Grandiose, dramatic, harmonic and controversial – 200 hundred years after he was born, German composer Richard Wagner continues to inspire and stir debate.
From his musical style to his antisemitic views, and the Nazi government’s use of his music, most people have a view of the composer.
He was born into a poor household on May 22 1813 in the Jewish quarters of Leipzig in the German state of Saxony.
Wagner went on to spend large parts of his life in exile due to his political ideas. After getting involved in an unsuccessful uprising in Dresden he had to flee to Paris and then Zurich.
Director of the Leipzig Opera Ulf Schirmer says Wagner’s popularity comes from his ability to engage with the emotions being felt by the audience.
“Wagner has an unbelievable intensity in his works, and an incredible psychological credibility. He has a way of writing music that speaks directly to our feelings,” explained Schirmer.
Wagner’s operas can be demanding. Das Rheingold, which tells the story of arguments between Norse gods and giants, is two and a half hours long.
Das Rheingold is only the first of four parts which form “Der Ring des Nibelungen”. “The Ring”, as it is called in English, lasts for 16 hours.
According to Schirmer, Wagner’s work marks the start of modern music.
“I think all modern music is influenced by him. Not just modern music in the sense of what we sometimes call “ghetto music” – but all music, rock and pop as well. All of this wouldn’t have been possible without Wagner. He was very important in the development of music, through his harmonies, through his directness, through his bombastic theatre. And artists still base their work on him today,” said Schirmer.
A week of nightly performances of Wagner’s operas is taking place in Leipzig as his birthplace holds a major festival honouring the composer.