(1813-1883) German composer. His childhood was divided between Dresden and Leipzig, where he had first composition lessons; his teacher refused payment because of his talent. His first opera, Die Feel (1834), was followed by Der Liebesverbot (1836); the premiere performance was so unprepared that the event was a fiasco, and he henceforth determined not to settle for modest productions. The success of Rienzi (1840) led him to be more adventurous in The Flying Dutchman (1843), and even more so in Tanh"a user (1845). Caught up in the political turmoil of 1848, he was forced to flee Dresden for Zurich. During this enforced vacation, he wrote influential essays, asserting (following G.
W. F. Hegel) that music had reached a limit after Ludwig van Beethoven, and that the 'artwork of the future' would unite music and theater in a Gesamtkunstwerk ('total artwork'). In 1850 he saw Lohengrin produced. He had begun his most ambitious work, The Ring of the Nibelung, a four-opera cycle. The need for large-scale unity brought him to the concept of the leitmotiv.
He ceased work on the Ring's third opera, Siegfried, in the throes of an adulterous love with Mathilde Wesendonk, and wrote an opera of forbidden love, Tristan und Isolde (1859), which also seemed to break the bonds of tonality. He published the Ring librettos in 1863, asking if some German prince would support his artistic dreams, and Ludwig II of Bavaria responded. Shortly thereafter, Co sima Liszt von B"u low became the mother of the first of his children; they married in 1870, after his own wife's death. From the late 1860 s to the early 1880 s, Wagner completed work on Die Meistersinger, Siegfried, G"otter d", and the long-deferred Parsifal, as he also oversaw the building of the great festival theater at Bayreuth (1872-76) that would be dedicated to his operas. His astonishing works made Wagner one of the most influential and consequential figures in the history of Western music, and indeed of Western culture. Bibliography: web.