Feuerbach's influence on "Lohengrin" Part 4:
Wagner himself asks:
(16C) “Is religion dead?”
No! he says:
(16D) “It lives only at the primal source, the sole dwelling, the holiest inner chamber of the individual, where [there] never surged a conflict between the rationalist and the supernaturalist [i.e., between science and religion; between Alberich and Wotan].” (64-2/65 On State and Religion; PW IV, 29-30)
Wagner told Cosima that in our modern world art must replace faith in supernatural beings:
(16E) “In our times, R. continues, religion should seek to influence ethics, and allow faith to be represented by art, which can transform illusion into truth.” (11/14/79 CD II, 395)
In the "Ring," religious faith – which Feuerbach describes as merely a euphemism for fear of objective knowledge of the truth, and an expression of egoism [ler300], is represented by Fafner. As the guardian of Alberich’s hoard, Tarnhelm, and ring, Fafner represents religious faith’s taboo on freedom of inquiry. He neither exploits the power latent within Alberich’s ring and hoard, nor allows anybody else to do so, just as religious man’s faith, his fear of the truth, keeps a lid on the expression of anything, or the pursuit of any knowledge, which might contradict religious belief. And Alberich can’t hope to regain his hoard and ring until Fafner, man’s fear of the objective truth, no longer guards them.
It is Bruennhilde, of course, who teaches Siegfried the meaning of fear, the fear which Fafner failed to teach him. But it is also through the magic of Bruennhilde’s love that Siegfried is able to forget the fear she taught him. Wagner’s notion that in modern times his inspired art replaces lost religious faith explains, I think, why Bruennhilde inherits Fafner’s Serpent (Dragon) Motif, which is first heard when Alberich transforms himself into a serpent (or dragon) to display the Tarnhelm’s power to Wotan and Loge. This musical motif is Wagner’s musical metaphor for fear, the very fear Siegfried failed to learn from Fafner but learned instead from Bruennhilde. And of course, it follows from the logic of our interpretation that Siegfried learns Wotan’s fear from Bruennhilde as he is waking her, since Bruennhilde has now become the repository for Wotan’s hoard of fearful knowledge, knowledge which was so fearful to Wotan that he could not bear to speak it “aloud”.
According to Wagner the poet’s “wonder”, which is free from any claim to the power of truth, replaces religious wonder, or faith, which is based both on a false claim to possess the truth, and on fear of the actual truth, and fear of that doubt which might reveal the terrible truth:
(16F) “(213-214) The poet’s wonder is distinguished from the wonder in religious dogma since it doesn’t upheave the nature of things [i.e. it isn’t supernatural], but makes nature comprehensible to feeling [i.e., we experience the tragic world through music]. (...) Religious wonder depends on its being incomprehensible, denying understanding. Absolute faith is demanded ... [as in Lohengrin’s prohibition on knowledge]. The poetizing intellect [the music-dramatist Wagner] wants to display a great connection of natural phenomena [or hoard of knowledge] in a swiftly understandable image ... [through his musical motifs, which in a flash of intuition carry the weight and power of every incident, symbol, or character with which they have been associated in the course of the drama]. The characteristic of religiously dogmatic wonder [faith] is that, through the obvious impossibility of explaining it, it tyrannously subjugates the understanding despite understanding’s instinctive search for explanation.” [Whereas according to Wagner the inspired music-drama need not answer the question “why?” because it fully satisfies feeling without exposing those contradictions which compel feeling to rise to the level of thought] (64-2/65 On State and Religion; GS VIII, 28-29; PW VI, 33-34)
(17) SIEGFRIED AND THE HEROINES ELSA AND BRUENNHILDE BREACH RELIGIOUS FAITH IN ORDER TO PRESERVE RELIGIOUS FEELING, TO REDEEM IT FROM THE THREAT OF SCIENTIFIC SKEPTICISM, IN THE HERO’S ART WHICH THEY WILL UNCONSCIOUSLY INSPIRE
As Feuerbach said, religious faith, through its fear of truth, takes our reason prisoner by making inquiry into our articles of faith off-limits. This is a primary example of Wotan’s sin against all that was, is, and shall be, Erda’s knowledge of the real world:
(17A) [eoc205] “The denial of a fact is not a matter of indifference; it is something morally evil – a disowning of something known to be true. Christianity made its articles of faith objective, i.e., undeniable, unassailable facts, thus overpowering the reason, and taking the mind prisoner [as Wotan and Loge take Alberich prisoner] by the force of external reality.”
By killing Fafner, Wagner’s symbol for the stranglehold of fear which sustains unreasonable custom, tradition, and unquestioning religious faith, the artist-hero Siegfried frees human thought, and liberates musical feeling (Bruennhilde), the essence of our religious longing for transcendence, from its bond with dogmatic religious belief (the gods), so that the artist-hero can express himself freely:
(17B) “(195) The poet’s [Wagner’s] necessary task is to represent the battle of the individual [Siegfried] to free himself from the state [Wotan’s spear of authority and law and custom] and religious dogma.. (...) (197) The first purely human freedom is manifested in breaking the bond of religious dogma [killing Fafner], forcing the state to grant thought’s freedom.” (50-1/51 Opera and Drama; PW II)
Feuerbach’s following observations praising Eve’s breach of God’s trust, by offering man the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge which exiled him from the fool’s paradise of unquestioning religious faith, surely had a huge impact on Wagner’s characterization of [Page 33] such heroines as Elsa, Bruennhilde, and of course Eva in Mastersingers. It is worth mentioning also that Wagner wrote the following to King Ludwig II about the anti- heroine Kundry in Parsifal:
“What is the significance of Kundry’s kiss? – That, my beloved, is a terrible secret! You know of course the serpent of Paradise and its tempting promise: ‘Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.’ (...) Adam – Eve: Christ. – How would it be if I were to add to them: Anfortas – Kundry: Parsifal? But with considerable caution!”
In the passages from Feuerbach which follow we find a startling new clue which may help to explain why Wagner made Bruennhilde Erda’s (Nature’s) daughter, a clue which may also tell us something about the special influence which Ortrud (whom I take to be an as yet undeveloped model for Wagner’s Erda) has on Elsa:
[tdi188] “To the noble human species she [Nature, i.e., Erda] gave reason. Faith alone she left defenceless because it is contrary to her.”
And in Feuerbach’s following description of Eve as “reason”, and Adam as “faith” we find our intriguing clue, since if Feuerbach tells us that nature gave us reason and tells us in turn that Eve was reason, then it is clear that Eve is, figuratively speaking, Nature’s daughter:
(17C) [tdi246-247] “Eve was reason, Adam was faith. “The curtain rises on the lost paradise of faith.” In the beginning faith was alone and in a condition of innocence ... . Adam developed a strong yearning for a female companion. God pitied his plight, took a rib out of the body of faith, and created for him Eve, that is, reason. (...) But alas, Eve! She seduced upright faith into plucking the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, and an angry god drove the pair out of paradise, the land of simple innocence. ... the lovely Eden of belief is lost forever.”
This helps to explain also why so many of Wagner’s heroines, including Elsa, Bruennhilde, Isolde, and Kundry, collaborate in some sense with the apparent villains’ plans to expose the Wagnerian heroes, particularly his foolish, innocent heroes, to destruction. As Feuerbach put it:
[tdi230] “It was high time that Adam had knowledge of the vulnerability of simple innocence, and gathered a more noble fruit.”
Thus Feuerbach extolled Eve’s breach of God’s demand of faith as the basis for a revolution in our human existence, a revolution in which Wagner himself wished to participate:
(17D) [tdi250] “... we should celebrate gratefully the day when Eve misled Adam, for she did it out of her love for us.” [tdi250-251] ‘An appeal to the fair sex’: Dear maidens and women! Take the noble ancients as your example and once again drive away theology [i.e., drive out the gods].”
(18) THANKS TO BRUENNHILDE, WOTAN IS REBORN IN SIEGFRIED AS MAN’S RELIGIOUS IMPULSE IS REBORN – FREED FROM THE CONTRADICTIONS OF RELIGIOUS DOGMA AND THE FEAR OF TRUTH WHICH INSPIRES RELIGIOUS FAITH – IN THE INSPIRED ARTIST
Feuerbach and Wagner are in agreement that authentically inspired secular art can preserve religion’s non-dogmatic essence, its feeling, when religious thought, religion as [Page 34] a body of beliefs which mistake self-deception for truth, can no longer be sustained in the face of modern science:
(18A) “The yearning to renounce the world would necessarily impel him [i.e., the “truly religious man”, or the “higher man”], were there not (...) a certain distraction from the world’s earnestness [i.e., existential fear] which otherwise is ever present in thought. (...) What renders possible this noble illusion is a work of man-redeeming Wahn, which spreads wonders ... . [Such] Wahn must be candid and confess itself in advance for an illusion ... . [It] must never afford a loophole for bringing back life’s earnestness [existential fear] through any possible dispute about its provable foundation on fact, as religious dogma does. (...) This is fulfilled by art, (...) ... the kindly saviour [the music-dramatist Siegfried inspired by his muse Bruennhilde] who doesn’t really lead us beyond this life, but within life lifts us above it and shows it as a game of play ... .” (64-2/65 On State and Religion: GS VIII, 28-29; PW IV, 33-34).
“The yearning to renounce the world would necessarily impel” Wotan were there not the alternative of Siegfried’s redemptive art, expressed by Wotan in his despairing, nihilistic confession to Bruennhilde that he now wills his end, the end of all his hopes, and the end of the gods, because the gods are predestined to destruction by Alberich’s son Hagen. In his despair Wotan is certain that Erda’s prophecy is true, that Hagen, Wagner’s metaphor for modern science, will inherit the godless world and utterly demolish Wotan’s ideal legacy. But Wotan is ultimately redeemed from his despair by Bruennhilde, Wotan’s will, before whom Erda’s foreknowledge of the gods’ end wanes, since Bruennhilde becomes the artist Siegfried’s muse of unconscious artistic inspiration.
In the following passages - which unquestionably deeply influenced Wagner – Feuerbach says more or less the same thing: religious faith is predicated on egoism and fear from which art is potentially free:
(18B) ([ler47] “The object of religion ... is not ... wonder, but ... blessing, i.e., ... god not as an object of astonishment, but of fear and hope; he is worshiped ... not because of those attributes that arouse astonishment and admiration, but because of those that establish and preserve human existence ... .”
In other words, our existential fear (i.e., “the world’s earnestness which ... is ever present in thought”) is the basis for our worship of god, or gods:
(18C) [ler196] “... the religious imagination is not the free imagination of the artist, but has a practical egoistic purpose ... . (...) This feeling of anxiety, of uncertainty, this fear of harm that always accompanies man [expressed with special vigor by the Nibelung dwarf Mime, who has learned fear for Siegfried and is determined that Fafner will teach Siegfried the meaning of fear], is the root of the religious imagination ... .”
(18D) [ler287] “When we explain religion by fear, we must ... take into account not only the lowest form of fear, fear of one natural phenomena or another, ... the fear that is circumscribed in time and space, but also the fear that is limited to no [Page 35] particular object, the perpetual, ever present fear which embraces every conceivable misfortune, in a word, the infinite fear of the human soul.”
I have no doubt that it is this universal fear described by Feuerbach which Siegfried, prompted by Mime, hoped but failed to learn from Fafner. It is this fear which Siegfried learned from Bruennhilde, and this same fear that he was able to forget through the magic of her loving inspiration of his heroic deeds of art.
Our most striking piece of evidence of the pervasive influence of Feuerbach on Wagner’s thinking on the subject of his art, especially as expressed in his musico-dramatic allegories (even long after 1854, when Wagner claims he renounced Feuerbach for the sake of Schopenhauer’s philosophy), is the following passage which more or less says the same thing that Wagner did in our passage “(18A)” quoted above from his 1865 essay On State and Religion:
(18E) [ler180-181] “... a god is an imaginary being, a product of fantasy; and because fantasy is the essential ... organ of poetry, it may also be said that religion is poetry, that God is a poetic being. If religion is taken as poetry, may it not be inferred that to abolish religion, to break it down into its basic components, is to do away with poetry and all art? (...) My adversaries throw up their hands in horror at the hideous desolation to which my doctrine would reduce human life, since in their opinion it would destroy poetry along with religion and so deprive mankind of all poetic drive. (...) Far from annulling art, poetry, imagination, I deny religion only insofar as it is not poetry, but common prose. (...) In a sense it is poetry, but with one important difference: poetry and art in general do not represent their creations as anything but what they are, namely products of art, whereas religion represents its imaginary beings as real beings.”
Wotan, Wagner’s metaphor for our religious impulse, our longing for gods, is reborn in his heir, the artist-hero Siegfried, as Lohengrin in a sense seems to be reborn in his heir, Elsa’s rejuvenated and redeemed brother Godfrey, whose redemption in some strange way seems to have depended on Lohengrin’s withdrawal from the world:
(18F) “[Wotan] ... knows what Erda’s primeval wisdom doesn’t know, that he lives on in Siegfried (...) as the artist lives on in his work of art: ... the less trace it bears of the creative artist, so that through the artwork the artist himself is forgotten, ... the more satisfaction the artist feels.” (11/4/64 Letter to King Ludwig II of Bavaria; SLRW; 626-627).
(19) HOW GOD THE FATHER – I.E. MAN’S RELIGIOUS IMPULSE - FINDS REFUGE IN MUSIC WHEN HE CAN NO LONGER SUSTAIN BELIEF IN HIMSELF AS A FACT
And, as Wagner and Feuerbach put it, when religion as a conceptual belief system falls to science, religious feeling, God, lives on in music. Religious faith, which once openly staked an indefensible claim on the power of truth (Alberich’s ring), now seeks refuge from the actual truth in the unconscious realm of tone:
(19A) “The men of science persuade us that Copernicus reduced the ancient church-belief to ruins with his planetary system, since it robbed God almighty of his heavenly seat. (...) ... our professors have done him much harm ... . Yet this approachless god had begot much within us, and when at last he [Wotan, or Lohengrin?] had to vanish, he left us, in eternal memory of him, MUSIC [Bruennhilde, or Elsa?]. (...) ... to us she gives the power of all regeneration and new-birth; but only while we hold her holy.” [Wagner here also calls music] “... our last religion.” (12/25/79 Introduction to the Year 1880; PW VI, 34-35).
(19B) [eoc283] Only where ... the distinction between the divine and human being is abolished [i.e., when the gods are recognized by us as products of our own artistic imagination] ... is religion made a mere matter of feeling, or ... feeling the chief point of religion. The last refuge of theology therefore is feeling. God [Lohengrin, or Wotan] is renounced by the understanding [Ortrud, or Alberich]; he has no longer the dignity of a real object, of a reality which imposes itself on the understanding; hence he is transferred to feeling [i.e, transferred to the artists Godfrey and Siegfried via Elsa and Bruennhilde, their musical inspiration]; in feeling his existence is thought to be secure. And doubtless this is the safest refuge.”
And, just so there is no mistaking Feuerbach’s point, that what he means by “feeling” is “music”, he tells us in the following passages:
[eoc63] “What would man be without feeling? It is the musical power in man. (...) Just as man has a musical faculty and feels an inward necessity to breathe out his feelings in song; so, by a like necessity he in religion sighs and tears stream forth the nature of feeling as an objective, divine nature.”:
(19C) [ler291] “Fortunately, despite his servitude to theology, Luther found, outside of religion or theology, antidotes to the power of sin, hell, the devil or ... divine wrath. ... he writes that music, too, gives man what otherwise only theology can obtain, namely, a tranquil and serene mind, that the devil, the author of all cares ... [say, Alberich and his curse on the ring, the cause of Wotan’s fear?], takes flight at the sound of music as he does at the word of theology.”
(20) HOW LOHENGRIN AND WOTAN, REPRESENTATIVES OF MAN’S DYING RELIGIOUS FAITH, LEAVE THE ARTISTS GODFREY AND SIEGFRIED HEIR TO THEIR UNRESOLVED PROBLEM
And so, in the end, Godfrey, like Siegfried, inherits a horn, sword, and ring:
(20A) “Lohengrin: [to Elsa] When he [Godfrey] comes home and I am far from him in this life, this horn, this sword and this ring you shall give to him! ... by the ring he will remember me, who once freed you from shame and Noth [i.e., Godfrey will inherit Lohengrin’s legacy, his futile quest to redeem the world from the knowledge which Eve gave Adam]! Fare well (Leb Wohl)! Fare well! Fare well, my sweetest wife!” (Act III, Scene 3; GS II, 112-113)
(20B) “Wotan: [to Bruennhilde] Fare well, you valiant, glorious child! You, my heart’s most hallowed pride, fare well (Leb Wohl)! Fare well! Fare well! (...) ... for [Page 37] one man alone shall woo the bride [i.e., the artist-hero alone will inherit Wotan’s hoard of fatal knowledge which he imparted to Bruennhilde in his confession, and inherit Wotan’s futile desire to redeem himself from the truth], one freer than I, the god!” [Wotan, our religious impulse, was not free to breach faith and retrieve the ring from Fafner in order to keep Alberich from regaining its power, but the artist Siegfried is free to do so.]
I do not believe that what Lohengrin reveals to the world about his true identity and origin as a Grail knight and son of Parsifal - having been forced to expose this knowledge by Elsa’s insistent questioning - is quite the truth. I believe the truth is contained in the ring which Lohengrin passes on to Elsa so that she can impart its secrets to Lohengrin’s heir Godfrey. This is the ring which must serve to remind Godfrey of Lohengrin’s futile quest to redeem Elsa from her shame and “Noth”. And I believe this ring is a model for Alberich’s ring and its curse, which will bring an end to the gods. When Siegfried retrieves Alberich’s ring from the dead Fafner’s cave but leaves Alberich’s hoard behind, Alberich’s ring in effect becomes Alberich’s entire hoard of knowledge, and it is this to which the artist-hero Siegfried has fallen heir that he might transform it, through the magical “wonder” of his musically-inspired art, into a symbol of the love he shares with his muse Bruennhilde. Wagner felt that through the art of music he could reconcile us to the terrible world.
Before moving on to my final thoughts I present here four passages from the Ring which provide what I think is crucial evidence that Siegfried has in fact fallen heir not only to Alberich’s hoard (which is self-evident), but more particularly to Wotan’s hoard of knowledge which he learned from Erda and confessed to Bruennhilde. For both Alberich’s hoarding of the earth’s treasure in Nibelheim and Wotan’s accumulation of a hoard of knowledge through his travels into and across the earth (Erda) are merely Wagner’s metaphors for historical man’s advancement in knowledge.
When, for instance, Wotan informs Bruennhilde that he is going to punish her for her disobedience and banish her from the abode of the gods, Bruennhilde asks her father: ”Will you take away all that you ever gave me?” And Wotan answers: “He who subdues you will take it away?” I don’t think it can properly be argued that what Bruennhilde alludes to is that Wotan gave Bruennhilde her virginity, which Siegfried’s love will surely take away. I believe instead that Wotan and Bruennhilde are alluding to the hoard of knowledge which Wotan imparted to Bruennhilde, and which Siegfried will inherit when he wakes, wooes, and wins her [there’s some Stabreim for you!].
The following passages seem to confirm this:
(20C) “Bruennhilde: [to Siegfried] What gods [i.e., Wotan] have taught me I gave to you, a bountiful hoard (“Hort”) of hallowed runes.”
What Wotan taught to Bruennhilde, and what she imparted in turn to Siegfried, was surely the substance of his confession of his “unspoken” secret to her. In fact, in Wagner’s study for the Ring entitled "The Nibelung Myth" (6-8/48; PW VII, 301-11), and [Page 38]
also in the prose sketch for "Siegfried’s Death," Wagner conflates the “secret lore” which Wotan taught her, and the “runes” which she imparted to Siegfried, with Bruennhilde’s own “knowledge”, with the “ring’s runes”, and with the Norns’, or “ur-law’s runes,” which is the same as saying Erda’s knowledge or “Wissen.” And Bruennhilde declares that with Siegfried’s death these runes which she taught to Siegfried “come back to me.”
Since, thanks to Bruennhilde, Siegfried is the heir both to Alberich’s hoard of treasure and Wotan’s “bountiful hoard of hallowed runes”, it is no wonder that Bruennhilde hails him, at the height of ecstasy in their love duet in Siegfried Act Three, as:
(20C) “Hoard (“Hort”) of the world”,
and as the:
(20D) “foolish hoard (“Hort”) of loftiest deeds.”
For it is through Bruennhilde that Siegfried has fallen heir to Wotan’s hoard of knowledge of the world which Erda (Mother Nature) taught to him, a hoard of terrible knowledge which cannot harm Siegfried because Bruennhilde not only protects Siegfried from the wounds that might be caused by this knowledge, but through her protection these dangerous runes subliminally inspire the foolish Siegfried to create lofty deeds of redemptive art. Siegfried the artist-hero has indeed taken aesthetic, musical possession of Alberich’s hoard, transforming its horror into the inspiration of his art, which sublimates power and fear into loving bliss.
Two final pieces of evidence from the "Ring" provide further confirmation of our reading. As Siegfried prepares to leave Bruennhilde in order to undertake the heroic adventures (i.e., works of art) she has inspired, he has a premonition that he might himself inadvertantly reveal the unspoken secret which Bruennhilde, his unconscious mind, keeps for him. Referring directly to the “bountiful hoard of hallowed runes” which Wotan taught to Bruennhilde, and which she in turn imparted to Siegfried, Siegfried tells her:
(20E) “Siegfried: [to Bruennhilde] You gave me more, o wondrous woman [a possible reference to the “wonder” of Wagner’s musical motifs], than I know how to cherish [keep; or guard]: chide me not if your teaching left me untaught.”
It appears that Siegfried is having a premonition that he will in some sense betray the unspoken secret which Bruennhilde, his unconscious mind, is keeping for him, and keeping from him. Siegfried’s remark that she should not chide him if her teaching left him untaught is strongly suggestive of the concept that Bruennhilde is his unconscious mind, since it is through our unconscious mind that we can possess and be subliminally influenced by knowledge which yet remains unconscious for us. Similarly, though the Woodbird – which in my interpretation is considered one of Wagner’s metaphors for music, specifically his musical motifs - taught Siegfried the “use” of Alberich’s hoard, Tarnhelm, and ring, Siegfried has already forgotten their use after emerging from [Page 39] Fafner’s cave with them: “What use you are I do not know: but I took you from the heaped-up hoard of the gold since goodly counsel counselled me to do so.”
Our final evidence that Siegfried has unwittingly become the guardian of Wotan’s unspoken secret, the hoard of knowledge he repressed into his unconscious mind Bruennhilde, Bruennhilde provides herself. Complaining to Hagen and Guenther of Siegfried’s betrayal of her love (i.e., Siegfried’s betrayal of Bruennhilde’s function as his unconscious repository of Wotan’s unspoken secret and muse of inspiration for his art), Bruennhilde describes this betrayal as follows:
(20F) “Bruennhilde: “Where now is my wisdom against this bewilderment? Where are my runes against this riddle? Ah, sorrow! Sorrow! Woe, ah woe! All my wisdom I gave to him: in his power he holds the maid; in his bonds he holds the booty which, sorrowing for her shame, the rich man exultantly gave away.”
This is not the place to discuss the nature of Siegfried’s betrayal of his muse Bruennhilde, since I discuss this subject at length in my essay "The ‘Ring’ as a Whole." But it is clear from this final piece of evidence from the "Ring" libretto that the essence of Siegfried’s betrayal of Bruennhilde is that he has in effect taken from her her wisdom and in a sense exposed it to view by giving her, his muse, and her knowledge, away to another man, Guenther. Siegfried had left the power of Alberich’s ring in Bruennhilde’s safekeeping, hidden behind Loge’s protective ring of fire, the veil of Maya. But in betraying her love he forced the ring from her protective hands, exposing the hoard of runes hidden within the silent depths of his own unconscious - which had kept his secret in silence, unspoken – to the light of day, leaving him vulnerable to Alberich’s curse.
We’ll close this discussion now with a few final thoughts.
(21) HOW ELSA SHOWED WAGNER THE WAY TO HIS REVOLUTIONARY MUSIC-DRAMA, "THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG"
The sum of my argument is that Elsa’s breach of Lohengrin’s faith was Wagner’s inspiration for the creation of his revolution in opera, the music-drama, as Wagner himself said:
(21A) “This woman [Elsa] ... , who goes from worship [religious faith] to love [inspired art] by the outbreak of her jealousy ... – I had now discovered her: and that random arrow that I had shot at the target that I had sensed but not known was there was in fact my Lohengrin, whom I had to give up as lost if I was to find the certain path to the truly feminine that would one day bring redemption to me and everybody else, after the masculine egotism, even in its most exalted form, had broken in self-immolation in the face of it. Elsa, the woman, (...) made me a revolutionary in one stroke. She was the spirit of the folk to which I, too, as man and artist turned for my redemption.” ("A Communication to my Friends": GS IV, 301-302; PW I, 347-348).
In the simplest terms, Wagner’s transformation from the composer of relatively conventional romantic opera, into the creator of revolutionary music-dramas, is described by him as follows: “[Speaking of Lohengrin Wagner writes that:] my musical expression ... continues to be related only supersensually to language: a substantial, sensual relation between the two has escaped me till until now. But this is not something I have worked out theoretically – in spite of the fact that you will set eyes on my theory before you encounter the practical demonstration from which it derives: the theory came to me through my poem "Siegfried’s Death" [the basis for "Twilight of the Gods," the first part of the "Ring" poem which Wagner completed], in which I chanced quite spontaneously upon the language necessary for the music.” (5/31/51 Letter to Adolf Stahr; SLRW; 224-225) In other words, after having completed his last romantic opera "Lohengrin," in which according to Wagner the music’s relationship to the drama and its words was still too mechanical or artificial, he attained in the writing of the "Ring" poem and the composition of its music an inseparable bond between music, drama, and word.
Wagner’s metaphor for the drama and its words was the conscious male, and his metaphor for music was the intuitive female: “”... if I wish to demonstrate that music (as a woman) must necessarily be impregnated by a poet (as a man), then I must ensure that this glorious woman is not abandoned to the first passing libertine, but that she is made pregnant only by the man who yearns for womankind with true, irresistible love.” (11/25/50 Letter to Franz Liszt; SLRW; 220-221). Since this is so, it is my thesis that Lohengrin’s refusal to share with Elsa the burden of his thoughts, his unspoken secret, presents a striking parallel with Wagner’s notion that up through the creation of "Lohengrin" Wagner had still not discovered the secret of how to fuse music with the drama and its words sensually. Therefore Wotan’s acquiescence in Bruennhilde’s request that he confess the burden of his thoughts - the basis of Wagner’s conception of his drama "The Ring of the Nibelung" - to her, likewise presents to us a remarkable parallel in the plot with Wagner’s discovery of how to fuse his music (the female) with his drama (the male) through the musical motifs and continuous development of his music in the revolutionary music drama.
By giving his musical motifs (the woman Bruennhilde) the burden of carrying the dramatic characters’ motives (i.e., Wotan’s motives or aims, as expressed to her in his confession), Wagner was able to restore what he described as mythic naivete to his drama. The innocent, foolish Siegfried, who is naïve and acts entirely on unconscious instinct, is the product of Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde, since her music redeems Wotan’s thought from its egoism and conscious intentionality. Wagner never spelled this out more clearly than in his following remark to Cosima: “Siegfried lives entirely in the present, he is the hero, the finest gift of the will [i.e., of Bruennhilde].” (3/12/72 CD I; 466) Here is how Wagner described music’s restoration of modern drama’s mythic potential, its naivete and innocence: “Through the fullest application of this legacy of our great masters [composers] we have [i.e., Wagner has] arrived at uniting Music so completely with the Drama’s action, that this very marriage enables the action itself to gain that ideal freedom – i.e., release from all necessity of appealing to abstract reflection – which our great poets sought ... . By incessantly revealing to us the inmost motives of the action [i.e., Wotan’s aim, the unspoken secret of his confession to Bruennhilde], in [Page 41] their widest ramifications, Music at like time makes it possible to display that action itself in drastic definition: as the characters no longer need to tell us of their impulses or ‘grounds of action’ in terms of the reflecting consciousness, their dialogue thereby gains that naïve pointedness which constitutes the very life of Drama. ... while antique tragedy had to confine its dramatic dialogue to separate sections strewn between the choruses delivered in the orchestra – those chants in which music gave to the drama its higher meaning – in the modern orchestra, the greatest artistic achievement of our age, the archetypal element goes hand in hand with the action itself, unsevered from the dialogue, and in a profounder sense may be said to embrace all the action’s motives [i.e., Wotan’s aim] in its [Bruennhilde’s, i.e. the musical motifs’] mother-womb.” (2/73 Prologue to a Reading of Twilight of the Gods; PW V; 305-306).
Thus Siegfried’s naivete, his innocence, his restored ability to act solely upon instinct rather than upon conscious reflection, the burden under which Wotan suffered, is the direct consequence of Wotan’s confession of the burden of his unbearable conscious thoughts to Bruennhilde, the wish-womb of his unconscious, whose musical motifs redeem Wotan’s thought from its intentionality, transforming historical man into mythical man. And Wagner could not have expressed this more clearly than in the following passage from "Opera and Drama": “These melodic moments [i.e., musical motifs] ... will be made by the orchestra into a kind of guides to feeling through the whole labyrinthine building of the drama. At their [Bruennhilde’s] hand we become the constant fellow-knowers of the profoundest secret of the poet’s aim [i.e., of the unspoken secret Wotan confessed to Bruennhilde] ... .” (50-1/51 Opera and Drama; PW II; 346)
I believe it was for these reasons that Wagner concluded that:
(21B) “I remain convinced that my "Lohengrin" (...) symbolises the most profoundly tragic situation of the present day, namely, man’s desire to descend from the most intellectual heights to the depths of love, the longing to be understood instinctively, a longing which modern reality cannot yet satisfy. (...) This is where my art must come to the rescue: and the work of art that I had no choice but to conceive in this sense is none other than my Nibelung Poem.” (1/26/54 Letter to August Roeckel; SB VI, 66-67; SLRW, 306).
And that is how Elsa showed Wagner the way to Siegfried.
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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