Peter Cornelius (composer)

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Peter Cornelius

Peter Carl August Cornelius (born December 24, 1824 in Mainz ; † October 26, 1874 there ) was a German composer and poet .


The composer's grave in Mainz, April 2007

Peter Cornelius was the son of the actor couple Carl (1793–1843) and Friederike Cornelius, geb. Schwadtke (1789–1867), his siblings were the historian Carl Adolf Cornelius (1819–1903) and the writer Auguste Cornelius (1841–1891).

After finishing secondary school, Cornelius worked as a violinist and actor at the Mainz theater and at the age of 19 became a court actor in Wiesbaden in 1843. In 1844 he came to Berlin to see his uncle, the painter Peter von Cornelius . After a few failures, Cornelius gave up the acting profession and studied composition with Siegfried Dehn from 1845 to 1849 . During this time, some of his chamber and church music works, but also secular songs, were composed. His most important work from this period is the Stabat Mater for solos, choir and orchestra from 1849, which was written as the final work of his apprenticeship with Dehn.

In 1851 Cornelius worked in Berlin as a music critic for the magazines Echo and Modespiegel . Through his uncle's mediation, he met Franz Liszt in 1853 , in whose Weimar area he lived with interruptions until 1858. Influenced by Liszt, Cornelius vehemently advocated the New German School in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik . Much of his Catholic church music was written during these years.

Cornelius' opera The Barber of Baghdad premiered on December 15, 1858 . The performance, directed by Franz Liszt, turned into a scandal because it was disturbed by opponents of Liszt. Cornelius took this failure as an opportunity to go to Vienna in 1859 , where he met Friedrich Hebbel and Richard Wagner . “Sensible and mild delimitation and consolidation of what Wagner achieved in his prime” was his goal, according to his own admission. Cornelius stayed in Vienna until 1864 and accompanied Wagner to Munich in 1865 . There he received an honorary salary from King Ludwig II. On May 21, 1865, Cornelius' second opera The Cid was successfully premiered. In 1867, Cornelius was appointed to the newly established music academy in Munich as a lecturer in rhetoric and harmony.

In 1867 Cornelius married Bertha Jung († 1904) in Mainz. With her he had a daughter and three sons, including Carl Maria Cornelius (1868–1945). In his hometown, he died on October 26, 1874 at the age of almost 50 from diabetes mellitus , which at that time was not treatable . He was buried in the main cemetery in Mainz .

Cornelius was an extremely prolific song composer . Almost half of his songs were based on his own poems, which were also set to music by other composers. Cornelius referred to himself as a "poet composer". The question of whether he should be a poet or a musician or a music journalist has been with him for most of his life. It was precisely this indecision and his modest and rather reserved nature that contributed to the fact that he was always in the shadow of his contemporaries Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt, both of whom he admired. Nevertheless, today he is particularly valued as a song composer.

Works (selection)


  • Stabat mater for solos, choir and orchestra (1849)
  • Bridal Songs (1856)
"The Kings", from: Christmas Carols Opus 8,3. The piano accompaniment represents the chorale How beautifully does the
morning star shine .
  • Christmas carols op.8 (1856)
  • The Barber of Baghdad , comic opera (1858)
  • The Cid , Opera (1865)
  • Requiem Don't forget the soul, based on a text by Friedrich Hebbel (1872)
  • Gunlöd , unfinished opera in three acts (1869–1874) based on the Edda (giantess Gunnlöd), supplementation and instrumentation of the sketches left by Waldemar von Baußnern (1906)
  • Mass in D minor for female choir, soprano and alto solo and organ, strings ad lib .; CWV 91
  • String quartets


  • Literary works. Selected letters along with diary sheets and occasional poems. Edited by Carl Maria Cornelius. 2 volumes. Breitkopf & Härtel, Leipzig 1904–1905.
  • Collected Essays. Thoughts on music and theater, poetry and visual arts. Edited and commented by Günter Wagner. Schott, Mainz a. a. 2004, ISBN 3-7957-1340-4 .

Peter Cornelius Archive

His estate was systematically evaluated and expanded by his son and biographer Carl Maria Cornelius. Since the city of Mainz acquired it from his widow in 1950, it has formed the core of the Peter Cornelius Archive in the Mainz City Library , which thus has the most important international collection of the artist's works. The archive was further expanded through decades of antiquarian purchases by the city library.

One of the most spectacular additions to the archive was made in 1999 when the composer's last large collection of music manuscripts was made available from the Joseph Standthartner (1818–1892) collection, which Sparkasse Mainz acquired in 1987.

The estate includes various materials from the musical and literary work of Peter Cornelius. It contains music manuscripts as autographs and copies, printed music (often in first editions), poems by Peter Cornelius, letters from and to Peter Cornelius, notebooks and diaries, family correspondence and a collection of pictures.


Monument to Peter Cornelius in the Green Belt Promenade (Drususwall) in Mainz, October 2013

In Mainz

In the rest of Germany

  • Peter-Cornelius-Strasse commemorates the composer in several German cities, for example in Augsburg (Pfersee), Erfurt, Neubrandenburg, Nieder-Olm, Reutlingen, Rostock, Sindelfingen, Weimar.
  • Corneliusstrasse in Berlin-Lankwitz , Frankfurt am Main, Ludwigsburg and Nierstein (each in composers' quarters) are also reminiscent of Peter Cornelius.
  • Corneliusstrasse in Munich was named after his uncle Peter von Cornelius as early as 1830 . Today, however, the name is understood as an honor for both.

In Austria

  • In Vienna- Mariahilf (6th district), Corneliusgasse was named after him and his uncle Peter von Cornelius in 1867.
  • In Salzburg, a memorial plaque on the house at Nonntaler Hauptstrasse 20 and on Peter-Cornelius-Gasse commemorate the composer.

Catalog raisonné

  • Günther Wagner: Peter Cornelius. Directory of his musical and literary works . Schneider, Tutzing 1986, ISBN 3-7952-0455-0 .


  • Karl Hofbauer:  Cornelius, Peter . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 4, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1876, p. 497 f.
  • Hermann Kretzschmar : Peter Cornelius (= collection of musical lectures volume 20). Leipzig 1880 ( digitized ).
  • Hans von Basedow: Peter Cornelius . In: Neue Musik-Zeitung , Stuttgart, 9th year 1888, no. 15, pp. 177–178.
  • Ferdinand Pfohl : Peter Cornelius and "The Barber of Baghdad" . In: Ferdinand Pfohl: The modern opera . Carl Reissner, Leipzig 1894, pp. 24-58 ( digitized version ).
  • Max Hasse: The poet musician Peter Cornelius . Breitkopf & Härtel, Leipzig 1922 (reprint Sendet, Walluf 1972, ISBN 3-500-25110-2 ).
  • Carl Maria Cornelius: Peter Cornelius - The word and tone poet (= German Music Library Volume 46–47). 2 volumes, G. Bosse, Regensburg 1925.
  • Adam Gottron : The religious path of the Mainz poet-composer Peter Cornelius (1824–1874) . In: Yearbook for the Diocese of Mainz , vol. 7 (1955/1957), pp. 154–171.
  • Walter SalmenCornelius, Peter. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 3, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1957, ISBN 3-428-00184-2 , p. 365 f. ( Digitized version ).
  • Hellmut Federhofer, Karl Oehl (ed.): Peter Cornelius as composer, poet, critic and essayist (= Studies on the History of Music in the 19th Century, Volume 48). Bosse, Regensburg 1977, ISBN 3-7649-2125-0 .
  • Reinald Chraska: The Mainz poet-composer Peter Cornelius in Salzburg and Trier . WVT, Trier 1992, ISBN 3-88476-016-5 .
  • Andrea Harrandt: Cornelius, Peter. In: Oesterreichisches Musiklexikon . Online edition, Vienna 2002 ff., ISBN 3-7001-3077-5 ; Print edition: Volume 1, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna 2002, ISBN 3-7001-3043-0 .

Web links

Commons : Peter Cornelius  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Corneliusstraße , Kaupert's street guide through Berlin, accessed on June 27, 2020