Exploring the “Temple of Initiation” on Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain: Wagnerian Affinities and “Politically Suspect” Music

William Kinderman


While the general importance of music for Thomas Mann is well recognized, the specific relationship of The Magic Mountain to Wagner’s Parsifal has received scant attention. Mann himself made reference to Wagner’s last drama, and he knew it intimately. Close comparison of these works reveals an extensive network of relationships, whereby Clavdia Chauchat corresponds to Kundry in Parsifal. Mann’s propensity toward irony is abundantly evident, and the import of Wagner’s symbolism is often inverted, as is the narrative structure as a whole. The Magic Mountain is shown to be a humorous counterpart not only to Mann’s novella Death in Venice, but to Parsifal, involving a parodistic deflation of Wagnerian sublimity. In this context, we can best understand the pivotal position of The Magic Mountain in Mann’s life-story, and its importance as a cultural document offering insight into why Mann changed his political stance, shifting away from a German nationalist position. The analysis thereby sheds fresh light on the political implications of Mann’s novel during the Weimar Republic.

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