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Richard Wagner    Part 3    1854 - 1883

NARRATOR:









Brünnhilde's immolation - the climax of Gotterdammerung
Brünnhilde's immolation
- the climax of Götterdämmerung
The Nibelung is the dwarf Alberich, and the ring is the one he fashions from the Rhinegold. Thus the title Die Nibelungen denotes "Alberich's Ring". The cycle of four operas has a total playing time of about 15 hours and is modelled after ancient Greek dramas. The scale and scope of the story is epic. It follows the struggles of gods, heroes, and several mythical creatures over the magic Ring that grants domination over the entire world. The drama and intrigue continue through three generations of protagonists, until the final cataclysm at the end of Götterdämmerung.

(INTRODUCE THE FINALE OF GÖTTERDÄMERUNG AND WEAVE UNDER)

Bayreuth Festspielhaus
Bayreuth Festspielhaus from an 1870's engraving
The music of the cycle is thick and richly textured, and grows in complexity as the cycle proceeds. Wagner wrote for an orchestra of gargantuan proportions, including a greatly enlarged brass section with new instruments such as the Wagner tuba, bass trumpet and contrabass trombone. He eventually had a purpose-built theatre constructed, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, in which to perform this work. The theatre has a special stage that blends the huge orchestra with the singers' voices, allowing them to sing at a natural volume. The result was that the singers did not have to strain themselves vocally during the long performances.

Brunnhilde
Brünnhilde drives Grane, her horse
onto Siegfried's funeral pyre
illustration by Arthur Rackham
The plot revolves around a magic ring that grants the power to rule the world, forged by the Nibelung dwarf Alberich from gold he stole from the Rhine maidens in the river Rhine. With the assistance of Loge, Wotan - the chief of the Gods - steals the Ring from Alberich, but is forced to hand it over to the giants, Fafner and Fasolt. Wotan's schemes to regain the Ring, spanning generations, drive much of the action in the story. His grandson, the mortal Siegfried, wins the ring - as Wotan intended - but is eventually betrayed and slain as a result of the intrigues of Alberich's son Hagen. Finally, the Valkyrie Brünnhilde - Siegfried's lover and Wotan's estranged daughter - returns the ring to the Rhine maidens. In the process, the Gods and their home, Valhalla, are destroyed.

(BRING UP THE FINALE OF GÖTTERDÄMERUNG AND WEAVE UNDER)
BRUNNHILDE: Thy lord lies radiant
There in the pire,
Siegfried, my hero blest!
Thou neighest with joy
To think thou shalt join him?
Feel thou my bosom,
Feel how it burns;
Flames of fire
Have laid hold on my heart.
Ah, to embrace him,
By him be embraced,
United for ever
In love without end!
Heiajoho! Grane!
Give thy lord greeting!

(SHE LEAPS ONTO GRANE AND URGES HIM FORWARD)

Siegfried! Siegfried!
See! Brunnhild' greets thee, thy bride!

(BRING UP THE FINALE OF GÖTTERDÄMERUNG AND PLAY OUT)
NARRATOR: But the immense work of creating the Ring was taking its toll. Wagner needed the stimulus of seeing his work performed in Germany. He wrote to Liszt.
WAGNER:
King of Saxony
Frederick Augustus II
King of Saxony
I shall go mad here ! If only I could get permission at least to go to Weimar and hear one of my operas, I might find something to stimulate me as an artist!

Must I beg for grace from the King of Saxony? Among his ministers is there not one who has sufficient sense of shame to understand that it is unworthy, mean, common, pitiable, to leave me in my present situation, not one who will take the trouble to persuade the thoughtless Saxon royal couple to enable me to return to Germany without exacting self-humiliation of me?

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