A Note About the History of this Website

In the Beginning

It began in 1996 as an experiment in hypertext. I had collected some material about Parsifal 1 and wanted to put selected extracts from the material into a single hyper-document. HTML appeared to provide an easy way to implement this hyper-document. So with only 2 MBytes of online storage within which to work, I started to put it together: HTML-tagged text and very compressed graphics. It was mostly done on Sunday afternoons. Each weekend I added a new web-page to the site and often revised the earlier pages, until it began to take shape. The site started to appear in search engines and soon I had received many encouraging emails. Someone out there was actually reading the material!

After three years of writing and experimenting, I had about 150 cross-linked web pages or documents. Most of them related, directly or indirectly, to Wagner's Parsifal but there were some digressions into works of medieval literature and their historical background. During 1999 I started to address the problems that the Parsifal reception material, much of it contradictory and inconsistent, presented. There had been many different views upon, and approaches to, this opera. In the website I tried to cover the entire spectrum: from the quasi-mystical approach of the so-called "Bayreuth Circle" (Bayreuther Kreis) to the "Wagner as proto-Nazi" writings of more recent decades. None of this seemed to be satisfactory. I concluded that almost everything that had been written about Parsifal was wrong and that none of the proposed "interpretations" stood up to critical examination.

Design for Parsifal with dove
Above: Design for the Grail Temple, with dove. Bayreuth 1882.

Following the Path

In particular I struggled with what I saw as three key questions concerning this opera: (1) Why is Titurel in it? (2) What was in the lost sketch made by Wagner on the "Good Friday"? (3) What exactly happens in the Good Friday meadow, in act 3 of the opera?

During the Bayreuth Festival of 2000 and on an immediately following visit to Zürich, I found some possible answers to these questions. Not through analysis of symbols but by an attempt to identify with the Wagner of 1857, the year of his "Good Friday" inspiration in the garden of the Villa Wesendonk. The answer to the first question came to me whilst I was sitting in the park below the Festspielhaus during the first interval of a performance of Parsifal: it led to a new understanding of the first act of the opera. Some answers to the remaining questions came to me while meditating under the linden trees at the bottom of the Wesendonk garden. Trees beneath which Wagner might have sat while composing the second act of his Siegfried or discussing Tristan und Isolde with Mathilde Wesendonk.

After these inspirations and intuitions, where was some hard work to be done. I surveyed Wagner's letters and other material from around 1857 and looked more deeply into the books and journals that Wagner had (or might have) consulted in his studies of Buddhism (and in particular Mahayana), in connection with his planned opera Die Sieger (The Victors: those who overcome the world). I studied the contents of Wagner's Bayreuth library and of his Dresden library, and I investigated what journals were available in the Zentralbibliothek Zürich in the 1850's. Not least, I read and re-read the works of Schopenhauer. In pursuing this particular course I was guided by the earlier work of Carl Suneson concerning the influence of Indian thought on Wagner, which Professor Suneson considered to be most significant in the libretto of Parsifal.

When these studies had been completed and after many discussions with friends whose knowledge of Wagner's work was much greater than my own, I published an article about the Buddhist ideas underlying the libretto of this opera: some of which had been known for a century, some of which had been hinted at by Carl Suneson, and some of which had never been put forward in print before. That being done, I returned to working on the website. Like Parsifal returning to the Grail domain after years of wandering, now I saw everything differently. I rewrote some of the articles but I retained the broad survey of different interpretations. To some articles I added postscripts or footnotes, which accumulated over the years until it became necessary to rewrite some pages, incorporating the appendages into the body of the text. I completed my translation of the libretto, referring both to the full score and to the poem that Wagner had published before writing the music, with my commentary on the text.

Parsifal Act I at the Mariinsky Theater
Above: First act of Parsifal. Mariinsky Theatre.

Revisions and Maintenance

Since 2002 I have added few entirely new pages to the website. Kind people have pointed out my errors and inconsistencies, which I have attempted to correct, and occasionally I have added notes either at the end of an existing web page or on a separate, linked page (such as, a discussion of the infamous Tristan Chord, another subject on which too much pretentious nonsense has been written over the last century). Some of the pages, as a result of rephrasing and sharpening the text, grew in all directions and eventually I had to split each of those pages into 2 or 3 parts, each focussing on one particular aspect of the opera or something related to it.

Maintenance performed two or three times a year keeps the weeds down. Periodically I remove the broken external links and sometimes I replace old images (now that I have far more online storage available) with better versions. Or I freshen up a few of the pages with new images from recent productions. There is always some new version of a web browser in which the site needs to be tested and in the process of testing, there are always errors to be found and formatting that I realise needs to be improved. Or I might simply decide to change the background image or colour scheme of a page. The website will, in fact, never be finished.

Footnote 1: The material that I gathered and studied during the years 1996 through 2002 (or in some cases earlier) included the following:
  • Primary material: the published writings and correspondence of Richard and Cosima Wagner; the Brown Book; Cosima's Diaries; writings of their associates, Bayreuth artists and other contemporaries.
  • Books either about Parsifal or containing chapters about this work. Variously in English, German or Swedish.
  • Thought-provoking articles in various journals, notably Wagner, the journal of the UK Wagner Society.
  • Program notes from various opera houses which, although often inaccurate or misguided, gave me a starting point and, if nothing else, an interpretation or viewpoint to react against.
  • Books and articles about various schools of Buddhism but mainly about Mahayana. Books and articles about the reception of oriental religions in Europe during the 19th century.
  • The complete works of Arthur Schopenhauer.