An Introduction and Notes to

Richard Wagner's


Part 5: Twilight of the Gods

By Larry Brown

Lipscomb University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA

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Overview of the major themes of the four music-dramas:


Mythological background of Ragnarok

Norse mythology is unique in that it includes a narration of future events, the end of the gods in a great battle. Ragnarok means "fate / doom of the gods" from which the German gets Götterdämmerung, "Twilight of the Gods."

The great battle is preceded by three year-long winters and general moral decay. Ominous signs appear: wolves that eat the sun and moon, and the stars fall. At Ragnarok, Loki escapes his chains (his punishment for plotting Balder's death), captains the ship Naglfar (made of dead men's nails) to attack Asgard along with the giants, riding on tidal waves created by the loosing of Jormungandr, the world serpent, from the ocean bottom. Fenrir the giant wolf breaks his bonds, and Surt and the fire-demons attack from the south.

Heimdall, guardian of the Rainbow Bridge (Bifrost), who never sleeps and sees and hears everything, sounds his trumpet as warning, but it's too late to avoid the final battle. In the battle all the gods meet their end: Odin is swallowed by Fenrir, who in turn is torn asunder by Odin's son Vidar. Thor kills Jormungandr but dies of its venom. Loki and Heimdall kill each other. Surt kills Freyr, then destroys the world by fire.

Some things manage to survive: Valhalla itself, Thor's hammer and his two sons, Odin's favorite son Balder returns to life, and two humans, protected under the World Ash Tree Yggdrasil, who repopulate the world.

Wagner's innovation was to link the story of the gods' end (modified to suit his purposes) with the death of the hero Siegfried and Brünnhilde.

TWILIGHT OF THE GODS (Götterdämmerung)


Act One

Act Two

Act Three

Conclusion: Ring Transformations


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Copyright 1999 by Larry A. Brown