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8.223777-78 - WAGNER, S.: Schwarzschwanenreich
Siegfried Wagner (1869 - 1930)
(The Kingdom of Black Swan)
Siegfried Wagner was born in 1869 at Tribschen near Lucerne, the son of Richard Wagner and Liszt's daughter Cosima, former wife of Hans von Bulow and later to be Wagner's second wife. He was educated privately at home until his father's death in 1883, later studying music with Engelbert Humperdinck in Frankfurt. He turned from music to architecture after 1890, at first at the Berlin Polytechnic and then in Karlsruhe. It was here that he came under the influence of Karl Mottl. A voyage to China and India in 1892 finally decided him and he returned home to spend four years as an assistant at Bayreuth under his mother, Hans Richter and Julius Kniese, a preparation for his future role as producer, director and conductor at the Festival. In 1896 he conducted The Ring and in 1901 he staged The Flying Dutchman, taking charge of the Festival from 1906 until his death in 1930.
In his own writing Siegfried Wagner explained something of the dilemma of a composer who was the son of the great Richard Wagner: I was given the name Siegfried by my parents, but I have riven in two no anvil, slain no dragon and stridden through no sea of flames. In spite of this, however, I hope that I am not completely unworthy of this name, since fear is not my failing.
The stories of my poems I take generally from German folk-lore, where there remain still so many undiscovered treasures. Seeking these out, examining them and putting them together is not so easy. Our exceptional researchers, above all Jakob Grimm, have done great service to German culture in originally collecting all these stories of gods and heroes, fragmented, dispersed and often changed beyond recognition. It is a happy sign of our time that the need has grown to approach nearer to the soul of the people, the only defence against urban contamination that threatens to infect local customs.
There are people who would make of me a tragic .figure. They regard me with sympathetic laughter and their thoughts may be expressed as follows: Poor fellow, how oppressive must be the burden of your great father's reputation! We are sorry for you and that you have the boldness yourself to pose as an opera-composer and are so naïve as to believe that you succeed with it! Poor pitiful fellow! My answer is this: Do I really seem so oppressed and crushed, dear reader? I am sorry if I give such an impression, since I feel perfectly sound and well. Nevertheless I gladly grant that it was not so simple for me. It needed patience at least for the removal of a certain amount of prejudice against the son of a great man. I do not know how this is in other countries; in Germany, in any case, there is a dogma that such a son is at least half an ass, if not a complete idiot. Now there comes one who does not completely .fit this idea and so causes confusion.
Opposition in Bayreuth
Again and again Siegfried Wagner lets fall references in his dramatic plots to events in his own life. The mother-son conflict may be cited in Der Barenhauter, while Reinhart in Herzog Wildfang is drawn from his friend Clement Harris, with whom his homoerotic inner feelings first emerged. The many bastards in his operas function as a reaction to the illegitimacy of his son Walter Aign, regarded with ostentatious coolness by the composer, who kept his paternity hidden, although he knew he had an erotic fascination for him. It may be taken as certain that there is also some private retreat from outsiders also in the secret depths of Schwarzschwanenreich.
Neither in content nor thematically did these operas correspond to what the public expected from a son of Wagner and so Siegfried had to struggle not against the dragon but, as a creative artist, with two sides, with the Wagnerians and with the anti-Wagnerians.
His stage works with art nouveau titles show inspirational kinship with Oscar Wilde, Stefan George, Gerhart Hauptmann and even with Bertolt Brecht. Behind the apparently harmless titles such as Sonnenflammen (Flames of the Sun), Der Friedensengel (The Angel of Peace) and Das Fluchlein, das Jeder mitbekam (The Curse That Everyone Knew) conceal explosive themes. Sonnenflammen deals with the impossibility of love that is only projected, Der Friedensengel believes in the right to suicide and contends for the then illegal funeral of those who had voluntarily taken their own lives, while behind Fluchlein, das Jeder mitbekam lies a political story of the 1920s.
The otherwise not always completely united Wagner family believed in any case that it was doing the right thing in partly allowing the work of Liszt's grandson and Wagner's son to disappear after his death in 1930 and partly to keep it in the drawer in which the composer himself had once put it, with the words: I put one score after another in the drawer .When I am dead, someone will take them out again.
The Portrait of a Woman
Singapore, Sunday, 3rd April
When we went for a short walk in the afternoon, we suddenly heard, in the midst of the cries of vendors, of carts and of ships' hooters, from a large public building the sound of a chorale from the St John Passion. It sent a shudder like ice through my limbs and we stood spellbound and did not believe our senses; yet it was true, then, as we came nearer, we realised that this was a rehearsal for Easter or more likely for Good Friday... The impression on both of us was overwhelming, the fundamental sounds of religion, the rock-fast certain faith of Bach came upon us so directly, making us so happy and letting everything else disappear so that we had to admit that we had never had so powerful an impression of this genius. This is how we celebrated Holy Week! In the midst of varied tropical peoples there came to us these wonderful sounds. Could anything finer ever fall to our lot?
Canton, Tuesday, 19th April
Past the butchers, rhythmically chopping and, like everyone in Canton, carrying on their work in the street, our Chinese Wong Yiu led us to the prison, which was not calculated to cheer me up; yes, I can say that the gloomy impression of those seen and questioned there was long with me and the picture of that woman that I want to tell you about, will never leave me... After I was first brought to the minor offenders, my guide took me to the major criminals, who had to wear the wooden cangue...
Somewhat more serious criminals than these were punished with such terribly heavy cangues of this kind that the unfortunate wearer was almost brought to the floor by the weight and died in a short time. I saw such cangues lying in the yard and could hardly lift them.
The worst criminals, lying in the furthest part of the building, I could not see; instead the women prosecuted for murder were shown me. After passing through long deserted corridors we came first to a round hole in the wall, through which the prisoners were pushed in from a canal; at the moment when they were pushed through there were pointed knives from above that cruelly tore the flesh of the wretched people... The frightful part of this was that this cruelty should ever happen - yes, that on the afternoon of this same day such cruel butchery should take place and that the guide invited me to go there.
We proceeded now to the women and I shall never forget this: in a small room… sat on a low stool by the back wall a pale and beautiful young woman, yes, beautiful, in a way I had never before seen in China; she reminded me of those ancient Madonnas of Fra Angelico or Giotto, as she sat at the table, with six other women, who, as I was told, were child-killers. She held in her delicate thin hands dominoes, to take part in the game. Her look was cast down when we first came in, then she looked up and her eyes rested on me, shy and questioning, as if she would know whether I could distinguish her guilt from theirs...
When we returned to the room, she was still sitting in the same place; she scarcely looked up at us, spoke with the other women and I noticed a tension in her mouth that frightened me: there was imprinted there a coldness, a heartlessness, that convinced me of her guilt, indicating that perhaps not once had she experienced a moment of passionate anger to kill her husband but that a perverse motive lay behind this deed. And yet it appeared to me barely possible and I looked with astonishment at these fine features, the tender, arched lips, the large doe-like eyes, the beautiful complexion, that in her pallor gave her still an air of delicacy. My guide told me that she had no misgivings about what lay before her. Her guilt was so great that she would not be punished once by a simple death: the most fearful punishment threatened her in the coming month -she would be hacked into thirty pieces. After the seventh cut the unhappy victim usually died.
O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (O sacred head sore wounded)
On 10th April 1910 at Santa Margherita Siegfried Wagner completed the score of his three-act opera Schwarzschwanenreich. In this work came to fruition the plan for a drama on the child-murderess conceived during his journey to Asia, that shy look of the beautiful murderess that seemed to seek from Siegfried whether he too took her for guilty .Her guilt remained...
The cruel justice of Canton, at the threshold of the twentieth century, Siegfried could not forget -and he drew a dramatic parallel with the cruelty of the witch-hunts in Europe in the seventeenth century. The picture of the child-murderer in the prison-cell was a direct reference to the situation in Canton:
"Hulda is leaning against a door in the wall, her head resting on her right forearm." The black dominoes in the hands of the Chinese prisoners are changed into the dark stones of the cell into which Hulda digs her nails, but also into the crucifix that she soon holds in her hands. The wooden yoke ("I saw such cangues lying in the yard and could hardly lift them. ") become the "heavy iron flask", "that hangs about the necks of the condemned", and from the walk to the place of execution Hulda looks at her husband' eyes "long and questioningly": She puts into words the question felt by Siegfried Wagner in Canton: "I am guilty! If you think I am not, I am free and faultless!" Cruel justice too for this guilty-innocent victim: the lawfully condemned witch dies in the flames.
We find the frivolous designation "witch" in the diary of the journey for the characterization of the hateful murderesses. That Siegfried Wagner found the "witch" young and beautiful stems from his accurate knowledge of the vehmic court and witch trials: naturally the young women were, for the spiritual and secular judges, as an object for examination for the sign of the witch and for the subsequent sexual-sadistic torture, including rape, more welcome than the swiftly condemned old women. Bach's chorale "O sacred head sore wounded", which exactly a fortnight before the encounter with the murderess in the prison in Canton, "making us so happy and letting everything else disappear", had brought Siegfried's decision to become a composer, is quoted in the prison scene of Opus 7. It is the only quotation from elsewhere found in the four works, Kobold, Schwarzschwanenreich, Friedensengel and Heiligen Linde...
Siegfried Wagner's Schwarzschwanenreich takes place in a period in which myths and legends were still alive in the consciousness of the people, so that there is often no clear division between reality and fiction, otherwise the massacres of the witch trials would not have been possible to such an extent. Supported by the pseudo-scientific practices of the Dominican Inquisitors Heinrich Institor and Jacob Sprenger, the extermination of witches was a commandment of dogma. Until today the Catholic Church has never retracted the Malleus Maleficarum, the hammer of the witches that first appeared in 1487, and has not distanced herself from those excesses, which claimed nine million innocent people. It is no wonder, then, that the practices of the former Inquisitor were later taken up by church and state, partly adopted by the people, and still in the nineteenth century in Germany and particularly in Latin America women were lynched as alleged witches.
The witch-hunt reached its climax in the Thirty Years War. Not only hunger and misery, not only pain at being cast out from society induced single mothers to kill their new-born babies, but the justified fear of being found to be a witch...
The spreading illness of hysteria at this period led many women to accuse themselves of nocturnal experience with Incubi, spirits in the guise of men, and to show specious signs of pregnancy. No-one was safe from prosecution and anyone who was once prosecuted was also condemned because they confessed in the end under torture what was wanted from them. Since the Church and rock-firm faith offered no protection from the Inquisition, many sought salvation in the religion of nature that Christianity had displaced. Through christianisation all religions earlier cultivated were turned into religions of the devil: the old goddesses and their priestesses became evil spirits and diabolical witches and the eternal gods became part of the company of Satan. Imagined places of refuge came to be venerated as an artificial Paradise really believed in and so Hell also, like Heaven, became a notional place.
The Kingdom of the Black Swan is such a place of refuge.
Peter P. Pachl
Yes. I am a remarkable fellow
Franz Stassen, who was closely associated with Siegfried Wagner for many years and also prepared many illustrations for his and his father's operas, records in his Reminiscences of Siegfried Wagner the origin and first performance of the new opera.
"And now we learned in Bayreuth of his new opera Schwarzschwanenreich... The moving work made a deep impression when we went through it on the piano and Siegfried laughed in his own way and said: 'You good soul!', when we declared that nothing had been written like it since the scene of Gretchen in prison! - There were seven years of serious events and of the World War before the work was put before the public, yet it achieved by its originality a quiet triumph and won many friends in the piano reduction, but there were also doubts expressed and even from the circle of his nearest about the terrible scene of the Changeling, its little arm threatening from the grave.
We came with the master and Frau Wagner to the dress rehearsal. Everything was well prepared, only the little arm of the changeling again caused offence, specifically among the ladies. Siegfried gave way and it was altered. He was often remarkably timid about his own work and wished to give no offence. Strong elements that he had without worrying included in the drama and composed were thus weakened.
"Yes, I am a remarkable fellow", he said, and further, over the harshness of Schwarzschwanenreich: "Like an Orcagna". So for him the great art of all centuries was always at hand for a poetic comparison! ...
It was the last public birthday celebration performance for the Grand Duke of Baden - and there was tremendous pressure on all of us; so we experienced this deeply felt tragedy of the innocent-guilty Hulda, who, succumbing to the demonic seduction of the Kingdom of the Black Swan, conquered and overwhelmed, sank down into the realm of sin, giving birth to and smothering the wretched changeling and finding again happiness and peace in the pure love of the noble Liebhold...
From Karlsruhe we went back to Darmstadt and on 8th November Siegfried conducted Sonnenflammen. On the train we travelled with rowdy marines and in the barracks they shouted their disobedience. When we came to the end of the opera we went together with Siegfried and the ladies, his sister Thode and Chamberlain had come, to the hotel, where, when shots were heard, we were advised to go home. The next morning the revolution broke out."
A Remarkable Country
The changed German society after 1918, the Weimar Republic and the advent of National Socialism found Siegfried Wagner with basically negative feelings. He withdrew completely into his work and his activity at the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth. As he encountered there nationalistic trends on the occasion of an artistically successful Meistersinger performance, Franz Strassen similarly reported:
"The enthusiasm was enormous and expressed itself remarkably in the Festspielhaus through the spontaneous singing of the German national anthem! That was now, in spite of the decent German feeling from which it came, inappropriate to the place. Siegfried found this embarrassing and said, pale and indignant with anger: ' After Gotterdammerung they will sing Watch over the Rhine.' And when, in the next Festival year, they struck up again with Deutschland uber alles, he had the lights in the Festspielhaus turned off. The next day he put up a notice that said: 'We request the audience to refrain from singing, however good their intentions: this is a place for art!'"
When during a broadcast of Schwarzschwanenreich in 1926 a musician made disapproving remarks at the quotation of Bach's O sacred head sore wounded in the third act, Siegfried Wagner, as Stassen reported, angrily put down the baton and said sternly: 'Gentlemen, that is the achievement of 1918.'" Even in 1909 in an "address to the orchestra and chorus" in Bayreuth on the subject of Germany and nationalism he had treated the matter with remarkable irony:
"No! Nothing national! German is in this case synonymous with 'humorous'. We want to interpret the German devil as Durer in his work showed knight, death and devil. That is a devil who is necessary for us Germans, yes perhaps for all men: one who gives us a tweak when we want to be high-spirited!"
In 1925 he spoke on the same subject, but without any irony:
"Is the German spirit then a crime? But it still appears, as far as has happened, that if one says one is a German one then will be notorious as an anti-semite and so on. Remarkable country! In those other countries it is self- evident that one is an Englishman, French or Italian, etc."
Germany - the Kingdom of the Black Swan
Already in mythical early times the swan serves as a special symbol of human understanding of the world. It was present, for example, two thousand years ago in the culture of China, Japan, Persia and India and has left there in literature and art its important traces. In the ancient world the swan was venerated as the sacred bird of Apollo. It was supposed to have the gift of foreseeing death, and the ability to prophesy was also attributed to it. Etymologically the German word "Schwan" also has a connection with music; the Old High German form "swan" is a variation of the Latin "sonare" (to sound) - and that comes again from the proverbial swan-song, that the dying swan can sing.
German and Old Nordic sagas and stories refer to the swan-maidens, those half divine female beings clad in feathers that they lay aside at night as they bathe. If a man steals the feathers, the swan-maiden must follow him. In the Volundlied of the Edda, in the medieval Nibelungenlied and in the Gudrun saga we often meet prophetic swan-maidens. The Lohengrin saga records that virtuous and miracle-working swan-knight, the protector of the persecuted and oppressed, who passes over the sea in a boat drawn by a swan. In the nineteenth century fairy-tale world of the Brothers Grimm, Ludwig Bechstein and Hans Christian Andersen we frequently come across maidens and young men transformed by magic into swans, black and white.
It is the shining whiteness of the swan's feathers that in folk belief is a symbol of purity, innocence and wisdom. On the contrary the black swan is regarded as demonic and uncanny, a synonym for lust and wantonness.
Siegfried Wagner deals with both swan kingdoms in his operas, the white and the black. In Banadietrich, first performed in 1910 in Karlsruhe, the principal female figure, Swan-White, is a water spirit; an unfortunate love binds her to Dietrich von Bern, a love that can find its own fulfilment first beyond the troubles of the world in the water-kingdom of the swans. In his next opera, Schwarzschwanenreich, completed in 1910 and first performed also in Karlsruhe in 1918, the love of two human beings is broken by strife and jealousy. A young girl, a stranger, is under suspicion because she is different and is finally prosecuted as a child-murderess, tortured and put to death.
Incidentally the figure of the child-murderess has been a common motif in culture since the end of the Middle Ages. In 1776 Heinrich Leopold Wagner published his drama Die Kindmorderin; the tragedy of Gretchen in Goethe's Faust introduces the theme to world literature -the poet was besides influenced by the shock experienced at the execution on 14th January 1772 of the daughter of a Frankfurt inn-keeper, Susanna Margaretha Brandt, found guilty of child murder; many variations of the theme are found in operas, with Louis Spohr, Hector Berlioz, Charles Gounod, Arrigo Boito and, in our own century, Leos Janacek (Jenufa), Ferruccio Busoni or Hermann Reutter, and Hebbel's Maria Magdalena or Hauptmann's Rose Bernd, for example, continue the line in drama.
The girl Linda, as Hulda appeared in the first version of Siegfried Wagner's text, is suspected of having succumbed to the seduction of the Kingdom of the Black Swan, to have born a child and made away with it. For men the uncanny and yet tempting, Kingdom of the Black Swan is demonised, made something diabolical, and Linda with it.
Siegfried Wagner has a deep biographical and psychological association with the swan-kingdom. He was familiar with it from the works of his father. He knew the symbolic role of the swan in Parsifal, the story of the swan-knight Lohengrin, and also familiar to him was the romantic world of those fortunate- unfortunate water-beings - also called Undine, Melusine or Rusalka; operas and ballets of the nineteenth century offer numerous examples: Undine by E.T.A. Hoffmann or Albert Lortzing up to, in our own time, Hans Werner Henze, Melusine by Konradin Kreutzer and soon after Aribert Reimann,
Rusalka by Alexander Dargomizhsky and Antonin Dvorak, and finally Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake with Prince Siegfried and the black and white swans.
An occasional composition, a piano piece by Richard Wagner in July 1861 carries the title Ankunft bei der schwarzen Schwanen (Prophecy of the Black Swans); with pleasure he observed in the garden of the Tuileries, as he records in his biography, "two black swans, to which I felt dreamily drawn". Years later his wife Cosima and he had a remarkable swan dream, related by Cosima in her diary: "R. (= Richard) dreamed that I was embittered and alienated from him, I dreamed of a struggle between swans and dogs in which R... was pulled into the water but at once got up again". And only a few weeks later Cosima noted, as it were, the continuation: "Today he had a sad dream; someone was singing from the water..., we came near and it was Fidi (= their son Siegfried) and he sank as he sang, saying' Adieu Papa, Adieu Mama!"'
Their son Siegfried also experienced, still as a child, an occurrence with a black swan that left a lasting impression. His friend and artistic collaborator, the painter Franz Stassen, relates: "That was also such a dark and wonderful flower, the seed of which remained in the boy's heart for days, when King Ludwig gave the master the black swans, in front of which Siegfried stood wondering if they swam there from the pond in the palace gardens."
King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845 -1886), the subject of many legends, the friend and patron of Richard Wagner (it was he who, as related above, gave Wagner the black swans), in the end met a mysterious death in the waters of Lake Starnberg after living a dream-life remote from the real world. To him belonged, places of importance in his life, the Schloss Hohenschwangau, with its "Schwanrittersaal" (knight of the swan room) and Neuschwanstein (here the king in 1886 was confined and then, on the plea of his mental derangement, was brought to Schloss Berg on Lake Starnberg); both castles are decorated with representations from the world of swan myths - Wagner experienced this dream-world of Ludwig, his son Siegfried knew of it. Ludwig too, an unfortunate fairy-tale prince between the kingdoms of the black and white swans, was a thoroughly German and tragic figure. He saw himself as a Swan-knight, as the protector of the oppressed and as the preserver of a long lost social harmony. Ludwig is the name of the principal male character in the first version of the text of Siegfried Wagner' s Schwarzschwanenreich.
Schwarzschwanenreich is a sad and wicked story. It comes at the time - certainly involuntarily, but logically - of the entry of the German kingdom into the world war and catastrophe; the first performance of the opera on 5th November 1918 marked one of the last court festivities; four days later, on 9th November, the German revolution broke out and the monarchy fell. A world fell at the same time, something that Siegfried Wagner had apprehended and of which he could yet in Schwarzschwanenreich leave only an anguished reflection. His liberal-conservative view of the world had no further validity and he bitterly summed up the situation: "I am ashamed to be a German! ... Oh Beschissenheit! Thy name is Germany!"
Schwarzschwanenreich is writing on the wall for Germany. The plot and music of this work were and are Germany, imperial and democratic, fascist and socialist. Even today Lindas and Ludwigs are pushed about, oppressed, persecuted and put to death there; and again and again the German Siegfried is bewildered, beguiled and goes astray.
(English versions by Keith Anderson}
Linda has killed her illegitimate child and has buried it in fear of prosecution and proscription.
Linda is a stranger in her world, an orphan. She is regarded with suspicion. She obstinately holds her ground. There is one who loves her, Ludwig, but the soldier Oswald is also fascinated by her. Ludwig's sister Ursula, jealous of Linda, stirs up mistrust and suspicion against her. Oswald forces Ludwig to become a soldier, to separate him from Linda. Ursula sets another outsider, the Ash-Woman on Linda, to spy out her past. Linda resists her test of truth and flees to the water, wanting to kill herself. Ludwig saves her and reveals his love for her. He believes in her innocence.
Linda and Ludwig try to escape from the reality of their hostile surroundings. The world, however, prevents them. Oswald and Ursula, who have turned against Ludwig and Linda because of her criminal action, have returned. They stir up fresh hatred and suspicion against Linda. She in the end runs away in distress into the forest, to the grave of her child. There she is found by Ursula and Ludwig.
Linda is denounced by Ursula and arrested. Under torture she has confessed to the murder of her child. The people are happy to have exposed as a criminal a stranger, because she is an outsider. The sentence of burning as a child-killer is inevitable. Linda too believes herself guilty. Ludwig alone sees the sacrifice forced upon her. He declares his belief in her, but too late.
 Introduction / Einleitung
 Linda, in the house, bids the flower bow down to the earth, asking why it looks up, fit only for the grave: light is its enemy, darkness its friend and it should shun the eye of the sun: its roots harmed by an evil plant, poisonous sap flowing in it, its calyx closed to deter some greedy beetle, never to escape but to grow cold and stiff in chill dawn in which the worst rejoice. How she would like to make it wither, rather than let the breath of the wind tear it apart, or die, weary, far from the sight of the sun: happiness is not for it, nor is there joy in the cheerful light: only that it should not suffer pain trampled: she begs Heaven's help for the poor: the flower has a right, as Heaven's creature, to demand God's mercy.
Ursula asks Oswald if he does not understand: he listens to this stranger and her unholy singing: chained in mysterious bonds the senses are deluded. She is upset and afraid in her heart. Oswald seeks the cause of her distress, for is she not a good girl, but Ursula answers that she is, but someone has aroused suspicions about Linda. Oswald answers with a laugh, but Ursula tells him not to make fun of their beliefs: he is a warrior and only hears the loud sounds of battle, calling other things superstition and denying what he cannot understand, but she can swear that there are spirits, good and bad: not far from there, in the dark forest, there is a pool where intertwined boughs keep away the light of the sun: no storm stirs the surface of the water, cheerful rivulets shun it, no bird dare quench its thirst there, no deer cool itself in the water, stilled by the touch of death: only here and there, the only living things, black swans hover above it. They glide there and sink down, where the stillness of the grave holds sway. She asks Oswald if he has seen a black swan, magically different from its white fellows. They say, it is no illusion, that it is not a real creature: they are tempters, companions of Satan: in the evening they come as riders and seize girls for their pleasure: they ride to the dark pool and there, at dawn, change into swans, and take them to the kingdom of sin: there groaning can be heard at night from wantons drunk with love: the pernicious fruit of Hell springs from the nocturnal band, cursed by God. A changeling is payment for the swans' sport and there many maids have killed their unwanted babies, deluded into hoping for release, but deceived: at nights from the grave the child raises his arm, to Shock her conscience.
Oswald considers this a mere horror story, to give them the creeps, but Ursula claims that Linda is such a one, she suspects. Oswald tells her she has no proof, but Ursula wants just that: Linda disappeared some months ago, no-one knew where, then one morning she hurried back to her empty house: Who knows what had happened: she was pale and shy in her greeting. Oswald asks if she is alone and who her parents are. Ursula tells him that no-one knows: as a child she was rescued from a burning town and given a home: the pastor took her in and she helped him and still does: she appears so gentle, but a sweet face is deceptive and people are suspicious of her and they have called in a wise woman that very day, the Ash-Woman, to chase out the devil: if Linda gives herself away, she will be accused as a witch: Ludwig is besotted with her, half out of the world and Should be taken far away. She asks Oswald to help. Ludwig must go to the wars and come to his senses in battle, far away from her singing. She begs Oswald to save her poor brother, as she goes out. Oswald is sorry for her.
 Linda approaches and Oswald is embarrassed, admiring the jug she carries for water and asking if she is Linda. She seeks to pass, but Oswald, wondering what is happening to him, continues the conversation, asking if she drinks water, a question that amuses her. He thinks, though, that the wicked too can laugh, but anyone who is happy is also good.
 Linda goes and Oswald, alone, wonders if she is an angel or a witch, or neither, only a wonderful human being: yet could a simple girl so suddenly captivate him? He wonders if Linda has charmed him by magic, if she is a witch, yet if she is innocent, she can be his, at least if Ludwig is away. He will do what Ursula wants, but not in the way she thought: her brother must be sent away, for he stands in Oswald's way, and this he can arrange.
 Oswald calls to the soldiers, telling some of them to fetch Ludwig. He asks the others of the brave fellow who was first to storm the walls and made the first breach. The soldiers tell him the man was from Frankenberg and Oswald assures them his name was Ludwig, and continues to question the men, telling them that it was a man called Ludwig who bravely broke into the town-hall. Ludwig himself is puzzled, particularly when Oswald praises his modesty and gives him the thanks of the lieutenant for his bravery and a soldier's topcoat. Oswald continues the pretence, but Ludwig suspects a joke. Oswald tells him that he has drunk a magic draft that has made him forget. The soldiers surround him, while he protests, and are told by Oswald to take him away.
 Ursula returns, now with the Ash-Woman and others intent on the exorcism. Oswald joins them and the Ash-Woman addresses them: she sees Linda coming and tells the people to hide until she calls out and then to seize her. Linda approaches and asks the woman her business. The Ash-Woman replies that it is with her: she is suspected by some good souls and there has been talk of magic, but she will force the truth from her as she sleeps and exorcise the devil from her and hand her over to the executioner: the Ash-Woman has a heart and will be kind in guiding the evil: she will put her into a seeming sleep so that she may answer. Linda asks where this will lead. The Ash-Woman, though, will spare her trouble: her only reward must be that Linda trust her and tell her her secret, which no-one else will learn. Linda asks what the woman wants and bids her take her hand away, but the old woman senses Linda's secret trouble in her features and this cannot be hidden. Linda repulses the woman, who now threatens her, calling for help from those who have been waiting in hiding. They now seize Linda, who struggles wildly, demanding to know what justification they have for their behaviour. Ursula now accuses Linda of bewitching her brother and demands him back again, but Linda denies any connection with Ludwig. The Ash-Woman urges the people to hold Linda down, while the latter cries out for help. The woman is about to start her exorcism, when Ludwig hurries in, demanding to know what is happening and telling them to first banish the devil from their own souls. He turns to Oswald, threatening justice, but Oswald laughs at him, telling him the business with the soldiers and the topcoat that he had presented to him was all a joke. During this exchange Linda breaks free and Ludwig rushes after her, while the girls there call the Ash-Woman to witness. Ursula admits that she has been responsible for the whole business and one day will have justice. The boys shout that Linda has tried to escape to the water, but Ludwig has caught her and is bringing her back, exhausted. Threatening he tells the crowd to be gone and they sheepishly disperse, leaving Linda and Ludwig alone.
 Linda asks who it was who dared to have her taken and destroyed her happiness: now she only wants to die. Ludwig tells her she must live and love. She asks where there is one who loves her so that she must love him, but Ludwig asks if she cannot believe that he loves her. She tells him not to play with words: he does not know her, yet he knows her: did he not hear what they said, that she is a witch, as his sister knows: he must leave her and abandon his wild dreams, seeking another, good girl, for she is wicked. Ludwig denies this: when he heard her singing it was so wonderful that it aroused his love for her, awakening an echo in his own heart: her sorrows are his, her hurt his and together they will seek salvation. Linda, however, tells him of her despair and longing for death until she heard in a dream the gentle sound of the pure love of a young man, but the one who imagines her innocent also knows her guilt: she wonders then if she may speak openly and accuse herself or remain silent, whether the dream was false, his love only a flickering flame, new bewilderment, new trouble. Ludwig seeks her confidence and wants to help her, but she tells him to go and leave her to burn in the flames: she asks him if he does not see the figure in the sky, the black rider, and warns him not to love her. She tries to go, but he holds her and promises to protect her.
 Vorspiel / Prelude (Liebestraum / Dream of Love). Linda and Ludwig are together, hoping that their happiness will have no end in their waking dream: this is no false image, no bewitching in sleep: they are enraptured and nothing compares with their love, as they bid the night of love stay with them.
 Boys and girls call them to the dance and to feasting. Ludwig seeks to take Linda with him, but she demurs, telling him to go alone: she has a task to perform and he must go, if he loves her, for the others are laughing at them. The boys see that the two are already quarrelling, poor Ludwig soon enslaved. The girls reply, and amid laughter they leave, with Linda left alone.
 Oswald, no longer a soldier, and looking somewhat down in the world, approaches, bearing a mattock on his shoulder. Linda asks him what has happened, no longer a fine soldier, now a labourer. No, says Oswald, a grave-digger. A sad trade, Linda answers. Yes, he admits, if it is burying, but he digs up. Is he then a bone-gatherer, she asks, or a treasure-hunter. Oswald tells her he seeks the bones of children. Linda asks what has driven him to this, once he was light-hearted and cheerful, as she now is happy. Oswald asks if Ludwig too is happy, and she claims that he is, if she can trust his words and kisses. He makes to go, seeking children's bones, and asks her help. She tells him to ask the pastor, but he declares the bones of a changeling no use to him. Before he goes he has something to say to her: she is an enchantress who has him in her power and through her guilt he has suffered prison: she is the bride of the wicked fiend, sunk in the kingdom of the black swan: she has strangled a changeling, buried deep in the forest. He declares his love for her, telling her not to be afraid. She tells him to be careful, but he adds that there will be accusations against her. She tells him to go and not to try to force her favour, but he demands her love, holding her powerless.
 Linda sees Ursula standing there, Oswald's bride. She complains that Ursula's plan was to separate her from Ludwig, but Oswald was not pretending and Ursula's betrothed now loves her, with no pretence about it, making them a sorry pair: she bids Oswald return to Ursula. She has no complaint against her and has forgotten now Ursula's unexplained hatred, which the latter now repeats, in an outburst against Linda, hated hypocrite, who has taken both her brother and her lover. She curses her in bitter terms.
 Ludwig returns, seeing Ursula cowering on the ground: it is a year since they parted: is this how she greets him: does she not know him, weeping and still angry with him: she must laugh with him and join with Linda. Ursula admits she has seen Linda, and Ludwig asks why she is silent: does she love him so little that she can hate his wife. Ursula, though, will help him if he follows her in the light of the waning moon.
 The scene is the forest. Linda paces slowly in the pale light, seeking for something on the ground. Suddenly she steps back, finding what she sought, the mark of her guilt and sin that she thought finished: God is angry at her love for Ludwig and wants her destruction: she has conquered her desires and found purity in the pure love of Ludwig, but that is over. She calls on the changeling, the child she has killed and would now pacify with her tears: she will weep until her heart breaks: it was no crime to strangle the child, the wicked fiend in her. Ludwig draws near, seeing her kneeling on the ground and wondering to whom she is talking. Ursula, with him, tells him to be silent, but he calls out to Linda, asking her what she is doing in the forest and begging her to come with him. Linda, however, cries out, in Satan's name, and sinks to the ground, while Ludwig draws back, horrified.
 The third act finds Linda now in a prison cell.
 Linda prays for rest, wondering whether she may be granted the mercy of Heaven, or whether this last boon will be denied her. She has no fear before the judgement of God. She is so alone, but calls to Ludwig to protect her with the strength of his arm and his true heart, for the devil is near at hand, the black creature tearing with its talons, drawing her to the water: the waves part and she sinks amid caressing whispers, the seductive voice of the devil, the black swans swimming around, calling to the deep, to the Swan Kingdom. The Tempter calls her to come with him, away from the prison: he can save her, if she give herself to him. The voices of women are heard, dancing, caressing, loving, bidding her follow to the Swan Kingdom. Linda laments her fate, the victim of Hell, guilty and sinful, a traitor to Ludwig, to herself and to love.
 A priest holds a Bible up, asking if she has pity for the Crucified, the Saviour. Bells are heard and the pyre is prepared.
 Ludwig hears the drums, as they approach: this is the fault of his sister, but she can save Linda's life, for he cannot live without her: her dying is his own death. Ursula tells him that Linda has confessed. Confessed?, he asks, by silence? , but she tells him that silence is an admission: she will not perjure herself, before God. Ludwig asks which god, the god of vengeance is nothing to him, but the god of love, of pity, of grace and of suffering will reward her, if she will only speak for Linda. Ursula, though, bids him come to his senses: would he linger in the arms of a murderess? Ludwig, however, believes in Linda's innocence: when he heard her singing, the melody went to his heart.
Ursula tells him he is bewitched, without shame or honour: he will find release from her in death. Ludwig, in agony, bids his sister farewell, for she has abandoned him. He kills her.
 The women watching the burning cry out: burning is too good for the witch, shame on her. Ludwig shouts to them to stop: the accusation was false, Linda is innocent, but she admits her guilt: if he believes she is not guilty, then she is free from fault: she calls on Christ, the Saviour, as she walks into the flames.
Whoever calls on the name of the Saviour, Ludwig declares, is free from guilt: he has faith in Linda.
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