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Indiana University (IU) Jacobs School of Music

Lyric Forms as “Performed” Speech in Das Rheingold and Die Walküre

There is growing recognition that Richard Wagner’s mature music dramas owed much to earlier 19th-century opera, and the analytical implications of this knowledge remain an intriguing area for exploration. This paper demonstrates one specific generic connection: lyric form (AABA or AABC), an Italian model for short, unified, expressive monologues. Drawing from the work of Robert Moreen, I theorize lyric form as a conventional template—i.e., a construction—for the organization of both music and text, in which formal function and rhetorical function are merged. As I show through several examples, Wagner continued to use this template in Das Rheingold and Die Walküre in a largely traditional (if flexible) way, especially with regard to its shared music-rhetorical functions.
The novelty of Wagner’s usage comes in part from his vigorous commitment to dramatic verisimilitude: every lyric-form monologue is “realistically” integrated into a conversation in order to maintain a clear thread of dramatic continuity. Thus, within the first two Ring operas the overarching music-dramatic function of a lyric form lies mainly in the communicative aims of its speaker. In each example I discuss, the monologue is performative in J. L. Austin’s sense: its communicative purpose extends beyond its verbal content. Drawing from work by Edward Cone and Peter Kivy, I call these situations semidiegetic because the music can be heard as a representation of the performative dimension of a character’s speech, even when that character is not literally singing within the story.


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Craig Duke is a PhD candidate in Music Theory at the Indiana University (IU) Jacobs School of Music. In addition to his teaching and research at IU, he has served for two years as editor of Indiana Theory Review and has been actively involved with the IU Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, where he recently led a workshop for incoming Associate Instructors.
Craig’s current research examines the functional role of music in dramatic storytelling in multimedia genres. At the moment, this manifests in a fixation with Wagner’s Ring cycle. Craig’s dissertation develops a conceptual framework for the analysis of music-dramatic continuity in the Ring (as well as other mid-19th-century operas). An expanded version of his paper today will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Music Theory.

Craig Duke

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