Lecture 25

German Opera and Richard Wagner


Drama is the most comprehensive work of art; it can only be full realized when all the other arts in their full realization are present in it.                                                             —Richard Wagner


Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungen: die Walküre

We look at Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungen.

As we dig in deeper, we view portions of Wagner's opera Die Walküre—the second of the 4 operas that comprise the opera cycle.

Based on my own preferences, I have chosen to use one particular performance of the opera's first act excerpts and another for its third act excerpts.

Topics covered:

  • Wagner's greatly increased use of chromaticism
  • the idea of an endless melody
  • his invention and use of the leitmotive a motive


  • understand Wagner's use of leitmotives
  • hearing leitmotives in context
  • hearing the relationship of the leitmotive to the character and to the dramatic moment
  • hear the increased chromaticism used in Wagner's music
  • hear how traditional phrase structure is replaced with an endless melody


  • As you are reading your textbook, go through the Listening Exercises in textbook sequence, listening to theRichard Wagner examples provided.
  • regarding developing listening skills: you should be in the habit of developing your listening skills early in the game - the assignments will get more complex through the semester and you may find yourself unable to keep up. As simple as these early assignments may seem to some of you, they will help to keep you on the right track, and help you develop the skills required for a greater appreciation in listening to music, including the music that you listen to for your own enjoyment. Of course, those objectives are in total sync with the success you hope to have in this class. Remember that your ability to recognize the music on your CDs will be tested and will, of course, impact your grade. 

Audio / Video lecture

  • in this lecture, I would suggest you go online at the Media Center to view both this web page and the DVDs that are a part of this lecture.
  • click lecture segments below in sequence
  • this will alternate with the viewing of the DVDs as instructed below
  • presented in several segments to reduce download time
  • total lecture time: approx. 74 minutes (all segments and DVD tracks included) 


Lecture 25.1

Introduction to Richard Wagner

Lecture 25.2 
Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelungen


25.3 NOTE: a reminder that I've chosen, based on my own preferences, to use 2 different performances of this opera - one for the first act; one for the third act. 




Lecture 25.4

die Walküre Act III


25.5 for Act III, please open the DVD box that I've labeled "Neely Wagner DVD 2" (performed by the Metropolitan Opera, conducted by James Levine). Insert disk 2 of that set (it should read "Act III"). play the first 3 minutes only, to hear the Ride of the Valkyries in the context of the opera. 



25.6 Next, move on to Track 11 and watch to the end of the DVD.