1 Preliminaries

Mark well my new poem--it contains the beginning and end of the world!

( Wagner to Franz Liszt, 11 February 1853)

Opera-goers settling into their seats for a performance of Richard Wagner's Das Rheingold often feel, as the house lights dim and the double basses begin their familiar drone, as if they are embarking upon a long journey--an odyssey through time and space that will encompass, as Wagner himself put it, 'the beginning and end of the world'. A book about this opera may itself be viewed as an extended journey through Wagner's extraordinary dramatic--musical universe. Before setting forth, however, it may be worthwhile to establish both the purpose and itinerary of such a trip.

Let us begin with a question: Why is Das Rheingold a suitable subject for scholarly investigation? How--when the existing Wagner literature bulks so large--can such a study be justified?

When Wagner began the music of Das Rheingold on 1 November 1853, it marked his return to operatic composition after a hiatus of almost five years. During this interval, he had written little music but a great deal of argumentative prose, as well as the poem of the Ring. Das Rheingold signified his definitive break with the operatic conventions whose presence can still be felt even in such a progressive work as Lohengrin, and the change from the Endreim of his earlier librettos to the Stabreim of the Ring poem exerted considerable influence upon his musical phraseology. In addition, the whole question of dramatic-musical form, and the role of tonality in articulating this form, had to be reconsidered. Because Das Rheingold is such a watershed in Wagner's compositional output--and in the history of music in general--it may seem rather astonishing that the opera has not already undergone close musicological scrutiny. Yet such indeed is the case.

Wagner scholarship has taken enormous strides over the past few decades, both in the United States and Europe. Nevertheless, monographs which treat complete operas are still few in number, fewer still if one is seeking sophisticated musical analysis.1 Even in the realm of

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1
A recent exception is Patrick McCreless Wagner's 'Siegfried': Its Drama, History, andMusic

-1-

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Wagner's Das Rheingold
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Editor's Preface vii
  • Author's Preface ix
  • Contents xi
  • Abbreviations xiii
  • Structural Outline of Das Rheingold xiv
  • 1 - Preliminaries 1
  • 2 - The Documentary Sources 6
  • 3 - The Forging of the Text 25
  • 4 - Analytical Positions 45
  • 5 - The Opera as a Whole 59
  • 6 - Creatio Ex Nihilo: The Prelude 62
  • 7 - Scene One 87
  • 8 - First Transformation and Scene Two 127
  • 9 - Second Transformation and Scene Three 161
  • 10 - Third Transformation and Scene Four 181
  • II - Summary and Conclusion 215
  • Appendix Transcriptions from Wagner's Complete Draft 220
  • Works Cited 248
  • Index 255
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