'Parsifal' - A personal view, 1984

By Trevor O'Brien

[Trevor O’Brien’s meditation on the music-drama is a sensitive introduction to ways of responding to this somewhat enigmatic work - Editor]

Is it that Wagner is hard to comprehend, or is it that only at times when one can relate personally to the emotions and experiences of which Wagner wrote that a clear understanding of his work evolves? Personal interaction with Wagner’s operas at various moments in our own development seem to expand the understanding and give a clear insight into our own lives.

More than any other of Wagner’s operas, Parsifal comes near to being the work best described as a masterly composition of richly powerful and moving effect. A suitable final statement of attainment from the lifelong development of a man towards understanding; and an expression of that which time and experience had nurtured and matured in his being.

Chronologically his final work, the one in which his musical expertise had reached an expressive eloquence that immediately absorbs the listener; from the opening bars of the prelude, engulfing and absorbing one deeply yet gently into a world of thought and subtle questioning as the journey of Parsifal unfolds; a microscopic view of a universal experience taken, by many in their search for a truth and meaning to life.

Thus, philosophically it appears to be the work that draws together the thoughts and themes from so much of Wagner’s early operas and deals with them all, not individually but collectively, showing that maturity of the man and his life where the separate realities of love, passion, lust, greed, envy and hate have all been surmounted, and a deeper truth beyond the realms of everyday existence is paramount. It must be considered that work of Wagner’s requiring the greatest spiritual concentration on the part of the composer.

A piece of inspired beauty entrancing, sustaining, absorbing music that reaches immediately to the emotions, one isnengulfed as the opera increases in energies, stimulating beyond sensory excitement, one reaches a point where there is nothing but Parsifal, existing in a gentle world that even the harshness of Kundry’s agonising torment, the hatefullness of Klingsor’s suppression of his being, can[not] destroy that feeling of wholeness and purity. The masterly skill of Wagner’s development of passion and awe cradles one in a feeling of compassionate tenderness. The Holy Grail, itself a symbol of a state of purity and honesty, is an excellent vehicle for the expression of a philosophy that is not however necessarily a Christian one but a more universal one.