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The Rhinegold: Page 109
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The Rhinegold

The Rhinegold: Scene One - In the Rhine River: the Rhinedaughters and Alberich

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In the beginning … ! No, there was no beginning. The cosmos, in whatever forms and forces it manifests itself, has always, and will always, exist, world without end. This is what Feuerbach tells us, and this is what Wagner presents to us in the chords with which he introduces us to his The Ring of the Nibelung. In the opening moments of the Ring we, the audience become conscious of a timeless world whose forms and forces move within time, the world Feuerbach set forth in this way:

“Nature has no beginning and no end. Everything in it acts upon everything else, everything in it is relative, everything is at once effect and cause, acting and reacting on all sides. Nature does not culminate in a monarchic summit; it is a republic.” [217F-LER: p. 100]

Wagner’s orchestral prelude to The Rhinegold is his metaphor for the “creation” in this sense: that we gradually become aware of the ageless, endless world, and witness the evolution of life from animal to man. Before examining this musical metaphor for the evolution and birth of human consciousness out of the original chaos of nature, a few first thoughts from Wagner himself, under the guidance of his mentor the Atheist philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, are in order, since these will set the proper tone for our interpretation of the Ring tetralogy.

Wagner and Feuerbach agreed that the idea that a god created the world was absurd:

[Speaking of Goethe, who recognized the divinity in manifestations of Nature such as the mother’s womb, Wagner said:] “But how could one ever have visualized a personal God who created all these things!” [1058W-{1/23/81}CD Vol. II, p. 606]

Why is the notion that a god created the world absurd? One reason, Feuerbach suggests, is that pre-existence of a perfect god makes an imperfect creation, supposedly emanating from him, superfluous:

“It has often been said that the world is inexplicable without a God; but the exact opposite is true; if there is a God, the existence of a world becomes inexplicable; for then the world is utterly superfluous.” [238F-LER: p. 143]

And here is Wagner’s paraphrase:

“If Mind has manufactured Nature, if Thought has made the Actual, … then Nature, Actuality and Man are no more necessary, and their existence is not only superfluous but even harmful; for the

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