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The Rhinegold: Page 111
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And now we can proceed to the Prelude to The Ring of the Nibelung.

The three related motifs introduced in the prelude, #1, #2, and #3, are, within the context of the musical prelude to the Ring, taken in conjunction with the first words of the Ring sung by the Rhinedaughter Woglinde, Wagner’s musical metaphor for the natural evolution of human life from simpler forms of animal life, expressing what both Feuerbach and Wagner called natural necessity:

(Prelude: the orchestra begins while the curtain is closed: [[ #1: ]]; [[ #2: ]]; [[ #3: ]] greenish twilight, lighter above, darker below. the top of the stage is filled with billowing waters that flow unceasingly from left to right. towards the bottom the waves dissolve into an increasingly fine mist-like spray, so that a space the height of a man appears to be left there completely free of the water, which flows like scudding clouds over the dusk-enshrouded river bed.) (…)

The audience, enveloped in darkness, is supposed to become slowly aware of a pre-existing, eternal motion of the cosmos, as the sound of the orchestra gradually becomes audible. Motif #1, described by Deryck Cooke as the Primal Nature Motif, or Original Nature Motif, "... traces out in arpeggiated form a major triad (... E flat major) ..." [contribution by A.C. Douglas], which is the fundamental component of all tonal music, from which all musical development arises, just as here it becomes the basis for the creation of our world, or at any rate, for our rising consciousness of the pre-existing, timeless world. [Darcy: p. 77-78] This ur-motion becomes incarnate in the flowing Rhine River, represented by the final development of motif #1 into #3. #2 is a transitional motif intermediate between them. #2 evolves into #3, which represents the natural motion of the Rhine River, one of the fundamental rhythms or pulses in nature.

Cooke noted that #1 is the basis of the second half of the Sword Motif (i.e., the Motif of Wotan’s Grand Idea For Redemption), #57b. This motif will later be associated with the restoration of lost innocence. #1’s derivative, #2, Cooke demonstrated, is the basis for #53, associated later with Erda, Mother Nature. #53’s last three notes give birth in turn to a whole family of motifs associated with Wotan’s efforts, through proxies, to redeem the gods from the fated doom Erda foretells. #54, associated with the twilight of the gods itself, is approximately an inversion of #53.

Feuerbach’s following two observations about water, the first as a metaphor for a timeless, unending, yet ever changing cosmos, and the second describing water as our link with our preconscious animal ancestors, seem to find voice in Wagner’s Prelude, an image of a preconscious, pre-fallen golden age when instinctive impulse alone impelled life forms:

“Does the universe presuppose time, or should we not say that time presupposes the universe? The universe is the water, time is the motion of the water, but is the water not anterior to its own motion? Does not the motion of water presuppose water? (…) Is it not just as absurd to conceive of a point in time as the beginning of the world as to conceive of the flow of water as the origin of water?” [225F-LER: p. 114]

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