Not this Rheingold.


Das Rheingold (1869) is the first of the four operas in Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

The plot of the Ring Cycle, which takes about 20 hours to perform, explained in two minutes:

The Prelude (Vorspiel), or overture, of Das Rheingold, the first opera in the Ring Cycle, is astonishing, even heard 150 years later. The opera opens on the lowest-possible E-flat, played in the basses and bassoons. Soon other instruments enter and begin to play the third and fifth of the E-flat major chord. They play it in arpeggios with increasing subdivisions of the rhythm. It’s just an E-flat major chord, but it evokes the timelessness of the flowing water of the Rhine River.


In his autobiography, Wagner described “receiving” the music in a kind of waking dream:

After a night spent in fever and sleeplessness, I forced myself to take a long tramp the next day through the hilly country, which was covered with pine woods. It all looked dreary and desolate, and I could not think what I should do there. Returning in the afternoon, I stretched myself, dead tired, on a hard couch, awaiting the long-desired hour of sleep.

“It did not come; but I fell into a kind of somnolent state, in which I suddenly felt as though I were sinking in swiftly flowing water. The rushing sound formed itself in my brain into a musical sound, the chord of E flat; major, which continually re-echoed in broken forms; these broken chords seemed to be melodic passages of increasing motion, yet the pure triad of E flat; major never changed, but seemed by its continuance to impart infinite significance to the element in which I was sinking. I awoke in sudden terror from my doze, feeling as though the waves were rushing high above my head. I at once recognised that the orchestral overture to the Rheingold, which must long have lain latent within me, though it had been unable to find definite form, had at last been revealed to me.


Here is the Prelude and first scene:






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