Wagner's Sources - 5
Written by Jane Ennis

Date: Mon, 31 Jul 1995 16:42:00 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: Siegfried's death

(First I must apologise for the absence of mailings over the past week - but perhaps it gave you a chance to catch up on the previous mailings! I have been ill, I had to go to hospital with an asthma attack - it is VERY HOT here, which is presumably the culprit.)

It is Bruennhilde who demands Siegfried's death, to atone for the deception practiced upon her - she sees it as the only fitting vengeance. In GOETTERDAEMMERUNG Habgen manipulates the situation so that Bruennhilde will demand Siegfried's death; he also discovers the secret of Siegfried's invulnerability and that he can only kill him by stabbing him in the back. It is Bruennhilde who has made him invulnerable, as she laments:

O Undank, schaendlichster Lohn!
Nicht eine Kunst war mir bekannt,
die zum Heil nicht half seinem Leib!
Unwissend zaemht ihn mein Zauberspiel,
der ihn vor Wunden nun bewahrt.

So kann keine Wehr ihm schaden?

Im Kampfe nicht - doch -
traefst du im Ruecken ihn -
Niemals, das wusst' ich,
wich er dem Feinde,
noch reicht' er fleihend ihm den Ruecken;
an ihm d'rum spart' ich den Segen.

This is adapted from NL, in which Siegfried became invulnerable through bathing in the dragon's blood, except for a spot between the shoulder-blades, where a leaf fell unnoticed. Hagen knows about the invulnerability at the beginning of the poem; he learns about the vulnerable spot from Kriemhild, who foolishly volunteers the information in the mistaken belief that Hagen with thus be enabled to protect him in battle. Hagen persuades her to sew a small cross on Siegfried's garment, to indicate the exact location of the vulnerable spot.

Wagner also adapts from NL Hagen's suggestion that they go hunting, and that Siegfried can be killed in the course of the hunt - pretending that he was killed by a wild boar - in orderm he says, to spare Gutrune's feelings, although in the event, he shows very little regard for her feelings, and nor doedoes Gunther, once he and Hagen start fighting over the Ring.(Although Gunther does at one point refer to it as "Gutrunes Erbe" - Gutrune's inheritance.)

The scene with the Rhinemaidens at the beginnning of Act III of GOETTERDAEMMERUNG has no parallel in any of the sources, except for Kriemhild's dreams of foreboding; Siegfried is unaffected by her warning. The scene precipitates the crisis, and also demonstrates Siegfried's blindness. We may ask at this point - just what does the Ring mean to Siegfried? Obviously he still doesn't remember that he seized it from Bruennhilde, since he says tothe RRhinemaidens;

Einen Riesenwurm erschlug ich um den Reif:
fuer eines schlecten Baren Tazten
boet' ich ihn nun zum Tausch?

Another reason he gives for refusing to surrender the Ring is more puzzling:

Verzehrt' ich an euch mein Gut,
des zuernte mir wohl mein Weib.

meaning Gutrune; but, as he didn't get the Ring from Gutrune, why should she care what he does with it?

What is psychologically and dramatically convincing, however, is that Siegfried refuses to listen to the warnings of the Rhinemaidens: he is, and remains, a brash youth. At one point he is prepared to surrender the Ring, but not when the Rhinemaidens warn him that he will die if he keeps it. Obviously, none of the source material allows for Siegfried to survive, and Wagner was not rewriting the source material in order to give it a happy ending. The point for Wagner, though, is that Siegfried is incapable of understanding the significance of the Ring - he never attains maturity. He just sees the whole incident as not letting himself be intimidated by a trio of silly girls ; he actually says the he doesn't value his life that much - certainly not enough to yield to threats.

Both Bruennhilde and Siegfried refuse to surrender the Ring when they have the opportunity to do so - and it was to be anticipated that they would refuse, given the circumstances under which they are asked to surrender it. But by her refusal, Bruennhilde precipitates catastrophe for herself; and by his refusal, Siegfried seals his fate. Siegfried...

Date: Mon, 31 Jul 1995 16:50:00 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; Siegfried's death

Sorry - system got gremlins!
I was about to say -

Siegfried never really understands his oen significance in the scheme of things - Bruennhilde only understands after Siegfried's death. It is Bruennhilde who precipitates the final catastrophe, alhough Wagner does not in fact interpret it as a catastrophe, but sees Bruennhilde's suicide as a world-redeeming act, and furthermore as the culmination of the drama; there is no room in Wagner's dramatic conception for a wife who survives to avenge Siegfried. Wagner takes from his sources Bruennhilde's pivotal role in bringing about Siegfried's death, and expands it into something that affects the fate of the whole world, not just that of her former lover. (Or husband: it is difficult to know precisely what teeminology to use the describe the relationship! No wedding ceremony has taken place, but they have plighted their troth, and Bruennhilde refers to herself as Siegfried's GATTIN (wife) and he refers to her as HEILIGE BRAUT.

Jane ubzz018@ccs.bbk.ac.uk

************************************************************** ****** "Wagner's music isn't as bad as it sounds"

Date: Wed, 2 Aug 1995 12:25:00 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: Siegfried's death (cont.)

In GOETTERDAEMMERUNG it is Bruennhilde who demands Siegfried's death; in NL, she doesn't specifically demand his death, but Hagen promises to avenge hher. In TS also, it is Brynhild who demands Sigurd's death; it is also Brynhild who introduces envy of Sigurd's wealth as another motive for the murder. She demands that Gunnar - or anybody - avenge the shame that Sigurd has caused them, and adds:

"Sigurd came here like a beggar. Now he's so proud and powerful that i it won'tt be long before you all serve him. And when he first came to me, he didn't know whi his father and mother were, or any of his kin.""

King Gunnar said: "Lady, don't cry! Sigurd won't be our master for very long, and my sister Grimhild won't be your queen."

The murder of Sigurd is treated diffferently in VS and PE, and in Morris's poem. He is killed at home in bed, and the younger brother, Gutthorm, is prevailed upon to commit the murder, as he took no part in the oaths of blood-brotherhood that the others swore to Sigurd. \Hogni in this redaction is the one who is against the murder; in VS he tries in vain to dissuade Gunnar, saying that no good will come of giving in to Brynhild's demands; it is Gunnar who insists, and eggs Gutthorm on to do the deed.

Hogni answers, "Ill it behoves us to break our oaths with wrack and wrong, and withal great aid we have in him; no kings shall be as great as we, if so be the King of the Hun-folk may live; another such brother-in-law never may we get again; bethink thee how good it is to have such a brother- in-law, and such sons to our sister! But I see well how things stand, for this has Brynhild stirred thee up to, and surely shall her counsel drag us into huge shame and scathe."

Gunnar says, "Yet shall it be brought about, and lo, a rede thereto - let us egg on our brother Guttorm to the deed; he is young, and of little knowledge, and is clean out of all the oaths moreover."

In VS, there is no indication that Hogni actively participates in, or indeed condones, the murder of Sigurd. But in BROT AF SIGURTHARKVITHA (Fragment of a Lay of Sigurd) we find indications of a familiarity with the German version; a sugggestion that Sigurd was killed away from home, and that Hogni actively particiapted.

One word Hogni had for an answer;
Our swords have smitten Sigurd asunder,
And the grey horse hangs drooping
O'er his lord lying dead.

Guttorm is prevailed upon to commit the murder. Grimhild is again called upon to prepare her drugs in order to put him into a suitable frame of mind. Except in BROT AF SIGURDARKVITHA, where Gudrun's fears are aroused when her brothers come home without Sigurd, Sigurd is killed in bed with Gudrun; she wakes drenched in his blood, and he has time for some comforting words for her before his death.

In VS, Sigurd has no foreboding of disaster;
But of these evil wiles naught at all knew Sigurd; for he might not deal with his shapen fate, nor the measure of his life-days; neither deemed he that he was worthy of such things at their hands.

The idea of not being able to fight against fate is one that is central to Morris's poem. He expands the above sentence from the saga to indicate that bothe Sigurd and Gudrun are aware that treachery is afoot, but that in the final analysis nothing can be done but to meet one's fate as bravely as possible. In the Saga, before Sigurd dies he recalls that this was foretold;

"Lo, now that is come to pass which was foretold me long ago, but from nine mine eyes has it been hidden, for none may fight against his fate and prevail."

Morris introduces into his poem an episode that has only vague precedents in the sources: the section subtitled "Of the exceeding great grief and mourning of Brynhild" devotes equal weight to Gudrun's forebodings, and narrates from her point of view her feelings when she finds her brothers (Gunnar and Hogni; Guttorm is still absent) and Sigurd clad in full armour, waiting. The effect of Brynhild's silence and grief is that Gudrun is filled with foreboding; in fact everyone realises that something dreadful is going to happen because of Brynhild. No-one is prepared to face her; Gudrun begs Gunnar to confront her, but he feels unable to do so. Hogni also is reluctant to see Brynhild, and he reiterates the idea that he has previously expressed, that it is wiser not to attempt to fight the decrees of fate. He is wiser than Grimhild in this:

Bide thou and behold things fated! Hast thou learned how men may teach The stars in their ordered courses, or lead the Norns with speech?

When Gudrun finds Sigurd clad in armour, her fear grows, and Sigurd hints that this will probably end in death;

"So oft, O wife," said Sigurd, "is a war-king clad the best When the peril quickens before him, and on either side is doubt:
....................... Now is Brynhild sore encompassed by a tide of measureless woe, And amidst and anear, as I see it, she seeth the death-star grow."

The narrator has already hinted in the course of the quarrel that death will be the outcome of all this - not necessarily Sigurd's death, perhaps Brynhild's own death. But we may also recall that Grimhild has been dropping hints to Gunnar to make him envious of Sigurd's wealth.

In VS, Gudrun asks both Gunnar and Hogni to try to console Brynhild, but she refuses to speak to either of them. Finally, Sigurd goes to see her, and they have their last confrontation. It is evident that there is no possibility of reconciliation; the never has been from the time Sigurd - however unwittingly, betrayed her. He even offers to divorce Gudrun and marry Brynhild, but it is too late for that - all she wants is death, his and hers.

"This is the sorest sorrow to me", she said, "that the bitter sword is not reddened in thy blood."
"Have no fear thereof!" says he, "no long while to wait or the bitter sword stand deep in my heart; and no worse needest thou to pray for thyself, for thou wilt not live when I am dead; the days of our two lives shall be few enough from henceforth."

In Morris's poem, as in VS, Brynhild demands that Gunnar kill Sigurd, or have him killed. Hogni does not, as in the saga, advise against the murder; rather, he seems to accept it with weary resignation.

"I am none of the Norns," says Hogni, "nor the heart of Odin the Goth, To avenge the foster brethren, or broken love and troth; Thy will is the story fated, nor shall I look on the deed With uncursed hands unreddened, and edges dulled at need."

Guttorm is them persuaded to commit the murder, and Sigurd is able to kill Guttorm before he dies himself, so he has at least the satisfaction of revenge. In Morris's poem, there is a poignant moment when Gudrun and Sigurd are peacefully asleep in bed, unaware of the disaster that is about to strike:

Slow, all alone goeth Guttorm to Sigurd's chamber door, And all is open before him, and the white moon lies on the fllor And the bed where Sigurd lieth with Gudrun on his breast, And light comes her breath from her bosom in the joy of infinite rest.

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

Date: Wed, 2 Aug 1995 15:08:00 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; general note

Thought you might like to know that this is nearly finished - we have just got GUDRUN'S REVENGE to come. And then what are we going to talk about! But if anyone wants to discuss ANY of the points made in these rather lengthy postings, I would be happy to continue the discussion. Jane ubzz018@ccs.bbk.ac.uk

Date: Wed, 2 Aug 1995 15:06:00 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; Brynhild's death.

The death of Brynhild has no cosmic or redemptive signficance in VS or PE, or in Morris's poem; she just doesn't feel able to live after the death of Sigurd, which she has brought about. In NL, as far as we can ascertain, Brunhild doesn't die, but once her function in the narrative has been achieved, she is barely mentioned again. After Siegfried's death, Hagen states that he is pleased that Brunhild has been avenged; Kriemhild knows immediately that the dead man is Siegfried, whom Hagen has killed for Brunhild's sake; and the final reference to her in the first half of the poem states that she does not cae how much Kriemhild grieves, and that one day Kriemhild will cause her grief in her turn.

In the second half of the poem, there are two mentions of Brunhild. When Werbel and Swemmel come with Kriemhild's invitation, they ask to be allowed to see Brunhild, but are denied access to her. he last mention of "Gunther's lovely wife", whom we assume to be Brunhild, occurs before he and the others set off for Hungary; we are told that she shared his bed for the last time. To the poet of NL, Brunhild has no further significance after the death of Siegfried.

In TS, it transpires that she survives until the end - it is probably to be assumed that she is now the ruler of Niflungaland, since all the Niflungs are dead. She is visited by Hogni's son, Aldrian, whom she congratualtes on avenging his father, by contriving the death of Attila; she helps him to win a kingdom for himself.

After the death of Sigurd, the immediate focus is on the response of the women; Gudrun's grief and Brynhild's laughter, which is the laughter of hysteria. Gudrun's grief is first expressed in silence and inability to weep, until she is made to look again at Sigurd's bofy, and then her tears breakout. This is omitted from VS, which goes straight from the death of Sigurd to Brynhild's suicide. GUTHRUNARKVITHA IN FYRSTA (First Lay of Gudrun) is the source for this episode. Gudrun flees from her family after Sigurd's death, but she will survive, reluctantly remarry, and take vengeance.

In GOETTERDAEMMERUNG, Gutrune's grief is seen as irrelevant; but then, poor Gutrune has been rather irrelevant all along. The focus is on Bruennhilde and her response to Siegfried's death. She has demanded his death as a personal vendetta, but once he is dead, it becomes more than that, and her suicide achieves cosmic significance. Obviously one of her reasons for committing suicide is to be united with Siegfried in death, but it goes further than that; we are meant to think that by her sacrifice she has redeemed the world. I have my doubts about this, but at any rate the funeral pyre which consumes her and Siegfried also destroys Valhalla, and the corrupt world-order which Valhalla represents. so it is at least a partial redemption. In the all- embracing wisdom she has now attained, Bruennhilde realises that only returning the Ring to the Rhine can lift the curse:

Das Feuer, das mich verbrennt,
rein'ge vom Fluche den Ring!
Ihr in der Flut, loeset ihn auf,
und lauter bewahrt das lichte Gold,
das Euch zum Unheil geraubt!

In SIGURD THE VOLSUNG, Brynhild feels unable to live after Sigurd's death and - as he had foretold - she commits suicide. Her suicide has dramatic and psychological inevitability. In NL, she appears to survive, as far as we can tell, but she may as well be dead for all the interest the poet takes in her. Her survival at the end of TS comes as something of a surprise, and in fact the author/compiler reveals a hitherto unsuspected propensity for tying up loose ends.

In the Norse redactins, and in Morris's poem, Brynhild's suicide is not intended as a world-redeeming act by her, and is not perceived as such by the narrator. Suicide is the only possible solution for her, as her life has become unbearable. Gunnar attempts to persuade her to remain alive, but she# ignores him; and Hogni's attitude to her is in any case one of hostility.

One answer Hogni had for all;
"Nay, let hard need have rule thereover;
And no man let her of her long journery!
Never born again may she come back thither!

Luckless she came to the lap of her mother;
Born into the world for utter woe;
To many a man for heart-whole mourning."

Hogni is consistently hostile to Brunhild in VS and PE; he and Gudrun express similar sentiments about her, namely that she has brought nothing but grief to the family who made her welcome.

In GUTHRUNARKVITHA IN FYRSTA Brynhild is cursed by GOLLROND, a character who doesn't appear elsewhere; she is referred to as "Giuki's daughter"but there is no ther reference to the Giukings having a sister other than Gudrun, and her function appears to be (a) to encourage Gudrun to weep for Sigurd , (b) to curse Brynhild. To the accusation that she has brought grief to the Giukings - which is true enough - Brynhild responds that they also caused her grief by tricking her into marrying Gunnar.

In VS, Hogni sees Brynhild as a force for evil, as he does in SIGURD; asked by Gunnar to dissuade her from suicide, he refuses, saying;

"It is naught, thy word," said Hogni, "wilt thou bring dead men aback,] Or the souls of kings departed midst the battle and the wrack? Yet shall this be easier to thee than the turning Brynhild's heart; She came to dwell among us, but in us she has no part; Let her go her ways from the Niblungs with her hand in Sigurd's hand. Will the grass grow up henceforward where her feet have trodden the land?"

The concluding lines of this scetion perhaps indicate that the lives of Sigurd and Brynhild were not entirely pointless;

They are gone - the lovely, the mighty, the hope of the ancient Earth; It shall labour and bear the burden as before the day of their birth; It shall groan in its blind abiding for the day that Sigurd hath sped, And the hour that Brynhild hath hastenedm and the dawn that waketh the dead; It shall yearn, and be ofttimes holpen, and forget their deeds no more, Till the new sun beams on Baldur, and the happy sealess shore.

The poem implies that Sigurd and Brynhild will never be forgotten while the world endures. "Till the new sun beams on Baldur" is a reference to the last stanzas of VOLUSPA, which relate hoe, after the end (Twilight!) of the gods, a new and better world will arise, and Baldur will return.

Date: Tue, 15 Aug 1995 19:12:00 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

A query - could someone (Bob Kosovsky?) confirm whether my latest mailing (GUDRUN'S REVENGE) was actually received by the list? I am asking because it came up on my screen in a rather mangled form, as though it had been sent TO me by the sysop at Birkbeck.

And I really don't want to have to type it out again!

Jane ubzz018@ccs.bbk.ac.uk

Date: Wed, 16 Aug 1995 18:24:00 BST
Reply-To: "OPERA-L: Discussion of opera and related issues"
Sender: "OPERA-L: Discussion of opera and related issues"
From: Jane Ennis

That was definitely the last mailing of the Wagner's Sources chapter - EVERYONE IS DEAD NOW!!

(I think Alberich survives in the RING - at least, there is no mention of what happens to him. DISCUSS?!!)

I think there is probably a lot we could discuss - I would like to know, for instance, what you think of Morris's poem, what do you think of Morris's "argument" with Wagner - for instance, the way his Sigurd is presented as an intelligent child/youth/man - I think in deliberate contrast to Wagner's Siegfried!

I will be interested to receive feedback, further discussion, questions, etc.

And now we'll have to find another topic. (I suppose I could always write an article about the Schiller/Verdi connection! :)

Jane ubzz018@ccs.bbk.ac.uk

************************************************************** ************* "Cats are nature's way of telling you that your furniture is too expensive"

Back to Richard Wagner Archive.