Wagner: Ride of the Valkyries

The Ride of the Valkyries (in German: Walkürenritt) is the popular term for the beginning of Act III of Die Walküre by Richard Wagner. One of Wagner’s best-known pieces, it stands out in part because of its references in popular culture, where it is used to represent stereotypical Grand Opera, and for its use during the fictional 1/9th Air Cavalry helicopter assault in the film, Apocalypse Now. The stirring tones play as the helicopters swoop in to annihilate a village, Vietcong soldiers, women, children, livestock and all.

In the opera-house, the Ride, which takes around eight minutes, begins in the prelude to the Act, building up successive layers of accompaniment until the curtain rises to reveal a mountain peak where four of the eight Valkyrie sisters of Brünnhilde have gathered in preparation for the transportation of fallen heroes to Valhalla. As they are joined by the other four, the familiar tune is carried by the orchestra, while, above it, the Valkyries greet each other and sing their battle-cry. Apart from the song of the Rhinemaidens in Das Rheingold, it is the only ensemble piece in the first three operas of Wagner’s Ring cycle.

Outside the opera-house, it is usually heard in a purely instrumental version, which may be as short as three minutes.