|The Leitmotifs of Wagner's Ring|
Just click on any of the Scene tags to display the motifs which occur within that Scene . . .
Donington (Wagner's 'Ring' and its Symbols, Faber, 1963) gives 91 motifs, ordered by their groupings and relationships. Mann (in his translation of the texts, for the Friends of Covent Garden, 1964) gives 73, numbered roughly in order of first appearance. Collingwood (in his recording 90 Motives from the Ring, London Symphony Orchestra 1931, HMV C2237, Pearl GEMM CDS 9137) gives 90, numbered roughly in order of first appearance. Wolzogen (in his book Guide through the Music of R. Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, 1878) also gives 90, also numbered roughly in order of first appearance. About 60 of the motifs are recognised by all authors. In this page, Donington's numbers are prefixed with a d, Mann's numbers are prefixed with a m, Collingwood's numbers are prefixed with a c, Wolzogen's numbers are prefixed with a w, and the d-number is used in cases where more than one author have numbered the same motif. The descriptions of the motifs are loosely based on those in Donington's Appendix of Music Examples.
- Beowulf (before 1000) also features a hero battling with a huge dragon who is guarding treasure
- The Poetic Edda or Elder Edda, a collection of anonymous Norse poems in the Icelandic Codex Regius
- Snorri Sturluson's The Prose Edda (1220) also known as the Younger Edda
- The Nibelungenlied (around 1200)
- The Völsungasaga (late 1200's)
- William Morris' The Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Niblungs (1876)
- Fritz Lang's wonderful Die Nibelungen films (1924): Siegfried and Kriemhild's Rache
- Alfred Lorenz' Der Musikalische Aufbau des Bühnenfestspieles Der Ring des Nibelungen (1924)
- J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (1954)
- J. R. R. Tolkien's The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún ed. Christopher Tolkien, Harper Collins (2009)
The German Nibelungen and the Norse Niflung are the names in mythology of the royal family of the Burgundians who settled at Worms. The Burgundians were a tribe perhaps from round Borgund in Norway, which emigrated to the island of Bornholm, thence around 250 to the Vistula basin, thence around 385 to the left bank of the Rhine between the river Lauter and the Nahe. Around 437 they were overwhelmed by Hun mercenaries working for the Roman general Aëtius, and their king Gundahar was killed. The destruction of the Burgundian kingdom became the subject of heroic legends that were incorporated in the Nibelungenlied, in which King Gunther and Queen Brünhild hold court at Worms, and Siegfried comes to woo Kriemhild. Etzel, of the Nibelungenlied, is based on Attila the Hun. The surviving Burgundians moved south to la Savoie, and their descendants today are found primarily in west Switzerland and the neighbouring regions of France. See also: Les Burgondes, O.Perrin, Neuchâtel, 1968 and Die Ostgermanen, L.Schmidt, Munich, 1969.
Wagner renames the Nibelung of the mythology as Gibichung,
and the Dark Elves of the mythology as Nibelung.
Christopher Tolkien's book discusses the background to this change
in his Appendix A.
Some other names, with their equivalents: Alberich, Andvari; Gibichung, Gjúkings, Burgundians, Borgund, Nibelung, Niflung; Gutrune, Gudrun, Kriemhild; Gunther, Gundahar, Gundicar, Gunnar, Guðhere; Hagen, Högni; Mime, Regin; Nibelung, Dark Elves, Dökkálfar; Nothung, Gram, Gramr; Siegmund, Sigemund; Sieglinde, Signý plus Sigrlinn; Siegfried, Sigúr, Sigúrd; Wotan, Ódin.
Editor's comment: While working on this page, I was struck by the dominance of the Leitmotifs in the musical fabric of the Ring:
- Most of the orchestral fabric is made up of Leitmotifs; there are of course free passages as well, but only to the extent that a Bach fugue also contains free voices.
- All the motifs are related; they derive from a common ancestor d1, they group into families, and have brothers, cousins, parents, and partners.
- Though the motifs are short and inter-related, Wagner keeps them as distinct from each other as possible.
- The motifs do not get woven into each other in a contrapuntal texture, and each motif gets its own consistent, characteristic instrumentation; they are not put through a durchgebrochene Arbeit process.
- Each motif generally remains in the same key, or narrow range of keys; they are not put through a symphonic-style Durchführung process.
- This network-of-motifs clearly differs from the subject and counter-subject of a fugue, or from the various themes of a symphony, by being always inter-related, and by not being time-prescriptive. They also differ from a single-theme structure (e.g. Liszt's h-moll sonata) by being melodically distinct.
- This network-of-motifs is structural without being time-prescriptive; it leaves the details of which motif occurs when to the needs of the drama.
- This network-of-motifs structure scales better up to the 16-hour level than any other known musical structure would have done.
- Future collections of Leitmotifs should avoid introducing yet another numbering-scheme.
- Future editions of the score, or of a piano-reduction, should include bar-numbers.
Peter Billam, www.pjb.com.au