|Full name||: Richard Wagner|
|Alias||: Richard Wagner|
|Animals||: The Rooster|
|Father||: Carl Friedrich Wagner|
|Mother||: Johanna Rosine|
|Wife||: Cosima Wagner (m. 1870–1883), Minna Planer (m. 1836–1866)|
|Children||: Siegfried Wagner, Eva von Bülow, Isolde Ludowitz von Bülow|
|Activists||: Composers , Directors|
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a highly recognized German composer, conductor, theatre director and polemicist, specially recognized for his ‘operas’ or afterwards known as ‘music dramas’. Wagner's compositions, particularly those of his later period, were characterized by rich harmonies, complex texture and in-depth use of leitmotifs (musical themes related to individual characters, thoughts, places, or plot elements). He was the ninth child of Carl Friedrich Wagner and Johanna Rosine (née Paetz). His father was a clerk in the Leipzig police service and his mother was the daughter of a baker. Wagner was an exceptional opera composer, as he wrote both the music and libretto for every one of his stage works. One of his greatest achievements is a set of four operas – ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’ (ring cycle in a layman’s language) which were closely based on characteristics of Germanic mythology. Let’s probe into how Wagner achieved all this, despite facing the obstacles like poverty, political exile and unstable love affairs!
In 1833, Richard earned a position as choir master in Würzburg with the help of his older brother Karl Albert. Within that year, Wagner composed his first complete opera, ‘Die Feen’ (The Fairies) which notably impersonated the style of Carl Maria von Weber. Interestingly, this opera was premiered in Munich shortly after the Wagner’s death in 1883 and not before. Meanwhile, Wagner worked as a musical director at the opera house in Magdeburg for a short period during which he wrote ‘Das Liebesverbot’ (The Ban on Love), based on Shakespeare's ‘Measure for Measure’.
Wagner had a roller coaster ride as far as his personal life was concerned! In 1834 Wagner fell in love with the actress Christine Wilhelmine "Minna" Planer. After the catastrophe of ‘Das Liebesverbot’, he followed her to Königsberg where she supported him to get an engagement at the theatre. On 24 November 1836, they both got married in Königsberg. The troubles between the couple started soon after which Minna left Wagner for another man but at that point Richard succeeded in bringing her back.
In 1852, Wagner met the poet-writer Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of the silk merchant Otto Wesendonck. Wagner was infatuated with her during five years to come. The uneasy affair came to an end in 1858, when Minna caught hold of a letter which Wagner had written to Mathilde. Conversely, Wagner’s association with Mathilde and her husband Otto continued. In 1862, Wagner finally divorced Minna though he (or at least his creditors) continued to support her financially till she died in 1866.
In April 1865, the conductor of the premiere of ‘Tristan und Isolde’ was Hans von Bülow, whose wife ‘Cosima’ gave birth to Wagner’s daughter named ‘Isolde’. Cosima finally persuaded Hans von Bülow to grant her divorce, but this took place only after she gave birth to two more children with Wagner; another daughter, named Eva (named after the heroine of Meistersinger) and a son Siegfried (named for the hero of the Ring). Wagner’s first wife, Minna Wagner had died the previous year and so Richard and Cosima were eligible to marry. The wedding took place on 25 August 1870. On Christmas Day of that year, Wagner even organized a surprise performance of the ‘Siegfried Idyll’ for Cosima's birthday. Wagner’s second marriage was successful till the end of his life!
Life In Dresden
In 1842, Wagner was comforted when he relocated to Dresden, to his German fatherland! On 20 October, ‘Rienzi’ was staged that went significantly well! Wagner spent the coming six years in Dresden, eventually being appointed the Royal Saxon Court Conductor. The ‘Flying Dutchman’ got staged on 2 January 1843 and ‘Tannhäuser’ on 19 October 1845. During those years, a nationalist movement was gaining force in the states of the German Confederation, demanding constitutional freedoms and the amalgamation of Germany as one nation state. Richard Wagner played a wholehearted role in the socialist wing of this movement. In April 1849, when King Frederick Augustus II of Saxony discarded a new constitution, an extensive discontent spread in Dresden. Wagner also had a petite supporting role in the May uprising. As warrants started issuing against the revolutionaries, Wagner had no choice but to flee, first to Paris and then to Zurich.
Life In Exile
Wagner’s life in exile began which continued for the next 12 years! He had finished with ‘Lohengrin’, the last of his middle-period operas before the Dresden uprising, and Liszt, a true friend of Wagner’s, ultimately conducted the premiere in Weimar in August 1850. Before leaving Dresden, Wagner had outlined a scenario for the four opera cycle – ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’, one of his most famous works! He initially wrote the libretto for a single opera, Siegfrieds Tod (Siegfried's Death) in 1848. After shifting to Zurich he extended the story to include an opera ‘Der junge Siegfried’ (Young Siegfried) exploring the hero's background. He completed the text of the cycle by writing the libretti for ‘Die Walküre’ and ‘Das Rheingold’ and revising the other libretti to get along with his new concept, finishing them in 1852!
Support Of Patronage Of King Ludwig II
Wagner's destiny was dramatically up surged in 1864, when King Ludwig II succeeded to the throne of Bavaria at the age of 18. He was a great admirer of Wagner’s operas (good for Wagner!) the young king brought Wagner to Munich, settled Wagner's considerable debts, and even proposed to stage Tristan, Die Meistersinger, the Ring, and the other operas! After many hurdles during rehearsal, ‘Tristan und Isolde’ was premiered at the National Theatre in Munich on 10 June 1865, the first Wagner premiere in almost 15 years!
Richard Wagner was born in the Jewish quarter of Leipzig, the ninth offspring of Carl Friedrich Wagner and Johanna Rosine (née Paetz). Just six months after Richard's birth, his father expired suffering from typhus, after which Wagner's mother started living with a friend of Richard’s father, the actor and playwright Ludwig Geyer, who probably got married to her in August 1814. Wagner and his new family shifted to Geyer's home in Dresden. Since childhood, Wagner had a passionate love for theatre and the Gothic elements of Weber's Der Freischütz. In late 1820, Wagner joined Pastor Wetzel's school at Possendorf, near Dresden, where he got some piano instructions from a Latin teacher. By 1827, the family relocated back to Leipzig. During this period, Wagner was touched by a couple of great personalities such as Beethoven, Mozart and Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient. Infact, Wagner was so moved by Beethoven's 9th Symphony that he wrote a piano transcription for it! In 1831, he became a member of the Studentenverbindung Corps Saxonia Leipzig at the University of Leipzig. Christian Theodor Weinlig, cantor of Saint Thomas Church was highly impressed by Wagner’s music ability that he turned down any payment for his lessons!
Wagner’s writings included regressive essays such as "Religion and Art" (1880) and "Hero-dom and Christendom" (1881) that appeared in the journal ‘Bayreuther Blätter’ established in 1880 by Wagner and Hans von Wolzogen for Wagnerite visitors to Bayreuth. After the first Bayreuth Festival, Wagner worked on his final opera – ‘Parsifal’ which was completed in January 1882 and its final performance held on 29 August 1882. After the second Festival of Bayreuth, the Wagner family visited Venice for the winter. Wagner had a fatal heart attack on 13 February 1883, at the age of 69 at Ca' Vendramin Calergi, a 16th century palazzo on the Grand Canal. Franz Liszt's two pieces for piano solo named as La lugubre gondola remind the passing of a black-shrouded funerary gondola bearing Richard Wagner's remains over the Grand Canal. Wagner was finally buried in the garden of the Villa Wahnfried in Bayreuth.