John Deathridge responds to Paul Heise re Deathridge's "Ring" translation

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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John Deathridge responds to Paul Heise re Deathridge's "Ring" translation

Post by alberich00 » Thu Jun 06, 2019 1:56 pm

Dear members and visitors to the discussion forum:

On 5/6/2019, John Deathridge responded to my 16 page commentary on his new translation of Wagner's "Ring" (published in 2018 by Penguin), already posted just below this posting in two parts, with the following 6 page set of answers to my questions. He gave me permission to post his remarkable and enlightening response in our discussion forum. He asked me to fully retain the integrity of his informal response to my questions, so I haven't attempted to interpolate his answers into my 2-part commentary on his translation. To see which questions of mine he's answering, it's only necessary to look up the page numbers of passages from his translation to which I addressed his questions, and then find the same page number which he provides in his response to my commentary. I can't thank him enough for the privilege of allowing me to share his extraordinarily informative answers to my many questions. Here's his response:

"Dear Paul

I'm now back from Germany and have been very happy – and really grateful – to read through your terrific response to my translation of The Ring.

Your instructive and elaborate interpretation of the score vis-à-vis Wagner's rehearsal remark before Brünnhilde's "Ewig war ich" makes good sense. It also underscores the general point I was trying to make in drawing attention to this moment in the rehearsals, namely that Wagner often found it necessary to demonstrate points of expression to his singers, even though the musical edifice of the score already clarifies them.

This is still a problem. With audiences too, as I've just noticed again with the group I've just lead to the Chemnitz Ring. How to get people to really grasp intuitively what's going on in the score? Not so easy: just naming motives in my view doesn't do it. But drawing attention to acoustical relations between motives, including simple oppositions like arpeggiated shapes and those moving by step, can help people a lot to hear how motives relate to each other. Listeners can pick up intentional reorderings of pitches in pitch groups (e.g. GCE turned into ECG at the respective endings of the Sword and Curse motives marking an inversion of meaning as well as musical shape) even if they can't read a musical score. And I continue to be amazed how well listeners can perceive more complex structural relations in the score as it is being performed (and hence important dramatic nuances as well) once they've been pointed out.

(To be fair to Wagner's singers: I stood in the covered orchestra pit in the Bayreuth Festival Theatre with my group just two weeks ago, and was reminded of how difficult it must have been to hear the orchestra well, quite apart from the fact that many, including Wagner, were hearing the orchestration of most of The Ring live for the first time. Hearing the orchestra from the stage still isn't easy, especially towards the back.)

On your specific points about the text.

[P. 98-99] Yes, it should be "hoard" in the last two instances. The first instance is ambiguous for me. The verb "entsteigt" - stepping out of - I found difficult to reconcile with a static "hoard". The implication is that it's an active group ("horde"); but it's not entirely clear. Trying to get the ambiguities into English... oh dear: a real nightmare in The Ring! I'll take another look ... Thanks for pointing this out.

[P. 303] I take "Schoß" to indicate protection - as in mother takes her child onto her knee (or lap). It's not logical for me to suggest that Brünnhilde is the "womb" of Wotan's wishes. She hasn't created them: he has. But she is the "protector" of his wishes, sees that they get out into the open, just as he is her "protector" - or rather has been. She is still the conduit of Wotan's wishes. The crux is that Wotan no longer protects her. Until that later (extraordinary) rehearsal instruction of Wagner's that Brünnhilde clasp Wotan's knees when she desperately demands his protection back. The meaning of "Schoß" as in taking one's child (back) onto one's knee is still in force. That's why I included Wagner's remark (p. 328-329). The tragic situation is dominated by a dialectics of protection: its presence and reversal. For me that's why the end of Walküre is so powerful: back in the lap of the god, so to speak - and yet not.

[P. 381] Yes: will be corrected in the paperback (out 3 Oct).

[P. 491] On the Erda/Wanderer confrontation: Adorno called the question scene in Act 1 of Siegfried a game of cat and mouse because the W. knows full well that Mime won't be able to answer the last question. I think this scene is set up in the same way. Erda tells the W. he is not who he says he is because she senses he's withholding a key point of the story (about Siegfried). He then tells her, ie, she has - unlike Mime - seen what he's up to. She also has (nearly) the last word. The W. dismisses her; but at the end of the whole cycle, the last two motives we hear belong to mother (Erda) and daughter (Brünnhilde). The W. is toast! Literally? As all the gods go up in flames...??

[P. 493] "they" refers to the other gods; as opposed to this god. Incidentally, Wagner made an interesting comment about this passage during a piano rehearsal in Bayreuth. Referring to the BIG theme (an ingenious and logical mix of arpeggiated and scalar formations incidentally) he referred to it as the advent of a "new religion". Not included in my translation, as it's about the score. But not without relevance to your interesting interpretation!

[P. 523] I don't quite agree with your reading of this. I think the opposition between abstract and literal is all over The Ring. (E.g when Wotan accuses Fricka of only be able to grasp things that happen in front of her eyes.) I'm assuming that Siegfried is calling himself a positivist, as he has been right from the start of the evening. Not one for abstract ideas... (if I were directing this, I'd be tempted to highlight the opposition by having Brünnhilde take a copy of Hegel's Phenomenologie des Geistes out from under her pillow and hold it aloft!) The difference is that intuitive pragmatic action about what is present is now a positive, not a negative, as in Fricka's case. New religion indeed ... Hegel turning in his grave. (I do NOT think, like Nietzsche and dear Roger Scruton, that The Ring is a quasi-Hegelian parable.) Your interesting argument about "redemptive art" - and I agree that that is what Wagner wanted this to be about - is in fact an argument for immediacy, presence NOT distance, or meditative inaction.

[P. 529] I think I'll stick with "treasure". Thinking of the presence of Brünnhilde's enthusiasm for S. To extrapolate too much outside of this moment may be overloading the dice .... The same with "fatuous hoard": she's over the top, out of this world, bordering on the facetious. Like saying: "this food is disgustingly gorgeous" - or "what a relief - he's just fabulously stupid". For me that is the tone of her speech - clear to me when you say it in German. Indeed, speaking the text aloud over and over in German to myself and to German-speaking friends helped me grasp its astonishing presence and vividness. Especially in this scene - its nuances and inner dialectics so often overlooked by directors and conductors. NOT a love duet, Wagner insisted. And he was right!

[P. 569] I'll stick with my reading, I think. Siegfried is restive from the start, and says himself he wants to escape the forest. Why would he venture along the Rhine as if he were mentally still inside its confines?

[P. 617] Hagen has been nowhere near the dragon, as far as we know. But Alberich has: in the first scene of Siegfried Act 2. He even gets into conversation with it! And doesn’t act. Alberich is referring to himself, surely, to what we, the audience, have actually witnessed.

[P. 659] “unwissend” is an adverb relating to “Zauberspiel” which Brünnhilde herself enacted. I don’t see that this has anything to do with Siegfried’s state of mind; but from Brünnhilde’s present point of view it obviously does. In other words, she’s saying: from what I know now about this violent, dangerous Siegfried, my actions then were (absurdly) innocent. If only I’d known … adding all the more force to her decision to be complicit in Siegfried’s murder.

Your attempt to extrapolate all this beyond the local (which translators have to think hard about if the text’s to make any kind of dramatic sense) is certainly interesting; and I’ll think about it further.

[P. 673-675] I think there’s no point in worrying too much about the internal logic of this scene. As is well known it’s basically taken from a moment in the Nibelungenlied with Hagen at its centre, whose death is predicted by the mermaids. Hagen is replaced by Siegfried, but “Alb” remains embedded; as do other strands from (Wagner’s) myth: woodbird, prey (Brünnhlide) in the mountain, Alberich returned to the Rhinedaughters (these two last little jokes, I think). The whole thing is constructed like a playful dream – disguising a deadly game of fate. But also the beginning of a terrifying recapitulation of past events in dreamlike form verging on nightmare (also musically) until the very end. A masterpiece of dramatic construction: a negative electrode, so to speak, that completes the Ring’s circuit.

[P. 693/695] Yes, I’ll go through horde/hoard and correct for the paperback edition. I was clearly getting punch-drunk. It was all anstrengend to get through production, for many reasons. But Penguin did a great job, despite my foibles!

In conclusion the Chemnitz Ring was variable: just amazing, really, that such a small house (slightly north of 700 seats) could do it at all. There were many interesting - not particularly feminist - ideas: Brünnhilde’s embalming of Siegfried’s body during the Funeral March was one of the best - and most moving. And there was some good singing from some young people, who are one day clearly going to be famous. The casting was uneven, though, and the orchestra tended to get tired towards the end of each evening. We – that is my tour group of 24 – had a personal tour of the house by the artistic director himself (Patrick Wurzer), which was fascinating. And it was a good contrast to our tour of the Bayreuth Festival Theatre (and Wahnfried) on the “free” day between Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. I'm still amazed that it's all still there.

Chemnitz is an interesting place in itself. I didn’t know it before. Among other things I was curious to see where Heinrich Porges first published his essays on the Ring rehearsals. And then there is that huge bust of Karl Marx in one of the town squares. Now under strict Denkmalschutz. Of course ….!

Thanks again Paul for your input. I do appreciate it.


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