Emotions are plucked but there is an almost neurotic and compulsive intentionality behind Tristan which seeks out order in some area of spacious mystery and an almost awesome integrity. As juries have long known that beliefs derived from feelings or sentiment do not in many instances align with what is best supported on rational or scientific foundations of consensus. One’s epistemology of truth and falsehood becomes very much confused and ambiguously mixed that a dazed submission often results which is eminently forgetful as it satisfies promptings of a Freudian libido.
Instead of being so concerned with exteriority and reliable or even useful reference modern compositions like Wagner’s Tristan advance possibilities of shielding the ego from the sadistic damage it does to itself by acknowledging the strong and permanent tendency of the ego to seek out satisfying ends and products whenever possible. Even if such things may be mere scatterings of imagined delusions and derived fantasies. Wagner is involved very much with refashioning the world through his conceptual and audible art.
Instead of adhering to the World he attempts to exert artistic agency in changing such a world. There is a Marxian spirit behind Wagner as it resolves the problem presented by the issue of construction by thoroughly embracing dilemmas of construction and seeking to master it so that a sense of adequacy can be sustained in a way that is far too perfect. As it is far too perfect is far from simply adequate but is at times quite sublimely pristine in its ability to deliver a kind of pleasurable release and warm gratification that exhibits much to be desired.
Nature becomes a warm, maternal figure that pleases infinitely and conjures up procedural joys and swift absolutions of intoxication. The unity once ascribed to the natural is exploited by Wagner’s romantic sensibility as his art achieves a kind of sanctioned sacredness so much so that Coleridge thoroughly condemned attempts to betray such art by dividing it. When Robert Morgan writes of Tristan he points out that “the Prelude is in constant transformation-always evolving, as if reaching after some unattainable goal, striving at every moment to become something other than it is.
Conventional formal analysis appears to be of little value. Focused upon thematic and tonal correspondences, its aim to articulate musical events into discrete segments, distinguishing them by content and function (expository, developmental, etc. ) and organizing them into larger, balanced architectonic patterns, seems antithetical to the very nature of the score. ”(69) As the score seems to constantly evolving as it is constantly compromising its layered developments with enticements of harmony and resolution, it’s dangerous to classify Tristan as a case of perpetual striving.
Although Morgan asserts that “Tristan,” does little to offer anything “in the way of confirmation, reconciliation, or balance,” and instead “appears to chart a unique and seemingly wayward course,” because he does engage formal analysis as an explanatory instrument quite well it is evidently not true that “Tristan” is really so individuated or idiosyncratic that it resists formalizations or even more modest theorizations.
(69) As Morgan notes in his formal analysis, there is a centripetal aspect to Wagner’s “Tristan” where, retaining “the circular image, cycle 1 traces the circle’s complete circumference, while cycles 2-7 loop back and retrace continuous portions of it. Especially notable is the highly self-reflexive nature of the process: this is music that feeds upon itself, reusing the same structural units again and again.
”(76) Consequently, there are potentially rewarding and influential interpretation possibilities that can be formalized in a sociological sense, on interconnections between yielding and possessing structural units that are spatially bound and engaged only so much as they are formulated in a kind of imposed fixity. What formalism is grounded on it is a firm belief in universals, not in the mechanics that exist as conventions but are so only because people believe enough to follow by them to create a technical and adequate language within a language for the task at hand.
Morgan, by insisting on relatively narrow avenues of evaluation and fixing his acceptance or dismissal on the conventional rather than the essential is really being unfair to the very tendency towards taking tradition serious and believing very much in universals that allow for stimulating simultaneous dialogue between time, space, class, and culture.