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The Rhinegold: Page 119
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Alberich: (In a screeching tone of voice: [[ #5a: ]] Woe! [[ #5b: ]] Woe is me (:#5)! [[ #39 embryo: ]] Has the third one, so true, betrayed me as well? (…)

Alberich’s cry “Wehe! Ach, Wehe!” offers us the definitive motif #5ab, which will be heard in association with woe throughout the Ring, and produces, as Cooke demonstrated, a very important series of motifs. #5’s Definitive form as heard here eventually gives birth, through various transformations, to motifs #13 and #15, the Rhinedaughters’ cries of joy at the brightening of the Rhinegold by the sun, #41, the Nibelungs’ Forging (Labor) Motif, #45, representing the power that Alberich wields as forger and owner of the Ring, and #161, known as “Hagen’s Watch.”

Alberich is establishing himself as a metaphor for objective thought, not in the sense that it is passionless, but in the sense that its passion is the objective truth which is the sole benefit to be derived from disillusionment of one’s hope for cheap consolations, the kind of courage which can face the bitter truth of the world without hope, the fortitude to grasp the true, indifferent essence of things, such as the lovelessness of nature. Alberich will not be passionless: rather, his passion will be the unending quest for the power which is won solely through the difficult acquisition of objective knowledge, and the renunciation of flattering illusions. Because Alberich cannot satisfy his instinctive desire with the Rhinedaughters, he becomes aware of the distinction between the world as it really is, and the world as men - in their fear and longing - feel it ought to be. This is a basis for waking consciousness, this distinction between subjective feeling and the power of objective thought.

Wagner’s secretary during the premiere of the Ring in 1876, Heinrich Porges, at Wagner’s request recorded all that Wagner had to say about performing and producing the Ring, including his interpretation of each event in it. Porges described Alberich’s expression of woe above as representing merely uncontrollable greed:

[P. 9] “The passage indicating most clearly how Alberich should be characterized is his lament after Flosshilde has deceived him so humiliatingly: [P. 10] ‘Wehe! Ach wehe! O Schmerz! O Schmerz! Die dritte so traut, betrog sie mich auch!’ The genuineness of the outburst could easily lead the singer to endow it with a quality of noble pathos; but here, and in every other such passage revealing the core of Alberich’s mentality, the revelation should be that of an uncontrollable yet base and common greed. This is the fundamental trait of this child of the night, half animal, half sprite.” [863W-{6-8/76} WRR, p. 9-10]

But we will eventually see that this insatiable greed in the Ring develops in the course of time into a far more comprehensive phenomenon, man’s insatiable impulse to control his environment, and his fellow men, through knowledge and the power which this brings. This impulse embraces both religious faith (which gives man the illusion of controlling his destiny) and science and technology (which give man real, objective, and ever increasing – though inherently finite - power over his environment and his fellow men).

Alberich’s existential woe introduces another of the key themes of the Ring, that the gift of human consciousness is also, as Donington suggested [Donington: P. 38], the source of man’s existential

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