Wagner (1813 - 1883)
: May 22, 1813, Leipzig, Germany
: February 13, 1883, Venice, Italy
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, theatre director and conductor primarily known for his operas. The youngest of nine children, Wagner was born during the last days of the Napoleonic Wars. At his own request, Wagner was given composition lessons between 1828-31 and subsequently enrolled at the University of Leipzig. He composed his first symphony in 1832.
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 phrases associated with individual characters, places, ideas or plot elements.
His advances in musical language greatly influenced the development of classical music; his Tristan und Isolde is sometimes described as marking the start of modern music. Wagner reinvented German opera and became one of the most influential composers of all time. His reforms affected opera composition, theatrical practice in general, and the development of the orchestra.
Wagner realised these new ideas most fully in the first half of the four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). 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 in an annual festival run by his descendants.
Until his final years, Wagner's life was characterised by political exile, poverty and repeated flight from his creditors. The effect of Wagner's 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.