(1813-1883) German composer, the most widely significant theorist and Opera composer/librettist of the 19th century. His concept of Gesamtkunstmusik – through which the interdependence of music, words and stagecraft was argued as being as necessary to any art capable (as he declared his own operas were) of fully expressing the soul of a nation – had a revolutionary effect on the world of music, and a perhaps less happy effect on the world in general. The idea that opera could express the soul of a nation was dependent upon the equally radical belief that nations had souls; the history of the 20th century has amply demonstrated the perniciousness of the concept.
Ten of RW's 13 completed operas are fantasies. The Fairies (1833), from Carlo Gozzi's La Donna Serpente, is set in Faerie. The Flying Dutchman (1843) is a classic Flying-Dutchman story. Tannhäuser (1845) and Lohengrin (1850) are dramatizations of German Legends. The Ring cycle – Das Rheingold (1853), Die Walküre (1856), Siegfried (1856-1871) and Götterdämmerung (1869-1874) – incorporates much Teutonic mythology. Tristan and Isolde (1859) expands a sidebar to the Arthur cycle into an extraordinary love story, involving a famous love Potion. Parsifal (1882) is also set within the Arthurian cycle (> Perceval).
The long dramatic poems which RW set to music are highly readable in their own right. [JC]