Nietzsche-Birth-Tragedy

Nietzsche-Birth-Tragedy - i 't l The New Music Theater In...

Info iconThis preview shows pages 1–10. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Background image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 2
Background image of page 3

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 4
Background image of page 5

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 6
Background image of page 7

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 8
Background image of page 9

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 10
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

Unformatted text preview: i 't l The New Music Theater In 1982 Virgil Thomson reviewed the history of opera and was struck by the continuity of vocal lines over the centuries: From Monteverdi to N ono, from Rameau to Poulenc, from Purcell to Britten, from Schlitz to Schonberg, and Glinka to Stravinsky, the voice parts of operas and orato— rios in any language are almost interchangeable, though their instrumental accom— paniments can vary from Baroque, Rococo, and Romantic to polytonal, non—tonal, even twelve—tone serial. Excellent opera music has indeed been composed in all these styles.1 Thomson was also struck by the similarities in operatic story lines. So for Thomson, op— era has very little in the way of history, except for the slow mutation of accompaniment styles under fixed procedures for setting text for voices. Thomson’s thesis is debatable, but not negligible: the curriculum for opera that Mon— teverdi and his colleagues set out between 1598 and 1607 has been pursued with remark~ able steadiness up to the present day. Still, it is possible to distinguish certain shifts in emphasis that mark the new styles and themes of music drama of the Modernist period. 1. Dissonance among the component media. Wagner thought that the ideal drama was the Gesamtkunstwerk, the total artwork in which the component media (text, music, spectacle) fused into a devastating whole, and many composers of the twentieth century, particularly in the domain of Expressionism, have followed his lead. But other com— posers have laughed at the notion that the mission of the theater is to provoke swoons and jolts by means of total sensory engagement. These composers preferred a dismem— bered and disengaged sort of theatrical experience, in which the music ignored, criti— cized, or contradicted the meanings proposed by the text. This tendency is felt most strongly in Surrealist opera (for example, Poulenc’s 1944 Les mamelles de Tirész'as, in which the music deliberately misinterprets the text, in order to induce the spectator to a sort of vertigo) and in the political operas for which Brecht provided librettos (for ex— ample, Kurt Weill’s 1928 Threepenny Opera, in which music and text try to subvert one another, so that the audience will adopted a critical and detached attitude toward the op- era, and toward all of culture). This cultivation of dissonance among component media is, for the most part, new to the twentieth century; it is not easy to find precedents in ear— lier opera. 1. Virgil Thomson, “On Writing Operas and Singing Them,” Parnassus 10 (1982): 16-17. 104 CHAPTER FOUR 2. Philosophical opera. Modernist music is sometimes called cerebral, usually as a term of dispraise, though it is hard to see why intelligence is necessarily a bad thing; and this cerebral quality sometimes expresses itself in music drama. Compare Ferruccio Busoni’s Doktor Paastus (1914 —24) with Charles Gounod’s Faust (1859): Gounod’s hero is a crabby old man who wants to be young again and have some fun; Busoni’s hero is a metaphys— ical self<promoter storming the ultimate verges of human experience. (This is not to say that Busoni's opera is better than Gounod’s.) Other examples of philosophical opera in— clude Schoenberg’s Moses and Aron (1930—32), which investigates the artistic ramifica— tions of the commandment against graven images; and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress (1951), which investigates the unnatural extremes of natural human desire. Philosophi— cal opera also lacks many obvious precursors in previous opera: generally, in plot lines where intellectual abstractions were likely to obtrude, the older librettists deflected at tention by creating love stories, sometimes quite preposterously, as in Rossini’s Mose in Egitto (1818), in which much of the action concerns not Moses, but the love affair be— tween the Pharaohs son, Osiris, and the Hebrew girl, Elcia. 3. Meta—opera. The philosophical opera and the Opera that dissociates its media are both the products of a kind of self—consciousness: the composer is asked not to exuber— ate into passionate melody, but to think; not to do the expected thing, but to do some— thing contrived and studied, artificial. This acute attentiveness to the problematic aspects of opera—Opera’s tendency to the flamboyant and famous—sometimes expressed it— self as an interest in meta-opera, that is} opera about opera. In the most overt meta- operas, the characters are actually engaged in opera production, as in the prologue to Richard Strauss’s Ariadne aafNaxos (originally composed 1912, prologue added 1916), in which the Composer is running around backstage, trying frantically to figure out, at the last minute, how to combine a tragedy and a comedy into a single evening’s entertain- ment; or as in Strauss’s Capriccio (1942), in which the Composer, the Poet, and the Di— rector argue over which of them is preeminent in the world of opera (the Director seems to win) Ariadne aquaxos is also an example of another kind of meta—opera, in which the apparatus of an extinct or remote species of music drama is revived in order to provide an abstract, disengaged sort theatrical experience. In Ariadne, as in Ferruccio Busoni’s Arlecchino (inspired by a private performance from another distinguished Modernist clown, the lead character of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lanaire) and Tarandot (both 1917), that species is the old Italian commedia dell’arte, the slapstick buffoonery in which clowns in masks rehearsed stereotyped plots—~giddy young couples outwitting the grumpy father, and so forth. Here was a dramaturgy so familiar and routine, so dead, that it can be shocked back to life only by electricity applied from outside; the spectator is con— scious of witnessing an artificial resuscitation. These evocations of old stock comedy are the product of an active historical imagination: they do not tend to flatten history, by llS < i l t THE NEW MUSIC THEATER 105 arranging collages in which the old and the new are squashed together, but rather to respect it, by illustrating how remote the twentieth century is from the world of the madrigal comedy (such as Orazio Vecchi’s L’Amfiparnaso of 1597) and the Neapolitan opera bufi‘a of the early seventeenth century. Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot, his last opera, unfinished at his death in 1924, also has something of this meta—operatic quality—as if a brawny verismo tenor had wandered into a stage set for a Chinese puppet show. The puppet play, for example Paul Hindemith’s opera for “Burmese marionettes” Das Nusch-Nuschi (1920) and Manuel de Fallas El retablo de Maese Pedro (1923), and the lap— anese Noh play, for example Weill’s Der Iasager (1930) and Benjamin Britten’s Curlew River (1964)—these models provided the composers with clues for an eerie and es— tranged sort of music drama, an opera for extraterrestrials. Meta—opera is far from new. Mozart’s Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario) and Antonio Salieri’s Prima la musica, poi le parole (FirstMusic, Then W0rds)—presented to gether on the same day, 7 February 17867ridicule the pretensions of poets, composers, and singers; in fact, Giovanni Battista Casti’s libretto for Salieri influenced the libretto of Strauss’s Capriccio centuries later. Felice Romani’s hall~ofvmirrors libretto for Gioachino Rossini’s I l Turco in Italia (1814), concerning a Poet who is transcribing the events he’s watching, anticipates the meta—dramas of the Modernist playwright Luigi Pirandello. But the older meta—operas tend to be warmer, less brittle than the Modernist ones. 4. Zeitoper. This difficult-to—translate German term (literally, “time—opera”) refers to a genre of operas set in the present that often strenuously evoke the world of Modernism by concentrating on photography, railroads, cocktail parties, and so forth. The fad was established by Ernst Krenek’s wildly popular opera concerning a jazz violinist, Ionny spielt auf (1927), which was quickly followed by Weill’s The Tsar Has His Photograph Taken (1928) and Hindemith’s Neues vom Tage (News of the Day, 1929), among others. An interesting subset of Zeitoper consists of stage treatment of the marital spats of com— posers: Strauss’s Intermezzo (1924) starred a composer named Storch (German for stork— the word Strauss is German for ostrich) made up to look like Strauss himself, and Arnold Schoenberg’s Von Heute aaf Morgen (From Today to Tomorrow, 1929) dram— atized a taken—for—granted-wife flirting with an operatic tenor—the libretto was indeed written by Schoenberg’s second wife. Zeitoper seems the exact opposite of meta—opera, since one is self-consciously remote and the other aggressively up to date, but in fact they are oddly similar in effect: the Zeitoper often treats modern life in such a parodic man— ner that it seems to regard the contemporary scene with a skeptical, almost anthropo— logical gaze. A number in Neues vom Tage labeled “Duett—Kitsch” gives some sense of the self—mocking tone of this genre: the Zeitoper contemplates itself as simply another piece of just—invented dreck. Zeitoper is very much a Modernist phenomenon; though there are earlier operas set (more or less) in the present, such as Verdi’s La travz'ata (1853), it is not easy to find operas that make thematic 1186 of their contemporaneity. 106 CHAPTER FOUR 5. Greek tragedy revisited. Most of the operatic modes discussed so far have a certain comic aspect, since they concern a dramaturgy that does not try to enforce empathy be— tween spectator and protagonist. But Modernist music drama is also concerned with tragedy, in the old Aristotelian sense of catharsis—a purging of emotions through over— whelming Vicarious excitement. Some of the most compelling experiments of the Mod— ernist theater are settings of Greek texts: Strauss’s Elektm (1909), Sophocles modified by Hugo von Hofsmannsthal; Igor Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex (1927), Sophocles abridged and dehydrated by lean Coateau; Arthur Honegger’s Antigone (1927), Sophodes again as treated by Cocteau; Carl Orff’s Antigonae (1949), a setting of Friedrich Holderlin’s trans— lation of Sophocles; and Partch’s King Oedipus (1952), a setting of Yeats’s translation of Sophocles. Except for Stravinsky’s (in part), these operas are not exercises in irony and parody, but serious attempts at finding some convulsive sort of musical rhetoric, capable of achieving in the twentieth century what the Greek drama achieved so long ago. Some composers, such as Strauss, simply intensified the normal expressive devices of opera (Leitmotiv slogans, chromatic torsion, explosions, silence); others, such as Orff and Partch, rethought opera in an archaizing manner by concentrating on percussion in the orchestra and restricting vocal lines to monotone or melismatic chant—procedures that tried to combine Modernist expressivity with Modernist uncanniness and evocation of distance. Far from being a novelty, the restoration of Greek tragedy was part of the original program of opera; but during the nineteenth century Greek tragedy fell out of favor with composers, with a few great exceptions, such as Felix Mendelssohn’s incidental music for Antigone (1841). This produced the odd result that the nineteenth century’s most prominent opera on a classical Greek theme is Jacques Offenbach’s spoof Orpheus in the Underworld (1858). The Romantic musical imagination often looked for inspiration to the literature of northern Europe, from Sir Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor to the Nihelungenlied; Greece could seem a bit stiff-jointed—formal, chaste, clear, reti— cent, sublime in a somewhat boring way. The rehabilitation of Greece came in 1872 from Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 —19oo), who helped to generate a reformation of opera through Greek tragedy. Nietzsche was one of the most precocious Scholars of his agewsuch as master of Greek and Latin that he had been called to a chair and a full professorship in classical philology at the University of Basel by the time he was twenty—five. Two years later he published his first book, The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music, which had a pro— found influence on the art and thought of the Modernist movement. Its tenets are: 1. Greek tragedy grew out of choral hymns worshiping Dionysus_ the god of drunk- enness, riot, pain, ecstatic dismemberment, and the primal oneness of all things. 2. Human beings are too frail to accept the dark truths represented by Dionysus—W we have to believe in the illusion that we are private individuals with private wills, and THE NEW MUSIC THEATER 107 we have to Screen ourselves from the abyss by inventing beautiful images, dreams of glory. 3. We call these beautiful images gods, and identify Apollo in particular—the god of light, music, and clarity—with the principle of the saving illusion. 4. Therefore, instead of simply singing choral hymns to Dionysus, we intersperse these hymns with staged enactments (called tragedies) of the pretty stories that Apollo devises to distract us from the intolerable Dionysiac truth that we spend our lives reel— ing in a pit and ought never to have been born. 5. The ideal psychic functionality of Greek tragedy was destroyed by Socrates, who substituted abstract rational speculation for the immediate apprehension of the cosmos available only through artistic means, and the first symptoms of this corruption can be found in the decadent tragedies of Sophocles’ contemporary, Euripides. 6. When Greek tragedy was resurrected in the form of opera, around 1600, its inven— tors produced only a bloodless and vain parody of Greek tragedy, suited to the rational— istic temper of the timesAinstead of the Dionysiac satyr, opera provided only sexless shepherds, so insipid that they could hardly even sing, only speak in recitative. 7. But the spirit of Greek tragedy has at last resurrected itself in the music dramas of Richard Wagner, a composer intimate with both Dionysus and Apollo. Nietzsche ends his book by prophesying a general rebirth of the Greek spirit in the future composers of Germany. Nietzsche’s book exalted music and provided a good deal of encouragement, even elation, for future composers, and not only in Germany. It was as if Wagner, by means of Nietzsche’s superlatively educated mind, had extended himself into the domain of professional philosophy: Nietzsche became a sort of conduit through which music could claim a central position in European culture as a whole. Nietzsche had indeed con— templated a career as a composer, and some of his musical works, such as the Byronic Manfred—Meditation (1872, the same year as The Birth of Tragedy), show that Nietzsche had listened to Wagner’s Tristan zmd Isolde (1865) with almost embarrassingly close at- tention. But his chief contribution to music was to promote a sense that the composer, not the abstract thinker, was the person closest to the heart of human truth. After The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche and Wagner quarreled—partly becauSe Nietz- sche was uneasy in the role of acolyte, partly because Wagner was quick to take offense at small criticisms, partly because Nietzsche, a vehement pagan, detested the Christian sentimentalism of Wagner’s last music drama, Parsifal (1882). Toward the end of the 18803, Nietzsche’s mind started to fail as syphilis invaded his brain, until he broke down completely in 1889—he spent the last eleven years of his life in confinement, almost completely mute. Sometimes he suffered from the delusion that he was Richard Wagner: he once broke his silence to explain to his keepers in the asylum that he had been brought there by “his wife,” Cosima (Wagner’s widow). 108 CHAPTER FOUR At the end of the excerpts printed here—the last pages of The Birth of Tragedy— Nietzsche hymns the German soul in a manner that would later embarrass him, for he came to devote much of his energy to showing the defects of the German character. Nietzsche’s concluding observation in The Birth of Tragedy is that mankind is disso— nance: a remarkable statement that makes the extraordinary development of musical dissonance during the following century a means of investigating the authentic nature of the human race. FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE from The Birth of Tragedy (1872) §21 The myth protects us against the music, just as on the other side the myth first gives to music the highest freedom. As a return gift music bestows on the tragic myth a pen- etrating and persuasive metaphysical significance, such as word and image could never attain without music’s unique help; and in particular it is through music that the spectator of tragedy is seized by that sure premonition ofa highest joy, a joy at the end ofthe road through ruin and negation, so that he thinks he hears the innermost abyss of things Speaking audibly to him. .. .To true musicians l direct the question, ifthey can imagine a man capable of per- ceiving the third act of Tristan und Isolde2 with no help from word and image, purely as a monstrous symphonic movement, without expiring in a convulsion of the soul’s wings, loosed from every restraint? A man like this, who has put his ear to the heart chamber of the world-will, who feels the raging hunger for being as a thundering stream or as a brook dispersed to the sweetest mist, gushing from this source through all the world’s veins~shouldn’t he suddenly breakto pieces? Should he endure hear- ing, in the wretched glass shell of his human individuality, the resounding clamor of numberless summonses to joy and woe out of “wide space of the world-night,” with- out feeling at the shepherd’s dance of metaphysics an irresistible need to take shelter in his primal home? If however such a work could be perceived as a whole, without any denial of the individual existence, if such a creation could be created without shatter- ing its creator—where could we find the solution to such a contradiction? 2. Tristan mid Isolde: music drama (1865) by Wagner in which a love potion compels Tristan to fall violently in love with Isolde, the conquered irish princess intended as a bride for his uncle, King Marke. Nietzsche understands the convulsive ecstasies of the love duet in act 2 as an authentic shudder of Dionysus—“the heart chamber of the world-will . . A the raging hunger for being”; Nietz- sche understands the pathetic cries of Tristan in act 3, as he lies wounded on the shore, waiting for Isolde’s ship, as a compensating movement toward Apollo, toward individual personality and attrace tive spectacle. I U1 D— (D Q. .iUHr—rU'il/i THE NEW MUSIC THEATER 109 Here there is thrust, between this music and our highest music excitement, the tragic myth and the tragic hero, basically only as a simile or image of the most univer- sal facts, ofwhich music alone can speak in a direct way. But as a simile the myth would remain with us completely ineffectual and unnoticed, if we could listen as purely Dionysian beings. . . . Here the Apollonian power breaks forth, arising to restore the almost exploded individual with the healing balm of a delightful deception: suddenly we believe we’re still seeing only Tristan, as, motionless and muffled, he asks himself: “The old tune; why does it wake me?” And what earlier seemed to us like a hollow sigh- ing from the midpoint of being itself now wants only to say to us, “waste and empty the sea.”3 And where breathless we imagined ourselves snuffed out in convulsive out- rackings of every feeling, and we felt only a little bit of a connection to our usual exis- tence, now we see and hear the hero, wounded to death and yet not dying, with his de— spairing cry: “Yearning! Yearning!” . .. §24 .. .The first requirement for explaining the tragic myth is just this, to seek its pecu- liar pleasure in the purely aesthetic sphere, without encroaching onto the region of pity, of terror, ofthe ethically sublime. How can the ugly and the discordant—the con- tents of the tragic myth—excite an aesthetic pleasure? Now here we need to whirl round with a bold advance into a metaphysics of art, while I repeat an earlier sentence [from §5], that being and the world appear iustified only as an aesthetic phenomenon: in this sense the tragic myth has to convince us that even the ugly and the discordant are an artistic game that the will, in the eternal full- ness of its pleasure, plays with itself. But this difficult-to-grasp primal phenomenon of Dionysiac art will be instantly grasped only in the wonderful meaning of musical dis- sonance, since after all music alone, when set down beside the world, can give an idea of what is meant by the justification of the world as an aesthetic phenomenon. The pleasure that the tragic myth produces has the same country of origin as the pleasur— able feeling ofdissonance in music. The Dionysiac, with its primal pleasure felt even in pain, is the common womb of music and ofthe tragic myth. Meanwhile, with the help ofthe music-relation ofdissonance, shouldn’t we essen— tially have lightened the heavy problem ofthe tragic effect? We now understand what it is to want to see the tragedy and at the same time to yearn for something above any seeing: for we would have characterized artfully used dissonance as a similar state, in that we want to hear and at the same time we yearn for something above any hearing. This striving into the endless, this wingbeat of yearning at the point of highest pleasure 3. 651’ and leer das Meer: this is the line that T. 8. Eliot quotes in The Waste Land (1922), l. 42~— a poem governed by rhythms of Dionysus and Apollo, figureless ecstasy and figured myth. 110 CHAPTER FOUR in clearly perceived reality, reminds us that in both states we have to perceive a Dio- nysiac phenomenon that reveals to us ever anew the playful building up and smashing apart ofthe individual world as the outflow ofa primal pleasure, as when Heraclitus the Obscure4 compared the power that shapes worlds to a child at play, who puts stones here and there and builds up and throws down heaps of sand. 50 in order to assess the Dionysiac capacity of a people, we have to consider not only the its music, but just as necessarily its tragic myth as a second witness of its ca- pacity. The close relation between music and myth makes us similarly suppose that the degrading and depraving ofone will be connected to a shriveling ofthe other: if indeed in the weakening ofthe myth there is really manifest a diminishing ofDionysiac poten- tial. But concerning both, a glance at the development of the German identity might leave us in no doubt: in our opera just as in the abstract character of our mythless ex- istence, in our art with its debased amusements just as in our idea-ridden life, we see revealed the inartistic, life-withering nature of Socratic optimism. But to console us there are omens that despite everything the German spirit rests and dreams, unde- stroyed, in splendid health, depth, and Dionysiac strength, like a slumber-sunk knight in an inaccessible abyss: out of this abyss the Dionysiac song rises up to us, in order to make us understand that this German knight even now is dreaming his primally old Dionysiac myth in blessed solemn visions. Let no one think that the German spirit may have lost forever its mythic home, when it still understands so distinctly the voices of the birds that tell ofthat home. Some day it will find itself awake in the morning fresh- ness after a monstrous sleep: then it will kill dragons, wipe out the spiteful dwarfs,5 and awaken Brijnnhildeuand Wotan’s spear itself won’t be able to block its way! My friends, you who believe in Dionysiac music, you also know what tragedy means for us. in you we have, reborn out of music, the tragic myth—and in it you may hope for everything and forget what is most painful! But most painful for all of us—«the long degradation, under which the German genius, estranged from house and home, lived in the service ofspiteful dwarfs. You understand the word —as you will also, finally, un- derstand my hopes. 4. Heraclitus of Ephesus was a Greek philosopher who lived before Socrates. Obscure because of the difficulty of his aphorisms and because of his sense of the misery of human life, he was called the weeping philosopher because he stressed the transitoriness of all things~you never put your foot twice into the same river. 5, dwarfs: In Ecce Homo (1888), Nietzsche glosses the dwarfs of The Birth of Tragedy as “Christian priests”; at the beginning of his career, Nietzsche is circumspect about his opinion that Christianity is a religion fit for slaves. Nietzsche is also thinking here ofWagner’s Siegfried (1869), in which Sieg» fried attains glory by forging a sword, killing the evil dwarf Mime, shattering his grandfather Wo— tan’s spear (the source of divine authority), and plunging through flames to embrace the Valkyrie Briinnhilde. THE NEW MUSIC THEATER 111 §25 Music and tragic myth are in the same way expressions ofthe Dionysiac capacity of a people and inseparable from one another. Both stem from a domain of art that lies beyond the Apollonian; both transfigure a region in whose pleasure-chords dissonance as well as the world’s terrible image alluringly reverberate and vanish; both play with the thorn ofdispleasure, trusting their exceedingly powerful arts of magic; both justify through this game the very existence of this “worse world.” Here the Dionysiac, mea- sured against the Apollonian, shows itself as the eternal and primordial force ofart that really calls into being the whole world of appearance, in whose midst a new halo6 of transfiguration becomes necessary, in order to keep alive the bustling world of individ— uation. If we could think ourselves an incarnation of dissonance—and what else is man?7—then this dissonance would need, in order to be able to live, a splendid illu- sion, to cover its own being with a veil of beauty. This is the true art intention oprollo: in whose name we comprise all these numberless illusions of beautiful appearance, il- lusions that after all make existence livable at every moment and press us to experi- ence the next moment. From that foundation ofall existence, from the Dionysiac substrate ofthe world, ex- actly so much may enter into the human individual’s consciousness as can be overcome again by Apollo’s transfiguring force, so that these two art urges must necessarily un- fold their strengths in strictly reciprocal proportion, according to the law of eternal jus- tice. Where the Dionysiac powers arise so violently as we are experiencing now, there Apollo, wrapped in a cloud, already has descended to us; whose most voluptuous ef- fects of beauty will indeed be seen by the next generation. But each man will most surely feel for himself how necessary this effect is, through intuition, if he once, even if only in a dream, imagines himself back to an old Hellenic mode of existence: wandering among high Ionic colonnades, looking upward to a hori- zon cropped by clean and noble lines, beside him reflections of his transfigured shape in shining marble, around him men solemnly striding or delicately moving, with har- monious lutes and a speech of rhythmic gestures—wouldn’t he, at this continuous streaming of beauty, have to lift a hand to Apollo and cry out, “Blessed people of Greece! How great must Dionysus be among you, ifthe Delian God [Apollo] finds such magic necessary to cure your dithyrambic madness!”—but to a man musing in this fashion a gray Athenian, gazing up at him with the sublime eyes of Aeschylus, might 6. The German word is Schein. Throughout this passage Nietzsche is punning on various mean- ings of Schein, including “appearance,” “illusion,” “glory,” and “shine.” 7. Compare Nietzsche’s statement in section 9 of The Birth of Tragedy: “in the heroic impulse of the individual toward the universal, in the attempt to stride beyond the curse of individuation and to will himself to be the one world-being, he suffers in himself the primal contradiction hidden in things.” 112 CHAPTER FOUR reply: “But you might also say this, you odd stranger: how much did this people have to suffer, in order to be able to become so beautiful! But now follow me to the tragedy and sacrifice with me in the temple of both godheads!” From Gesammelte Werke, Bd. 3 (ML‘mchen: Musarion Verlag, 1920), 142— 44, 161~65; translated by the editor. Nietzsche’s notion that philosophy and music drama are two forms of the same en- terprisewthe inquiry into the inner spaces of the human condition—helped to create an intellectual climate in which opera was seen, not as pleasant evening’s entertainment, but as something cathartic and edifying. Indeed, a certain tension arose between the model of opera as seizure of reality and the model of opera as fun. Good examples of this tension can be found in the remarkable series of operas with music by Richard Strauss (1864 —1949) and text by Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874 — 1929). Their first collaboration, Elektra (1909), based on a preexisting play by Hof~ mannsthal, was a serious exercise in exploring a Nietzschean abyss: as Hofmannsthal remarked, his play is about the “dissolution of the concept of individuality. In Electra the individual is dissolved in the empirical way, inasmuch as the very substance of its life blasts it from within, as water about to freeze will crack an earthenware jug. Electra is no longer Electra, just because she has dedicated herself to entirely to being Electra.D8 The opera offers a single trajectory toward catharsis; but even here the grimness is relieved by a few pieces of cruel comedy, such as the scene in which Orestes murders his jaunty, jittery stepfather Aegisthusma scene that sounds rather like the assassination of Till Eulenspiegel. But in some of their later operas, such as Ariadne aafNaxos, Strauss and Hofmanns— thal integrated such profoundly Dionysiac themes into good-humored entertainment. This project first reached the public in 1912 as a divertissement in a production of Moliere’s Le bourgeois gentilhomme: Monsieur lourdain, the wealthy upstart bourgeois, in his mad attempt to get himself some culture, arranges the performance at his home of a serious opera and a clown comedy; but when time runs short, he commands, to everyone’s consternation, that the serious opera and the clown comedy be performed at the same time. The serious opera concerns Ariadne: after helping Theseus to slay the minotaur in the labyrinth by showing him the trick with the thread, she and her lover sail away; but the faithless Theseus abandons her on a desert isle; she laments her fate and prays for death; a god appears, and she thinks that it is Death, come to put her out 8. Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Selected Plays and Libretti, trans. Michael Hamburger (New York: Pantheon Books, 1963); 88. ...
View Full Document

This note was uploaded on 09/08/2010 for the course MUSC 201 at San Jose State University .

Page1 / 10

Nietzsche-Birth-Tragedy - i 't l The New Music Theater In...

This preview shows document pages 1 - 10. Sign up to view the full document.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Ask a homework question - tutors are online