10 Things You Might Not Know About Richard Wagner

1. Wilhelm Richard Wagner (1813-1883), the German composer, director, and conductor, did not take to music as a child. The fact that he did not take piano lessons despite all of his siblings doing so exemplifies this. It would take many years—until Wagner was 18-years-old—for the famous composer to become formally trained.

2. Drawn initially to music for the sake of adding dramatic effects into his plays, Wagner, at the age of 13, wrote a play entitled “Leubald,” which he claimed needed to be set to music. 

3. It took Wagner many years to achieve the acclaim for which he is now known. He achieved true stardom around the age of 15 and blamed his lack of early success upon Jewish influence on his country’s music. In his treatise, Der Judenthem in der Musik, Wagner wrote that the Jews’ music was soulless and characterized by indifference. At the time of the treatise’s publication, the two most influential composers in Germany were Jews.

4. Though he was known to be a vehement antisemite, Wagner was ironically born and raised in the Jewish quarter of Leipzig, Germany. 

5. King Ludwig II of Bavaria sponsored Wagner’s musical endeavors. Not only did he provide Wagner with a stipend, but he also paid all of Wagner’s debts, sponsored his productions, and permitted Wagner to construct the opera house where Wagner premiered his productions, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus.

6. Wagner popularized the Leitmotif—a signature of music that plays whenever a character is seen on stage. In our day, the Leitmotif has been employed in film series such as Star Wars and Harry Potter. 

7. Wagner struggled to remain faithful in his romantic relationships. In one instance of infidelity, Wagner wrote love letters to the wife of a merchant, Mathilde Wesendonck. His then-partner, Minna Planer, intercepted the letter to Wesendonck. It has also been said that Wagner’s death was caused partly by an argument with his wife over his lust for other women. 

8. His first opera never premiered during his lifetime. The libretto was entitled, Die Fien (1833), or, The Fairies, and was not performed until June 28, 1888. Wagner modeled the libretto after La donna serpent, or, The Serpent Woman, by Carlo Gozzi, a comedy surrounding a tragic clash between the worlds of humans and spirits.

9. Wagner was and still is a controversial figure. One catalyst of Wagner’s tainted reputation was Adolf Hitler. Some say that Hitler once remarked that, “Whoever wants to understand National Socialist Germany must know Wagner.”

10. Toward the end of his life, Wagner suffered from angina, a condition in which one suffers from chest pain because of reduced blood flow to the heart. On February 13, 1883, while vacationing in Venice, Italy, Wagner died of a heart attack. He was 69-years-old. 

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