Wilhelm Richard Wagner, 1813-1883

[Mentioned in Retrospection and Introspection, p. 82]

Wagner's interest was at first greater in the drama than in music. His stepfather, an actor and playwright, introduced him to the theater, and at school he delighted in drama, mythology, and poetry. The hearing of Beethoven's Seventh and Ninth Symphonies started him reading books on musical composition and making transcriptions of orchestral works. He arranged Beethoven's Ninth Symphony for piano solo. During his university days he seriously studied composition.

Before he was twenty-one, he was chorus master at an opera house and had begun work on Die Feen, his first complete opera. Always his own librettist, he was already searching for that unity between words and music which his music dramas were to bring out. The libretto and music for the first two acts of Rienzi were written during the time he conducted opera at Riga. The score was finished in Paris, where he also wrote the poem and score for Der fliegende Holländer and many essays. His three years in Paris were years of privation and almost starvation. Dresden's acceptance of Rienzi brought Wagner back to Germany. Because of its success he was made full director of the Dresden Royal Opera House.

Wagner finished Lohengrin, the transitional work between the romantic operas and the music dramas, before being exiled at the time of the Dresden Revolution. In Lohengrin he made use of the leitmotiv, a characteristic theme attached to a particular person or emotion. The ideas in his many essays on the drama and opera were finally embodied in the "Trilogy," or Der Ring des Nibelungen. which consists of an introduction. Das Rheingold, and Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung. It was not produced as a complete cycle until 1876 in Bayreuth where Wagner realized his dream of having his own opera house.

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Signs of the Times
August 25, 1956

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