Wagner’s Ring Tones

Ethelbert Nevin

[November 2004.]

A bit of non-music blather on the ray-de-oh announced that, globally, the customized cell-phone ring business is a $3.1-billion industry. Billboard magazine will be charting the most popular rings.

We’ve all heard Eine Kleine, “The Ride of the Valkyries” and Boléro trilling at the next table. The moment’s right for some serialism to interrupt meetings. Programming a cell with the great tone-rows ought to be a snap. Webern’s Concerto one week and Babbitt’s Composition for Four Instruments the next. You could just pick 0 1 9 e 8 t 4 5 6 2 3 7 and be done with it. If you’re feeling progressive you can alternate between Schoenberg’s Survivor from Warsaw and Ode to Napoleon. Let your fellow train travelers know your true colo(u)rs!

There’s also money to be made on the tonal side of events. I have yet to hear the “Promenade” from Pictures, Fanfare for the Common Man, or the “Troika” from Lieutenant Kijé. Petroushka’s tritone alarm would do nicely, as would any of Strauss’ great horn solos. The lively ondes line from Turangalîla’s “Joie du sang des étoiles” could shatter an afternoon nap. Why not choose the ditty which naïvely interrupts the Leningrad Symphony? And Cage’s estate can get into the act: Turning my ringer off, I’m selecting 4’33”.

As a personal matter, I’d alternate between two choices: Coming soon to a pocket near you, Pierrot Lunaire’s first seven notes or The Unanswered Question’s trumpet solo.