Wanger lived in a reactionary and unsettled time, this restlessness is given a creative voice in his music and the condition of the romantic era man, removed from nature and isolated from communion with humanity is expressed in all of his music but especially in his operas. The morality of Wagner’s work has always been controversial, at best thought a work of a clearly flawed and tortured genius and at worst it is suspected to be steeped in subtle but deep racial hatred. For the purposes of this article I will present Wagner’s taking them at face value, without examining the theory stating that Anti-semitism was inherent to Wagner’s operas. I will use Wagner’s music drama Parsifal as the lens through which we can frame Wagner’s early operas and follow the themes of development to his mature style in this his final opera. Examining Wanger’s developments to music especially as regards the genesis of the music drama and how this contribution changed opera forever. His artistic reform, though not executed to the last detail, accelerated the trend towards organically conceived, through-composed structures, as well as influencing the development of the orchestra, of a new type of singer, and of various aspects of theatrical practice.
Wagner’s early years were filled with turbulence. Opera seemed an inevitability from the start with several of his older sisters becoming opera singers and his own life never lacked operatic drama. However his first all-consuming passion was not music but literature. Wagner was only 11 when he wrote a drama, influenced by Shakespeare and Greek drama, in which 42 characters died in the first four acts, and a lucky few reappeared as ghosts in the fifth act. Four years later Wagner decided to become a composer. His strongest formative influence at this time was his close study of the scores of the masters, in particular the quartets and symphonies of Beethoven. Beethoven was his idol and later in life he would claim to be finishing the work that Beethoven had begun.
Wagner was wilful and rebellious, he enrolled as a student of law at the Leipzig university, but was more interested in drinking, duelling, women and gaming and never completed his degree. Despite his flippancy, Wagner did apply himself quite earnestly to composition. He spent a mere six months acquiring a groundwork in counterpoint with Theodor Weinlig, the cantor of the Thomasschule. After this Weinlig claimed to have nothing more to teach him. Wagner tried to cater to the Romantic era ideal of the original genius, one who is effortlessly inspired and writes music by nearly following the muse and later downplayed his tutelage. Wagner undertook Harmony lessons with a local musician, Christian Gottlieb Müller from 1828-1831. Lessons where initially in taught in secret.
Wagner had a terrible temper and was a unstinting perfectionist. He abandoned his first operatic project,and destroyed another of his first forays into opera after it failed to meet his high...