Parsifal

Motif 10: Riding and Storm

German names: Rittmotiv Kundrys ; Kundrys Seufzermotiv; Streitmotiv; Knabentatenmotiv


Musical example: Motif 10a - Initial form Soundbytes Riding (ogg format)
Musical example: Motif 10b - Definitive short form Musical example: Motif 10c - Definitive long form

Two related motives. The Riding motif serves to remind us that, in Wagner's operatic works, it is unwise to assign narrow associations to the Leitmotive. On its first appearance, the Riding motif is associated with the wild ride (across the sky) of Kundry-Herodias (and it is probable that Wagner was thinking of Heine's poem, in which Herodias joins the Wild Hunt). It reappears (in the Storm variant) when Parsifal recalls the riders who had drawn him away from his mother, and at all subsequent references to riding. But the motif has wider associations. The first four notes (marked 'a' in example C) appear (although not in the same voice) in the Parsifal motif.

Many commentators on the music of Parsifal have noted that in large part it develops from the Grundthema. Very few of them have noticed that the music of Kundry and Klingsor develops from the Riding motif, which is not related to Grundthema in any way at all. Therefore the glib statement that the music all develops from what we hear in the first 6 bars of the opera is simply wrong.

This motif has sometimes been given the misleading name of the Curse motif, because it appears at Kundry's reference to her curse at the beginning of the second act. It becomes clear, however, towards the end of the same act that this was not a reference to the curse itself, but to the wandering that results both from Kundry's curse and from the curse she puts on Parsifal.

Lorenz stated that the harmony of the Riding motif matches that of Klingsor's Magic: specifically the last part of example A. Both motives are harmonized with the same mystical chords (see for example bar 204). Therefore these motives are related not only by common rhythm but by the same unusual harmonies. For details please see the page for motif #14. Lorenz comments that all of these motives relating to Kundry are in Klingsor's key of b minor. This is because they are specifically related to Kundry while she is under the sorcerer's control. The notes in example B that I have marked with 'x' were called by Lorenz Kundry's sigh (Kundrys Seufzermotiv).

Carl Dahlhaus has pointed out that this is a hybrid theme, with both the rising chromatic intervals of Yearning and the falling chromatic intervals of Suffering. In his analysis of the scene between Kundry and Parsifal in act II, the first three of seven periods that make up the Grausamer section of the scene, are dominated by each of these motives in succession. The Riding/Herodias motif accompanies the period beginning, durch Tod und Leben, Pein und Lachen.

Dahlhaus analyses this form of the motif, rather inaccurately, into three components: a fragment of Klingsor (a), a part representing riding (b) and the Yearning motif (c). Although the notes of (a) do appear in the Klingsor motif, it is surely more significant that they appear in the Parsifal motif with the same rhythm as here. Incidentally, the last four notes (d) are identical to the motif of Tristan's Honour from Tristan und Isolde; this might not be significant if it were not for the fact that the Remorse motif is its inversion.

Soundbytes Fighting (Hermann Uhde; ogg format)

Below: the Storm or Fight motif. Storm or Fight motif as it appears in Act II



According to Wolzogen, the Storm or Fight motif (Streitmotiv), which accompanies Parsifal fighting with Klingsor's army of knights, develops from a "stormy" variation of the Riding motif (example D). This Storm motif appears in the first act at bar 969 when Parsifal recalls how he had met shining knights riding through the forest. In the second act Storm is heard again at bar 321, zu wilden Knabentaten .... Therefore Lorenz calls this variant the Knabentatenmotiv.

At the beginning of the third act we hear the hero tired as he rides towards Monsalvat. The Riding motif becomes the motif of Straying #33.


References: von Wolzogen ex.6 "Kundry's Stormy Figure", Lorenz pp.22-23, 45, Kufferath p.234 ex.10, Lavignac p.447 "The Gallop", Newman ex.11, ENO ex.5, 23, 59. Dahlhaus (Richard Wagner's Music Dramas) page 155.

© Derrick Everett 1996-2020. This page last updated (added a few words and a clarification, and a few more words) --- 2020-03-13 12:45 CET ---