Richard Wagner (1813–1883)
How to say the name:
‘Wagner’ is said like Varg-ner. ‘Richard’ is easy to say.
22nd May 1813 in Leipzig, Germany.
Wagner’s grave in Bayreuth
13th February 1883 in Venice, Italy.
The garden of the Villa Wahnfried in Bayreuth, Germany.
Type of Music:
Some famous pieces:
- Bridal Chorus—from the opera Lohengrin (this is the very famous ‘Here Comes the Bride’). (See below for a video.)
- ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’—from the opera Die Walküre (The Valkyries). (See below for a video.)
Some great pieces (all operas):
(In my opinion the last 7 of these are very great.)
- Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman).
- Das Rheingold (The Rhine Gold).
- Die Walküre (The Valkyries).
- Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods).
- Tristan und Isolde (Tristan and Isolde).
- Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg).
Some basic facts:
- There has been more written about Wagner than any other person in history, except Jesus Christ! (so I will write a lot too!)
- He causes more arguments than any other composer! Some people almost worship him, while other people completely hate him.
- In my opinion he was one of the greatest composers who has ever lived. I also think his operas are the best operas ever written.
- It is certainly true that he was one of the two great opera composers of the 19th century (the other was Verdi whose music is very different).
- He totally changed the way opera was written and performed. Opera has never been the same since.
- In fact, he totally changed the way all classical music was written. Music has simply never been the same since Wagner!
- A person who likes Wagner’s music a lot is called a ‘Wagnerite’. This means I am one!
- ‘Wagnerites’ think there is nothing quite like Wagner’s music. It brings out thoughts and feelings that no other music does. When some people hear Wagner’s music for the first time they think it sounds like music they’ve always known, but never heard before! One of these people was C.S. Lewis (the author of the Narnia books).
- Those who don’t like Wagner’s music often find it too harsh and loud.
- Queen Victoria’s daughter chose Wagner’s ‘Bridal Chorus’ for her wedding. This is why the ‘Bridal Chorus’ is so popular at weddings today! It is normally played when the bride enters the church. (For the ‘Wedding March’ when the bride and groom walk out of church, see the Mendelssohn page.)
Some facts about Wagner’s operas:
- They are very long. The longest lasts for over five hours!
- Many people find them boring.
- The music is often very loud. But it can also be very quiet too.
- They take a lot of energy to perform. Only a very few singers are able to sing them.
- They also take a lot of energy to listen to! You need to prepare yourself before seeing a Wagner opera.
- The four operas Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung form a set known as Der Ring des Nibelungen (‘The Ring of the Nibelung’, or simply ‘The Ring’). They are meant to be performed together over four days. That’s a lot of music (over 15 hours)!
- Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is different from his other operas—it’s a comedy!
- All the operas above, except Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, are based on myths. These myths mostly come from Germany, Scandanavia and Iceland.
- Most of the operas are deep metaphors (symbols) about what it means to be human.
- Unlike most opera composers, Wagner wrote the words (libretto) himself.
Some facts about other things Wagner created:
- He wanted new types of sound in his music, so he designed some new instruments!
- He didn’t just write music. Wagner also wrote many articles, including ones about politics. He also wrote a famous article about what he thought opera should be like and what it should be about.
- He didn’t think the theatres of his day were good enough to stage ‘The Ring’, so he built his own! This theatre is in the German town of Bayreuth (said like ‘Bay-royt’) and is called the Bayreuth Festspielhaus (Bayreuth Festival Theatre).
- The Bayreuth Festspielhaus has become something of a ‘temple’ in which to worship Wagner. Every summer there is a festival there of Wagner’s operas (and only Wagner operas!). People have to wait years and years to get tickets to this festival. The festival is also managed by Wagner’s descendants. When the festival is not on, the theatre is shut.
- Wagner thought his opera Parsifal was sacred and should only be performed in his ‘temple’ (the Bayreuth Festspielhaus).
Some facts about Wagner’s life:
- When he was young he was very involved in politics. He was also very involved in an attack against the government in Dresden in 1848. He became a wanted man after this and fled to Switzerland, where he lived for many years.
- He divorced his first wife to marry Liszt’s daughter, Cosima.
Some nasty facts about Wagner:
- He was not a very nice person. He chose many of his friends by what he could get out of them—especially money.
- He was very arrogant (big-headed). He thought he could save the world through his music.
- He liked expensive things and thought he had the right to demand them. After all, he was going to save the world…!
- One of the things he wrote was all about Jewish people. This was very nasty indeed!
- Hitler loved Wagner’s music. Wagner’s music therefore became the music of Nazi Germany.
- Many people won’t listen to Wagner today because they think of it as ‘Nazi’ music (and, therefore, evil). This is especially true in Israel where there are many who suffered at the hands of Nazis during World War Two.
Here is a video of The Ride of the Valkyries from Wagner’s opera Die Walküre (The Valkyries). What do you think of the singing? In the opera the singers are wild warriors. So their singing should be wild too!
‘The Ride of the Valkyries’ from Wagner’s opera Die Walküre
And here is a video of Wagner’s very famous Bridal Chorus from Wagner’s opera Lohengrin (also known as Here Comes the Bride). The piece was actually written for an orchestra and choir. However, it has since been played on all sorts of instruments. The video you see here includes a trumpet fanfare at the beginning. This is not part of the ‘Bridal Chorus’. The ‘Bridal Chorus’ itself starts when the organ starts at 30 seconds into the video.
The famous ‘Bridal Chorus’ by Wagner (with trumpet fanfare at the beginning)
There is another video of music by Richard Wagner on the following news page:
- Richard Wagner. This photograph is by Franz Hanfstaengl from 1871. The image is in the public domain. Click here for the source of this image, along with the relevant copyright information.
- Wagner’s grave in Bayreuth. This photograph is in the public domain. Click here for the source of this image, along with the relevant copyright information.
- Wagner – Die Walküre Act 3 – Ride of the Valkyries. A concert performance from the BBC Proms in 2005, from the Royal Albert Hall. Lisa Gasteen is Brunnhilde. Waltraud Meier is Sieglinde.The orchestra of the Royal Opera House is conducted by Antonio Pappano. There is more information about this one on the video’s YouTube page.
- Bridal Chorus-Wagner (Here Comes the Bride) & Fanfare. Houston area trumpeter Randy Dunn performing on the herald trumpet, accompanied by organ. This is Richard Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus” from Lohengrin, also known as “Here Comes the Bride”. Before the Wagner “Bridal Chorus” you hear the “Royal Entrance Fanfare”, announcing the arrival of the bride before she begins her procession down the aisle at the wedding. Along with Jeremiah Clarke’s “Trumpet Voluntary” (or “Prince of Denmark March”) this is one of the two most popular traditional bridal processionals used in weddings.