Prelude to Act 2 of Parsifal

open quotes At midday, R. plays for me the introduction to the second act, Klingsor's approach and the rage of sin. It is wonderful! close quotes

[Cosima's Diary, 14 March 1878]

Klingsor and Amfortas

Klingsor's motif and the motif of Kundry's Laughter Figure 1. Klingsor's motif (1) (no. 15 in the Guide) and the motif of Kundry's Laughter (2) (no. 11 in the Guide).

The prelude to the second act is a short, fast introduction of sixty bars, which introduces the domain of Klingsor. Therefore, naturally, the dominant idea is Klingsor's motif [1]; at the end of the prelude, Kundry is represented by the motif of Laughter [2]. Klingsor's motif may be regarded as a distant derivative of the Grundthema that opens the prelude to the first act.

Soundbytes Prelude to Parsifal act 2 - Knappertsbusch, Bayreuth 1962
(ogg format, mono, duration 2 minutes)

Soundbytes Prelude to Act 2 with Piano Score (Klindworth)

The second act, including the prelude, is the only act in all of Wagner's music-dramas that begins and ends in the same key. It is the black key of b minor, a key that was associated with magic in the Ring. This choice of key for Klingsor's music may not be fortuitous; in fact, the key sequence and dramatic action of the first two sections of the act (up to the Kiss) parallel part of an opera by Meyerbeer.

Transformation and Suffering: Parsifal act 1 Figure 2. Amfortas' suffering as it appears in the Act 1 Transformation Music.

The music of the second act may be characterised as a parody and distortion of the music of the first act, reflecting the relationship between Klingsor's domain and that of the Grail. At the climax of this short prelude (bar 50), there is a distorted reminiscence [Figure 3] of the motif of Suffering, as it appeared in the transformation music of Act 1 [Figure 2 - see also motif 4 in the Guide]. The music of Klingsor and Kundry is predominantly chromatic, and so are the themes associated with suffering and desire, through which Klingsor and Kundry are related to Amfortas.

Transformation and Suffering: Parsifal act 2 Figure 3. Amfortas' suffering as it appears in the Act 2 prelude.

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