Composer, librettist, essayist and philosopher (of sorts), Richard Wagner (1813-1883) was one of the towering figures of the nineteenth century. Against all odds, he managed to pull off an astounding coup when he had a theatre built in the town of Bayreuth expressly to his specifications and expressly for the performance of his works. The Bayreuth Festival Theatre was inaugurated in 1876 with the first ever stagings of his epic work The Ring of the Nibelung (often abbreviated to the Ring), which consists of four full-scale operas. Composition of the Ring occupied Wagner for the better part of a quarter century. Typically for Wagner, he wrote both words and music. His other works include Tristan and IsoldeLohengrinParsifalThe Flying Dutchman and The Mastersingers of Nuremberg. He also wrote a small quantity of non-theatrical music but, compared to his other works, it holds a marginal place in his output. Wagner believed that music’s rightful place was alongside words in the service of drama, hence his focus on music for the stage. Despite Wagner’s reputation for Teutonic severity, countless brides have walked down the aisle to ‘Here Comes the Bride’, possibly unaware that it comes from Act III of Lohengrin. Other famous excerpts from his stage works include ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’ and ‘Siegfried’s Funeral Music’, both of which are from the Ring. A notorious anti-Semite, Wagner was by all accounts a rather unpleasant person. That said, he was an extraordinarily gifted composer and a tremendously influential figure. Indeed, he was the progenitor of a movement in art and literature known as Wagnerism.

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