Wilhelm Richard Wagner, known as Richard Wagner, was born on May 22, 1813, “to an ethnic German family in Leipzig … in the Jewish quarter.” His parents were Carl Friedrich Wagner and Johanna Rosine Paetz. The father was a clerk in the police department, and his mother was “the daughter of a baker.”
Wagner was the ninth child of his parents, and his father died of typhus when Wagner was six months old. After his father’s death, his mother moved her family to Dresden to the residence of Ludwig Geyer, an actor and playwright as well as Carl’s friend. There is no record that Johanna married Geyer, but Wagner was known as “Wilhelm Richard Geyer” until he was fourteen years old and apparently considered Geyer as his biological father.
Wagner shared his stepfather’s love for the theater and joined him in his performances. At age seven (1820) Wagner received instructions in piano from his Latin teacher at Pastor Wetzel’s school at Possendorf. He struggled with the keyboard scales and “preferred playing theatre overtures by ear.” He went to boarding school after the death of his stepfather in 1821 with expenses paid by a stepuncle.
At age nine Wagner saw Carl Maria von Weber’s opera Der Freischutz and gained the desire to be a playwright. His first play was Leubald, a tragedy that was “influenced by Shakespeare and Goethe.” With a desire to set his creation to music, he convinced his family to provide music lessons.
The family returned to Leipzig by 1827, and Wagner received his “first lessons in harmony.” He heard Beethoven’s 7th Symphony in January 1828 and his 9th Symphony in March 1828.
Beethoven became a major inspiration, and Wagner wrote a piano transcription of the 9th Symphony. He was also greatly impressed by a performance of Mozart’s Requiem. Wagner’s early piano sonatas and his first attempts at orchestral overtures date from this period.
In 1829 he saw a performance by dramatic soprano Wilhelmine Schroder-Devrient, and she became his ideal of the fusion of drama and music in opera….
In 1831, Wagner enrolled at the Leipzig University…. He took composition lessons with the Thomaskantor Theodor Weinlig. Weinlig was so impressed with Wagner’s musical ability that he refused any payment for his lessons. He arranged for his pupil’s Piano Sonata in B-flat major … to be published as Wagner’s Op. 1. A year later, Wagner composed his Symphony in C major, a Beethovenesque work performed in Praque in 1832 and at the Leipzig Gewandhaus in 1833. He then began to work on an opera, Die Hochzeit (The Wedding), which he never completed.
Wagner was a German composer, theatre director, polemicist (contentious rhetoric that supports a specific position of aggressive claims and undermines the opposing position), and conductor who is primarily known for his operas. Unlike most opera composers, Wagner wrote both the libretto (text) and the music for each of his stage works.”
Wagner was married twice. His first spouse was Cosima Wagner (m. 1870-1883), and his second wife was Minna Planer (m. 1836-1866). There are apparently no children. He was plagued with debt for most of his life and was even exiled from Germany for six years for his political ideas. He died on February 13, 1883, in Cannaregio, Venice, Italy.