The Complete Wagner - Siegfried

© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015
"In the struggle to give the wishes of my heart artistic shape, and in the ardor to discover what thing it was that drew me to the primal source of old Sagas, I drove step by step into the deeper regions of antiquity, where at last to my delight, and truly in the utmost reaches of old time, I was to light upon the fair young form of Man, in all the freshness of his force.
My studies thus bore me, through the legends of the Middle Ages, right down to their foundation in the old-Germanic Mythos; one swathing after another, which the later legendary lore had bound around it, I was able to unloose, and thus at last to gaze upon it in its chastest beauty.
What here I saw, was no longer the figure of conventional history, whose garment claims our interest more than does the actual shape inside; but the real naked man, in whom I might spy each throbbing of his pulses, each stir within his mighty muscles, in uncramped, freest motion: the type of the true human being.
Although the splendid type of Siegfried had long attracted me, it first enthralled my every thought when I had come to see it in its purest human shape, set free from every later wrapping.
Now for the first time, also, did I recognize the possibility of making him the hero of a drama; a possibility that had not occurred to me while I only knew him from the medieval Nibelungenlied."

                                                                                                                 Richard Wagner
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'Siegfried' is the third of the four operas that constitute 'Der Ring des Nibelungen' (The Ring of the Nibelung), by Richard Wagner.
It received its premiere at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus on 16 August 1876, as part of the first complete performance of 'The Ring'.
This part of the opera is primarily inspired by the story of the legendary hero Sigurd in Norse mythology.

Composition

Georg Herwegh
Arthur Schopenhauer
In September or October 1854 the German poet and political activist Georg Herwegh introduced Wagner to the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer.
Schopenhauer's pessimistic and renunciatory philosophy had a profound effect on Wagner, and it was only to be expected that it should influence the composition of the Ring.
In 1856 the libretto of Siegfried was revised and a new ending was devised for Götterdämmerung – the so-called Schopenhauer Ending.


© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015

Siegfried and Fafnir


When Wagner came to compose Siegfried, he made three significant alterations to his modus operandi.
Firstly, he wrote (in ink and on at least three staves) a developed draft between the preliminary draft and the full score; this intermediate draft included most of the orchestral details of the final score; this procedure, Wagner hoped, would facilitate the writing of the full score, obviating the difficulties he had encountered during the composition of 'Die Walküre'.
Secondly, he composed one act at a time, carrying the composition of the music through all three stages from preliminary draft to full score (but not necessarily fair copy) for the first act before proceeding to the composition of the second act; this way he ensured that as little time as possible elapsed between the initial drafting of a passage and its final orchestration.
Thirdly, he frequently worked on the various drafts at the same time, orchestrating the earlier scenes of an act while still drafting the later ones.

Richard Wagner
Discounting the earlier sketches he had made for 'Der junge Siegfried' (summer 1851), the composition of 'Siegfried' was begun in Zürich in September 1856.
The developed draft was begun on 22 September, almost immediately after the (undated) preliminary draft. The full score was begun on 11 October, so Wagner was working on all three stages at the same time.
On 19 December, however, he began to sketch some themes for 'Tristan und Isolde'; from this point on there were to be many interruptions in the composition of 'Siegfried'.
Nevertheless, by 31 March 1857 the full score of Act I was finished.
Sometime thereafter Wagner began to make a fair copy, but he abandoned this task after just one scene.

Fafners Ruhe - Siegfried
Almost two months elapsed before he began work on Act II; the prelude, Fafners Ruhe ("Fafner's Rest") was sketched on 20 May 1857, while the preliminary draft was begun on 22 May, the composer's forty-fourth birthday.
On 18 June, he began the developed draft while still working on the preliminary draft; but later that same month he dropped the work (at the point where Siegfried rests himself beneath the linden tree) to concentrate on 'Tristan und Isolde'.
The preliminary draft reached this point on the 26th, and the developed draft on the 27th.
It seems that Wagner was tiring of the 'Ring' and he considered putting it aside for a while:
"I have determined finally to give up my headstrong design of completing the 'Nibelungen'.
I have led my young Siegfried to a beautiful forest solitude, and there have left him under a linden tree, and taken leave of him with heartfelt tears." (Wagner, in a letter to Franz Liszt, dated 8 May 1857)
This hiatus, however, did not last as long as Wagner had anticipated. On 13 July 1857 he took up the work again and finished Act II within four weeks, the preliminary draft being completed on 30 July and the developed draft on 9 August.

'Tristan und Isolde'
The full score of the first act was now complete (in pencil), and a fair copy had been made (in ink) of the opening scene; the developed draft of the second act was finished, but the full score had not yet been begun. At this point Wagner once again put the opera aside to concentrate on 'Tristan und Isolde'.

'Die Meistersinger'
Seven years would pass before he took it up again, during which time he completed 'Tristan' and started 'Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg'.
With Wagner's exile from Bavaria in December 1865, a third hiatus ensued in the composition of 'Siegfried', during which Wagner completed 'Die Meistersinger'.
Work on 'Siegfried' was resumed at the start of 1869 and on 23 February the fair copies of Acts I and II were finally completed.
A week later, on 1 March, Wagner began the composition of Act III.
Working from sketches dating from around 1864 and thereafter, he proceeded to make a preliminary draft of the entire act, as was his usual practice.
Siegfried
This was completed fifteen weeks later on 14 June.
The second complete draft – the orchestral draft – was finished on 5 August.
The full score was begun on 25 August and completed on 5 February 1871.
It is often said that twelve years elapsed between the second and third acts of 'Siegfried', but this is an exaggeration.
While it is true that eleven years and twenty-nine weeks passed between the completion of the developed draft of Act II and the beginning of the preliminary draft of Act III, Wagner devoted more than a year of this so-called hiatus to the composition of 'Siegfried,' completing the fair copy of Act I, drawing up both the full score and fair copy of Act II, and making sketches for Act III.



Synopsis

Wagner envisioned Siegfried as a "free human being" who can change the world order.
He will accomplish this feat with the sword Northung which he reforges himself, breaking Wotan's spear.


Wotan's Spear - Gungnir
In Norse mythology, Gungnir is the spear of the god Odin.
The spear is described as being so well balanced that it could strike any target, no matter the skill or strength of the wielder.
After the wars between the older rulers of the earth and the lords of the sky, the victorious young king of the gods, Wotan, wanders the middle earth looking to gain all the knowledge and power he can find. He comes to a spring at the foot of the World Ash Tree and asks the norns at the fountain of Mimr for all knowledge of the past, present, and future. The Norns agree to give Wotan most of their knowledge, but only after he hangs on the world ash tree for a long space of time, and to give the Norns one of his eyes.
Wotan does all this and the Norns give him sacred knowledge. He breaks off one of the branches of the World Ash tree and fashions for himself a spear 'Gungnir', on which he carves the runes and sacred knowledge he has learned. He decrees that henceforth all contracts and sacred pacts (Vertragen) must be protected by his spear. But by breaking off this branch, Wotan himself starts the slow decay of the World Ash Tree which will contribute to the ultimate downfall of the gods.When Wotan tries to bar the eponymous hero of the opera 'Siegfried' from awakening Brünnhilde from her magic sleep, Siegfried breaks the spear in two, and Wotan flees. It is implied that this is also the end of Wotan's power, and he never appears onstage again.

In this way Wagner links Siegfried's story to Wotan's ultimate plan to regain the ring.
Siegfried is the son of Siegmund and Sieglinde - (see 'Die Walküre') - whom we meet as a young man several years later.

Siegfried is a German language male given name, composed from the Germanic elements sig "victory" and frithu "protection, peace".

Both Wotan and Alberich see in Siegfried, the innocent and fearless hero, the means by which they might regain the ring.

Sieglinde und Mime
So too does Alberich's brother Mime, who raised Siegfried in the forest after his mother died in childbirth. 
Using the magical tarnhelm, Fafner the giant has transformed himself into a dragon to protect his gold.
Mime encourages Siegfried to challenge the dragon in order to learn the meaning of fear, which Siegfried has never experienced.
Mime attempts to repair the broken sword which he got from Sieglinde, but each time Siegfried easily smashes it against the anvil.
Finally Siegfried begins the task himself, melts the pieces of his father's sword to create a stronger weapon, and this time splits the anvil with one stroke.
With his new version of the sword Nothung, Siegfried kills Fafner and takes the ring and the tarnhelm.
He then kills Mime who was trying to poison him.
Having tasted the dragon's blood, Siegfried now understands the language of the birds in the forest, who tell him of a beautiful maiden asleep on a fiery mountaintop.
When Siegfried seeks her out, Wotan is standing guard, but this time Northung shatters Wotan's spear, symbol of his authority.
The rule of the gods nears its end as Wotan admits his defeat at the hands of a free human being.
Finally Siegfried strides through the fire to find the sleeping Brunnhilde, and they fall deeply in love.

Act I

Junge Siegfried mit Mime
Mime Forging Northung
In a cave in the forest, the Nibelung dwarf Mime, Alberich's brother, is forging a sword.
Mime is plotting to obtain the Ring for himself.
He has raised the human boy Siegfried as a foster child, to kill the dragon, Fafner, who guards the Ring and other treasures.
He needs a sword for Siegfried to use, but the youth has broken every sword he has made.
Siegfried returns from his wanderings in the forest with a wild bear that he caught and demands his new sword, which he immediately breaks.
After Siegfried's tantrum and a carefully studied speech by Mime about Siegfried's ingratitude toward him, Siegfried comes to understand why he keeps coming back to Mime although he despises him: he wants to know his parentage.
Mime is forced to explain how he took in Siegfried's mother, Sieglinde, who died giving birth.
He shows Siegfried the broken pieces of Nothung, which he obtained from her.

Wotan und Mime
Siegfried orders him to reforge the sword, which he cannot do because the metal will not yield to his best techniques.
Siegfried departs, leaving Mime in despair.
An old man (Wotan in disguise) arrives at the door and introduces himself as the Wanderer.
In return for the hospitality due a guest, he wagers his head on answering any three questions or riddles from Mime.
The dwarf agrees in order to get rid of his unwelcome guest.
He asks the Wanderer to name the races that live beneath the ground, on the earth, and in the skies.
These are the Nibelung, the Giants, and the Gods, as the Wanderer answers correctly.
Mime tells the Wanderer to be on his way but is forced to wager his own head on three more riddles for breaking the law of hospitality.

Mime mit dem Wanderer
Siegfried und Nothung
Arthur Rackham
The Wanderer asks him to name the race most beloved of Wotan, but most harshly treated; the name of the sword that can destroy Fafner; and the person who can make the blade.
Mime answers the first two questions: the Wälsungs and Nothung, however, he cannot answer the last. Wotan spares Mime, telling him that only "he who does not know fear" can reforge Nothung, and leaves Mime's head forfeit to that person.
Siegfried returns and is annoyed by Mime's lack of progress.
Mime realizes that Siegfried is "the one who does not know fear" and that unless he can instill fear in him, Siegfried will kill him in accordance with the Wanderer's prediction.

Siegfried Forges Nothung
© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015


He tells Siegfried that fear is an essential craft; Siegfried is eager to learn it, and Mime promises to teach him by bringing him to Fafner.
Since Mime was unable to forge Nothung, Siegfried decides to do it himself.
He succeeds by shredding the metal, melting it, and casting it anew.
In the meantime, Mime brews a poisoned drink to offer Siegfried after the youth has defeated the dragon.
After he finishes forging the sword, Siegfried demonstrates its strength by chopping the anvil in half with it.



Siegfried mit Nothung
© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015

Act II

The Wanderer arrives at the entrance to Fafner's cave, where Alberich is keeping vigil.
The old enemies quickly recognize each other.
Alberich blusters, boasting of his plans for regaining the ring and ruling the World.
Wotan calmly states that he does not intend to interfere, only to observe.
He even offers to awaken Fafner so that Alberich can bargain with him.
Alberich warns the dragon that a hero is coming to fight him, and offers to prevent the fight in return for the Ring.
Fafner dismisses the threat, declines Alberich's offer, and returns to sleep.
Wotan leaves and Alberich withdraws.

Mime Guides Siegfried to Fafner
At daybreak, Siegfried and Mime arrive.
Siegfried und der Drache Fafner
Mime decides to draw back while Siegfried confronts the dragon.
As Siegfried waits for the dragon to appear, he notices a woodbird in a tree.
Befriending it, he attempts to mimic the bird's song using a reed pipe, but is unsuccessful.
He then plays a tune on his horn, which brings Fafner out of his cave.
After a short exchange, they fight, and Siegfried stabs Fafner in the heart with Nothung.


Siegfried badet in Fafner Blut
© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015
Siegfried mit dem Waldvogel
In his last moments, Fafner learns Siegfried's name, and tells him to beware of treachery.
When Siegfried draws his sword from the corpse, his hands are burned by the dragon's blood, and he instinctively puts them to his mouth.
On tasting the blood, he finds that he can understand the woodbird's song.
Following its instructions, he takes the Ring and the Tarnhelm from Fafner's hoard.
Outside the cave, Alberich and Mime quarrel loudly over the treasure.
Alberich hides as Siegfried comes out of the cave.
Mime greets Siegfried; Siegfried complains that he has still not learned the meaning of fear.
Mime offers him the poisoned drink, however, the lingering effect of the dragon's blood allows Siegfried to read Mime's treacherous thoughts, and he stabs him to death.
Alberich, observing from offstage, shouts sadistic laughter.
Siegfried then throws Mime's body into the treasure cave and places Fafner's body in the cave entrance to block it as well.
The woodbird now sings of a woman sleeping on a rock surrounded by magic fire.
Siegfried, wondering if he can learn fear from this woman, heads toward the mountain.

Act III

Siegfried und Brünnhilde
Siegfried und Brünnhilde
The Wanderer appears on the path to Brünnhilde's rock and summons Erda, the earth goddess.
Erda, appearing confused, is unable to offer any advice.
Wotan informs her that he no longer fears the end of the gods; indeed, it is his desire.
His heritage will be left to Siegfried the Wälsung, and their (Erda's and Wotan's) child, Brünnhilde, will "work the deed that redeems the World."
Dismissed, Erda sinks back into the earth.
Siegfried arrives, and the Wanderer questions the youth. Siegfried, who does not recognize his grandfather, answers insolently and starts down the path toward Brünnhilde's rock.
The Wanderer blocks his path, but Siegfried breaks Wotan's spear with a blow from Nothung.
Wotan calmly gathers up the pieces and vanishes.
Siegfried enters the ring of fire, emerging on Brünnhilde's rock.
At first, he thinks the armored figure is a man, however, when he removes the armor, he finds a woman beneath.
At the sight of the first woman he has ever seen, Siegfried at last experiences fear.
In desperation, he kisses Brünnhilde, waking her from her magic sleep.
Hesitant at first, Brünnhilde is won over by Siegfried's love, and renounces the world of the gods.
Together, they hail "light-bringing love, and laughing death."



© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015


'Lachend erwachst du Wonnige mir:
Brünnhilde lebt, Brünnhilde lacht!
Heil dem Tage, der uns umleuchtet!
Heil der Sonne, die uns bescheint!
Heil der Welt, der Brünnhilde lebt!
Sie wacht, sie lebt,
sie lacht mir entgegen.
Prangend strahlt mir Brünnhildes Stern!
Sie ist mir ewig, ist mir immer,
Erb' und Eigen, ein und all:
leuchtende Liebe, lachender Tod!'




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