Wagner's Sources - 1
Written by Jane Ennis

Date: Mon, 24 Apr 1995 18:28:00 BST
Reply-To: "OPERA-L: Discussion of opera and related issues"
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From: Jane Ennis
Subject: Re: Wagner's Sources

Are you all still interested in this? I ask because the discussion seems to have moved on a bit, but David's original request was for discussion of the sources of the operas.

I'll send a few paras. of Chapter 2 of my thesis, and if enough people are interested, I'll send more in a few days. If anyone wants to use this in their teaching or discussion, please don't forget to acknowledge the origin!


(You may not be interested in "Sigurd", but the way I wrote it, it integrates the texts and it's too complicated to disentangle the threads now!)

The sources common to Morris and Wagner are
The POETIC EDDA (PE) (Old Norse)
The PROSE EDDA by Snorri Sturluson (Old Norse)
DAS NIBELUNGENLIED (NL) (Middle High German)

Another source for Wagner was the Old Norse THIDREKS SAGA(TS); there is no indication that Morris was familiar with this. I discuss in detail how Morris and Wagner use the sources, what is retained, what is discarded or re-interpreted, how the two 19th. century interpretations differ from each other and from the sources, and what similarities, if any, can be discerned. Morris at all times remains closer to the sources than does Wagner.

End of Intro!

Part 1 follows in next posting.

Dr. Jane Susanna Ennis
c/o Birkbeck College
University of London

Date: Mon, 24 Apr 1995 19:17:00 BST
Reply-To: "OPERA-L: Discussion of opera and related issues"
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From: Jane Ennis
Subject: Wagner's sources

(More or less verbatim from Ch.2 of my thesis - it starts from the perspective of Morris's poem - hope it becomes clear as the tale develops).

Book One of SIGURD THE VOLSUNG, subtitled SIGMUND, introduced Sigurd's family and background. A brief outline of the story, based closely on VOLSUNGA SAGA (hereinafter known as VS).

VOLSUNG has 10 sons and a daughter, SIGNY. Signy, somewhat against her will, yet accepting the decrees of the Norns, marries King SIGGEIR. The wedding is held in Volsung's hall. During the wedding feast, an old man (ODIN in disguise) enters the hall and plunges as sword into the tree round which Volsung's hall is built, saying that it belongs to the man who can draw it from the tree. Only Volsung's son , SIGMUND (Signy's twin, according to Wagner, but not acc. to VS or Morris) is able to so this. Siggeir offers to buy the sword from him; his offer is scornfully rejected. He returns home with Signy, plotting vengeance. He invites Volsungs and his sons to visit him; Volsung accepts, though he suspects that Siggeir means him no good. Volsung is killed by Siggeir's men; his sons are captured, and killed one by one, until only Sigmund is left. Signy helps him to escape, and he lives as an exile in the forest until Signy sends him her sons by Siggeir, for him to test their courage, to see if they are able to help the Volsungs to their revenge; Sigmund asks the boys to bake bread for the evening meal, but they are both frightened by the viper concealed in the meal-sack. At Signy's behest, Sigmund kills them both.

Signy now changes shapes with a witch, and in this guise she shares her brother's bed. Their son, SINFJOLTI, helps them to their revenge. Sigmund doesn't know the identity of Sinfjolti's mother until they have set fire to Siggeir's hall; then Signy tells Sigmund that Sinfjolti is the son of an incestuous union between them. She chooses to die beside her husband; her vengeance is now complete, and she has nothing left to live for.

To be continued.........

Date: Mon, 24 Apr 1995 19:31:00 BST
Reply-To: "OPERA-L: Discussion of opera and related issues"
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From: Jane Ennis
Subject: Wagner's sources (cont)

Sigmund returns home with Sinfjolti. He marries a woman called BORGHILD , who quarrels with Sinfjolti and poisons him.

After Sinfjolti's death, Sigmund marries HJORDIS. He has to fight against King LYNGVI, who had also wanted to marry her. He is killed in the battle, when Odin intervenes and causes Sigmund's sword to shatter against his spear. Hjordis joins Sigmund on the battlefield and is able to speak to him before he dies; he tells her that the child she is expecting is a boy, and that she is to keep the peices (sorry!) pieces of the sword for him. When Hjordis's child is born, he is given the name SIGURD. Great things are prophesied for him.

Morris retells this tale in considerable detail in Book One of "Sigurd the Volsung". In Wagner's RING most of this materail appear - in a somewhat mutated form - in the first act of DIE WALKUERE. The principal differences are these:

(a) The names of the incestuous pair are Siegmund and Sieglinde. (Coincidentally, these are the names of Siegfried's parents in NL, though there it is nowhere suggested that he is the child of an incestuous union; the poet probably gave them these names for reasons of euphony.)

(b) The union of the twins appears to be spontaneous and unplanned, though we learn in Act II of DIE WALKUERE that Wotan had planned it for reasons of his own.
(In VS, Signy plans the incestuous union in order that she and her family shall be revenged on Siggeir. Her brother in unaware of her identity until much later).

(c) In VS, PE ann NL, Siegfried/Sigurd is not the child of an incestuous union, nor is he an orphan. In TS, his mother - Sisibe - dies in giving birth to him, but in VS and PE he is the child of Sigmund's second marriage, and in NL he is the heir to a royal house.
------------------------------------------------------- That's an outline of the background in VOLSUNGA SAGA. I go on to discuss Wagner's version and Morris's version in detail, comparing the texts line by line, and so on. Do you want to know this, or shall I skip to Part 2 ; the childhood and youth of Sigurd?

I would like to have some feedback, because I don't want to sit here laboriously typing this out if people aren't interested!

I did this research because I thought (and still think!) that a knowledge of the sources is important in Wagner studies (and Morris studies, of course!) - you need to know what the sources are to understand how Wagner altered and adapted them. But the RING is very complicated, as far as use of source materail is concerned - and I'm not sure if this is what people really want to know.

I also touched on Wagner's use of motifs and ideas from Greek tragedy - anyone interested in discussing that as well/ instead?



Date: Mon, 24 Apr 1995 22:15:00 BST
Reply-To: "OPERA-L: Discussion of opera and related issues"
Sender: "OPERA-L: Discussion of opera and related issues"
From: Jane Ennis
Subject: Re: Wagner as Mythologist

This is a brief note to take up David Mann's point about J.R.R. Tolkien. I'm not an enthusiast for Tolkien (sorry, David - and sorry, Ambrose!) - I have been at pains to suggest that William Morris might have been an artist of comparable stature to Wagner. It was Morris in the 19th. century who conceived the idea of - not exactly providing Britain with a NEW mythology, but giving the Norse and Teutonic myths the stature of Classical Mythology.

I will continue with the outline of the sources of the RING and SIGURD THE VOLSUNG in my next mailing - if I get sufficient positive feedback!

Dr. Jane Susanna Ennis
c/o Birkbeck College
University of London

****************************************************************** "Fortunately, she has not suffered the fate of the many, whom Wagner's prodcitions have driven into lunatic asylums..."

Date: Tue, 25 Apr 1995 17:59:00 BST
Reply-To: "OPERA-L: Discussion of opera and related issues"
Sender: "OPERA-L: Discussion of opera and related issues"
From: Jane Ennis
Subject: Re: Wagner's Sources

Just some general observations - I'll continue with the mailings in a day or two.

Most of you have sent very positive feedback - obviously an encouragement to continue! I am glad so many opera-l members are interested. Please let me know if you are interested in learning more about William Morris SIGURD - it just so happens (what a surprise!) that there is an edition of SIGURD with an introduction by me, which was published in the U.K. last year, and is probably available in the States by now - I will send the bibliographical information with my next posting.

Some readers (Alan?) questioned the relevance of examining Wagner's sources. Uh - well, it got me a Ph.D!! But seriously - for me it was rather a circular process, I suppose. Because I loved Wagner's operas, I became interested in the sources, i.e. in medieval literature - in fact I ended up by doing an M.A. in Medieval Studies, but then I decided that I was mainly interested in Medieval literature as it was perceived by the 19th. century.... are you still with me!

I have mentioned that most academic medievalists disapprove of Wagner, because they feel that Wagner misinterpreted the medieval texts. Well, he certainly re-interpreted them in order to fit his dramatic purposes, but a re-interpretation isn't NECESSARILY a misinterpretation. (If you stick with me long enough, I shall argue that he may have misinterpreted the Nibelungenlied, but that's a small point.)

Thanks again for all the positive feedback - will be in touch shortly.

Jane ubzz018@ccs.bbk.ac.uk

Date: Tue, 25 Apr 1995 15:58:00 BST
Reply-To: "OPERA-L: Discussion of opera and related issues"
Sender: "OPERA-L: Discussion of opera and related issues"
From: Jane Ennis
Subject: Wagner's sources (cont).

In response to overwhelming popular demand :) ! I will continue with the discussion of wagner's sources from where I broke off yesterday.

The chapter continues with discussion of the episode in VS in which odin interrupts the wedding feast to place the sword in the tree. I quoted the relevant bit of the Saga (Morris's trans! not the original Old Norse ) in a footnote - I won't reproduce that here, as it is quite easy to get hold of (via your public or University library) and there is also a more recent translation (1965 I think) by R.G. Finch which has the advantage of being a parallel text, with the O.N. on the left-hand side.

What I will quote is Morris's version, so you can see how it compares with Wagner; but you must let me know if you actually want to know this, since the original question was about Wagner's sources - it just so happens that they are Morris's sources as well. So Signy is married against her will to Siggeir - the wedding takes place in Volsung's hal, which is built round a tree called the Branstock.

Then into the Volsung dwelling a mighty man there strode, One-eyed and seeming ancient, yet bright his visage glowed; Cloud-blue was the hood upon him, and his kirtle gleaming-grey As the latter morning sun-dog when the storm is on the way; A bill he bore on his shoulder, whose mighty ashen beam Burnt bright with the flame of the sea and the blended silver's gleam.

So strode he to the Branstock nor greeted any lord,
But forth from his cloudy raiment he drew a gleaming sword,
And smote it deep in the tree-bole, and the wild hawks overhead
Laughed 'neath the naked heaven as at last he spake and said;
"Earls of the Goths, and Volsungs, abiders on the earth,
Lo there amid the Branstock a blade of plenteous worth!
The folk of the war-wands forgers wrought never better steel
Since first the burg of heaven uprose for man-folk's weal.
Now let the man among you whose heart and hand may shift
To pluck it from the oakwood e'en take it for my gift

Upstood the earls of Siggier, and each man drew anigh
And deemed his time was coming for a glorious gain and high;
But for all their mighty shaping and their deeds in the battle-wood,
No looser in the Branstock that gift of Odin stood....

At last by the hand of the Branstock Sigmund the Volsung stood,
And with right hand wise in battle the precious sword-hilt caught,
Yet in a careless fashion, as he deemed it all for nought;
When lo, from floor to rafter the naked blade shone out
As high o'er his head he shook it; for the sword had come away

>From the grip of the heart of the Branstock, as though all loose it lay.

Morris keep close to the outline of the episode in VS; in the RING, the central events are similar, but they serve a different purpose in the development of the story.

To be continued......

Jane ubzz018@ccs.bbk.ac.uk

Date: Tue, 25 Apr 1995 16:17:00 BST
Reply-To: "OPERA-L: Discussion of opera and related issues"
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From: Jane Ennis
Subject: Wagner's sources (cont)

In DIE WALKUERE, Sieglinde is married against her will to Hunding. The wedding takes places in his home, not hers;

Der Maenner Sippe sass hier im Saal
von Hunding zur Hochzeit geladen.
Er freite ein Weib das, ungefragt,
Schaecher ihm schenkten zur Frau.
(Die Walkuere, Act I)

The arrival of the old man (Wotan/Waelse) with the sword resembles in outline the scene in the Saga (Incidentally, it may be worth pointing out that these events do not form part of the NIBELUNGENLIED, for reasons which I shall explain if we get that far!)

Ein Fremder trat da herein,
ein Greis in grauem Gewand;
tief hing ihm der Hut,
der deckt' ihm der Augen eines.....

Auf mich blickt' er, und blitzte auf jene,
Als ein Schwert in Haenden er schwang;
das stiess er nun in der Esche Stamm,
bis zum Heft haftet' es drin.
Dem sollte der Stahl geziemen,
der aus dem Stamm es zoeg'.
(Die Walkuere, Act I)

And, as you know, no-one can remove the sword, since Wotan has destined it for Siegmund, in the mistaken belief that Siegmund will be the free hero whom the gods need.

As I indicated in the earlier postings, what happens in VS after Sigmund has gained the sword is that Volsung and all his children except Signy and Sigmund are killed by Siggeir, and Signy changes shapes with a sorceress and in this guise share Sigmund's bed - their son is SINFJOLTI, not Sigurd! In Morris's poem, Signy makes it clear before she dies that she planned to conceive Sinfjolti for one reason only;

For hear thou; that Sinfjolti, who hath wrought out our desire, Who hath compassed about King Siggeir with this sea of a deadly fire, Who brake thy grave asunder - my child and thine he is, Begot in that house of the Dwarf-kind for no other end than this; The son of Volsung's daughter, the son of Volsung's son. Look, look! might another helper this deed with thee have done?

The Saga tells the story as follows (in Morris's trans.)

But she answered: "Take heed, now, and consider if I have kept King Siggeir in memory, and his slaying of Volsung the king! I let slay both my children, whom I deemed worthless for the revenging of our father; and I went into the wood to thee in a witch-wife's shape; and now, behold, Sinfjolti is the son of thee an me both! and therefore has he this so great hardihood and fierceness, in that he is the son both of Volsung's son and Volsung's daughter; and for this, and for naught else, have I so wrought, that Siggeir might get his bane at last; and all these things have I done that vengeance may fall on him, and that I too might not live long; and merrily now will I die with King Siggeir, though I was naught merry to wed him."

Therewith she kissed Sigmund her brother, and Sinfjolti, and went back again into the fire, and there she died with Siggeir and all his men.

(VOLSUNGA SAGA, Morris's translation)


To be continued - I hope you are still interested!

Jane ubzz018@ccs.bbk.ac.uk

Date: Tue, 25 Apr 1995 17:08:00 BST
Reply-To: "OPERA-L: Discussion of opera and related issues"
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From: Jane Ennis
Subject: Wagner's sources continued.

In this mailing I shall discuss Sigmund's death as it is narrated in VS and in Morris's poem. In the Norse literature, Sigmund is killed in his last battle by Odin, but the context is very different from the death of Siegmund in DIE WALKUERE.

By the time of the last battle, Sigmund is an old man. (It is worth remembering that only in Wagner does this character die young; in DAS NIBELUNGENLIED (hereinafter known as NL) Siegfried's father actually survives him.) Back to VS - Sigmund has married Hjordis, and now has to fight against King Lyngvi, who had also wanted to marry her - she had chosen Sigmund in preference, although he was old, because of his fame as a warrior. Odin intervenes when the fighting has been going on for some time:

But now whenas the battle has dured a while, there came a man into the fight clad in a blue cloak, and with a slouched hat on his head, one-eyed he was, and bare a bill in his hand; and he came against Sigmund the King, and hove his bill up against him, and as Sigmund smote fiercely with the sword it fell upon the bill and burst asunder in the midst; thenceforth the slaughter and dismay turned to his side, for the good-hap of King Sigmund had departed from him, and his men fell fast about him; naught did the king spare himself, but he rather cheered on his men; but even as the saw says, "No might 'gainst many", so was it now proven; and in this fight fell Sigmund the King, and King Eylimi, his father-in-law, in the fore-front of their battle, and therewith the more part of their folk.

(VOLSUNGA SAGA, Morris's trans.)

There are other instances in Norse literature of Odin withdrawing his favour from his former favourites at crucial moments; this may be capriciousness, but there are some indications that he is offering them an honourable death in battle rather than the decrepitude of old age.

As so often, Wagner took the outward form of the events of heroic legend and invested them with an entirely new meaning. Siegmund is Wotan's son by a relationship with a mortal woman. Wotan has indeed destined the sword for Siegmund, but it is precisely this that proves his undoing. Neither of them is a free agent, though Wotan has tried to convince himself that they both are.

In VS and in SIGURD THE VOLSUNG, Sigmund's sword is broken, but he is able to speak to his wife before he dies; he asks her to keep the broken pieces of the sword for their son, who is destined to be a great hero. After the birth of Sigurd, Hjordis remarries, and Sigurd grows up happily in the home of his step- father.

The tale tells that Hjordis brought forth a man-child, who was straightly borne before King Hjalprek, and then was the king glad thereof, when he saw the keen eyes in the head of him, and he said that few men would be equal to him or like unto him in any wise. So he was sprinkled with water, and had to name Sigurd, of whom all men speak with one speech and say that none was ever his like for growth and goodliness. He was brought up in the house of King Hjalprek in great love and honour; and so it is, that whenso all the noblest men and greatest kings are named in the olden tales, Sigurd is ever put before them all, for might and prowess, for high mind and stout heart, wherewith he was far more abundantly gifted than ny man of the northern parts of the world.

VOLSUNGA SAGA , Morris's trans


Jane ubzz018@ccs.bbk.ac.uk

Date: Thu, 27 Apr 1995 19:00:00 BST
Reply-To: "OPERA-L: Discussion of opera and related issues"
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From: Jane Ennis
Subject: Wagner's Sources (cont.)

I'll just add a few more paras. to what I sent before.

Regin offers to foster Sigurd. His offer is accepted, but he is warned;

But think how bright is this youngling, and thy guile from him withhold; For this craft of thine hath shown me that thy heart is grim and cold; Though three men's live thrice over thy wisdom might not learn....

Regin is aware that he is fated to die by Sigurd's sword'

But agian he laughed and answered; "One day it shall come to pass That a beardless youth shall slay me; I know the fateful doom; But nought may |I withstand it, as it heaves up dim through the gloom."

This is not suggested in either VS or PE.

In SIEGFRIED, it is the Wanderer who prophesies that Mime will forfeit his life to someone who doesn't know the meaning of fear;

'Nur wer das Fuerchten nie erfuhr
schmiedet Nothung neu.'
Dein weises Haput wahre von heut';
verfallen lass' ich es dem
der das Fuerchten nicht gelernt.

Wagner equated his Siegfried with the folk-tale (Maerchen) motif of the youth who was too stupid to learn what fear is. In the sources, and in Morris's poem, it is not necessary for Sigurd to learn the meaning of fear.

Will have to cut this short now - anyway, that's probably enough for one day!

Jane ubzz018@ccs.bbk.ac.uk

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