Tag Archives: wagner

From Munich to Leipzig

For those of you concerned about my survival or at least ability to travel successfully between German cities, I have made it to Leipzig intact. Since my hotel charges the cost of a grande Early Grey for 1 h of internet, I am in Starbucks right now, enjoying their internet.

If it weren’t for the internet, I’d probably be in Coffe Baum, the second-oldest coffee shop in Europe, frequented in the past by Robert Schumann and Richard Wagner. Having already seen Bach’s church, the location of Wagner’s birthplace, and the opera house, I am shortly going to see Mendelssohn’s house and Schumann’s house before finding the Hauptbibliothek of Leipzig Uni to ensure that I can safely arrive tomorrow for work.

I do actually work whilst in these cities, worry not.

For example, yesterday I examined an entire manuscript in Munich. I’d have looked at it on Monday after I was finished with the other manuscript of which yesterday’s was the last part, but the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek doesn’t retrieve manuscripts in the afternoon. And, since Munich is allegedly the most northerly Italian city, I couldn’t even spend the rest of Monday afternoon in Museums — Italian museums being closed on Mondays.

Nonetheless, yesterday I read the whole manuscript.

All 1 page of it.

Then I visited the two open rooms of the Bavarian Museum of Egyptian Art — it is in the process of moving to Konigsplatz, where the museums of classical art are. So then I went there, and enjoyed the statuary in the Glyptothek and smaller items in the museum across the road whose name escapes me.

By and large I prefer sculptures to pottery, and the Glyptothek has some very fine examples, including a larger-than-life, drunken-stupor satyr the likes of which I’ve never seen and a statue of Domitian. No, wait, Nero. No, wait, Domitian. Oh, yes. Nero with his face changed into Domitian’s post-Damnatio Memoriae when every image and trace of that emperor was ordered destroyed.

The other one has some very fine objects, including a vessel with Dionysios going for a boat ride with dolphins surrounding him, and in the basement some fantastic, mindblowing Scythian gold.

Then, after sitting in Munich’s train station and reading the Saga of Hrafnkel the Priest of Frey, I took the train to Nürnberg (more easily pronounced in English: Nuremberg), then to Naumburg then to Leipzig, then a 20-min tram ride to my hotel.

And here I am. Tomorrow, work. Today, composers.

I timed this journey well, Leipzig being Wagner’s hometown and this being Wagner’s 200th birthday. Given my poverty, it’s probably best that I leave Saturday afternoon before the opening of Das Rheingold, right? No temptation to buy a ticket …

Not only may I be old, I may also be a music snob

Shortly after I posted yesterday’s piece about being a nearly-thirty-year-old living with undergrads, my fifth roommate appeared. Within fifteen minutes of arrival, he had hooked up his laptop to the speakers in the common area and cranked the music uber-loud. Then he disappeared.

This is the sort of thing of which I highly disapprove, regardless of the music. You could be cranking the Beatles or Tallis or Gordon Lightfoot or Puccini — if you’re absent, don’t make others listen to your music choice. It’s bad form.

But … well …

I’d be okay listening to the Beatles or Tallis or Gordon Lightfoot or Puccini.

But the monstrosity that Konrad unleashed.

I would never gladly listen to this.

And when my oppressor is not even present. So much worse.

And what is it that so offends my old, fuddy-duddy ears?

It’s electronic of some sort.

I mean, electronic music need not be bad. It’s come a long way since 1980s synth music. Some of it is not only tolerable but even pleasant.

But this.

It is repetitive with heavy bass. The same three bars are repeated over and over and over over and over and over over and over and over over and over and over over and over and over over and over and over over and over and over over and over and over over and over and over over and over and over over and over and over. And then a new three or maybe five bars are chosen.

And all of them have the exact same bass line, which is primarily what I hear. The tempo is always the same. The volume never varies. There is hardly anything worthy of the name ‘melody’, and what melody there is just repeats itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself itself.

I, on the other hand, after a while, when I washed my mug for the night and realised new flatmate’s lack of presence, shut the common room door and my bedroom door and retreated to my room.

Wagner — Parsifal mit Placido Domingo.

Well worth hearing.

Again and yet again then even, if I wish, again.

Note the variation in the repetition of the above.

Repetition with variation helps created meaning, helps keep the mind from numbing, dulling, screaming in agony, ‘Good Lord, will this hellish pseudo-music ever stop?!’

And Wagner — he’s the master of creative repetition, the king of the leitmotiv that runs through an entire opera, yet never gets stale. He even wrote an opera that never resolves until the very end. And when you consider how long Wagnerian operas are, that is impressive.

But beyond the leitmotivs, beyond the meaningful repetitions, are the many different voices, different tempos, different musical instruments, different volumes, different harmonies, different melodies that populate an opera, the richness of human voices combined with the vast variety of a symphonic orchestra.

It is magnificent without being what some people consider the aural assault of my friend Alessandro Striggio. It is exquisite like a diamond.

And even simpler music, such as Gregorian Chant, has more variety and beauty than that audible poo streaming from the stereo.

My hatred for this music was only increased, of course, at 3:00 AM when it awoke me. If this were Purgatory, I’d know it. Would that I were not stuck in the Inferno …

My name is Matthew. And I am an ageing music snob.


I just watched the third act of Siegfried tonight, having watched Acts 1 & 2 earlier in the week.  Siegfried is Wagner’s coming-of-age opera, wherein a young, brave warrior raised in the woods by dwarf slays a dragon and learns the meaning of fear when he encounters his first woman– Brunnhilde.

I enjoyed Siegfried’s encounter with Brunnhilde.  Look at the shiny armour.  It’s a man!  Here, I’ll take off his helm, it must be heavy.  Gee, that breastplate looks heavy, too.  This is not a man! And thus he is filled with fear at the sight of a woman.

I’ve never read any Wagnerian scholarship, so I may be off the mark on some of my observations, but very telling in this opera, this third act of the third act (Siegfried is the third of the four operas of the famous Ring Cycle), is Siegfried’s encounter with Wotan, Der Wanderer, his great-grandfather.  In this encounter, Siegfried shatters the Runestaff, which was both symbol and reality of Wotan’s power over the universe, as we had previously learned in Act 1 when Wotan tells Mime, the dwarf who raised Siegfried, all about it.

With the breaking of the runestaff comes the shattering of Wotan’s power.  We have learned already that this same staff when up against this same sword (Notung, which Siegfried reforged at the end of Act 1) on a previous occasion (Die Walkure) shattered the sword, leading to the death of Siegmund, Siegfried’s father.

How can Notung break the runestaff now?  All I can think of is the Ring.  Siegfried, having slain the dragon Fafnir, took the Ring of the Nibelung from Fafnir’s hoard in Act 2 (along with the Tarnhelm, of course — the Tarnhelm that had enabled Fafnir to turn into a dragon in the first place).

With the Ring, we were told in Act 2, Siegfried can rule the world.  And so the power of man rises as the power of the gods falls.  The gods diminish, as Wotan prophesied to the all-knowing Wala, Brunnhilde’s mother, at the beginning of the Act.

After Siegfried got over being afraid of Brunnhilde, he revived her with a kiss (true love’s kiss?).  Eventually, he convinces this shieldmaiden who has dropped her shield to drop the whole maiden bit as well.  With her loss of virginity will come Brunnhilde’s loss of power.  The gods diminish.

This diminishing of the gods is brought to these old myths by Wagner.  It is not present in the Nibelungenlied or Tolkien’s The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun.  From the synopsis I’ve read, it doesn’t seem to be in the Volsunga Saga, either.  The rise of man and the subsequent (necessary?) fall of the gods is Wagner’s 19th-century German humanism, not ancient or mediaeval heathenism.

Why need we have a Gotterdammerung?  Do the gods really need a twilight? Can man not rise without necessarily supplanting the divine?  I understand that the Gutrune story needs to be told, but it doesn’t mean twilight for the gods.  Rather, it means twilight for Siegfried and Brunnhilde.

I know that this theme of man’s rise vs. the gods exists elsewhere.  We see it in Zeus’ resistance to humanity gaining fire, to note the Classical example.  But could not humanity rise with the gods?  Could we not rise with the assistance of the gods?  (The Augustinian way.)  Or rise without their assistance but as a testimony to their power as the creators and sustainers of the universe?  (The Pelagian way.)