Theodor Uhlig

Last updated
Uhlig's piano arrangement of Richard Wagner's opera Lohengrin Uhlig lohengrin.jpg
Uhlig's piano arrangement of Richard Wagner's opera Lohengrin

Theodor Uhlig (15 February 1822 – 3 January 1853) was a German violin-player, composer and music critic. He was the illegitimate son of Frederick Augustus II of Saxony. [1]


Uhlig and Wagner

Born in Wurzen, Saxony, and orphaned at a young age, Uhlig showed such musical talent that he was singled out for musical training, which led to becoming a violinist in the Dresden orchestra at the age of 19. In the following year (1842), Richard Wagner came to Dresden for the premiere of his opera, Rienzi , and remained in the city as Kapellmeister until his flight following the May Uprising in the city of 1849 (in which he had taken a leading part).

Although originally opposed to Wagner, Uhlig quickly became a passionate convert. A tangible sign of his devotion was his arrangement of Wagner's opera Lohengrin for piano. Uhlig defended Wagner in magazine articles and reviews; Wagner wrote of him in his autobiography Mein Leben that he

grasped with clear understanding and perfect agreement those very tendencies of mine which many musicians of apparently wider culture than his own regarded with almost despairing horror.[ This quote needs a citation ]

During the early years of Wagner's exile from Germany, Uhlig remained one of his most important contacts and the source of an extensive correspondence until Uhlig's early death in 1853 in Dresden from consumption. Although Uhlig's letters to Wagner have not survived, there are nearly 100 letters from Wagner to Uhlig from 1849 to 1853, many of them very lengthy. [2] In these, the composer is often very frank about his own moods and depression, and frequently abusive of others, including mutual friends (e.g. accusing his former secretary Ritter of onanism). [3]

Uhlig in part repaid Wagner by a series of articles, published in 1850, caustically attacking the opera Le prophète by Wagner's supposed enemy, Giacomo Meyerbeer. In a series of six essays in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik , entitled "Contemporary Reflections", Uhlig castigated the music of the opera and attacked Meyerbeer personally, not least as a representative of "Hebraic art-taste" (Meyerbeer was Jewish). [4] Wagner picked up on this phrase as an excuse to launch his virulent attack "Jewishness in Music". Uhlig was involved in the negotiations for the publication of this pamphlet. [5]

Wagner later dedicated to Uhlig his major essay Opera and Drama. It was also to Uhlig that he first wrote of his intentions to create his Ring Cycle as a series of four operas. [6] In this letter, Wagner asks Uhlig to 'borrow' for him a book that he needs about the Völsunga saga from the Dresden Royal Library.

Uhlig as composer and critic

Uhlig's compositions, which are now completely forgotten, were extensive (running up to opus number 84). They included orchestral and chamber works, songs and Singspiele. He also wrote thoughtfully about other musical topics, including the music of Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Liszt, and on phrase structure in music. [1]


  1. 1 2 Warrack, John; Deaville, James (2001). "Uhlig, Theodor". Oxford Music Online . doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.28718.
  2. Wagner (1870), 1–304
  3. Weiner (1997), 341–342
  4. Commons-logo.svg Media related to Article no. 6 of the series at Wikimedia Commons
  5. Wagner (1870), p. 69, letter of 20 September 1850
  6. Letter of 12 November 1851, Wagner (1870) 137–140


Further reading

Related Research Articles

Richard Wagner German composer (1813–1883)

Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, theatre director, polemicist, and conductor who is chiefly known for his operas. Unlike most opera composers, Wagner wrote both the libretto and the music for each of his stage works. Initially establishing his reputation as a composer of works in the romantic vein of Carl Maria von Weber and Giacomo Meyerbeer, Wagner revolutionised opera through his concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk, by which he sought to synthesise the poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts, with music subsidiary to drama. He described this vision in a series of essays published between 1849 and 1852. Wagner realised these ideas most fully in the first half of the four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen.

Das Judenthum in der Musik Antisemitic work on music theory by Richard Wagner

"Das Judenthum in der Musik" is an essay by Richard Wagner which attacks Jews in general and the composers Giacomo Meyerbeer and Felix Mendelssohn in particular. It was published under a pseudonym in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (NZM) of Leipzig in September 1850 and was reissued in a greatly expanded version under Wagner's name in 1869. It is regarded by some as an important landmark in the history of German antisemitism.

Giacomo Meyerbeer German-born opera composer

Giacomo Meyerbeer was a German opera composer of Jewish birth, "the most frequently performed opera composer during the nineteenth century, linking Mozart and Wagner". With his 1831 opera Robert le diable and its successors, he gave the genre of grand opera 'decisive character'. Meyerbeer's grand opera style was achieved by his merging of German orchestra style with Italian vocal tradition. These were employed in the context of sensational and melodramatic libretti created by Eugène Scribe and were enhanced by the up-to-date theatre technology of the Paris Opéra. They set a standard which helped to maintain Paris as the opera capital of the nineteenth century.

<i>Rienzi</i> Opera by Richard Wagner

Rienzi, der letzte der Tribunen is an early opera by Richard Wagner in five acts, with the libretto written by the composer after Edward Bulwer-Lytton's novel of the same name (1835). The title is commonly shortened to Rienzi. Written between July 1838 and November 1840, it was first performed at the Königliches Hoftheater Dresden, on 20 October 1842, and was the composer's first success.

Grand opera 19th-century opera genre

Grand opera is a genre of 19th-century opera generally in four or five acts, characterized by large-scale casts and orchestras, and lavish and spectacular design and stage effects, normally with plots based on or around dramatic historic events. The term is particularly applied to certain productions of the Paris Opéra from the late 1820s to around 1850; 'grand opéra' has sometimes been used to denote the Paris Opéra itself.

Ferdinand Hiller

Ferdinand (von) Hiller was a German composer, conductor, pianist, writer and music director.

<i>Der Ring des Nibelungen</i>: composition of the text

The evolution of Richard Wagner's operatic tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen was a long and tortuous process, and the precise sequence of events which led the composer to embark upon such a vast undertaking is still unclear. The composition of the text took place between 1848 and 1853, when all four libretti were privately printed; but the closing scene of the final opera, Götterdämmerung, was revised a number of times between 1856 and 1872. The names of the last two Ring operas, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, were probably not definitively settled until 1856.

Wagner controversies Controversies surrounding German composer Richard Wagner

The German composer Richard Wagner was a controversial figure during his lifetime, and has continued to be so after his death. Even today he is associated in the minds of many with Nazism and his operas are often thought to extol the virtues of German nationalism. The writer and Wagner scholar Bryan Magee has written:

I sometimes think there are two Wagners in our culture, almost unrecognizably different from one another: the Wagner possessed by those who know his work, and the Wagner imagined by those who know him only by name and reputation.

<i>Opera and Drama</i>

Opera and Drama is a book-length essay written by Richard Wagner in 1851 setting out his ideas on the ideal characteristics of opera as an art form. It belongs with other essays of the period in which Wagner attempted to explain and reconcile his political and artistic ideas, at a time when he was working on the libretti, and later the music, of his Ring cycle.

Art and Revolution

"Art and Revolution" is a long essay by the composer Richard Wagner, originally published in 1849. It sets out some of his basic ideas about the role of art in society and the nature of opera.

Brühl (Leipzig)

The Brühl is a street in the centre of Leipzig, Germany, just within the former city wall. Until the 1930s, it was the international centre of fur trade.

The Artwork of the Future

"The Artwork of the Future" is a long essay written by Richard Wagner, first published in 1849 in Leipzig, in which he sets out some of his ideals on the topics of art in general and music drama in particular.

"Music of the Future" is the title of an essay by Richard Wagner, first published in French translation in 1860 as "La musique de l'avenir" and published in the original German in 1861. It was intended to introduce the librettos of Wagner's operas to a French audience at the time when he was hoping to launch in Paris a production of Tannhäuser, and sets out a number of his desiderata for true opera, including the need for 'endless melody'. Wagner deliberately put the title in quotation marks to distance himself from the term; Zukunftsmusik had already been adopted, both by Wagner's enemies, in the 1850s, often as a deliberate misunderstanding of the ideas set out in Wagner's 1849 essay, The Artwork of the Future, and by his supporters, notably Franz Liszt. Wagner's essay seeks to explain why the term is inadequate, or inappropriate, for his approach.

Minna Planer

Christine Wilhelmine "Minna" Planer was a German actress and the first wife of composer Richard Wagner, to whom she was married for 30 years, although for the last 10 years they often lived apart. At an early age, she had an illegitimate daughter with a Royal Saxon Army officer, whom she raised as her own sister. After a stormy courtship, which involved infidelities on both sides, she married Richard Wagner in 1836.

Theodor Hell

Theodor Hell was the pseudonym of Karl Gottfried Theodor Winkler, a court councillor (Hofrath) in Dresden from 1824, who was the centre of literary life through his work as editor, translator and critic. He was the theatrical secretary from 1815.

<i>Mein Leben</i> (Wagner) Autobiography of the German composer Richard Wagner

Mein Leben is the title given by the composer Richard Wagner to his autobiography, covering the years from his birth in 1813 to 1864.

"Eine Mitteilung an meine Freunde", usually referred to in English by its translated title of "A Communication to My Friends", is an extensive autobiographical work by Richard Wagner, published in 1851, in which he sought to justify his innovative concepts on the future of opera in general, and his own proposed works in particular.

Moritz Fürstenau

Moritz Ludwig Carl Ignaz Franz August Fürstenau was a German flautist and music historian. He left only a few works that gained little significance, but was extremely helpful as a theater historian.

Ferdinand Praeger

Ferdinand Praeger was a composer, music teacher, pianist and writer. He is now best known for his controversial biography of Richard Wagner, Wagner As I Knew Him, published in 1892 after Praeger's death.