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Death drive: Eros and Thanatos in Wagner's Tristan und Isolde

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 August 2008


In their different ways, a series of Germanic artists and thinkers – the poet Novalis, the philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche, the father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, and, most powerfully, composer Richard Wagner – all espoused at one point in their lives the view that death should not only be welcomed but ardently desired, even sought after as the final rest after a life of striving and suffering.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1999

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1 This chapter was written in collaboration with ‘Team Tristan’ – four very talented graduate research assistants (now all new Ph.D.s) whose hard work and inspired interpretations are gratefully acknowledged. Thanks to Kilbourn, Russell, Scott, Jill, Reiman, Erika, and Reichenbächer, Helmut. Our particular debts to their research and publications will be acknowledged in subsequent notes. A special thanks to Stephen Burns for assisting us through the intricacies of Schopenhauerian metaphysics and to David Levin for his acute critical reading and suggestions for revision.Google Scholar

2 The letter dates from 16 December 1854, as cited in John Luke, Rose, ‘A Landmark in Musical History’, in ristan and Isolde, ENO Opera Guide (London and New York, 1981, 1983), 12.Google ScholarFor another translation, see Richard, Wagner, Selected Letters of Richard Wagner, trans. and ed. Stewart, Spencer and Barry, Millington (London and Melbourne, 1978), 323.Google ScholarOn the impact of Schopenhauer, see Richard, Wagner, My Life, trans. Lord, Harewood (London, 1994), 615Google ScholarBryan, Magee, ‘Schopenhauer and Wagner’, Opera Quarterly, 1/3 (Autumn 1983), 148Google ScholarThomas, Mann, Pro and contra Wagner, trans. Allan, Blunden (1963; London, 1985)Google ScholarEdouard, Sans, Richard Wagner et la pensée schopenhauerienne (Paris, 1969), 263.Google ScholarFor more on the debate about exactly when Schopenhauer's influence can be seen (or heard) in Wagner's work, see Grey, Thomas S., Wagner's Mnsical Prose: Texts and Contexts (Cambridge, 1995), 4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

3 The dates of composition are as follows: (a) text: an early outline is mentioned in letters as being from December 1856; 20 August 1857 he began the long prose sketch and finished it 18 September 1857; it was published December 1858; (b) music: early in 1857, he sent some music to Mathilde Wesendonck without text; when the libretto was complete, he began to score the text, completing Act I by April 1858, Act II by March 1859, Act III by August 1859. The score is published in 1860 and premiered in 1865 in Munich. The connections among music, text, and drama are as close here as in any of his works, and perhaps even closer.

4 Wagner, , The Music of the Future (1860), cited in Rose, ‘A Landmark’ (see n. 2), 16.Google Scholar

5 See Schopenhauer, Arthur, The World as Will and Representation, 11, trans. Payne, E. F. J. (1958; New York, 1966), 492.Google Scholar

6 On Wagner anticipating Freud, see Peter, Wapnewski, Tristan der Held Richard Wagners (Berlin, 1981), 29Google ScholarFreudian readings of Tristan und Isolde, see Françoise, Ferlan, ‘Le Roi Marke’, L'Avant-scène opéra, 34–35 (1981), 177–81Google ScholarDenis de, Rougemont, Love in the Western World, trans. Montgomery, Belgion (rev. ed.; New York, 1956)Google ScholarFrançoise, Barteau, Les Romans de Tristan et Yseut. Introduction à une lecture plurielle (Paris, 1972), 188ffGoogle ScholarLawrence, Kramer, Music as Cultural Practice 1800–1900 (Berkeley, 1990), 136–7.Google Scholar

7 On Wagner as neurotic, see Chessick, Richard D., ‘On Falling in Love: The Mystery of Tristan and Isolde’, in Psychoanalytic Explorations in Music, ed. Stuart, Feder, Karmel, Richard L., and Pollock, George H. (Madison, CT, 1990), 469 and 476.Google ScholarOn the lovers as narcissistic and on oceanic feelings, see Chessick, , 482. In ‘Post-mortem on Isolde’, New German Critique, 69 (1996), 99126, John Deathridge basically continues Chessick's line of argument.Google Scholar

8 See Lago, Galdston, ‘Eros and Thanatos: A Critique and Elaboration of Freud's Death Wish’, American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 15 (1955), 124.Google Scholar

9 Sigmund, Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), The Standard Edition of the Complete Pychological Works of Sigmnnd Freud, XVIII, ed. and trans. James, Strachey et al. (London, 1955), 4950.Google Scholar

10 See Levin, A. J., ‘The Fiction of the Death Instinct’, Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 25 (1951), 257–81.Google ScholarPubMed

11 A reminder that Wagner never intended Isolde's final section to be so labelled: that passage was referred to by him as the ‘Verklärung’ or transtiguration. On the literary rather than psychological value of Freud's dual instinct theory, see Robert, Kastenbaum, The Psychology of Death (2nd ed.; New York, 1992), 205Google ScholarBrown, Norman O., Life Against Death (New York, 1959).Google ScholarPubMedOn the various kinds of attacks on the theory, see Kastenbaum, , 204–5.Google ScholarFor revisions of it, see Galdston, , ‘Eros and Thanatos’ (n. 8), 124.Google Scholar

12 Freud, , Beyond the Pleasure Prirciple (see n. 9), 35. In a somewhat earlier paper on ‘The Uncanny’ written in 1919, Freud had located this same compulsion to repeat in children's behaviour and in psychoanalytic treatment, but while he was happy to make a connection to instinctual drives at this time, he had not yet conceived of the relation to the death instinct.Google Scholar

13 SeeCathy, Caruth, ‘Preface’ to her edition of Trauma: Explorations in Memory (Baltimore, 1995), viiGoogle Scholar and in the same volume, ‘Introduction: Trauma and Experience’, 4Google ScholarBessel A. van der, Kolk and Onno van der, Hart, ‘The Intrusive Past: The Flexibility of Memory and the Engraving of Trauma’, 167. Caruth herself in Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and Histoty (Baltimore, 1996), 7, defines a ‘double telling’ that we will see to be relevant to Isolde: ‘the oscillation between a crisis of death and the correlative crisis of life: between the story of the unbearable nature of an event and the story of the unbearable nature of its survival’.Google Scholar

14 See discussions of this in Richard, Boothby, Death and Desire: Psychoanalytic Theoy in Lacan's Retuni to Freud (New York, 1991), 13Google Scholar, and Ellie, Ragland, ‘Lacan's Concept of the Death Drive’, in Essays on the Pleasures of Death (New York, 1995), 89.Google Scholar

15 Wagner strengthened the closeness of the Isolde–Morold bond: their relation in Gottfried von Strassburg's thirteenth-century epic, Wagner's main source text, is only that of niece and uncle. See Gerhard, Schulz, ‘Liebestod: The Literary Background of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde’, in Peter, Dennison, ed., Miscellanea Musicologica, 14, The Richard Wagner Centenary in Australia (Adelaide, 1985), 119–20, on the finality of death and the appearance of inevitability and finality of love, as presented in Wagner‘s work.Google ScholarSee Peter, Urban, Liebesdämmerung: ein psychoanalytischer Versuch über Richard Wagners ‘Tristan und Isolde’ (Frankfurt am Main, 1991), 85, on the pseudo-sexual verbalization of Tristan and Isolde's neurotic compromise between libido and fear as a manifestation of the repetition compulsion.Google Scholar

16 It is as if her trauma had created what Robert Jay Lifton calls a ‘second self’, in the sense of a ‘traumatized self’ that seeks psychic reintegration through narrative repetition. See Caruth, , ‘An Interview with Robert Jay Lifton’, in Caruth, Trauma (n. 13), 137.Google Scholar

17 On its untheatricality, see Dietrich, Fischer-Dieskau, Wagner and Nietzsche, trans. Joachim, Neugroschel (New York, 1976), 133Google Scholaron its reliance on music over words, see Philippe, Dulac, ‘Chanter la mort’, L'Avant-scène opéra, 34–35 (1981), 152Google ScholarPatrick, Carnegy, ‘The Staging of “Tristan and Isolde”: Landmarks along the Appian Way’, in Tristan and Isolde, EN0 Opera Guide (n. 2), 29.Google Scholar

18 Understandably, it is mostly musicological commentary that has not concentrated on the textual, while literary critics have given serious attention to the libretto's complex patterning. See especially Art, Groos, ‘Wagner's “Tristan und Isolde”: in Defence of the Libretto’, Music and Letters, 6/4 (1988), 465–81Google Scholar; Leo, Spitzer, A Method of Interpreting Literature (Northampton, Mass., 1949), 49ffGoogle Scholar; Ulrich, Weisstein, ‘The Little Word und: Tristan und Isolde as Verbal Construct’, in Waguer in Retrospect: A Centennial Reappraisal, ed. Shaw, Leroy R. et al. (Amsterdam, 1987), 7090.Google Scholar. It is Theodor, Adorno, In Search of Wagner, trans. Rodney, Livingstone (London and New York, 1991), 103, who most famously claimed that the music simply repeats what the words say – an overdetermination that works to the detriment of the music, in his view.Google Scholar

19 For example, see both Weisstein and Groos for excellent analyses of the textual parallels of the endings of each act; see Pierre, Flinois, ‘Miroir des trahisons’, Avant-scène opéra, 34–35 (1981), 169–71, on the repetition of the accusation of ‘traitor’ in the textGoogle Scholar; see Ferlan, , ‘La Roi Marke’ (n. 6), 178–80, on King Marke's discourse as narcissistic and repetitively self-centred (‘mir’)Google Scholar; on naming repetition as a final resort of lovers unable to express in words their joy and so creating a ‘nomination amoureuse’, see Dominique, Jameux's commentary on text and music in Avant-scène opéra, 34–35 (1981), 90–1.Google Scholar

20 See Krop, Jean-Pierre, ‘Le Sillon de Gottfried’, Avant-scène opéra, 34–35 (1981), 14, on the structural repetitions conditioned by the epic formGoogle Scholar, see Weisstein, , ‘The Little Word nud’ (n. 18), 73, on the repeated and parallel oxymorons, puns, and chiastic wordplay in Wagner and Gottfried.Google ScholarFor more on the comparisons, see Helmut, Reichenbächer, ‘Richard Wagner's Adaptation of Gottfried von Strassburg's Tristan’, University of Toronto Quarterly, 67/61 (1998), 762–7. In Gottfried's text too, love and death are obsessively and repeatedly linked together thematically and verbally.Google ScholarSee Hans, Rolf, Der Tod in Mittelhochdeutschen Dichtnngen: Untersuchungen zum St. Trudperter Hobenlied und zu Gottfried von Strassburgs ‘Tristan und Isolde’ (Munich, 1974) with its wordcount of the repetitions of death (218 of the noun; 66 of the verb, often in rhyming position) and love (250). A typical structure in Gottfried's text is the double chiasmus: ‘ein man ein wîp, ein Wîp ein man, / Tristan Isolt, Isolt Tristan’ (a man a woman, a woman a man, / Tristan Isolde, Isode Tristan) (Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan [Stuttgart 1980, 1994], I, lines 128–30). See Reichenbächer for more on the chiastic repetitions in Gottfried.Google Scholar

21 Joseph, Kerman, Opera as Drama (rev. ed.; Berkeley, 1988), 162.Google Scholar

22 It is important to recall, as Grey, (Wagner's Musical Prose [see n. 21) does, that ‘Wagner himself, as we know, did not speak of Leitmotiven, but employed a variety of other terms and circumlocutions to describe the thing we now know by that name: melodische Momenten, Themen, Melodien, Grundthemen, Hauptthemen, Grundmotiven, plastische Natur-Motiven, musikalische Motiven, or simply Motiven’ (319).Google Scholar

23 Adorno, , In search of Wagner (see n. 18), 37 and 60 respectively.Google Scholar

24 See Bailey, Robert, Richard Wagner, Prelude and Transguration from ‘Tristan and Isolde’ (New York, 1985), 113–46, on the importance of repetition in the score. The essentially repetitive and variational nature of the motifs, in fact, is what has led Carolyn Abbate to call Wagner a ‘symphonic’ composer.Google ScholarSee her ‘Opera as Symphony, a Wagnerian Myth’, in Analying Opera: Verdi and Wagner, ed. Abbate, Carolyn and Parker, Roger (Berkeley, 1989), 92124, on Wagner's coherent web of leitmotifsGoogle Scholar, see Steinbeck, Wolfram, ‘Die Idee des Symphonischen bei Richard Wagner: zur Leitmotivtechnik in Tristan und Isolde’, in Bericht ilber den internationalen Musikwissenschaftlichen Kongress Bayreuth 1981, ed. Wiesman, S. and Mahling, C. (Kassel, 1984), 424–36.Google Scholar

25 Eric, Bentley, The Playwright as Thinker (New York, 1946), 84.Google Scholar

26 For an argument against Adorno's kind of accusation, see Jackson, R., ‘Leitmotive and Form in the “Tristan” Prelude’, The Music Review, 36 (1975), 4253.Google Scholar

27 Many of the interpreters of the Tristan chord have made this point. See, for example, Günter, Hartmann, ‘Schon wieder: der (?) Tristan-Akkord’, Musikforschung, 42/41 (1989), 40Google Scholar; Mitchell, William J., ‘The Tristan Prelude: Techniques and Structure’, The Music Forum, 1 (1967), 163203Google Scholar; Dahlhaus, Carl, Richard Wagner's Music Dramas, trans. Whittall, Mary (Cambridge, 1979), 62 (where it is also noted that Marke's motif is the inversion of Tristan's). In his famous 1933 essay Pro and contra Wagner (see n. 2), 127, Thomas Mann saw the yearning motif specifically as the representation of Schopenhauer's Will in the form of love's desire.Google Scholar

28 Reprinted in Bailey, , Richard Wagner (see n. 24), 47.Google Scholar

29 By way of a preview, Schopenhauer wrote: ‘Slow melodies that strike painful discords and wind back to the keynote only through many bars, are sad, on the analogy of delayed and hard-won satisfaction. Delay in the new excitement of the will, namely languor, could have no other expression than the sustained keynote …’ (Schopenhauer, , The World as Will and Representation (see n. 5), 1, 260).Google Scholar

30 See Sebastian, Urmoneit, ‘Untersuchungen zu den beiden “Todesmotiven” aus Tristan und Isolde’, in Musik-Konzepte 57/58: Richard Wagner, Tristan und Isolde (Munich, 1987), 113.Google Scholar

31 Cited by Dahlhaus, , Richard Wagner's Music Dramas (see n. 27), 57. The letter dates from 29 October 1859.Google Scholar

32 See Erika, Reiman, ‘The “Tristan Chord” as Music-Historical Metaphor‘, University of Toronto Quarterly, 67/64 (1998), 768–73.Google ScholarOn recapitulation, see Carolyn, Abbate, Unsung Voices: Opera and Musical Narrative in the Nineteenth Century (Princeton, 1991), 54.Google Scholar

33 Of course, much has been written on the Tristan chord, mostly from a technical point of view. See, for summaries and analyses of the debates, Reiman (n. 32)Google Scholar; Hartmann, artmann (n. 27);Google ScholarJameux, (n. 19), 44–7Google Scholar; Serge, Gut, ‘Encore et toujours: “L'Accord de Tristan”’, Avani-scène opéra, 34–35 (1981), 148–51; Bailey (n.24), 113’46.Google ScholarSee, on line, John, Rothgeb, ‘The Tristan Chord: Identity and Origin’, MTO, 1/1 (1995)Google ScholarAllen, Forte, ‘Tristan Redux: Comments on John Rothgeb's Article on the Tristan Chord in MTO’, MTO, 1/2 (1995)Google ScholarRothstein, William, ‘The Tristan Chord in Historical Context: A Response to John Rothgeb’, MTO, 1/3 (1995) (see ScholarSee Barry Millington, S.V.Trirtan und Isolde’, The New Grove Dictiona of Opera, ed. Stanley, Sadie (London, 1992), 815–16, on the precedents in other music of elements of the chord. These debates are of less interest to us here than is the narrative function of the chord in its reappearances (e.g. just after the drinking of the love potion).Google ScholarSee Deryck, Cooke, ‘Wagner's Musical Language’, in The Wagner companion, ed. Burbidge, P. and Sutton, R. (London, 1979), 239.Google Scholar

34 Reiman's analysis of this passage is relevant here:

In the final measures of the opera, as Isolde completes her transfiguration, the chord is heard for the last time in the context of the key of B major. The note B – the tonic – is now in the bass; the D Shari, the third of the tonic chord, is in the soprano, with the crucial G sharp and F in the middle voices … The initial pungency of the chord has nearly disappeared; Wagner still does not dare to use it as a final sonority, but it is a mere ripple in the gentle stream of sound that leads to the opera's last cadence. The chord is transfigured together with Isolde. ‘The Tristan Chord’ (see n. 32), 769–70.

35 It does not appear in the major source text where only a love potion is presented. However, it is made clear in Gottfried that its drinking is to be the death of the lovers:

ouwê Tristan unde Îsôt,

diz tranc ist iuwer beider tôt!

[Alas, Tristan and Isolde, / This drink is the death of you both!](Gottfried, II, lines 11, 705–6). See Rolf, Der Tod (n. 20); Rosenband, Doris, Das Liebesmotiv in Gottfrieds ‘Tristan’ and Wagners ‘Tristan und Isolde’ (Göppingen, 1973)Google Scholar; Frenzel, Elisabeth, ‘Tristan und Isolde’, in Stoffe der Weltliteratur ein Lexikon dichtungs-geschichtlicher Längsschnitte (6th ed.; Stuttgart, 1983), 754–60;Google ScholarWeston, Jesse L., The Legends of the Wagner Dramas: Studies in Mythology and Romance (New York, 1900), 309Google Scholar; Peter, Wapnewski, Der Traurige Gott. Richard Waguer in seinen Helden (Munich, 1978), chapter 6.Google Scholar

36 ‘[T]he drink is a love potion only insofar as it is believed to he a death potion …[T]f it is a yearning for death which is turned into love by the drink, it was from love that the yearning for death previously grew’ (Dahlhaus, , Richard Wagner's Music Dramas [see n. 27], 51).Google Scholar; See also Gueullette, Alain, ‘La Mer profonde’, Avant-scène opéra, 34–35 (1981), 165.Google Scholar

37 See Anthony, Negus, ‘Musical Commentary’, in Tristan and Isolde, ENO Opera Guide (n. 2), 20.Google Scholar

38 Dronke, Cf. Peter, The Medieval Lyric (London, 1968), 167–85Google Scholar; Rosenband, Das Liebesmotiv (n. 35); and for a very different association – of the day as time of truth – see, in the major source text, Gottfried, II, lines 12,555, 12,559, 12,566, 14,630ff.Google Scholar

39 See Jankélévitch,, VladimirLa Nocturne’, Cahiers du Sud (1937), 7583. Earlier cultures – such as Greek – also saw light as life and darkness (e.g. Hades) as associated with death.Google Scholar See Sourvinou-lnwood, Christiane, ‘To Die and Enter the House of Hades: Homer, Before and After’, in Mirrors of Mortality: Studies in the Social History of Death, ed. Whaley, Joachim (London, 1981), 21.Google ScholarJay, Martin, in Downcast Eyes: The Denegration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (Berkeley, 1993), 107, argues that dark began being positively valued in late eighteenth-century philosophy as part of a waning of Enlightenment trust in sight.Google Scholar

40 Magee, J. See Bryan, ‘Schopenhauer and Wagner: Part Two’, Opera Quarterly, 1/4 (Winter, 1983), 56;Google ScholarLee, Owen M., ‘Journey into Night’, Opera News, 45/11 (31 01 1981), 1011;Google ScholarMatter, Jean, ‘De Gottfried à Schopenhauer: Influences’, Avant-sceène opéra, 34–5 (1981), 10;Google ScholarChessic, , ‘On Falling in Love’ (n. 7), 467;Google Scholarde Rougemont, , Love in the Western World (n. 6), 207–8.Google Scholar

41 See Reinhardt, Hartmut, ‘Wagner and Schopenhauer’, trans. Erika, and Swales, Martin, Wagner Handbook, ed. lrich Müller and Peter Wapnewski, trans, and ed. Deathridge, John (Cambridge, 1992), 291Google Scholar; Prüfer, Arthur, ‘Novalis Hymnen an die Nacht und ihren Beziehungen zu Wagners Tristan und Isolde’, Richard Wagner Jabrbuch (1906), 293Google Scholar; Krebs, Siegfried, Phillip Otto Runges Entwicklung unter dem Einflüsse Ludwig Tiecks (Heidelberg, 1909), 137–8Google Scholar; Borchmeyer, Dieter, Das Theater Richard Wagners: Idee-Dichtung-Wirkung (Stuttgart, 1982), 261. See also Cosima Wagner's later diary entry for 19 April 1879: ‘und dann liest er einiges von und über Novalis in Carlyle vor’ (Die Tagebücher II, ed. Gregor-Dellin, Martin and Mack, Dietrich [Munich/Zurich, 1977], 333). That Wagner had likely read Novalis himself long before this is suggested by the echoes of the latter's Hymnen in Tristan's libretto.Google Scholar See Scott, Jill, ‘Night and Light in Wagner's Tristan und Isolde and Novalis's Hymnen an die Nacht: Inversion and Transfiguration’, University of Toronto Quarterly, 67/4 (1998), 774–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar For an overview of German Romanticism's ‘Thoughts of the Night’, see the section by that name in The German Mind of the Nineteenth Century: A Literary and Historical Anthology, ed. Glaser, Hermann (New York, 1981), 1135.Google Scholar

42 Uns're Liebe?

Tristans Liebe?

Dein' und mein',

Isoldes Liebe?

Welches Todes Streichen

könnte je sie weichen?

Stünd' er vor mir,

der mächt'ge Tod,

wie er mir Leib

und Leben bedroht',

die ich so willig

der Liebe lasse,

wie wäre seinem Streiche

die Liebe selbst zu erreichen?

Stürb' ich nun ihr,

der so gern ich sterbe,

wie könnte die Liebe

mit mir sterben,

die ewig lebende

mit mir enden?

Doch stürbe nie seine Liebe,

wie stürbe dann Tristan

seiner Liebe?

[Our love? / Tristan's love? / yours and mine, / Isolde's love? / What blow by death / could ever make it yield? / Were he to stand before me, / mighty death, / no matter how my body / and life he threatened, / which willingly I / would leave to love, / how would his blow / affect love itself? / Were 1 to die of it now, / for I'd gladly die of it, / how could love / die with me, / the eternally living / end with me? / So, if his love can never die, / how could Tristan then die / of his love?]

43 Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation (see n. 5), II, 533–4.

44 While he was composing Tristan und Isolde, Wagner wrote (in some ways, rather uncharacteristically) in his letters of his desire to ‘cast aside my entire personality, devoid of will’, to escape ‘this terrible world of ours, beyond which there is only nothingness’, and in which suffering is the normal and necessary condition of ‘all living things’ (Wagner, Selected Letters (see n. 2), 343, 344, 346 respectively).

45 For an argument that Wagner was a pure Schopenhauerian, see Magee, ‘Wagner and Schopenhauer’ (n. 2), 159.

46 Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation (see n. 5), II, 532.

47 See Millington, Barry, Wagner (New York, 1984), 230Google Scholar; Reinhardt, ‘Wagner and Schopenhauer’ (n. 41), 291.

48 Sans, Edouard, ‘L'Amour dans Tristan, ou le romantisme surdimensionné’, Avant-scène opéra, 34–5 (1981), 22. On naming and the relation to the ‘und’ that worries Isolde, see Groos, ‘Wagner's “Tristan und Isolde”’ (see n. 18), 471.Google Scholar

49 Rose, ‘A landmark’ (see n. 2), 11.

50 Millington, ‘Tristan und Isolde’ (see n. 33), 818–19. The citation following is on page 819.

51 Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation (see n. 5), II, 466–7; it has been pointed out that this is an ancient concept, dating at least from Lucretius. See Nagel, Thomas, ‘Death’, in The Metaphysics of Death, ed. Fischer, John Martin (Stanford, 1993), 67.Google Scholar

52 Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation (see n. 5), II, 267–9.

53 When Nattiez, Jean Jacques, in Wagner Androgyne: A Study in Interpretation, trans. Spencer, Stewart (Princeton, 1993),Google Scholar calls Tristan a ‘latter-day Orpheus‘ (153), he does so to stress the reflexive, self-conscious identity of Tristan as a singer from another world. So too does Carolyn, Abbate, in ‘Wagner, “On Modulation”, and Tristan’, this journal, 1 (1989), 48–9, drawing from the fact that, in the Gottfried poem, Tristan is a musician and composer. In fact, there are many Orphic analogies in that version: for instance, Tristan's singing and harp-playing are said to bewitch those who find him in his small boat off the shores of Ireland.?Google Scholar See Campbell's, Joseph Creative Mythology, volume 4 of Masks of God (New York, 1968), 227.Google Scholar

54 Caruth, Unclaimed Experience (see n. 13), 65.

55 Throughout his monologue, he repeats these verbs:

Sehnen! Sehnen!

Im Sterben mich zu sehnen,

vor Sehnsucht nicht zu sterben!

Die nie erstirbt,

sehnend nun ruft

um Sterbens Ruh

Sie der fernen Ärztin zu. -

[To yearn! To yearn! / In dying to yearn, / not to die of yearning! / What never dies, [the song] / yearning now calls / for the peace of dying / to the distant physician.]

This reference to Isolde as healer recalls to Tristan her curing of his earlier wound and, therefore, their falling in love: Isolde's trauma narrative here is repeated by Tristan, as once again we hear of how she dropped the avenging sword, and he lived. Since then his life has been one of yearning and suffering, and the various possible escapes – including the intended death potion – have been in vain.

56 For one interpretation of this, see Grey, Wagner's Musical Prose (n. 2), 357: ‘The “torch” motive, the original “death” motive, and the syncopated line of Tristan's anxious anticipation from the beginning of the scene all converge here, as the whole motivic complex of the Act I prelude wells up portentously one last time … This knot is audibly disentangled during Tristan's final moments.’

57 See Novalis, in Simon Reynolds, ed., Novalis and the Poets of Pessimism. With an English Translation by James Thomson of ‘Hymns to Night’ (Whitby, 1995), 30, 34, 48, 52Google Scholar; for commentary, see Scott, ‘Night and Light’ (n. 41); Blackwell, Eric A., The Novels of the German Romantics (Ithaca, 1983), 216Google Scholar; Blanchot, Maurice, The Space of Literature, trans. Smock, Ann (Lincoln, Nbr., 1982), 111. For Novalis's diary entry about the apparition of his beloved, see Reynolds, 17. It should be noted that Thomas Mann felt that both Novalis's poems and Wagner's music drama grew out of the more ‘lascivious’ domains of Romanticism (Pro and Contra Wagner [see n. 2], 68, in a letter from 1920).Google Scholar

58 Koppen, Erwin, Dekadenter Wagnerismus: Studien zur europäischen Literatur des Fin de Siècle (Berlin and New York, 1973), 172.Google Scholar See also Gerhard Schulz, “Liebestod” (n. 15), 121–8; Krebs, Philip Otto Runges Eniwicklung (n. 41), 130–1; Kluckholm, Paul, Die Auffassung der Liebe in der Literatur des 18. Jahrhunderts und in der deutschen Romantik (1922; Tübingen, 1966), 390–5.Google Scholar See also the dissertation on the topic by Maria Christina Bijvoet, ‘Liebestod: The Meaning and Function of the Double Love-Death in Major Interpretations of Four Western Legends’, Ph.D. diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1985). Deathridge, ‘Post Mortem’ (n. 7), 108, would seem to be alone in his claim that the word was rare at this time, a claim he uses to argue that E. T. A. Hoffmann's Undine (1816) is the major source for Wagner.

59 Winkler, Gerhard J., ‘Der “Schleier der Maja”: Transformation eincs Begriffs, Schopenhauer-Wagner-Nietzsche’, in “Der Fall Wagner”: Ursprünge and Folgen von Nietzsches Wagner Kritik, ed. Steiert, Thomas (Laaber, 1991), 246.Google Scholar Winkler also writes of the instinctive life of sounds in a sexual sense (‘Triebleben der Klänge’) (247). See also Conrad, Peter, A Song of Love and Death: The Meaning of Opera (New York, 1987), 181: this is a musical investigation of ‘the secrets of orgasm, that explosion of life which results in a small and temporary death’.Google Scholar

60 Respectively, Bentley, The Playwright as Thinker (see n. 25) 116 Mann, Pro and Contra Wagner (see n. 2), 194.

61 De Rougemont, Love in the Western World (n. 6), 229 and 230

62 See Fergusson, Francis, ‘Tristan and Isolde: The Action and Theater of Passion’, in The Idea of a Theater (Princeton, 1949), 76, and Kerman, Opera as Drama (n. 21) 159, 163–5.Google Scholar For background on the mystical view of death, see Carse, James P., Death and Existence: A Conceptual Histoy of Hurnan Mortality (New York, 1980), chapter 3, ‘Death as Separation – Love’, esp. 69–78.Google Scholar

63 As David Levin has pointed Out to us, the fact that Wagner's later audience in Bayreuth would have been sitting in the darkened theatre – a Wagnerian innovation – reinforces the idea that Wagner wanted them to experience, at least allegorically, the ‘nightsighted’ perspective of his lovers in a realm of darkness, On Wagner's theatrical innovation, see Schivelbusch, Wolfgang, Lichtblicke: Zur Geschichte der künstlichen Helligkeit in 19. Jabrbundert (Munich, 1983): ‘Die Aufführungen Richard Wagners im Bayreuther Festspielhaus fanden vor einem weitgehend – wenngleich nicht total – verdunkelten Auditorium statt. Es war ein radikaler Versuch, das Theater als sozialen Ort aufzuheben und es in einen mystischen zu verwandeln’ (198).Google Scholar

64 Spitzer, A Method (see n. 18), 48; the link to Baudelaire's famous poem, ‘Correspondances’, has been made by many. See Petitjean, Martial, ‘L'Extase tristanienne: une initiation métaphysique’, Avant-scène opéra, 34–5 (1981), 162 for example.Google Scholar; A recent work by Friedrich, Sven, Das auratische Kunstverk: zur Asthetik von Richard Wagners Musiktheaterutopie (Tübingen, 1996) argues Wagner's theory of a synesthetic ‘aural artwork’.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

65 See the excellent analyses of Groos (n. 18) and Weisstein (n. 18).

66 Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation (see n. 5), 11, 490.

67 Borchmeyer, Das Theater Richard Wagner (see n. 41), 264, makes the connection to Gaston Bachelard's L'Eau et les rêves. See also Gueullette, ‘La Mer profonde’ (n. 36), 165–6. On the return to the mother, from a psychoanalytic perspective, see Poizat, Michel, The Angel's Cry: Beyond the Pleasure Principle in Opera, trans. Denner, Arthur (Ithaca, 1992), 167, 177 and Deathridge ‘Post-Mortem’ (see n. 7), 110–11.Google Scholar

68 See Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation (see n. 5), II, 495. Kramer, in Music as Cultural Practice (see n. 6), sees gender differentiation as what is lost here, but the important difference is simply in terms of individuals, whatever their gender. We would also argue that Deathridge's gender-allegorical reading (‘Post-mortem’ [see n. 7], 107–11) of the triumph of absolute music renders Isolde much too passive.

69 Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation (see n. 5), II, 507.

70 We would obviously disagree, then, with both Deathridge's assertion of the ‘exalted saintliness of Isolde's renunciation of earthly desire in her death scene’ (‘Post-mortem’ [see n. 7], 116) and Father M. Owen Lee's view that ‘the lovers reject the sensuality and abandon of physical love for something we may quite rightly call meta-physical’ (A Season of Opera: From Orpheus to Atiadne [Toronto, 1998], 132).

71 See Magee, ‘Schopenhauer and Wagner: Part Two’ (n. 40), 61. In contrast, see Rose (n. 2), 12; Winkler (n. 59), 237–40, 248–9; Reinhardt (n. 41), 292; Adorno (n. 18), 145.

72 Mann, Pro und Contra Wagner (see n. 2), 126; Robert, W. Gutman, Richard Wagner The Man, His Mind, and His Music (1968; San Diego, New York, London, 1990), 252.Google Scholar See also Reiman on how Wagner's musically revolutionary Tristan chord finds its analogue in his sexually revolutionary message in the music drama. For more on the sexual and physical aspects – as a hangover of Wagner's Feuerbachian mode – see Grey, Wagner's Musical Prose (n. 2), 145–6; 164.

73 Millington, ‘Tristan tend Isolde’ (see n. 33), 819.

74 Or, if they are, pathology is assumed: ‘While for Wagner pleasure assumes the features of death and destruction, in return death is celebrated in the mirror of the work as “soaring joy” and greatest good. Its very lustre serves as an advertisement of death’ (Adorno, In Search of Wagner [see n. 18], 146).

75 Wagner's ‘Program Notes’ for the Prelude, in Bailey, Richard Wagner, Prelude (see n. 24), 48.

76 See, for example, Sans, ‘L'Amour dans Tristan’ (see n. 48), 25; de Rougemont, Love in the Western World (n. 6), Wapnewski, , Tristan der Held Richard Wagners (n. 6), 64;Google ScholarBertram, Johannes, Mythos, Symbol, Idee in Richard Wagners Musik-Dramen (Hamburg, 1962), 222.Google ScholarIn Opera, or the Undoing of Women, trans. Wing, Betsy (1988; London, 1989), Catherine Clément, from a feminist angle, sees the ending as ‘the easiest death and the most deceptive; the worst death women's hearts are offered’ (53); she feels the lovers' deaths are ‘separate, competitive, divided. That is the outcome of passion and its disappointing result’ (58).Google Scholar

77 Grey' Wagner's Musical Prose (n. 2) is convincing on the musical connections between this music drama and Berlioz's Roméo et Juliette (326–8, 334–9, 349–50) but misses the crucial meaning of this textual and dramatic difference that renders those musical links, if anything, ironic.

78 See Frenzel, ‘Tristan und Isolde,’ (see n. 35) on the twelfth-century Estoire version and the prefiguring of this ending in the deaths of Tristan's parents in the unfinished (or fragment) Gottfried version; Gutman, Richard Wagner (n. 72), 164. See also Ulrich von Türheim and Heinrich von Freiberg's late thirteenth-century conclusion to Gottfried, as discussed by Reichenbächer, ‘Richard Wagner's Adaptation’ (see n. 20).

79 ‘Yet what Fate divided in life now springs into transfigured life in death: the gates of union are thrown open. Over Tristan's body the dying Isolde receives the blessed fulfilment of ardent longing, eternal union in measureless space, without barriers, without fetters, inseparable.’ Wagner's ‘Program Notes’ to the Verkiärung, in Bailey, Richard Wagner, Prelude (n. 24), 48. See Kilbourn, Russell, ’Redemption Revalued in Tristan und Isolde: Schopenhauer, Wagner, Nietzsche’, University of Toronto, Quarterly, 67/4 (1998), 781–8, for more on transfiguration and redemption.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

80 See Jones, Gwyneth interviewed by Monigue Barichella, ‘Un message spirituel’, Avant-scène opéra, 34–35 (1981), 191.Google Scholar

81 Gutman, Richard Wagner (n. 72), 252. See also Poizat, The Angel's Cry (n. 67), 37–8 for a Lacanian argument that the work moves beyond speech. Weltrich, Richard, Richard Wagners ‘Tristan und Isolde’ als Dichtung: Nebst einigen allgemeinen Bemerkungen über Wagners Kunst (Berlin, 1904) is also typical in his denunciation of the art of Wagner's poetry. See esp. 40, 67, 69.Google Scholar

82 Groos, ‘Wagner's “Tristan und Isolde”’ (n. 18), 467–8. On the redefinition, see Laurence Kramer, Music as Cultural Practice (n. 6), esp. 161–6; and Reiman, ‘The Tristan Chord‘ (n. 32).

83 See Laplanche, Jean, Life and Death in Psychoanaysis, trans. Mehlman, Jeffrey (Baltimore, 1976), passim.Google Scholar

84 Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, trans. Kaufmann, Walter (New York, 1967), 126.Google Scholar

85 E.g. Kaufmann's annotations to The Birth of Tragedy, 126.

86 Schopenhauer's position on tragedy was the following: ‘At the highest and hardest stage the tragic is aimed at: grieyous suffering, the misery of existence is brought before us, and the final outcome is here the vanity of all human striving. We are deeply affected and the sensation of the will's turning away from life is aroused in us, either directly or as a simultaneously sounding harmony’ (Schopenhaue: Essqys and Aphorisms, trans. Hollingdale, R. J. [Harmondsworth, 1970], 164).Google Scholar

87 The Birth of Tragedy (n. 84), 103–4.

88 The Birth of Tragedy, 104; the previous citation is from 103–4.

89 The Birth of Tragedy, 131.

90 The Birth of Tragedy, 141.

91 The young Nietzsche wrote to his friend Edwin Rohde about his relationship to the older composer: ‘What I find congenial about Wagner is what I find congenial about Schopenhauer, the ethical essence, the Faustian atmosphere, the Cross, death and the grave’. This is cited by Köhler, Joachim in Nietzsche and Wagner: A Lesson in Subjugation, trans. Taylor, Ronald (New Haven, 1998), 20.Google Scholar

92 Cited in Fischer-Dieskau, Wagner and Nietzsche (n. 17), 90.

93 See Nietzsche's remarks, for example, in Ecce Homo (1888): ‘But to this day I am still looking for a work that equals the dangerous fascination and the gruesome [schauerlich: causing to shudder] and sweet infinity of Tristan– and look in all the arts in vain … This work is emphatically Wagner's non plus ultra(On the Geneaology of Morals and Ecce Homo, trans. Kaufmann, Walter [New York, 1969], 250).Google Scholar

94 The Birth of Tragedy (n. 84), 126–8.

95 Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation (see n. 5), II, 451.

96 Schopenhauer, II, 455–6.

97 Gregor-Dellin, Martin, ‘Schopenhauer und die Musiker nach ihm’, Schopenhauer Jabrbuth, 64 (1985), 51–3.Google Scholar In Bryan Magee's terms:

The very first chord of Tristan, perhaps the most famous in the history of music, contains two dissonances, one of which is then resolved but the other is not; the same is true of the second chord, and the third and the fourth; and throughout the work the perpetual longing of the ear for resolution of discord is at every moment partially satisfied and partially not. This goes on for more than four hours of music, until finally, on the very last chord – when Isolde joins Tristan in death – resolution is at long last achieved, and a full close reached: the striving, indeed everything, stops.

(‘Schopenhauer and Wagner: Part Two’ [n. 40], 54.) Magee's cursory harmonic summary is, of course, only one of dozens of ways of analysing the chord. As argued earlier, one could say that the chord's function has had to change in order for it to be resolved. See Reiman, ‘The Tristan Chord’ (n. 32), 768–73.

98 As pointed Out by Bentley, The Playwright as Thinker (n. 25), 111.

99 Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation (see n. 5), II, 448.

100 And, in a much more negative sense, by Adorno, In Search of Wagner (n. 18), p 67: ‘That suffering can be sweet, and that the poles of pleasure and pain are not rigidly opposed to one another, but are mediated, is something that both composers and audience learned from him, and it is this experience alone that made it possible for dissonance to extend its range over the whole language of music. And few aspects of Wagner's music have been as seductive as the enjoyment of pain’.

101 Winkler, ‘Der “Schleier der Maja” (see n. 59), 248–9.

102 John Keats, ‘Ode to a Nightingale’.

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