My response to John Deathridge's six page response to my commentary on his "Ring" translation

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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My response to John Deathridge's six page response to my commentary on his "Ring" translation

Post by alberich00 » Sun Jun 09, 2019 5:56 am

Dear members and visitors to the discussion forum. After John Deathridge responded to my 16 page commentary on his new translation of Wagner's "Ring" (Penguin - 2018) with 6 pages of answers to my questions and further commentary, I wrote back the following response to help clarify a few issues. I've omitted passages of a personal nature, keeping only the business portion of my correspondence by email. Keep in mind that when you see examples of my numbered motifs from my new list of 193 motifs (any motif from my new list will be preceded by "H," as in H193), the numeration doesn't correspond to that employed for my older list still in use here at, which only included Dr. Allen Dunning's original list of 177 motifs.


Re your discussion of a musically untrained audience's grasp of RW's music and musical motifs, my partial solution to the inadequacy of naming motifs to capture the richness of meaning motifs accumulate in the course of RW's employment of them within the drama, is that in describing motifs I take account of what I call their entire 'dramatic profile.' This is the entire history of their occurrences in RW's score in relation to the drama. Motifs in the past were either named according to the dramatic context in which they first occur in the Ring, or at any rate on the basis of their most dramatic context. I believe my study is the most exhaustive analysis of Wagner's employment of musical motifs to analyze his drama, an area of study only lightly tapped previously in spite of the obsessive focus on motif names and lists. Deryck Cooke's demonstration of the musical genealogy of many motifs and motif families was very influential, but he only got down to cases about RW's employment of motifs to analyze the drama in a few, dramatic instances. I believe I've broken considerable new ground in this arena.

Apropos of your comments about difficulties for singers at Bayreuth, I've had one glorious week at Bayreuth. Thanks to Andrew Gray (deceased), translator of Mein Leben for Cambridge Univ. Press, who financed my trip, I was able to jump to the front of the waiting list (he was ill and couldn't use his tickets) and attended the Bayreuth Festival in 2001 (just before 9/11), seeing Lohengrin, The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, and Parsifal. I got to stay at the Hotel Goldener Anker, and to tour the Baroque opera house down the street by myself. (...) I got to hear Stefan Mikisch play on RW's Steinway at Wahnfried. (...)

[P. 98-99] I suspect part of the confusion between hoard and horde arises from the fact that both Alberich and Wotan foresaw that some day Alberich would, with his Nibelung hoard, suborn Wotan's heroes and turn them against him, so that they would, at least figuratively, become part of Alberich's Nibelung army of night. Bruennhilde in T.1.3.B asks Siegfried, disguised as Gunther, if he is of Hella's [Nibelheim's] host, and of course he's by then fallen under Hagen's infuence. Alberich's Nibelung army of night will storm Valhalla with the power of Alberich's hoard (which was supposed to suborn the gods, their heroes, and women). Perhaps there's deliberate ambiguity at stake here. RW in one or two of his prose scenarios or studies for the Ring (or was it in 'The Wibelungs'?) described Siegfried as becoming a Nibelung by virtue of his taking possession of the Nibelung Hoard. Wotan, Siegfried's granddad, is self-described as "Light-Alberich," and Alberich's Ring Motif H17ab is transformed into the first two segments of Wotan's Valhalla Motif H18ab (Valhalla being the gods' heavenly home) during the transition R.1-2. This musical transformation of the Ring of worldly power into the musical image of divinity's heavenly home is, I believe, RW's motival metaphor for Feuerbach's concept that the very nature of man's symbolic mind (Alberich's Ring in my interpretation represents the human mind and its power) automatically gave birth to the concept of godhead in man's earliest days, since primal man collectively reified the seemingly transcendent nature of his own mind and, combining it with the power of Nature, called it God. We also find this concept in RW's comment in 'The Wibelungs' that the Nibelung Hoard, the source of worldly power, was sublimated into the Holy Grail. Wotan spends the entire Ring striving to purge his Nibelung nature and origins out of himself. As he tells Bruennhilde, "I find with loathing only myself in all that I undertake."

And Wagner very deliberately equates Wotan with Mime (Mime represents Wotan's prose, the real, while Siegfried represents Wotan's poetry, the ideal) in a multitude of ways in Siegfried. In my interpretation, since Siegfried is Wotan reborn minus consciousness of his true identity, and Mime represents all that Wotan loathed in himself and wished to purge from his allegedly free hero, Siegfried's instinctive loathing for Mime is actually Wotan's self-loathing.

For those who are looking for anti-Semitism to be inscribed in the Ring, this raises interesting questions. Hitler once gave a speech in which he called on the Germans to purge the Judaism in themselves, i.e., the Judaism in their own nature (or something like that: I can't find the source of this online). The key, I think, is that RW was projecting his fear that all human beings are at root egotistical and primarily motivated by self-interest (Feuerbach said that covert egoism is behind even Christian morality and law) onto the Jews as a way of purging and purifying his theoretical Aryan race. In any case, in a sense, Wotan purges the Judaism/Nibelung in his own nature in order to give birth to his reincarnate self Siegfried from the womb of his wishes Bruennhilde, but in the end Siegfried is still a reflection of Wotan, as Bruennhilde points out in T.3.3. This recalls RW's desire to posit a non-Jewish Christ.

Since in my interpretation the trickster god Loge is an archetype for Siegfried (they both redeem the gods from the bitter truth, Alberich's Ring, but only temporarily), it's curious that Alberich predicts that Loge (a relative), having once been Alberich's friend, will someday betray the gods just as he betrayed Alberich. This seems to be partly based on the notion that Prometheus (the fire-bringer and defier of the gods, also a model for Bruennhilde), once a Titan, betrayed the Titans in favor of the Olympian gods, but will also betray the gods in favor of mortal man.

[P. 491] Your analysis of the Erda/Wanderer confrontation in S.3.1 is intriguing. I'll give it more thought. You might find my reading of their confrontation in my S.3.1 chapter at of interest (or you may prefer to read my definitive version of that chapter in my final revision I'm offering to publishers).

[P. 493] Yes, I actually discussed RW's association of H143 (the so-called World-Inheritance Motif) with the concept of a "new religion" in my study at So far as I know, H143 is also the only Ring motif which Wagner ever identified with the concept of redemption. RW didn't describe H94, generally described as the Redemption By Love Motif, as conveying redemption. H94 is first heard in V.3.1 as Sieglinde praises the "... noblest of miracles" in Bruennhilde's compassionate intervention to save the Waelsungs and the as-yet-unborn Siegfried. RW described this motif with which the Ring closes, H94, as the "Glorification of Bruennhilde" and as a "hymn to heroes," but so far as I know the last definitive occurrence of H143, the redemption motif, is heard when Bruennhilde is castigating Gutrune as Siegfried's wanton, but proclaiming that Bruennhilde herself was Siegfried's true wife. However, my music-consultant Dr. Allen Dunning suggests that a modulation of H143 (that heard as Wotan tells Erda: "... wide awake, your witting child will carry out the deed that redeems the world") is heard in the orchestra just before Bruennhilde plunges into Siegfried's funeral pyre.

In my interpretation H143's initial occurrence in S.3.1 is associated with Wotan's (the representative of dying religious faith) making the secular artist-hero Siegfried and his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Bruennhilde the heirs to religious man's futile bid for transcendent value, which lives on in secular art as feeling when it can no longer sustain itself as a faith, a belief system, in thought, in the face of the scientific/secular spirit of modern times (represented by Alberich's son and proxy Hagen, the exploder of consoling illusions). This is precisely what Bruennhilde means when she tells Siegfried what he can't grasp conceptually but only feelingly, that what Wotan thought, she felt, and what she felt was just her love for Siegfried (accompanied by H143). In other words, Wotan's unbearable narrative about his corrupt and craven history, which he confesses to Bruennhilde, is redeemed through its sublimation into Wagner's music, particularly his musical motifs. This is the Wagnerian "Wunder" which is his modern, secular substitute for dying religious faith. So H143 represents for me the Redemption of Dying Religious Faith Through Unconsciously Inspired Art, the Wagnerian music-drama. The important point here is that Wotan's original hope that Siegfried's and Bruennhilde's love (the redemptive art Bruennhilde will inspire Siegfried to create) would redeem the world is dashed by their betrayal of it, so that we must understand Wotan's desperate hope that Bruennhilde will throw Alberich's Ring into the Rhine as entirely distinct from his original hope for redemption by love/art. RW confirmed this reading when he wrote to Roeckel that Wotan doesn't consider restoring the Ring to the Rhine until he realizes Siegfried has failed.

Feuerbach employed the concept of a "new religion" to stand for the new religion of mortal man, embracing natural science [Hagen] and art [Siegfried/Bruennhilde], which would live on after the death of religious faith, freed from dependence on belief in illusory things which believers hold to be true. RW asked himself if he was inventing a "new religion" in his music-dramas, referencing Feuerbach's concept. Feuerbach noted that the advantage inspired secular art has over religious faith is that, unlike the religiously faithful, the artist doesn't proclaim his fictions to be truth, but confesses openly that they are art, or poetry. As Wagner put it, for the artist his productions are a game, play. In other words, unlike religious faith, inspired secular art doesn't stake a refutable claim to Alberich's Ring and its power, the power of truth, of knowledge. Wagner paraphrased Feuerbach's notion 4 times at least. Feuerbach noted also that man's longing for godhead/transcendence could live on after the death of conceptually proclaimed religious belief/faith in feeling, the heart, a safe refuge, and Wagner paraphrased this in his remark that when God [Wotan] had to leave us he left us, in remembrance of him, music [Bruennhilde]. The point is that music can grant us the feeling of transcendence without having to dispute the fact, as religious belief does. It's in precisely this sense that Wotan tells Bruennhilde that the hero who wakes her will be freer than Wotan, the god.

By the way, you are of course aware that Jean-Jacques Nattiez proposed in his book Wagner Androgyne (published first in French, and then in 1993 in English by PUP), and in prior papers from the early 80's, that Siegfried is Wagner's metaphor for drama/poetry and Bruennhilde his metaphor for music, their loving union constituting the revolutionary music-drama. It's worth remembering in this context that RW said Elsa, who taught him to unearth his Siegfried, made him a revolutionary with respect to his own development of his art. Interestingly, at his invitation I spent an entire day together with Nattiez at the WAGNER IN RETROSPECT CENTENNIAL SYMPOSIUM in November of 1983 at the Univ. of Illinois Chicago Circle campus, where he presented his paper on the Ring as an allegorical history of music. I handed him a copy of my own study, The Doctrine of the Ring, in which I proposed my own, somewhat similar thesis, that Siegfried was RW's metaphor for himself, the unconsciously inspired music-dramatist, and Bruennhilde his metaphor for Siegfried's unconscious mind, his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration. Evidently we both arrived at these similar hypotheses entirely independently, as I'd never heard of Nattiez or his thesis before, and the only person of note I'd previously shared my notions about RW with was Claude Levi-Strauss (in a paper I left with his secretary at the College de France in Paris in 1981 and which he may never have read, since I never received a substantial response).

[P. 523] Re my question about your translation of Siegfried's line "I can't relate to things that aren't there," the whole point of my argument is that thanks to Bruennhilde, who knows for Siegfried what he doesn't know (i.e., she knows for him Wotan's unspoken secret, his whole hoard of historical knowledge of what was, is, and will be, or fate, the source of his fear, which is Siegfried's hidden identity), Siegfried is gifted with immediacy and fearlessness by virtue of Bruennhilde's magic protecting Siegfried from Wotan's paralyzing, guilty consciousness of his hoard of historical knowledge and fearful foresight of the doom of the gods, in the same way that man's religious longing for transcendence can live on in secular times as feeling in inspired art. Bruennhilde's magic is the Wagnerian "Wunder." Thanks to Wagner's musical motifs of remembrance and foreboding, all that is distant in time and space and troubling (if understood conceptually), is sublimated and redeemed by RW's music. This is what Bruennhilde represents for Siegfried. It's why he's able to live wholly in the present, without Wotan's guilty regrets about the past or fear of the fated future. My point is that Wotan's thought, his confession to Bruennhilde, is very much "there" because Bruennhilde knows it for Siegfried, who experiences it only subliminally as feeling thanks to Bruennhilde. Wotan, trapped by his own base origin, identity and history, is transformed through his confession to Bruennhilde into Siegfried, who is freed from conscious knowledge of his base origin, identity and history, and therefore Wotan's lost innocence and immediacy seems to be restored in Siegfried.

One last point worthy of remark is that you noted you were intrigued at my looking at each moment in the Ring in a non-local manner. I think the whole point of the web of associative musical motifs is that RW could make the entirety of the Ring drama present to his audience at any single moment in it. I think that in a sense this is what Gurnemanz was suggesting when he told Parsifal when they were entering the domain of the Holy Grail that "Time here becomes space." RW conflated his concept of the "Artistic Wonder" of his musical motifs with the Kantian/Schopenhauerian concept of the ideality of time and space.

Your grateful friend from,

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