Notes on Wagner's Parsifal Act 2

Notes on Act 2 of Richard Wagner's last music-drama Parsifal, relating to interesting points in the Prose Draft of 1865.

Right: Paul Joukowsky's 1882 design for Act II of Parsifal.

Paul von Joukowsky's design for Act 2 of Parsifal, 1882

Wagner's Footnote

Wagner added the following, probably a few days later, to the last paragraph of the draft of Act 2: it is the spear with which Longinus had once wounded the Redeemer in the side, and of which, as a very valuable means to magic, Klingsor had possessed himself.

The Magic Mirror

Like Tennyson's Lady of Shalott, Klingsor experiences the world not face to face, but as reflections in a mirror. In his magic mirror, Klingsor sees Parsifal approach his castle of maidens. The mirror is a device or instrument for seeing at a distance. The inspiration for this element of Klingsor's domain was most likely the marvellous pillar of the castle of marvels in Wolfram's Parzival, which had been brought from the Orient by the magician Clinschor. Like Klingsor's mirror, in Clinschor's pillar one could see for miles around the castle.

open quotes It seemed [to Gawain] as though each land was revealed to him in the great pillar, that they were whirling round and the huge mountains clashing with one another. He saw people in the pillar, riding and walking, this man running, that one standing... He asked his mistress to tell him the nature of the pillar there. "Sir", said she, "ever since I first came to know it, this stone has shone out all day and night over the countryside to a distance of six miles on all sides. All that takes place within that range can be seen in this pillar, whether it be on land or on water. It is the true telltale of bird and beast, strangers and foresters, foreigners and familiars - all these have been reflected in it! Its lustre extends over six miles and it is so solid and whole that no smith, however adroit, could flaw it with his hammer. It was taken from Queen Secundille in Thabronit, without her leave, I fancy". close quotes

[Parzival, book XI]

The iron pillar of Queen Samyogita

The wonderful pillar is one of many oriental elements in Wolfram's story. It has been suggested that the original pillar was, at the time when Wolfram wrote his story, a wonder of the Hindu city of Ajmer, which was then ruled by the young queen Samyogita (possibly Wolfram's Secundille). This polished iron column, dated to the fourth century of the Christian era, can now be seen outside a mosque in Delhi, the Qutb-Minar.

Parsifal costume design by Paul von Joukowsky, 1882

Left: Flower Maiden costume by Paul von Joukowsky, Bayreuth 1882. © Richard- Wagner- Gedenkstätte.

The Significance of the Kiss

The kiss may be regarded as the dramatic climax of Wagner's Parsifal. It is the point at which the boy becomes a hero, and therefore at which the voice changes to a heldentenor.

In Wieland Wagner's analysis of his grandfather's last major work, two intersecting dimensions were identified: in one of them, Parsifal travels and time goes by, so that he ages and matures. In the other dimension, Kundry, trapped in her cycle of eternal rebirth, moves in space between the domains of the Grail and of Klingsor. At the centre of this cross, these dimensions meet in the kiss. Kundry is the catalyst of Parsifal's awakening; his rejection of her, frees Kundry from her curse. Richard Wagner wrote about the kiss as follows:

open quotes What is the significance of Kundry's kiss?' - That, my belovèd, is a terrible secret! You know, of course, the serpent of Paradise and its tempting promise: 'eritis sicut Deus, scientes bonum et malum' [Genesis 3:5, 'Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil']. Adam and Eve became 'knowing'. They became 'conscious of sin'. The human race had to atone for that consciousness by suffering shame and misery until redeemed by Christ, who took upon himself the sin of mankind. close quotes

open quotes My dearest friend, how can I speak of such profound matters except in a simile, by means of a comparison? But only the clairvoyant can say what its inner meaning may be. Adam - Eve - Christ. - How would it be if we were to add to them: - 'Anfortas - Kundry: Parzival" ? But with considerable caution!close quotes

open quotes The kiss which causes Anfortas to fall into sin, awakens in Parzival a full awareness of that sin, not as his own sin but as that of the grievously afflicted Anfortas whose lamentations he had heard only dully, but the cause of which now dawns upon him in all its brightness, through his sharing the feeling of sin: with the speed of lightning he said to himself, as it were: 'ah! that is the poison that causes him to sicken, whose grief I did not understand until now!' - Thus he knows more that all the others, more, especially than all the assembled Knights of the Grail who continued to think that Anfortas was complaining merely of the spear-wound! Parzival now sees deeper ..." close quotes

[Richard Wagner to his patron, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, 7 September 1865]

With the words, Love sends you now a mother's blessing, greets a son with Love's first kiss!, Kundry kisses Parsifal, who reacts with revulsion. Up to this point, his thoughts have been concerned with his mother, of whom Kundry has awakened memories; now those thoughts are swept aside by a revelatory insight, Welthellsicht, and suddenly his overriding concern is for Amfortas and his wound. Deep within, he remembers the strange and terrible cries he heard in the hall of the Grail, and he sees the wound bleeding. Then he realises that the pain he experiences is not that of Amfortas but his own. He sees that the burden of guilt is upon him alone; he cries out to the Redeemer, Erlöser! Heiland! Parsifal must now suffer and perform deeds of compassion and courage before he can bring healing to the Grail king.

In the third act, Kundry's kiss is returned. Wagner may have found the inspiration for this scene in Wolfram's poem. Although what happens there is quite different: after years of wandering, Parzival has arrived at the court of King Arthur. Once before, Condrie had appeared at the same court and cursed Parzival for his silence at the Grail Castle. Now she appears again, this time begging forgiveness. Condrie kneels before Parzival and through her tears asks him to forgive her without a kiss of reconciliation. When he has forgiven her, she stands up, casts aside her veil and declares that Parzival is to heal Anfortas and then take his place as king of the Grail. In Wagner's version, the recognition that Parsifal is to bring healing and then become king is transferred to Gurnemanz and Kundry is mute. As in Wolfram, Kundry weeps, but first she receives a kiss of forgiveness.