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ClassicsOnline Home » WAGNER, R.: Ring (Der) (Orchestral Highlights)
Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883)
Orchestral Highlights from Der Ring des Nibelungen
Richard Wagner inspired in his contemporaries extremes of
reaction. For some his music seemed as misguided and repulsive as his anti-Semitism, while
others were overwhelmed by the size of his ambition and achievement, to which everything
had to be sacrificed. Wagner's career was in many ways thoroughly discreditable. He
betrayed friends and patrons, accumulated debts with abandon, and seemed, in pursuit of
his aims, an unprincipled opportunist. Nevertheless, whatever his defects of character, he
exercised a hypnotic influence over his immediate followers, while his creation of a new
form of music-drama, in which the arts were combined, and the magnitude of his conception
continue to fascinate.
The tetralogy of The Ring,
based on a conflation of Teutonic and Scandinavian legends, was originally conceived while
Wagner was enjoying his first real success as conductor at the opera in Dresden, where Rienzi, The Flying
Dutchman and Tannhaeuser were
first performed. In 1848, with revolution in the air, Wagner began work on the poem
concerning the death of the hero Siegfried, a text that was to serve as the basis for the
fourth opera in the cycle, Götterdämmerung.
In 1849 Wagner was forced to leave Dresden in haste. His
creditors had, in any case, made his stay there uneasy, but in 1849 he was implicated in
the rising against the monarchy, and escaped to Switzerland, leaving his wife behind. The
first years of exile brought the completion of the text of The Ring and its publication in
1853, followed by the composition of the music of the first opera, Das Rheingold by 1854 and the second, Die Walküre two years later.
The complete cycle, however, was performed for the first time
at the new Festspielhaus in Bayreuth in 1876. There, with the help of his young patron
King Ludwig II of Bavaria, he had been able to establish his own operatic kingdom,
realising his revolutionary ideas of music-drama and investing the an of opera with a
significance and weight that it had not generally possessed before.
In July, 1882, the last of Wagner's operas, Parsifal, was staged at Bayreuth, running for
sixteen performances under the direction of Hermann Levi. In September the composer
travelled again to Italy, where an easier way of life seemed likely to be of benefit to
his health. He died in Venice in February, 1883, after a severe heart attack and was later
buried in the garden of his house in Bayreuth. His legacy to the world was an enduring
body of stage works and a festival centred on them, as well as continued conflict between
those fascinated by his achievement and those appalled by aspects of his character and his
The allegorical story of The
Ring, derived principally from the Nibelung Saga, concerns the conflict and
struggle for power between the Nibelung dwarfs, the giants and the gods. In Das Rheingold
Alberich, the Nibelung dwarf, has stolen from the Rhine-maidens the Rhinegold, from which
he has made a ring that will give him absolute power over the world. Wotan, the ruler of
the gods, has employed the giants Fasolt and Fafner to build Valhalla, giving them Freia,
goddess of youth, in payment. By a trick he seizes the ring and the Rhine-gold from
Alberich, who lays a curse on its possessor, and with some reluctance is persuaded to give
it to the giants, in return for the release of Freia. The curse of the ring is first
evident in the quarrel in which Fafner kills Fasolt for the gold and the ring. The opera
ends with the Gods entering Valhalla, watched cynically by Loge, god of fire, as they
cross the rainbow bridge across the Rhine.
Die Walküre deals with Wotan's attempts to arrange the defence
of his stronghold Valhalla. For this purpose he begets nine warrior maidens, the
Valkyries, who will bear the bodies of fallen heroes to the castle, where they will live
again to aid in its defence. To kill the giant Fafner he begets Siegmund and Sieglinde,
twins separated in early life and re-united as the second opera opens, with Sieglinde, married to Hunding, giving her brother
shelter in her husband's hut. Siegmund is killed, in spite of the help of Brünnhilde, one
of the Valkyries and Wotan's confidante, given against her father's command. She is
punished by confinement to a rock, surrounded by fire, to be released by a future hero.
Sieglinde is to give birth to such a one, Siegfried, son of Siegmund. The famous Ride of
the Valkyries introduces the third ac t of the drama, as the Valkyries gather on a
mountain peak, bringing on their horses the bodies of fallen heroes. Brünnhilde is to
join them, bringing with her Sieglinde.
In the third opera Siegfried
forges once again the sword Nothung, destroyed when his father fought against Hunding.
With the treacherous Nibelung Mime he seeks out and kills Fafner and burns his fingers in
the dragon's blood. Putting his fingers to his mouth, he finds he can now understand the
language of the birds, who tell him of the hoard of gold and the ring in Fafner's cave,
treasures that he now takes. Warned through the magic of the dragon's blood, he
understands the treachery of Mime, Alberich's brother, and kills him. The birds are to
lead him to Brünnhilde. The orchestral passage known as Forest Murmurs precedes
Siegfried's meeting with Fafner, as he rests under a linden tree and muses on the meaning
of the song of the birds that he is later, through magic, to understand.
Die Götterdämmerung opens with a prologue in which the three Norns, the Fates,
sing of the coming destruction of Wotan's power. Siegfried gives Brünnhilde the ring and
leaves her, leading with him her horse Grane, in search of adventure. His journey is
accompanied by the music for Siegfried's Rhine Journey. He is to be induced by a drug to
betray Brünnhilde, from whom he seizes the ring, through the plotting of Alberich's son,
Hagen, who finally kills him. Brünnhilde has a funeral pyre raised for the fallen hero,
and rides into the flames, having sent a message to Loge to see to the burning of
Valhalla. The funeral flames rise, to be quenched by the waters of the Rhine, which
overwhelm Hagen, as he seeks to take the ring, now returned to the possession of the
Rhine-maidens. The Funeral March closes the first scene of the third act of the drama,
weaving together motifs from earlier in the cycle in the death of a hero that heralds the
twilight of the gods and the dawning of a new age of love.
Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest
symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 at the instance of Milos Ruppeldt and
Oskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in the sphere of music. The orchestra was first
conducted by the Prague conductor Frantisek Dyk and in the course of the past fifty years
of its existence has worked under the batons of several prominent Czech and Slovak
conductors. Ondrej Lenard was appointed its conductor in 1970 and in 1977 its
conductor-in-chief. The orchestra has recently given a number of successful concer1s both
at home and abroad, in West and East Germany, Russia, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Spain,
Italy, and Great Britain.
The conductor Uwe Mund was born in Vienna in 1941. He gave his
first concert as a pianist at the age of fourteen and two years later began his studies as
a conductor and composer. He entered the University of Vienna in 1959, taking courses in
Musicology and German Studies, with work in conducting at the Music Academy under Hans
Swarowsky, composition with Hanns Jelinek and Karl Schiske and piano with Hans Petermandl.
At the age of twenty he graduated with distinction and was appointed conductor of the
Vienna Boys Ghoir, which he accompanied on two year-long tours of Europe and America. He
conducted also the Hofmusikkapelle, with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
In 1963 Uwe Mund was appointed solo-repetiteur at the Vienna
State Opera under Herbert von Karajan and Assistant Conductor of the Vienna Singverein.
His subsequent career took him to positions of Principal Conductor in the State Theatres
at Kiel and Frankfurt-am-Main and in 1977 to that of Music Director at Gelsenkirchen. At
present, he is Music Director of the Gran Teatro dei Liceld in Barcelona, Spain.
Uwe Mund has appeared as a guest conductor at home and abroad,
including engagements with the Hamburg State Opera, the Berlin German Opera, the Mannheim
National Theatre, the opera-houses of Munich and Frankfurt and elsewhere. Abroad he has
appeared with the San Fransico Opera, in Lisbon, Warsaw, Copenhagen, Brussels, Stockholm,
Barcelona, Paris and Venice.
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WAGNER, R.: Ring (Der) (Orchestral Highlights)