Richard Wagner's

THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG

An Introduction, Notes, and Musical Examples

Part 2: The Valkyrie

By Dr. Larry A. Brown

Nashville, Tennessee, USA

Please email comments: larry.brown@lipscomb.edu

Introduction    Rhinegold    Siegfried    Twilight    My home page   

 

Mythological background:

In the Icelandic Volsunga Saga (13th century), Siegmund (Odin's great-great-grandson) obtains his sword from the tree, mates with his sister "Signy" but unknowingly (as she's in disguise), and kills her cruel husband, but in the end she dies with her husband in a fire. By another wife, Siegmund has "Sigurd." Siegmund is killed in battle when Odin smashes his sword (but not as punishment for incest). Sigurd is brought up at the court of Denmark, with Regin (Fafner's brother) as his ward (leading to the story of the dragon slayer). See the continuation of the original myths in the notes to Siegfried.

The 8th century Beowulf mentions Sigemund the Waelsing killing a dragon and gaining his treasure.

 

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

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 part four for further reading.

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

 

VALKYRIE (Die Walkure)

Synopsis:

Wotan delights in wandering the earth and womanizing. His promiscuity is formidable, and no fewer than eleven of his children now appear: nine are his warrior-maidens, the Valkyries, led by his favorite daughter Brunnhilde. The others are the twins Siegmund and Sieglinde, who fall in love, a relationship not only incestuous but adulterous as Sieglinde is married to Hunding. Wotan sympathizes with the lovers, placing them under the special guardianship of Brunnhilde and giving them a special sword, Nothung, which Siegmund pulls from a tree. As Hunding lies asleep from his drugged drink, the lovers escape into the woods.


Wotan secretly plans for Siegmund to gain back the ring. He hopes that an independent agent will be able to accomplish what he is forbidden to do. However, his plan infuriates his wife Fricka. As goddess of the sanctity of marriage, she insists that Wotan uphold the law and withdraw his protection from the twins. If Wotan wants Siegmund to be truly free, he must not protect him now. Reluctantly Wotan agrees that Siegmund must die and sends Brunnhilde to announce his fate.


Siegmund refuses Brunnhilde's promise of Valhalla and vows to kill both Sieglinde and himself before Hunding finds them. Moved by their love, Brunnhilde disobeys Wotan and vows to save the couple. However, Hunding kills Siegmund when Wotan intervenes to shatter the sword. Brunnhilde gathers up the broken bits of sword and gives them to Sieglinde, sending her away into the forest to bear her child, while she faces the wrath of Wotan alone.


Brunnhilde's punishment for defying Wotan's authority is to be put to sleep on a mountain top, ringed by fire. She can be awakened only by the kiss of a hero fearless enough to walk through the flames. By the end of The Valkyrie Wotan, the lawmaker, has seen one of his children die and lost two more as a result of enforcing his own law.


Read an English paraphrase adaptation of The Valkyrie here.

 

Notes:

Act One

Innovative design for Valkyrie by George Tsypin

Act Two

Act Three

 

Introduction    Rhinegold    Siegfried    Twilight    My home page   

 

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