or four decades, Wagner’s music dramas, writings, musical criticism, and pioneering musical experimentation transformed the destiny of western music. Along with his gargantuan concepts such as the Ring of the Nibelung, Wagner wrote some very special smaller pieces which had, in spite of their size, unforgettable impact as well. One of these was Forest Murmurs derived from Act II of Siegfried, the third music drama of The Ring.
At this time, Siegfried has entered an enchanted forest and awakened a furious dragon (a disguise for the giant Fafner) and he successfully stabs him directly into the heart. In his libretto, Wagner wrote that while Siegfried is resting in the forest under a linden tree, he “leans back and looks up through the [tree] branches and becomes enchanted by ‘the forest murmurs’ and listens with great interest to the song of a bird in the branches above him.” Siegfried speaks:
“You lovely wood bird, how sweet is your song
Here in the wood is your home?
I wish I could understand you
I am sure you have something to tell…
After licking the dragon’s blood off his hands, Siegfried is magically able to understand the language of the Forest Bird which gives him two messages: the first is to beware of the dwarf, Mime, who has raised him after his Mother (Sieglinde) died in childbirth. In the libretto the bird warns: “Oh let Siegfried attend …To the crafty words Mime speaks” The second is that the beautiful Valkyrie, Brunnhilde, can be awakened by the kiss of a person who knows no fear, i.e. Siegfried. And, this woman can be his bride. The bird affirms: “Siegfried is [now]free from the evil dwarf! Now he must awake his glorious bride… I sing of love, joyful in woe, I weave my song and lovers can tell what it means!”
Siegfried immediately follows the information: after killing Mime and throwing his body into a cave, he sets off via the bird’s instructions to find Brunnhilde who is asleep on a mountaintop, surrounded by a ring of fire.
Forest Murmurs presents an impressionistic setting, long before impressionism became a musical term, and the Bird’s messages in an evocative piece. This version was created by the composer, weaving together various parts from the opera score into an instrumental work.
The music begins softly in the strings, representing leaves and branches gently swaying above the forest floor. Gradually, the bird speaks (flute and glockenspiel in the opera score) in episodic expressions amid the calm undercurrent of sustained strings. As Siegfried becomes inspired by the messages, the music becomes enlarged and animated, leading to a brilliant and optimistic conclusion. In the music drama, Siegfried speaks: “Fluttering overhead, you guide me…And where you flutter, there I shall go!” The curtain drops and Siegfried races after the bird’s flight.
© Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, 2017