Born in Leipzig, Germany, May 22, 1813
Died in Venice, Italy, February 13, 1883
Richard Wagner is known as one of the most progressive composers in history. His name has been linked to almost all the significant historical events of the 19th and 20th centuries. As a boy, he was interested in literature and loved the plays of William Shakespeare. At age 15 he wrote a play and at 16 his first music compositions. Later in his teenage years, he attended Leipzig University to study and as a result he became more interested in music composition. His first symphony was written and performed in 1832. While his very first opera, Die Feen was never heard, very soon he was considered the master of German opera!
Wagner married the singer Minna Planer in 1836 and they moved to a small city in Germany where he could be the musical director at the local theater. It was there that he composed the opera Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes. It was based on a novel and staged in Dresden, Germany in 1842 and was a success! However, as did many other composers of his time, Wagner had severe financial problems. He moved from place to place and took several types of jobs so that he and his wife could pay the rent, have food to eat, and money to compose and produce his operas.
At the age of 27 Richard Wagner began work on his monumental cycle of four musical dramas: Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelungs). It is made of four separate operas and about 18 hours of music that includes themes that have specific meanings. In his operas, he liked to create tension between good and evil. It took Wagner 22 years to complete The Ring! It remains one of the most remarkable opera compositions of all time. A special house was designed by Wagner and built in Bayreuth, Germany so that there would be a home for The Ring to be performed. Today, people from all parts of the world travel to Bayreuth to see and hear performances of that masterpiece.
During his lifetime, Richard Wagner lived in many European cities outside of his home country, Germany: Paris, France; Lucerne, Switzerland; Zurich, Switzerland; London, England; and Venice, Italy, where he died of heart trouble. His body was taken by gondola and train to Bayreuth for its final resting place.