Wagner's Lexical Tonality

Author: Petty, Jonathan Christian
This book re-theorizes Wagner’s post-Opera and Drama tonal language in the linguistic terms in which the composer himself conceived and executed the Ring of the Nibelung and Parsifal. Topics include Wagner’s lexical use of key; the composition of semantics from tonal lexicality and orthodox tonal syntax; the cognitive structure of tonal language [TL] semantics, the linguistic coordination of words and keys; Wagner’s concept of Tonal Households and the alignment of TL syntax with poetically specified protagonists, objects, and dramatic situations; key characteristics and TL Lexemes as public cultural linguistic properties; the virtual spatiality of TL syntax and semantics; TL spatiality and spatialized emotions; and tonal cartography. The four scores of the Ring dramas are analyzed bar-by-bar to derive a complete linear harmonic analysis-based readout of each of its keys and claimed lexical referent. The result–over 3,780 TL lexemes–is the first TL Lexicon of the entire Ring. Two concluding chapters on Parsifal discuss its mediaeval sources as suggested by Wagner’s prose writings, letters, and religious discourse to argue for the Gnostic and alchemistic basis of its libretto imagery, lexical tonality, and anti-Semitism. Throughout, lexical theory is argued against in-depth critiques of the theories of Heinrich Schenker and others.


“For a study so focused on the intricacies of language, the author’s own use of words is similarly varied, precise, and multifarious. The writing throughout is elegant and structurally sound, with the narrative flowing smoothly, guiding us through both Wagner’s and the author’s logic and reasoning. This book contains all the elements of great scholarship: unabashed passion, detailed analysis, comprehensive scope, open-minded reasoning, use of intuition, and genuine humility. It is for these reasons that this work will become the yardstick by which all other Wagner analyses will have to be measured.” (from the Foreword) – Nathan Hesselink, Assistant Professor Ethnomusicology, University of British Columbia

Table of Contents

1. On Disregarding Wagner on Wagner
2. The Syntactical Sorcerer
3. The Cognitive Structure of TL Lexemes
4. Lexicon is Culture
5. The Lexical Loge
6. The Short Introduction to Tonal Cartography
7. “Wondrous Legends He Had Heard”: The Mediaeval Sources of Parsifal
8. The Gospel of St. Richard