Reviews - What do customers think about Richard Wagner Und Die Indische Geisteswelt (German Edition)?
Carl Suneson's Monograph on Wagner and Indian Thought Dec 4, 1999
The following remarks are made on the basis of reading the Swedish original, which equally should apply to this German translation. The reader should be aware that, although where Sanskrit text is given it has been translated for our benefit, quotations from other languages, such as French and English, have not been translated.
Professor Suneson sheds light on a previously little illuminated corner of the life and work of the German composer Richard Wagner; namely, Wagner's lifelong interest in the literature and religions of India and Ceylon. As an Indologist, Professor Suneson was able to produce what can only be regarded as the definitive study of the influence of India and Ceylon on Wagner's works.
The first part of the book is a general introduction to Wagner's interest in this area. It is natural that this discussion centres on the philosopher Schopenhauer, who related his pessimistic philosophy to the ideas of Buddhism. As most people know, Schopenhauer's philosophy came to assume enormous significance for Wagner during the early 1850's, and when blended with Wagner's own ideas (such as the theme of salvation through love), this philosophy became the foundation of later works such as 'Tristan und Isolde', 'Der Ring des Nibelungen' and 'Parsifal'. As a result of Schopenhauer's interest in Buddhism, Wagner too explored the Buddhist literature of India and (where available) Ceylon.
As Carl Suneson explains, a number of authors have addressed this aspect of Wagner's life and work before, but mostly in brief articles and not without error. Suneson's review of the literature provides references for further reading.
Carl Suneson provides a highly interesting account of which Indian works Richard Wagner read, and what he might have read. This information is drawn from Wagner's letters and from other writings, such as 'Mein Leben' (My Life, Wagner's autobiography), 'Das Braune Buch' (The Brown Book, Wagner's diary 1865-1882) and Cosima's 'Tagebücher' (Cosima Wagner's diaries 1869-1882).
In the second and shortest part of the book, Suneson considers the influence of Indian writings on Wagner's thinking about music.
In the third section, Suneson considers the Indian influences in later music-dramatic works by Richard Wagner. He warns that it is only with great caution that anyone should attempt to do this for any work other than 'Die Sieger' (The Victors), which would, if completed, have been the only stage-work by Wagner based entirely on Indian sources (specifically on 'Sardulakarnavadana' from the collection 'Divya vadana').
Three of the works that Wagner did realise contain elements that seem to have been inspired by Wagner's studies of Indian and Ceylonese literature. Firstly, the ending of 'Götterdämmerung' (Twilight of the Gods). After writing what was originally entitled 'Siegfried's Tod' (Siegfried's Death), Wagner changed the ending several times, as his world-view and therefore his interpretation of his own 'Ring' changed. In two of these revisions, the words given to Brünnhilde had a Buddhist resonance, of which little or nothing remains in the final version.
Similarly, in the ending of Wagner's most Schopenhauerian work, 'Tristan und Isolde', the words of Isolde's Transfiguration have an Indian flavour, but Suneson is unable to relate this to any specific source in Indian literature.
When he comes to consider Wagner's last music-drama, 'Parsifal', however, the evidence for Buddhist influence is much stronger. Suneson explains, in my view convincingly, that at least one, and perhaps as many as three passages in the text of 'Parsifal' are primarily based on Indian texts. The most obvious connection is an indirect one, namely via Mathilde Wesendonck's poem about Buddha and the wounded swan. Other connections explain more of the text in the swan incident in the first act of the opera, and several passages in the second act: for example, the temptation of Parsifal by Klingsor's magic maidens can be related to the similar temptation of the future Buddha by women conjured up by Mara, Lord Death. Exploring the Parsifal-Buddha and Klingsor-Mara parallels further, we begin to see a Buddhist (or pseudo-Buddhist) dimension underlying a work in which the Christian symbols have been more obvious.