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Richard Wagner (May 22, 1813 - February 13, 1883) was a German composer, theater director, and conductor. His most notable works include Tristan und Isolde and Die Walküre. His life was marked by political and personal scandal, and he was exiled multiple times from his home country.

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Wagner was born in Leipzig, Germany to Carl Friedrich and Johanna Rosine Wagner. His father died just six months after his death and he grew up with Ludwig Geyer as a father figure. He became interested in music and theater at a young age, first inspired by Carl Maria von Weber's opera Der Freischütz. He created a tragedy called Leubald and, determined to set it to music, convinced his parents to get him music lessons. His interest grew, especially upon hearing Beethoven and Mozart.

Wagner enrolled at the University of Leipzig, taking composition lessons from Thomaskantor Theodor Weinlig. He arranged for Wagner's Op. 1, Piano Sonata in B-flat major. Wagner then went on to compose Symphony in C major and the beginnings of the opera Die Hochzeit (The Wedding).

 

He took a job as choir master at a theater in Würzburg, where he composed his first complete opera Die Feen (The Fairies). Soon after, he took up the job of musical director at Magdeburg theater after marrying the singer and actress Minna Planer in 1834. When the theater and the company employing him went under, Wagner faced financial problems that led him to writing articles and arranging others' operas for a living.

 

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Planer and Wagner fled creditors and were in Parisby 1840. Wagner sent his opera Rienzi to Dresden, where it was performed to great acclaim. Soon after, his opera The Flying Dutchman was performed and also well-received. He was appointed director of the Dresden Opera. After living there for six years, he became more vocal about his leftist politics and fled to Zurich when unrest broke out in Saxony.

While in Zurich, Wagner fell in love with a silk merchant's wife, Mathilde Wesendonck. The couple was very fond of Wagner's work, and Wesendonck was the inspiration behind the opera Tristan und Isolde.

In 1862, Wagner returned to Germany. King Ludwig II was a great admirer of Wagner, so he helped settle his debts and secure the staging of Tristan und Isolde.

Wagner then got involved in another scandal, fathering an illegitimate child to a woman twenty-four years his junior named Cosima, resulting in his moving back to Switzerland in 1867. He ultimately married Cosima in 1870 and stayed with her until his death.

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The end of the 1860s and the 1870s saw Wagner compose The Ring Cycle, Das Rheingold and Die Walküre. They were presented in Munich in 1869 and 1870 and were performed altogether in 1876, spanning 18 hours. Wagner was a known anti-Semite and polemic, and is also remembered as having been stridently confident in the face of uncertain promise.

 

 

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  • Birthday Date: Thursday, 22 May 2014
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