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Thread: The Great Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

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    The Great Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

    Wilhelm Richard Wagner (May 22, 1813 - February 13, 1883) was an influential German composer, music theorist, and essayist, primarily known for his operas. His music is still widely performed, the best known pieces being the "Ride of the Valkyries" from Die Walküre and the "Bridal Chorus" from Lohengrin. Performances of his operas tend to be very well-attended, despite being a stretch for the resources of most opera companies.


    Wilhelm Richard Wagner

    Works

    Operas

    Wagner's primary artistic legacy are the operas that he wrote. These can be roughly divided into three groups:

    The early-stage operas are Die Feen (The Fairies), Das Liebesverbot (The Ban on Love), and Rienzi. These are works of little merit, and seldom performed today.

    His middle-stage output, which is of remarkably higher quality, began with Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman), followed by Tannhäuser and Lohengrin.

    The first of Wagner's mature operas is Tristan und Isolde (Tristan and Isolde), often considered his masterpiece. Next is Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg), the only comedy in his oeuvre apart from Das Liebesverbot, and one of the longest operas still performed. This is followed by Der Ring des Nibelungen (Der Ring des Nibelungen, commonly referred to as the Ring cycle), a set of four operas based on German and Scandinavian mythology. Spanning roughly 14 hours in performance, the Ring cycle has been called the most ambitious artistic work ever made. Wagner's final opera, Parsifal, is a contemplative work based on the Christian legend of the Holy Grail.

    Through his operas and theoretical essays, Wagner exerted a strong influence on the operatic medium. He was an advocate of a new form of opera which he called "music drama", in which all the musical and dramatic elements were fused together. To this end, he developed a compositional style in which the orchestra has at least as great a dramatic role as the singers themselves. The expressiveness of the orchestra is aided by the use of leitmotifs, musical sequences standing for a particular character or plot element, whose complex interleaving and evolution illuminates the progression of the drama.

    Unlike other opera composers, who generally delegated the task of writing the libretto (the text and lyrics) to others, Wagner wrote his own libretti, which he referred to as "poems". Most of his plots were based on European myths and legends.

    Wagner's musical style is often considered the epitome of classical music's Romantic period, due to its unprecedented exploration of emotional expression. He introduced new ideas in harmony and form, including extremes of chromaticism. In Tristan und Isolde, he explored the limits of the traditional tonal system that gave keys and chords their identity, pointing the way to the rise of atonality in the 20th century. Certain historians of music have even placed the beginning of modern classical music at the first notes of Tristan (the so-called Tristan chord.)

    Early-stage


    • Die Hochzeit(fragment)
    • Die Feen
    • Das Liebesverbot
    • Rienzi - Rienzi, der letzte der Tribunen
    Middle-stage


    • The Flying Dutchman - Der fliegende Holländer
    • Tannhäuser
    • Lohengrin
    Mature


    • Tristan and Isolde - Tristan und Isolde
    • The Mastersingers of Nuremberg - Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
    • Der Ring des Nibelungen - The Ring of the Nibelung
      • The Rhinegold - Das Rheingold
      • The Valkyrie - Die Walküre
      • Siegfried - Siegfried
      • Twilight of the Gods - Götterdämmerung
    • Parsifal
    Non-operatic music

    Apart from his operas, Wagner composed relatively few pieces of music. These include a single symphony (written at the age of 19), and some overtures, choral and piano pieces. Of these, the only commonly-performed work is the Siegfried Idyll, a beautiful chamber piece written for the birthday of his second wife, Cosima. The Idyll draws on several motifs from the Ring cycle, though it is not part of the Ring.

    After completing Parsifal, Wagner apparently intended to turn to the writing of symphonies. However, nothing substantial had been written at the time of his death.

    The overtures and orchestral passages from Wagner's middle and late-stage operas are commonly played as concert pieces, though they are usually modified when performed in this way. For example, the concert form of the Tristan overture, which was written by Wagner himself, uses an extra page of scoring to bring the music to a conclusion.

    The Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin (popularly known in the United States as "Here Comes the Bride") is often played as the processional at weddings.

    Other works

    Wagner was an extremely prolific writer, authoring hundreds of books, poems, and articles, as well as a massive amount of correspondence. His writings covered a wide range of topics, including politics, philosophy, and detailed analyses (often mutually contradictory) of his own operas. Essays of note include "Oper und Drama" ("Opera and Drama", 1851), an essay on the theory of opera, and "Das Judenthum in der Musik" ("Judaism in Music", 1850), a polemic directed against Jewish composers. He also wrote an autobiography, My Life (1880).

    He was responsible for several theatrical innovations developed at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, an opera house specially constructed for the performance of his operas. These innovations include darkening the auditorium during performances, and placing the orchestra in a pit out of view of the audience. The Bayreuth Festspielhaus is the venue of the annual Richard Wagner Festival, which draws thousands of opera fans to Bayreuth each summer.


    Biography

    Early Life

    Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig, Germany, on May 22, 1813. His father, a minor city official, died 6 months after the birth, and in August 1814 his mother married the actor Ludwig Geyer. Geyer, who is rumored to have actually been the boy's father, died when he was six, leaving him to be brought up by his mother.

    Young Richard Wagner entertained ambitions to be a playwright, and first became interested in music as a means of enhancing the dramas that he wanted to write and stage. He soon turned toward studying music, for which he enrolled at the University of Leipzig in 1831. One of his early musical influences was Ludwig van Beethoven.

    In 1833, at the age of 20, Wagner had finished composing his first complete opera, Die Feen. This opera, which clearly imitated the style of Weber, would go unproduced until half a century later. Meanwhile, Wagner held brief appointments as musical director at opera houses in Magdeburg and Königsberg, during which he wrote Das Liebesverbot, based on William Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. This second attempt was actually staged at Magdeburg in 1836, but met with little acclaim.

    Later in 1836, Wagner married actress Minna Planer, and they moved to the town of Riga where he became the musical director at the local opera house. A few weeks afterward, Minna ran off with an army officer who left her penniless. Wagner accepted her back, but it was the start of a troubled marriage that would end, three decades later, in misery.

    By 1839, the couple had amassed such a large amount of debt that they were forced to flee Riga to escape their creditors (the recurring problem of debt would plague Wagner for the rest of his life.) During their flight, they took a stormy sea passage to London, from which Wagner obtained the inspiration for Der fliegende Holländer. The Wagners lived in Paris for several years, where Richard made a living writing articles and making arrangements of operas by other composers.

    Dresden

    Wagner completed writing his third opera, Rienzi, in 1840. Fortuitously, it was accepted for performance by the Dresden Court Theatre in the German state of Saxony. In 1842, the couple moved to Dresden, where Rienzi was staged to considerable success. Wagner lived in Dresden for the next six years, eventually being appointed the Royal Saxon Court Conductor. During this period, he wrote and staged Der fliegende Holländer and Tannhäuser, the first two of his three middle-stage operas.

    The Wagners' stay at Dresden was brought to an end by Richard's involvement in left-wing politics. A nationalist movement was gaining force in the independent German States, calling for increased freedoms and the unification of the weak states into a single nation. Richard Wagner played an enthusiastic role in this movement, receiving guests at his house that included his colleague August Röckel, who was editing the radical left-wing paper Volksblätter, and the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin.

    Widespread discontent against the Saxon government came to a boil in April 1849, when King Frederick Augustus II of Saxony dissolved his Parliament and rejected a new constitution pressed upon him by the people. In May, an uprising broke out, in which Wagner played a minor supporting role. The incipient revolution was quickly crushed by an allied force of Saxon and Prussian troops, and warrants were issued for the arrest of the revolutionaries. Wagner had to flee, first to Paris, and then to Zürich. His compatriots Röckel and Bakunin failed to escape and were forced to endure long years of imprisonment.

    Exile, Schopenhauer, and Mathilde Wesendonk

    Wagner spent the next twelve years in exile. He had completed Lohengrin before the Dresden uprising, and now wrote desperately to his friend Franz Liszt to have it staged in his absence. Liszt, who proved to be a friend in need, eventually conducted the premiere in Weimar in August 1850.

    Nevertheless, Wagner found himself in grim personal straits, isolated from the German musical world and without any income to speak of. The musical sketches he was penning, which would grow into Der Ring des Nibelungen, seemed to have no prospects of seeing performance. His wife Minna, who had disliked the operas he had written after Rienzi, was falling into a deepening depression. Finally, he fell victim to erysipelas, which made it difficult for him to continue writing.

    Wagner's primary output during his first years in Zürich was a set of notable essays: "The Art-Work of the Future" (1849), in which he described a vision of opera as Gesamtkunstwerk, or "total artwork", in which the various arts such as music, song, dance, poetry, visual arts, and stagecraft were unified; "Judaism in Music" (1850), an anti-Semitic tract directed against Jewish composers; and "Opera and Drama" (1851), which described ideas in aesthetics that he was putting to use on the Ring operas.

    In the following years, Wagner came upon two independent sources of inspiration, leading to the creation of his celebrated Tristan und Isolde. The first came to him in 1854, when his poet friend Georg Herwegh introduced him to the works of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. Wagner would later call this the most important event of his life. His personal circumstances certainly made him an easy convert to Schopenhauer's philosophy, which was centered on a deeply pessimistic view of the human condition. He would remain an adherent of Schopenhauer for the rest of his life, even after his fortunes improved.

    One of Schopenhauer's doctrines was that music held a supreme role amongst the arts, since it was the only one unconcerned with the material world. Wagner quickly embraced this claim, which must have resonated strongly despite its direct contradiction with his own arguments, in "Opera and Drama", that music in opera had to be subservient to the cause of drama. Wagner scholars have since argued that this Schopenhauerian influence caused Wagner to assign a more commanding role to music in his later operas, including the latter half of the Ring cycle which he had yet to compose. Many aspects of Schopenhauerian doctrine undoubtedly found its way into Wagner's subsequent libretti. For example, the self-renouncing cobbler-poet Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger, generally considered Wagner's most sympathetic character, is a quintessentially Schopenhauerian creation.

    Wagner's second source of inspiration was the poet-writer Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of the silk merchant Otto von Wesendonck. Wagner met the Wesendoncks in Zürich in 1852. Otto, a fan of Wagner's music, placed a cottage on his estate at Wagner's disposal. By 1857, Wagner had become infatuated with Mathilde. Though Mathilde seems to have returned some of his affections, she had no intention of jeopardising her marriage, and kept her husband informed of her contacts with Wagner. Nevertheless, the affair inspired Wagner to put aside his work on the Ring cycle (which would not be resumed for twelve years) and begin work on Tristan und Isolde, based on the Arthurian love story of the knight Tristan and the (already-married) lady Isolde.

    The uneasy affair collapsed in 1858, when Minna intercepted a letter from Wagner to Mathilde. After the resulting confrontation, Wagner left Zürich alone, bound for Venice. The following year, he once again moved to Paris to oversee production of a new revision of Tannhäuser. The premiere of the new Tannhäuser in 1861 was an utter fiasco, due to disturbances caused by aristocrats from the Jockey Club. Further performances were cancelled, and Wagner hurriedly left the city.

    In 1861, the political ban against Wagner was lifted, and the composer settled in Biebrich, Prussia, where he began work on Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Remarkably, this opera is by far his sunniest work. (His second wife Cosima would later write: "when future generations seek refreshment in this unique work, may they spare a thought for the tears from which the smiles arose.") In 1862, Wagner finally parted with Minna, though he (or at least his creditors) continued to support her financially until her death in 1866.

    Patronage of King Ludwig II

    Wagner's fortunes took a dramatic upturn in 1864, when King Ludwig II assumed the throne of Bavaria at the age of 18. The young King, an ardent admirer of Wagner's operas since childhood, had the composer brought to Munich. He settled Wagner's considerable debts, and made plans to have his new opera produced. After grave difficulties in rehearsal, Tristan und Isolde premiered to enormous success at the Munich Court Theatre on June 10, 1865.

    In the meantime, Wagner became embroiled in another affair, this time with Cosima von Bülow, the wife of the conductor Hans von Bülow, one of Wagner's most ardent supporters and the conductor of the Tristan premiere. Cosima was the illegitimate daughter of Franz Liszt and the famous Countess Marie d'Agoult, and 24 years younger than Wagner. In April 1865, she gave birth to Wagner's illegitimate daughter, who was named Isolde. Their indiscreet affair scandalized Munich, and to make matters worse, Wagner fell into disfavor amongst members of the court, who were suspicious of his influence on the King. In December 1865, Ludwig was finally forced to ask the composer to leave Munich. He apparently also toyed with the idea of abdicating in order to follow his hero into exile, but Wagner quickly dissuaded him.

    Ludwig installed Wagner at the villa Triebschen, beside Switzerland's Lake Lucerne. Die Meistersinger was completed at Triebschen in 1867, and premiered in Munich on June 21 the following year. In October, Cosima finally convinced Hans von Bülow to grant her a divorce. Richard and Cosima were married on August 25, 1870. In December of that year, Wagner presented the Siegfried Idyll for Cosima's birthday. The marriage to Cosima lasted to the end of Wagner's life. They had an additional daughter, named Eva, and a son named Siegfried.

    It was at Triebschen, in 1869, that Wagner first met the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who quickly became a firm friend. Wagner's ideas were a major influence on Nietzsche, who was 31 years his junior. Nietzsche's first book, Die Geburt der Tragödie ("The Birth of Tragedy", 1872), was dedicated to Wagner. The relationship eventually soured, as Nietzsche became increasingly disillusioned with various aspects of Wagner's thought, such as his pacifism and anti-Semitism. In Der Fall Wagner ("The Case of Wagner", 1888) and Nietzsche Contra Wagner (Nietzsche vs. Wagner, 1895), he would condemn Wagner as decadent and corrupt, even criticizing his earlier adulatory views of the composer.

    Bayreuth

    Wagner, settled into his newfound domesticity, turned his energies toward completing the Ring cycle. At Ludwig's insistence, "special previews" of Das Rheingold and Die Walküre were given at Munich, but Wagner wanted the complete cycle to be performed in a new, specially-designed opera house.

    In 1871, he decided on the small town of Bayreuth as the location of his new opera house. The Wagners moved there the following year, and the foundation stone for the Festspielhaus ("Festival House") was laid. In order to raise funds for the construction, "Wagner societies" were formed in several cities, and Wagner himself began touring Germany conducting concerts. However, sufficient funds were only raised afte King Ludwig stepped in with another large grant in 1874. Later that year, the Wagners moved into their permanent home at Bayreuth, a villa that Richard dubbed Wahnfried ("Freedom from Illusion".)

    The Festspielhaus finally opened in August 1876 with the premiere of the Ring cycle. Present at this unique musical event was an illustrious list of guests: Kaiser Wilhelm, Dom Pedro II of Brazil, King Ludwig (who attended in secret, probably to avoid the Kaiser), and other members of the nobility; and such accomplished composers as Anton Bruckner, Edvard Grieg, Pyotr Tchairkovsky, and Franz Liszt.

    Artistically, the Festival was an outstanding success. ("Something has taken place at Bayreuth which our grandchildren and their children will still remember," wrote Tchaikovsky, attending the Festival as a Russian correspondent.) Financially, however, it was an unmitigated disaster. Wagner abandoned his original plan to hold a second festival the following year, and travelled to London to conduct a series of concerts in an attempt to make up the deficit.

    Final Years

    In 1877, Wagner began work on Parsifal, his final opera. The composition took four years, during which he also wrote a series of increasingly reactionary essays on religion and art.

    Wagner completed Parsifal in January 1882, and a second Bayreuth Festival was held for the new opera. Wagner was by this time extremely ill, having suffered through a series of increasingly severe angina attacks. During the sixteenth and final performance of Parsifal on August 29, he secretly entered the pit during Act III, took the baton from conductor Hermann Levi, and led the performance to its conclusion.


    After the Festival, the Wagner family journeyed to Venice for the winter. On February 13, 1883, Richard Wagner died of a heart attack in the Palazzo Vendramin on the Grand Canal. His body was returned to Bayreuth and buried in the garden of Wahnfried.


    Anti-Semitism and Nazi Appropriation

    During the 20th century, the public perception of Wagner became largely centered on his anti-Semitism, largely due to the appropriation of his music by Nazi Germany.

    Wagner promulgated many anti-semitic views over the course of his life, through both conversation and numerous writings. He frequently accused Jews, and in particular Jewish musicians, of being a harmful foreign element in Germany, and called for either their expulsion or the abandonment of Jewish culture. Some scholars have argued that his operas also contain hidden anti-Semitic messages, but this claim is disputed.

    Wagner's first and most controversial anti-Semitic essay was "Das Judenthum in der Musik", originally published in 1850 in the Neue Zeitschrift under the pen-name "K. Freigedenk" ("free thought"). The essay purported to explain "popular dislike" of the music of Jewish composers such as Wagner's contemporaries Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer. Wagner wrote that the German people were repelled by Jews due to their alien appearance and behavior - "freaks of Nature" blabbering in "creaking, squeaking, buzzing" voices - "with all our speaking and writing in favour of the Jews' emancipation, we always felt instinctively repelled by any actual, operative contact with them." He argued that Jewish musicians were only capable of producing music that was shallow and artificial, a parroting of true music, for they had no connection to "the genuine spirit of the Folk".

    The initial publication of the article attracted little attention, but Wagner republished it as a pamphlet under his own name in 1869, leading to several public protests at performances of Die Meistersinger.

    Wagner attacked the Jews in several other essays. In "What is German?" (1878), for example, he wrote that

    The Jew... [took] German intellectual labour into his own hands; and thus we see an odious travesty of the German spirit upheld to-day before the German Folk, as its imputed likeness. It is to be feared, ere long the nation may really take this simulacrum for its mirrored image: then one of the finest natural dispositions in all the human race were done to death, perchance for ever.
    In the conclusion to Judenthum (1850), he wrote that "There is only one way of redeeming the Jews from the terrible curse that hangs over them - annihilation." Although has often been taken to mean actual physical annihilation, in the context of the essay it refers to the eradication of Judaism and the conversion of Jews to Christianity; in essence he called for eventual assimilation of the Jews into German culture. Later, in a 1878 conversation with Cosima, he mentioned that "if I wrote about the Jews again, I would say that there is nothing to be held against them, only they came to us Germans too soon; we were not stable enough to absorb this element."

    In spite of his anti-Semitic writings, Wagner had several Jewish friends with whom he appeared to have been quite fond. The most notable of these was Hermann Levi, a practicing Jew whom Wagner chose to conduct the premiere of Parsifal, his last opera. Initially, Wagner wanted Levi to become baptized before conducting Parsifal, presumably due to the religious content of the opera, but this requirement was eventually dropped. Levi maintained a close friendship with Wagner, and was asked to be a pallbearer at the composer's funeral.

    Wagner's anti-Semitism was not unique. Anti-Semitic ideas were widespread in the European intellectual world of the 19th century, including such writers as Theodor Fritsch, Richard Francis Burton and Heinrich von Treitschke.

    After Wagner's death in 1883, Bayreuth became a meeting place for a group of extreme right-wing Wagner fans that came to be known as the Bayreuth circle, endorsed by the staunchly anti-Semitic Cosima. After the death of Cosima and Siegfried Wagner in 1930, the operation of the festival fell to Siegfried's widow Winifred, who was a personal friend of Adolf Hitler. Hitler himself was a fan of Wagner's music, which the Nazis frequently played at their rallies. Certain scholars have argued that Wagner's views, particularly his anti-Semitism, influenced the Nazis, but these claims remain controversial. Many aspects of Wagner's worldview would certainly have been unappealing to the Nazis, such as his pacifism and calls for assimilation.

    Mostly due to this Nazi association, Wagner's works have not been publicly performed in the modern state of Israel. Although they are commonly broadcast on government-owned radio and television stations, attempts at staging public performances have been halted by protests, especially by Holocaust survivors. For instance, after Daniel Barenboim conducted a passage from Tristan and Isolde as an encore at the 2001 Israel Festival, a parliamentary committee urged a boycott of the conductor, and an initially scheduled performance of Die Walküre had to be withdrawn.

    .

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    Post Re: Richard Wagner

    Very good post.
    Franz Liszt? They translated the Hungarian Ferenc to German Franz.

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    Post Re: Richard Wagner

    Richard Wagner is excellent! ride of the valkyiries is such an epic song. Thanks for that article.
    Just close your eyes...can you remember
    The generations not so long ago
    I feel the shameless urge that we must restore
    Our former king to his rightful throne
    And with me lords and maidens
    We wait for the chosen son's return

    I come alive
    It's a time for celebration
    Our will to restore
    Make our past become the futre once more

    Still he lives! 2000 years have passed
    And still we're yearning for his return
    We fulfill a wishful prohecy
    And so the chanting begins
    Hail Caesar...Hail Caesar...we render unto you
    What is still yours

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    Post Re: Richard Wagner

    Yes, very good article. See my thread on Germanic composers in the Germanic Ting section.

    Wagner was indeed brilliant though..this comes out in his Judaism in Music of course

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    Richard Wagner Archive

    Tolerance is a proof of distrust in one's own ideals. Friedrich Nietzsche


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    Great link! I bookmarked it.

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    The Life of Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

    A few words:

    In my opinion, Richard Wagner is one of the greatest composers of all time; even till this day his work continues to inspire audiences worldwide, and it is doubtful that his music would ever cease to amaze mankind.

    He called him "the most German of men" and embodied "the German spirit", not only because of his various operas and numerous writings but also because of his undeniable influence on our understanding of Germanic heritage and culture.

    One might ask why I would post a thread on Richard Wagner, well, the answer is simple: I want to share the beauty of the Wagner which is expressed through the majesty of song. After listening to a performance of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg I soon realised that his works had many meanings, which were expressed through various musical motifs and leitmotifs. Fundamentally, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg puts forth the message that tradition must be preserved, not overthrown. But tradition also needs constantly to renew itself in order to be preserve (echos of another Great Reich, perhaps? ). It is an opera I highly recommend.

    Now, without further ado, I will provide the reader of this thread with a basic, informative article I found; and I hope it will cover the basis of Richard Wagner and his music.

    Enjoy,

    Your pal, Sigurd Volsung

    Richard Wagner



    Richard Wagner, the youngest of nine children was born at Leipzig, May 22, 1813. Significantly, around his cradle was fought the battle of the nations. One hundred and twenty thousand Germans and Frenchman lay dead or dying in the fields near Leipzig; and the epidemic fever which came stalking abroad to finish the grim work of carnage left the future composer fatherless when only five months old. The widow married again, this time an actor at the Dresden Theatre.

    Like Schumann, Wagner ripened late. No musical prodigy was he; yet at seven he could strum a tune on the piano, and his step-father, dying then, hoped that "something worth while might be made of Richard." Wagner, telling this, adds: "I remember how I long imagined that something would be made of me." Something was made of him! But for a long time it was uncertain what would be his life-calling. He thought he would be a poet, and wrote verses on the Greek model. He thought he would be a dramatist, and wrote a portentous play compounded of "Hamlet" and "Lear" and "Titus Andronicus." Forty-two persons were destroyed one after the other before the end; and in order to have any one on the stage, the characters were brought back as ghosts! The art with which his name was to become immortally associated was not much in his mind then. His Latin tutor gave him some piano lessons, but predicted that musically he would "come to nothing." Wagner hated the piano, and, like Berlioz, never could play it well.

    His fate was sealed by hearing one of Beethoven’s symphonies. "I fell ill of a fever," he says, speaking of this turning point in his life, "and when I recovered, I was -- a musician." Not long after, he heard Goethe’s "Egmont," with Beethoven’s incidental music. His own tremendous tragedy must have incidental music too! And so he decided to be composer. He took lessons and wrote overtures, one of which he carried to Dorn, conductor of the Royal Theatre at Dresden. It was written in three different coloured inks -- red for strings, green for wood-wind, black for brass -- and Dorn had it performed. Meanwhile, in 1828, Wagner entered the University of Leipzig, where he gave himself up to all excesses of student life. Music was temporarily laid aside in favour of classical study. But only temporarily. He took more lessons, and in six months was told by his professor that he had arrived at technical independence.

    Compositions of various kinds followed, some of which were performed in Leipzig; but it was not until he read Bulwer’s "Rienzi," about 1837, that he did anything worth mentioning. He was married by this time (in 1836) -- married miserably, as events proved, and in a sack of debt. His betrothed, Minna Planer (an actress, "pretty as a picture"), had gone as "leading lady" to Konigsberg, and Wagner, following her from Magdeburg (where he had been doing routine musical work), was appointed musical director of the theatre there. The wedding followed. "I was in love," he said afterwards, "and I persisted in getting married, thus involving myself and another in unhappiness." After filling another miserable post at a Riga theatre, Wagner came to London (on his way to Paris), with his wife and a big Newfoundland dog, and the two completed acts of "Rienzi." On the voyage (it lasted nearly a month, for there was a terrific storm in the North Sea), the sailors told him the story of the Flying Dutchman, which was to bear fruit later.

    Wagner went to Paris, hoping to win fame and fortune; buoyed up by the prospect of having "Rienzi" staged there. Alas! it was the old story over again. The despairing young genius had to slave for bread and butter by the most humiliating musical drudgery -- "making arrangements for every imaginable kind of instrument, even the cornet." He wrote articles for a musical paper; wrote even a couple of novelettes! He applied for a post as singer in a small theatre, and was told by the conductor who examined him that he could not sing. And he had been chorus-master at Wurzburg, too! Happily the clouds were breaking. Wagner had confidence in himself, and while he wrote for food he wrote also for fame. He finished "Rienzi," which was presently accepted for Dresden. Then he started on "The Flying Dutchman," and completed that in seven weeks. Paris, he realised, would never to anything for him, and in the spring of 1842 he saw the Rhine, the German Rhine, for the first time, and swore eternal fealty to the Fatherland.

    "Rienzi," produced in the October of that year, set him on the road to success. He had obtained the snug berth of conductor at the Dresden Opera, with a salary of £250; and here he remained (having meanwhile, in 1845, produced "Tannhäuser") until the Revolution of 1848. Wagner was, as Liszt said, a born reformer, undaunted by blood or fire. Nothing would restrain him at this juncture. He made red-hot Republican speeches, and actually fought at the barricades. He was proscribed, of course, and had to fly for his life. A price was put on his head, and he hid himself in Paris. Later, he went to Switzerland, and twelve long years of exile and poverty followed. To his everlasting credit, Liszt never failed to answer his appeals for help. It was, as will be told, in these early days of exile that this loyal friend brought out "Lohengrin" at Weimar. "Artist, I have faith in you," he once said to Wagner, and he proved his faith in the best of all ways -- by works.

    At last, in 1861, mainly by the intervention of Princess Metternich, Wagner obtained permission to return to Germany. He had been working hard at the great trilogy of the "Ring," but he saw no hope of ever bringing it to completion, as indeed he sadly said when he published the libretto in 1864. But just then Ludwig II., the "mad king," then a youth of nineteen, mounted the throne of Bavaria, and Wagner received from him a handsome villa residence and a substantial allowance besides, thus enabling him to finish his great art work in comfort. The story has often been told, but will bear telling again, how Ludwig sent Adjutant Sauer to seek the composer. Sauer went first to Vienna, and then to Switzerland, without success. In Switzerland, however, he met Baron Hornstein, the song-composer, who put him on the right track. "I know where Wagner is," said the Baron; "he is at Stuttgart, hiding from his creditors." Such was indeed the case, and according to several biographers, the despairing Wagner was just about to put an end to his life, when the opportune arrival of Ludwig’s messenger saved him. Ludwig, he said, writing to a friend, "wants me to be always with him, to work, to rest, and to produce my music-dramas. He will give me all I need. I am to finish the ‘Ring,’ and everything shall be as I wish." Truly has it been said that Liszt and Ludwig ("mad," as he was) saved Wagner to the world.

    "Tristan" was performed under Von Bülow’s direction in 1865; three years later, and "Die Meistersinger" was produced. In 1870 occurred another notable event in Wagner’s life, for it was then that he married the divorced wife of Bülow, -- Cosima, the daughter of Liszt. Poor Minna, separated from Wagner from 1861, had died, isolated, in 1866. Bülow, almost broken-hearted, forgave Wagner and his Cosima, and remained faithful to the music of the future, though he expressed the wish that the man had been another than Wagner, that he might have shot him! The union turned out happily, and Cosima Wagner, who lived until 1930, devoted her life to promoting the fame of her husband.

    The culmination of the master’s great career was reached when the gigantic "Ring of the Nibelung" was finished and produced in 1875. "Parsifal," his last work, his musical will, was completed at Palermo in January 1882. In the autumn of that year, Wagner and his family (a son, Siegfried, had been born to him) went to Venice; and there, on the 13th of February 1883, this mighty spirit fled from earth -- the most stupendous musical genius of the last half of the nineteenth century. He lies where his faithful dog "Russ" had been laid, in the garden of his own house, Wahnfried, at Bayreuth -- that Bayreuth which he declared to be "the art center of the world."


    Source: http://www.music-with-ease.com/wagner-life.html

    Other sources for your own personal use:

    http://www.bayreuther-festspiele.de/
    http://www.faqs.org/faqs/music/wagne.../preamble.html
    http://www.rwagner.net/
    http://www.wagneroperas.com/

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    The following Web page features a brief video produced by the Met a few years back which features the most accessible explanation I've ever come across of Wagner's Leitmotifs.

    http://angerburg.blogspot.com/2010/0...eitmotifs.html

    It avoids any of the usual negative commentary about Wagner, instead focussing on the greatness of the music.

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    Epic Movie

    Just finished watching the 8 hour movie miniseries "Wagner" with Richard Burton. I recommend it though it painted him even darker than he was and was heavy-handed in making Nazi overtones everywhere; the music was enthralling of course. Gielgud, Richardson, and Olivier played ministers to King Ludwig; funny to see them competing for the lens!

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    Tristan und Isolde will eternally stir my spirit. Wagner was quite innovative in nearly every area of composition.

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