Conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar de Venezuela plays Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” (German: Walkürenritt or Ritt der Walküren), the beginning of act 3 of Die Walküre, (The Valkyrie), WWV 86B, an opera in three acts by Richard Wagner with a German libretto by the composer himself. It is the second of the four operas by the German composer that constitutes Der Ring des Nibelungen. A beautiful and very dynamic interpretation. The Philharmonie de Paris, January 2015.

Conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar de Venezuela performs Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries

Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries

The “Ride of the Valkyries” (German: Walkürenritt or Ritt der Walküren) is the popular term for the prelude to Act III of Die Walküre, (The Valkyrie), WWV 86B, an opera in three acts by Richard Wagner with a German libretto by the composer. It is the second of the four operas that form Wagner’s cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung).

Of the four episodes of Der Ring des Nibelungen, Ride of the Valkyries is most often performed separately, and arguably maybe Wagner’s best-loved work. The source of this affection is certainly Wagner’s sensitive depictions of Siegmund and Sieglinde’s love and the father-daughter relationship of Wotan and Brünnhilde.

The work was first criticized for Siegmund and Sieglinde’s incestuous love, but Wagner made them appealing, rendered their story with tenderness, and bestowed on them some of his most glorious music. In Die Walküre, Wagner achieved equality of music and words with flexible ease. Act One, in particular, is a masterpiece of rhapsodic melody joined to a tight plan of steadily rising tension released in successive climaxes as the two are drawn to each other and reveal their pasts.

As a separate piece, the “Ride” is often heard in a purely instrumental version, as in the video above. Together with the Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin, the Ride of the Valkyries is one of Wagner’s best-known pieces.

Act Three opens with the well-known “Ride of the Valkyries,” in which Wotan’s daughters, the Valkyries, assemble on their mountaintop after scouting a battlefield for dead warriors. Listeners acquainted with only the concert version may be surprised to hear the eight voices of the Valkyries over the orchestral texture, and one can understand the tremendous impact originally made in the theater by this curtain-raiser. In Wagner’s Bayreuth theater, with the orchestra under the stage, the voices are much more prominent.

The opera concludes with Wotan’s impressive and moving farewell to Brünnhilde, as he leaves her to sleep, surrounded by a ring of fire. Much of this episode’s material is new and unique, including the powerful melody with which Wotan exclaims his farewell; but it is punctuated by important motives such as Loge’s fire, and introduces ones that will be important later in the drama, such as the sleep motive (closely related to Erda’s characteristic music) and that of the downfall of the gods.

The orchestral texture here is rich and full, with brass supporting Wotan’s song and a sweeping countermelody in unison with cellos. Wotan’s allusion to one “who does not fear the point of my spear,” is set to the Wälsung motive, and strongly echoed in the brass, while rippling harps accompany a lilting lullaby-like motive in the upper woodwinds.

The complete opera Die Walküre was first performed on June 26, 1870, in the National Theater Munich and soon the composer was receiving requests for “The Ride” to be performed separately. However, Wagner wrote in his journal that such a performance should be considered “an utter indiscretion” and forbade “any such thing.”

The best-known use of “The Ride” in the media is during the 1979 film Apocalypse Now, where it is the music played as the American helicopters bombard a Vietnamese village. The piece was similarly used in the Vietnam flashback scene in the 2009 Watchmen film, where it soundtracks nuclear superhero Dr. Manhattan obliterating Viet Cong soldiers with his godlike power.


M. Özgür Nevres

Published by M. Özgür Nevres

I am Özgür Nevres, a software engineer, an ex-road racing cyclist, and also an amateur musician. I opened to share my favorite music. I also take care of stray cats & dogs. Please consider supporting me on Patreon.

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