Love is all there is

Brunnhilde

At the end of it all, after fifteen hours of rollercoaster music, words and drama, Brunnhilde gives thrilling voice to:

Siegfried! Siegfried! See!
Brünnhild’ greets thee in bliss

And spurs her horse, Grane, onto Siegfried’s funeral pyre, to burn in the arms of her hero.

Know’st thou now to whom
and whither I lead thee?
In fire radiant, lies there thy lord,
Siegfried, my hero blest.
To follow thy master, joyfully neigh’st thou?
Lures thee to him the light with its laughter?
Feel, too, my bosom, how it doth burn;
glowing flames now lay hold on my heart:
fast to enfold him, embraced by his arms,
in might of our loving with him aye made one!
Heiajaho! Grane! Give him thy greeting!

(Leipzig Opera projected a deliberately archaic 1904 translation by Frederick Jameson. Even those of us for whom English is a native language, struggled. Reck? Rede? Reft? Leman? Guerdon?)

Whatever – the hall of the Gibichungs then catches fire, the Rhine bursts its banks, and Valhalla, the fortress of the gods, burns and falls. Only the Rhinemaidens rejoice in the gold they’ve repossessed, stolen from them fourteen and a half hours earlier. We’re back where we started.

Was it worth it?

Well, for a start, it’s a different world. The Gods have perished, the world ash tree has become kindling, and the Norns (finally!) have abandoned their wretched spinning of Fate. Fate has been fulfilled, Fate itself is broken.

We must make what we can of that, and of what remains – a world redeemed by love. Amidst the chaos of World Order’s end the orchestra plays the serene and uplifting motif of Redemption. There is hope.

Most of Wagner’s protagonists wanted a different ending – untrammelled power for Wotan, and for Alberich too (neither is the other’s moral superior), five-star hotels and first-class travel, perhaps, for Gutrune, a comfortable married life for Siegmund, eternal life and youth for the minor gods – but power ended up corrupting its possessors, love proved insufficient, both as instrument and consolation, and possessions have proved a curse. Only love – intense, transient and fragile – has possessed true value. It might have been lost, thwarted or defeated, but at its most intense it was eternal.

In Wagner’s music-theatre love creates a world outside time, neither living nor dying. an ideal independent of embodiment, or knowledge or character. It has no future, no past.

It’s noisy, too.

And if that’s how it was for Wagner, he was a lucky man, though the rest of us would gladly do without the liebestod and the immolation, and settle instead for a milky drink at bedtime.

But even Philip Larkin, whose English blood flowed more temperately than Wagner’s, had this to say of an effigy of a married couple, hands clasped in death, on an Arundel tomb:

Time has transfigured them into 
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be  
Their final blazon, and to prove  
Our almost-instinct almost true:  
What will survive of us is love.

 

For more about love, power, redemption, music and musicians see gigglemusic.

Hard to love

If I were to come across Siegfried on a dating site (Tinder, I think, not Grindr), I’d swipe him left without a moment’s hesitation.

His profile might look like this:


 

Siegfried 2 (2)

Name: Siegfried von Walsung

Gender: Teutonic

Languages: German, Woodbird

Occupation: Swordsmith, dragon-slayer

Sexuality: There was a moment on the mountain top when I thought Brunnhilde was a man, but on the whole I think I’m straight…

Body type: Athletic (though can look paunchy and middle-aged)

Fetishes: Armour’s nice

About me: Uneducated, ungrateful and unfeeling. Also cruel and violent if crossed. Courageous (I feel no fear – does that make me brave?). Like older women, especially if they’re family (I never met a woman before I met Brunnhilde, and it was kind of exciting to discover she’s my aunt).

Looking for: Glorious brides


 

Nonsense aside, what’s there to like about Siegfried? He’s an oafish idiot, too stupid for fear (courage is surely the mastery of fear, not its absence). He’s only attractive if he can sing well, as last night’s Siegfried (Stefan Vinke) did (though not quite as well as Brunnhilde (Daniela Kohler)). The idea of Siegfried as the epitome of German manhood appals me, so let’s be grateful that the modern German adolescent venerates Conchita Wurst.

wurst

What did Wagner, and his devotees, see in Siegfried? The strong, free man, unburdened by expertise? The man of destiny?

Freedom lies in knowledge, in education and compassion, in the rejection of the seductive lies that underpin nationality. A proper fear of what can go wrong with the world is part of freedom too. Fear is good.

As it happens, Siegfried’s incinerated remains are buried beneath a monument on the outskirts of Leipzig. It’s a shrine to the marvels and mysteries of masculinity (vats of testosterone were mixed with the concrete used for its construction). The vast granite structure has lasted a thousand years. Some say Siegfried merely slumbers (members of the ADF on the whole) but they’ve waited in vain, so far, for his return. What’s more, his reassembly would be a harder task than Siegfried’s re-forging of his father’s shattered sword. There’s no more than an egg-cup of cinders. Wrest Nothung from the granite block in which it’s rested since the curtain came down on Gotterdammerung and you might acquire the mantle of heroism yourself.

On the other hand, better don’t try. We’ve had enough of heroes.

 

 

You need more than love

You Need More

Dexter Dalwood‘s You need more than love hangs in the hallway of my flat in Prague. It’s a realist’s take on the Beatles’ All You Need is Love. Party over, drumkit and flowers abandoned, the Summer of Love has given way to an Autumn of emptiness.

Wagner’s Die Walkure, which I saw last night in Leipzig, is another (though lengthier) demonstration of love’s insufficiency. We want to believe that love can conquer all. Fricka will encourage Wotan to help Siegmund defeat Hunding. Brunnhilde, Wotan’s daughter, will drag so many dead heroes back to Valhalla that the hall will soon be full of mead-swilling, sword-swinging louts. Wotan’s rule will be assured ad infinitum, just like Putin’s. Siegmund and Sieglinde will live and love each other forever, never mind who does the ironing. They’ll breed more Walsungs and wrest the ring from Fafner’s grasp. They might even return it to the Rhinemaidens, though I’m less sure of that – love doesn’t necessarily exclude megalomania. Whatever, they’ll all live happily ever after.

But that’s not how it goes, and it probably wouldn’t engage us as deeply if it did (though we’d be done in two days and it would cost us less). Happy endings are rarely persuasive. The runes inscribed on Wotan’s spear, Fricka’s responsibilities as Minister of Marriage, Wotan’s duty to punish the transgressions of his daughter, all conspire to thwart Wagner’s Summer of Love.  Compelling and irresistible it may be – some think it the supreme form of human bliss  though I prefer music –  love nevertheless isn’t enough, whether filial, conjugal, paternal or incestuously romantic (Sieglinde and Siegmund, after all, are siblings). It doesn’t protect. It doesn’t pay the bills. It doesn’t preserve world order.

That may not be good news but it’s true.

Find out more about love, music and musicians on gigglemusic.