Parsifal Prelude and Good Friday Music
From the very opening of the Prelude to Act 1 of Parsifal,
Wagners last opera, the listener is transported into a world out of time. A long,
unaccented and unaccompanied theme rises slowly form the lower string to the shimmering
resolution which fills the whole orchestra, and from which the same theme re-emerges.
Wagner is in no hurry to leave this gently wistful motif and extracts a good deal of
mystic power from it before moving on to the next section. This is introduced by a very
simple statement of the Dresden Amen, representing the Holy Grail, leading a sonorous,
forthright brass theme, the Faith motif. Only one other motif is clearly heard in the
Prelude, Amfortass Agony, whose tortured harmonies cast a shadow over the calm of
the other three. The overall impression is a curious, unearthly blend of immobility and of
a reaching upwards towards the light. Having attained it, the music hovers there, drifting
into silence without any descent from that enchanted summit.
In Act 3, Parsifal, now in possession of the once-lost Holy
spear and made wise through his years of painful travel, finds his way back to the Castle
of the Grail, arriving on a Good Friday. His return means the fulfilment of the prophecy,
Amfortass salvation and the renewal of the Brother hood of the Grail. He is greeted
by the hermit Gurnemanz as their saviour, and is anointed King, to the triumphant fanfare
that begins the passage known as the Good Friday Music.
Before leaving the spring by which Gurnemanz lives, the
weary Parsifal rests and observes with wonder the beauty of the sunlit, flower-filled
meadow around him. This is Good Fridays magic spell, explains Gurnemaz.
Nature and all Creation rejoice on this day because with the Redeemers sacrifice the
earth has been cleansed of sin. Quiet triplets in the strings create a translucent wash of
sound from which a beautiful oboe melody rises tranquilly, evoking the warmth of sunlight
and the lightest of flower-scented breezes. As in the Prelude, the picture is one of
tranquility, peaceful ecstasy and profound compassion.
© Kate Lang