Siegfried’s Death and Funeral March
Born: May 22, 1813, Leipzig, Germany
Died: February 13, 1883, Venice, Italy
Original Instrumentation: Orchestra
Duration: 8 minutes
Arranged: 1914, V. F. Safranek
Richard Wagner, Siegfried’s Death and Funeral March, arr. V. F. Safranek
Jianguo High School Alumni Band
Wagner’s epic preliminary evening and three days in the life of the gods—Der Ring des Nibelungen—concluded with Götterdämmerung (“The Twilight of the Gods”). The librettos by Wagner himself developed in reverse order, but the music was composed (with a few significant interruptions) in performance order: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung. When Wagner began writing poetry in 1848, Götterdämmerung was called Siegfrieds Tod (“Siegfried’s Death”). Text revisions continued until 1856. The musical composition of Götterdämmerung extended from the summer of 1850 until November 21, 1874. Almost three decades after entering into his imagination, Wagner’s Götterdämmerung finally reached the stage during the first Bayreuth Festival in 1876.
Götterdämmerung treats the downfall of the gods because of their dissolute quest for absolute power. Wagner imagined such persuasive power in this metaphorical drama that, when it was still called Siegfrieds Tod, he believed (in the words of Stewart Spencer) one performance “would be sufficient . . . to incite the masses to insurrection.” This single performance would have taken place under Wagner’s direction in what was to be a temporary wooden theater—the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, which still stands today.
The whole world of the gods crumbles in Act III of Götterdämmerung. The long awaited hero, Siegfried (the misbegotten son of Siegmund and Sieglinde, twin offspring of the god Wotan), participates in a hunting expedition, when he is murdered by Hagen. His lifeless body is accompanied to the hall of the Gibichungs by the solemn tones of the Funeral March. Hagen tries to remove the accursed ring (forged from gold stolen from the Rhinemaidens) from Siegfried’s hand, which mysteriously rises into the air. Brünnhilde—who was awakened from her eternal sleep by the pure-hearted Siegfried—seizes the ring and promises to return it to the Rhinemaidens. She sets a pile of logs on fire and rides her horse Grane into the flames (Immolation Scene). This blaze extends to Valhalla, the palace of the gods, which is destroyed.
- Program note by Todd Sullivan