Review "The Wagner Experience" "Twilight" Part 11 continued

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

Moderators: alberich00, Justin Jeffrey

Post Reply
Site Admin
Posts: 428
Joined: Tue Apr 19, 2011 11:03 am

Review "The Wagner Experience" "Twilight" Part 11 continued

Post by alberich00 » Tue Apr 28, 2015 11:19 am

P. 352: DB: "Bruennhilde now turns to Siegfried and embarks on the great panegyric which rounds off the meaning of 'The Ring.' That at least was Wagner's plan. The difficulty is that it had many meanings. This complicates what it finally tells us - but as so often enriches it. As mentioned in the chapter 'Der Ring des Nibelungen,' part of Wagner's intention had been to follow Feuerbach and show how the gods (and religion) were outmoded and transcended by man in his humanist maturity."

PH: DB goes on to describe how, in an earlier draft for "Siegfrieds Tod," Wagner concluded the "Ring" with Bruennhilde leading the martyred Siegfried to Valhalla to join Wotan and the gods there, contradicting the Feuerbachian ending, one of Wagner's other potential conclusions to "Siegfrieds Tod." However, as everyone knows, in Wagner's final version we do indeed witness the twilight of the gods, but whether we also witness a new birth of freedom for mortal man, who survives the loss of belief in the gods, is open to question, because both Siegfried and Bruennhilde have betrayed each other.

P. 352: PH: I include the following passage from DB's text, concerning Wagner's alternative ending for "Siegfrieds Tod" in which Siegfried would join the gods as an immortal, because it is very interesting: DB: "Bruennhilde's address conveying this idea was to last 53 lines and to be followed by Siegfried's funeral procession, made up of two groups, men and women, who would conduct a ceremonial dialogue. The women would chant questions, "Who is the hero?' and 'What was his fate?' and the men would chant back answers. This plan eventually became the model for Titurel's funeral procession in 'Parsifal,' but in 'Goetterdaemmerung' Wagner deleted it."

P. 353=354: DB: "A number of things had changed for Wagner that caused his first serious revision of Bruennhilde's final address (actually his second, as the first revision, one of six in total, was virtually unaltered from the original). One of the most important changes was in his outlook on death. In 'Siegfrieds Tod,' death is not the end but a transforming gateway to a better life. Bruennhilde and Siegfried both move to immortality as they ascend to Wotan, and the idea of death as transformation was one which Robert Donington even tried to discern in 'Goetterdaemmerung.' However, it is not for nothing that even people who know nothing of Wagner use the term 'Goetterdaemmerung' to describe an utter, total and irrevocable annihilation, and this was the idea which went into Wagner's second revision of Bruennhilde's address. Wagner lost interest in preaching his special kind of republicanism, and he did now make his finale address the ideals and ideas of Feuerbach. Feuerbach believed that there was no immortality, and so instead of affirming that immortality and presenting it onstage, Bruennhilde's address did away with it. In this new version Bruennhilde absolves the gods from their guilt for all that they (and religion) had imposed on mankind. She pronounces for them a blessed redemption, a release from existence, because they had only ever been figments of human imagination, and now that they have ceased to exist in people's minds, they have ceased to exist outright. She still expresses this by addressing them allegorically; 'You may depart now because your guilt has lifted. Your guilt gave rise to a happy hero whose action, freely performed, atoned for your guilt. You are released from the fearful struggle for your vanishing power. You can fade away in joy before the deeds of man, before the hero, to whom you pointed the way. I proclaim that in death you will find redemption from your existential anguish.' Man's outgrowing of religion spells the gods' annihilation. However this annihilation means not just that ... [there is] no immortality for the gods, but that there is none for Siegfried, Bruennhilde and mankind either. In this new frame of reference all transcendental worlds and all immortality is no more than an invention of religion, and they are all false. The release from the oppressive beliefs of religion does away with any possibility of man's own immortality, in real life as in 'The Ring.' The exact date of this immense shift is uncertain, but it probably dates from early in Wagner's first Swiss exile when he was in close and admiring contact with Feuerbach. Wagner revised the closing scene again in 1852, on similar lines, but he wanted to make it even clearer that Wotan had met his doom, and so the new revision staged his destruction in the sky as well as declaring it through Bruennhilde."

PH: DB at least partly concurs with a Feuerbachian interpretation of the twilight of the gods as we actually experience it in Wagner's "Ring," and notes that as a consequence of this interpretation neither Siegfried nor Bruennhilde are going to enjoy immortality in Valhalla. This concurs with the viewpoint I've been expressing for decades, and most recently in my online book on the "Ring" posted here at in the spring of 2011. Bruennhilde's final words about joining Siegfried again in death seem to suggest she truly feels she'll be reunited with him in some kind of afterlife, but in my interpretation we can grasp her final words as a metaphor for the fact that in each new performance of the "Ring" they live again. Of course it is also true that Bruennhilde in the end is in a peculiarly altered state of mind (as Isolde is in her final moments) in which she waxes poetic about events which are actually stark and dire, as DB himself suggests further on.

PH: DB also discusses a version of Bruennhilde's final address which Wagner decided not to employ, but which, in DB's reading, suggests that Bruennhilde is absolving the gods from their guilt over the anguish that religious belief had imposed on mankind. This corresponds rather closely with my interpretation which, as I say, pre-dates DB's 2013 book by decades (I refer here to various papers I've copyrighted at the Library of Congress, and various lectures I've given). DB's paraphrase of what Bruennhilde says in this earlier version of her final address (a good translation can be found in Stewart Spencer's translation of the "Ring" in his Appendix which offers translations of versions of Bruennhilde's final address which Wagner rejected) is very creative, and he takes a lot for granted. DB also points out that the finale of "Twilight of the Gods," with the gods going up in flames in Valhalla, can be construed as the natural consequence of man losing belief in the gods. Again, I have been stating this in my copyrighted writings, and public lectures, for decades. I have also added that it is quite natural that Loge, the God of Lies (Imagination in service of man's feelings of desire and fear), and of fire, should burn the Gods up in the end, since it was through his magic that they were established in humankind's mind as real in the first place.

PH: The finale of "Twilight" must imply something more than that, with the end of belief in the gods, man is free to lose his dependence on them and to strike out on his own, because the primary mortals Wagner sets before our eyes in the end, Siegfried and Bruennhilde, representing the artist-hero and his unconscious mind, both betray each others' love and die. It is noteworthy that the twilight of the gods, though anticipated by Bruennhilde in the final words of her love duet with Siegfried in S.3.3, did not occur until both Siegfried and Bruennhilde go down to destruction. The reason for this (and this element is entirely missing from DB's reading of the "Ring") is that they represented Wagner's idea of inspired secular art as the heir to religious sentiment in the modern age of science. It is only with their self-destruction that religious sentiment itself can be said to die. What becomes of mankind afterwards, i.e., whether he destroys himself through some self-generated cataclysm, or lives on, but without the benefit of religion and art, are questions which in my view distinguish the "Ring" (in one reading mankind is annihilated in the end) from "Parsifal," in which mankind survives whatever holocaust may be represented in the "Ring," but makes the conscious decision to renounce redemption from reality through consoling illusion, not only in religion, but in art also (note that the muse of artistic inspiration Kundry passes away, while the reincarnate religio-artistic hero Parsifal lives on without her, having cast away all dependence on consoling illusions in order to restore Mother Nature to her rights and her former innocence).

P. 354: DB: "For some people, including me, the whole idea of Bruennhilde's immolation, her suicide, strikes a jarring note which does not seem to have troubled Wagner. Perhaps the reason was that the death was originally allegorical; she did not really perish but moved on through it to life in Valhalla as an immortal. Once death became real, with no resurrection, dying itself became starker and more forbidding. Death by burning takes on an agonizing realism that is horrifying, and it strikes a great red gash across the final pages of the 'The Ring.' The thought of Bruennhilde's unthinkable pain mars and confuses all the positive messages and precepts. Perhaps Wagner acted more wisely when he allowed Isolde to transfigure and Elsa and Kundry to expire gracefully, in mythical, allegorical conclusions which do not blacken the message; but it is a mark of Wagner's mesmerizing powers that he draws the imagination beyond Bruennhilde's destruction to a final, lasting appreciation of all that is most life-enhancing about 'The Ring.' "

PH: I suspect that if Wagner had desired to represent in Bruennhilde's self-immolation something purely realistic he would have left instructions for her to scream her head off after she plunged into the flames with Grane. No, in my interpretation her self-immolation remains allegorical, for it is Loge, the archetypal artist through whom mankind came to create and believe in the gods, and who is also the archetype for Siegfried the artist-hero as the redeemer of mankind from existential anguish through illusion, who burns up both the artist hero and his unconscious mind Bruennhilde, and the gods as well. This represents the end of self-deceit as a means to redemption from the truth.

PH: It is noteworthy that in "Parsifal" also there is no resurrection, since Wagner chose to place the final dramatized scene of his life's work on Good Friday, the day of Christ's crucifixion, with no mention of Easter, the day of Christ's supposed resurrection. This has long been noted by commentators, but very few have addressed the implications which follow from it.

P. 355: PH: Here DB reproduces some of Bruennhilde's final words, in which she blames Wotan for the tragedy of the "Ring" and tells him that now that the drama is over he can rest in peace: DB: [Bruennhilde:] 'He [Siegfried] was at once the truest of men, and the most treacherous. Do you know why all this had to be?' She lifts her eyes upwards and tells the gods, 'O you eternal guardians of oaths, look down at my burgeoning despair and recognize in it your guilt. Most exalted of gods, Wotan, listen to me and hear my accusation. It was through his most valiant act, so desperately desired by you, that you sentenced him to fall to the curse by which you are doomed.' She tells Wotan that the gods offloaded their guilt onto Siegfried, and continues, 'Siegfried, truest of all men, was destined to betray me so that I might become all-wise. (...) Rest, and be at peace at last, O god!' She sings this to a luminous, low-toned reminiscence of the music which so long ago formed the Rhinemaidens' 'Hymn to the Gold', and the degree of awareness into her insight and compassion for Wotan which this music instills, and the poignancy of it all, is extraordinary."

PH: In my interpretation Bruennhilde is telling us that as the unwitting and involuntary heir to the religious impulse represented by Wotan and the gods, which was predicated in the first place on mankind's self-deceit (Wotan's dependence on Loge to redeem the gods from Alberich's potential threat, the threat of truth), Siegfried the artist-hero was implicated like Wotan in the crime of religious belief against all that was, is, and will be, the crime of pessimism, of world-denial, and Siegfried has paid for this. Because Siegfried like Wotan had a divided mind, both conscious and unconscious, Siegfried like Wotan could be at once both true and false. Siegfried, though loyal to his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Bruennhilde in creating and performing that work of art which her love had inspired, i.e., singing the narrative of his life story, and how he came to grasp the ultimate meaning of birdsong (i.e., music, of man's dependence on music in the face of his loss of religious faith), also unwittingly and involuntarily betrayed the secrets she had kept for him, to consciousness. Thus Siegfried was predestined by Alberich's curse of consciousness (that mankind, in spite of depending on religio-artistic sentiment to protect himself from the bitter truth, was predestined historically to seek out that very treasury of knowledge which would condemn man's consoling illusions to oblivion) to betray his muse Bruennhilde. Having learned this in the end, Bruennhilde now openly proclaims herself wise like her mother Erda, and can acknowledge all that was, is, and will be, including Siegfried's betrayal of her, as destiny. Thus Siegfried's betrayal of their love made Bruennhilde wise. Bruennhilde, in offering Wotan peace at last, is saying that mankind need no longer trouble to fight against truth for the sake of a falsehood which was, after all, predestined to be exposed by man himself.

P. 356-357: DB: "However, Wagner and his outlook changed again because he turned his back on Feuerbach (or half did so) when he fell in love with the philosophy of Schopenhauer. Wagner consequently reworked the meaning of 'The Ring' to embrace and preach resignation, pacification of the will, and universal compassion. Bruennhilde was now to declaim, 'I go forth from the home of longing, and I fly forever from the home of delusion' (or 'will'?); 'I close behind me the doors of eternal becoming. Free from reincarnation, I, who am made wise, go to the sacred, chosen land, the destiny of all our sojournings on the earth. Shall I tell you how I won it, this sublime goal of all existence? It was the deepest suffering from sorrowing love which opened my eyes; thus it was that I saw in my mind an end to the world' (that is, to all future existence). This is not a straight translation but an attempt to draw out Wagner's meaning into a less obscure form; and anyone who tries to translate passages like this learns to feel a certain sympathy for the predicaments of William Ashton Ellis. Wagner's German is so compact and yet so discursive, and so allusive, that a straight translation into English barely makes sense. One difficult point about this post-Schopenhauerian peroration is that it takes for granted both that there is reincarnation, and that achieving an end to reincarnation is an ultimate goal of existence and the ultimate freedom. These ideas are wholly new to 'The Ring,' and do not connect with anything in it otherwise. Even Wagner's most goggle-eyed admirer might suspect him of wishful thinking when he declared that the drama had already expressed these ideas so clearly that it would be otiose to spell them out in words in Bruennhilde's peroration. But if either version of her peroration crystallizes the meaning of the drama, it is actually the 'Feuerbach' version, which was integral to it. The 'Schopenhauer' adaptation was bolted on afterwards, even though Wagner may at some stages have felt that it expressed the true but unconscious direction of his thinking. Eventually he set to music neither the 'Feuerbach' or the 'Schopenhauer' ending, even though he composed music for the 'Feuerbach' version for King Ludwig privately."

PH: One of the primary conclusions of my interpretation of Wagner's "Ring" is that, aside from Wagner himself, the primary more or less contemporary influence upon its plot and any philosophy embedded in it is Feuerbach, though many argue (perhaps with some authority) that Schopenhauer's writings may have influenced to some extent Wagner's composing of the music of the "Ring" which he completed after reading Schopenhauer. Not being able to read music, I have little competence to judge this musical question. Though the "Ring" does not directly reference reincarnation, nonetheless when writing about the relationship of Wotan to Siegfried Wagner once spoke of Siegfried as being, in a sense, Wotan's reincarnation. Other than that, the only reference in the "Ring" libretto which might be construed as suggesting a desire to escape the cycle of rebirth is Wotan's cryptic remark to Erda in S.3.1 that he wished her to tell him how to stop a rolling wheel. In the "Ring," this can be construed as the rolling wheel of fate.

PH: However, considering that Wagner in Wotan created a character whom we have many reasons to believe was intended to represent Feuerbach's concept of godhead, namely, collective, historical man, Wotan can be said to be a part of every character in the "Ring," a point Donington made long ago. It is well known that in "Parsifal," a music-drama which owes something to Schopenhauer's emphasis on Buddhism and to some of Schopenhauer's sources on Buddhism read by Wagner, reincarnation or transmigration is central to the story. However, as in the "Ring," I believe that Wagner saw all inspired men and women of genius as in a sense reincarnate, as tapping into the same collective unconscious. The dead yet immortal heroes of Valhalla I see as virtually identical to the Grail knights, even those who have been ensnared by Klingsor. Wagner draws various parallels to the situation in Valhalla in the final days, to the situation of Monsalvat just prior to Parsifal's healing of Amfortas's previously unhealing wound. It is noteworthy that Wotan renounces Freia's golden apples of eternal youth (immortality), according to Waltraute.

P. 358: DB, recounting the musical events which transpire during the finale of "Twilight" (and thus of the "Ring"), says: "The orchestra is already celebrating the Rhinemaidens' recovery of the Ring and playing their "Hymn to the Gold' when Hagen hurls aside his weapons and plunges into the waters, roaring 'Back from the Ring!' The 'Curse' theme rings out over its last victim as the Rhinemaidens entwine Hagen in their arms and drag him into the depths to drown. The 'Curse' theme is in fact shorn off midway, its force destroyed forever by the Ring's final return to the Rhinemaidens. The waters retreat, and the 'Valhalla' theme, its inherent nobility transfigured as the leitmotive of the 'Rhinemaidens' Primal Innocence' and the one previously known as 'the Redemption of the World by Love' [PH: actually the so-called 'Glorification of Bruennhilde' as originally sung by Sieglinde in praise of Bruennhilde's intervention to save Sieglinde's as-yet-unborn child, Siegfried] swathe it in counterpoints and optimism. This optimistic title for the leitmotiv reflects the influence of Feuerbach, and signifies the fact that she has made the Ring safe forever with the Rhinemaidens, because no new Alberich can ever work the spell again. Perhaps in the end Wagner was not so wrong when he said that the meaning of 'The Ring' would become clear in a good musical performance."

PH: In spite of Alberich's warning to Hagen that, should Bruennhilde restore the Ring to the Rhinedaughters no power would ever be able to regain it, this doesn't mean that the entire cycle cannot repeat itself again from the beginning. Though Hagen is drowned, Alberich remains unaccounted for. In one version of the finale which Wagner chose to reject he had Alberich on the sidelines crying woe as the Rhinedaughters dragged Hagen along with their newly restored Ring into the depths to dissolve it and its curse. If my hypothesis is correct that the Ring actually represents the evolutionary gift of human consciousness, then its dissolution only implies a temporary end to reflective consciousness. The laws of nature, remaining the same, could reproduce the evolution of consciousness, given enough time, space, energy, and matter, to make it not only possible, not only probable, but necessary.

P. 359: DB: "... Wagner gives the last word musically to the 'Hero' theme, and to 'Bruennhilde's Glorification', soaring out on all thirty-two violins. It establishes that Bruennhilde is glorious; she has purged away all misunderstandings and imperfections, and the music affirms that she is a redemptive example to humanity of forgiveness, generosity, compassion, altruism and ultimately, real, true love. In the end it was she and not Siegfried who redeemed the world by her 'vital deed', by her returning the Ring to the Rhinemaidens, and her theme, 'the Glorification of Bruennhilde', brings 'The Ring' to its end. Perhaps in the end the conclusion does come very close to the idea once attributed to this music, 'The Redemption of the World by Love'. The end of 'The Ring' also sets the seal on the affirmations which have gradually gained force from the beginning, to the effect that whatever twilight and oblivion must eventually fall on human endeavor, it is still immeasurably significant. 'The Ring' as a whole is a compelling validation of human existence, a secular redemption. Simply to have lived life in all its richness and variety is an experience of such value that it is not negated by the fact that it must end. The prospect of it ending does create a degree of regret; yes, that is there in 'The Ring's' final eight bars; but it still establishes the conviction that to have lived life is an experience so worthwhile, that not even the prospect of total, eternal oblivion can detract from that worthwhileness."

PH: On the whole I agree, though I'm dubious that any sort of concrete redemption has been attained. Having the pride to acknowledge the bitter truth instead of seeking consolation in illusion is a sort of redemption, but certainly not remotely like the redemption imagined by the religiously faithful. I take the glory in the finale of the "Ring" to be Wagner's celebration of the "Ring" itself, that, in spite of everything else, Wagner triumphs through art. That is why Bruennhilde celebrates her figurative reunion with the dead Siegfried, because they live on again each time the "Ring" is performed.

(EDITED ON 5/10/2015)

Post Reply