RICHARD WAGNER - BIOGRAPHY
greatest composer of German opera, Richard Wagner, b. Leipzig,
May 22, 1813, was the youngest of nine children of Friedrich
and Johanna Wagner. His father, a police registrar, died 6
months after Wagner was born, and his mother was remarried
the following year to Ludwig Geyer, an actor and portrait
painter, who moved the family to Dresden.
died in 1821, and in 1827 the family returned to Leipzig.
Wagner was attracted to the theatre at an early age.
formal music training was brief - about 6 months in 1831-32 with
the Leipzig cantor C.T. Weinlig. During the 1830s, Wagner held
a series of conducting posts with small theatrical companies, and
he wrote two operas, Die Feen (The Fairies, 1834) and Das
Liebesverbot (Forbidden Love; after Shakespeare's Measure for
Measure); His third opera, Rienzi, was conceived on a larger
scale, and Wagner travelled to Paris in 1839 with the futile hope
of having it performed there. Rienzi was finally accepted for performance
in Dresden in 1842. Its success, coupled with that of Der fliegende
Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) the following year, led
to Wagner's appointment to an official conducting post in Dresden.
he completed Tannhäuser (1845) and Lohengrin
(1848). This period of success ended in 1849, however, when his
participation in revolutionary political activities forced him to
flee to Switzerland. Wagner's exile from Germany, which lasted until
1860, marks the start of a new period in his career.
began composing the non-conventional opera-cycle Der Ring des
Nibelungen (THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG) in 1848 and did not finish
last great turning point in Wagner's fortunes occurred in
1864 when he was called to Munich by the eccentric young king
of Bavaria, Ludwig II, an ardent admirer of his works and
theories. Ludwig's patronage continued for the last 20 years
of Wagner's life, making possible the performance of all his
mature works and eventually the construction in Bayreuth of
a theatre of Wagner's own design. It was opened in 1876 with
the first complete production of the Ring. Bayreuth soon became
the centre for the promotion of Wagner's works and ideology.
His last opera, Parsifal, was performed in 1882, with
the ceremony normally accorded only to a religious event.
Wagner's death on Feb. 13, 1883, control of the Bayreuth festival
passed to his second wife, Cosima (a daughter of Franz Liszt), and
later to their children and grandchildren, a succession that has
continued to the present.
use of legendary sources and the gradual reduction in contrast between
aria and recitative in these operas anticipate the new music drama
that Wagner was to propose in the treatises written about 1850.
The guiding principles of his theory were naturalism and dramatic
truth, which he felt had been compromised by the musical conventions
of contemporary opera.
He advocated a new synthesis of music, verse, and staging
- what he called a Gesamtkunstwerk. The verse, which
Wagner always wrote himself, was to be compressed, metrically
free, and alliterative, dispensing with the end-rhyme that
led to closed musical structures. The open-ended melody of
the vocal line was to be supported by a symphonic accompaniment,
continuously fluctuating with the sense of the text and unified
by a web of motifs associated more or less directly with characters,
things, ideas, or events.
called these motifs Grundthemen, but they have become better
known as leitmotifs ("leading motifs").
theoretical music drama was exemplified in its purest form in "Der
Ring des Nibelungen".