7 Scene One

My friend! I am in a state of wonderment! A new world stands revealed before me. The great scene in Das Rheingold is finished: I see before me riches such as I had never dared suspect. I now consider my powers to be immeasurable: everything seethes within me and makes music.

( Wagner to Franz Liszt, 14 November 1853)


I. SCENE 1 AS A WHOLE

Scene 1 stands outside the time-frame of the rest of the drama, and functions as a prologue to the story of the gods (Scenes 2-4). As such, it constitutes a relatively self-contained unit, a complete tragedy in miniature. Here, as elsewhere in the Ring, Wagner employs lighting effects to articulate large-scale structure.1 The curtain opens upon greenish 'twilight' in the depths of the Rhine; eventually the gold begins to glow with a gradually brightening magical light; but Alberich's theft of the gold extinguishes this light and plunges the scene into impenetrable darkness. This progression (twilight-light-darkness) is expressed tonally by a background move from E♭, major through C major to C minor (Ex. 7.1). The crucial element in this key scheme is not the root movement by descending third (E♭-C), but the pitch- class fluctuation E♭-E♮-E♭,. The 'brightening' effect created by chromatically raising scale degree 1 + ̂ of E♭ and reinterpreting the result as 3 + ̂ of C major is counteracted by depressing this 3 + ̂ a chromatic semitone to ♭ 3 + ̂. As we shall see, the linear connection between e♯2 and e♭2 (and secondarily between e♮1 and e♭1) becomes an important structural and expressive element during the second half of the scene.

Scene 1 is organized symmetrically: two tonally closed dramatic units (Episodes 1 and 2) are flanked by an orchestral Prelude and Postlude2 and separated by a modulatory transition (see the Structural

____________________
1
On a much larger scale, the opera Siegfried may be understood as a long progression from the gloomy darkness of Mime's cave to the brilliant sunlight of Brünnhilde's mountaintop. This corresponds to Siegfried's extended tonal journey from B♭ minor (darkness) to C major (light).
2
Wagner originally emphasized the parallelism between the Prelude and Postlude by basing both upon the same arpeggiated melodic figure; while scoring, however, he substituted different figurations. See Section V of this chapter.

-87-

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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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