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Critical Approaches to Die Walküre- Here are some summaries/ extracts from scholarly books
about The Ring Cycle.
1. Barry Millington, "The Music: Operas" in The Wagner Compendium: A Guide to
Wagner's Life and Music (London: Thames and Hudson, 1992), p 292.
Whereas in Rhinegold, the rigour with which Wagner applied his theoretical principles resulted in
occasionally undistinguished melodic lines, in Walküre he achieved equality of status for music and
words without any such sacrifices. In Act I, especially, Wagner's musico-poetic synthesis is
demonstrated at its finest: the text is set with natural word stresses and to a melodic line that
registers every nuance while remaining musically interesting in its own right. Acts II and III are no less
masterly, though there are already perceptible signs in these acts of Wagner's subsequent shift
away from absolute equality of poetry and music. The encounter, at his very time, with the
philosophy of Schopenhauer- who elevated music above all other forms of art- may well have been
largely responsible for the shift.
In Act II scene 2 occurs one of Wagner's great narrations: that for Wotan beginning with the lines "Als
junger Liebe Lust mir verblich" ("When the delights of young love had waned in me"). It is often said
that by conceiving his cycle in reverse order Wagner subsequently rendered his back narrations
redundant. But that is to reckon without the significance attached to the narrative mode by Wagner-
Greek drama was, after all, one of the antecedents of the music drama. In any case, to criticise such
narrations for holding up the action, or for repeating what we, the audience, already know, is to miss
the point. Strictly speaking, no story told, or opera heard, more than once offers any real surprise in
terms of plot. What a narration can offer is the chance to reflect on past events, to see them through
the eyes of another character. And it is a device that lends itself perfectly to Wagner's technique of
leitmotif, because not only can the interaction of characters, objects and ideas all be represented by
the juxtaposition of the relevant musical motifs, but the transformation of those motifs can express
subtle nuances and psychological depths more powerfully than any words.
In the case of Wotan's narration, the god is persuaded to lay bare his soul to his favourite daughter
and her empathy encourages him to articulate and come to terms with his dilemma. Wotan begins the
exchange by confessing how he attempted to fill the vacuum of lovelessness in his life by acquiring
power. His hushed reliving of the story ("Als junger Liebe") is the closest thing in the whole piece to
pure recitative, but it is by no means oblivious to the Oper und Drama principles of word setting and
in any case it acquires a special aura of suspense from the accompaniment- double basses alone,
pianissimo. The characteristic motifs appear as Wotan recalls the theft of the gold, the building of
Valhalla, the ring. Other motifs come to the fore, notably those of the curse and the sword, which
drive the narration to a tremendous climax: Wotan looks for only one thing- "das Ende" (the end).
Die Walküre is very successful in achieving a balance between words and music. Millington
suggests it is the nearest Wagner gets to a Gesamtkunstwerk, while creating music which
sounds appealing and flows well, especially in Act I. Perhaps the fact that Acts II and III place
more emphasis on music than poetry is connected to the fact that while composing the Ring
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Wagner began to side with the views of the philosopher Schopenhauer, who believed
music should be at the top of the hierarchy.
One technique Wagner uses in Die Walküre is the use of narrations (like monologues in
drama). While these may be seen as slowing the furthering of the action, they may be useful
in offering a new point of view on a situation, for example.…read more