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Richard Wagner is perhaps one of the most influential German composers; not only did he influence musicians, but he also influenced poets, painters, and playwrights. He had an opera house built in Bayreuth, Germany just for the performance of his operas.

Wagner was born in Leipzig into a theatrical family. His boyhood dream was to be a poet and playwright, but at 15 he became enthralled with Beethoven's music and decided to become a composer. He taught himself by studying scores and had almost 3 years of formal musical training in music theory, but never actually mastered playing an instrument. As a student at Leipzig, he dueled, drank, and gambled; and a similar pattern persisted later-he always lived shamelessly off of other people and ran up debts he could not pay.

While he was still married, he fell in love with a woman named Cosima, who was the daughter of Franz Liszt and the wife of Hans von Bulow. She ended up giving birth to 2 of Wagner's children, while still married to the other man. Shortly after Wagner's wife died, he married Cosima.

Wagner was known for being very selfish, ruthless, and enthralled with German nationalism. Unlike most other composers, Wagner wrote his own libretto, usually based on medieval German legends and myths with characters who were gods and demigods. Instead of using typical arias, recitatives, and ensembles, like most other operas, there was a continuous flow of music with no breaks, so there would be no applause to interrupt the opera. He developed a device called the leitmotif, which is a brief, recurrent musical theme associated with a person, an object, or a thought in the drama. Wagner used many dissonances and chromatic tones in his music. This ultimately led to the break down of tonality in the 20th century.

The orchestra in Wagner's operas was just as important as the vocalists; it was not just accompaniment, but played an equal role