• Reception at Wahnfried House, from an oil painting by Georg Papperitz, 1882
    Reception at Wahnfried House, from an oil painting by Georg Papperitz, 1882 ©null
  • Richard Wagner, 'Reformer' oil painting by Franz Lenbach, 1871
    Richard Wagner, 'Reformer' oil painting by Franz Lenbach, 1871 ©null
  • Richard and Cosima Wagner, 1872
    Richard and Cosima Wagner, 1872 ©null
  • Richard Wagner and family with Heinrich von Stein and Paul von Joukowsky on the garden steps at Wahnfried House, 1881
    Richard Wagner and family with Heinrich von Stein and Paul von Joukowsky on the garden steps at Wahnfried House, 1881 ©null
  • Richard Wagner with Cosima and son Siegfried, 1874
    Richard Wagner with Cosima and son Siegfried, 1874 ©null

“He who lives embraces change”

Richard Wagner was a composer, poet, dramatist, writer, theatre director and conductor, a bon vivant and family man.

He came from an artistic family and had a stormy, unsettled life. It took him from his home city of Leipzig to Dresden, Würzburg, Magdeburg, Riga, Paris, Zurich and Munich. Contentment came at last in Bayreuth, when he realised his dream of building a festival hall.

Wagner was, and still is, a figure of controversy. But his work will always be considered a highpoint of European music history.

Biography of Richard Wagner
1813 – 1830
1813 – 1830

Richard Wagner is born in Leipzig. His father dies shortly after his birth. At the age of eight, Richard also loses his stepfather. He grows up in Dresden and Leipzig without a father and spends periods staying with relatives.

Birth of Wilhelm Richard Wagner on 22 May in Leipzig; his father dies a few months later.

Wagner’s mother marries the actor and poet Ludwig Geyer, a friend of the family; the family moves to Dresden.

Death of Wagner’s stepfather Ludwig Geyer.

1822 – 1827
Wagner attends the Kreuzschule (Church of the Holy Cross School) in Dresden.

1827 – 1830
Wagner is a pupil at St. Nicholas School and St. Thomas school in Leipzig.

1830 – 1833
1830 – 1833

At the age of 17, Wagner celebrates his first musical success. His brother helps him get his first post in Würzburg.

Wagner’s music is performed for the first time: his Overture in B major at the Royal Theatre in Leipzig.

Wagner starts studying music at Leipzig University.

The performance of Wagner’s Concert Overture in D minor at the Gewandhaus concert hall in Leipzig enthrals the audience.

Appointed Choir Director at Würzburg Theatre; composes his first opera ‘Die Feen’ (‘The Fairies’).

1834 – 1840
1834 – 1840

Wagner becomes Music Director in Magdeburg and falls in love with the actress Minna Planer, whom he marries two years later. At Magdeburg, ‘Das Liebesverbot’ (‘The Ban on Love’) becomes the first Wagner opera to be performed in public.

Appointed Musical Director of Magdeburg Theatre.

Premiere of ‘Das Liebesverbot’ (‘The Ban on Love’) in Magdeburg, marries actress Minna Planer in Königsberg.

Takes up posts in Königsberg and Riga.

Heavily in debt, Wagner flees Riga to escape his creditors. He has the idea for his opera ‘The Flying Dutchman’ during a stormy crossing to England in a small sailing boat.

Moves to Paris.

1842 – 1849
1842 – 1849

After rather more unsuccessful sojourns in Riga, London and Paris, Wagner enjoys a resounding success in Dresden with his opera ‘Rienzi, The Last of the Tribunes’. He has finally made his breakthrough as a composer.

Moves to Dresden, triumphant premiere of his opera ‘Rienzi, The Last of the Tribunes’ at the Royal Theatre in Dresden.

Premiere of the opera ‘The Flying Dutchman’ at the Royal Theatre in Dresden.

Premiere of ‘Tannhäuser and the Singers’ Contest at Wartburg Castle’ at the Royal Theatre in Dresden.

Wagner spends ten weeks in Graupa in Saxon Switzerland where he writes the complete compositional sketch for his opera ‘Lohengrin’.

Death of his mother.

Wagner takes part in the May Uprising in Dresden after which he is wanted by the police; he flees to Switzerland.

1850 – 1861
1850 – 1861

Wagner lives in exile in Zurich and Paris. During this time, his opera ‘Lohengrin’ premieres in Weimar thanks to the efforts of Franz Liszt. The performance in Paris of a French version of ‘Tannhäuser’ causes a furore.

Wagner settles in Zurich.

Franz Liszt arranges the premiere of ‘Lohengrin’ in Weimar.

First public reading of the libretto from ‘The Ring of the Nibelung’ in Zurich.

King Johann I of Saxony (1801-1873) grants a partial amnesty which initially allows Wagner to stay in all of the states of the German Confederation except for Saxony. In 1862 Wagner is once again allowed to travel freely within the Kingdom of Saxony.

Performance of ‘Tannhäuser’ in Paris. The production is poorly received by the audience and marred by heckling. After only three performances, Wagner withdraws the opera altogether.

1862 –1865
1862 –1865

Wagner is heavily in debt and has to hide from his creditors; his marriage to Minna finally collapses. It is during this otherwise bleak time that Wagner wins the support of a truly royal patron in King Ludwig II of Bavaria.

Wagner moves to Biebrich near Wiesbaden to write ‘The Mastersingers of Nuremberg’.

Moves to Vienna; concerts in Vienna, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Budapest, Prague and Karlsruhe.

Wagner leaves Vienna to escape his creditors. In Munich he meets King Ludwig II of Bavaria who offers him a post in the city and goes on to support him financially for the rest of his life.

Premiere of ‘Tristan and Isolde’ at Munich National Theatre. Wagner is later forced to leave the city after falling out of favour with the people of Munich.

1866 – 1870
1866 – 1870

Wagner has no choice but to leave Munich although continues to be supported by Ludwig II of Bavaria. He marries Cosima von Bülow, his long-term love and daughter of his friend and advocate Franz Liszt. The operas ‘The Mastersingers of Nuremberg’ and ‘The Rhinegold’ premiere in Munich.

Moves to Lucerne, death of Minna Wagner.

Premiere of ‘The Mastersingers of Nuremberg’ at the National Theatre in Munich.

Premiere of ‘The Rhinegold’ at the National Theatre in Munich.

Marriage to Cosima von Bülow.

1870 – 1883
1870 – 1883

By building the Festival Hall in Bayreuth, Wagner fulfils his long-cherished dream for a place where audiences can completely immerse themselves in music. The complete ‘Ring of the Nibelung’ premieres at the inaugural festival. Among the guests are Franz Liszt, Anton Bruckner, Camille Saint-Saëns, Peter Tchaikovsky, Edvard Grieg, Leo Tolstoy, Paul Lindau, Friedrich Nietzsche and Gottfried Semper.

Moves to Bayreuth, construction starts on the Festival Hall.

Moves into Villa Wahnfried.

Premiere of the ‘Ring of the Nibelung’ at the new Festival Hall.

Premiere of ‘Parsifal in Bayreuth; the Wagner family travels to Venice.

Richard Wagner dies in Venice on 13 February and is laid to rest in the garden of Villa Wahnfried on 18 February.

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