Engelbert Humperdinck Biography (BBC)
Born in Siegburg, near Bonn, Humperdinck began his musical education with piano lessons at the age of 7. His parents initially insisted that he study architecture, but he was allowed to change to a course at Cologne Conservatory (1872–6), where he first encountered the music of Wagner. Studying counterpoint with Rheinberger and composition with Franz Lachner in Munich, he also became a member of the Order of the Grail, a student society devoted to the music and ideals of Wagner.
Having won the Berlin Mendelssohn Prize in 1879, he was enabled to study in Italy and it was in Naples, on 9 March 1880 that he met Wagner for the first time. The latter, much amused by the irony of Humperdinck’s also winning the Meyerbeer Prize in 1881, invited him to Bayreuth that year to assist with the preparations for the first performances of Parsifal. Humperdinck trained the boys’ chorus and made himself invaluable by composing a few extra bars of music to fill a gap in the Act 1 Transformation Scene caused by a mechanical problem with the diorama (Wagner rewrote the passage for the following year).
Wagner’s death in February 1883 came as a great blow to Humperdinck, but also allowed him to develop more autonomy. In November that year he took up the post of assistant conductor at the Cologne Opera, although he was dismissed, after a month’s probation, for ‘excessive conscientiousness and time-wasting thoroughness’.
A warm and close friendship with Richard Strauss began in 1885. Over the next two years, Humperdinck held short-term teaching posts both in Barcelona and at the Cologne Conservatory. He spent the summer of 1888 assisting on the Bayreuth Festival, became a reader and editor for the publishing firm of Schott’s and also worked as a critic for newspapers in Bonn, Mainz and Frankfurt. An engagement as private tutor to Wagner’s son Siegfried, beginning in October 1889, developed into a close friendship.
Elaborating Hansel and Gretel from a set of four songs through a Singspiel (music-and-dialogue) version to a fully-fledged opera occupied Humperdinck from April 1890 to September 1893. Its success made his name and was followed by a not dissimilar project that became the opera Königskinder (‘Royal Children’), premiered as a melodrama in 1897 and as a full opera in 1910.
Altogether Humperdinck composed 13 works of a similar nature, with generic titles such as ‘pantomime’ or ‘Spieloper’; two were destroyed in a fire, one was left uncompleted. His output also includes incidental music, a large number of songs and choral works, as well as chamber music, works for orchestra and for piano.
Profile © Barry Millington, 2004
Engelbert Humperdinck Tracks
Performances & Interviews from Similar Artists
Sir Cliff Richard: "Hearing your record on the radio was - and still is - a big thrill"
Cliff Richard on some of today's young artists: "They are so much better than we were at that stage of our careers."
Can you imagine a Cliff Richard and Elvis Presley album?!
Sir Cliff Richard In Session
Sir Cliff Richard: "Without Elvis, there'd be no Cliff"
Sir Cliff gives Chris a guitar lesson in Blue Suede Shoes...
Sir Cliff Richard: "I've slept two hours a night for the past two years"
'There was always music in the house' Simon Cowell's compares his family homes
Sir Cliff Richard: "I'm so happy the cloud has been moved on"
Paul O'Grady phones Sir Cliff