Showcase May-June 2014 - page 16

Program Notes
may 15, 16, 17
There is a long and venerable tradition of presenting
Wagner’s music on symphonic programs, with
or without vocal soloists. The work heard here is
particularly remarkable: it is the consolidation of the
nearly 16 hours of music encompassed by Wagner’s vast
operatic cycle,
Der Ring des Nibelungen
, into a score
of about one hour’s length, completed by the Dutch
composer-percussionist Henk de Vlieger in 1991 and
premiered by Edo de Waart and the Netherlands Radio
Philharmonic. It is a stunning achievement, a boon for
Wagnerians and an ideal introduction for those who do
not know
The Ring
De Vlieger wrote that his intention was “to unite the
most important parts of the
in order to create a
solid one-part symphonic work in which the main plot
lines, as in a symphonic poem, are clearly recognizable.
In this way, not only the musical relation between the
parts, as a result of Wagner’s leitmotif technique, but a
great deal of the original coherence is maintained. An
additional aspect is that the listener gets…a fascinating
summary of the progress of Wagner’s artistic style in
the 20 years which passed between the composition
of the prelude of
Das Rheingold
(written in 1854) and
the final scene of
, completed two
decades later.”
For source material Wagner regularly delved into
ancient mythology concerned with the decline and fall
of the gods. In this case it was
Das Nibelungenlied
, an
epic German poem dating from about 1220. The four
operas drawn from it, in sequence, are:
Das Rheingold
Die Walküre
. The
vast cycle is constructed of more than 100 leitmotifs,
representing the characters, events and psychological
undercurrents of the tale; they appear almost always in
the orchestra, seldom in the voices. Wagner’s gods and
giants, mermaids and dwarfs may seem preposterous,
but their interaction has to do with the timeless
realities of greed, power, love, fear, deceit—in short,
in this music we recognize ourselves and universal
human experience.
The story is as complex and boggling as anything in
operatic literature.
Das Rheingold.
The opening scene takes place in the
depths of the Rhine. Among the sounds of nature one
hears the singing of the Rhine maidens, who mention
the treasure, “das Rheingold.” As long as it remains on
the bottom of the Rhine, the world is in balance. The
gnome Alberich, however, steals the treasure. In the
smithy of Nibelheim he has a ring and helmet made
from it: the ring to provide power over the world, the
helmet to enable the wearer to assume any conceivable
shape he likes.
Die Walküre.
The gods, who reside in the citadel of
Valhalla, appropriate the treasure, which leads to
major conflicts. The Valkyries are Wotan’s Amazonian
daughters, who bring the fallen heroes to Valhalla on
horseback. One of them, the recalcitrant Brünnhilde,
courts Wotan’s anger, and he punishes her by casting a
deep sleep upon her, but still protects her by encircling
her with an eternal wall of fire.
The third opera introduces the central
character of the drama, the young hero who, after
killing a dragon, takes possession of the ring and the
helmet. Led by the singing of a forest bird, he finds
his way through the flames, discovers Brünnhilde and
awakens her with a kiss; they fall in love.
Siegfried sails along the Rhine
seeking new adventures and meets his fate: he becomes
entangled in dark intrigues and perishes by Hagen’s
spear. Brünnhilde sets Siegfried’s funeral pyre alight.
She, too, chooses death as she urges Grane, her horse,
into the sea of flames. The fire spreads to Valhalla. This
results in the fall of the gods and the end of the world.
At the same time, the fated “treasure” returns to the
Rhine, its natural place, and so finally the world is
set free.
3 flutes, piccolo (1 flute also doubling piccolo), 4 oboes
(1 doubling English horn), 3 clarinets (1 doubling E-flat clarinet),
bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 8 horns (4 doubling tenor and
bass Wagner tubas), 3 trumpets, bass trumpet, 3 trombones,
contrabass trombone, tuba, timpani, glockenspiel, triangle,
cymbals, field drum, tam-tam, anvils, 4 harps and strings
Excerpted from a program note by
Mary Ann Feldman
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