A Look at Richard Wagner’s Unfinished Masterpieces

This undated photo shows German composer Richard Wagner. The 200th anniversary of Richard Wagner's birth is May 22, and the world's opera houses and symphony halls are filled with his music this year along with the compositions of Giuseppe Verdi, whose 200th birthday is Oct. 10. (AP Photo/Trinquart, File)

For many Richard Wagner is the greatest composer in the history of opera. The German master, born on May 22, 1813, revolutionized not only how opera was created, but he also changed the direction of musical composition, among other things.

Everyone knows him for the 10 operas that he wrote, starting with “Die Fliegende Holländer” and concluding with “Parsifal,” though there is some growing interest in his first three works (“Die Feen,” “Das Liebersberbot” and “Rienzi”) that preceded this masterful oeuvre. Essentially, Wagner put together 13 operas, an output that looks rather small when one considers the sheer volume of other contemporaries and composers that preceded him.

And yet, if Wagner had completed everyone opera that he set out to compose, we might have an output as massive as Verdi or other composers that came before.

Here is a quick look at the other works that Wagner attempted, but never completed.

Die Laune des Verliebten (The Mood of the One in Love)

This was the composer’s first ever attempt at opera. He was 17 when he wrote, it basing it on awork by Johann Wolfgang Goethe. He wrote the libretto and a few scenes, but it ultimately never went anywhere and no music or text has survived.

Die Hochzeit (The Wedding)

 At 19 years of age, Wagner attempted this work, completing the libretto and starting musical composition. However, upon learning of his sister’s disgust for the opera, he destroyed it, with only three musical pieces surviving to this day.

Die Hohe Braut (The High-born Bride)

Wagner sketched out a libretto in the late 1830s before completing the text by 1842. He never actually composed the music, though Jan Bedrich Kittl did, altering the title of the work to “Bianca und Giuseppe.”

Männerlist größer als Frauenlist oder Die glückliche Bärenfamilie (Men Are More Cunning Than Women, or The Happy Bear Family)

What a title right? This unfinished singspiel came right before “Rienzi.” The book of the opera, written by Wagner has been around for a while, though the full text and a few musical sections with piano accompaniment have been recently discovered. The composer himself described the work as being “in a light neo-French style” but quite the work because he felt “disgust” at writing it.

Two numbers from the work were given their UK premieres in October 2007 with a full score and vocal score published by Music Haven in 2012.

The plot features a jeweler trying to find his way out of a marriage to an ugly daughter of a baron. There is also a “dancing bear.”

Die Sarazenin (The Saracen Woman)

Written between 1841-42, Wagner wrote a libretto based on the Lord Byron character “Manfred,” though he never set it to music.

Die Bergwerke zu Falun (The Mines of Falun)

Wagner sketched out this work in 1842, which he based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann.

Between Lohengrin and Das Rheingold (48-53)

After the composition of “Lohengrin,” Wagner’s productivity dropped immensely with the composer needing seven years before the completion of his first Ring opera. In the meantime, he spent a great deal of time thinking about different operas and ultimately never doing anything with those ideas.

Fredrich I

 Among the projects he considered was a music drama based on Frederick I of Prussia, though he wrote neither libretto or music.

Jesus von Nazareth (Jesus of Nazareth)

This opera, which was to be based on the Christian messiah, only saw the composer complete a prose draft of the libretto. However, he never wrote any music and it is believed that some of his work on this subject wound up in his final masterwork “Parsifal.”

Achilleus (Achilles)

 Yet another opera that featured a draft of the libretto but no musical composition.

Wieland der Schmied (Wieland the Smith)

Wagner’s professed love for Berlioz’s “Romeo et Juliette” symphony inspired this work. The composer wrote a draft of the libretto in late 1849 and early 1850 and was published as an appendix to his essay “The Art-Work of the Future.”

If you look through it, you might find a lot in common with many of his other mature works, but he abandoned it when he realized that it would not fulfill his main aim, which was to provide a work for the Paris Opera.

The work did eventually find life in the hands of composer Jan Levoslav Bella in the late 1880s.

Between “Die Walküre” and “Tristan und Isolde”

After composing two of the greatest works of all time and preparing to writing four more masterpieces, one might not imagine Wagner having more projects left on the cutting table. And yet there are two final operas from the mature composer that never saw the light of day.

Die Sieger (The Victors)

This opera seemed to be based on a Buddhist section. There was a prose outline and even some musical sketches, which are believed to have been used in later operas.

Luthers Hochzeit (Luther’s Wedding)

This work saw an interesting choice of subject matter. After delving into the mythological for so long seeing Wagner toy with a historic subject seems a bit strange. And yet he put together a sketch for this piece, which related Martin Luther and his decision to marry Katherina von Bora.

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About the Author

David Salazar
Prior to creating OperaWire, DAVID SALAZAR, (Editor-in-Chief) worked as a reporter for Latin Post where he interviewed major opera stars including Placido Domingo, Anna Netrebko, Vittorio Grigolo, Diana Damrau and Rolando Villazon among others. His 2014 interview with opera star Kristine Opolais was cited in a New York Times Review. He also had the opportunity of interviewing numerous Oscar nominees, Golden Globe winners and film industry giants such as Guillermo del Toro, Oscar Isaac and John Leguizamo among others. David holds a Masters in Media Management from Fordham University. During his time at Fordham, he studied abroad at the Jagiellonian University in Poland. He also holds a dual bachelor’s from Hofstra University in Film Production and Journalism.

1 Comment on "A Look at Richard Wagner’s Unfinished Masterpieces"

  1. Sheila Clemett | May 22, 2017 at 9:46 am | Reply

    It’s interesting that these are not based on Nordic mythology. It could be that Wagner’s music style was too epic for the subject matter of most of these works. I would have loved for him to have taken on the rest of the Arthurian legends.

    Since today is the anniversary of his birth, I’ll pop in a DVD of PARSIFAL later.

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