The Wagner Journal

Richard H. Bell, Wagner’s ‘Siegfried’ Act III Scene 1: a Study in ‘Renunciation of the Will’ and the ‘Sublime’

Richard H. Bell, Wagner’s ‘Siegfried’ Act III Scene 1: a Study in ‘Renunciation of the Will’ and the ‘Sublime’

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July 2016, Volume 10, Number 2, 18–35.

In Wagner’s composition of Der Ring des Nibelungen, Siegfried Act III Scene 1 marks a significant milestone both in terms of its drama and its music. Wagner’s first significant work on the Ring was his sketch of 4 October 1848, but with the purpose of composing just one heroic opera, Siegfried’s Death, and the first version of the libretto was composed from 12 to 28 November 1848. Although the emphasis was on the hero Siegfried, Wotan has a role as a ‘respected god’: he is called upon to consecrate the drink of Siegfried and Gunther in Act I; oaths are made in his name; the vassals call upon him as ‘All-father! Ruling god!’; and at the end of the opera Siegfried enters Valhalla with Brünnhilde (as a Valkyrie) and she praises Wotan as ‘All-father! Magnificent one!’, his sovereignty being underlined by the vassals and women: ‘Wotan! Wotan! Ruling god!’ However, as Wagner worked further on the libretto over the next four years, expanding this drama into the cycle of four operas, Wotan, although becoming the focus of attention and eclipsing Siegfried, was to experience a rude demotion from a ‘Magnificent god’ who graciously receives Siegfried and Brünnhilde into Valhalla to one who seemingly meets his end at the hands of this couple. I stress seemingly because although it appears Wotan’s end comes about through certain external events (such as Siegfried’s destruction of Wotan’s spear in Siegfried Act III), Wotan in fact voluntarily renounces his power.

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