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Parsifal handwritten by Wagner Richard Wagner in 1863
Prose Draft

Wagner's First Prose Draft for Parsifal

The Good Friday Inspiration

There is a definite pattern in Wagner's development of each new opera. He would begin by defining three episodes based on his material (a novel or a play or an historical event), and a sketch or outline of a three act drama. In some cases, such as Die Sieger, that is as far as he progressed. For many of these projects, the sketch has been lost. Some of them, such as the one for Die Sieger, have survived. The next stage was the development of a Prose Draft, which set out the action of the opera in prose text. In most cases we know of one such draft: for Die Meistersinger there are three drafts, each different. For Parsifal there are two, of which the second is only an expansion of the first. Other than the addition of detail, there is not much that changed between the Prose Draft of this opera and the libretto. Notably the spelling of names. Then small changes to the words were made during the composition of the music: this is why there are small differences between the "poem" and the final libretto.

In view of the speed with which it was written this Prose Draft, dated 27-30 August 1865, cannot have been the first of Wagner's outlines for Parsifal. There is evidence suggesting that an earlier sketch was written in 1857. If it ever existed then that sketch has been lost without trace. In his autobiography Mein Leben, Wagner describes the April (or it might have been early May) morning in 1857 on which he was reminded of the Good Friday passage in Wolfram's Parzival:

open quotes Ever since that stay in Marienbad, where I had conceived Die Meistersinger and Lohengrin, I had not taken another look at that poem; now its ideality came to me in overwhelming form, and from the idea of Good Friday I quickly sketched out an entire drama in three acts. close quotes

The First Outline for Parsifal

Wagner's Diary and Notebook 1865-1882: The Brown Book

That first sketch or scenario, which H.S. Chamberlain claimed to have read, has not survived. So the earliest outline known is this one, a more detailed draft made by Wagner at the request of King Ludwig. It appears in the Brown Book (left), the diary and notebook, given to him by Cosima, that he used intermittently from 1865 until his death in 1883. The original has been on display at Haus Wahnfried in Bayreuth.

Some names differ from those that appear in the final poem and score. At this stage in the development of the text, Wagner was still, in most cases, using the spellings that he had found in Wolfram. Thus, for example, Anfortas had not yet been changed to Amfortas. In this draft, however, he uses the name Schmerzeleide [Pain- sorrow] instead of Wolfram's Herzeloyde [Hearts-sorrow] for Parzival's mother.

open quotes We owe the resumption of the work to king Ludwig: from 27 to 30 August 1865 the Parzival-poem was written down in the earliest version known today. The appearance of the young king, who entered the circle of friends of Wagner's Parzival [as the drama and its central character were called at this stage], gave life and warmth to the form of Wolfram's poem. Now there was a kind of reconciliation between Amfortas-Tristan [who had begun to dominate the developing scenario] and the young prince, who moved into the center of the action. Wagner was still in a state of shock following the sudden death of his first Tristan, Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld, on 21 July 1865 in Dresden. Work on Parzival gave Wagner release from grim reality: that was help in need are the words with which the Master concluded the draft of Parzival. The contents of this draft match almost exactly those of the finished drama, although it begins with background details that were provided for the benefit of the king. These would be compressed in the drama. close quotes

"Parzival und der Grail", Wolfgang Golther, 1925

Comparison with the Libretto

Those who know the music-drama will notice that there are a few elements in this draft that were removed or changed before the poem was completed. Even in the copy that Wagner made for King Ludwig the day after completing this draft, there were already small changes and, probably while preparing the copy, Wagner made some corrections to the original. In particular, he quickly decided that having Titurel wake up and wave his blessing was not a good idea. Wagner remained for some time uncertain about how to deal with the bleeding spear, a mysterious element of Wolfram's story that would, transformed, become an important element of Wagner's story.

Parsifal Programme from 1882