From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Das Rheingold ("The Rhine Gold") is the first of the four operas that comprise Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), by Richard Wagner. It received its premiere at the National Theatre in Munich on 22 September 1869.
The prelude to Das Rheingold consists of an extended (136-bar) chord in E♭ major, which begins almost inaudibly in the lowest register of eight double-basses. The note of B♭ is added by the bassoons and the chord is further embellished as the horns enter with a rising arpeggio, to announce the "Nature" motif. This is further elaborated in the strings; the lower-register instruments sustain the E♭ note throughout the prelude, while the chord is increasingly enhanced by the orchestra. The "Rhine" motif emerges, representing what Osborne describes as "the calm, majestic course of the river".character. The composer Robert Erickson describes the prelude as drone music – "the only well-known drone piece in the concert repertory". Millington suggests that the protracted chord does not simply represent the depths of the Rhine, rather "the birth of the world, the act of creation itself".