Richard Wagner

Portrait of Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner was a German composer and theatre director best known for his music dramas which melded words, theatre and music into a single form. He had a special theatre built at Bayreuth in Bavaria, Germany for their performances. He was born on 22nd May 1813 in Leipzig, Germany and died on 13th February 1883 at the palace of Ca Vendramin on the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy aged 69.

Major Works

“The Flying Dutchman” (1843) 
“Tannhäuser” (1845), 
“Lohengrin” (1850), 
“Tristan und Isolde” (1865), 
“The Ring of the Nibelung” (1869–76) 
“Parsifal” (1882)

Biography Timeline

Richard Wagner was born on 16th August 1813 in Leipzig, Saxony, Germany. His father dies in November.

1814: Maria Theresa, his elder sister dies aged four. His mother marries Ludwig Geyer on 28th August.

1817: He starts at the Karl Friedrich Schmidt school.

1820: He has piano lessons.

1821: Ludwig Geyer dies in September.

1822: He sees Carl Maria Weber’s opera “Der Freischutz” in Dresden and he joins the Dresden Kreuz School.

1827: He starts at St Nicholas School in Leipzig. He is confirmed in Dresden, under the surname Geyer.

1829: He sees Beethoven’sFidelio” in Leipzig. His first compositions begin at this time.

1830: He takes violin lessons. On 25th December his “Drum-beat” Overture is played at Leipzig.

1831: He writes Seven Pieces for Goethe’s “Faust.” He begins attending Leipzig University.

1832: He composes the C Major Symphony.

1833: He composes the opera “Die Feen” (which isn’t performed until after his death). In May he stays with his brother Albert at Würzburg and become the Chorus Master.

1834: Back in Leipzig Wagner puts together the libretto for “Das Liebesverbot. He is appointed musical director at a theatre in Lauchstädt where he meets Minna Planer.

1835: He writes the music for “Das Liebesverbot“.

1836:Das Liebesverbot” has its premiere on 29th March in Magdeburg but is not well received. Wagner marries Minna on 24th November..

1837: He becomes music director of Königsberg Theatre. Minni runs away during May, but they are reconciled later. Wagner is appointed musical director at Riga theatre in June. In July he starts sketching out “Rienzi“. His sister Rosalie dies in November. Cosima Liszt is born at Como on 24th December.

1839: Wagner and Minna their creditors in Riga and take a ship to London. He meets Giacomo Meyerbeer in France in August. He composes the first version of his “Faust Overture”.

1840: He completes the “Faust Overture” and meets Franz Liszt. In June he sends Meyerbeer an early draft of “The Flying Dutchman” .

1841: He completes “The Flying Dutchman”.

1842: He starts work on “Tannhäuser”.Rienzi” is first performed in Dresden which is his first major success.

1843: The premiere of “The Flying Dutchman” is given in Dresden and in February he becomes the kapellmeister to the King of Saxony. He reads “German Mythology” by Jacob Grimm and begins composing words for “Tannhäuser“.

1844: He conducts “The Flying Dutchman” in Berlin where he meets Felix Mendelssohn. On 15th December Weber’s funeral is held in Dresden and Wagner composes and conducts the funeral march.

1845:Tannhäuser” is completed in April and he begins work on “Die Meistersinger Von Nurnburg” and “Lohengrin”. “Tannhauser” has its premiere in Dresden on 19th October.

1846: He meets the conductor Hans von Bülow for the first time.

1848: His mother dies on 9th January. He supports revolutionary activities in Vienna and travels there during July.

1849: A revolt takes place in Dresden on 2nd May and he escapes on the 9th, wanted by the police as a revolutionary. He travels to Zurich in Switzerland via Weimar.

1850: In August he makes sketches for Siegfried’s Death which will eventually be used in the Ring Cycle. He publishes “Jewishness in Music” in September.

1851: He conceives the basic shape of the “Ring of the Nibelung Cycle”.

1852: He begins writing the text for the “Ring. In February he meets Mathilde Wesendonck.

1853: In July he takes a health cure in St Moritz, Switzerland and has a visit from Liszt. On 10th October he meets Cosima Liszt in Paris and in November he begins composing music for “Das Rheingold”.

1854: Minna is ill and takes a cure at Lake Lucerne. He composes music for “Die Walküre” during the summer. In September Otto Wesendonck settles some of Wagner’s debts and begins to pay him an allowance. He has an idea for “Tristan und Isolde” in December.

1855: In March he begins conducting a series of eight concerts. He meets Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and also Hector Berlioz whilst there. Back in Zurich he works on “Tristan and Isolda” and thinks about a new project called “Parsifal”.

1856: In March he completes the score for “Die Walkure” and from September onwards he works on “Gotterdammerung“, “Siegfried” (parts of the “Ring Cycle”) and “Tristan and Isolde”.

1857: In August he ceases work on the “Ring Cycle” and it will be another eight years before he takes it up again. Hans and Cosima von Bülow visit the Wagners on 29th August.

1858: He sees Berlioz in Paris and discusses his “Les Troyens“. On 7th April his wife Minna intercepts a letter from Wagner to the poet Mathilde Wesendonck where he declares his feelings for her. He leaves for Venice in August and resumes work on “Tristan and Isolde”.

1859: Due to political pressure he leaves Venice for Lucerne where he completes “Tristan”. He meets up again with Minna in Paris in November.

1860: He receives a partial amnesty, allowing him to return to Germany. (except for Saxony) in September he begins rehearsals for “Tannhäuser” in Paris.

1861: The performance of “Tannhäuser” on 13th March in Paris is not a success. In May he is at a performance of “Lohengrin” in Vienna.

1862: He becomes separated from Minna who blames Mathilde Wesendonck.

1863: He undertakes a large concert tour throughout Europe and then settles in Vienna. He meets the von Bülows in Berlin in November and Wagner and Cosima become soul-mates.

1864: King Ludwig the Second ascends throne in Bavaria in March. Wagner leaves Vienna to hide from his creditors and he is invited to see King Ludwig in May and Cosima joins him in June. In October he is given lodgings in Munich by the King who says he wants to build him a festival theatre.

1865: A daughter, Isolde, is born to Cosima and Wagner on 10th April. The premiere of “Tristan and Isolde” takes place in Munich on the 10th June conducted by Hans von Bulow, Cosima’s husband.

1866: Minna dies in Dresden on 25th January. Cosima joins him in Tribschen, near Lucerne, Switzerland. By now the scandal over his relationship with Cosima has become common knowledge.

1867: Cosima gives birth to a daughter, Eva, on the 17th February. Hans von Bülow is appointed Kapellmeister to King Ludwig in April. Wagner returns to Munich in December.

1868: The premiere of “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg” is successful in Munich on 21st June. Wagner meets Friedrich Nietzsche in Leipzig on 8th November.

1869: He resumes work on the “Ring Cycle”. In May Nietzsche comes to Tribschen, the first of many visits. His son Siegfried is born on 6th June. “Das Rheingold” receives its premiere in Munich on 22nd October despite his own opposition.

1870: Die Walküre premieres in Munich on 26th June the same day as Cosima and Hans’ marriage is dissolved. He marries Cosima in Lucerne on 25th August and he writes the “Siegrfried Idyll” for her to be performed privately on Christmas Day.

1871: He completes the third part of the “Ring Cycle”, “Siegfried” in February. He announces that the first Bayreuth Festival will be held in 1873 on a site provided by the local council.

1872: Friedrich Nietzsche sends him a copy of his book “The Birth of Tragedy“. He lays the foundation stone for the Festspielhaus on 22nd May.

1873: He begins work on the score for last part of The Ring. He begins the full score of “Gotterdammerung” but announces that the festival will be postponed in Bayreuth until 1875. Anton Bruckner visits him in September.

1874: King Ludwig gives a loan towards the new building knowing he will never get the money back. The Wagners move into Wahnfried house in April.

1876: The first Bayreuth Festival finally takes place with “Das Rheingold” performed on 13th August, “Die Walkure” on 14th August, “Siegfried” on 16th August and “Gotterdammerung” on the 17th. Wagner meets Friedrich Nietzsche for the last time in December at Sorrento in Italy.

1877: He meets Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle, England during a tour.

1879: He works on the text for “Parsifal”.

1880: The first performance of the “Parsifal Prelude” is given for King Ludwig in Bavaria on 30th October. Wagner and he have their last meeting on the 12th and he returns to Bayreuth.

1881: “The Ring Cycle” is performed in Berlin in May. On 5th November the Wagner’s move to Palermo in Sicily.

1882: He completes “Parsifal” in Sicily on 13th January. He has a major heart attack in March and returns to Bayreuth in May. The premiere of “Parsifal” takes place at Bayreuth on 26th July. The Wagners move to Venice in September, staying at the Palazzo Vendramin. Franz Liszt visits them there in December.

Richard Wagner dies on 3rd February 1883 in Venice, Italy and he was buried back at Wahnfried in Bayreuth, Bavaria, Germany on 18th February.