Richard Wagner

AZL flag holder TransparentWilhelm Richard Wagner (22nd May 1813 – 13 February 1883) was a German composer, theatre director and conductor who is primarily known for his operas. Wagner was born in Leipzig, at No. 3, the Brühl (The House of the Red and White Lions), the ninth child of Carl Friedrich Wagner, who was a clerk in the Leipzig police service, and his wife, Johanna Rosine (née Paetz), the daughter of a baker. Wagner’s father Carl died of typhus six months after Richard’s birth. In August 1814 Johanna and actor and playwright Ludwig Geyer married and she and her family moved to Geyer’s residence in Dresden. Until he was fourteen, Wagner was known as Wilhelm Richard Geyer and it was through Geyer that Richard came to love the theatre. As a young man Wagner had some sympathy with the revolutionary movements of the middle nineteenth century and was active among socialist German nationalists like August Röckel in Dresden (even the Ring cycle contains a distinct anti-materialist and vaguely socialist drift). He wrote passionate articles in the Volksblätter inciting people to revolt, and when fighting broke out during the Dresden uprisings of 1849 he took a very active part in it, making hand grenades and standing as a look out at the top of the Frauenkirche. It is also significant that Mikhail Bakunin appeared as a prominent figure during this Uprising in Dresden. Figures like Marx and Bakunin preaching their alien ideologies took advantage of these periods of social upheaval and rapid change to corrupt European ideas. Bakunin was captured in Chemnitz and held for thirteen months before being condemned to death by the government of Saxony. His sentence was commuted to life to allow his extradition to Russia and Austria both of whom were seeking to prosecute him. Wagner also had to leave Germany. Settling in Zurich, Switzerland, he wrote little for some years but evolved the intellectual framework for his towering mature masterpieces. Though Wagner was to spend the next twelve years in exile from Germany he revolutionised opera through his concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk (“total work of art”). Here he sought to synthesise the poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts, with music subsidiary to drama, and this was announced in a series of essays between 1849 and 1852. Wagner realised these ideas most fully in the first half of the four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung).

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