Parsifal (WWV 111) is a music drama in three acts by the German composer Richard Wagner and his last composition. Wagner's own libretto for the work is freely based on the 13th-century Middle High German chivalric romance Parzival of the Minnesänger Wolfram von Eschenbach and the Old French chivalric romance Perceval ou le Conte du Graal by the 12th-century trouvère Chrétien de Troyes, recounting different accounts of the story of the Arthurian knight Parzival (Percival) and his spiritual quest for the Holy Grail.

Music drama by Richard Wagner
Parsifal (1882 retuschiert).jpg
Amalie Materna, Emil Scaria and Hermann Winkelmann in the first production of the Bühnenweihfestspiel at the Bayreuth Festival
LibrettistRichard Wagner
Based onParzival
by Wolfram von Eschenbach
26 July 1882 (1882-07-26)

Wagner conceived the work in April 1857, but did not finish it until 25 years later. In composing it he took advantage of the particular acoustics of his newly built Bayreuth Festspielhaus. Parsifal was first produced at the second Bayreuth Festival in 1882. The Bayreuth Festival maintained a monopoly on Parsifal productions until 1903, when the opera was performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Wagner described Parsifal not as an opera, but as Ein Bühnenweihfestspiel (a sacred festival stage play).[1] At Bayreuth a tradition has arisen that audiences do not applaud at the end of the first act.

Wagner's spelling of Parsifal instead of the Parzival he had used up to 1877 was informed by one of the theories about the name Percival, according to which it is of Persian origin, Parsi (or Parseh) Fal meaning "pure (or poor) fool".[2][3][4][5]


Drawing for a libretto cover page (undated)

Wagner read von Eschenbach's poem Parzival while taking the waters at Marienbad in 1845.[6] After encountering Arthur Schopenhauer's writings in 1854,[7] Wagner became interested in Indian philosophies, especially Buddhism. Out of this interest came Die Sieger (The Victors, 1856), a sketch Wagner wrote for an opera based on a story from the life of Buddha.[8] The themes of self-renunciation, rebirth, compassion, and even exclusive social groups (castes in Die Sieger, the Knights of the Grail in Parsifal) which were later explored in Parsifal were first introduced in Die Sieger.[9]

According to his autobiography Mein Leben, Wagner conceived Parsifal on Good Friday morning, April 1857, in the Asyl (German: "Asylum"), the small cottage on Otto Wesendonck's estate in the Zürich suburb of Enge, which Wesendonck – a wealthy silk merchant and generous patron of the arts – had placed at Wagner's disposal, through the good offices of his wife Mathilde Wesendonck.[10] The composer and his wife Minna had moved into the cottage on 28 April:[11]

... on Good Friday I awoke to find the sun shining brightly for the first time in this house: the little garden was radiant with green, the birds sang, and at last I could sit on the roof and enjoy the long-yearned-for peace with its message of promise. Full of this sentiment, I suddenly remembered that the day was Good Friday, and I called to mind the significance this omen had already once assumed for me when I was reading Wolfram's Parzival. Since the sojourn in Marienbad [in the summer of 1845], where I had conceived Die Meistersinger and Lohengrin, I had never occupied myself again with that poem; now its noble possibilities struck me with overwhelming force, and out of my thoughts about Good Friday I rapidly conceived a whole drama, of which I made a rough sketch with a few dashes of the pen, dividing the whole into three acts.

However, as his second wife Cosima Wagner later reported on 22 April 1879, this account had been colored by a certain amount of poetic licence:[12]

R[ichard] today recalled the impression which inspired his "Good Friday Music"; he laughs, saying he had thought to himself, "In fact it is all as far-fetched as my love affairs, for it was not a Good Friday at all – just a pleasant mood in Nature which made me think, 'This is how a Good Friday ought to be' ".

The work may indeed have been conceived at Wesendonck's cottage in the last week of April 1857, but Good Friday that year fell on 10 April, when the Wagners were still living at Zeltweg 13 in Zürich.[13] If the prose sketch which Wagner mentions in Mein Leben was accurately dated (and most of Wagner's surviving papers are dated), it could settle the issue once and for all, but unfortunately it has not survived.

Wagner did not resume work on Parsifal for eight years, during which time he completed Tristan und Isolde and began Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Then, between 27 and 30 August 1865, he took up Parsifal again and made a prose draft of the work; this contains a fairly brief outline of the plot and a considerable amount of detailed commentary on the characters and themes of the drama.[14] But once again the work was dropped and set aside for another eleven and a half years. During this time most of Wagner's creative energy was devoted to the Ring cycle, which was finally completed in 1874 and given its first full performance at Bayreuth in August 1876. Only when this gargantuan task had been accomplished did Wagner find the time to concentrate on Parsifal. By 23 February 1877 he had completed a second and more extensive prose draft of the work, and by 19 April of the same year he had transformed this into a verse libretto (or "poem", as Wagner liked to call his libretti).[15]

In September 1877 he began the music by making two complete drafts of the score from beginning to end. The first of these (known in German as the Gesamtentwurf and in English as either the preliminary draft or the first complete draft) was made in pencil on three staves, one for the voices and two for the instruments. The second complete draft (Orchesterskizze, orchestral draft, short score or particell) was made in ink and on at least three, but sometimes as many as five, staves. This draft was much more detailed than the first and contained a considerable degree of instrumental elaboration.[16]

The second draft was begun on 25 September 1877, just a few days after the first; at this point in his career Wagner liked to work on both drafts simultaneously, switching back and forth between the two so as not to allow too much time to elapse between his initial setting of the text and the final elaboration of the music. The Gesamtentwurf of Act 3 was completed on 16 April 1879 and the Orchesterskizze on the 26th of the same month.[17]

The full score (Partiturerstschrift) was the final stage in the compositional process. It was made in ink and consisted of a fair copy of the entire opera, with all the voices and instruments properly notated according to standard practice. Wagner composed Parsifal one act at a time, completing the Gesamtentwurf and Orchesterskizze of each act before beginning the Gesamtentwurf of the next act; but because the Orchesterskizze already embodied all the compositional details of the full score, the actual drafting of the Partiturerstschrift was regarded by Wagner as little more than a routine task which could be done whenever he found the time. The prelude of Act 1 was scored in August 1878. The rest of the opera was scored between August 1879 and 13 January 1882.[18]

Poster for the premiere production of Parsifal, 1882

Performance historyEdit

The premiereEdit

On 12 November 1880, Wagner conducted a private performance of the prelude for his patron Ludwig II of Bavaria at the Court Theatre in Munich.[19] The premiere of the entire work was given in the Bayreuth Festspielhaus on 26 July 1882 under the baton of the Jewish-German conductor Hermann Levi. Stage designs were by Max Brückner and Paul von Joukowsky, who took their lead from Wagner himself. The Grail hall was based on the interior of Siena Cathedral which Wagner had visited in 1880, while Klingsor's magic garden was modelled on those at the Palazzo Rufolo in Ravello.[20] In July and August 1882 sixteen performances of the work were given in Bayreuth conducted by Levi and Franz Fischer. The production boasted an orchestra of 107, a chorus of 135 and 23 soloists (with the main parts being double cast).[21] At the last of these performances, Wagner took the baton from Levi and conducted the final scene of Act 3 from the orchestral interlude to the end.[22]

At the first performances of Parsifal, problems with the moving scenery (the Wandeldekoration[23][24]) during the transition from Scene 1 to Scene 2 in Act 1 meant that Wagner's existing orchestral interlude finished before Parsifal and Gurnemanz arrived at the Hall of the Grail. Engelbert Humperdinck, who was assisting the production, provided a few extra bars of music to cover this gap.[25] In subsequent years this problem was solved and Humperdinck's additions were not used.

Ban outside BayreuthEdit

Scene design for the controversial 1903 production at the Metropolitan Opera: Gurnemanz leads Parsifal to Monsalvat (Act 1)

For the first twenty years of its existence, the only staged performances of Parsifal took place in the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, the venue for which Wagner conceived the work (except eight private performances for Ludwig II at Munich in 1884 and 1885). Wagner had two reasons for wanting to keep Parsifal exclusively for the Bayreuth stage. First, he wanted to prevent it from degenerating into 'mere amusement' for an opera-going public. Only at Bayreuth could his last work be presented in the way envisaged by him—a tradition maintained by his wife, Cosima, long after his death. Second, he thought that the opera would provide an income for his family after his death if Bayreuth had the monopoly on its performance.

The Bayreuth authorities allowed unstaged performances to take place in various countries after Wagner's death (London in 1884, New York City in 1886, and Amsterdam in 1894) but they maintained an embargo on stage performances outside Bayreuth. On 24 December 1903, after receiving a court ruling that performances in the United States could not be prevented by Bayreuth, the New York Metropolitan Opera staged the complete opera, using many Bayreuth-trained singers. Cosima barred anyone involved in the New York production from working at Bayreuth in future performances. Unauthorized stage performances were also undertaken in Amsterdam in 1905, 1906 and 1908. There was a performance in Buenos Aires, in the Teatro Coliseo, on June 20, 1913, under Gino Marinuzzi.

Bayreuth lifted its monopoly on Parsifal on 1 January 1914 in the Teatro Comunale di Bologna in Bologna with Giuseppe Borgatti. Some opera houses began their performances at midnight between 31 December 1913 and 1 January.[26] The first authorized performance was staged at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona: it began at 10:30pm Barcelona time, which was an hour behind Bayreuth. Such was the demand for Parsifal that it was presented in more than 50 European opera houses between 1 January and 1 August 1914.[27]


At Bayreuth performances audiences do not applaud at the end of the first act. This tradition is the result of a misunderstanding arising from Wagner's desire at the premiere to maintain the serious mood of the opera. After much applause following the first and second acts, Wagner spoke to the audience and said that the cast would take no curtain calls until the end of the performance. This confused the audience, who remained silent at the end of the opera until Wagner addressed them again, saying that he did not mean that they could not applaud. After the performance Wagner complained, "Now I don't know. Did the audience like it or not?"[28] At subsequent performances some believed that Wagner had wanted no applause until the very end, and there was silence after the first two acts. Eventually it became a Bayreuth tradition that no applause would be heard after the first act, but this was certainly not Wagner's idea. In fact, during the first Bayreuth performances, Wagner himself cried "Bravo!" as the Flowermaidens made their exit in the second act, only to be hissed by other members of the audience.[28] At some theatres other than Bayreuth, applause and curtain calls are normal practice after every act. Program notes until 2013 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York asked the audience not to applaud after Act 1.[29]

Post-war performancesEdit

Parsifal is one of the Wagner operas regularly presented at the Bayreuth Festival to this day. Among the more significant post-war productions was that directed in 1951 by Wieland Wagner, the composer's grandson. At the first Bayreuth Festival after World War II he presented a radical move away from literal representation of the Hall of the Grail or the Flowermaiden's bower. Instead, lighting effects and the bare minimum of scenery were used to complement Wagner's music. This production was heavily influenced by the ideas of the Swiss stage designer Adolphe Appia. The reaction to this production was extreme: Ernest Newman, Richard Wagner's biographer described it as "not only the best Parsifal I have ever seen and heard, but one of the three or four most moving spiritual experiences of my life".[30] Others were appalled that Wagner's stage directions were being flouted. The conductor of the 1951 production, Hans Knappertsbusch, on being asked how he could conduct such a disgraceful travesty, declared that right up until the dress rehearsal he imagined that the stage decorations were still to come.[31] Knappertsbusch was particularly upset by the omission of the dove that appears over Parsifal's head at the end of the opera, which he claimed inspired him to give better performances. To placate his conductor Wieland arranged to reinstate the dove, which descended on a string. What Knappertsbusch did not realise was that Wieland had made the length of the string long enough for the conductor to see the dove, but not for the audience.[32] Wieland continued to modify and refine his Bayreuth production of Parsifal until his death in 1966. Martha Mödl created a "complex, tortured Kundry in Wieland Wagner's revolutionary production of Parsifal during the festival's first postwar season", and would remain the company's exclusive Kundry for the remainder of the decade.[33][34]


Emil Scaria as Gurnemanz, 1883
Hermann Winkelmann as Parsifal with Flowermaidens, 1882
Roles, voice types, premiere casts 1882 and 1903 (Metropolitan Opera)
Role Voice type Premiere cast, 26 July 1882
Conductor: Hermann Levi[35]
Met premiere cast, 24 December 1903
Conductor: Alfred Hertz[36]
Parsifal, a youth tenor Hermann Winkelmann Alois Burgstaller
Kundry, a messenger of the Grail soprano
or mezzo-soprano
Amalie Materna Milka Ternina
Gurnemanz, an elderly Knight of the Grail bass Emil Scaria Robert Blass
Amfortas, King of the Kingdom of the Grail baritone Theodor Reichmann Anton van Rooy
Klingsor, an evil magician bass-baritone Karl Hill Otto Goritz
Titurel, a retired King of the Kingdom of the Grail, father to Amfortas bass August Kindermann Marcel Journet
Two Grail Knights tenor,
Anton Fuchs
Eugen Stumpf
Julius Bayer
Adolph Mühlmann
Four squires soprano,
two tenors
Hermine Galfy
Mathilde Keil
Max Mikorey
Adolf von Hübbenet
Katherine Moran
Paula Braendle
Albert Reiss
Willy Harden
Six Flowermaidens three sopranos,
three contraltos
or six sopranos
Pauline Horson
Johanna Meta
Carrie Pringle
Johanna André
Hermine Galfy
Luise Belce
Isabelle Bouton
Ernesta Delsarta
Miss Förnsen
Elsa Harris
Lillian Heidelbach
Marcia Van Dresser
Voice from Above, Eine Stimme contralto Sophie Dompierre Louise Homer
Knights of the Grail, squires, Flowermaidens


Act 1Edit

Prelude to Act 1

Musical introduction to the work with a duration of c. 12–16 minutes.

According to Wagner's own description, the three main sections of the prelude to Act 1 are meant to musically portray the three traditional Christian "Theological virtues" Love, Faith and Hope.[37][38]

Scene 1Edit

Gurnemanz and the squires, Act 1, Scene 1, in the 1903 performance of the work in New York

In a forest near the seat of the Grail and its Knights, Gurnemanz, an elder Knight of the Grail, wakes his young squires and leads them in morning prayer ("He! Ho! Waldhüter ihr"). He then sees the King of the Grail Knights Amfortas and his entourage approaching. Amfortas has been stabbed by the Holy Spear, once bequeathed to him into his guardianship, and the wound will not heal. Gurnemanz asks the lead knight for news of the King's health. The knight says the King has suffered during the night and is going early to bathe in the holy lake, which slightly relieves him of his pains. The squires ask Gurnemanz to explain how the King's injury can be healed, but he evades their question and a wild woman – Kundry – bursts in. She gives Gurnemanz a vial of balsam, brought from Arabia, to ease the King's pain and then collapses, exhausted.

Amfortas arrives, borne on a stretcher by his servants. He calls out for the knight Gawain, whose attempt at relieving the King's pain had failed. He is told that Gawain has left again, seeking a better remedy. Raising himself somewhat, the King says that going off without leave ("Ohn' Urlaub?") is the sort of impulsiveness which led him into Klingsor's realm and to the downfall of the Knights. He accepts the potion from Gurnemanz and tries to thank Kundry, but she answers abruptly that thanks will not help and urges him onward to his bath.

The procession leaves. The squires eye Kundry with mistrust and question her. After a brief retort, she falls silent. Gurnemanz defends Kundry and tells the squires that Kundry is a mysterious ancient being, of whom no one knows much. She has often voluntarily helped the Grail Knights as a servant and a messenger, informing other brothers of the Order fighting holy battles in far-away lands, but she comes and goes unpredictably. When even Gurnemanz asks Kundry where she has been when the Knighthood lost the Holy Spear and why she does not stay to help now, she answers that she never helps. The squires think Kundry is in fact an evil pagan witch and sneer that if she does so much, why will she not find the Holy Spear for them? Gurnemanz reveals that this deed is destined for someone else. He says Amfortas was given guardianship of the Spear, but lost it as he was seduced by an irresistibly attractive woman in Klingsor's domain. Klingsor grabbed the Spear and stabbed Amfortas. The wound causes Amfortas bodily suffering as well as spiritual torment, and will never heal on its own.

Gurnemanz singing "Titurel, der fromme Held", excerpt from a 1942 recording

Squires returning from the King's bath tell Gurnemanz that the balsam has eased the King's suffering. Gurnemanz's own squires ask how it is that he knew Klingsor. Gurnemanz solemnly narrates about how both the Holy Spear, which pierced the side of the Redeemer on the Cross, and the Holy Grail, which caught the flowing blood, had once, in a time of great need for the realms of the faithful, come to the castle of Monsalvat, brought by Saviour's angels from heaven to be guarded by the Knights of the Grail under the rule of the pious hero King Titurel, father of Amfortas ("Titurel, der fromme Held"). Klingsor had originally yearned to join the Knights and become a saint but, unable to overcome his evil inner desires and disposition, resorted to outward self-mutilation, for which offense Titurel refused to allow him to enter the Order. Klingsor then set himself up in opposition to the Knights, trying to get hold of the Grail by other means. Learning dark arts, he claimed a valley domain to the south of the mountainous Kingdom of the Grail and filled it with magical and beautiful Flowermaidens to seduce and enchant wayward Grail Knights who in this way fall under Klingsor's power and become his slaves and servants. Faced with the danger of Klingsor's might, Amfortas decided to save the evermore weakened Knighthood by conquering Klingsor by force, wielding the Holy Spear as a weapon in battle. However, enthralled by one of Klingsor's seductresses, Amfortas let the Spear be taken from him and being wounded therewith only narrowly escaped from the field of battle thanks to the help of Gurnemanz. The Spear is now kept by Klingsor at his magic Castle as he schemes to destroy the Knighthood completely by winning the Grail also, acquiring with it absolute power. Unable to defeat the enemy, Amfortas has forbidden the Knights to leave the Grail's domain in fear that even more of them will succumb to the dark sorcerer. Thus the whole Order ails just as their King does; the Knights no longer have the power to do good works, to travel and defend others in foreign lands. Nonetheless, Amfortas later received a holy vision in a desperate prayer, telling him to wait for a "pure fool, made knowing by compassion" ("Durch Mitleid wissend, der reine Tor") who will finally heal the wound.

At this moment, cries are heard from the Knights: a flying swan has been shot, and a young man is brought forth, a bow in his hand and a quiver of matching arrows. Shocked, Gurnemanz speaks sternly to the lad, saying that this land is a holy place, not to be defiled by murder. He asks him outright if he shot the swan, and the lad proudly admits to killing it, boasting that if something flies, he can hit it ("Gewiss! Im Fluge treff' ich, was fliegt!"). Gurnemanz tells him that in the Kingdom of the Grail animals are holy and asks what harm had the swan done to him to merit such evil, showing the youth its lifeless body and glazed eyes. Now remorseful and moved, the young man breaks his bow in agitation and casts it aside. Gurnemanz asks him why he is here, who his father is, how he found this place and, lastly, his name. To each question, the boy replies that he does not know the answer. The elder Knight sends his squires away to help the King and now asks the boy to tell what he does know. The young man says he has a mother, Herzeleide (literally meaning Heart's Sorrow) and that he made the bow himself. Kundry has been listening and now tells them that the boy's father was Gamuret, a knight killed in battle, and also that the lad's mother had anxiously looked after her son and had forbidden him to use a sword, fearing that otherwise he would meet the same fate as his father. The youth now recalls that upon seeing knights in shining armour pass through his native forest on beautiful horses he wanted to be like them and left his home and mother to follow their way. Kundry laughs and tells the young man that, as she rode by, she saw Herzeleide die of grief for her lost son. Hearing this, the lad at first lunges at Kundry, being stopped only by Gurnemanz who again reproaches him for resorting to violence; however, after a while the youth collapses in anguish for his deceased mother. Kundry perceives the boy's condition, hastens to a spring in the woods and brings water in a horn, sprinkling him with it and then giving it to him to drink. Gurnemanz comments that in such a way one acts according to the mercy of the Grail: he vanquishes evil who requites it with goodness. Kundry is now weary for sleep, and wishes that she might never waken again. She disappears into the undergrowth.

Gurnemanz knows that the Grail is inapproachable by earthly paths, drawing to itself only the pure of heart, and invites the boy to observe the Grail rite in the hope that perhaps he might be the pure fool of the prophecy revealed to Amfortas ("Vom Bade kehrt der König heim"). The youth does not know what the Grail is, but remarks that as they approach the ascending mountain path leading through rocky walls to the Castle of the Grail it seems to him he scarcely moves, yet feels as if he had already traveled far. Gurnemanz answers him mysteriously that here time becomes space ("Zum Raum wird hier die Zeit").

Orchestral interludeVerwandlungsmusik (Transformation music)

Scene 2Edit

Paul von Joukowsky: Design for the Hall of the Grail (second scenes of acts 1 and 3), 1882

Gurnemanz and the youth arrive at the Sanctuary of the Grail inside the Castle, where its Knights are just assembling to receive Holy Communion ("Zum letzten Liebesmahle"). A choir of Knights sings that the Grail will renew and strengthen those who rejoice in good deed; a choir of squires sings about the Redeemer's sacrifice and suffering for the fallen world and his continuing presence in the body of his believers. One procession of squires brings the Holy Grail itself in a reliquary to the centre of the hall while a different procession brings Amfortas on his litter to perform the ritual. The voice of the retired king Titurel then resounds from a vaulted nook in the background, as if from a tomb, telling his son Amfortas to uncover the Grail and serve his kingly office ("Mein Sohn Amfortas, bist du am Amt?"). Only through the immortality conferring power of the sacred chalice and the Saviour's blood contained therein may Titurel himself, now aged and very feeble, live on. Upon hearing his father's pleas to reveal the Grail, Amfortas is overcome with shame and suffering ("Wehvolles Erbe, dem ich verfallen"). He, the chosen guardian of the holiest of relics, has succumbed to sin and lost the Holy Spear, suffering an ever-bleeding wound in the process, a wound inflicted by that very selfsame Spear whose protection had been bestowed upon him, a wound condemning his existence to unending torment. Declaring himself unworthy of his kingship, Amfortas cries out for forgiveness ("Erbarmen! Erbarmen!"), begging the Saviour to end his anguish and give him the only grace capable of putting an end to his misery, the peace of death, unattainable to him as he must as a King serve the Grail whose life-giving force keeps him alive and suffering. Amfortas' prayers remain unanswered. Again, he only hears the same promise once given to him repeated by the Knights and squires: he will one day be redeemed by a pure fool.

On hearing Amfortas' cry of pain, the young man appears to suffer with him, clutching convulsively at his heart. The Knights and Titurel urge Amfortas to reveal the Grail ("Enthüllet den Gral!"), and he finally does. The dark hall is illuminated by its radiant light and the round table of the Knights is miraculously filled with wine and bread. A choir sings that the Lord of the Grail had once turned wine and bread into his own blood and body through the might of compassionate love, while a spirit of loving consolation now turns this blood and body into wine and bread for the refreshment and nourishment of the faithful. The Knights eat and feel strengthened by the sacred food. Upon consuming the holy gift, they embrace one another in brotherly love and pledge to work the Saviour's will and shed their blood for him and others just as he had shed his blood for the world ("Wein und Brot des letzten Mahles"). Gurnemanz motions to the youth to participate, but he seems entranced and does not. Amfortas also does not share in taking communion and, as the ceremony ends, again collapses in agony and is carried away. Slowly all the Knights and squires disappear, leaving Gurnemanz and the youth alone. Gurnemanz asks him if he has understood what he has seen. As the boy is unable to answer the question, Gurnemanz dismisses him as just a fool after all and angrily exiles him from the realm with a warning to let the swans in the Grail Kingdom live in peace. A voice from the top of the dome repeats the promise: "The pure fool, made knowing by compassion".

Act 2Edit

Prelude to Act 2 - Klingsors Zauberschloss (Klingsor's Magic Castle)

Musical introduction of c. 2–3 minutes.

Scene 1Edit

Parsifal and Kundry, two paintings by Rogelio de Egusquiza, 1910 and 1906

Klingsor's castle and enchanted garden. Waking her from her sleep, Klingsor conjures up Kundry, now transformed into an incredibly alluring woman. He calls her by many names: First Sorceress (Urteufelin), Hell's Rose (Höllenrose), Herodias, Gundryggia and, lastly, Kundry. She is weary, exhausted and desperate and wishes to never have been wakened. Yet Klingsor mockingly reminds her that through the curse whick lays upon her being she is in his power and thus cannot resist his orders. Knowing the promise about a pure fool once revealed to Amfortas and recognizing the youth exiled from the Kingdom of the Grail as the potential prophesized saviour of the Knights, Klingsor informs Kundry that the time has come which poses the greatest threat to his might, as the boy has already unknowingly strayed into his dark realm and unlike others who had done the same is protected by the naive innocence of his pure foolishness. Seeing the young man slowly approaching his castle from afar, Klingsor commands Kundry to seduce the youth, just as she had once seduced Amfortas. Kundry regrets her lot and the falling for her charms of all those who had not been strong enough to withstand the test of their purity and desires the oblivion of death as her release. She repeatedly served the Knights of the Grail in the faith of liberating herself in this way from her curse just to find herself again under Klingsor's yoke, condemned to serve only him and his aims. Even now, Kundry attempts to refuse Klingsor's orders, but, without the prospect of succeeding, is ultimately persuaded by him to comply when he tells her to remember that her hope of deliverance is in the one who shall free her by defying her. Confident that Kundry's beauty alone will suffice to defeat the young boy and knowing that all his previous enemies have yielded to her temptation, the magician encourages Kundry to try her luck with the next one. At this moment the young boy appears at the gates. Klingsor summons his enchanted knights, the defenders of his castle, to attack the youth. However, with superhuman strength the boy overcomes one of Klingsor's subjects after another and the remaining ones eventually flee before him. Laughing at the performance of his soldiers, Klingsor wishes destruction on the whole knightly kin. Seeing the young man enter his Flowermaiden garden he calls again to Kundry to seek the youth out and seduce him, but when he turns he sees that Kundry has already left on her mission. Assured of his imminent victory, Klingsor boasts of having the Grail already within his reach. Once the foretold chosen one is deprived of his innocent purity as well, he too will become Klingsor's slave forever; with his fall the last hope of the Grail Knighthood will be destroyed. In a gesture of triumph the sorcerer then disappears.

Scene 2Edit

Scene from Parsifal from the Victrola book of the opera, 1917

The victorious youth walks into a wondrous garden, surrounded by beautiful and seductive Flowermaidens. They call to him and entwine themselves about him while chiding him for wounding their lovers ("Komm, komm, holder Knabe!"), yet the boy in his childlike innocent naïveté doesn't comprehend their temptations and shows only little interest in them. The flowermaidens soon fight and bicker among themselves to win his devotion, to the point that he is about to flee, but a different voice suddenly calls out "Parsifal!". The youth finally recalls this name is what his mother called him when she appeared in his dreams. The Flowermaidens back away from him and call him a fool as they leave him and Kundry alone.

Parsifal wonders if the whole Garden is but a dream and asks how it is that Kundry knows his name. Kundry tells him she learned it from his mother ("Ich sah das Kind an seiner Mutter Brust"), who had loved him and tried to shield him from his father's fate, the mother he had abandoned and who had finally died of grief. She reveals many parts of Parsifal's history to him and he is stricken with remorse, blaming himself for his mother's death. He thinks himself very stupid to have forgotten her. Kundry says this realization is a first sign of understanding and that, with a kiss, she can help him understand the love that had once united his parents, wanting thus to awake in Parsifal the first pangs of desire. However, as she kisses Parsifal, the youth suddenly recoils in pain and cries out Amfortas' name: having just felt for the first time material desire with Kundry's kiss, Parsifal finds himself in the same position in which Amfortas had been seduced and he feels the wounded king's pain and suffering of evil and sin burning in his own soul. Only now does Parsifal understand Amfortas' passion during the Grail Ceremony ("Amfortas! Die Wunde! Die Wunde!"). As if transfigured, Parsifal also simultaneously hears the cry of the Saviour himself in a holy vision, lamenting his desecrated Sanctuary and pleading Parsifal to redeem him from guilt-laden hands. Filled with this compassion, Parsifal rejects Kundry's advances.

Furious that her ploy has failed, Kundry tells Parsifal that if he can feel compassion for Amfortas, then he should also be able to feel it for her. In a distatnt past, she saw the Redeemer and mockingly laughed at His pains in malice. As a punishment for this sin she has been cursed and bound by Klingsor and has fallen under his yoke. The curse condemns her to never be able to die and find peace and redemption. She cannot weep, only jeer diabolically. Longing for deliverance, she has been waiting for ages for a man to free her from her curse and yearns to once more meet the Saviour's forgiving gaze, but her search for her redeemer in the end only ever turns into a desire to find her salvation in earthly desire with those who fall for her charms. All her penitent endeavours eventually transform into a renewed life of sin and a continued unredeemed existence in bondage to Klingsor, just as now her pleas for Parsifal's compassion change again into another attempt at his seduction. The youth rejects Kundry one more time and asks her to show him the way back to Amfortas. He tells her that redemption from her sufferings cannot flow from the same source from which these themselves spring; desiring cannot be appeased through satisfaction, but only through renunciation. Kundry begs Parsifal to stay with her and give himself in love to her for just one hour, promising that she will then lead him to Amfortas. Parsifal warns Kundry that fulfilling her wishes would lead only to eternal damnation of them both and assures her that he has been sent to bring salvation to her also; the one who shall resist her shall set her free. Yet, Kundry persists in her requests. When Parsifal still refuses, Kundry curses him through the power of her own accursed being to wander without ever finding the Kingdom of the Grail again, and finally calls on her master Klingsor to help her.

Klingsor appears on the castle rampart and hurls the Holy Spear at Parsifal to destroy him. Not attempting to defend himself, Parsifal sees the Spear being miraculously suspended in midair, above his head. He seizes the Spear in his hand and makes with it the sign of the Cross, banishing Klingsor's dark sorcery. The whole castle with Klingsor himself suddenly sinks as if by terrible earthquake and the enchanted garden withers. As Parsifal leaves, he tells Kundry that she knows where she can find him.

Act 3Edit

Prelude to Act 3 - Parsifals Irrfahrt (Parsifal's Wandering)

Musical introduction of c. 4–6 minutes.

Scene 1Edit

The scene is the same as that of the opening of the opera, in the domain of the Grail, but many years later. Gurnemanz is now aged and bent, living alone as a hermit. It is Good Friday. He hears moaning near his hut and finds Kundry lying unconscious in the brush, similarly as he had many years before ("Sie! Wieder da!"). He revives her using water from the Holy Spring, but she will only speak the word "serve" ("Dienen"). Gurnemanz wonders if there is any higher significance to her reappearance on this special day. Looking into the forest, he sees a figure approaching, armed and in full armour. The stranger wears a helmet and the hermit cannot see who he is. Gurnemanz admonishes him firmly for being armed on a hallowed ground of the Kingdom of the Grail and all the more so on a day when the Saviour himself, bereft of all arms, had offered his own blood as a sacrifice to redeem the fallen world, but gets no response. Finally, the apparition removes the helmet and Gurnemanz recognizes the lad who shot the swan; to his amazement the Knight also bears the Holy Spear.

Amalie Materna as Kundry with Ernest van Dyck as Parsifal in Act 3, Scene 1, Bayreuth 1889

Parsifal tells of his desire to bring healing to Amfortas ("Zu ihm, des tiefe Klagen"). He relates his quest for the Grail, his seemingly unending arduous wandering, how he strayed again and again, unable to find a way back to the sacred Kingdom. On his pilgrimage he was forced to resist and fight countless enemies to guard the Spear, suffering all manner of harms in the process, but has never desecrated the relic by wielding it in battle, preserving the purity of its holiness. Gurnemanz tells Parsifal that the evil curse preventing him from finding the right path has now been lifted, since he finds himself in the Grail's domain. However, since the time of their first encounter the distress of the brotherhood has worsened even more. During Parsifal's absence Amfortas has never unveiled the Grail and the lack of its sustaining powers has caused the death of Titurel. The dispirited and leaderless Knights, not strengthened by the holy feast, are now deprived of their heroic prowess and valor and no longer fight for others holy battles across the world. The whole Knighthood has disintegrated and all the members of the Order have dispersed. Gurnemanz too lived alone, only awaiting death as a hermit in an austere forrest hut. Parsifal is overcome with pity, blaming himself for this state of affairs, and almost faints with exhaustion. Gurnemanz tells him that today is the day of Titurel's funeral, where the Knights are to meet once more and at which occasion Amfortas has promised to reveal the Grail for one last time. Parsifal has a great duty to perform. Kundry washes Parsifal's feet and Gurnemanz anoints him with water from the Holy Spring, recognizing him as the pure fool, now enlightened by compassion and freed from guilt through purifying suffering, and proclaims him the foretold new King of the Knights of the Grail.

Parsifal looks about and comments on the beauty of the meadow. Gurnemanz explains that today is Good Friday, when all the world is purified and renewed. Just as God himself on this day died for the love of humankind, so now men on this very same day, moved by thankfulness for his merciful sacrifice, treat nature with kindness and grace. The tears of sinners, now penitent and feeling saved through God's act of love, moisten fields like a sacred dew. Thanks to this spell of the holy Good Friday (Karfreitagszauber) all of creation, everything that soon withers and dies, rejoices and celebrates for this time a day of freedom from evil and sin, of innocence and peace, and gives its thanks in prayer. Parsifal wonders whether the maidens who had once enfolded him now too yearn for salvation. Kundry silently weeps with remorse. Parsifal gently kisses her on the forehead and baptizes her, telling Kundry to believe in the Redeemer. Tolling bells are heard in the distance. Gurnemanz announces that the hour has come and leads Parsifal and Kundry on their way to the Grail Castle ("Mittag: – Die Stund ist da"). A dark orchestral interlude leads into the solemn gathering of the Knights.

Orchestral interludeVerwandlungsmusik (Transformation music) – Titurels Totenfeier (Titurel's Funeral March)

Scene 2Edit

End of Act 3 in the original 1882 production (according to a painting by Theodor Pixis), original design by Paul von Joukowsky

Within the Castle of the Grail, Titurel's funeral is to take place. Mourning processions of Knights bring the deceased Titurel in a coffin and the Grail in its shrine, as well as Amfortas on his litter, to the Grail hall ("Geleiten wir im bergenden Schrein"). Expected to perform the ritual, Amfortas begs his deceased father, whose demise he acknowledges as his further guilt, to plead by the Redeemer to grant him the unique mercy of death, which alone would finally deliver him from all his pain. ("Mein Vater! Hochgesegneter der Helden!"). The Knights desperately urge Amfortas to keep his promise and at least once more, for the very last time uncover the Grail again, but Amfortas, in a frenzy, says he will never again show the Grail, as doing so would just prolong his unbearable torment. Instead, he commands the Knights to kill him and end with his suffering also the shame he has brought on the brotherhood. At this moment, Parsifal appears and declares only one weapon can help here: only the same Spear that inflicted the wound can now close it ("Nur eine Waffe taugt"). He touches Amfortas' side with the Holy Spear and both heals the wound and absolves him from sin. The Spear, now reunited with the Holy Grail, starts to bleed with the same divine blood that is contained within the sacred chalice. Extolling the virtue of compassion and blessing Amfortas' suffering for making a pure fool knowing, Parsifal replaces Amfortas in his kingly office and orders to unveil the Grail, which is never to be hidden again. As the Grail glows ever brighter with light and a white dove descends from the top of the dome and hovers over Parsifal's head, all Knights praise the miracle of salvation ("Höchsten Heiles Wunder!") and proclaim the redemption of the Redeemer ("Erlösung dem Erlöser!"). Kundry, also at the very last released from her curse and redeemed, slowly sinks lifeless to the ground with her gaze resting on Parsifal, who raises the Grail in blessing over the worshipping Knighthood.


Since Parsifal could initially only be seen at the Bayreuth Festival, the first presentation in 1882 was attended by many notable figures. Reaction was varied. Some thought that Parsifal marked a weakening of Wagner's abilities, many others saw the work as a crowning achievement. The famous critic and Wagner's theoretical opponent Eduard Hanslick gave his opinion that "The Third act may be counted the most unified and the most atmospheric. It is not the richest musically," going on to note "And Wagner's creative powers? For a man of his age and his method they are astounding ... [but] It would be foolishness to declare that Wagner's fantasy, and specifically his musical invention, has retained the freshness and facility of yore. One cannot help but discern sterility and prosaicism, together with increasing longwindedness."[39]

On the other hand, the conductor Felix Weingartner found that: "The Flowermaidens' costumes showed extraordinary lack of taste, but the singing was incomparable... When the curtain had been rung down on the final scene and we were walking down the hill, I seemed to hear the words of Goethe 'and you can say you were present'. The Parsifal performances of 1882 were artistic events of supreme interest and it is my pride and joy that I participated in them."[40] Many contemporary composers shared Weingartner's opinion. Hugo Wolf was a student at the time of the 1882 Festival, yet still managed to find money for tickets to see Parsifal twice. He emerged overwhelmed: "Colossal – Wagner's most inspired, sublimest creation." He reiterated this view in a postcard from Bayreuth in 1883: "Parsifal is without doubt by far the most beautiful and sublime work in the whole field of Art."[41] Gustav Mahler was also present in 1883 and he wrote to a friend; "I can hardly describe my present state to you. When I came out of the Festspielhaus, completely spellbound, I understood that the greatest and most painful revelation had just been made to me, and that I would carry it unspoiled for the rest of my life."[42] Max Reger simply noted that "When I first heard Parsifal at Bayreuth I was fifteen. I cried for two weeks and then became a musician." Alban Berg described Parsifal in 1909 as "magnificent, overwhelming,"[43] and Jean Sibelius, visiting the Festival in 1894 said: "Nothing in the world has made so overwhelming an impression on me. All my innermost heart-strings throbbed... I cannot begin to tell you how Parsifal has transported me. Everything I do seems so cold and feeble by its side. That is really something."[44] Claude Debussy thought the characters and plot ludicrous, but nevertheless in 1903 wrote that musically it was: "Incomparable and bewildering, splendid and strong. Parsifal is one of the loveliest monuments of sound ever raised to the serene glory of music."[45] He was later to write to Ernest Chausson that he had deleted a scene he had just written for his own opera Pelléas et Melisande because he had discovered in the music for it "the ghost of old Klingsor, alias R. Wagner".[46]

However, some notable guests of the Festival took a more acerbic view of the experience. Mark Twain visited Bayreuth in 1891: "I was not able to detect in the vocal parts of Parsifal anything that might with confidence be called rhythm or tune or melody... Singing! It does seem the wrong name to apply to it... In Parsifal there is a hermit named Gurnemanz who stands on the stage in one spot and practices by the hour, while first one and then another of the cast endures what he can of it and then retires to die."[47] Performance standards may have contributed to such reactions; George Bernard Shaw, a committed Wagnerite, commented in 1894 that: "The opening performance of Parsifal this season was, from the purely musical point of view, as far as the principal singers were concerned, simply an abomination. The bass howled, the tenor bawled, the baritone sang flat and the soprano, when she condescended to sing at all and did not merely shout her words, screamed..."[48]

During a break from composing The Rite of Spring, Igor Stravinsky also traveled to the Bayreuth Festival at the invitation of Sergei Diaghilev to see the work. Stravinsky was repulsed by the "quasi-religious atmosphere" of the festival. Stravinsky's repulsion is speculated to be due to his agnosticism, of which he recanted later in life.[49]

Interpretation and influenceEdit

Scene design for Act 3 by Arnaldo dell'Ira, using classical and classicist motives: "Nur eine Waffe taugt" (c. 1930)

Wagner's last work, Parsifal has been both influential and controversial. The use of Christian symbols in Parsifal (the Grail, the Spear, references to the Redeemer) together with its restriction to Bayreuth for almost 30 years sometimes led to performances being regarded almost as a religious rite. However, Wagner never actually refers to Jesus Christ by name in the opera, only to "The Redeemer". In his essay "Religion and Art", Wagner described the use of Christian imagery thus:[50]

When religion becomes artificial, art has a duty to rescue it. Art can show that the symbols which religions would have us believe literally true are actually figurative. Art can idealize those symbols, and so reveal the profound truths they contain.

The critic Eduard Hanslick objected to the religious air surrounding Parsifal even at the premiere: "The question of whether Parsifal should really be withheld from all theatres and limited to... Bayreuth was naturally on all tongues... I must state here that the church scenes in Parsifal did not make the offensive impression on me that others and I had been led to expect from reading the libretto. They are religious situations – but for all their earnest dignity they are not in the style of the church, but completely in the style of the opera. Parsifal is an opera, call it a 'stage festival' or 'consecrational stage festival' if you will."[51]


Wagner had been greatly impressed with his reading of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer in 1854, and this deeply affected his thoughts and practice on music and art. Most writers (e.g. Bryan Magee) see Parsifal as Wagner's last great espousal of Schopenhauerian philosophy.[52] Parsifal can heal Amfortas and redeem Kundry because he shows compassion, which Schopenhauer saw as the highest manifestation of human morality. Moreover, Parsifal displays compassion in the face of sexual temptation (Act 2, Scene 2). Schopenhauerian philosophy suggests that the only escape from the ever-present temptations of human life is through negation of the Will, and overcoming sexual temptation is in particular a strong form of negation of the Will. Schopenhauer also claims that compassion should be extended to non-human sentient beings as well, supporting this claim by the lives of Christian saints and mystics and the Indian religions of Hinduism and Buddhism; in Parsifal this worldview finds its expression in the holy status of animals within the Kingdom of the Grail and the schocked response to Parsifal's "murder" of the swan (Act 1, Scene 1), which awakens in the youth the first unaware throb of compassion. Wagner himself in his older age became an advocate of vegetarianism and an opponent of vivisection, participating in an anti-vivisectionist petition to the Reichstag in 1879.[53][54][55] As the exact opposite of compassion and therefore as the ultimate moral evil Schopenhauer sees the act of Schadenfreude, the enjoying of the suffering of another living being; it is precisely this sin of which Kundry is guilty when she maliciously laughs in mocking pride at the sufferings of the Redeemer and as a result of which she falls under Klingsor's curse (recounted in Act 2, Scene 2), broken only at the moment when she is again capable to weep and thus express compassion during the Good Friday Spell (Act 3, Scene 1). When viewed in this light, Parsifal, with its emphasis on Mitleid ("compassion") is a natural follow-on to Tristan und Isolde, where Schopenhauer's influence is perhaps more obvious, with its focus on Sehnen ("yearning"). Indeed, Wagner originally considered including Parsifal as a character in Act 3 of Tristan, but later rejected the idea.[56]


Friedrich Nietzsche, who was originally a champion of Wagner and Schopenhauer, chose later to use Parsifal as the ground for his breach with Wagner, taking the work as a prime example of the self-denying, life-denying, otherwordly and therefore for him decadent and nihilistic Christian "slave-morality" of compassion and asceticism motivated by the "will to nothingness", as opposed to the self-affirming, life-affirming and earthly "master-morality" of pre-Christian ruling classes and the strong motivated by the "will to power";[57] an extended critique of Parsifal opens the third essay ("What Is the Meaning of Ascetic Ideals?") of On the Genealogy of Morality. In Nietzsche contra Wagner he wrote:[58]

Parsifal is a work of perfidy, of vindictiveness, of a secret attempt to poison the presuppositions of life – a bad work. The preaching of chastity remains an incitement to anti-nature: I despise everyone who does not experience Parsifal as an attempted assassination of basic ethics.

Despite this attack on the subject matter, he also admitted that the music was sublime: "Moreover, apart from all irrelevant questions (as to what the use of this music can or ought to be) and on purely aesthetic grounds; has Wagner ever done anything better?" (Letter to Peter Gast, 1887).[59]

Racism debateEdit

Some writers see in the opera a promotion of racism or antisemitism.[60][page needed][61][page needed] One line of argument suggests that Parsifal was written in support of the ideas of the French diplomat and racial theorist Count Arthur de Gobineau, expressed most extensively in his Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races. Parsifal is proposed as the "pure-blooded" (i.e. Aryan) hero who overcomes Klingsor, who is perceived as a Jewish stereotype, particularly since he opposes the quasi-Christian Knights of the Grail. Such claims remain heavily debated, since there is nothing explicit in the libretto to support them.[17][62][page needed][63] Wagner never mentions such ideas in his many writings, and Cosima Wagner's diaries, which relate in great detail Wagner's thoughts over the last 14 years of his life (including the period covering the composition and first performance of Parsifal) never mention any such intention.[52] Having met Gobineau for the first time very briefly in 1876, it was nonetheless only in 1880 that Wagner read Gobineau's essay.[64] However, the libretto for Parsifal had already been completed by 1877, and the original drafts of the story even date back to 1857. Besides the question of chronology, the eventual meeting in person between Wagner and Gobineau was also accompanied by mutual disagreements and quarrels;[65][66][67] e.g. on 3 June 1881 Wagner is reported to have "exploded in favour of Christian theories in contrast to racial ones".[68][69] Despite this, Gobineau is sometimes cited as an inspiration for Parsifal.[70][71]

The related question of whether the opera contains a specifically antisemitic message is also debated.[72] Some of Wagner's contemporaries and commentators (e.g. Hans von Wolzogen and Ernest Newman) who analysed Parsifal at length, make no mention of any antisemitic interpretations.[73][page needed][74] However the critics Paul Lindau and Max Nordbeck, present at the world premiere, noted in their reviews how the work accorded with Wagner's anti-Jewish sentiments.[75] Similar interpretive conflict continues even today; some of the more recent commentators continue to highlight the perceived antisemitic or anti-Judaic nature of the opera,[76] and find correspondences with antisemitic passages found in Wagner's writings and articles of the period, while others deny such claims,[77][78] seeing for example the opposition between the realm of the Grail and Klingsor's domain as portraying a conflict between the sphere embodying the world-view of Wagner's Schopenhauerian Christianity and a pagan sphere more generally.[79]

German stamp showing Parsifal with the Grail, November 1933

The conductor of the premiere was Hermann Levi, the court conductor at the Munich Opera. Since King Ludwig was sponsoring the production, much of the orchestra was drawn from the ranks of the Munich Opera, including the conductor. Wagner objected to Parsifal being conducted by a Jew (Levi's father was in fact a rabbi). Wagner first suggested that Levi should convert to Christianity, which Levi declined to do.[80] Wagner then wrote to King Ludwig that he had decided to accept Levi despite the fact that (he alleged) he had received complaints that "of all pieces, this most Christian of works" should be conducted by a Jew. When the King expressed his satisfaction at this, replying that "human beings are basically all brothers", Wagner wrote to the King angrily: "If I have friendly and sympathetic dealings with many of these people, it is only because I consider the Jewish race as the born enemy of pure humanity and all that is noble about it (sic)".[81] Seventy-one years later, the Jewish bass-baritone George London performed in the role of Amfortas at Neu Bayreuth, causing some controversy.[82]

It has been claimed that Parsifal was denounced as being "ideologically unacceptable" in Nazi Germany[83] and that the Nazis placed a de facto ban on Parsifal[84][85] because of what many scholars see as the presence of themes such as compassion, Schopenhauerian negation of the will, renunciation of desires, asceticism and even non-violence and anti-militarism in the work's libretto.[86][87][88][89][90][91][92][93][94] Some of the Nazi officials and leaders may have had certain doubts about the work.[95][96]In his 1930 book The Myth of the Twentieth Century the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg expressed the view that "Parsifal represents a church-influenced enfeeblement in favour of the value of renunciation".[97][98] According to Joseph Goebbels' diaries Adolf Hitler too had apparently some reservations about Parsifal,[99] particularly about what he called its "Christian mystical style".[100][101] Despite this, there were in fact 26 performances at the Bayreuth Festival between 1934 and 1939[102] and 23 performances at the Deutsche Oper Berlin between 1939 and 1942.[103] However, Parsifal was not performed at Bayreuth during World War II,[85] a significant omission in view of the fact that the work, with the exception of one year, had been an annual fixture of the Festival since 1882.[104][105]


Margaret Matzenauer as Kundry. She made her unexpected debut in the role in 1912 at the New York Met.


A leitmotif is a recurring musical theme within a particular piece of music, associated with a particular character, object, event or emotion. Wagner is the composer most often associated with leitmotifs, and Parsifal makes liberal use of them.[106] Wagner did not specifically identify or name leitmotifs in the score of Parsifal (any more than he did in any other of his scores), although his wife Cosima mentions statements he made about some of them in her diary.[107] However, Wagner's followers (notably Hans von Wolzogen whose guide to Parsifal was published in 1882) named, wrote about and made references to these motifs, and they were highlighted in piano arrangements of the score.[108][109] Wagner's own reaction to such naming of motifs in the score was one of disgust: "In the end people believe that such nonsense happens by my suggestion."[110]

The opening prelude introduces two important leitmotifs, generally referred to as the Communion theme and the theme of the Grail. These two, and Parsifal's own motif, are repeated during the course of the opera. Other characters, especially Klingsor, Amfortas, and "The Voice", which sings the so-called Tormotif ("Fool's motive"), have their own particular leitmotifs. Wagner uses the Dresden amen to represent the Grail, this motif being a sequence of notes he would have known since his childhood in Dresden.


Many music theorists have used Parsifal to explore difficulties in analyzing the chromaticism of late 19th century music. Theorists such as David Lewin and Richard Cohn have explored the importance of certain pitches and harmonic progressions both in structuring and symbolizing the work.[111][112] The unusual harmonic progressions in the leitmotifs which structure the piece, as well as the heavy chromaticism of Act 2, make it a difficult work to parse musically.

Notable excerptsEdit

As is common in mature Wagner operas, Parsifal was composed such that each act was a continuous flow of music; hence there are no free-standing arias in the work. However, a number of orchestral excerpts from the opera were arranged by Wagner himself, and remain in the concert repertory. The prelude to Act 1 is frequently performed either alone or in conjunction with an arrangement of the "Good Friday" music which accompanies the second half of Act 3, Scene 1. Kundry's long solo in Act 2 ("Ich sah das Kind") is occasionally performed in concert, as is Amfortas' lament from Act 1 ("Wehvolles Erbe").


The score for Parsifal calls for three flutes, three oboes, one English horn, three clarinets in B-flat and A, one bass clarinet in B-flat and A, three bassoons, one contrabassoon; four horns in F, three trumpets in F, three trombones, one tuba, 6 onstage trumpets in F, 6 onstage trombones; a percussion section that includes four timpani (requiring two players), tenor drums, 4 onstage church bells, one onstage thunder machine; two harps and strings. Parsifal is one of only two works by Wagner in which he used the contrabassoon. (The other is the Symphony in C.)

The bells that draw the knights to the Grail ceremony at Monsalvat in acts 1 and 3 have often proved problematic to stage. For the earlier performances of Parsifal in Bayreuth, Wagner had the Parsifal bell, a piano frame with four strings, constructed as a substitute for church bells. For the first performances, the bells were combined with tam-tam and gongs. However, the bell was used with the tuba, four tam-tams tuned to the pitch of the four chime notes and another tam-tam on which a roll is executed by using a drumstick. In modern-day performances, the Parsifal bell has been replaced with tubular bells or synthesizers to produce the desired notes. The thunder machine is used in the moment of the destruction of Klingsor's castle.


Parsifal was expressly composed for the stage at Bayreuth and many of the most famous recordings of the opera come from live performances on that stage. In the pre-LP era, Karl Muck conducted excerpts from the opera at Bayreuth. These are still considered some of the best performances of the opera on disc. They also contain the only sound evidence of the bells constructed for the work's premiere, which were melted down for scrap during World War II.

Hans Knappertsbusch was the conductor most closely associated with Parsifal at Bayreuth in the post-war years, and the performances under his baton in 1951 marked the re-opening of the Bayreuth Festival after World War II. These historic performances were recorded and are available on the Teldec label in mono sound. Knappertsbusch recorded the opera again for Philips in 1962 in stereo, and this release is often considered to be the classic Parsifal recording.[113][page needed] There are also many "unofficial" live recordings from Bayreuth, capturing virtually every Parsifal cast ever conducted by Knappertsbusch. Pierre Boulez (1971) and James Levine (1985) have also made recordings of the opera at Bayreuth that were released on Deutsche Grammophon and Philips. The Boulez recording is one of the fastest on record, and the Levine one of the slowest.

Amongst other recordings, those conducted by Georg Solti, James Levine (with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra), Herbert von Karajan, and Daniel Barenboim (the latter two both conducting the Berlin Philharmonic) have been widely praised.[114][page needed] The Karajan recording was voted "Record of the Year" in the 1981 Gramophone Awards. Also highly regarded is a recording of Parsifal under the baton of Rafael Kubelík originally made for Deutsche Grammophon, now reissued on Arts & Archives.

On the 14 December 2013 broadcast of BBC Radio 3's CD Review – Building a Library, music critic David Nice surveyed recordings of Parsifal and recommended the recording by the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Rafael Kubelik (conductor), as the best available choice.[115]

Filmed versionsEdit

In addition to a number of staged performances available on DVD, Parsifal was adapted for the screen by Daniel Mangrané in 1951 and Hans-Jürgen Syberberg in 1982. There is also a 1998 documentary directed by Tony Palmer titled: Parsifal – The Search for the Grail. It was recorded in various European theaters, including the Mariinsky Theatre, the Ravello Festival in Siena, and the Bayreuth Festival. It contains extracts from Palmer's stage production of Parsifal starring Plácido Domingo, Violeta Urmana, Matti Salminen, Nikolai Putilin [ru], and Anna Netrebko. In also includes interviews with Domingo, Wolfgang Wagner, writers Robert Gutman and Karen Armstrong. The film exists in two versions: (1) a complete version running 116 minutes and officially approved by Domingo, and (2) an 88-minute version, with cuts of passages regarded by the German distributor as being too "political", "uncomfortable", and "irrelevant".[116]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Parsifal Synopsis". Seattle Opera House. Archived from the original on 25 June 2014. Retrieved 11 January 2014. (Section What is a Stage-Consecrating Festival-Play, Anyway?)
  2. ^ Joseph Görres, "Einleitung", p. vi, in: Lohengrin, ein altteutsches Gedicht, nach der Abschrift des Vaticanischen Manuscriptes by Ferdinand Gloeckle. Mohr und Zimmer, Heidelberg 1813.
  3. ^ Richard Wagner, Das braune Buch. Tagebuchaufzeichnungen 1865 bis 1882, ed. Joachim Bergfeld, Atlantis Verlag, Zürich and Freiburg im Breisgau 1975, p. 52
  4. ^ Danielle Buschinger, Renate Ullrich, Das Mittelalter Richard Wagners, Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-8260-3078-9, p. 140.
  5. ^ Unger, Max (1932-08-01). "The Persian Origins of 'Parsifal' and 'Tristan'". The Musical Times. 73 (1074): 703–705. doi:10.2307/917595. ISSN 0027-4666. JSTOR 917595. The correct spelling of Parzival is Parsi-wal. ... the word means Persian flower. Unger draws on the abstract of a book by Friedrich von Suhtscheck [de] which was never published.
  6. ^ Gregor-Dellin (1983), p. 141
  7. ^ On the Will in Nature, "Sinology," Footnote listing books on Buddhism s:On the Will in Nature#SINOLOGY
  8. ^ Millington (1992), p. 147
  9. ^ Everett, Derrick. "Prose Sketch for Die Sieger". Retrieved February 18, 2010.
  10. ^ Gregor-Dellin (1983), p. 270
  11. ^ Wagner, Richard. Mein Leben vol II. Project Gutenberg. Retrieved February 18, 2010.
  12. ^ Wagner, Cosima (1980) Cosima Wagner's Diaries tr. Skelton, Geoffrey. Collins. ISBN 0-00-216189-3
  13. ^ Millington (1992), pp. 135–136
  14. ^ Beckett (1981), p. 13
  15. ^ Beckett (1981), p. 22
  16. ^ Millington (1992), pp. 147 f.
  17. ^ a b Gregor-Dellin (1983), pp. 477 ff.
  18. ^ Millington (1992), p. 307
  19. ^ Gregor-Dellin (1983), p. 485
  20. ^ Beckett (1981), pp. 90 f.
  21. ^ Carnegy (2006), pp. 107–118
  22. ^ Spencer (2000), p. 270
  23. ^ Heinz-Hermann Meyer. "Wandeldekoration", Lexikon der Filmbegriffe, ISSN 1610-420X Kiel, Germany, 2012, citing the dissertation by Pascal Lecocq.
  24. ^ Pascal Lecocq (1987). "La Wandeldekoration". Revue d'Histoire du Théâtre (in French) (156): 359–383. ISSN 0035-2373.
  25. ^ Spencer (2000), pp. 268 ff.
  26. ^ Beckett (1981), pp. 93–95
  27. ^ Beckett (1981), p. 94
  28. ^ a b Gregor-Dellin (1983), p. 506
  29. ^ "Pondering the Mysteries of Parsifal" by Fred Plotkin, WQXR, 2 March 2013.
  30. ^ Spotts (1994), p. 212
  31. ^ Carnegy (2006), pp. 288–290
  32. ^ Kluge, Andreas (1992). "Parsifal 1951". Wagner: Parsifal (Media notes). Teldec. 9031-76047-2.
  33. ^ Erik Eriksson. "Martha Mödl". AllMusic. Retrieved 24 February 2016.
  34. ^ Shengold (2012)
  35. ^ Casaglia, Gherardo (2005). "Parsifal, 26 July 1882". L'Almanacco di Gherardo Casaglia (in Italian).
  36. ^ Parsifal, 24 December 1903, Met performance details
  37. ^ Bell (2013), p. 225
  38. ^ Berger (2017), p. 296
  39. ^ Hartford (1980), pp. 126 f.
  40. ^ Hartford (1980), p. 131
  41. ^ Hartford (1980), pp. 176 f.
  42. ^ Hartford (1980), p. 178
  43. ^ Hartford (1980), p. 180
  44. ^ Hartford (1980), p. 193
  45. ^ Beckett (1981), p. 108
  46. ^ Cited in Fauser (2008), p. 225
  47. ^ Hartford (1980), p. 151
  48. ^ Hartford (1980), p. 167
  49. ^ Igor Stravinsky, by Michael Oliver, Phaidon Press, 1995, pp. 57–58
  50. ^ Wagner, Richard. "Religion and Art". The Wagner Library. Retrieved October 8, 2007.
  51. ^ Hartford (1980), pp. 127 f.
  52. ^ a b Magee (2002), pp. 371–380
  53. ^ Berger (2017), pp. 341–342
  54. ^ Magee (2002), pp. 1–2
  55. ^ Kienzle (2005), pp. 92–93, 98
  56. ^ Dokumente zur Entstehung und ersten Aufführung des Bühnenweihfestspiels Parsifal by Richard Wagner, Martin Geck, Egon Voss. Reviewed by Richard Evidon in Notes, 2nd series, vol. 28, no. 4 (June 1972), pp. 685 ff.
  57. ^ Beckett (1981), pp. 113–120
  58. ^ Nietzsche, Friedrich. Nietzsche contra Wagner. Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 18 February 2010.
  59. ^ Wikisource:Selected Letters of Friedrich Nietzsche#Nietzsche To Peter Gast – January, 1887
  60. ^ Gutman (1990)
  61. ^ Weiner (1997)
  62. ^ Borchmeyer, Dieter (2003). Drama and the World of Richard Wagner, Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-11497-8
  63. ^ Everett, Derrick. "Parsifal and race". Retrieved February 18, 2010.
  64. ^ Gutman (1990), p. 406
  65. ^ Bell (2013), p. 131-132
  66. ^ Hofmann (2003), p. 287-288
  67. ^ Borchmeyer (2003), p. 257-259
  68. ^ Bell (2013), p. 131-132
  69. ^ Hofmann (2003), p. 287-288
  70. ^ Adorno, Theodor (1952). In Search of Wagner. Verso, ISBN 1-84467-500-9, pbk.[page needed]
  71. ^ Deathridge, John (2007). "Strange love; or, How we learned to stop worrying and love Wagner's Parsifal". In Julie Brown (ed.). Western Music and Race. Cambridge University Press. pp. 65–83. ISBN 978-0-521-83887-0..
  72. ^ Deathridge (2008), pp. 166–169
  73. ^ Hans von Wolzogen, Thematic guide through the music of Parsifal: with a preface upon the legendary material of the Wagnerian drama, Schirmer, 1904.
  74. ^ Ernest Newman, A study of Wagner, Dobell, 1899. p. 352–365.
  75. ^ Rose (1992), pp. 168 f
  76. ^ E.g. Zelinsky (1982), passim, Rose (1992), pp. 135, 158–169 and Weiner (1997), passim.
  77. ^ Borchmeyer (2003), pp. 245–246, 249, 255, 367–368
  78. ^ Magee (2003), pp. 279–280, 371–380
  79. ^ Borchmeyer (2003), pp. 245–246, 249, 255
  80. ^ Newman (1976), IV 635
  81. ^ Bell (2013), p. 207
  82. ^ Of Gods and Demons by Nora London, volume 9 of the "Great Voices" series, published by Baskerville Publishers, p. 37.
  83. ^ Spotts (1994), p. 166
  84. ^ Everett, Derrick. "The 1939 Ban on Parsifal". Retrieved February 18, 2010.
  85. ^ a b Spotts (1994), p. 192
  86. ^ Berger (2017), pp. 339–345
  87. ^ Hofmann (2003), pp. 267–291
  88. ^ Magee (2002), pp. 264–285
  89. ^ Beckett (1981), pp. 133–138
  90. ^ Kinderman (2013), pp. 211
  91. ^ Bell (2013), pp. 269–270
  92. ^ Borchmeyer (2003), pp. 238–260
  93. ^ Aberbach (2003), pp. 321–324
  94. ^ Kienzle (2005), pp. 91–95, 128–130
  95. ^ Bell (2013), pp. 230–231
  96. ^ Kinderman (2005), pp. 174–175
  97. ^ Kinderman (2013), pp. 26
  98. ^ Kinderman (2005), pp. 174
  99. ^ Magee (2002), pp. 366
  100. ^ Deathridge (2008), pp. 173–174
  101. ^ Bell (2013), pp. 230
  102. ^ Bayreuth Festival: Aufführungen sortiert nach Inszenierungen, retrieved on 2 April 2017
  103. ^ Deathridge (2008), pp. 173–174
  104. ^ Berger (2017), pp. 357
  105. ^ Kinderman (2005), pp. 174–175
  106. ^ Everett, Derrick. "Introduction to the Music of Parsifal". Archived from the original on October 4, 2011. Retrieved February 18, 2010.
  107. ^ Thorau (2009), pp. 136–139
  108. ^ Cosima Wagner's Diaries, tr. Geoffrey Skelton. Collins, 1980. Entries for 11 August, 5 December 1877.
  109. ^ Wagner, Richard. "Parsifal". Schirmer Inc, New York. Retrieved February 18, 2010.
  110. ^ Cosima Wagner's diary, 1 August 1881.[full citation needed]
  111. ^ David Lewin, "Amfortas' Prayer to Titurel and the Role of D in Parsifal: The Tonal Spaces of the Drama and the Enharmonic Cb/B," in Studies in Music with Text (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 183–200.
  112. ^ Cohn (1996).
  113. ^ Holloway, Robin (1982) Opera on Record, Harper and Row ISBN 0-06-090910-2
  114. ^ Blyth, Alan (1992), Opera on CD Kyle Cathie Ltd, ISBN 1-85626-056-9
  115. ^ Nice, David. "Wagner 200 Building a Library: Parsifal". CD Review. BBC Radio 3. Retrieved 26 December 2013.
  116. ^ "Parsifal – The Search for the Grail". Presto Classical Limited. Archived from the original on 2 August 2016. Retrieved 13 July 2012.


Further readingEdit

External linksEdit