Ride of the Valkyries
The "Ride of the Valkyries" (German: Walkürenritt or Ritt der Walküren) is the popular term for the beginning of act 3 of Die Walküre, the second of the four operas by Richard Wagner that constitute Der Ring des Nibelungen.
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As a separate piece, the "Ride" is often heard in a purely instrumental version, which may be as short as three minutes. Together with the Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin, the Ride of the Valkyries is one of Wagner's best-known pieces.
The "Ride of the Valkyries" in the Walküre opera
The main theme of the "Ride", the leitmotif labelled "Walkürenritt", was first written down by the composer on 23 July 1851. The preliminary draft for the "Ride" was composed in 1854 as part of the composition of the entire opera, which was fully orchestrated by the end of the first quarter of 1856.
In the Walküre opera, the "Ride", which takes around eight minutes, begins in the prelude to the third act, building up successive layers of accompaniment until the curtain rises to reveal a mountain peak where four of the eight Valkyrie sisters of Brünnhilde have gathered in preparation for the transportation of fallen heroes to Valhalla. As they are joined by the other four, the familiar tune is carried by the orchestra, while, above it, the Valkyries greet each other and sing their battle-cry. Apart from the song of the Rhinemaidens in Das Rheingold, it is the only ensemble piece in the first three operas of Wagner's Ring cycle.
The complete opera Die Walküre was first performed on 26 June 1870 in the National Theatre Munich against the composer's intent. By January of the next year, Wagner was receiving requests for the Ride to be performed separately, but wrote that such a performance should be considered "an utter indiscretion" and forbade "any such thing". However, the piece was still printed and sold in Leipzig, and Wagner subsequently wrote a complaint to the publisher Schott. In the period up to the first performance of the complete Ring cycle, Wagner continued to receive requests for separate performances, his second wife Cosima noting "Unsavoury letters arrive for R. – requests for the Ride of the Valkyries and I don't know what else." Once the Ring had been given in Bayreuth in 1876, Wagner lifted the embargo. He himself conducted it in London on 12 May 1877, repeating it as an encore.
As concert repertoire piece
Within the concert repertoire, the Ride of the Valkyries remains a popular encore, especially when other Wagnerian extracts feature in the scheduled program. For example, at the BBC Proms it was performed as such by Klaus Tennstedt and the London Philharmonic Orchestra on 6 August 1992 and also by Valery Gergiev with the Kirov Orchestra on 28 August 2001. It was also performed as part of the BBC Doctor Who Prom in 2008.
In film the "Ride" is usually associated with the 1979 epic Apocalypse Now, where the 1/9 Air Cavalry regiment plays the piece of music on helicopter-mounted loudspeakers during their assault on a Vietnamese village as psychological warfare and also to motivate their own troops.
Prior uses in film include the original score for The Birth of a Nation (1915 top grossing film), Die Deutsche Wochenschau (World War II German newsreels), and What's Opera, Doc? (1957 animated short).
Apart from where the "Ride" is included in the recordings of the Walküre opera, it is a very popular piece, included in various popular classics anthologies. For instance in Deutsche Grammophon's 1991 CLASSICMANIA two CD album (von Karajan version), and in Brilliant Classics' 2011 Best Film Classics CD box, there included in the fifth CD, Opera at the Movies, with a reference to Apocalypse Now on the sleeve.
- Cosima Wagner, Diaries, entry for Wednesday 25 January 1871, translated Geoffrey Skelton.
- Cosima Wagner, Diaries, entry for Tuesday March 28, 1871.
- Cosima Wagner, Diaries, entry for Wednesday, 25 December 1872, translated Geoffrey Skelton.
- Cosima Wagner, Diaries, entry for Saturday 12 May 1877. Also note on above entry p. 1150.
- Nick Breckenfield (2006) Feature Review – Klaus Tennstedt Concerts on CD, www.clasicalsource.com, link checked 7 August 2007.
- Geoffrey Norris review of (Prom 50) 28 August 2001, Daily Telegraph, link checked 7 August 2007.
- "Wagner – Ride of the Valkyries (Apocalypse Now)" in Best Film Classics (6 CD Box). Brilliant Classics No. 94131. CD 5, track 10.
- Coates, Gordon (October 17, 2008). "Coppola's slow boat on the Nung". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2008-10-17.
- "Modernism/modernity – Volume 15, Number 2, April 2008". Muse.jhu.edu. Retrieved 2012-08-06.
- "The Piano Parlour". Thepianoparlour.squarespace.com. Retrieved 2012-08-06.[dead link]
- "Those Magnificent Men, compact disc". The Band of the Parachute Regiment. Retrieved 3 March 2011.
- Wagner, Cosima. (1978). Diaries: Volume I 1869–1877. Edited and annotated by Martin Gregor-Dellin and Dietrich Mack, translated by Geoffrey Skelton. Collins, London.