Wilhelm Richard Wagner (22nd May 1813 in Leipzig, Germany – 13th February 1883 in Venice, Italy) was an influential German composer, conductor, music theorist, and essayist, primarily known for his operas (or "music dramas" as he later came to call them). His compositions, particularly those of his later period, are notable for their contrapuntal texture, rich harmonies and orchestration, and elaborate use of leitmotifs: themes associated with specific characters, locales, or plot elements. Wagner's chromatic musical language prefigured later developments in European classical music (Anton Bruckner, Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss et al), including extreme chromaticism and atonality (Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Arnold Schönberg et al). He transformed musical thought through his idea of Gesamtkunstwerk ("total art-work"), epitomized by his monumental four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen (1876). His concept of leitmotif and integrated musical expression was also a strong influence on many 20th century film scores.
Wagner was and remains a controversial figure, both for his musical and dramatic innovations, and for his anti-semitic and political opinions. Wagner was one of Adolf Hitler's favorite composers; the composer's influence on him has been a subject of heated debate ever since the end of World War II.
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