07 Nov 2022

WAGNER (arr. Philippe Jordan): “Prelude, Interludes & Entry of the Gods into Valhalla” from Das Rheingold

by Jeff Counts

THE COMPOSER – RICHARD WAGNER (1813-1883) – Before Wagner could address the music for his grand mythological tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen, he needed to get the story straight. According to author and biographer Charles Osborne, Wagner’s original intention in the late 1840s seems to have centered on a single opera based on the final days of the heroic Siegfried, but the composer quickly realized that more context was needed. A lot more. Working backwards from Siegfried’s death (Götterdämmerung, fourth in narrative order), Wagner sketched out libretti for SiegfriedDie Walküre and lastly, Das Rheingold. With that final (but first, actually) part of the epic tale ultimately penned in 1852, Wagner set about crafting the Rheingold music score in 1853.

Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner

THE HISTORY – When he completed the music in 1854, Wagner set Das Rheingold aside to begin work on Siegfried. He knew the Ring project was a long road, but he couldn’t have predicted the 20-plus years it would take to reach the end. Life filled the spaces in between the work, as it does, and Wagner’s family (not to mention his non-Ring composing career) expanded meaningfully over the decades. The cycle premiered at last in 1876, and Das Rheingold at that point must have felt like a half-remembered dream. It wasn’t the first time Wagner had heard it in performance, however. The composer’s patron King Ludwig II of Bavaria was instrumental in the creation of the Festival at Bayreuth and he funded the building of the first theater there. Contingent to his support was the notion that the four Ring operas would each be premiered separately. Wagner was initially in favor of the concept but soon changed his mind. The King’s mind was immovable though and in 1869, Wagner could hold him off no longer. The composer attempted to undermine the production in hopes of gaining greater control over the new theater’s staff but succeeded only in making himself a nuisance. So great, in fact, was the animosity between the composer and the project that Wagner found himself unwelcome at rehearsals. Consequently, the standalone premiere of Das Rheingold occurred on September 22 without him, seven years too early by his later reckoning. The Entry of the Gods into Valhalla at the end of Rheingold portends much about what will come in the later works of the Ring. Wotan and Loge have just concluded their mucking about in the affairs of the Earthly races, leaving greed and murder in their wake. Content with the fruitful endgame he believes he has set in motion, Wotan retires with the other gods to his celestial fortress over a rainbow bridge. Only Loge declines to join him. He knows it is the beginning of their fall.

THE WORLD – Elsewhere in 1869, War and Peace was published in book form, the Red River Rebellion set off in Canada, the Suez Canal was inaugurated, the Cutty Sark was launched in Scotland, and the “Golden Spike” was driven in Utah.

THE CONNECTION – This marks the Utah Symphony premiere of these selections from Das Rheingold.