Parsifal

Motif 31: Kundry's Curse

German name: Verführungsfigur


Soundbytes Curse (Martha Mödl; ogg format)

Musical example: Motif 31 - Curse

This is the complex of motives representing Kundry's Curse. She cannot weep, only laugh her accursed laugh. In common with Amfortas, Kundry is weary (A), seeking release in death. She is cursed with eternal rebirth, constantly Waking anew (B). Note that in the example the motif begins with a diminished seventh chord E-G-B flat-D, as does motif #11.

Fragments of this complex appear gradually. The first of them, the cascading scale that appears to be a relative of the Laughter motif — although the rhythm is more complex, it contains her characteristic interval of the tritone — first appears at the end of Gurnemanz's line, Hier lebt sie heut', vielleicht erneu't, zu büssen Schuld aus früh'rem Leben. It is heard again at Amfortas' cry to the Redeemer. Then the latter part (C) appears immediately after Kundry awakes at the call of Klingsor in the second act (bars 143-145). Klingsor echoes (C) and then (A) appears accompanying Kundry's lament. But these are only pre- echoes, as is the appearance of the motif following Parsifal's Amfortas! Die Wunde! (bars 997-1001). More of the complex emerges in the first period of the Grausamer section, and then we hear the complex, completed for the first time, as Kundry tells of how she mocked Christ and how His look fell upon her, at which she was cursed to wander the world (zu büssen Schuld aus früh'rem Leben) until she meets her Redeemer.

Theodor Adorno in his Versuch über Wagner wrote that, in his last two operas, Wagner had made the chord of a diminished seventh with an added minor ninth into a kind of Leitmotiv. Also that in Parsifal it was often arpeggiated in one voice instead of resolving. Probably he was thinking of Kundry's laughter (#11) and of her waking scream (#31d), where the initial chord, or part of it, is arpeggiated. In both cases, however, the initial chord is typically a diminished seventh and where there is a note added, it is as likely to be a major ninth as a minor one. There are two exceptions, both in the second act.

Curse motif: Kundry awakes in Act II
Curse motif: Parsifal's cry of 'Amfortas! Die Wunde' in Act II

In the first example above, Kundry awakes at the command of Klingsor. The first chord is a diminished seventh with a minor ninth. In the second example Parsifal reacts to Kundry's kiss with another variant of the Curse motif. Again the first chord is a diminished seventh plus minor ninth. These two occurrences of such a chord being followed by an arpeggio are not enough to support Adorno's claim that this chord is treated as a Leitmotiv. The more usual case, both with motif #11 and motif #31, is for these laughs, screams and cries to begin with a diminished seventh.

References: Kufferath ex.42, Newman ex.37, ENO ex.34-35, Adorno (Versuch über Wagner) chapter 4.

© Derrick Everett 1996-2020. This page last updated (changed title from Curse to Kundry's Curse for clarity; added bar numbers to text; added two more examples and a note about Adorno) --- ---