Motif 12: Parsifal

German name: Parsifalmotiv

Soundbytes Parsifal's fanfare (Ludwig Weber and Wolfgang Windgassen; ogg format)
Musical example: Motif 12a - Parsifal - Initial form

Wagner was true to his sources (especially, in this context, Wolfram) in so far as Parsifal tells the story of an individual's development. As the hero grows in wisdom, so his music develops. The Parsifal motif changes a little at each appearance, until it finally blazes forth in its final form (B) as Parsifal enters the hall of the Grail with the recovered Spear. Hans-Joachim Bauer noted that the development potential of (A) is not only limited to melodic, harmonic and rhythmic changes, since there are also changes of orchestration that Wagner employs to show the changes in the hero whom the motif describes. Bauer draws attention to the deeply sad and resigned impression given by the motif as it appears in a minor variant in the lower brass, at the start of the third act; through which it develops into the splendour of example B.
Soundbytes Parsifal appears at the start of act 3 (Knappertsbusch, Bayreuth 1964; ogg format)
Soundbytes Parsifal returns to the Grail temple (Knappertsbusch, Bayreuth 1964; ogg format)
Musical example: Motif 12b - Parsifal - Final form
The first example (A) shows the Parsifal motif as it accompanies his first appearance: a fanfare introducing a carefree huntsman. It is a bold and brash theme, which Lorenz describes as being revealed at first piecemeal (in Bruchstücken). On closer examination it is seen to have developed from an added-sixth chord containing the first four notes of the Grundthema (#1). This indicates that the respective destinies of Parsifal and the Grail Knights are linked; which is confirmed by the opening notes of the Prophecy motif almost hidden at (b). Yet Bauer comments that the Parsifal motif seems almost not to belong to the Grail domain; the hero is at first, and for a long time, an outsider.

The notes shown in red (a) are the germ cell from which the music of the Good Friday Meadows will develop. Note that the fragment (c) has been absorbed from the Riding motif, which suggests that Parsifal is destined to meet Kundry and Klingsor. Lorenz identified the last chord of the third bar (with E natural in the bass) as a mystic chord.
Postcard showing the arrival of Parsifal with the healing spear
Above: Bayreuth postcard showing the arrival of Parsifal with the healing spear (act three).

Richard Wagner's Parsifal can be regarded, as it was by Cosima Wagner, as the summation and recapitulation of his achievements. Theodor Adorno considered it to be more like an echo, composed in a style that is typical of old age: This character is revealed by a comparison between the sombre and, as it were, toned-down fanfare motive in Parsifal and the motive associated with Siegfried: it is as though the former motive were already a quotation cited from memory.

References: von Wolzogen ex.11, Newman ex.20, ENO ex.57, Lorenz p.33, pp.57-59, Bauer pp.45-49.

Last updated (name; rearranged; new audio examples) --- 22 Jan 2014 23:45 CET ---.