Engelbert Humperdinck

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Engelbert Humperdinck
Signature Engelbert Humperdinck.PNG
Birthplace of Humperdinck
Engelbert Humperdinck is named on the roll of honor of former students at the Theodorianum Gymnasium in Paderborn (top right).
Sculpture group Engelbert Humperdinck with Hansel and Gretel on the mayor-Syree-Platz in Boppard by Jutta Reiss

Engelbert Humperdinck ( September 1, 1854 in SiegburgSeptember 27, 1921 in Neustrelitz ) was a German composer of the late Romantic period . He is best known for his fairy tale opera Hansel and Gretel .


origin and youth

Humperdinck was the eldest son of the classics and Siegburg high school teacher Gustav (Ferdinand) Humperdinck (1823-1902). The parents of his mother Gertrud (Helene Olivia) were the Paderborn cathedral cantor Franz Xaver Hartmann and his wife, who came from the Czech family of musicians, the Tichys. His mother exerted a great influence on the musical development of the young Engelbert. His musical talent was evident early on. Even as a child and as a teenager he wrote compositions that were performed by his mother and sisters. Most of these works were later lost in a roof fire on November 3, 1874. Only very few of these early works have survived in the original, some of which are later copies by Sister Adelheid. The earliest surviving pieces are a wedding march (February 1871, EHWV 8) that Humperdinck composed for his uncle Franz Hartmann and his wife, and the work remembrance (dated September 20, 1871), which is in the poetry album of his sister Ernestine (1856-1873) is located. His enthusiasm finally overcame the father's initial concerns, who finally agreed to his son studying music after he had passed his Abitur at the Theodorianum Gymnasium in Paderborn .


From 1872 Humperdinck studied with Ferdinand Hiller at the Cologne Conservatory . His delicate constitution and the need to earn money alongside his studies led to respiratory diseases, some of which were serious. These also came back to him again and again later, together with rheumatic complaints. His illnesses temporarily forced Humperdinck to interrupt his studies. In 1876 he won the Mozart Prize of the city of Frankfurt am Main, which relieved him of his financial worries. In 1877 he went to Munich and studied composition with Franz Lachner and Josef Rheinberger . His teachers were critical to negative of Richard Wagner 's music . However, some performances of Wagner's operas made such an impression on Humperdinck that he joined a circle of Wagner supporters who had given themselves the name "Order of the Grail". In 1879 Humperdinck won the Berlin Mendelssohn Prize and completed his studies in Munich.

Humperdinck and Richard Wagner

The Mendelssohn Prize enabled Humperdinck to stay in Italy. In 1880 he visited Richard Wagner in Naples, who was residing there with his family. Humperdinck was initially turned away by the servant. After handing in his card, which he had provided with the addition "Member of the Order of the Grail", he was recalled. According to his own statements, he enjoyed a conversation that had consequences for his whole life “under the scrutinizing eyes of the master”.

Wagner quickly recognized the young man's talent and suggested that he come to Bayreuth as his assistant. Humperdinck worked there for a year and a half (January 1881 to July 1882) on the preparatory work for the premiere of Parsifal . Wagner's influence on him was so great that it took a long time before he found his own style again. Wagner's sudden death in 1883 hit him deeply. He remained loyal to the Bayreuth Festival. He later taught composition to Wagner's son Siegfried .

The path to becoming an opera composer

The following years were a time of unrest. A trip through Spain, which took him to North Africa, gave him the inspiration for a "Moorish Rhapsody", which he only finished composing many years later. The time that followed passed with a mostly disappointing search for a permanent position. Since he was considered a “Wagnerian”, i.e. a follower of Richard Wagner, many doors remained closed to him. A job as conductor of the Cologne City Theater ended with his dismissal "because of too great conscientiousness". In desperation, in 1885 he accepted a position as musical partner with the elderly industrialist Alfred Krupp . As a result, he was materially brilliant, but as an artist the activity could not satisfy him. Therefore, in late autumn of the same year, he took over a professorship for music theory and composition at the Barcelona Conservatory. However, he could not get used to the prevailing artistic orientation and musical level there and returned to Germany in the summer of 1886. There he had a similar experience with a meagerly paid position at the Cologne Conservatory, which he gave up in October 1888. Working as an editor at the music publisher B. Schott's Söhne in Mainz and as a music critic at the Bonner Zeitung resulted in a somewhat more secure income. In between, commissioned work kept him afloat. A ray of hope were successful performances of Heinrich Heine 's ballad Die Wallfahrt nach Kevlaar , which he set to music as a choral work .

On May 18, 1892, Humperdinck married Hedwig Taxer, the daughter of the bookseller Robert Taxer. This happy marriage produced a son and four daughters, one of whom died as an infant.

During this time, his own musical work almost came to a standstill. His compositional activity was essentially limited to the processing of earlier works by others and his own. It took a long time before he was able to free himself from Wagner's overwhelming influence.

“Since I came to Wagner in Bayreuth, my own production came to a sudden end. … The main thing is that I find myself again after years of being estranged.”

Engelbert Humperdinck : Letter to a friend

The turning point came after he had moved to Frankfurt in 1890 to work there as a lecturer at the Hoch Conservatory and as an opera consultant for the Frankfurter Zeitung . In 1890 his sister Adelheid, who was married to the doctor Hermann Wette in Bonn, asked him to write the music for the songs in a fairy tale play she had written for children, Hansel and Gretel (“something really pretty, folksy”). Humperdinck completed this job immediately and to his complete satisfaction, but the subject never let go of him. He gradually transformed the small work into a full opera. The premiere took place on December 23, 1893 in Weimar under the musical direction of Richard Strauss . Munich, Karlsruhe and other theaters followed a few days later. If the directors had expected only a few performances given the character of the opera, which was completely out of the ordinary, they soon saw themselves taught better. The enormous success with the public meant that 50 theaters included "Hänsel and Gretel" in their program in the following months. Since then, "Hansel and Gretel" has been one of the most performed operas.

He also met Hugo Wolf in the 1890s . Humperdinck had recommended Eduard Mörike's songs, set to music by Wolf, to the Schott publishing house. A close friendship developed from this, which came to an abrupt end when Wolf began to become mentally ill.

Boppard and Berlin

The income from his successful opera allowed Humperdinck to give up his position in Frankfurt in 1897. He acquired a large country house (the "Humperdinck-Schlösschen") in the small Rhine town of Boppard and devoted himself entirely to composing. His creative vigor had returned. In the years that followed, numerous compositions of various genres were created - songs, chamber music, orchestral works, incidental music and operas.

It was important to him to write a comic opera one day – as a sort of counterbalance to the dominance of the pathetic style at the time. In accordance with this wish, his wife Hedwig wrote a libretto based on the comedy Les Demoiselles de St. Cyr by the older Alexandre Dumas , which was then set to music as an opera entitled The Marriage Against Will . This was initially received with great applause in 1905, but could not survive on the stages.

A second world success was the opera Königskinder. In 1894 the poetess Elsa Bernstein-Porges (artist name Ernst Rosmer) asked him to compose incidental music for her fairytale play Königskinder . Humperdinck was so fascinated by this poem that he suggested composing a complete opera. The author opposed this, so Humperdinck composed three preludes and set several scenes to music as a so-called bound melodrama. For this purpose, he invented his own notation for speaking, which determines the pitch and rhythm of the speaking voice. This was taken up by Arnold Schönberg in his Gurre-Lieder and Pierrot lunaire . For a long time, Schoenberg was erroneously credited with the invention of spoken notation. But it is Humperdinck's invention.

Despite the difficulties the actors had with the speaking notes and despite very contrary criticism, the melodrama was performed on 130 stages, but then disappeared from the schedules. Ten years later Humperdinck decided, now with the blessing of Elsa Bernstein-Porges, to transform the royal children into a full-length opera. This premiered on December 28, 1910 at the Metropolitan Opera with Geraldine Farrar and Hermann Jadlowker in the leading roles. Königskinder received triumphant applause and was hailed as "the most important opera since Wagner's Parsifal ".

After the Second World War, the work initially disappeared more and more from the stage, but is now anchored in the repertoire again. There were performances in Munich, Zurich, Naples, Dresden, Chemnitz, Plauen, Graz, the Erl Festival in Gelsenkirchen and Frankfurt. Even the melodrama version was semi-staged in Giessen and Siegburg

In November 1900 Humperdinck moved to Berlin with his family and took over the management of the master school for musical composition at the Royal Academy of Arts. Here he composed, among other things, incidental music for Max Reinhardt at the Deutsches Theater – for example to comedies by Shakespeare .

The grave of Humperdinck and his wife in the Südwestfriedhof Stahnsdorf near Berlin. Block Redeemer. Field 5 ( grave location )

The last years of life were overshadowed by illness and strokes of fate. In December 1911 he traveled to London for the world premiere of the mystery play Das Mirakel , directed by Max Reinhardt and set to music by him . Here he became seriously ill and after his return suffered a stroke from which he never fully recovered. In 1916 his wife died. On September 27, 1921, in Neustrelitz, where his son Wolfram was directing the opera Der Freischütz , he died as a result of a second stroke. He is buried in the Südwestkirchhof in Stahnsdorf . His grave is dedicated to the city of Berlin as a grave of honor .

The folk song in Humperdinck's work

Humperdinck's music repeatedly shows a proximity to folk songs. Several of the songs he composed have a decidedly folk-song character. In his opera "Hansel and Gretel" he processed existing folk songs ("Suse, dear Suse, what rustles in the straw" and "A little man stands in the forest"). The opera "Königskinder" receives a special charm from such melodies, which are sung partly by a children's choir, partly by a little girl.

Humperdinck was also active as an arranger of folk songs - initially for the "Folk Song Book for Men's Choir" published in 1906, the so-called Kaiserliederbuch. In 1909 and 1911 he was editor of two episodes of "Sang und Klang fürs Kinderherz" with illustrations by Paul Hey .


The University of Berlin made him an honorary doctor and the Accademia Santa Cecilia in Rome an honorary member.

On September 9, 2004, Deutsche Post AG honored him on the occasion of his 150th birthday with a stamp of his own worth 45 euro cents (Michel No. 2420). Humperdinck's birthplace Siegburg organized a festival week for his 150th birthday with lectures and concerts as well as the publication of a scientific commemorative publication about his opera "Königskinder".

The main belt asteroid (9913) Humperdinck was named after the composer.


stage works

  • Harziperes (1868; EHWV 3). music drama Libretto: ?
  • Perla (1868; EHWV 4). singspiel. Libretto: ?
  • Claudine of Villa Bella (1868–1872; EHWV 5). Opera. Libretto: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • Fedelma (1883; EHWV 80). opera fragment. Libretto: Ernst von Wolzogen
  • Snow White (1888; EHWV 9). song game. Libretto: Adelheid Wette (1858–1916)
  • Hansel and Gretel . Libretto: Adelheid and Hermann Wette
    • Song play (1890; EHWV 93.1)
    • Singspiel (EHWV 93.2)
    • Fairy tale opera in 3 scenes (1893; EHWV 93.3). Premiere December 23, 1893 Weimar ( Hoftheater ; conductor: Richard Strauss )
  • The seven little kids (1895; EHWV 100). Singspiel in one act. Libretto: Adelheid Wette. Premiere December 19, 1895 Berlin
  • royal children . Libretto: Elsa Bernstein (under the pseudonym Ernst Rosmer)
    • Melodrama in 3 acts (1895–1897; EHWV 106.1). UA January 23, 1897 Munich
    • Fairy tale opera in 3 acts (1908–1910; EHWV 106.2). Premiere December 28, 1910 New York ( Metropolitan Opera )
  • Sleeping Beauty (1902; EHWV 121). Fairytale opera in 3 acts. Libretto: Elisabeth Ebeling (1828-1905) and Bertha Filhés (1819-after 1887). Premiere November 12, 1902 Frankfurt am Main ( opera house ; conductor: Ludwig Rottenberg )
  • The marriage against will (1902-1905; EHWV 130). Comic opera in 3 acts. Libretto: Hedwig Humperdinck (after Alexandre Dumas ). Premiere April 14, 1905 Berlin ( Court Opera )
  • Bübchen's Christmas Dream (1906; EHWV 136). Melodramatic nativity play. Libretto: Gustav Falke . Premiere December 30, 1906 Berlin ( Circus Busch )
  • The Sutler (1913; EHWV 155). Singspiel in 2 acts. Libretto: Robert Misch (1860-1929). Premiere May 10, 1914 Cologne
  • Gaudeamus (1915–1919; EHWV 162). game opera . Libretto: Robert Misch. Premiere March 18, 1919 Darmstadt

incidental music

orchestral works

  • Concert Overture in D
  • Overture E flat major (fragment)
  • Summer evening in the village . suite (fragment)
  • Sound images for Schiller 's " Song of the Bell "
  • The Siegburg bell
  • Humoresque E major OCLC 50262800
  • Moorish Rhapsody
  • Shakespeare Suites #1 and #2

chamber music works

  • String Quartet in D minor
  • Minuet in E flat major for string quartet
  • String quartet in E minor (fragment)
  • Sonata in A major for violin and piano
  • String quartet movement in C minor
  • String quartet movement in C major (fragment)
  • Piano Quintet in G major
  • Piano trio in G major (fragment)
  • Nocturne in G major for violin and piano
  • Salonstück A minor for cello and piano (sketch)
  • Album leaf for violin and piano
  • String Quartet in C major
  • Sonatina for four violins (fragment)

vocal compositions

  • The Pilgrimage to Kevlaar (1878–1887). choral ballad. Text: Heinrich Heine
  • The Happiness of Edenhall (1879–1883). choral ballad. Text: Ludwig Uhland
  • The fisherwoman . Choral ballad (fragment). Text: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • numerous songs with piano accompaniment


Pupil of Engelbert Humperdinck


  • Wolfram Humperdinck. Engelbert Humperdinck. My Father's Life . Publisher Waldemar Kramer, Frankfurt a. M. 1965 [An expanded new edition was published in 1993 by Görres-Verlag (Koblenz). ISBN=3920388267]
  • Horst Heussner:  Humperdinck, Engelbert. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 10, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1974, ISBN 3-428-00191-5 , p. 58 f. ( digital copy ).
  • Eva Humperdinck: The Unknown Engelbert Humperdinck . His works. Engelbert Humperdinck catalog raisonné (EHWV). Görres, Koblenz 1994, ISBN 3-920388-38-0 .
  • Tim Michalak , Christian Ubber (eds.): Engelbert Humperdinck. A biographical and musical reader. Anno-Verlag, Ahlen 2017, ISBN 978-3-939256-71-7 .
  • Hans-Josef Irmen : Engelbert Humperdinck as composition student of Josef Rheinberger . 2 volumes. Volk, Cologne 1974.
  • Hans-Josef Irmen: The Odyssey of Engelbert Humperdinck . Salvator, Kall-Steinfeld 1975, DNB  750402253 .
  • Hans-Josef Irmen (ed.): Engelbert Humperdinck Letters and Diaries . 3 volumes (1975–1983). Arno Volk, Cologne.
  • Hans-Josef Irmen: Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921) . In: Rhenish images of life . tape 7 . Rhineland Verlag, Cologne 1977.
  • Hans-Josef Irmen: Hansel and Gretel. Studies and Documents on Engelbert Humperdinck's Fairy Tale Opera . Schott, Mainz 1990.
  • Hans-Josef Irmen: Thematic and systematic index of Engelbert Humperdinck's musical works . 2nd rev. edition. Dohr, Cologne 2014, ISBN 978-3-86846-122-0 .
  • Matthias Kauffmann: Conservatism and Innovation. Engelbert Humperdinck and his key work "Königskinder" . Munich 2010.
  • Bernd Distelkamp: "An intimate fusion of word and music..." Investigations into the genesis of the fairy tale opera "Königskinder" by Elsa Bernstein and Engelbert Humperdinck . Rheinlandia, Siegburg 2003, ISBN 3-935005-81-4 .
  • Daniela Goebel The music lectures by Engelbert Humperdinck Studies in Musicology Vol. 32. Ed. Kovac 2016
  • Annette Gerstner: The Piano Songs of Engelbert Humperdinck . Dissertation (=  contributions to the Rhenish music history . Issue 135). Merseburger, 1984, ISBN 3-87537-206-9 .
  • Matthias Corvin: Storyteller and Visionary: The Composer Engelbert Humperdinck , Mainz: Schott Music, 2021, ISBN 978-3-95983-619-7 .
  • Hocus.pocus.lumbago. Engelbert Humperdinck after 100 years. Catalog for the exhibition of the same name. Siegburg 2021.

web links

Commons : Engelbert Humperdinck  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. See e.g. Wolfram Humperdinck 1965:36; Michalak / Ubber 2017: 21.
  2. Barbara Stühlmeyer: Delicate tonal fabric, delicately set in musical notation, in: Die Tagespost of February 17, 2021 .
  3. ^ a b Wolfram Humperdinck: Engelbert Humperdinck. My father's life. 1965
  4. Melodrama in three acts. September 8, 2021, retrieved December 27, 2021 .
  5. klassik.com : Music journals and magazines: Music concepts from "Schönberg and the chant". Retrieved December 27, 2021 .
  6. ^ "King's Children ", on opera-festivals.com
  7. Munich: royal children / online music magazine. Retrieved December 27, 2021 .
  8. ZURICH/ Opera House: KÖNIGSKINDER by Engelbert Humperdinck/ Stream from 2010. Retrieved December 27, 2021 .
  9. TÖLZER BOYS' CHOIR | ARCHIVE: Opera "Königskinder" at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples. In: TÖLZER BOYS' CHOIR | ARCHIVE. March 21, 2002, retrieved December 27, 2021 .
  10. "King's children" Semperoper Dresden - dark anti-fairy tale. Retrieved December 27, 2021 .
  11. Two singers rehearse for XXL fairy tale opera | Free Press - Plauen. Retrieved December 27, 2021 .
  12. Theater Plauen Zwickau: royal children. Retrieved December 27, 2021 .
  13. Graz Opera. Retrieved December 27, 2021 .
  14. Erl 2021: Royal Children / Online Music Magazine. Retrieved December 27, 2021 .
  15. Königskinder - 2021.22 Music theater in the Revier. Retrieved December 27, 2021 .
  16. Second revival of Königskinder in the opera house. Retrieved December 27, 2021 .
  17. Foretaste of the melodrama "Königskinder". January 31, 2019, retrieved December 27, 2021 .
  18. Mathias Nofze: Beethovenfest: Humperdinck in Siegburg: Full of sound and obsessed with detail. September 6, 2021, retrieved December 27, 2021 .
  19. Stadtmuseum Siegburg - "Hocus pocus lumbago". Retrieved 29 June 2021 .