There is some room for epic heroism, though. The gulls wove their white curves of flight across the face of the cliffs below him; the jump would have been death to any other man, but Tristan had learned well from his masters in his Lothian boyhood, and had not forgotten how to make the Hero Leap. He filled himself with air until he felt as light as the wheeling sea-birds, and drew himself together and sprang out and down.
If I have one criticism of the book, it is that Sutcliff makes Tristan so good, honest, and self-controlled that I can hardly believe he would actually betray his uncle and best friend with Iseult.
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Both he and Iseult know it is wrong, and Tristan at least is very principled. But this is legend, and their fates are sealed. They each are greatly loved by many people and have many friends, but no true spiritual companions except each other. I avidly dislike the tragic conclusion that the stories inevitably reach, since, especially with Arthur, it means the end of Camelot and Arthur himself. It is too real to me and makes me sad. But if a book does render the story well, I am cautiously open to reading a retelling. I do respect authors who are able to retain the original themes and spirit of a story even as they rework it into their own creative imaginings.
As for how a character as good as Tristan being able to fail so epically, I think that is very well within keeping with the old and original stories. The heroes, villains, and many other characters of Welsh Arthurian legend are rarely described in nuances. They are the best, the bravest, the strongest, the wisest, and bloodiest, the cruelest, the fairest. I lose track of how many heroes were taller and stronger than any man ever born or how many women were the fairest in the land. And yet, these best and bravest and strongest make the most tragic and foolish mistakes.
He was the best and noblest, and yet he failed, and yet he was still the best and noblest. Our stories today would not allow such a thing, but the Arthurian legends did quite often. Or at least, as I recall. Oh I agree, on both accounts. I like Camelot, I love the Sword in the Stone and Merlin and all that, and I love the Grail Quest and all the intervening quests and adventures that the knights go on. So while I do read retellings, I never love them as much as I sort of hope to. I like Tristan and Iseult more, though. The characters are more appealing, the setting less cluttered.
I remember thinking Woolf was whiny, and I view Joyce with arched eyebrows and some trepidation at the thought of trying to read him. Good luck with that.
But yay! Let me know what you think of The Riddlemaster. Feel free to push me in any particular direction or introduce another one. Duh, you had to ask? Bell at Sealey Head, of course!!!!! Please read those soon, okay? Come at the OT fresh. Haha, I should have guessed. I just wanted to get a quick background in Welsh myth. But more on that later. What I do love about Valente is that she is bursting with stories to tell, both little and big ones, and she fills the corners of the book with them. In fact, most of the littler stories I liked far more than her main one!
Thanks for the information.
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I did not know Sutcliff had written about Tristan and Iseult. If it helps, this book is much shorter and faster-paced than her other novels. If you read concentratedly, you could easily finish it in a day or two. As I understand, Sutcliff was writing Sword Song when she died. She had written the rough draft and was partially through editing it. From its first manifestation in the late 16th century intermedi of the Florentine Medici court, opera can be said to have been an innately hybrid genre, at times not always easily straddling the competing demands of musical integrity and dramatic force.
In opera, the successful blend of both elements has always been a difficult attainment. This overcame the persistent problem of divergence of creative intent between composer and poet, even if doubts were expressed as to the literary worth of his texts. Moreover he argued publicly that the text was of equal importance, although privately he appears to have thought otherwise Guttman, And again, whilst not the first to associate individual characters with musical phrases Wagner developed to its full the notion of leitmotif , one of a lexicon of repeated musical phrases each associated with a particular person, place or idea as suggested by the libretto.
In this way the music, rather than merely amplifying the textual content being sung at a particular time, becomes another layer of commentary on it, essentially a hypertext in itself, pointing backwards and forwards to other points in the drama. The Ring offers the most extensive paradigm of this new multilayeredness. The effect of these formal integrations is not merely confined to technical process. According to David Roberts:. The language of the body … of the heart and … of the spirit. Opera, by contrast, is dismissed … as nothing but the occasion for displaying egoistic rivalry of the three sister arts.
Other forms of plastic arts were also drawn into the Gesamtkunstwerk to provide a further intermingling of art forms. Thus a fundamental reconsideration of the elements of pre-existing opera gave an indication as to the scale and combination of future manifestations of hybridity. But beginning with a dissonance was not of itself unprecedented, Mozart Quartet K.
According to John Snelson:. It can be called a half-diminished 7th chord F, G sharp, B, D sharp. Had it been an arresting device which then settled down into orthodox tonality, perhaps the Chord would not have had such an effect on musical history. For Bryan Magee:. What is certain is that the chord contains not one dissonance but two. And when this first chord moves to the second, one of the dissonances is resolved but not the other; indeed a dissonance is created.
When the second moves to the third the same thing happens … Our perpetual longing for the resolution of discord is … partially satisfied but partially frustrated. Only at the very end … does the stretched-out unsatisfied longing come permanently to a close … the two main characters are now both dead and the opera is finished. This erotic power was evident from the first; Tristan was considered so scandalous that young women were not allowed to see it when it premiered in Munich.
Hybridised Performance: Disruption and Deferment in Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde
It was as if the equilibrium of mid-romanticism, with its bourgeois domestication of romantic passion something her late husband Robert constantly evinced in his songs had been irreversibly upset, indicating what Dionysian licence music could be capable of arousing. And of course, the notions of stable tonality upon which such an equilibrium depended, were from this point under increasing threat, as Theodor Adorno puts it:.
All the tones and their combinations, even at their most daring, for example in Tristan and Parsifal , can be explained in accordance with the traditional teachings of harmony. At issue is a tendency, a potential — not what one finds literally in the notes, but what they tend toward — and this, indeed, has decisively to do with atonality. By letting the harmonic ramifications of one chord pervade such a large musical structure Wagner had clearly changed the possible modes of audience response.
In place of the busy alternation of speeds implicit in traditional operatic procedure, with their discrete numbers juxtaposing keys and moods, he had let one musical, and therefore dramatic, moment wash through the entire performance. So to speak, the music is the drama, over which the sung characters float, buoyed along by it, as they are, dramatically, driven on by their passions. There is not much of a sense that they can do anything to arrest such a flow. As with the Ring , the kind of response that Tristan determines is of a new order of temporalisation: put simply, it is epically slow-moving, but for those who are up to it, this durational vastness is not empty, rather, it immerses the audience in a soundworld analogous to the paralell universe of infatuation in which Tristan and Isolde are trapped from Act 1 onwards.
Narrative is minimal and episodic, though retrospective narration does serve, paricularly in Act 1, to create the preconditions for the passion itself. Such a daring reliance on minimal action taken so slowly can be seen as prescient with regard to a medium Wagner never knew: cinema, particularly as its technical resources have increased since the thirties.
As transmitted through Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, early Arnold Schoenberg and Erich Korngold, it is impossible to imagine the temporality of film music as it interracts with images without recognising Wagner as the precedent. It is apparent how much the intrinsic pace of his musical developments lends itself to the conventions of big screen camerawork and visual editing, so much so that it could be argued that the former actually helped create the latter.
The sense of how images and sparse words can be given atmospheric resonance by music of this monumental slowness, is itself so engrained in our visual culture that it is difficult to appreciate it freshly. According to Caryl Flinn:. The leitmotif for Wagner produced meaning in two ways, first by anticipating them and second by retrospectively constructing them. The assumption is that when the leitmotiv is first heard, the auditor experiences a vague emotional response that is only more fully understood later when the leitmotiv is repeated and readily associated with an object or theme.
Ever in need of funding, Wagner met Otto Wesendonck, a Swiss businessman, in , who became a benefactor. Wagner wrote to Liszt at the time:. Since I have never in my life tasted the actual happiness of love, I must raise a monument to the fairest of all dreams, in which from beginning to end that love shall be thoroughly satiated. I shall shroud myself to die. Despite both protesting innocence, the situation deteriorated, causing Wagner to move to Venice where he wrote the Second Act of Tristan. Minna left for Dresden for health treatment but before leaving she wrote acerbically to Mathilde:.
Before my departure I must tell you with a bleeding heart that you have succeeded in separating my husband from me after nearly twenty-two years of marriage. May this noble deed contribute to your piece of mind. But these songs, more importantly, permitted him to develop more transparent sonorities than he had used during composition so far of the Ring.
He wrote:. I was instantly captivated and by the great clarity and manly precision with which the most abstruse metaphysical problems were treated from the beginning … Everyone who has been roused to great passions by life will do as I did, and hunt for the final conclusions of the Schopenhauerian system; whereas his treatment of aesthetics pleases me immensely, particularly his surprising and significant conception of music.
These are concepts derived from original positings by Kant. In respect of this way Schopenhauer provides two theories of Art — one for music and one for the rest Magee, As he writes:. Slow melodies that strike painful discords and wind back to the keynote only through many bars, are sad, on the analogy of delayed and hard-won satisfaction. Delay in the new excitement of the will, namely languor, could have no other expression than the sustained keynote … the transition from one key into quite a different one … is like death inasmuch the individual ends in it.
According to Schopenhauer:. As a rule, the death of every good person is peaceful and gentle; but to die willingly, to die gladly, to die cheerfully is the prerogative of the resigned … and denies the will to live and denies the will to live … For For he alone wishes to die … he willingly gives up the existence that we know … The Buddhist faith calls that existence Nirvana , that is to say extinction. It could be questioned whether Nietzsche could be called an influence on Wagner, since Wagner was obviously a pre-eminent influence on him.
Tristan and Isolde, the real opus metaphysicum of all art, a work upon which rests the broken look of a dying man with his insatiable and sweet craving for the secrets of night and death, far away from life … overpowering in its simple grandeur and in harmony with the secret of which it treats — lying dead in the midst of life, being one in two. The Birth of Tragedy is essentially a discussion of the relationship between Apollonian and Dionysian influences on art and culture.
These, for Nietzsche, were symbols rather than concepts and his theorisation of the aesthetic was based on their opposition. Despite their apparent radical opposition they have in common a shared rejection of any mediated understanding provided by concepts or analysis. Apollo is associated with form and structure, whilst by contrast Dionysus is associated with energy, sexuality, fertility and nature; the pure Dionysian art is music.
However, according to Hutcheon and Hutcheon:. Instead it was a life-affirming interweaving of two forces: the energising Dionysian powers destructiveness [of individuality], cruelty, sexuality and the controlling Apollonian ones rationality, form, principium individuationis. The first Bayreuth Festival was an enormous disappointment for Nietzsche, he believed that Wagner was demonstrating an increasing and exclusive Germanic nationalism, together with a rampant anti-Semitism. The visual array was completed by some eccentric choices of costumes designed by Christina Cunningham. Isolde, sung by soprano Heidi Melton, was in a baroque wide panniered skirt in Act 1 which appeared to inhibit movement.
Tristan, the Australian Heldentenor Stuart Skelton, was progressively dressed onstage as a samurai warrior. Isolde, daughter of royalty, is being taken by sea from Ireland to her familially ordained wedding to King Marke in Cornwall, cementing a peace treaty between them. She is ostensibly furious.
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She had discovered his identity, but, intending to exact revenge, was checked by the moment their glances met. Now, as part of the peace deal, Tristan returned again to collect her; the libretto vaguely implies that in this, also, she was lured by her involuntary love for him. Tristan too has overruled his affections by offering Isolde to Marke solely to ingratiate himself at court.
The musical settings of their speeches alternate between her torrential denunciations and his, almost Elgarian, bluff complacency.
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Tristan is honour-bound to drink with her what he is convinced is poison. Joy, guile-inspired, I bless you! It is lit by a deep blue nocturnal light. And it does not permit the singers much room for manoeuvre. This is where the lovers come together. And it is here that the re-use and development of material from one of the Wesendonck Lieder is most apparent.
Marke confronts Tristan, who is unable to explain, only asking Isolde to follow him into death. The Act ends in this production with both Tristan and Isolde being strapped to hospital beds by paramedics in modern surgical dress, a staging innovation that was probably the most unpopular of all. Movement is accordingly confined to the front of stage. Tristan begins slowly to regain consciousness, obsessed with being reunited with Isolde. Kurwenal tells him that she has been sent for.
The text here hints at an increasing ambivalence, in which Tristan has a longing for a Buddhistic, absolute obliteration as the only release from the torment of unrequited Liebe :.
Publisher Series: Dover Books on Literature and Drama
A second party arrves with King Marke. Kurwenal, believing they are pursuing Isolde, challenges them, kills Melot before being killed himself. But Marke, having learnt about the potion from Brangane, is here to release the lovers from their ties. Isolde sings her final incandescent aria Mild und leise before succumbing to her own Liebestod. It is certainly a weirdly transcendental expiry by the standards of operatic death, rather closer perhaps to a massive overdose of LSD. Synaesthesia would appear also to figure very strongly in this final scene. This is a feature much commented on by writers on this work.