Biography of Classical Composer Richard Wagner Part 1

About the famous German classical composer Richard Wagner, biography and history of the musician.

Richard Wagner (1813-1883). Richard Wagner was to German opera and music drama what Verdi was to Italian opera--the culmination of the nation's musical genius and an intense motivating force. When Wagner began to compose seriously, Weber had just recently died after having tentatively established a national school of German opera. Wagner also became a nationalist, this nationalism reflecting itself strongly in all his compositions; there is nothing in music more Germanic than the 4-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen based on German mythology, or Lohengrin and Parsifal, based on old German folk tales.

Wagner was born the same year as Verdi. His father (this paternity is questionable) died when he was 6 months old, and his mother quickly married Ludwig Geyer, an actor who had been intimate with the family for some time. Geyer is now generally considered to be Wagner's true sire. He died in 1821, and Wagner's childhood and youth were at best chaotic. The year 1827 found him in Leipzig with a kindly uncle who tried to help him with his education. Wagner was largely self-taught musically up until this time. In 1828, he decided to study composition seriously. In 1831, he entered the University of Leipzig as a student.

Later, Wagner's 1st post was as director of the opera at Magdeburg. He met the actress Minna Planer there, and she became his 1st wife. (The marriage was most unhappy and drove Wagner into some spectacular affairs with other women during the next 30 years.) The couple moved to a better post in Konigsberg right after their wedding in 1836.

From then on, Wagner's life was a series of climactic events, one following close upon another. He obtained a post in Riga, Latvia, which he held until 1839, when he was fired. Because of their enormous debts and hounding creditors, he and Minna (and their dog) fled the country on a small boat bound for London. This trip was the inspiration for The Flying Dutchman. Next, the 2 went to Paris, where they lived in poverty as usual, while Wagner finished Rienzi. In 1842, they left Paris and spent the next 7 years in Dresden, during which time Wagner wrote Tannhauser and Lohengrin. In 1849, Wagner became involved with a group of radicals and soon there was a warrant out for his arrest. He had to flee Dresden, hidden in a goods wagon and carrying a false passport. He ended up in Bordeaux, where he began a spicy affair with Jessie Laussot, the wife of a friend. The affair did not last too long, and soon Wagner and Minna were back together in Zurich. Wagner had completed the 1st 2 operas (or music dramas, as he now called them) of the Ring, Das Rheingold and Die Walkure, by 1856.

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