Motif 11: Kundry's Laughter

German name: Kundrymotiv

Soundbytes Kundry's Laughter (Martha Mödl; ogg format)

Musical example: Motif 11 - Kundry's Laughter

Appropriately for Kundry "the Devil's bride", Wagner characterises her by the tritone, the "diabolus in musica" (which in the Ring was associated with Hagen). Occurrences in the example are shown in red. Note that this motif almost always starts with a diminished seventh chord: in the example above, E-G-A#-D over an F# pedal.

The motif that I have chosen to call Kundry's Laughter is the most important of several musical elements that are associated with Kundry. The descending runs in this theme can suggest diabolical laughter but on its first appearance, they describe Kundry sliding from her horse, reeling, almost collapsing from exhaustion. The first part of the theme is prominent in the prelude to the second act. It returns several times during this act, when first Klingsor and later Kundry refer to the curse which condemns her to laugh and never to cry. The complete theme (above) ends with a development of the Yearning motif (A).

Musical example: germ cell of motif #8 derived from motif #7

For Lorenz it was obvious that this motif had been developed from the lowest voice of the Riding motif (#10), specifically the descending cello phrase in bars 204 and 205, 3rd and 4th beats. With a change of rhythm and extending the arpeggio downwards, it becomes the 6-note germ cell from which Kundry's Laughter develops in its various forms. It also develops into the figure shown below, which is prominent in the orchestral accompaniment to Amfortas' complaint in the Grail scenes. This example illustrates the curious fact that there is an overlap between Kundry's music and the music of Amfortas.

Musical example: Amfortas' variant of motif #11

References: von Wolzogen ex.7, Lorenz p.22, Kufferath p.235 ex.11 "Kundry the demon", Lavignac p.447 "Kundry", Newman ex.12, ENO ex. 36, 39 and 52a, Bauer pp.69-72.

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