Wintersturmer re symbolism of David in Mastersingers

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alberich00
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Wintersturmer re symbolism of David in Mastersingers

Post by alberich00 » Wed Nov 24, 2021 12:07 pm

From an email to me on 11/22/2021:

greetings, yet again,

A Meistersinger query: would I be correct in interpreting the character of David as a reference to the biblical King David (and archaic music)? That would also make him a thinly-veiled antisemitic reference to what RW perceived as the deleterious influence of "Jewishness in Music." With David's obsession with upholding stale and constraining musical traditions (ie, his recitation in Act 1 of the various musical modes that Walther must master to be able to compose a "legitimate" work), I see him as a composite of Hunding and Fricka and their preoccupation with freedom-killing orthodoxy to maintain the Faith and deny natural evolution. Sachs' (Wotan's) antipathy to David is therefore understandable. Beckmesser would be more of a Mime-type character, who, deprived of unconscious inspiration, can only craft flawed and ineffectual creations. Does Meistersinger have an equivalent to Siegmund, or does Walther incorporate the missions of both Siegmund and Siegfried?

from the Great White North,
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Re: Wintersturmer re symbolism of David in Mastersingers

Post by alberich00 » Wed Nov 24, 2021 12:09 pm

Dear Wintersturmer: (emailed on 11/24/2021)

You know, it's funny, but I haven't reviewed the libretto of "Mastersingers" in some time so I may get a few details wrong in my commentary from memory below (which I'll correct later).

Though Sachs's apprentice David recites the stifling rules for Walther in Act I, there's a satirical aspect to his recitation, and David joins his fellow apprentices in welcoming a breath of fresh air into the conservative world of the Masters, for which Sachs rewards him in Act III by promoting him. Beckmesser does indeed parallel Mime, whose name implies he always repeats himself and therefore isn't a creative, original artist. David assaults Beckmesser in Act II (in other words, assaults the archetype for the old, tired, rules, a stereotypical Philistine). Though there's a lot of controversy re Beckmesser being Wagner's stereotype for Jews, Beckmesser is actually a symbol for the Pharisees who were so bound up with interpreting the law and scripture that they allegedly couldn't grasp Jesus's significance and regarded him as an enemy, a radical. And of course, Walther the artist-hero is compared with Christ, while Hans Sachs becomes John the Baptist.

Needless to say the Mastersingers' rules are a metaphor for the Old Testament's laws of Moses handed down by God and inscribed on tablets. But Sachs in the end justifies the Mastersingers and their rules as having once been fresh and new, and merely needing occasional refreshment by new blood not yet jaded by dependence on the rules. Wagner regards these rules as laws of prohibition, of fear, rather than of creation, or love. There's a discussion in Act I in which David is momentarily confused with King David with his harp or lyre, but David as a young boy killed Goliath the Philistine, so the naive apprentice David (but Walther especially) is identified with the young David who is the enemy of cultural philistines. In other words, the symbolism here is much more complex than a simple anti-Semitic reading would justify.

There's an interesting detail here. In Act Two Beckmesser while singing his courting song sings something that philosophically disqualifies him from promoting himself as an authentically inspired artist. He says he doesn't think of dying, but only of wooing. I can't recall ever having heard Wagner fans or scholars discuss this line, but Wagner is referencing his thesis that Jews can't be redeemed because they're too tied to this world and therefore can't die to it to be reborn, as in Christian theology. But here the significance is that the art-philistine, the person who poses as an artist by simply borrowing as his own what truly inspired artists have already created, isn't capable of undergoing that symbolic death-and-rebirth which each truly inspired artist undergoes in union with his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, who holds for him fatal self-knowledge and therefore protects him from its wounds. The inspired artist-hero has to confront this forbidden knowledge unconsciously in order to be able to draw from it the inspiration to create a veil of Wahn, or illusion, around it. This is precisely what Siegfried's union with Brünnhilde in S.3.3 represents: it's Wagner's metaphor for his own unconscious artistic inspiration.

As for Beckmesser allegedly being Wagner's stereotype for Jews, with respect to Beckmesser's foibles, Sachs states in Act Three that this kind of experience comes to us all, and we all learn from it. The assumption is that Beckmesser is just a regular guy who on this occasion has taken himself too seriously and made an inappropriate bid to win the muse of authentic artistic inspiration, but he'll get over it, and learn wisdom from his rejection by her and from his inability to compose and perform an authentic work of redemptive art.

I have a suspicion I may have to rewrite part of this once I've looked over the libretto again, which I just found recently in a cardboard box in which all my other librettos had been stored for several years in my companion Dotti's garage. I'd wondered what became of them and in the process of moving re-discovered them, which is just as well because in the new year I want to learn German properly but also begin work on volume two of my interpretation of Wagner's key works.

Now here's the parallel between "Mastersingers," "The Valkyrie," and "Siegfried." Walther's attempted elopement with Eva, which Sachs preempts, parallels Siegmund's and Sieglinde's breaking of the gods' prohibitions against incest and adultery. But their proper marriage, which metaphorically gives birth to Walther's redemptive mastersong (the product of unconscious artistic inspiration by his muse Eva, The Bible's Eve, during his dream between Act Two and Act Three), parallels the union of Siegfried with Brünnhilde, which will give birth to the Wagner's archetype for all unconsciously inspired art, the "Ring" itself. Walther's mastersong combines the law (Wotan's Spear, a proper marriage blessed by God, or by the gods) with Siegfried's inspiration. In Act One, Walther represented inspiration without rules, and Beckmesser represented rules without inspiration. In Act three, Walther's victorious mastersong will stand for the union of the rules with inspiration which transcends them (like the New Testament transcending the Old but incorporating it), whereas Beckmesser's bungled attempt to sing a mastersong will have neither rule nor inspiration. Sachs's hammering had rated Beckmesser's Act Two wooing song according to Nature, and according to this it was found wanting.

Note that a well-made shoe is a symbol for art as a substitute for dying religious faith. Man's hope for redemption in paradise was a well-made shoe by virtue of which mortal man could be freed from consciousness of his mortality, i.e., consciousness of the gravel on which he walked. But now secular art replaces this lost faith. Since Eva's original sin (seeking forbidden knowledge, a la Elsa with respect to Lohengrin) cast man out of paradise, in our modern times only Wagner's redemptive secular art (according to him) can make us feel as if paradise has been restored, which explains the symbolism of Sach's Act Two confession to Eva in his cobbling song, Walther's dream of inspiration, and the content of his mastersong in Act Three. In other words, having committed the original sin which expelled Eva and Adam (mankind) from paradise, Eva owes the Folk inspiration of Walther's redemptive secular art as compensation. Eva in Paradise is Wagner's archetype for the muse of unconscious artistic inspiration. Since Beckmesser lacks inspiration, he can feel the gravel (man's mortality) under his poorly made shoes.

Your man from www.wagnerheim.com,

Paul
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