Wagner, Richard

BORN 22 May 1813, Leipzig - DIED 13 Feb 1883, Venezia: Palazzo Vendramin
REAL NAME Wagner, Wilhelm Richard
GRAVE LOCATION Bayreuth, Bayern: Villa 'Wahnfried' (in the garden)

Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig. The man who was officially his father, a clerk at the police court, died when he was very young. His mother soon married the painter Ludwig Geyer and possibly he was Wagner's real father. When he was seven the family moved to Dresden, where he received his first musical education at the Dresdner Kreuzschule. Geyer died when Wagner was only eight years old, but he had already inspired a taste for art in the boy.

Under the influence of Goethe and Shakespeare he wrote the tragedy "Leubald und Adelaide" at a very young age. He started a series of diaries around the age of twenty, already convinced of his own genius and his future fame. After attending performances of works by Weber and Beethoven he switched to music. In April 1829 he saw Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient as Leonore in Beethoven's "Fidelio" and he was deeply impressed.

He entered Leipzig university in 1831. After he obtained an engagement as choir director at the Würzburg theatre he started his opera "Die Feen" and he finished it in 1834. In 1836 he married the singer Minna Planer. He went to Königsberg with her to become musical director at the theatre, allthough at the time Minna was probably more wanted as a leading actress than Wagner was wanted himself. Soon afterwards the theatre went bankrupt and Wagner was left behind without payment. An engagement in Riga followed, but he spent too much money and in 1839 he had to flee from his creditors.

Wagner tried to find himself a place in the world of opera in Paris (1839-1842). Allthough he became friendly with the great Meyerbeer he failed and almost starved to death from poverty. Even so he finished his opera "Rienzi" and when it was performed in Dresden on October 20th, 1842 (with Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient singing) it was an overnight success. In 1843 it was followed by "Der Fliegende Hollander" ("The Flying Dutchman") and in that same year he was appointed Kapellmeister in Dresden.

Allthough Wagner had a stable income now, his debts rose to enormous heights because he continued to live far beyond his means. In his Dresden years he completed "Tannhäuser" (first performed on 19 Oct 1845) and "Lohengrin". The latter was rejected by the opera in Dresden and was first staged in Weimar in 1850. In 1848 he supported the revolution that was rising in Saxony. The revolution failed and where people like Bakunin were captured, Wagner managed to flee to Jena, to his friend Franz Liszt who had supported his work from an early stage. He had first met Liszt in 1841 in Paris. Wagner initially was little interested in Liszt's compositions, but at a certain point he realized that there was much depth in them. From that point the men were always eager to hear each other's compositions, even when their friendship became clouded by the constant demands of Wagner and by his affair with Liszt's daughter Cosima.

Wagner remained in exile until 1860 and during this time Lohengrin turned into a huge success. In 1850 in Zurich he wrote an anti-semitic piece on Jewishness in music which was partly an attack on Meyerbeer. In 1853 he first met Cosima Liszt, the young daughter of Franz Liszt. In Zürich he was supported by Mathilde and Otto Wesendonck and he lived in a cottage behind their villa near Lake Zürich. Mathilde (1828-1902) became his muse and his music to her poems resulted in the 'Wesendonck Lieder'. In 1858 his wife Minna intercepted a love letter to Mathilde and their liaison ended. It is unclear if they were lovers. In 1860 he was granted amnesty in Germany except for Saxony. In 1862 a full amnesty followed.

From 1864 onwards king Ludwig II of Bavaria supported him financially. This enabled the production of "Tristan and Isolde", "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg", "Das Rhinegold" , and "Die Walküre". Wagner's influence on the king was regarded as dangerous and in combination with a personal scandal he was forced to leave Munich. This scandal was his liaison with Liszt's daughter, who had married his conductor and friend Hans von Bülow in 1857. Cosima bore Wagner a daughter in 1865 (Isolde) that was accepted by Von Bülow as his own. From 1866 onwards Wagner lived at Tribschen (near Lucerne) with Cosima. By the time he married her in 1870 they had three children. Their daughter Eva was born in 1867 and their son Siegfried was born in 1869.

Wagner devoted himself now to the completion of his epic work "Der Ring des Nibelungen", about a struggle between the gods and mankind. It consisted of four parts, "Das Rheingold", "Die Walküre", "Siegfried" and "Die Götterdämmerung". Under his direction a new theatre was built in Bayreuth (in Bavaria) where his complete Ring was first performed from 13 to 17 Aug 1876. Gounod, Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saens and Liszt, they were all there to witness these first Bayreuther Festspiele. Judith Gautier (1845-1917) was also present and she was the master's muse during the event, allthough it's not clear if there affair was consummated or not. After the Festspiele Judith an intimate correspondence followed. Judith sent her letters to Wagner's barber Schnappauf, but after Cosima caught him burning some of the correspondence early in 1878, they had to put an end to the affair.

Wagner continued his writings on musical and political themes, among them 'racial purity'. In 1882 he completed his final opera "Parsifal" in Palermo. It was performed on 25 Jun 1882 in Bayreuth during the second Festspiele. The work had put a serious strain on Wagner and he died of a heart attack on 13 Feb 1883 in Venice. On the morning of his death he had an argument with Cosima after the announcement of a visit by Carrie Pringle, one of the 'flowermaidens' at the festival of 1882. Wagner withdrew to his study and the excitement probably caused the heart attack. Two days before his death he had dreamt of Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient and told Cosima that the women of his life had passed before his eyes.

Wagner was buried in the garden of his villa Wahnfried in Bayreuth. Cosima became the guardian of his work and managed the 'Festspiele' in Bayreuth. She survived him until 1930. His son Siegfried tried hard as a composer, but his opera's were little succesful. Siegfried preferred men above women, but pressed by Cosima he married the young Winnifred Williams, who bore him four children. A few months after his mother's passing away Siegfried died from a heart heart attack, like his father.

During his life Richard Wagner had several mistresses. Apart from Judith Gautier and Mathilde Wesendonck he was involved with Jessie Laussot (1829-1905), Mathilde Maier (1833-1910) and Friederike Meyer. He also had a short liaison with Cosima's older sister Blandine and only after her death in 1862 he started his affair with Cosima.

• Mother: Wagner, Johanna Rosina
• Daughter: Bülow, Isolde von
• Son: Wagner, Siegfried
• Daughter: Bülow, Eva von
• Wife: Liszt, Cosima (1870-, Luzern: Matthäuskirche)
• Wife: Wagner-Planer, Minna (1836-1866, Königsberg: Kirche von Tragheim)
• Sister: Marbach, Johanna Rosalie

Related persons
• had work performed by Bausewein, Kaspar
• employed Brandt, Carl
• cooperated with Bülow, Hans von
• was written about by Chamberlain, Houston Stewart
• was admired by Draeseke, Felix August Bernhard
• was visited by Draeseke, Felix August Bernhard
• was admired by Fantin-Latour, Ignace Henri Jean Théodore
• employed Fischer, Franz von
• cooperated with Friedrich-Materna, Amalie
• employed Gudehus, Heinrich
• was criticized by Hanslick, Eduard
• cooperated with Hiller, Ferdinand
• was admired by Holmès, Augusta
• employed Humperdinck, Engelbert
• was a friend of Klindworth, Karl
• was written about by Kolb, Annette
• cooperated with Lehmann, Lilli
• was painted by Lenbach, Franz von
• was admired by Liszt, Franz
• was influenced by Liszt, Franz
• had work performed by Lorenz, Max
• admired Lüttichau, Ida von
• knew Makart, Hans
• is brother/sister of Marbach, Johanna Rosalie
• was admired by Mendès, Catulle
• was influenced by Meyerbeer, Giacomo
• was visited by Meysenbug, Malvida, Freiin von
• cooperated with Mottl, Felix
• met Parsons, Albert Ross
• detested Perfall, Karl Theodor Emanuel Freiherr von
• was supported by Porges, Heinrich
• was a friend of Pusinelli, Anton
• was a friend of Richter, Hans
• was admired by Rohde, Erwin
• admired Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Ludwig
• was influenced by Schopenhauer, Arthur
• admired Schröder-Devrient, Wilhelmine
• created works that weren't liked by Schumann, Clara Josephine
• knew Spyri, Johanna
• quarreled with Strauss, Franz Joseph
• knew Tausig, Karl
• had work performed by Tichatscheck, Joseph Aloys
• visited Viardot-Garcia, Pauline
• was influenced by Weber, Carl Maria von
• had a relationship with Wesendonck, Mathilde

1829/4/0: Wagner sees Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient in Beethoven's Fidelio
She played the part of Leonore and the sixteen years old Wagner was deeply impressed.
1831/12/25: Richard Wagner's "Concert Overture in d minor" is performed in Leipzig
1837/4/1: Richard Wagner obtains the position of musical director at Königsberg
It was a relatively unimportant position and he mostly obtained it because he had married the actress Minna Planer in 1836. Minna was engaged at the theatre in Königsberg.
1842/10/20: Premiere of Richard Wagner's opera "Rienzi" in Dresden
It was a huge succes. Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient was Adriano and Joseph Tichatschek was Rienzi.
1843/1/2: Premiere of Richard Wagner's opera "Der Fliegende Holländer" in Dresden
The premiere was supposed to take place in Berlin but it eventually it was in Dresden. Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient was Senta.
1849/2/16: Liszt conducts the premiere of Wagner's Tannhäuser in Weimar
An earlier version was first performed in Dresden in 1845. In 1849 Wagner was in exile in Switzerland.
1849/5/13: Wagner arrives in Weimar
He had been forced to flee from Dresden and in Weimar he attented a probe of his Tannhäuser that was conducted by Franz Liszt. Then news arrived that Wagner would be prosecuted and he left Weimar.
1853/10/6: Liszt visits Wagner in Basel
With him was a group of supporters, among them Hans von Bülow. They came from Karlsruhe where the music festival had and they stayed until Saturday.
1853/10/10: First meeting between Richard Wagner and Cosima Liszt
1860/7/0: Act Two of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde is performed at the house of Pauline Viardot
It was performed by Pauline Viardot, Richard Wagner himself and Karl Klindworth. Hector Berlioz and Marie Kalergis, in whose honour the event was organised, were present.
1862/11/1: Hans and Cosima von Bülow meet Richard Wagner in Leipzig
There was a concert where Hans von Bülow would play Liszt's new piano concert and Wagner would conduct the Tannhäuser ouverture and a new prelude to "The Meistersinger". Wagner's young friend Wendelin Weissheimer would also present his work. Wagner later stated in his autobiography that at this day he experienced his first feelings for Cosima and that he hardly noticed the music.
1863/11/28: Richard Wagner and Cosima Liszt become lovers
Wagner was staying in Berlin because Cosima's husband Hans von Bülow had asked him to attend a concert. When Von Bülow was busy with the repititions Wagner and Cosima made a coach ride during which they confessed to each other that they belonged together. That night Wagner was staying in Von Bülow's house.
1865/4/10: Hans von Bülow conducts the first repetition of "Tristan und Isolde"
On the same day his wife Cosima bore a daughter, that was named Isolde. Isolde's father was Richard Wagner, the composer of "Tristan and Isolde".
1867/10/24: Wagner completes his opera "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg"
1868/6/21: Premiere of Wagner's "Die Meistersinger von Nünberg"
It was staged in Munich in the presence of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Hans von Bülow was the conductor. Ludwig insisted that Wagner would sit next to him in the royal box. after the first act the public was very entousiastic and demanded to see the composer. But Wagner didn't show himself. Only after the last act he rose to accept the ovation of the public. This caused a schandal because it was considered inappropriate that a composer received the honours of the public standing next to the king.
1869/9/22: Premiere of Richard Wagner's "Das Rheingold" in Munich
1870/6/26: Premiere of Wagner's "Die Walküre" at the Hoftheater in Munich
Wagner wanted to stage it in 1871, but Ludwig II of Bavaria was the legal owner of the piece and didn't want to wait. Wüllner was the conductor and Joachim, Brahms, Saint-Saëns and Liszt were in the audience. Wagner wasn't there and Ludwig also stayed away. He had decided to wait for the second performance so that he would be able to see "Das Rheingold", that would be staged again during the summer, and "Die Walküre" in the right order.
1871/2/5: Wagner completes his opera Siegfried
1873/9/0: Bruckner visits Wagner in Bayreuth
Bruck asked Wagner if he could dedicate his third symphony to him and Wagner approved.
1877/4/19: Wagner completes the textbook of Parsifal
1881/11/5: Wagner arrives at the Hôtel des Palmes in Palermo
He had travelled from Munich to Verona and then from Napoli to Palermo. His family was with him and they occupied rooms 24, 25 and 26.
1882/1/13: Wagner completes Parsifal in Palermo
1882/1/15: Auguste Renoir sketches Richard Wagner in Palermo
Renoir later used the sketches for his oil painting of Wagner.
1882/3/28: Richard Wagner suffers a heart attack in Palermo
He survived the heart attack and on 2 April he was able to make a daytrip to Taormina.
1882/6/25: Wagner's Parsifal is first performed in Bayreuth
Wagner himself conducted the last act of the first performance. It was Wagner's last work and it would be stage another sixteen times that year.
1883/2/18: Richard Wagner is buried in the garden of his house Wahnfried in Bayreuth
1923/8/30: Hitler speaks at the Villa Schönberg in Zürich
The villa Schönberg was built on the spot where his idol Richard Wagner once lived.

• Gutman, Robert, Richard Wagner, Der Mensch, sein Werk, seine Zeit, Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, München, 1989
Richard Wagner: Biography
• Eger, Manfred, Richard-Wagner-Museum Bayreuth, 1995


The Wagner monument in Munich.
Picture by Androom (24-08-1996)


The grave of Richard and Cosima Wagner in the garden of the villa Wahnfried in Bayreuth, Bavaria.
Picture by Androom (25-08-1996)


Plaque for Richard Wagner in Leipzig at the place where his birth house stood until 1886.
Picture by Androom (10 Feb 2005)


Socle by Max Klinger for a Wagner statue that was never realised. It was placed at the Klingerhain in Leipzig.
Picture by Androom (10 Feb 2005)


Bust of Richard Wagner at the Schwanenteich, Leipzig.
Picture by Androom (08 Feb 2005)


Richard Wagner, painted by Franz von Lenbach.


Head of Richard Wagner in front of the Nibelungenhalle at the Drachenfels in Königswinter.
Picture by Androom (23 Apr 2005)


Bust of Richard Wagner in the garden of the Schönberg villa (near the Wesendonck villa). He lived there in a cottage next to the Wesendoncks.
Picture by Androom (18 Aug 2005)


The Villa Schönberg stands at the spot of the former Riegelhaus (or Asyl") where Richard Wagner lived and worked from 1857 to 1858. The Riegelhaus was owned by Otto and Mathilda Wesendonck who sold it in 1872. The present villa was built in 1882.
Picture by Androom (18 Aug 2005)


The house in Tribschen where Richard Wagner once lived is now a Wagner museum.
Picture by Androom (19 Aug 2005)


The house in Tribschen where Richard Wagner once lived is now a Wagner museum.
Picture by Androom (19 Aug 2005)


The house at Hadikgasse 72 in Vienna where Richard Wagner lived (1863-1864).
Picture by Androom (23 Aug 2005)


Plaque at the house at Hadikgasse 72 in Vienna where Richard Wagner lived (1863-1864).
Picture by Androom (23 Aug 2005)


The house at Graupa near Dresden where Richard Wagner lived. It is now a museum.
Picture by Androom (27 Aug 2005)


The couch on which Richard Wagner died in Venice is now in his house Wahnfried in Bayreuth.
Picture by Androom (24 Jan 2006)


The house at Kapuzinerstrasse 40 in Würzburg where Richard Wagner lived in 1833.
Picture by Androom (01 Mar 2009)


The house at Kapuzinerstrasse 40 in Würzburg where Richard Wagner lived in 1833.
Picture by Androom (01 Mar 2009)


Richard Wagner statue by Arno Breker near the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth.
Picture by Androom (02 Mar 2009)


The grave of Richard Wagner in the garden of the villa Wahnfried in Bayreuth.
Picture by Androom (02 Mar 2009)


Plaque for Richard Wagner at the Hotel Imperial in Vienna.
Picture by Androom (12 Aug 2010)


Head of Richard Wagner at the Wagner Kulturpfad in Graupa near Dresden, Saxony.
Picture by Androom (28 Aug 2012)


The statue of Richard Wagner by Richard Guhr at the Liebenthaler Grund near Liebenthal, Saxony.
Picture by Androom (28 Aug 2012)


Statue of Richard Wagner at the Tiergarten, Berlin.
Picture by Androom (26 Aug 2013)


The Richard Wagner statue in Leipzig.
Picture by Androom (29 Aug 2013)


The Richard Wagner statue in Leipzig.
Picture by Androom (29 Aug 2013)


Plaque for Richard Wagner at the Palazzo Vendramin in Venice.
Picture by Androom (13 Feb 2016)


Plaque for Richard Wagner at the Palazzo Vendramin in Venice.
Picture by Androom (13 Feb 2016)


Café Lavena where Richard Wagner used to to go when he stayed in Venice.
Picture by Androom (15 Feb 2016)


Statue of Richard Wagner in Leipzig.
Picture by Androom (04 Aug 2016)


Wagner, Siegfried

Published: 1 Jan 2006
Last update: 29 Jan 2017