86 Facts About Wagner


Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, theatre director, polemicist, and conductor who is chiefly known for his operas .

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Unlike most opera composers, Wagner wrote both the libretto and the music for each of his stage works.

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Wagner described this vision in a series of essays published between 1849 and 1852.

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Wagner realised these ideas most fully in the first half of the four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen .

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Wagner had his own opera house built, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, which embodied many novel design features.

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Until his final years, Wagner's life was characterised by political exile, turbulent love affairs, poverty and repeated flight from his creditors.

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Richard Wagner was born to an ethnic German family in Leipzig, who lived at No 3, the Bruhl in the Jewish quarter on 22 May 1813.

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Wagner was the ninth child of Carl Friedrich Wagner, who was a clerk in the Leipzig police service, and his wife, Johanna Rosine, the daughter of a baker.

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In late 1820, Wagner was enrolled at Pastor Wetzel's school at Possendorf, near Dresden, where he received some piano instruction from his Latin teacher.

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Wagner struggled to play a proper scale at the keyboard and preferred playing theatre overtures by ear.

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Wagner's first creative effort, listed in the Wagner-Werk-Verzeichnis as WWV 1, was a tragedy called Leubald.

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Wagner was determined to set it to music and persuaded his family to allow him music lessons.

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Wagner was greatly impressed by a performance of Mozart's Requiem.

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In 1831, Wagner enrolled at the Leipzig University, where he became a member of the Saxon student fraternity.

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Wagner arranged for his pupil's Piano Sonata in B-flat major to be published as Wagner's Op.

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Wagner then began to work on an opera, Die Hochzeit, which he never completed.

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Wagner had fallen for one of the leading ladies at Magdeburg, the actress Christine Wilhelmine "Minna" Planer and after the disaster of Das Liebesverbot he followed her to Konigsberg, where she helped him to get an engagement at the theatre.

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In June 1837, Wagner moved to Riga, where he became music director of the local opera; having in this capacity engaged Minna's sister Amalie for the theatre, he presently resumed relations with Minna during 1838.

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Wagner made a scant living by writing articles and short novelettes such as A pilgrimage to Beethoven, which sketched his growing concept of "music drama", and An end in Paris, where he depicts his own miseries as a German musician in the French metropolis.

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Wagner provided arrangements of operas by other composers, largely on behalf of the Schlesinger publishing house.

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Wagner lived in Dresden for the next six years, eventually being appointed the Royal Saxon Court Conductor.

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Wagner was influenced by the ideas of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Ludwig Feuerbach.

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Wagner had to flee, first visiting Paris and then settling in Zurich where he at first took refuge with a friend, Alexander Muller.

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Wagner was to spend the next twelve years in exile from Germany.

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Wagner had completed Lohengrin, the last of his middle-period operas, before the Dresden uprising, and now wrote desperately to his friend Franz Liszt to have it staged in his absence.

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Nevertheless, Wagner was in grim personal straits, isolated from the German musical world and without any regular income.

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Wagner even plotted an elopement with her in 1850, which her husband prevented.

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Wagner fell victim to ill-health, according to Ernest Newman "largely a matter of overwrought nerves", which made it difficult for him to continue writing.

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Wagner's primary published output during his first years in Zurich was a set of essays.

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In "Opera and Drama", Wagner described the aesthetics of drama that he was using to create the Ring operas.

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Wagner initially wrote the libretto for a single opera, Siegfrieds Tod, in 1848.

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Wagner completed the text of the cycle by writing the libretti for Die Walkure and Das Rheingold and revising the other libretti to agree with his new concept, completing them in 1852.

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Partly in an attempt to explain his change of views, Wagner published in 1851 the autobiographical "A Communication to My Friends".

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Wagner began composing the music for Das Rheingold between November 1853 and September 1854, following it immediately with Die Walkure .

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Wagner began work on the third Ring opera, which he now called simply Siegfried, probably in September 1856, but by June 1857 he had completed only the first two acts.

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Wagner decided to put the work aside to concentrate on a new idea: Tristan und Isolde, based on the Arthurian love story Tristan and Iseult.

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One source of inspiration for Tristan und Isolde was the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, notably his The World as Will and Representation, to which Wagner had been introduced in 1854 by his poet friend Georg Herwegh.

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Wagner later called this the most important event of his life.

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Wagner remained an adherent of Schopenhauer for the rest of his life.

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Wagner scholars have argued that Schopenhauer's 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.

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Wagner met the Wesendoncks, who were both great admirers of his music, in Zurich in 1852.

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In November 1859, Wagner moved to Paris to oversee production of a new revision of Tannhauser, staged thanks to the efforts of Princess Pauline von Metternich, whose husband was the Austrian ambassador in Paris.

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Wagner had sought a reconciliation with Minna during this Paris visit, and although she joined him there, the reunion was not successful and they again parted from each other when Wagner left.

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Wagner wrote a first draft of the libretto in 1845, and he had resolved to develop it during a visit he had made to Venice with the Wesendoncks in 1860, where he was inspired by Titian's painting The Assumption of the Virgin.

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Wagner's fortunes took a dramatic upturn in 1864, when King Ludwig II succeeded to the throne of Bavaria at the age of 18.

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Wagner began to dictate his autobiography, Mein Leben, at the King's request.

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Cosima was 24 years younger than Wagner and was herself illegitimate, the daughter of the Countess Marie d'Agoult, who had left her husband for Franz Liszt.

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The indiscreet affair scandalised Munich, and Wagner fell into disfavour with many leading members of the court, who were suspicious of his influence on the King.

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Wagner apparently toyed with the idea of abdicating to follow his hero into exile, but Wagner quickly dissuaded him.

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At Ludwig's insistence, "special previews" of the first two works of the Ring, Das Rheingold and Die Walkure, were performed at Munich in 1869 and 1870, but Wagner retained his dream, first expressed in "A Communication to My Friends", to present the first complete cycle at a special festival with a new, dedicated, opera house.

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Wagner consented only after she had two more children with Wagner; another daughter, named Eva, after the heroine of Meistersinger, and a son Siegfried, named for the hero of the Ring.

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On Christmas Day of that year, Wagner arranged a surprise performance of the Siegfried Idyll for Cosima's birthday.

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Wagner, settled into his new-found domesticity, turned his energies towards completing the Ring cycle.

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Wagner had not abandoned polemics: he republished his 1850 pamphlet "Judaism in Music", originally issued under a pseudonym, under his own name in 1869.

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Wagner extended the introduction, and wrote a lengthy additional final section.

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In 1871, Wagner decided to move to Bayreuth, which was to be the location of his new opera house.

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Wagner initially announced the first Bayreuth Festival, at which for the first time the Ring cycle would be presented complete, for 1873, but since Ludwig had declined to finance the project, the start of building was delayed and the proposed date for the festival was deferred.

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Design of the Festspielhaus, Wagner appropriated some of the ideas of his former colleague, Gottfried Semper, which he had previously solicited for a proposed new opera house at Munich.

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Wagner was responsible for several theatrical innovations at Bayreuth; these include darkening the auditorium during performances, and placing the orchestra in a pit out of view of the audience.

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From 1876 to 1878 Wagner embarked on the last of his documented emotional liaisons, this time with Judith Gautier, whom he had met at the 1876 Festival.

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Wagner was much troubled by problems of financing Parsifal, and by the prospect of the work being performed by other theatres than Bayreuth.

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Wagner was assisted by the liberality of King Ludwig, but was still forced by his personal financial situation in 1877 to sell the rights of several of his unpublished works to the publisher Schott.

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Wagner wrote several articles in his later years, often on political topics, and often reactionary in tone, repudiating some of his earlier, more liberal, views.

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Wagner completed Parsifal in January 1882, and a second Bayreuth Festival was held for the new opera, which premiered on 26 May Wagner was by this time extremely ill, having suffered a series of increasingly severe angina attacks.

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Wagner died of a heart attack at the age of 69 on 13 February 1883 at Ca' Vendramin Calergi, a 16th-century palazzo on the Grand Canal.

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Unlike most opera composers, who generally left the task of writing the libretto to others, Wagner wrote his own libretti, which he referred to as "poems".

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Wagner developed a compositional style in which the importance of the orchestra is equal to that of the singers.

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Later in life, Wagner said that he did not consider these works to be part of his oeuvre; and they have been performed only rarely in the last hundred years, although the overture to Rienzi is an occasional concert-hall piece.

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Wagner specifically developed the libretti for these operas according to his interpretation of Stabreim, highly alliterative rhyming verse-pairs used in old Germanic poetry.

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Wagner felt that his musico-dramatical theories were most perfectly realised in this work with its use of "the art of transition" between dramatic elements and the balance achieved between vocal and orchestral lines.

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When Wagner returned to writing the music for the last act of Siegfried and for Gotterdammerung, as the final part of the Ring, his style had changed once more to something more recognisable as "operatic" than the aural world of Rheingold and Walkure, though it was still thoroughly stamped with his own originality as a composer and suffused with leitmotifs.

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Wagner took 26 years from writing the first draft of a libretto in 1848 until he completed Gotterdammerung in 1874.

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For most of these, Wagner wrote or rewrote short passages to ensure musical coherence.

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Wagner was an extremely prolific writer, authoring many books, poems, and articles, as well as voluminous correspondence.

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Wagner's writings covered a wide range of topics, including autobiography, politics, philosophy, and detailed analyses of his own operas.

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Wagner planned for a collected edition of his publications as early as 1865; he believed that such an edition would help the world understand his intellectual development and artistic aims.

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Wagner made a major contribution to the principles and practice of conducting.

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Wagner's essay "About Conducting" advanced Hector Berlioz's technique of conducting and claimed that conducting was a means by which a musical work could be re-interpreted, rather than simply a mechanism for achieving orchestral unison.

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Wagner exemplified this approach in his own conducting, which was significantly more flexible than the disciplined approach of Felix Mendelssohn; in his view this justified practices that would today be frowned upon, such as the rewriting of scores.

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Nietzsche broke with Wagner following the first Bayreuth Festival, believing that Wagner's final phase represented a pandering to Christian pieties and a surrender to the new German Reich.

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Wagner is discussed in some of the works of James Joyce, as well as W E B Du Bois, who featured Lohengrin in The Souls of Black Folk.

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Many of Wagner's concepts, including his speculation about dreams, predated their investigation by Sigmund Freud.

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Wagner's followers have formed many societies dedicated to Wagner's life and work.

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Wagner's ideas are amenable to socialist interpretations; many of his ideas on art were being formulated at the time of his revolutionary inclinations in the 1840s.

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Left-wing interpretations of Wagner inform the writings of Theodor Adorno among other Wagner critics.

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The Nazis used those parts of Wagner's thought that were useful for propaganda and ignored or suppressed the rest.

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