PArsifal suite


Constructed by Andrew Gourlay


Parsifal surely contains some of Wagner’s greatest orchestral writing, yet there is little orchestral-only material currently available for concert performance.  The opening prelude is of course a staple, often performed in combination with the Good Friday Music, but I know of no suite of a significantly longer duration that has been produced to my liking.


I therefore set about constructing an orchestral suite that would give us more time to settle into the music of Parsifal.  The result is more than half an hour of continuous music from the opera.  My priority was to stitch the music together wherever possible using original Wagner, not my own inventions.  The very few alterations that I have made to the original Wagner include, for example, brief transpositions, repetition, or discrete alterations in order to make the transitions as seamless as possible.  I have always modelled these on moments from the opera.  


From the opening prelude, we move to Act 3 Scene 1, where a brief passage for slow unison strings depicts Parsifal at the holy spring, thrusting his spear into the ground and praying before it.  There follows a portion of the Good Friday Music for gentle woodwinds and strings, as Parsifal admires the beauty of the wood and meadow, which are glowing in the morning light.  The sound of midday bells begins Wagner’s own transition to Scene 2, as the forest scene dramatically transforms into the mighty hall of the castle of the Grail.  The knights process in from both sides, carrying the wounded Amfortas and the coffin of Titurel.  We move to the Act 3 prelude, followed by the prelude to Act 2, “Klingsor’s Magic Castle”.  Next, the scene change from Act 1, in which Gurnemanz leads Parsifal through the rocky walls and (as in Act 3) the forest magically transforms into the great hall of the Grail.  We return to Act 3 for two brief bridge passages:  the first (for timpani, hushed brass, and pizzicato strings) represents the ominous figure of Parsifal emerging from the forest fully covered in black armour;  the second accompanies Parsifal rising from prayer.  These passages navigate us to the final scene, and the opera’s natural conclusion. Parsifal holds aloft his holy spear, with which he has healed Amfortas.  He takes the Grail, which glows brighter and brighter, and swings it in blessing.  “Miracle of supreme salvation!"


This project has been a labour of love, and I sincerely hope that it might be a useful addition to the orchestral repertoire.