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Wagner Miscellany

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Born: 22nd May 1813 in Leipzig, Germany.

 

Died: 13th February 1883 in Venice, Italy.

 

Buried: The garden of the Villa Wahnfried in Bayreuth, Germany.

 

There has been more written about Wagner than any other person in history, except Jesus Christ!

A person who likes Wagner’s music a lot is called a ‘Wagnerite’.

‘Wagnerites’ think there is nothing quite like Wagner’s music. It brings out thoughts and feelings that no other music does. When some people hear Wagner’s music for the first time they think it sounds like music they’ve always known, but never heard before! One of these people was C.S. Lewis (the author of the Narnia books).

Queen Victoria’s daughter chose Wagner’s ‘Bridal Chorus’ for her wedding. This is why the ‘Bridal Chorus’ is so popular at weddings today! It is normally played when the bride enters the church. (For the ‘Wedding March’ when the bride and groom walk out of church.

The four operas Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried
and Götterdämmerung form a set known as Der Ring des Nibelungen
(‘The Ring of the Nibelung’, or simply ‘The Ring’). They are meant to be performed together over four days. That’s a lot of music (over 15 hours)!

All of his operas except one are based on myths. These myths mostly come from Germany, Scandanavia and Iceland.

Unlike most opera composers, Wagner wrote the words (libretto) himself.

He didn’t just write music. Wagner also wrote many articles, including ones about politics. He also wrote a famous article about what he thought opera should be like and what it should be about.

He didn’t think the theatres of his day were good enough to stage ‘The Ring’, so he built his own! This theatre is in the German town of Bayreuth (said like ‘Bay-royt’) and is called the Bayreuth Festspielhaus (Bayreuth Festival Theatre).

The Bayreuth Festspielhaus has become something of a ‘temple’ in which to worship Wagner. Every summer there is a festival there of Wagner’s operas (and only Wagner operas!). People have to wait years and years to get tickets to this festival. The festival is also managed by Wagner’s descendants.

When he was young he was very involved in politics. He was also very involved in an attack against the government in Dresden in 1848. He became a wanted man after this and fled to Switzerland, where he lived for many years.

Wagner revolutionized opera by disposing of existing operatic rules and structures. He also created the “Leitmotif” (or leading theme), which is a musical theme that is associated with a main character. For example, in Star Wars, there is a different musical theme associated with Princess Leia, with Luke Skywalker, with Obi-Wan Kenobi, and with Yoda.

The ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ is extremely popular in movies and TV shows, most notably in Apocalypse Now when U.S. soldiers blast this music from their helicopters to terrify the Vietnamese.

He divorced his first wife to marry Liszt’s daughter, Cosima.

The famous proverb “it ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings” in reference to buxom Brunhilde’s 10-minute aria at the end of Wagner’s Ring.