This is Part 5 of my review of Paul Dawson-Bowling's 2 volume book "The Wagner Experience"
[VOLUME 2, CHAPTER 11: "TANNHAEUSER" A Consummate Drama]
P. 41-42: PH: DB starts off his chapter on "Tannhaeuser" with the assertion: DB: "... 'Tannhaeuser' gave permission for the erotic phenomenon and even its carnal aspect to be acknowledged within polite society. The idea that these things were not morally repugnant and aesthetically revolting was revolutionary for its time, but many people sense that "Tannhaeuser" goes further and surrounds erotic experience, including its sensual aspect, with lustre and a life-enhancing allure.
PH: I am not sufficiently expert in the sexual assumptions and politics of the first half of the 19th century in Europe to know whether or not Wagner's "Tannhaeuser" was really taken as sexually revolutionary and also highly influential in this respect, or not, but it is an interesting thesis which someone else will have to explore. I have no doubt that Wagner's original intent to have Venus appear nude in performance would have shocked the opera audiences of his time. Therefore I can't vouch for what DB states in the following passage either, but it is an interesting thesis worthy of presentation as a book-length study:
P42-43: DB: "It was because 'Tannhaeuser' proclaimed truths which were previously inadmissible that it sent shock waves through European civilization. They were as far-reaching as any from the French Revolution, but the shock waves from "Tannhaeuser" affected more people and affected them more nearly because it approached head-on the question asked by Wagner's own character, the Landgraf in Act II: 'Can you plumb the true nature of love?' (...) The answers and truths about erotic passion which 'Tannhaeuser' encouraged overturned the 'denial of man's primordial animal nature' which had been a life-diminishing ordinance of Western civilization for almost two millennia. 'Tannhaeuser' was not the only force behind this immense shift in attitudes, but no other force was so decisive."
PH: Though I can neither confirm nor deny whether 'Tannhaeuser' had the huge cultural impact imputed to it by DB (I have no doubt that it had a cultural impact, but I don't know just how decisive it was), I can say that in the next extract DB puts his finger on a number of the interesting questions which 'Tannhaeuser' raises:
P. 43: DB: " 'Tannhaeuser' also examined several other topics which Wagner had considered before and would look at again, such as alienation and isolation, society and the outsider, and the quest for integration. 'Tannhaeuser' also touches on the relationship between justice and punishment, the fallibility of human law, and the contrast between the punitive regulations devised by man and divine grace and mercy. The opera even contemplates some of the murkier aspects of organized religion, obliquely questioning the extent to which Christ's beautiful ideology had been hijacked and turned into an institution supporting arbitrary authority, a denigration of body, a rank misogyny, and revolting cruelties against unbelievers and dissenters from orthodoxy."
P. 43: Here DB brings up a subject which also fascinates me, that Wagner was never really satisfied with "Tannhaeuser." DB: "The special difficulty about 'Tannhaeuser' is ... that even as we look at its fixed points and its values they dissolve and its lessons turn hazy. Its unsettled character has intrigued and frustrated people in equal measure ever since its first performance at Dresden on 19 October 1845. Wagner himself directed that performance but he himself was not satisfied, then or ever, and he began making changes the very next day, changes which he continued over the next thirty years. In no other work did he make such wholesale revisions over so long. Almost forty years after its first performance, on 23 January 1883, he was still unresolved and told his second wife, Cosima, 'I still owe the world "Tannhaeuser".' He never gave the world his conclusive version because less than a month later he was dead."
PH: I agree that 'Tannhaeuser' never entirely works, and seems a little off-balance because Wagner re-wrote some portions but not others, and ended up in my view with a not entirely convincing whole, which is the only such case among his canonic works from "Dutchman" through "Parsifal." But aside from its various virtues such as some very memorable music and musico-dramatic moments, it is fascinating as a seedbed for virtually every one of Wagner's artworks which followed. My thesis is that because "Tannhaeuser" was the seedbed for ideas later worked out coherently but only individually in all of Wagner's subsequent artworks, he was trying to accomplish too much in it before he was ready, so that it feels somewhat self-contradictory in certain ways. Here's a brief sketch of how some of its tropes found their way into Wagner's later artworks. First, it's well known that when Wagner was creating "Tannhaeuser" he was also mulling over the possibility of creating a sort of satyr-play comic take-off on it which later would become incarnate in "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg." In both artworks a hero, considered an outsider by a wider community, performs in a song contest to win the hand of a maid, and in both instances shocks his audience (in Walther's case only preliminarily, but later enthralls them with an artwork which demonstrates how life-enhancing revolution can grow naturally out of tradition, so to speak). Like Siegfried and Tristan, Tannhaeuser in some sense betrays his muse of art by exposing her secrets to his audience, though in "Tannhaeuser" his muse is at once the conscious, ideal muse Elizabeth, and the unconscious source of his inspiration, Venus. In Siegfried's and Tristan's cases exposure of the muse's secrets, the secrets of the hero's unconscious mind, is represented by their act of giving away their true love, their muse, to another man, who is Wagner's metaphor for the audience for his art. I might add that in one of the stories which were the basis for Wagner's "Tannhaeuser" there is a sorcerer called Klingsor [PH: I believe the sorcerer's name is spelled differently, but nonetheless one can see the influence on "Parsifal"]. Speaking of "Parsifal," there is no doubt that the Venusberg and Venus's seduction of Tannhaeuser gave Wagner a model for Klingsor's Magic Garden and the Flowermaids, and Venus is clearly a partial model for Kundry. Not to leave "Lohengrin" out, I note that in the two versions of my paper "How Elsa Showed Wagner the Way to Siegfried" [PH: a transcript of the published version is included in this discussion forum at an earlier date: to find it just scroll back to the earlier dates in the archive; and for the other version which incorporates documentary evidence of the influence of Ludwig Feuerbach, look under "Texts on Wagner" at http://www.wagnersocietyflorida.org] I speculated that what Lohengrin has to hide from the world is not that he is a denizen of the Grail Realm, but rather, that the Grail Realm is imaginary, and that Lohengrin needs redemption from this abstract, sterile realm which man's futile longing to transcend his body and his natural limits has compelled his imagination to create, by seeking to restore the earthly, material realm he has forsaken, through marriage to Elsa. This of course is also the primary theme of the song Tannhaeuser sings to win Elizabeth's hand, the song through which he involuntarily, as if under a spell, exposes for all to see the true source of his inspiration, the Venusberg (which Tannhaeuser's audience identifies with hell, rather than with the divine inspiration sought by his rivals). This of course links Lohengrin's prohibition against revealing his true identity with Tannhaeuser's secret alliance with Venus. It is for this reason, by the way, that Elsa instinctively concludes that were Lohengrin to reveal his true identity, this might cause him harm, or "Noth", and so she offers to share with Lohengrin the knowledge of his true identity so she can help him keep its secret. My thesis, however, is that the only way she could protect Lohengrin from his secret's fatal truth is by becoming the sole repository for his forbidden self-knowledge, so that he himself can remain ignorant of it and be protected from it. It was this revolutionary step which in my view gave rise to Wagner's notion that by virtue confessing to Bruennhilde everything about himself which Wotan couldn't bear to face consciously, Wotan repressed his self-knowledge and was reborn as the hero Siegfried, who is heroic and fearless precisely because, thanks to Bruennhilde's holding his self-knowledge for him, he doesn't know who he is.
P. 47: DB here offers an interesting discussion of the implications of Wagner's Overture to "Tannhaeuser": DB: "In his original version of the Overture Wagner resolved the opposing elements of sacred and profane, at least in the music, a concord which he never established so clearly in the main opera. Wagner's 1852 guide, 'On the Performing of "Tannhaeuser",' shows that he intended this final section to describe an integration of the erotic with the sacred, exactly the integration later encouraged by Jung. If the erotic Venusberg is Tannhaeuser's shadow side, this first version of the Overture reconciles and integrates it with the sacred, so that 'instinct and spirit are in the right harmony'. Wagner himself described the final appearance of the pilgrims' chorus as 'the exaltation of the Venusberg, redeemed from the cares of sin, as we can hear in the holy hymn. So all the pulses of life well and spring up in a song of salvation, and both the sundered elements, spiritual and sensuous, God and Nature, are enmeshed in the holy kiss of uniting love.' The Overture thus establishes an important position at a tangent to the opera proper, and it conveys a wisdom beyond its time and perhaps beyond ours. Wagner's description contains a view of the Venusberg which was positive, and worlds away from his viewpoint later in Paris, when ... he described the Venusberg as a place of horror."
PH: DB's quotation here from Wagner' own description of what he hoped to convey in the finale of "Tannhaeuser," a final union of God with Nature, spiritual and sensual, is very much in the same spirit as my description of the Good Friday Scene from "Parsifal" (look up my essay on Feuerbach's influence on "Parsifal" at http://www.wagnersocietyflorida.org), in which Gurnemanz notes that on this day nature gains its day of innocence. It is noteworthy that "Parsifal" concludes on the day on which Christ took on the sins of the world, the sins of man, by dying for man's sake on the cross, but doesn't conclude on Easter, the day of the resurrection. I'm not the first student of Wagner to suggest that there is no transcendent redemption in the finale of "Parsifal." Actually, its redemptive element is to be found in its refusal to seek any longer the old religious type of redemption from the real world in a transcendent realm, but rather, in its ultimate acceptance of nature. It is far more Nietzschean than Nietzsche would ever admit, considering that he deliberately misread "Parsifal" as a reversion by Wagner to the old time religion. The parallel in "Tannhaeuser" to the Good Friday Spell in "Parsifal" is the return of the pilgrims with the Pope's once dead wooden staff, which now sprouts green. A plausible interpretation is that Tannhaeuser is redeemed in the end because man no longer posits transcendence. However, that seems to be contradicted by Elizabeth's prayers to God and sacrificial death in Tannhaeuser's behalf. As I've stated, in "Tannhaeuser" Wagner is still finding himself. He would later, in all his subsequent artworks, analyze the discordant pieces of "Tannhaeuser" to make individually coherent music-dramas.
P. 49: DB: "The 'Overture and Venusberg Bacchanale' has become some of the most famous and successful music that Wagner - or anyone - ever composed ... . Wagner goes on to pile climax on climax, frenzy on frenzy, going so far as to bring in a headlong version of the central motive of 'Tristan and Isolde.' Even when the music seems to have reached such a peak that it can go no further, it hurtles off all over again, driven onwards now by castanets.
PH: This frenzied extension of the Venusberg Overture in the Bacchanale, for which of course Wagner imagined a visual accompaniment, has never entirely worked for me as music. Of course I am impressed, in a certain way, by the original Overture music which contrasted the Pilgrims' chorus with the Venusberg, and I am deeply in love with the almost alien music which Wagner added in the 1860's, the languid strings and woodwinds, and especially some of Venus's vocals and the orchestration which accompanies them, but the frenzied music of the Bacchanale is for me one of those rare moments when Wagner needed to describe something of moment to his story but which isn't fully integrated into the whole, but stands in a way alone, and, in this case, doesn't yet carry the same kind of conviction that the orgiastic music of "Tristan" Act Two does. Another example of necessary descriptive music which nonetheless doesn't carry for me much conviction is the music Wagner had to write to underline his fight scenes, as in "Lohengrin" Act One, and "Siegfried" Act Two.
P. 50: PH: For this reason I can't entirely agree with DB's following assessment of Wagner's alleged success in integrating his original music for this scene from 1845 with the newer music he wrote for it: DB: "It is astonishing that such a compelling unity should have resulted from a stitchwork which spliced music from 1845 to music from fifteen years later. With Wagner, apparently, a mysterious integrating principle was always at work, and probably nothing in his creative sphere was ever haphazard."
PH: I have always found the contrast between Tannhaeuser's song in honor of Venus (the version he sings to her in Act One before he leaves her, which of course is one of the primary themes of the entire opera) and the mature music Wagner wrote for Venus in the same scene painful. I realized it's supposed to contrast a certain knightly stodginess on his part with Venus's sensuousness, but frankly, Wagner also needed to bring Tannhaeuser's vocals up to the level of Venus in some mysterious way which I can't fathom. They talk past each other and it's because they live in aesthetically unrelated worlds. I don't believe Wagner ever had this problem again. For instance, in "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg," Wagner needed to compose for Beckmesser's nighttime serenade to Eva in the second act a song which would be seem, in context, to represent an outmoded and uninspired style, yet sit naturally within its context. Beckmesser's song achieves this admirably, and is naturally built into the overall context of "Mastersingers," yet I don't know how: it just works. But Venus's languorous music which Wagner wrote for her in the 1860 revision of portions of "Tannhaeuser" is totally unique and wonderful in itself, but makes us feel as if it were written by a different composer than the one who wrote the 1845 original version, so for this reason I find Tannhaeuser's otherwise iconic song in honor of Venus jarring in its Act I context. However, this is merely my subjective impression and I can't argue for it on technical grounds. However, I think there is much to be said for DB's remark, above, that with Wagner there was always an integrating principle at work, and that in his creative life there were no accidents.
P. 51-52: PH: DB here discusses Tannhaeuser's complaint to Venus, that as a mere mortal who needs change and even death, he ultimately can't tolerate her gift of endless bliss in her loving arms in Venusberg: DB: [Tannhaeuser:] " 'Too much!' he says, 'it's all too much.' (...) The sameness of it all is losing its appeal. (...) He [Tannhaeuser] even borrows the Flying Dutchman's dark sentiments and tries on his death wish for size as if to emphasize his need to escape this suffocating world; 'Oh goddess, grasp it well, that it presses me onwards towards death'."
PH: Tannhaeuser's complaint to Venus is I believe the first instance in which Wagner has written a libretto passage which directly reflects either his reading of Feuerbach, or at any rate perhaps his discussion of Feuerbach's ideas when Wagner was living in Paris. Tannhaeuser's complaint contains several of the key components of Feuerbach's critique of the Christian notion of redemption in paradise. Feuerbach noted that having falsely posited the illusion of godhead and the transcendent paradise as a supposed reward for true believers, this futile ambition made believers suffer from expectations predicated on the assumption that man has an immortal soul which eventually will throw off its mortal, material coils in order to enjoy a bliss unfettered by natural limits. But Feuerbach pointed out that this desire for endless bliss is actually smuggling into man's abstract idea of paradise a bliss which not only originates in man's natural physical and mental impulses (which depend upon the brain, a physical phenomenon), but which is artificially segregated by the imagination from the anguish of life with which life's bliss is inextricably bound. In other words, for Tannhaeuser to enjoy bliss at all he must enjoy a limited bliss which is inextricably linked to pain and death, here on this material earth.
P. 53: DB: [Tannhaeuser promises] "... that after he has deserted her [Venus] he will always remain her bold and loyal champion. Tannhaeuser is not being insincere in this; he is desperately sincere, and his avowed determination to desert her at the same time as promising to be loyal represents the 'divided self' of Tannhaeuser."
PH: Wagner would later write that he, the inspired artist, can't know love while creating a work of art about it, that, in other words, it is the lack of love which inspires the artist to create a work of art about the satisfaction of the desire for love. Furthermore, DB is right to say here that Feuerbach's intent to both desert and remain loyal to Venus, and to sing her praises once he's freed from her loving arms, represents Tannhaeuser's divided self, but DB doesn't get down to cases to describe that divided self as a contrast between the waking and dreaming, or unconsciously inspired, Tannhaeuser. For Wagner, in his mature music-dramas, the artist-hero lives two distinct lives: 1: His loving union with his muse-lover is Wagner's metaphor for the artist-hero's unconscious artistic inspiration. When he wakes from this dream of inspiration he forgets the original content of this dream, its true source of inspiration, and reinterprets his dream allegorically; 2. the artist-hero presents his waking dream, his work of art, to his public, his audience. On this view Tannhaeuser's separation from Venus is necessary for him to bring the artwork his unconscious dream inspired to full realization as a work of art performed before a public. In the long run Wagner portrayed in several of his music-dramas this necessary separation, and exposure of the original but hidden contents of the waking dream as a sort of betrayal of the muse, of her secrets, because Wagner himself brought up from the depths of his own unconscious things which had heretofore, and normally, remained hidden, which are dangerous. Thus Tannhaeuser's involuntary revelation of his true, carnal (as opposed to divine) source of inspiration in the Venusberg, while singing in the song contest in Act II, which horrifies and outrages his audience, is equivalent to the effect of Hans Sachs's revelation of the true nature and content of unconscious artistic inspiration during his Act Two confession to Eva in the words of his cobbling song, a song which, along with Beckmesser's uninspired and therefore non-redemptive song, causes the townsfolk to riot. A similar catastrophe falls upon both King Marke and Gunther, Wagner's metaphors for the artist-hero's audience, when Tristan, and Siegfried, respectively, involuntarily give their lover-muses Isolde and Bruennhilde away to Marke and Gunther in marriage, because this is Wagner's allegorical representation of the fact that in Wagner's tragic music dramas "Tristan" and "Twilight of the Gods," Wagner has himself exposed the secrets of night, i.e., mankind's collective unconscious, to the light of day, thereby making his audience suffer from full consciousness of the wound that will never heal, the fact that though we can imagine the divine we can never actually participate in it, because it is an illusion of our own making (here Feuerbach again).
P. 53: DB describes Venus's reaction when she realizes she can no longer seduce Tannhaeuser into remaining with her: DB: "... Venus is furious. She prophecies that Tannhaeuser will one day be back; she will see him imploring for mercy, begging her to take him in. He tells her haughtily not to flatter herself; his pride would never let him; he would not degrade himself. She is hurt and says that she herself is not so arrogant; if he were in dire straits she would always be willing to welcome him again; death itself may one day reject him; but she would still happily provide his salvation. To this offer, he simply responds with a great cry: 'My salvation lies in Maria!', in the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. This amounts to an abrupt swing from utter sensuality - life with Venus offers nothing else - to a totally discarnate, sexless state as symbolized by the Virgin Mary. At his cry of 'My salvation lies in Maria!' the Venusberg collapses in ruins and oblivion, and Tannhaeuser finds himself alone in a valley near the mountainside. The disappearance of the Venusberg is one of Wagner's most amazing coups de theatre. (...) With Tannhaeuser's cry to the Virgin Mary, it is not only the Venusberg which disappears but its whole sound world. (...) The only sounds come from the stage, a solitary shepherd boy in the meadows, singing a song in praise of Spring and the goddess of Spring."
PH: Venus's back and forth with Tannhaeuser, as to whether he will seek redemption from the anguish of mortal life through her love (Wagner's metaphor for Tannhaeuser's own unconscious artistic inspiration), or suffer from mortal ills in the outside world (but, as it turns out, with the consolation of religious faith as an alternative to the temporary redemption which art offers), is of course the model Wagner drew on when he created the very similar seduction scene in "Parsifal," in which Kundry tries to persuade Parsifal to seek redemption through her love rather than the allegedly ultimate redemption offered by the Grail to its King and knights, and, like Venus, curses any path Parsifal takes which will lead him away from her. Another parallel is that where Tannhaeuser calls on the Virgin Mary to exorcise Venus and the Venusberg, Parsifal makes the sign of the cross: in each case, the Venusberg, and Klingsor's magic garden, they suddenly collapse into ruin. A primary basis for Tannhaeuser's waking from this apparent nightmare is the scene which opens the Second Part of "Faust" by Goethe, in which Faust wakes on the meadow feeling reborn, after having betrayed Gretchen. There is an interesting parallel with "Tristan" in the shepherd's tune here, to which Tannhaeuser wakes, which is actually a model for the "alte Weise" (old tune) in "Tristan," a model not so much musically as symbolically. In the worldview Wagner constructed as the philosophical ground for his mature music-dramas music, for which the shepherd's melodies in both artworks is a symbol, music is the link between the conscious world of day and the now forgotten realm of night and the unconscious, where Tannhaeuser and Tristan had sojourned during their inspirational union with their muse. Siegfried's Woodbird song, for which he alone can find the conscious, conceptual equivalent, has a similar function in the "Ring." Another noteworthy detail is that the Shepherd in "Tannhaeuser" is singing of Holda as the goddess of fertility and spring, and of course Holda is another name for Freia, and therefore the Shepherd is singing of the realm of pagan gods who have taken refuge with Venus in the Venusberg from Christianity, i.e, have taken refuge in man's unconscious.
P. 58-59: PH: DB discusses Tannhaeuser's insult to the other participants in the Act Two song contest, in which he castigates the other contestants for making of love a sterile abstraction predicated on the belief in a holiness wholly autonomous from the body and nature, which is totally void of all that gives love between the sexes its zest. The culmination of this battle over the true meaning of love is the following: DB: Wolfram: "... 'May my song ring out to you, O love, O most exalted, as you approach like a messenger of God. I follow you submissively at a respectful distance. You lead us into the lands where your star ever shines.' This meaningless abstraction really fires up Tannhaeuser. He is a man possessed. He had vowed to Venus to be her 'bold champion' against the world, and it is as though his view had laid hold of him like a spell, so that he cannot not sing about her. (...) He adds for good measure, 'Only the man who has held you passionately in his arms really knows what love is. Wretches,' he says, turning to the other knights, 'If you have never known this, get you away to the Venusberg!' "
PH: Though taken literally Tannhaeuser is merely suggesting to the knights that they loosen up their age-old sexual taboos, built upon millennia of custom, tradition, and beliefs which impugn the impulses of the human body as evil bonds which tie us to this world and preclude redemption into a transcendent world, and enjoy the full throes of sexual desire, since Wagner is gradually constructing his metaphor for unconscious artistic inspiration, in which the hero is the conscious artist, and his lover-heroine his unconscious mind, his muse of inspiration, we must read more deeply the significance of Tannhaeuser's ecstatic desire to share the joy he's known up till now only privately with his audience. What Tannhaeuser is actually doing is unwittingly and involuntarily (for he is under an ecstatic spell and oblivious, temporarily, to the consequences of his action) revealing the heretofore hidden contents of his unconscious mind, his true source of inspiration, in his artwork. Since, in Wagner's view, one primary purpose of art is to sublimate the things we can't bear to contemplate in a form we can bear, if the artist reveals the very content it was the purpose of art in the first place to conceal, then it loses its redemptive function, and what had been viewed as heaven then becomes our hell. This sin is irredeemable because it exposes to our conscious minds the truth that we can't actually redeem ourselves from our own nature or from natural law. Tannhaeuser has here exposed to view the material, mundane origin of all of our higher impulses, feelings, and ideals, so to speak. What had previously been understood as divine revelation and inspiration is exposed here as merely a wish of the imagination to perpetuate to infinity a bliss which has a natural and therefore mortal origin. It is for this reason that his audience find his sin irredeemable and wish to silence him.
P. 60-61: DB describes how everyone in Tannhaeuser's audience, including of course Elizabeth, for whom his revelations are uniquely insulting because he was trying to win her hand in marriage [PH: and already, through his art, had won her heart], is horrified by his revelations, but while his fellow knights describe his sin as irredeemable and worthy of death, Elizabeth alone intercedes for him, and the knights and the Landgraf ultimately acquiesce in Tannhaeuser's hope to seek atonement through the Pope's intercession, in Rome. DB: "Tannhaeuser has crumpled and become a broken and contrite heart, and he utters the words that Wagner said later were the key to his character and the axis of the drama ... , 'To lead the sinner to salvation, God's messenger [Elizabeth] drew near me, but I raised my blasphemous gaze to her - criminally - to touch her. O you, high-above this earth-realm, who sent the angel of my redemption, have mercy on me, who was so steeped in sin that I could not recognize heaven's go-between!' The Landgraf then describes Tannhaeuser as cursed and compels him to seek absolution from the Pope in Rome. Elizabeth prays to God that he take her life for Tannhaeuser's salvation."
PH: This is where we see Wagner isn't quite ready yet to cast off religious faith as a means to redemption, a factor in his art which comes to the fore first in "Lohengrin," in which the heroine Elsa breaks faith with Lohengrin and must separate from him forever. I have attempted to demonstrate in my interpretations of Wagner's mature music-dramas that this definitive breach with religious faith is central to all of Wagner's artworks from "Lohengrin" onward, even "Parsifal." We note here that Elizabeth becomes a true imitator of Christ not only because where others condemn she forgives, but also because she offers up her life to atone for the sins of Tannhaeuser. Wagner never forsook the notion of Christ as the ultimate redeemer (he even spoke of him as the model for all heroes), though he renounced, in the main, the supernatural and dogmatic trappings of Christian belief.
P. 62 DB: "Act III begins with the marvelous Prelude describing Tannhaeuser's pilgrimage and its outcome. (...) The lower strings interject music depicting the dragging weariness of Tannhaeuser's journey. (...) Eventually the 'pulse of life' figurations begin to throb, much as they sounded in the Overture, and the music builds towards a blazing chorale for heavy brass. (...) This symbolizes Easter and Easter joy, but the mood darkens ominously as the music expresses a damning judgment by the Pope, a judgment which prostrates Tannhaeuser."
PH: Though the circumstances of Tannhaeuser's Act III return trip to the Wartburg, and those of Parsifal's Prelude to Act III wanderings under Kundry's curse, are quite different, nonetheless one can see how Wagner was in writing the Prelude to "Parsifal" Act III taking up in a sense where he'd left off in this Act III Prelude which depicts Tannhaeuser's initial hopes for redemption, followed by utter despair.
P. 64: DB describes Tannhaeuser's narrative of his futile trip hoping to gain absolution from the Pope in Rome: "Throughout the pilgrimage he had gone to extremes of self-denial and mortification in his determination to make amends. He tells how he reached Rome; how he approached the Pope confidently and made his confession; but the Pope gave a terrible response: 'If you have partaken of the wicked pleasures of the Venusberg, you are damned for eternity. Just as this staff in my hand can never flourish fresh and be green again, so your salvation can never blossom forth from among the burning brands of hell ... ."
EDITED ON 5/5/2015
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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