Monday, May 29, 2006


With all the Parsifal lately, I have been trying again to make some sense of the thing.

What the hell is it about Parsifal? One can see Tristan in it, and the Ring, and even Lohengrin for that matter. Yet there is something else so terrible and fascinating all at once. The music is the noise of the yoke around all of our necks. The sound of our horrible little existence ringing clear. I daresay there are times when I have to turn it off just to maintain an even keel.

Case in point, has music as excruciating as Kundry's in the second Act ever been written elsewhere? Somehow Wagner manages to infuse every pleasurable sound with poison, every interval with a dark underbelly, every climax becomes imperfect and rotten.

And what of the final redemption? It takes the form of the Christian redemption, yes, but Wagner strips the act of every shred of triumph usually attributed to it. All the trumpets and hosannas fall away, and we are left with the simplest indication that amidst so much pain, and wandering, there is indeed the possibility that wounds can be healed. It isn't optimism, it is simply a statement of fact.

I have had moments in the last month where the score has suddently evoked the same feeling of chills one gets in the most foreboding pieces of science fiction, say, the first Alien movie. That's not to say that Alien is the same work of art that Parsifal is, of course. But there is that same same sense of dread in the pit of one's stomach that an unknown universe is revealing itself. That a truly novel world, with rules you have yet to comprehend, is in your presence, and that it is entirely possible that this is your world after all.


Virginia Tech Piano Lit said...

Wonderful way of putting it; a new universe is indeed exposed in the final scene of Parsifal. I think the phrase that always pops into my mind when I hear the last scene is "bathed in the light knowledge," although I'm not sure how apt that is, unless we equate knowledge with redemption.

Anonymous said...

There's really something about that big tour around the circle of fifths (plagally) at the end that just melts your brain, ain't it? I've spent a surprising amount of my life already with Parsifal, and after seeing it twice in two productions in 10 days on top of all the studying, it feels seared permanently into my brain.

Chalkenteros said...

I like your remarks -- for all the supposed triumphalism, there is something very dark and sinister from the very first hesitating crescendo, as if to suggest: THIS is what your idiot prince will bring you: certain wounds will be healed, but OTHER wounds will be inflicted and continue to fester. I don't know that Wagner wanted us to hear the opera this way, though the ritualism and the springtime setting certainly suggest that kind of cyclical interpretation. Though Wagner's probably would have been the more postitivist interpretation. But it's hard not to listen to the opera more cynically, esp. in light of the 20th century and -- thus far at least -- the 21st century.