A subscriber writes:
Since its premiere in 1882, countless thousands of words have been written about the meaning of Wagner’s most challenging work, Parsifal. The text has been scrutinized and analyzed by devotees and detractors alike. These discussions are nearly always fascinating, often confusing, and occasionally ill-informed, and to their number I am certainly unequal to making an increase. Running the risk of sounding slightly oxymoronic I venture to say that such analyses are doomed to be endlessly inconclusive. Not surprisingly, far fewer words seem to have been written with regard to the true glory of this masterpiece – the music itself, the very notes that sustain it and without which few if any of the aforementioned writings would ever have come into being. I say that this is not surprising because it is so very difficult to render into words the effect of music upon the listener, if indeed it is ever possible at all. But about at least one aspect of it I feel I’d like to make the attempt. There are moments in Parsifal, alone among Wagner’s music dramas, during which I feel as if the composer allows one to look through the microscope, as it were, into the very DNA of music to see how it works. A case in point (only one of many throughout the work) occurs about halfway through the long monologue Amfortas sings towards the end of Act 3. (In the standard vocal score as published in 1902 by B. Schott’s Söhne it can be found at the top of page 263.) As the strands of counterpoint move through these strangely dying harmonies and arrive at their momentary resolution in the key of D-flat Major, (text, for purposes of reference only: “mir endlich spende den Tod! Tod! Sterben… einz’ge Gnade!) one of those glimpses through the microscope occurs. The sequential occurrence of this same passage six or seven measures later, this time arriving at D Major, is equally moving. To say that it is “beautiful” seems monumentally inadequate. And yet….? If such passages produce tears, and they most certainly do, they are not tears of sadness, nor of joy, nor of any emotion save that which arises when one is confronted by the absolute truth. Pressed to describe what those notes do, how they function, I would say quite simply that they tell the absolute, incontrovertible truth. And that can be said about very little in this life. The music of Parsifal is perhaps the most powerful corroboration I can think of in support Keats’ assertion that beauty is truth and truth beauty.