Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner was one of the most revolutionary figures in music, and dominated the development of classical music from about 1850 to 1875, a quarter-century, significantly, in which not a single new symphony was produced that entered the permanent standard repertoire. Wagner, like all the composers in this article, was also a "theatre man, " with virtually all his important work being for the operatic stage. He did write a pair of youthful symphonies, an overture, some egregiously cheap commemorative works on commission, a masterly song cycle, and a lovely chamber piece. But his reputation rests only on his operas, and his presence in concert halls consists vitually without exception of overtures, preludes, and other excerpts from his operas. However, his music is so symphonic in nature, that he is the only opera composer whose operatic excerpts you are more likely to encounter at the symphony rather than at vocal recitals. His advances in harmonic thinking, in particular, unalterably changed the language of classical music, and his quest for an operatic form as a seamless drama changed the way that all composers have faced the task of composing opera. He is also one of the most controversial figures in musical history, whose written tracts are full of philsophical meandering. Most controversially in an article in which he attacked Meyerbeer's music, he took a stand against what he called "Hebrew flavor" in music for which he has been judged an anti-Semite. There are writers who argue that he was not anti-Semitic, but the issue has been clouded by the use of Wagner's music and symbolism as part of the mythos of Nazi Germany, and the ardent welcome his heirs gave to Adolf Hitler and Nazi ideas as the Fuhrer's hosts at Wagner's festival theatre in Bayreuth. The Nazi government's use of Wagner was so pervasive that to this day musical organizations in Israel refrain from playing Wagner's music out of respect for the painful associations it recalls to many who survived that era.