Richard Wagner and Gabriel Knight

on the Lost Wagner Opera in The Beast Within

Wagner: A Short Biography
Wagner: Works and Ideas
Der Fluch Des Engelhart And Wagner
Further Reading
Disclaimer: BBP and Wagner


As this project has become too tiresome and lengthy, I decided to take a short break but release the initial version so that it could be timed with all the other Gabriel Knight updates. Coming up is still a transcription of the aria melody. The biography will come up as soon as I feel like it. So, this page is still under construction.


Wagner is one of the most highly esteemed composers of the 19th century. His influence on opera cannot be overlooked. For this reason alone, it is very bold that one 1995 computer adventure game would dare to incorporate a missing Wagner opera: not to mention find a brave soul who would be up to compose such a feat. The Beast Within, a Gabriel Knight Mystery attempts this. It got composer Robert Holmes to create music that could pass as a final Wagner opera.
In this essay I try to extract the Gabriel Knight opera, Der Fluch des Engelhart (Engelhart's Curse)

A Short Wagner Biography

Wagner's Influences

In their book A History Of Western Music, Grout and Palisca distill Wagner's influence into three groups. They state:
-Wagner brought German Romantic opera to its consummation;
-Wagner created a new genre in opera: the music drama;
-Wagner hastened the dissolution of tonality through the harmonic idiom of his late works.

Wagner: Works and Ideas

Wagner only completed 13 operas in his life. Many of them have resided firmly in the music history canon. A short list of works:
Die Feen (1833-1834)
Das Liebesverbot (1834-1836)
Rienzi, der Letzte der Tribunen (1838-1840)
Der Fliegende Hollander (1841)
Tanhäuser (1843-1845)
Lohengrin (1845-1847)
Das Rheingold (1852-1854)
Die Walküre (1852-1856)
Siegfried (1851-1871)
Götterdämmerung (1848-1874)
Tristan und Isolde (1857-1859)
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1862-1867)
Parsifal (1877-1882)
The first year in the brackets show when Wagner finished the libretto. The second year show when Wagner finished the music.
Although this way of writing it down suggests the composer-librettist took his time, Wagner had a habit of working swiftly, spending just a few weeks on the music.

Wagner and Anti-Semitism

Anti-semitism seems to have been in vogue during the nationalism of the 19th century. Wagner outed his sentiments primarily as frustration towards Meyerbeer, a composer who was admired by Wagner. Meyerbeer supported the young Wagner financially and in getting assignments.
It is debated as to why Wagner turned so fiercely on his former protectionist. Some scholars claim that Wagner did not appreciate being compared to Meyerbeer, which critics occasionally did. Others claim that jealousy takes part in it.
In 1850, after Meyerbeer's death, Wagner published Das Judenthum in der Musik. In this essay he sharply attacks Jews, in particular Jewish composers. He states that Jewish composers, such as Meyerbeer and Mendelssohn, were by nature weaker composers since they lacked national roots. He also claims that "we" have a natural repellence towards Jews, simply based on their personality.
Later in life, Wagner did tone down these outings, although he continued to release essays and articles with anti-semite sentiments. In spite of these feelings, Wagner did manage to have several Jewish friends.

Wagner The Revolutionary

In 1849, Wagner played a minor supporting part in the Dresden May Uprising. He wrote enticing articles, calling up people to revolt, he made hand grenades and was a look-out. The goal of the revolution was to call for a constitutional monarchy for one United Germany.
Due to his part in this uprise, Wagner was forced to flee to Paris, and later to Zürich, living in exile for twelve years. Some of his political ideas can be seen in his operas: many of them are against aristocracy and in favour of revolution from above.


The "Leitmotif" may not be an invention of Wagner, but it is one of the most notable traits of his later operas. Leitmotif refers to a very short melody that is coupled to a theme, an emotion, a character or even an object. In Wagner's later works, the Leitmotif becomes the principal part of the opera: works like The Ring cycle are little more than collages of these melodies, telling the story in musical form.

Harmony and Chromatics

Wagner's work accelerated the dissolution of tonality in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Der Fluch Des Engelhart And Wagner

It's a shame that the concept of an undiscovered Wagner opera is not a realistic scenario. We are familiar with all drafts of the man. Georg is right in stating the importance of such a find: it would be a musicologist's holy grail. It would even be too important a find to have the opera produced by unexperienced producers and conducted by an unexperienced conductor. Considering the complexity of Wagner's works it would also be very unlikely that any opera house, no matter how professional, would be able to stage such a project from scratch in two months time. Another oddity is Costello; most opera singers would know better than to beg for an entire new aria an hour before the premiere.
What should be noted is that the opera is supposed to be the last opera Wagner ever wrote, so it should be more in the style of Parsifal and Die Meistersinger.
Unfortunately my German is too poor to compare the poetic qualities of the Der Fluch Des Engelhart (FdE) libretto (which was originally written in English, the sung version is a translation) to that of Wagner's librettos. On the whole, the texts of Wagner operas are constructions of short lines mixed with long ones, in archaic language.
Perhaps it is a construction I'm not familiar with, but the Baron continuously refers to Hildegunde as Euer, although to the best of my knowledge "euer" is plural "you". This may be how the opera illustrates the "archaic" part of the text.
There are several themes in the libretto of FdE that are similar to ideas in Wagner's oeuvre. These are:
-the malicious aristocracy: the main villain is the Baron, who seems to rule the town;
-the "people" are treated as one person. They are only briefly referred to in the bookled, but the townsfolk seem to support the grudge the blacksmith has towards Engelhart.
-the loneliness of the main character. The hero of the story, Engelhart, is lonely as blacksmith assistant: he is treated badly by his boss and by all the townsfolk. After he becomes a werewolf, he is forced to live alone in the woods.
Musically, there can be found distinct differences between the young Wagner and the old Wagner. Wagner's earlier works were much in the style of the then popular Grand Opera, containing ballets and arias. Wagner's earlier works, notably Rienzi, strictly follow the form of Grand Opera, with ballets, catchy choirs and arias. Later works by the composer are very different in this respect: the operas become less divided into movements and more composed as a whole.
Analog to this development, the Leitmotif takes a more important place, and eventually comes the main material for Wagner's operas. A Leitmotif is a short melody that is linked to a character, a theme, a mood, an item, an event. As such, the Leitmotive become primary storytellers. This is especially noticable in the Ring cycle.
Harmonically, Wagner's works are very complex. The best illustration for this is the Tristan-chord. What's also worth noting is Wagner's extensive use of chromatics.
Unfortunately, FdE is too short to be able to distill any Leitmotif from it. However we can tell the following:
-The theme of the Aria To The Moon is the same as the Overture. Some earlier Wagner overtures, notably Der Fliegende Hollander, tell the story of the opera. In later overtures the Leitmotive are exposed for the first time.
-The first act of FdE is the Gabriel Knight: Sins Of The Fathers theme.
-FdE is divided into sections, like the earlier Wagner operas. There are several arias and the townsfolk have their choir at the wedding feast.
-FdE appears to be much shorter than anything Wagner ever wrote.
-FdE's singing parts are indeed very melodic. In Wagner's later works, the sung parts are more declamated.


Richard Wagner is one of the most important composers in music history. His view on opera, his writings, his ideas for decor and costumes, his use of atonal elements and complex harmonies in music have made an impression that cannot easily be measured, but that is definitely huge.
As a musicologist and critical scientist I see often where any biographer goes wrong: whenever an author starts to reflect his own ideas into facts.
For this reason I feel the need to write a disclaimer in which I pose my opinion towards Wagner:
Even though my disrespect for him has eased through learning more about him, I really can't stand his music. It is cold to me, it does not give me emotions, inspiration, relaxation, or any sense at all. There is much atonal, modern and complex music that I can appreciate, for its philosophical idea, the images that it brings, emotions that I may experience. Wagner however fails to give me anything I need, lack or want.
I have in the past worked on an article on Wagner, with positive results. This article dealt with the libretto of Die Walküre. Nevertheless I still know that my personal feelings towards the man's music will affect my writing.
Also I cannot stress enough that my native language is Dutch. This causes my English to be broken at some places. It gives me still more issues with German, which may be similar to Dutch but is in fact my fourth language.

Further Reading On the internet, you may find the excellent site, with an in-depth biography, opera synopsis, librettos, vocal scores, MIDI files, videos...
Das Judenthum in der Musik. Although not strictly relevant to the case, this is the German text of the article in which Wagner published his anti-semite sentiments.
Der Fluch des Engelhart Libretto

The BBP Gabriel Knight Companion Circuit

Gabriel Knight: Sins Of The Fathers Companion
The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery Companion
Der Fluch des Engelhart and Richard Wagner
Talking Tantalizing Tarot in The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery and Phantasmagoria
Gabriel Knight 3: Blood Of The Sacred, Blood Of The Damned Companion
Gabriel Knight 3 Gallery #1
Gabriel Knight 3 Gallery #2
Gabriel Knight 3 Wayback Treasures
Gabriel Knight 3 Secret Documents