Richard Wagner, the famous author of the “Nibelungen tetralogy,” “Parsifal”, “Tannhauser” and “Lohengrin”, was considered to be an outstanding figure and member of satirical wits in Berlin, Vienna, London, and Paris. Being an eccentric and funny preacher of the glorious “music of the future,” he was a brilliant musician and great man, which was written in many sources.

Wagner's grandfather was a simple customs officer, and his father served in the police. Historians say that the latter received a good education and knew languages. In 1813 Friedrich Wagner died, leaving the widow and nine children without any funds.

Future musician Richard Wagner was the youngest, being the ninth child of the family. He was born on May 22, 1813, and lost his father being six months old. His mother, apparently, did not have any outstanding qualities, and her influence on her son was not certified by anyone.

Two years later, Mrs. Wagner married actor Ludwig Geyer and moved with his family to Dresden, where her second husband had a "good place" in the local King's Theatre. Wagner remembered that “this good man” had a good influence on him.

At first, young Wagner had no skills in music. He could play all sorts of nonsense on the piano, but he knew only Mozart’s overture "The Magic Flute" out of the pieces of “good music” (Burbidge & Sutton, 1979).

In 1827, he began to seriously consider his musical abilities. In the same year, Beethoven died, and famous Mattel was giving concerts in Leipzig performing the works of the deceased musician. Beethoven's music made a deep impression on Wagner. Later he wrote “Beethoven's death followed shortly after the death of Weber. That year I heard his music for the first time. These serious impressions developed in me a taste for music.” Therefore, rather a curious episode occurred in Wagner’s life – he decided to create a piece of music himself and set to work at once. First, it was necessary to study the theory of music, which he did not know at all. Soon, however, he understood that this endeavor was not so easy. Having realized it, a young maestro decided to seek advice from family members. First, they laughed at him and then invited a music teacher for him, Gottlieb Mueller. Mueller was, apparently, an efficient man and knew his craft well but the mad fantasies of his student scared him and he said that the young man would never become a musician. This, however, did not discourage Wagner.

In 1830, Wagner graduated from high school and entered the University of Leipzig. He studied philosophy, aesthetics, and music there. Finally, fate sent him a good teacher - Theodore Veynlig, cantor of St. Thomas church, a good musician, and even better music teacher. He was the teacher Wagner needed. Only six months passed and brilliant Veynlig told the young Wagner that from that time he could stay on his own feet and stopped giving lessons to him.

The young composer immediately expressed in music his theoretical knowledge and created a polonaise as well as a sonata for piano, then a big concert overture, and, finally, a symphony in four movements. These works of young composers were rather favorably performed and accepted by the public, the press highly evaluated them as well (Field, 1981).

At first, Wagner got decent self-confidence and planned to expand it. He began to dream about the opera and was looking for just the right story to develop. It should be mentioned that his first attempts in this direction were not successful. However, in the composer’s soul, a revolution already began and this later made him an original creator of the new music. The critical ideas were expressed, whereas the composer understood the true value of all his previous works and his environment such as all those small country towns he worked in, poor provincial stages, where everyone could perform all sorts of nonsense. He even felt an aversion to the position of Kapellmeister, which he occupied so successfully in different cities. At that time, Paris was the world musical center and Wagner started dreaming of it. He left for Paris in 1839 with little money in his pocket and finished the opera “Rienzi”, full of hopes for glory and happiness. 

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Here in Paris, he wrote the overture "Faust" and the opera "The Flying Dutchman." In 1842, the triumphal premiere of the opera “Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes” in Dresden laid the foundation of his fame. A year later, he became the court conductor at the Royal Saxon court.

In 1849 Wagner took part in the Dresden May Rebellion and after the defeat, he fled to Zurich, where he wrote the libretto of the tetralogy "The Ring of the Nibelung,” music of its first two parts (“Das Rheingold” and “Valkyrie”) and the opera “Tristan and Isolde.” In 1858, Wagner visited Venice, Lucerne, Vienna, Paris, and Berlin for a short time. In 1864, he achieved the favor of Bavarian King Ludwig II, who paid his debts and supported him. Later Wagner moved to Munich, where he wrote the comic opera "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg" and the last two parts of "The Ring of the Nibelung” - "Siegfried" and "Gotterdammerung" (Conway, 2012).


In August 1876, in Bayreuth Festival House, the triumphal premiere of the tetralogy “The Ring of the Nibelung” was held. In 1882, in Bayreuth, the mystery opera "Parsifal" was given. In the same year, Wagner left for Venice because of health problems, where he died in 1883 of a heart attack. Wagner was buried in Bayreuth.

Richard Wagner’s Music

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Comparing to all European composers of the 19th century, Wagner saw his art as a synthesis and a way of expressing a certain philosophical concept. This concept gives birth to two fundamental ideas: a community of people must create art, which should belong to it. The highest form of art is a musical drama, which is understood as an organic unity of word and sound. The embodiment of the first idea was Bayreuth, where Opera House first started to be treated as a temple of art, not as an entertainment venue. The embodiment of the second idea was a new opera form of a "musical drama" created by Wagner. Its creation was the purpose of Wagner’s life. Some elements of it were embodied in the composer's early operas of the 1840s - "The Flying Dutchman," "Tannhäuser" and "Lohengrin." The most complete embodiment of the theory of music drama we find in the Swiss papers of Wagner ("Opera and Drama," "Art and Revolution," "Music and Drama," "Artwork of the Future") and practice, in his later operas such as "Tristan and Isolde," tetralogy "The Ring of the Nibelung" and the mystery of "Parsifal."

According to Wagner, musical drama is a work in which the romantic idea of synthesis of the arts (music and drama) is embodied. To implement the plan, Wagner refused traditional opera forms that existed at the time, which were primarily Italian and French. The first one he criticized for extravagance, the second for the splendor. With the fierce criticism, he attacked the works of the leading representatives of classical opera (Rossini, Meyerbeer, Verdi, Auber) calling their music "candied boredom."

In the classic Verdi and Rossini’s opera arias, duets and ensembles with choirs divide a single musical movement into fragments. Wagner completely abandoned them in favor of the big cross-vocal-symphonic scenes, flowing into one another, and the arias and duets he replaced with the dramatic monologues and dialogues (Tanner, 1995). Wagner replaced overtures with preludes - short musical introductions to each act, which were on the semantic level inextricably linked with the action.

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External action in the later Wagner’s operas (in particular, in "Tristan and Isolde") is reduced to a minimum; it is transferred to the psychological side, the area of character’s feelings. Wagner believed that the word cannot express the depth and sense of inner experience, so a leading role in the musical drama is played by the orchestra, but not the vocal. Wagner’s orchestra was compared with the ancient choir, which commented on the events and transferred the "hidden" meaning. Reforming the orchestra, the composer created a quartet of tubes, introduced a bass tuba, contrabass trombone, expanded string section, and used six harps. In the entire history of opera, before Wagner, no composer used the orchestra of this site (for example, a quadruple orchestra with eight horns performs “The Ring of the Nibelung”). Taking into account these and many other aspects and examples, we can state that Wagner was not only a brilliant composer but also a great innovator.

Keys to the understanding of Wagner's ontological concept are his tetralogy "Ring of the Nibelung" and the opera "Tristan and Isolde." Like Schopenhauer, Wagner feels the trouble and even meaningless of the basis of the universe. The only reason for being is to renounce this world’s will, plunge into the abyss of pure intellect and inaction and find the true aesthetic pleasure in the music. However, unlike Schopenhauer, Wagner believes that a world in which people do not live for the constant pursuit of gold is possible and even ordained. He knows almost nothing about this word but is sure that it will certainly come after a worldwide disaster (Warshaw, 2012).

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The theme of the world catastrophe is very important for the ontology of the "Rings" and, apparently, is the new re-interpretation of the revolution, which is understood not as a change in the social system, but the cosmological action that changes the very essence of the universe.

The most important are the themes of love and death, which are inextricably linked. For Wagner, love is an inherent characteristic of a man. It subjugates him, just as death is an inevitable end of his life. In this sense, we should understand Wagner's love potion: "Freedom, happiness, pleasure, death and fatalistic predestination."

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