Tannhauser by Wagner and how it's Romantic

Wagner may have many masterpieces, but it’s hard to imagine one more powerful than Tannhauser. Several Romantic elements can be elucidated from the opera, and many of them are still contemporary motifs and themes used by modern movies and music today. I’ll discuss a few of them here.
The main plot line revolves around Tannhauser and the different manifestations love. The play begins with a ballet, but really it was more of an artistic orgy. Tannhauser is held captive by Venus, the goddess of love. At first Tannhauser desired her more than anything, and fell from grace in order to win her love. He sings with his harp to her that he must leave and return to his previous life, return to Mary the mother of God. His playing is simple, and his melody is original. This is the same style Romantic musicians presented their work, as opposed to the loud, complex scores by orchestras and choirs.
Tannhauser eventually makes it back to the Wartburg where his true love Elizabeth is. The power of love and the power of women were both strong elements of Romanticism. At the banquet, when Tannhauser reveals his sins, Elizabeth alone has the power to save him, and all in attendance give abeyance to her wishes. Tannhauser reveals that he is a man who has followed his passions and emotions without discipline. Again the opera reveals (actually throughout the entirety) two Romantic elements, namely a great emphasis on emotion and feeling and its expression, and religious piety and worship. Where the Enlightenment emphasized Reason as a way to re-interpret miracles and stories of religion, Romantic thinkers began to emphasize the influence and priority of emotion. This can be evidenced by the recurring message of God and repentance for sin. When Tannhauser first returns from the forest, he is passed by a traveling group of monks and worshipers on their way to Rome to worship. They solemnly sing their praise to god, continually asking for forgiveness for their sin. They express guilt and sorrow, two strong emotions that drive them. It isn’t their reason that moves them towards penitence, but it is their emotions. This is definitely Romantic.
Tannhauser begins his journey, and eventually finds Wolfram. He explains that he couldn’t obtain forgiveness since the Pope wouldn’t grant absolution. The Pope said it would be easier for him to obtain forgiveness than for his staff to sprout leaves. Tannhauser then proceeds back to reunite with Venus, but suddenly discovers a funeral procession for Elizabeth who died of a broken heart. This could be viewed as a fragment, another Romantic motif. The fragment can be a ruin, a letter, a death, an earthquake, a poem, or a word. Each is a way to represent a greater whole, yet only a part remains. That part causes certain emotions in the viewer, reader, or listener. The fragment represents what was lost, what is in store, or some emblem that must be reciprocated. In this case, Elizabeth’s death fractured Tannheuser’s love, and separated the two forever. Tannhauser could only imagine what the completed union would have been. News spreads that the Pope’s staff sprouted leaves, and Tannhauser gains forgiveness of his sins.
This Opera was incredible. Wagner himself described Opera as the greatest artistic achievement of man. Tannhauser was another convincing argument to persuade me to this opinion.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: