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Jesus of Nazareth - Buddha (The Victors) - Parsifal


A Study by Karl Heckel (Bayreuther Blätter, 1896, pages 5-19)

Jesus image Buddha image Parsifal image

Translator's Introduction

Despite being more than a century old, this article has not, to my knowledge, previously appeared in English translation. It is of particular interest in relation to Parsifal as the first commentary to consider the possibility of Buddhist references in Wagner's "stage-dedicatory festival-play", some fourteen years after its first performance and at a time in which it was widely regarded as a Christian mystery play. Heckel attempted to relate Parsifal, as a religious drama or a drama involving religious ideas, with two earlier projects on religious themes, both of which Wagner had abandoned. Neither the sketch and notes for Jesus of Nazareth (1848) nor the short sketch for The Victors (Die Sieger, 1856) were published during Wagner's lifetime. If therefore Heckel appears to devote much of his article to reviewing the content of these sketches, it is because they were not familiar to the readership of the Blätter. Heckel seems to have been particularly interested in the predecessors of Kundry: the figure of Mary Magdalen in Jesus of Nazareth and that of the outcast maiden Prakriti in The Victors. It is left for the reader to judge whether and if so to what extent Kundry was a further development of these earlier characters.


Author's Introduction

We can distinguish three periods in the work of Richard Wagner. The first of them ended with Rienzi. I consider it to be characterised by the Master's words, the first desire of an artist is simply to seek satisfaction of a natural impulse to imitate that which most affects him. Beginning with a revolt against the artistic tastes of the time, his second period produced Flying Dutchman, Tannhäuser and Lohengrin. None of the material in these works was arbitrarily selected, since they were intended to penetrate deep into the heart and to force cultivated humans to think about their form and meaning. To these second-period works belong these words: From within I needed to communicate, to free like-minded humans around me from lack of understanding, and to find a way to be understood as artist who had broken free from all external constraints; an understanding of deeply appreciated necessity, although not forced upon us by the compelling necessity of practical understanding. The third period covers the dramas after Lohengrin. The Master in his A Communication to My Friends calls it the period of conscious artistic striving for a quite new course, a path determined by unconscious necessity, upon which he now set out as artist and as man of a new world.

What Wagner sketched in the broadest outline in his Flying Dutchman, he rendered ever more clearly in Tannhäuser and in Lohengrin. What he said about the emotional reception of dramatic content in these works, we may extend to all his works from Flying Dutchman to Parsifal: that the dramatic content was put there by the word-tone poet to express the purely-human, freed from all convention. This dramatic content should directly impact the emotional understanding of the unbiased listener to the work of art; only by understanding the work through feeling can the listener appreciate the collective metaphysical contents of all the dramas from Flying Dutchman to Parsifal, and discover in them both religious dogmas and philosophical doctrines. While a wider investigation of this metaphysical content might take us beyond the inherent limits of a journal, an examination of specific factors might be allowed within those limits. So I beg leave to present a study which considers the draft of Jesus of Nazareth and the sketch for The Victors in their organic relation to Parsifal.


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