Richard Wagner (1813-1883) -- An illustrated biography by Vincent Vargas

Part One: The Early Years

Wilhelm Richard Wagner was born on May 22, 1813 in Leipzig, Germany. A city famous for its cultural and literary traditions, Leipzig was the home of many of Germany's greatest writers and musicians. Composer Robert Schumann lived in the city for many years and Germany's greatest poet, Goethe, studied at the city's prestigious university...

Part Two: Towards a New Musical Language

A few months prior to Wagner and his wife leaving Riga and heading to Paris, she had become the family's sole provider, earning a modest livelihood by making guest appearances at the theater. Wagner had lost his post of musical director, and he occupied his time learning French in order to translate the libretto of Rienzi...

Part Three: Revolutions

Around the time of the completion of Tannhäuser, Wagner had begun to be absorbed by Greek drama. In particular, he was mesmerized by the Oresteia of Aeschylus, with its bloody re-telling of the homecoming and murder of King Agamemnon and Orestes' flight from the avenging Furies. Throughout the writing of his next opera, Lohengrin, Wagner read and re-read the classics voraciously...

Part Four: From Bayreuth to Venice

Wagner's technically challenging works always proved difficult for the average 19th century opera house. This lack of resources often enraged the composer who dreamed of presenting his works in a theater where proper stagecraft and adequate amounts of time for rehearsal would be the norm. On the day of his fifty-ninth birthday, Wagner saw workers lay the foundation-stone of the Festspielhaus...


A Richard Wagner Chronology

Year Event Music Libretto Writings
1813 Richard Wagner born, Leipzig, 22 May. Father dies, 23 November.
1814 Mother Johanna Wagner marries Ludwig Geyer, 28 August.
1820 RW begins piano lessons.
1821 Stepfather dies, 30 September.
1822 RW enters Dresden Kreuzschule, 2 December.
1826 Geyer family moves to Prague, leaving RW in Dresden.
1827 RW leaves school to join family in Leipzig.
1828 RW enters the Nicolaischule, 21 January. Begins harmony lessons. Tragedy: Leubald WWV 1
1829 Two piano sonatas and a string quartet.
1830 RW leaves Nicolaischule. Begins violin lessons. Piano transcription of Beethoven's 9th. Three overtures, including the Drumbeat Overture in B flat, WWV 10.
1831 RW attends Leipzig University. Also studies music with Weinlig. Infatuation with Leah David. Piano sonata in B flat, WWV 21, Fantaisie in f# minor, WWV 22. Polonaise, WWV 23. Incidental music to Raupach's König Enzio, WWV 24. Entractes, WWV 25. Grosse Sonate in A, WWV 26.
1832 Infatuation with Jenny Raymann, daughter of Count Pachta. Symphony in C, WWV 29. Sketches for Die Hochzeit, WWV 31
1833 RW becomes chorus master in Würzburg. Die Feen, WWV 32 Die Feen
1834 RW develops interest in the socialist literary movement, Young Germany. Debut as opera conductor with Don Giovanni. Meets Minna Planer. Essay: German Opera, published June.
1835 Works with Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient. Overture and incidental music to Apel's Columbus, WWV 37. Starts a diary: the Red Pocketbook.
1836 Opera company goes bankrupt. RW marries Minna, 24 November. Das Liebesverbot, WWV 38. Das Liebesverbot. Sketch for Die Hohe Braut.
1837 RW appointed music director in Königsberg. Minna runs away; RW brings her back. They move to Riga, where RW becomes music director. Die Hohe Braut, WWV 40. Begins Rienzi Essay on Bellini.
1838 Concert series in Riga. Begins music of Rienzi, WWV 49, 7 August.
1839 Richard and Minna run away from their debts in Riga. Stormy sea voyage via Denmark and Norway to London. Met by Meyerbeer at Boulogne, then to Paris, 17 September. Meets Heinrich Heine. Insertion aria for Norma, WWV 52. Begins a symphony that becomes the Faust Overture.
1840 RW meets Franz Liszt. Severe financial problems. Arrangements. Three numbers for Holländer Prose sketch of Der fliegende Holländer, May. Completes Rienzi, WWV 49, November. Essays and stories: On German Music, Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, The Virtuoso and the Artist, A Pilgrimage to Beethoven.
1841 Unhappy in Paris. Friendship with the philologist Samuel Lehrs, who gives RW some ideas for new operatic subjects based on medieval German literature. Remaining music of Der fliegende Holländer, WWV 63, July-November. Text of Der fliegende Holländer, May. Essays and stories: On the Overture, An End in Paris, The Artist and Publicity, Parisian Amusements, Der Freischütz, Parisian Fatalities for the German, A Happy Evening, Rossini's Stabat Mater.
1842 Richard and Minna leave Paris for Dresden, 7 April. Premiere of Rienzi there, 20 October. Sketches for Tannhäuser Essays and stories: Halévy's Reine de Chypre, Autobiographical Sketch.
1843 Premiere of Holländer in Dresden, 2 January. RW appointed Kapellmeister there, 2 February. Starts collecting books. Der Tag erscheint, WWV 68. Das Liebesmahl der Apostel, WWV 69, performed 6 July. Begins music of Tannhäuser. Autobiographical Sketch published, February. Story: Die Sarazenin.
1844 Trauermusik for the reinterment of Weber.
1845 Richard and Minna take the waters at Marienbad. RW reads about Parzival and Loherangrin. Finishes score of Tannhäuser, WWV 70, 13 April. Premiere in Dresden, 19 October. Prose drafts for Die Meistersinger, 16 July, and Lohengrin, 3 August.
1846 Conducts Beethoven's 9th in Dresden, 5 April. Report: Concerning the Royal Orchestra, submitted 2 March. Programme: On the Performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
1847 Conducts his own version of Gluck's Iphigénie en Aulide, 22 February. Reads Aeschylus. Begins music of Lohengrin. Lohengrin
1848 Mother dies, 9 January. RW meets Bakunin. Completes Lohengrin, WWV 75, 28 April. Libretto for Siegfrieds Tod, October-November. Plan for the Organisation of a German National Theatre, submitted in May. Essay: The Wibelungen. Sketch for a drama: Die Nibelungensage (Mythus). Sketch for an opera about Friedrich Barbarossa, WWV 76.
1849 RW participates in the Dresden uprising, narrowly escapes arrest with the help of Liszt and goes into exile in Switzerland. Poem: Die Noth. Scenario: Jesus of Nazareth, WWV 80. Essays: Theatre Reform, January: Man and Established Society, February; The Revolution, April. Art and Revolution, July. The Artwork of the Future, November.
1850 Affair with Jessie Laussot in Bordeaux. Returns to Minna in Zurich. Premiere of Lohengrin in Weimar, 28 August. Sketches for Siegfrieds Tod, August: Norns scene, part of second scene, part of Valkyrie scene. Abandons the work. Prose draft for Wieland der Schmied, WWV 82, March. Essay: Art and Climate, February. Anonymous essay, Judaism in Music, September.
1851 Sketch, May, then poem, June, for Der junge Siegfried. Completes Oper und Drama, 10 January. Essay: A Theatre at Zurich, April. A Communication to My Friends, July-August.
1852 Meets Otto and Mathilde Wesendonck, February. Conducts Holländer in revised version. Poems of Die Walküre, 1 July, and Das Rheingold, 3 November. Works on the text of the opera now called simply Siegfried. Essay: On Musical Criticism, January. Programme notes on Beethoven. Essays: On the Performing of Tannhäuser, Remarks on Performing The Flying Dutchman.
1853 Private publication of the Ring poems. Meets Cosima, February. Infatuation with Mathilde Wesendonck. Piano sonata for Mathilde Wesendonck. Music of Das Rheingold. Programme notes on The Flying Dutchman Overture and Lohengrin Overture.
1854 Minna develops health problems. RW reads Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation (second edition) and his Parerga und Paralipomena. Begins composition of Die Walküre, 28 June.
1855 RW conducts in London, where he makes a particular impact with Beethoven's 9th Symphony. He reads Schopenhauer's "minor works". Revises Faust Overture, January.
1856 RW studies Liszt's symphonic poems. He reads Burnouf's Introduction à l'histoire du Buddhisme indien. Finishes score of Die Walküre, 23 March. Begins composition of Siegfried, September. First musical sketches for Tristan und Isolde, 19 December. Brief prose sketch for a Buddhist opera, Die Sieger, WWV 89, 16 May. New ending for Götterdämmerung, the Schopenhauer ending.
1857 Richard and Minna move into the 'Asyl' in the garden of the Wesendonck's villa, April. Hans and Cosima von Bülow stay with them on their honeymoon, September. Richard's passion for Mathilde is reciprocated. RW breaks off composition of Siegfried on 9 August, to work on Tristan und Isolde, WWV 90. Five songs to poems of Mathilde Wesendonck, WWV 91a. First prose sketch for Parsifal, April or May, now lost. Essay: On Liszt's Symphonic Poems, February.
1858 In January RW escapes from the heat of the 'Asyl' to Paris, where he meets Berlioz. Minna intercepts a letter from Richard to Mathilde on 7 April. Wagner finally leaves the 'Asyl' for good, 17 August. Travels with Karl Ritter to Venice. RW continues to work on Tristan und Isolde
1859 Venice, Lucerne, Zurich. Richard is reunited with Minna in Paris, November. Finishes score of Tristan und Isolde in Lucerne, 6 August. Writes a concert ending for the prelude in Paris, December. Essay: Homage to L. Spohr and W.Fischer, February.
1860 RW conducts his music in Paris. He receives a partial amnesty in Germany but cannot return to Saxony. Programme note: Prelude to Tristan. Essay: Music of the Future, September.
1861 Production of Tannhäuser in Paris is a fiasco, March. RW begins Die Meistersinger, WWV 96, November. Article: On the Production of Tannäuser in Paris, March.
1862 Marital problems continue. RW flirts with Mathilde Maier and has an affair with Friederike Meyer. Last meeting with Minna in Dresden, November.
1863 Conducting tours. RW settles in Penzing near Vienna. Severe financial difficulties. Preface to the Ring poem, April. Article: The Vienna Opera House, October.
1864 Ludwig II becomes King of Bavaria and sends for Wagner. Cosima von Bülow and her two daughters move in with RW, and they settle in Munich. Semper designs a festival theatre for the Ring. Poem: To the Kingly Friend. Essay: On State and Religion.
1865 Richard and Cosima's first child, Isolde, born 10 April. Scandals force Ludwig to banish RW from Munich, 10 December. Premiere of Tristan und Isolde, conducted by von Bülow, Munich, 10 June. Prose draft of Parsifal, 27-30 August. Articles: A Music School for Munich, March; Invitation to 'Tristan' in Munich, April. RW starts to dictate his autobiography Mein Leben to Cosima, 17 July. Essay: What is German?.
1866 Minna dies. Richard moves into the house Tribschen near Geneva. Malvina Schnorr denounces their relationship to King Ludwig.
1867 Daughter Eva born, 17 February. Essay: German Art and German Politics.
1868 Festival theatre project abandoned. Cosima moves into Tribschen with Isolde and Eva, 16 November. First visit from Friedrich Nietzsche. Premiere of Die Meistersinger, conducted by von Bülow, Munich, 21 June. Series of articles following on from German Art and German Politics. Essay: Recollections of Ludwig Schnorr, May.
1869 Son Siegfried born 6 June. RW resumes composition of Siegfried. Premiere of Das Rheingold, Munich, 22 September. Republication of Judaism in Music, with a new preface, March. Essay: On Conducting.
1870 Von Bölows' marriage dissolved, 26 June. Richard and Cosima marry, 25 August. Premiere of Die Walküre, Munich, 26 June. Siegfried Idyll, performed on Cosima's birthday, 24 December. Essay: Beethoven. Comic play: A Capitulation.
1871 Richard and Cosima visit Bayreuth. The town council offers them land. Completion of Siegfried. Kaisermarch. Poem: To the German Army before Paris. Essays: The Destiny of Opera, Reminiscences of Auber.
1872 Foundation stone of the Festspielhaus is layed on 22 May. RW conducts a concert in the Margrave's Opera House, including a performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. Essay: Actors and Singers. Note: On the Name Music-Drama, October.
1873 Essay: The Rendering of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, March.
1874 Wagners move into new house Wahnfried, 28 April. Götterdämmerung and thus the Ring, WWV 86, are completed, 21 November. Essay: Spohr's Jessonda at Leipzig, December.
1875 Concert tour. Preliminary rehearsals for the Ring.
1876 Rehearsals followed by three cycles of the Ring in Bayreuth, beginning 13 August. Richter conducts. Nietzsche attends the festival but is taken ill. Wagner infatuated with Judith Gautier. RW meets Gobineau in Rome.
1877 Concert series in London conducted by RW and Richter fails to cover the losses incurred by the Festival. RW begins composition of Parsifal, WWV 111, September. Prelude performed at Haus Wahnfried on 25 December. Poem of Parsifal, completed 19 April, published in December.
1878 First issue of the Bayreuther Blätter, ed. Wolzogen, January. Cosima catches RW burning letters from Judith, February. Essays: Modern, February; Public and Popularity, July; The Public in Time and Space, September; A Retrospect of the Stage Festivals of 1876, November.
1879 RW supports a campaign against vivisection. Completes short-score of Parsifal, 26 April. Essays: Shall We Hope?, April; On Operatic Poetry and Composition, August; Against Vivisection, October; On the Application of Music to the Drama, October.
1880 Wagner family in Italy. Last meeting with Ludwig, November. Orchestration of Parsifal. Private performance of part of the act I "Grail scene", 22 May. Essays: Religion and Art; What Use is this Knowledge? Program note: Prelude to Parsifal.
1881 Gobineau visits Wahnfried, where RW gets into heated arguments with him. They attend Neumann's production of the Ring in Berlin. RW begins to suffer chest pains. Completes full score of Parsifal act I, 25 April; act II, 20 October. Essays: Know Thyself, Heroism and Christianity.
1882 RW develops heart trouble. First major heart attack, March. Wagners leave for Venice, September. RW completes the full score of Parsifal, 13 January. Premiere 26 July, Bayreuth, conducted by Hermann Levi. Sketches for symphonies, WWV 112. Essays: Parsifal at Bayreuth, November; A Youthful Symphony, December.
1883 Death in Venice, 13 February. Funeral in Bayreuth, 18 February. Incomplete essay: On the Feminine in Humanity.

Wagner Chronology Copyright © 2000-2004 by Derrick Everett. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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