Richard Wagner


Born: May 22nd, 1813 in Leipzig, Germany
Died: February 13th, 1883 (at age 70) in Venice, Italy
Nationality: German
Fields: creating operas, conducting
Famous For: Incredibly detailed operas

Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, polemicist, theatre director and conductor who is well known for his operas. Unlike many composers, Richard wrote both the libretto and the music for each of his stage works. His compositions, especially those of later years, are notable for their rich harmonies, complex textures. Wagner’s great advances in the musical styling, such as extreme chromaticism, greatly influenced the development of classical music.

Early Life

Richard Wagner was born on May 22nd, 1813 in Leipzig, Germany. He was the ninth child of Carl Friedrich Wagner. Six months after his birth, his father died. His mother later remarried. His step father Ludwig Geyer had great interest in theatre and his passion was later shared by his stepson, Richard. He enrolled at Pastor Wetzel’s school near Dresden, where he received his first piano instruction from a Latin teacher. After the death of his step father in 1821, he was sent to Kreuzschule boarding school. Here his love for music grew and he persuaded his family to allow him attend music lessons.

His first lessons in harmony were taken between 1828 and 1831 with Christian Gottlieb Muller. In 1831, he joined University of Leipzig; here, he became a member of Saxon student fraternity. He took lesson with Thomaskantor Theodor Weinlig and a year later Wagner composed his Symphony in C major.


In 1833, Richard Wagner got a position as a choir master at the theatre Wurzburg. At the age of 20, he composed his very first complete opera, “Die Feen.” In 1834, he wrote “Das Liebesvorbot” which was based on Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure.” In 1837, he moved to Riga where he became a music director of the local opera. Due to large debts, Wagner and his wife fled to Paris in 1839. They stayed here until 1842. During this time, Richard made a living by writing articles and arranging operas by other composers. He also managed to complete his 3rd and 4th operas.


In 1824, Richard moved to Dresden where he lived for 6 years. He was appointed Royal Saxon Court Conductor. He also mixed with artistic circles such as the composer Ferninad Hiller and architect Gottfried Semper. During his stay in Dresden, he got involved in left-wing politics. This did not go well with the Dresden administration and he was forced to flee to Zurich.

Switzerland and Paris

Richard spent 12 years in exile from Germany from 1849 to 1858. During this time he completed “Lohengrin,” the last of his middle-period operas. He also wrote the notoriously anti-Semitic “Jewishness in Music” and other criticisms against Jewish authors, composers, critics and conductors. He also wrote Operas and Dramas.

Last Years

In 1862, Wagner finally managed to return to Germany. King Ludwig II was a great fan of Wagner’s work and he invited him to settle in Bavaria, just near Munich. The king supported him financially. He, however, did not stay long in Bravia after his affair with the conductor Hans Bulow’s wife was discovered.


Richard Wagner died of a heart attack on February 13th, 1883 at the age of 69. He died while on vacation in Venice, Italy.