Born Sept. 1 , 1854
Died Sept. 27, 1921
Born in Siegburg, Germany, Humperdinck began composing at a very young age. His parents encouraged him to study architecture, but he chose music instead, and studied in Cologne and Munich under several prominent composers. In 1876 he won the Frankfurt Mozart prize and in 1879 received the first Mendelssohn Award. His composing and teaching career flourished, notably influenced by Wagner, with whom he studied and assisted on Wagner’s production of Parsifal. He also served as music tutor for Wagner’s son Siegfried.
In 1891, Humperdinck composed his most important work, Hansel and Gretel, a singspiel (“song-play”)which he presented to his fiance as an engagement present. After developing this work into a full-scale opera, it premiered in Weimar in 1893, conducted by Richard Strauss, who hailed it as “a masterpiece. . .original, new, and so authentically German.” It was a huge success, combining Wagnerian techniques and traditional German folk songs. In 1923, Hansel and Gretel became the first complete opera to be broadcast on radio (from Covent Garden, London) and 8 years later was the first live opera broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera.
Esteemed as a teacher and composer throughout Europe, Humperdinck composed numerous other works, primarily for the stage, collaborating with the great playwright Max Reinhardt. He was also the first composer to use Sprechgesang, a vocal technique between speaking and singing that was later used by Arnold Schoenberg. In 1921 he suffered a heart attack while attending his son’s debut performance as director of Carl Maria von Weber’s Die Freischutz. The next day he died at the age of 67.
Hansel and Gretel DVD is a perfect introduction to the opera for children of all ages. This Australian production is one of the best.
Puppet Classics: Hansel and Gretel DVD is a 30-min. version for younger children, from Jim Gamble Puppet Productions. (The complete set also includes puppet versions of Peter and the Wolf, Carnival of the Animals, Peer Gynt, and The Nutcracker).