Richard Wagner was born on May 22nd, 1813, in Leipzig, Germany during the Napoleonic wars.
His father Friedrich Wagner died of typhus shortly after he was born. He was introduced to music and theatre by his step-father, actor Ludwig Geyer.
Wagner’s early idols were Ludwig van Beethoven and William Shakespeare.
Second only to Beethoven, Wagner was one of the most influential composer’s of the 19th century. His German Romantic operas demand such intense levels of stamina and power that even today there are few performers who can properly convey many roles such as Tristan and Isolde, Brunnhilde, and Siegfried.
Wagner desired to do away with earlier Italian and French styles of opera. From this he developed Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total work of art”, a style of opera in which all aspects, including music, philosophy, acting, and stage design are all equally as important.
Later in life his polemical ideas and essays were more well-known than his compositions. He published an essay which ruthlessly attacked Jewish musicians, including Felix Mendelssohn.
Years after Wagner’s death, his writings on anti-semitism were adopted by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
Richard Wagner died of a heart attack in Venice, Italy on February 13th, 1883, at the age of 69.