Wagner

Part of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers, covering fourteen of the giants of Western classical music

 

Extracted from Michael Steen’s book The Lives and Times of the Great Composers, these concise guides, selected by The Independent’s editorial team, explore the lives of composers as diverse as Mozart and Puccini, reaching from Bach to Brahms, set against the social, historical and political forces which affected them, to give a rounded portrait of what it was like to be alive and working as a musician at that time..

No other composer is at once so revered or so reviled as Richard Wagner. Yet his contribution to opera is immense. His reputation rests on ten epic operas which are constantly performed worldwide, without speaking of the annual festival of his music at Bayreuth, the opera house which he designed and built to stage his works. Four of these operas, Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Gotterdammerung, make up the monumental 15-hour Ring cycle, based on old Norse-Germanic sagas. Many of the others hark back to medieval and Arthurian legends, often dramatising the conflict between the sacred and profane, the sensual and spiritual. Using leitmotifs – themes which symbolise characters and elements in his opera – Wagner introduced a new musical vocabulary.

Endless affairs, twice married, constantly on the run for either political or financial reasons, a prolific writer, an indefatigable composer, Wagner was also, as Michael Steen's narrative shows, a monster of egoism. A revolutionary in his youth, Wagner escaped to Zurich, only to be forced to move on when the businessman bankrolling him was about to uncover Wagner's affair with his wife. He was then lavishly supported in Munich by the ‘Mad King’ Ludwig II of Bavaria, until the king's ministers objected. Once in Switzerland, Wagner was joined by Cosima von Bülow, Liszt's daughter and the wife of a conductor, who became his second wife and helped him realise his dream at Bayreuth.

£0.99

kindle kobo ibook

Click here to explore other Independent eBooks

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London