Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner
Specialty Theatre director, polemicist, conductor
Born May 22, 1813
Died Feb. 13, 1883
Nationality German

Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a famous German composer, polemicist, theater director and conductor. He is best known for his operas. Unlike most opera composers, Richard wrote both libretto and music for each of his stage works. Initially, he established his reputation as a great composer in romantic vein of Meyerbeer and Weber.

Early Life

Richard was born on May 22, 1813, in Leipzig, Germany. He was the ninth child of Carl Wagner, a clerk in the Leipzig police service. Richard’s father died six months after his birth. Soon after, Richard’s mother started living with her late husband’s friend named Ludwig Geyer. After a while, she and her family moved to Geyer’s residence in Dresden. Richard Wagner lived here until he turned 14.

Geyer loved theater and this interest was shared by Richard who took part in his performances. In 1820, Richard was enrolled at Pastor Wetzel’s school near Dresden. Here, he received piano instruction from a Latin teacher. After Geyer’s death in 1821, Richard was sent to a boarding school of Dresdner Kreuzchor, which was paid for by Geyer’s brother.

When Richard turned nine, he was impressed by the Gothic elements of Carl Weber’s opera Der Freischutz. During this time, Richard Wagner entertained ambitions as a playwright. By 1827, the family went back to Leipzig. His first lessons in harmony were taken between 1828 and 1831. In January of 1828, he heard Beethoven’s 7th Symphony and later in March, the same composer’s 9th Symphony.

In 1831, Richard Wagner joined Leipzig University. He became a member of the Saxon student fraternity. Richard also took composition lessons from Thomaskantor Weinlig.

Career Beginnings

In 1833, Richard’s brother managed to get a position for him as a choir master at a theatre in Wurzburg. When he turned 20 that same year, Richard composed his first complete opera entitled Die Feen, which means The Fairies. In 1834, he went back to Leipzig where he held a short appointment as a musical director at the Magdeburg opera house. During this time, he wrote Das Liebesverbot, or The Ban on Love. This composition was based on Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.

Wagner’s Time in Dresden

In 1840, Richard Wagner completedRienzi. With a lot of support from Giacomo Meyerbeer, this was accepted for performance by the Dresden Court Theatre in 1842. Richard lived in Dresden for the next six years. During his time here, he was appointed the Royal Saxon Court-Conductor. However, his involvement with left-wing politics terminated his stay in Dresden.

Wagner’s Other Works

After leaving Dresden, Richard was unable to enter Germany for the next 11 years due to great political instability. During this time, he wrote Opera and Drama and then started developing his popular Ring Cycle. This work combined literature, music, and visual elements in a way that would anticipate the future of film.

In 1843, Wagner completed The Flying Dutchman, which was considered one of the greatest works of the time. In 1845, Richard Wagner produced Tannhauser and then started working on Lohengrin.

In 1862, Richard Wagner returned to Germany. He was invited by the king to settle in Bavaria. In 1869 and 1870, Richard’s first two operas were presented in Munich.

Death and Legacy

Richard WagnerRichard died of a heart attack on February 13, 1883. He was 69 years old and died while on vacation in Venice. His body was shipped back to Bayreuth where he was buried.

Until his final years, Richard’s life was characterized by political exile, poverty, turbulent love affairs and repeated flight from creditors. His controversial music, drama and politics have attracted extensive comment in the recent decade. The effect of his ideas can actually be traced in many arts throughout 20th century. Their influence spread beyond composition to philosophy, visual arts, theatre and literature.

During his lifetime, his work was deeply loved by many and influenced other composers. He was able to revolutionize opera through his concept of Gesamtkunstwerk, which translates to “total work of art.” His compositions, and especially those of later years, are notable for their complex textures, orchestration, rich harmonies and elaborate use of leitmotifs. His musical language composed of extreme use of chromaticism and shifting tonal centers greatly influenced the development of classical music.

Adolf Hitler was also a great admirer of Richard’s music and even saw his operas as an embodiment of his own vision of Germany. Most of his works are still influential to this day.

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