Wintersturmer on potions in the "Ring"

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Wintersturmer on potions in the "Ring"

Post by alberich00 » Fri Oct 21, 2022 5:24 am

Dear Wintersturmer:

I’ve pasted your Ringish Query about Ring potions below so I can respond to it in boldface:

I have a Ringish query: there are two potions in the RIng: the draught of forgetfulness administered to incapacitate Siegfried in Twilight, and the sleep potion that Sieglinde slips to Hunding in Walkure.

Verily I say unto you, you omitted the sleep potion Mime tries to persuade Siegfried to drink so Mime can incapacitate him and cut off his bloody head, ho ho ho. And guess what:

“Mime: (H45 Frag?:) When he’s thought himself weary with the dragon, a drink may refresh him from his efforts (:H45 Frag?). (H29b Vari; H101 Vari [“Brünnhilde’s Magic Sleep” (based in turn on on Fafner’s motif Godhead Lost’s second segment H29b), which sounds like the Vari that accompanies Siegfried as he reaches the peak of the mountain where Wotan left Brünnhilde asleep, after breaking Wotan’s Spear and penetrating Loge’s ring of fire, in S.3.3]) From herbal juices I’ve gathered, I’ll brew a drink for him; (H101: [strongly emphasized!!!]) he’ll need to drink only very few drops (:H101 [strongly emphasized!!!]) before sinking, senseless, into sleep (:H29b Vari; :H101 [music from S.3.3]): (H56ab:) with the selfsame weapon he won for himself … I’ll easily clear him out of the way and attain both ring and hoard (:H56ab Vari).”

It’s clear from the strong emphasis Wagner places not only on Brünnhilde’s Magic Sleep Motif H101 here, but even on its origin in Fafner’s Godhead Lost Motif’s second segment H29b, in conjunction with Mime’s plot to drug Siegfried with a sleep potion so Mime can cut off his head and fall heir to his brother Alberich’s Hoard, Tarnhelm, and Ring after Siegfried has killed Fafner and obtained them unwittingly for Mime, that Wagner is equating Mime’s planned murder of Siegfried with Wotan’s intent that Siegfried should not only wake and win Wotan’s daughter Brünnhilde but in doing so fall heir to Wotan’s hoard of forbidden knowledge of the gods’ fated doom and of Wotan’s hope that a redeemer might save the day, which is the same as a death sentence since Siegfried will also thereby fall heir to Alberich’s Ring Curse. In the course of Siegfried Wagner identifies Wotan with Mime in numerous ways, including having Siegfried say to Wotan (the Wanderer) in S.3.2 that unless he shows Siegfried the way to Brünnhilde the Wanderer will meet the same fate Mime did.

And of course, it’s part of Wagner’s allegorical super-structure that though the Woodbird’s Song warns Siegfried about Mime’s murderous intent, Siegfried later unwittingly drinks Hagen’s (Mime’s nephew and agent of Alberich’s Ring Curse) Potion of Forgetting/Love when Gutrune offers it. The Woodbird’s song is Wagner’s metaphor for his own musical motifs of reminiscence and foreboding, which Wagner stated would tell us what his characters are thinking even if they’re not conscious of it. Note how the Woodbird tells Siegfried that thanks to Siegfried’s having tasted the dead Fafner’s blood Siegfried can understand the Woodbird’s Song in words but also hear what Mime is thinking even if Mime isn’t saying it. This is a perfect metaphor for the power of Wagner’s musical motifs to tell us his characters’ hidden motives.

Wagner employs the same Potion Motif H165 for Hagen’s original potion of Forgetting/Love which Gutrune offers to Siegfried, and Hagen’s Potion of Remembrance, the antidote to Hagen’s original potion, which grants Siegfried remembrance of what the first potion made Siegfried forget. The motival origin of the Potion Motif is one of Loge’s Motif H33 (Transformation) and the Tarnhelm Motifs H40AB, as well as Magic Fire H105.

The sleep potion Sieglinde gives Hunding, however, has no conceptual or allegorical significance. It’s just a sleep potion for an immediate purpose and has no metaphysical significance. That’s why Wagner doesn’t compose a specific motif for it and of course doesn’t integrate such a motif into his story. There is, however, some mysterious music heard while Sieglinde describes to Siegmund how she drugged Siegmund. I don’t know if anyone has researched its harmonic or motival content.

While I recognize the significance of the former to the Ring narrative and framework, I'm wondering if there is more to the sleep potion than a mere theatrical prop to move the plot along. It has no motif that I can discern, and it is not mentioned afterwards. Am I missing something? The potion as an allegory of the vulnerability of orthodoxy (Hagen) to reform/revolution (Walsung twins)? Walsungs getting the upper hand with a potion in Walkure, then being brought down with the same device in Twilight? Methinks that, sometimes, a cheroot is just a cheroot, and that  there is no thematic link between the two potions.

I don’t see any allegorical significance to Sieglinde’s use of a potion to drug Hunding so the couple can escape. But there is significance to the fact that Loge is able to gain a fateful advantage over Alberich by persuading him to show off the power of his Tarnhelm (Loge’s H33 produces the two Tarnhelm Motifs H40AB, which in turn, along with Loge’s Magic Fire H105, produce Hagen’s Potions of Forgetting/Love and Remembrance H165), so Loge can aid Wotan in dispossessing Alberich of his Ring, Tarnhelm, and Hoard. The significance of this lies in the fact that Hagen turns the tables on Wotan and his proxies by manipulating Siegfried (using his Potion of Forgetting/Love) into using the Tarnhelm to abduct Brünnhilde in Gunther’s guise. The significance of this is that the artist-hero Siegfried unwittingly reveals the secrets his unconscious mind and muse Brünnhilde knew for him (as his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration) by abducting her and giving her away to Gunther (Wagner’s metaphor for his audience), and by interpreting the Woodbird’s Song in words at Hagen’s behest for Siegfried’s audience of Gibichungs, to whom he sings the narrative of his heroic life and how he learned the meaning of the Woodbird’s Song. This narrative is, of course, Wagner’s metaphor for a performance of his own Ring of the Nibelung for his audience. Wagner stated that through his musical motifs of reminiscence and foreboding he granted his audience access to the profoundest secret of Wagner’s artistic aim, and in another remark elsewhere Wagner stated that for an authentic artist the meaning of his art may be as much a mystery as for his audience. The point is that Siegfried/Wagner is revealing things about his own art to his Gibichung audience which had remained a mystery for Siegfried himself, since his unconscious mind and muse Brünnhilde knew for him what he didn’t know (being the safe repository of Wotan’s confession to her of thoughts he dare not speak aloud, i.e., consciously, but could only be spoken as musical motifs).

The key to all this is that Brünnhilde was a symbol for Wagner of the special music of his revolutionary music dramas (including in particular his musical motifs of reminiscence and foreboding, of which the Woodbird’s Song is a particular metaphor) which knows for the characters what they don’t know about themselves, but which reveals this to Wagner’s audience.
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