Saturday, October 13, 2007
Wagner commenced work on Die Meistersinger von Nuernberg in 1861 and it eventually premiered in 1868.
Outwardly the work is a comedy but within it are contained great esoteric truths.
Nuernberg, the home of the sacred lance of Longinus and the future sacred centre of the Third Reich is the setting for the work with special emphasis placed upon the ancient guilds and the song contests held by them. The Mastersingers[Meistersinger] were in the direct line of tradition of the Minnesingers and Troubadours.
The Guild of Mastersingers had three degrees or grades of membership:
The annual Trial Contest was held on St John`s Eve or the day of the sacred summer solstice.
The harp was the symbol of the Mastersinger. Corinne Heline in her excellent and penetrative Esoteric Music relates this symbol back to King David but the harp also has an association with the ancient Celtic druidic order and I feel that this is a more appropriate link.
The Mastersingers of Nuernberg traced their origins to Heinrich von Meissen`s Society of Minstrels in Mainz. Dissensions within the society led to the setting up of the breakaway Nuernberg guild.
Wagner used genuine material from Hans Sachs within the work.
The main characters within the music drama are:
Hans Sachs-shoemaker and leader of the Guild of Mastersingers in Nuernberg and aspires for the hand of Eva.
Walter von Stolzing-the hero,young knight, the creator of a new artwork and candidate for Mastership within the Song Contest.
Pogner-goldsmith and second in importance to Hans Sachs and the father of Walter`s love interest, Eva.
Eva-represents the Divine Feminine and Walter`s muse.
Beckmesser-town clerk, a member of the Guild and love rival to Walter.
David-apprentice to Hans Sachs and aspiring to the grade of Companion and the hand of Magdalena.
Magdalena-David`s love interest and nurse to Eva.
The opening scene of Act 1 is 16th century Nuernberg and the Church of St Katherine.
The young knight and stranger to town, Walter von Stolzing after the morning service makes enquiries about a lady that has caught his eye and discovers that she is Eva, the daughter of the goldsmith Mastersinger Pogner. He also learns that Pogner will give the hand of his daughter to the winner of the song contest to be held the following day.
However as he is only of the second degree, a Companion he does not qualify for entrance to the contest and must first seek to be initiated in the third degree, the degree of Master.
Following Pogner`s official announcement in the gathered assembly of the Guild that he will offer the hand of his daughter to the winner Walter requests consent to enter the contest and this is granted to him but he must first pass the trials set by the Mastersingers and this occupies the rest of Act 1.
Walter`s style is very far from the staid traditions of the Guild and it is poorly received. Only Hans Sachs recognises the innovative genius of Walter.
In a sense Hans is a rival to Walter for the hand of Eva and being leader of the Guild he represents tradition, the old. Walter represents the new, the ever changing creative spirit.
Wagner clearly must have associated himself intimately with Walter as both represented the pioneering spirit of creative genius and both in their day were rejected by the establishment.
Only after the death of Wagner was his genius fully appreciated and did he receive the esteem that was his due.
The scene of Act 2 is a street in Nuernberg and we are shown the pretentious house of Pogner and the more humble abode of Sachs. David lives with Sachs as his apprentice. This was the normal custom at that time for the apprentice to share the home of their Master.
Sachs thought of Walter`s performance "No rule would fit it, yet it was faultless. "
He declared that it was "filled with ancient truths that seemed so new, like songs of birds in Springtime."
Magadelena tells Eva of Walter`s failure at the trials but she is confident of Sachs` support although it would cost him the hand of the fair Eva.
Walter, convinced that he will not succeed to the degree of Master attempts to persuade Eva to elope with him.
The bigotted and spiteful Beckmesser represents the old. He is a slave to an outworn tradition, spiteful and deceitful. He places himself in direct opposition to Walter. It is he who was responsible for the poor marking of Walter`s performance during the trials for his Mastership.
He has no comprehension of the inner creative and divine spirit. He serves the outer form only, a materialist par excellence.In this Act Beckmesser attempts to serenade Eva, unaware that it is Magdalena that appears before the window.
The cacophony of sound produces an uproar in the street and David thinking that Beckmesser is attempting to seduce his own love interest Magdalena begins to beat the despised Beckmesser.
This is one of the most humourous and lighter moments within the work.
Sachs dissuades Walter from running away with Eva for it is a requirement for initiation into any higher grade that one places the demands of the spirit before and above that of the flesh.
The opening scene of Act 3 finds us in Hans Sachs` workshop early in the morning where he is seated in his armchair reading The Chronicle of the World.
He is in a meloncholy mood. His despair leads him into the aria "Wahn! Wahn! Ueberall Wahn!"
[Mad! Mad! The whole world is mad!]
At this point Walter bursts upon the scene and relates a dream that he has had.
Sachs then relates to him the need for inspiration to have a form, not necessarily a dead and outworn form no longer fit for the purpose but that the aspiring Master should create his own form, his own rules, not those imposed upon him by a lower humanity.
Again we see Wagner projecting his own experiences upon the character of Walter.
Was it not Wagner who singlehandedly revolutionised music within the 19th century?
Sachs tells Walter that a Master Song may only be created when inspiration is drawn down from a higher source rather than from passion or base instincts.
In the ancient Aryan world the Initiates only sang of their spiritual experiences, often communicated to them in their dreams.
The Song Contest has arrived and it is Midsummer Day, the day when we are most alive to the divine realms of existence.
Walter`s Dream Song has three parts to it that represent the three degrees of initiation. The last part of the song which is concerned with highest degree cannot be rehearsed in public but must be reserved for the Song Contest due to its sacred nature.
Eva arrives in her bridal robes and Walter sings all three parts of his Prize Song and Sachs summoning David and Magdalena as witnesses proposes a form of baptism, `Baptism of the New Mode`. Sachs serving as godfather and Great Teacher and Eva as godmother and Divine Femine confer upon Walter the degree of Master and the prize of Eva, his bride. David, Sachs` disciple is raised to the degree of Companion. Magdalena typifies his feminine principle, his anima as Eva is the divine anima of Walter. Both couples are joined, integrated. The animus and anima become one, a new and whole person.
The concluding Song Contest is held in a meadow on the outskirts of Nurnberg.
Walter impresses the 12 masters, wins the contest and formally the prize of Eva`s hand.
Beckmesser had stolen material from Walter but despite his plagiarising of the material he produces only discordant sounds.
The penultimate words of Die Meistersinger are most poignant:
Ehrt Eure deutschen Meister,
dann bannt Ihr gute Geister!
Und gebt Ihr ihrem Wirken Gunst,
zerging` in Dunst
das heil`ge roem`sche Reich
und bliebe gleich
die heil`ge deutsche Kunst!
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Der Fligende Hollaender[The Flying Dutchman] was inspired by a hazardous sea voyage that Wagner undertook in 1839 from the Prussian port of Pillau to London onboard a vessel called the Thetis.
A violent sea storm forced them to seek refuge in a Norwegian fjord near the fishing village of Sandwiken. It is this experience and the tale of the Flying Dutchman that gave him the inspiration to write the poem and eventually compose the librtto and music.
The music drama premiered in Dresden on 2nd January 1843.
The poem tells the story of a Dutch sea captain who was destined to sail the oceans until death liberated him but death was only dependant on the salvation wrought by the pure love of a woman.
Every seven years he was permitted to land and go ashore and each time he was disappointed, not finding the pure love and thus the salvation which would liberate him from his curse of eternal existence.
What brought about the curse was his defiance of divine will when he found his ship obstructed by adverse gales at the Cape of Good Hope he swore to finish his course `though all hell should try to stop him.`
One is reminded of the journies of Odysseus in Homer`s epic and the tale of the Wandering Jew.
Act 1 of the music drama is titled The Coming of the Phantom Ship.
This opening act convets the brooding atmosphere of the Phantom Ship and her ghostly Captain and crew adrift on the stormy sea, a strange black craft with red sails.
This is contrasted with the vision of another ship, captained by a Norwegian, Daland the father of Senta, the heroine in the story. His crew is happy and singing jovially. The contrast between the two could not be any starker than it is.
Act 2, The Recognition has its setting in the home of Senta and Daland who await the return of his ship. With her are some maidens and they are busy in the act of spinning. This is significant and I am reminded of the The Three Norns of Germanic myth who are featured in the Prologue of Goetterdaemmerung. Are they busy spinning the fate of the Dutchman?
During this act we encounter Senta`s suitor Eric who receives rejection from Senta who is patiently waiting for the arrival of the Dutchman whom she has seen in her dreams. She has come to the realisation that her role in life is to liberate the Dutchman from his long period of suffering and through her love provide his release from earthly existence which has become through endless cycles of existence a torment to him. Through his youthful presumption and defiance of divine will he is tied to an earthbound existence. Corinne Heline in her wonderful Esoteric Music interprets the 7 year cycles as seperate reincarnations of the earthbound soul.
Also during this Act Senta and the Dutchman meet for the first time.
Their mutual recognition is reminiscent of the first meeting of the lover twins Siegmund and Sieglinde, the Volsungs[see Scene 2 of Act 1 of Die Walkuere].
In Act 3 -The Immortal Pact there is again a contrast between the ghostly ship of the Dutchman and the happy singing and celebrations occuring on the deck of Daland`s vessel. A strange blue light is seen hovering over the Phantom Ship.
Senta sings to Eric "I must no longer think of thee for a higher duty calls." Turning to the Dutchman she sings "Thy bitter sorrow shall have an end. Tis I whose love shall bring thee thy redemption."
The Dutchman reveals his identity and bids her to remain behind and seek earthly happiness for her sacrifice will mean the end of her earthly existence. He then departs on his ship without her leaving Senta behind, who is restrained by Eric and her father.
However she manages to free herself from their grasp and as the Phantom Ship puts out to see throws herself off a high cliff into the waters below, crying, "My life is nothing to me unless thou be redeemed."
Senta`s act of renunciation of life brings an end to the Dutchman`s tortured existence. He is liberated by an act of selfless love from a woman. This motif is to be found in many of Wagner`s works and I am particularly reminded of Bruennhilde`s self-immolation at the close of Act 3 of Goetterdaemmerung.
Clearly Senta represents the anima that the Dutchman has been restlessly seeking throughout the storms of life and almost endless reincarnations. The union of the anima and animus has thus led to his release from the cycle and entry to a higher existence in the divine.