Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 September 2020
The representation of nature is central to Wagner’s Ring cycle on a number of levels. The Nordic-mythic sources and setting, the role of original or partially re-invented nature deities (Erda, Donner, and Froh, and the three Rhinemaidens) or semi-divine beings linked to the natural world (Valkyries, Norns) inspired a range of sophisticated Romantic musical nature “painting” throughout the score, including some of the best-known passages. Classical-Romantic traditions of pastoral or other imitative nature topics in music of the Classical and Romantic eras play an important role in the development of the network of leitmotifs in the Ring cycle. Readings of the Ring as an allegorical critique of modern industrial capitalism connect the traditional mythography of a lost golden age with a potential parable of environmental degradation driven by the loveless, reckless profit motive of modern capitalism. Alberich’s forging of the Ring from the Rhinegold and Wotan’s violation of the World Ash Tree to create the symbol of his divine legal authority (his spear) project parallel symbols of the transgression of a natural order. Mythographic vs. modern environmental readings of the apocalyptic conclusion of the cycle are also discussed.