn (illusion, self-deception, madness).

Answer: A diminished 4th is heard in the theme of renunciation in Act III, and this pains Eva [PH: when she hears Sachs's confession during his cobbling song, during the brief citation of music from the prelude to Act III]. So this takes the diminished 4th into Sachs's realm (of Wahn?).

PH: My inability to read scores disqualifies me from commenting in any detail here, but I find the attempt to equate not just established motifs but keys and other fundamental elements of music with specific dramatic tropes or general dramatic themes fascinates me, and I am eager to learn what value this might have for reading Wagner's operas and music-dramas more deeply.
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