Engelbert Humperdinck

Portrait of composer Engelbert Humperdinck

Engelbert Humperdinck was a German composer who is chiefly remembered for his opera “Hansel and Gretel”. He was born on 1st September 1854 in Siegburg, Rhine Province, Germany and died on 27th September 1921 in Neustrelitz, Germany.

Major Works

“Hansel und Gretel” (1893)
Königskinder” (King’s Children) (1897)
Gaudeamus: Szenen aus dem Deutschen Studentenleben” (1919)

Biography Timeline

Engelbert Humperdinck was born on 1st September 1854 in the city of Siegburg near Bonn, Germany. His parents allowed him to have piano lessons but disapproved of music as a career and wanted him to become an architect.

1863: He produces his first compositions as a seven-year-old.

1868: He writes two Singspiele music dramas at the age of thirteen.

1872: He attends the Cologne Conservatory and studies under Ferdinand Hiller and Isidor Seiss.

1876: He wins a scholarship to go to Munich where he studies with the composer Josef Rheinberger and Franz Lachner.

1879: He is the winner of the very first Mendelssohn Award in Berlin. He goes to Italy and meets Richard Wagner in Naples.

1880: Wagner asks him to join him at his theatre in Bayreuth, Bavaria, Germany and he assists with the production of the opera “Parsifal” as well as giving lessons to Wagner’s son Siegfried.

1882: He wins another prize and travels through Italy, France and Spain. He teaches at the Gran Teastre del Liceu Conservatory in Barcelona, Spain.

1887: He returns to Cologne in Germany.

1890: He is appointed a professor at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt am Main, Germany and also a teacher at the vocal school run by Julius Stockhausen. He begins work on his opera “Hansel und Gretel”. He premiered some of its songs at home in front of his nieces at a puppet theatre. The libretto was written by his sister Adelheid Wette and only loosely follows the story as told by the Brothers Grimm.

1893: “Hansel und Gretel” is premiered on 23rd December in Weimar with Rikard Strauss conducting. The work owes much to Wagner and is a great success from its first performance.

1895: He composes “Die sieben Geißlein” (The Seven Little Children).

1896: Kaiser Wilhelm the Second appoints him as a professor of music and he goes to live in Boppard on the Rhine river.

1897: Although seen as a disciple of Wagner, Humperdinck becomes the first composer to use Sprechgesang, a voice halfway between singing and speaking, in his melodrama “Königskinder” (King’s Children) which later becomes a full opera in 1910.

1900: He moves to Berlin when he is appointed Head of a Meister-Schule of composition there. One of his more famous students there was to be Kurt Weill.

1902: He composes the opera “Dornoschen” (Sleeping Beauty).

1905: He composes “Die Heirat wider Willen” (The Reluctant Marriage) as well as carrying out teaching duties. He works on several pieces of incidental music for theatre productions such as Max Reinhardt’s version of Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” in Berlin.

1906: He composes “Bübchens Weihnachtstraum” (The Christmas Dream).

1912: On 5th January he suffers a severe stroke and although he recovers somewhat his left hand remains permanently paralysed. He works on composing “Gaudeamus” (see 1919) with his son Wolfram.

1914: He composes “Die Marketenderin” (The Provisioner). Humperdinck is reported to have applied for the post of Director of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in Australia but is turned down for being a German, i.e an enemy national during the First World War. He signs the Manifesto of the Ninety-Three which shows support for German military action during the war.

1919: He premieres “Gaudeamus: Szenen aus dem Deutschen Studentenleben” (Gaudeamus igitur: Scenes from German Student Life).

1921: On 26th September Humperdinck attends his son Wolfram’s production of the opera “Der Freischutz” by Carl Maria von Weber in Neustrelitz but suffers a heart attack during the performance.

Engelbert Humperdinck died on 27th September 1921 in Neustrelitz. He was buried in the Sudwestkirchhof in Stansdorf, near Berlin in Germany.

Further Information

List of compositions by Humperdinck.