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The Rhinegold: Page 291
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Rhinegold to be one of the most densely conceptual works in world-literature, an inexhaustible allegory of breathtaking scope, depth, and resonance. This is all the more surprising in view of the fact that Wagner maintains throughout an extraordinary naivete of verbal expression, an expression vastly deepened, of course, by its music. It will always have a freshness unknown to even the greatest of Wagner’s other, later music-dramas, because it was here that Wagner introduced the world – and himself – to his new art-form, one of the most original creations of the human spirit. It would set the example for the music-dramas Wagner had yet to complete, namely, the three following Ring dramas The Valkyrie, Siegfried, and Twilight of the Gods, and the separate music-dramas Tristan and Isolde, The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, and Parsifal.

We have also experienced for the first time in Wagner’s output the full force of his employment of musical motifs as a means of expression for the drama, which will develop, grow, alter, transform, break apart and recombine themselves in new forms in direct relationship with the evolving characters and ever more complex ramifications of the drama. The Ring’s music enhanced Wagner’s libretto with an extension of meaningfulness which linked words and actions inextricably with what was normally inexpressible in language or moving images, acting as a sort of magical aid to Wagner in carrying out his poetic intent, to make what is unconscious conscious, and bring what is hidden in the silent depths up to the daylight for aesthetic contemplation. As Wagner said:

“The completion of the Rhinegold …has restored my sense of self-assurance … . I have once again realized how much of my work’s meaning (given the nature of my poetic intent) is only made clear by the music: I can now no longer bear to look at the poem without the music.” [623W-{1/25-26/54} Letter to August Roeckel: SLRW, p. 310]

I leave you for the moment, before we proceed on to our next drama, The Valkyrie, to contemplate Wagner’s thoughts on the Rhinedaughters’ lament for the lost gold, as these are not only the last words of our current drama, The Rhinegold, but comprised Wagner’s last thoughts, recorded – just hours before he passed away - by Cosima:

[P. 1009] “When I am already lying in bed, I hear him talking volubly and loudly; I get up and go into this room. ‘I was talking to you,’ he says, and embraces me tenderly and long. ‘Once in 5,000 years it succeeds!’ ‘I was talking about Undine, the being who longed for a soul.’ He goes to the piano, plays the mournful theme ‘Rheingold, Rheingold,’ continues with ‘False and base all those who dwell up above.’ ‘Extraordinary that I [P. 1010] saw all this so clearly at that time!’ – And as he is lying in bed, he says, ‘I feel loving toward them, these subservient creatures of the deep, with all their yearning.’ “ [1151W-{2/12/83} CD Vol. II, p. 1009-1010]

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