Wagner’s Valkyries

A Valkyrie by Arthur Rackham

Last night I had the pleasure of hearing Wagner’s Ring Cycle. This mighty orchestral piece is a collection of some of the most powerful and moving pieces from Wagner’s four operas that make up his Der Ring des Nibelungen. The arrangement by Henk de Vlieger manages to take a total of 16 hours of music and cut it down to 70 minuets  Its an incredible experience to listen too. One is able to understand why he attracted such strange personalities like King Ludwig II of Bavaria, a mad king who spent Bavaria’s money on building fairy tale castles. Another Wagnerian was Baudelaire who was an early supporter of Wagner’s music. There is something so powerful about Wagner’s music, that it seems to permeate every part of your body. I can understand why some would say his music is overbearing or exhausting, as a friend said yesterday, listening to Wagner is like doing a marathon, it can either thrill you or drain you. Either way the Ring Cycle is a fascinating piece of music, as it touches loosely on Wagner’s version of the Nibelungenlied, which is based on the Scandinavian epic , the Volsunga Saga. This is a long tale about heroism and tragedy between two families, the Volsungs and the Nibelungs. A brilliant summery of this saga can be found in Thomas Bulfinch’s Mythology.

Act III in Die Walküre, opens with Ride of the Valkyries. The Violins mimic the sound of wings fluttering in the wind, as the brass instruments carry forth the strength of the waves, with the mighty clash of the symbols of the thundering roar of the storm. The Valkyries are warlike virgins, dressed in armour with spears and helmets  The they ride forth throughout the night picking up fallen heroes from battlefields, their flickering armour creates the light for the northern lights. Their name, Valkyrie means “Choosers of the slain”. In Wagers version of the Volsunga saga, Wotan, an Norse god, uses the Valkyries to entice men to fight each other so that once they have fallen, they may be chosen to came to Valhalla and fight in an epic apocalyptic battle.

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