Wagner represented characters and objects in Der Ring des Nibelungen with recurring musical themes known as leitmotifs. These themes change and adapt as the story progresses, connecting plot elements and the evolution of characters across the four operas that make up the Ring cycle.
Are you a valiant Valkyrie? A nasty Nibelung? Take our highly un-scientific quiz to find out which leitmotif best represents you.
Oh, we know you love it when everyone cringes in fear of your power and authority – and we have to admit, when it’s time to scare everyone into compliance, nobody does it better than you. But be careful. Those at the top often cause their own downfall. You don’t believe us? Listen to this motif of Wotan’s Anger a few times and swear you can’t hear this most magnificent being rattling himself apart.
Did they think your magnificence came without a price tag? That big house, fancy car, and position of power didn’t just happen, did they? But no one needs to know the awful price you paid – literally or figuratively – to get to the pinnacle of society that you are today. It can be your little secret, hidden deep down, just like this creepy motif that appears when we are reminded how the Nibelung, in order to forge the all-powerful ring, had to forswear love itself.
It’s shocking how misunderstood you are – you’re really a fair person underneath that gruff and grumpy exterior! Furthermore, you may be intense in your demands, but at least you know how to keep your word – even if it is a promise to kill someone. You are best represented by Hunding’s motif – which generally shuts down all other action whenever it occurs.
Oh, the sweet dreams you have while slaving away at your job all day long! It seems like you just keep toiling away doing the same thing over and over. This can be found in the Nibelungs’ music, accompanied by this motif, which is as repetitive and insistent as your complaints.
Everybody knows that you are in charge. Just make sure you abide by your own rules, and don’t fall into the same trap that has ensnared just about every business, military, and (dare we remind you) political leader since, well, soon after the beginning of time itself. And to remind you of both your own magnificence and the cost of being who you are, we suggest you listen frequently to the Spear Motif in the Ring, the symbol of all legal power.
You love to keep busy, always darting from one thing to another. Everyone needs a hobby, and there are so many that appeal to you: magic tricks, telling stories, burning down a thing or two. The many aspects of your brainy, mercurial, and slightly sneaky personality are encapsulated throughout the Ring in the Fire motif.
You manage to see the worst potential in any given situation. When others are happy about a mild winter, you fret about global warming. When people invite you to a fun Fourth of July picnic, you warn them about the dangers of fireworks. And guess what? You’re usually right! Meditate on that – and on the fact that you have so few friends left – while listening to the ominous and disturbing music associated with the title object in the Ring.
Why is everyone always lollygagging when you’re ready for action? Can’t they see this is no time for lounging?! Slow down a minute, you impetuous hothead! Not everyone has your ability to gallop, soar, and cry out for blood (all at the same time) – features that are all instantly recognizable in the Ring’s most famous motif.
Why does everyone think you’re a pessimist when in fact you are a realist? Be consoled by the fact that the Sagas shared your grim view of fate and the same abilities to ruin any happy gathering with the sort of cynical point of view that appears in the Ring every time we hear this Fate motif.
You’re always closing the deal, hitting the grand slam, fist pumping and crying out “booh-yah!” over your latest triumph – real or imagined. Siegfried, the hero of the Ring, was like you except that he was too stupid to know that people would resent him (and resentment, he would discover, really can kill). Enjoy his most heroic motif.
Everyone – including you – is always aware of your presence and your powerful, if inexplicable, charisma. But don’t let it go to your head. Ever watch competitive reality shows? The most radiant characters are the ones that are picked off first, just as tall trees are the first to fall in a storm. Siegfried learned this lesson the hard way in the Ring: listen to this heroic motif and ponder his eventual fate!
Women don’t get a fair break – not back in legendary times, not now. Even the toughest and bravest ones get a raw deal from society—and from clueless husbands. But that doesn’t mean women can’t shine, blaze in glory, and even change the world. Ponder this as you listen to the motif associated with Brünnhilde, the great heroine of the Ring.
You can’t imagine why some people find you murky and lugubrious – you think of yourself as realistic and earthy! And is it your fault that your powers of perception are so profound that you sometimes spook people? Your personality is reflected at key moments in the Ring, when Erda the Earth Mother ascends to the stage accompanied by this evocative motif.
Someone once said of the 19th century author Madame de Staël that she was “such a good friend, she would throw all her acquaintances into the river just for the pleasure of fishing them out again.” That’s you. You would love to go out in a blaze of glory – even if it means taking everyone and everything down with you—like Brünnhilde.
You dream of a pure and idealized world, a living Eden, and live in blissful unawareness of reality. You will enjoy the primal innocence evoked by the first motif we hear in the Ring, that of the River Rhine—even if that innocence will soon be sullied by a nasty dwarf.