Richard Wilhelm Wagner

Wilhelm Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig, Germany, May 22, 1813.

In 1834-36 he was conductor at Magdeburg, and after similar engagements (1836-39) in Konigsberg and Riga he went to Paris, where he remained from 1839 to 1842. Here he composed or completed his “Rienze” and “Der fliegendge Hollander” (Flying Dutchman). “Rienzi” obtained for him the post of assistant conductor (with Reissiger) at Dresden. His “Tannhauser” was produced there in 1845. He spent the season of 1855 in London as conductor of the Philharmonic Society’s concerts. In all his operas the words of the libretto are of his own composition, and far superior, from the poetic standpoint, to the majority of works intended for such use. They are treated in a declamatory style, supported by most original harmonies and instrumentation in accordance with their dramatic significance. He advanced the importance of the orchestral accompaniment till it became almost the prime factor in the performance of his works. He was acknowledged supreme master of instrumental effects. It must be admitted, however, that, in his later works especially, his scoring is not infrequently cruel to the human voice. Wagner was a musical revolutionist and reformer in many ways affecting the opera. As with reformers and iconoclasts in other spheres and times, his methods and theories will doubtless be modified by the future. Meantime he may safely be ranked as the greatest musician who has risen since Beethoven, and his probable influence on future operatic compositions can scarcely be overestimated. The following is a list of dates of the first performances of his remaining dramatic works:

  • “Lohengrin” (1850)
  • “Tristan and Isolde” (1865)
  • “Die Meistersinger” (1868)
  • “Das Rheingold” (1869)
  • “Die Walkure” (1870)
  • “Siegfried” (1876)
  • “Gotterdammerung” (Twilight of the     Gods) (1876)
  • “Parsifal” (1882)

Of the above “Die Walkure”, “Siegfried” and “Gotterdammerung” together constitute Wagner’s greatest work, the “Trillogie” – three chapters of one story, each for a separate evening. “Das Rheingold” is the preface to these three, wherein occur the events whose far reaching consequences are developed in the subsequent evenings. The four works constitute the “Ring of the Nibelungen”. Wagner’s ambition was to produce a distinctively national (German) music drama; hence his choice and adaptation of scenes from the great epic of the “Nibelungenlied”, the German “Iliad”. The first distinctively German opera (“Der Freischtz”) was composed by Weber. Wagner followed this nation school, but he gave to it an entirely new and greater significance, terminating the dramatic opera (which he called “music drama”) with his “Trilogie” and other works. Through Wagner the course even of Italian opera was changed. His influence in the direction of freedom of modulation and of form has led to remarkable experimenting in the most modern music.

He died in Venice, February 13, 1883.