What is a leitmotif?


Fifteen hours (or thereabouts, depending on the conductor) of music, spread over four nights, woven from an intricate, cross-referenced nexus of small melodic cells and chord progressions (leitmotifs), Wagner’s Ring Cycle is considered by many to be one of the greatest and most influential works of the nineteenth century.

It can, however –mainly due to its sheer size and the (sometimes) complexity of its orchestral tapestry – be a daunting prospect for the would-be listener. So, for the next ten weeks, we’ll explore the music (and, inevitably, the thornier areas of the philosophy and the politics) of what the composer styled a Gesamkunstwerk (a total art work).

General course materials:


Cycle of 5ths

01 Rhinegold

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