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WAGNER, Richard
b Leipzig, 22 May 1813
d Venice, 13 February 1883, aged sixty-nine

He was of Jewish ancestry, which made his later virulent anti-Semitism the more surprising. As a boy he was interested in music, theatre and literature. At eighteen he entered Leipzig University, more for a wild student life than for study. At twenty he was given the position of chorus-master at the theatre at Wurtsburg, then of musical director of the Magdburg Opera Company. He fell in love with the actress Minna Planer, whom he married two years later. In constant flight from their creditors, the pair eventually arrived in Paris. Wagner met Meyerbeer, who introduced him to influential people; but there was little interest in his music, so he turned to journalism. After a year or so the couple were completely penniless, and Wagner spent some weeks in a debtor's prison. However, Dresden Opera accepted Rienzi and then, in 1843, produced The Flying Dutchman; Wagner's stock rose, and he was made Kapellmeister to the Saxon court. He lived wildly beyond his means, and joined a revolutionary movement in Dresden. A warrant was issued for his arrest, and he fled into political exile in Switzerland. In Zurich he concentrated on publishing essays of musical polemics and then began the 'Ring' cycle, writing his own libretti first, in the reverse chronological order. In 1859 the Wagners settled again in Paris; but shortly afterwards Minna left him. Wagner became emotionally involved with Liszt's illegitimate daughter Cosima, who was married to the conductor Hans von Bulow. Soon after that the eighteen-year-old homosexual Ludwig II of Bavaria asked Wagner to move in with him in Munich, but the scandal of this relationship forced Wagner to move again, to Lake Lucerne, where he eventually married Cosima. In 1876, with help from Ludwig, he built the Festival Theatre in Bayreuth, and a splendid villa nearby in which the Wagner family still lives. After the Bayreuth premiere of Parsifal in 1882 the Wagners went to Venice for the winter, and there Wagner succumbed to a heart attack.

1830 (17)


1831 (18)

Piano Sonata

1832 (19)

Symphony in C major

Die Hochzeit, opera (unfinished)

1833 (20)

Die Feen, opera

1834 (21)

Das Liebesverbot, opera

1840 (27)

Faust, overture

1842 (29)

fp Rienzi, opera

1843 (30)

fp The Flying Dutchman, opera

1845 (32)

fp Tannhauser, opera

1851 (38)

fp Lohengrin, opera

1857-8 (44-5)

The Wesendonck Lieder, five songs with orchestra

1865 (52)

fp Tristan und Isolde, music drama

1866 (55)

fp Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, opera

1869 (56)

fp Das Rheingold (No 1 of Der Ring des Nibelungen), music drama

1870 (57)

fp Die Walkure (No 2 of Der Ring des Nibelungen), music drama

Siegfried Idyll, for orchestra

1876 (63)

fp Siegfried (No 3 of Der Ring des Nibelungen), music drama

fp Gotterdammerung (No 4 of Der Ring des Nibelungen), music drama

1882 (69)

fp Parsifal, religious music drama

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