Author: Hesselink, Nathan

Publication details: Wagner’s Lexical Tonality, Jonathan Petty, i-iii. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2005


This book re-theorizes Wagner’s post-Opera and Drama tonal language in the linguistic terms in which the composer himself conceived and executed the “Ring of the Nibelung and Parsifal”. Topics include Wagner’s lexical use of key; the composition of semantics from tonal lexicality and orthodox tonal syntax; the cognitive structure of tonal language [TL] semantics, the linguistic coordination of words and keys; Wagner’s concept of Tonal Households and the alignment of TL syntax with poetically specified protagonists, objects, and dramatic situations; key characteristics and TL Lexemes as public cultural linguistic properties; the virtual spatiality of TL syntax and semantics; TL spatiality and spatialized emotions; and tonal cartography. The four scores of the “Ring” dramas are analyzed bar-by-bar to derive a complete linear harmonic analysis-based readout of each of its keys and claimed lexical referent. The result – over 3,780 TL lexemes – is the first TL Lexicon of the entire “Ring”. Two concluding chapters on Parsifal discuss its mediaeval sources as suggested by Wagner’s prose writings, letters, and religious discourse to argue for the Gnostic and alchemistic basis of its libretto imagery, lexical tonality, and anti-Semitism. Throughout, lexical theory is argued against in-depth critiques of the theories of Heinrich Schenker and others.