Scholarly article on topic 'Music as a Way of Knowledge: Tannhäuser as a Modern Hero'

Music as a Way of Knowledge: Tannhäuser as a Modern Hero Academic research paper on "Philosophy, ethics and religion"

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Abstract of research paper on Philosophy, ethics and religion, author of scientific article — Emanuele Ferrari

Abstract Listening to music and being aware of music are not the same thing. The purpose of the present paper is to show how music can increase self-awareness and our knowledge of the world, by analyzing Wagner's Tannhäuser from the view point of the symbolic meaning of the main character, Tannhäuser himself. Wagner's opera provides a wonderfully rich texture which combines music, words and images; therefore the emphasis will be on the relationships between musical sound and other forms of artistic communication.

Academic research paper on topic "Music as a Way of Knowledge: Tannhäuser as a Modern Hero"

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Social and Behavioral Sciences

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 116 (2014) 854 - 863 —

5th World Conference on Educational Sciences - WCES 2013

Music as a way of knowledge: Tannhäuser as a modern hero

Emanuele Ferrari

Universita degli Studi di Milano Bicocca, edificio U16 via Thomas Mann 8, 20162 Milano ++390270631019


Listening to music and being aware of music are not the same thing. The purpose of the present paper is to show how music can increase self-awareness and our knowledge of the world, by analyzing Wagner's Tannhäuser from the view point of the symbolic meaning of the main character, Tannhäuser himself. Wagner's opera provides a wonderfully rich texture which combines music, words and images; therefore the emphasis will be on the relationships between musical sound and other forms of artistic communication.

© 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Academic World Education and Research Center. Keywords: Music, music education, Thannhäuser, history of music, Wagner, opera


The spoken presentation will offer in-depth analysis, through commented listening, of the main features of Tannhäuser as a symbolic figure: his loneliness, dissatisfaction, restlessness, and other spiritual attitudes are very near to modern day society. Tannhäuser is a modern hero, a character who belongs to a time with no certainty, where the relationship between oneself and the world is no longer precisely defined. The speaker will focus on the close relationship between music and the theatrical situation, emphasizing the rich interpenetration between sound and words in Wagner's opera. From this perspective, Tannhäuser is an interesting example of how music can provide a powerful educational opportunity, expanding our knowledge and helping all of us to better understand the world where we live and its complexity.

Modernity as perspective

Tannhäuser is a complex work, and complex is its protagonist. The figure of Tannhäuser, as Wagner created him, features traits that refer to a broad spectrum of matrices. Wagner himself, reading German mythology, recalls being enchanted by wonderful, even less significant traditions (Wagner, 1982, p. 190). Tannhäuser is in fact a syncretic character, whose traits and characteristics cannot be reduced to a common denominator. He is both a poet and

Corresponding Author: Emanuele Ferrari , Tel: +23 444747839 Email: Emanuele Ferrari

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Academic World Education and Research Center. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.01.310

singer in the Medieval chivalric tradition, but also a romantic Wanderer without peace and safe harbor. The modernity of Tannhäuser, as the title of this paper recalls, is not the sole or exclusive trait of this character, but a possible perspective on a complexity that cannot be reduced to a single formula.

This complexity is also interesting from an educational point of view: Tannhäuser, with his divisions, weaknesses and incurable dissatisfaction, says a lot about us, about contemporary humans whose concerns and unresolved tensions dominate over certainty. A hero of ambiguity and affective confusion (Dahlhaus, 1998, p. 38), he can help us better understand ourselves.

A world divided

The first, obvious characteristic of Tannhäuser - considered as an opera and not as a character - is splitting, division. The protagonist is irresistibly attracted by two irreconcilable worlds: the Christian faith and the pagan fullness of the senses. The interesting aspect is that, more than a subjective polarity, Wagner presents these opposites as real structures of the world. The Overture opens with a solemn and majestic chorale of the sacral timber of wind instruments, a chorus of sinners absolved after a pilgrimage. Tannhäuser is not the protagonist of the scene -the action has not yet started, if not strictly on a musical level - but faith is presented with the expressive power and the evidence of an objective, not only a mental, reality.

The same thing happens later when, again in the Overture, this first musical situation is replaced by its antithesis, in the outbreak of Dionysian energies, forces and desires that reign in the mountains of Venus.

Wagner's Overture therefore presents us with a world radically divided between two opposite polarities. On closer inspection, however, the first of these two poles, Christian faith, presents a further split. The first chorale of winds, with their soft glow, radiates the consciousness of grace, the hope of salvation, the promise of redemption: a procession confidently directed towards a goal. But less than twenty measures after, there is a drastic change. The fullness of the golden winds is replaced by the "suffered" timbre of the strings (at first more somber, without violins), while the "round" motive of the chorale is replaced by an arduous ascending progression. The processional movement is still there, but the sense of expression is reversed: instead of marching toward a goal that radiates serenity, there is a painful dragging along a rugged trail. The world of grace, then, is opposed to sin, maceration, penance.

Spirit and the senses, Christianity and paganism, confidence and despair, winds and strings: long before the protagonist utters a single word, the world of Tannhäuser is split into opposing blocks that do not guarantee internal unity and compactness. In this view, Tannhäuser is a system of multiple splits.

Opposites personified: Venus and Elisabeth

The first divisions, therefore, are purely musical. After the Ouverture, the stage action begins and the polarities are transferred to other levels. The two opposing universes, pagan and Christian, find plastic incarnations in the two female characters: Venus and Elisabeth. Here we are not interested in them for themselves, but in the relationship that Tannhäuser establishes with them, thereby making himself visible to our eyes from different angles.

Let's start with Venus. After an unspecified time spent as the lover of the goddess of love, where every man would like to stay forever, incredibly Tannhäuser wants to leave. In a long dialogue (Act I, Scene II), he explains to the goddess - and us - why he desires this.

|Tannhauser hero of the finite

The first theme Tannhauser introduces is time (English version:

The time I have sojourned here I cannot measure.

Days, months, seasons no longer exist: timeless ecstasy reigns in the mountain of the goddess: happiness is always the same, it has no history or evolution.

But mortal, oh, I have remained and your loving is too huge for me. Though a god may incessantly savour enjoyment, I am subject to change.

Man, however, needs change, even if it means pain and death. Hence the paradoxical conclusion:

not pleasure alone lies close to my heart -in the midst of joy I crave after pain.

For humans, the utopia of permanent happiness cannot be reconciled with the abolition of becoming, and rosy vapor from the grotto of Venus becomes unbreathable in the long run. No wealth can guarantee happiness if one is not able to control the surging of one's soul (Natoli, 1994, p. 28). The second theme Tannhäuser introduces is freedom.

Yet, I must go from hence to the world of earth; if I remain with you, I can only be a slave.

In the Overture Wagner gives body to the orgiastic pleasure of the realm of Venus, which helps us better understand this paradox. The lively orchestral colors, the flowing, spirited rhythm that whips the senses, the fantastic revelry and unbridled drunkenness stun the listener without respite, placing the audience in the same position of Tannhäuser, that is at the center of a frenzied dance of the senses that does not permit distance, prevents reflection, paralyzes the will. This condition is incompatible with the essential aspects of free choice.

The third theme is the most radical: death.

My longing urges me to combat; I do not seek pleasure and rapture! Oh, if you could understand it, goddess! Hence, to the death I seek! I am drawn to death!

Presented at first as the price to pay for living authentically, in the final phase of the dialogue death for Tannhäuser is inevitable: Freud's death instinct in Beyond the Pleasure Principle is still remote in time, but it is conceptually close.

It is worth briefly considering the answer of Venus to Tannhäuser's last statement by:

Return, when death itself flies from you, when the grave itself closes before you.

In the composite and syncretic poetics of Tannhäuser, this element refers to the Romantic figure of the Wanderer mentioned above: he can neither live nor die, for he is in perpetual exile from the world (Lo Presti, 1995, p. 23).

We can paradoxically summarize Tannhäuser's arguments, by saying that ... happiness does not make one happy. Or rather, it does not make mortals happy. Tannhäuser continually emphasizes that the root of his unhappiness, incomprehensible in the eyes of Venus, lies in the double standards that separate humans from gods. Time, freedom and death are finite and limited figures, and Tannhäuser claims his own identity based on them.

Here is the first important attribute that makes the protagonist modern: Tannhäuser is a hero of finitude and limitation. It is interesting to note that while he anticipates issues close to the philosophy and sensibility of the twentieth century, Tannhäuser also personifies purely existential Romantic dissatisfaction. This is not a momentary condition, but a subjective reflection of the world that Tannhäuser lives in. And here the division moves to a third level. In the Overture we saw a world split into opposing spiritual domains, between faith and the various senses; on a second level, this opposition is personified by the two figures that embody them, Elisabeth and Venus. Now the polarization extends to the third level, Tannhäuser's subjectivity. His dissatisfaction is not an arbitrary trait, it is perfectly consistent and integrated with the overall requirements of the drama - and this is certainly an element of the work's force. If the world is not an organic and harmonious whole, how can Tannhäuser find harmony within himself? As a subject, he is as little compact as the universe he finds himself in: the external split between opposing polarities is projected within him, and he subjectively experiences it as a laceration, an endless struggle between irreconcilable aspirations. Badiou defines it in philosophical terms as a division that cannot be healed or resolved by means of a synthesis, and results in music of laceration of which, according to him, Wagner is the inventor (Badiou, 2011, p. 186). Tannhäuser is perpetually dissatisfied, and one wonders if his longing for death is but an aspiration for the only possible peace.

I carry death and the grave here in my heart, through repentance and atonement I will find myself repose!

Imberty commented that the wandering of Wagnerian characters evokes a negative and gloomy image of eternity, which most often leads to death-liberation as the only possible outcome (Imberty, 1990, p. 226).

Tannhäuser as a figure of absence

The opposite of Venus is Elisabeth. Once again, we are not interested in her character, but only in connection with the protagonist. There is a curious inversion: speaking to Venus, Tannhäuser reveals something about himself; by contrast, in the dialogue with Elisabeth, it is the woman who tells us something about Tannhäuser, even though she is apparently speaking about herself.

In Act II, Scene II, Tannhäuser, just returned to the very religious court of Landgrave in Thuringia, finds Elisabeth, who personifies devotion and virtue. While Venus lives in the divine dimension of fullness, love here is instead confusion and lack. Elisabeth tells him how empty and sad her life was after Tannhäuser left the court. Her words are accompanied by the orchestra which gradually falls silent, giving the idea of sinking into solitude and dismay, night falling on the soul. Wagner evokes silence with sounds, creating and managing a sound of silence (Giani, 2001, and Dahlhaus, 1983). Elisabeth tells her story in first person, but in fact she speaks about Tannhäuser.

And when you left us then, peace and joy were gone from me.

The melodies the Singers sang appeared insipid to me, melancholy their temper.

Dreaming, I experienced heavy sorrow, my waking hours became a troubled delusion, joy fled from my heart -Henry! Henry! What had you done to me?

The most touching moment is the final invocation, that echoes the religious turmoil of Christ on the cross: "Lord, why have you forsaken me?" The similarity is perhaps not coincidental, since abandonment, although not explicitly mentioned, is the theme in question.

This brings to light another modern characteristic: Tannhäuser is a figure of absence. At the beginning of the drama he is about to leave the mountain of Venus, at the end he is about to turn his back on redemption. In between these two departures, the story shows or narrates many others, including the one mentioned by Elisabeth: her moving story tells Tannhäuser about his not being there. Tannhäuser's absence is perhaps the only point in common between Elisabeth and Venus, two female figures both moved at first by the poems of a passionate singer, both suffering from his subsequent absence. One wonders whether the two phenomena - the enchantment of a song able to enthrall two figures who are worlds apart, and the vocation to absence by the author of those verses - are mirror images of each other. Tannhäuser is enveloped by the untouchable loneliness of a stranger (Kundera, 2009, p. 116).

|The competition of Wartburg: a turning point

The competition of the singers in Act II, scene IV is a focal point. The dramatic situation in fact gives Tannhäuser the opportunity to deploy and make visible several characteristics of his relationship with the world.

Could you fathom the true essence of love for me?

The theme proposed by Landgrave to the contenders seems learned and philosophical, but this is not so, given the assumptions of the drama: to discuss the true nature of love, at this point in the story, means entering the heart of the divisions that cross the world, and above all - something particularly painful for Tannhäuser - to take a stand. Under the guise of a sophisticated and pedantic dispute lies a comparison between spiritual universes and opposing worldviews. Wagner himself was well aware of the conceptual importance of the scene. He wrote that it was not a duel between virtuosity and trills, but a dramatic struggle of thoughts and feelings (Mayer, 1981, p. 180).

Tannhäuser hero of difference and elsewhere

The first consideration is almost obvious: in the poetry contest, which soon turns into an argument and then into a real fight, Tannhäuser is alone against all. This position is not, however, bathed in the epic aura you would expect from the stereotype of the paladin who challenges the world. The point is that Tannhäuser is not a hero in the epic sense of chivalry-term: speaking in more modern and cold terms, we could say that he embodies a difference.

Wagner emphasizes the difference from all the other singers of the court in an almost didactic way: there are different words for Tannhäuser, who begins by answering Wolfram with a different emphasis on the importance of the senses and desire, suspected but still acceptable for the audience, and ends with an open, blasphemous apology of Venus. Different is the tone and the enthusiasm of his singing, as opposed to serious, thoughtful and a little pedantic pace of the wise guardians of virtue. Different is also the speed with which he pronounces the words: they do not seem driven by the thought as those of others, but drag by the vortex of passion and ecstasy. His declamation is impassioned, while the other distill every word; Wolfram's style is meaningful and expressive, Walther's almost didactic:

Let me declare it and then teach you ...

Tannhäuser's music, of course, is also different, while the musical utterances of his partners are substantially homogeneous. Overall, his performances sound much more musically inspired and convincing than the deadly seriousness of his pedantic interlocutors. As Tedeschi puts it, in music vice always sounds best (Tedeschi, 1993, p. 122).

The term "hero of difference" should be understood, so to speak, in lowercase. We are not faced with any claim of Difference meant as a value in itself. This is evident if this scene is compared with the initial dialogue between Tannhäuser and Venus in the first act, a sort of parallel. The theme was difference, the irreducibility of the human and divine measures, the Tannhäuser's non-compliance in the situation. The same thing happens in the singing competition, with significant symmetry. The Tannhäuser who differs from Venus, is drawn to repentance and atonement and concludes saying "My salvation lies in Mary." On the other hand, the one who differs from the virtuous and pious court of Landgrave, praises Venus as the only goddess of love!

The key of Tannhäuser's difference is not the claim of irreducibility of a constitutive gap (which would make him really incongruously a... philosopher of the Twentieth Century), but lies in this double apology of elsewhere. Tannhäuser yearns for the Earth and redemption when he is in the realm of Venus, and eulogizes Venus when he is among the champions of the faith. The difference that Tannhäuser embodies, is his always being elsewhere. Badiou notes that because this character is basically nothing more than a division, he is consequently incapable of staying in one place (Badiou, 2011, p. 188).

This unique identity that is elsewhere has a specific correlation to music: the melody with which Tannhäuser concludes his peroration, exalting Venus and betraying himself, is the same as when he sang the praises of the goddess at the beginning of the drama. The meaning of this correspondence seems obvious: in a less sophisticated framework, in simple Freudian terms it is a reawakening of the repressed, the truth of desire that comes out despite censoring superstructure of duty. But this is not so! In the opening scene, although Tannhäuser sang the praises of Venus, he did not do so of his own initiative but at the express request of the goddess, and, above all, he sang the praises only to add a little later that he wanted to leave. Tannhäuser's melody, his enchanting singing which made Venus and Elisabeth fall in love with him, is actually an apology for elsewhere.

Tannhäuser the hero of ecstasy

It's not over: the Wartburg singing duel still has much to teach us. This time the captions are even more revealing than the dialogue, starting from the one that precedes the reply to Wolfram when Tannhäuser speaks for the first time. It is worth reading it all, as it appears in one of the versions (Manacorda, 2003).

Tannhäuser seems to awaken from a dream: his haughty mien now changes to an expression of ecstasy. He stares fixedly at nothing. A slight trembling of the hand - which has unconsciously sought the strings of the harp - and an uneasy smile indicate that a strange magic has taken possession of him. Then, as if awakened, he sweeps the harp string energically, his whole demeanour showing that he hardly knows now where he is, and that he is especially oblivious of Elisabeth.

As the scene progresses, this dreamlike atmosphere reaches its climax: Tannhäuser's actions are the result of growing anger and elation, a disturbance that Dahlhaus compares to blindness inflicted by the ancient gods (Dahlhaus, 1983, p. 42).

The turning point, that is, the apology-confession of sin committed with Venus, which triggers repentance and all that follows, is therefore not the result of will, but an explosion of passion, which comes to the surface in a way Tannhäuser cannot control. This immediate and unconscious reactivity, unfiltered by reason nor channeled within a system of planned outcomes and directed by will, pervades the entire work. In the first scene with Venus Tannhäuser is dejected, restless, absent: Venus invites him to sing, and "refreshed by a sudden decision," Tannhäuser grabs his harp, but then changes tone and explains that he wants to leave. In the singing competition we saw how things went, but there's more: shortly after he exalted Venus, Tannhäuser is equally exalted beating his breast, invoking pity and devoting himself to penance.

Lust, desire, rage, transport, abandon, sudden starts, dreams: throughout the drama, Tannhäuser is constantly out of his mind. Wagner's very detailed captions deserve an analytical reading. In this sense, Tannhäuser is very far from embodying "modernity" seen as the rational domination of man over things. On the contrary, he is paradoxically closer to us and to our age of weakened and unstructured subjectivity: he is a hero of ecstasy in

etymological terms, constantly "out of himself." As Kundera acutely observes, this does not mean "out of the present moment," but the opposite: in fact the ecstasy is the absolute identification with the present moment, totally forgetting the past and the future, and in this sense it is comparable to eternity, also beyond time (Kundera, 1994, p. 90). If Tannhäuser illustrates the yearning for liberation from the present (Gutman, 1995, p. 167), than it must be said that on this front Tannhäuser is a defeated hero.

Tannhäuser's actions do not come from calculation or conscious planning, but they are the result of a mixture of emotions, representations and aspirations which he passes through without ever mastering them. Dahlhaus noted that his feelings and actions are hasty and forgetful. Never completely master of himself (our most radical argument: he is never in control of himself tout court, we would say), he is a slave of the passion of the moment (Dahlhaus, 1998, p. 38). The "subject" Tannhäuser is more a crossroads than a principle of unification and synthesis.

The pilgrimage to Rome: the narrative and elsewhere

The story of Tannhäuser's pilgrimage to Rome and his defeat is the narrative climax of the drama, and provides material for further considerations. First of all, there is the centrality of narrative in this work. Tannhäuser's journey in search of absolution from his sins is the final, longest and most important story, but it is preceded by two other narrative moments, worth noticing: the short story, told by Wolfram, about the situation at court after Tannhäuser's departure in Act I, scene IV, and Elisabeth's above mentioned story. We have already discussed the latter; regarding Wolfram's story it is worth noting that the conceptual framework is the same, since the focus is once again Tannhäuser's absence.

For, when, in haughtiness, you left us, her heart closed to our song; we saw her cheeks grow pale, she ever shunned our circle.

It should be noted, at this point, that the absence of Tannhäuser, for those around him, is not at all neutral. In the system of relationships that he establishes, his absence tends to be experienced by others as an abandonment and, in the case of Venus, a real betrayal. Tedeschi observes that although Wagner considered Tannhäuser a German from head to toe, our hero is in fact far from being a model of solid German virtues (Tedeschi, 1993, pp. 117-118).

The link between narrative and elsewhere is therefore constant in the opera, but the grand finale story clarifies this even more. We have seen that Tannhäuser never feels at home spiritually: in the mountain of Venus he struggles for the earth, among the devotees he thinks of Venus, and so on. Enraptured by ecstasy, he is never really rooted wherever he is. This is not so, however, regarding time: as noted by Kundera, his "ecstatic" being in the present is absolute. Here lies the importance of narrative: the ten minutes of this giant fresco are actually the real highlight of the drama.

Tannhäuser's sounds and words here do not recall, but relive the trauma, using all the means at the disposal of Wagner the librettist and the musician to make the scene current, alive and plastically obvious. The penitential motive already heard in the Overture accompanies the dedication of his undertaking to his beloved, as in the chivalric tradition; the perpetual "wandering" motion of the violins evokes the idea of the pilgrimage; the sound of distant bells and chanting transfigured by the flute and oboe marks Tannhäuser's arrival in Rome, while the solemn chorale of the trombones and tuba accompanies the absolution of the multitude of pilgrims; the feverish tremolos of the strings passionately accompany Tannhäuser's ardent imploring; and finally a chilling silence, interrupted by sudden bursts of the orchestra, surrounds the condemnation pronounced by the Pope.

Between absence and narrative there is therefore a double relationship: on the one hand, Tannhäuser is never spiritually where he is physically, even less so during this story, where both the scene and Wolfram completely disappear. On the other hand, however, Tannhäuser's total, ecstatic abandon to elsewhere has a consequence: the other scene - the one recounted - completely supplants the one where Tannhäuser is physically located, thus becoming an absolute present. We experience this right here as spectators when, after a few verses, it is as if the

scene told were taking place now, before our very eyes. In rhetorical terms, the whole story is a great hypotyposis, that is a story that paints things in a way so as to transform them into a vibrant painting, a live scene. Not surprisingly, the hypotyposis is defined by scholars as a "figure of presence." (Reboul, 1996, p. 157). Tannhäuser blinded

Of all the privations and mortifications of the flesh which Tannhäuser undergoes as he travels to Rome, the most impressive and evocative is the one less tied to physical pain:

With closed eyes, not to see their wonder, blind I traversed the beautiful areas of Italy!

It may seem like an eccentricity or an excess, but in fact in his fury, in his ecstatic self-punishment Tannhäuser touches on a central point, regarding the first division, mentioned above, between the spirit and the senses. Lyotard cites a passage by Claudel in which the author recalls, during a trip, seeing the green of a maple tree align with the color of a pine tree, and he comments on this "forest text". This situation is exactly the opposite of ours, although Lyotard's comment helps to better understand Tannhäuser's gesture. Lyotard speaks of the drama, for a Christian, of being soothed by the agreement of a pine tree and a maple tree, and defines Claudel's journey in a way that perfectly describes Tannhäuser's pilgrimage: the ordeal of an absolution from the senses. For Lyotard this ordeal is both sin and pride, it is the illusion of being able to have both the text and the illustration of the world. This is an unresolved dilemma that Christianity, with its dual nature, has been posed for centuries: listening to the Word, but also a philosophy of creation; on the one side salvation, on the other beauty of the Earth (Lyotard, 1988, p. 37).

In Tannhäuser's lacerated world, however, the beauty of nature (the green fields of Italy) is part of the sinful seduction of the senses on which he has turned his back forever (or so he believes at that moment), and the pleasure enjoyed by those who contemplate it leads to perdition; his refusal of vision is therefore an extreme form of the scourging of the flesh.

Tannhäuser at the mercy of fate

There is no absolution, however, causing Tannhäuser not only malaise, as can be imagined, but also forcing him to return to the arms of Venus.

From the false sound of promise which, icy-cold, pierced my soul, shuddering horror forced me away with wildly staggering step!

It drove me there where I had enjoyed so much delight and pleasure on her warm breast!

The ease with which Tannhäuser makes this connection, almost as if it were simply due to cause and effect, leads us to reconsider his whole story. Szondi points out that modern drama is a spiritual child of the audacity of the Renaissance man, who found himself after the collapse of the Medieval conception of the world. A man who is defined by the connection between freedom and constraint, will and decision (Szondi, 2000, p. 9). Tannhäuser's story is outside these parameters.

To summarize: Tannhäuser left the realm of Venus because he was dissatisfied in spite of himself; later on, we find him at his old court, where, violently moved, he falls to his knees before the pilgrims and penitents. He seems about to follow them, when by chance he runs into his old comrades. He has no intention of returning to the court, but when they mention Elisabeth, he is again shaken by violent emotion, and he changes his mind and joins them (following Wagner's captions). Left alone with Elizabeth, he declares with transport that the god of love guided him to her. In the singing competition that follows, involved in the dispute and in the throes of highest exaltation he

sings the praises of Venus. Struck by the unexpected reaction of pity by the suffering Elisabeth, he votes himself to repentance and atonement, undertaking the pilgrimage to Rome.

This intentionally simplistic summary highlights another fundamental aspect of the protagonist: earlier we acknowledged that he is at the mercy of himself, but he is also at the mercy of fate. Everything he does is triggered by unintentional, accidental, or even contradictory circumstances with respect to what he had set out to do. The transition from Papal Rome to the mountain of Venus follows this logic. It is the result of an interplay of forces where destiny, not will, nor moral conscience seems to be the last resort. This is the antithesis of Machiavelli's conception. He compared fortune (meaning human fate) to a woman who needs to be beaten for her to submit, and who turns out to be more docile with those who behave boldly and fiercely (Machiavelli, 1513, XXV).

Tannhäuser as an object of salvation

The various trends analyzed are combined in the final scene. Tannhäuser, defeated and rejected by the Mother Church, wanders bitterly in search of the way back to the mountain of Venus. Once again it is chance or fate that stops him: he meets Wolfram and tells him everything. After his confession he continues with his search, regardless of the remonstrances of his friend, and is about to throw himself into the arms of Venus, who appeared in the meantime, when Wolfram, after many useless prayers, utters a single word of salvation: "Elisabeth!". Tannhäuser remains rooted to the ground (a significant change, from the perspective of this analysis), and welcomes the news of the woman's sacrifice. She died with the wish to redeem him through her own sacrifice (the imitatio Christi is evident) and to intercede for him: hence, he dies redeemed. The song of grace and redemption that solemnly closes the opera is undeniably a stroke of genius: it resounds like the wave of the grace that drowns the sinners, a veritable explosion of mercy, and has a liberating effect. Nevertheless, this is a sad happy ending, so to speak, and Zizek is correct right in pointing out an unresolved tension (Zizek, 2012, p. 84).

On one level, it is easy to see that Venus is defeated. However, it is fair to say that Wagner has not done anything musically to put her in a bad light (indeed, to quote an unintentionally humorous formula by Manacorda, the goddess, in the drama, is the legitimate, "entirely respectable" representative of the world of the senses) (Manacorda, 2003, p. XIII). On the other hand, it is true that, as Nattiez observed, the moral victory is on the side of Elisabeth and Christian faith (Nattiez 1997, p. 99), but at quite a price: the innocent and virtuous Elisabeth had to bear betrayal and walk the path of ultimate sacrifice, and Tannhäuser died.

But what causes reflection, once again, are the ways in which this occurs, leading us to a final consideration regarding the protagonist. Once again coincidence and destiny guided our hero. Will and consciousness played a decisive role in extremis, but it was the will and consciousness of others. Elisabeth consciously choose to sacrifice herself. Tannhäuser does not redeem himself, rather he is ransomed. Paradoxically he is the passive object, not the subject, of his own salvation. A modern hero, he reaches the end of his journey on this Earth leaving us more questions than answers.


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