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What is GöTterdammerung?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated May 23, 2024
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Götterdammerung Twilight of the Gods in English — is the fourth and final opera in Der Ring des Nibelungen The Ring Cycle, by German composer Richard Wagner. It is a opera with a prologue and three acts, created with Wagner’s own libretto. The premiere of Götterdammerung took place at Bayreuth at the Festspielhaus on 17 August 1876, within the premiere of the entire Ring Cycle.

The story of Götterdammerung begins with the prologue at the Valkyrie rock where Siegfried ended. Here the Three Norns, or Fates, weave the rope of destiny. As they tell the story of Wotan’s rise to power, the breaking of his sword, and the end of the World Ash, they see Valhalla burning, and finally the rope breaks. The Norns descend into the earth.

Siegfried and Brünnhilde enter, and Siegfried gives Brünnhilde the ring, while she give him her horse. She stays on the fire-surrounded rock, while Siegfried leaves, as he must, to pursue adventure and glory.

As Siegfried travels, the Gibichungs are meeting. Gunther, their chief is speaking with his half-brother Hagen. Hagen suggests that Gunther and his sister Gutrune would do well to marry. He tells Gunther of Brünnhilde, lying on a rock encircled by fire and Gutrune of Siegfried, who could be made to fall in love with her by use of a magic potion that would cause him to forget other women.

Siegfried arrives and Gutrune gives him the potion. As it works, he offers himself to be Gutrune’s husband and to help win Gunther a wife. Told about Brünnhilde, it is obvious that he barely remembers her, and plans to go and bring her for Gunther.

Brünnhilde’s sister, Waltraute comes and begs for the ring to be given up to save Wotan. But Brünnhilde sees the ring as the promise of Siegfried’s love and refuses to part with it. Siegfried’s horn is heard, and he arrives disguised as Gunther. He claims Brünnhilde as Gunther’s wife and takes back the ring from her. They spend the night in a cave with a sword between them.

In Act II, the action of Götterdammerung returns to Gibichung hall, where Siegfried returns, and Gunther and Brünnhilde enter after him. Hagen calls up his vassals for the wedding feast. When Gutrune enters with Siegfried, Brünnhilde is amazed and confronts him. Siegfried swears to the story that he recollects, which has no promise to Brünnhilde in it. Brünnhilde swears that he has lied. Siegfried and Gutrune go in to the wedding feast, leaving Gunther, Brünnhilde, and Hagen behind. Hagen offers to avenge Brünnhilde, and she reveals that Siegfried’s back is vulnerable. They plan to tell Gutrune that Siegfried has died from a boar wound.

Act III of Götterdammerung begins on the bank of the Rhine. Siegfried, having lost his way and become separated from the hunting party, comes upon the Rhinemaidens, who ask him for the ring. He agrees to yield it, but ends up keeping it, after they reveal its curse. The rest of the hunting party enters.

Siegfried tells the others that he has seen no game except three birds who told him he would be murdered. He tells the story of being brought up by Mime, forging the sword, killing Fafner, and becoming able to understand birds. Hagen gives him a potion that restores his memory and Siegfried is able to continue the story. He tells about awaking Brünnhilde with a kiss. Two ravens, who portend death, fly overhead, and Hagen calls Siegfried’s attention to them. As he turns to look, Hagen spears him in the back. Siegfried dies saying Brünnhilde’s name.

The scene shifts to the hall of the Gibichungs, and Gutrune and Brünnhilde enter. Hagen enters and Siegfried’s corpse is brought. Hagen tells Gutrune that Siegfried was killed by a board, but she accuses her brother. Gunther blames Hagen, who claims that he had to because Siegfried committed perjury. Gunther blocks Hagen from taking the ring, and Hagen kills him. As Hagen tries a second time, Siegfried’s had rises. Brünnhilde tells of Siegfried’s oath. Gutrune curses Hagen, and throws herself on Siegfried. Brünnhilde orders a funeral pyre built. She lights the pyre, mounts her horse, and rides into the flames. The Rhine overflows, Hagen leaps into the river after the ring, and the Rhinemaidens drag him down into the water. The fire mounts to the sky and Valhalla begins to burn. Götterdammerung — The Twilight of the Gods — has arrived.

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Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for Musical Expert, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.
Discussion Comments
By christym — On Dec 29, 2010

@momothree: Richard Wagner was a German composer born at Leipzig. He was accepted as a student by Weinlig of the Thomasschule in 1830 after some of his compositions were noticed. His first opera was Die Feen and was completed in 1833.

He obtained a position as conductor at an opera house. This is where he met his wife, Minna Planer. Many of Wagner’s works were not well received. However, after a while, they became successes.

Wagner also wrote poetry. The king of Bavaria, Ludwig II, read a poem by Wagner called “Ring”. He immediately summoned Wagner to his court. That didn’t last long. There was much hostility towards Wagner because of his extravagance, preferential treatment and his meddling. He left for Switzerland. Minna, his wife, died in 1866. He remarried in 1868. Wagner died in 1883 from a sudden heart attack.

By momothree — On Dec 28, 2010

I am currently enrolled in a Music Appreciation course and we have been studying different composers and their pieces. I was assigned Gotterdammerung. I have to include information about Richard Wagner, the composer. I am having a hard time finding information on him. Does anyone have anything I could use?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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