Abstract

Wagner's engagement with medieval sources like the Nibelungenlied has generally been examined in relation to poetic style in his librettos. One of the defining structural features of his literary inspirations is the narrative interlace structure, which is common to literature, art, and even manuscript organization in the Middle Ages. In place of the classical Aristotelian unity of time, place, and action, the interlace design sets up a literary form based on sudden disjunctions, mysterious failures of explanation, and multiplicities of motive. These formal models propose radically different views of reality and the self: one suggests that human experience is shaped by a culmination that can already be known, the other more contingent, fractured, and paradoxically ““modern.”” Wagner's incorporation of the interlace design operates in the libretto and, more significantly and complexly, in the music. Wagner's structural and philosophical engagement with his medieval sources in the Ring may be elucidated via a combination of neo-Riemannian and modified Schenkerian analytical approaches and a sensitivity to Wagner's tendency to highlight the structural joints between his massive interlaced threads (rather than smoothly modulating, as the prevalent view suggests). The work is seen to have an existentialist, not an essentialist, view of human nature that provided an intellectual model for the artists and thinkers that grew up in Wagner's considerable intellectual shadow.

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