Richard Wagner is considered one of the greatest classical music composers. He was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, and polemicist chiefly known for his operas. Wagner’s compositions are renowned for their intricate use of leitmotifs—musical themes connected to certain people, locations, ideas, or plot elements—complex textures, rich harmonies, and orchestration, especially in those from his later period.
WAGNER’S LIFE AND CAREER
Richard Wagner is one of classical music’s most influential and controversial figures. He was a prolific composer, conductor, and theatre director who transformed the musical landscape of the 19th century.
In the year 1813, Wagner was born in Leipzig, Germany. Early on, he started learning music and immediately showed incredible talent. When he was twenty years old, Wagner had already composed several operas and symphonies that were well-received by audiences and critics alike.
However, Wagner’s operas would cement his place in music history. His Ring Cycle, consisting of four epic operas, is widely considered one of the most outstanding achievements in all of opera. The Ring Cycle tells the story of gods, mortals, love, betrayal, and redemption, set against the backdrop of a mighty struggle for power.
Wagner’s operas are known for their splendid spectacle and innovative use of leitmotifs (recurring musical themes that represent characters or ideas). Wagner’s music is also characterized by its sweeping melodies and rich harmonies.
Despite his success, Wagner was a notoriously controversial figure during his lifetime. His outspoken views on politics and art divided opinion sharply, and he counted friends and enemies among the leading figures of his day.
Wagner died in Venice in 1883 at the age of 70. With ideas that were far ahead of his time, his legacy continues to this day, and his operas and music dramas are still performed worldwide. His pieces are among the most frequently played and recorded, and it would be safe to say that his contribution to the musical world has influenced the work of many later composers.
WAGNER’S GREATEST COMPOSITIONS
In addition to his many famous operas, Wagner composed several other well-known pieces, including the preludes and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, Die Walküre’s “Entry of the Gods into Valhalla” and Die Walküre’s Ride of the Valkyries. Other famous Wagner compositions include “Siegfried’s Funeral March” from Götterdämmerung and the beautiful “Parsifal” prelude.
THE IMPACT OF WAGNER’S MUSIC
Richard Wagner’s music had a profound and lasting impact on the course of Western classical music. His operas and other works shaped and influenced the development of musical drama, orchestration, and composition in the late 19th century and into the early 20th century. Wagner’s music also significantly influenced politics, literature, film, and popular culture.
WAGNER’S EARLY YEARS
On May 22, 1813, Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig, Germany, and was baptized Wilhelm Richard Wagner. His father, Carl Friedrich Wagner (1770–1813), a clerk in the Leipzig police service, died of typhus six months after Richard’s birth. His mother, Johanna Rosine Wagner (née Pätz; 1774–1848), married the actor and playwright Ludwig Geyer (1775–1821) three years later.
Early on, Wagner displayed a passion for both theater and music. From age five to fourteen, he attended a Catholic school where he sang in the choir and took piano lessons. At home, his mother taught him to play the violin and to sing German folk songs. From ages nine to thirteen, he studied at the Kreuzschule, a strict Lutheran school where much time was spent singing psalms in Latin.
When he was thirteen, he started taking music lessons seriously. With lessons in harmony from Christian Gottlieb Müller (1773–1816) and composition from Emanuel Aloys Förster (1748–1823). In addition to studying the standard works of Bach and Mozart, Wagner was exposed to Beethoven’s symphonies for the first time during this period.
Richard Wagner was one of the greatest classical music composers of all time. He was a master of opera and created some of the most famous works in the genre, including The Flying Dutchman, Tannhäuser, and Lohengrin. Wagner was also a skilled conductor and an influential music theorist. His ideas about music drama profoundly impacted the development of opera. Wagner’s work continues to be popular, and his music is still performed regularly worldwide.