"The Ride Of The Valkyries" is the popular term for the prelude to Act III of Die Walküre, the second of the four operas by German composer Richard Wagner that comprise The Ring of the Nibelungs (German Der Ring des Nibelungen). The Ring of the Nibelungs is a sequence of four musical dramas based on the Norse saga, which concerns the turbulent family history of a race of gods and their pursuit of a magical golden ring. It began as a single opera focusing on the death of Siegfried but grew into a vast cycle of four operas comprising Das Rheingold (The Rhine Gold), Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), Siegfried and Die Gotterdammerung (The Twilight of the Gods).
Wagner's intention for The Ring was to create a "Gesamtkunstwerk," a total work of art that fuses elements of music, drama, poetry, and stagecraft into an indivisible whole. It was a more ambitious piece of musical theater than any other devised up to that time and it arguably remains the most influential contribution by any composer to opera.
The entire cycle was completed in 1874, and the first complete performance of The Ring took place in 1876 at the Bayreuth Festival in a theater especially designed for the production by Wagner. The opera was an immediate success.
Richard Wagner devised the Wagner Tuba, a cross between the French Horn and Sax horn to enrich the harmonies for The Ring. Other composers have since written for the instrument, include Anton Bruckner, whose Symphony No. 7 utilizes four of them in memory of Wagner during the slow movement.
The main theme for "The Ride Of The Valkyries" itself was first written down on a loose sheet of paper by Wagner on July 23, 1851 and was fully orchestrated by the end of the first quarter of 1856. It introduces the third act, which starts with the Valkyries, warrior maidens raised by the god Wotan, riding back from battle before they gather on a mountaintop.
The complete opera Die Walküre was first performed on June 26, 1870 in the National Theatre Munich and soon the composer was receiving requests for "The Ride" to be performed separately. However, Wagner wrote in his journal that such a performance should be considered "an utter indiscretion" and forbade "any such thing."
The best known use of "The Ride" in the media is during the 1979 film Apocalypse Now, where it is the music played as the American helicopters bombard a Vietnamese village. The piece was similarly used in the Vietnam flashback scene in the 2009 Watchmen film, where it soundtracks nuclear superhero Dr. Manhattan obliterating Viet Cong soldiers with his godlike power.