Finding an Ending: Reflections on Wagner’s Ring

Philip Kitcher, Richard Schacht

Research output: Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook


Few musical works loom as large in Western culture as Richard Wagner’s four-part Ring of the Nibelung. This book offers an illuminating look at this greatest of Wagner’s achievements, focusing on its far-reaching and subtle exploration of problems of meanings and endings in this life and world. The book draws out the philosophical and human significance of the text and the music. It shows how different forms of love, freedom, heroism, authority, and judgment are explored and tested as it unfolds. As it journeys across its sweeping musical-dramatic landscape, the book leads us to the central concern of the Ring—the problem of endowing life with genuine significance that can be enhanced rather than negated by its ending, if the right sort of ending can be found. The drama originates in Wotan’s quest for a transformation of the primordial state of things into a world in which life can be lived more meaningfully. The book traces the evolution of Wotan’s efforts, the intricate problems he confronts, and his failures and defeats. But while the problem Wotan poses for himself proves to be insoluble as he conceives of it, it suggests that his very efforts and failures set the stage for the transformation of his problem, and for the only sort of resolution of it that may be humanly possible—to which it is not Siegfried but rather Brünnhilde who shows the way. The Ring’s ending, with its passing of the gods above and destruction of the world below, might seem to be devastating; but this book sees a kind of meaning in and through the ending revealed to us that is profoundly affirmative.
Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Print)9780195183603
StatePublished - Sep 22 2005


  • Richard Wagner
  • Brünnhilde
  • Siegfried
  • Wotan
  • significance of life
  • music
  • Ring of the Nibelung


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