Richard Wagner is one of the most written about people in history so I don’t propose to reproduce all the details of his eventful life here – there’s a perfectly good summary on Wikipedia and on some of the other Wagner websites listed on the Links page, not to mention many biographies, some of which are listed on the Bibliography page. What I will do here though is provide a brief timeline of key dates in the development and early performances of The Ring sequence of operas, or music dramas as Wagner preferred to call them.
22 May 1813 – Richard Wagner born in Leipzig.
1841 – Samuel Lehrs, a philosopher friend in Paris, gives Wagner some ideas for new operas based on German myths and legends.
1848 – Wagner publishes The Nibelung Myth, a “sketch for drama” which combined a number of mythical tales into a single narrative.
1848-1852 – The text for all four dramas is written. Starting with Siegfried’s Tod (Siegfried’s Death) – later to become Gotterdammerung, followed by Der Junge Siegfried (The Young Siegfried), later simply Siegfried. The text for these first two works was completed by May 1851, by which time it was clear to Wagner a further two works were needed to tell the story.
1851 – Announcement, in A Communication to My Friends that Wagner intends to:
“produce my myth in three complete dramas, preceded by a lengthy Prelude. At a specially-appointed Festival, I propose, at some future time, to produce those three Dramas with their Prelude, in the course of three days and a fore-evening. The object of this production I shall consider thoroughly attained, if I and my artistic comrades, the actual performers, shall within these four evenings succeed in artistically conveying my purpose to the true Emotional (not the Critical) Understanding of spectators who shall have gathered together expressly to learn it.”
1953-1857 – After completing the texts in reverse order, the composition of the music began in a more linear fashion with Das Rheingold, proceeding through to the second act of Seigfried after which Wagner paused the work for twelve years.
1869 – Wagner returns to The Ring and completes the remaining music by the end of the year.
22 September 1869 – early premiere of Das Rheingold.
26 June 1870 – early premiere of Die Walkure. Both these early premieres were against Wagner’s wishes, but took place at the insistence of his sponson, King Ludwig II of Bavaria.
1872-1876 The construction of the Beyreuth Festival Hall.
13-17 August 1876 – The first full performances of The Ring.cycle (three full cycles).
13 February 1883 – Wagner dies in Venice.
Next: Das Rheingold