Engelbert HumperdinckGerman Born 01 Sep 1854 Died 27 Jul 1921
In his day more famous than the singer of Please Release Me, who appropriated the name of the composer (who, being dead, was not inclined to be litigious), Engelbert Humperdinck initially trained to be an architect. Born in Siegburg, he began his architectural studies in Cologne, but a meeting with Ferdinand Hiller led to a fuller discovery of his artistic gifts. He transferred to the conservatory, and in 1876 won a Mozart scholarship in Frankfurt. While studying in Munich he was published; first with his Humoreske for Orchestra (1880), and his choral work Die Wallfahrt nach Kevelaar (1879), which garnered him a Mendelssohn prize. In combination with the Meyerbeer prize won the following year, he was able to travel to Italy; ironically he there met Wagner, who had taken great pleasure in disparaging both Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer.
Wagner invited Humperdinck to be his guest at Bayreuth, and allowed him to assist in preparing the manuscript of Parsifal for publication. They were close friends from then on, with Humperdinck being the principal musical instructor for Wagner’s son, Siegfried. He left Germany to teach in Barcelona, then returned to Germany to a post in Cologne before working for the publishers Schott in Mainz. From 1890 he taught at the Frankfurt Hoch Conservatoire, and in 1893 composed his most famous work, Hänsel und Gretel. Cheery and melodic, the fairy-tale themes were lapped up by a general public whose previous choice was either weighty Wagnerianism or grittily moral Italian verisimo. Within a year it was part of the repertory of every German opera house.
Ill health forced Humperdinck to give up teaching, and in 1896 he retired to Boppard on the Rhine to write. As well as further operas he wrote much incidental music, including scores for five Shakespeare plays. His music for Rosmer’s Konigskinder (1897) incorporated a far-sighted attempt to notate the actors’ speech pitches and rhythms, prefiguring much 20th century music. It was later developed into an opera.