Richard Wagner (1813-1883) was born in Leipzig on May 22, 1813. While growing up he was more interested in drama and poetry than anything else. It was not until his late teen years that he began to take music seriously. Wagner had a very dynamic and forceful personality. He knew what he wanted in life and went to whatever means necessary to accomplish his goals. One can safely say that he lived life on the edge, a characteristic that sometimes got him in trouble with the police and other authorities.
Although Wagner’s only significant works were in the genre of opera, his impact on the entire music world was huge. Only Beethoven had a greater influence on other composers of the romantic era and early twentieth century. Like Beethoven’s music, Wagner’s work had an unsurpassed intensity and dynamic force.
Wagner did not call his compositions operas but referred to them as “music dramas.” His goal was to create what he called Gesamtkunstwerk — “total art work.” His pieces combine music, drama, poetry, dance, art, and stage design in one spectacular event. Wagner wrote the text to each of his operas and based his stories on legends and mythology.
Wagner focused on massive, impressive displays in his art. He expanded the size of the orchestra, adding many more woodwinds and especially brass. Because of the space needed to perform his operas, he had to build his own theater to house his works. King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who lived in the castle where Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was filmed, helped Wagner financially in this endeavor and many others. Wagner’s most monumental effort was his Ring cycle, which was performed – as written – on four consecutive nights totaling more than seventeen hours of performance time.