Eric Chafe argues that Schopenhauerian metaphysics do not merely underpin the opera but that the opera's musical exposition critiques and actually refashions Schopenhauer's concepts, using Gottfried von Strassburg's poetic rendering of the Tristan legend as a dramatic frame.
Chafe begins with an analysis of Wagner's notion of how music and philosophy are interconnected, and how Wagner came to embrace Schopenhauerian metaphysics, which offered a compelling metaphysical definition of music. He delineates Schopenhauer's idea of the tragic character of existence as rooted in sexual desire, a product of the metaphysical "will-to-life," and how Schopenhauer concluded that the denial of the will-to-life and its empty illusions could produce an ecstatic, transfiguring experience that redeemed human existence. Chafe then turns to Gottfried's Tristan und Isolt, examining the ways in which Schopenhauer conditioned Wagner's reading of the poem, particularly through his interpretation of the medieval concept of Minne, the union of life and death through love. In these discussions, Chafe locates an essential, evolving difference between Schopenhauer's and Wagner's concepts of physical love. Schopenhauer's concept of the individual will viewed physical passion as wholly biological and as the source of tragedy since nothing could pacify it, whereas Wagner understood sexual love as also containing the seeds to transcend the will-to-life. Throughout the opera's three acts, the lovers progress from a physical to a metaphysical experience of love, a metaphysical journey that simultaneously borrows from and amends Schopenhauer's conceptions. Ultimately, as Chafe demonstrates through musical analysis, this metaphysical journey is developed primarily through the opera's musical argument rather than through its drama.
Blending musicological and philosophical analysis, this tour de force reading of Tristan und Isolde will engage seasoned musicologists, Wagner scholars, and philosophers.
"In this comprehensive study of Tristan und Isolde Eric Chafe has created a text that will serve as a point of reference for generations of scholars when they refer to this seminal work...Chafe has created a model investigation that will enable listeners to return to Wagner's familiar score and reclaim for themselves the nuances in the opera." --Tristania