Motif 02: Holy Grail

German name: Gralmotiv

Musical example: Motif 2a - Holy Grail
Above: the Grail motif in its definitive form.
Musical example: Motif 2b - Who is the Grail?
Above: a derivative figure.
 SoundbytesHoly Grail (ogg format)
Musical example: Motif 2c - Act 2 variant
Above: a distorted form of the Grail motif, heard in act II.

The Dresden Amen was composed by J.G. Naumann (1741-1801) for use in the royal chapel at Dresden and elsewhere in Saxony. Although, as Richard and Cosima believed, Naumann probably had only harmonized a pre-existing melody (CT 3.IX.1882). Wagner became familiar with this music during his years there as Kapellmeister, between 1842 and 1849. No doubt he had heard it earlier, both in Leipzig and in Dresden. Wagner made use of this distinctive "Amen" in Parsifal, where it represents the Holy Grail.

Titurel and the Grail - Franz Stassen
A hint of the Dresden Amen in the score of Tannhäuser, Act 3

A cry of joy: a hint of the Dresden Amen in Act 3 of Tannhäuser.

It is one of the few themes that appears in the prelude to the first act. In the course of the music-drama this motif (which is really nothing more than a cadence) appears more often than any other. The first part of the theme is found within the opening phrase of the opera (see motif 1, fragment D). A derivative of this motif is heard when Parsifal asks about the Grail (B). Example (C) above is the first of several harmonic distortions of the Holy Grail theme that appear in Act II.

References: von Wolzogen ex.2 p.25, Lorenz pp.11-12, Kufferath ex.2 p.226, Lavignac p.443, Newman ex.3, ENO ex.25, Bauer p.25ff, Kinderman 2005.

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