Richard Wagner – Das Rheingold, Prelude

The prelude of the Opera “Das Rheingold” (The Rhinegold) has a length of 4 min 20, and the most interesting thing about it is, that the harmonies are constantly staying on the tonic, and its major triad. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a score for the whole orchestra, but I found a piano reduction, which was quite helpful as well.

It starts off with something, that can best be described as “a deep humming” on E- flat. Only after four bars of just this one note, a second one, the perfect 5th, B-flat, is added. Those two notes are being held up to the 12 bar, together they create a rather mysterious, but neutral sound.

The first change to this section comes in bar 13, where a new instrument joins in, being the first one to play a sequence of notes rather then just staying on the same note throughout. This sequence only consists of the already present alternating notes, E-flat and B-flat, starting on a low E-flat, moving its way upwards. Even though, there are only two notes which are being played, this new sequence adds a new, warm colour to the two notes, from the beginning, which are still being played throughout this new part.

This theme is continued with two voices playing, which makes, the mentioned effect of a warm sound even stronger. The speed of the sequences, as well as the frequency of those two notes appearing increases and after a short while, the last missing note of the E-flat-triad, G, is added.  Despite the fact, that only those three notes are used, the piece stays interesting. As far as I am able to tell, up to this point, Wagner made only use of different wind-instruments. It sounds as if the notes were being placed randomly and chaotic

Having all the mixed sounds of the wind instruments in the background, just playing notes of the triad, one can hear a violin stating to play, sticking out as a “main” voice. The melody line of the violin works using quavers in up-and-down-going waves, always starting on a higher point with each start of a new wave. After having finished with her first passage, a second violin joins in, which plays a similar theme, double as fast on top of the first violin using semiquaver notes. After this second violin has started, the first violin starts using transition-notes, such as F, A-flat and D for the first time. (Of course all in the key of E-flat).

With all the voices playing together, the music seems to be becoming stronger and faster, especially when the main voice of from the violin is being doubled in octaves. A crescendo can be heard, performed by all the instruments. The main voice becomes faster and more hectic until, at the very end, for about one or two bars  the volume goes down a little at the piece stops rather abrupt. Unlike most other pieces from this time, the piece doens’t end with one final note played by all the instruments, they seem to dissolve in a tender way.

The piano reduction , with the orchestra playing in the background can be found here.

I personally really enjoyed listening to this prelude. Especially interesting for me to watch was, how, even though the whole piece was basically playing the same triad throughout, the piece din’t become boring at all. This is probably due to Wagner having added new sounds to the piece every time the old one would have become boring.