Biography of Classical Composer Richard Wagner Part 2

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

Richard Wagner (1813-1883).

Wagner became romantically entangled with Mathilde Wesendonk, in 1857, the wife of another benefactor. Wagner had begun Siegfried, the 3rd opera in the Ring, while living in a cottage on the Wesendonk property in Zurich. This affair was to last for some time, even though both Minna and Mathilde's husband knew of it. Wagner and Minna separated. Minna went back to Dresden and Wagner traveled fitfully around Europe. He started Tristan und Isolde about this time, but his fortunes waned and by 1864, he had apparently reached the end with both creditors and friends; there was no hope left and he was faced with debtors' prison.

Then, as in fairy tales, along came the prince. This one, Ludwig II, was real, and he had taken the throne as King of Bavaria in 1864. Ludwig (alternately known as the "mad" King and the "dream" King) had a passion for Wagner's music. He had grown up in Hohenschwangau Castle surrounded by the Lohengrin and Tannhauser legends. When Wagner set them to music, Ludwig was entranced. As soon as he had gained the throne, he summoned Wagner to Munich and gave him practically anything he wanted.

Wagner was thus able to settle in Munich, pay his bills (at the King's expense, of course), finish Tristan und Isolde, and begin Die Meistersinger. Meanwhile, the conductor Hans von Bulow had come to Munich with his wife, Cosima (Liszt's daughter), to conduct Wagner's works. Cosima and Wagner fell in love with each other and had 2 children before they could finally marry in 1870. By then Minna had died and Von Bulow had obtained a divorce.

The remainder of Wagner's life, after Cosima joined him, was one of great happiness. He, with Ludwig's assistance, built the great theater at Bayreuth where his works could be presented. He finished the Ring with Die Gotterdammerung and then wrote Parsifal. He died of heart disease in February, 1883.

Wagner's life and music are an integral part of his era. He was allied with Liszt and others in espousing the philosophy that music had powers of external reference, and his works, especially the Ring, reflected this philosophy to an almost extreme degree. His leitmotiv concept--which involved assigning a musical signature to characters, places, and even thoughts in a composition--is a manifestation of this philosophy. The belief grew and gathered in new followers. It carried into the 20th century, where it died abruptly about 1910.

An individualist and a supreme egotist, Wagner believed that because of his talent and genius, he should live like royalty. It was this belief that strained his finances until 1864, but he almost got away with it. And after Ludwig came along, he did.

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