At the end of Die Walküre, Wagner represents the fire surrounding a sleeping Brünnhilde with a beautiful flurry of orchestral activity: a sea of sweeping, impossibly fast violins under pointed woodwind and harp gestures. It’s called the “Feuerzauber” or “Magic Fire Music”, and here’s a small part of it:
There are other representations of fire, like the sustained, uncomfortably high brilliance of the opening, and the generally unpredictable fits and starts that pervade the piece. But this chaotic, noisy energy slowly extinguishes over time. It relaxes into a bluesy lyricism, then further fades into a cold but tender chorale, with simple melodic lines hovering over low sustained strings. The ending hovers on the edge of silence: wispy strings struggle to rise from the ashes but are cut off by an abrupt bass drum.
In spite of its dark ending, I see embers, fused to ash as nostalgic, not negative. There’s a twinge of sadness amid the brightness of the Magic Fire Music – after all, it follows Wotan’s emotional Farewell to his daughter. Manic energy and brilliance aren’t invariably positive things, and they only burn for so long. And it’s not nihilism to find beauty in the process of fading away from them.