The Magic Flowers of Klingsor's Garden
This web-page will look much better in a browser that
supports worldwide web standards although it is accessible to any browser. You appear
to be using an older browser that does not support current standards. Please consider
upgrading your browser. We suggest the latest version of any one of
the following: MS Internet Explorer, Opera, Safari or Firefox.
Parsifal: Ich sah sie welken, die einst mir lachten:
ob heut' sie nach Erlösung schmachten?
(Parsifal act three)
Spring on the First Green Hill
Wagnerians refer to the "Green Hill" they mean the hill in Bayreuth on which Wagner
built his Festival Theatre. Before Wagner settled in Bayreuth, however, he had lived
on another "Green Hill", in the Enge district of Zürich, where his patrons the
Wesendonks had built a villa overlooking the lake. It was
on a spring morning in 1857, a few days after Richard and Minna Wagner had moved into
a cottage close to the Wesendonk villa, that Richard was
inspired to make his first sketch for his drama Parsifal. While walking in
the garden of the villa he was put into a creative frame of mind by what he later
a pleasant mood in nature. In that same garden, a few weeks
later, he would sit under the ancient linden tree and think about the music he was
writing at the time, the second act of Siegfried. Later the same year Wagner
would put this work aside to concentrate on another drama, Tristan und
Isolde which was still
only music. It was in that autumn on the first
green hill that this revolutionary work took shape; we can imagine Wagner thinking
about it as he sat under the ancient linden tree overlooking the lake, waiting for
Left: The cottage on the first Green Hill, the "Asyl".
that morning in the garden, however, Wagner thought about spring. He saw the flowers
emerging from the soil and the buds appearing on the linden trees. No doubt he
thought about animals emerging from hibernation, something that his mentor Schopenhauer had written about. Sleep,
wrote Schopenhauer, was very much like death. Awakening
from hibernation was a kind of reincarnation, a subject
that Wagner had recently read about in Burnouf's book
about Buddhism. While this book was fresh in his mind,
Wagner's thoughts also went back to the Good Friday passage
in a book that he had read twelve years before and not looked at since, Wolfram's Parzival. It was from these thoughts that Wagner
developed the concept of his drama about Parzival;
returning to the cottage (which he would later call his Asyl, although his
first name for it was Wahnheim) he
quickly sketched out an entire drama
in three acts.
Flowermaidens and Parsifal (ogg format, mono,
duration 5.5 minutes)
is possible that Wagner thought of the maidens as flowers from the very beginning. It
is also possible that at first he did not think of presenting them as flowers but
simply as magic maidens conjured up by the sorcerer Klingsor (just as the dead nuns were conjured up by Bertram
in Meyerbeer's Robert le diable). In the Munich Prose Draft there is no suggestion that the maidens have
been grown in the magic garden:
concealed in that castle are the most beautiful
women in all the world and of all times. They are held there under Klingsor's spell
for the destruction of men, especially the Knights of the Grail, endowed by him with
all powers of seduction. Men say that they are she- devils.
the libretto (written twelve years after that Prose Draft)
Klingsor's maidens are variously referred to as
magic maidens and as flowers. Their music seems to have grown out of musical ideas
that Wagner had first conceived for his Rhine daughters. In both cases these female
creatures are seductive but essentially innocent (even if this is not always made
clear in modern productions). Where the Rhine daughters are natural, however, the
flower maidens are unnatural, like everything that originates in Klingsor's magic. This does not prevent Parsifal, in the third act, from expressing his compassion
Right: The daughters of Mára. © Museum Rietberg (formerly the Villa
ttention has been drawn (initially by Karl
Heckel in 1896) to the similarities between the second act of Parsifal
and traditional accounts of an episode in the life of the Buddha Shakyamuni. In an attempt to prevent the future Buddha
from achieving enlightenment, the dark lord Mára sent an army of demonic warriors
against him. They were unable to harm the future Buddha, or even to distract him from
Mára sent to the future Buddha his daughters, fearfully seductive demons in female
shape. They sang, danced and laughed but were unable to seduce the future Buddha. In
Wagner's version it is Klingsor the sorcerer who
first sends his knights against Parsifal, who
overcomes them and enters the magic garden. There he is surrounded by the magic
maidens whom Klingsor has conjured out of flowers.
Like the future Buddha (who was protected by his virtue), the young hero (who is
protected by his innocence) is immune to the enticements of the
Left: Flower Maiden costume by Paul von Joukowsky
Bayreuth 1882. © Richard- Wagner- Gedenkstätte.
flower maidens, or Klingsor's magic maidens, do not
appear in any of the Grail romances. In Wolfram's poem we
read of maidens kept captive in Clinschor's
castle, which is a variant of the Castle of Wonders in Chrétien's story
and the Castle of Maidens in several related stories. It
appears probable that Wagner's main source for the magic maidens was the Roman
d'Alexandre, a French poem of the early 12th century¹.
lexander enters a forest whose entrance is guarded by
genies. Here he finds beautiful, welcoming maidens, each at the foot of a tree. They
cannot leave the forest alive. When Alexander asks his guides about them, he is told
that they go underground in the winter, but with the return of warm weather, they
spring up and blossom. They open as flowers, in which the central bud becomes the
girl's body and the leaves her garment².
Right: Villa Ruffolo with Klingsor's tower.
first modern French version of the Roman d'Alexandre was published in
Stuttgart in 1846. In 1850, H. Weissman published an adaptation by Lamprecht of the
12th century German version. It is known that Wagner was familiar with Lamprecht's
Alexanderlied, since in his autobiography (Mein Leben, page 390) he
mentioned that he had attempted to imitate its style.
has also been suggested that Wagner might have been inspired by a pantomime that he
enjoyed at the Adelphi Theatre in the Strand, during his visit to London at the end
of 1855. This production, with the title The Christmas, was a pot-pourri of
fairy tales. Apparently in one scene the female chorus were dressed as flowers. This
may have reminded Wagner of the maidens in the Roman d'Alexandre. So the
origins of the flower maidens are diverse: their roots can be found in a medieval
romance, a Buddhist legend and a Christmas pantomime.
See Bayreuther Blätter
1886, pages 47 ff., Hans von Wolzogen, Tristan and Parsifal
Cil li ont respondu, qui sorent lor nature:
"A l'entree d'yver encontre la froidure
Entrent toutes en terre et müent lor faiture,
Et qant estés revient et li biaus tans s'espure,
En guise de flors blanches vienent a lor droiture.
Celes qui dedens naissent s'ont des cors la figure
Et la flors de dehors si est lor vesteüre,
Et sont si bien taillies, chascune a sa mesure,
Que ja n'i avra force ne cisel ne costure,
Et chascuns vestemens tresq'a la terre dure.
Ainsi comme as puceles de cest bos vient a cure,
Ja ne vaudront au main icele creature
Q'eles n'aient au soir, ains que nuit soit oscure."
Et respont Alixandres: "Bone est lor teneüre;
Ainc mais a nule gent n'avint tele aventure."
, Paris version, Branch III, lines 3530-3544]