Saturday, June 1, 2013

Richard Wagner’s 200th birthday!
One of the most influential musicians in all of modern classical composition, Richard Wagner created complex musical masterpieces.  The controversial Wagner would spend much of his life in exile and is also known for his anti-semitic writings, love affairs, and extraordinary ego.  Although many loved Wagner’s music, some found it difficult.  Charles Baudelaire stated “I love Wagner; but the music I prefer is that of a cat hung up by its tail outside a window, and trying to stick to the panes of glass with its claws".

Wagner was born in Leipzig, Germany on May 22, 1813.  He wrote his first orchestral pieces in 1830, which were not well received due to their provocative (and somewhat off-putting) percussive elements.  Wagner would spend several years conducting in small opera houses while working tirelessly on his own material.  Accumulating massive gambling debts, Wagner fled Germany in 1939 and spent years in Paris where he and his wife faced starvation and imprisonment.  While in Paris, he completed Rienzi, Eine Faust Overture (A Faust Overture), and the libretto to Der fliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman).

Wagner joined the revolutionaries in Saxony and was almost arrested in 1848.  He was forced to flee Germany again and lived in exile for the next thirteen years.   Wagner began to reject traditional opera and set out to create a new type of music known as “Gesamtkunstwerk” or a “total work of art” based on German and Norse mythology.  This new music would engulf him for the next twenty five years (from 1848 until 1874) in which he would produce four musical dramas, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelungs) based on German mythology.  These included the four works:  Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold), Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) which are largely considered Wagner’s masterpieces.

 Equally important, Wagner is considered to have invented modern classical music with one single chord from his work Tristan und Isolde which was completed in 1859.  The chord’s harmonic suspension resolves on another dissonant chord, never giving the audience the expected resolution. 

Although Mark Twain once said, “I have been told that Wagner’s music is better than it sounds”, Wagner’s influence on music is incalculable.  Wagner’s rich and complex melodies, dissonant chords, and textures have made him one of the most complicated and enduring composers of all time.

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