n July 1845 Wagner took a cure at the Marienbad Spa, where he read poems by Wolfram in the editions of Simrock
(1842) and San Marte (1836), also the poem Lohengrin in that of Görres (1813) with its confused but rich introduction.
In the deep woodlands, lying beside the brook, I conversed with
Titurel and Parzival in the strange and nevertheless so intimately homely poems of Wolfram. From this encounter first came the son of Parzival, Lohengrin, who was sent by the Grail:
In fernem Land, unnahbar euren Schritten, liegt eine Burg, die Montsalvat genannt; ein lichter Tempel stehet dort inmitten, so kostbar, als auf Erden nichts bekannt; drin ein Gefäss von wundertät'gem Segen wird dort als höchstes Heiligtum bewacht: Es ward, dass sein der Menschen reinste pflegen, herab von einer Engelschar gebracht; alljährlich naht vom Himmel eine Taube, um neu zu stärken seine Wunderkraft: Es heisst der Gral, und selig reinster Glaube erteilt durch ihn sich seiner Ritterschaft.
In distant land, untrod by mortal footsteps, there stands a castle, Montsalvat by name; in its midst, there stands a shining temple so glorious that none on earth can compare. Within, a vessel of wondrous power is guarded as the holiest of treasures: so it might be tended by the purest of men, a host of angels brought it to this earth. Once every year a dove descends from Heaven to strengthen anew its wondrous power: 'tis called the Grail, and blessing of purest faith it does confer on its devoted knights.
he prelude to his Lohengrin, entitled the holy Grail, describes -- according to Wagner's own program note written for the Zurich music festival of 18 May 1853 and later published in volume 5 of the Gesammelte Schriften1-- the Grail borne aloft by a host of angels. The divine vessel is revealed with increasing clarity to the senses of the onlookers as it approaches the earth. The angelic host ascends again and disappears in the bright light of the blue ether from whence it came. But the Grail remains behind in the care of the purest humans, into whose hearts its contents have been poured.
n his autobiography Wagner relates, how in the autumn of 1854 he was uncertain about how to make further use of the material.
Parzival searching for the Grail was to appear at Kareol as a pilgrim, while Tristan lies there on his deathbed, in the depths of despair and love's suffering. So the one desiring, who will find salvation through compassion, and the other renouncing, who curses himself in atonement for his guilt and endures love's suffering unto death, would be seen together. Here death! There new life! It was intended that a melody associated with the wandering Parzival should sound in the ears of the mortally wounded Tristan, as it were the mysteriously faint receding answer to his life-destroying question about the "Why?" of existence. Out of this melody, it may be said, grew the stage-dedicatory festival-drama.
Parzival: "Wo find' ich dich, du heil'ger Gral, dich sucht voll Sehnsucht mein Herze".
rom the original draft of the Tristan drama, preserved in a small note book during the years 1854-55, Hans von Wolzogen quoted this Parzival scene in the Bayreuther Blätter of 1915, page 145:
Third act - Tristan on his sickbed in the palace garden. Battlements to the side. Awaking from sleep he calls out to the squire, who is keeping watch on the battlements, asking whether he sees anything. There is nothing to be seen. At his call he comes finally. Reproaches - apology. A pilgrim had to be received. There and then. Tristan's impatience. The squire still sees nothing. Tristan considers. Doubts. Singing receding from below. Who is it? Squire tells of the pilgrim - Parzival. Deep impression. Love and agony. My mother died, when she bore me; now I live, born to die. Why so? - Parzival's refrain - repeated by the shepherd - the whole world nothing but unsatisfied longing! How is it to be stilled? - Parzival's Refrain.
Right: In the deep woodlands, lying beside the brook ... This brook runs through Marienbad.
First Draft of an Independent Parzival-Drama (1857)
he autobiography tells how the first draft of an independent Parzival-drama came into the world:
Beautiful spring weather now set in; on Good Friday I awoke to find the sun shining brightly into this house for the first time; the little garden was blooming and the birds singing, and at last I could sit out on the parapeted terrace of the little dwelling and enjoy the longed-for tranquillity that seemed so fraught with promise. Filled with this sentiment, I suddenly said to myself that this was Good Friday and recalled how meaningful this had seemed to me in Wolfram's Parzival. Ever since that stay in Marienbad, where I had conceived Die Meistersinger and Lohengrin, I had not taken another look at that poem; now its ideality came to me in overwhelming form, and from the idea of Good Friday I quickly sketched out an entire drama in three acts.
Left: The little dwelling; the "Asyl".
ans von Wolzogen again supplements this report from Wagner's verbal account in the Bayreuther Blätter of 1885, page 48:
A wonderful morning was ascended over lake and mountains of Zürich and its surroundings. The Master looked down from the heights of his newly-won, tranquil "Asyl" into the sunny charms of the spring morning:You are not to carry weapons on the day, when our Lord died on the cross!, he seemed to hear as if from angel tongues in the great peace of this solemn world. It was a far distant voice, a Grail sound resounding from the days of his Lohengrin, a slowly fading memory from the time, when he once had communed, in the Bohemian forest, with Wolfram's poem of Parzival. Before him the picture of the Crucified floated; and, quietly putting aside the armour of philosophically-clarified world-criticism and the weapon of historically- sharpened world-denial, he sketched the poem of his Parzival.
he report does not, in fact, agree with the historical data: the Wagners only moved into the "Asyl" on 29 April 1857, while Good Friday fell in 1857 on 10 April, before Wagner had stayed in the "Asyl". The whole account points however to a deeply internal experience, which stuck indelibly in his memory, even if the incidental circumstances became confused.
Right: Parzival, riding proud, armed and finely-dressed, meets the grey pilgrim-knight on Good Friday, in this painting from Ludwig's castle of Neuschwanstein.
o what did this Zürich draft of Parzival look like, this sketch which was written down immediately? We may assume2 with some certainty that, in the main, it closely followed Wolfram. Also that many motives, which were added from other sources and from renewed study of the source material, were first introduced in later versions. First, following Book 9 of Wolfram's Parzival, Wagner would have sketched the third act: the stay in the forest cell of Trevrizent is the core and crux of Wolfram's whole poem. In accordance with his own experience however this was located in a charming spring landscape, the shining, flowery meadows of Wagner's drama, instead of the harsh, wintry landscape described in the romance. The grey pilgrim-knight who reprimands Parzival for riding proud, armed and finely-dressed on Good Friday, became merged with the hermit Trevrizent. Since the Good Friday magic is the starting point of the whole drama and therefore from the outset would have been recorded in detail, it probably appeared already in the Zürich draft in words which essentially agree with the final poem, perhaps similar to these appearing in the Munich  Prose Draft:
You see it is not so: today all animal creation is glad to gaze up at the Redeemer. Not being able to see Him on the Cross, it gazes up at man redeemed: who, through God's loving sacrifice, has a feeling of holiness and purity; the meadow flowers notice that man does not trample them today, but, as God took pity on mankind, spares them: now all that is blooming and soon to die, gives thanks; it is Nature's day of innocence.
undry, as the penitent Magdalen, has her model in Wolfram at the beginning of Book 9 in the anchoress Sigune, whom Parzival visits first. The Zürich draft probably brough together Sigune (i.e. Kundry), the grey pilgrim-knight, Trevrizent (i.e. Gurnemanz) and Parzival in one scene, at the hermit cell, and led from there with omission of the events which intervene in Wolfram's poem directly to the Grail castle and the healing of Amfortas. The Holy Spear, the Christ-lance, which first appears only in a note following the Munich Prose Draft of 1865, was missing from the Zürich draft. Perhaps the healing was effected as in Wolfram, by Parzival asking the compassionate question about the suffering of the king. So the third act consolidated the action of Wolfram's Book 9 with details from Books 15-16 (appointment of Parzival to the office of king and introduction into the Grail castle) to produce an impressive dramatic account in two scenes.
he Grail, which already appears in Lohengrin as a
vessel of wondrous power, was interpreted by Wagner in
accordance with the French romances, whose contents had been communicated by Simrock and San Marte, as the chalice of the Last Supper, in which Joseph of Arimathea caught the blood of the Saviour at
the cross, not as Wolfram's magic stone. From the outset the Master went beyond and around Wolfram for the sake of clarity and descriptiveness. By concentrating on that which he found to be significant and important, and by leaving out the wonderful
extravagances of Wolfram's imagination, Wagner achieved a poetic form that was concise and strong.
Left: Parzival at the cell of the hermit Trevrizent, in this painting from Ludwig's castle of Neuschwanstein.
he simplifications of the third act affected the first act (corresponding to Wolfram's Book 5), the first
visit by Parzival to the Grail castle. Here too the act was divided into two main scenes: the first
based around Amfortas taking a soothing bath in the holy lake (not fishing as in Wolfram! see Parzival
491, 6)3 and with the Grail ceremony in the temple. With the view of the Grail as a vessel containing the
holy blood, the solemn ceremony was given a chalice as in a church service. The old squire (Gurnemanz, who had merged with the hermit Trevrizent of the third act into one character), Amfortas and the
marvellously wild Grail messenger
carried the action. The Grail messenger was present, cowering in a corner, in the painful scene with Amfortas and stared
with a strangely inquisitive look, sphinx-like at Parzival. The compression to the drama prevented a direct representation of the forest life of
the young Parzival (Wolfram's Book 3), particularly since the young Siegfried already contained such a picture
on the beauty of which Wagner could scarcely improve. In the drama Parzival enters the domain of the Grail as a fool, in the epic
as a knight. He plays the fool with Wolfram earlier, at the court of King Arthur. In the drama effective contrasts resulted from this compression: the fool in
the first act, the knight in the third act. Particular scenes from Parzival's youth , e.g. the meeting in the forest of the boy with the "shining men",
the knights, are introduced into his first act dialogue with the old squire.
or the second act Wagner diverged more freely from Wolfram, choosing as the scene of the action the magic castle
of Klingsor with the seductive woman, contents of Wolfram's books 10-13. The adventures of Gawain were transferred to Parzival and thus a contrast, unknown to Wolfram, was established between the Grail castle and Klingsor's castle of wonders. In Wolfram the centre of the action here is the beautiful Orgeluse, whose charms no knight (with the single exception of Parzival) can resist, in whose service Anfortas is wounded by the poisoned spear. Originally Wagner's Zürich
draft kept distinct the three women described by Wolfram: the wild Grail messenger (Kundry) in the first act, Orgeluse in the second act, Sigune in third act. Only in the letters to Mathilde
Wesendonk of 2 March 1859 and 1 August 1860 does Kundry become the
world-demonic woman. The rebirth teachings that Wagner addressed in the Buddha-drama that he sketched in 1856 had an influence on the later development, although certainly not during
the early development, of the Kundry figure. Another idea came from Wolfram, in which (318, 24)4 the Grail messenger Kundry appears again in the magic castle, where another Kundry, the beautiful
sister of Gawain (334, 20)5 is held captive. In Wolfram's poem
however these characters have nothing in common except the name. Thus one discovers some threads which lead from scattered places in Wolfram's poem to the
drama, which were hardly present in the Zürich draft but which occurred to Wagner when he returned to the poem. Thus e.g. Kundry's call to Parsifal in the
second act originates from a meeting of the fool with his cousin Sigune (140, 16)6 in which she reveals the name that he had
forgotten, and her curse on him from the Grail messenger's curse in Book 6 (315, 20)7.
Right: A dark-skinned Condrie, as Grail messenger, curses Parzival at the court of King Arthur, in another painting from Neuschwanstein.
few images from Wolfram's poem stuck in Wagner's memory, from which be was able to outline immediately the
entire drama in three acts on the "Good Friday" in 1857. How reliably Wagner's memory held after several years is shown by the letter to Uhlig of November 1851, where Wagner had asked
for the Völsungasaga from the Dresden library in order to complete the poem of the Valkyrie but almost immediately recognized that he did not need this source after all. Just as
little as he needed the Marienbad draft of 1845, which Frau Wesendonk sent him on 25 December 1861 to Paris, to complete the poem of the Meistersinger. With amazing fidelity he recalled the
contents of Wolfram's Parzival, in order to compress that content, in the mysterious instant of poetic conception, into
three climactic situations
of violent intensity.
the Parzival-drama in the course of time developed further and changed under completely different circumstances of work and life, we read in the
letters of the years 1858-60 about which basic ideas moved into or out of focus. The Parzival-drama, like Goethe's Faust, was an ever-present, quietly maturing work, often perhaps only present
in thoughts or in marginal notes added to the old draft, until the time arrived for a new draft. In the letter in the Venice Diary of Richard Wagner of 1 October 1858 we can see that the subject of
compassion or fellow-suffering was inseparably connected with the Parzival-drama from the outset.
I recognize in this compassion [Mitleid] the most salient feature of my moral nature, and presumably
it is this which finds expression in my art. Wagner speaks of his compassion for animals, those who, in contrast to humans, cannot be raised by their own suffering to the height of resignation:
... their absolute, redemption-less suffering without any higher purpose, their only release being death, which confirms my belief that it would have been better for them never to have entered upon life. And so, if this suffering can have a purpose, it is simply to awaken a sense of compassion [des Mitleidens] in man, who thereby absorbs the animal's defective existence, and becomes the redeemer of the world by recognising the error of all existence. (This meaning will one day become clearer to you from the Good Friday morning scene in the third act of Parzival.)
chopenhauer had expressed similar thoughts:
boundless compassion with all living natures is the firmest and surest guarantee of morality... The moral
incentive advanced by me as the genuine, is further confirmed by the fact that the animals are also taken under its protection. In other European systems of morality they are badly provided for, which
is most inexcusable... Since compassion for animals is so intimately associated with goodness of character, it may be confidently asserted that whoever is cruel to animals cannot be a good man...
However the quality of the heart exists in a basic, universal compassion with everything that lives, although firstly with humans.
arsifal in its definitive shape is the tragedy of compassion, the ethical basis of world redemption. In his last writings, as is well-known, Wagner advocated a religion of compassion. We will have to discuss this idea in the action of the drama in more detail. For the present it is enough to say that already in the original version, in the Zürich draft of the Parzival-drama, this ethical basic idea would have been clearly and certainly expressed.
n the letter to Mathilde Wesendonk of 19 January 1859 we read that Savitri [Prakriti] (in the Indian drama Die Sieger, which was sketched in 1856) and Parzival
fill my mind with a sense
of presentiment and strive initially to form themselves into a poetic idea. On 2 March 1859 Wagner writes:
Parzival has occupied me a lot; in
particular my own creation, a marvellously world-demonic woman, becomes ever more alive and definite. If I manage to write this poem, I will have made something very original. And on 23 May he
announced that he had a completely new concept for the Parzival-drama again. The letter of 30 May 1859 continues to develop the thought of Amfortas as
the work's center of attention and main subject,
the third act Tristan with an inconceivable intensification. The mood of the third act of Tristan -
a truly alternating fever,
deepest suffering and languishing, and then directly an outbreak of rejoicing and shouting for joy - moves the suffering Amfortas into the
foreground, behind which Parzival is nearly lost from view. The suffering of Amfortas is described like
With the spear-wound and probably still another too -- in his heart -- the wretched man knows of no other longing in his terrible pain than the longing to die; in order to attain this supreme solace, he demands repeatedly to be allowed a glimpse of the Grail in the hope that it might at least close his wounds, for everything else is useless, nothing - nothing can help him; but the Grail can give him one thing only, which is precisely that he cannot die; its very sight increases his torments by conferring immortality upon them. The Grail, according to my own interpretation, is the goblet used at the Last Supper, in which Joseph of Arimathea caught the Saviour's blood on the Cross. What terrible significance the connection between Anfortas and this particular chalice now acquires; he, infected by the same wound as was dealt him by a rival's spear in a passionate love-intrigue, -- his only solace lies in the benediction of the blood that once flowed from the Saviour's own, similar, spear-wound as He languished upon the Cross, world-renouncing, world-redeeming and world-suffering! Blood for blood, wound for wound -- but what a gulf between the blood of the one and that of the other, between the one wound and the other! Wholly enraptured, he is all devotion and all ecstacy at the miraculous proximity of the chalice which glows red in its gentle, blissful radiance, pouring out new life -- so that death cannot come near him! He lives, lives anew, and more terribly than ever the sinful wound flares up in him - His wound! His very devotions become a torment! Where is the end to it, where is redemption? The sufferings of humanity endlessly drawn out! -- Would he, in the madness of his despair, wish to turn away forever from the Grail and close his eyes to it? He would fain do so in order to die. But -- he himself was appointed Guardian of the Grail; and it was no blind, superficial power which appointed him, -- no! It was because he was so worthy, because there was no one who knew the Grail's miraculous power as profoundly and as intimately as he knew it, just as his whole soul now years, again and again, to behold the vision that destroys him in the very act of worship, vouchsafing both heavenly salvation and eternal damnation!
[Concerning the Grail Wagner writes:]
I feel a very real admiration and sense of rapture at this splendid feature of Christian mythogenesis, which invented the most profound symbol that could ever have been invented as the content of the physical-spiritual kernel of any religion. Who does not shudder with a sense of the most touching and sublime emotion to hear that this same goblet, from which the Saviour drank as a last farewell to His disciples and in which the Redeemer's indestructible blood was caught and preserved, still exists, and that he who is pure in heart is destined to behold it and worship it himself. Incomparable! And then the double significance of this one vessel which also served as a chalice at the Last Supper, without doubt the most beautiful sacrament of Christian worship! Whence, also, the legend that the Grail (Sang Réal, whence San(ct) Gral) alone sustains the pious knights, vouchsafing them food and drink for their repasts.
Concerning Parzival Wagner writes in the same letter:
Above: A memorial bust of Richard Wagner, in Venice.
Parzival has again been stirring within me a good deal; I can see more and more in it, and with ever-increasing clarity; one day, when everything has matured within me, it will be an unprecedented pleasure to complete this poem. But many a long year may pass before then! And I should like to be satisfied for once with the poem alone. I shall keep my distance from it as long as I can, and occupy myself with it only when it forces itself upon my attention. This strange creative process will then allow me to forget just how wretched I am.- Shall I prattle on about this? Did I not tell you once before that the fabulously wild messenger of the Grail is to be one and the same person as the enchantress of the second act. Since this dawned on me, almost everything else about the subject has become clear to me. This strangely horrifying creature who, slave-like, serves the Knights of the Grail with untiring eagerness, who carries out the most unheard-of tasks, and who lies in a corner waiting only until such time as she is given some unusual and arduous task to perform - and who at times disappears completely, no one knows how or where?- Then all at once we meet her again, fearfully tired, wretched, pale and an object of horror; but once again untiring in serving the Holy Grail with dog-like devotion, while all the time revealing a secret contempt for its knights; her eye seems always to be seeking the right one,- and she has already deceived herself once - but did not find him. But not even she herself knows what she is searching for: it is purely instinctive.-
Then Parzival, the foolish lad, arrives in the land, she cannot avert her eyes from him; strange are the things that must go on inside her; she does not know it, but she clings to him. He is appalled - but he, too, feels drawn to her; he understands nothing. (Here it is a question of the poet having to invent everything!) Only the matter of execution can say anything here! - But you can gain an idea of what I mean if you listen to the way that Brünnhilde listened to Wotan. - This woman suffers unspeakable restlessness and excitement; the old esquire had noticed this on previous occasions, each time that she had shortly afterwards disappeared. This time she is in the tensest possible state. What is going on inside her? Is she appalled at the thought of renewed flight, does she long to be freed from it? Does she hope - for an end to it all? What hopes does she have of Parzival? Clearly she attaches unprecedented importance to him! - But all is gloomy and vague; no knowledge, only instinct and dusky twilight?- Cowering in a corner, she witnesses Anfortas's agonized scene; she gazes with a strangely inquisitive look (sphinx-like) at Parzival. He, too, is - stupid, understands nothing, stares in amazement - says nothing. He is driven out. The messenger of the Grail sinks to the ground with a shriek; she then disappears. (She is forced to wander again.) Now can you guess who this wonderfully enchanting woman is, whom Parzifal [sic] finds in the strange castle where his chivalrous spirit leads him? Guess what happens here and how it all turns out. I shall say no more today!-
rom these communications it appears that the scenario of the Zürich draft was already quite developed and that it had much in common with the later poem, whilst in other elements it stayed closer to Wolfram's Parzival. The three main figures were [by 1860] already present: Amfortas, Parzival, Kundry. In the Zürich draft Kundry as Grail messenger, in the sense that term is used by Wolfram, attends the communion celebration already in the first act, at the same time with Parzival, the stupid one. In the later poem [and in the 1865 Prose Draft] she first (in attendance on Parzival) enters the temple of the Grail, from which she was excluded as heathen 8 before, only after her baptism in the third act. As an old squire Gurnemanz has already appeared. On the other hand there is still no reference to Klingsor. As in Wolfram, at this stage it is the spear of a rival in a love-adventure that causes the wound of the Amfortas. The Holy spear, which is the lance with which Longinus wounded the Saviour in the side and which is kept beside the Grail as a relic, does not yet appear in the story. Between the wound of the king and that of the Saviour, however, a mystical connection had already been established.
The author then goes on to consider the 1865 Munich Prose Draft. The reader can find a translation here: Prose Draft.
Footnote 2: Here Dr. Golther explicitly assumes that the 1857 draft closely followed Wolfram. He does not present any arguments to support this assumption. He implicitly assumes that no other source material (whether of recent acquaintance or, like Wolfram, remembered from his Dresden years) was influencing Wagner on that spring morning in 1857.
Footnote 3: Parzival Book 9, verse 491, 6-9:
Brumbâne ist genant ein sê: dâ treit mann ûf durch süezen luft, durch sîner sûren wunden gruft.
Brumbane the lake is called: where he finds fragrant breezes, to dispel the stench of his wound.
ich weiz vier küneginne unt vier hundert juncfrouwen, die man gerne möhte schouwen. ze Schastel marveil die sint: al âventiure ist ein wint, wan die man dâ bezalen mac, hôher minne wert bejac. al hab ich der reise pîn, ich wil doch hînte drûffe sîn.
I know of four queens and four hundred maidens, who are a delight to see. They dwell in Castle Marvel: all adventures are in vain, compared to what one might win there, a noble prize of highest love. Although it will be a hard journey, I intend to be there tonight.
doch sagter mir vier vrouwen namn, die dâ krônebære sint. zwuo sint alt, zwuo sint noch kint. der heizet einiu Itonjê, diu ander heizet Cundrîê, diu dritte heizt Arnîve, diu vierde Sangîve.
So he named me four ladies, who are entitled to wear crowns. Two of them old, two still children. Of these, one is called Itonje, the second is named Cundrie, the third is called Arnive, the fourth Sangive.
Footnote 6: Parzival Book 3, verse 140, 15-20:
ir rôter munt sprach sunder twâl «deiswâr du heizest Parzivâl. der nam ist rehte enmitten durch. grôz liebe ier solch herzen furch mit dîner muoter triuwe: dîn vater liez ir riuwe».
She of the red lips spoke thus: "You are indeed Parzival. Your name means pierced-through-middle. Such great love broke the heart of your faithful mother: your father left her sorrow."
gunêrt sî iwer liehter schîn und iwer manlîchen lide. het ich suone oder vride, diu wærn iu beidiu tiure.
A curse on your fair looks and on your manly limbs. Had I peace and joy to give, you would go begging for them!