Wagner’s music ‘was driven by migraines’

Wagner’s music ‘was driven by migraines’


norman lebrecht

December 12, 2013

We know the old brute suffered from disabling headaches. So did many other composers – Beethoven, Schumann, Mahler, Jimi Hendrix.

But new research in the British Medical Journal suggests that Wagner translated his migraines into music. For instance,…

Siegfried opens with a pulsating thumping which gradually becomes more intense until it reaches an “almost painful pulsation”. At the climax, the main character cries out “Compulsive plague! Pain without end!” which the researchers believe is a representation of a “painful, pulsating sensory migraine episode”.

Hmmm….Agree? Read on here.

Wagner ear drum poster - detail




    Following this line of research, is it possible that flatulence is somehow related to the composition of wind quintets?

    • Recent research carried-out by a team of musicologists led by Dr Hofstädter at the Freie Universität of Zwickau showed that the famous and impressive Stierhorn-ruf in Götterdämmerung (2nd act, 3rd scene), which is blown fortissimo on the stage by Hagen, and which never fails to send the first row’s ladies’ hairdo in disarray, was actually inspired by a rather heavy meal the composer shared with Nietzsche in Triebschen, over which they discussed Schopenhauer’s ‘Parerga und Paralipomena’.

  • Pixy Harris says:

    William Mann’s translation reads: “Sweated labour! Trouble to no purpose!”

  • Tully Potter says:

    It all explains why so much of his music translates back into migraines.

    • ed says:

      You’re right. LISTENING to Wagner, Mahler and Bruckner (why wasn’t he on the list?), great composers as they are, can sometimes inspire a migraine (delusions of Wagnerian mythic grandeur can do it, no?), or a manic-depressive episode (from the depths of inner despair and a difficult wife to the exaltation of clean air in the Alps?)- or, an inferiority complex (with the same motif in 30 permutations that may sound the same and inspire zzzzzzzzz- and by that I don’t mean jazz). And Jimi? Chalk that one up to hearing loss. As for Beethoven, no jokes- I pass.

  • Cztof says:

    although I wouldn’t put it past Wagner to be capable of writing music during his migraine episodes, after having them myself I can’t understand how anyone could complete a phrase or write more than a few bars before crashing into a bed and darkening the room!:)

  • robcat2075 says:

    Repeatedly calling them “researchers” appends more significance to this than it probably merits.

    If the migraines are so crucial, how do we explain the other 98% of Siegfried that doesn’t sound like a migraine?

  • Michael says:

    Silly premise, and really a waste of time… I suppose these “researchers” literally have nothing better to do. The very description of the Siegfried prelude (“opens with a pulsating thumping”) is so utterly far from the music (brooding, slow bassoons in thirds, over a mumbling pianissimo timpani roll), as to disqualify the whole argument. Were they referring to the violas, playing the smythying motif – again pianissimo – starting at bar 51? Ridiculous. Also, of course, the opening lines sung by Mime refer to his useless efforts to forge Siegfried a robust weapon. Absurd to say they discribe Wagner’s migraines. The passage quoted from Wagner’s memoires refers, of course, to an entirely different passage, “Verfluchtes Licht!” (from the opening of I., iii) in which Mime is having an “episode” of sorts – his reaction to the visit by the Wanderer, who has just left. I must say, it is really sad that this sort of study by people who seem very unmusical (to put it mildly) apparently is subsidized to the point where it is pubished. See D. Shostakovich on musicologists and their importance.

  • David Boxwell says:

    And I have a theory that the “frou frou”, sweet and airy music of the Flower Maidens in Parsifal was a direct manifestation of the composer’s fetish for wearing pink panties.

  • Gary Carpenter says:

    ‘New research’? Spare envelope more like.