By virtue of his innovative harmony, ingenious instrumentation and his conception of the Gesamtkunstwerk, Richard Wagner influenced all the significant composers that followed him. Not even official opponents such as Brahms and Debussy could escape the fascination of his music. The Bayreuth Festival, which has taken place in the opera house designed by Wagner since 1876, is to this day dedicated exclusively to performances of the great musical dramas from the Flying Dutchman to Parsifal. After four generations, the direction of the festival is still in the hands of the family.
His unorthodox theatrical background, his affair and marriage to Franz Liszt’s daughter Cosima, his friendship with Friedrich Nietzsche which ended in discord, the patronage of the Bavarian King Ludwig II, the constant shifts between precariousness and a life of luxury all made the Wagner who died in Venice in 1883, one of the most dazzling artistic figures of the 19th century. His opportunistic anti-Semitism alienates to this day. All chief conductors of the Berliner Philharmoniker from Hans von Bülow to Kirill Petrenko were and are passionate interpreters of Wagner. Herbert von Karajan realised the Philharmoniker’s first complete performance of the Ring des Nibelungen at the Salzburg Festival in the 1960s, Simon Rattle the second in the same place and in Aix-en-Provence almost 40 years later. Sir Simon also conducted acclaimed concert performances of The Valkyrie and Tristan und Isolde in Berlin.