II. Short Bio, Long Life

Information from The International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians,
(11th Edition, edited by Oscar Thompson; Dodd, Mead & Co.; NY, 1985).

Wilhelm Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig, Saxony in May of 1813, the same year as Guiseppe Verdi. Wagner's father, Karl Friedrich, a police-clerk, died when Richard was six months old; his mother, Johanna, remarried the next year. Johanna's new husband, an artist named Ludwig Geyer died in 1821, leaving his brother to fund 7 year old Richard's education. When Richard (he dropped "Wilhelm" from his name during his adolescence) was 11, he began to study the piano but was "more interested in opera" (2406). In 1828, Wagner made his first attempt to compose music after his "first hearing of Beethoven's music" (Beethoven had died the year before).

Throughout his youth and indeed the rest of his life, Wagner pursued the study of the arts of music and poetry with extreme zeal. When he wasn't composing, he was writing, and vice versa. Although Wagner was ruled by his passion for music, he maintained an active social calendar. Wagner married twice. His first wife, Minna Planer, was an actress in the choral company in which Wagner obtained his first post as a conductor. Minna left him and returned to him the year after their marriage. Throughout thirty years of marriage, for the most part, their relationship was estranged. On the other hand, Wagner found a soulmate in the form of Cosima Liszt, the young daughter of the composer Franz Liszt. Wagner and Cosima first met in 1853 when she was just 16. Upon reacquaintance in 1864, they fell in love. Cosima was 27 and married; Wagner was 51 and still married to Minna. After Minna's death in 1866 and after Cosima was able to obtain a divorce from her husband, a man by the name of von Bulow, Wagner and Cosima finally married on August 25, 1870.

As a composer, Richard Wagner's contribution to music was sizeable: he wrote almost 11 operas (10 complete since the first was a fragment), even more orchestal pieces and many other choral and piano works. But, it was the creation of the four opera cycle of Der Ring des Nibelungen that perhaps brought Wagner his greatest sense of personal accomplishment and made him a legend.

Richard Wagner died of a "heart seizure" in Venice in 1883 (2406-7).

[Above right]: Photo of Wagner in 1873. (Engel, Erich W., Richard Wagner's Leben und Werke im Bilde, C.F.W. Siegel's Musikalienhandlung; Leipzig, 1922; 482).


Click here to listen and learn about Leitmotifs

Back to Index of Wagner's Ring

Map of the Teutonic Cosmos

Table of Contents

Wagner and The Ring

Teutonic Mythology
and Wagner's Ring

Symbols in
Wagner's Ring

Symbols in
Teutonic Mythology

Bibliography of Books and Links

Comments or questions?

This site created by Jessica K. McShan on December 17, 1997.