Richard Wagner and the Ring Cycle

216 TUTOR: Robin Nelson (MA)

Richard Wagner was one of a handful of composers who changed the course of music. His groundbreaking masterpieces include The Ring Cycle, a set of four operas loosely based on figures and elements of Germanic and Norse mythology. As a marathon 15 hours of music spread over four evenings, it presents enormous challenges to those staging and performing it and to an audience's stamina too! During this course, you will follow each opera using the Barenboim version recorded at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, supported by live musical illustrations, CD and DVD extracts as well as a course booklet packed with useful information and musical extracts. Be prepared to launch into the world of Gods, Rhinemaidens, Dwarfs and Giants.

1 PM
PM course

Course Notes

Richard Wagner was a controversial figure, hated by some and adored by others. His music is powerful and compelling but when assessing the man his self-centered and headstrong way of life and anti-semitic views are less attractive qualities.

The purpose of this course is to present the Ring Cycle in a palatable way to those who are keen to be introduced to it as well as to those already initiated. Careful editing will ensure that we can get to grips with each opera without running out of time each day!

We will start with an outline of his life, career and development as a composer, leading to the creation of his so-called "music dramas” and his vision of total art (Gesamtkunstwerk) finally realized at Bayreuth.

I will attempt to explain the background of the Ring and its structure, harmony, orchestration and the all-important use of leitmotif, or leading motifs. The plots and music of Das Rheingold andDie Walkure will be considered, using extracts from the 1992 Barenboim/Kupfer version recorded at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus. Some of the unusual instruments he employs will be highlighted and illustrated along the way.

Later in the week we will continue with extracts from Siegfried and Gotterdammerung. Wagner's later life is considered and the impact and far reaching influence of his music. Solti's "Golden Ring” and other Ring Cycle productions and performances will also be referenced, as will various quotes, reflecting widely divergent views of the composer.

Throughout the course there will be some live musical illustrations, CD and DVD extracts, and a Course Booklet is provided, full of useful information and some musical extracts from the operas.

We will be following some musical extracts, but it will not be essential to be a fluent score reader or to already have a knowledge of music theory. More than anything else I look forward to launch us into the world of Gods, demi gods, Rhinemaidens, Nibelungen, evil dwarfs and scary giants!

Course Tutor

Robin Nelson


About Robin

Robin Nelson has been a well established Tutor at the Summer School since his time as Director of Music at the College (1982-2003).  

He has run a series of Music Courses on a wide range of topics: Ludwig van Beethoven, Great Musical Cities and so on.

Retired and living locally, with 25 years of experience as a music examiner, Robin runs music courses from his home and gives talks and lectures on a whole range of musical topics.

The Birdwatch course, "Spot that Bird”, is a long-standing fixture at the Summer School, giving participants an opportunity to share his passion for all things ornithological in a variety of delightful Wiltshire habitats.

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All courses run for 5 days

WK 1 11 Jul - 15 Jul

WK 2 18 Jul - 22 Jul

WK 3 25 Jul - 29 Jul

WK 4 1 Aug - 5 Aug

Morning Courses

9.15AM to 12.15PM

Afternoon Courses

1.45PM to 4.30PM

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9.15AM to 4.30PM