MTH-V: Rhinemaidens

“How brightly you once shone, glorious star of the depths!” -Richard Wagner, Götterdämmerung

2013 may be Richard Wagner‘s bicentennial year, but this coming Wednesday 05.22 is his 200th birthday. Therefore I can’t help but post just a taste of his genius for this week’s video. (Finally back after last week’s absence as the semester wrapped up.)

More elaborate thoughts on Wagner are to come, but for now I’d like to share one of my favorite of his musical sections. Of course, with Wagner, one has a difficult time isolating segments. His concept of “endless melody” makes it difficult to find start- and endpoints in his operas beyond whole acts. Like many, arguably my favorite part of Der Ring des Nibelungen is in Götterdämmerung‘s Act III. However, unlike most, it’s the first scene. Most go to the Siegfried’s “Trauermarsch” or Brünnhilde’s “Immolation Scene,” both of which are sublime, but the Rhinemaidens’ trio which opens the act (after the prelude) is heaven. (Believe me, I have a hard time placing the trio above the “Trauermarsch,” but right now I’m going by which track has the bigger play count in my iTunes library.)

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(Photo: Arthur Rackham‘s The Rhinemaidens lament the loss of the Rhinegold.)

Oddly, this lyrical, light, and melodic passage by the three Rhinemaidens – Woglinde, Wellgunde, Flosshilde – doesn’t quite jive with the stereotypical Wagner sound, especially that associated with the Ring. If looking for aggressive Wagnerisms, see the aforementioned “Trauermarsch” and “Immolation Scene.” This scene occurs almost 17 hours into the Ring, offering a final respite before (SPOILER ALERT) Siegfried’s murder (after which is the “Trauermarsch”) and Brünnhilde’s destructive suicide (“Immolation Scene”).

There are subtitles in this clip if you’re interested, but I otherwise won’t get into the plot’s labyrinthine intricacies. (Though if you’d like to engage on that, I’m more than happy to. 🙂 ) I’m posting this for the music. Also, I generally strive to avoid posting commercial material in the MTH-V posts due to copyright concerns, but am afraid that I’m going to here. This footage is of Bayreuth’s landmark centenary Ring cycle by conductor Pierre Boulez and director Patrice Chéreau. This production was particularly scandalous at the time with its 19th-century industrialist setting. As you’ll see, the Rhinemaidens are presented as hydroelectric dam workers instead of water nymphs.

NOTE: I don’t own the copyright to this production.

Boulez/Chéreau production:

FOR FUN: The three Rhinemaidens, with piano reduction, from Cosima Wagner‘s 1904 production!

 

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