Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Ending the “Ring”
by Lee, Feng-Shu, Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2011, 342; 3460201
Abstract (Summary)

"Ending the Ring" explores the evolution of the ending of Wagner's Ring in relation to the evolution of the entire work. Wagner spent 26 years working on the Ring as well as reconsidering its conclusion. The rationale for his struggles over the work's conclusion and the impetus behind some of his most drastic revisions have been a topic of endless debate. While some scholars believe that his "Schopenhauer ending" left a lasting impact on the work's subsequent evolution, others believe that, even after his Schopenhauer conversion, Wagner still allowed the message of the "Feuerbach ending" to prevail within the cycle.

I argue that the Ring's ending cannot be accounted for in its own right. Rather, Wagner's vacillations over its ending need to be viewed in conjunction with his evolving design for the rest of the work. Furthermore, significant clues to the part-whole evolutionary trajectory can be traced in his manuscript sources. At a textual level, Wagner's reconsideration of the ending went hand in hand with the work's cyclic expansion. The expansion transformed the nature of the narrative, allowing Wagner to re-define the main themes and to re-prioritize his characters. This in turn inspired his changing strategies to foreshadow the ending and his reconsideration of the ending. The Ring's musical evolution demonstrates Wagner's hesitations over the ending on another level. I focus on three end-related leitmotivs. The intriguing timing of Wagner's initial insertion of the "Liebeserlösung" motive to his draft, and his decision to conclude the work with it, pose important questions regarding the extent of his Schopenhauer conversion. Wagner's revisions of the "Götterdämmerung" and "Welterbschaft" motives suggest a different way to approach a leitmotiv's musical transformation relative to its semantic transformation. They also reflect a more blurred boundary between Wagner's reading of Feuerbach and Schopenhauer.

Throughout the dissertation, I present the Ring as a work in progress, in which Wagner's sustained effort to revise the work not only forms the most intriguing part of its evolution history, but also illustrates his development as a dramatist, musician, and intellect constantly in dialogue with major aesthetic and philosophical trends of his time.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Gossett, Philip, Hoeckner, Berthold
Commitee: Rings, Steven
School: The University of Chicago
Department: Music
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 72/09, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Music, Philosophy, Theater History
Keywords: Der Ring des Nibelungen, Opera, Wagner, Richard
Publication Number: 3460201
ISBN: 978-1-124-71784-5
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