Richard Wagner is famous as one of the most controvesial but influential composers. He was born in Germany and wrote many operas. He wrote both the libretto and the music.
Unlike many of his fellow composers, Wagner didn’t show any interest in music at an early age. His siblings, however, all received piano lessons. His elder sisters either became opera singers or actresses. At the age of thirteen, Richard chose to write a play in which he wanted to be set to music. It was only at this time that he became interested in music and began to have music lessons.
Wagner spent much of his life in debt, in 1864 at the age of fifty-one his fortune changed. A young King Ludwig II came to the throne and he was a huge fan of Wagner. So much so he cleared all Wagner’s debts and he hired someone to dictate Wagner’s autobiography!
Wagner held a reputation for his controversial views and also an association with the Nazi’s. Hitler supposedly stated that ‘Whoever wants to understand National Socialist Germany must know Wagner.’ Even today there are controversies when his music is played in certain countries such as Israel.
Wagner’s revolutionary activities in Dresden lead him to be put into exile. During this period he completed his opera ‘Lohengrin’ but he was unable to produce this work. so he wrote to Franz Liszt who not only staged it he conducted the piece himself.
His first opera ‘The Fairies’ didn’t premier until after his death in 1888 as it didn’t appeal to German opera tastes and his second opera, Das Liebesverbot was also a disaster. In 1842 Wagner’s first successful opera Rienzi was staged.
His masterpieces came in his later work, however, between 1843 and 1850 he wrote what became known as his Romantic operas; The Flying Dutchman, Tannhäuser and Lohengrin.
One of his most famous pieces is ‘The Ride of the Valkyries‘ which maintains its popularity from the film ‘Apocalypse Now’ was part of the second opera in Wagner’s famous ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’ (The Ring or Ring Cycle). Four operas made up The Ring; Das Rheingold, Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), Siegfried and Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the gods).
Wagner’s creation and use of Leitmotifs continue to be used today in Hollywood. It is a musical signature depicting a specific character, place or idea. It is a great way of recognising characters in a piece.
In 1872 The Bayreuth Festspielhaus opera house in Germany was built, dedicated to Wagner’s operatic masterpieces. Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen’ was fully premiered here in 1876. The sunken orchestral area is in place so as not to distract from the performances.
Wagner died in 1883 aged sixty nine of a heart attack …. possibly after an argument with Cosima over another woman!
After his death, his wife Cosima attempted to get a hold of all copies of Wagner’s autobiography and destroy them due to his flippant and slanderous comments against his fellow composers!
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