Das “Ewige Kunstwerk”: Friedrich Nietzsche’s Apollonian-Dionysian Opposition in Richard Strauss’s Daphne

In: Religion and the Arts
Margarethe Satorius University of Vienna

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In his 1938 short opera Daphne, composer Richard Strauss presents an eloquent metaphor for both the process of artistic creation and the origin of tragedy itself. He positions his title character at the convergence of two oppositional, yet mutually dependent forces: the Apollonian and the Dionysian, as described by Friedrich Nietzsche in his seminal 1872 work, Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik (The Birth of Tragedy Out of the Spirit of Music). As reason and enlightenment collide with revelry and ecstasy onstage, a momentous physical and emotional transformation occurs; Daphne encounters the divine, and her resulting catharsis is shared both musically and emotionally with the audience. In this moment of our communal transcendent ekstasis, Strauss leaves us with a symbol of artistic transcendence itself, born from the conflicted inner forces within the individual: “das ewige Kunstwerk,” the “eternal work of art.”

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