A Youthful Symphony by Richard Wagner on his 200th Birthday.

Richard Wagner c.1840, by Ernest Benedikt Kietz(Photo: Wikipedia)
Richard Wagner c.1840, by Ernest Benedikt Kietz(Photo: Wikipedia)

Richard Wagner was born 200 years ago today.  He is, of course, one of the greatest opera composers of all time.  In the 19th Century, only Giuseppe Verdi, who was also born in 1813, could be considered his equal.   The debate over the relative merits of German opera versus Italian opera, as exemplified by these two musical giants, will never be settled, and maybe they don’t need to be.  To each his own.  It is interesting, though, that early in his career Wagner had symphonic ambitions influenced very much by Ludwig van Beethoven.

This evening on Symphony @ 7, we’ll have the rarely heard, and Beethoven-inspired, Symphony in C.  Wagner wrote this full-scale four-movement symphony in the summer of 1832 when his was 19 years old.  He had been greatly moved by a performance he heard of Beethoven’s Seventh symphony, and some of that feeling made its way into his own symphony.

Apparently Clara Wieck heard a performance of Wagner’s symphony in December of 1832 and wrote a letter to her future husband, Robert Schumann, and may have been chiding him, implying that he had a musical rival and perhaps should consider writing a symphony himself to establish his place in the musical world, rather than a piano or vocal work.  As we know, it took Schumann about eight more years to get around to completing his own first symphony, after he was finally able to marry the love of his life, Clara.

That Wagner went on to establish his own lasting musical influence primarily as a composer of operas is well-known.  It is intriguing though, that just two months before his death, Wagner made some revisions to his youthful Symphony in C  for a performance in Venice at Christmas in 1882.

If you wonder what he may have heard, join me this evening for music of Richard Wagner, not from an opera, here on Symphony @ 7 on Classical 101.  In the meantime, here’s a sample: