The Leitmotifs of Wagner's Ring

Just click on any of the Scene tags to display the motifs which occur within that Scene . . .

Das Rheingold
Die Walküre
Act 1 Act 2 Act 3
Act 1 Act 2 Act 3
Act 1 Act 2 Act 3

As numbered and labelled in The Ring and its Symbols by Roger Donington:

As numbered in William Mann's bi-lingual edition of the texts:

As numbered in Lawrance Collingwood's 1931 recording of 90 Motifs:

As numbered in Hans von Wolzogen's 1911 book Der Ring des Nibelungen:

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.

Related works:

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, Gautatýr.

Editor's comment:   While working on this page, I was struck by the dominance of the Leitmotifs in the musical fabric of the Ring:

Technical credits:   This page needs JavaScript to be enabled in your browser. The music was typeset by Peter Billam using muscript and then converted to .jpg using gs, and to .wav by timidity and normalize-audio, and thence to .mp3 by lame, the whole process being organised by make. There is a tarball of the muscript source files.

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Peter Billam,