Monday, April 15, 2013

From Middle C to Middle Earth



A professor I had in my sophomore year of college once told me, “If you want to be a successful composer – you need to steal.” He was referring to our studies of music, which involved a lot of composers with similar ideas. For example, John Williams has borrowed ideas from classical composers such as Wagner and Purcell. Click “Read More” to find out how even books can be derivatives of music.


The story starts like this. A little being finds a ring in a river. This ring sends him into an obsession (since it is a ring of unimaginable, evil power) and he retreats underground with his ring. Years later, the ring is stolen and the little being tries to steal it back. Then there’s a long period of time where the ring is fought over by myriad different mythical races. In the end the ring is returned to its creator by means of fire, and subsequently is destroyed.

Lord of the Rings, right? Not entirely. This bare-bones structure of a story is also the tale told in the Der Ring Des Nibelungen – Wagner’s opera cycle which features the following track that we all know. (0:25 is where the tune starts.)



Across the four operas in his opera cycle, Wagner explores the same story as Lord of the Rings – for the most part. In Wagner’s version of the tale the original owner (and creator) is Alberich. He made the ring out of gold he found at the bottom of the Rhine, which belonged to the Rhine Maidens. Wotan, the chief of the gods, is the one who steals the ring. Wotan is forced to give it to the creators of his home (Valhalla) and he tries through many generations to regain access to the ring. His grandson, Siegfried, finally obtains the ring, but is betrayed and killed by Alberich’s son. The Siegfried’s lover (who is also Wotan’s daughter) takes the ring and throws herself onto Siegfried’s funeral pyre. The ring is then destroyed in the fire and the gold is returned to the Rhine Maidens.

In Tolkien’s version – Smeagol finds the ring at the bottom of a river. Bilbo steals the ring and eventually his grandson, Frodo, obtains it. Frodo then is given the task of going to destroy the ring in the volcano where it was crafted many years ago. Throughout Frodo’s quest, Smeagol, who is now referred to as Gollum, follows Frodo and attempts to steal back the ring. He is unsuccessful. Throughout Frodo’s quest he has to travel very far and various races hinder him in their attempts to steal the ring for themselves. Frodo eventually makes it to the volcano and destroys the ring.

Both tales are similar. J.R.R. Tolkien insists that he had no knowledge of Wagner’s operas. Whether or not this is true is left up to the individual to decide. It is worthy to note that both Wagner and Tolkien list the same source as their inspiration – old Norse legends such as Poetic Edda, Völsungasaga, and the Nibelungenlied.

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