Ride of the Valkyries: Wikis


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Arthur Rackham's illustration to the Ride of the Valkyries

The Ride of the Valkyries (German: Ritt der Walküren) is the popular term for the beginning of Act III of Die Walküre, the second of the four operas by Richard Wagner that comprise Der Ring des Nibelungen. 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. Together with the Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin, the Ride of the Valkyries is one of Wagner's best-known pieces.

In the opera-house, the Ride, which takes around eight minutes, begins in the prelude to the 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. Outside the opera-house, it is usually heard in a purely instrumental version, which may be as short as three minutes.



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The complete opera Die Walküre was first performed on 26 June 1870 in Munich against the composer's wishes. 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".[1] However, the piece was still printed and sold in Leipzig, and Wagner subsequently wrote a complaint to the publisher Schott.[2] 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 "Unsavory letters arrive for R. – requests for the Ride of the Valkyries and I don't know what else."[3] Once the Ring had been given in Bayreuth in 1876, Wagner lifted the embargo. He himself conducted it in London on Saturday 12 May 1877, repeating it as an encore.[4]

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 has been performed as such by Klaus Tennstedt and the London Philharmonic Orchestra on 6 August 1992[5] and also by Valery Gergiev with the Kirov Orchestra on 28 August 2001.[6] It was also performed as part of the BBC Doctor Who Prom on July 27, 2008.

In popular culture

"The Ride of The Valkyries" has been used to accompany moving pictures since the earliest days of Hollywood. The original score for D. W. Griffith's film The Birth of a Nation (1915), compiled by Joseph Carl Breil and Griffith, used the music in the climactic scene of the third act, when "The former enemies of North and South are united again in defense of their Aryan birthright" against liberated former black slaves after the end of the American Civil War. The beleaguered white group are rescued by the Ku Klux Klan to the sound of the music.

Since then, "The Ride of the Valkyries" has been used in a scene in Apocalypse Now where a squadron of helicopters attacks a Vietnamese village. Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall), commander of the 1/9 AirCav, orders its use because "it scares the hell out of the slopes!" In the 2009 film Watchmen, it is used in a similar scene portraying Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian's service in Vietnam.

Through the music, this scene has been parodied and referenced in television and film since, such as the 1998 movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and in the final episode of the third season of the American crime drama The Wire.

The theme was also prominently featured in Chuck Jones's 1957 animated short What's Opera Doc? starring Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny, and featuring the lyrics "Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit!" sung to the main theme.

In an episode of The Critic, Jay Sherman sings to the theme with the lyrics "Give me your french fries! Give me your pot pies! I'll take your large-size soft serve ice creeeeam!"

In the film Valkyrie (2008) 'Ride of the Valkyries' is heard playing on a record player as Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg and his family hide in their shelter during an air raid. It is "Ride of the Valkyries" that inspires von Stauffenberg to amend Operation Valkyrie in an attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler and end the Second World War.

The music also plays in The Blues Brothers as the Illinois neo-Nazis begin to chase after Elwood and Jake.

The theme is heard in Death to Smoochy, when the film's protagonist is chased by neo-Nazis in an ice show, portraying an earlier scene in the film when Smoochy's reputation was damaged after being lured to a neo-Nazi rally.

The music has also been used in European cinema. For example, the theme has an important role in Federico Fellini's , occurring twice - first in the 'spring water' sequence where the protagonist meets Mario Mezzabotta and second during the riot in the "harem scene".

The music is used with ironic intent in the computer game Full Throttle, during a scene where the game's protagonist Ben uses mechanized toy bunnies to clear a path through a minefield.

In the computer game Hearts of Iron II and its expansions, the thematic melody is used in the composition "War", by Andreas Waldetoft, played specifically during wartime.

It is also used in a British Gas advert that first aired in 2009.

In real life

A group of German tanks are said to have played "Ride of the Valkyries" on their shortwave radios just before an assault launched in World War II. The scenario is described in the book The Forgotten Soldier, written in late 1940s and first published in French in the 1960s, which claims to be a personal account of the author, Guy Sajer, and his experience as a soldier of the German "Großdeutschland Division". He describes standing next to the tanks in the Battle of Memel (now Klaipeda) where he was gathering together with a ragtag force to attempt a breakout from a surrounded position, and says in the book that it was "a fitting accompaniment to supreme sacrifice".[7]

"Ride of the Valkryies" was used to accompany several editions of Die Deutsche Wochenschau, the German wartime newsreel. The films in question were typically narrated by Harry Geise and featured sequences of Luftwaffe bombings.[8]

A long-standing tradition at the California Institute of Technology is the playing of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" at 7:00 each morning during finals week with the largest, loudest speakers available. The playing of that piece is not allowed at any other time (except if one happens to be listening to the entire fifteen hours of The Ring Cycle), and any offender is dragged into the showers to be drenched in cold water fully dressed. The playing of the "Ride" is such a strong tradition that the music was used during Apollo 17 to awaken Astronaut Harrison Schmitt, a Caltech alumnus.


  1. ^ Cosima Wagner, Diaries, entry for Wednesday 25 January 1871, translated Geoffrey Skelton.
  2. ^ Cosima Wagner, Diaries, entry for Tuesday March 28, 1871.
  3. ^ Cosima Wagner, Diaries, entry for Wednesday, 25 December 1872, translated Geoffrey Skelton.
  4. ^ Cosima Wagner, Diaries, entry for Saturday 12 May 1877. Also note on above entry p.1150.
  5. ^ Nick Breckenfield (2006) Feature Review – Klaus Tennstedt Concerts on CD, www.clasicalsource.com, link checked 7 August 2007.
  6. ^ Geoffrey Norris review of (Prom 50) 28 August 2001, Daily Telegraph, link checked 7 August 2007.
  7. ^ The Forgotten Soldier, Brassy's 2001 edition, p.418.
  8. ^ Luftwaffe attack Soviet Defenses in Stalingrad (Aug 1942) (YouTube video)


  • Wagner, Cosima. (1978). Diaries: Volume I 1869–1877. Edited and annotated by Martin Gregor-Dellin and Dietrich Mack, translated by Geoffrey Skelton. London, Collins.

External links

  • Listen to the piece at the Gutenberg Project in MP3 format

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