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  Richard Wagner (1813-1883)


wagner(Wilhelm) Richard Wagner German romantic composer noted chiefly for his invention of the music drama. His cycle of four such dramas The Ring of the Nibelung was produced at his own theatre in Bayreuth in 1876. His other operas include Tanhäuser (1845 revised 1861), Tristan and Isolde (1865), and Parsifal (1882).

Wagner in Dresden (1814-49)
- his concern for animals seems to have been strengthened during this time after the hunting incident mentioned above in 1832, though he did not yet appear to have any interest in vegetarianism. However, Dresden is of some significance for IVU as the venue of the first Congress in 1908, and the Centenary in 2008.

Extracts from 'Richard Wagner' by Hans Gal (1963), translated by Hans-Hubert Schöenzeler (1976):

[introduction]. . . Wagner himself took good care that there should be sufficient biographical material. This begins with a sketch from the time of Rienzi (Dresden 1842) . . .

[1 Childhood and Youth 1813-1839] Wilhelm Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig on 22 May 1813 . . . In 1814 the family moved to Dresden, where Geyer [stepfather] had become a member of the Hoftheater. . . . Der Freischultz in particular made an indelible impression on him, especially as Weber, then Hofkapellmeister in Dresden, was on a very friendly footing with the Geyer family. [he spent his High School years back in Liepzig, then moved around various theatres, and in 1836, age 23, married Minna Planer in Königsberg] . . . Half a year after their marriage Minna fled back to her parents in Dresden, because she could not stand the strain of life with Wagner. He dropped everything and followed her [they remained in Dresden for the summer of 1837 then to Riga, now in Latvia].

[2. Years of Dearth 1839-42] [the Wagners fled Riga, heavily in debt and went to Paris] . . . he needed money. First he tried his friends in Dresden, whom he bombarded with letters asking them to push the Rienzi performance . . . now, as result of his tangible prospects in Dresden, his moneyed relatives at long last did something for him . . . After seven days in the stage coach he and Minna reached Dresden on 12 April 1842, and he immediately went to see the General Director . . . at the theatre. . . .the performance could not be billed earlier then the autumn, which meant that for another six months the Wagners had to live on borrowed money. . . . 20 October 1842 was the day of the premiere [at the Hoftheatre] . . . the evening was an unqualified triumph for the composer. . . Rienzi always had full houses and remained in the repertoire up to the time of the catastrophe which forced Wagner to leave Dresden seven years later.

[3. Hofkapellmeister to the King of Saxony 1843-1849] . . . as a mature artist he now in Dresden entered on a period of most practical and creative activity. As a direct result of the Rienzi success he was offered the post of a Hofkapellmeister . . . and suddenly he was rid of all his money worries. [Der fliegende Holländer was scheduled for Berlin but delayed] . . . but Dresden had beaten Berlin to it: after the sensational success of Rienzi, which had remained in the repertoire as a box-office draw, the Hoftheatre had immediately begun preparations for the Holländer, and the première took place on 2 January 1843 [with limited success]. . . . both Rienzi and Der fliegende Holländer were published in full and vocal score by the Dresden music dealer Meser, who also undertook distribution for a modest commission. . . . Wagner was disappointed that his operas did not make their way more quickly. But Dresden just was not Paris, and his success was limited locally. . . . The continued success of Rienzi in Dresden gained Wagner much popularity, but he reaped no material harvest.

In his work as a conductor he found much greater satisfaction . . . In Dresden Wagner became the great conductor who was to be the shining example for a whole generation of young artists . . . and Wagner truly be considered the ancestor of the modern-style conductor. . . . His work at the Hoftheatre showed a marked predilection for the operas of Gluck, Mozart, Beethoven and Weber, under his direction the concerts of the Hofkapelle, which until then had only been sporadic events, now became a permanent institution. . . . he completed the Tannhäuser score in April 1845. . . At his initiative the mortal remains of Weber were exhumed in London and brought to Dresden, the town of his one-time artistic sphere.

. . . Tannhäuser had it's première on 19 October 1845. It was the most significant event of the Dresden years, that most fruitful period of Wagner's life [he began his interest in Germanic and Nordic myths at this time, as well as Greek drama]. . . . Robert Schumann, who was then living in Dresden and who knew Wagner personally, although the two never really came close to each other.

. . . Wagner's last years in Dresden were characterised by a state of progressively increasing irritation. Once again the primary cause was his indebtedness, but another reason for his rebellious mood against the existing conditions was an increasing realization of his artistic dissatisfaction. . . . Every hour of leisure was dedicated to his work on Lohengrin [he became involved with ideas of revolutionary socialism - there are references to meat being served in the household so he had not yet begun his vegetarian ideas] . . . "It was clear to me that my artistic activity in Dresden was drawing to a close, and also that my position there was a burden of which I wanted to rid myself." [revolutionary activities followed in Dresden] . . . Wagner's description of those revolutionary days in Dresden deserves a place amongst the masterpieces of German prose style. [Wagner became directly involved in the fighting, during which the opera house was burned down, he fled the city and a warrant was issued for his arrest, he then fled again to Paris].

[4 Exile 1849-1861] [Minna had returned to Dresden but was reluctantly persuaded to join her husband who had now gone to Zurich. Friends from Dresden provided him with financial support. His anti-semitism was apparent around this time, with a pamphlet on 'Judaism is Music'. By 1857 he was coming under the influence of the philosopher Schopenhauer, who in turn was influenced by Buddhism.]

[5. Nomadic Years 1861-1864]

[6. The Pride and the Glory 1864-1883] . . . a new creation which demanded every ounce of his energy. It was his last work, Parsifal, the first conception of which also goes back to that inexhaustibly creative Dresden period. . . . On 13 February 1883 a heart attack put an end to his life.


- The letter quoted at the top of this page to Ernst von Veber, 19 October, 1879, was sent to Dresden where von Weber had apparently founded and anti-vivisection society. It is not clear whether Wagner ever visited there in his later years, but he did maintain contact with some of his Dresden friends.

According to the Vegetarier Bund Deutschland (May/June 1992 issue of Der Vegetarier) the first Vegetarian Society in Dresden was founded in 1881. Around this time there was also a natural health (vegetarian) sanatorium in near Dresden, run by Dr. Heinrich Lahmann, and by the time IVU was founded in 1908 there were four vegetarian restaurants in the city.