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Richard Wagner
Opera Composer

1813 - 1883

Only on the shoulders of this great social movement
can true art lift itself from its present state of civilised
barbarianism, and take its post of honour.

                                           —Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner was born in May 22, 1813 in Leipzig, Germany. Wagner is acknowledged as the master of German opera, and one of the most progressive composers in history.

As a youth Wagner was fascinated by literature, particularly the plays of William Shakespeare. Through his teens he was increasingly attracted to composing. His opera based on the novel "Rienzi, Last of the Tribunes," was produced in Dresden in 1842, and was a success. His next production, "The Flying Dutchman" (1843), was also a hit. Near the end of the 1840s Wagner began work on his monumental cycle of four musical dramas collectively titled "Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelungs)." This cycle, comprised of "Das Rheingold," "Die Walkure," "Siegfried" and "Die Gotterdammerung," took 22 years to complete, and stands as one of the most remarkable and influential achievements in Western music.

The foundation of Wagner's philosophy of musical drama is the concept of "Gesamtkunstwerk," or "universal artwork." He held that music in a dramatic setting was best used to reinforce dramatic content and expression. His characters addressed the philosophical issues that Wagner considered vital to society: the tension between good and evil, between the physical and spiritual, and between selfishness and redemptive love.

Wagner has been classified politically as an anarchist and socialist, and simultaneously, a fascist, nationalist, and anti-semite. His name has been connected to almost all the major trends in German history of the 19th and 20th centuries.

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Copyright © 1995-2016 Robin Chew
Article written by Robin Chew - May 1996