Riding With Brünnhilda

Things To Know WagnerComposing and listening activities for youngsters inspired by Wagner’s “Ride of The Valkyries”, and the German mythological stories that influenced him.


1. Story Composing

  • Read the story of the Valkyries that Wagner used in his opera. Here is shortened and simplified version of the whole story:

A warrior called Sigmund is running away from an army. He finds a cottage in a forest and asks the people who live there, Hunding and his wife Sieglinda if he can stay there for the night. Sigmund doesn’t realise that Hunding is a member of the army that’s after him. Hunding agrees to let him stay the night, but tells Sieglinda that in the morning he will kill Sigmund and be the hero of his army. Sieglinda is upset about this because she likes Sigmund and doesn’t want him to be killed. So she puts a sleeping potion in Hunding’s cocoa that night, so that Sigmund will have time to escape. She also hopes that Sigmund will take her with him because Hunding is not a very nice husband and he forced her to marry him in the first place.

5th April 031 (2)So Sigmund and Sieglinda run off in the night and escape. When Hunding wakes up in the morning and realises what has happened, he is very angry, and sets off to kill Sigmund.

Meanwhile Wotan, the leader of the Gods has decided to save Sigmund, and tells his daughter Brünnhilda to ride out on her winged horse and protect him and Sieglinda in their journey. The trouble is that Wotan and his wife, Fricka have an argument about this. Fricka thinks that Sigmund should be allowed to die because he helped Sieglinda escape from her husband. Wotan decides to have a peaceful day, so he changes his mind and asks Brünnhilda to bring back Sigmund’s body to his kingdom of Valhalla and be part of his army who will fight for him at the end of the world, a time called Ragnarok.

Things To Know ValkyriesBrünnhilda sets off with the other Valkyries to find Sigmund, Sieglinda, and Hunding. When the Valkyries spot them Hunding is catching up fast and will soon be close enough to attack. When Brünnhilda tells Sigmund that he is about to die and he must come with her to Valhalla, Sigmund refuses unless she takes Sieglinde too. The other Valkyries are not happy about this because it is not allowed for living people to be taken to Valhalla. They don’t want to get into trouble with Wotan and Fricka. While they’re having their argument, Hunding catches up with Sigmund and kills him with his sword. He’s about to grab Sieglinda when Brünnhilda, quick as a flash, gathers up Sigmund’s body and Sieglinda and flies off into the storm. The other Valkyries follow. (This is when our music is played in the opera).

Once they back to Wotan’s home in Valhalla he is not happy that she has brought back a living woman as well as the body of Sigmund. He sentences her to sleep for many years on a mountain surrounded by fire so that no-one can save her and she can’t escape.


  • Listen to the music.
  • How does the music portray the story of the Valkyries?
  • We’re going to compose our own music in groups, for this whole story.


2. Scary Forest Music

  • Imagine you are creeping through a scary forest like Sigmund does at the beginning of the story.
  • What sort of things might you come across? Make a list.
  • 29,30,31th march 004 (2)Make up a short snippet of music for each of the things on your list. For instance, you might have trees on your list, so you might make up music that sounds like branches hitting each other, or like leaves rustling together, or your music might sound strong and sturdy like a tree stands strong and sturdy….


  • Now think of one way of changing each snippet of music, for instance you could make it louder, quieter, faster, slower, add more instruments, take some away, add a new ending or beginning, or maybe you can think of your own change to make.
  • Play your original version of each snippet followed immediately by the changed version.
  • Now you need to put all your snippets and changed snippets together in an interesting way to create a sound picture of your scary forest.
  • Which snippet would work best at the beginning?
  • Which snippet would best at the ending?
  • Are there any snippets which could happen all the way through as a sort of background music?
  • Don’t forget that it’s OK to have some silence now and again.
  • Write down your finished piece of music so you don’t forget it.


Things to know hitler3. Sleeping Potion Music

  • You need to think of three musical ideas for this music:
    1. Think lively, jumpy, fast, energetic. Compose musical ideas that are the same.
    2. Think magical, spooky, spells. Compose a musical idea that is the same.
    3. Think dozy, slowing down, sleeping, still. Compose some music that is the same.
  • Now you have to put the three bits of music together, but it’s not as simple as that.
  • Music 1 is when Hunding is still awake and is excited at the thought that he’ll be getting up in the morning to kill his enemy Sigmund.
  • Music 2 is the magic potion, Sieglinda gives to him in his cocoa
  • Music 3 is when he is asleep.
  • The tricky bit is getting from Music 1 to music 3 gradually. This potion doesn’t suddenly make him keel over on the spot, it slowly has an effect. So your fast music must gradually change into your slow music, not all at once.
  • The potion music just happens once after you’ve established all the ideas in your slow music.
  • Write down your finished piece of music so you don’t forget it.


5th April 004 (2)4. Storm Music

  • On the day that Sigmund and Sieglinda escape there is a storm.
  • Write down a list of all the things that happen in a storm, and write down the order in which they happen.
  • This is going to be the structure of your storm music:

no storm;
distant storm;
little bits of storm;
lots of storm;
passing storm;
no storm.

  • Each section of your music must be about 20-30 seconds long. Not longer, not shorter.Clumber (9)
  • Here are some tips to help you:
  • The “no storm” sections should have no hint of what is to come. Completely different music to the storm.
  • Distant storms hint at what’s to come, but quietly, faintly. You might see a dark cloud on the horizon, you might feel a change in the breeze, the sun might go in making everything not so bright and clear. So your music might not change too much in this section from the “no storm” section, but things might become darker or less clear, or a new sound might faintly begin.
  • Clumber (9)“Little bits of storm” are things like fat raindrops, a fork of lightening in the distance, the smell of rain on dry earth, coldness in the air. Remember that storms don’t often go from tiny to huge all of a sudden, so a gradual build-up through this section is what you probably want.
  • The “lots of storm” section will probably have the most music in it, but remember that if everything plays at once loudly for 30 seconds that’s going to be a horrible noise and no-one will want to listen to it. Even in the middle of a storm when there is thunder and lightening, rain, wind, and thick black clouds, you can tell each individual element of that storm. And also remember that a clap of thunder and lightening is quite a short event, and that as the storm gets closer to you the thunder and lightening happen closer and closer together.
  • Things To Know RideClumber (9)Passing storms have all the same things that here and now storms have, just gentler and quieter.
  • And end with no storm again. This music could be exactly the same as the beginning. Make the very ending extra special though. Remember it’s the last thing your audience will hear, and the thing they’ll most remember.
  • Write down your finished piece of music so you don’t forget it.



5. The Ride Of The Valkyries

  • This is when the Valkyries come to get the body of Sigmund, riding through the storm. This is the music you were listening to at the beginning of these activities
  • Listen carefully to that music again.
  • Think of words and phrases to describe the music. Write down a list.
  • Compose music that can be described in the same way.
  • You’re not going to get any more help this time. You should be really excellent at thinking of musical ideas by now.
  • Remember to make an impact with the beginning and the ending, change some of your ideas in some way so that your audience can hear how clever you are.
  • Paint a musical picture for your audiences of those feisty women on their flying horses, scooping up the dead warriors and whisking them back to Wotan in Valhalla.
  • Write down your finished piece of music so you don’t forget it.


14th May 021 (2)6. “The Valkyries” Performance


  • You or your teacher should choose one of each of the four types of music to be in the performance.
  • For the performance you will be working as a whole class.
  • The groups who are performing their music need to make sure it’s the absolute best it can be. Make any improvements, practice so you make no mistakes.
  • In between the music other students will be reading or acting sections of the story. Use the story from these pages or re-write it in your own words.
  • For a finale, why not all do the “Ritual Fire Dance” activities? This could show poor old Brünnhilda trapped on her mountain surrounded by fire.
  • Perform your story to another class or in assembly.

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