Motif 16: Parsifal

German name: Parsifalmotiv

Soundbytes Parsifal's fanfare (Ludwig Weber and Wolfgang Windgassen; ogg format)
Musical example: Motif 16a - Parsifal - Initial form
Above: the Parsifal motif in its 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. Parsifal's personal motif changes a little at each appearance, until it finally blazes forth in its final form (example B) as the hero enters the hall of the Grail bearing the recovered Spear. Hans-Joachim Bauer noted that the development potential of example 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.

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.

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 16b - Parsifal - Final form Above: the Parsifal motif in its final form.

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: A comparison of the gloomy, so to speak, muted fanfare motif of Parsifal with the Siegfried motif reveals the character of the former: the Parsifal motif seems as though it were already a quotation from memory.

References: von Wolzogen ex.11, Lorenz p.33, pp.57-59, Lavignac p.452-3, Kufferath ex.18, Newman ex.20, ENO ex.57, Bauer pp.45-49, Theodor W. Adorno On the Score of Parsifal, tr. Anthony Barone, in Music and Letters 76/3 pp.384-397.

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