Wagner, Richard

Richard Wagner – the greatest German composer of the XIX century, had a significant impact on the European music development, as well as on the world artistic culture in general. The composer’s interests focused entirely on the opera genre relatively early. Beginning from his first opus - romantic opera “The Fairies” (1834), and up to the musical mystery drama “Parsifal” (1882), Wagner remained steady committed to the serious musical theater that was transformed and updated by his efforts.

At first, Wagner had no intentions to reform the opera - he followed the established traditions of musical performance, strove to master the achievements of his predecessors. While German romantic opera became the role model in “The Fairies”, he was guided by the traditions of the French comic opera in the opus “Das Liebesverbot” (1836).
However, these early creative works did not bring him recognition – Wagner’ life was not easy in those years; he roamed around Europe as an ordinary theatrical musician. For some time, he worked in Russia, in the German theater in Riga (1837-39).
Wagner, like the majority of his contemporaries, was attracted by the universally recognized cultural capital of Europe - Paris. The glittering hopes of the young composer faded when he faced the life’s indignities and had to live the life of poor musician-foreigner, taking odd jobs.
Turn for the better happened in 1842, when he was invited to the famous opera house in Dresden, the capital of Saxony. He was offered a position of bandmaster. Wagner finally got the opportunity to introduce the theater audience to his opuses, and his third opera “Rienzi” (1840) received recognition from the public.

Three operas, adjacent to the Dresden period, have a lot in common. In those opuses, the composer still tends towards to the Romanticism traditions. Nevertheless, Wagner cherished new ideas even while he was the court music director. The revolution that broke out in several European countries in 1848 and did not bypass Saxony, gave the impulse to his intentions. It was in Dresden, where the armed uprising against the reactionary monarchical regime burst out. Wagner's friend, the Russian anarchist M. Bakunin, headed it. With inherent vehemence, Wagner took an active part in this uprising and after its defeat had to refuge in Switzerland. Difficult period started in the composer’s life - hence, it was very productive for his creative work.

Wagner rethought and comprehended his artistic viewpoints, moreover, formulated the main art missions in his theoretical works. One of them, the tractate "Opera and Drama" (1851) was especially significant. He embodied his ideas in the monumental tetralogy "The Ring of the Nibelung" - the main creation of his entire life.

The keystone of this epic creation, which was performed for four theatrical evenings consecutively, were sagas and legends, dating back to the pagan antiquity. Tetralogy content, including the  musical dramas "The Rhinegold" (1854), "Valkyrie" (1856), "Siegfried" (1871) and "The Fall of the Gods" (1874), is very multifaceted. Numerous characters that enter into the complicated relations with each other, and sometimes join the cruel, irreconcilable fight.

Wagner’s vast intentions required completely new, unparalleled means of implementation, new operatic reform. The composer practically completely abandoned the customary structure – the accomplished arias, choirs, ensembles. Protensive actors’ monologues and dialogues that melted into the endless melody replaced them.

The main feature of Wagner opera reform is associated with the orchestra special role that is not limited by supporting the vocal melody. The orchestra is leading its own line, sometimes even coming at the forefront. Moreover, the orchestra becomes the bearer of the action meaning – due to leitmotifs that become the symbols of characters, situations, and even abstract ideas. Leitmotifs smoothly pass into each other, sound simultaneously when combined, constantly mutate, but each time they are recognized by the listener who has firmly grasped the meaning assigned to them. On a larger scale, Wagner's musical dramas are divided into detailed, relatively finished scenes, with the vast waves of emotional ups and downs, and the tension arising and its soothing.

Wagner started realization of his great intention in the years of Swiss emigration. Hence, the impossibility to see the result of his titanic work been staged, broke down even such hard working person - the tetralogy composing was interrupted for many years. Only the unexpected twist of fate - the support of young Bavarian King Ludwig, re-energised the composer and helped him to complete, perhaps, the most monumental work in the musical art, the result of one person's efforts. Special theater was built in the Bavarian city of Bayreuth for the tetralogy production. The entire tetralogy was performed for the first time in this theater in 1876, exactly as Wagner conceived it.

 In addition to "The Ring of the Nibelung”, Wagner composed three more fundamental opuses in the second half of XIX century. They are operas "Tristan and Iseult" (1859), "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg" (1867) and "Parsifal” (1882).
Wagner holds exceptional position in the European music of  XIX century - it is hard to name a composer who would not have experienced his influence.

 M. Tarakanov, http://www.belcanto.ru/wagner.html