Sunday, October 07, 2007
The Esoteric Interpretation of Wagner`s Der Fliegende Hollaender
Der Fligende Hollaender[The Flying Dutchman] was inspired by a hazardous sea voyage that Wagner undertook in 1839 from the Prussian port of Pillau to London onboard a vessel called the Thetis.
A violent sea storm forced them to seek refuge in a Norwegian fjord near the fishing village of Sandwiken. It is this experience and the tale of the Flying Dutchman that gave him the inspiration to write the poem and eventually compose the librtto and music.
The music drama premiered in Dresden on 2nd January 1843.
The poem tells the story of a Dutch sea captain who was destined to sail the oceans until death liberated him but death was only dependant on the salvation wrought by the pure love of a woman.
Every seven years he was permitted to land and go ashore and each time he was disappointed, not finding the pure love and thus the salvation which would liberate him from his curse of eternal existence.
What brought about the curse was his defiance of divine will when he found his ship obstructed by adverse gales at the Cape of Good Hope he swore to finish his course `though all hell should try to stop him.`
One is reminded of the journies of Odysseus in Homer`s epic and the tale of the Wandering Jew.
Act 1 of the music drama is titled The Coming of the Phantom Ship.
This opening act convets the brooding atmosphere of the Phantom Ship and her ghostly Captain and crew adrift on the stormy sea, a strange black craft with red sails.
This is contrasted with the vision of another ship, captained by a Norwegian, Daland the father of Senta, the heroine in the story. His crew is happy and singing jovially. The contrast between the two could not be any starker than it is.
Act 2, The Recognition has its setting in the home of Senta and Daland who await the return of his ship. With her are some maidens and they are busy in the act of spinning. This is significant and I am reminded of the The Three Norns of Germanic myth who are featured in the Prologue of Goetterdaemmerung. Are they busy spinning the fate of the Dutchman?
During this act we encounter Senta`s suitor Eric who receives rejection from Senta who is patiently waiting for the arrival of the Dutchman whom she has seen in her dreams. She has come to the realisation that her role in life is to liberate the Dutchman from his long period of suffering and through her love provide his release from earthly existence which has become through endless cycles of existence a torment to him. Through his youthful presumption and defiance of divine will he is tied to an earthbound existence. Corinne Heline in her wonderful Esoteric Music interprets the 7 year cycles as seperate reincarnations of the earthbound soul.
Also during this Act Senta and the Dutchman meet for the first time.
Their mutual recognition is reminiscent of the first meeting of the lover twins Siegmund and Sieglinde, the Volsungs[see Scene 2 of Act 1 of Die Walkuere].
In Act 3 -The Immortal Pact there is again a contrast between the ghostly ship of the Dutchman and the happy singing and celebrations occuring on the deck of Daland`s vessel. A strange blue light is seen hovering over the Phantom Ship.
Senta sings to Eric "I must no longer think of thee for a higher duty calls." Turning to the Dutchman she sings "Thy bitter sorrow shall have an end. Tis I whose love shall bring thee thy redemption."
The Dutchman reveals his identity and bids her to remain behind and seek earthly happiness for her sacrifice will mean the end of her earthly existence. He then departs on his ship without her leaving Senta behind, who is restrained by Eric and her father.
However she manages to free herself from their grasp and as the Phantom Ship puts out to see throws herself off a high cliff into the waters below, crying, "My life is nothing to me unless thou be redeemed."
Senta`s act of renunciation of life brings an end to the Dutchman`s tortured existence. He is liberated by an act of selfless love from a woman. This motif is to be found in many of Wagner`s works and I am particularly reminded of Bruennhilde`s self-immolation at the close of Act 3 of Goetterdaemmerung.
Clearly Senta represents the anima that the Dutchman has been restlessly seeking throughout the storms of life and almost endless reincarnations. The union of the anima and animus has thus led to his release from the cycle and entry to a higher existence in the divine.