Wagner's "Ring Cycle" -- What Is It All About? Part II: "Die Walkure"

Bradford Conner and Benjamin Sears

Tuesdays, February 20 - March 27 3:30 - 5:30 6 sessions
The Engineering Center, One Walnut Street

Richard Wagner’s The Nibelung’s Ring is one of the most extraordinary creations in Western art – a cycle of four operas that as a group relate a saga, yet each can stand alone as a complete work (so, one need not have attended Part 1 of this seminar to enjoy this one). At its simplest, it is about the theft and reclaiming of a lump of magic gold.

Writing both the text and the music, and drawing from ancient Norse and German mythology, Wagner creates a story with relevance not only to his own time, but also through subsequent history. Among his themes are the use and abuse of power, including quests for absolute power (both for good and evil); attempts to manipulate events to certain ends; marital love, familial love, erotic love, and love as power; and the benefits and pitfalls of contracts. Musically, Wagner gives the various characters, objects, and events in the operas their own leitmotifs (or signature tunes), which he uses to enhance the viewer’s understanding of the story. As events unfold, he develops these musical themes. 

In Das Rheingold, Alberich and Wotan set in motion a struggle for power and world dominance. Now Wotan sets out to restore order in the world and attempts to extricate himself from the traps of his own devising that he has fallen into. Love was markedly absent in Das Rheingold. In this opera, it becomes a powerful factor in ways the characters never understood or expected. Die Walküre features the celebrated Ride of the Valkyries, which leads to an important turning point in the plot.

One need not be a musician or understand German to enjoy this seminar.  We will discuss the plotlines, explain the musical motives, view performances, and encourage engaging discussion.

Recommended Reading: Ernest Newman, The Wagner Operas, Princeton  University Press, reprint 1991; Philip Kitcher & Richard Schacht, Finding an  Ending: Reflections on Wagner’s Ring, Oxford University Press, 2004.

Teaching Style: Lecture with questions     Weekly Preparation: None


    Bradford Conner and Benjamin Sears

    Bradford Conner and Benjamin Sears have been performing together since 1989 and lecture regularly on the music they perform. Conner and Sears are leading scholars of Irving Berlin, with six recordings of his songs and print publications. Also opera and history lovers, both have taught at BHS. Conner is working on a new edition of Alec Wilder’s landmark American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950 for Oxford University Press. Sears, a graduate of Ithaca College and editor of The Irving Berlin Reader, has written a chapter  for a forthcoming book about the MGM film The Wizard of Oz, and is in the early stages of developing The Fred Astaire Reader.