Album: The Ring of the Nibelung
Artist: Richard Wagner
Composed: From 1848 to 1874
Description: The Ring of the Nibelung is a massive cycle of four music dramas composed by Richard Wagner over the course of 26 years. The Ring, as it is sometimes shortened to, is loosely based off the Norse dramas and the Nibelungenlied. The cycle is split into four pieces (translated here in English): The Rhinegold, The Valkyrie, Siegfried, and Twilight of the Gods. The piece is an opera, though here I am posting a lyricless version of the work. Wagner intended The Ring to be performed over the course of four days. The full piece is known to take, on average, a total of 15 hours, depending on the conductor’s pacing. The story is fascinating, if you’ve the time to read it here, but essentially follows the struggles, battles, and deceptions between gods, heroes, and others to claim a ring that grants its owner the power to rule the world. Oh, what’s up, Lord of the Rings? Note on that, by the way, Tolkien was a professor of mythology and may have been inspired by this idea. But who knows, I’m not an investigative scholar, sheesh, get off my back.
The music itself is of an epic scale. Wagner required a huge orchestra to perform The Ring, particularly in the brass section. He ecommissioned new instruments to be invented for this work, including the bass trumpet, contrabass trombone, and the Wagner tuba. He even had a theater built, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, specifically to perform The Ring. The brass section truly takes the show, providing some of the most immensely powerful and muscular classical music you’ve ever heard. He also called on having plenty of percussionists; The Rhinegold, for instance, calls for there to be 18 anvils on stage.
While listening to this piece, you may pick up on music you’ve heard before. What I mean is, living film composers have leaned on this specific work for inspiration; in The Twilight of the Gods you will clearly hear Hans Zimmer’s themes for the Gladiator. You will also notice similarities in Howard Shore’s work for The Lord of the Ring trilogy. Why the similarities? This piece is simply monumental and unmatched in its composition, thus it is, for what I figure, a masterclass in dramatic works around a narrative that all great composers hope to achieve with their own works, and thus it is so ingrained in their psyche that they hear it when presented works from fantasy worlds or pre-Medieval times.
Why write to this piece? When I was in college, I knew a fellow who wrote big, fantasy novels. He told me one day he was creating his own mythology for his universe. I have been thinking what music would be ideal for writing something as massive, complicated, and dramatic as Greek or Norse mythology, and this is it.