Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Valhalla State of Mind

From Prospect Magazine:
Such an interpretation holds little plausibility for us today. The “radical” Wagner of Shaw’s imagination sits uneasily with the traditionalism found in his 1867 comedy Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg or the evocation of a religious community in his final work Parsifal (1878). Indeed, during the course of writing the cycle, Wagner came to believe that there could be no political salvation from the ills of civilisation. Like his sometime friend the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, he saw resentment as the default position of human communities, and believed that each of us must achieve redemption for himself, gaining freedom and self-knowledge through our capacity for love. To take this path is difficult. Love condemns us to suffering on another’s behalf; this capacity for sympathetic suffering is the highest human virtue, and the only known justification for our existence. Wagner’s Ring Cycle, in its finished version, is an attempt to convey why we suffer. Seldom has an artistic intention of such magnitude been so convincingly pursued.

The cycle begins in the depths of the Rhine river and also in the depths of the human psyche. It is clear that the meaning of what we witness on the stage is contained also in the music. The sustained meditation on the tonal triad, representing the swirling waters in the depths, is also an invocation of the natural order—the order from which we humans have, both to our loss and our gain, departed. In the Ring tonal harmony is the sound of Eden: pure, unsullied, guiltless. As the cycle develops, dissonance, chromaticism and melodies full of tragic tension replace the pure triads and pentatonic tunes of this supremely beautiful opening. But the pure harmonies and melodies sound always in the background, constantly reminding us of the home that we have lost, and which could never have satisfied us in any case. (Read more.)

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