German Composer, Richard Wagner, His Painful Migraines, and the Opera Siegfried

Source of Featured Image of painting of Cosima Wagner (née Liszt), Richard Wagner, Franz Liszt and Hans von Wolzogen (by Wilhelm Beckmann, 1881):

Richard Wagner Museum, Lucerne, Switzerland

Dear Pain Matters blog readers,

Richard Wagner, a gifted composer, suffered from intense migraines for more than 4 decades of his life.  He described these painful and severely disabling migraine attacks as the main plague of his life‘.    

Top pain researcher, Professor Hartmut Göbel (Kiel Headache and Pain Centre, Kiel, Germany), recently published a paper called:

Compulsive plague! pain without end!” How Richard Wagner played out his migraine in the opera Siegfried.

Many of Wagner’s compositions reflected his own deep suffering due to his recurring painful migraines.  For example, an episode portraying a painful migraine is vividly acted out in the opera Siegfried (third part of the Ring Cycle).  Wagner’s personal experience with severe migraines is mirrored in this scene, where the music starts off with a pulse-like thumping that becomes increasingly intense.  The audience experiences this as ‘a directly tangible almost painful pulsation….this frightening headache sensation.  Mime (Siegfried’s foster father, in the opera Siegfriedis seen pounding with his hammer, creating the acoustic trigger for the musically induced throbbing, painful perception (quoting from the paper by Göbel et al).


Source of image:

The string instruments were played to correspond to 16 Hz at a tempo of 120 beats per minute (close to a typical migraine aura).  The listener may become aware of an ‘almost painful pulsation‘.  Thus, the opera Siegfried was able to precisely mirror Wagner’s own suffering due to debilitating and painful migraines!

For more information, please view:

Is it possible that the opera Siegfried may ‘acoustically transfer’ Wagner’s painful migraine experience to today’s listeners, albeit transiently (via ‘entrainment‘ and ‘vibrational resonance‘)?

The term, ‘Composer’s Pulse’, was coined by the renowned Manfred Clynes (born 1925), who found that each composer has his/her own unique ‘Composer’s Pulse’.  Thus, Wagner’s ‘Composer’s Pulse’ could incorporate the temporal and spatial neural patterns that underpinned his debilitating and painful migraines.

Thus, while certain types of music may be therapeutic and relaxing, others may (transiently) induce physical pain in some listeners (depending on the type of music).  It is already known that music can induce emotions causing listeners to cry, laugh, etc, depending on the music.

Stay tuned for music and its ability to also lessen pain ….

Have a great day,

Sabina Walker


(1) Göbel CH, Göbel A, Göbel H; “Compulsive plague! pain without end!” How Richard Wagner played out his migraine in the opera Siegfried

Carl Göbel and colleagues explain why listening to Wagner might give you a headache

British Medical Journal (BMJ) 12 Dec 2013; 347

(2) Göbel A, Göbel CH, Göbel H; Phenotype of migraine headache and migraine aura of Richard Wagner; Cephalalgia (2014); 0333102414527645, first published on March 28, 2014

(3) How Richard Wagner’s operas held secrets of his disabling migraines

Research: “Compulsive plague! Pain without end!” How Richard Wagner played out his Migraine in the Opera Siegfried (13.12.2013)

(4) How Wagner’s operas held secrets of his disabling migraines, headaches (December 13, 2013)

(5) Why Wagner’s operas may give you headaches

(6) The migraine suffering of Richard Wagner (28 March 2014)

References for German readers and listeners:

(1) Richard und Cosima Wagner: Ehekrach wegen Migräne

(2) Wie Richard Wagner das Geheimnis seiner Migräne in der Oper Siegfried verbarg

(3) Das Migräneleiden von Richard Wagner aufgeklärt

(4) Göbel H; NDR Kulture Klassik à la carte; NDR Kultur (16 January 2017, 13:00 – 14:00),sendung604696.html

2 thoughts on “German Composer, Richard Wagner, His Painful Migraines, and the Opera Siegfried”

  1. What insightful and interesting ideas posed about Wagner’s music. I’ll listen with a more tuned ear now. Can’t wait to hear about the music that lessens pain. Thanks a lot Sabina – a wonderful blog.


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