Music drama by Richard Wagner
Max Brückner - Otto Henning - Richard Wagner - Final scene of Götterdämmerung - crop.jpg
Valhalla in flames, in an 1894 depiction by Max Brückner, one of the original set designers for the opera
TranslationTwilight of the Gods
LibrettistRichard Wagner
Based onNordic and German legends
17 August 1876 (1876-08-17)

Götterdämmerung (German: [ˈɡœtɐˌdɛməʁʊŋ] (audio speaker iconlisten); Twilight of the Gods),[1] WWV 86D, is the last in Richard Wagner's cycle of four music dramas titled Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung, or The Ring for short). It received its premiere at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus on 17 August 1876, as part of the first complete performance of the Ring.

The title is a translation into German of the Old Norse phrase Ragnarök, which in Norse mythology refers to a prophesied war among various beings and gods that ultimately results in the burning, immersion in water, and renewal of the world. However, as with the rest of the Ring, Wagner's account diverges significantly from these Old Norse sources.



Roles, voice types, premiere cast
Role[2]Voice type[2]Premiere cast, 17 August 1876
Conductor: Hans Richter[2][3]
SiegfriedtenorGeorg Unger
BrünnhildesopranoAmalie Materna
GuntherbaritoneEugen Gura
GutrunesopranoMathilde Weckerlin
HagenbassGustav Siehr
AlberichbaritoneKarl Hill
Waltrautemezzo-sopranoLuise Jaide
First NorncontraltoJohanna Jachmann-Wagner
Second Nornmezzo-sopranoJosephine Schefsky
Third NornsopranoFriederike Grün
WoglindesopranoLilli Lehmann
WellgundesopranoMarie Lehmann
Flosshildemezzo-sopranoMinna Lammert
Vassals, women


The Norns vanish (Arthur Rackham, 1911)


The three Norns, daughters of Erda, gather beside Brünnhilde's rock, weaving the rope of Destiny. They sing of the past and the present, and of the future when Wotan will set fire to Valhalla to signal the end of the gods. Without warning, their rope breaks. Lamenting the loss of their wisdom, the Norns disappear.

As day breaks, Siegfried and Brünnhilde emerge from their cave, high on a mountaintop surrounded by magic fire. Brünnhilde sends Siegfried off to new adventures, urging him to keep their love in mind. As a pledge of fidelity, Siegfried gives her the ring of power that he took from Fafner's hoard. Bearing Brünnhilde's shield and mounting her horse Grane, Siegfried rides away as an orchestral interlude (Siegfried's Journey to the Rhine) starts.

Act 1

Brünnhilde is visited by her Valkyrie sister Waltraute (Arthur Rackham, 1912)

The act begins in the Hall of the Gibichungs, a population dwelling by the Rhine. Gunther, lord of the Gibichungs, sits enthroned. His half-brother and chief minister, Hagen, advises him to find a wife for himself and a husband for their sister Gutrune. He suggests Brünnhilde for Gunther's wife, and Siegfried for Gutrune's husband. He reminds Gutrune that he has given her a potion that she can use to make Siegfried forget Brünnhilde and fall in love with Gutrune; under its influence, Siegfried will win Brünnhilde for Gunther. Gunther and Gutrune agree enthusiastically with this plan.

Siegfried appears at Gibichung Hall, seeking to meet Gunther. Gunther extends his hospitality to the hero, and Gutrune offers him the love potion. Unaware of the deception, Siegfried toasts Brünnhilde and their love. Drinking the potion, he loses his memory of Brünnhilde and falls in love with Gutrune instead. In his drugged state, Siegfried offers to win a wife for Gunther, who tells him about Brünnhilde and the magic fire which only a fearless person can cross. They swear blood-brotherhood, mixing their blood in a drinking horn. Hagen holds the horn but does not join in the oath, and the two new brothers then leave for Brünnhilde's rock. Hagen, left on guard duty, gloats that his so-called masters are unwittingly bringing the ring to him (Monologue: Hagen's watch).

Meanwhile, Brünnhilde is visited by her Valkyrie sister Waltraute, who tells her that Wotan returned from his wanderings with his spear shattered. The spear was the symbol of his authority, carved with all of the treaties through which he ruled. Unable to influence events any more, he has ordered branches of the World tree to be piled around Valhalla and waits despondently for his ravens to bring him news about the ring. Waltraute begs Brünnhilde to return the ring to the Rhinemaidens, but Brünnhilde refuses to relinquish Siegfried's token of love, and Waltraute rides away in despair.

Siegfried arrives, disguised as Gunther by using the Tarnhelm, and claims Brünnhilde as his wife. Though Brünnhilde resists violently, Siegfried overpowers her, snatching the ring from her hand and placing it on his own.

Act 2

Stage design by Josef Hoffmann for original production in 1876 – act 2, last scene

As Hagen sits sleeping on night watch, his father Alberich appears and urges him to obtain the ring. Hagen, barely conscious, swears to do so and Alberich vanishes. Siegfried arrives at dawn via Tarnhelm-magic, having resumed his natural form and left Brünnhilde on the boat with Gunther. Hagen summons the Gibichung vassals to welcome Gunther and his bride. He does this by sounding the war-alarm. The vassals are surprised to learn that the occasion is not battle, but their master's wedding and party.

Gunther leads in a downcast Brünnhilde, and announces a double wedding: Brünhilde to himself, and Gutrune to Siegfried. Brünhilde, bewildered and in great distress, notices the ring on Siegfried's hand, and realizes she has been betrayed—that the man who conquered her and took the ring was not Gunther, but Siegfried in disguise. She denounces Siegfried in front of Gunther's vassals and accuses Siegfried of having seduced her himself. Siegfried swears upon Hagen's spear-point that he may be killed with it if he has ever loved Brünnhilde. She also seizes the spear and swears that Siegfried may be killed with it for swearing the false oath. Once again Hagen supervises silently as others take oaths to his advantage.

Siegfried then leads Gutrune and the bystanders off to the wedding feast, leaving Brünnhilde, Hagen, and Gunther alone by the shore. Deeply shamed by Brünnhilde's outburst, Gunther agrees to Hagen's suggestion that Siegfried must be killed in order for Gunther to regain his standing. Brünnhilde, seeking revenge for Siegfried's manifest treachery, joins the plot and tells Hagen that Siegfried would be vulnerable to a stab in the back. Hagen and Gunther decide to lure Siegfried on a hunting-trip and murder him. They sing a trio in which Brünnhilde and Gunther vow in the name of Wotan, "guardian of oaths", to kill Siegfried, while Hagen repeats his pledge to Alberich: to acquire the ring and rule the world through its power.

Act 3

The Rhinemaidens warn Siegfried (Arthur Rackham, 1912)

In the woods by the bank of the Rhine, the Rhinemaidens mourn the lost Rhine gold. Siegfried happens by, separated from the hunting party. The Rhinemaidens urge him to return the ring and avoid its curse, but he laughs at them and says he prefers to die rather than bargain for his life. They swim away, predicting that Siegfried will die and that his heir, a lady, will treat them more fairly.

Siegfried rejoins the hunters, who include Gunther and Hagen. While resting, he tells them about the adventures of his youth. Hagen gives him another potion, which restores his memory, and he tells of discovering the sleeping Brünnhilde and awakening her with a kiss. Upon hearing this, Hagen stabs Siegfried in the back with his spear, declares "I have avenged perjury!" and calmly walks away into the wood. Siegfried recollects his awakening of Brünnhilde and dies. His body is carried away in a solemn funeral procession (Siegfried's funeral march) that forms the interlude as the scene is changed and recapitulates many of the themes associated with Siegfried and the Wälsungs.

Back in the Gibichung Hall, Gutrune awaits Siegfried's return. Hagen arrives ahead of the funeral party. Gutrune is devastated when Siegfried's corpse is brought in. Gunther blames Siegfried's death on Hagen, who replies that Siegfried had incurred the penalty of his false oath, and further, claims the ring on Siegfried's finger by right of conquest. When Gunther objects, Hagen appeals to the vassals to support his claim. Gunther draws his sword but Hagen attacks and easily kills him. However, as Hagen moves to take the ring, Siegfried's hand rises threateningly. Hagen recoils in fear.

Brünnhilde makes her entrance and issues orders for a huge funeral pyre to be assembled by the river. She takes the ring and tells the Rhinemaidens to claim it from her ashes after fire has cleansed it of its curse. Lighting the pyre with a firebrand, she sends Wotan's ravens home with "anxiously longed-for tidings" and tells them to fetch Loge, the fire that burns on her rock. After an apostrophe to the dead hero, Brünnhilde mounts her horse Grane and rides into the flames.

A sequence of leitmotifs portray the fire flaring up, and the hall of the Gibichungs catching fire and collapsing. The Rhine overflows its banks, quenching the fire, and the Rhinemaidens swim in to claim the ring. Hagen tries to stop them, but they drag him into the depths and drown him. As they celebrate the return of the ring and its gold to the river, a red glow is seen in the sky. As the Gibichungs watch, the interior of Valhalla is finally seen, with gods and heroes visible as described by Waltraute in act 1. A new fire flares up around the Hall of the Gods, hiding it from sight. As the gods are consumed in the flames, the curtain falls to the sound of the Erlösungsmotif—the redemption leitmotif.

Noted excerpts

Two extended orchestral selections—"Dawn and Siegfried's Rhine Journey", an abridged excerpt from the Prologue without the singers; and "Siegfried's Funeral March", lifted uncut from act 3—are often presented outside the opera house, and are published separately from the lengthy work. Early versions of these selections were approved by Wagner. These excerpts include specially composed endings so that the excerpt is better able to stand on its own as a complete composition.

Other notable excerpts include:

  • Siegfried and Brünnhilde's duet (Prologue). This is part of "Dawn and Siegfried's Rhine Journey".
  • Hagen's Watch (act 1)
  • Hagen summons the vassals and the Wedding March (act 2)
  • Brünnhilde's Immolation Scene (act 3) as a soprano solo with orchestra (Hagen's single line is omitted).

According to Albert Speer, the Berlin Philharmonic's last performance before their evacuation from Berlin at the end of World War II in Europe was of Brünnhilde's Immolation Scene at the end of the opera.[4]


Robert A. Hall, Jr. has analysed the opera in terms of cultural symbolism.[5] Hermann Danuser has discussed the dramaturgy of the ending of Götterdämmerung in the context of the entire Ring cycle.[6] William Kinderman has evaluated a large-scale instance of musical recapitulation in act 3 of the opera.[7] Warren J. Darcy has expostulated on the potential influence of Wagner's readings of the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer on the music of the Ring cycle, particularly on the ending of Götterdämmerung.[8]

The historian John Roberts suggested that the killing of Siegfried by Hagen with a stab in the back gave inspiration for the myth that the German Army did not lose World War I, but was instead defeated by a treasonous "stab in the back" from civilians, in particular Jews and Socialists.[9]

The German bass Kurt Moll pointed out that the part of the principal villain, Hagen, is unique in the bass repertoire: it requires a shouting, blaring vocal technique which risks damaging the singer's voice; only very large-voiced, powerful singers can sing it. Moll himself avoided the role.[10]




  1. ^ The work has sometimes been called in English "Dusk of the Gods" or "Doom of the Gods", but "Twilight of the Gods" correctly translates the German title. Dämmerung can also mean "dawn" as the term is used for both the rising and setting of the sun. Götterdämmerung is itself a translation of ragnarökkr, "Twilight of the Gods", as it is sometimes written in the Prose Edda. In the older Poetic Edda only ragnarök, "Fate of the Gods", is mentioned. It has been proposed that ragnarökkr was either a misconception on Snorri Sturluson's part or, more likely, poetic license as a play between the words rök, "fate, doom", and rökkr, "darkness, twilight."
  2. ^ a b c Götterdämmerung Schott
  3. ^ Role Creators in the Operas of Richard Wagner http://opera.stanford.edu
  4. ^ Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich, The Macmillan Company. 1970, p. 463
  5. ^ Hall, Robert A., Jr. (May 1963). "The Psychological Motivation of Wagner's Götterdämmerung". The German Quarterly. 36 (3): 245–257. doi:10.2307/402543. JSTOR 402543.
  6. ^ Danuser, Hermann (Summer 1994). "Musical Manifestations of the End in Wagner and in Post-Wagnerian Weltanschauungsmusik". 19th-Century Music. 18 (1): 64–82. doi:10.2307/746602. JSTOR 746602.
  7. ^ Kinderman, William (Autumn 1980). "Dramatic Recapitulation in Wagner's Götterdämmerung". 19th-Century Music. 4 (2): 101–112. doi:10.2307/746708. JSTOR 746708.
  8. ^ Darcy, Warren J. (Spring 1994). "The Metaphysics of Annihilation: Wagner, Schopenhauer, and the Ending of the Ring". Music Theory Spectrum. 16 (1): 1–40. doi:10.2307/745828. JSTOR 745828.
  9. ^ Roberts, J. M. (1999). Twentieth Century: The History of the World, 1901 to the Present. London: Allen Lane/The Penguin Press. p. 289. ISBN 0-713-99257-3.
  10. ^ "Kurt Moll interview with Bruce Duffie". www.bruceduffie.com. 22 October 1984.

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Media files used on this page

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Pronunciation recording of German noun "Götterdämmerung". Male voice, recorded by native German speaker from Berlin, Germany.
Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods p 130.jpg
"The ring upon thy hand— / ... ah, be implored! / For Wotan fling it away!"
Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods p 162.jpg
"Though gaily may ye laugh, / In grief ye shall be left, / For, mocking maids; this ring / Ye ask shall never be yours."
Josef Hoffmann - Götterdämmerung Act II final.jpg
Siegfried returns to the Hall of the Gibichungs in act 2, scene 1 of Götterdämmerung.
Max Brückner - Otto Henning - Richard Wagner - Final scene of Götterdämmerung - crop.jpg
"Bayreuther Bühnenbilder. Der Ring der Nibelungen. Götterdämmerung, III. Aufzug Schlussbild" - Reproduction of the set design by Max Brückner of the final scene from Richard Wagner's en:Götterdämmerung, showing Valhalla on fire. The German text makes it clear this is the "Genuine and only authorized color reproduction of the painted original by Royal Councillor Prof. Max Brückner in Coburg for the Bayreuth Festival Theatre."