Richard Wagner's


An Introduction, Notes, and Musical Examples

Part 1: Rhinegold

By Dr. Larry A. Brown

Nashville, Tennessee, USA

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Numbers in the notes are to pages in the Andrew Porter translation (Norton publishers 1977), unless otherwise noted as SS, which indicates a quote from the translation by Stewart Spencer (Thames & Hudson 1993).  See the bibliography at the end of all the notes for further reading.

Note: the musical MP3 files are somewhat large, so it may take a few seconds to load them.


Overview of the major themes of the four music-dramas:


RHINEGOLD (Das Rheingold)



Alberich, a dwarf from the underground caverns of Nibelheim, steals gold from the Rhinedaughters, a deed which can only be achieved by renouncing love. Alberich then makes a ring from the gold which gives its owner great power. Meanwhile Wotan, ruler of the gods, searches for a way to pay the giants Fafner and Fasolt for building his new fortress, Valhalla. He had promised to give them Freia, goddess of youth and love, but when she leaves with them, the gods begin to age. Wotan searches for another means of payment. With the help of Loge, god of fire and cunning, he tricks Alberich into surrendering the ring, whereupon Alberich puts a curse on whoever owns it. Wotan gives the ring to the giants, and Alberich's curse strikes immediately: Fafner kills Fasolt in order to become the sole possessor of the ring, as the gods march into their majestic new home.

Read an English paraphrase adaptation of Rhinegold here.



Scene One

Scene Two

1)     He is a seeker of truth (he lost an eye to obtain it), who heeds the warnings of Erda (sc 4) and Fricka (in Valkyrie, Act 2) against his own wishes, but he is also willing to be led by Loge's trickery and cunning.

2)     He rules by law, the runes of his contracts engraved on his spear, but he attempts to circumvent it. When he tries to get out of the contract with the giants, the spear theme plays but with an incorrect series of notes, symbolizing the distortion of law.

3)     He attempts to exert his own free will against fate, while manipulating others to work "freely" for his goals (seen in Valkyrie and Siegfried).

Scene Three

Scene Four


Final note:

As a symbol the Ring has many meanings, different for each person who desires it: for Alberich the ring equals power through wealth; for Wotan the ring means securing power already held; for Fricka, power over an unfaithful husband; Fasolt sees it as an unsatisfactory substitute for Freia; Fafner sees only the value of the hoard. Later in the cycle, for Siegfried the ring will mean the booty won from the dragon, and for Brunnhilde the ring will first be the symbol of Siegfried's love, and later his betrayal, when she sees it on his hand rather than on Gunther's.


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Page created 1999, latest revision April 2013 by Larry A. Brown