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Richard Wagner is best known for creating several complex operas, including Tristan and Isolde and Ring Cycle, as well as for his anti-semitic writings.
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Born in Germany on May 22, 1813, Richard Wagner went on to become one of the world's most influential—and controversial—composers. He is famous for both his epic operas, including the four-part, 18-hour Ring Cycle, as well as for his anti-semitic writings, which, posthumously,
made him a favorite of Adolf Hitler. There is evidence that Wagner's music was played at the Dachau concentration camp to "re-educate" the prisoners. Wagner had a tumultuous love life, which involved several scandalous affairs. He died of a heart attack in Venice on February 13, 1883.
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was born on May 22, 1813, in Leipzig, Germany, and went on to become one of the world's most influential—and controversial—composers.
Richard Wagner was famous for both his complex operas, such as the four-part, 18-hour Ring Cycle, as well as for his anti-semitic writings, which, posthumously, made him a favorite of Adolf Hitler. There is evidence that Wagner's music was played at the Dachau concentration camp to "re-educate" the prisoners.
Wagner's parentage is uncertain: He is either the son of police actuary Friedrich Wagner, who died soon after Richard was born, or the son of the man he called his stepfather, the painter, actor and poet Ludwig Geyer (whom his mother married in August 1814).
As a young boy, Wagner attended school in Dresden, Germany. He did not show aptitude in music and, in fact, his teacher said he would "torture the piano in a most abominable fashion." But he was ambitious from a young age. When he was 11 years old, he wrote his first drama. By age 16, he was writing musical compositions. Young Wagner was so confident that some people considered him conceited.
The New York Times would later write in its obituary of the famous composer, "In the face of mortifying failures and discouragements, he apparently never lost confidence in himself."
Wagner attended Leipzig University in 1831, and his first symphony was performed in 1833. He was inspired by Ludwig van Beethoven and, in particular, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, which Wagner called "that mystic source of my highest ecstacies." The following year, in 1834, Wagner joined the Würzburg Theater as chorus master, and wrote the text and music of his first opera, Die Feen (The Fairies,) which was not staged.
Also in 1934, Wagner married the singer and actress Minna Planer. The couple soon moved to Königsberg, where Wagner took the position of musical director at the Magdeburg Theatre. There, in 1836, Das Liebesverbot was produced, with Wagner writing both the lyrics and the music. He called his concept "Gesamtunkstwerk" (total work of art)—a method, which he frequently used, of weaving German myths with larger themes about love and redemption.
After moving to Riga, Russia, in 1837, Wagner became the first musical director of the theater and began work on his next opera, Rienzi. Before finishing Rienzi, Wagner and Minna left Riga, fleeing creditors, in 1839. They hopped on a ship to London and then made their way to Paris, where Wagner was forced to take whatever work he could find, including writing vaudeville music for small theaters.
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