Audio Documentary: Richard Wagner

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday, 3 May 2013 | 4:33:00 am

An episode of "Composer Of The Week" from 2011. Still available to listen to from the BBC Radio 4 website - click link below. Running time 51 minutes.

Donald Macleod introduces Richard Wagner, a composer whose name instantly ignites controversy like no other - a composer whose life was every bit as much of a titanic saga as the epic music dramas he invented. Wagner was a young firebrand of twenty-two when he made his debut as an opera composer with Das Liebesverbot (The Ban on Love), and the premiere was a fiasco with fights on stage even before the curtain rose. His opera Rienzi was much more successful, catching the revolutionary spirit of the time and putting Wagner's name on the map.

As his opera Rienzi is removed from the opera programme in Dresden, Richard Wagner takes to the streets and political storm clouds gather. Wagner shared the revolutionary spirit of 1830s Germany with its political, social, artistic and moral changes. Plus the almost nuclear force of the revolution Wagner detonated on the entire history of tonal music with his astonishing Tristan chord.

Wagner's exile in Switzerland included a period of intense creativity that coincided with the entrance into his life of his second wife, Cosima. Wagner was incredibly happy in their rented villa near Lucerne, accompanied by his young family, a pair of peacocks and two dogs called Wotan and Fricka.

The composer, a left-wing revolutionary who had fought on the streets in Dresden, now brought about a revolution in music with the help of a ridiculously spoiled and pampered monarch, King Ludwig of Bavaria, who happened to be Wagner's number one fan and gave the ever-ambitious composer seemingly limitless financial backing.

Donald Macleod discovers why Richard Wagner took a twelve year break from his work on the Ring Cycle and explores those epic music dramas, from the thunderous music of Siegfried to the monumental funeral music from Gotterdammerung (Twilight of the Gods). Plus a look at Wagner's controversial legacy and his final work, Parsifal, described by one writer as 'opera halfway between Mass and orgy'.
Click Here To Listen