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Thread: How should we interpret the end of Gotterdammerung?

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    A fundamental concern of the drama as I see it is Wotan's problem of endowing life (and death) with meaning. When Wotan left the World-Ash tree with spear in hand, he was committed to the idea that a solution to that problem involved making the world a better place. This in turn required the imposition upon it of a stable order, and so he embarked on a noble enterprise, but one that was doomed to fail. We learn through the drama that neither the best of strategy nor the greatest of heroism is the answer to Wotan's problem. Further, love does not and cannot conquer all, any more than the best laid plans of gods or the greatest of feats of the very best of heroes. None will bring more than a temporary victory at most. Yet a possiblity of a love like that which is expressed in Brunnhilde's final immolation changes everything, in a way that heroism does not. Like Cordelia in Shakespeare's King Lear, Brunnhilde illuminates a world of cruelty and darkness through love.

    And though the world ends, the earth remains, still capable of renewal, still charged with this promise. We also know that everything that comes to be in it must end, including all order and the very best of lives and loves. But in their presence, however ephemeral, they have the power to brighten the world in a manner that vindicates all.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by annaw View Post
    If I recall correctly then Cooke called it "redemption" motif (not "redemption by love" though - I think this makes a difference). To what extent are thus "redemption" and "the glorification of Brünnhilde" comparable names? This probably comes down to Wagner's final understanding of Brünnhilde's character. I hope my question is understandable.
    The world is freed from the gods, but is it redeemed? The people standing around at the end are a pretty wretched lot. It seems to me that redemption is in their future, if they can manage it.

    How are we doing?
    Last edited by Woodduck; May-19-2020 at 18:19.

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    Senior Member Zhdanov's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    The gods end, mankind lives on.
    thing is, there's no mankind portrayed in this opera, except for the Rhinemaidens; however, they represent not the mankind the notion of which we are used to. Wotan, Alberich, Fricka, Brunhilde, Siegmund, Hunding, Siegfried, Hagen and so on - all of them are what is called 'mankind' from our perspective. Rhinemaidens don't even qualify here.

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Wagner rejected the name "redemption by love" for this motif, instead calling it "the glorification of Brunnhilde."
    but it does not sound like a glorification; the motif droops in its ending, like a hand that just waved goodbye, instead of flying up to the skies, if it were a glory anthem. Wagner is to be trusted only in relation to his music, while the statements he made should be subject to examination.

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    Senior Member annaw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zhdanov View Post
    thing is, there's no mankind portrayed in this opera, except for the Rhinemaidens; however, they represent not the mankind the notion of which we are used to. Wotan, Alberich, Fricka, Brunhilde, Siegmund, Hunding, Siegfried, Hagen and so on - all of them are what is called 'mankind' from our perspective. Rhinemaidens don't even qualify here.



    but it does not sound like a glorification; the motif droops in its ending, like a hand that just waved goodbye, instead of flying up to the skies, if it were a glory anthem. Wagner is to be trusted only in relation to his music, while the statements he made should be subject to examination.
    Isn't music inherently much more subjective than clear statements? The only complication with Wagner's statements is that his views changed throughout his life but that still doesn't make them less objective.

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    Senior Member Zhdanov's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by annaw View Post
    Isn't music inherently much more subjective than clear statements?
    no, music is most clear a statement itself, especially in this case.

    Der Ring is very clear in its messages, especially because it relies on leitmotives.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zhdanov View Post
    thing is, there's no mankind portrayed in this opera, except for the Rhinemaidens; however, they represent not the mankind the notion of which we are used to. Wotan, Alberich, Fricka, Brunhilde, Siegmund, Hunding, Siegfried, Hagen and so on - all of them are what is called 'mankind' from our perspective. Rhinemaidens don't even qualify here.



    but it does not sound like a glorification; the motif droops in its ending, like a hand that just waved goodbye, instead of flying up to the skies, if it were a glory anthem. Wagner is to be trusted only in relation to his music, while the statements he made should be subject to examination.
    You and I must be attending different operas. Life among the Gibichungs is all too human. Gotterdammerung is the first opera in the Ring to take place almost entirely in the human world. Wotan and his band have retired to Walhall where they await their end, and until we see them consumed by fire they are present only in the form of shrines in the Gibichung hall, illustrative of the Age of Myth, the religious phase of humanity's development. Wagner's stage directions are explicit and key to his conception; there's no excuse for ignoring them (although they are of course constantly ignored by directors who think they know better than the composer).

    As for the final motif not sounding like a glorification, your idea of glorification is too narrow. The motif doesn't appear out of nowhere; it dominates, in mounting ecstasy, the final lines of Brunnhilde's "immolation scene," it combines majesically with the motifs of Walhall and the Rhine daughters during the orchestral peroration, and these statements, culminating in its serene transfiguration at the end, are simply appropriate evolutions of its original, ecstatic statement in Die Walkure. There Sieglinde sings "O noblest wonder! Glorious woman!" For those with a memory, the motif retains its full meaning. Yes, it here becomes valedictory - you are right to hear a gesture of farewell. Brunnhilde deserves the tribute.

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    Senior Member Zhdanov's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Life among the Gibichungs is all too human.
    neither Gibich folks nor Rhinemaidens are representative of humans. Wotan is, he is every man.

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    your idea of glorification is too narrow.
    sure it is, as it should be, because black is black and white is white, glory - strong, parting - not much.

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    The motif doesn't appear out of nowhere;
    it steps down into nowhere, and that's the point.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Sieglinde sings "O noblest wonder! Glorious woman!" For those with a memory, the motif retains its full meaning.
    no, it doesn't but contradicts the words. Brunhilde is far from being noble, let alone glorious.

    she just fell from grace when showed her sympahy for a mortal. Siegmund, that is.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zhdanov View Post
    neither Gibich folks nor Rhinemaidens are representative of humans. Wotan is, he is every man.
    ALL Wagner's characters are representative of humanity. You're missing the point here.

    sure it is, as it should be, because black is black and white is white, glory - strong, parting - not much.
    Simplistic. Wagner doesn't work in black and white.

    it steps down into nowhere, and that's the point.
    You have a strange idea of what "nowhere" sounds like. Wagner never goes nowhere.
    Last edited by Woodduck; May-19-2020 at 20:46.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Zhdanov View Post
    no, it doesn't but contradicts the words. Brunhilde is far from being noble, let alone glorious.

    she just fell from grace when showed her sympahy for a mortal. Siegmund, that is.
    Brunnhilde is not the final word, but she, alone in the Ring, points the way. "Showing sympathy" is a weak description of what it took to defy the law of the gods.
    Last edited by Woodduck; May-19-2020 at 20:49.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    ALL Wagner's characters are representative of humanity.
    except for the Gibichunds and the Rhinemaidens, who are nobodies. Wotan represents man the best.

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Wagner doesn't work in black and white.
    what about the prelude from the 3rd act of Tristan und Isolde?

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Wagner never goes nowhere.
    he does, in Der Ring and Tristan & Isolde he does, where nirvana is his 'nowhere'.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Brunnhilde is not the final word, but she, alone in the Ring, points the way.
    she may point the way, all she wants, but she became flawed since the moment she felt for a mortal.

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    "Showing sympathy" is a weak description of what it took to defy the law of the gods.
    it would have taken much more to pull oneself up and obey the god, in that case.

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    Senior Member annaw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zhdanov View Post
    she may point the way, all she wants, but she became flawed since the moment she felt for a mortal.
    What's the flaw? She lost his Valkyrie strength, yes, but she undergoes an enormous development in Die Walküre alone, not to mention Götterdämmerung. She is pretty much just her father's daughter in the beginning of Die Walküre but when the third act starts she has become a truly independent individual. Even Wotan points that out to her. I don't see her individuation as a bad thing, quite the opposite in fact.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Zhdanov View Post
    it would have taken much more to pull oneself up and obey the god, in that case.
    I agree with Woodduck. Defying Wotan's will was much more difficult than the opposite. None of the other Valkyrie sisters managed that. The fact that Brünnhilde didn't agree to give away the ring only shows her morality. The ring had become a pledge of love (quite paradoxical actually) and giving it away would have been comparable to what Alberich did although it most likely would have saved the gods.
    Last edited by annaw; May-19-2020 at 21:35.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by annaw View Post
    I agree with Woodduck. Defying Wotan's will was much more difficult than the opposite. None of the other Valkyrie sisters managed that. The fact that Brünnhilde didn't agree to give away the ring only shows her morality. The ring had become a pledge of love (quite paradoxical actually) and giving it away would have been comparable to what Alberich did although it most likely would have saved the gods.
    Wotan and Waltraute wanted to believe that Brunnhilde could have saved the old order by giving away the ring, but Erda was right in Rheingold when she said that everything that exists must end. Wotan was conflicted about that right to the end, but by the time Waltraute came to her, Brunnhilde was simply incapable of the renunciation asked of her, and looked at Waltraute as if the latter were insane. In the end, the ring had to be returned to the waters, but Brunnhilde's renunciation of it was an essential part, not of saving the gods, but of saving the world from them.

    It's worth noting that when the gold was returned to the Rhine, it was in the form of the ring, not a lump of gold. There is no going back; the fall of Adam - the rise to consciousness - can't be reversed. Innocence is lost forever, and there will be no second Alberich. Only mankind remains, alone with his reason and his conscience.

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