Richard Wagner (/ˈvɑːɡnər/; German: [ˈʁiçaʁt
ˈvaːɡnɐ] ( listen); 22 May 1813 – 13 February
1883) was a German composer, theatre director, polemicist, and
conductor who is chiefly known for his operas (or, as some of his
later works were later known, "music dramas"). Unlike most opera
composers, Wagner wrote both the libretto and the music for each of
his stage works. Initially establishing his reputation as a composer
of works in the romantic vein of
Carl Maria von Weber
Carl Maria von Weber and Giacomo
Meyerbeer, Wagner revolutionised opera through his concept of the
Gesamtkunstwerk ("total work of art"), by which he sought to
synthesise the poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts, with music
subsidiary to drama. He described this vision in a series of essays
published between 1849 and 1852. Wagner realised these ideas most
fully in the first half of the four-opera cycle Der Ring des
Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung).
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, such as extreme chromaticism and quickly shifting
tonal centres, greatly influenced the development of classical music.
Tristan und Isolde
Tristan und Isolde is sometimes described as marking the start of
Wagner had his own opera house built, the
which embodied many novel design features. The Ring and
premiered here and his most important stage works continue to be
performed at the annual
Bayreuth Festival, run by his descendants. His
thoughts on the relative contributions of music and drama in opera
were to change again, and he reintroduced some traditional forms into
his last few stage works, including Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
(The Mastersingers of Nuremberg).
Until his final years, Wagner's life was characterised by political
exile, turbulent love affairs, poverty and repeated flight from his
creditors. His controversial writings on music, drama and politics
have attracted extensive comment, notably, since the late 20th
century, where they express antisemitic sentiments. The effect of his
ideas can be traced in many of the arts throughout the 20th century;
his influence spread beyond composition into conducting, philosophy,
literature, the visual arts and theatre.
1.1 Early years
1.2 Early career and marriage (1833–1842)
1.4 In exile: Switzerland (1849–1858)
1.5 In exile:
Venice and Paris (1858–1862)
1.6 Return and resurgence (1862–1871)
1.8 Last years (1876–1883)
2.1.1 Early works (to 1842)
2.1.2 "Romantic operas" (1843–51)
2.1.3 "Music dramas" (1851–82)
220.127.116.11 Starting the Ring
Tristan und Isolde
Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger
18.104.22.168 Completing the Ring
2.2 Non-operatic music
2.3 Prose writings
3 Influence and legacy
3.1 Influence on music
3.2 Influence on literature, philosophy and the visual arts
3.3 Influence on cinema
3.4 Opponents and supporters
3.5 Film and stage portrayals
Racism and antisemitism
4.2 Other interpretations
4.3 Nazi appropriation
5 See also
8 External links
Wagner's birthplace, at 3, the Brühl, Leipzig
Richard Wagner was born to an ethnic German family in Leipzig, where
his family lived at No. 3, the Brühl (The House of the Red and White
Lions) in the Jewish quarter. He was baptized at St. Thomas Church. He
was the ninth child of Carl Friedrich Wagner, who was a clerk in the
Leipzig police service, and his wife, Johanna Rosine (née Paetz), the
daughter of a baker.[n 1] Wagner's father Carl died of typhus six
months after Richard's birth. Afterwards his mother Johanna lived with
Carl's friend, the actor and playwright Ludwig Geyer. In August
1814 Johanna and Geyer probably married—although no documentation of
this has been found in the
Leipzig church registers. She and her
family moved to Geyer's residence in Dresden. Until he was fourteen,
Wagner was known as Wilhelm Richard Geyer. He almost certainly thought
that Geyer was his biological father.
Geyer's love of the theatre came to be shared by his stepson, and
Wagner took part in his performances. In his autobiography Mein Leben
Wagner recalled once playing the part of an angel. In late 1820,
Wagner was enrolled at Pastor Wetzel's school at Possendorf, near
Dresden, where he received some piano instruction from his Latin
teacher. He struggled to play a proper scale at the keyboard and
preferred playing theatre overtures by ear. Following Geyer's death in
1821, Richard was sent to the Kreuzschule, the boarding school of the
Dresdner Kreuzchor, at the expense of Geyer's brother. At the age
of nine he was hugely impressed by the Gothic elements of Carl Maria
von Weber's opera Der Freischütz, which he saw Weber conduct. At
this period Wagner entertained ambitions as a playwright. His first
creative effort, listed in the
Wagner-Werk-Verzeichnis (the standard
listing of Wagner's works) as WWV 1, was a tragedy called Leubald.
Begun when he was in school in 1826, the play was strongly influenced
by Shakespeare and Goethe. Wagner was determined to set it to music,
and persuaded his family to allow him music lessons.[n 2]
By 1827, the family had returned to Leipzig. Wagner's first lessons in
harmony were taken during 1828–31 with Christian Gottlieb
Müller. In January 1828 he first heard Beethoven's 7th Symphony
and then, in March, the same composer's 9th Symphony (both at the
Gewandhaus). Beethoven became a major inspiration, and Wagner wrote a
piano transcription of the 9th Symphony. He was also greatly
impressed by a performance of Mozart's Requiem. Wagner's early
piano sonatas and his first attempts at orchestral overtures date from
In 1829 he saw a performance by dramatic soprano Wilhelmine
Schröder-Devrient, and she became his ideal of the fusion of drama
and music in opera. In Mein Leben, Wagner wrote "When I look back
across my entire life I find no event to place beside this in the
impression it produced on me," and claimed that the "profoundly human
and ecstatic performance of this incomparable artist" kindled in him
an "almost demonic fire."[n 3]
In 1831, Wagner enrolled at the
Leipzig University, where he became a
member of the Saxon student fraternity. He took composition
lessons with the
Thomaskantor Theodor Weinlig. Weinlig was so
impressed with Wagner's musical ability that he refused any payment
for his lessons. He arranged for his pupil's Piano Sonata in B-flat
major (which was consequently dedicated to him) to be published as
Wagner's Op. 1. A year later, Wagner composed his Symphony in C major,
a Beethovenesque work performed in Prague in 1832 and at the
Gewandhaus in 1833. He then began to work on an opera, Die
Hochzeit (The Wedding), which he never completed.
Early career and marriage (1833–1842)
Wilhelmine "Minna" Planer (1835), by Alexander von Otterstedt
In 1833, Wagner's brother Albert managed to obtain for him a position
as choir master at the theatre in Würzburg. In the same year, at
the age of 20, Wagner composed his first complete opera,
Die Feen (The
Fairies). This work, which imitated the style of Weber, went
unproduced until half a century later, when it was premiered in Munich
shortly after the composer's death in 1883.
Having returned to
Leipzig in 1834, Wagner held a brief appointment as
musical director at the opera house in Magdeburg during which he
Das Liebesverbot (The Ban on Love), based on Shakespeare's
Measure for Measure. This was staged at
Magdeburg in 1836 but closed
before the second performance; this, together with the financial
collapse of the theatre company employing him, left the composer in
bankruptcy. Wagner had fallen for one of the leading ladies at
Magdeburg, the actress Christine Wilhelmine "Minna" Planer and
after the disaster of
Das Liebesverbot he followed her to Königsberg,
where she helped him to get an engagement at the theatre. The two
Tragheim Church on 24 November 1836. In May 1837, Minna
left Wagner for another man, and this was but only the first
débâcle of a tempestuous marriage. In June 1837, Wagner moved to
Riga (then in the Russian Empire), where he became music director of
the local opera; having in this capacity engaged Minna's sister
Amalie (also a singer) for the theatre, he presently resumed relations
with Minna during 1838.
By 1839, the couple had amassed such large debts that they fled Riga
on the run from creditors. Debts would plague Wagner for most of
his life. Initially they took a stormy sea passage to London,
from which Wagner drew the inspiration for his opera Der fliegende
Holländer (The Flying Dutchman), with a plot based on a sketch by
Heinrich Heine. The Wagners settled in Paris in September 1839
and stayed there until 1842. Wagner made a scant living by writing
articles and short novelettes such as A pilgrimage to Beethoven, which
sketched his growing concept of "music drama", and An end in Paris,
where he depicts his own miseries as a German musician in the French
metropolis. He also provided arrangements of operas by other
composers, largely on behalf of the Schlesinger publishing house.
During this stay he completed his third and fourth operas
Der fliegende Holländer.
Wagner c. 1840, by Ernest Benedikt Kietz
Wagner had completed
Rienzi in 1840. With the strong support of
Giacomo Meyerbeer, it was accepted for performance by the Dresden
Court Theatre (Hofoper) in the
Kingdom of Saxony
Kingdom of Saxony and in 1842, Wagner
moved to Dresden. His relief at returning to Germany was recorded in
his "Autobiographic Sketch" of 1842, where he wrote that, en route
from Paris, "For the first time I saw the Rhine—with hot tears in my
eyes, I, poor artist, swore eternal fidelity to my German
Rienzi was staged to considerable acclaim on 20
Wagner lived in
Dresden for the next six years, eventually being
appointed the Royal Saxon Court Conductor. During this period, he
staged there Der fliegende Holländer (2 January 1843) and
Tannhäuser (19 October 1845), the first two of his three
middle-period operas. Wagner also mixed with artistic circles in
Dresden, including the composer
Ferdinand Hiller and the architect
Wagner's involvement in left-wing politics abruptly ended his welcome
in Dresden. Wagner was active among socialist German nationalists
there, regularly receiving such guests as the conductor and radical
August Röckel and the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin.
He was also influenced by the ideas of
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and
Ludwig Feuerbach. Widespread discontent came to a head in 1849,
when the unsuccessful May Uprising in
Dresden broke out, in which
Wagner played a minor supporting role. Warrants were issued for the
revolutionaries' arrest. Wagner had to flee, first visiting Paris and
then settling in Zürich[n 4] where he at first took refuge with a
friend, Alexander Müller.
In exile: Switzerland (1849–1858)
Warrant for the arrest of Richard Wagner, issued on 16 May 1849
Wagner was to spend the next twelve years in exile from Germany. He
had completed Lohengrin, the last of his middle-period operas, before
Dresden uprising, and now wrote desperately to his friend Franz
Liszt to have it staged in his absence. Liszt conducted the premiere
Weimar in August 1850.
Nevertheless, Wagner was in grim personal straits, isolated from the
German musical world and without any regular income. In 1850, Julie,
the wife of his friend Karl Ritter, began to pay him a small pension
which she maintained until 1859. With help from her friend Jessie
Laussot, this was to have been augmented to an annual sum of 3,000
Thalers per year; but this plan was abandoned when Wagner began an
affair with Mme. Laussot. Wagner even planned an elopement with her in
1850, which her husband prevented. Meanwhile, Wagner's wife Minna,
who had disliked the operas he had written after Rienzi, was falling
into a deepening depression. Wagner fell victim to ill-health,
Ernest Newman "largely a matter of overwrought nerves",
which made it difficult for him to continue writing.[n 5]
Wagner's primary published output during his first years in Zürich
was a set of essays. In "The Artwork of the Future" (1849), he
described a vision of opera as
Gesamtkunstwerk ("total work of art"),
in which the various arts such as music, song, dance, poetry, visual
arts and stagecraft were unified. "Judaism in Music" (1850) was
the first of Wagner's writings to feature antisemitic views. In
this polemic Wagner argued, frequently using traditional antisemitic
abuse, that Jews had no connection to the German spirit, and were thus
capable of producing only shallow and artificial music. According to
him, they composed music to achieve popularity and, thereby, financial
success, as opposed to creating genuine works of art.
In "Opera and Drama" (1851), Wagner described the aesthetics of drama
that he was using to create the Ring operas. Before leaving Dresden,
Wagner had drafted a scenario that eventually became the four-opera
cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. He initially wrote the libretto for a
single opera, Siegfrieds Tod (Siegfried's Death), in 1848. After
arriving in Zürich, he expanded the story with the opera Der junge
Siegfried (Young Siegfried), which explored the hero's background. He
completed the text of the cycle by writing the libretti for Die
Walküre (The Valkyrie) and
Das Rheingold (The
Rhine Gold) and
revising the other libretti to agree with his new concept, completing
them in 1852. The concept of opera expressed in "Opera and Drama"
and in other essays effectively renounced the operas he had previously
written, up to and including Lohengrin. Partly in an attempt to
explain his change of views, Wagner published in 1851 the
autobiographical "A Communication to My Friends". This contained
his first public announcement of what was to become the Ring cycle:
I shall never write an Opera more. As I have no wish to invent an
arbitrary title for my works, I will call them Dramas ...
I propose to produce my myth in three complete dramas, preceded by a
lengthy Prelude (Vorspiel). ...
At a specially-appointed Festival, I propose, some future time, to
produce those three Dramas with their Prelude, in the course of three
days and a fore-evening [emphasis in original].
Wagner began composing the music for
Das Rheingold between November
1853 and September 1854, following it immediately with Die Walküre
(written between June 1854 and March 1856). He began work on the
third Ring opera, which he now called simply Siegfried, probably in
September 1856, but by June 1857 he had completed only the first two
acts. He decided to put the work aside to concentrate on a new idea:
Tristan und Isolde, based on the Arthurian love story Tristan and
Mathilde Wesendonck (1850) by Karl Ferdinand Sohn
One source of inspiration for
Tristan und Isolde
Tristan und Isolde was the philosophy of
Arthur Schopenhauer, notably his The World as Will and Representation,
to which Wagner had been introduced in 1854 by his poet friend Georg
Herwegh. Wagner later called this the most important event of his
life. His personal circumstances certainly made him an easy
convert to what he understood to be Schopenhauer's philosophy, a
deeply pessimistic view of the human condition. He remained an
adherent of Schopenhauer for the rest of his life.
One of Schopenhauer's doctrines was that music held a supreme role in
the arts as a direct expression of the world's essence, namely, blind,
impulsive will. This doctrine contradicted Wagner's view,
expressed in "Opera and Drama", that the music in opera had to be
subservient to the drama. Wagner scholars have argued that
Schopenhauer's influence caused Wagner to assign a more commanding
role to music in his later operas, including the latter half of the
Ring cycle, which he had yet to compose.[n 6] Aspects of
Schopenhauerian doctrine found their way into Wagner's subsequent
A second source of inspiration was Wagner's infatuation with the
poet-writer Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of the silk merchant Otto
Wesendonck. Wagner met the Wesendoncks, who were both great admirers
of his music, in
Zürich in 1852. From May 1853 onwards Wesendonck
made several loans to Wagner to finance his household expenses in
Zürich, and in 1857 placed a cottage on his estate at Wagner's
disposal, which became known as the Asyl ("asylum" or "place of
rest"). During this period, Wagner's growing passion for his patron's
wife inspired him to put aside work on the Ring cycle (which was not
resumed for the next twelve years) and begin work on Tristan.
While planning the opera, Wagner composed the Wesendonck Lieder, five
songs for voice and piano, setting poems by Mathilde. Two of these
settings are explicitly subtitled by Wagner as "studies for Tristan
Amongst the conducting engagements that Wagner undertook for revenue
during this period, he gave several concerts in 1855 with the London
Philharmonic Society, including one before Queen Victoria. The
Queen enjoyed his Tannhäuser overture and spoke with Wagner after the
concert, writing of him in her diary that he was "short, very quiet,
wears spectacles & has a very finely-developed forehead, a hooked
nose & projecting chin."
Venice and Paris (1858–1862)
Wagner in Paris, 1861
Wagner's uneasy affair with Mathilde collapsed in 1858, when Minna
intercepted a letter to Mathilde from him. After the resulting
confrontation with Minna, Wagner left
Zürich alone, bound for Venice,
where he rented an apartment in the
Palazzo Giustinian, while Minna
returned to Germany. Wagner's attitude to Minna had changed; the
editor of his correspondence with her, John Burk, has said that she
was to him "an invalid, to be treated with kindness and consideration,
but, except at a distance, [was] a menace to his peace of mind."
Wagner continued his correspondence with Mathilde and his friendship
with her husband Otto, who maintained his financial support of the
composer. In an 1859 letter to Mathilde, Wagner wrote,
half-satirically, of Tristan: "Child! This Tristan is turning into
something terrible. This final act!!!—I fear the opera will be
banned ... only mediocre performances can save me! Perfectly good
ones will be bound to drive people mad."
In November 1859, Wagner once again moved to Paris to oversee
production of a new revision of Tannhäuser, staged thanks to the
efforts of Princess Pauline von Metternich, whose husband was the
Austrian ambassador in Paris. The performances of the Paris
Tannhäuser in 1861 were a notable fiasco. This was partly a
consequence of the conservative tastes of the Jockey Club, which
organised demonstrations in the theatre to protest at the presentation
of the ballet feature in act 1 (instead of its traditional location in
the second act); but the opportunity was also exploited by those who
wanted to use the occasion as a veiled political protest against the
pro-Austrian policies of Napoleon III. It was during this visit
that Wagner met the French poet Charles Baudelaire, who wrote an
appreciative brochure, "
Richard Wagner et Tannhäuser à Paris".
The opera was withdrawn after the third performance and Wagner left
Paris soon after. He had sought a reconciliation with Minna during
this Paris visit, and although she joined him there, the reunion was
not successful and they again parted from each other when Wagner
Return and resurgence (1862–1871)
The political ban that had been placed on Wagner in Germany after he
Dresden was fully lifted in 1862. The composer settled in
Biebrich, on the
Rhine near Wiesbaden in Hesse. Here Minna visited
him for the last time: they parted irrevocably, though Wagner
continued to give financial support to her while she lived in Dresden
until her death in 1866.
Ludwig II of Bavaria
Ludwig II of Bavaria about the time when he first met
Wagner, by Ferdinand von Piloty, 1865
In Biebrich, Wagner at last began work on Die Meistersinger von
Nürnberg, his only mature comedy. Wagner wrote a first draft of the
libretto in 1845, and he had resolved to develop it during a visit
he had made to
Venice with the Wesendoncks in 1860, where he was
inspired by Titian's painting The Assumption of the Virgin.
Throughout this period (1861–64) Wagner sought to have Tristan und
Isolde produced in Vienna. Despite numerous rehearsals, the opera
remained unperformed, and gained a reputation as being "impossible" to
sing, which added to Wagner's financial problems.
Wagner's fortunes took a dramatic upturn in 1864, when King Ludwig II
succeeded to the throne of
Bavaria at the age of 18. The young king,
an ardent admirer of Wagner's operas, had the composer brought to
Munich. The King, who was homosexual, expressed in his
correspondence a passionate personal adoration for the composer,[n 8]
and Wagner in his responses had no scruples about counterfeiting a
similar atmosphere.[n 9] Ludwig settled Wagner's considerable
debts, and proposed to stage Tristan, Die Meistersinger, the Ring,
and the other operas Wagner planned. Wagner also began to dictate
his autobiography, Mein Leben, at the King's request. Wagner noted
that his rescue by Ludwig coincided with news of the death of his
earlier mentor (but later supposed enemy) Giacomo Meyerbeer, and
regretted that "this operatic master, who had done me so much harm,
should not have lived to see this day."
After grave difficulties in rehearsal,
Tristan und Isolde
Tristan und Isolde premiered at
the National Theatre
Munich on 10 June 1865, the first Wagner opera
premiere in almost 15 years. (The premiere had been scheduled for 15
May, but was delayed by bailiffs acting for Wagner's creditors,
and also because the Isolde, Malvina Schnorr von Carolsfeld, was
hoarse and needed time to recover.) The conductor of this premiere was
Hans von Bülow, whose wife, Cosima, had given birth in April that
year to a daughter, named Isolde, a child not of Bülow but of
Cosima was 24 years younger than Wagner and was herself illegitimate,
the daughter of the Countess Marie d'Agoult, who had left her husband
for Franz Liszt. Liszt initially disapproved of his daughter's
involvement with Wagner, though nevertheless the two men were
friends. The indiscreet affair scandalised Munich, and Wagner
also fell into disfavour with many leading members of the court, who
were suspicious of his influence on the King. In December 1865,
Ludwig was finally forced to ask the composer to leave Munich. He
apparently also toyed with the idea of abdicating to follow his hero
into exile, but Wagner quickly dissuaded him.
Richard and Cosima Wagner, photographed in 1872
Ludwig installed Wagner at the Villa Tribschen, beside Switzerland's
Lake Lucerne. Die Meistersinger was completed at
1867, and premiered in
Munich on 21 June the following year. At
Ludwig's insistence, "special previews" of the first two works of the
Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, were performed at
Munich in 1869
and 1870, but Wagner retained his dream, first expressed in "A
Communication to My Friends", to present the first complete cycle at a
special festival with a new, dedicated, opera house.
Minna had died of a heart attack on 25 January 1866 in Dresden. Wagner
did not attend the funeral.[n 10] Following Minna's death Cosima
Hans von Bülow
Hans von Bülow on a number of occasions asking him to grant
her a divorce, but Bülow refused to concede this. He only consented
after she had two more children with Wagner; another daughter, named
Eva, after the heroine of Meistersinger, and a son Siegfried, named
for the hero of the Ring. The divorce was finally sanctioned, after
delays in the legal process, by a Berlin court on 18 July 1870.
Richard and Cosima's wedding took place on 25 August 1870. On
Christmas Day of that year, Wagner arranged a surprise performance
(its premiere) of the
Siegfried Idyll for Cosima's birthday.[n
11] The marriage to Cosima lasted to the end of Wagner's life.
Wagner, settled into his new-found domesticity, turned his energies
towards completing the Ring cycle. He had not abandoned polemics: he
republished his 1850 pamphlet "Judaism in Music", originally issued
under a pseudonym, under his own name in 1869. He extended the
introduction, and wrote a lengthy additional final section. The
publication led to several public protests at early performances of
Die Meistersinger in Vienna and Mannheim.
In 1871, Wagner decided to move to Bayreuth, which was to be the
location of his new opera house. The town council donated a large
plot of land—the "Green Hill"—as a site for the theatre. The
Wagners moved to the town the following year, and the foundation stone
Bayreuth Festspielhaus ("Festival Theatre") was laid. Wagner
initially announced the first
Bayreuth Festival, at which for the
first time the Ring cycle would be presented complete, for 1873,
but since Ludwig had declined to finance the project, the start of
building was delayed and the proposed date for the festival was
deferred. To raise funds for the construction, "Wagner societies" were
formed in several cities, and Wagner began touring Germany
conducting concerts. By the spring of 1873, only a third of the
required funds had been raised; further pleas to Ludwig were initially
ignored, but early in 1874, with the project on the verge of collapse,
the King relented and provided a loan.[n 12] The full building
programme included the family home, "Wahnfried", into which Wagner,
with Cosima and the children, moved from their temporary accommodation
on 18 April 1874. The theatre was completed in 1875, and the
festival scheduled for the following year. Commenting on the struggle
to finish the building, Wagner remarked to Cosima: "Each stone is red
with my blood and yours".
Bayreuth Festspielhaus: photochrom print of c. 1895
For the design of the Festspielhaus, Wagner appropriated some of the
ideas of his former colleague, Gottfried Semper, which he had
previously solicited for a proposed new opera house at Munich.
Wagner was responsible for several theatrical innovations at Bayreuth;
these include darkening the auditorium during performances, and
placing the orchestra in a pit out of view of the audience.
The Festspielhaus finally opened on 13 August 1876 with Das Rheingold,
at last taking its place as the first evening of the complete Ring
cycle; the 1876
Bayreuth Festival therefore saw the premiere of the
complete cycle, performed as a sequence as the composer had
intended. The 1876 Festival consisted of three full Ring cycles
(under the baton of Hans Richter). At the end, critical reactions
ranged between that of the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, who
thought the work "divinely composed", and that of the French newspaper
Le Figaro, which called the music "the dream of a lunatic".
Amongst the disillusioned were Wagner's friend and disciple Friedrich
Nietzsche, who, having published his eulogistic essay "Richard Wagner
in Bayreuth" before the festival as part of his Untimely Meditations,
was bitterly disappointed by what he saw as Wagner's pandering to
increasingly exclusivist German nationalism; his breach with Wagner
began at this time. The festival firmly established Wagner as an
artist of European, and indeed world, importance: attendees included
Kaiser Wilhelm I, the Emperor Pedro II of Brazil, Anton Bruckner,
Camille Saint-Saëns and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Wagner was far from satisfied with the Festival; Cosima recorded that
months later, his attitude towards the productions was "Never again,
never again!" Moreover, the festival finished with a deficit of
about 150,000 marks. The expenses of
Bayreuth and of Wahnfried
meant that Wagner still sought additional sources of income by
conducting or taking on commissions such as the Centennial March for
America, for which he received $5000.
Last years (1876–1883)
Following the first
Bayreuth Festival, Wagner began work on Parsifal,
his final opera. The composition took four years, much of which Wagner
spent in Italy for health reasons. From 1876 to 1878 Wagner also
embarked on the last of his documented emotional liaisons, this time
with Judith Gautier, whom he had met at the 1876 Festival. Wagner
was also much troubled by problems of financing Parsifal, and by the
prospect of the work being performed by other theatres than Bayreuth.
He was once again assisted by the liberality of King Ludwig, but was
still forced by his personal financial situation in 1877 to sell the
rights of several of his unpublished works (including the Siegfried
Idyll) to the publisher Schott.
The Wagner grave in the
Wahnfried garden; in 1977 Cosima's ashes were
placed alongside Wagner's body
Wagner wrote a number of articles in his later years, often on
political topics, and often reactionary in tone, repudiating some of
his earlier, more liberal, views. These include "Religion and Art"
(1880) and "Heroism and Christianity" (1881), which were printed in
the journal Bayreuther Blätter, published by his supporter Hans von
Wolzogen. Wagner's sudden interest in Christianity at this
period, which infuses Parsifal, was contemporary with his increasing
alignment with German nationalism, and required on his part, and the
part of his associates, "the rewriting of some recent Wagnerian
history", so as to represent, for example, the Ring as a work
reflecting Christian ideals. Many of these later articles,
including "What is German?" (1878, but based on a draft written in the
1860s), repeated Wagner's antisemitic preoccupations.
Parsifal in January 1882, and a second Bayreuth
Festival was held for the new opera, which premiered on 26 May.
Wagner was by this time extremely ill, having suffered a series of
increasingly severe angina attacks. During the sixteenth and
final performance of
Parsifal on 29 August, he entered the pit unseen
during act 3, took the baton from conductor Hermann Levi, and led the
performance to its conclusion.
After the festival, the Wagner family journeyed to
Venice for the
winter. Wagner died of a heart attack at the age of 69 on 13 February
1883 at Ca' Vendramin Calergi, a 16th-century palazzo on the Grand
Canal. The legend that the attack was prompted by argument with
Cosima over Wagner's supposedly amorous interest in the singer Carrie
Pringle, who had been a Flower-maiden in
Parsifal at Bayreuth, is
without credible evidence. After a funerary gondola bore Wagner's
remains over the Grand Canal, his body was taken to Germany where it
was buried in the garden of the Villa
Wahnfried in Bayreuth.
List of works for the stage by Wagner
List of works for the stage by Wagner and List of
compositions by Richard Wagner
Wagner's musical output is listed by the
as comprising 113 works, including fragments and projects. The
first complete scholarly edition of his musical works in print was
commenced in 1970 under the aegis of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts
Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur
Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur of Mainz, and is
presently under the editorship of Egon Voss. It will consist of 21
volumes (57 books) of music and 10 volumes (13 books) of relevant
documents and texts. As at October 2017, three volumes remain to be
published. The publisher is Schott Music.
Leitmotif associated with the horn-call of the hero of Wagner's opera
Wagner's operatic works are his primary artistic legacy. Unlike most
opera composers, who generally left the task of writing the libretto
(the text and lyrics) to others, Wagner wrote his own libretti, which
he referred to as "poems".
From 1849 onwards, he urged a new concept of opera often referred to
as "music drama" (although he later rejected this term),[n 13] in
which all musical, poetic and dramatic elements were to be fused
together—the Gesamtkunstwerk. Wagner developed a compositional style
in which the importance of the orchestra is equal to that of the
singers. The orchestra's dramatic role in the later operas includes
the use of leitmotifs, musical phrases that can be interpreted as
announcing specific characters, locales, and plot elements; their
complex interweaving and evolution illuminates the progression of the
drama. These operas are still, despite Wagner's reservations,
referred to by many writers as "music dramas".
Early works (to 1842)
Wagner's earliest attempts at opera were often uncompleted. Abandoned
works include a pastoral opera based on Goethe's Die Laune des
Verliebten (The Infatuated Lover's Caprice), written at the age of
Die Hochzeit (The Wedding), on which Wagner worked in
1832, and the singspiel
Männerlist größer als Frauenlist
Männerlist größer als Frauenlist (Men
are More Cunning than Women, 1837–38).
Die Feen (The Fairies, 1833)
was unperformed in the composer's lifetime and Das Liebesverbot
(The Ban on Love, 1836) was withdrawn after its first performance.
Rienzi (1842) was Wagner's first opera to be successfully staged.
The compositional style of these early works was conventional—the
relatively more sophisticated
Rienzi showing the clear influence of
Grand Opera à la Spontini and Meyerbeer—and did not exhibit the
innovations that would mark Wagner's place in musical history. Later
in life, Wagner said that he did not consider these works to be part
of his oeuvre; none of them has ever been performed at the Bayreuth
Festival, and they have been performed only rarely in the last
hundred years (although the overture to
Rienzi is an occasional
concert piece). Die Feen,
Das Liebesverbot and
Rienzi were performed
Bayreuth in 2013 to mark the composer's
"Romantic operas" (1843–51)
Opening of overture to Der fliegende Holländer in Wagner's hand and
with his notes to the publisher
Wagner's middle stage output began with Der fliegende Holländer (The
Flying Dutchman, 1843), followed by Tannhäuser (1845) and Lohengrin
(1850). These three operas are sometimes referred to as Wagner's
"romantic operas". They reinforced the reputation, among the
public in Germany and beyond, that Wagner had begun to establish with
Rienzi. Although distancing himself from the style of these operas
from 1849 onwards, he nevertheless reworked both Der fliegende
Holländer and Tannhäuser on several occasions.[n 14] These three
operas are considered to represent a significant developmental stage
in Wagner's musical and operatic maturity as regards thematic
handling, portrayal of emotions and orchestration. They are the
earliest works included in the
Bayreuth canon, the mature operas that
Cosima staged at the
Bayreuth Festival after Wagner's death in
accordance with his wishes. All three (including the differing
versions of Der fliegende Holländer and Tannhäuser) continue to be
regularly performed throughout the world, and have been frequently
recorded.[n 15] They were also the operas by which his fame spread
during his lifetime.[n 16]
"Music dramas" (1851–82)
Starting the Ring
Main articles: Der Ring des Nibelungen, Der Ring des Nibelungen:
Composition of the music, and Der Ring des Nibelungen: Composition of
Brünnhilde the Valkyrie, as illustrated by
Arthur Rackham (1910)
Wagner's late dramas are considered his masterpieces. Der Ring des
Nibelungen, commonly referred to as the Ring or "Ring cycle", is a set
of four operas based loosely on figures and elements of Germanic
mythology—particularly from the later Norse mythology—notably the
Poetic Edda and Volsunga Saga, and the Middle High German
Nibelungenlied. Wagner specifically developed the libretti for
these operas according to his interpretation of Stabreim, highly
alliterative rhyming verse-pairs used in old Germanic poetry.
They were also influenced by Wagner's concepts of ancient Greek drama,
in which tetralogies were a component of Athenian festivals, and which
he had amply discussed in his essay "Oper und Drama".
The first two components of the Ring cycle were
Das Rheingold (The
Rhinegold), which was completed in 1854, and
Die Walküre (The
Valkyrie), which was finished in 1856. In Das Rheingold, with its
"relentlessly talky 'realism' [and] the absence of lyrical
'numbers'", Wagner came very close to the musical ideals of his
1849–51 essays. Die Walküre, which contains what is virtually a
traditional aria (Siegmund's Winterstürme in the first act), and the
quasi-choral appearance of the Valkyries themselves, shows more
"operatic" traits, but has been assessed by Barry Millington as "the
music drama that most satisfactorily embodies the theoretical
principles of 'Oper und Drama'... A thoroughgoing synthesis of
poetry and music is achieved without any notable sacrifice in musical
Tristan und Isolde
Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger
While composing the opera Siegfried, the third part of the Ring cycle,
Wagner interrupted work on it and between 1857 and 1864 wrote the
tragic love story
Tristan und Isolde
Tristan und Isolde and his only mature comedy Die
Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg), two
works that are also part of the regular operatic canon.
Franz Betz, who created the role of
Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger,
and sang Wotan in the first complete Ring cycle
Tristan is often granted a special place in musical history; many see
it as the beginning of the move away from conventional harmony and
tonality and consider that it lays the groundwork for the direction of
classical music in the 20th century. Wagner felt that
his musico-dramatical theories were most perfectly realised in this
work with its use of "the art of transition" between dramatic elements
and the balance achieved between vocal and orchestral lines.
Completed in 1859, the work was given its first performance in Munich,
conducted by Bülow, in June 1865.
Die Meistersinger was originally conceived by Wagner in 1845 as a sort
of comic pendant to Tannhäuser. Like Tristan, it was premiered
Munich under the baton of Bülow, on 21 June 1868, and became an
immediate success. Barry Millington describes Meistersinger as "a
rich, perceptive music drama widely admired for its warm
humanity"; but because of its strong German nationalist
overtones, it is also cited by some as an example of Wagner's
reactionary politics and antisemitism.
Completing the Ring
When Wagner returned to writing the music for the last act of
Siegfried and for
Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods), as the
final part of the Ring, his style had changed once more to something
more recognisable as "operatic" than the aural world of Rheingold and
Walküre, though it was still thoroughly stamped with his own
originality as a composer and suffused with leitmotifs. This was
in part because the libretti of the four Ring operas had been written
in reverse order, so that the book for
Götterdämmerung was conceived
more "traditionally" than that of Rheingold; still, the
self-imposed strictures of the
Gesamtkunstwerk had become relaxed. The
differences also result from Wagner's development as a composer during
the period in which he wrote Tristan, Meistersinger and the Paris
version of Tannhäuser. From act 3 of Siegfried onwards, the Ring
becomes more chromatic melodically, more complex harmonically and more
developmental in its treatment of leitmotifs.
Wagner took 26 years from writing the first draft of a libretto in
1848 until he completed
Götterdämmerung in 1874. The Ring takes
about 15 hours to perform and is the only undertaking of such
size to be regularly presented on the world's stages.
Wagner's final opera,
Parsifal (1882), which was his only work written
especially for his
Bayreuth Festspielhaus and which is described in
the score as a "Bühnenweihfestspiel" ("festival play for the
consecration of the stage"), has a storyline suggested by elements of
the legend of the Holy Grail. It also carries elements of Buddhist
renunciation suggested by Wagner's readings of Schopenhauer.
Wagner described it to Cosima as his "last card". It remains
controversial because of its treatment of Christianity, its eroticism,
and its expression, as perceived by some commentators, of German
nationalism and antisemitism. Despite the composer's own
description of the opera to King Ludwig as "this most Christian of
works", Ulrike Kienzle has commented that "Wagner's turn to
Christian mythology, upon which the imagery and spiritual contents of
Parsifal rest, is idiosyncratic and contradicts Christian dogma in
many ways." Musically the opera has been held to represent a
continuing development of the composer's style, and Barry Millington
describes it as "a diaphanous score of unearthly beauty and
André Gill suggesting that Wagner's music was ear-splitting. Cover of
L'Éclipse 18 April 1869
Apart from his operas, Wagner composed relatively few pieces of music.
These include a symphony in C major (written at the age of 19), the
Overture (the only completed part of an intended symphony on the
subject), some overtures, and choral and piano pieces. His most
commonly performed work that is not an extract from an opera is the
Siegfried Idyll for chamber orchestra, which has several motifs in
common with the Ring cycle. The
Wesendonck Lieder are also often
performed, either in the original piano version, or with orchestral
accompaniment.[n 17] More rarely performed are the American Centennial
March (1876), and
Das Liebesmahl der Apostel (The Love Feast of the
Apostles), a piece for male choruses and orchestra composed in 1843
for the city of Dresden.
After completing Parsifal, Wagner expressed his intention to turn to
the writing of symphonies, and several sketches dating from the
late 1870s and early 1880s have been identified as work towards this
end. The overtures and certain orchestral passages from Wagner's
middle and late-stage operas are commonly played as concert pieces.
For most of these, Wagner wrote or rewrote short passages to ensure
musical coherence. The "Bridal Chorus" from Lohengrin is frequently
played as the bride's processional wedding march in English-speaking
See also: Category:Essays by
Richard Wagner and
Category:Autobiographical works by Richard Wagner
Wagner was an extremely prolific writer, authoring numerous books,
poems, and articles, as well as voluminous correspondence. His
writings covered a wide range of topics, including autobiography,
politics, philosophy, and detailed analyses of his own operas.
Wagner planned for a collected edition of his publications as early as
1865; he believed that such an edition would help the world
understand his intellectual development and artistic aims. The
first such edition was published between 1871 and 1883, but was
doctored to suppress or alter articles that were an embarrassment to
him (e.g. those praising Meyerbeer), or by altering dates on some
articles to reinforce Wagner's own account of his progress.
Wagner's autobiography Mein Leben was originally published for close
friends only in a very small edition (15–18 copies per volume) in
four volumes between 1870 and 1880. The first public edition (with
many passages suppressed by Cosima) appeared in 1911; the first
attempt at a full edition (in German) appeared in 1963.
There have been modern complete or partial editions of Wagner's
writings, including a centennial edition in German edited by
Dieter Borchmeyer (which, however, omitted the essay "Das Judenthum in
der Musik" and Mein Leben). The English translations of Wagner's
prose in eight volumes by W. Ashton Ellis (1892–99) are still in
print and commonly used, despite their deficiencies. The first
complete historical and critical edition of Wagner's prose works was
launched in 2013 at the Institute for Music Research at the University
of Würzburg; this will result in 16 volumes (eight of text and eight
of commentary) totalling approximately 5,300 pages. It is anticipated
that the project will be completed by 2030.
A complete edition of Wagner's correspondence, estimated to amount to
between 10,000 and 12,000 items, is under way under the supervision of
the University of Würzburg. As of October 2017, 23 volumes have
appeared, covering the period to 1873.
Influence and legacy
Influence on music
The opening of Tristan und Isolde, featuring the 'Tristan chord'
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Wagner's later musical style introduced new ideas in harmony, melodic
process (leitmotif) and operatic structure. Notably from Tristan und
Isolde onwards, he explored the limits of the traditional tonal
system, which gave keys and chords their identity, pointing the way to
atonality in the 20th century. Some music historians date the
beginning of modern classical music to the first notes of Tristan,
which include the so-called Tristan chord.
Wagner inspired great devotion. For a long period, many composers were
inclined to align themselves with or against Wagner's music. Anton
Hugo Wolf were greatly indebted to him, as were César
Franck, Henri Duparc, Ernest Chausson, Jules Massenet, Richard
Strauss, Alexander von Zemlinsky,
Hans Pfitzner and numerous
Gustav Mahler was devoted to Wagner and his music; aged
15, he sought him out on his 1875 visit to Vienna, became a
renowned Wagner conductor, and his compositions are seen by
Richard Taruskin as extending Wagner's "maximalization" of "the
temporal and the sonorous" in music to the world of the symphony.
The harmonic revolutions of
Claude Debussy and
Arnold Schoenberg (both
of whose oeuvres contain examples of tonal and atonal modernism) have
often been traced back to Tristan and Parsifal. The Italian form
of operatic realism known as verismo owed much to the Wagnerian
concept of musical form.
Wagner made a major contribution to the principles and practice of
conducting. His essay "About Conducting" (1869) advanced Hector
Berlioz's technique of conducting and claimed that conducting was a
means by which a musical work could be re-interpreted, rather than
simply a mechanism for achieving orchestral unison. He exemplified
this approach in his own conducting, which was significantly more
flexible than the disciplined approach of Felix Mendelssohn; in his
view this also justified practices that would today be frowned upon,
such as the rewriting of scores.[n 18]
Wilhelm Furtwängler felt
that Wagner and Bülow, through their interpretative approach,
inspired a whole new generation of conductors (including Furtwängler
Amongst those claiming inspiration from Wagner's music are the German
band Rammstein, and the electronic composer Klaus Schulze, whose
Timewind consists of two 30-minute tracks,
Joey DeMaio of the band
Manowar has described
Wagner as "The father of heavy metal". The Slovenian group
Laibach created the 2009 suite VolksWagner, using material from
Wagner's operas. Phil Spector's
Wall of Sound
Wall of Sound recording technique
was, it has been claimed, heavily influenced by Wagner.
Influence on literature, philosophy and the visual arts
Wagner's influence on literature and philosophy is significant.
Millington has commented:
[Wagner's] protean abundance meant that he could inspire the use of
literary motif in many a novel employing interior monologue; ...
the Symbolists saw him as a mystic hierophant; the Decadents found
many a frisson in his work.
Friedrich Nietzsche was a member of Wagner's inner circle during the
early 1870s, and his first published work, The Birth of Tragedy,
proposed Wagner's music as the
Dionysian "rebirth" of European culture
in opposition to Apollonian rationalist "decadence". Nietzsche broke
with Wagner following the first
Bayreuth Festival, believing that
Wagner's final phase represented a pandering to Christian pieties and
a surrender to the new German Reich. Nietzsche expressed his
displeasure with the later Wagner in "The Case of Wagner" and
"Nietzsche contra Wagner".
The poets Charles Baudelaire,
Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine
worshipped Wagner. Édouard Dujardin, whose influential novel Les
Lauriers sont coupés is in the form of an interior monologue inspired
by Wagnerian music, founded a journal dedicated to Wagner, La Revue
Wagnérienne, to which
J. K. Huysmans
J. K. Huysmans and Téodor de Wyzewa
contributed. In a list of major cultural figures influenced by
Bryan Magee includes D. H. Lawrence, Aubrey Beardsley, Romain
Rolland, Gérard de Nerval, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Rainer Maria Rilke
and numerous others.
Unveiling of the
Richard Wagner Monument
Richard Wagner Monument in the Tiergarten (1908), by
Anton von Werner
In the 20th century,
W. H. Auden
W. H. Auden once called Wagner "perhaps the
greatest genius that ever lived", while Thomas Mann and
Marcel Proust were heavily influenced by him and discussed Wagner
in their novels. He is also discussed in some of the works of James
Joyce. Wagnerian themes inhabit T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land,
which contains lines from
Tristan und Isolde
Tristan und Isolde and Götterdämmerung,
and Verlaine's poem on Parsifal.
Many of Wagner's concepts, including his speculation about dreams,
predated their investigation by Sigmund Freud. Wagner had
publicly analysed the Oedipus myth before Freud was born in terms of
its psychological significance, insisting that incestuous desires are
natural and normal, and perceptively exhibiting the relationship
between sexuality and anxiety.
Georg Groddeck considered the Ring
as the first manual of psychoanalysis.
Influence on cinema
See also: List of films using the music of Richard Wagner
Wagner's concept of the use of leitmotifs and the integrated musical
expression which they can enable has influenced many 20th and 21st
century film scores. The critic
Theodor Adorno has noted that the
Wagnerian leitmotif "leads directly to cinema music where the sole
function of the leitmotif is to announce heroes or situations so as to
allow the audience to orient itself more easily". Amongst film
scores citing Wagnerian themes are Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse
Now, which features a version of the Ride of the Valkyries, Trevor
Jones's soundtrack to John Boorman's film Excalibur, and the 2011
A Dangerous Method
A Dangerous Method (dir. David Cronenberg) and Melancholia (dir.
Lars von Trier). Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's 1977 film Hitler: A
Film from Germany's visual style and set design are strongly inspired
by Der Ring des Nibelungen, musical excerpts from which are frequently
used in the film's soundtrack.
Opponents and supporters
Not all reaction to Wagner was positive. For a time, German musical
life divided into two factions, supporters of Wagner and supporters of
Johannes Brahms; the latter, with the support of the powerful critic
Eduard Hanslick (of whom Beckmesser in Meistersinger is in part a
caricature) championed traditional forms and led the conservative
front against Wagnerian innovations. They were supported by the
conservative leanings of some German music schools, including the
Ignaz Moscheles and at Cologne under
the direction of Ferdinand Hiller. Another Wagner detractor was
the French composer Charles-Valentin Alkan, who wrote to Hiller after
attending Wagner's Paris concert on 25 January 1860 at which Wagner
conducted the overtures to Der fliegende Holländer and Tannhäuser,
the preludes to Lohengrin and Tristan und Isolde, and six other
extracts from Tannhäuser and Lohengrin: "I had imagined that I was
going to meet music of an innovative kind but was astonished to find a
pale imitation of Berlioz ... I do not like all the music of
Berlioz while appreciating his marvellous understanding of certain
instrumental effects ... but here he was imitated and
caricatured ... Wagner is not a musician, he is a disease."
Even those who, like Debussy, opposed Wagner ("this old
poisoner") could not deny his influence. Indeed, Debussy was one
of many composers, including Tchaikovsky, who felt the need to break
with Wagner precisely because his influence was so unmistakable and
overwhelming. "Golliwogg's Cakewalk" from Debussy's Children's Corner
piano suite contains a deliberately tongue-in-cheek quotation from the
opening bars of Tristan. Others who proved resistant to Wagner's
operas included Gioachino Rossini, who said "Wagner has wonderful
moments, and dreadful quarters of an hour." In the 20th century
Wagner's music was parodied by Paul Hindemith[n 19] and Hanns Eisler,
Wagner's followers (known as Wagnerians or Wagnerites) have
formed many societies dedicated to Wagner's life and work.
Film and stage portrayals
Main article: List of films about Richard Wagner
Wagner has been the subject of many biographical films. The earliest
was a silent film made by
Carl Froelich in 1913 and featured in the
title role the composer Giuseppe Becce, who also wrote the score for
the film (as Wagner's music, still in copyright, was not
available). Amongst other film portrayals of Wagner are: Alan
Magic Fire (1955);
Lyndon Brook in
Song Without End (1960);
Trevor Howard in Ludwig (1972);
Paul Nicholas in Lisztomania (1975);
Richard Burton in Wagner (1983).
Jonathan Harvey's opera
Wagner Dream (2007) intertwines the events
surrounding Wagner's death with the story of Wagner's uncompleted
Die Sieger (The Victors).
Since Wagner's death, the
Bayreuth Festival, which has become an
annual event, has been successively directed by his widow, his son
Siegfried, the latter's widow Winifred Wagner, their two sons Wieland
and Wolfgang Wagner, and, presently, two of the composer's
Eva Wagner-Pasquier and Katharina Wagner.
Since 1973, the festival has been overseen by the
Richard Wagner Foundation), the members of
which include a number of Wagner's descendants.
Main article: Wagner controversies
Wagner's operas, writings, politics, beliefs and unorthodox lifestyle
made him a controversial figure during his lifetime. Following
his death, debate about his ideas and their interpretation,
particularly in Germany during the 20th century, has continued.
Racism and antisemitism
Caricature of Wagner by Karl Clic in the Viennese satirical magazine,
Humoristische Blätter (1873). The exaggerated features refer to
rumours of Wagner's Jewish ancestry.
Wagner's writings on Jews, including Jewishness in Music, corresponded
to some existing trends of thought in Germany during the 19th
century; however, despite his very public views on these themes,
throughout his life Wagner had Jewish friends, colleagues and
supporters. There have been frequent suggestions that antisemitic
stereotypes are represented in Wagner's operas. The characters of Mime
in the Ring, Sixtus Beckmesser in Die Meistersinger, and Klingsor in
Parsifal are sometimes claimed as Jewish representations, though they
are not identified as such in the librettos of these operas.[n
20] The topic of Wagner and the Jews is further complicated by
allegations, which may have been credited by Wagner, that he himself
was of Jewish ancestry, via his supposed father Geyer.
Some biographers have noted that Wagner in his final years developed
interest in the racialist philosophy of Arthur de Gobineau, notably
Gobineau's belief that Western society was doomed because of
miscegenation between "superior" and "inferior" races. According
to Robert Gutman, this theme is reflected in the opera Parsifal.
Other biographers (such as Lucy Beckett) believe that this is not
true, as the original drafts of the story date back to 1857 and Wagner
had completed the libretto for
Parsifal by 1877; but he displayed
no significant interest in Gobineau until 1880.
Wagner's ideas are amenable to socialist interpretations; many of his
ideas on art were being formulated at the time of his revolutionary
inclinations in the 1840s. Thus, for example, George Bernard Shaw
The Perfect Wagnerite (1883):
[Wagner's] picture of Niblunghome[n 21] under the reign of Alberic is
a poetic vision of unregulated industrial capitalism as it was made
known in Germany in the middle of the 19th century by Engels's book
The Condition of the Working Class in England.
Left-wing interpretations of Wagner also inform the writings of
Theodor Adorno among other Wagner critics.[n 22]
Walter Benjamin gave
Wagner as an example of "bourgeois false consciousness", alienating
art from its social context.
Robert Donington has produced a detailed, if controversial,
Jungian interpretation of the Ring cycle, described as "an approach to
Wagner by way of his symbols", which, for example, sees the character
of the goddess Fricka as part of her husband Wotan's "inner
femininity". Millington notes that
Jean-Jacques Nattiez has also
applied psychoanalytical techniques in an evaluation of Wagner's life
Hitler was an admirer of Wagner's music and saw in his operas an
embodiment of his own vision of the German nation; in a 1922 speech he
claimed that Wagner's works glorified "the heroic Teutonic
nature ... Greatness lies in the heroic."
Bayreuth frequently from 1923 onwards and attended the productions at
the theatre. There continues to be debate about the extent to
which Wagner's views might have influenced Nazi thinking.[n 23]
Houston Stewart Chamberlain
Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855–1927), who married Wagner's
daughter Eva in 1908 but never met Wagner, was the author of the
racist book The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, approved by the
Nazi movement. Chamberlain met
Hitler on a number of occasions
between 1923 and 1927 in Bayreuth, but cannot credibly be regarded as
a conduit of Wagner's own views. The Nazis used those parts of
Wagner's thought that were useful for propaganda and ignored or
suppressed the rest.
Bayreuth presented a useful front for Nazi culture, and Wagner's
music was used at many Nazi events, the Nazi hierarchy as a whole
did not share Hitler's enthusiasm for Wagner's operas and resented
attending these lengthy epics at Hitler's insistence.
Guido Fackler has researched evidence that indicates that it is
possible that Wagner's music was used at the Dachau concentration camp
in 1933–34 to "reeducate" political prisoners by exposure to
"national music". There has been no evidence to support claims,
sometimes made, that his music was played at Nazi death camps
during the Second World War, and Pamela Potter has noted that Wagner's
music was explicitly off-limits in the camps.[n 24]
Because of the associations of Wagner with antisemitism and Nazism,
the performance of his music in the State of Israel has been a source
Richard Wagner – book
^ Of their children, two (Carl Gustave and Maria Theresia) died as
infants. The others were Wagner's brothers Albert and Carl Julius, and
his sisters Rosalie, Luise, Clara and Ottilie. Except for Carl Julius
becoming a goldsmith, all his siblings developed careers connected
with the stage. Wagner also had a younger half-sister, Caecilie, born
in 1815 to his mother and her second husband Geyer. See also Wagner
^ This sketch is referred to alternatively as
Leubald und Adelaide.
^ Wagner claimed to have seen Schröder-Devrient in the title role of
Fidelio, but it seems more likely that he saw her performance as Romeo
in Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi.
^ Röckel and Bakunin failed to escape and endured long terms of
^ Gutman records him as suffering from constipation and shingles.
^ The influence was noted by Nietzsche in his "On the Genealogy of
Morality": "[the] fascinating position of Schopenhauer on art ...
was apparently the reason
Richard Wagner first moved over to
Schopenhauer ... That shift was so great that it opened up a
complete theoretical contrast between his earlier and his later
^ For example, the self-renouncing cobbler-poet
Hans Sachs in Die
Meistersinger von Nürnberg is a "Schopenhauerian" creation;
Schopenhauer asserted that goodness and salvation result from
renunciation of the world, and turning against and denying one's own
^ E.g. "My dearest Beloved!", "My beloved, my most glorious Friend"
and "O Holy One, I worship you".
^ Wagner excused himself in 1878, when discussing this correspondence
with Cosima, by saying "The tone wasn't good, but I didn't set
^ Wagner claimed to be unable to travel to the funeral due to an
^ Cosima's birthday was 24 December, but she usually celebrated it on
^ In 1873, the King awarded Wagner the Bavarian Maximilian Order for
Science and Art; Wagner was enraged that, at the same time, the honour
had been given also to Brahms.
^ In his 1872 essay "On the Designation 'Music Drama'", he criticises
the term "music drama" suggesting instead the phrase "deeds of music
^ For the reworking of Der fliegende Holländer, see Deathridge (1982)
13, 25; for that of Tannhäuser, see Millington (2001) 280–2, which
further cites Wagner's comment to Cosima three weeks before his death
that he "still owes the world Tannhäuser." See also the articles
on these operas in.
^ See performance listings by opera in Operabase, and the
articles The Flying Dutchman discography,
Tannhäuser discography and
^ For example, Der fliegende Holländer (Dutchman) was first performed
in London in 1870 and in the US (Philadelphia) in 1876; Tannhäuser in
New York in 1859 and in London in 1876; Lohengrin in New York in 1871
and London in 1875. For detailed performance histories including
other countries, see Stanford University Wagner site, under each
^ Normally the orchestration by
Felix Mottl is used (score available
at IMSLP website), although Wagner arranged one of the songs for
^ See for example Wagner's proposals for the rescoring of Beethoven's
Ninth Symphony in his essay on that work.
Overture to the Flying Dutchman as Sight-read by a Bad Spa
Orchestra at 7 in the Morning by the Well
^ Weiner (1997) gives very detailed allegations of antisemitism in
Wagner's music and characterisations.
^ Shaw's anglicization of Nibelheim, the empire of Alberich in the
^ See Žižek (2009) viii: "[In this book] for the first time the
Marxist reading of a musical work of art ... was combined with
the highest musicological analysis."
^ The claim that Hitler, in his maturity, commented that "it [i.e. his
political career] all began" after seeing a performance of
his youth, has been disproved.
^ See e.g. John (2004) for a detailed essay on music in the Nazi death
camps, which nowhere mentions Wagner. See also Potter (2008) 244: "We
know from testimonies that concentration camp orchestras played [all
sorts of] music ... but that Wagner was explicitly off-limits.
However, after the war, unsubstantiated claims that Wagner's music
accompanied Jews to their death took on momentum."
^ Wagner (1992) 3; Newman (1976) I, 12
^ Millington (1992) 97
^ Newman (1976) I, 6
^ Gutman (1990) 7 and n.
^ Newman (1976) I, 9
^ Wagner (1992) 5
^ Newman (1976) I, 32–3
^ Newman (1976) I, 45–55
^ Gutman (1990) 78
^ Wagner (1992) 25–7
^ Newman (1976) I, 63, 71
^ Wagner (1992) 35–6
^ Newman (1976) I, 62
^ Newman (1976) I, 76–7
^ Wagner (1992) 37
^ Millington (2001) 133
^ Wagner (1992) 44
^ Newman (1976) I, 85–6
^ Millington (2001) 309
^ Newman (1976) I, 95
^ a b c Millington (2001) 321
^ Newman (1976) I, 98
^ a b Millington (2001) 271–3
^ Newman (1976) I, 173
^ a b Millington (2001) 13, 273–4
^ Gutman (1990) 52
^ a b c Millington (undated d)
^ Newman (1976) I, 212
^ Newman (1976) I, 214
^ Newman (1976) I, 217
^ Newman (1976) I, 226–7
^ Newman (1976) I, 229–31
^ Newman (1976) I, 242–3
^ Millington (2001) 116–8
^ Newman (1976) I, 249–50
^ Millington (2001) 277
^ a b Newman (1976) I, 268–324
^ Newman (1976) I, 316
^ Wagner (1994c) 19
^ Millington (2001) 274
^ Newman (1976) I, 325–509
^ Millington (2001) 276
^ Millington (2001) 279
^ Millington (2001) 31
^ Conway (2012) 192–3
^ Gutman (1990) 118
^ Millington (2001) 140–4
^ Wagner (1992) 417–20
^ Wagner, Richard; Elli, William Ashton (1911). Family Letters of
Richard Wagner. p. 154.
^ Wagner (1987) 199. Letter from
Richard Wagner to Franz Liszt, 21
April 1850. See also Millington (2001) 282, 285.
^ Millington (2001) 27, 30; Newman (1976) II, 133–56, 247–8,
^ Newman (1976) II, 137–8
^ Gutman (1990) 142
^ Full English translation in Wagner (1995c)
^ Conway (2012) 197–8
^ Conway (2012) 261–3
^ Millington (2001) 297
^ See Treadwell (2008) 182–90.
^ Wagner (1994c) 391 and n.
^ Millington (2001) 289, 292
^ Millington (2001) 289, 294, 300
^ Wagner (1992) 508–10. Others agree on the profound importance of
this work to Wagner—see Magee (2000) 133–4.
^ See e.g. Magee (2000) 276–8.
^ Magee (1988) 77–8
^ See e.g. Dahlhaus (1979).
^ Nietzsche (2009), III, 5.
^ See Magee (2000) 251–3.
^ Newman (1976) II, 415–8, 516–8
^ Gutman (1990) 168–9; Newman (1976) II, 508–9
^ Millington (undated a)
^ Millington (2001) 318
^ Newman (1976) II, 473–6
^ Cited in Spencer (2000) 93
^ Newman (1976) II, 540–2
^ Newman (1976) II, 559–67
^ Burk (1950) 405
^ Cited in Daverio (208) 116. Letter from
Richard Wagner to Mathilde
Wesendonck, April 1859
^ Deathridge (1984)
^ Newman (1976) III, 8–9.
^ Gregor-Dellin (1983) 315–20
^ Burk (1950) 378–9
^ Gregor-Dellin (1983) 293–303
^ Gutman (1990) 215–6
^ Burk (1950) 409–28
^ a b c Millington (2001) 301
^ Wagner (1992) 667
^ Gregor-Dellin (1983) 321–30
^ Newman (1976) III, 147–8
^ Newman (1976) III, 212–20
^ Cited in Gregor-Dellin (1983) 337–8
^ Gregor-Dellin (1983) 336–8; Gutman (1990) 231–2
^ Cited in Gregor-Dellin (1983) 338
^ Gregor-Dellin (1983) 339
^ Gregor-Dellin (1983) 346
^ Wagner (1992) 741
^ Wagner (1992) 739
^ Gregor-Dellin (1983) 354
^ Newman (1976) III, 366
^ Millington (2001) 32–3
^ Newman (1976) III, 530
^ Newman (1976) III, 496
^ Newman (1976) III, 499–501
^ Newman (1976) III, 538–9
^ Newman (1976) III, 518–9
^ Millington (2001) 287, 290
^ Wagner (1994c) 391 and n.; Spotts (1994) 37–40
^ Gregor-Dellin (1983) 367
^ Gutman (1990) 262
^ Hilmes (2011) 118
^ Millington (1992) 17
^ Millington (1992) 311
^ Weiner (1997) 123
^ Gregor-Dellin (1983) 400
^ a b Spotts (1994) 40
^ Newman (1976) IV, 392–3
^ Gregor-Dellin (1983) 409–18
^ Spotts (1994) 45–6; Gregor-Dellin (1983) 418–9
^ Körner (1984), p. 326
^ Marek (1981) 156; Gregor-Dellin (1983) 419
^ Cited in Spotts (1994) 54
^ Spotts (1994) 11
^ Millington (1992) 287
^ Spotts (1994) 61–2
^ Spotts (1994) 71–2
^ Newman (1976) IV, 517–39
^ Spotts (1994) 66–7
Cosima Wagner (1994) 270
^ Newman (1976) IV, 542. This was equivalent at the time to about
^ Gregor-Dellin (1983) 422; Newman (1976) IV, 475
^ Millington (2001) 18
^ Newman (1976) IV, 605–7
^ Newman (1976) IV, 607–10
^ Millington (2001) 331–2, 409. The later essays and articles are
reprinted in Wagner (1995e).
^ Stanley (2008) 154–6
^ Wagner (1995a) 149–70
^ Millington (2001) 19
^ Gutman (1990) 414–7
^ Newman (1976) IV, 692
^ Newman (1976) IV, 697, 711–2
^ Cormack (2005) 21–5
^ Newman (1976) IV, 714–6
^ The WWV is available online Archived 12 March 2007 at the Wayback
Machine. in German (accessed 30 October 2012)
^ Coleman (2017), 86–8
^ Millington (2001) 264–8
^ Millington (2001) 236–7
^ Wagner (1995b) 299–304
^ Millington (2001) 234–5
^ See e.g. Dalhaus (1995) 129–36
^ See also Millington (2001) 236, 271
^ Millington (2001) 274–6
^ Magee (1988) 26
^ Wagnerjahr 2013 Archived 7 February 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
website, accessed 14 November 2012
^ e.g. in Spencer (2008) 67–73 and Dahlhaus (1995) 125–9
Cosima Wagner (1978) II, 996
^ Westernhagen (1980) 106–7
^ Skelton (2002)
^ Millington (1992) 276, 279, 282–3
^ See Millington (2001) 286; Donington (1979) 128–30, 141, 210–2.
^ Millington (1992) 239–40, 266–7
^ Millington (2008) 74
^ Grey (2008) 86
^ Millington (undated b)
^ Millington (2001) 294, 300, 304
^ Dahlhaus (1979) 64
^ Deathridge (2008) 224
^ Rose (1981) 15
^ Millington (2001) 298
^ McClatchie (2008) 134
^ Gutman (1990) 282–3
^ Millington (undated c)
^ See e.g. Weiner (1997) 66–72.
^ Millington (2001) 294–5
^ Millington (2001) 286
^ Puffett (1984) 43
^ Puffett (1984) 48–9
^ Millington (2001) 285
^ Millington (2001) 308
Cosima Wagner (1978) II, 647. Entry of 28 March 1881.
^ Stanley (2008) 169–75
^ Newman (1976) IV, 578. Letter from Wagner to the King of 19
^ Kienzle (2005) 81
^ von Westernhagen (1980) 138
^ Millington (1992) 311–2
^ Millington (1992) 318
^ Millington (2001) 314
^ Westernhagen (1980) 111
^ Deathridge (2008) 189–205
^ Kennedy (1980) 701, Wedding March
^ Millington (2001) 193
^ Millington (2001) 194
^ Millington (2001) 194–5
^ Millington (2001) 185–6
^ Millington (2001) 195
^ Wagner (1983)
^ Treadwell (2008) 191
Richard Wagner Schriften (RWS). Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe"
on the University of
Würzburg website, accessed 29 October 2017.
Richard Wagner Collected Correspondence Edition website (in German),
accessed 29 October 2014
^ Deathridge (2008) 114
^ Magee (2000) 208–9
^ See articles on these composers in The New Grove Dictionary of Music
and Musicians; Grey (2008) 222–9; Deathridge (2008) 231–2.
^ Lagrange (1973) 43–4
^ Millington (2001) 371
^ Taruskin (2009) 5–8
^ Magee (1988) 54; Grey (2008) 228–9
^ Grey (2008) 226
^ Wagner (1995a) 289–364
^ Westrup (1980) 645
^ Wagner (1995b) 231–53
^ Westernhagen (1980) 113
^ Reissman (2004)
^ Joe (2010), 23 n.45
^ Laibach website. Accessed 24 December 2012.
^ Long (2008) 114
^ Millington (2001) 396
^ a b Magee (1988) 52
^ Magee (1988) 49–50
^ Grey (2009) 372–87
^ Magee (1988) 47–56
^ Cited in Magee (1988) 48.
^ Painter (1983) 163
^ Martin (1992) passim
^ Magee (1988) 47
^ Horton (1999)
^ Magee (2000) 85
^ Picard (2010) 759
^ Adorno (2009) 34–6
^ Grant (1999)
^ Olivia Giovetti, "Silver Screen Wagner Vies for Oscar Gold", WQXR
Operavore blog, 10 December 2011, accessed 15 April 2012.
^ Sontag (1980); Kaes (1989), 44, 63
^ Millington (2001) 26, 127. See also
New German School
New German School and War of the
^ Sietz & Wiegandt (undated)
^ François-Sappey (1991), p.198. Letter from Alkan to Hiller 31
^ Cited in Lockspeiser (1978) 179. Letter from
Claude Debussy to
Pierre Louÿs, 17 January 1896
^ Ross (2008) 101
^ Cited in Michotte (1968) 135–6; conversation between Rossini and
Emile Naumann, recorded in Naumann (1876) IV, 5
^ Deathridge (2008) 228
^ cf. Shaw (1898)
^ Website of the International Association of Wagner Societies
Archived 5 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine., accessed 1 February
^ Warshaw (2012) 77–8
^ See entries for these films at the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).
^ Faber Music News (2007) 2
^ Management record Archived 28 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
Bayreuth Festival website, accessed 26 January 2013.
^ Statutes of the Foundation (in German) Archived 17 October 2010 at
the Wayback Machine. at
Bayreuth Festival website, accessed 26 January
^ Magee (2000) 11–4
^ Weiner (1997) 11; Katz (1986) 19; Conway (2012) 258–64; Vaszonyi
^ Millington (2001) 164; Conway (2012) 198
^ See e.g. Gutman (1990) and Adorno (1989).
^ Conway (2002)
^ Everett (2008)
^ Gutman (1990) 418 ff
^ Beckett (1981)
^ Gutman (1990) 406
^ Shaw (1998) Introduction
^ Millington (2008) 81
^ Donington (1979) 31, 72–5
^ Nattiez (1993); Millington (2008) 82–3
^ Cited in Spotts (1994) 141
^ Spotts (1994) 140–98
^ See Karlsson (2012) 35–52.
^ Carr (2007) 108–9
^ Carr (2007) 109–10. See also Field (1981).
^ See Potter (2008) passim.
^ Calico (2002) 200–1; Grey (2002) 93–4
^ Carr (2007) 184
^ Fackler (2007). See also the Music and the Holocaust website.
^ E.g. in Walsh (1992).
^ See Bruen (1993).
Prose works by Wagner
Wagner, Richard (ed. Dieter Borchmeyer) (1983; in German), Richard
Wagner Dichtungen und Schriften, 10 vols. Frankfurt am Main.
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(1987), Selected Letters of Richard Wagner, London: Dent.
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Wagner, Richard (tr. Andrew Gray) (1992), My Life, New York: Da Capo
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autobiography, covering his life to 1864, written between 1865 and
1880 and first published privately in German in a small edition
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Wagner, Richard, Collected Prose Works (tr. W. Ashton Ellis).
Wagner, Richard (1994c), vol. 1
The Artwork of the Future
The Artwork of the Future and Other
Works, Lincoln (NE) and London: University of Nebraska Press.
Wagner, Richard (1995d), vol. 2 Opera and Drama, Lincoln (NE) and
London: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-9765-3.
Wagner, Richard (1995c), vol. 3
Judaism in Music
Judaism in Music and Other Essays,
Lincoln (NE) and London: University of Nebraska Press.
Wagner, Richard (1995a), vol. 4 Art and Politics, Lincoln (NE) and
London: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0-8032-9774-6.
Wagner, Richard (1995b), vol. 5 Actors and Singers, Lincoln (NE) and
London: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0-8032-9773-9.
Wagner, Richard (1994a), vol. 6 Religion and Art, Lincoln (NE) and
London: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0-8032-9764-7.
Wagner, Richard (1994b), vol. 7 Pilgrimage to Beethoven and Other
Essays, Lincoln (NE) and London: University of Nebraska Press.
Wagner, Richard (1995e), vol. 8 Jesus of Nazareth and Other Writings,
Lincoln (NE) and London: University of Nebraska Press.
Adorno, Theodor (tr. Rodney Livingstone) (2009), In Search of Wagner,
London: Verso Books. ISBN 978-1-84467-344-5.
Applegate, Celia; Potter, Pamela (eds.) (2002), Music & German
National Identity, Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Beckett, Lucy (1981), Richard Wagner: Parsifal, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-29662-5.
Borchmeyer, Dieter (2003), Drama and the World of Richard Wagner,
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Bruen, Hanan (1993), "Wagner in Israel: A conflict among Aesthetic,
Historical, Psychological and Social Considerations", Journal of
Aesthetic Education, vol. 27, no. 1 (Spring 1993), 99–103.
Burbidge, Peter and Sutton, Richard (eds.) (1979), The Wagner
Companion, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Burk, John N. (1950), Letters of Richard Wagner: The Burrell
Collection, New York: The Macmillan Company.
Calico, Joy Haslam (2002), "'Für eine neue deutsche Nationaloper'",
in Applegate (2002), 190–204.
Carr, Jonathan (2007), The Wagner Clan, London: Faber and Faber.
Coleman, Jeremy (2017). "The Body in the Library", in The Wagner
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Conway, David (2002), "'A Vulture is Almost an Eagle' ... The
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146, no. 1890, 16–31.
Dahlhaus, Carl (tr. Mary Whittall) (1979), Richard Wagner's Music
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Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, London: Macmillan, vol. 20,
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