Wilhelm Richard Wagner (22 May 1813 – 13 February 1883) was a German composer, conductor, director, and writer, who is known for his operas that often were influenced by German mythology and Romantic nationalism. He is also known for various controversial political views and other controversies.
German nationalism and exile
In his younger years, Wagner was interested in more left-wing nationalism. After having had a minor part in the Revolutions of 1848, he was forced into exile from Germany between 1849 and 1862. In the later part of his life, he supported more right-wing nationalism.
Wagner and Jews
Wagner is controversial for his criticisms of Jewish influence (such as on German music), his influence on National Socialism (such as on the concept of "degenerate art"), his racial views, his links to Arthur de Gobineau and Adolf Hitler, claimed covert anti-Semitic allusions in his artistic works, alleged partial Jewish ancestry, and alleged mental illness as explaining less politically correct views.
There are various criticisms and less politically correct views on the above. See the "External links" section.
As a young man Wagner composed some concert overtures and a symphony before turning his attention to opera. He was occasionally to create other concert works, but it was with his operas that he was to build his reputation. Although his early works in this field were not successful, and resulted in debts, it wasn't long before the sought-after success arrived with "Rienzi". This opera was influenced by Meyerbeer who was one of the leading opera composers of the day, and gave Wagner much support. The work's success helped to secure for its composer a more prestigious conducting post at the Dresden Opera, sending Wagner's career on an upward spiral of success and ambition.
However his period of exile in Zurich intervened, and so it was that while unwelcome in his native Germany, he nevertheless composed operas to be performed there to great acclaim (often conducted by Franz Liszt) building his fame on "Lohengrin", "Tristan and Isolde" and "Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg" while all the time working on his magnum opus, the Ring Cycle. He moved to Paris where his relationship with Cosima von Bulow (nee Liszt) blossomed, and once the domestic situation had eased, he returned to Munich in his native land. There the young King Ludwig II of Bavaria was an influencial patron providing further impetus to the composer's career. Afterwards Wagner was to set up home at Villa Wahnfried near Lake Lucerne. While staying there he took upon himself a massive four-year project to build a specially designed theatre in Bayreuth, where he gave the first complete performance of the four operas of the Ring Cycle in 1876. He died aged 69 in Venice where he was staying to seek some rest.
Wagner revolutionised opera through his concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk ("total work of art"), by which he sought to synthesise the poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts, with music subsidiary to drama.
Concert or Chamber Works:
- Concert overtures
- A Symphony
- Wesendonk Songs - named after a supporter whose wife Wagner had an affair with
- Many Preludes and other extracts taken from his operas are played in concert
- Siegfried Idyll
Operas / Music Dramas
- Die Feen (The Fairies)
- Das Liebesverbot (The Ban on Love)
- Der Fliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman) - with some truly atmospheric storm music
- Tannhauser - including the "Pilgrim's Chorus"
- Lohengrin - from which the famous Bridal Chorus comes
- Tristan and Isolde - this has Celtic resonances, set in Ireland, Cornwall and Brittany, and is musically powerful with its closing Liebestod (love-death) music of Act III Scene III.
- Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg (The Mastersingers of Nurnberg) - tuneful and somewhat lighter in tone.
- Parsifal - a semi-religious work
Der Ring des Nibelungen
- Das Rheingold
- Die Walkure - with its "Ride of the Valkyries" (German: Walkürenritt)
- Siegfried - which was to give rise to the "Siegfried Idyll"
- Gotterdammerung (The Twilight of the Gods)
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Richard Wagner
- Encyclopedia Britannica 1911 Edition: Wilhelm Richard Wagner
- Encyclopedia.com: Richard Wagner