On Parsifal

| | Comments (2)

A remarkable non-analysis from John Runciman in Wagner.

"PARSIFAL" (1882).

This disastrous and evil opera was written in Wagner's old age, under the influence of such a set of disagreeably immoral persons as has seldom if ever been gathered together in so small a town as Bayreuth. The whole drama consists in this: At Montsalvat there was a monastery, and the head became seriously ill because he had been seen with a lady. In the long-run he is saved by a young man—rightly called a "fool"—who cannot tolerate the sight of a woman. What it all means—the grotesque parody of the Last Supper, the death of the last woman in the world, the spear which has caused the Abbot's wound and then cures it—these are not matters to be entered into here. Some of the music is fine.

I'd like to know more about how Wagner used this legend contrary to its orirgin. I've never watched it, but have long admired some parts of it. I should think that Tristan und Isolde would be far more problematic.

From Richard Wagner, Composer of Operas by the same Runciman:

The whole affair is a spectacle which I must say is disgusting to healthy minds. The insinuations are frightful. Consider, reader, seriously for a moment: Parsifal—Siegfried grown to manhood—knows and cares nothing about womankind. As soon as he knows what a woman is he revolts, learns through that knowledge and by his acquaintance with suffering—acquaintance, I say, because he himself has never suffered—that there are two cures for all the woes of humanity. Discard women and pity the men. The thing is absurd, and suggests that the mighty genius was on the verge of imbecility. But the desire to please mad Ludwig accounts for it all in a very undesirable fashion.

Bookmark and Share


Parsifal irritates me for its abuse of Christian symbols, but Runciman is, I think, ignoring something well-explained by Alfred Newman: Wagner was a superb musician, and that's it. He was utterly incapable of sensible thought or ideas in practically everything besides music.

Dear Klaus,

I think Runciman may have predated Newman, I don't know for certain. The Runciman works have made it to public domain so the absolute latest they could be is 1923.

Also, I'd have to look at the Opera rather than listen to it; however is the "abuse of Christian Symbols" a result of the Opera or is it a result of the source material? Much of what I read of the Opera, even in Runciman exists in both the Medieval French Perlesvaus and Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival. But, as I said, I've never seen the Opera performed, and assumed always that ti was a fairly faithful adaptation of some Medieval stories that are in themselves quite an odd mutation of the Grail story--the whole Fisher King and wounded thigh and blighted land thing is rather odd.

Anyway, thanks for the comment. And I think one does well to keep it in mind when attempting to come to terms with Wagner--if one is so inclined. Thanks for the input.





About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 8, 2006 9:58 AM.

Three Strains of Autumn--Linked Verse Continued was the previous entry in this blog.

Linked Verse, Ended is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll