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Richard Wagner and the Nibelungs (Oxford. Wagner himself remarked on them several times in his conversations. jidfreks Saga). HAUER The majornarrativesources of Der Ring des Nibelungen are well known and documented. Heimskringla. later revised and published as Der Ring des Nibelungen: Eine Studie zur Einfiihrung in die gleichnamige Dichtung Richard Wagners (Leipzig. trans. p. was amazingly well informed in virtually every aspect of Nibelung literature. 1991). which he knew in the translation of FriedrichHeinrich von der Hagen (1815) and which he borrowed from the royal library in Dresden. a promising study of Wagner's contemporary German sources. Some of the research for this essay was conducted under the auspices of a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar at New York University. Untersuchungen zur deutschen Heldensage. Jacob Grimm. printed in Selected Letters of Richard Wagner. six medieval and four modern. Friedrich Heinrich von der Hagen. trans. of the Volsunga Saga and Wilkina.und Niflunga Saga (i. and has often been reprinted since. 20. has just been published as this essay goes to print. Certainly to Wagner the most important work from this list was the thirteenth-century Vilsunga Saga. The ten works listed there are Lachman. prose works. The fullest such statement was enclosed in a letter from Wagner to Franz Miulleron 9 January 1856. 'The "Zettelchen" of Wagner's source list was first published in Skizzen und Entwiirfe zur Ring-Dichtung.. A facsimile of the slip appears in the program booklet of the 1988 Bayreuth Walkiire. though not a professional scholar. and trans. the Eddas (both poetic and prose). and correspondence.e. 12 November 1851. there he listed ten works. 2See Wagner's letter to Theodor Uhlig. for Wagner. ed. and Das deutsche Heldenbuch. there he asks Uhlig to borrow the volume from the Dresden library and post it to him in Switzerland. 1990.' To these 19th-Century Music XV/1 (Summer 1991). Die deutsche might be added fairly easily another dozen titles. Wilhelm Grimm. Otto Strobel (Munich. Der Nibelunge Not und Klage and Zu den Nibelungen. of Snorri Sturluson. also thanks to Ulrich Mtiller of the Universitdit Salzburg for providing me with copies of program booklets from Bayreuth. pp. Elizabeth Magee. 232-33. In the same year (1956). and Mohnike. ? by the Regents of the University of California Press. Deutsche Mythologie. ed. 1930). Mone. 52 . Ober die sagengeschichtlichen Grundlagen der Ringdichtung. Muiller privately printed the first study of the Ring and its sources. 1862). Stewart Spencer and Barry Millington (New York. I wish to thank Robert Bailey of New York University for his generosity with both his time and his extensive library of Wagneriana.2 V61sungaSaga provided Wagner with the overall plot-line of the Wdilsungdy- Heldensage.Wagner and the V61ospdt STANLEY R. 1987).
. I hope to demonstrate. Wagner was not the first to write a Nibelung drama. 261. Islandica (Ithaca and London. Fouques "Held des Nordens. of the fifty or more Nibelung dramas written in German from the Renaissance to the present day. 43. like a diamond in an elaborate setting. Der Schatz des Drachentodters (Stuttgart.. The Legend of Brynhild. Das Nibelungenlied in Deutschland (Munich. 1977). 9See Holger Schulz. vol. and his murder motivated by the comparatively feeble device of a quarrel between the wives of Siegfried and Gunther over first place in a court procession. good introductions are provided by Andreas Heusler. Wagner's Prose. Dortmund." Indeed. did I recognize the possibility of making him [Siegfried]the hero of a drama. HAUER Wagner and the V6lospd 3A fornaldarsaga (pl. 1955). 1907). and generally shaping the diffuse form of the fornaldarsaga into a coherent. and trans. pp. Siegfried's adultery is prudishly suppressed. Wagner chose the more remote Norse recension which retains elements of a primitive origin. Der Nibelungenstoff auf dem deutschen Theater (Cologne.that is. a narrative which he redeveloped extensively. German]Sagas. which Wagner never mentions. (London. expanding there. 1972). 247-59. Now for the first time. Nibelungensage und Nibelungenlied (5th edn.of the two traditions.6 And in 1844 Friedrich Theodor Vischer had proposed the Nibelung legends as an ideal subject for a national opera. And more specifically. pp. STANLEY R. 2 (New York. whereas in southern Germany. 25-27. My studies thus bore me.- Of course. I.. But two other distinctions of the Ring are not accounted for by this explanation. Andersson. and Theodore M. Julian Hirsch. 4The scholarly literature on the development of the Siegfried and Nibelung stories is vast indeed.nasty. 5Richard Wagner's Prose Works. He wrote in his 1851 autobiographical essay Eine Mitteilung an meine Freunde: In the ardour to discover what thing it was that drew me so resistlessly to the primal source of old home [i. are attributable to Wagner's knowledge and use of the Poetic Edda. that great collection of Viking verse whose literary quality he imitates so successfully in the Ring dramas. 7Ernest Newman. These characteristics. III.9 Thus much of the distinctive character of the Ring poem can be explained by Wagner's use of Northern narrative sources. Wagner's choice was for the more rigorouseven if the less familiar ." Seine Quellen und seine Komposition (Berlin. William Ashton Ellis. 1910). 21-30. The Life of Richard Wagner... 357-58. Wagner could have known the Poetic Edda through any of five German translations: in 6Ellis. 8 vols. Wagner acknowledges his acquaintance with the drama Der Nibelungen Hort (produced 1828) of Ernst Raupach. abundance in detail. 8Friedrich Panzer. especially Vdlsunga Saga.7 But the only pre-Wagnerian Nibelung drama or opera derived from Norse rather than German sources is Fouqud's trilogy Der Held des Nordens (180810). right down to their foundation in the old-Germanic Mythos. and lexical intricacy.3 Moreover. I shall argue that the overall structure of the Ring and its cosmological framework are derived from the opening poem of the eddic collection. -sogur) is a long Norse tale in prose concerning a mythological Germanic hero.4 In the Northern recension. and (2) the cosmology or world-myth with which Wagner surrounds the Siegfried story. In the Epilogischer Bericht to the Ring poem published in 1871. the Vdlospd. I drove step by step into the deeper reaches of antiquity. namely (1) the richness of the textual fabric of the Ring poems . a prior relationship between Siegfried and Brtinnhilde is frankly acknowledged. and Werner Wunderlich. thematically significant drama. Otfrid Ehrismann. their distinctive metrical form. through the legends of the Middle Ages. 1937). Another fornaldarsaga that treats the story of Siegfried is Nornagests adttr.e. 53 . 1980). vol. pp. the choice of Vdlsunga Saga is important in that it represents Wagner's deliberate break with the well-known German version of the Siegfried story as represented in the Nibelungenlied. ed. Though the stories they tell may be early. most are derived from Nibelungenlied and the southern German recension. at least when compared with the courtly Nibelungenlied. even though internal evidence indicates that he knew and even borrowed from it in the Ring..a possibility that had not occurred to me while I only knew him from the medieval Nibelungenlied.. 1892-99). also. "Richard Wagner und Fouqud. 12501350)." lahrbuch des freien deutschen Hochstifts (Frankfurt. for example. the fornaldarsogur are among the last of the sagas to be written down (ca. 1975). Instead of the familiar German account. condensing here. .
g. would readand recite them aloud to friends. ed. scalm6ld. from the Ring are from the 1863 text and 14Quotations have been compared with the Dover scores for accuracy. Die Edda: Die dltere und iiingere (Stuttgart. made up.Ettmiiller (1837). For a full discussion of Germanic meters and their history. Der Stabreimvers in Richard Wagners "Ring des Nibelungen. (New York. it seems.or Simrock (1851)." Germanische Studien 30 (Berlin.17 This is his own poetic license. More often. Karl Simrock. rpt. like that from the Vdlospai quoted in the note above. though its 1851 publication date prohibited its use in the early stages of the drafting of the Ring poems. "Die Sprachliche Form der Dramen. deyia froendr. with intro.: Deyr fe. 419.10 Wagner became person- ally acquainted with Ettmiiller (known jocuin Zurich. as in this example from the Volospd: scildir ro klofnir scegg6ld. trans. Lieder der ilteren oder Sdmundischen Edda (Berlin. 666. in several direct borrowings or parallelisms. before his exile and flight to Switzerland in 1849. and continued (as Cosima Wagner'sdiaries make clear) to read them even into later life.which he explains in a brief preface(pp. III. von der Hagen (1812). Virtually everything Wagnerunderstood (orat times misunderstood) about Old Norse metrics comes from Ettmiiller. of two half-lines. the BrothersGrimm (1815). 263. 1962). he knew them well. 2 vols. 1842-49 (Wiesbaden.14 The famous . which Wagnerjustified so fully in the third part of Oper und Drama. 1851). so that he employs indiscriminately the two-stress halflines of fornyr6islag and the three-stress lines of lij6ahdittr without regardto their distinctive use in Old Norse and in Ettmiiller. Quatrains in ljo6ahdttr.g. "For example. 54 ." in Richard-Wagner Handbuch. in turn. stanzas (normally quatrains) of four-stress full lines. I.." the primary eddic meter. This is the only translation from which Wagner borrowed directly. '5Hermann Wiessner.16 That Wagner was unaware of this fact casts no dispersion on his scholarship. see. Wagner must have turned to von der Hagen and Simrock-especially. is attributable directly to Ettmifller's translation. pp. Geoffrey Skelton. but ratherupon that of his master. Ettmiller. deyr siAlfr it sama. Nevertheless. 1967). 667. 345. the latter-for the other texts. the head-stave is ignored in Wagner: "Traurig sag3ich / wdihrend sie tranken. Gustav Neckel and Hans Kuhn (Heidelberg. Sometimes. 'OSee Curt von Westernhagen. if only by coincidence. also Peter Branscombe. his rejection of stanza form.12 He saw much to admire in these eddic poems. Richard Wagners Dresdener Bibliothek.He possessed the first three of these in the librarywhich he accumulated in Dresden. 1956). however. head-staves do carry their proper function in Wagner's alliterative couplets of the Ring: "Der Minner Sippe / sagf hier im Saal" (though in Norse prosody the final stress-here Saal-would not alliterate except in special circumstances).13 I The Edda influenced the textual and poetic qualities of the Ring in three primary ways: in verse form. Die Lieder der Edda von den Nibelungen (Zurich. both from 1829. 73. Wagner's Prose. ed. Wagner's other major divergence from true eddic meter. 1812).and controversial- Stabreim of the Ring poem. 13Cosima Wagner's Diaries. "6Thehead-stave is the third stressed syllable in a full metrical line. 186-89. the epilogue to the Ring poem cited above.11He seems not to have used the translations of Legis or Studach. however. consisted of 17Fornyrdislag. von der Hagen. the head-stave which determines the alliteration of the entire long line. 865. e. but since this contains only the Nibelung poems. Citations (by stanza numbers) from the Poetic Edda are from Edda: Die Lieder des Codex Regius nebst verwandten Denkmdlern. Lexical similarities suggest that the translation with which Wagner was most familiar was Ettmiiller's.19TH CENTURY MUSIC chronological order. 1924.ix-xiv). Most notable is Wagner'signorance of the primacy of the hbfudstafr. is his own deliberateinvention. see Winfred P. 1837). 1986).'" Though Ettmtiller was not the first modern German writer to employ a Norse style Stabreim (this distinction belongs to Fouque). The Development of Germanic Verse Form (Austin. since Wagner made numerous changes in his poems while setting them. The textual parallels with EttmiUller will be discussed below. e. contained alternating lines of four and three stresses. Martin Gregor-Dellin and Dietrich Mack. 1978-80). ed. Simrock's translation became standard in the second half of the century and was certainly Wagner's preferred text in later life. larly to his friends as "Eddamiiller") and he mentions Simrock's translation in later prose works. and in Wagner's new attention to language. his translation was the first to do so from a set of principles (basedon the work of Danish philologist Rasmus Rask). Lehmann. 12Ernst Moritz Ludwig Ettmiiller.Majer(1818). Ulrich Miller and Peter Wapnewski (Stuttgart. Ellis. 1966).
is derivative of Oinn's proverbialutterances in the eddic Hdvamdl. etymologies. 8. and neologisms is unprecedented. for the Ring poem reveals a sensitivity to words that is new in Wagner's corpus. His abundant use of alliterative doublets. goat to Donner. p. 321. were without great exaggeration that there is hardly a poem in the eddic collection lacking some sort of Wagnerianparallel. I Saw the World End: A Study of Wagner's Ring (London. puns. it might be said as his brotherWilhelm's somewhat less heavyweight Deutsche Heldensage (1829). act I. 14 January 1871. But the third. both in the poems themselves and in the secondary sources (most notably the books of JacobGrimm) that he used to assist in comprehending them. There is simply nothing in the texts of Wagner's previous operas. many of which concern the Nibelung cycle and are thus analogues to the important Vilsunga Saga." noting that the Mythology "does indeed open up to one an entire world. with their emphasis on the etymology and explication of Germanic names and words. Wagner's knowledge of Grimm's Mythology was so keen that even in seemingly minor details. as in the four beasts that Hagen instructs the vassals to slaughter for the gods (G6tterddmmerung. sc. Furtherinstances of Wagner's use of the Edda could be adduced almost ad infinitum. sc.18 Equally clear is the resemblance between the dialogue of Siegfried and the dying Fafnerwith the Old Norse Fdfnismdal. His own Dresden library (half of which was devoted to medieval literature and history). 1822) and Deutsche Mythologie (1835). The Ring is heavily indebted to Jacob Grimm for the distinctive German character which Wagner imparts to his Norse sources. those of others from whom he borrowed. Wagner sought in the corpus of Scandinavian literature the clues to reconstruct the relics of a lost German national past. Der Stabreimvers. Like Grimm. virtual encyclopedias of cultural. when the Wanderer and Mime wager their heads in a contest of knowledge. 3). A notable example is the dialogue in Siegfried. The awakening of Briannhilde in Siegfried. HAUER Wagner and the Volospa most obvious being the Vaffrudnismdl. I Saw the World End. Wagnermade himself a master of Norse eddic mythology. motif. influence of the Poetic Edda upon the Ring's literary quality is in Wagner'snew attitude toward language. 109. a result of Wagner'sstudy of the Edda and the cultural and linguistic substratum that he uncovered there. from Die 18Wiessner. all promoted his intellectual development in Germanic studies. Moreover."20 In fact. as described by Grimm: an ox to Wotan. Certainly among the most crucial of such influences were the works of Jacob Grimm. But Wagneralso knew the G6tterlieder. as well STANLEY R. Grisse.act II. the Feen through Lohengrin. I. and sheep for Fricka. 75. See also Deryck Cooke. much of the plot of Der Ring des Nibelungen is virtually inconceivable in its present form without this vital eddic source. There are numerous parallels to this scene in the Gdtterlieder of the Edda. These mythological and literary studies. During his Dresden period and the early years in Zurich. in which Wagner quotes almost directly from Ettmifiler. both in this scene and indeed throughout the opera. the opening poems of mythological lore. Dr. which O6inn wins by posing a question answerable only by himself. whose groundbreaking Deutsche Grammatik (1818. and mythological lore. Wagnerians have concentrated mostly on the latter half of the Codex Regius collection. This revaluation of the lexicon is. royal librarianin Dresden. In short. Even many years later. and the acquaintance of such scholars as Ettmiiller in Zurich. and philologist Samuel Wehrs in Paris. 1979). and perhaps the most interesting. or theme. literary. Wagnerstill praised Grimm's "incomparable achievements.Secondly. the Poetic Edda is the direct source for a number of specific scenes in the Ring. opened for Wagner an entirely new realm of lexicon em- 20Cosima's Diaries. boar to Froh. Indeed. I propose. 55 . is certainly the most famous. 19Cooke. a similar contest between a disguised Oinn and a giant. act III. the sacrifice is in each case the appropriateone. p. p.19 Understandably. that prepares the listener for the astonishing lexical richness of the Ring poems. the parallel passages have been cited by generations of Ring source-hunters. 3. the so-called Heldenlieder. linguistic. the gnomic quality of the Wanderer's speeches.
3. Wagner's Prose. My Life. and the latter suitably bellicose: Grimgerde ("bloody spear"). 1983). 1883). and His Music (New York."21 The acid pen of Robert Gutman writes. Mary Whittall (Cambridge. such as those of the Rhine-daughtersand Valkyries. There is. "Die Sprachliche Form. 1939).29 The change of the familiar Wodan to Wotan recalls the etymological connection (bolsteredby Grimm) between the name of the chief god and one of his primarycharacteristics."26 Peter Branscombe is surely correct when he remarks that "Wagner'sfacility with words. Frohwalt ("ruledby happiness").Wehwalt ("ruledby sorrow"). and any student of Wagner's linguistic ability and knowledge of Grimm's Grammarcould make at least some sense of it. This claim has often been denied when biographers cite Mein Leben: "To the extent that it was pos- in a dual-languageedition of Norse and German (about which more later). "Throughouthis life he was a wretched linguist. p. English. "just as in languages the transmutation of a single sound forms two apparently quite diverse words from one and the same original. 29It is interesting to compare Wagner's practice in onomastics with that of the early Middle Ages. the language is not particularly difficult. only Siegrune ("victory-rune") and Brtinnhilde ("she who fights in armor") are from the Edda. 94. 1978). using von der In the autobioHagen's translation as a crib. read Middle High German and could do so before he wrote Tannhduser in 1842-43.etc. then. The Old Germanic Principles of Name-Giving (Baltimore. is based on the feel for language of a born philologist. Gutman. the onomatopoeic "Weia!Waga!"is taken from the Middle High German heilawdic. that in this passage Wagner is pulling the good professor's leg. Moreover."27 This acquaintance. Wut ("wrath"). Woglinde ("she who turns back the waves"). 19. and Italian. without fluent knowledge of the Scandinavian languages. Helmwige ("helmet-warrior"). at various points in his life and education. be- 26Ellis.CENTURY MUSIC 19TH phasizing the interdependence of language and its past. 268. I tried to get to know the Eddas as well as the prose fragments comprising the basis for large parts of these [Nibelung] legends. One suspects. pp. however. act III. Wagner: A Biography. 1968." p. Curt von Westernhagenbrings forth persuasive evidence that "Wagner must have acquired a good enough command of Old Norse to be able to understand the original texts. Wellgunde ("wavebattler"). p.'"23 graphical passage.the Wahnfried library contained Ettmiiller's Altnordisches Lesebuch and Wimmer's Altnordische sible. both in sound and sense: Flosshilde ("fin-fighter"). Consider. 22Robert W.24 Nor did he allow his studies in me- dieval German to lapse.28 Siegmund's various appellations for himself reveal a similar facility: Friedmund ("guardian of peace"). rpt. Wagnercame to be fluent in Frenchand. and likewise the etymologically apt pun in Die Walkiire. Wagner almost casually reveals his knowledge of the First Germanic Sound Shift (the familiar "Grimm's Law" that explains the phonetic derivation of Proto-Germanic consonants from Indo-European) in an analogy which likens Tristan and Isolde with Siegfried and Brtinnhilde. Dresdener Bibliothek. III. for instance. Richard Wagner und der Stabreim (Hagen. 23Westernhagen. I. His Mind."22 But this is an exaggeration. Wagner says that he lacks "fluent knowledge" in Old Norse. with varying degrees of facility in each. the very first line of Rheingold. He could. 56 . 312. after all. Wagner's Prose. had studied Latin. see Henry Bosley Woolf. The former are suggestively aqueous. Paul Herrmann. his Dresden librarycontained one poem 21Richard Wagner. some of the names in the Ring that Wagner created. trans. which certainly implies some acquaintance with it. 27Branscombe. Wagner continued these studies in lateryears. 1972). 25Quoted in Westernhagen. In fact. in Ellis.sc. moreover. Greek. 32-33. 189 (translation mine). p. meaning "the holy water. 343. 2"The names of seven of the Valkyries are Wagner's coinages. Richard Wagner: The Man. Grammatik. In his 1871 epilogue to the Ring poem. trans. Ortlinde ("she who turns the spear-point"). Andrew Gray and Mary Whittall (Cambridge. 24See Eine Mitteilung an meine Freunde. of Wagner with eddic mythology and language has a powerful effect on the vocabularyof the Ring poem. evidence that Wagner had at least some competence in Old Icelandic to provide him with a first-hand glimpse into the philological richness of Norse. as Wagner wrote to Nietzsche."25As for Old Norse. especially in the Ring.
and the literary model in this case is clearly the Poetic Edda. 1938). Ettmuiller's Norse text modifies somewhat the ordering of stanzas from Codex Regius (and Neckel/Kuhn). for Wagner's comment on this line. Wagner's unique achievement in the narrative of the Ring is the linking of the death of Siegfriedwith the fall of the gods. etc. Hagen/Hagedorn ("thornbush. And earlier in the same opera. I Saw the World End. 57 . 3-Cosima's Diaries. could easily have come from an Icelandic skald. placing sts. Kennings in Old English are fairly straightforward ("whale-road" = the sea. by the way. she puns on the etymology of the term Walkiire ("chooser of the slain") when (in the Todesverkiindigung)she sings to Siegmund. although now printed without the hyphen separating the elements of the compound: V61uspa. tween the noun Lohe ("flame") and Wagner's name Loge (also from Grimm) for the Norse demigod of fire. die freie" (Rheingold. 65 and 64 (again in that order) in an appendix as later Christian additions.). On Wagner's mythological wordplay generally. The Ring is the most stylistically complex of all of Wagner'spoems. 32See Cosima's Diaries." Rheingold. Die altenglischen Kenningar (Halle. "3Grimm (Deutsche Mythologie. 38. Wagner had earlier mentioned Holda in the shepherd's song of Tannhduser. 1889). detail. STANLEY R. I. his conscious effort to imitate the style of the Edda adds significantly to the overall tone and effect of the drama. when Woglinde speaks of the Rhinegold as "der Wassertiefe / wonnigem Stern" ("the wondrous star of the watery deeps. which was part of his Dresden library." placing the heroic story in an epic frame. however. 24). 13) notes several parallels between Freia and the agricultural goddess Holda. pp.31 In the last act of Die Walkiire. 31-32. as part of the ragnarok. Wagner'spoem encloses the story of the Wilsungs with what Volker Mertens has so felicitously called "a synthetic world-myth. where it is explained as a two-part characterizing periphrasis providing a novel poetic term for a common object. the "gute Runen" that Siegfried fancies in the eyes of Fasolt's memorable couplet. "36Ludwig Ettmuiller. II. Loki. Die Sprache in Richard Wagner's Dichtungen (3rd edn. act I. and Rudolf Meifner. chap. Norse-German text alluded to above. pp. Briinnhilde plays punningly on the origin of the name she gives the future Siegfried: "Siegfried erfreu sich des Siegs" ("Victory's achiever shall rejoice in his victory"). 3). is correct according to textbook rules of normalized orthography (the -u indicates a genitive singular). see Hans von Wolzogen. As a result. act I. He prints sts. nebst einigen Gedanken iiber Nordens Wissen und Glauben und nordische Dichtkunst (Leipzig.und Hausmdrchen. 22 July 1873. Ettmfiller considers the controversial final stanza (66). This minor instance is but another indication of Wagner's familiarity with Old Icelandic language. and opening poem of the Poetic Edda. sc. 2). (He even insisted on a preferredspelling: It would appearmost likely that he Vilu-Spa. sc. sc.33 "oAlso noted by Cooke. situating it before st. 4). Mime/Memme ("coward. "God's candle" = the sun. describes "memory" as munknarrar skut ("the mindship's back-cabin"). 36. the Volospd. 19-59. ("lie. Das dlteste Denkmal germ anisch-nordischer Sprache. "Freia. the dual-language. "Rheingold! / Reines Gold!" (Rheingold." She is better known as Frau Holle of the fairy-tale. though original. Die Kenningar der Skalden (Bonn and Leipzig. sc. whose shaking of her feather bed causes the snowfall (Kinder. Wagner's spelling. "zurWal kor ich ihn mir." Siegfried. As generations of critics have pointed out. sc. These changes do not affect the interpretation of Volospd offered below. and 39 (in that order) after st. for example. 2). 1830). telling of the (re?)appearance of the dragon. no. "Richard Wagner und das Mittelalter. 1921).34And it is my contention that the most likely inspiration for this world-myth of the Ring is the That Wagner had read the ("The Wise-Woman's Prophecy") andV0lospa recalled it in writing and composing the Ring is beyond dispute.the Rhine-daughters' lament. 87. -1The term kenning comes to us via the second section of Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda." Rheingold. one skald. sc. For a full discussion. 172." appears on p.30Wagner'snumerous archaisms are generally as correct philologically as his many puns are suggestive: Loge/Liige To summarize the argument to this point: Wagner called heavily upon the Edda to enrich the texture of his poem through metrical form."32 The Ring even uses the eddic device of the kenning. and language. 2).die holde. 6 June 1878. 57.36 It contained "4Volker Mertens. "Wagners synthetischer Welt-Mythos. / Holda. HAUER Wagner and the Volospd Gutrune (Gotterddmmerung. ed."Gdtterddmmerung." in Wagner Handbuch. act II. Norse skaldic kennings.35) knew the poem primarily from Ettmfiller's separate edition of it (1830). Mfiller and Wapnewski. a phrase which. 3: "Frau Holda kam aus dem Berg hervor. 37. 127-28. can be of extraordinary complexity. The phrase quoted here. pp. see Hertha Marquardt. esp. act II. 38. sc. II But a larger issue remains unaccounted for: the cosmology of the Ring. Vaulu-Spd. Leipzig. sc. but their explicit identification here seems to be original. 2). 29. 514. 1).
4.38And one other detail might be added.a brief diErda-like an between figure and the alogue chief of the gods. 30). and a Norse glossary. taken from it. not an independent analogue. may reflect Ettmtiiller's "Alles weiss ich. derived from the Weltesche. and situated them under an ash tree. the German Wala. 25) as the gods meet together to establish their authority over the new creation. 20. returns in the similar refrain of Wagner's Norns. 4 and Siegfried. . pp. derived from the vilr. just as in the Vilospd itself. Erda's "Wie alles war. 38Wagner himself seems to call attention to the analogy between the two ash trees (that of Hunding's hut and the Weltesche) in Walkiire. sc.endnotes. 228.sc. most Norse scholars have concluded. German metrical translation (both with textual apparatus). "vitib er. Siegmund and Sieglinde in Die Walkiire. and in the Vilospd too the world-ash Yggdrasil plays an important function as cosmological symbol. since Oinn's spear Gungnir is commonplace in Norse myth. In G6tterddmmerung. "die Esche sttirzt. A similar scene is described in four stanzas of incremental refrain in the Vblospd (6.phrasesfrom at least three pasin sages in the Vilospd seem to be paraphrased certain lines of the Ring. 1. though the similarity seems remote. chap. act II./ es bricht der Stamm!" She seems to believe that Hunding's tree will collapse when the sword Nothung. sts. 3. The v61va'srefrain(in Ettmtiller's Norse). the seeress advises or warns Wotan about his future and how he can or cannot avoid his fate. that Baldrs Draumar is derivative from the Vdlospd. Yet in the end it is the Weltesche itself which withers and dies at the stroke of Nothung. 23. sc. 145) further cites Valospd. Die sagengeschichtlichen lagen der Ringdichtung Richard Wagners (Berlin. however. or fall of the gods. with the youngest of the Norns (Vilospd. is shattered. "Weisst du was aus ihm wird?" (G6tterdiimmerung. Chief among these is the character of Erda. The Vblospd is Snorri's. commentary. Baldrs Draumar ("Balder's Dreams").act III. I Saw the World End. is an oak in the Vblsunga Saga. valva's question in the same stanza. both groups the daughters of Erda.19TH CENTURY MUSIC an introduction. Though the text is rambling and allusive ratherthan strictly narrative. 28). weiss ich" of Rheingold. Cooke. 1902). is also derived from the Valospd (as Wolfgang Golther and later Deryck Cooke have noticed). when the hysterical Sieglinde shouts. so named hypothetically by Grimm (Deutsche Mythologie. taking the form of a monologue spoken to O&inn by a prophetess (Old Norse valva. Wagnerhas Wotan also addressErdaby her title. one of the Valkyries shares a name. Othinn" (Vdlospd. warum versuch ihr mich!" and its relationship to several similar lines of Erda in Siegfried. The Vilospa states (in st. Furthermore. Somewhat more distant is Ettmtiller's translation of the 58 Wagner'smaking the Valkyries sisters to the Norns. chap. Frequently referred to in the Ring. PerhapsWagnerrecalled this fact when he createdhis first human charactersin the Ring. where. 3. 40). likewise the hypothetical reconstruction of Grimm from the Norse vilva. the magic wand that she holds). 13)for the earth-goddessotherwise known only in Tacitus's famous reference to the goddess Nerthus (Germania. Norse text. 9. Sculd. as one of the sources for Wotan's weapon. in Rheingold. Similarly. sc. Several obvious and often-cited elements in the Vilospd indicate Wagner'sfamiliarity with it. Yet Wagnerians have failed to emphasize the fact that the ash tree of Hunding's hut.37In the Norse text. These scenes also recall another eddic poem (not in Codex Regius). 82-83. st. approximatelyits first half tells of the origin of the world and the second of its destruction in the ragnarik. stanza 24. Grund37Wolfgang Golther. The Vdlospdis a sort of Viking Book of Revelation.the ash of Die Walkfire recalls the Weltesche of Wagner'sworld-myth. 17) that the first man and woman were named Ash and Elm. act I. sc. where O0inn hurls his spear at the enemy. or office as it were. when later wielded by her son Siegfried upon Wotan's spear. "Wasfragt ihr mich. enn ebr hvat?" translated by Ettmtiller as "Weisst ihr-doch aber was? ". and from which Siegmund pulls the sword Nothung. Erda also makes two memorable appearances there. Furthermore. Cooke (p. Vorspiel). p. primary text for Norse cosmology and their retellings of the ragnardk story. as well as Grimm's. tables of characters. Waltraute tells of an ominous council of the gods held in Valhalla as they await their end.
On a somewhat higher literary level.42 As observed above. as the orchestra." Wagner wrote to Liszt in 1853. once again in the form of a Valkyrie. and trans. "Nur einer herrsche": Briinnhilde was to have sung. In Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft (1850). 673. VIII. Burlingame(2nd edn. 1909). the publishedversion is in the Sdmtliche 59 . triumphantly leading Siegfriedto life eternal with the immortals. in Spencerand Mill40Wagner ner's Prose." says Brtinnhilde. links together his alliterative verses in music and speech. The Nibelung-Myth sketch for this passage. ed. a dramatic form offering interesting suggestions of how mythological matters might be handled in Wagner'sown dramatic work. gensage [Mythus]) is printed in Strobel. 281.39 In this passage. makes Wagner's intention even clearer: "your wrong is expiated! Thank him. 1900-16). 1873. with its unmistakable Christological imagery. Similarly. Wagner remarked to his wife that he "must now compose his verses for the end of the world. like the great Anglo-Saxon harp of Sutton-Hoo. So too does Wagner's Ring. it would seem that the Vdlospd might appeal to Wagner in two further ways. In the Vdlospd. 156-66. is clear enough in his own works. Sdmtliche Schriften und Dichtungen (Leipzig. eked out by voice and gesture.and mimed in the Middle Ages."40 Surely every perceptive listener to the prelude in Das Rheingold hears in that famous E& triad something primordial.act II. II. And second. the cyclical rise and fall of the world. that same triad with its ascending arpeggiobecomes associated with Erda. In 1872. especially in its conclusion." Opera Quarterly 4 . I. First. Selected Letters. 50).and in scene 4 of the same opera. p. 44Art. But this was not always Wagner's intention. 41). The first draft of this essay (under the title Die Nibelunwiirfe pp. II. it is only in Wagnerthat the gods are responsible for Siegfried's death and that this death in turn brings down ragnar6k upon the gods. 23-33. EdwardL. sung. this arpeggiois inverted to create a musical theme suggesting the world's destruction. Wagner's Prose. and just such poems as he might imagine the Vdlospa to be. The influence of this image. Wagner could easily be speaking of a performance of Vilospd. Though some connection of the Siegfriedstory with the gods was in Wagner's mind from the beginning-most notably in the protosketch for the Ring known as Der Nibelungen-Mythus STANLEYR. a fixed and crystallized blend of lyric song and dance. Siegfried's murder and Brtinnhilde's immolation are atonements for the sins of the gods. HAUER Wagnerand the V61ospd einem Drama (1848)-in the early drafts it was all handled very differently. they had flourished mid the Folk. 135. who survive in glory. I. the Rheingold to function on one level as a musical metaphor for the creation of the world" ("The Pessimism of the Ring. as he was composing these bars of music. "Mark well my new poem. as a bodilyenacted Art-work. 254. "Alvater! Herrlicher du! / Freue dich des freiesten Helden!"43 She then ascends to Valhalla.41 Appropriately. 227. Wag- 43Wagner. "Wagnerobviously intended to Liszt. "it contains the world's beginning and its end. 39Ellis. I. the Norse poem is a monologue. 20 July 1872. 41As WarrenDarcy observes. Skizzen und EntSchriften. the prophetess speaks the Viking wisdom of the ages. "Only one shall rule: / All-father!Thou in thy glory! / Have joy of the freest of heroes" (Ellis. as Erda sings her prophecy of the fall of the gods. In the first version of the poem ung). Life and Theories of Richard Wagner. who took your fault upon himself!"44 42Cosima's Diaries." and a year later he played for her "The End of the World" from the opera. ington. the Vdlospd would suggest to Wagner the inherently dramatic form that he felt was present in all early verse. he states: But before these epic songs became the object of much literary care. with predominantlingering on portrayalof the action and reproductionof the lyric dialogue. the great crescendo near the end of G6tterddmmerung that represents the fall of Gibichung hall and the supernatural events that accompany the cremation of Siegfried and Briinnhildesurely intimates to the listener the destruction of a largerworld. New York. 11 February1853. the hero. perhaps the creation itself. p. as in the long and thematically crucial monologue of Wotan in Walkiire. harped. 2. 10 September als Entwurf zu Siegfrieds Tod (later to become G6tterddmmer- "Hear then. 513. sc. ye glorious gods. chord and word.as it were.
often have overlooked the fact that Wagner's sources-the V61sunga Saga. Der junge Siegfried. Yet Wagner was not actually to read Schopenhauer until 1854. 17-20 3. for most of the elements of the revision and mythic expansion of the Ring lay readily at hand in the Vblospd. pp. Let no man the fate before him see. 179). however. Corruptionthroughgold and world war. Appropriate changes were made in Siegfrieds Tod to suit this new scheme. Skizzen und Entwiirfe. Essentially. In the words of the Hdvamdl. by the time the second Nibelung drama. bidreks Saga. an archetype. This simple but obvious point has I think been neglected by Wagnerian scholars in their preoccupation with the details of Wagner's sources rather than their larger structures. 1969). may be more comprehensible. translation is from Henry Adams Bellows. the influence of the Vdlospd upon Wagner would have been fully explored. 56. complete and entire unto themselves. Schopenhauer's pessimism is not so far from the world-weariness of the eddas themselves.49 III A look at the overall structure of Vblospa should demonstrate what Wagner found there as a model. Wagner wrote about the subconscious similarity between his poem and Schopenhauer.exist as independent works of art. came to be written in 1851. the ultimate intent of the cycle was completely changed. and by year's end of 1852 all four dramas of the philosophically recast Ring were complete and revised for private publication. For so is he freest from sorrow. 17 above. in the program booklet for the 1988 Bayreuth Rheingold.46 Or in the justly famous terse refrain from the same poem: "Cattle die and kinsmen die. unlike Wagner himself. 1923. 60 . sts. My Life. How the revision occurred. 46Hdvamdl. Creation."47 Sentiments such as these abound in Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung. It is as if Wagner had metamorphosed during this period from the worldly ends of Marx (where the existing order is capable of salvation) to the spiritual resignation of Schopenhauer (where it is not). rpt. The failure of the Dresden uprising. the poem which follows the Vdlospd: A measure of wisdom each man shall have But never too much let him know. st. and the like . The institution of man and the fates. the Vdlospd is in seven narrative sections: 1. 49Gutman does draw some attention to the union of V1lsunga Saga and Volospd as producing "a new and fateful mythology" (p. and the cataclysmic ragnar6k. sts. / And so one dies one's self. There. Wotan. p. 21-26 48Strobel. 66. in Wagner's embryonic ideas for Siegfried. "48 Thus. 39-40. p. for his own worldmyth in the Ring. for the first time. What happened to Wagner to bring about this revision remains a private mystery. his loss of the only permanent professional post he would ever hold. 510. the Edda.19TH CENTURY MUSIC Exactly what happened to Wagner in the two and a half years between November 1848 (when the first version of the poem Siegfrieds Tod was completed) and the summer of 1851 (when a radically different interpretation of the Nibelung story becomes apparent in his writing) we will probably never know for certain. one reads: "Wotan und die Wala: g6tterende. In Mein Leben. and the growing disintegration of his first marriage all played a part in a pervasive pessimism and spirit of renunciation that darkened the optimism of the first Ring poem. and his own anticipation there of the philosopher's theories. Doubtless. his exile. 4"Wagner. The Poetic Edda (New York. The first suggestion of Wagner's new fatalistic world-myth occurs in the preliminary sketch for Der junge Siegfried in May 1851. act III. had Cooke lived to complete his magisterial torso I Saw the World End. In any case. Also. Critics. Wagner links Siegfried. Ulrich Milller prints a text and translation of the Vdlospd with a brief note clarifying the term ragnar6k. not just as treasure-hoards of literary lore waiting to be plundered by one Richard Wagner. and the plunging fortunes of Wotan came to have equal weight with the career of the ever-innocent Siegfried. 47The Old Norse for this couplet is quoted in n.45 Indeed. sts. But otherwise the subject of V1olospdand the larger structure of the Ring go wanting. 1-16 2.
It can be no coincidence that this is almost exactly Wagner's pattern as well. with a similar linking of the hero and the gods' fall. The corruption through gold (no. rpt. see John Stanley Martin." Cooke. So certain was Wagner that his audience would comprehend the implications of this complex finale that he retitled the opera-without internal explanationGdtterddmmerung. Ragnargk: An Investigation into Old Norse Concepts of the Fate of the Gods. Cooke.50 Golther even argues for a specific source for the conflation of Siegfried with Balder in Franz Mone's treatise Einleitung in das Nibelungenlied (1818). while retaining the imagery of conflation with Balder. Legends of to The Volsunga Saga. then Wotan's (Rheingold. 3) is Alberich's theft. act III. pp. The need of O6inn and the gods as a result of this corruption. HAUER Wagner and the V6lospd 5?Golther. seit Balder sank der holdeste gott. Number 5. of the same opera. sc. The world's rebirth in innocence. This point is made even clearer in Die Walkiire. Erda's "Ein dilst'rer Tag / ddmmert den G6ttern" (Rheingold sc. Suffice it to say that both Balder and Siegfried have solar qualities (Siegfried is often likened in Wagner's imagery to the sun). And here Wagner introduces his most brilliant innovation into the Siegfried narrative. But I am far from the first to suggest an analogy between Balder and Siegfried.53 But. 4). is nothing like Wagner's 'G6tterddmmerung'. 54"Ragnarok . The eddic creation of a world of innocence (no. which Wagner may have read. Wagner exalts Siegfried as the only hero in the drama connected with the sorrow of the gods and their fate. 2-3).54 it is there nevertheless: implied in the burning of Valhalla in the scenic background. 1) is analogous to the Rheingold prelude and the opening of scene 1. 326). Eirikr Magnisson and 1905.sts. 240. 27-30 (At this point the Vblospd adopts a refrainto suggest a majorshift in subject. 61 . pace Deryck Cooke and certain others. mm. 2) is Wotan's "great idea" late in scene 4. 1976): By his most valiant deed he fulfilled your desire. Cooke. or in Andrew Porter's trans. e." for redemption (no. p. 55The only appearance of the term Gotterddmmerung outside of the title of the last opera is near the close of the final duet in Siegfried (Dover score. The resulting ragnarok. In Brtinnhilde's words: Durch deine tapferste Tat. 6) is a cursory affair compared to the titanic struggle that we read in the Vdlospd and Snorri's Prose Edda. 53For a convenient summary.55 And as every medievalist knows. Strobel.4. weihtest du den. I Saw the World End.. 3. this is the infamous misconstruction of the eddic ragna rdk ("gods' fate") with its hoS51Gtterddmmerung.) 5. especially the long monologue in the second act. but most of all in the music itself. sc. p. p. The Ring of the Nibelung (New York. 1. 1972). dem Fluche. Benevinga.. The institution of man (no. however. scs. William Morris (London. But Balder's death brings on directly the ragnardk. when Wotan explains the Gdtternot. Wagner's ragnar6k (no. dir so tauglich erwiinscht. cf. . sts. sts. supplement trans.g. but he was forced to share in your cursethat curse which has doomed your downfall (p. The death of the world-heroBalder. p. and Benevinga have elaborated the point sufficiently as to require but a cursory explanation here. 36-58 7. both of which actions result in a rift in the world order. a last restatement of the mighty Valhalla theme. 1983). is more complex. Golther. occurs on at least three occasions in the text. Balder. 3.52 Thus. and both are murdered through family ties. the creation of man and the corruption through gold. both are the offspring of the god.. 95. 88. both are invulnerable except in one aspect." The passage appears in the full prose sketch of Der lunge Siegfried. 1911). Kingdom on Legend in Wagner's Ring I Saw the World End. p. 111-16. 4). 59-65. A similar phraseology (including an ingenious wordplay on dammern as both sunrise and sunset). the Wagner Trilogy. from primal innocence to anxious experience. STANLEY R. Nancy the Rhine: History. 31-35 6. 202. Jessie Weston. dem du verfielest. 241. the Third Nornin the GdtterddmmerungVorspiel andBrinnhilde in act III. der sie gewirkt. the "need of the gods. 433. though he inverts the order of numbers 2 and 3. 1 and 3-4). syst. Skizzen und Entwiirfe p. 52"Um der g6tter ende sorgen die g6tter. Weston.51 That Wagner himself consciously linked Siegfried and Balder is strongly implied in his deleting from the prose sketch of Der junge Siegfried a specific reference to Balder. sts. Melbourne Monographs in Germanic Studies 3 (Assen. Myth and (Harwich.
Wagner's mentor Ettmfiller was among the few to get it right. but with the return of a musical phrase iterated only once before in the last act of Die Walkiire and sung by Sieglinde to the words "O herstes Wunder. 22 January 1870. 183. Wagner's drama even became something of the literary rage in Germany. In the final measures of G6tterddmmerung. clad com- 58Michael Ewans. But how much of this material. and Wagner was surely confident that in both his title and in this final scene. 227) when she says of Gdtterddmmerung. similar German phrases had already appeared ("Abend der G6tter" in 1755 and "Dimmerung der G6tter" in 1766). just as Tennyson was doing in England with short Arthurian lyrics preparing his readers for the full heady brew of Idylls of the King. As usual. he says. The English "Twilight of the Gods" likewise appears about the same time.56 The word Gdtterddmmerung is attested in German as early as 1772. by publishing his Ring poem (privately in 1853 and publicly ten years later) Wagner systematically built an informed audience for his operas. then: it is my hypothesis that the Norse Vdlospd provided Wagner with the essential structure of the world-myth which distinguishes the Ring from all other Nibelung dramas. In print. "the drama is distinctly inferior to either the Volsunga-saga or the Nibelungen-lied. 7). would Wagner's audience have understood? To what degree was he dependent on audience recognition of his underlying source materials? Critics generally have fallen into two camps on this issue: those (such as Michael Ewans) who deny to Wagner's nineteenth-century audience any prior knowledge of Norse subjects. To summarize. his audience would comprehend its significance.57 Yet the Ring does not end with the fading away of the Valhalla theme and the broken curse. in his translation and glossary to the V61ospd: "der G6tter Untergang. 58. the truth is somewhere in between. Even as early as the second act of Lohengrin." Cosima quips bitterly in her diary." In fact. to go about the country giving very lively readings of whole cycles of Nibelungen-epics. in addition to these recollections. rebirth (no. 62 .certainly putting to rest Ewans's denial that "the Nordic gods and goddesses were strange to the nineteenth-century audience. p. "a rhapsodist among them. 59Cosima's Diaries." There it is associated with the self-sacrifice of Briinnhilde and the promise of the birth of Siegfried. Wagner takes certain items for granted: a basic knowledge of the gods and their identities. Moreover. Wagner discusses at amusing length the great congregations of his imitators who tried their hands at the Siegfried storyeven. Wagner can have his Ortrud swear to Wodan and Freia." "5The word G6tterddmmerung was originally borrowed not from Norse but from the French "crdpuscule des dieux". as the great cycle of history begins anew. being first attested in Thomas Gray's poem "The Descent of Odin" in 1768. in full confidence that his audiences will understand the allusion . the Vdlospd becomes a source of importance equivalent to the Vdlsunga Saga itself: the saga for narrative plot. as Jessie Weston implies (p."'9 In his 1871 epilogue to the poem. nowhere does Wagner demand a knowledge of the Norse narrative materials per se-much as his poem repays their It was never study. and an understanding (as discussed above) of the nature and significance of the Twilight of the Gods. 6'The confusion of the two (which can be traced as far back as the Edda itself) was pervasive in the nineteenth century. the eddic poem for cosmic theme. for example. "Since R[ichard] welded the Edda myths into his Ring. both literally and metaphorically. the Nibelungenlied was probably the only Siegfried story that Wagner could be reasonably assured that his audiences did know. In this sense. But Wagner deliberately adopts a plot often radically at variance with the Nibelungenlied's version of the Siegfried story. surely it is easy to hear as well a suggestion of the final section of the Vdlospd."5s Yet at the same time. "everyone has been making plays of them.19TH CENTURY MUSIC mophone (at least in the accusative case) ragna rdkkr ("gods' twilight"). it had been heralded by Jacob Bodmer as a Germanic Iliad as early as 1756 and was pervasive in German culture since the Romantic movement at the turn of the century. I. and those who (like Jessie Weston) castigate Wagner for not being Nordic enough and instigating modifications unfaithful to the familiar originals. 1982). Wagner's idea to compete with the sagas. Wagner and Aeschylus: The Ring and the Oresteia (Cambridge. one must wonder.
1987). as it was. Wolfgang Schadewald has written of the Ring poem in an enviable phrase: "eine Ursch6pfung aus Vorgeformten"-an original creation from something already formed. p. a realm of escape. 7). 17-40. so close to our own hearts. 1970). So too with his use of source materials. these medieval works of art are used to create something new and entirely different. Zurich. T. Jahrhundert.pletely in the primal garment of the Edda. of the Nibelungenlied [Harmondsworth. for example. the world of the sagas. Wagner's Prose. pp. "Der Ring des Nibelungen": Eine Miinchner Ringvorlesung. and its shaping of the synthetic world-myth from the Norse masterpiece . III. 62Hellas und Hesperien (2nd edn.62 Could Wagner's creative process in the Ring."'60 To Wagner. 63 . An interesting essay on this subject is Wolfgang Friihwald. The Ring is not a dramatized Vdlospd any more than a theatrical Vilsunga Saga. I am indebted to Ewans (p. It was rather a field in which to explore contemporary . Dieter Borchtmeyer (Munich. the Volospd.61 STANLEY R. That readers today continue to approach the Edda and the Nibelungenlied from a Wagnerian perspective (or. for that matter. 262-63. which emphasized in the stories "their purely-human element. and Nibelungenlied. ed. unified above all by the cosmic myth of the Vdlospd. the Middle Ages. HAUER Wagner and the Volospd The study of Wagner's eddic sources allows a fascinating glimpse into the workshop of his mind. Gottfried or Wol60Ellis. 78) for this reference. "Wandlungen eines Nationalmythos: Der Weg der Nibelungen ins 19. Hatto's frenzied denunciation: Wagner "has unfortunately harmed the cause of medieval German poetry by intruding reckless distortions between us and an ancient masterpiece" (foreword to his trans." Such self-conscious medievalizing is as far as possible from Wagner's intent. Instead." in Wege des Mythos in der Moderne: Richard Wagner. instead of mere regard for their value as curiosities. as he assimilates these and other medieval works into a coherent and fluid whole. the Edda. fram from Wagner's Tristan and Parsifal) is a great tribute to Wagner's genius. were not fairy-land. be more aptly described? 61Contrast A. 1969]. but it says nothing about these medieval masterpieces themselves. to Ludwig II.and eternal problems. The Ring did not spring ex nihilo but is a masterly construction from the models of previous masters.
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