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Wagner's Ring Cycle

For most operas, a five-hour survey would more than cover every measure, every note – but not this one, Wagner’s crowning achievement. Bill helps us understand and enjoy this long and fanciful journey, with richly textured music that continues to grow in complexity as the operas proceed. Wagner spent a quarter of a century writing the libretto and composing the music that follows the struggles and dramas of gods, heroes, and mythical creatures. We will listen to orchestral preludes, arias, and more from The RhinegoldThe Valkylie, Siegfried, and Twilight of the Gods.

Program 1

Das Rheingold is up first, and its grandiose majesty is felt almost immediately whilst immersed in the Rhine river. There simply isn't enough time for the entire opera, as it is almost as long as a weeklong show, so we focus on a few choice excerpts. But hopefully, that's enough to whet your appetite for Wagner, and if it isn't, there's plenty more opera to work through all throughout this week.

Weber: Overture fr. Der Freischütz (excerpt)
Berlin Phil/Karajan
EMI 64629

Wagner: Das Rheingold (excerpts)
Vienna Phil/Solti
Lon 445 556-2
8:30, 2:18, 6:09, 2:30, 1:35, 4:33, 2:22, :32, 1:16, 1:07, 3:53, 6:15, 3:03

Program 2

Die Walküre does not pick up exactly where Das Rheingold, the Ring cycle's prologue, left off, but it's just as well, since there's a lot of ground to cover in the timeskip between the two operas. (Yes, even for Wagner, there was too much material to cover.) The sheer size of these operas is quite daunting even in condensed form, so Bill is here to explain it all step by step--what all the leitmotifs mean, how the music tells the story, and what's going on in the story without the help of stage sets or actors singing it to us. The music can tell the story all on its own, which was the great genius of Wagner.

Wagner: Die Walküre (excerpts)
NY Met Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Levine
DG 471678
1:56, :15, :48, 1:13, 14:50, 2:57, 2:03, 1:10, :33, 5:48, 3:07, :36, 1:38, 1:15, 15:31

Program 3

We're not yet done with Die Walküre, so we spend even more time on it in this segment. We meet the famous Valkyrie Brünhilde, and despite how popular culture has portrayed her, the power and majesty in her voice is fantastic. It's amazingly easy to get caught up in the sheer amount of force behind Wagner's music; its scope justifies its length.

Wagner: Die Walküre (excerpts)
NY Met Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Levine
DG 471678
3:09, 3:51, 5:37, 9:13, 24:22

Wagner: Forest Murmurs fr. Siegfried
Cleveland Orchestra/Szell
CBS 46286

Program 4

The least often opera performed by itself, Siegfried presents us with a great opportunity to explore some music that isn't heard nearly as often as the rest of the Ring cycle. This, however, does not diminish its importance to the story or its marvelous musical qualities. And for those unaware of what's going on, Bill is on hand to explain what the music is saying in addition to what the singers are saying. It's a real treat for anybody with any amount of interest in Wagner, no matter how great or little.

Wagner: Siegfried (excerpts)
Vienna Phil/Solti
Lon 455564
5:04, :39, 2:46, :40, 1:08

Wagner: Siegfried (excerpt)
NY Met Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Levine; Landsman, hn.
DG 471678

Wagner: Seigfried, Act III (excerpts)
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orch/Pappano; Domingo, t.; Voigt, s.
EMI 57004 2
7:08, 7:45

Wagner: Dawn & Siegfried’s Rhine Journey fr. Götterdämmerung
Philadelphia Orch/Ormandy
RCA 61850

Program 5

It's all been building up to this. Götterdämmerung, the "Twilight of the Gods", is the imposing and impressive conclusion to Wagner's Ring Cycle, which we have been exploring all this week. The finale is worth all of what has been heard, multiple times over, and to this day it still sets the hair of millions on end.

Wagner: Götterdämmerung (excerpts)
Vienna Phil/Solti
Lon 455569
2:25, 17:21, 24:43

Anna Russell: The Ring of the Nibelungs- An Analysis (excerpt)
Sony 47252


The Exploring Music streaming website is supported by Mr. & Mrs. William Gardner Brown and the Richard P. and Susan Kiphart Family.  
You have opened up the world of Classical Music to me, where previously, it seemed too complicated.
Steffen Demeter
This is simply one of the very best radio programmes in the medium!...The study of the people, the times, and the events that inform the music we otherwise enjoy and even, heaven forbid, take for granted, brings the entire world of the music and the composer to life.
Walther Davies
There isn't a program you broadcast on Exploring Music" that isn't of interest. I find them all engaging. It is a combination of variety of subject, intellectual curiosity and your obvious enthusiasm which characterize your satisfying programs.
Michael Sanders
It’s a great way to re-engage myself with consciousness before heading off to work.
I Love this program! I am in 7th grade and I am the complete opposite of the other kids. I am 4th chair in the orchestra and I love to read. But most of all, I LOVE classical music!
Claudia Wertz
Your show has helped open my mind and heart to this world of music, and every show I hear confirms my place in music and gives me new ideas for where I'd like to go with it in the future….I grew up with classical music as a child and always held it in my heart, but I didn't have the confidence to be a good student (or a good violinist.)
Christine Anderson
Listening to you is almost interactive.You invite us in with so many well modulated dramatic and informative comments, enticing, enthusiastic interpretations, and coherent, beautiful presentations. It's a privilege to follow you into the musical space you create.
Sally Rosenbaum
I just love this program. It is soothing and comfortable at the end of the day. I find his comments interesting, but they aren't so dragged out that there is very little music. The balance of both is just right.
Jean Quay
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