Traces of the religious import of Wagner’s operatic masterpiece Parsifal may be detected already in Wagner’s expression of the mystical aspect of Christianity in his 1843 cantata Das Liebesmahl der Apostel on the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles, in the dramatic strife between profane and sacred love in his opera Tannhauser (1845), as well as in the libretto he wrote in 1848 of an opera that was to be called Jesus von Nazareth. Wagner’s admiration of the Christian message of universal compassion was heightened by his discovery of the world-abjuring philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, whose major work Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung he read in 1854.
The first result of Wagner’s Schopenhauerian reading was a fragmentary prose sketch of an opera based on Buddhist legend called Die Sieger dating from 1856-58. However, the Schopenhauerian themes which Wagner recognised in Buddhism as well as in Christianity were not given their fullest expression until he began an opera based on Wolfram von Eschenbach’s mediaeval poem Parzival. Parsifal was conceived already in 1857 but completed only in 1882 and premiered the same year at Wagner’s Festspielhaus in Bayreuth.
The musical atmosphere of Parsifal is, even more than Tristan, intensely ‘tragic’ and characterised by a masterly use of chromaticism to depict the pain of Amfortas as well as the seduction and treachery that mark Klingsor’s domain. Only motifs such as those of the Grail and Faith are expressed in diatonic music and derived from models of church music.
The entire opera was transcribed for piano solo by the composer and conductor Richard Kleinmichel (1846-1901), who studied at the Leipzig Conservatory and served as Kapellmeister in Leipzig, Danzig and Marburg.
Alexander Jacob obtained his doctorate in Intellectual History from the Pennsylvania State University and has specialised in both natural and political philosophy. He is the author of several scholarly books and editions including Nobilitas: A Study of European Aristocratic Philosophy from Ancient Greece to the Early Twentieth Century, University Press of America, 2001, De Naturae Natura: A Study of Idealistic Conceptions of Nature and the Unconscious, Franz Steiner Verlag, 1992 (2nd ed. Arktos Media Ltd. 2011).and The Grail: Two Studies (Leopold von Schroeder, ‘The Roots of the Saga of the Holy Grail’ and Alexander Jacob, ‘The Indo-European Origins of the Grail’), Numen Books, 2014.
Dr. Jacob holds a Licentiate Diploma in Piano from the Trinity College of Music, London, and has given solo recitals in Canada, Bulgaria, Poland, the Czech Republic and England. He has played Richard Kleinmichel’s transcriptions of Wagner’s Parsifal and Der Ring des Nibelungen for the Wagner Societies of Barcelona, Brno, Prague and Dresden.