Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner

Wilhelm Richard Wagner ( /ˈvɑːɡnər/; ; 22 May 1813 – 13 February 1883) was a German composer, theatre director, polemicist and conductor primarily known for his operas (or "music dramas", as they are sometimes called). His compositions, particularly those of his later period, are notable for their complex textures, rich harmonies and orchestration, and the elaborate use of leitmotifs: musical themes associated with individual characters, places, ideas or plot elements. His advances in musical language, such as extreme chromaticism and quickly shifting tonal centres, greatly influenced the development of European classical music. His Tristan und Isolde is sometimes described as marking the start of modern music.

Initially establishing his reputation as a composer of works which were broadly in the romantic vein of Weber and Meyerbeer, Wagner transformed operatic thought through his concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk ("total work of art"). It sought to synthesise the poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts, with music subsidiary to drama, and was announced in a series of essays between 1849 and 1852. Wagner realized it most fully in the first half of the four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring). However, his thoughts on the relative importance of music and drama were to change again, and he reintroduced some traditional forms into his last few stage works, including Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

Unlike most other opera composers, Wagner wrote both the music and libretto for all of his stage works. He had his own opera house built, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, which contained many novel design features. It was here that the Ring and Parsifal received their premieres and where his most important stage works continue to be performed today in an annual festival run by his descendants.

Wagner's life was characterized, until his last decades, by political exile, turbulent love affairs, poverty and repeated flight from his creditors. The effect of his ideas can be traced in many of the arts throughout the 20th century; their influence spread beyond composition into conducting, philosophy, literature, the visual arts and theatre. Wagner's controversial writings on music, drama and politics have attracted extensive comment in recent decades, especially where they have antisemitic content.

Read more about Richard WagnerWorks, Controversies

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