Tuesday, August 1, 2017
Wagner invents the Vulcan mind meld
A central theme of Tristan and Isolde is Schopenhauer's metaphysics - essentially a refinement to Kant's transcendental idealism. What we perceive is operated upon by our intellect in order that we may make some sense of it, thus we are perceiving phenomena rather than things in themselves. Crucially it is noumena processed by our 'categories of perception' that make up what we think of as the world. According to Kant there is a corresponding noumena to a phenomena, these are the 'things in themselves'. Schopenhauer realised that the noumena is undifferentiated: it's not an ordered underlying reality but it just 'is', the world as you know it is a manifestation of Will - as Wagner has it its essence is of "des Weltathems wehenden All" - the swirling universal breath. Like atman or tao. It's where you come from where you go. Tristan and Isolde are creatures of the night, when the lights are low the truth may emerge and they can be, when the spotlight is upon them the world is harsh and cruel. One art has a special position and that is music, it is not a copy of the world but is itself of the world. Schopenhauer tells us "Music is as immediate an objectification and copy of the whole will as the world itself is, indeed as the Ideas are, the multiplied phenomenon of which constitutes the world of individual things. Therefore music is by no means like the other arts, namely a copy of the Ideas, but a copy of the will itself, the objectivity of which are the Ideas. For this reason the effect of music is so very much more powerful and penetrating than is that of the other arts, for these others speak only of the shadow, but music of the essence." To set the scene here at the beginning of Act III, in a nutshell Tristan has hit rock bottom - his naive choices have stripped him of everything; Wagner describes the scene “... world, power, fame, honour, chivalry, loyalty, and friendship, scattered like an insubstantial dream; one thing alone left living: longing, longing unquenchable, desire forever renewing itself, craving and languishing; one sole redemption: death, surcease of being, the sleep that knows no waking!” Tristan is barely tethered to life, only the faintest of threads can his fluttering heart sustain; these but fevered hopes of seeing Isolde again. A shepherd, or goatsherd perhaps - the german is unspecific and I am unversed in the niceties of ovine versus caprine musifying, is playing a "Reigen" or roundelay - I take this to be a pleasant, optimistic tune blown perhaps in the hopes of whistling up a pretty shepherdess. At the very least it should not induce his charges to leap from the cliff. My own idea of a Reigen might be something like this, for instance the French Horn at around 1:30? https://youtu.be/8JGnHrGHoHs This is what Wagner does to it: The "Reigen", and I put it in quotes for it is none, starts after about 5mins (that you should not skip!) https://youtu.be/NsCQj0GJ1K8 But we are not hearing the tune being played; we are not listening to a shepherd playing a roundelay, we are listening to Tristan's hearing of the roundelay; we are inside Tristan's head; we the audience have transcended a gulf between minds. OK, the 'bandwidth' is low, just a melody on a single instrument, but the effect is stunning to me. This is what happiness sounds like when you are depressed. As an aside: Surely this piece is the grandaddy of winsome sax solos wafting over rooftops the world over? P.S. A perusal of the libretto shows that the above may make an erroneous assumption or two; the stage direction says "Von der Aussenseite her hört man, beim Aufziehen des Vorhanges, einen Hirtenreigen, sehnsüchtig und traurig auf einer Schalmei geblasen." - a sad, yearning tune A very musical shepherd then - Bo Diddely Peep.