The Romanian-born German composer, pedagogue, pianist, and clavichordist, Rudolf Wagner-Regeny, entered the Leipzig Conservatory as a piano pupil of Robert Teichmueller in 1919. In 1920 he enrolled at the Berlin Hochschule fuer Musik as a student in conducting of Rudolf Krasselt and Siegfried Ochs, in orchestration of Ernil Reznicek, and in theory and composition of Friedrich Koch and Franz Schreker.
Rudolf Wagner-Regeny first gained notice as a composer with his theater pieces for Essen. In 1929 he met the designer Caspar Neher, who found fame through his association with Kurt Weill. Neher wrote the texts for Wagner-Regeny's best-known operas. In 1930 he became a naturalized German citizen, and married a woman who was half-Jewish. Between 1930 to 1945 he worked as a freelance composer and teacher. With the rise of the Nazis was promoted by a faction of the party as a composer of the future. He functioned reasonably well as a composer during the Third Reich. His works were performed by Karl Boehm and Herbert von Karajan. However, the success of his opera Der Guenstling (Dresden, February 20, 1935) was followed by his supporters' doubts regarding his subsequent output, ending in a scandal with his opera Johanna Balk at the Vienna State Opera (April 4, 1941). His friend, the local Gauleiter Baldur von Schirach, was well-known for his penchant for high culture. The premiere of this opera inspired the ire of Goebbels. As punishment, Wagner-Regeny was drafted into the military in 1942 (or 1943). He was fortunate enough to land a desk job in the army and survive.
After the close of World War II, Rudolf Wagner-Regeny opted for East instead of West Germany. He was director of the Rostock Hochschule fuer Musik from 1947 to 1950. In 1950 he was appointed as a professor of composition at the (East) Berlin Hochschule fuer Musik and at the Academy of Arts. He continued to work there until 1968.
As a composer, Wagner-Regeny struggled to find a musical language distinct from the extremes of modernism but without any association with fascist aesthetics. His early compositions were inspired by Ferruccio Busoni, Kurt Weill and Arnold Schoenberg. His theater co-operations with Neher and Bertold Brecht was also of importance for the development of his style. After composing works along traditional lines, he adopted his own 12-note serial technique in 1950. Opera has a prominent role within his output In their transparency and austerity, his stage works follow the music theatre of Brecht and Weill. From the 1940's onwards, he integrated dodecaphony into his musical language; a synthesis is reached in Das Bergwerk zu Falun (The Mines of Falun, 1958-1960). His music displays a Humanist ethos, as when he said about Prometheus: "With Prometheus, I said yes to life."