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A list of Motives in the Ring

It is with some trepidation that I offer, as a supplement to the preceding article, yet another list of motives in the Tetralogy. In mitigation I can only plead that this is my list and I offer it for what it might be worth. It was made by distillation and reconciliation of many lists provided by commentators on the four-part drama. I have included all of the motives identified by Dr. Allen Dunning (178), all of those listed by Wolzogen (91), all of those discussed in Sabor's Commentary (80), most of the motives discussed by Stone on his Ring Disc (124) and others gleaned from books respectively by Ernest Newman, Albert Lavignac, Spencer and Millington, Robert Donington, and more recently Roger Scruton (whose list includes most of the motives listed by Dunning). Not least, I have included all of the motives discussed by Deryck Cooke in his books and recordings. The resulting consolidated list includes around 84 musical motives that might be classified as "leading motives", just over 100 motives that are incidental but nonetheless interesting, and a few from Dunning's list that in my view are not well-defined motives or trivial but I have included them anyway.

The names that I have chosen to provide in the column headed Suggested Name were variously selected from traditional names (some of them originating with Wolzogen) and from those given by later commentators such as Newman, Cooke, Holman, Stone and Sabor. In some cases I have combined names from different sources: for example, AD#71 I have called Sieglinde's Compassion. Several commentators have called this motif "Sieglinde" but to make it more specific I have taken "Compassion" from Lavignac. In a few cases I have been able to suggest a name that was used by Wagner himself, according to Porges or Cosima; but it seems that Wagner was not concerned about giving names to his "principal themes".

There is not enough space on this web-page for musical examples. The reader should be able to find examples in the sources that I have referenced in the tables below, namely:

  • AD: Dr. Allen Dunning's webpages are no longer online. Paul Heise has taken over Allen's material and included in his Wagnerheim. On this website Paul has published his book, in which he presents a consistently Feuerbachian interpretation of the Ring.
  • SM: Stewart Spencer's and Barry Millington's translation and commentary on Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung, pages 17-24 Thematic Guide contains examples of the core Leitmotive. There is a general consensus among commentators that these are leading motives, although most commentators argue for a few more that are not universally accepted as "leading".
  • Cooke: Deryck Cooke's An Introduction to Der Ring des Nibelungen was recorded to accompany the Decca/Solti/VPO recording of the Tetralogy. Originally it was issued on LP's and it is now available as a CD set: Decca 443 581-2. Musical examples are provided in the booklet.
  • JKH: J.K. Holman's Wagner's Ring: A Listener's Companion and Concordance is an indispensable guide for everyone interested in the Tetralogy and it should be of enormous help to anyone experiencing the work for the first time. Chapter 3 is devoted to "The Music" and contains a discussion of 145 motives and motivic complexes. I find Holman's list rather eclectic but I have included most of his motives, and in some cases accepted his suggested names, in my own list below.
  • Stone: I have tried to identify in my list the motives as named by Monte Stone and included his names for them in a column of each table below. It might be difficult to find his interactive CD The Ring Disc which although 20 years old, and no longer leading-edge technology, is still a useful study aid. The CD contains a very compressed, complete but monophonic version of the Solti/Decca/VPO recording which is synchronized with the vocal score. Each motif is identified as it appears and there is a reference guide to the motives, in which Monte presents a detailed and insightful analysis of each one.
  • Sabor: Rudolph Sabor's poetic translation of the Ring poem (libretto) is in my view the best English translation of the work. In his Translation and Commentary (Phaidon Press, 5 volumes) Sabor provides a discussion of the leading motives prefacing each scene or act, and in the Commentary volume he presents a complete list of motives with musical examples and an analysis of the music. Sabor gave a short name (in English or German) to each of the leading motives (which in his list are a few more than S+M had listed). I have shown Sabor's name for each of his 80 leading motives (which are, for Sabor, those motives that return after the scene in which they first appear) in a column of each table below.

Examples of the leading motives (and some incidental motives too) can be found on YouTube: including this set of 98 musical examples from Jason Pano, which principally uses the names given to the motives by Rudolph Sabor and another set with 127 examples, which uses more traditional names.

Das Rheingold

Some of the musical motives that are introduced in Das Rheingold will return in the later operas of the cycle. Limited space on this page does not allow me to continue the table immediately below into the later operas, so I have only shown in which scenes of the first opera the motives appear. To fill this gap, at the bottom of this page I have included the big table from the English translation of Albert Lavignac's book, which shows the occurrences of 84 motives through the entire cycle.

As well as the return of motives heard earlier, later operas in the cycle present variants of motives first heard in Das Rheingold and new motives that Wagner developed from the material of this first opera, which is a kind of "exposition" for the Ring.

ID AD# SM# Cooke # JKH# Suggested name M. Stone name R. Sabor name Sc. 1 Sc. 2 Sc. 3 Sc. 4
1 1 1a 5 1 Genesis Nature Arpeggios Genesis *
2 2 1b 6 2 Nature - - *
3 3 1c 7 3 River Rhine Rhine - *
4 4 2 22 4 Woglinde's Lullaby Rhinedaughters' Song Innocence * *
5 - - - 5 Flosshilde's Warning - - *
6 5 3 97, 36 7 Woe / Grief Woe Grief * * * *
7 - - - - "die Dritte, so traut" - Liebesnot (embryonic) *
8 6 - - - Alberich's Pursuit - - *
9 7 - 165 6 Alberich on the rocks Alberich Alberich * *
10 8 - - - Feminine Allure - - *
11 - - - - Rhinedaughters' Mockery Mockery - *
12 9 - - - Alberich's Fury Alberich's Fury - *
13 10 - - - Rhinedaughters' Taunt Rhinedaughters' Taunt - *
14 11 - 14 8 Shimmering Water Murmurs - *
15 12 4 17 9 Gold Gold Fanfare Rhinegold * * *
16 13 5b 26b, 29 10 Heiajaheia Heiajaheia - * * * *
17 14 - - - Nature in Motion - - *
18 15 5a 26a 11 Joy in the Gold Joy Joy * *
19 16 - - - Adoration Adoration - * * * *
20 17 6 39, 40 12 World's Wealth Ring (embryonic) * * * *
21 18 7 80 13, 59 Renunciation of Love Love-Curse Liebe-Tragik (1) * *
22 19 6 41, 42 - Ring, definitive form Ring (definitive) Ring * * * *
23 20 8 57-61 14 Valhalla (complex) Valhalla Walhall + Crisis * * *
24 21 9 63 24 Spear Spear Treaty * *
29 26 11 162 17 Giants Giants Giants * * *
25 22 - - - Love Longing Love Longing - *
26 23 - 147 15 Love's Bond Love's Enchantment Enchantment *
27 24 10a 93 16a Freia Freia (a) Freia * * *
28 25 10b 92 16b "Flight" Freia (b) Liebesnot (definitive) * * *
30 - - - - Deception - - *
31 27 - 64 - Irrevocable Law - - *
32 28 12 65 19 Treaty with the Giants Contract Troth * *
33 - - 66-68 18 Power of the Gods - - *
34 - - 93 20 Fasolt's Love Song - - *
35 29 13 2 21 Golden Apples of Eternal Youth Golden Apples Golden Apples * *
36 30 - - 22 Withering - - *
37 31 - - 23 Froh - - *
38 32 - - - Donner's Wrath *
39 33 14b - 25a Loge Loge (1) Loge * * *
40 34 - - 25b Flickering Flames Loge (2) - *
41 35 14a - 25c Magic Fire Loge (3) - *
42 36 - - 26 Loge's Craft - - *
43 37 - 84 27 Woman's Worth Lovelessness Liebe-Tragik (2) * * *
44 38 - - - Nature Weaving - - *
45 39 - 95 - Descent to Nibelheim - - *
46 40 10b 99 - Tragic Love - - *
47 41 15 32 28 Nibelung Forging - Forge * * *
48 - - - - Mime's Anguish Mime's Wail - *
49 42 16 153 29 Tarnhelm Tarnhelm Tarnhelm * *
50 43 - - - Transformation - - *
51 44 17 - - Mime's Scheming Brooding (1) - * *
52 45 - 47,190 31 Power of the Ring Tyranny Gold's Dominion * *
53 46 - 53 33 Nibelung Hoard Hoard Treasure * *
54 47 - - - Alberich's Rebellion Alberich's Hubris - *
55 - - - - Arrogance of Power Impudence Arrogance * *
56 48 18 54, 55 32 Serpent Dragon Dragon * *
57 49 - - - Toad - - *
58 50 - 46 34 Resentment / Hatred Angst Nibelungen Hate *
59 51 19 50 35 Alberich's Curse on the Ring Alberich's Curse Curse *
60 52 - - - Death Devoted - - *
61 53 20 8,190 36 Erda Erda Erda *
62 54 21 11 37 Downfall Gods' Twilight Götterdämmerung *
63 55 22 18 38 Donner's Thunder Donner Thunder *
64 56 - 19 39 Rainbow Bridge Rainbow Bridge Rainbow *
65 57 23 21,122 40 Wotan's Grand Idea Sword Sword *
66 58 - 123 53 Purpose of the Sword Purpose of the Sword - *
67 59 5c 27, 28 41 Rhinemaidens' Lament Rhinedaughters' Lament - *

Die Walküre

Some motives that were introduced in Das Rheingold also appear in Die Walküre. The table below shows when new motives are heard in this opera alone. Some of these "new" motives are really variants of those that were first heard in Das Rheingold.

ID AD# SM# Cooke # JKH# Suggested name M. Stone name R. Sabor name Prel Act1 Act 1 Act 2 Act 3
68 60 - 70,175 43 Storm Storm Storm * * *
69 61 - - - Lightning Lightning - *
70 62 24 71 44 Siegmund's Fatigue Siegmund's Fatigue Siegmund *
71 63 25 72 45 Sieglinde's Compassion Sieglinde Sieglinde * *
72 64 26 94 46 The Basic Love Motive Love Liebesnot * * *
73 65 - - - Siegmund's Misfortune Siegmund's Misfortune - *
74 66 27 106,107 47 Volsung Woe Suffering Wälsung Ordeal * *
75 67 28 1 48 Hunding Hunding Hunding * *
76 68 - 51 - Hunding's Rights Rules of the Game Atonement *
77 69 - - 50 Maiden's Grief - - *
78 - - - - Hunding's Suspicion Hunding's Suspicion - *
79 70 - 117a - Infinite Sorrow of the Volsungs Peace - *
80 71 29 117b 51 Volsung Race Wälsung Motif Wälsungen * *
81 72 - - 55 Triumph Recognition - *
82 73 - 108 56 Spring Song Winterstürme Melody - * *
83 74 - - 58 Bliss Bliss - * *
84 75 - - 57 Delight Rapture - *
85 76 - - - Entwining - - *
86 - 23b 126,127 60 Nothung Nothung Nothung * *
87 77 30 116 61 Valkyries/ Brünnhilde Valkyrie Ride * *
88 78 31 - 62 Battle Cry Battle Cry Valkyrie Cry * *
89 - - - - Fricka's Rams - - *
90 79 - - 63 Fricka's Anger Fricka - *
91 - - - - Fricka's Dignity - - *
92 80 - 131 64 Fricka's Reproach - - *
93 81 32a 73-77 65 Wotan's Frustration Frustration Wotan's Frustration * *
94 82 - 76 - Wotan's Revolt - - *
95 83 32b 181 66 Distress of the Gods Gods' Distress - * *
96 - - - - Nibelung Son Son of Darkness - *
97 84 - - - First Motive of Wotan's Anger Wotan's Bitterness - *
98 85 - - 67 Second Motive of Wotan's Anger Wotan's Rage - * *
99 86 - - 68 Hunding's Pursuit - - *
100 87 34 158-160 69 Fate Fate Fate * *
101 88 33 119 70 Annunciation of Death Judgement Death * *
102 - - - - Crisis - Crisis * *
103 89 - - - Siegmund's Rebellion Siegmund's Rebellion Siegmund's Rebellion *
104 90 - - 71 Sympathy for the Volsungs Brünnhilde's Compassion - *
105 - - - - Sieglinde's Dream - - *
106 91 - 184 - Riding Ride - *
107 92 35 120 72 Siegfried the Hero Siegfried Siegfried *
108 93 36 - 73 Glorification of Brünnhilde (RW) Redemption Assurance *
109 94 - - - Brünnhilde's Punishment - - *
110 95 - - - The Valkyries' Protest - - *
111 - - - - Judgement of Brünnhilde - - *
112 96 37 78 74 Brünnhilde's Reproach Love's Triumph Wotan's Child *
113 - - 79 75 Brünnhilde's Love for Wotan - - *
114 97 38 156 76 Magic Sleep Magic Sleep Oblivion *
115 98 39 25 77 Sleeping Brünnhilde Assurance (inversion is Fear) Sanctuary *
116 99 - 109 78 Wotan's Love for Brünnhilde Wotan's Sadness Wotan's Farewell *
117 100 - 151,152 - Magic Fire (2nd version) Magic Fire Magic Fire *

Siegfried

Some motives that were introduced in Das Rheingold or Die Walküre also appear in Siegfried. As a result of limitations of space here, in the table below I list only the new motives that appear in this opera.

ID AD# SM# Cooke # JKH# Suggested name M. Stone name R. Sabor name Prel Act1 Act 1 Act 2 Act 3
118 101 - 44 79 Brooding Brooding Brooding * *
119 102 - - - Mime's Failure - - *
120 103 40 137 80 Siegfried's Horn Call (short) Siegfried's Horn Call Horn Call * * *
121 104 41 - 81 Youthful Energy Impatience Adventure * * *
122 105 - 167 82 Starling Song Sob Story Crocodile (tears) *
123 106 42 110 84 Love in Nature Love Longing (1) Longing * *
124 107 - - 83 Yearning for Knowledge - - *
125 108 - - - Who were my Parents? - - *
126 109 - - - Siegfried's Heritage - - *
127 110 - - 85 Adventure Adventure (1) Freedom * *
128 111 58 142,168 86 Siegfried's Mission Adventure (2) - *
129 112 43 157 88 Wanderer's first motive Wanderer (part 1) Wanderer * * *
130 113 44 - - Wanderer's second motive Wanderer (part 2) - * *
131 114 - - - Wotan's Questions - - *
132 115 54 66-68 - The Power of the Gods Spear Inversion Authority *
133 - - 12 89 World Ash Tree, first version - - *
134 116 - - - Hallowed Contracts - - *
135 117 - - - Grovelling Mime Mime's Cunning Shuffle * *
136 118 - - - Fearlessness - - *
137 - - - 97 Siegfried as Smith Labour Action *
138 119 - 127 60 Neidliches Schwert! - - *
139 120 45 - 90 Smelting Bellows (1) - *
140 121 - - - Blowing the Bellows Bellows (2) - *
141 122 - - - Casting of the Sword Hardened Steel (1) - * *
142 123 - - - Mime makes Soup Hardened Steel (2) - *
143 124 - - 91 Forging Song Hammering Song - *
144 125 - - - Siegfried's Praise of Nothung - - *
145 126 46 163 92 Fafner as Dragon Fafner Fafner * * *
146 127 - - 93 The Free Hero - - *
147 - - 14-16 94 Forest Murmurs Forest Murmurs - *
148 128 47 - 95a Bird Songs Woodbird Song (1) Woodbird (1) *
149 129 48 23,24 95b Woodbird Woodbird Song (2) Woodbird (2) * *
150 130 - - - Egoism / Egotism - - *
151 131 - - 96 False Flattery - - *
152 132 - - - Loneliness - - *
153 - - - 98 Yearning for Love + Siegfried's Mission - - *
154 133 - - 100 Waking of Erda - - *
155 134 49 148 101 Redemption (RW) Bequest Bequest *
156 - - - 102 Ravens - - *
157 135 - - - Wotan teasing Siegfried - - *
158 136 - - - Wotan tries to stop Siegfried - - *
159 137 64 - - Love's Confusion - - *
160 - - - - Brünnhilde's Beauty - - *
161 - - - - Devotion - - *
162 138 - - - Awakening Music 1 - Kiss Awakening (1) Revival *
163 - - 161 104 Awakening Music 2 - Sunlight Awakening (2) - *
164 139 - - - Greeting to the World - - *
165 140 50 102 105 Love's Greeting Love's Greeting Hosanna *
166 141 51 111 106 Jubilation Jubilation Jubilation *
167 142 - 112 107 Idyll Idyll - *
168 143 - 113 108 Treasure of the World Love's Happiness Liebesglück *
169 144 - - - Waving Waves - - *
170 145 52 105 109 Love's Resolution Laughing at Death Liebesbund *

Götterdämmerung

Many of the leading (or principal) motives that were introduced in earlier operas also appear in Götterdämmerung, where Wagner has woven them into a rich tapestry of sound. In the table below I have only listed the new motives that appear first in this opera, some of which are variants of motives heard earlier in the cycle.

ID AD# SM# Cooke # JKH# Suggested name M. Stone name R. Sabor name Prol ogue Act 1 Act 2 Act 3
171 146 53 13 - World Ash Tree, second version - - *
172 147 54 169 - Dawn Dawn - *
173 - - - 111 Rope of Destiny Weaving Music - *
174 148 55 - 112 Mature Siegfried Hero Hero *
175 149 56 149 113 Brünnhilde as Mortal Woman Brünnhilde Brünnhilde * * * *
176 150 57 114 114 Heroic Love Heroic Love Consorts * * *
177 - - - 117 Treachery - - *
178 151 59 133 118 Hagen Hagen Hagen *
179 152 60 121 119 Gibichung Race Gibichung Gibichungen *
180 - - - 120 Gutrune's 1st motive - - *
181 153 - 134 122 Plotting Seduction - *
182 154 - 154c 121 Magic Potion or Forgetting Magic Potion Amnesia * * *
183 155 59 132 124 False Friendship - - * *
184 156 61 135 125 Gutrune's 2nd motive/ Deception Gutrune Gutrune * * *
185 157 62 - 126 1st motive of Blood-brotherhood - Bloodbrothers * *
186 158 63 145 127 2nd motive of Blood-brotherhood Blood-brotherhood - *
187 159 - 52 128 Vow of Atonement - - * * *
188 160 - - - Pledge / Troth - - *
189 - - - - Hagen's Watch - - *
190 161 - - - The Power of the Ring - Hagen version - - *
191 162 - - 129 Hagen's Envy - - *
192 163 - - - Brünnhilde's Query - - *
193 - - - - Funeral Pyre - - * *
194 - 64a - 131 Betrayal Confusion (1) Revenge * * *
195 164 64b - 130 Escape from the Gods Confusion (2) - * *
196 165 - 128 132 Honour - - * *
197 166 - - - Hagen's Lovelessness - - *
198 167 65 48 133 Murder Conspiracy Murder * * *
199 168 66 170 134 Hagen's Day Dawn - *
200 - - 171 139 Vassals' Song *
201 169 - - 136 Gutrune's 3rd motive/ Greeting - - * *
201 170 - 38 137 Hagen's Rallying Cry - - *
202 171 67 136 138 Gibichung Horn Call Gibichung Horn Call - *
203 172 - - - Gathering - - *
204 - - - 140 Vassals' Greeting - - *
205 173 - 139 141 Swearing of the Oath - - *
206 174 - - 143 Rhinemaidens' Lament - variant - - *
207 175 - 174 - Rhinemaidens Swimming Rhinedaughters' Dance - *
208 176 - - - Expectation - - *
209 - - - - Remembrance - - *
210 177 - - 144 Siegfried's Death Death Chords - *
211 - - - 145 Rest - - *
212 178 - 193 - Finale - - *

Lavignac's Analysis of Returning Motives

Albert Lavignac in his invaluable reference work The Music Dramas of Richard Wagner provided this table, showing the occurrences of 84 motives through the cycle. Please note that the names given to these motives by Lavignac, based on those provided earlier by Wolzogen, may differ from the names that I have used in the tables above and that, in a few cases, Lavignac gave the same name to a different motive. In the left margin I have tried to relate Lavignac's motives to Dunning's list.

Leitmotive - Lavignac

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© Derrick Everett 1996-2019. This page last updated (adjusted aspect ratios, change graphic file format) --- Sun 10 Nov 2019 18:50 CET ---