Time Line: Wagner’s Life

Richard Wagner was one of the most influential and controversial classical composers of all time. Most of his works were operas and they addressed many aspects of his personal feelings: society, politics, religions, etc. Though many hated (and still hate) him and his work, most revere him to be a multitalented genius that brought 19th Century music to higher levels. Wagner’s Life Wilhelm Richard Wagner was born on May 22, 1813 in Leipzig. At six months old, Wagner lost his father Frau Karl Friedrich to typhoid, which he caught from the corpses lying unburied in the streets after the Napoleonic War in Leipzig.

Less than a year later, Wagner’s mother married Ludwig Geyer, who Wagner believes is his real father, even though nothing was ever proved. Geyer, like Wagner had an artistic gift. He was an actor a painter, dramatist, and singer. As a child, Geyer was determined “to make something” of Wagner (Jacobs 3). He failed at drawing and painting. Wagner did not realize he had a talent until Geyer was on his deathbed with collapsed lungs. His mother put him in the next room with a piano because Geyer said, “What if he has a talent for music (Jacobs 3)? “

Wagner had the dramatist’s instinct to seek escape from this world by contriving another. No other great composer began this late in life. Wagner took delight less in the symbol than in that which it symbolized- less in music as abstract sound than as a conjurer of fancies and emotions. It was not that he was less musical than the others were, but that his goal was and remained- drama. School and education did not come as an exciting thing for Wagner. He did not attend classes, and when he did, he found them boring. In the summer of 1832, he began his first opera, Die Hochzeit (The Wedding).

The story was crude, but it symbolized emotional conflicts between impulse and obligation, love and morality-which were to haunt Wagner all his life and occasion some of his greatest music. Wagner was the victim of his imperious will to drama, which was not content to seek escape from this world by conjuring his musical instinct to create for him another, but must dramatize his daily life in this. Wagner met Minna Planer, the leading actress in his opera Die Feen, who, was attracted him at once and got married in 1836. Wagner fell in love with one of his students, which was also his friend’s wife, Mathilde Wesendonck.

Minna found a love letter in 1958 that Wagner wrote to Mathilde, which caused her heart disease to worsen. Wagner and Minna separated in 1862 at which time he moved to Vienna. Once again, in 1864 Wagner begins an affair with another of his friend’s wives, Cosima Von Bulow. Wagner and Cosima had two daughters and a son together before they finally got married in 1870. Wagner died of a heart attack in Venice on February 13, 1883 and the funeral was held at Bayreuth on February 18. Wagner’s Audience Wagner’s supportive audience, when he was alive, was not enormous.

He often got hissed at on stage and was bashed by many critics and journalists. Although many respected him as a great composer and writer, many also disliked his work, both the composition and what it said. Wagner had several well-known and powerful fans. One was philosopher Frederick Nietzsche often shared views with Wagner and his Wagnerian followers, who in the end became blatantly anti-Semitic and as a whole racist. Nietzsche wrote several books referencing his friend, but towards the end of Wagener’s career Nietzsche realized their conflicting viewpoints and they seldom talked.

Besides the public’s hatred for Wagner’s anti-Semitic beliefs, many disliked his very (at the time) extreme and vulgar works. Many caricatures were drawn of Wagner depicting him as a needle in an ear or a composer of animal sounds. His critics often bashed his operas as being violent and sounding like noise. The majority that disliked Wagner were Jewish, because of Wagner’s anti-Semitics. However, many Jewish people also looked at Wagener’s work for what it really was… genius. One of his works was even conducted Hermann Levi, who, was the son of a rabbi and a proud Jew (Osborne 110).

He, as many others who did not like the person Wagner was, but saw the incredible power his operas had and what it meant for music and opera for the future. Wagner’s Artistic Philosophy Wagner wanted to create a “Gesmtkunstwerk”, total work of art. This concept ties together all forms of art; from dancing, painting, drama, poetry, and music. He collaborates all these art forms into one masterpiece called opera. With the use of these art forms he creates “sound pictures” which help the audience to get involved with the opera.

He sees himself as creating “art for the future” with the use of his music dramas and leitmotif (leading motif). Wagner’s Works Tristan and Isolde, however, is one of Wagner’s greatest works. It has been compared to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as one of the greatest love stories. The key to this work is Liebestod, which means love-death. With love there is death and with death there is love. There is a constant balance between the two forces and it seems that neither force can be fulfilled with out the other.

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