Friday, April 8, 2011

Lohengrin by Richard Wagner (1850). The following scene is the climax of Act 1. "Durch Gottes Sieg ist jetzt dein Leben mein" are the words Lohengrin sings after defeating the villainous von Telramund in personal combat in defense of the saintly Elsa von Brabant, who has fallen in love with the mysterious and unnamed swan knight. In the annals of opera, indeed in the history of music, few measures achieve the thrilling agitation and collective ecstacy of this music, it's practically orgasmic. But for all its brilliance there is darkness to give the light clarity. Following Lohengrin's pronouncement, the chorus sings the infamous "Sieg Heil!" (hail victory) that the Third Reich so effectively coopted and made their own so that to this day, Lohengrin cannot be performed in certain locations in our benighted world. I attempted to capture this cyclonic agitation in my short story Vourdalak, in which my protagonist Nicolai awakens from a long undead torpor, to the strains of this very music. The first link is to the traditional view of this work, with Lohengrin performed by Placido Domingo (no, it's not the best, but it is the clearest and most traditional). First video This second link is to the same music set to film by Polish auteur Woyjech Jerzy Has called "Szyfry". It is an ironic juxtaposition of music and film, illustrating the degenerate darkness implicit in Wagner's music, which Hitler found so easy to exploit. Second video Freud theorized in "Beyond the Pleasure Principle" that there was something called a "death drive" that was the equal in power and influence to the sex drive in the human psychology. Here we see the death drive given free reign. This is Wagner's shadow exposed and it is terrifying and unequalled in pure power.