Event : The «Ring» Encyclopaedia
Next October, Fayard will publish Bruno Lussato’s «Ring» Encyclopaedia, the most important book ever devoted to Richard Wagner’s major work. In two volumes comprising a thousand pages, this encyclopaedia will present a guide to the Ring of the Nibelung (book, leitmotifs, characters, symbols), will specify its origins, elicit the different versions that is has aroused (psychoanalytic, mythological, structuralist, socio-economic), will study the life of the work (productions, recordings). Musicologist and logician, Bruno Lussato unravels the tangled skein of an unusual work which arouses delight and controversy around the world. Negotiations are proceeding for translations, particularly into English and German. He has willingly agreed to answer our questions.
From where did you get your love of music?
Unfortunately, I started very late, because of the war, I did not have a piano, it was even impossible to listen to music because my father’s gramophone had broken down! On the other hand, I was well acquainted with music theory, because I was deeply into the huge Larousse of the 19th century and I especially read all the articles concerning music. I learnt much of great interest, such as the fact that the three most important musicians were Mozart, Rossini and Meyerbeer! Of course, no mention of Wagner or Berlioz! As soon as I was able to acquire an old piano, I wished that I could become both a composer and pianist. I practised on my piano for eight hours every day and I followed the lessons of René Leibowitz. After practising for fifteen years, I realised that this career was not for me, neither as a composer, because what I produced was not good, nor as a pianist, because of my stage-fright.
Later, you were lucky enough to encounter some famous performers.
When I was 20 years old, I met the great performers of my generation, Wilhelm Backhaus, George Sebastian, Kirsten Flagstad etc., because they all came to the Grand hotel, close to Garnier [the Paris Opera house], where I was living. I lent them my piano and Flagstad worked and rehearsed there. It was then that I discovered Wagner who I had loathed! I was used to Brahms and Chopin: when I played Tristan on the piano, I could not tell the difference between false and true notes! Then Flagstad invited me to a performance of Tristan und Isolde, and I started to weep. That is how it began.
How did you discover the Ring?
My first experiences of the Ring at the Paris Opera were spasmodic: the cuts were numerous, the choir sang in French, the décors were pre-war, Max Lorenz had lost his voice, … In my mind, I reconstructed what had occurred. I really realised with a complete edition of the score. The I bought a radio to listen to broadcasts from Bayreuth. And then there was the splendid recording of Solti! Later, I went to Bayreuth, where I found the Wagnerian ambiance.
Your passion for the Ring date from when?
It was in 1976 that I began to «specialise», during the centenary of the Ring in Bayreuth. I was astonished by Patrice Chéreau’s production, which was completely in accordance with what Wagner wished, although one could, perhaps, question the stage scenery of Richard Peduzzi. It was then that I met Pierre Boulez. I started to read all that had been published concerning the Ring and at an auction sale, I acquired a quantity of lithographs, original editions and manuscripts.
And your perception of the Ring has become keener…
I have discovered that it is not a musical work. The Ring has nothing in common with Wagner’s other works. Parsifal and Tristan are «musical dramas» and the word «musical» has a meaning, whilst the Ring is not a musical drama; it is a drama of sounds and words, but the logic is not musical. No comparison is possible. Claude Lévi-Strauss said that the Ring was the first hand-book of structuralism, the great psychoanalyst Groddeck stated that is was a real psychoanalytic hand-book. I am astonished when it is analysed as being like other Wagner operas – it is another logic! But logic is a sphere that I know well, because it is my profession; I am an expert in semantics, I well know the theory of information, generative and transformational grammars, so I was well prepared to tackle the Ring from the way in which it had been written. And I started to analyse it in detail. I worked especially with François Regnault, the playwright of Patrice Chéreau.
I think that you would have wished to be it filmed!
I very much regretted that it was not possible to adapt the Ring for the cinema. Leibowitz and I had campaigned for that. The orchestra of the Milan Scala agreed to play gratuitously, Martha Mödl and a number of singers were ready to start. We wished to film it in play-back and the use young actors who suited the characters. But the producers, who understood nothing, blocked the project! Kubrick would have been the best choice to undertake such a film! The Ring is a «unidentified dramatic object», which, in my opinion, is made for the cinema.
And how did your book on the Ring originate?
In 1999, Fayard told me to do something on the Ring. And since my initial text in 1979, many extremely interesting writings were published, which increased the size of the book to nearly 1.000 pages! The Ring is the most complex work ever written by man. Do not misunderstand, the Ring is a work which owes all to Aeschylus, Beethoven and Shakespeare, but nothing remains of Nordic mythology, only the names; Deryck Cooke has shown that Wagner has demolished all and rebuilt. These volumes are not intended to be read as a book but as an encyclopaedia; there is especially a very detailed guide for the listener, equally useful to amateur or specialist.
Exclusive interview by Philippe Herlin – 24 May 05