Forging the Sword; The End of ‘Siegfried’ Act I

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Even with the Long Call aside, playing principal horn in Wagner’s horn-tastic opera Siegfried is nothing short of a Herculean task. To help reinforce and illustrate that notion, today’s article features a few samples from Siegfried, Act I/Scene III.

Scene III begins with the hero Siegfried becoming persuaded then determined to reconstruct Nothung, a mythical blade that has been shattered into several pieces. His evil mentor Mime lacks the skill to restore the blade himself. It can only be fixed by someone who knows no fear.

Motivic noodles

Of course, we already know that Siegfried is the prime candidate to fix the sword. Early in this scene there is a long dialogue between the dim-witted Siegfried and the manipulative Mime.

Perhaps suggesting the energetic pace of the dialogue, the harmony gets very active. The horn call motif gets tossed about in a number of keys.

This development continues for several pages.

Later, one encounters (what was for me at least) one of the most confounding passages in the entire Wagner Ring Cycle.

The gauntlet

This excerpt is in E horn, at a tempo of about 110-120 bpm. The orchestral context can further compound the difficulty level.

These passages are a excellent illustration, of why it is important to practice your Siegfried call in a variety of keys and patterns.

Motif soup

As the scene advances towards Siegfried himself forging the magic sword, a number of motifs from previous operas are thrown in and mashed together. A few can be seen here:

Finale

The act ends with an exuberant Siegfried holding the repaired sword high in the air. This is the same sword that will be used to kill the magic dragon in Act II.

The tempo at the prestissimo is in one, at about 100-110 bpm. This too is one of the trickier passages in the entire Ring cycle – it is at the end of a long act, it is loud and it requires some tight fingering control.

Thus ends Act I of Wagner’s opera Siegfried.

This by the way, is all music for the principal horn to digest way before the Long Call which is still two more scenes away!

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