4 Analytical Positions

The person who, in judging my music, divorces the harmony from the instrumentation does me as great an injustice as the one who divorces my music from my poem, my vocal line from the words!

( Wagner to Theodor Uhlig, 31 May 1852)

This chapter summarizes some of the more important trends in Wagner analysis, as a context for the ensuing discussion. It lays no claim to being a comprehensive survey of Wagner criticism; rather, it outlines the analytical methods with which, implicitly or explicitly, this book is in dialogue.


I. THEMATIC ANALYSIS

Thematic analysis in Wagner is inevitably bound up with the concept of the leitmotif. 'Leitmotif' may be defined as a recurrent musical idea which has been invested by its composer with semantic content. The concept, although not the name, goes back to Wagner himself.

In Part III of Oper and Drama, Wagner set forth his suggestions on how poetry and music might be combined to produce drama. The primary vehicle for dramatic expression is the singer's verse-melody (Versmelodie). A particular thought is announced by a particular verse of the poem. However, every thought is necessarily associated with some feeling or emotion; this emotion is expressed by the vocal melody to which the verse in question is set. Thus, in a verse- melody, the words express the conceptual idea or thought, while the melody expresses the emotion necessarily associated with that thought. The orchestra, however, is an independent element, which according to Wagner avoids the verse-melody itself but realizes its harmonic implications.

As a pure organ of the feeling, the orchestra possesses the ability to utter that which words alone cannot express. In this way, it is closely allied with the dramatic element of gesture (Gebärde). A gesture may accompany a verbal expression or be resorted to when words fail; in either case it expresses what words cannot. But to be effective, this gesture (whether or not associated with words) must

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Wagner's Das Rheingold
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Editor's Preface vii
  • Author's Preface ix
  • Contents xi
  • Abbreviations xiii
  • Structural Outline of Das Rheingold xiv
  • 1 - Preliminaries 1
  • 2 - The Documentary Sources 6
  • 3 - The Forging of the Text 25
  • 4 - Analytical Positions 45
  • 5 - The Opera as a Whole 59
  • 6 - Creatio Ex Nihilo: The Prelude 62
  • 7 - Scene One 87
  • 8 - First Transformation and Scene Two 127
  • 9 - Second Transformation and Scene Three 161
  • 10 - Third Transformation and Scene Four 181
  • II - Summary and Conclusion 215
  • Appendix Transcriptions from Wagner's Complete Draft 220
  • Works Cited 248
  • Index 255
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