Tuesday, August 17, 1976

100 years ago: Wagner's Ring Cycle completes its first full performance

Last updated 11/16/2020.

Der Ring Des Nibelungen (The Ring Cycle)

Richard Wagner (composer)

Composed: 1848-1876

First Performed as a Cycle: August 13-17, 1876

Peak: -- US, -- UK, -- CN, -- AU

Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world (includes US and UK)

Genre: classical > opera

Works/When Composed (w)/When First Performed (p)/Average Duration:

  1. Das Rheingold (The Rhine Gold), opera, WWV 86a (w. 1853-54, p. 9/22/1869) [148:00]
  2. Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), opera, WWV 86b (w. 1854-56, p. 6/26/1870) [220:00]
  3. Siegfried, opera, WWV 86c (w. 1856-71, p. 8/16/1876) [235:40]
  4. Die Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods), opera, WWV 86d (w. 1869-74, p. 8/17/1876) [259:10]


4.750 out of 5.00 (average of 2 ratings)


About the Album:

Stretched out over 15 hours, Wagner’s Ring Cycle comprises “one of the most extended of all artistic creations.” AMG His series of four operas, created over a quarter century, are sometimes performed separately, but Wagner intended them as a series. The first opera, Das Rheingold, is the shortest, typically running about two and a half hours, while Götterdämmerung , the last of the four, can run five hours. WK He eventually premiered the full cycle from August 13-17 in 1876 WK at his Festival Theater in Bayreuth. TM1 The four-day event was seen by audiences as comparable to visiting a shrine. To this day, the staging and attending of the full Ring Cycle is considered “the most significant events in the lives of both opera companies and opera-going fans.” AMG

The story centers around characters based on the Norse sagas, following three generations of protagonists. Alberich is a dwarf who, with gold stolen from the Rhine maidens in the river Rhine, fashions a magic ring which gives him the power to rule the world. WK Wotan, the chief of the gods, oversees the existing world order ruling through adherence to contracts, which he keeps on a spear. AMG He schemes to regain the ring and also sacrifices an eye to gain the hand of Fricka, the goddess of marriage. AMG Alberich and Wotan are opposites, in that one has sacrificed love for power and the other sacrifices for love. AMG

Musically, there are suites of motives headed by the Ring which are marked by a simple pair of chords while “an imposingly-rhythmed downward major scale” AMG marks the motives ruled by the Spear. Nature, a third force from the beginning of the opera which represents the power between Man and Gods, “is represented by a single chord, unwound into a slow upward arpeggio.” AMG

“The music of the cycle is thick and richly textured and grows in complexity as the cycle proceeds. Wagner wrote for an orchestra of gargantuan proportions, including a greatly enlarged brass section with new instruments such as the Wagner tuba, bass trumpet and contrabass trombone” WK and minimal use of a chorus. WK

In the first opera, Das Rheingold (The Rhine Gold), greed and the lust for power are beginning to corrupt the world. The Ring, Wotan’s spear, and the renunciation of love are introduced. Wotan’s human children, Siegmund and Sieglinde, and the Valkyrie, Brünnhilde, inherit situations brought on by a series of “gods, nymphs, giants, and dwarves.” TM1

The second opera, Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), is the one most often performed separately and is arguably Wagner’s best-loved work. The story focuses on the incestuous love between Siegmund and Sieglinde “and the father-daughter relationship of Wotan and Brünnhilde.” TM2

Wagner halted work on Siegfried, the third opera, in 1857 when the Ring project hit financial obstacles. Wagner moved on to other works, including Tristan and Die Meistersinger, before finally returning to the Ring in 1869, TM3 during which time Wagner moved from his initial intent to make Siegfried as the drama’s hero to a greater exploration of Wotan. He also developed a more pessimistic stance in which greed and corruption could not be overcome by the power of love alone. TM3

As the longest of the four operas, Die Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) is “one of the longest evenings of opera in the standard repertory.” TM4 “‘Siegfried’s Rhine Journey’ probably comprise the longest continuous stretch of music heard in any operatic work.” TM4 “Despite this, the drama is so compressed that events seem almost to race to their cataclysmic end.” TM4 “Musically, Wagner has gained such mastery of his drama and musical motives, that he treats both with superb fluidity.” TM4 Wagner completed the entire opera on November 21, 1874. TM4

Resources and Related Links:

Saturday, August 7, 1976

Elton John & Kiki Dee hit #1 with “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart

Elton John & Kiki Dee

Writer(s): Elton John & Bernie Taupin (as Ann Orson & Carte Blanche) (see lyrics here)

Released: June 21, 1976

First Charted: July 2, 1976

Peak: 14 US, 13 CB, 15 HR, 17 RR, 11 AC, 1 CL, 16 UK, 13 CN, 11 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, 1.0 UK, 2.0 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 62.7 video, 366.71 streaming

Awards: (Click on award for more details).

About the Song:

Elton John and Bernie Taupin proved to be one of the most reliable, hit-making songwriting teams in the 1970s, landing #1 songs with “Crocodile Rock,” “Bennie and the Jets,” “Philadelphia Freedom,” and “Island Girl.” “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” was the pair’s fifth trip to the top in the United States, but their first time in the UK. Technically, it isn’t credited to them since they wrote it under the pseudonyms Ann Orson and Carte Blanche. Billboard ranked it the #2 song of 1976 behind Paul McCartney & Wings’ “Silly Love Songs.”

When Elton John launched Rocket Records in the mid-‘70s, Kiki Dee was the first artist signed to the new label. Elton said, “It just seemed natural that we should try and write something for her – she really is an incredible singer.” KL However, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” was reportedly offered first to Dusty Springfield, but she was too ill at the time and had to decline. WK

Kiki explained that she and Elton were big fans of Motown duets by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell and “thought we’d do one ourselves.” KL They considered covering a Motown song, “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever” by the Four Tops, SF but opted for an original instead. Elton recorded the song in Toronto, SF singing Kiki’s parts in a high-pitched voice, and then sent it to her in London. KL The song was recorded during sessions for Elton’s Blue Moves, but didn’t appear on that album.

The two made a video where they just sang the song together around the microphone. Kiki said of the piano man, “I don’t think Elton’s ever recorded standing up and I don’t think he quite knew what to do with his hands. When you consider all the cross-cutting in today’s videos I think our video is quite sweet. It’s just us in a TV studio.” KL

Resources and Related Links:

  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for Elton John
  • DMDB page for parent album Greatest Hits Volume II
  • BR Fred Bronson (2003). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (5th edition). Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 440.
  • JA David A. Jasen (2002). A Century of American Popular Music: 2000 Best-Loved and Remembered Songs (1899-1999). Routledge: Taylor & Francis, Inc. Page 49.
  • KL Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh (2005). 1000 UK Number One Hits: The Stories Behind Every Number One Single Since 1952. London, Great Britain: Omnibus Press. Page 222.
  • SF Songfacts
  • WK Wikipedia

First posted 4/3/2021.