Richard Wagner

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German essayist and perhaps the most influential composer of the 19th century--certainly the most controversial. A brief summary of his life and place in history is practically impossible: it is said that more has been written about Wagner than perhaps any other historical figure with the exception of Christ and Muhammad the Prophet.

Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig on May 22, 1813 and died in Venice on February 13, 1883. His father was a minor city official and died when Richard was 6 months old. In August 1814 his mother married the actor Ludwig Geyer (who may actually have been the boy's father).

Early-on Wagner thought he would be a playwright, and turned to music originally to enhance the dramas he wanted to write and stage. But it was his operas to his own librettos, styled by him as "music dramas", that came to change radically the concept of stage music and, to some extent, music itself. Early musical influences were performances of Carl Maria von Weber's "Der Freischuetz" and Beethoven's "Fidelio". Among other strong acknowledged influences was the philosopher Schopenhauer.

Harking back to Greek ideals as he saw them, Wagner intended to create a new kind of stage work, one dubbed "Gesamtkunstwerk" (or Total Art Work), combining all aspects of artistic creation including music, drama, poetry, painting, and the like. He devised his own plots, often derived from legend and German myth and folklore, with the idea that this would awaken a resonance in his audience. For some, his revolutionized opera were nothing more than morality plays, where love and materialism were incompatible and the gaining of all power had as a price of the loss of love. For some, his music carried the opera and dominated everything. His huge orchestras created a river of sound that overwhelmed the audience. His of the "leitmotiv" - musical themes which stand for characters and events - would be present throughout a work, reappearing interwoven with other melodies whenever the story makes reference to them.

In his stage works, the themes of love, death, and the attaining of power predominate. As for many figures of the Romantic Ear, for Wagner losing one's self in the grand passion of love was a redemptive force over the corruption of the world. These themes came to dominate his life as well.

Wagner's Operas