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Simon Callow On Richard Wagner

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday 27 April 2014 | 2:07:00 am

Simon Callow on Richard Wagner.

Wagner was not promiscuous, he was serially amorous

An atheist, Wagner immersed himself in the work of Arthur Schopenhauer, who believed that life was essentially an illusion, and that the only contact we have with reality is when we make love. This notion struck Wagner, on the basis of wide personal experience, as deeply true.

He was a sponger and an anti-Semite, an anarchist, a megalomaniac and a serial adulterer.  But German composer Richard Wagner is also considered to be one of the greatest of all time, a man who revolutionised the way classical music, especially opera, was written and performed.

Even now, 130 years after his death, Wagner continues to provoke us, causing more debates than any other composer and dramatically dividing opinion, from Wagnerites like myself who adore his music for its ability to plumb the depths of the soul, to those who despise it for being long, loud and overbearing.

He’s most famous for the epic, mythical opera cycle known as The Ring Of The Nibelungs, although you might know him better for The Bridal Chorus from his 1850 opera Lohengrin, the tune that accompanies every bride up the aisle — better known as Here Comes The Bride.

The Ring Cycle, or simply The Ring, consists of four operas, The Rhine Gold, The Valkyrie, Siegfried and The Twilight Of The Gods, and the full performance takes place over four nights with a total playing time of a monumental 15 hours — Wagner believed that opera was not mere entertainment, but something akin to a sacred ritual.

His personal life was no less epic, characterised by turbulent love affairs, political exile, provocative writing, royal patronage and abject poverty. To know Wagner is to become obsessed by him.

I was just 16 when I got the bug. I saw The Valkyrie at Covent Garden and was knocked sideways by what I thought, and still think, is the most overpowering music ever written. It triggered a lifelong passion; I’ve seen virtually all his operas many, many times.
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