Culture and Recreation


What does Wagnerian mean?

It is a reference to anything that is in the style of German composer Richard Wagner (1813–1883). Wagner was an enormously creative composer, conductor, and artistic manager who is credited with no less than originating the music drama. His interest in theater began in his boyhood, and by his teens he was writing plays. So that he could put music to these works, he sought out composition teachers. It is no surprise then that Wagner later conceived of the idea of the “total work of art,” where music, poetry, and the visual arts are brought together in one stunning performance piece.

As an adult, Wagner led a scandalous life—even today challenging the music-listening public to separate his life from his art. He was someone modern audiences would recognize as a truly gifted and charismatic—if amoral—artist, working on a grand scale. Were he alive now, Wagner might well be creating blockbusters. In fact his musical compositions are heard in movies (including Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now) and are familiar to even the youngest audience today—or at least those who watch Bugs Bunny cartoons.

But this is not to take away from Wagner’s serious accomplishments: His most widely recognized operatic works include Lohengrin (1848), the Ring cycle (1848–74), and Tristan und Isolde (1859). In the decades after his death, Wagner’s reputation grew to the point that through the end of the nineteenth century his influence was felt by most every composer, who often referred to Wagner’s works in measuring the value of their own.


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