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Richard Wagner - The Spirit of Germany
"I am the most German being, I am the German spirit."
Richard Wagner considered himself to be "the most German of men". He wrote
such great operas as "Tristan und Isolde", "Parsifal",
"Der fliegende Hollaender", "Der Ring des Nibelungen",
and others. He actively participated in the revolution of 1849. He had
numerous love affairs. He always lacked money and the king Ludwig II was
his financial support. "He" - is the great German composer
and writer Richard Wagner.
Richard Wagner was born on May 22, 1813, in Leipzig. He was the ninth
child of Carl Friedrich Wagner, a police actuary, and Johanna Rosine Wagner.
Soon after Richard's birth his father died, and his mother married Ludwig
Geyer, an actor and playwright, whom Wagner suspected to be his real father.
From the early childhood Wagner studied and enjoyed music, piano in particular.
In the age of 15 Wagner attended a performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony
which became the profound experience for the boy. He started writing
his own music: piano sonatas, overtures and even a Symphony in C major.
These works were written copiously, mostly after Beethoven, Weber and
Meyerbeer. In 1833 Wagner wrote his first opera, "Die Feen"
("The Fairies"). It was the first in the series of three
operas written by Wagner till 1840 - "Das Liebesverbot" ("The
Prohibition of Love") and "Rienzi", inspired
and derived from the works of the German, Italian and French composers
accordingly. At that very time Wagner had his first literary experience
with the essay "Die Deutsche Opera". Thus Wagner began
the practice of working out a specific theory in print before trying it
out in music.
"Der fliegende Hollaender" (1841) was Wagner's first
opera which set him out into a new world of opera, which he called simply
drama. With this opera Wagner formed his mature operatic style of composition.
Along with his musical and literary achievements, Wagner had several
important appointments: as choirmaster in Wuerzburg (1833), as music director
at a traveling theater in Magdeburg (1834), as music director at a theater
in Riga (1836). In 1839 he had to leave Riga and his creditors, heading
for Paris which became a bitterly disappointing experience to him. Wagner
had neither money nor connections which were so important in Parisian
life. In 1842 Wagner left Paris for Dresden, where the premiere of "Rienzi"
was a formidable success. Wagner was offered the position of co-music
director at the Dresden court. For the first time in his life Wagner was
Wagner took an active part in the revolution of 1848-49. After the revolt
was crushed by the Prussians, the police issued a warrant against Wagner,
and he fled to Weimar where Liszt arranged his safe transport to Paris.
From there Wagner moved to Zurich. Almost immediately he wrote "Die
Kunst und die Revolution" ("Art and Revolution"),
and "Die Kunst der Zukunft" ("The Artwork of
the Future"). The exile lasted for 11 years, till 1860, when
Wagner was given a partial amnesty in Germany (except for Saxony). Only
in 1862 Wagner was granted the complete amnesty and could safely get back
After the succession of favorable events Wagner finally made up his mind
to conquer the city of his humiliation - Paris. However Paris was not
going to favor Wagner. The chosen opera was "Tannhaeuser".
At the opening night, and also the second and third performances young
aristocrats, wishing to humiliate Wagner, created constant disturbances
that ruined the opera. "Tannhaeuser" was withdrawn, and
Wagner hurriedly left Paris. This was the beginning of the serious financial
troubles for Wagner. His personal life was at stake, his friends turned
away from him... Due to the increasing debts, he had to flee from Vienna.
The year 1864 came to be a great turning-point in Wagner's life - the
new king, Ludwig II, was crowned in Bavaria. Being a great fan of Wagner's
works, the king paid all his debts, settled him in a luxurious villa in
Munich, and promised the financial support in future.
Wagner keeps working on the greatest opera of his life - "Der
Ring des Nibelungen" ("The Ring of the Nibelungs"),
which he started in 1848. Wagner's dream was to perform "Der
Ring..." in a special place where everything would be to his
best satisfaction and nobody would stir things up. So, traveling in 1871
through Bayreuth, he decided to build an opera house there. Wagner's attempts
to raise money for this purpose, including the establishing Wagner societies
throughout Germany and the request to Bismarck, failed, and king Ludwig
II once again granted Wagner funds to cover all the expenses. In 1874
Wagner finished the text and music of the last part of "Der Ring...",
which consists of four parts: "Das Rheingold" ("The
Rhinegold"), "Die Walküre" ("The Valkyries"),
"Siegfried", and "Götterdämmerung"
("The Twilight of the Gods"). The first festival opened
in 1876 with the performance of "Der Ring..." The Bayreuth
Festival was a unique cultural event in Germany, and there were such celebrities
among the numerous guests as Friedrich Nietzsche, Edvard Grieg and Peter
Tchaikovsky. Despite its cultural success, the festival was a financial
disaster. Wagner realized that the next festivals could be held only with
the continuous support of the state or at least the societies. The state
didn't provide any support, and the next Bayreuth festival took place
only in 1882. This was the last festival in Wagner's lifetime, because
he unexpectedly died of a heart attack in 1883.
However Richard Wagner left a wonderful cultural heritage after him, and the
theater in Bayreuth is considered to be his monument.
Next page > Wagner
and His Women